Marketing for Small Business
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Much like a small business encounters seasonal cash flow issues, the national American economy goes through cycles as well. Periods of growth are occasionally interrupted by contractions, and then the process rights itself, repeating as economically necessary.
The fact that ups and downs are completely normal occurrences doesn’t make the downs any easier to endure. A thoughtful business owner knows that things are never as bad--or good--as the present moment appears, and therefore prepares accordingly. Contingency plans are designed when times are good, and executed when needed, if fortunes take a downturn. This careful business planning helps flatten the cycles of boom and bust encountered by many companies.
But, when times are tough, what more can a small business owner do to cope with sagging sales?
Historically, a company’s best source of sales is the existing customer base. Marketing studies have shown that it is up to seven times more costly to replace a customer than it is to keep one. Previous customers have already “qualified” your business and deemed it worthy of patronage. It should not be as hard to get them to become repeat customers because you’ve already impressed them with your operation the first time (haven’t you?).
And this management of customer relationships--which in the past was more of an art form based on personality--has been transformed into a science with the advances of the digital age. CRM companies employing high-tech solutions, such as Constant Contact and others, have made customer relationship management accessible to the small business community. And the Internet has made it cost-effective as well. It’s as easy as sending email.
In fact, if your small business is not using a CRM program, it is falling behind, because so many small businesses now use email marketing as a normal part of business operations. CRM keeps you in contact with your best customers--so you know what they need, and they know you’re out there and ready to help.
"Repeat customers are also easier to target with specific messages focused on their interests and behaviors related to the buying cycle," said John Arnold, regional development director for Constant Contact. "Targeted messaging increases conversion rates because consumers are more likely to respond to personalized marketing messages," further deepening customer relations.
You only need two things to get started: a valid email contact list of your customers and a reputable CRM company to help execute a plan to suit your needs. But be careful when choosing the right Internet marketing company for you. You don’t want to be seen as annoying customers with spam. This could severely harm your company’s reputation, buying you more headaches than increased sales. And there are other rules of etiquette and even some laws you should know about before starting your CRM program. You’ve worked hard to establish your company’s reputation with your current customers. Don’t risk it by carelessly hiring an email marketing company that cares more about billing you than helping you grow your business.
As for building your list, put some care into that as well. Ask customers for contact information. Offer something of value on your web site in exchange for the information. At the office, do a monthly drawing for visiting customers as an enticement. Encourage the use of customer feedback forms to gather contact information, and you'll get more than just advice. People will be happy to share email information if you make it worth their while.
But, when collecting contacts’ names and emails addresses, be upfront about what you are doing. It’s not a secret, and you shouldn’t act like it. Give people the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of future communications. If you are providing something of value in your communications, they will not want to opt-out anyway, so the risk is minimal. Develop a regular email newsletter and publish helpful information. If you solve a problem for a customer, you become known as a problem-solver, not just a seller.
Buyers are becoming accustomed to the new rules established by Internet marketing. It is flattering to be catered to. It feels good to have merchants who seem to know so much about what buyers want and need, providing just the right solutions. And the proof is in the sales figures.
Email marketing is an inexpensive way to deepen relationships with customers and drive up sales, no matter the economic conditions.