Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A guy walks into a gym and

sees a pharmacist, a jeweler, a publisher and a toy store owner.

This is my weekend basketball game restricted to non-athletic, trash talking never-beens who enjoy communal grabbing, sweating and cussing. Losers hit the sideline and talk business and Sunday's chatter was really illuminating.

The pharmacist is using Constant Contact for e-mail communications to customers ($30/month for 1500 mails). He's fixated on maintaining market share vs the big boys as CVS and Costco are mere short drives away. His challenge is to attract new customers, while differentiating his store with a service oriented mantra and he's experimenting with $100 thank-you coupons for people who refer friends who fill prescriptions at his store.

The jeweler has an online presence which lists inventory, but no prices. He does not want his walk-in customers to know they can get better prices from him on-line. He has no lead generation or prospect tracking system. He's really interested in figuring out what to do as more of his customers are flocking to eBay and Blue Nile.

The publisher puts out a quarterly free advertising supported glossy hyper local tome that concentrates on fashion, home/landscaping, and charity functions. His 2 person sales force doubles as editor and photographer. They have limited online presence as he's just not sure how he would drive traffic to the site and whether readers and advertisers will have the same positive sensation looking at the layouts online vs holding the glossy paper. Nonetheless, he's trying to figure out how to value a premium domain name, in the heart of his geography, which just became available. Asking price is $10k and unique organic traffic is in the upper hundreds per month.

The toy store owner has a monthly online ad budget. He's just shifted 50% of his spending from GOOG Adwords to Facebook. The ability to target his offers by gender, age and geography has produced encouraging, albeit early results. He's looking for a central dashboard to monitor all his programs (mail, GOOG, FB, and email).

It's so clear that small business owners are grappling with a sea change in the way they reach and maintain their customer relationships. They are willing to experiment, but feel like the sightless in a savage land. What is clear is that Groupon's early success is but the tip of the iceberg that will float many entrepreneurial ships carrying small business owners into the digital age.

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