What are YOU selling?

What are YOU selling?

  • Who should buy what you sell?
  • Why should they buy what you sell?
  • How do you inspire them to buy?

This posting (What are YOU selling?) is part one of my four-part Marketing for the Best of Us™! blog series that answers the four critical questions for growing the revenue of any business.  Future blogs will focus on each of the three subsequent questions, but for now we’ll just ask . . .

What are YOU selling?

If you’re just starting a business, it’s fairly important to know how to describe what you are offering to potential customers and clients.  Even those businesses which have been around for a while have to understand what their customers are buying from them.  And, Mr. and Ms. Business-owner, if you believe that you are selling printing, bookkeeping, medical care, meals, or whatever, you’d be wrong!

No matter what business you’re in, you actually sell something much more meaningful than the mere product or service that you promote.  In addition to that actual product or service, what you really are selling is fulfillment of your customers’ wants or needs.  What your customers may be buying could be convenience or time-savings or prestige or reliability or piece of mind, while the product or service is merely the mechanism which delivers it.

Here’s a classic example:  Laura needs to screw a few shelves to her wall, so she goes into Ace’sÒ Old Town Hardware store and purchases a drill, but what the store really is selling her is the ability to make holes for her screws – thus fulfilling Laura’s want or need to create holes, not to buy a drill.  In this instance, the drill itself essentially is irrelevant, because if there were a viably better and affordable alternative (laser beam, anyone?), Laura would likely purchase it instead.  Especially if it did a better job of fulfilling her want or need to create holes.

Another example: Nowadays, customers can buy freshly-brewed coffee just about anywhere, but millions buy it at StarbucksÒ instead – because what StarbucksÒ really is selling, the wants or needs it fulfills for its customers, include atmosphere, exclusivity, dependability, a meeting place, and so on.  Those are the things that inspire customers to spend their money on coffee, because what they are receiving is much more meaningful than coffee alone.

Now, if you’ve been exposed to a modicum of dictates from sales and marketing gurus, you have heard this entreaty before – you must sell your product’s or service’s “benefits” and not its “features.”    Or you need to discover a customer’s “pain points” and relieve them.  Or offer customers your “value proposition” (a phrase, by the way, that I dismiss as meaningless drivel).  Or provide a solution to their problem.

My position of fulfilling customers’ wants or needs means just about the same thing as the gurus’ messages, but I believe that my concept is easier to grasp and simpler to execute (well, at least it is for me).

The distinction between what constitutes a “benefit” or a “feature” can, at times, be blurry, especially as some benefits evolve into features: yesterday’s ease-of-use touch-screen found exclusively on iPhones (benefit) now is available on numerous smartphones (feature).  Thus my reliance on fulfilling wants or needs instead of attempting to distinguish between benefits and features.

And remember, if you’re interested in achieving business success, those wants or needs that you are fulfilling are NOT determined by you, but by your customers.  It is their perception of what you are providing that determines whether their wants or needs are being fulfilled.

Peter Baldwin, with over 30 years of marketing and business development experience, is founder, Managing Principal and Chief Marketing Coach of MarketForce StrategiesTM, a business coaching firm specializing in designing more effective marketing strategies for small-to-medium businesses that will  improve performance, attract more clients, and increase revenue.   



Who should buy what you sell?

Part two of my four-part Marketing for the Best of Us™! Blog series, which answers the four critical questions for growing the revenue of any business.

Who Should Buy what You Sell?

If you are a typical business leader, you’d like your product or service to be purchased by scores, maybe thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people.  Whether your business is just beginning or has been operating for some time, is selling to individuals or organizations, if you are determined to excel you’ll want to maximize the number of your buyers.

After divining your answers to “What are YOU selling?” (see my June xx, 2012 blog post), what’s the best way to determine which types of customers or clients are most likely to buy what you are selling?

To find out, let’s break down this process into digestible bits.

  • Hone in on those wants or needs that (your customers perceive) you are fulfilling when they buy what you sell?
  • Identify the customer characteristics (or demographics) that best represent your buyers.
  • Determine where your customers are located so that you can craft the most effective tactics for inspiring them to buy your product or service.

