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Do We Have the Courage to Ask?

January 13, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
I did not want to write this article.

Of all the things I’ve written over the last year I thought this one would create eyes to be rolled over, the paper thrown at the dog, or the computer angrily shoved away.

As the New Year approached I knew I had to do this.

I was trying to find creative ways to say this: a funny or emotional story, charts and graphs or anecdotal information.

For weeks, I have pondered how I could get you to read the following and decided to get to the heart of the matter.

A Test

Grab a pen and paper. Or, pull up a word doc in the corner of your computer window.

This test is applicable to anyone who deals with a customer: a business, nonprofit, even local government.

Don’t want to do this? Give this to your employees or a family member. Hey, this might get interesting after all for you.

Think you know it all? You may but does your customer?

This is a test. You have 5 minutes to complete the following.


What is the Mission of Your Business? You have 10 words or less and less than 10 seconds to do this:

__________ _______________ _________________ _______________ ______________ 1 2 3 4 5

__________ _______________ _________________ _______________ _______________ 6 7 8 9 10

What are Your 3 Key Products or Services You should write down more than 1 and no more than 3. Think of it this way: pick three businesses, nonprofits or local government and describe what they do. You would take more than one word right? On the other hand, if you describe too many does that create confusion?

_______________________________ 1

______________________________ 2

______________________________ 3

Who are 3 Target Customers? Here you can unlock your inner artist. Don’t say “everyone” or “young people.”

We may not be artists but then again who cares? No one is going to look at what you are doing here except yourself. Draw them or describe them like a character of a good book or a movie you have just seen. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they look like? Are they young or old? Describe their personality. Why are they coming into your store? What makes them tick? What spending power do they have?

You should be able to fully describe three customers in 3 minutes:

Customer #1: Your Bread & Butter:

Customer #2: Your Bread:

Customer #3: Your Dessert (they are important but not like #1):

The Red Cross Appeal. We all have an important product or service to give. If we didn’t, your business would not survive. If there is no perceived need, there is no business - it’s as simple as that. Well, except sometimes for government or nonprofits who rely on subsidies and not earning your dollar?

So what is your emotional appeal to your three customers? How are you going to draw blood - or spend their money? Or, at least perceive they received good value? They say that good marketing is all about triggering an emotional response. If someone contacts you or comes into the store, your marketing has been successful.

What you do from there is called customer service. Marketing is the bait and customer service is the hook to reel them in.

So what is it that motivates your customer? What interests them? What are some of their needs? How do they satisfy their needs? Where do they go to for information? What do they read? Who do they listen to? Who do they “like”? What networks or blogs might they belong to?

There are many ways to reach your customers nowadays.

Way too many ways.

It used to be in media that you control like your website or newspaper ad. Now an effective way to market is to be part of social media channels that you don’t control like reviews, blogs and Facebook pages. It can be scary because everyone, not just you, can comment about what you do.

How Will You Get to Your 3 Customers? Be specific here and save more than “newsprint” or the “Internet.”

Customer 1 2 3

Approach #1

Approach #2

Approach #3

Do these approaches match your customer “personality”?

Thinking like your customer now, how would they like to see you operate? No, this is not how you would like to operate. Based on your customer personality and your approach, do you need to be open on the weekends or sometimes later at night? Do you need to have an online store? Is a storefront even necessary?

Why? Take 30 seconds and answer the question: “What is the rationale of why you operate the way you do?” Why are you at this location?



Now the easy part of this “test.”

Do you know, yes or no, to the following questions? Yes No

Do you know how all three products or services are performing?

How do you know? Did you look in the last 30 days?

Within the last five days, have you asked your customer how you are doing?

Within the several days, have you asked yourself “What can I do better? Or, “How can I reinvent myself or my business?”

Within the last day, have you reminded yourself it’s not what you think, it’s what your customer perceives?

In the last hour, did you remind yourself that what you do is important?

Do you run your business in a way that ignites your passion?

How do you grade yourself on this test?

Oh no, you cannot grade yourself.

To get to the heart of this matter, take a minute and ask these same 4 questions to your customers and even your vendors:

1. Can you describe my business in 10 words or less?

2. What do they think are my 3 top products or services?

3. How did you hear about me or why did you come into the store?

4. Do I have everything that meets your needs/expectations?

Ask a 5th question to yourself: Look at your customer – the ones that actually buy or use your service – not the ones that window shop. Are they the same ones you profiled?

How did you do?


You have completed that proverbial hated exercise of an outline of a business plan.

Yes, there are other questions and other parts you need to complete, but not all business plans take six months or 500 hours to complete. Sometimes, the simplest ones are the most effective. This may be true in today’s information overload age where you need to be clear and concise. Defining a niche and yet be diverse and how you service that need may be key.

Can the retail store of the future only survive on walk-in sales? Do they need an online store? Have needs changed and has your business changed with them? Is a way to grow your business working with your competitor?

Changes are occurring rapidly. Needs and opinions can change in one tweet. Nothing should be taken for granted. After all, they are even questioning the basis of our monetary system, the Federal Reserve. How often do we see the big boys like McDonald’s or Sears continually tweaking their products or operation?

They say that when you bear the mantle of entrepreneurship you are not allowed to sit in a room with a couch and get too comfortable. Entrepreneurship may be synonymous with change. This may be why in the last 30 years it has been a leader of keeping our economy and way of life - alive.

It’s a New Year and a great time to ask new questions.


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