Selling what people WANT and NEED, but not what they have to be DESPERATE for

*** ***

Do you pass on the name of the locksmith who got you back into your car, unless a friend is locked out of theirs?

How often are you nearby when a friend is in an emergency situation that you’ve also been in?

*** ***

No, I haven’t been locked out of my car recently, but returning from a little Independence Day fun last week, I ran out of some crucial supplies.

It doesn’t matter what the supplies were. We stopped at a small store that carried what we needed, got the supplies, and went on our way. That got me thinking about emergencies of various kinds, and your small business:

Emergency products or services just don’t scale.

If it ain’t broke…

If you have to wait ‘til something’s broke or used up for customers to need you, or

if the customer you think you should target is so cheap that they’ll stay in a holding pattern until an emergency arises,

…then you just can’t achieve viral or exponential growth.

Slow, steady growth, maybe, but not a steep, viral growth curve.*

Causing your own stall?

Even if you really delivered and your customers had a great Experience with you, there’s no reason for them to tell friends, when they know their friends are not in the emergency situation—and the excitement about buying from you is forgotten as quickly as the urgent need fades.

Think carefully about what you sell and how you present it to potential buyers.

It’s possible that you’ve stalled your own growth by making it seem as if you’re the guy to know in an emergency—and to call, ONLY in an emergency.

In that case, you have two choices:

Expand on your expertise: change or add to what you sell so that there are related, non-emergency products or services in your line as well;

Change your presentation (website copywriting, brochures, ads, in-person sales) to show how what you offer can be just as useful when purchased before an emergency (or maybe even better, if it can save money or prevent some disaster by being purchased earlier).

What’s the difference between “customers who know they have a want or a need” and “customers who are having an emergency” in your business?

How can you find more of the first group, in order to grow your sales and word-of-mouth referrals?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*Unless—there’s always an unless—unless you’ve found a large, untapped market of people in this emergency-need situation with no current solution available.**

**Not very likely.

Or, Why discounts often backfire for small business owners

Ted (not his real name) runs a specialty retail business online. His staff is small but his sales figures, I suspect, are world-class.

I am a huge fan of Ted’s, personally, and of his business, and I am not alone. What Ted sells, I’ll admit, I don’t need, but I try to find ways at least a couple of times a year to convince myself I do need Ted’s wonderful wares, and I spend more than I should at his site, both in terms of time (must drool first, decide later!) and dollars.

This post, however, is not about my slightly profligate ways when it comes to Ted’s online shop.

Ted’s got a zillion Facebook fans, a very large mailing list for his monthly newsletter, where every one of us eagerly await his folksy yet always-on-topic musings, ranks at the top in any search related to his specialization, and no exaggeration, he has The Very Best www (URL, or “web address”) possible, so he must catch every single newbie searching for what he sells. He’s top-of-the-mind with previous customers and prospects, and generates tons of positive word-of-mouth online and off. You just don’t go to anyone but Ted unless you have to. All great, because his specialization is comprised of mainly serious, long-time devotees and newbies who won’t last, just giving it a try. He’s smack-on with both groups and with anyone in between.

This post is also not about Ted’s spectacular online positioning, which is a factor of having been there first (or quite early), being able to project himself as a person everyone wants to buy from (in front of a staff so efficient his customers never consider it anything but “Ted’s business”), and giving wonderful customer service. (You can’t copy that first factor, but the other two, you should be striving for every day. But I digress…)

Ted sends out that newsletter every month, and I love reading it. I love feeling like I have a window on Ted’s world, and I love that Ted keeps reminding me, with gentlemanly subtlety, to go back to his site and drool/ make plans to purchase/ rob a bank so I can afford it every 30 days or so. Yes, this Experience Designer with way too much email and almost no one on her “in” list is delighted every time Ted sends his gentle, “don’t think of this as a marketing message” marketing messages. Like everyone else Ted emails, I can hardly wait for him to twist my arm.

Nice for Ted, huh?