Wants or Needs

Remember from my June xx blog that, in addition to your actual product or service, what you really are selling is fulfillment of your customers’ wants or needs.  The nature of your product or service determines what those wants or needs are – perhaps convenience, timesavings, or prestige.  With this understanding of your customers’ wants and needs and how you can fulfill them, you have the basis for identifying which characteristics your customers possess that inspire them to buy what you sell

Customer Characteristics

Customers who buy from you and those whom you want to buy typically are labeled as your “target market.”  Customers in this group, your target market, are those which you are, or should be, trying to acquire.

Customer types can be identified by any number of telltale characteristics, such as income level, location, lifestyle, gender, age, race, personality traits, or types of activities in which they engage, to name a few.

The attributes of your product or service foretells those customer characteristics, which ultimately reveal the types and numbers of customers who will be interested in buying what you sell.   If you sell yachts, income level, location, and personality traits are likely to be relevant customer characteristics.  On the other hand, chewing tobacco probably appeals to those having a certain lifestyle and gender.

Truth be told, this process takes time and effort if you want it to be the critical component of your marketing program that it should be.  Gather as much relevant data from as many sources as possible to complete your analysis.  Here in Alexandria, there are several rich suppliers of these data, including: our very own Small Business Development Center; the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership; SCORE; the Small Business Administration (SBA);and Reference USA.

Locating Your Customers

The most efficient and cost-effective method of acquiring customers is from referrals made by satisfied customers and third-parties (your “evangelists”).  Which means that, if they’re not proffered voluntarily, referrals have to be requested – either directly (“Do you know anyone else who might be interested in my widget?”) or indirectly (“Submit a testimonial and the names of other buyers for a chance to win a widget.”).

Additional acquisition techniques for finding customers include cold calling, advertisements or commercials (newspapers, yellow pages, radio, television, Internet, smartphones), direct mailers, brochures & pamphlets, newsletters, social media, your (Search Engine Optimized!) Website, membership directories, customer lists, public relations, holding workshops, exhibiting at trade shows, and, importantly, networking.

By developing a strategic process (I use and recommend the Prospecting Pyramid™), you can transform prospects (from your target market) into customers by converting leads into qualified prospects into hot prospects into customers.

Peter Baldwin, with over 30 years of marketing and business development experience, is founder, Managing Principal and Chief Marketing Coach of MarketForce StrategiesTM, a business coaching firm specializing in the design of more effective marketing strategies for small-to-medium businesses that will  improve performance, attract more clients, and increase revenue.   


Culture – What is it Good for?

Whether consciously planned or not, your organization has a culture.

In several HR seminars I’ve done for Alexandria’s SBDC, a common comment was surprise at the importance of culture to their organization’s future. Many attendees said they simply had not thought about their culture or its impact on hiring or productivity.

What creates the culture in an organization?

  • First is the vision since many people join (or buy from) because of what they understand the business or organization to be about.
  • Next is what we say about our organization – our story, our values.
  • Third is how we implement our vision and our values.

While other issues of culture may be included, these three give you the basics of the culture in your organization. How are you actively manifesting them?

When I do organizational assessments, I often find a difference between what founders/CxOs say they want as a culture and what their practices actually are. For example, you may have been in a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ work arena – and that is one critical strike against a positive, productive culture.

Aligning your culture, your policies, and your actual practices is critical for success. Sometimes, the culture originally developed is not what you now need. Or worse, the culture you thought you had created is not what you actually have.

As you prepare for future success, take a look at your existing culture.

  • Is it what your organization needs?
  • What you want?
  • How is the desired culture expressed in basic practices and policies?
  • Will the existing culture support your strategic and business plans?
  • If so, great! If not, what are you going to do? How? When?

One of my clients was an ethical, terrific founder who knew his business and had great ideas. He was quite successful at first. But over time, his dislike of and avoidance of conflict led to a culture where all disagreement was avoided. People were retained when they should have been fired, and critical decisions were delayed or left unresolved. And it cost him his business. While extreme, this is not an unusual failure – it happens too often in organizations where the culture has become a hindrance to success. 

