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Competing in a local market

Ron Furlong
Ron Furlong - Contributed

Chamber Chat with Ron Furlong

When you are selling the same or similar to others you can still add lots of value.

Ask yourself, why should people buy from you? Give that some thought. Perhaps write down some notes. Writing it out can help solidify your thoughts. It also makes it easier to remember.

When you’re done listing why your business is special, did you include statements addressing each of the following areas of importance to the customer?

  1. Product or service – Confirmation of product / service purpose and intended duty cycle
  2. Sales process – How the potential customer knows what you have for sale and ways they can purchase it
  3. Price – The cost to the customer of having their purchase in hand and working correctly
  4. Availability – The lead time, the lag time and the customer’s organizational burden to go from identified need to working solution
  5. Package – The emotional validation, confidence of product integrity on delivery, setup effort, usability of documentation and appropriateness of fast use instructions
  6. Customer care – The customer’s expectations of assistance availability and scope, and when free assistance and advice changes to chargeable service or billable consulting
  7. Corporate values – How you’re perceived as treating your customers, your community, your employees and your inventory
  8. System integrity – The customer’s perception of the ease of their relationship with you is in seeing commitments kept, paying for their purchases, seeking usable assistance, and fixing administrative errors

Did you already notice all of the places where you can potentially add value to the sale for little or no additional cost? The very first is for you to know your answers to the above so you can figure out what to communicate, and how best to do so during the customers’ buying cycle.

I’ve numbered the list to make it easy for you to refer to. This column isn’t long enough to get to all of these in one go. For the sake of convenience, I’ve put them in sequence of most common sales interactions, but consider them in whatever order works for you and your business. This month we can look at the first one.

1. Product or service – If you or your staff only know what’s on the label or in the catalog description and feel there is no need to know more, then move on. Go back to the list above and consider where your time is best spent. There are lots of other places your business can add value independent of the products you sell. Simply note that knowing what a product can, and more importantly cannot do, can forestall any number of misunderstandings and product returns.

Knowing the most common questions customers have about a product or product type, can give you a foundation of things you can talk about with a customer. When you consider what customers most common questions or complaints about a product are, you can use these points to engage customers in conversations past “Can I help you?” Any time you can get customers thinking about their purchase you add value to them purchasing from you. It is not necessary to be able to give the customer the answer. Providing the common questions which prompt them to talk themselves through the purchase is usually all that is necessary. You may not get every transaction, but you will get them as a customer. Include the lifetime value of the customer and the people they direct to your store when you are thinking of the vale of a single sale. Getting the customer thinking about their purchase and how it solves the issue they are trying to deal with, will help them become an ambassador of your business. You will be top of mind when they are shopping within the categories of what you sell. And when their acquaintances ask for suggestions of where to shop, they will think of your business and how you helped them reach a good decision. 

Next column “Sales Process”

Ron Furlong is the executive director of the Amherst and Area Chamber of Commerce

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