Well, a while back, Ted sent an email that’s been nagging at me ever since. You see, Ted does sales now and then. His customers know when to expect them (on holidays, mainly) and on forums I watch, they talk it up both beforehand (“What’re you going to buy?”) and afterward (“look what I got during Ted’s sale!!”).

One thing they say a lot on those forums is, “I can hardly wait!” But wait, they do, and so I come to Ted’s email.

Ted very gently, and in a very gentlemanly fashion of course, mentioned that his is a small business (which we know, we readers and devotees), and that the last couple of years have required some adjustments to the business (ooh, for all of us in our businesses, Ted! We hear you on that!), and that…

this last is hard to write…

… that he hopes we don’t just wait for sales to buy what we need from Ted. That this kind of shopping habit can hurt small bizzes like his.

He didn’t call us out, but we knew who we were. And I’m afraid the count is probably… close to everybody on Ted’s list.

Well, now, I write to Ted now and then to tell him I hope all is well and to keep up the good work (he is so friendly I feel like I know him), and I thought about writing to Ted about that newsletter. As I say, it’s been nagging me for some time, but I didn’t feel like any email I’d send would be of use to Ted.

Because… I wait for the sales.

Unless I do have a need, which as I say, isn’t usually (because his specialty rarely results in a true, time-intensive need), I wait for the sales. I think of myself as a good customer who tries to deplete my piggybank at his emporium a couple of times a year, but it’s true. I try not to do it at full price. And apparently I’m not alone.

This is a long story to tell you a short moral that I couldn’t fit into an email to Ted, dear reader. Small businesses often find that holding regular sales backfires on them. The Big Boys can afford to do it because they have scale on their side, but we little guys have to be pretty selective. Small businesses who do it regularly find, like Ted, that customers will wait for the sales to do their buying, and without scale to make up for those tiny margins during a sale, the little guys will end up hurting.

Regular discounting leads to customers’ believing that your stuff is only worth the lower price. And why would we pay you more than we believe it’s worth? Because we like you lots?

I wish that were true, for Ted’s sake. But in the meantime, money’s tight.

And I am embarrassed that he’s noticed. I truly am.

But I’m waiting for the sale.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. This post was inspired by thinking about small biz folks I know while listening to Robert Bruce quiz Brian Clark on How to Kick Groupon to the Curb and Become a Local Hero. When Brian speaks I’m always curious to have a listen. The podcast (25-ish minutes) makes some fine, actionable points—though the title oversells the ideas/solutions they offer a bit—it’s still well worth a listen.

And P.S. Saab… sporty? arty? What are you trying for?

“All that work?” My friend looked astonished as we talked over the sales of the new Guide to website usability that Andy Hayes and I recently released. “Six months of getting the ideas in the right words, and a workbook, and the conference call as a little extra? You ought to be charging 3 or 4 hundred dollars for it.”

I smiled a thank-you smile. Like a good friend, he hasn’t even read Why Your Website Sucks—and How To Fix It, and there he is praising my new work because he knows the quality of my old work. Friends rock like that sometimes—but friends who rock is not what this post is about.

Of course, this post is about car dealerships.

“Thanks,” I said. “And I agree with you in part. Feel free to buy a copy and overpay, I won’t object! But the Guide is priced at $37.99 for a reason—one that I’ve taken a close look at this year, as I had to replace my old jalopy with a newer jalopy.”

“Because of your car?”

“Well, sort of. You know, when you go to a dealership, they’ve got a few brands. Subaru, Saab, Cadillac. The Subaru for folks who want a steady, moderately priced car. The Saab for… maybe artier or sportier types. The Caddy, of course, is for top-of-the-line people.

“Occasionally the Saab people might move up to a Cadillac, but most people who come in with Saab dreams and a Saab budget go out with a Saab. The most they might want to do is add all the upgrades on to their XYZ1150.

“Then there’s the used-car lot, right next to all these shiny new cars. The dealer’s reputation is on the line, so of course these are good-looking, newer used cars, in tip-top shape. They’re for people with smaller budgets, who aren’t afraid of a little repair here and there, who are confident that a really good used car can deliver delight as well as any high-end choice.”

