Sales and marketing is more art than science, and it's a particularly difficult art in this tough economy.
For most of the 1990s, many products and services seemed to sell themselves, as a booming economy and technological advances made big spenders of both consumers and businesses. And as that happened, many sales and marketing organizations grew flabby and became less focused.
Familiar tips on selling and marketing, of course, are as numerous as those on improving your golf swing. And certainly there is no one-size-fits-all solution to sales problems. So, what follows is an unscientific -- and at times contradictory -- sampling of recommendations from sales and marketing experts at some smaller companies -- companies successful enough, at least, to still be in business. And if just one of these suggestions helps your business sell and market itself better, then mission accomplished.
Measure your results. Any sales or marketing program requires an investment -- salaries and office space and phone lines, advertising purchases, postage and printing and renting of mailing lists for direct mail, supplies and travel expenses for conventions and meetings. Those investments should provide a measurable return, expressed in a ratio such as dollars spent per sales lead generated.
"If you can't measure it, don't do it," says Ken Kornbluh, chief executive officer of MarketingPilot Software LLC, in Evanston, Ill. Mr. Kornbluh sells software that, not surprising, helps companies organize, track and measure results from marketing campaigns. At a previous company he ran, he had found that traditional spreadsheet software wasn't enough for him to keep track of -- and allow easy comparison of results among -- such things as magazine advertising, e-mail campaigns, direct mail and tradeshow exhibits.
As Mr. Kornbluh's marketing efforts increased at the previous firm, his ability to compare their results decreased, and that slowed things down. So, he developed software to handle the job, and that's what MarketingPilot sells.
For MarketingPilot, measuring its results has shown that its money is best spent buying prominent places on search engines such as Google, so that when an entrepreneur types in marketing software, for instance, a link to MarketingPilot pops up. "That's the most effective stuff for us," Mr. Kornbluh says.
He adds: "Rank effectiveness of the things you do. Lop off the worst ones. Do a little more of the best ones."
Building a brand is different from closing a sale. The Breakers, the 107-year-old luxury resort in Palm Beach, Fla., since a mid-1990s $145 million renovation, spent heavily on television, radio and magazine advertising, and often didn't see big immediate sales gains from the efforts.
"If the results aren't what we were hoping for, it doesn't mean [the marketing effort] wasn't successful," says John Bradway, director of strategic marketing for the resort. "Sometimes people come one, two, three years later."
In repositioning itself from a "stuffy, old-world" hotel to "a casually sophisticated resort," Mr. Bradway says, The Breakers was spending on image building, not just trying to fill up the rooms on a short-term basis.
In marketing your firm, you need to decide whether broad-based brand awareness is a goal, as at The Breakers, or whether you're merely looking for that next sale, as at MarketingPilot.
Think narrow. Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which has a graduate school of education with an enrollment of more than 10,000 students, many studying online, used to send out about one million pieces of direct mail a year. Most of it was very general literature sent to people on broad-based lists of education professionals.
And the response rates weren't as good as Nova would have liked, says Brian Croswhite, the education school's director of marketing. In the past three years, however, the school has slashed the mailings by one-third and made them much more targeted. "We're mailing the math teachers -- not all teachers," with literature geared toward math education, Mr. Croswhite says. The school spends more to assemble lists. But its response rates -- and overall return on its marketing investment -- are up.
The Web development firm duoDesign LLC, Chicago, also improved marketing results by narrowing its message, says Michael Silverman, chief executive officer. Rather than buy space on a search engine responding to a broad and crowded category such as Web design, he now buys space for such narrower terms as law firm Web design and offers services tailored to such firms.
Rather than impress potential customers with the breadth of your product offering, offer to solve their particular problem.
You're not too small. Marc Goldberg, founder of Marketech Inc., in Westborough, Mass., advises smaller firms on exhibiting at trade shows and other events. And he exhibits his own tiny firm at such gatherings three times a year, spending roughly$10,000 per event.
"I don't think you're ever too small," Mr. Goldberg says. "You reach a very focused audience, people you otherwise wouldn't meet. They come to buy."
He rents a 10-foot-square stall and each year buys a banner that absolutely must explain, he says, "who you are, what you do, what your offer is." Mr. Goldberg says he expects at least $50,000 in sales the year following a show he spends $10,000 on, directly linked to the show.
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