Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, said, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”
I seriously doubt if any accomplished executive or business leader would disagree with that statement. I sure wouldn’t. And yet, with so much written on the subject of sales and marketing, it’s surprising how little of it will actually help you with the most important aspect of business: winning and keeping customers.
The reason for that is simple. The vast majority of you are in highly competitive markets, meaning every transaction has one winner and lots of losers. For that reason alone, you have got to be consistently better and smarter at creating customers than your competitors are.
That may seem like a daunting challenge, and perhaps it is, but it can be accomplished with smart strategy and consistent execution. For example, everyone knows they need to differentiate, but few are smart and disciplined enough to actually pull it off. Instead they opt for shortcuts that never work. So let me tell you what does work. Seriously.
Step 1: Focus on solving one problem
Every successful business starts the same way: solving one problem. The key is to find the right one. Just keep in mind that you won’t know how you did until after the fact so just go with your gut and, if it doesn’t work out, try pivoting to something else.
It’s the same whether you’re marketing a product, a service, or both.
Take Apple iPod and iTunes, for example. MP3 players had been around for a while. So had music-download services. But nobody had combined the two so seamlessly. That pivotal combination is what took Apple into the consumer electronics business. The rest is history.
Step 2: Determine your unique value proposition
I guarantee that most of your businesses are defined far too broadly to have a truly unique customer value proposition. That’s why they’ll probably fail. Granted, you’ll most likely run out of cash, but the underlying cause will be that you didn’t segment the market narrowly enough to come up with a unique niche.
I recently engaged with a Web development company called Engage Marketing Group. They used to build websites for companies big and small but found that was too broad. Now they focus only on publishers, authors, and bloggers. Since that’s all they do, they’re very good at it. Ironically, that niche approach allowed them to scale and flourish.
It’s one of the great paradoxes of business. As famed venture capitalist and former Intel executive Bill Davidow said in his seminal book Marketing High Technology, “Segmentation lets Davids slay Goliaths.” As with so many things in business, when it comes to market focus, less is more.
Step 3: Engage your core target customers
It’s sad the way entrepreneurs and small business owners are overly focused on building their own personal brands and trying to make a name for themselves on Twitter and Facebook when, in reality, the only thing they should be communicating is their unique competitive advantage.
Look, it doesn’t matter if you generate popular content that goes viral if it doesn’t get across the one and only reason why customers should engage with you. Instead of doing the same thing everyone else is doing, come up with the most effective way to engage your core target customers, put all your wood behind that arrow, and hit the bulls-eye.
Step 4: Deliver the goods
It sort of goes without saying that you can’t build credibility and develop an outstanding reputation unless you exceed the expectations you set in customers’ minds, but consider this: Nobody is born great at anything. We all have to start somewhere, and nobody learns to walk without flopping facedown a few times.
Remember that becoming the best at something takes a while. It takes a lot of practice. But also remember the big picture goal is to win and keep customers. So if you stumble along the way, just keep telling your customers you’ll do whatever it takes to earn their trust and keep their business and then do it.
You know, most successful companies, from Marvel Entertainment and Harley Davidson to FedEx and Apple, nearly folded somewhere along the way. But, as Steve Jobs once said, “Half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” Stick with it. And remember, when it comes to business, less is usually more.