Be Innovative In Other Ways

While paging through a regional business journal in February, a headline caught my attention. The writer touted what he called “six outrageous marketing” ideas. Hmm, I thought, this could be interesting. Innovation is one of the current hot topics in the industry, in large part because the business environment has changed so dramatically. When experts talk about being innovative, however, the conversation usually turns to new service offerings and pricing strategies, ways to become more efficient and cost-conscious, and how to take advantage of new technologies.

This marketing consultant talked about something different: Taking a new view of age-old marketing tenets. The common theme, throughout, was something that most successful marketers and sellers already know: It’s all about the customer. The writer just wrapped the concept in a different and slightly more innovative package.

Instead of launching into a prepared speech about what your company does and the services it offers, he suggested engaging the customer in a discussion about what he or she needs. Instead of spending time and money making sales calls, use these resources to grow awareness about your expertise in articles, online discussions and other media. Become an advocate for your customers, he added, by sending out press releases about their accomplishments rather than awards your company may have won.

Especially in today’s hyper-competitive selling environment, anything a seller can do to turn the spotlight on customers’ needs and away from what they think are commodity services/prices is a positive move. A salesman made this comment to me more than 30 years ago. He said, “All customers have the same tape scrolling through their heads. It says simply, “What’s in it for me?” That hasn’t changed over the years, but thanks to the “new economic reality”, how one responds to that request may have changed.

The discussion about innovation brings to mind two well-worn clichés: “The only thing constant is change”, and “don’t compete if you don’t have a competitive advantage”. Change for the sake of changing isn’t enough today. Every company has to change to survive. The challenge is to change in “innovative” ways that truly deliver a competitive advantage. Yes, unveiling a new service offering or finding a new way to be more efficient and otherwise cut costs can make a difference, but the real difference maker, as the above marketing consultant pointed out, is changing the way you interact with customers.

Our cover story touches on this theme. The topic is over-regulation and how lawn care professionals can help ensure their viability and survival in view of ongoing legislative initiatives. The challenge is to take the spotlight off of what “activists” say the industry does and focus instead on what industry members actually do for their customers and the environment. Sure, it’s a different way of saying the same thing, but the focus has changed—it’s not about you, but instead about what your customers want and what the environment needs—and neither truly wants nor needs what a vocal minority is dishing out.

In some ways environmental activists and less-than-savvy competitors share a common bond: They each have an agenda, and that agenda doesn’t always have the customer’s best interest in mind. Keeping that interest front and center may not be totally innovative, but it sure can be good for your business and good for the Green Industry.