People want tactics but what they really need are strategies

I’ve made two observations lately and noticed a common thread between these two experiences and other similar observations from my own life and with my clients:

Observation #1
: Recently I was at a conference and the speaker was talking about the importance of building a list. The speaker highlighted some of the high level strategies that one should take when building a list – what the purpose was, how to build a rapport and relationship with your list, and how to make offers to the list. As the session wrapped up and the speaker answered questions, the questions that came in were very tactical and hands-on: “Should I use Aweber or should I use Constant Contact?” “What’s the first thing I should say to my list?” “Do you put 2 links or 3 links in the body of each email?”

The speaker presented strategies but the audience as hungry for tactics.

Observation #2: I was doing some research on niche marketing and watched a video by a guy who was really killing it in one specific niche. He gave a bunch of great information and then at the end he talked about how the information he shared works for many niches, not just the one niche he was in. He went on to say that people would contact him regularly about how challenging it is to work in that niche and what they should do in that niche to do a better job. This footnote of the video turned into a bit of a rant because, rightly so, he wanted to give people help in any niche but everyone was focusing on the one niche he was in and was using his model as a niche-specific tactic rather than a niche-agnostic strategy.

Again, the host of the video presented strategies and then addressed all the listeners who were drawing tactics from his video instead.

This, along with other similar observations, make it apparent to me that people want tactics. They want step-by-step hand-holding as they build their business, and they want guidance that they feel is specific for their unique business.

You hear the same frustration in any of Dan Kennedy’s writing: If you pay attention to Dan Kennedy for very long, you’ll hear him rant about people saying “but my business is different!”. He gives strategies that work for all businesses but his audience mistakes these for tactics that won’t work in their business. Dan rightly makes the assertion that no, it’s not different. Every business is fundamentally the same and the same strategies work across the board. But people feel that their business is so different, so unique, so unlike any other business out there, that only very specific, granular tactics will work.

At conferences, in sales letters, in books, in webinars: I consistently see strategies are presented but tactics preferred. Feedback ranges from “I’ve tried this stuff and it doesn’t work” to “I need more hands-on steps.”

There is value in learning tactics because, theoretically, you apply those tactics and get the same results as the person you’re learning from. This seems easier and more straightforward. Compare this with strategies, which are a little higher level and may require some interpretation for a specific market or industry. In spite of that extra step of work, strategies are better. They are more broadly applicable; they have more “variance”.

Perhaps also at play here is the reality that people don’t want to be told how to do something, they want to be told exactly what to do. They’re looking for step-by-step GPS guidance rather than a map to find their own way.

People want tactics but what they really need are strategies – timeless principles that may or may not be applicable to the one business they’re in (but are probably useful regardless of the business).

So, if you share strategies and/or tactics in your business, what does this mean for your business? It could mean any of the following:

  • Create strategies and stick with them. Educate people on why strategies are the better option.
  • Share strategies and demonstrate how some tactics can be derived from these strategies. Be prepared for people to assume that the tactics you share are the ONLY derivation of the strategies.
  • Share tactics only but make sure that you have a well-defined niche who will benefit from your tactics.
  • Create strategies but make them seem like tactics. (A lot of online educators and gurus do this). It’s very powerful.
  • Giveaway your strategies for free but sell your tactics. (A lot of consultants and coaches do this).

Strategies give us the high level principles that govern how to do something. Tactics are the specific step-by-step instructions that tell us exactly what to do in a very specific situation. Smart business owners understand strategies but deploy tactics.

But when you look at your audience of prospective buyers, chances are: they want tactics but need strategies.

My new business growth strategy: Attend more conferences

I used to avoid conferences. I had nothing against them but when I was first starting out in my business I didn’t have the money to go, and as my business grew I felt that I was too busy to go. In my mind, I could drop some money to attend a conference or I could just stay at home and earn instead.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Last year I attended my first conference. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have gone except that it was a conference that a client was putting on. This was a pretty big client who I had worked with for years but never met in person, plus the topic of the conference (real estate investing) was one that I wanted to build up some skill and knowledge in. So I went.

And it was amazing.

  • I learned a ton at the conference, of course.
  • Perhaps less of a surprise to some, I made so many contacts. This might be a “duh!” moment for some readers who already knew this. I knew I’d meet people, of course, but just assumed that those contacts would be like any other contact — a name and number and we’d never really connect again. I never realized the breadth, depth, or value of those connections before. From that one weekend, I made some really great contacts — some became clients; some became friends.
  • I picked up some new clients, adding maybe another 10% of revenue to my business.
  • I got my face out there in the industry a bit, too, which is a good thing.
  • I also met my avatar. This was a huge, unexpected benefit: I met the very people I would be marketing to. I learned so much about who my clients were from the people I met at this conference.

That one conference was really powerful and had a distinct impact on my business. So this year, I’m doing more: I’m attending three conferences (and, in fact, I’m speaking at one of them). I’d love to dial in even more conferences in the future… but baby steps, right?

I’m also doing a better job this year of building out a sales funnel for the people I meet. Specifically, if they’re prospective clients, I want a way to capture that information and put them into my funnel so I’m strategically connecting with them. (I had a bit of that last year but it was very rudimentary and not automated at all).

In the future, I’d love to attend a conference every month or two — perhaps including some as a speaker.

If you aren’t using conferences to level up your business, get started now. If you are already using attending conferences, what can you do to increase the results you get from them?

Use this strategy if your customers are going offshore instead of buying from you

A new client came to me recently because they were seeing many prospective customers moving their business offshore. The price disparity between buying from a North American supplier (my client) versus buying from a foreign (offshore) supplier was dramatic.

