The grand and challenging mission of all businesses is to acquire and retain customers. The statement in the movie Field of Dreams, "If you build it they will come," just ain't so for most of us. If you do happen to have a hot product or robust sales at the moment, be warned. Business cycles assure an eventual change in your forecast. Whatever your gifts, talents or expertise, you must become an obsessed marketer if you want to grow a long-term, healthy, and prosperous business.
Face the Facts
The brutal reality is that most people don't want your product, don't have the money to buy it, or won't even take the time to hear about it. If they won't pay what you need to sell it for, you don't have a market. If they won't take the time to listen to your pitch, you are invisible to them. If they listen but aren't impressed, you're not going to get very far.
Among those few who might buy your product, most will never have your offering enter into their conscious mind. The advertising noise is so loud, the communication barriers so high, the competition so stiff and the choices so many, that the odds of you getting the business are remote! Marketing has also become so time consuming, expensive and oftentimes fruitless that many businesses don't do it, or don't do it well, and then struggle to survive.
When business sales hover at the break-even point, all you really have for your blood, sweat and tears is a stressful and often unrewarding "job"! If you're lucky, you get a reasonable salary to offset the heavy responsibilities, liabilities and frequent headaches. However, if you have adequate margin, and sales climb above the break-even point, a miracle begins to happen. You make a profit. Cash flow improves. Creditors stop calling. Stress goes down. Investors and bankers smile. You have fun going to work. Everyone thinks you are easier to get along with. You can afford that vacation or new car. Life is good! It all starts with an effective business system to improve marketing and increase sales.
Follow Proven Marketing Principles
I couldn't come close in this article to covering what experts have said about sales and marketing. It is a complex and multi-faceted discipline. It is both an art and a science. The sheer volume of principles, techniques and strategies is overwhelming. Most entrepreneurs just do what everyone else in their industry does. Many, including myself, have experimented and failed more than once. When done well, however, a good marketing plan will continually pull new leads and sales opportunities. Here are some basic principles that I have learned:
- Be Customer Focused. Top companies are customer and market driven. They rely on facts about their marketplace. They know what their most probable customer is like and how they think. They know where their customers are, what they buy, and why they buy. Good companies create products to satisfy the appetite of a hungry market.
- Narrow Your Market Niche. Don't try to be all things to all people. Target your customer by concentrating on the market segment that is most likely to purchase your products and services. Then position your product and message so you are clearly their best option. Your target market is the only market you care about. Go dominate it!
- Appeal to Emotion and Logic. We are all emotional creatures. Your customers are buying to add something positive to their lives or to remove something negative. Your product or service should take away pain or fear and improve their business or personal life in some way. Address your prospects emotional needs and wants with benefits. Use logic—the features—to justify and reinforce their decision to buy.
- Create a Message that Resonates. Your marketing message, including value proposition, selling advantage and sensory package (logos, colors, website, printed materials, and so forth), should describe how your remarkable business offers precisely the products customers are looking for. Be specific. Quantify, compare, or demonstrate your advantage or claims. Avoid the mindless fluff. Get real! Provide social proof, testimonials. Business philosopher Jim Rohn described a three-step process to be a master communicator. "First, have something good to say. Second, say it well. And third, say it often."
- Provide Excellent Value. Your entire business is your product. Seek to become the best at what you do. Your inside reality—business systems, products and services—must live up to the outside perception people have from brochures, websites and sales claims. You have to deliver on your promise every single time. Your customers always want the best deal, that is, the best value. Your unique and remarkable business offering—quality, warranty, customer service, convenience, and so forth—not just pricing, is what puts you on top.
- Determine Cost-Efficient Marketing Channels. Find the most cost-effective marketing channels (online, broadcast, print, trade shows, and so forth) to get your message to those who really need and want your product. Marketing best-practices suggest multi-faceted campaigns that combine two or more strategies and often include social media. Marketing dollars should not be looked at as a disposable expense, but rather, an investment in marketing strategy and systems that will pay handsome dividends in the future. To avoid dead-end marketing schemes and wasting time and money, consult experts (books or consultants), test ideas, and follow a path of continuous learning and improvement.
- Develop Effective Marketing Systems. With experience—discovering what works and what doesn't—you will refine your marketing and sales systems until they produce consistently desirable results. Never stop marketing. Eventually, with good business systems, you will know how to turn sales volume up or down as needed. You will get in control of your marketplace and your business growth!
- Make Marketing Your Obsession. You must have "pig-headed determination" to succeed at marketing. Create a marketing plan and allocate the financial resources to stick it out. Results often take three to six months, or even a year. Good campaigns gain momentum over time. Consistency equates with familiarity. Familiarity equates with confidence, and confidence equates with sales. Be smart and be patient!
It’s Up To You!
“Marketing is the act of inventing the product. The effort of designing it. The craft of producing it. The art of pricing it. The technique of selling it. How can a [great] company not be run by a marketer?” (Seth Godin, The Purple Cow).
As a business owner, you must take a personal interest in your marketing, and responsibility for developing effective marketing systems. This is, after all, the heart and soul of the business you are trying to grow. When owners fail, it is often because they spend too much time running their company and not enough time marketing their products.
Get in the Zone. Innovate to become a remarkable company. Read marketing books. Become aware of your own buying patterns and study how others sell to you. Notice what "successful" ads keep appearing week after week. Decide what you love and what you hate. Borrow ideas from other industries. Look at your product or service critically from your customer's point of view. In the Zone, everything will fall into place.
Finally, be patient and never stop marketing; you will lose momentum and pay the high cost of starting over. In time, you can develop effective and reliable business systems—market research, lead generation, and lead conversion. When these systems are mature, they will provide a constant flow of new sales.
To stay ahead of the competition, however, you must remain the “best deal” in your target market. You accomplish this through the process of innovation, the next step in creating the perfect business.