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updated: 4/21/2014 9:01 AM

Try selling your solution, not your product

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Not quite random thoughts about small businesses:

• Remember what you're selling, which for the more successful among us most often is a solution to a customer's problem.

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If you run a hardware store, you're helping customers solve plumbing problems or lawn care issues.

If you're a sales consultant, you're selling a way to help your prospect's sales team improve its numbers, not a sales training package.

Selling a solution to a problem is different from pitching a widget or other product -- and requires a different selling approach. You have to know what's bothering your prospect; the glories of your widgets aren't enough.

I like the question manufacturing sage Paul Heinze (Paul M. Heinze Co., Barrington Hills) asks early in his conversations: What keeps you awake at night?

• Form strategic alliances. Own a restaurant? Offer the most popular flavors sold by the local ice cream parlor for dessert; promote them with a tent card on your tables. In return, the store can put up a poster for your restaurant and each week hold a drawing for a free dinner at your place.

If yours is a breakfast stop, work a similar alliance with an up-and-coming local bakery.

• Know your referrers and treat them like the important people they are. For many of us, especially service providers, our referral base is the key to success.

That means a thank-you note to the accountant who referred one of her clients to you; the same to a municipal economic planner who suggested your services to a potential new business in town and to the consultant who brought you in on an assignment.

Treat your best referral sources to lunch.

Remember, however, that the best thank you is a return referral: If you have a client looking for IT help or a reliable auto repair shop, think first of the folks who've helped you.

• More mothers are staying home with the kids, although 71 percent of all U.S. mothers work outside the home. And, perhaps sadly, a growing number of Moms are home because they can't find a job -- six percent today compared to one percent in 2000 according to the Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C.

Still, if Moms are your market, there might be an opportunity in, for example, Mother-and-baby exercise classes or baby-sitting services.

With annual household incomes of about $130,000, working mothers not surprisingly have more money to spend.

Trying offering many of the same services evenings or weekends.

• Know your market, not only so you can provide the products or services your customers want but so you know how to reach them.

Sell to seniors? Provide senior-oriented services? You likely can reach the 65-plus crowd on the Internet.

Pew says that almost 60 percent of seniors use the Internet; more than 70 percent are on every day. Slightly more than 25 percent even use social networking sites.

Ideas perking yet?

• 2014 Kendall Communications, Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.

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