“Ah, I see. You’re hoping people will trade up to the Cadillac after they see what you’re worth,” he said, referring to VisionPoints’ Experience Design services.

“No, actually; that would be nice, but not really. When I bought my car this summer no one was going to talk me into a new one. I was purely a cash-in-hand, used-car customer. Some people may see the value we provide in such a compact package and decide to work with us, but most of the folks who buy the Guide will be purely do-it-yourselfsers—the Ideal Customers for the Guide.

“And I’m not worried about poaching our own customers, either—can you imagine Cadillac dealers worried about buyers who are suddenly entranced by the harder work and downscaled service from their used-car department? The Guide is a chance for Andy and I to ‘work with’ people we don’t normally get to work with in our businesses. We’re ‘working with’ them from a distance, in writing a book for people who want to attack problems on their own, but it’s a neat way to connect with more people than we usually do.”

We were out of time to chat and I had my next post all wrapped up. Nice work for a short conversation. You know your Purpose—the Vision that drives your business every day—and the Ideal Customer who needs what you, uniquely, offer. (If not, you can do a little light reading through the archives here at MCE and you’ll have it all figured out in a jiffy.) But what about the car dealerships?

Take a look at your business through the prism of the car dealers. How can you create a “used-car department” like our new Guide—not an inferior version of the “real” thing and not a hollow attempt to get folks dissatisfied enough to trade up, but a way to scale back what you offer and reach a whole new category of Ideal Customer—while keeping the products or services you already offer just as high-touch and as relevant to your core customers as ever?

Have you tried to add a product or service to reach a new category of Ideal Customer lately? What worked best, and what went badly? Would you recommend expanding with a scaled-back (or scaled-up) offering to other small businesses like yours?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

& Random Writings…

You’re trying to decide: Homey, friendly image, vs. polished, more established image. You’re still the same people. The polished image does not have to mean you forget to be friendly. It could very well mean a lot fewer hassles, though. Homey = pushovers in a lot of people’s minds.

What if the people you like to think are your clients, don’t want you at all?

What if you use such crazy terms that they don’t even know you at all?

When working on your website, pretend the yellow pages are still relevant. Try to be that simple and easy to find.

How do you reward your best customers?

Being a big fish in a small pond may still be your very best bet. Now the pond can be geographic, or it can be by your field, or by characteristics of your Ideal Customer, or any of a dozen other ways to define your small pond. Build critical mass there, then you can break out—with the help of the devotees you met in the small pond.

The number-crunchers in the advertising world would croak if they saw the conversion rates (to paying customers) on the boatloads of free stuff on the ‘net that’s supposed to entice us all to buy the big upsell. Don’t know if that’s good or bad.

“Are we really so shallow?” says a client to me.


“And is that okay?”

“It is what it is.”

Word of mouth is counting for less and less these days—except for real-life, person-to-person recommendations. Online, it seems like everyone’s got see-through motivations, so we’ve almost stopped listening.

In that real life—what’s the value of your network, and the network of your customers? Some aren’t worth very much. Number of contacts isn’t as relevant as whether those contacts would ever dicuss you with each other. (Imagine you’re an STD-specialist-doctor. How many people go around raving about the guy who cured them of their… oh, you get the point. You could have a pretty big network of former patients worth next to nothing.)

Metrics—really measuring success and failure rates—scares the dickens out of many of my clients. But how can we raise the bar if we haven’t measured where the bar is?

A peek inside my work this week. Please add your random thoughts on making the most of Customer Experience in the comments below!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Staying Above the Fray, Part 3

Your one-and-only

It’s not you, it’s…

Well, yeah, it’s you.

I’ve been too nice for too long, because I was afraid of hurting your feelings. I like you, but…

You’re not my Ideal Customer.

If you want to stand alone as the Ideal Solution to Somebody, the big secret is that there’s a whole lot of nobodies you’re going to have to reject. A little overt exclusion is in order, so you can start talking directly to those people you want to feel included. It’s going to feel strange at first. You’re resisting the idea right now. I hear you on that.

