A question, not very often asked that way around - in this very blog we’ve stated the number one rule of sales and marketing as “Know your customer”. This is something you can take control of, you can evaluate profile and segregate. But when it comes to your customers knowing you, who’s in the driving seat? What opportunities could you be missing out on?
What’s the big problem?
Why wouldn’t my customers know me? They are my customers
With competitors vying for attention, and their own customers to please, you can forgive your customers for not being able to recall your unique capability profile in detail. It may be months, even years between contracts. So to recall your “Core” Strengths and also the array of supplementary capabilities you can offer is more than a challenge.
Their knowledge of your capabilities may be “tacit” or “in their heads” or it could be documented, in some form of supplier database (however these are usually used primarily for accounting purposes and poorly categorised in terms of capability). Sometimes captured as part of a spreadsheet, maybe populated as a result of quality audits - which again, as with the supplier database, have an agenda other than defining manufacturing capability accurately.
What does “know you” actually mean?
It’s always useful in these situations to try and think about what your ideal would be. “What’s the ideal level of knowledge that your customers should have about you?”
We define “knowing you” as:
“Your customers know you well enough, that when they are presented with a problem that calls for a combination of skills and competencies that you can provide - they quickly identify your suitability, and call you to action”
With that in mind, are you confident you would be called to action every time? It's the aim of marketing to keep you front of mind, understood and accessible to your existing customers as much as it is new prospects. It doesn't happen by accident.
It’s not enough to reach a level where you believe your customers know you. Knowledge of suppliers is transient and usually ill-managed. Supplier databases and spreadsheets are unreliable and ill-categorised. Relying on the tacit knowledge of the individuals in the business could be your customers primary strategy for managing this knowledge of suppliers.
This offers a significant challenge to you - ensuring that your capabilities are known and understood, especially at the points where your customer is evaluating suitability of potential suppliers.
What's are the risks and signs?
Not fulfilling your potential
By our definition of what it means for your customers to “know you” the implication of them not knowing you becomes obvious - they don’t identify your suitability, and therefore don’t call you to action.
As a result you could be missing out on new and existing business which has your name written all over it. Even existing contracts could be leaking potential, with processes and services you could provide being performed by other suppliers further down the customer’s supply chain.
In some cases they may even identify your high level suitability amongst a few other competitors, however without an understanding of your strengths, core capabilities and depth of capability - the request for quotation may never come.
Putting future sales at risk
It’s very easy to become known for that “one project” or “one capability” which you demonstrated so well on an occasion where your customer really needed you. This can be great, customer gratitude carries a lot of currency and builds your brand. (Think you don't have a business brand? Check out this article to start seeing what your customers see.)
However the negative impact of this is serious - you get renowned for ONE thing. You may well be a common name in the office, but just because they know your name, doesn’t mean they KNOW your capabilities.
Consider the situation where a competitor has made themselves known and understood by the customer as a solution provider. Offering an array of capabilities which overlap with your own. To the customer, it becomes the sensible option to relocate existing work, or plan future projects around the competitor with the comprehensive set of capabilities (although their capabilities may be exactly the same, or less diverse than your own).
There are many reasons buyers and engineers may choose to relocate existing work and contracts; buying power, economies of scale, reduced overhead, simplified supply chain....all of these become true when a competitor offering your capabilities makes themselves known and understood.
So not only could you be missing out on current potential, you could be heading towards the loss of existing and future business.
Solutions You Can Start Implementing Today
The world of marketing holds many possibilities these days, too many for SMEs to tackle all at once. So we've laid out an approach to get you started, as every journey starts with a single step (or a few more in this case!).
With these steps you can make your unique capability profile clear and more accessible to your customers. Meaning you get called to action. So here are some things you can start doing today.
Firstly - document your capabilities
As a minimum you need:
An accurate profile of your core capabilities, their limitations and depths.
These capabilities will be central to your business, and it should be a prerequisite that these capabilities are required to solve at least part of the customer's problem. It’s equally important that the customer understands where your core capabilities lie vs where they don’t.
An accurate profile of your supplementary capabilities, the ancillary offerings that you provide.
These capabilities will enable you to provide your customers with a solution, offering to carry out or organise multiple manufacturing stages. Your customer then understands how they can quickly condense their supply chain, allowing you to step up.
