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Controlling the Assumptions of Your Sales and Marketing Strategy

When you incorporate a new strategy into your service business there are certain assumptions that are made upon which the success of your strategy relies. These assumptions need to be monitored and controlled to give your company the greatest chance of accomplishing your stated objectives. The assumptions we make as business leaders are limited to two primary areas: 1) the external environment and how it will change, and 2) the industry in which we operate.

1) Outside Environment. The external environment is something that we really have no control over, but we can make some intelligent predictions about what will or may happen and then determine how we should shape our strategy in light of those predictions. Consider for a second how new housing developments in your city might affect your business. While you have little say in whether or not the developments actually happen, the fact that they take place means you have new opportunities to offer your services to a larger group of people and you can plan your sales and marketing efforts accordingly. Other assumptions can be made about inflation, new governmental regulations regarding employment or quality standards, or major demographic shifts.

2) Industry Changes. Industry changes will also affect the successful implementation of your strategy. They may come from competitors, suppliers, or distribution partners. If a competitor is scaling back and reducing staff, it might create an opportunity to enhance our presence. If we predict that a supplier will raise prices, we may need to adjust our own pricing or start looking for a new supplier to maintain our required margins.

Making the assumptions is the easy part. Controlling them is a different matter. The first thing to remember is that you only need to keep tabs on the assumptions that could have a drastic impact on your success. Think again about the housing development example. If the housing market stumbles and development stops, you will have to rethink your prospecting strategy and make adjustments. So how can we keep our eyes on upcoming changes and make those adjustments?

1) Conduct market tests. If you think your suppliers will raise their prices in the next 6-12 months, do a test run of your products/services at a higher price point and see how the market reacts to your pricing change. If the reaction is reasonable, maybe you don’t need to look for a new supplier. If the reaction is drastic, you better get on Google and search for someone new.

2) Schedule time to analyze your strategy at key points throughout the year. Conduct a quarterly review of your assumptions and compare how they align with reality.

3) Read, re-read, then read some more (and go to a conference). The Wall St. Journal, industry publications and blogs, social networking sites, local newspapers, and conferences are great sources of information about what is changing and how it might affect your business.

If your sales and marketing strategy is established for the next few months, remember to watch out for current trends in your industry and in the external environment. It will help you stay on top of any changes coming your way that require a an adjustment in your strategy.

The Easiest Small Business Direct Marketing Tip You’ll Ever Get

This really and truly is the easiest (and most profitable) small business direct marketing tip you’ll ever get.
And when I say easy… I really mean EASY.

It’s a no-brainer.

Once I tell you what it is you’re probably going to say, “Oh that? I already knew that.”

But if you own a small business and are doing this I can tell you right now you’re an exception. “If this is such an easy and profitable small business direct marketing tip why isn’t everyone using it?”

That’s a good question. I don’t know. Maybe most small business owners think it’s too much of a hassle?

Not so.

It doesn’t take much time. Costs little. You could even pay a high school geek to do the computer stuff for you if you don’t feel like messing with it.

The financial rewards can be huge… if you do it right. But this seems to be a small business direct marketing tip most people are happy to ignore.

So what’s the big tip?

Simple.

Every time you do business with a new customer ask them if they’d like to sign up for your free “e-mail alert.” Tell them you periodically offer specials and discounts for customers and ask them if they’d like to be included on your list so they can know when you have them. Many customers will gladly sign up.

Then… use your list.

Offer your customers something…

… specific…

… limited…

… and of value to them as well as yourself.

Let’s pretend… just for discussion’s sake… you’re the owner of Little Town Diner in Smallville.

You’d place a little E-mail address sign-up book right next to the cash register. Include spaces on each page for customers to write-in both their name and a Email address. Have the cashier invite customers to sign it.

Build up your list of names. It’s valuable.

Suppose every Wednesday is a slow day at the diner. On Wednesday mornings you start sending out an Email like this one to your list.

**********

Hi (Customer’s Name),

Pat here… from the Little Town Diner. How’d you like for me to do the cooking tonight? I just got a HUGE shipment of chicken breasts in today and I’ve got to move these babies out!

