No matter what type of business or services that you offer, finding contacts or targets to market to can be accomplished in a variety of ways. It is fairly simple once you establish your goals for outreach. It is also important that you begin researching where to start.
Making efforts to meet with your local business peers and competitors is a move that will give you an informational edge and help you build beneficial relationships. Part of your outreach marketing efforts will always be with your peers and other businesses in your town. Then you move on to prospects or leads that you want to target for new business. After that, you reach out to your current customer base to rekindle your relationship, so to speak, and strengthen ties that can lead to referrals.
For example, let us say your first time around with outreach you want to network with fellow business owners. While you may know most of the businesses within your market, it is still ideal to make a list. In order to compile a list, search Google, Yahoo, or other Internet search engines for businesses within a five- to 25-mile radius. Another way to find these businesses is through your local chamber of commerce directory. In most cases, the directories are broken down by category, which is a huge help. Once you have made your list, verify by calling or by visiting the company's Web site and determine who the primary contact is.
You generally want to talk with the business owner, but starting a relationship with the manager and other employees is a great start, too. The manager will most likely be the person you see more regularly and this is just as helpful. There is nothing difficult or spectacular about your approach other than you want to inform the people you contact about your business, what you do, your experiences in the market, and your goal to get to know them better. If they are not local chamber members, encourage them to join. That is your other main venue to meet and mingle with other local businesses. Always keep a supply of your marketing materials on hand to pass out at chamber meetings and, of course, when you stop in for a meeting for the first time. As time goes on, this will all be routine for you.
When you start doing outreach in your local community to drum up business, the approach will be similar in that you will hand out your marketing materials and talk about what you do. The difference is in the approach. Most likely, you will not be going door to door to say, "Hello, I own J&J Auto Sales just down the way, would you like to buy a car?" For new customer outreach, you can do any of the following:
- Sponsor major local community events.
- Depending on your type of business and your product or service offerings, you can reach out to local people in your community by promoting your services at local schools, festivals, and other close-knit local events.
- Host an event at your place of business that is open to the public and let customers come to you.
Just be certain that wherever you go with your marketing efforts, you are being consistent in targeting your audience. If your business is gender- specific, then you will really have to tap into your audience by finding its interests and how your business can benefit those interests or be a part of that. For example, if you sell exercise equipment or items specific to women, you may target local gyms, yoga classes, etc., to reach this audience. Not that men do not do yoga, but it is more so geared toward women.
Read the scenarios below and explain why or why not you feel each one was handled appropriately.
Recently, she received some marketing data that showed a new subdivision was going up about 15 miles away from the spa in a nearby town. The homes will range from $250,000 to about $400,000; these will be extremely high-end homes. After a few months she notices that three to four homes are built and being lived in. There are always salespeople in the model home that she passes on her way to work. She volunteers quite heavily in the local school system, but she is surprised that the teachers and staff do not patronize her Day Spa. She also does not like the idea of joining the local chamber of commerce because it costs roughly $500 per year, and she does not feel it is necessary.
Sandra sticks with her original plan of marketing within town and sticks to her five- to 10-mile radius rule. Why will this help or hurt her business? What could she be doing differently and why? Why do you think the teachers and other school staff do not go to her Day Spa?
When he started out, business was great; he did tremendously well, getting referrals and building a successful business. He is a member of the chamber of the chamber commerce and regularly sponsors local Youth Baseball teams, football teams, and charitable events. Part of Dan's success is his impeccable customer service and reputation.
About two years ago, Dan hired Joe Mills. Joe had a lot of experience in the industry and came highly recommended. Joe was hired out to do a few projects in town for a local restaurant and two residences. He showed up late for the restaurant job and, because of his lack of planning, pushed back the deadline of the paint job. This hurt the restaurant quite a bit because it missed out on its annual Fall Feast, which is a significant source of income for the restaurant. The owners complained to Dan, and he spoke to Joe and thought all was well. When Joe went to do some small renovation projects for the two residences in town, he not only miscalculated his measurements for the installation of a kitchen sink, he was extremely unapologetic and seemed annoyed with the homeowner for calling him on his mistake. Again, a complaint call came into Dan about the poor work and poor service.