An overview of your company in qualifications & Industry experience
These are key suitability evaluation criteria for your customers. They may themselves be serving more than one industry or diversifying, requiring qualifications and industry experience from their supply chain that they’ve never before required.
Secondly - Evaluate the effectiveness of your current marketing efforts
Once you have this overview of your business, you’re in a position to evaluate your current marketing efforts and how well they are conveying the above to your customers, and potential customers.
Ask your team, ask your wife, your husband your neighbour - but most importantly, ask your customers! You see the beauty of this exercise is that you get to market your capability, whilst evaluating the effectiveness of your current efforts. (this will take time, and it’s not a long term strategy we know) But it definitely kills two birds with one stone.
What you may find (as we’ve found with many companies) is that the marketers have got hold of your messages and ruined them. This tends to happen when a business or marketer who doesn’t understand the manufacturing industry is tasked with creating your marketing content. Clarity in capabilities can often be replaced with messages built only to build confidence and credibility - which are required, but first and foremost, customers and potential customers need to know and understand your capabilities.
The 5-Step Action Plan For Tomorrow
So, you’ve defined your capability profile, your company DNA. You've evaluated how well this is understood, results may be positive, if so great (but remember this is an ongoing process). On the other hand, some customers may have been surprised by the extent (or even the limitations) of your capability. In any case, none of them know your capability as well as you do, so there’s room for improvement, as this has got to be the goal.
So here’s a few actions you can work your way through in the next few days (some of them you could do in the next 10 minutes!)
1. Review and update your website
You may find a lack of clarity or even find it’s completely out of date. If so, make some changes, update with your latest capabilities and services.
2. Review your auto-generated web presence (Linkedin Pages, Google+, Yell)
Quite often businesses can be categorised incorrectly in these pages automatically created by the networks. Don’t let them confuse your customers. (You may not have even realised these were auto-generated, take control)
3. Take a look at your marketing materials, brochures, flyers, Trade show stands
Do they really deliver a clear picture of your capabilities if not, fix it!
4. Think about using your emails to communicate your breadth and depth
I’m talking about your everyday emails - is there a way you can get your capabilities clearly, but not intrusively communicated within your everyday communications? Email signatures are perfect for this. Also, if you update your website, email your customers to tell them about it, give them a brief overview of the changes, just a few lines will do.
5. Think about how you systematically stay known and understood by your customers.
This will be different for everyone, depending on your customer relationship. Coming up with a strategy to stay in contact can feel a bit labour intensive - and intrusive to the customer. Understanding how the customer manages their knowledge of supplier capabilities will determine what type of strategy you take - you may be battling a poorly conceived supplier database built for finance purposes, or you may be battling to keep your capabilities as tacit knowledge in the heads of key buyers or engineers.
In any case, it's usually about keeping the conversation going. One strategy for this is to subscribe to blogs and news feeds your customer may read, then spark up a conversation about an article. Find out about the tools you can use to monitor blogs and deploy this strategy.
Don't Stop There - Build Confidence & Be Accessible
Now you might remember we said “As a minimum you require...” - this makes you a suitable choice for your customer. But in a competitive environment you need to be more than just suitable to get that call to action every time. That's where confidence building comes in. Taking a customer from just knowing you, to liking and trusting you.
Building confidence is a process, but remember it’s built on a foundation of fundamentals. Your customer must first and foremost know you. They must understand your capability, and your capability profile must be instantly accessible in those moments when they are searching for a solution.
How Can We Help?
Now I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out that Manufacturing Network is a platform built for solving this very problem. Making you known and understood with an extensive Capability Profile, building credibility and confidence with Case Studies and Team member profiles right inside your profile. Not to mention, your Capability Profile is instantly accessible via desktop, mobile or tablet device, through our search engine, and the major search engines such as Google.
Manufacturing Network builds an accurate picture of your business's capability and credibility, then goes to work putting it in the hands of those who need the capabilities you can provide, right when they need them.
You can start your 30 day free trial today, where you get full access and support to build and customise your capability profile.
We hope you take some action today. The more understood and known capabilities within the UK Manufacturing Industry are, the better for the sustainability and growth of UK supply chain. The UK has a diverse range of highly skilled manufacturing capabilities, it’s time to shout about yours, it’s time to get on your customers’ radar, it’s time to get on the map.
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