3 signs your marketing isn’t working, and how to fix it

out-of-orderSo you’ve re-branded, have a fabulous website and blog, write a monthly newsletter and are active on social media. But your business seems to have plateaued and customer numbers simply refuse to show any signs of growth. Should you keep the faith and carry on, or does your marketing plan need a bit of an overhaul?

It can be hard to determine just how long it might take for your marketing campaigns to bear fruit, so keep an eye out for the signs that your plan isn’t doing its job:

You are generating leads, but none are converting to customers

First, you should congratulate yourself. You are doing something right if the leads are coming in. Chances are though, that they are the wrong leads. It sounds like you may not be in front of the right audience – if you are selling a corporate level product there’s little point networking with micro business owners for example.

Take a cold, hard look at your ‘ideal’ customer profile and make sure your marketing is aimed squarely at them. Alternatively, if you have discovered a talent for attracting an altogether different group of potential clients, can you modify your products or services to cater for that market?

You are getting new clients, but losing existing ones at the same rate

The good news is that your sales process seems to be working; if new business is flowing, that’s  a good sign. But existing customer are important too, so you need to examine why you are losing them. Do you have a retention strategy in place or are you putting all your marketing effort into new business generation?

Look carefully into the reasons you are not keeping customers – are there any customer service issues or is your product simply not meeting customer expectations – and try to fix whatever is going wrong.

You simply aren’t attracting enough new business

There could be any number of reasons why your marketing plan doesn’t seem to be doing anything much for you. Lack of budget, unclear or inconsistent marketing messages, mismatched media, incompatible pricing structure  or a combination of these problems. There’s no doubt that you have to give your campaigns time to work, but if you’ve been flogging the same strategy for sometime to no avail, isn’t it time to take a serious look inside your business?

It all comes down to knowing your customers, so go back to basics and clearly define who they are. Then match up your customer profile with the products or services you are offering; do they really solve your customers’ problems? Assuming they do, now’s the time to work out where your prospective customers  hang out and how you can get in front of them.

Once you have taken the time to work out which part of your marketing process is going wrong and tried to fix it, you are ready to develop a focused marketing plan that will really serve your business you well.





4 things customers don’t want to hear

ID-100235409I’ve had the pleasure of making some big purchases recently and have come across both good and bad sales and service in the process. The products in question were a kitchen and new flooring. Both come with a degree of risk for the seller in as much as there is an element of the unknown – what state will the sub-floor be in when the existing flooring is removed, will the old kitchen come out without pulling plaster off the wall or will we find some, yet unseen, horror when we start work?

I’m under no illusion, it’s a tricky balance between telling a potential customer all they need to know and scaring them half to death with too much information. You run the risk of putting a potential customer off by giving them every horror story or  what-if scenario. Equally though there is nothing more damaging long-term than a customer that thinks they have been cheated or not told the whole story.

It’s important to try to get to know your potential customer and to judge how much information they want; some customer want every detail, others prefer edited highlights. Which ever type of prospect they turn out to be, it’s important that you are clear and straight with them. If, after they have signed on the dotted line, you hear yourself muttering any of the following, you know you’ve got a problem:

  • It’s in the terms and conditions: small print is there for a reason and it should protect both you and the buyer. If anything really significant is ‘hidden’ in your terms and conditions, point it out to your potential customer
  • My colleague should have told you that: if you have different people dealing with sales and say surveying or installation, make sure everyone is clear where their responsibility lies.The customer doesn’t care who’s job it is and they will judge your company based on all the people they come in contact with, not just the sales people
  • Lots of our customers complain about that: whether it’s an extra charge for accepting a credit card or something the customer thought was included that you later tell them is extra, if your customers are telling you they don’t like it, do something about it. I’m not saying you have to waive charges, but just make it clear from the outset so that complaints don’t arise later down the line
  • That’s not our job: this is particularly irksome for a customer when they perceive that it should logically be part of the job. I use the example of kitchen installation; if you buy kitchen cabinets and appliance from your kitchen installer would you expect their installation quote to include electrics and plumbing so that those appliances that they have designed into your kitchen, actually work? I suspect most laypeople would answer ‘yes’. Telling your customer that ‘kitchen installation’ only includes the cabinets is likely to leave them with a bad taste. Again, make it crystal clear what you mean, don’t use jargon that is likely to confuse, and you won’t have that problem to deal with.

It’s simple really. Put yourself in your customers shoes –  what do they know, what do they expect from you and how does this match up to what you are giving them. For sure, not all your competitors will be ‘doing it right’ and you may lose a few sales on price but, rest assured, in the long run the good reputation you will build by doing things properly will build  a sustainable business.