You can create a culture that helps your organization succeed.   But it takes attention and thought to do so.  And to maintain its best aspects, you need to keep your culture in mind  as needs change, as you grow, as your environment changes — all those may require tweaks to your culture.

Attracting Working Moms to Jobs in Small Business

“The Ladders” recently released a survey showing that working mothers care more about flexible work hours than any other benefit an employer can offer.  Businesses, and especially small businesses who can fashion a way to build their employees’ schedules with flexible work hours can go a long way to attracting this very underused segment of the American working population.

Not much attention has been paid to this population lately due to the recession, I would venture, but with the local Alexandria unemployment rate significantly lower that many other communities right now, it would make sense for a small business owner who may be having issues finding the kind of skilled, committed labor force that is needed for success to look to this group. Many working moms have disengaged from corporate America, either as a result of the recession or because they have volunteered to leave, sometimes finding corporate policies on flextime too restrictive. It would make sense that with reasonable accommodations from an employer as to flexible work hours and/or working from home options, this segment of the local labor market could be very useful to the Alexandria Small Business Owner.


Photo courtesy of emilywjones

  • Buy American(alexandriasmallbusiness.com)

  • 10 Tips for Small Business Owners to take a Vacation [Infographic](saleschase.com)

Buy American

With Independence Day just around the corner, it’s an appropriate time to remind everyone to Buy American.  It is important to the nation’s economy and it’s particularly important to small businesses.  Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, interact with other small businesses and cross-promote when possible: each one helping one.  They are a fine example of the generosity that America possesses.  Here’s a personal example.  Casart recently selected Homebody DC  as the location for a photo shoot.  The staging was done by stylist Samina Vieth and the photographer was Yulia Mikhalchuk.   All are members of the DC design community.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms and employ just over half of all private sector employees. Small business have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the last 15 years and pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll… As a nation, we must support this. Recent reports indicate that if each American spent a dollar a day onU.S.made goods this alone would create almost 1 Million new jobs in a year.  When you go shopping for your daily groceries, clothing or home improvement tools, start locally, buy American and keep our jobs here. Even if it costs a couple extra dollars, supporting small businesses is the only way we can get our nation up and running again.


Casart coverings is currently participating in the Chase/Living Social national initiative to help small businesses.  Small businesses can submit their application to be considered to be one of 12 recipients of a $250,000 grant.  To be eligible for consideration, the business must first receive 250 votes via Facebook by June 30th.  We would certainly appreciate your support ofAlexandria based Casart coverings in our effort to get those 250 votes.  If you don’t have a Facebook account, please tell your friends about it, ask them to vote and tell their friends.  We’ve set our goal at 15 votes a day and we are encouraged that we will reach the 250 votes with the support of other businesses, friends and family.  Here’s what you do:

Click Mission: Small Business.  Go to Support on the right side. Login with your Facebook account. Search for Casart in the businesses (no city or state needed). Click vote and please share with your friends.


Last year ABC News did a special about products that are made in America and how just increasing what we buy by 1- 2% can boost our economy.

The series took a family’s home and removed all the products that were not made in America. Surprisingly, this was the majority of what they owned. The challenge was to replace everything with items made inAmerica. The ABC team found most of the items here in the USA but they were hard to come by and had to be searched to be found. The only thing they couldn’t locate was a coffee maker. The family had to live without this. I don’t know if I could.

There are numerous web sites that list American made items and each week the Travel Channel visits a different city and features  American made products.


Americans Working lists these top  reasons why it’s important to buy American made products.

1. Jobs – Above all else, when you buy American you save or create AMERICAN JOBS! These are the jobs that are at the foundation of our economy, and have unfortunately been moving overseas, but by buying American you can help to reverse that trend.

2. Environmental – Many of the top countries where our goods come from have little or no regulations to protect
the environment, and the manufacturers have no regard for the earth and they pollute and abuse the soil, air, and the water. When you buy American you know there are regulations in place to protect the environment so our children can appreciate this beautiful country as much as we do.

