Business owners often talk about market share with great reverence, treating it as the "holy grail" in measuring the success of an enterprise. Acquiring more market share keeps them pushing forward, and how much of it they don't possess keeps them awake at night. But I believe market share is to small businesses what quarterly financial reports are to large corporations—a way to see how your business looks comparatively in the short term, but not much of an indicator when it comes to the long-term health of the company. 

At Metal Mafia, the jewelry wholesale company I founded, we focus on winning "mindshare" instead. We define mindshare as the amount of space our company occupies in our customers' minds.  We can track it through what is written about us in the press, through telephone and email feedback we get from customers, in comments left on Facebook and other social networking sites, and with the number of referral customers we get. If customers think and talk about us often and in a predominantly good way, we have earned positive mindshare. If they think or talk about us negatively or infrequently, we've lost mindshare.

Here are three ways to earn mindshare with customers:

1.    Offer a quality product. 

Perhaps now more than ever it is important to sell products that are innovative, socially conscious, and well made.  The recent changes in the economy have made buying decisions more complicated for consumers, and they are no longer always looking for the lowest price as the "tipping point" for purchases. Today, shoppers opt for products that may cost more but deliver a superior experience in return. They are looking to get access to new features that were previously unavailable, buy something that conforms to social ideals that they support, or be sure that the craftsmanship is such that the product will last longer.   

In the body-piercing industry, we are not always the lowest-priced player. We win customer mindshare by concentrating on the rapport between quality and price.  Our products are made of the best materials available and our price is the lowest we can offer for this level of quality.  Customers appreciate that they are able to pay fair prices for excellent quality and are repeat buyers and fierce brand advocates because of it. Even those who have tried other suppliers because of a momentarily enticing lower price return to us with a stronger mindshare towards our products, having seeing the kind of diminished quality lower pricing often gets them. 

2.    Make sure your product is available—always.

You may have the best product in the world, but if it is not available, you will quickly lose the mindshare of your customers. Availability means making sure that your product is somewhere your customers can access it.  Availability means rarely running out of your product.  Availability also means guaranteeing that once your customers know they want your product, they can get it very quickly and with as little resistance as possible.

At Metal Mafia, we never put any of our new products on our website or into catalogues until they are in our warehouse. On top of that, we also have a very efficient order-picking process that enables us to ship every order within 24 hours.  Countless times we have earned mindshare that once belonged to another company by telling customers that items they needed could ship the same day when their usual supplier was quoting a two-week delivery time.

3.   Customer service should be your highest ideal.

You can lose all the mindshare built up by your great product and easy access if you do not get the customer service component right.  Every contact a customer has with your company is an opportunity to earn more mindshare.

When the customer calls your company, does he use an automated system before actually speaking to a real person? There goes your mindshare. When your company makes a mistake that impacts a customer, does it shirk responsibility? Your mindshare percentage just dropped again. Own the mistake and your mindshare will shoot up immediately.

Last week, we had a customer whose order went to the wrong address and missed being delivered in time for his new store opening. He was pissed, and rightfully so. He had hired extra staff, placed ads with local media, and planned a huge day, only to have it dashed by a typo someone at my company made. We could not replace his day, and my rep knew crediting his shipping charges was not enough to make it right. She offered him enough free merchandise to re-stage his big day, and offer free piercings to the first 50 customers. The customer who thought he would have to fight for compensation like he did at other companies was pleasantly surprised by our offer. He ended the call by telling us how much he liked our company—effectively converting potentially negative mindshare back to positive.

Earning mindshare matters more than capturing market share when you are a small business because it offers you feedback that can help drive your business, rather than indicates how your business has performed after the fact.  It gives you an instant read on your progress, and monitoring it helps you to identify possible problems while they are still small.