The backbone of every small business is its sales. But these sales cannot be procured unless there is a solid base of existing and prospective customers. It’s essential then that entrepreneurs develop a plan that creates an active pipeline of sales opportunities to ensure that there is always a stream of new business coming in.

Fortunately creating this funnel of leads is not that hard to do, it just takes effort and consistency. Here, Erin Louwfrom Retail Capital, a fintechfirm that offers finance for small businesses, explains how:

Understand who your customer is

Too often newbie entrepreneurs come up with an idea that they think is truly great, ground-breaking and innovative. They pump money into it, bumping up marketing spend to attract customers who would agree that their products are one-of-a-kind. This isn’t always the case and they can be left with an empty bank account and a lot of left over stock. Why? Because they didn’t understand their customer first. SMEs must develop products and services for their customers, and build them around what THEY want, not what the SME wants. This requires that some form of market research is done upfront, or at the very least they develop and understand their customer personas. Once the entrepreneur puts him or herself in their customers’ shoes, they might create a very different product which their target market actually wants.

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Customer service is key

It’s rare that an entrepreneur will come up with something completely unique. The more likely scenario is that the business idea is similar to something else that already exists, it’s just a lot better or better priced. With so many competitors all vying for the same customer, SMEs need to stand out, and offering exceptional customer service is a viable way to do so.

They can achieve this by going the extra mile for their customers, personalise their service where possible, provide flexible payment terms if needed and offer regular discounts and promotions to create a loyal customer base. It’s also wise to offer some form of after-sales service. This could be a courtesy phone call, or even an email that includes a ‘how did we do?” survey link. Whatever the route, this will make your customers feel special and could motivate them to buy again.

Research the competition

Much like knowing who the customer is, understanding what the competition is doing is also essential. Thanks to the internet this is extremely easy to do; visit their websites, understand their positioning, use their ecommerce platform if they have one and test their customer service channels. Even stalk them on social media. The point is by understanding what the competitors are doing, SMEs can carve out a unique place in their market and do what their competitors are doing, just better.

Network, network, network

Don’t underestimate the power of connection. People like to do business with people they like. It’s important then that SMEs build relationships with others in their sector, whether that be peers, complementary services or prospective clients. It does take some time and effort, as it’s recommended to attend industry functions or networking events, but the pay-offs can be significant as through networking and establishing partnerships SMEs may be able to unlock new business opportunities for business growth.

Focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience

Customer experience, or CX as it’s more commonly known is critical to any business, but especially to those that have multiple touchpoints and channels. These days customers don’t interact with businesses in a linear way; they may follow them on social media, visit them in-store, ask a customer service question on Twitter and phone when they have an issue. The customer experience of ALL of these channels needs to be considered to ensure that they are seamless and all ‘sing from the same hymn-sheet’. Large businesses often battle to get this right, as their divisions can operate in silos, but a small business has an opportunity here to make 100% certain that every channel functions exceptionally well and that wherever the customer journey starts and ends, it’s a positive experience.

These are just a few top tips to bear in mind when considering how to grow an SME’s customer base.  They’re not difficult to implement, but will work wonders when applied properly.