What business are you really in?


It’s likely I don’t know you, but if I did and I knew roughly what your business was, the odds are I could play the mind-reader and guess your answer to that question with near 100% certainty.

  • If you are a photographer... you’d tell me you were in the photography business.
  • If you are a builder... you’d tell me you were in the building business.
  • If you are a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker... you’d tell me you were in the butchering, baking, or candlestick making business.

And you’d be completely wrong.

Because the real business you’re in is the marketing business.

So a photographer is really in the business of marketing photography; a builder is really in the business of marketing building services; and you can, I hope, figure out for yourself what business butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers are in.

At this point there’s a good chance you’re disagreeing with me.

No worries.

You’re entitled to be wrong and allowed to make mistakes — and if you are disagreeing with me about this, you are making a big one of those.

I’ll explain why that is. But if after you’ve read the rest of this post you still disagree with me, then the best advice I can give you is close your business and get a job.

Why are you selling stuff?

The simple answer is to make a profit.

But while that’s the truth, it’s not the whole truth.

See, making a sale to someone once is easy if that’s all you want to do. If you’re not too concerned about your reputation or your customers’ and clients’ satisfaction, you can simply promise one thing and deliver something far inferior, while running away quickly with their money. 

We see this all the time, especially with the lowest of the low, the spammers selling knock-off drugs, fake designer watches, and other crap on the Internet. They send literally millions and millions of emails, and while their response rates are a fraction of a fraction of 1%, their marketing costs are so low — bulk email is dirt cheap, after all — they need make only one sale per million emails or so to make a profit.

While I’m by no means comparing your average business owner to a spammer, they do share one thing in common: they run their businesses with a view to making single sales to a steady progression of new customers. 

Once you cut through all the complexity, there are just three fundamental ways to grow a business with your sales:

  1. Sell to more customers and clients.
  2. Sell more to the customers and clients you get.
  3. Sell at a higher profit.

In my work as a marketing consultant and business mentor, probably the most common problem business owners come to me with is the one of how to get new customers and clients.

The trouble is, this is the hardest, most time-consuming and expensive, and least profitable one of the three, because selling to your existing customers and clients and increasing your prices are both easier than getting new business by an order of magnitude. 

Existing customers and clients are around five times as easy to sell to as new ones, and spend on average twice as much; and increasing your prices by just 10% on a 35% margin increases your profits by a whopping 39% on the same volume of sales.

Yet, business owners ignore and overlook these untapped profit-goldmines hidden in their customer and client lists and devote most of their energy into getting fresh people into the business. 

Sure, this is necessary to some degree because of natural attrition, but for the most part, especially for a business seeking to grow quickly and easily, and at low cost and risk, the quick and easy profits are to be found in your existing customers and clients.

This, though is predicated on three things:

  1. You have served them to a high enough standard they want to buy from you again.
  2. You are growing, nurturing and maintaining an ongoing relationship with them (in other words, don’t expect people to buy from you repeatedly if they hear from you only once a year when you want to sell them something).
  3. You are making relevant offers to them (that is, you are asking them to buy from you and you’re asking them to buy stuff they actually want).

The answer to all of this is follow-up, and we’ll look at that in detail another time, but first I want to give you a different philosophical perspective of what happens when you sell something the first time.

Most business owners see marketing and sales as an event rather than a process. And this is a huge mistake, because it focuses our attention on the sale rather than the relationship.

 So instead of that, I encourage you to see it as the beginning of a long-term relationship you’re going to have with that customer or client over many years, because the vastly greater part of your profits are in the long-tern relationship you have with customers and clients and not in the initial sale.

Or, another way of looking at it is we’re not pumping money into marketing to make sales; rather, we’re doing it to invest in relationships with customers and clients

Some marketers phrase it slightly differently and say we’re “buying customers”, but I think it’s worth going a step further to say we’re actually “investing in relationships with them”.

Making a sale to someone is easy if you don’t care about your profitability, because you can just drop your prices until you’re the cheapest around and you’ll find all the scummy price-buyers flocking your way. 

But, to hammer home this point again, the long term profits are always in the long-term relationship you have with customers and clients and not just the first sale. Because over the long term they will:

  1. Buy from you over and over again.
  2. Spend more with you when they do.
  3. Refer friends, family, and colleagues to you.

What’s more, any marketing you do to them will cost you less and be more effective, to boot.

Very few business owners get this idea, and it’s costing them a fortune because they are spending all their time and energy getting new business and letting their existing clients wander off to suppliers new.

If you want to enjoy substantial and significant changes in your results you have to start thinking and acting differently.

This is just one way you can start.

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  1. Great reminder.
    The Dopamine hit is always around getting strangers to buyers.
    The real gold is when buyers become reoccuring revenue over and over without any real cost of acquisition via the email you earned.