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Business Landscape

Customer Control For Entrepreneurs

How can small companies exert a degree of control over their customer base and help ‘guide’ them in such a way that they remain loyal and continue purchasing from them?

Gary Harwood

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No organisation, irrespective its size, industry, and geographic location, can succeed without customers. And given how the digital environment has made it easier for competitors across sectors to emerge, entrepreneurs are especially under pressure to balance customer needs and desires, with value propositions that still make them money.

There is clearly a fine balancing act to manage.

On the one hand, you have people who (thanks to technology) are aware of the power they have over product development and pricing. After all, if a competitor sells a product or service at a lower price, who is the customer going to go with? Add to this, the ability to customise solutions according to data analysis of specific end user needs, then you have a situation where many entrepreneurs feel they are facing a never-ending struggle.

On the other, small to medium businesses must be able to produce products and services in such a way that cash flow is maintained. As any entrepreneur can attest to, not having a reliable cash flow is tantamount to business failure. So, how can small companies exert a degree of control over their customer base and help ‘guide’ them in such a way that they remain loyal and continue purchasing from them?

Related: How English Language Skills Play An Essential Role In Building Trust With Your Customers

Managing expectations

One of the most important elements in this regard is managing customer expectations. The emergence of social media and the power it has to influence people’s buying decisions, cannot be overestimated. Today, more than ever before, the likes of word of mouth, marketing, and public relations as a direct result of social networking can often grow or sink a burgeoning business.

It has also created a dynamic where customers feel that if they leave a negative comment or ask a question, they expect a response almost immediately. For entrepreneurs already trying to do everything themselves while managing the business, this can often be a major cause of frustration. But it does not have to be the case.

By setting parameters up front with customers in terms of response times, queries, and even experiences, small businesses can start leveraging the power of social networking and other digital communication technologies for their benefit.

Being pro-active and taking charge of these expectations puts the organisation in more control than if a hands-off approach is followed.

Being open

Openness and transparency might sound like luxuries no entrepreneur can afford, but these concepts build strongly from managing expectations. Having open discussions with customers on aspects of support, product requirements, and even their (the end user) own expectations can greatly assist a small company to provide a more bespoke approach to products and services.

Related: 5 Techniques To Leave Customers Grinning And Vowing To Return

In addition, by providing customers with various resources (think troubleshooting or ‘self-help’), the entrepreneur is empowering them to take control of their own experiences with the company. It also means they are not as reliant on company resources if they were to phone the organisation or email a complaint. The added benefit to this approach is the customer can manage their own experiences when they have the time to do so irrespective of whether it is 10:00 or 22:00.

Granted, the path to customer control (perceived or otherwise) is not an easy one to take. However, no entrepreneur can afford not to take notice of these requirements and put the customer at the forefront of their thinking.

Gary Harwood with thirty years of global branding and design experience grew up in Johannesburg and studied graphic design at Wits. As one of the founders of HKLM in 2003, Gary is passionate about the potential of Africa – the most dynamic, vibrant and culturally diverse continent on the planet.

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Business Landscape

Medium-Sized Businesses Reap Greater Rewards In Tough Times

With prominent industry names being added to business rescue reports almost every week, risking it all in times such as these may sound ludicrous.

Kristly McCarthy

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We’ve said it before: Diversifying, streamlining and investing in new ventures during the tough times is vital to a company’s survival.

Running a successful and diverse business requires resources, passion and an unwavering vision. Poised for continuous growth, a company looks to its team of forward-thinking, calculated risk takers to help prepare and invest for the future, now.

Investing in the future and creating wealth means doing things right – right now. With headlines such as ‘real estate investments in SA increase by R28 billion’ and ‘the industrial sector is the top performer in the SA property market’, it makes sense to put your money where your mouth is in 2018.

Bartlett Construction is one such company. Wayne Bartlett, Contract’s Director for Bartlett Construction says that the company opened its property division several years ago in a quest to gain more market share and use its expertise to cultivate a robust property portfolio.

“Accelerating our economy through investment is key. While there are still high hopes for SA in 2018, applying a long-term strategy to property investment allows you to reap the real rewards in future,” says Wayne.

Related: The Ultimate 101 List Of Business Ideas To Start Your Own Business In South Africa

Acquiring, building and renovating factories and industrial spaces has been a focus for the company over the past few years. “We have all seen the headlines about the industrial sector performing well in terms of property and this is true. It’s truly sad to see some of the big names (in all industries) undergoing business rescue but ultimately, waiting for times to change and focusing on one strategy is never advisable – especially not in a market such as this one” he continues.

Creating a scalable business in times such as these is key. Wayne notes that medium-sized companies have remained notably robust by ensuring just the right amount of resources to remain lean, yet effective.

“The economic downturn has had significant impact on both big and small companies. Companies with high overheads, many employees and massive contracts on the line have been most affected. Small companies, on the other hand, with very little business and resources who rely on business from big and medium businesses have also taken a knock.”

