First, talk to your customers. However you normally communicate, use a little of that opportunity to find out how to better serve their needs. Face-to-Face, online, on the phone, email ... a few gentle questions that show you value their business can strengthen their loyalty.
Online customers? Ask them how you are doing with an online survey. Ask where else they shop online. Ask if there are some things they would rather buy in the brick and mortar world ... and, why?Ask if there are product categories where they find the selection lacking.
Business customers? Find out how their business is doing. Ask what new ideas interest them. Who do they use for goods or services related to yours? What is their biggest challenge? Who else in the company might use goods or services like yours?
All customers. Ask if there are other things you can do for them. Who do they know that you should be trying to reach? What can you do better?
You've got to keep up. You don't have to give up your niche or compromise your brand, but you do have to know what else is out there. Know where your products or services fit in the scheme of things. Are there ideas you can pick up on that will broaden your market?
Read, read, read. Scout your competition online. Really read your trade publications and those of your customers. Go to trade shows for your industry and for the industries of your most important customers. Know what is on the horizon that might change your business. Make plans to be a vibrant part of the future. Step out of your comfort zone.
Keep Your Eye on the Technology.
10 years ago no one could have guessed the ways technology would have changed virtually every facet of our lives. The number of companies – whole categories of business – that have disappeared because they didn't understand how technology was demanding that they change is astounding. Every time you hear of a new technology coming online, ask yourself "How could that impact my business? My customers? My market?" And then ask yourself, "What can I do to adapt?"
Write it Down!
If you haven't started a marketing notebook, you really need to do it now. Keep notes of your observations. Even if they don't seem incredibly relevant in the beginning, you will begin to see patterns that can impact decisions. Don't ever be caught off guard again. Know what is coming down the tracks and stay ready so you don't have to get ready!
It's so good to speak with confidence. When you take the time and effort to really know what is happening – and likely to happen – you speak from a position of strength. Make yourself an expert on your marketplace. And when you are caught a little off balance by something you haven't heard about, use it as an opportunity to dig deep and learn all you can as early as you can.
NEXT: Become a Fine Art of Marketing Collector.
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