Have you ever seen an item in a shop that was incorrectly priced?
When I was studying law I learnt that a shop owner can accept or refuse to sell the item to you, you cannot force the shop owner to sell.
In contract law this is called offer and acceptance. The buyer is making an offer to buy a product or service, which the seller can accept or refuse.
So if the buyer is making the offer, what is the shop owner doing when he puts the product in the shop window?
He is making an invitation to treat. Wikipedia describes an invitation to treat as:
an indication of a person’s willingness to negotiate a contract
I think contract law on offer and acceptance is useful when we think about our sales and marketing. Why? Because when we market our products or services we are inviting prospective clients to treat with us. So as a business person what should you keep in mind?
1. Make your shop window attractive
I was brought up in Rome where market life proliferates. There is a very large Sunday market where you can find all sorts of goods and items often at very competitive prices, real bargains.
One day as I was walking along I heard a market trader, the Italian version of Dell Boy you could say, shouting:
You don’t want these beautiful goods, you want to buy the shop window!
That statement made me think. Lots of people were interested in what he had on his stall, but not everyone. Some visitors didn’t trust the quality of his goods. Were they right? I don’t know really, it depends on what you are looking for. What I do know though is that I was happy to buy from him.
I learnt a lesson there, which many years later I applied to my business. Make sure you know your customers and make your display of goods or services attractive to them.
For example the vast majority of my clients are construction companies, construction workers and sub-contractors. I love these clients because they are not demanding and they know that they can get to know me and my staff and like and trust us. So the way I present my services is just right for them and they understand what I am selling. Furthermore they can freely discuss their concerns with us. In some cases I feel more like a doctor, listening to their pain.
Sometimes I get clients who are not construction workers. Why? They realise that the service I am selling is just as good as that provided by the bigger accountancy firms. They are able to see that the shop window of the large firm is not good for them if all they want is basic tax advice and a set of accounts.
2. Make yourself known
Making yourself known is very important in marketing. These days you can spend hours on social media and lots and lots of people get to know about you and your services. Apart from your time this is free marketing. However, are you reaching the right people? Social media and especially LinkedIn groups are certainly an avenue to make yourself known. I have joined several construction groups and I have lots of connections with people in the industry.
However, if your market is very defined, as my market is, it would be a mistake to rely on Social Media for your marketing. You need to reach people in other ways and traditional methods may work very well. I am talking about advertising in local newspapers as well as national newspapers, trade magazines, distributing leaflets in abundance and of course you need to use modern methods too. For example SEO (search engine optimisation) is vital to ensure that you and your company are found on the internet. For this purpose I have engaged the services of an expert. What I am trying to say is that you really need to spend money on your marketing.
As the database grows and your clients get to know, like and trust you the number of referrals will increase.
I have over 500 clients. Nearly half of them have come from advertising, the other half from referrals, none from my Social Media interaction. The reason for this is not that social media does not work, simply stated my market is very defined.
3. Give value for money
Value for money means different things to different people.
For me it is linked to my personal productivity and that of my team. Why do I say this? Because all of your clients deserve a good service and need to feel that they have a friend in you and your company. This would be impossible without extremely efficient procedures and good working methods.
For example to service 500 clients can be very daunting. Yet the way we capture information and share it on our database management system makes all the difference. I can be anywhere in the world and know exactly what is going on in my company. If a client sends data to us with a request for a set of accounts to be produced quickly, provided we have everything for him, we can guarantee next day delivery at no extra charge.
There is another aspect to this and that is friendliness. I have been with an online bank for the last 15 years. I don’t personally know anybody there, but I always get what I want and fast. When I call, they treat me as though they have known me for years, their telephone manner is superb and this takes me to the next point.
4. Never be rude, politeness costs nothing
I get so many unwanted calls that I have decided to disconnect my home phone. I have had people hanging up on me before I can finish my sentence just because I am politely saying that I am not interested. So never be rude to your customers and prospective customers. Politeness costs nothing and it goes a long way to build goodwill in your business.
What about if a customer has a complaint? Again don’t be on the defensive. Acknowledge that they may be right and offer to do your best to solve his problem. You cannot run a business without having a difficulty with a client at one point or another. The way you deal with a complaint, and resolve it, shows the quality of your company. Often when you win over a complaining customer, you get double loyalty.
5. Nobody wants to be sold to
Don’t shove your products and services down your prospects’ throat. You need to advertise where people expect to find adverts. Marketing of course is different from advertising. You market yourself and your company by sharing knowledge, design and quality. Remember your invitation to others to treat with you. Advertising and marketing go together, but they have separate “slots”. If you try to sell or advertise when you should be marketing the outcome could be disastrous.
Contract law teaches us that the offer is made by the client or prospect when he decides to buy. Don’t take away this right from him. Wait until he is ready and when he makes his offer then you can accept or refuse.
6. Does price matter?
Yes, price does matter, but value for money matters more. Price for the sake of price is meaningless. What you want to sell is the value of your services at a price people can afford.
I am not a marketing man, I am an accountant and a business person. The above tips are the result of many years experience and my interaction with like-minded people on platforms such as LinkedIn.
The modern business is a little bit like modern football. In the old days, a striker was always a striker, he could only play upfront. Today it is not unusual to see a striker running along the pitch from defence to attack. A business person needs to understand his business and his customers in all its components if he really wants to be successful.
Today’s Micro Action
Look through the six tips above and write done any ways that you can make your micro business more inviting. What could you do to encourage more people to be interested in buying your products and services – to get more people to treat with you? Pick at least one thing that you can improve on and create an action plan to make the change and review the result.