ADVICE

Customers as an investment

Posted 10/22/12

Small-business owners traditionally view customer relationships this way: You produce a product or service, and customers pay you money, some of which you reinvest in finding more customers.

But Bill Lee, author of a new book called “The Hidden Wealth of Customers” has a different notion. Wouldn’t it be far more effective if you let the customers you already have help drive your sales and marketing efforts and fuel your growth? Makes sense, right? No matter how much you spend on marketing and advertising through outside channels, they are still at least one layer removed from actual buyers. Existing customers have the best handle on understanding your potential customers, hands down.

That’s a key mindset that can work magic for small and local businesses of all kinds, no matter where they are or what they sell. Instead of thinking only about a return of investment (ROI) on your marketing dollars spent, start thinking also about a “return on relationship” (ROR) with your customers.

Here are ways that customers can help grow your business better than you can:

• Attract high-value information from and about other customers and prospects. Existing customers have inside knowledge of their peers that can be super valuable. For example, they know what movies they watch, which restaurants they visit, where they like to travel and so on.

• Close the sale. Yes, customers also make better salespeople than you do. They can honestly say, “This product or service worked for me and it can work for you too.” Look for ways to connect existing customers with prospects. Many business owners find that prospects are far more interested in talking to other customers than to you or others at your firm.

• Connect with their peers (your prospects). Prospects are much more open to opportunities of connecting with friends and peers than they are with getting close to companies. That’s human nature. But too often when companies try to form “communities” around their business or brand they put the focus on the business logos and a company spokesperson. Instead, look for ways to creatively foster dialog between customers and their peers that touches on issues related to your products or services.

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