So I’m running a SPECIAL today…

Pat’s 2 for 1 Special (today only- – eat in or take out)

2 juicy, tender barbecued chicken breasts… 2 baked potatoes or French fries on the side… 2 servings of string beans or cole slaw…AND…2 slices from any of our delicious pies-of-the-day (your choice).

Don’t want to eat out? No problem.

We can have your dinner packaged and ready for you to pick up at your convenience if you place your order before 3pm. Let us know about what time you’ll be in for your pick-up.

**********

Or… here’s another way you could apply this small business direct marketing tip…

**********

Hi (Customer’s Name),

Pat here. I want to say, “thank you” for making Little Town Diner a part of your dining experience. Serving folks like you is what makes our business so enjoyable.

To formally say, “thanks” I’d like to offer you a special discount this week. If you visit us between now and Sunday tell your waitress you want the “Thank You Discount.” You and your family can order anything on our menu and get 20% off.

Now remember – - you have to ask for the discount to get it. This offer is just our way of saying, “thanks” for choosing us to serve you.

Thanks Again,

Pat

**********

There’s no limit to how you can use this.

If you’re a tree trimmer you could use this small business marketing tip too.

Let’s pretend you drop off some of the wood from your tree cutting business to someone who makes mulch. This person tells you one day, “I’ve got a LOT of excess mulch here I’d like to get rid of for cheap. Do you know anyone who might want some?”

So you e-mail your list…

**********

“Hi (Customer’s Name),

Fred here… from Smallville Tree Trimming Service.

I’ve got a friend who has a lot of mulch. They practically want to give it away. You can have as much as you want for $xxx per yard. Every yard of mulch covers xxx square feet.

If you’d like some call 800-555-5555 and place your order. It’ll probably go quickly at this price so call and reserve yours now.

I’ll even drop it off at your home to save you the hassle of having to pick it up.

Sincerely,

Fred

**********

You then split the profits with your friend who is in the wood mulch business. The people on your list know you. They trust you. You’ve done work for them before. They’re more likely to buy from you than from anyone else.

Many on your list aren’t going to be interested in mulch. Some of them will… and they’ll be glad you contacted them with a great deal to help them out.

This small business direct marketing tip applies to ALL types of small businesses.

Get your message out. The people most likely to buy from you are waiting to hear from you. You can contact them for next to nothing. Anytime you want.

The Coexistence of Sales and Marketing, With a Dash of the Lakers

The discussion about sales and marketing and how the two groups work together has been around for decades. There are companies and business professionals who normally sit in one camp or the other. I’ve noticed over my entire career that one either classifies themselves as a salesman/saleswoman, or a marketer. You hardly ever hear someone describe themselves as both. This always struck me as curious, because I always thought about what I do with a salesperson’s hat and a marketer’s hat.

I started out my career as a marketer for a direct marketing company which specialized in developing, manufacturing and marketing collectibles. No one there had a title that said “sales.” Yet, as marketers, we were responsible for producing the direct sales for the company. From our mail plans, mailings, print ads, and eventually e-commerce marketing initiatives stemmed the lifeblood of the business in the form of revenue. So early on, I suppose I conflated the two functions together at least for that type of business – B2C (business to consumer), direct marketing – and the company was successful to the extent the marketers did their jobs well.

Then, I spent 5 years at Playboy as a marketer, but a different kind of one. I wore two different hats, officially. For some of my responsibilities, I was overseeing B2C Direct Marketing via e-commerce, print catalogs, online subscriptions and the like. For the other portion, the marketing hat I wore was a service hat to the external sales team selling to other businesses (B2B). On one hand, the company was successful to the extent that the marketers did their jobs in terms of bringing in revenue directly from consumers. On the other, it was successful to the extent salespeople could bring in advertisers leveraging the materials and services marketing provided. On paper, one didn’t trump the other, they were both very much key revenue streams.

To come full circle, I joined Epic Media Group four years ago and created from scratch a marketing organization that was wholly a service business. The company is predominantly B2B, and the success of the company relies largely on the ability of salespeople to bring in advertisers (there are several other success factors that are outside the scope of this discussion too). As marketing fits in the organization, it is a service business which services the entire company, Sales included. I’ve always felt, and the other executives do too, that our marketing team exists to enable all of our teams (Sales, Distribution, Syndication) to be able to more clearly communicate our competitive position, sell our services better, reach more prospects, and take care of existing clients.

