Fishing for customers can sometimes be a lot like bears getting their dinner.
By Carole Mahoney
For many business owners, the hardest decision to make is which direction to take to grow your sales and get more customers. It can feel as if there are so many options and things you could do. How do you choose?
I have found the direction many business owners take to get more customers is never actually chosen; it just sort of happens. It’s not an intentional decision, but many owners get their customers today exactly like they got their first one.
That can work just fine until something happens that turns everything upside down—like say a pandemic for example.
As I was watching a nature show recently about grizzly bears and how they fish, I recognized it’s the same way a lot of business owners try to get customers. And like the grizzlies, there are pros and cons to each strategy.
Strategy No. 1: Settle for anyone.
Some grizzlies always smack the fish out of the water and onto the shore. If you were to watch, they stand in the river madly slashing and trying to grab fish, making a lot of noise. The fish get hit onto the shore (where sometimes other grizzlies wait and take the fish just swatted).
Businesses that can “help anyone” are like the grizzly who spends a lot of energy going after any fish that moves. Eventually one of them will end up on the shore, and hopefully they will get them before another grizzly comes along and steals it.
Pros: It doesn’t take a lot to figure out what you need to do. Just blast your advertising out to everyone with a pulse and something will eventually come up.
Cons: How much return you get, and when you will get that return, is left largely up to chance. Your costs to acquire customers is high.
What to do:
1. Focus on who your best customers are. Hint: Those are the ones who are easiest to work with, who pay you on time, and who refer you to others.
2. Use targeted online advertising to reach out to only the people who are searching for your service.
3. Proactively ask for referrals from your favorite customers to others. Their friends are likely to be like them.
Strategy No. 2: Solve the balancing act.
Other grizzlies dive underwater to find fish in deeper pools. From the videos I saw, it’s an entertaining balancing act because they don’t like to get their ears wet, and it involves some fancy footwork.
For business owners who rely on skilled and talented people to deliver the service, the balancing act between finding customers and delivering the work is a common challenge.
You don’t want to get so far underwater that you don’t have time to find new customers, only to eventually have those customers go away, and nothing in the pipeline. Some will spend a lot of time perfecting the machine, only to find themselves with wet ears when the machine sits idle because there are no new sales to run it.
Pros: As the person who sells and delivers products and services, you can guarantee the experience your customer will have because you are the one creating them.
Cons: Your business will be limited to the number of hours in a day you have to work. Don’t get sick or plan on taking a vacation.
What to do:
1. Document your sales and service process. Hire someone to follow you around and do it for you if you must.
2. Save up capital or apply for an SBA loan to hire either a salesperson or a technical person.
3. If you aren’t able or willing to do that, seek online virtual help to take care of the administrative aspects of your business (bookkeeping, answering phones and email requests, etc.) to free up more of your time to focus on the things that only you can do.
Strategy No. 3: Go niche or stay home.
Then there are those grizzlies who stand still in the water, watching the fish closely. When a fish jumps out of the water, the grizzly snatches it in its jaws. It doesn’t require a lot of work, just a lot of focus.
Business owners looking for sales and business growth who focus on a niche are like those watchful grizzlies. At this point, most everyone offers the same or similar products and services. To differentiate, focus on where you have industry expertise. This is where you can add real value—by focusing on what you do best.
Pros: You are better able to differentiate from your competitors and in most cases can charge more because of your value and expertise in an area. It’s easier for others to refer you because it’s clear where your expertise is.
Cons: You may feel like you are limiting your options for growth.
What to do:
1. Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your competition. Where do they have strengths that you don’t? What weaknesses do you have? What weaknesses do they have? Are there opportunities for you to collaborate with each other and refer business? What opportunities for new products and services are in your niche? Where might you be a threat to one another?
2. Test your niche. Create messaging for your website, in advertising, and in your sales conversations to see how great the demand for this niche is.
3. Identify where else can you build niches in your business. What other opportunities did you find in your SWOT analysis that you can test next?
So, which grizzly fishing strategy sounds most like you? It’s important to know.
It’s also important to know which one will get you to your goals this year, which one will help reduce competition, and which one will enable you to deliver the most value for your customers.
Carole Mahoney, as the founder of Unbound Growth, has coached Harvard Business School Entrepreneurial MBA students on sales and been featured as a top sales coach by Ambition and Sales Hacker. You can contact her directly at www.unboundgrowth.com.