A small business owner slashes advertising budgets and doubles sales by answering questions customers had about his product and industry
By early 2009, his company, River Pools and Spas, a 20-employee installer of in-ground fiberglass pools in Virginia and Maryland, had a decline in orders from an average of six a month to barely two. That winter, four customers who had planned to install pools costing more than $50,000 each demanded their deposits back. For three consecutive weeks, the company overdrew its bank account.
Around this time, Mr. Sheridan began to overhaul his marketing. The company had been spending about $250,000 a year on radio, television and pay-per-click advertising. It would now cut the budget to about a tenth of that and focus on generating sales through informational blog posts and videos, what has become known as content marketing. But Mr. Sheridan took an unconventional approach to his content.
As a result, River Pools has recovered to exceed its peak pre-2007 revenue, and Mr. Sheridan, a 35-year-old father of four, has become something of a Web marketing guru. While he still owns a 33 percent interest in the pool company, his partners manage it day to day while he concentrates on his new venture, TheSalesLion.com. He recently spoke about his marketing approach in a conversation that has been edited and condensed.
The famous U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do… the hard part is doing it!” Likewise, the answer to most business problems is usually obvious as well.
Consider this – when was the last time you were really stumped for a solution to a problem? In most cases, the hardest things about solving the problem were the obstacles of personalities, politics, or cost. Taken together, these obstacles usually make the obvious solution very hard if not impossible to implement. These are failures of an organization’s values, guiding principles, and ethics.
Twenty years ago, my elderly mother came to live with me due to her declining health. She sold her home and hired a moving company to move her furniture and transport her car via trailer from New England to Virginia (primarily to minimize the mileage). When the moving van and car arrived, it was obvious that the car had not been transported but driven instead. When questioned, the driver admitted that they had driven the car and not transported it as they had been contracted to do.
When I called the moving company’s main office to complain, the representative asked what I wanted them to do about it. My only reply was “What would you expect someone to do if it was your mother!” Shortly thereafter, the driver came back to tell us that they were refunding the cost of transporting the car.
When a customer calls about a problem with your product or service. You generally know right off hand what the right thing to do is: either fix it, replace it, or refund their money. But company management may complain that “if we fix every problem for every customer then how are we supposed to make a profit?” Well, if your company’s product or service has so many customer problems that fixing them impacts profits, then fix the product or service! It ain’t rocket science!
Consumers will embrace brands that are FLAWSOME*: brands that are still brilliant despite having flaws; even being flawed (and being open about it) can be awesome. Brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor, and (dare we say it) some character and humanity.
Two key drivers are fueling the FLAWSOME trend:
- HUMAN BRANDS: Everything from disgust at business to the influence of online culture (with its honesty and immediacy), is driving consumers away from bland, boring brands in favor of brands with some personality.
- TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH: Consumers are benefiting from almost total and utter transparency (and thus are finding out about flaws anyway), as a result of the torrent of readily available reviews, leaks and ratings.
AT&T Inc. (T) will start slowing the data speeds of customers with unlimited wireless plans once they reach a certain threshold, a sign of the industry trying to cope with soaring traffic and limited network capacity.
Customers will experience slower access speeds if their data usage exceeds 3 gigabytes a month, the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier said yesterday on its website. For customers with so-called long term evolution, or LTE, devices, the limit is 5 gigabytes a month, the Dallas-based carrier said.
It’s a mistake to think that because a customer has expressed dissatisfaction with your product or service, they will not come back to you.
They won’t return if you handle the situation badly. However, some of your most vociferous complainers could become your most loyal customers, because you handled the situation well and treated them with respect.
This means recognizing some essential traits:
• Customers want to be respected
• They want attention
• They want to be appreciated and recognized
• Most of all – they want to be understood!
When Joy Randel set out to build an online retail shop last year, one of the first steps she took was to find companies that could provide the products she wanted to sell.
But Ms. Randel says some of the suppliers she initially struck deals with for her start-up, Dazzle Dog Delight, did a lousy job that cost her sales. “They either sent out the wrong items or the packaging was terrible,” recalls the Oakland, Calif., entrepreneur, who started her business after getting laid off from a large health company.
Many executives I meet with simply can’t see the writing on the wall, assuming because they haven’t heard many complaints about their service, everything must be okay. That’s a dangerous position for the present and the future.
Wondering if I might be referring to a company like yours? Here are the top ten signs your customer service is lacking.
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