What soared? What bored? Gather ye marketers, for that magical time of year when we review budgets and assess advertising, sales, marketing, and public relations initiatives. At a time when there is no primer on how to proceed with marketing efforts, I asked sales and marketing consultant Barry Maher for his advice about what will keep sales cranking in 2002.

Maher, the principal of Santa Barbara, California-based Barry Maher & Associates, is the author of Filling the Glass: The Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business (Dearborn Trade Publishing; www.barrymaher.com). Maher, who's consulted with companies including ABC, Random House, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, has authored an easy-to-digest and implement volume that's rife with practical sales advice.

I asked Maher what trends he foresees in sales and marketing for 2002:

Kimberly McCall: Many small-business owners are struggling. Budgets are tight and may get tighter. What advice do you offer about sales and advertising direction for 2002?

Barry Maher: The most important new trend is a return to basics, and this will be especially true if the economy keeps sputtering like an old lawn mower. After all the new economy hype, after all the marketing and sales dollars chasing the "next new thing," we're seeing that the new economy is largely an extension of the old economy. The distinction between the bricks and mortar world and the world of e-commerce is vanishing. The dominant brick and mortar players are becoming the dominant Internet players. The Internet is just one more piece of the marketing mix. Amazon.com is now talking about sending out a print catalog.

It's not about e-commerce. It's about commerce. And commerce is about people and customer service. Customers will shop online, and they will even buy online, but they're more likely to buy where the online presence is supported by human beings they can contact when something goes wrong. Customer service and support -- where one call can take care of whatever issues the customer faces -- remains the single best marketing tool in any company's bag. And it's the single biggest advantage for any entrepreneur who takes on the big boys.

The company hosting my Web site is a tiny company. They lured me in with a strong Web site and a good price, but got my business because when I picked up the phone and dialed the number I found on the Web site. I immediately got a knowledgeable person who could answer my questions, talk me through the transfer from one hosting company to another, and take care of all my needs. Sometimes I have problems -- sometimes my fault, sometimes the company's. But when problems arise, I can make a call and get through to someone who can help.

When it comes to trends in marketing I favor those that increase the personalized, human aspects of doing business. There is no better marketing than actually becoming the company that your marketing claims you are. That's why good customer relationship management software is such a valuable investment. I also love the technology that allows us to click on a Web site and receive an instant phone call from a person.

Your phone rooms need to be communications centers, ready to deal with customers on the Web, by e-mail, by fax, by wireless, and on the phone. They need to become a one-stop source for customers to access your inventory and to get questions answered and problems fixed. You can't rely on just posting information on the website, though it does need to be there as well.

I would stress that this is the time to remember marketing basics -- augmented by the best low-cost e-marketing -- but not to throw away what works in pursuit of the novel. Database, one-on-one marketing works. It can be done better and cheaper through opt-in email. A good solid, helpful Web site works with good support. But there's no substitute for being the company you spend all those marketing dollars to get people to believe you are.

© Kimberly McCall 2001