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Marketing Marketing works if it is a system. Period. Marketing rarely works if it depends on all the right people remembering and getting around to doing their tasks at the critical moment. Fewer than 1% of companies we consult have a true marketing system, although many have spent significant time and money chasing their goal. A system means it must function exactly the same way each and every time - regardless of vacations, illness, seasonal cash flow, or employee changeover. This is the definition of a 'Turn-Key' business - a total rarity although many claim to offer the same.

Why are you in business? Identify just why you are in business, accept total responsibility for the eventual outcome, and take a complete inventory of your skill sets and goals. What is your business going to look like in 1, 2, or 5 years time? If it were for sale, would YOU buy this business? If not, why not?

Who is your customer? What goes through his mind when he goes to buy your product (by the way - anything you sell IS your product)? When was the last time you surveyed your target market to determine if your customer's mindset had changed over the past 2-10 years? (Hint - if you market exactly the way you did 5-10 years ago the train has indeed left the station, and you are likely not on it). Your clients will tell us everything that is both good and bad with your business - in many cases they would never volunteer this information to you.

Who are your staff? Family businesses are real fodder for daytime television. There is no shortage of great businesses being ruined by relatives who have no ability to make the decisions they routinely do. We were engaged by one multi-national company to find a 'kind' way to get one of their customer's wives to stay away from his business. She was a one woman wrecking crew, and he would have been further ahead sending her shopping every day to the most expensive ladies wear stores. She would have done less damage to his business! If you don't have the best people in each position the numbers can shock when you calculate the total cost and missed opportunities.

When is the last time you surveyed your competition? This, surprisingly enough, is a huge flaw in the way most small businesses operate. Most marketplaces are rife with competition these days - many products have become commodities that used to be great little profit centres - and new players may be literally eating you for lunch. We had a client in a mid-size city give us the complete overview on his competition - who sold how much to whom - who he was worried about - and who he completely disregarded. During our competitive research survey program, it was clear he was completely wrong with his hierarchy of things. The guy he felt was in 5th place was in fact in 2nd place - and the fact that he didn't speak great English had nothing to do with his ability to use a calculator! He was methodically coming right up the middle and taking contracts our client knew nothing about. The #1 player had lost a sizable market share, but not to our client. This was clearly a case of being too close to the forest to see the trees. There are companies doing a landslide business by doing nothing but shopping their competition (and perhaps you) to see how your staff handle questions and situations. They call them 'secret shoppers', but there is no magic to it. We do it every day on behalf of our clients. This intelligence is invaluable.

Marketing Good Old Days Who hasn't heard about them? We all have - and just like the 8 track stereos, they are gone for good. You can no longer send a field salesperson out with a task to greet 20 prospects in person daily than fly to the moon. Purchasers hide behind voice mail, e-mail, the 'gatekeeper from Hell', and their computers or even fax machines. The buyer today is a savvy buyer - he doesn't care about the fact you are locally owned and operated - and he has a responsibility to his boss or he is down the road. You better have an entirely different program to reach this person and build value.

Hopper This is your contact management system. How frequently do you 'touch' your customers with some kind of voice, mail, or internet contact? Do you rely on them just 'knowing you are here'? If so, grab your 8 tracks. There is no excuse for spending 500% MORE to find a new customer when the easiest and least expensive method is to reap more business from your existing customer base. When is the last time you spent a dollar or two on retaining your client base? If you don't, your competition certainly will. Talk to us about your specific needs and we'll recommend an appropriate system and delivery schedule.

'Costco' Guarantee Who buys at Costco? Many upper scale buyers, that's who. One big advantage is that Costco will take virtually anything back if you are unhappy with it. Their warranty policy is second to none for the consumer. The last time our company had a problem with a high end digital camera they not only gave us a much better version (ours was now obsolete) - but they provided us with a voucher for $130 to spend in their store because the prices had come down drastically since we originally purchased it! Let's face it - if you are NOT offering your customers that same style of guarantee on their purchases of your goods or services, someone else will. This is an era of end users wanting no responsibility whatsoever for making a poor decision, not understanding directions, or being stuck with a manufacturer defect of some sort. The savvy marketers know this, and never end up in a dogfight with a customer (regardless of whether they are right or wrong). You will win the battle and certainly lose the war! Find your own version of a 'Costco' warranty - nothing more than doing what it takes to keep them coming back.

Lifetime Value What is the value of your customer? This means, what are they worth over their lifetime to your business if you enjoyed all their business? The American Dental Association says you are worth $22,000 to your dentist. On the extreme end of the scale - Wal-Mart's accountants have determined that if you are that odd customer who leaves the store dissatisfied and never returns - they will lose out on $215,000 worth of future business! Considering their demographic earns an average of $32,000 per annum, they certainly are aware that happy people may share their shopping experience, but unhappy people shout it from the rooftops! If you don't know exactly how much your customer represents to your business, ask us for the formulas to help find this number.

Tracking How is it done? Every telephone call, every web inquiry, every customer walk-in to your showroom, every single response to anything must be tracked for your survival. Many small businesses tell us that their business is built on referrals, but they don't know the first thing about asking for and quantifying them. If you cannot track it - you better NOT waste your money!

Marketing Tools Are the lifeblood of your growth. This includes your website (if you don't have one, why not?), yellow pages ad, brochures, signage, sales scripts, newspaper and radio ads, magazine ads, flyers, business cards, trade shows, and any other vehicle you use to reach your market. There is an excellent chance your materials are not doing the desired job. We have several evaluation tools that can accurately 'test' an ad prior to its insertion for gauged response. Contact us for a free ad evaluation - this could literally save you thousands of dollars.

Grow or Die This is not a flamboyant statement. You are going one way or the other with your business - there is no middle ground. If your sales and margins are miraculously unchanged over last year you are still losing, because other factors have not remained constant. Your choice is do whatever you have to do to maintain growth, or accept the fact that your business may be starting to go into the 'death spiral'. Computers are not the only things that are gaining speed these days - buying trends can kill you before you know it.

Offer - Offer - Offer What type of offer do you make available for those seeking more decision facilitating information about your business? If it is to 'call' or 'come visit us' that is NO offer. Consumers want a low-risk program, and they are not prepared to do anything the least bit uncomfortable. Talking to your 'high pressure salesman' may be far too risky for their liking. You must have an offer in every single ad piece, or it is nothing more than a donation to the media of your choice. Run your 'offer' by us for evaluation, and we will give you the unvarnished truth about whether it will work or simply waste your time and money.