What Small Businesses Should Know About Customer Needs In 2012

As all small business owners (27 million of us) leave the foolish choices of our past behind, we look forward to the future of launching new ideas, promising profitability and finally enjoying the fruits of our labor.

cincinnati small businessBut as any small business owner knows, each year involves the most changes, challenges and setbacks than most of us would like to admit.

We know it’s not the low points that define us, but how we react to them that make or break our success.

So, quite arguably, where do we really start in our yearly quest for more stability, financial freedom and profitable new business?

When we break it down, the basics of running a small business can be focused around one recurring theme that will never go out of style:

Understanding our customer.  Knowing what they want, need and desire before the thought even enters their mind.  

For the next 4 weeks, we’ll focus on the important aspects of how customer needs changed over the last year, what we did right, what we did wrong and we’ll take a look at the trends that emerged.

But before we dive in, let’s clarify what we mean by customer needs and trends. When we say “customer,” we’re referring to consumers located in the United States, anyone capable of purchasing something and how it relates to small businesses of less than 100 employees.

Trend #1:  Ability to connect is the ultimate “glue” that enable you to beat your competitors.  Anytime.  Anywhere.

Our human minds are on constant overload, from DirectTv, social media, apps and  never-ending to-do-lists.  When we select that app or buy that software to essentially make our lives easier, we fill that leftover time with something else.

It’s a vicious cycle that will never break; between the consumer and the amount of choices that funnel through their decision-making process.  

Sure, we have to sell our products and services as the solution, but if we can’t make that connection and generate a relationship, all of that brilliant logic behind your ingenius plan goes right out the window.

Think about the big blow up with Netflix.  Now there’s a company that almost went out of business for their lack of connectivity with their customers.  Forget the product-because none of us want to buy unless we can connect.

Trend #2:  Privacy Still Rocks But Transparency Is More Accepted

Any level-headed consumer who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 5 years knows that, without a doubt, our personal lives have become completely intertwined with the public.  Our school-aged children are on Facebook, a customer across town knows where we live and our bank teller can recite what we ate for dinner last night.  While most of us have come to expect this type of cross-integration, we must keep in mind that privacy is still cherished, and expected, from small business owners.

We’re the store around the corner, the safe place that kids can hang out at after school and we greet our customers by name.  

Keep these points in mind as you create your networking, marketing, financial and social media plans for this year.

  • How much of your customer’s lives do you really need to know in order to connect with them?
  • How much of your life do they need to be acquainted with to trust you?

Remember, the relationship to establish trust is built from the ground up.

Consider using old-fashioned phone calls (gasp!) to say hello and to follow-up with customers.  Yes, we want to be as least disruptive as possible, but we also want to remain respectful of their privacy and in the forefront of their minds.

Send the thank you cards (handwritten, please), invite them out for a barbeque, or throw a movie party in your office.  You’d be amazed at what a little quality time with your customers can do in comparison to a Facebook shoutout or Tweet update.

small business strategy

Trend #3:  Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

Today’s consumer, women in particular, want as much information as possible to be available to them on-the- go.  They want the apps and tools that make their lives easier; saving them time, energy and money, all at once.

Mobile trends are on the rise this year, up 60% in comparison to 2011, so if your business can make something mobile, do it.

  • Allow them to pay their bill through their smart phone or if you’re service based, send out daily tips via-text.
  • Make use of what’s out there and get your product or service on check lists, organizers, calendars and reminders.
  • Offer updates and reminders about doctor’s appointments, vehicle maintenance, day-cares, rental returns, meal ordering and delivery.

The trick is to think about a situation where your product or service can save the day.  Imagining your product or service as the solution before the need arises will bring your business name to mind, not your competitors’.  This is imperative to understanding how your customer needs have changed and how they will continue to evolve.

How We Can Help

At American Small Business Centers, we’re here to help you with your small business consulting needs in 2012.  Our consultants offer a complete and comprehensive package of

  • One-on-one consulting
  • Group coaching
  • Monthly workshops

We won’t do the work for you, but we’ll empower you to do it yourself.

Call and schedule your FREE small business analysis and you’ll leave with a dynamic list of connections and complete set of next steps to set you up for success in 2012.  We don’t do it because we have to, we do it because your business IS our business.

What other consumer trends do you see emerging in 2012?  What customer needs will become irrelevant and which will become more important than ever?  Tell us what you think!