Sales Strategy Insights from a 'Lazy' Restaurant Buffet

No matter how good the meal, you don't want to eat it every day.

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By Gregg Schwartz

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

My favorite lunch spot is an Indian buffet restaurant a few blocks from my office. It opened a couple years ago, the food was amazing, and they quickly became the most popular weekday lunch destination in my area. My work colleagues and I would go there sometimes two to three times per week. But about six months ago, the restaurant started to get a little lazy and predictable with their buffet selections. Whereas in the past, they had a great variety and 75 percent of the dishes would be different each day, the buffet morphed into essentially the same thing each day.

This was disappointing. After all, one of things that makes any buffet interesting is that the food selections are different each day, and when you aren't sure what you want to eat, it's a nice go-to. But this buffet -- although the food they were serving was still delicious -- had started to lose much of the variety that made them great.

And so, faced with dwindling variety at our favorite buffet, my colleagues and I started to go to the restaurant less frequently. And apparently many other customers had made the same choice. About a month ago, the restaurant owner, knowing that we work in the lead generation field, told us that business had slowed, and he didn't know why. So he asked us if something had changed.

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The others at our table kind of hemmed and hawed and said they weren't sure why, but I took this opportunity to be frank with him. I told him I thought that the restaurant had gotten a little "lazy" -- yes, I used that word. I wasn't rude, but I was candid -- and the owner thanked me for my feedback and took it to heart. The next time I went in to the restaurant, I noticed a wider assortment of items that hadn't been on the buffet in some time. The variety was back! And now we'll be going back to that restaurant more often, too.

This story inspired me to think of some situations I've encountered with my clients, and some common issues that all companies grapple with.

Actively seek -- and listen to -- customer feedback.

The restaurant owner did the right thing by asking us for feedback about why fewer customers were coming in. Not everyone at the table felt comfortable enough to be candid, but I did. Even more importantly, the restaurant owner listened to the feedback. This is all to his credit. Lots of business owners get so busy and bogged down in the details of running the business that they forget to talk to customers. Or they might be too prideful or focused on their own ideas for what they think the business needs, and they might not listen to what customers are telling them.

Your customers are your most valuable source of market research and business intelligence. If you start seeing a decent chunk of your clients stop reordering from you, or if you have longtime customers who are no longer using your services as they once did, there is a good chance that something is going on that needs to be fixed. If you have some customers who are particularly loyal, who you have a particularly strong and trusting relationship with, take some time to call them and ask to have a quick conversation. The best customers -- the ones who really care about your business -- will be honest if you ask them for the truth.

Related: Want to Know What Your Customers Really Think? Try Working Side by Side With Them to Solve Problems.

Don't get complacent.

Lots of new businesses come out of the gate with lots of energy and ambition, and then they go into a "sophomore slump," where they've reached a certain level of success, and then they start to get complacent, to rest on their laurels, and become "lazy." This particular restaurant had experienced great success in its first year, but then started to flag a bit on the effort and the variety that made them great. Fortunately, they were able to listen to feedback and make some adjustments.

But the broader lesson applies to all businesses: don't take your customers for granted. Treat every transaction as if they were the first. It's natural to fall into a slump sometimes. But as a business owner, you have to keep rediscovering the passion, zest and energy that made you want to do this in the first place. Keep building relationships, keep putting out a great product, keep doing more of whatever it is that is at the core of your mission and that drives your success.

Don't stop innovating.

One of the things that's fun about eating at a buffet is the "newness" and the sense of discovery. Every day is different and you don't know what you're going to get. In the same way, I would imagine that part of the fun of running a buffet restaurant is getting to innovate and experiment with new dishes. Innovation isn't just good for the customers; it's good for the business owners too.

Related: What Startups With Global Ambitions Can Learn From International Innovators

Unfortunately, many companies fall into a rut where they fail to keep innovating. I see this with tech firms quite often. They have a great solution, they achieve big sales success, and then a couple years later, business has slowed down a bit, and they don't know what's wrong so they come to a firm like mine to help generate new sales leads. Only then do we find out that their technology is outdated; maybe their competitors have introduced new features or an integrated suite of services or a lower-priced option. Don't let your company turn into a stale buffet! Keep things fresh and stay ahead of the competition.

I'm glad to see that my favorite restaurant is back on the right track. And maybe that's a lesson, too. Your best customers are rooting for your business. They want you to keep doing what you do so well to make their lives better. Sure, your prices need to be right and you need to be a savvy businessperson, but ultimately, sales are about human relationships. Don't be afraid to reach out to your best customers if you need feedback or ideas for how to make your business even better.

Gregg Schwartz

Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing

Gregg Schwartz is the vice president of sales and marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing, a lead-generation firm based in Connecticut.

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