Ted R. Coté | May 2012
Committing a sin—now that’s an oft-misunderstood concept. What does it mean, what really constitutes a sin? Somem people have different understandings of what marketing is: the business activity of presenting products or services to potential customers in such a way as to make them eager to buy. Marketing includes such matters as pricing and packaging of the product and the creation of demand by advertising and sales campaigns.
Many small businesses forget the importance of marketing to grow their business, and marketing soon becomes an afterthought. Strategic marketing is a critical component of building a successful businesses, and without it, most businesses either have stunted growth or fail. Some businesses only do marketing when their businesses start to slow. Some slow-growth businesses will then rush to do some marketing, resulting in feast or famine cycles in regards to generating sales leads.
Sin #1: Working “in” Your Business Instead of “on” Your Business
I was recently speaking with a small business owner who was in a sales slump. I asked him to detail all his activities for the next three days, fax them to me, and then give me a call back. Three days later, he faced me his activity list on a spreadsheet and indicated how much time he spent on each activity. It only took a moment to determine exactly what his problem was—he had forgotten what business he was in. After reviewing his activities, it was clear that he was in the “putting out fires” business because that’s where most of his time was spent. Rather than working “on” his business, he was working “in” his business. He should be spending his time, as should any of us who own small businesses, working on his business by doing things like planning and marketing, which have a higher long-term payoff.
Sin #2: Failing to Create and Use a Marketing Plan
A marketing consultant I know was speaking at a conference with about 200 small-business owners in the room. He asked the crowd to hold up their hands if they had a current marketing plan that they use and refer to on a consistent basis. Only three hands went up! Even he was shocked. Studies have shown that small businesses that create and consistently use marketing plans experience an average of 30 percent higher sales then their competitors. I am sure that any business would like to increase their sales by 30 percent.
Here are a few tips to help you create a marketing plan:
Tip 1—Start your plan by studying and documenting the specific reasons why your clients buy from you.
Tip 2—Create a message that focuses entirely on the results from Tip 1.
Tip 3—Break your plan down into mini plans such as a referral marketing plan and an advertising plan.
Tip 4—Hold a weekly meeting to review your plan.
Sin #3: Failing to Implement Systems
A system is a business process that generates predictable, consistent and replicable results day after day. If you want to see a good example of a system, simply visit a fast-food franchise like McDonalds. Notice how they do the same things the same way every single time. Unfortunately, most business owners never take the time to systematize their business, which results in duplication, waste, chaos and ultimately lost sales. Sin #1 is partly to blame for not getting around to creating and implementing systems.
The ironic thing is that most small companies have systems for just about everything they do, but they don’t document them or train their employees to use them. I like to use the acronym SYSTEM (Save You Stress, Time, Energy and Money) to explain the benefits of using systems.
Sin #4: Forgetting to Market to Your Current Customers
Many small business owners believe that once you sell your product or service and the happy customer walks out the door or hangs up the phone, then the deed is done and you need to move quickly on to the next prospect. While that is true, your next prospect might have just walked out the door or hung up the phone!
Many business owners tend to think, “my customer just bought a widget from me; they’re not going to buy another widget so why waste my time on them? Let’s find a new prospect.” This is especially true if your product or service is a high-ticket item. The fact is that you should be getting 60 to 70 percent of your business from your current customers through referral and repeat business.
A good marketing plan should include customer appreciation events, monthly or quarterly newsletters and should be advertised through the community. In addition, every small business should implement systems that generate multiple streams of customer referrals.
Sin #5: Not Testing or Tracking Your Marketing Efforts
The only way to invest in your marketing efforts with confidence is to test a campaign, track it and measure your results. One idea is to always offer something in your advertising campaign so that you can track your response.
This strategy also allows you to capture your prospect’s contact information so that you can continue to follow up with them.
Sin #6: Not Differentiating Your Small Business
Are you aware that prospects receive on average over 3,000 marketing impressions a day? With all that clutter that you have to compete with, how do you make a small business stand out? How do you distinguish a business in a way that separates it from the competition? Is it with ads that say best prices, biggest selection or superior service? Everyone else is saying the same thing! They must differentiate their business in such a way that stands out from the crowd and gets noticed.
A simple way to do that is to keep a close eye on the marketing that really captures your attention and make a note of it. Then borrow and modify these strategies and ideas to create a unique and compelling message.
Over the last few years, we’ve all become keenly aware of how the style and substance of marketing is changing. More than simple words and pictures, the most competitive players in the market now promote their products and services with exciting campaigns that utilize media formats across the board in sound, print, web and video—all orchestrated to drive the message faster and more effectively.
It’s true the majority of small business owners are committing one or more of these sins, but they can all repent and improve. I recommend taking one sin that you are committing and focus on improvement in that area. Nail it—then move on to the next sin. Business success usually results from commitment to making small process improvements over time.