MARKETING: Sales (Got You) Down?

Column by Susan Grattino


In today's economy, in which unemployment is at an all-time high, the news reports are talking about a "double dip" recession, and the stock market gives investors reasons to panic almost daily, many business owners are wondering whether their customers will ever come back. Customers will come, but you may have to nudge them a little. If you've cut expenses to the bone, are continuing with programs you've used in the past, or have given up on marketing altogether, it's probably time to rethink your approach.

In a soft economy, businesses often implement dramatic cuts in non-essential spending, and then some. What is non-essential spending? During the technology bust of 2002, the tell-tale signs that a company was "tightening its belt" were when the company perks went missing - no more free coffee, the movie theater popcorn maker showed up on E-bay and the foosball table was converted into the company conference table. Unfortunately, companies also lump marketing expenditures into this category, and many good programs end up on the cutting room floor.

As a marketer, I'm disappointed when good marketing efforts are halted. Sure, sometimes that hurts my bottom line, but it also hurts the company's bottom line. I hear business owners and managers say they "don't want to do any marketing, they are concentrating on sales," a noble effort, but I don't envy their sales force one bit. Besides, if you cut marketing now, it will hurt more in the future. Experts have said that "Companies that maintain marketing efforts through a recessionary time will always recover faster and stronger than those businesses that do not."

Let's face it. Selling your products and services in a competitive marketplace in any economy is no easy task. You must keep your pipeline filled with new prospects, keep existing customers walking through your door, and fulfill existing contracts and orders. And if you're a small organization, that's no small task. However, no matter how small your business is, you can accomplish this by continuing to promote your company, products/services, employees ... whatever it is that differentiates you from everyone else.

Where do you start? Presented below are some tips for you to consider, depending on your business, budget and target customers:

• Don't stop all your marketing efforts. Customers need to know that your company is still around. If you stop marketing, they may think your business has shut its doors.

• Regularly review and evaluate where your marketing dollars are going. Understand how your customers found out about you. If you don't track your marketing efforts back to leads and sales, you don't know what's effective and may cut the very efforts that are bringing in the business.

• Once you know where your marketing budget gets spent, and what channels are actually bringing business through the door, then you are ready to make adjustments.

• Do eliminate marketing tactics that aren't producing results. If the brochures you printed up aren't getting the phone to ring or visits to your web site, don't invest in printing and distribution for another lot.

• Make new friends, but keep the old. As you refocus your marketing efforts, remember the old adage, "It's easier to keep a client than find a new one." This drives the focus of your marketing efforts back to where you've been successful. Many businesses begin prospecting campaigns by contacting previous clients. These customers already know and trust you, they just might need to be reminded about your services or products.

• Blanketing a neighborhood with brochures might not be as effective as developing a referral partnership with non-competing businesses you know where you can share leads and possibly even work on projects together.

• Instead of resorting to mass mailings, offer to share your expertise with local associations. Giving a seminar or one-hour talk on a topic in your field will increase your visibility and help market you as a subject matter expert in that field.

• Reduce, but don't eliminate, marketing tactics that may have a longer timeframe to yield results. Offer your expertise on a pro bono basis for a non-profit or small business development center (SBDC). There are many benefits to this. You create goodwill, get your name out, keep your skills sharp, and perhaps down the road you'll get some business from this effort.

• Is your company doing something remarkable? Try sending out a press release with the particulars. Are you donating unusual goods/services to a worthy cause? Do you have a unique approach to battling rising costs? Is your company doing something over-the-top to avoid downsizing? Make sure your news is "newsworthy" and if it is, the effort could be worthwhile.

• Now is the time to be creative. Think of opportunities for you to promote your business where your competition isn't. Do something to promote your business that hasn't been tried before.

Your customers will come back, in time. Keep in touch with the good ones, keep marketing to new prospects and find new and different ways to promote your company, employees and those key differences that will drive customers to choose you.



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