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

Why niche marketing works

ID-100201541How many times as marketers and business owners do we struggle to really identify and communicate with our true target audience? Often this is because the audiences we have identified are simply too diverse to make a coherent communications plan viable; so we end up spreading our messages too thinly to be impactful in any one customer segment.

Today I can across a business that has done a brilliant job of finding a niche and making it their own. They are a great example of how, by focusing on a niche, you can make your marketing messages clear and concise and ultimately more successful.

The company in question started life as a printers. At that stage they were probably like many other printers – producing all sorts of items and competing in a largely price-driven, commodity market place, with a diverse customer base. At some stage in the company development though, they decided to focus on printing race numbers for runners competing in events. And, if you look at them today, they not only  print race numbers for many different types of event, but they also provide many peripheral products to their customers –  anything from event signs and barrier tape to nine different types of safety pin to attach the numbers to competitors tops!

By changing from a product-led business, undertaking many different printing services, to a customer-led business, focusing solely on the events market, they have transformed their business model. And, in so doing they are now able to reap the benefits of a totally customer focused marketing approach. Here are some of the advantages to think about:

  • You and your staff can more easily become ‘expert’ in your chosen niche, leading to a better understanding of the issues and problems your customers need to solve
  • Greater empathy with your customer leads to clearer messaging and better communication
  • The clearer your target, the clearer your approach – from identifying key terms for seo  and finding influential partners  to sourcing appropriate trade journals and mailing lists – everything becomes clearer.

It goes without saying that, if you intent to focus exclusively on one niche, then it needs to be capable of sustaining your business now and in the future. The approach though still applies to bigger businesses, where cross functional teams can be focused on different customer segments to reap the same benefits.

If you feel you are spreading your marketing too thinly across a number of different audiences or are struggling to identify your key customer groups, it might be worth thinking about taking a niche approach.

image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/



How to combat buyer’s remorse

ID-10087370I’ve just bought a new car – a big purchase in most people’s eyes, and one which reminded me that buyer’s remorse – that awful feeling that you have just made a bad choice – can be a real issue in many markets. It wasn’t a rash decision by any means; my existing car was starting to show signs of trouble and I wanted to avoid it breaking down, and leaving me stranded, at all costs.  I did all the right things to make a good choice – decided what I needed, researched the market and checked out prices. I even had a pretty good sales experience as these things go. But still I had a minor ‘wobble’ when I agreed to the purchase.

If you are involved in selling high value, low-frequency items here are a few things you can do to help your buyers feel good about their purchases:

  • Simple proposition – make sure that your  customers are absolutely clear about what they are getting. This can be tricky when it comes to technical or high spec products  but it pays to spend the time explaining things properly.
  • Understand the customers reasons for buying –  and make sure that the product absolutely meets their needs. Don’t be tempted to sell extras or add-on’s for the sake of your margin, you could lose the sale altogether. If, through the sales process they raise any objections, make sure you handle them, otherwise they are likely to come back to haunt you.
  • Offer a cooling off period – for some types of sale eg distance selling and selling at home, a cooling off period must be given by law. Even if you aren’t legally obliged to offer customers the chance to cancel their order it can be good practice. What it does mean though is that you need plans in place to make sure you keep the order. I received  a follow-up call from the car dealer’s customer service team between signing and delivery which worked a treat.

One final note – once the sale is safely completed, remember to tell the marketing guys to remove the customers name from their ‘leads’ or ‘potential client’s database – an untimely e-shot, outlining the fabulous deals now available on the car you have just purchased, can bring back that feeling of buyer’s remorse all over again (Thank you Nissan!)

image: freedigitalphotos.net

Should you be flexible with your pricing structure?

ID-10080588 (1)A client called me to discuss a dilemma she was facing which, I find,  often befalls small service businesses and freelancers. Should I compromise on price/day rate to win a potentially prestigious piece of work? Before launching into my usual tirade of –  no, never compromise your rate, there’s no going  back, anyone can give it away – routine, I stepped back for a moment to give it some serious thought.

Although fundamentally I firmly believe that if you have the right business model with accompanying pricing structure in place you should stick with it, there is still sometimes room to structure a deal differently. And, the advantage of being a small business, is that often you probably have the power to make that decision without the need to get through layers of ‘sign off’.

So, when should you consider making a ‘deal’ and what questions do you need to ask yourself before committing to it?

