Please Be Mine

THE MUST-HAVE CONSUMER:

7 Steps to Winning the Customer You Haven't Got

by Robert Gordman -- Truman Talley Books -- $24.95

SMALL IS THE NEW BIG:

And 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas

by Seth Godin -- Portfolio -- $25.95

Sometimes it just takes one egregious decision to damage a thriving brand. In The Must-Have Customer: 7 Steps to Winning the Customer You Haven't Got, Robert Gordman trots out Kentucky Fried Chicken, which changed its name to KFC and tweaked its menu in an attempt to ride the healthy food wave, as a prime example. Nobody bought KFC's health food pretense. Worse, the restaurant lost both loyal customers who relied on its deep-fried delights and the would-be fry lovers whom it could have won from competitors. The company recently announced it was reviving the Kentucky Fried Chicken moniker.

Gordman, a retail executive turned consultant, recounts many such object lessons to prove his thesis: that companies die not only from losing great customers but also from trying to serve the wrong ones. His advice, forthright and blessedly jargon-free, is as relevant to entrepreneurs as to CEOs of multibillion-dollar corporations.

The book is aimed at helping you "identify and serve the customers who can make the company's goals and aspirations a reality." Although it follows the somewhat hackneyed business book formula of presenting a series of steps that will lead the believer to commercial nirvana, the suggestions are worthwhile.

For instance, the first task is to identify your company's must-have customers. These are the ones who could be core customers but frequent the competition. This step is especially critical for entrepreneurs, who "too often have a great idea or product or service and start trying to sell it without a clue as to who's going to buy it."

Identifying the customers you want is a matter of intelligent research -- asking the right questions of the right people. If you want to sell high-end stereo equipment, for example, you need to survey customers of competing high-end stores to understand how you could attract those customers. Too many companies instead survey everyone who might ever buy audio equipment, including those who favor $100 boom boxes. Research can also help you master the remaining six factors the author deems critical to success: knowing your market position, figuring out your unique advantage, understanding why satisfied customers may switch, focusing and building a strategic plan, hiring "must-have" employees, and communicating well with your customers.

Books such as Gordman's make the formula for success seem awfully simple. All the same, if you're starting a business or looking to expand one and haven't given enough thought to the types of customers you need, consider this a must-have guide.

SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL

 

Seth Godin, blogger, business writer, and founder and CEO of user-created content site Squidoo, has collected eight years of his electronic and print aperçus in Small is the New Big: And 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas.

The essays are published here in alphabetical order, so don't expect a logical progression. Thoughts on Bon Jovi and piracy are followed by riffs on branding, a brief history of hard work, and an entry on Burgerville, a Northwest chain with a creative menu.

Marketing is a Godin specialty. One of his insights: If traditional marketing is a funnel, where undifferentiated prospects collect at the top and those interested in your product come out the bottom, just flip the funnel, turning it into a megaphone. You can do so by using the Internet to empower peers who respect you -- your so-called fan club. "Give your fan club a megaphone and get out of the way," writes Godin.

The title essay relies on a selective compilation of facts and highly idiosyncratic observations. "Small happened," Godin writes, because of the failure of big, with Enron, Arthur Andersen, and American Airlines being the prime examples. In cringingly poor taste, he even cites the World Trade Center's fate as a terrorist target as evidence that big is passé. Small, he writes, "is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change your business model when your competition changes theirs." Small is preferable for many reasons, but he cautions: "Small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big."

If you don't count yourself among the digerati -- or, as the author puts it, if you don't know who Doc Searls is, you use Internet Explorer, and you've never heard of Flickr -- then reading this book will be like a peek into an alien world. As Godin sees it, it's high time to hop on the rocket ship and begin exploring.

By Marilyn Harris

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