The Cats and the Milk Bowl –

What do cats and a milk bowl have to do with your business?

When I was a kid, I loved to go to my uncle’s dairy farm and watch the farm hands milk the cows. Every morning and evening, before they left the barn they would pour plenty of fresh milk in a large flat bowl on the ground. The first time I saw this I was quite curious about what I observed must be the last step in the cow-milking, but could not imagine why.  Then I found out.

In no time at all, cats appeared, racing in from all corners of the farm. I will never forget that scene of fifteen cats of all colors stationed around the milk bowl—it was like a starburst of cats! The farm hands knew what the cats wanted, and the cats were not shy about showing their enthusiasm.

Years later I started my first company. As I was struggling to find clients, my mind was drawn back to the cats and the milk bowl. I started thinking about how that milk bowl was like a powerful magnet, attracting and satisfying the much-loved rodent dispensers, the farm cats. I wondered if my business was that attractive, and to whom? Who were my cats?

That’s an excellent question to ask yourself if you’re a business owner or in marketing. Ask: Who is my target market? What do they do, where do they go, how and what do they buy? What’s their favorite eating establishment? Do they love milk? You get my point. You need to know your target market as much as you can!

In my cleaning company, we determined that our target market is women aged 40-60, who drive high-end cars and live in gated communities. You may be thinking that I am limiting myself and my company if I market only to this profile—not at all!

In a different analogy, let me ask: If your goal is to catch a lake trout, where is the only place you would go to fish? And, let’s say you are not interested in lake trout; you really have your heart set on grouper. Would you not go precisely where you know the grouper hang out? Also, are you more likely to get a trophy fish with a net or a spear gun? You may not get as many fish with a spear but when you’re very intentional and focused in your fishing (marketing), your chances of landing the big one increases greatly.

Now that I had defined my “cats” (my target market), I had to address the best way to attract and satisfy them. My mind shifted to the milk bowl. What was the milk bowl in this analogy? I asked myself a very important question: Where does a 40-60 year old female that drives a high-end car and lives in a gated community go often and on a regular basis? (It is useful to brainstorm and note as many answers as you can.)

We came up with a list that included the delicatessen, the car wash, nail salons, hair salons….then it hit me! Hair salons were my magnet—my milk bowl! Why would I waste my time tracking down individuals in my target market when they already gathered at hair salons—specifically, salons which were in the local upscale neighborhoods?

The next step was to brainstorm about how to entice the cats to not only drink the milk they came for, but to become interested in another offering as well. Related to my business, I asked, “How do I attract the middle-aged female customers in hair salons to my company?” If only I could get the hair salon owner and employees to refer them to me… After all, they have my cats (target market) in their chairs all the time! And they do hair; my company cleans homes—so there is no competition, no reason not to send their customers to me. But why would they?

I had heard that people do business with those they KNOW, LIKE and TRUST. But nobody knew me, which certainly had to come before they could learn to trust me. I wasn’t so sure if they even liked me….this was my first rodeo! So, what did I do? I made them like me! I would walk in with a box of fresh donuts and a smile and say, “Good morning! I’m Dave with Got-A-Maid and I brought everyone donuts!” I would set the box down on the counter and start to walk out.

Every time, someone would stop me before I got to the door. “You’re WHO? And you brought us donuts?” I was their new best friend.

I was able to tell them about my service and share with them my mission statement for the company. I offered to clean their place for free just so they could see our quality and attention to detail. I would also tell them that I would be bringing them more donuts next month and—“Here are some ‘referred by’ cards. Just write your name on a card and give it to your favorite client. We will reward you for every client that you send to us.” Each hair stylist took a stack of cards, which they could turn into cash quite easily. “Oh, and by the way,” I would add, “would it be okay if we send our high-end clients to you?” I collected their cards to pass on to clients. Now I was practically family!

This is how one of the most powerful marketing strategies in the world actually works. What are you going to do with it? Comprehensive teachings on this and similar sales concepts can be found in the work of the late Zig Ziglar. He became the top sales person in several organizations before striking out on his own as a motivational speaker and trainer. With lessons grounded in Christianity, Ziglar wrote over twenty books and amassed a following of millions who were encouraged by his lessons for success. He has had a profound influence on me. One of his famous sayings was that you can have everything in life you want, if you will just help others get what they want in life.

The lesson is to look for ways to give rather than only focusing on how to gain. The really neat thing about this approach is that any business can attract more (and more qualified) customers with a milk-bowl-and-cat system in place. Do you know who your target is?

Once you are clear on that, determine who they already connect with frequently. Build a relationship with those companies who already serve your target market and help them grow. The Bible says cast your bread upon the water and [in] many days it will come back to you! We are called to serve others and that is the best way to build relationships—and when you build meaningful relationships, good things happen!

Is having a good relationship marketing strategy only in order to attract new business? No, it should be employed with existing customers as well. When was the last time you cooked breakfast for your clients? You see, the number one mistake small businesses make is not marketing to their present and past clients. Taking care of your clients is the best form of marketing you can ever do.

“Word of mouth” …you’ve heard it hundreds of times.  What do you need in order to have people talking about the greatness of your company? Great relationships! When I started my first business, I went to a friend of mine who had a very successful retail business serving local, high-end clients—the exact same clients I was looking for. I was not in competition, as my company provided a totally different service from what he did. Since we had the same target market, I came up with a strategy to get his clients to also be my clients.

I started to add value his business, to him, and even to his family. I developed a deeper relationship with him, first by referring people to his store. I then asked him if I could put my business cards in his shop at the check-out counter (where every customer would see them). He agreed.

Before long, I started getting phone calls from people saying they picked up my card at that store. (By the way, always find out where someone heard about you so you can assess your marketing efforts.) It was working so well that I started to really focus on building relationships with other companies that had my ideal clients as their clients already. This is known as relationship marketing or referral source marketing.

Can you see that as well as being effective, it is also a highly efficient approach? Instead of going after one client, build a connection with a company that already has dozens of your ideal clients. Imagine what could happen when you build relationships with enough people and companies that know, like and trust you, and are willing to send their clients to you.

I started out telling you about a simple milk bowl and the cats that were drawn to it. Use that image to help you as you define your ideal customer and the best strategy to attract them.  Feel free to contact me about my personalized coaching and success strategy programs for small businesses like yours.

Did you find this article helpful? Do you have FREEDOM in your business? Are you SUCCEEDING in your business? My book, Freedom to Succeed, is now available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1939237467/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_wFOyybD0RE3W2.

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