Marketing Today

I have been in business for a long time.  Over the years, marketing has changed quite a bit.  From TV and radio ads to Yellow Page ads, direct mail, variable data direct mail and now the various forms of internet and social media marketing, it has been difficult to stay on top of what works best.

Having spent over 20 years in the printing industry (and not being in the industry any more), I can tell you that print ads just don’t produce like they used to.  Personalized variable data mailings provided a huge leap in response %.  However, they are so common now that most of us just throw them away too, don’t we?  To be honest, I would not recommend spending much, if any, on print marketing other than business cards (apologies to my friends still in the industry).

Where to spend your ad budgets?  It’s all about the web, my friends.  SEO (search engine optimization) is important but don’t blow your entire budget on that.  There are a lot of simple free, or nearly-free, things that you can do for that.  The key is to make sure, if you own a small business, that you are on the 1st search page when a smart phone searches you nearby.  Don’t worry if you aren’t on the 1st page of a search in LA for your Wisconsin business.  They won’t be a customer anytime soon.

Where you really want to focus is on Facebook.  70% of Facebook users log in every day.  Couple that with all the demographic data that Facebook collects (themselves or via business partners) and you can target your marketing very specifically at reasonable prices.  I have just begun to learn about this and the potential is amazing (if a not a bit scary with respect to the data Facebook has on each of us).  I paid for a service to help me do it the right way.  It was under $500 to learn how to do it.  There are email marketing subscriptions that I will need to purchase, but they are not terribly expensive, either.  Time will tell just how effective this will be, but it seems to make good sense to me to skip paying for ink-on-paper and target my “ideal customers” using all that demographic data.  I expect it to minimize my cost per new client.   Once I work out the kinks on my more established business, I will set out to work on my newer business.  It’s going to be interesting.

What Does Your Business Stand For

Most business owners/executives are rightly concerned about the customers’ perception of their business.  They work very hard at trying to manage that perception through their marketing program.  The really successful ones have a very clear vision of what their business is about and what it stands for.  From there, they make sure that all communication and customer interaction reflects that vision.  Now, being human, mistakes are made in this endeavor.  The key is to get back on track immediately.

In order to do this in your business, answer this one question:  “What do you stand for?”  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  It really takes a lot of self examination, especially for a leader of a small business like me.  This is because every step you take has a direct reflection on you.  Plus, if you actually stand for something, there may be potential customers that aren’t comfortable with that and decide not to patronize your business.  It’s tough self-love and can be risky, but critical to identifying what your business stands for.

When I purchased my auto repair business two years ago, I thought long and hard about the experience I wanted to provide for our clients with respect to what I wanted our image to be; what I personally stood for.  Believing firmly that God put me in this place at this time, I believed that the business was my opportunity to do His work through this business.  I made that clear by putting the Christian Fish symbol on our company’s sign and a reference to my faith on our business cards.

Clearly, there will be people that don’t come to our shop because they don’t believe what I believe.  So be it.  That’s their right.  I can look in the mirror and know that we stand for something good and right AND our clients know that.  That gives us a baseline from which to operate and makes it clear What We Stand For.

Is Your Sales Team Really Selling?

Like any business leader, you probably watch your sales figures like a hawk.  You know full well that sales are your company’s life blood.  Undoubtedly there have been times when you have been unhappy with the sales figures.  You’ve probably wondered what in the heck your sales team is doing!  And why not; you have a great product, great service and you are competitively priced.

Have you and/or your Sales Manager ever spent the time to understand how your sales team is spending their day?  Are they really out there filling their pipelines or are they serving their existing business?  Worse, are they dealing with administrative issues or scrambling to cover for poor service?

Think about this:  In the rest of your operation, do you have people who specialize in what they do?    You have manufacturing, maintenance and shipping departments (if you are in a manufacturing business).  Do your shipping people go and run the production equipment?  Do your manufacturing people go into the office to do accounting?  Of course not.  Why?  That would be incredibly inefficient.  So, why does your sales team sell, serve and trouble shoot?  If you think that’s inefficient, you are right.

Take heart, however.  You are not alone.  This is a common problem throughout multiple industries.  Sales people work hard early in their tenure to build their book of business; selling and serving along the way.  Eventually, they become order takers and stop generating new business.  Now, I am not telling you to ignore your existing customers.  They are way too expensive to replace.  By all means, make them happy and loyal!  However, you don’t need to use your sales team to do that.

Take a good look at your sales team and how they spend their day.  Look, also, at their skill sets.  Are they hunters or farmers?  If they still can hunt, let them hunt.   Set up the sales organization so it feeds the service side of the business.  Let the service oriented farmers take outstanding care of existing customers.  In other words, use each person’s best and highest purpose.

