IN TODAY’S competitive market environment, tight labour workforce and high operating costs, companies need to constantly find innovative ways to improve their results.

An organisation’s need to differentiate itself from competitors in terms of product benefits, pricing, promotion strategies and markets should not be debated in an annual review but should be discussed periodically to keep up with trends and market forces.

Try these seven strategies (or 7Cs) to help you better understand today’s market environment and improve your sales:

Embrace Change

If death and taxes are two things that cannot be prevented in one’s life, then perhaps the third one should be technology in the 21st century.

You have witnessed how technological advances have completely changed the landscape for some businesses.

For example, retail shops now use websites and blogs to build better relationships with their clients. These new platforms are helping businesses to lower their inventory costs too: by posting new items online and getting customer feedback, they can make more informed decisions about how much stock they need instead of shipping in bulk and keeping the items on the shelves of their bricks-and-mortar shops.

Value Collaboration

In the past, organisations tended to operate in isolation and carry products exclusive to the nature of their business. For example, a bookstore would sell only books and stationery supplies.

Customers’ needs and wants are ever-changing and the company that can “feel the pulse” of its customers will have a competitive advantage. Nowadays, many bookstores offer a “lifestyle” experience — selling music CDs, DVDs and home accessories as well as coffee, light food and pastries.

The more innovative ones will have a small children’s corner with toys and books and trained customer service staff to play with the kids while parents relax and shop.

This form of collaboration has given customers a new experience and has turned the bookshop into a place to hang out, meet friends and indulge in life’s small pleasures.

Capture information

Companies now realise there is a goldmine of information that they can gather to analyse, track, understand and serve their customers.

You can engage better with your customers by simply creating a customer feedback form, posting a contest online or having an online chat (both mobile and online) with them.

Expand Connectivity

Retail shops operating in a mall typically open from 11am to 9pm. In today’s connected world, shop owners have to move beyond the physical limits of their retail space and enter into the online world to connect with their new and existing customers.

By having an e-commerce site, shop owners can tap the vast opportunities around the world without stepping out of the country to expand their business.

Companies can explore the possibility of blogs, websites, mobile apps, online games, forums, videos, online contests and many more, according to their budget and overall market alignment.

Understand Consumer behaviour

Today’s consumers are constantly communciating via instant messaging, SMS and e-mail, or on forums, YouTube and online publications.

This online behaviour leaves traces and clues for smart companies to leverage on these consumers’ buying patterns and make adjustments to the products they sell.

Support responsible Consumption

As consumers become more affluent, they are also becoming more concerned about the packaging, ingredients, place of production and so on of the products they use.

There is a growing community of consumers in the “sharing economy”. These consumers are recycling their products, renting their unused stuff and buying products that require little or less disposal.

For example, there are some clothes that require no washing, bicycles made from 100 per cent bamboo material, and products using untreated chemicals that are safe for children to play with.

Continuing education

Educating consumers about the latest trends is no longer the sole work of the company. Consumers are taking an unprecedented active role in educating each other, thereby influencing each other’s buying behaviour as well.

Consumers are travelling more and a minority will want to be the “first” in their peer group to wear the latest fashion item, brand or product. The company that knows how to engage in a two-way communication with these customers will benefit and discover a new way of collecting market intelligence.

The marketplace will continue to get more crowded, and businesses will fight to invade the minds of consumers, clouding their purchase decisions.

For your business to stand out from the crowd and win more sales, try these seven strategies. If the usual ways of doing sales are not yielding results, they will have to be re-examined and discarded.

Article by Desmond Chua, associate lecturer, entrepreneur and relationship coach. He can be contacted by e-mail, dchua1969@gmail.com