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Five Questions to Ask Yourself with Every Customer Encounter

I was talking recently with a new client–a business advisory service who hired me for brand development and start-up marketing–and he asked me some questions about why I decided to name my business Small Pond Graphics. The client had been to my website and wanted to discuss some of the ideas a little further. Some companies that are local occasionally use feather flags to get customers from sidewalk traffic. As it turns out, we had similar impressions of the value of our small town business experiences, and the conversation expanded into a discussion of how many of the typical small town attitudes and ways of conducting business translate into the wider marketplace.

My thoughts on the name Small Pond Graphics began germinating with the idea that I live in a small town in the rural South. It’s a fact that has colored much of my career over the years. Being in a smaller community sometimes means that companies have to be a little more ingenious in their marketing efforts. It means they may need to approach services and customer service with a little more flexibility, creativity and a personal touch. Whether a business is located in a small town or a large city, however, the reality in this digital, media-rich age is that all are part of the same small world–a small world that is getting even smaller by the minute. It was that thought that really resonated with me in trying to determine the focus and “culture” of my own company. Perhaps those flexible, creative and relationship-centered approaches aren’t confined to small ponds after all.

So, my client conversation got me thinking. How DO businesses approach customer encounters in a small town? What makes that process so appealing? What can I glean from it as I market my business on a daily basis? How can I market to every customer and prospect as if I’m marketing in the small pond?

It boils down to relationships. There’s no question about it. They are the hallmark of marketing with a small pond approach. People want to do business with folks they know. It’s a tried and true reality straight from small town USA. Embracing that reality means that every customer encounter is an opportunity to build a deeper relationship. That sometimes requires approaching the experience from a slightly different perspective than what marketing or sales trends might dictate. With that in mind, consider asking yourself these 5 questions with your next customer encounter.

1. HOW CAN I SAY “YES”?

Instead of immediately evaluating how a contact may fit into your “ideal customer” profile, figure out a way to say “yes” in some way. It’s really what customers want to hear. Put determining how a customer is positioned in your sales process or list of services on the back burner. The ability to say “yes” shows that a company is willing to step beyond a rigid business model in order to address a customer’s individual needs.

2. WHAT CAN I GIVE TO THIS SITUATION?

Rather than asking “what can I get out of this?”, make an investment. Relationships are built on investments–offerings of time, resources, effort, and self. The laws of farming say that you reap what you sow. Sowing is required FIRST before reaping the benefit of a good crop. Make a plan for what seeds you want to sow with each conversation or customer experience. Be willing to give before you expect to get.

3. HOW CAN I LISTEN MORE CAREFULLY?

Instead of trying to figure out how to squeeze in your elevator pitch, devote yourself to listening in your next customer encounter. Before a company can meet a client’s needs through products or services, it has to know what those needs are. That understanding doesn’t come through anticipating or completing the sentences, it comes through really listening.

4. HOW CAN I MAKE THE MOST OF THIS ONE-ON-ONE OPPORTUNITY?

Rather than asking “how can I make the most of this time?” in a hurried effort to multi-task, focus your attention on the person in front of you (virtually or otherwise). Lay aside the need to be available to everyone else at that moment and pay closer attention to this one-on-one opportunity to connect and build a lasting bond. Your entire relationship with a customer may rest on this one encounter. Make sure you’re all there.

5. WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT THIS CUSTOMER & HIS SITUATION?

Instead of asking yourself first”what products or services can I provide?”, let your customer take center stage. Listen for the unique qualities to emerge and respond to those. Focus on offering resources to resolve unique problems or highlight unique assets–whether your products and services apply or not.

At the end of the day, customers still value the same things they did when your grandparents were doing business. They still value the wave on the street, someone calling them by name, or the handshake at the grocery store so common in small towns. It’s just that some of the venues today are places like Facebook or GMail or Skype. The small town approach works. Are you on board?

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