We don’t want to dump our customers. Even the lousy ones. Even the ones who’ll waste all our time and hardly buy anything. Even the ones who are so disloyal they’re looking out our storefront window to see if the guy across the street’s having a sale. After all, a buck’s a buck, right?

You know I’m going to say wrong. Say it with me…


A dollar from a lousy customer is just that. A buck. May never see another from them, and they certainly have no need to tell anyone else to give you one. It might not even feel like a buck, if the hours and angst you have to put into making and keeping the sale eat all your profits—your time and stress are money!

So how does your Ideal Customer help you stay above the fray?

Your Ideal Customer knows you’re unique. Because you don’t have “everything for anybody,” you can talk straight to her, in her language, about what you do have, and she’ll be back just as soon as she can find an excuse. When she met you she was merely curious, but you’ve drawn her in. Now she’ll rave about you to her friends because she understands you clearly and knows exactly who else you can help. Heck, she feels a part of your success. She likes you, so obviously she wants you to succeed—your success is almost affirming to her ego!

Your incredibly focused innovations amaze your Ideal Customer. He needs this… this thing… and there you are. Danged if you don’t have the very thing he needs. How’d you do that? He doesn’t care how, because his problem is solved, and you did it. He can hardly wait to be the hero, solving other people’s problems by sending them to you to get their thing.

With your Ideal Customer, a buck is not a buck. It’s two, or three, or twenty, in repeat and referral business. Keep talking to them, and only them. Dump the rest, and regain your focus.

Sorry, we don’t seem to have that much in common. I tried, I really did. I just think you’d be happier someplace else.

And, well… I’ve found somebody who “gets” me. Someone whose needs I love fulfilling. It’s energizing, and it’s making me more money. It’s what being in business is supposed to be.

Good luck finding somebody cheaper, needier, more patient, and whatever else you want.

I’ve gotta go now.

Staying above the fray requires Vision, planning, and guts. The guts to focus on the Ideal Customer when it’s so tempting to be pulled in other directions. The guts to refer work elsewhere that’s wrong for you, or say no to brand “extensions” that muddy the waters. The guts to let the competition sway and bend, maybe picking up stray business that looks tempting, knowing that all that bending ultimately leads to a breakdown of Purpose that confuses customers and can take years to recover from.

One telltale sign that you’re doing it right may be that you’re ticking someone off. There are as many people who are appalled at Abercrombie & Fitch as are attracted to them for their advertising; as many folks who want to punch someone at Apple as who want to stand in line for their next gadget; as many folks who run screaming from the golf game when a Viagra commercial comes on, as who quietly dial up their doctor the morning after the U.S. Open.

Can you name a company that’s doing fine, even though they’re not that into you?

Never mind the competition, here comes Maximum Customer Experience! If you’re ready to ditch the time-wasters, the bargain-hunters, and the stress-creators who’re never going to be your loyal fans, how can you key in to serving only your Ideal Customer?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. If you enjoyed the Above the Fray series, I hope you’ll subscribe by email or by RSS to receive more free tips on creating Maximum Customer Experience, marketing, and growing your small business, and link to today’s post, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below. Thanks, as always!

Don’t compete on price.

Don’t compete on price. You can’t.

Low Price Strategy I, Wilmington, Delaware

What did you say?

Don’t compete on price.

Low Price Strategy II, Wilmington, DE


Don’t compete on…

Low Price Strategy III

Don’t compete on price.

Low Price Strategy IV

Maybe, big businesses shouldn’t. But small businesses can’t.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

What Do You Do for a Living?

I’m a dentist

I own a bakery

I manage the parts department

I run a daycare

I’m a writer

I design yachts

It’s not much, is it? And I don’t care. I know plenty of others, just like you.

Should you think Broader…

I give you the confidence to LOL in RL

I make your wedding reception the talk of the town

We get your car running fast

We draw smiles on kids’ faces all day (and yours!)

