Your marketing and sales: New and improved for 2014

Good marketing and sales executives in successful small businesses strive to develop and refine practices and programs that predictably lead to a steady supply of new customers as well as repeat orders from existing customers. These routines are typically rooted in tried and true tools and techniques. If your business has a reliable system, cherish it but don’t get complacent. The beginning of the year is a great time to take stock and to look forward. Here are four approaches to help you craft new and improved marketing and sales efforts in 2014.

Push the boundaries to find new opportunities.

Marketing and sales formulas usually work best within a particular target market(s). Most of us find it easier to think of incremental progress — eating an elephant bite by bite rather than all at once — so ask yourself what changes in the routine would be necessary to expand beyond your current target markets to pursue nearby opportunities. For example, a dress shop that targets 25- to 35-year-old professional women might consider extending its reach to women majoring in business at a local college.

If you are more of the “shoot for the stars, you might just hit the moon” type, make a wish list of target markets you feel would fit well with your company and consider what changes in the marketing and sales routine would be necessary to become successful in each. You just may uncover new opportunities that require relatively minor additions to your current practices.

Mind the gaps.

No marketing and sales process is perfect. Somewhere between getting new leads and closing deals, many potential customers can easily disappear. It’s often more manageable to think in terms of addressing a single problem rather than improving the entire system and more satisfying because progress is easier to see. Perhaps identifying new leads is more difficult than it should be or you wish existing customers would give you more business. For each gap that concerns you, identify concrete steps with the potential to improve the situation. It’s likely you will find some incremental improvements that can be added to the routine easily and with minimal cost as well as some more ambitious ideas to consider.

Measure what matters.

John Wanamaker, the legendary department store mogul, said, “Half my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” If you feel the same way, try dividing your marketing and sales actions into four categories:

  1. Basics (maintaining your contact list, media releases, market intelligence work, refreshing retail displays may be included here)
  2. Tried-and-true (e.g., a tradeshow that always results in new leads and new customers)
  3. Longstanding routine but we aren’t sure why (e.g., a tradeshow that results in new leads but rarely a new customer)
  4. High-potential but the jury is still out (social media efforts often fall into this category)

To start measuring the efficacy of marketing and sales elements, focus on one or two from the “Longstanding routine” or the “High-potential” categories that will be relatively easy to measure. As you gain experience, extend your measuring efforts to additional elements and categories. Redo categories annually; “Tried-and-true” items can quickly move into the “Longstanding routine” category without anyone noticing.

Look outward as well as in.

So far this post has been about examining your own marketing and sales efforts but that is at most half the challenge. If you don’t look outward, you may find yourself polishing the brass on a slowly sinking ship.

  • Don’t overlook gaps in your knowledge of customers, markets, competitors and trends. It is easy to neglect “market intelligence” activities in the midst of day-to-day demands, so the end of the year is a great time to take time for this activity. In doing so, you will be minimizing the risk of a nasty surprise and making it more likely that you will spot a new opportunity.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of delivering a great customer experience. Whether you are trying to expand into new markets, launch new products for existing customers, keep pace with your current competitors, or all at the same time, happier customers can make the difference between success and failure.
  • Consider new tools and techniques. Be aware of the wide range of tools that are available to enhance marketing and sales efforts. Be open to experimenting and to importing practices from other industries.
  • When assessing the efficacy of your current marketing and sales efforts, keep in mind the need to put results in the context of the marketplace. If your market is growing at 30% annually, a 15% increase in your sales is more likely a cause for concern than celebration.

Last but not least, make it a professional development holiday tradition to refresh your perspective by reading (or rereading) Theodore Leavitt’s great article “Marketing Myopia”; it is a classic that endures.

Happy holidays and best wishes for a new and improved 2014!

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Karen Utgoff, principal of Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting, is a market-oriented business strategist based in Amherst, MA. Learn more at http://www.utgoff.com.

© Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting 2013. All rights reserved.

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