Established more than half a century ago and with Wayne having 30-plus years of experience in the industry, it’s fair to say that he has seen it all. “What’s helped our company through the years is remaining scalable and finding balance. Times are tough, and everyone is feeling the pinch – success is dependent on how the industry performs but we try our best to never over invest or under invest; we diversify whilst maintaining high-levels of competency in our current projects, we are fair and reward long-standing, loyal employees who give us that competitive edge and we adapt according to industry and client needs.” Wayne concludes.

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Business Landscape

How To Leverage Partnerships, Industry Associations & Endorsements

Nobody can succeed in business entirely on their own without personal as well as professional support. ‘Signing up’ can be a deciding factor in the growth of a company, says the Proudly SA CEO.

Eustace Mashimbye

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Leverage by association can be a great business tool. Hitching your wagon to an industry associated body, joining a local chamber of commerce, or seeking a respected contemporary’s endorsement can change your brand recognition struggle to an opportunity. Becoming part of a whole new entity can be one of the best decisions you will ever make.

How to choose your partner or affiliation?

You know the expression ‘Two heads are better than one’ so you should choose a partner or affiliation that exposes you to twice as big an audience as you can reach alone, preferably with a different customer base. Find an association that fits with your own business ethos and has the same goals as you, otherwise you will find you are working against each other rather than complementing each other.

What do you stand to gain?

By association you will appear in listings, on websites, you will be invited to related events where you can network your socks off, and in some cases, doors will automatically be opened for you. Visibly aligning yourself with an organisation that can propel your brand and/or product into the market place should be grabbed with both hands.

What does the partner stand to gain?

Your relationship with a partner should be symbiotic, benefitting from each other’s contacts as well as a platform for sharing ideas.

Related: How Do I Register A Partnership And What Documents Are Involved?

What are my responsibilities towards the other party in the relationship?

Perhaps you will have to add a logo to your marketing collateral or packaging, perhaps you will have to comply to standards even higher than those you set for yourself. Perhaps you will have to pay subs or a small joining fee, or even a large joining fee, so you need to decide what you can afford and when.

But you must view the relationship in a positive light even if it involves redesigning artwork or re jigging your material. There is no point in ‘signing up’ if you’re not prepared to share your brand affiliation with your customers and suppliers. It’s like getting married and refusing to wear a ring.

How long should I sign up for?

You really should take a long-term view of any marketing relationship. Your hook up may take time to filter down into the market place, you may have a lot of pre- relationship stock that doesn’t have the logo of your new partner on it, so you will need to give a fair chance to the whole exercise.

What happens if one party brings the other company into disrepute by association?

No one wants to be brought down if someone or something with which you are closely associated is found not to be quite as ethical or honest as you. Don’t forget this isn’t a JV, it’s a brand partnership, and so as long as you are operating separately, you will always be able to distance yourself from any scandal should the need arise. (But hopefully you chose your brand affiliation well!) , but by and large, being the single part of a whole can only be beneficial when you’re starting to build your brand.

How does using the Proudly South African ‘tick’ logo fit in?

The Proudly SA logo is the mark of an authentically locally grown, manufactured or produced item or service that is of proven high quality. It can be leveraged in the same way as any other brand affiliation and can assist in providing access to market and building trust with your buyers and suppliers.

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Business Landscape

The Differences Between A Supplier Relationship, Agency And Distributor

To a large extent I suppose it depends on industry, the vision of the business and how quickly you wish to scale.

Nicolene Schoeman-Louw

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Many businesses reach the point where they have to consider in which way to best expand its market share and reach. In many industries, a customer and supplier arrangement are sufficient, but in others different arrangements such as agency or distribution are preferred.

So, the question is – what is best and when?

Well, to a large extent I suppose it depends on industry, the vision of the business and how quickly you wish to scale.

1. Supplier / Customer

This is a typical arrangement of a willing buyer willing seller. In most instances this is the typical way in which business is run or at the very least to a large degree this is the starting point. Clients or customers are typically engaged by agreement usually a form of terms and conditions or perhaps even an agreement detailing credit.

Related: Supplier Agreements – Do I Need A Written Agreement?

2. Agency

An agency agreement could either relate to an individual or an organisation. This means an individual or a business could represent the supplier of the goods or services and earn a commission or remuneration for their efforts to sell the goods or services.

In this context an individual is often referred to as a “rep”, which is a typical arrangement for wholesalers marketing products to retailers.  In many instances these agreements do not constitute employment contracts and further, the agent does not buy and on-sell the products.

The agent usually refers orders to the supplier and therefore is cost effective for both parties and further limits risk. This also means that the supplier benefits from a relatively low input cost and commitment but increased sale. An important portion of an agreement such as this is that the agent has certain powers in representing the supplier.  It is therefore of crucial importance that the agent’s powers are constructed in such a way as to serve the needs and best interests of both parties.

3. Distribution

A crucial difference between agency agreements and distribution is twofold – one: that the distributor does not have any power of representation as an agent would typically have. Secondly, that the distributor usually purchases the goods / products from the supplier and then stores, transports and sells, as the case may be. In most cases these agreements are confined to goods.

It is therefore important for the business to assess what would sell the most products or services in the shortest space of time. Then to seek professional advice to construct the most suitable agreement.

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