During the peak of the last economic downturn, Brian Gracon found himself spending a lot of time at the mall. Stopping in to grab some food on the way back for meetings, he was surprised to see crowded parking lots and lines outside restaurants and nail salons.
“I wonder if there are any businesses that … are essentially recession-proof,” he recalls thinking. “It turns out there were many—from luxury car dealers to tattoo shops to nail salons to cosmetics companies.” Gracon’s research into these economically agnostic businesses inspired a theory he calls “Meconomics 101.”
Gracon, a training and sales and marketing consultant, identified three ways that recession-resistant companies hold sway with consumers: by appealing to their self-image, entertaining them or pampering them. Regardless of what’s happening in the economy at large, people will still spend money on products and services that fulfill these functions, he says.
Take The Carpet Girl, a New Jersey flooring store that Gracon says has doubled revenue ever year since starting in 2012. The shop does the most business during the holiday season, bucking the industry trend thanks to owner Diane Grossman’s smart use of marketing. “She has a campaign in the fourth quarter that [asks], ‘Is your home ready for the holidays?’” explains Gracon. “That’s a self-image question: What are people going to think in your home? What’s your self-image as an entertainer, as a hostess?” The store is appointment-only, allowing staff to give customers their undivided attention—a form of pampering in the increasingly transactional world of retail.
Here are three areas of your business that Gracon says you’ll need to reexamine if you want to make it economically agnostic.
Gracon recommends conducting an examination of your existing clients, based not on demographics like age or household income but what he calls ‘emographics,’ their emotions and self-image. “Marketing should appeal to self-image, and product and service development should appeal to self-image,” he says.
Traditional marketing focuses on identifying customers’ ‘need states,’ providing potential buyers with products and services that meet their requirements. But Gracon says businesses should cater more to clients’ wants. “Emotion is much more powerful,” he says.
Classical sales cycles and methods don’t make sense in the modern business world says Gracon. Take the step of qualifying a lead, in which a salesperson seeks to determine whether they’re dealing with a real potential customer or just wasting their time. “If anything these days, because of the Internet, customers are qualifying you—you’re not qualifying them,” Gracon says. “They want to see if you’re the person they should give their business to.” To ensure you pass muster, audit your sales process. “Does it provide an enjoyable experience, or at least a simple, low-stress experience?” he asks.
Ease of doing business is particularly important for B2B companies, where it ties into Gracon’s ‘entertain’ strategy. “It’s not all about having a lot of giggles and going bowling with potential clients,” he says. “It’s about making the process of discovery and proposals and so forth simple.”
Most customers interact with a business via its employees, so getting the right ones in place is key says Gracon. He recommends adding to the standard list of job interview questions ones like ‘How do you feel about working with a customer that wants to be pampered?’
“If a potential salesperson says, ‘I can’t stand them, that’s ridiculous,’ then maybe that’s not somebody you want to hire,” he says. Coaching and training should likewise focus on the strategy or strategies you’re using to bring in buyers.
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