Tuesday, January 17, 2012
3 Tips to Help Beginning Entrepreneurs Increase Revenues
1. Forget the Competition
Everyone talks about the importance of knowing your competition in order to best position products and services. In my experience, before focusing on the competition, you must first focus on yourself. What makes you different and unique from other individuals? What is it about you that draw praise from others – the distinguishing characteristics that make you stand out? People naturally excel at things they are passionate about, but do not always see how those passions fit into their work. To make competition irrelevant, identify these traits and integrate them with your products and services.
Permit me to use myself as an example. Writing and public speaking are two of my passions but how do you integrate them into a technology company? This was an easy question when I started a technology consulting company in the year 2000. Systems engineers and techies are terrible at documenting their work, which customers find extremely frustrating. Something else that was not an issue until I made it one was off site training - technical staff attending training sessions away from the job while work and system issues piled up.
I made comprehensive system documentation and onsite customized training my competitive advantage. While most companies parachuted in, installed systems, and then left in a rush, I took my time to carefully document my work and hold customized training sessions for staff. My sessions included printed training materials developed specifically for the customer. This was not a common practice in those days.
I did this with my very first customer and achieved stunning results. Upon completion of the project, I handed over a 120 page, bound document. This customer worked with several large and small companies over the years, but they never received such thorough documentation. I also used one of their conference rooms to train them on their new environment, focusing only on the items relevant to their jobs. I went on to complete a number of lucrative projects with them, in large part due my documentation and training services.
A number of companies provided similar services as my own, but I turned my passion for writing and public speaking into competitive advantages. I was confident other technical companies could not compete with me in theses areas. In meetings with prospective clients, I emphasized these services and gave samples of documentation. With this approach, you can distinguish yourself from so called competition, even in a crowded field.
2. Become a Doctor
Ever complain about your doctor trying to sell you something? Probably not, because doctors do not attempt to sell us anything - their job is to help us solve problems. However, a doctor’s office is a business where we pay them for their services. The difference is that we feel doctors genuinely want to help us. A new entrepreneur would have more business than they could manage if they learned to deal with customers in a similar fashion.
Think of your customers as patients visiting your medical practice, and listen closely to diagnose their problems. Your customers are people and they want to be heard. How can you claim to have the perfect solution to their problem when you do not fully understand what the problem is? A doctor can only make a sound diagnosis by asking enough of the right types of questions. Otherwise, they risk prescribing the wrong medication and harming the patient. You risk the same by spending all of your time highlighting product features that are irrelevant to your customer.
We had a meeting with a customer who had spent a year worrying about a technology upgrade. At the time we met them they had a number of proposals from local companies who did not take the time to sit down with them. These companies heard of the upcoming upgrade and sent in unsolicited, cookie cutter proposals. We learned of the project through another department in the same company. The technology in question was one of our specialties. The department head passed on our contact information to upper management who invited us in for a meeting.
By the time we met, the project manager for the group was in no mood to talk to us. It was obvious she was there against her will and preferred to be elsewhere. She let us know she was tired of companies sending proposals with little consideration for the uniqueness of her network. She then crossed her arms and looked right through me.
For the next twenty minutes I asked a multitude of questions because I found their challenges very intriguing. Each of their answers provoked more questions until the complex nature of their problems became clear in my mind. Then just to be sure I understood, I relayed my understanding back to them in the form of more questions. Before long, the once reluctant project manager began frantically taking notes. About fifty minutes into the meeting, she asked how soon we could get them a proposal. A few weeks later we began working on their $100,000 upgrade project.
Your customers will tell you how to win their business if you close your mouth and open your ears. Imagine walking into a doctor’s office and being handed a prescription before having the opportunity to explain your illness. As ludicrous as this sounds, it is exactly what many entrepreneurs do to their customers.
3. Over Deliver
When a customer accepts your proposal and grants you a contract, you have won the right to serve them. Not only is this the time to deliver on your promise, but time to over deliver. Anything less than over delivery is mediocre in my opinion. Few things in life are more frustrating than someone who over promises and under delivers. This happens so often in the world of business that customers come to expect it. To create a loyal, repeat customer, make a deliberate attempt to deliver more than you promised. In a world where sub-par service is the norm, you can stand out by delivering just a little bit extra. This does not require you giving away thousands of dollars in free service or products.
For example, on a recent project, we learned the customer was starting a separate project using a complex technology they were unfamiliar with. It happened to be one of our areas of expertise. The customer mentioned the project passingly in a status meeting, so I offered to give advice and assistance if needed. Then I went a step further and gave them one of the best books available on the subject. I told them to simply follow the author’s guidance and to send any questions my way. This gesture cost me almost nothing, but went a long way in winning the trust and loyalty of this customer.
The #1 mistake of the beginning entrepreneur is failing to embrace the role of entrepreneur. It is not enough to be a really good specialist. You must find ways to stand out in a crowded market place. If you focus your efforts on over delivering, active listening and integrating your passions into your work, you will never have to worry about competition.
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Posted by Derrick Jones