3. Human Rights – The countries the United States import from often have nonexistent standards regular working conditions. Many of the factories producing US bound goods are worse than our prisons, and filled with children working extremely long days. No one wants to support that, and by buying American you know you aren’t we have regulations and agencies in this country to prevent those types of atrocities.

4. Democracy – Americans believe in and stand up for democracy whenever we can, and by choosing to buy American you are supporting the ideals of democracy.

5. Conservation – When buying products that are produced overseas built into the price is the cost of shipping that product all the way from that country to the United States, usually crossing the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. This wastes an extremely large amount of petroleum and produces unnecessary emissions into the atmosphere.

6. Domino Effect – When you buy American that money stays in the United States. That money goes to pay the wage of many people that are directly or indirectly responsible for creating your product. Each of them in turn spends this money on goods (hopefully American made) and services, and the cycle continues. The more you buy American, the more the economy is stimulated, and the more jobs are created.  Plus, American workers pay taxes on wages earned in America.

7. MORE JOBS – For every manufacturing job there are FIVE additional jobs created. Do the math. Dollar for dollar it is a great investment in this amazing country!

It’s nice to know if my walls were bare and I wanted to decorate them that all phases of  Casart’s production are made in America, from the substrate’s manufacturing, the PSA(pressure sensitive adhesive, which is water-based), to the artistic creation and printing as well as the shipping. We’re doing our part to keep this economy going. These All-American, artistic stair risers can be found on our Architectural page.

Here are just some of the Patriotic Casart Design which along with all our wall coverings are Made in America!

We are proud to be        

Ashley Spencer & Casart Coverings Crew


Feature Image Photo courtesy of Patrick Hoesly 

Should I Hire an Employee?

The decision on whether to hire a person is especially critical whether you are just beginning to grow or need specialists you are not sure you can afford.How do you decide whether or not to hire employees?ASK YOURSELF:  1. Is this work which must be done over a long term?

If the work is on-going and critical to your organization’s success, consider hiring or leasing an employee.  If it is not, consider other options.

Work can be done by independent contractors who specialize in the area, by temporary staffing services, by consultants for a project or a specific need, by an interim executive, by a paid intern, or by sub-contracting.  Would one of these options work better for you?

Too often, small organizations add a non-core position because of short-term or part-time needs and then realize that work has expanded to fill the time, not because of actual necessity.  So a real 10-20 hour a week need has become a full-time employee.

2. Can I afford to hire a regular employee?

Hiring employees who support your revenue or mission growth is smart.  But once you hire, you cannot skip pay periods, tax or legal obligations.  Costs
include the person’s pay and also:
* mandated benefits including: OASDI (‘Social security’ and Medicare), unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance
* costs for space and equipment for the employee
* pay processing and accounts establishment costs
* legal compliance and risk management costs

Check out your state’s small business services or your local economic development agency – these provide detailed guidance on any local laws you need to comply with.

OK, I want an Employee

Think: What type of work and level do I really need?

Classically, small employers want folks to wear multiple hats.  But the work combinations must make sense and be right for your organization’s needs.

There may be a terrific sales person who is happy to be doing administrative work half of the time but it is unlikely!   Two part-timers or outsourcing one part makes far more sense where the work needs are very different.

The other classic is to want a senior-level person to show you are growing and to get some strategic advice, but want that person to also do basic level work.  A CTO is not going to do programming.  And hiring a CxO of any sort usually results in hiring several more layers as well.  So, you had a Manager of Accounting and one accounting clerk before and now have a CFO and 5 staff, but no more revenues.

Not sure how to structure a position?

Take a good look at similar job ads from larger organizations: what set of skills and requirements do they combine?  Many put fairly detailed descriptions on their website employment section.  Check to see if your trade association offers sample job descriptions you could tailor to your needs.  Ask other business owners.  Ask your vendors in that area for ideas.

Before you add a position, make a clear list of exactly what business necessity creates the need, all specific responsibilities that need to be fulfilled, and what increased revenue will result.

OK I’ll outsource    I don’t need an employee, but the work needs to be done.

Make a list of potential options.  As with an employee, structure the work clearly.  Ask your advisors and network for recommendations.  Current vendors are a great resource; e.g., CPAs often know other services providers, such as IT support, and can recommend people to meet your needs.