I transport you to other worlds

I create drool-worthy summer vacations

Or Narrower…

I specialize in adult patients with dentist-phobia

We’ve done traditional cakes for the Polish community for over fifty years

We carry the hard-to-find part you need for your classic import muscle car

We’re the only daycare in town with specially-staffed newborn rooms

I write custom songs for proposing to your special someone

I design affordable yachts from recycled materials so you can live your dreams without mortgaging your future

Either way: One in a million, not one of a million.

Paint a picture of the big dreams that you’ll fulfill, or grab the customer who’s been wishing for someone to speak right to their very special needs. There are very successful businesses who define their Vision in each way, but very few who succeed wildly without choosing one path or the other. “I’m a dentist” just doesn’t create the raving fans you need to grow your business.

Let me ask you this—When you hear about a new business (or hear a new message from an old business), which method one grabs you? Why?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

And He Doesn’t Even Call It “Networking”

Charlie owns a restaurant.

Charlie’s new restaurant opened two months ago, in the office complex where a friend works north of Wilmington, Delaware. I’d previously declared the site bad restaurant magic, because in two years my friend has watched three cafés tank there. If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant business, you may know that belief in restaurant voodoo is strong—many professionals won’t move in to a location that’s had more than one or two failures in it. It’s not voodoo, of course, it’s a combination of location, which may be bad to begin with, and the lasting image in potential customers’ minds of the horrors of past restaurants that were located there.

That’s a discussion for another day.

I first heard about Charlie on his opening day, when he came by personally to introduce himself to my friend, and hand out a menu from his new place just hours before he was scheduled to open. A restaurateur who is so confident that he can walk away for an hour on opening day is my kind of guy. The story stuck with me.

I’d nearly forgotten about Charlie when he came by my friend’s office with a fresh menu, to say hello and let them know it was his one-month anniversary. Naturally, friend reported this event to me, because he saw there was a story in it. Now they look forward to chatting with Charlie.

Has Charlie been reading the Maximum Customer Experience Blog?  🙂

How Charlie gets customers jazzed

1. He visits frequently enough but not too often: Right about when they might have forgotten him otherwise

2. He comes by with a relevant, positive, non-pushy message: “Brought you a new menu, just a reminder that it’s our one-month anniversary”

3. He comes at the perfect time to capture hungry office workers: After they’ve settled in, but well before lunch so they have time to think about trying out Charlie’s (since he’s such a nice guy and all)

What’s the ROI of all this great effort?

Have you eaten at Charlie’s? I ask. Um, no, he says sheepishly. I try to go home for lunch most of the time.



Nearly everyone I work with, and almost every person I’ve told about meeting Charlie (and I’ve told quite a few), has. I’ve heard back from them. Trust me, the word-of-mouth has been way better than if I’d wandered over for a turkey sandwich myself, he tells me.

So Charlie—I’m pulling for you, man. You’re doing a lot of things right. And the funny thing is, now that I’m writing about it, I can feel good magic working on me. I’m gonna have to drag my friend out of his home-for-lunch routine and we’ll both go try it out.

We can learn a lot from Charlie.

Does reaching out like Charlie sound like a lot of work, or a way to be friendly and see beyond your own front door? How could you benefit from extending your reach so naturally?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Should You Be in the Business of Changing Minds?

Is it worth trying to capture a market that’s already having their needs met adequately?

Just adequate? Maybe not such a huge hurdle to overcome.

What’s the difference between adequately served and content?

Between not looking, and loyal?

Could be hard to spot.

I’d rather look for

waiting to bail

Or unserved. And have the field to myself.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

A Simple Lesson From One of the Big Boys

Amazon box at work with my bags


What’d you get?”

“What’d you get?”

“What’d you get?”

Everyone who walked by and peeked under my desk asked it.

Asked with a smile, wanting to share my joy.

Because they saw a box, and assumed there was a bit of joy inside it.

Can your logo do that to folks who aren’t current customers?

No, neither does mine, yet. (Maybe it works on you, just a bit!) We’re working on it.

It’s the holy grail of logo design—memorable, positive, and uniquely theirs—and witnessing its power today, I’m in awe of Amazon all over again.

What logos instantly get a smile and a positive memory out of you? Is your own company’s logo on the list?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson