No matter what type of business you are in, you likely have many competitors. Competition, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It can encourage businesses to up their game, and can help not only define but strengthen your business niche. Still, people usually call me when they are worried about their competition and feel they need to increase their marketing efforts to stay ahead of the pack. But, increasing your marketing budget isn’t always the best use of money when trying to ward off the competition. First, look at whether you are marketing your strengths or weaknesses.
Recently, a client contacted me very concerned about a new business in her area that was offering similar services, and had even used many of the terms and phrases from her website. She was ready to put more money into online advertising and other marketing in order to keep “Company B” from stealing her customers. Now, my client has been in business for several years. Her website is clean, SEO optimized, and she has been diligent about developing her brand, even on a limited budget. Best of all, she has worked hard to develop her staff, and online reviews have made them a #1 pick on TripAdvisor for the services they offer.
A review of her competitors showed they have a long way to go before being in the same league as my client, even though their services are similar. So, while we could have increased online advertising to pull people away from other businesses, at this point I suggested that one of the best things she can do is review and continue to focus on her biggest strength – her online reviews. Those reviews don’t talk about how easy she is to find online, the quality ingredients they use, or even the specific services offered, every review focuses on the excellent customer service provided by their team. In their market, (and probably yours) there is no better advertising than positive reviews, and while theirs are consistently excellent, keeping them that way is one of the best investments she can make right now.
Having worked for the Ritz Carlton many years ago, I have seen first-hand how staff development, company culture, and employee contentment can set a business apart in a highly competitive market. Yet, it amazes me how so many businesses fail to recognize that staff is their most important marketing element. The Internet has made it incredibly easy to share an opinion about anything and everything, and many people seem to feel it’s their duty to share their experiences with the world. As a result, ensuring a consistently positive experience with your company is crucial to your success. From the person who answers the phone, to each member of your team who is in direct contact with the public, if even one person on your staff is weak link, you probably have a serious liability. Even one negative customer experience can show up on numerous review sites on the Internet. If you increase your online marketing budget without taking care of your staffing issues, you are not marketing strengths, but are instead drawing attention to your weaknesses.
I’ve sat in on trainings provided by Executive Coach, Karen Nutter, and the insights her assessments offer combined with the skills she teaches can make a significant impact on the effectiveness of a team or an individual. And when a business has a positive corporate culture and good staff, it makes the company much easier to market through traditional and online methods. Having marketable employees requires a multi-pronged approach to staff training and development. First, you need to select the right people for the job. You can train people to do most anything but you can’t usually change their attitude and demeanor. Get to know your job candidates as much as you can before you hire them. Invest in personality profiles such as Gallup StrengthsFinder and the DISC behavioral assessment tool to measure how a person behaves and what motivates them. Then, do what the Ritz Carlton does and create and consistently reinforce the company culture. This starts from the top down, emulating the behavior and attitude you want each team member to demonstrate. Create your corporate credo and ensure every employee recognizes the importance of it to the success of the company and to them personally. Lastly, invest in your employees by providing training to enhance their skills, improve communication, and increase their happiness. A happy employee provides the best service and that creates a cycle of happiness that improves your bottom line. (Read this article for more insight on how to Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy.)
While most people think of websites, advertising, and online presence when looking at increasing their marketing efforts, I believe businesses should start by reviewing their team and the customer service experience each member provides. When you’ve built a solid, positive reputation and new competitors emerge, (and they will) use it as a reminder to boost your team’s marketing influence first, then explore the other more traditional marketing tools to showcase your excellence. In the long run, you’ll get far more positive, long-lasting publicity from good customer service than from simply increasing your advertising budget. Successful marketing requires a balance of all marketing elements, and a positive online reputation starts in your office, so start there to make the most of your marketing dollars.