Although there is a lot going on here (in terms of economics, pricing, domestic-versus-foreign suppliers, shareholder pressure among customers, etc.), I want to focus on one simple strategy that can be used to help address this problem of buying from an offshore provider.

In a lot of industries companies used to buy locally because that was really the only option. Then the internet eliminated many of the cross-border buying barriers and suddenly countries that have a cheap labor market can underbid many domestic providers on nearly everything.

You see it in manufacturing; you see it in services. I noticed it when I was starting up my freelance writing business: I was bidding at a much higher price against freelance writers in India.

If you own a business that is facing the challenge of prospective customers who are going offshore for cheaper products and services, how do you win back that business?

YOU GET BACK INTO THE CONVERSATION

I recommend that you get back into the conversation. Specifically, you find a way to position yourself within the sales funnel of those offshore providers as a “checkpoint” that your customers will have to or want to cross before buying.

In my situation as a freelance writer years ago, I was able to get onto the same job-bidding platform and I used a variety of tools (especially pricing strategies and added value) to become a preferred service provider even if I wasn’t the cheapest. But another really helpful strategy was my book The Sales Funnel Bible which helped to demonstrate the importance of great marketing and sales copy all the way through the sales funnel. Prospective clients would read the book and come to understand that those offshore service providers might be cheap but they were just “order takers” – doing whatever work was assigned to them – while I always took my customers’ sales funnel into consideration when thinking about the work I was doing for them.

For a manufacturing client, I recommended that they do something similar: They need to investigate the offshore outsourcing marketplace in their specific industry and write a report on it. The report needs to be THE go-to resource on strategies and best practices to effectively outsource (domestically or internationally) and the report should implicitly position my client as a superior option. (There are many ways to do this effectively and ethically).

This helps put my manufacturing client back into the conversation: They become educators and advocates within their industry of effective outsourcing and they get back into the conversation – ultimately giving themselves a chance to show how their higher-priced product is still superior.

If you run a business that faces stiff competition that seems to be stealing away all of your customers, how can you get back into the conversation?

What to do if a competitor is stealing your customers

Early in my career I managed a retail store in a small town. There were only two such stores in town – mine and the competitor’s, and we worked just down the street from each other. For the most part, we each had our own customers but once in a while there was cross-over. His customers would come to my store and mine would go to his. Sometimes I’d see long-time customers of mine at his store and it was dismaying, but I know the reverse is true as well.

Competition is good for business and it’s fun. But it can also be cut throat (even when you maintain a professional, legal approach to your competitiveness).

Although you don’t always know when a competitor is stealing your customers, sometimes you do. Here’s what to do if your competitors are stealing your customers.

NOTE: When I say “stealing” I don’t mean it in an illegal way. There are rules and laws that companies need to play by and I’m making the assumption that both you and your competitor are in fact remaining compliant. When I say “stealing” I mean that your customers are going to your competitors and those competitors are happily serving them.

So here’s what to do…

  • First, decide if the customers are worth the effort. Some customers are not worth the effort. I recall one customer who threatened to go to the competition and it was welcome news to my ears because he bought from me so irregularly and was such a ridiculous amount of work that letting him go freed me up to serve more of my better customers.
  • Build a relationship with your customers. Don’t just tell them that they’re important to you (which is what most businesses do), show your customers that they’re important to you by taking an interest in their lives. For professionals like real estate agents and financial advisors (and some other similar professions), I always recommend that you truly get to know your customers. Send them birthday cards and call them. Send them flowers on their anniversary. If they play on a sports league, go to their games and cheer them on. Don’t be a stalker but be a friend. Check out these 61 questions to strengthen your client relationships and build loyalty.
  • Remind your customers of the value you provide. This is a huge complaint I have with a lot of companies (although if I were honest with myself I’d have to admit that I’m probably just as guilty of this). Once your customers are sold on purchasing from you, most businesses stop selling. But you have to continually “resell” to your existing customers and remind them why they’re buying from you. Otherwise they make the mistake of assuming that your competitor is exactly like you… and as soon as your competitor offers something cheaper, then loyalty is at risk.
  • Wow your customers. Truly wow them by shocking them with how unbelievable your service is. (Hint: This is rarely done).
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for your customers to come to you. Go to them and help them see that they need to buy more of whatever you’re selling.
  • Constantly ask your customers how you can help. You may find more ways to extend your own products or services but you might not… helping your customers might mean simply understanding what challenges they have in life and making introductions to others who can help them.

The worrisome truth is: Competitors are stealing your customers because you aren’t demonstrating the most important thing: That you are indispensable. Demonstrate that you’re indispensable and prove it over and over again and your competition will eat your dust.

Too many business say they WOW their customers… but few actually do

I hear a lot of businesses talk about giving “WOW” levels of service. But I just don’t see it all that often.

I think we’re at a point now where businesses say that they’re committed to WOW levels of service only because it’s expected that they say it – as if it “WOW Service” is the default text in every website template.

I’ve railed against the assertion of giving “great service” before and I think a similar thing is happening to the word “WOW”. Businesses are devaluing the term because they’re overusing it but falling short on what it really means to WOW customers.

What does “WOW” service really mean?

WOW service should mean that you are delivering a level of service that is so unexpected and shocking that customers exclaim “WOW!”

But what it’s come to mean is: businesses are delivering exactly the same level of service that they always do, which doesn’t really set them apart from the competition and definitely doesn’t WOW the customer.

Does your WOW service really WOW?

  • As the prospective customer moves through your sales funnel, do they express surprise at how much value you give away prior to the sale?
  • During the transaction, does the customer express surprise at how great of a deal they’re getting?
  • After the transaction, does the customer express surprise at how much you continue to serve them even after they’ve already paid?

You need to answer yes to at least one of these (and preferably all three) if you are going to truthfully claim to WOW your customers.