Marketing Insight Q & A: Getting the Scoop on Your Customers

Marketing Insight Q & A: Getting the Scoop on Your Customers, by Iris Dorbian.

As a longtime marketing strategist and founder of Venture Drive Consulting, Mark Kotzer has amassed over 20 years working with what he terms “scrappy entrepreneurs.” From helping small business owners craft a vision and business model, to product launches and sales development, the Seattle-based Kotzer—whose clients have included Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser—has carved a niche for himself as a go-to-resource for companies seeking to advance to the next stage. Recently, business writer Iris Dorbian caught up with Kotzer to discuss how entrepreneurs can better know their customers without being invasive and how that market intelligence can be used to boost sales.
ID: What’s the best way for entrepreneurs to know their target demo or audience?

MK: Part of that is going to be derived from the thought processes you put forth when you first started your business. Hopefully, the company will have created a business plan or a branding strategy that they will keep updated at times. One of the things I’ve found with companies is that they think about who their target audience is before they open and then not again. It may be prudent for companies to revisit who their customers are at least once a year. Part of that is going to be driven by who is actually buying the types of products being sold in your store. I strongly recommend that businesses focus on or identify the top 5 percent of their customers. That’s going to give you a much more meaningful indicator of who your target customer should be. You will have lots of people who are “lookers” but not “bookers.”

PQ_QAmarkkotzer.jpgID: Can small business owners know too much about their customers? What are the pros and cons of having that much information?

MK: The pros are that if you treat the information well, your customers are going to view you as not just a retailer but as a real resource. They’re going to look at you as someone whom they can count on for good advice or to help them solve a problem. Through the loyalty or trust they develop in you over time, they’ll become less price-sensitive and more brand-loyal. And that’s ultimately what the retailer wants. If you’re able to demonstrate through the information you provide on your website and through the quality of service and attention that you provide in-store, customers are going to reward you with their business and be a much greater referral vehicle as well. It’s that stickiness factor that you want.

ID: And the cons?

MK: If you become too aggressive with the information. It’s a relationship that needs to build over time. With all the information at your fingertips nowadays—particularly if you’re online—retailers can go overboard if they’re too overt or too direct. Saying things like, “We understand what you like or what you’ve purchased in the past” can feel too forward. It needs to be clear to the customer why you’re sharing that information. Also, if you’re asking them to share lots of information during a website registration or before they make a purchase, they’ll more likely enter incorrect information or discontinue that effort.

The other part of that is once they share [personal data] you’ve got to be judicious in how you use that. Look at it more in the aggregate and understand how that information can be better utilized to support the customers’ needs over time as opposed to being too direct. It’s a subtlety of the tone aspect that needs to be conveyed.

ID: So much current online advertising rests on behavioral targeting. What are your thoughts about this practice?

MK: For the small business owner it’s somewhat less of an issue. When you think of behavioral targeting, you think of the ads found on websites. I find it creates a lot of clutter and is a distraction. From the standpoint of a retailer, having ads on a website is a real negative. When people visit your website, that is a reflection of your brand. If you’re trying to be a trusted resource and you have ads that are popping up that are not related to your company—but are related to the specific visitor—then the customer will wonder what else you know about him or her and why do you know it? Retailers have to consider the overall impression their site will create and if there is any value to having ads there. Quite frankly, if the ads are not done well, they can even be competitive to the site itself. It can spur customers to leave your site because something popped up that interested them.

ID: What’s your best advice for entrepreneurs who want to know their audience without infringing on their privacy?

MK: Start out small and don’t be overly ambitious. Some entrepreneurs will insist that they have to be on Foursquare or other social media sites. And then they end up not doing anything particularly well. Whether it’s a frequent customer program—a punch card of some type if you’re a brick-and-mortar store or a loyalty program on your website—really focus on how you can best serve those people who clearly have demonstrated a repeated interest in your product. Build on that loyalty by providing incentives for them to purchase more. And over a period of time, give them opportunities to request more information from your business and share more information about themselves.

Marketing Insight Q & A: Getting the Scoop on Your Customers

Marketing Insight Q & A: Getting the Scoop on Your Customers by Iris Dorbian.