This change won’t be easy.  There are compensation issues and you may even lose someone.  However, you’ve got to utilize your team the best way possible and keep the pipeline full.  Even before doing this, you can probably find a lot of administrative busy work that can be eliminated, streamlined or re-located in order to let your sales team sell.

Dig in and sort it out.  Make sure that Sales is what they are really doing.

Let’s Be Clear

If you are a business leader, how well are your team members aligned with your vision?

Are you sure?  When was the last time you asked them about their overall reason for being employed there?  If you are like most, it’s been a while.  When was the last time you actually stood in front of your team and specifically and succinctly explained to them why they are there with you?  Probably as long, if not longer.

This is a very common problem in the businesses that I’ve work in and been associated with from the outside.  Oddly, it’s one of the easiest things to correct.   Get your team together for 15 minutes next week and tell them what your vision is.  You should know that like the back of your hand; after all, it’s your vision.  Then talk about it every chance you get.  Leave no doubt as to what the company is trying to accomplish.  You and only you can do this.  Don’t leave it to your direct reports (you probably haven’t been clear with them either).  Don’t leave it to the line managers.  They are usually trying to get today’s orders out the door.  You must own this one.  It cannot be delegated.

Once you’ve done it, don’t turn around and change it.  You will confuse everyone and make the business more complex than it needs to be.  Anything you add to the business needs to fit under your big picture vision.  That’s how you keep it clear and avoid constant changes.

Keep your team moving in the same direction with a consistent, clear message.   And do it now.

Growing Your Business

In my opinion, if a business isn’t growing, it’s dieing.  Oh sure, if it is stable, the company can last for years.  However, it becomes drudgery and then it feels like work.  If this happens to leadership, it will show throughout the organization.  Plus, without growth, the impact of customer losses (through means within and not within your control) is significantly magnified.

With that said, you have to be in control of the growth.  Next to no growth, growth that just happens to you is the worst thing.  This will cause your costs to spiral out of control.  It will also, very likely, lead to unhappy customers as your ability to deliver on promises will be compromised by the uncontrolled growth.  In entrepreneurial circles controlling your growth ties into scalability.  This is having that processes and staff in place to handle the growth and then to add staff into those processes seamlessly as needed.  Remember; not all business is good business.  Know your niche.  Plan your work and work your plan.  Don’t start chasing shiney objects which will get you off course from your plan.

Sure, you may leave an opportunity on the sidelines.  However, your objective is to become what you envision the company becoming.  Making frequent, wild changes to chase new opportunities only confuses your leadership team and associates and adds cost to the organization.  It also increases the likelihood of delivery failures, which you simply cannot allow.

Stay in control of your business.  Then, when the next economic downturn occurs (and it will occur), you can hold your own or more readily scale downward if necessary.

Let’s Talk About The Economy

Well, I just can’t resist putting my 2 cents worth into this area.  I probably don’t know a lot but, it seems, neither does anyone else (particularly the Obama administration).  Stimulus packages don’t stimulate anyting but the budget deficit…but I’ll save that for another day.

With respect to your business, unless you are in one of a very few niches, the economy has been an  equal opportunity troublemaker.  Your demand is likely down 15-40% and your sales team can’t do a darned thing about it (or so they think).  Now is the time to be setting the table for the recovery.  While, here in the Midwest, the economy doesn’t appear to have reached it’s bottom, the coasts seem to have bottomed-out.  Now, in my personal opinion, we will stay at the bottom for a period time followed by a long, steady climb.  It will be at least a couple years until we get really rolling as a world economy, again.  I don’t think, however, that employment will follow quickly (part of the reason for the long, slow recovery).

Back to setting the table…You absolutely have to continue to market your business.  If you want to conserve cash, then do frequent, smaller marketing campaigns.  Go for TV to radio.  Go from mass mailings to targeted, integrated marketing.  Whatever you do, don’t stop telling people you are still in business and ready to serve.  Studies have repeatedly shown that companies who market through a recession, come out early and grow faster when the recovery arrives.

Make sure your products/services are what your customers really want.  Now is the time to get your research hat on and go visit customers.  What they used to buy from you may not be what they will buy tomorrow.  Get rid of trailing products/services and develop new ones based on what your research tells you.  This is a the most effective way to reduce costs without cutting muscle.

Take a good look at your team.  Do you have the right people in the right seats?  Get rid of the one-trick ponies and keep strong, multi-talented people.  They may cost a bit more on paper, but will benefit you way more than the narrowly focused ones.

For those in manufacturing industries, don’t stop maintaining your equipment.  You can’t afford to not be ready when the turnaround begins.  If you can’t deliver, there will be dozens of competitors who will gladly fill the void.  Make sure your operations team can keep the promises that sales makes.  It will never be more about the customer than now and into the future.  If your entire organization doesn’t get that, you’re in trouble.

Fix what is broken now and the future will be yours.

Jeff