Knowing your market is one thing, but really understanding your existing and potential customers can make the difference between a surviving business and a thriving one.
This is the message that Lorraine Ashover, founder and Director of Minerva Procurement Consultancy Services, has placed at the heart of the company’s marketing plan. “Identifying potential customers then monitoring our marketing activity has been key to our success so far,” says Lorraine. The business, which was founded in 2010 to provide cost reduction and procurement consultancy services in the school sector, has already won an International Stevie Business Award and has seen its projected profits rise by 145% for 2014/15.
Know your best customers
Quality, not quantity, is essential when converting marketing leads into profitable sales. The process begins with identifying your most promising potential customers, understanding their needs, and communicating how you can service their business.
“We have developed a detailed customer avatar to help us target the best potential customers with laser precision. This tells us who our most valuable clients are, how many projects and spend category reviews they have undertaken with us, and where they are located. From that avatar we develop our “Top 10” list of potential customers that meet the criteria, and from this we write a strategy to win their business. When you get into that level of detail, focusing your marketing effort becomes much easier,” says Lorraine.
Whether you’re responding to online enquires and referrals, or cold-contacting potential clients, it’s important to understand their place in the buying process – a targeted message will be more effective than a generic sales pitch. You should also make sure you’re speaking to the decision maker. Sixty per cent of Minerva’s new clients come via referrals, although the company also uses business development calls to approach key targets.
“Our business is no different to any other SME, in that it’s all about building relationships,” says Lorraine. “For Minerva, the important contact is a school’s bursar so our strategy might include setting up Google Alerts to ensure we hear any relevant news about the school, or reviewing LinkedIn to see if any of our connections know the bursar.”
Customers often choose the business that follows up their enquiry first, so your responses should be fast and efficient, with a clear outline of your next steps. You’ll also need to keep track of relevant data, which is where a customer relationship management (CRM) system can help. Having customer information to hand means you can personalise your interactions and track their responses.
Track the marketing source
Lead management software – such as call and URL tracking – can monitor the sources of leads and allow you to prioritise your marketing spend in the areas that are most profitable to your business so it’s important to take the time to test a number of marketing techniques.
“You should never dismiss a type of marketing until you’ve tested it,” agrees Lorraine. “Although Google AdWords and Facebook are lucrative sources of leads for many SMEs, they didn’t engage our prospective customers. Instead, we use call-tracking numbers: each piece of marketing has a separate telephone number, which helps us assess which marketing has been most effective.”
It can take persistence to turn potential customers into clients. Keep your business in their mind with emails and follow-up calls that offer timely solutions or compelling content. Providing relevant information can help to build trust in your services and be the key differentiator between choosing you over a competitor.
“In my experience it takes around eight to 10 ‘touches’ from when you first engage a prospect to when they become a customer, but most businesses give up at four or five,” says Lorraine.
Building profitable relationships with clients doesn’t start with a hard sell, but by demonstrating how you can help them achieve their own business aims.
“We have found one of the most effective ways to attract customers is by offering help and advice,” says Lorraine. “We offer webinars, newsletters and procurement tactic videos, and our website and brochure include case studies and client testimonials. Potential customers have told us that being able to read a success story or seeing a testimonial offers reassurance.’
Five business lessons
- Follow up – you can have the best marketing in the world but winning new customers is hard work and persistence always pays off.
- Be crystal clear about who your ideal customer is, then make sure all your marketing activity has that at its heart.
- Don’t automatically dismiss a marketing technique until you have really tried and tested it.
- Use call-tracking numbers as a matter of course. This will give you invaluable insights into what marketing is working and, equally important, what’s not.
- Your customers are the best form of marketing and they’re free. Use case studies, testimonials and referrals to build your customer base and generate revenue.
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