So, having decades of experience 1) running sales teams, 2) running marketing teams, 3) overseeing revenue, and 4) overseeing service businesses, I’ve seen a lot of dynamics at work independently and together. Therefore, it bugs me when professionals make an attempt to “rank” the two organizations based on where the revenue comes from. It is short-sighted in a few ways. The fact is depending on the business, marketing can drive revenue, sales can drive revenue, and marketing and sales can drive revenue together. Trying to compare the two is really apples and oranges; the right way to look at it is they’re both fruits and they belong in the same fruit bowl.

Let’s focus on marketing as a services business in particular (the latter example above), since people who disagree with my way of thinking about the two functions are quick to point to that scenario when diminishing or dismissing the importance of marketing. From the service side, here is how I look at it:

Poor Marketing teams don’t do much to assist or boost the sales teams efforts in generating revenue and gaining clients, and can actually hinder their efforts.

Strong Marketing teams can do a whole lot to assist or boost the sales teams efforts in generating revenue and gaining clients, and can actually be a critical part of those efforts.

If you have a poor sales team (luckily, I’ve never been around one, but do know of them), Marketing can actually help make up for a lack of productivity. In a sense, marketing can create an environment that pushes the sales team to a higher level of achievement than they would have attained without them. By coming up with clear marketing collateral, creative designs, one-of-a-kind events and entertainment, and using strong social media and PR, marketing has the ability to in a sense deliver a Salesperson’s pitch indirectly.

I’d say all of that is important.

Another thing people often underestimate when evaluating the importance of marketing as a service business is that it can be turned into a revenue stream, and not just a cost center or order taker. I have personally done this and seen it happen. What are some services that a good marketing team provides in-house, to sales, and to sales’ clients?

Creative Services and design. Client events and entertainment. Branding and brand development. To name a few.

Not only do good marketing teams provide these services, and plenty more, to a company and to its partners, they can provide them to the outside world and charge for them. They can provide in essence agency-like services for a fee. If you’re good at what you do why not, right? This way, not only is your marketing team providing everything they normally do, but they also can reap the rewards of turning themselves into direct revenue-producers too. Need that next great flash creative? Hire marketing! Need to run an event and sell sponsorships against it? Hire marketing!

By turning your services into revenue producers, you are also acting as a new lead generator for your sales team. You can see how this might play out. If marketing is promoting their services out of house, and gets hired by a new client and does a good job, it creates the possibility for a future relationship with your sales team from the goodwill built up. Marketing can open the door for more business for sales. I’ve done this with teams before, so yes, it does happen.

Overall, I think the comparison of sales and marketing, or even the argument that pits the two against each other, is tired and old and increasingly irrelevant. I’ve sat on all sides of the aisle and I can definitely say that in every single type of business, marketing has its clear role and importance and sales has its. Sometimes, sales relies on (good) marketing; other times, it’s flipped.

In either circumstance, I guess my takeaway is that people in Sales and Marketing have to check their egos at the door when working together. To use a basketball analogy, Kobe Bryant is the leader and best player for the Los Angeles Lakers; most of the on-court strategy flows through him and for the team to win largely the responsibility is on him, but equally important – with much less of the limelight – is Pau Gasol and the 6th Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, and the others on the team. In a big game, Kobe doesn’t always take the last shot; if he gets double-teamed, he needs to pass the ball to someone with a clearer shot. Whoever that person is needs to expect that they might have to take the last shot, and then make the shot.

Using this analogy, sometimes Sales is Kobe. Sometimes, Marketing is Kobe. Either way, if you’re one of the other “guys” out of the spotlight at any given time, you need to play just as important a role as the superstar and when called upon to step up, be able to do so. The Lakers haven’t won championships because of Kobe, though he’s been a major contributor. They’ve won them because of the Coach, and the entire supporting cast. If the supporting cast was poor, they wouldn’t have won a thing, and sometimes Kobe plays a supporting role too.

I’ll close by simply saying it is not a good idea to make broad generalizations when referring to Sales and Marketing. There are simply too many dynamics at play in most businesses, and so hopefully you’re carrying a much more balanced mindset with you the next time you are contemplating the roles of both functions at a company.

And in an act of journalistic integrity, I chose the Lakers analogy even though I’m NOT a Lakers fan.