As a longtime marketing strategist and founder of Venture Drive Consulting, Mark Kotzer has amassed over 20 years working with what he terms “scrappy entrepreneurs.” From helping small business owners craft a vision and business model, to product launches and sales development, the Seattle-based Kotzer—whose clients have included Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser—has carved a niche for himself as a go-to-resource for companies seeking to advance to the next stage. Recently, business writer Iris Dorbian caught up with Kotzer to discuss how entrepreneurs can better know their customers without being invasive and how that market intelligence can be used to boost sales.
ID: What’s the best way for entrepreneurs to know their target demo or audience?

MK: Part of that is going to be derived from the thought processes you put forth when you first started your business. Hopefully, the company will have created a business plan or a branding strategy that they will keep updated at times. One of the things I’ve found with companies is that they think about who their target audience is before they open and then not again. It may be prudent for companies to revisit who their customers are at least once a year. Part of that is going to be driven by who is actually buying the types of products being sold in your store. I strongly recommend that businesses focus on or identify the top 5 percent of their customers. That’s going to give you a much more meaningful indicator of who your target customer should be. You will have lots of people who are “lookers” but not “bookers.”

PQ_QAmarkkotzer.jpgID: Can small business owners know too much about their customers? What are the pros and cons of having that much information?

MK: The pros are that if you treat the information well, your customers are going to view you as not just a retailer but as a real resource. They’re going to look at you as someone whom they can count on for good advice or to help them solve a problem. Through the loyalty or trust they develop in you over time, they’ll become less price-sensitive and more brand-loyal. And that’s ultimately what the retailer wants. If you’re able to demonstrate through the information you provide on your website and through the quality of service and attention that you provide in-store, customers are going to reward you with their business and be a much greater referral vehicle as well. It’s that stickiness factor that you want.

ID: And the cons?

MK: If you become too aggressive with the information. It’s a relationship that needs to build over time. With all the information at your fingertips nowadays—particularly if you’re online—retailers can go overboard if they’re too overt or too direct. Saying things like, “We understand what you like or what you’ve purchased in the past” can feel too forward. It needs to be clear to the customer why you’re sharing that information. Also, if you’re asking them to share lots of information during a website registration or before they make a purchase, they’ll more likely enter incorrect information or discontinue that effort.

The other part of that is once they share [personal data] you’ve got to be judicious in how you use that. Look at it more in the aggregate and understand how that information can be better utilized to support the customers’ needs over time as opposed to being too direct. It’s a subtlety of the tone aspect that needs to be conveyed.

ID: So much current online advertising rests on behavioral targeting. What are your thoughts about this practice?

MK: For the small business owner it’s somewhat less of an issue. When you think of behavioral targeting, you think of the ads found on websites. I find it creates a lot of clutter and is a distraction. From the standpoint of a retailer, having ads on a website is a real negative. When people visit your website, that is a reflection of your brand. If you’re trying to be a trusted resource and you have ads that are popping up that are not related to your company—but are related to the specific visitor—then the customer will wonder what else you know about him or her and why do you know it? Retailers have to consider the overall impression their site will create and if there is any value to having ads there. Quite frankly, if the ads are not done well, they can even be competitive to the site itself. It can spur customers to leave your site because something popped up that interested them.

ID: What’s your best advice for entrepreneurs who want to know their audience without infringing on their privacy?

MK: Start out small and don’t be overly ambitious. Some entrepreneurs will insist that they have to be on Foursquare or other social media sites. And then they end up not doing anything particularly well. Whether it’s a frequent customer program—a punch card of some type if you’re a brick-and-mortar store or a loyalty program on your website—really focus on how you can best serve those people who clearly have demonstrated a repeated interest in your product. Build on that loyalty by providing incentives for them to purchase more. And over a period of time, give them opportunities to request more information from your business and share more information about themselves.

The Power of the Crowd: Is crowdsourcing right for your small business?

asian business woman the power of the crowdsourcing right for your small business?You may think you know the definition of crowdsourcing for your small business , but there are a lot of interpretations to its meaning.

In the words of Northwestern University professor Jeff Howe, who coined the term, crowdsourcing is “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

Regardless of how you define it, there is an argument to be made that crowdsourcing is a particularly good match for small businesses. Here’s why:

Venture capital firms are generally supportive of the concept as it allows the companies they fund to lower operating expenses.

