All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions
Most of us know that marketing is how you let people know about your products or services. It is, however, about much more than just spreading the word or clinching the deal.
The first thing you need to understand about marketing is that it is not a synonym for selling.
Rather, marketing spans the entire gambit from creating a product to getting it to the consumer. This includes the development of the product or service, identifying its target market, tweaking the range to ensure that it meets market expectations, storage, merchandising, promotion, selling, distribution, warranty issues and after-sales support.
Successful marketing is all about building a relationship with your customer that is straightforward, intended to be long term and not only profitable for the company in terms of the product sold, but also rewarding to the customer in terms of the product purchased.
The most important fact about marketing is that it should not be an event. It must rather be an ongoing process. No matter how well your business is doing today, there is no guarantee that it will continue to do well tomorrow.
Your customers are exposed to a relentless barrage of sales messages, urging them to purchase this or try out that, and not surprisingly, some succumb. As a result, your customer base is forever changing and you need to deal with this on an ongoing basis.
Keep an eye on the competition
- Emerging trends continually prompt established competitors to offer new products. They will also try to gain additional market share by promising customers some benefit they did not enjoy in the past.
- From time to time, new competitors enter the market. No matter how insignificant an emerging competitor may appear to be, its mere existence will take some business away from you. Do not fear competitors but take them seriously. The trick is to be aware and institute appropriate measures to minimise their impact on your market share.
Keep an eye on your customers
- Customers expect more from their suppliers than in the past, and are less willing to forgive mistakes. Loyalty has become less of a factor, with a growing number of individuals and companies willing to change suppliers the moment an enticing offer catches their attention. Loss of customers in this way can be ascribed to "competitor activity".
- Then of course there are those customers who change jobs, move away, go out of business or die. Let's categorise these customers under the heading "natural attrition".
To compensate for inevitable leaks from your customer base, you must make determined efforts not only to retain as many established customers as possible but to create a steady stream of new ones. This is an essential function of marketing.
Many business owners make the potentially fatal mistake of suspending marketing efforts the moment their initial campaign begins to pay off. Their rationale is that with the influx of confirmed orders, capacity is committed and they need to focus on serving existing customers. Although this approach sounds reasonable enough, it is fraught with danger.
Eventually, a sales slump hits the business, the owner panics and initiates another marketing drive. Such an approach could result in a business that has been doing well just a few months earlier suddenly finding itself in serious trouble.
The single-client trap
So, you have just won a massive order that will keep your company's wheels turning at full speed for at least ten month? Break out the champagne, but at the same time don't forget to think ahead. Are you guaranteed more work from the same client or could it be a "once off"? If further work is not guaranteed then the best time to canvass for the next order is now.
If you can handle it, accept a large contract, but don't cut ties with your established market. Keep in touch with your existing customers and, above all, never ever stop marketing your business. Buying decisions, especially in the business-to-business market, often involve lead times, so start working on getting the next big one as early as possible.
Many entrepreneurs ignore this fact and pay the price. What is even more amazing is that business consultants, who should know better, appear to fall into this trap with monotonous regularity. They take on a massive assignment but lack the infrastructure to delegate some of the work. To keep the client happy, they give the project their undivided attention. As a result, by the time the contract has been completed, they find to their dismay that they have no practice left.
The five golden rules of marketing
- Don't skimp on your corporate identity programme. Competition has intensified to such an extent that the days of the amateur are effectively over.
- Don't presume to know what your customers want - go out there and ask them how you can serve them better.
- Treat marketing costs as an investment in the future of your business and expect this investment to generate measurable returns.
- Accept that marketing must be a process, not an event, and act accordingly.
- There is no need to fear your competitors but you should always respect them.