Should small business whine? This is how Seth Godin titled his very telling blog post this morning. No- they should not. Small businesses have every reason in the world to out preform any large company with a bit of common sense and a personal touch. When I remodeled my house, I tried to buy almost everything I could online, mainly from small businesses. In one stressful day the plumber came to install all the faucets and discovered we got the wrong part. He wanted a replacement by the end of the next day, so he can install it on time before he leaves to his summer vacation. I emailed the company I bought the item from (small business out of Louisiana) and few minutes later I got a tracking number for an next day air shipment of the right piece. No excuses, no whining- amazing service by one committed business. I ended up buying all other plumbing materials from them. Investing in personal customer service is your safest bet- you are either the boss or close to her, there is no bureaucracy and decisions can be made in minutes. In addition, you can use some of the rules I published last year that will help you appear large and professional. Look as professional as Amazon but with a better/faster/personal customer service can be your ultimate competitive weapon.
- Presence: save on coffee, dining out or anything else but don’t save on your public presence. Glossy product brochures and a shiny website are essential to look impressive (Seth Godin just published a useful guide on how to create a good enough website). Make sure you hire a good marketing agency (there are many small firms of young and smart guys that will make you look brilliant). This is one of the areas where quantity doesn’t count as much as quality. I know many people don’t think it is important–but trust me, it is as bad as coming to a sales meeting unshaved and in your DYI outfit.
- Use technology to appear bigger–there are many products that will make you look big. Here are some examples: use Ring Central for telephony–you can manage the system to do just about anything, including dialing 3 for Jack who works in the office in California and 4 for Jill who works out of her home in Minnesota. Another technology that can increase your slickness index is a contract management system like Echo Sign. It is not a must if you don’t get contracts by the hundreds, but for a very small fee you appear to be large and organized, and people tend to negotiate less when facing an electronic contract. Do you run webinars? It is so easy to do and there are many technologies for that like Webex. You can even record them: have a professional narrator do voice over for a few hundred dollars and you’ve got yourself impressive e-learning on the spot. There are more, but you get the point–with many of these tools offered as a service, you can move quickly and get a better customer who is facing technologies than the large competition that will spend years to decide on each project.
- Get a CRM system- more than anything else, small businesses can differentiate on service. Get a good CRM system and make it part of your culture to use it. Connect it to the telephony system so you can get your caller info on the screen before they even say hello.
- Add some big names to your customer list–Go out of your way to get some recognized names as customers and even better, get them to endorse you. It may not be important revenue wise, but it will add credibility. By the way, you can do the same with partners as well.
- Be consistent–maybe the most important tip–be consistent with everything you do that faces customers. There is nothing less consistent than 3 people showing for a meeting with a potential customer with 3 different types of business cards, giving 2 different brochures designed with different look and feel and slightly different logo. This is not saving, it is losing potential customers. Get someone to build a good master template and use it everywhere. And yes, toss away the stuff you printed last year. You did the same with yesterday’s paper…