It provides access to a pool of experienced and creative talent that might otherwise be inaccessible to a small business.

The concept of user feedback on product design and branding is already an accepted dynamic in the social media-driven world currently embraced by many small businesses and their customers.
Small businesses may have smaller tasks that need to be solved and they will get a broader spectrum of crowd-sourced solutions.

Pull Quote.pngIf you’ve never considered crowdsourcing, there are a multiple of websites dedicated to it and particularly useful to small businesses. Innocentive is a forum where “solvers” compete to devise a solution to a small business’s problem, usually a technical one. Ideaken is a software platform that facilitates collaboration between enterprises and individuals. Whinot is a consulting firm dedicated to providing crowd-sourced technical solutions to small businesses. crowdSPRING is a crowd-sourced marketplace for graphic design and writing services. There are many more crowdsourcing websites including: GeniusRocket, 99 designs, LogoTournament, Minted and Poptent, just to name a few.

If you are considering venturing into crowdsourcing, there are few rules of engagement to consider:

Don’t skimp on information. Describe the project and target audience in detail.
If you have specific pet peeves or favorite colors, spell them out in your project description.
If you’re crowdsourcing creative work, such as a logo design, take steps to ensure the design is original before contracting to use it.
If you’re running a contest, think carefully about the dollar amount of the reward. You’re already saving significantly so let the reward fit the effort.
Don’t forget that, in addition to the financial incentive, many participants in crowdsourcing are motivated by constructive feedback and publicity.

You can start with a non-strategic project, such as how to configure your phone system. Or, you can get input from the “crowd” on something as significant as your company name. Whether you’ve thought about crowdsourcing for a while or are considering it now for the first time, there are very few barriers to jumping into the mix

Know Your Demo: Why Understanding Who Your Customers Are Is Key To Small Business Success

woman-article-portraitby Iris Dorbian.

It’s the first lesson of Small Business 101: If you want your company or product to be a success, you must know your target audience, and more specifically, your customer demographics. Too often a business can struggle and even fail because its corresponding marketing efforts didn’t understand the who, what, when, where, why, and how of their customers make their buying decisions.

Ask Important Questions

Four years ago,

when Derek Christian bought My Maid Service, a small independent cleaning service based in Cincinnati, his immediate goal was to grow the existing customer base. Christian, who previously worked as an account executive for Proctor & Gamble’s commercial products group, decided a good way of defining his target audience was to ask the company’s existing customers several questions. Some of these were fairly intuitive, like “Why were they hiring a cleaning service?” but others might seem pretty far afield, such as “What were they looking for in life?” and “Where do they shop?”

 

The answers Christian received not only gave him keen insight into his clients’ psychographic profile, they helped him recognize three specific demographics
within his customer base: new parents, pet owners, and young urban apartment dwellers. Once these three groups were clearly defined, My Maid Service, which currently
has 50 employees, began a campaign push to market to them.

“For example, new parents care deeply about not only having spotless floors, but also what chemical

s we are using to clean those floors because their baby is crawling on it and putting their hands and feet in his or her mouth,” explains Christian. “We make sure our people know child safety laws and we make sure we don’t arrive at nap times. It’s not just about cleaning.” As a result of targeting these three specific groups, Christian was able to grow the company’s annual revenue from $250,000 to $2,000,000—quite a coup for a small business during a recession.

Zeroing In

Now that you know identifying and understanding your customer demo can play a big role in improving your business, how do you go about it?

Try asking yourself the following questions:

Who is your best current customer?

  • What is their age range?
  • How about their income level? Or education level?
  • Where do they live?
  • How do they s pend their money? Are they frugal, extravagant, or in-between spenders?

This type of additional detail is essential if you want to flesh out the customer profile of your company or product’s target. “The objective is to close in that person,” says Lou Rubin, a seasoned marketing and advertising professional whose career includes an 11-year stint as an executive director at ad agency Doremus. “Once you know everything about how they interact with you, you can seek similar customers.”

Mine for more data

Other tips:

Utilize your local Chamber of Commerce and state Commerce Department to find additional statistics, like census data, on a subgroup you’d like to target within your community. Be insatiable in your appetite to learn all you need to know about the customers you want to attract.

