By Carol James

Customers are the most important part of any business, for without them, there is no business. But most small businesses don’t have the wherewithal, resources, budget or expertise for marketing activities, and are often unaware of ways to reach more customers.

Having been in sales practically my entire life (since 1973), I always came up with my own marketing programs, presentation materials and methods to find customers, and I developed ways to stay connected to customers and encourage referrals and unsolicited testimonials. My internet business,, which I launched in 1996, enjoys a near 40% repeat customer business, and we get a lot of customer referrals.

But most small business owners are not marketing experts, so here are five secrets that significantly contributed to my business success:

1. Clearly Define Your Customer and their Needs

Do you have a clear picture of who is most likely to buy what you have to offer? If you don’t, how will they find you? To up your odds of reaching your ideal customers, you need to know these things about your customer:

  • Who is your customer? What are the qualifiers that determine who is more likely to want what you have to offer? It can include age, education, income, interests and more. The more clarity you have about your ideal customers the better your odds of connecting to them.
  • What do you have that they want and how will they use what you have? The best way to get a potential customer’s attention is to speak their language and understand their needs. That opens them up to hear how what you offer will solve their problem.
  • Why is your version best for them and how will it fit into their lifestyle? How will it make their lives better?
  • Where do they hang out – the magazines they read, the websites they visit, the meetup groups they attend, the products they use? What’s the best way to reach them?

You can’t build a successful marketing campaign if you don’t know who your ideal customers are, where to find them, and how to connect with them. Wherever they hang out is where you will find them, so visit and market to those places, placing your ads in the places your ideal customers frequent. For instance, I run an ad in Pet Boarding and Day Care magazine every month for an air purifier the kills canine cough and other canine infectious diseases and odors in the air and on surfaces, so I get a lot of sales from kennels and groomers.

2. Settle on One or Two Specific Market Focuses

Early in my business the only marketing activities I did were to publish monthly newsletters to my own subscriber lists that I collected on my website and by getting listed on compatible websites. There was far less competition back then, but today marketing is especially important and necessary to get new customers.

One product category on my website is Air Purifiers and I sell several brands because no one technology is right for ever problem. I’ve always done well in sales with the air purifiers, but about four years ago I noticed I was getting a lot of sales for kennels, veterinarians and groomers for one brand in particular (the Air Oasis, which is also my top selling air purifier and product).

A light bulb went off and I started marketing specifically to those markets. I have ads running in a kennel magazine and a groomer magazine and I advertise on kennel websites and do Bing and Google adword marketing. I even built little websites, one each specifically designed for veterinarians, kennels and groomer, using their terminology to explain how the Air Oasis will help them control odors and the spread of infectious diseases.

These activities have made a huge difference in my sales of the Air Oasis. Other ways to find customers in your target markets are MeetUp groups, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. Offering little seminars designed to education people about what it is you do is always a fun way to attract new customers.

3. Be Clear and Specific about Product Warranty, Support and Return Policies?

 One day I decided to offer a 30-day money-back guarantee on every product I sold, with no restocking fee. That made sense to me because if I purchased something that didn’t work for me, I would want to get my money back. And I don’t start the 30-day count until they receive the product so they have a full 30 days. Whenever I am speaking with a potential new customer, I will always tell them my policy to ease their fears and give them confidence that I will support them no matter what.

The way I see it is that nothing is more important than having a happy customer, and that is the most important marketing activity you can do. While I do get products back on occasion (my return rate hovers around 1%), having this policy has definitely increased sales. People who buy from are assured that they won’t get stuck with something that didn’t suit their needs. Oftentimes, I can upsize or downsize or change the color to turn it all around.

More importantly, when a customer calls or writes to request a return authorization, they are already ramped up to expect the third degree or a pushy salesman, so quickly diffuse their stress. I’ll usually say something like, “Oh, was there a problem with the product?” That almost always opens the door so they can share what didn’t work for them, and I either recommend something else that would better fit their needs, or give them the RMA number to return.

Unhappy customers can spread like wildfire and sink a company.

4. You Only Have One Chance to Make a Great Impression

From the moment a potential customer calls or speaks to you, how you treat them, how you play detective to uncover what they need and want, how you help them to determine the right choice and how you exhibit patience, kindness and fairness influences the outcome of the interaction.

I never rush customers (potential or actual). I ask a lot of questions to understand what they are looking for and the problems they want to solve, then I give them options, details and comparisons that help them choose the one that is right for them.

My prices are fair – I would rather make less money and have more happy customers than be greedy – and I always tell them my return policy. I operate from the perspective of fair is fair and right is right. I treat my customers exactly like I want other businesses to treat me.

As a result of this approach, I get a lot of unsolicited testimonials – and a lot of customer referrals – which I have posted on my About Us page at I know a lot of people visit that page because I’ve had many customers refer to comments from that page, and those references can turn a potential customer into an actual one.

5. Encourage Your Employees to Use Your Products

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get new customers because happy customers share with their friends and family members (unhappy customers share, too). If your employees – especially those in sales, marketing and advertising – are not using your products or services, they are not as qualified to sell a product they know little about.

I have always been a top salesperson because I know my products intimately because I use them, which gives me first-hand knowledge of their quality, workmanship and efficacy. I’ve never been one to sell something I didn’t believe in, and I think that’s a contributor to my winning a lot of sales awards early in my career, but when I started over twenty years ago, I started with a product that I began using and loved, and thus began the policy of only selling products that I had firsthand experience using. That, in itself, often helps to close a sale.

When your goal is a happy customer, you create an ever expanding pipeline to business success.

Author Profile: Carol James consults with business owners and managers to evaluate small business operations to create a more balanced, organized, productive, collaborative and successful business. For more information or to contact Carol, call 503-537-0636.

© 2017 Carol A. James. All rights reserved.