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Customer Or Client?

1 Oct, 2001 By: Ian Crockett imageSource

Customer Or Client?

couple of guys are in Africa on a safari when they suddenly encounter a very
hungry lion. Both turn to run, but suddenly one stops and begins to change his
shoes. The other guy screams at him that whether or not he wears running shoes,
there’s no way he is going to outrun the lion. The fellow switching the shoes
replies, “The way I have it figured is that I don’t need to outrun the lion,
I just need to outrun you.”

though this story may be a sad commentary on friendship, it reflects quite
accurately to what’s going on in the office technology industry. Your business
doesn’t yet need to be so well tuned that you can outrun lions. You just need
to be better than your competitors.


a marketing standpoint, I’d like to discuss three ways you can create the
perception that you’re a step ahead of your marketplace even on a limited


Marketing To Your Customer Base

always said the happiest clients I have are the ones who just bought something
from me. The same is true in the office technology industry. If it’s been
three or even five years since a customer bought something from you, there’s
no relationship and they’ll probably shop you. Incidentally, payments on a
service contract don’t count since most view the transaction as a necessary
evil, much like insurance or a homeowner’s association fee.


had several copier dealer clients over the years that wanted to refer to their
customers as clients. The rationale is that the definition of a customer is
someone who has a one-time transaction, whereas, the definition of a client
includes an ongoing stream of services and transactions. I used to fight them on
this point because I felt it would confuse the prospect into thinking they were
a law or CPA firm. However, the concept is very noble and appeals to me more in
the network age than it did with stand-alone products.


your product offerings and range of services are expanding and your existing
customers are the prime targets for two reasons:

  • You
    know where and who they are and you’re already corresponding with them,
    even if it’s just a bill.

  • They
    want to do business with somebody they trust.

a variety of ways to market to your existing customer base, but you must
remember the basic rules of frequency and consistency. In fact, all of the rules
of marketing apply when “farming the base.” The biggest difference in
marketing to prospects and customers is that you will receive a far better
return on your investment, but you need to work just as hard on the marketing
effort and don’t consider your customers to be low hanging fruit.


number of dealerships have developed a customer only sales force and a new
business or “net add” sales force. I’ve always been very fond of this
approach, especially for companies that want in excess of double-digit growth. A
client used to always start sales meetings with the phrase, “This is an easy
business. All you have to do is keep your current customers and go out an find
new ones.” It may sound like over simplification, but it certainly
“bottom-lines” the overall objective.


Various Marketing Tools

course, there are pitfalls to the customer-only rep. The first one is having
reps that are only responsible for new business. This can be a tough job and
much support is required. You’ll probably need a much more lucrative
commission package or perhaps junior reps bird-dogging for them to keep them
interested. A good, lead-generating telemarketing program would also be nice,
but those are a few and far between.


marketing ideas also include invoice stuffers, open houses, and seminars. Nobody
likes to think they’re being “sold,” but practically every business person
wants to be educated on the products and services that will make them better at
whatever it is they do. Think about this fact next time you’re writing or
reviewing headlines or copy for your next open house.


you merely telling people to come see the latest and greatest technology so you
can sell it to them or are you implying that you have some knowledge that will
make them better and more valuable in their position?


don’t necessarily have to be at your facility or at a downtown hotel. Have
regional seminars at customer locations. Customers, especially the ones with
nice facilities, want to show off their offices and conference rooms. It’s a
potentially new business strategy for them; moreover, most customers hosting an
event for you will want to position themselves as a smart businessperson and
will shill for you.


if you have to pay for the space or barter out for goods, services, or favors,
educational seminars throughout your authorized territories will position you as
“The Source” and create the perception that you’re interested in them even
when they’re not in a traditional buying cycle.


stuffers are another method of insuring your customers don’t go out and buy
something that you offer and then say, “I didn’t know you had that
particular equipment.” In addition, remember that the decision-makers don’t
always open invoices, therefore, you need a tactic that encourages the person
opening your invoices and receiving your marketing piece to pass the
item to the person responsible for acquiring your products and services. Also,
remember that one invoice stuffer won’t reap too many rewards. It needs to be
an ongoing campaign, complete with a strategy and implementation calendar.


Hard Vs. Soft Dollars

couple of paragraphs earlier, I mentioned barter, probably the oldest form of
commerce known to man. Unfortunately, due to barter clubs and others viewing
barter as a free lunch, barter, or trade has a dirty name. But if you understand
it, barter allows you to stretch your marketing dollars.


entering into a barter agreement, keep in mind that there are hard dollars and
soft dollars. Most goods are considered hard and most services (or time) are
considered soft. The majority of what my readers have to offer would be
considered hard dollars and the majority of the businesses on the other-side of
the barter are working with soft dollars.

define soft dollars as something that has no additional expense attached to it.
How much is an empty seat on an airplane worth or an empty hotel room, a sixty
second-radio commercial, and a thirty-second TV commercial? Unless one of the
previous entities are 100% sold 365 days per year, they’re using unsold
inventory to pay for something that would normally cost them cold, hard cash.


Avoid Budget Fragmentations

last bit of advice this month for staying ahead of the competition is avoiding
budget fragmentation. I could write about this every month and it still
wouldn’t be enough. Unless you’ve got a very large marketing budget relative
to the size of your market, you shouldn’t be using more than two forms of
media to promote your goods and/or services. If you spend money on yellow pages,
you’re now limited to one additional medium.

believe the first column I ever wrote for this publication discussed budget
fragmentation as the biggest enemy of the entrepreneur. They get bored when
there is no instant gratification and start trying a variety of strategies. This
then dooms everything to failure due to the lack of staying power. It’s almost
like saying, “I’m not satisfied with my office technology business, and I
think I’ll try landscape architecture.”


ridiculous? Well, it’s as ridiculous as somebody trying billboard for three
months, radio for six months, and a business journal for three months. There’s
no focus and nobody gets beat up enough to truly understand your message.


could go on and on about budget fragmentation. It’s sometimes difficult to
keep clients focused because they’ve got media salespeople constantly pitching
the value and benefit of their product and they want to respond to competitors
who appear to be having successes in their marketing.


ultimate response is, to quote a former administration, “stay the course.”

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