As the months progressed, larger home improvement stores came to town and Dan realized a major drop in his business. The storefront was doing well, but construction and handyman projects had literally died out. Dan was told by a friend that the Lowe's and Home Depot were always looking for good contractors to outsource installations to. The friend told Dan he should contact them. Dan decided he wanted to stick to his original plan: Keep up the storefront and do the handyman projects as they came about. What should Dan do differently? Should he keep Joe as an employee? Why do you think Dan is not motivated to contract out major jobs with the home improvement store chains?
If you own your own business or plan to at some point in time, keep in mind the scenarios above and how you would want to be different or do things similarly. Outreach marketing equals relationship marketing, which simply is the basis for building good business relationships.
Following Up and Maintaining a Rapport
Following up on leads and with prospects is of utmost importance. A great follow-up can set you aside from the competition and give you the edge you need to win over a customer orprospect. If you send a customer a fax, do not assume the person received it; call to be certain. If you sent a FedEx package of samples, do not just track the package via the FedEx Web site; again, call the customer and verify receipt. The little extras make a big difference.
A good example would be this: Let us say you were interested in putting new hardwood flooring throughout your kitchen and dining area. You call three highly recommended flooring companies, and two out of the three return your call within 24 hours. This is a good start. Furthermore, let us assume that each company came out respectively to measure and talk with you about the type of flooring you want, etc.
After a few days, company No. 2 calls back with a great price and wants to know if installation can be scheduled. You stall because you are still waiting for the final quote from the first company. You leave a message for the representative, only to realize it has been more than two weeks and you need to get the process started. Over that time period, the representative from company No. 2 called you regularly to check on your needs. Ultimately, you choose company No. 2 even though it was not initially your first choice. Why? Because of the great follow-up. Company No. 1 made you feel important, as though the representative really wanted your business at first, only to not call you back. This is a mistake that many sales and customer service people commonly make. It may be a lack of organization on their part or simply a lack of good follow-up skills.
After business has been completed, the communication process should not stop. Regular communications maintain your relationship with customers. Even if prospective customers you speak with have not done business with you, continually keep those contacts on yourdistribution list for newsletters, and mailings, unless they opt out of receiving them. This way, when they need your products or services, you will be on their list to call because of their familiarity with you.
Once you have met or interacted with a prospect or customer for the first time, you may want to send a follow-up letter or some type of correspondence. Here are some tips for content when following up.
- Express honest thanks for choosing your company and for the customer's purchase. A little appreciation goes a long way. You do not have to write a love letter, but your appreciation should be evident. These sentiments are appropriate: "Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to serve you"; "We are confident that you will be happy with your purchase and appreciate your business"; or "We hope you were happy with the services we provided."
- Reinforce the reasons for choosing your company in the first place. Help customers believe their purchase was necessary and buying from you was the only way to go.
- Offer customers something to complement their original purchase. In the case of a customer who already has purchased your product or service, you could make a limited-time offer on another product or for your service in the future. Create a sense of urgency so that if they do not use the offer, perhaps they will refer someone who will.
- Refer customers to another product or service that would complement their purchase. Suggesting other products is a sign that you know them and their needs. If you know the family setup, you can suggest alternative products and services that may be of interest.
- Ask for referrals. Simply say: "If you like our service, tell others; if you don't, tell us!" This is where you can talk about your referral program and entice customers to refer others. Quite honestly, though, when people like you and you do a great job and offer great products and services, you will not have to ask for referrals.
- If applicable, include discount coupons for your products and services. You could encourage customers to pass them on if they are not going to use the discounts themselves.
- Be sure to include your business card and contact information. This gives customers something to give to someone else when they tell others about your company.
- Another option is to send a survey or customer feedback form. Offer an incentive to fill it out. Ask about the customer's experience with your company.
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