Grow Smart!

Hiring people who can contribute to your organization’s growth and success is an important step.  A little thought and effort first to ensure you only add costs you can afford and you spend your money on the best possible solution for your needs will repay you handsomely.  Unfortunately, too often the opposite is true – and having a staff becomes a nightmare of added work, added costs, and negative results.

Ask questions, seek advice, consider alternatives – do all the things that you would do before offering any new product or service to your customers or clients.  You will grow much more successfully with less hassle if you do!

Upcoming Events at the Alexandria SBDC [event]

Alexandria Small Business Development Center presents June 2012 Series of Events.

We so hope you will consider attending one or more of these events designed to help your business and nonprofit thrive and grow. Please note where registration is required. Remember, there is NO FEE for attending any of these programs.

As always, please contact us with your business concerns! For all these and more, just visit our website to learn more and register/rsvp.

Brown Bag Lunch “Get More Time Out of Your Day” presented by Holly Herman of Achieving Skills Resources!

Tuesday, June 5: Do you get everything on your “to do” list finished?  Do you have interruptions that derail your whole day?  Do you ever wish you had time to accomplish more?  Do you feel like you should be more productive?  If you can’t get everything crossed off your list, you’ll learn how to double your productivity and work fewer hours.  Held in our office from noon – 1:00 pm. Register online or call 703-778-1292 for more information.  Doors open at 11:45 am.

START, MANAGE, GROW WORKSHOP “Doing Business in the City of Alexandria”!

Tuesday, June 12: Over the last few years, the City of Alexandria has implemented a number of strategic changes that have made it easier for small businesses to thrive in the City.  Hear directly from: Planning & Zoning, Code Adminstration, Multi-Agency Permit Center, Transportation & Environmental Services, Department of Finance and the Alexandria Health Department.  New City Manager, Rashad Young, will be the keynote speaker and will highlight City partnerships with its much-needed economic engine: SMALL BUSINESSES!  There will be a brief Q & A and then an opportunity to talk one-on-one with officials in breakout sessions. The event location is The Mary G. Gates Learning Center, United Way of America, 701 North Fairfax Street, 8:00 am – 10:30 am.  Register online or call 703-778-1292 for more information.

Business Development Roundtable “How to Make Referral Networking Work for You”!

Tuesday, June 19: This meeting will be held in our office at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400 from noon – 1:00 pm. No pre-registration is necessary. If you have any questions, contact Gloria Flanagan by email or by phone at 703-778-2961.

Social Media Counseling for Alexandria City businesses!

Tuesday, June 19 & Wednesday, June 20: We offer one-on-one social media counseling with Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting.  These 45-minute individual sessions will take place in our office. If you are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity, contact Patricia Melton by email or by phone at 703-778-2960.

Save the date for these upcoming events:

Tuesday, July 10: Brown Bag Lunch noon – 1:00 pm “Building Your Identity: Branding 101”

Tuesday, July 17: Business Development Roundtable noon – 1:00 pm Topic: TBA

Wednesday, July 18: START, MANAGE, GROW WORKSHOP 8:00 am – 10:00 am “Social Media in the Retail Environment”


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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Pinterest for Small Business Retailers: Marketing Hot or Not?

Red Pinterest logoIf you are savvy about social networking, you know that Pinterest is all the rage lately. But, do we really know what Pinterest is? According to its website, the social media site is a “Virtual Pinboard” that “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” The About page talks of using the service to plan weddings, redecorate your home and organize recipes–a far cry from a platform that contemplated a business use down the road. However, as with everyone on the Web today, if it’s free and you can create a community around your product, service or industry, businesses flock there trying to push their wares. Pinterest has struggled to manage the change, but certain business users have stuck with it as the platform addresses these missing functionalities for marketing purposes. I’m going to try to contextualize what makes Pinterest so appealing to people, what I see as a challenge for Pinterest’s growth, and then what aspects of the service are positive for Small Business retailers on Pinterest. From there, you can make your decision whether investing in Pinterest is right for you and your business.

Continue reading…