  • Leverage resources such as Experian, a credit-reporting agency that provides information on consumer online purchases, to your benefit. Doing so will give you a clear-cut idea on your demo’s purchasing behavior as well as the history of any interactions they may have with your brand.
  • Get first-hand information directly from customers. One good way is through detailed, one-on-one interviews. Your marketing or research department, if you have one, can do this using a customer database. Or if you have the budget, hire an outside firm that specializes in gathering this data for companies. If your marketing is more the shoestring variety, you can do exactly what Derek Christian did after taking over the reins of My Maid Service: Simply ask your target customers a few questions. Offering a discount on a future purchase is usually enough of an incentive to get people to participate in a short marketing survey. (To get started, check out the questions at this free customer survey library.)
  • Another best practice—examine the competition. How are they engaging with your audience? Are they using old-fashioned direct mail, e-mail, or SEO marketing? Or are they engaging with your shared customer base via word-of-mouth? What innovative solutions are they offering your customers that you are not doing? What are their aggregate strengths and weaknesses? Are they leveraging social media to their advantage or not?
  • And speaking of social media, how is your business using it further its brand and heighten audience engagement? Have you set up Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts? In this dizzying 24/7 digital age, it behooves you to do so. The give-and-take of customer interaction on these sites will not only help you promote your message, but act as a catalyst in gaining insight into what makes your target audience tick.
  • Also, go to events or conferences that cater to your target audience(s). For instance, because Christian’s My Maid Service targets new parents, the company frequently participates at trade expos aimed at new parents. If they’re not going to come to you, then you go to them.

Remember information is power and knowing your demo is critical to maximizing your chances of realizing your goals and achieving success.

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4 Questions to Consider When Choosing a Database for Your Small Business

apple capital group data base for small business

Data Base for Small Business

As a small business owner, it’s possible that an Excel data base is sufficient for your data storage and management needs. It may be enough to help you track customer contact information, search for data and even manage basic accounting. However, how do you know when it’s time to take a step further and determine whether or not you should invest in a database?

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

Will a database save time?

Spreadsheets can become unwieldy, costing a small business owner unnecessary time and money to track down a simple fact. A database and related software programs will allow you to access even the most obscure piece of information with a few clicks of the mouse. More than one department may need to access and update your company’s data on a regular basis. A database will allow company-wide collaboration in real time with no risk of confusion over disparate document versions.

Will a database improve my marketing efforts?

Many companies store customer information in more than one location, e.g. on an order form and in a spreadsheet. A database will ensure consistency of marketing data across multiple documents.
If you have a web-based business, you may be missing out on the opportunity to capture and use large amounts of customer data. A database allows you to parse your data to facilitate one-to-one marketing tactics to existing and potential customers.
In an age that’s becoming increasingly visual, you may find that your business communications have evolved to require the use of images in addition to text. A database will allow you to keep track of thousands of images so that you can add a visual element to your marketing both on and offline.

Is not having a database putting my business at risk?

Sensitive information should not be kept on laptops and PCs that can be stolen, hacked or accessed by unauthorized users. If it is designed correctly and incorporates encryption technology a database can keep your data more secure.
Once your company has grown to a certain size, you may begin seeing an unacceptable number of errors in your data. For example, inaccurate sales totals, implausible inventory levels, inaccessible email addresses and nonexistent codes. A database will self-correct by only allowing information to be entered if it’s in the correct format.

If you have ultimately decided to invest in a database, what kind is best?

If you’ve answered yes to at least one of the questions above, you may be ready to consider a database. However, you may still feel overwhelmed by the breadth of choices.

Start by recognizing that database software typically falls into three general categories:

Desktop systems are the least expensive and simple design that is used to run on a desktop or PCs. These are designed for single users.
Web-enabled or “cloud-based” software is inexpensive, flexible and intuitive to use, but does raise some concerns about data security for the most confidential information.
Server-based databases store the most data and can be accessed by multiple users. These carry higher costs because they usually require a database administrator, either on staff or on a consulting basis.

Once you’ve chosen a general approach – with or without the help of an IT consultant or computer programmer – there are many more questions you’ll need to ask before you can choose a packaged application or customize one for your immediate and future needs. In the meantime, if you’ve been able to determine that you’d be better off with a database than without one, you’ve taken the right first step.