'Reeling in' Sales Through Customer Knowledge

This past summer, I took the initiative to do something with my fishing boat other than just look at it. I actually took the cover off, cleaned it up, took it to a small fishing lake and put it in the water. I even took along fishing rods, a tackle box and bait. I also took my 12-year-old grandson, Cody, and expected to have a great time. I could almost smell the fish frying. Four hours later, after throwing bait into the lake in an attempt to catch our meal, we left empty handed.

While we actually did catch some fish during our expedition, the truth is, we threw them back. Cody caught one fish that was approximately 3-1/2 inches long, while the one I caught was even smaller.

So, what went wrong? We looked like fishermen, we had the equipment we thought we needed and we used the bait that was suggested by others.

Fishing for Business
As funny as it might seem, as time passed on the lake without any real action, my mind started to wander and process the similarities between fishing and selling.

We certainly looked like all of the other fishermen situated around us, with our boat and gear just like many kitchen and bath dealers, their places of business and their showrooms look like so many of their competitors. Their investment is made in the brick and mortar and showroom, just like my investment in the boat and gear.

When I looked a little closer at those who were catching fish, however, I realized that those fishermen had a fish finder. Could it be they were able to find fish wherever they were on that given day and I was just fishing my heart out where there weren't any fish?
In your business, do you know where your fish are? Do you know what kind they are? Do you know what bait is attractive to them?

You need to figure out if you are just waiting for any customer to come along because, if that's your strategy, you might end up waiting a long time for business.

If you aren't interested in waiting around for customers, it's important to identify clearly the type of customer you are trying to attract. Once this is done, you can channel your promotion and advertising dollars toward a well-defined target audience.

As I'm sure that you don't have unlimited resources to promote your business, it's critical that your target audience be your focus. Only when you have your target customers defined will you be able to choose the right bait to attract them to your offering.

Netting the Catch
It's important to remember to keep reality in mind when you are defining what your prospects look like, because you must have the products, knowledge and services to fit their needs. If you don't create this match, the prospect will consume your time, absorb your knowledge and then run. The prospect will instead seek someone who is prepared to be
a match.

The message, therefore, is quite clear. Before you can expect to land a customer, you must understand what type of customer you are looking for and be certain that, once you attract the prospect, you are capable of making the catch. In business terms, not fishing terms, this would be marketing.

For the purpose of my example, let's assume your marketing is in place and it is now time to cast your bait. Not knowing the nature of your business, I know there are several types of bait the consumer can find attractive. It's important that you know what your defined customer type will find attractive.

I have found that, if you use the bait of big discounts and low prices, you will attract the price shopper. Standard advertisements in local newspapers are a good beginning here.

At the other extreme, those dealers who offer premium products and impeccable service to attract the high-end customer and expect compensation in relation to what they deliver will require a very special lure. This premium dealer must use an entirely different marketing approach to find prospects, such as a glossy advertisement in a symphony or theater program. Why? Because that's where their type of customers gather.

So, you need to use your customer finder as best you can, but you must make sure you know who you are looking for.
Enough for the bait. Now for the hook. The hook is the selling skills and all of the tools that you have available to make sure your prospect becomes your customer. Your displays, samples, CAD drawings, industry knowledge, creative skills and professional presentations are just some of these tools.

In addition a very important sales skill is that of questioning and finding out exactly what the customer knows, wants and needs, and then matching your products and services to satisfy the client and meet or exceed expectations.

When all of this is in price, you are ready to set the hook. There are lots of ways the prospect will let you know it's time to set the hook or, in our business terms, the right time to invite him or her to become your customer and close the sale.

While in fishing you have the bobber, which dips under the water when it's time for action, in our business we have the development of trust through open and accurate communication. This allows us to prove the worth of our products and services. A sale can't be made until value has been established. Trying to close the sale before this takes place limits your probability of creating a customer.

When you have developed trust in a skillful fashion, it is time to invite the prospect to make a positive decision. To help the situation along, you need to keep identifying the benefits to be gained by using your products and services, and help the prospect understand those benefits. At the same time, make the person aware of the losses that can be avoided by doing business with you. When doing this, however, be careful not to slam your competition, because that tactic will often turn off the legitimate prospect.

Make sure that your prospect understands that, should he or she choose not do business with you, then the client will be missing out on the most important element and asset to the overall project you.

While I can't give you a guarantee that you will catch every prospect, by following these guidelines, you will raise the probability of landing all of the customers you need to have a successful career as a kitchen and bath designer/ salesperson.