  • Does the client meet your ‘ideal customer’ criteria? That is, are they in your target audience, perhaps someone you have been trying to work with for a while or are they a really influential player in your sector? If they don’t meet your criteria then they will probably get more from you than you will from them. If they do, then why not start a dialogue?
  • What will the deal offer you over and above hard cash? This clearly is the most important question to answer so that you can actually evaluate and put a value on some of the less tangible benefits you may receive. You may be promised exposure on the clients website or newsletter, a great PR opportunity, social media coverage or a prominent position in their store; all of which needs to be backed with hard facts. Ask about hits on their website, footfall through their store and engagement with their social media to make sure you are getting some real value. Also be clear about timescales – how long will your information be visible?
  • How will you make the most of any intangible benefits you earn? This is fundamental and can turn a good deal sour. You need to be in a position to take advantage of any promotion and exposure offered, and have a plan to activate it. Do you have sample product, blog posts, press releases and images to really make the most of the opportunity? If you don’t, then it has little value to you.
  • Who does your client know? Can your client provide any genuine referrals that could lead to future business for you? Do they have contacts with potential clients that you are looking to meet and can they make an introduction?
  • What is the motive behind the deal and does it seem genuine? If you sense that your client  simply wants the job for less, then beware. If there is a genuine reciprocal benefit for structuring the deal in a certain way then talk it through openly.
  • What will the long-term impact be? Again, if you have an open dialogue with your client you are more likely to understand where the relationship could lead in the future. Short term gains are usually one-sided whilst a genuine desire to think differently about how you work together could be the start of a great long-term partnership.

And finally, make sure you have everything clear and in writing before you agree. There are no cast iron guarantees, but you can at least feel confident that you have done all you can to make the best decision for you and your business.

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

Trust your business instincts

ID-10066375 (1)I never drive anywhere without my trusty satnav these days – mainly because my sense of direction is non-existent. Last week, however, it took me 20 miles out of my way just to make a 3 minute time-saving. Technically it made the right decision of course, I had after all programmed it to take the quickest route rather than the shortest route. But the decision could obviously have benefited from a little intuition or, as some would say, I should have looked at a map!

Whilst some small business owners take rather too many decisions based purely on their ‘gut feel’, instinct in business should rarely be ignored. The chances are that if you  have been in business for any length of time you will know a lot about your customers, your competitors and obviously, your products and services.

The key is to test your instincts and make decisions based on hard evidence with a healthy measure of ‘gut feel’ thrown in. It’s important to write down the results of your tests too so that you can develop and build on what has worked and modify what hasn’t.

Don’t allow your knowledge and experience in your business sector to close off opportunities though. Remain open-minded to new ideas and ways of working. At all costs avoid uttering that well-worn phrase ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ or ‘we’ve tried that and it didn’t work for us’ as this can simply stifle creativity.

There is no doubt that with the ever-increasing pace of change, particularly in the field of technology, it can be tempting to jump on every marketing band wagon going. Or to simply stick your head in the sand and think that change won’t affect your business. Somehow though you need to navigate a path between the two positions.In marketing terms that sometimes means going back to basics; simply mapping out your business objectives, target audiences and key messages. By paring down your business to the simple ideas you started with you will probably find that things become a whole lot clearer. Suddenly you can see why your social media campaign isn’t working and understand why a mobile app really is going to make a difference to your business.

There’s no shortage of people happy to tell you what you should be doing; listen by all means but add your own good measure of instinct when you are deciding what’s right for your business.

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net


If the cap fits…

ID-100614I have been  exploring local sponsorship opportunities on behalf of a client over the last few days. My starting point was the local Council website which stated that sponsorship arrangements were outsourced to a third-party. I checked out their website and it all looked very promising; even their name, Immediate Solutions, gave me confidence that they would deliver!I duly contacted them and was promised a call back.

Sadly, one small element just didn’t stack up. You guessed it; they were anything but ‘immediate’! In fact, I’ve still not heard a word from them.

Here are a few  golden rules that I believe all small businesses should stick to if they want to win customers and keep them coming back:

  • Keep your promises – or put another way, deliver what you promise. If you can’t give an immediate response, don’t offer it; it may not even be important to your customers. Find out what is important to them and make sure you  deliver  it.
  • Be consistent – it’s no good having a brilliant website if there is no substance behind it. You may win customers in the first place but you will surely struggle to hang onto them. Think through your customer journey, including mapping out all your customer ‘touch points’, and make sure that each stage of the process works.
  • Manage expectations – although some things are obviously truly ‘urgent’, most aren’t. If you tell your customers  that it will take 24 hours for you to respond, most will accept that. The truism –  ‘under promise, over deliver’ may be cheesy, but it does make sense!

These are all ways that small businesses can often out-perform larger, more complex organisations, so make sure you build them into your overall service delivery.

Image: freedigitalimages

Do you need a business plan?

ID-100141327December, normally a quieter month for me, has started with a  flurry of activity from both existing clients and new contacts. It seems that everyone wants a strategic marketing plan in place for  before January.

In the past it has been a bit of a struggle persuading small business owners of the benefits of planning so this small shift is a bit of a break through. The question I am  more likely to be asked now is not; ‘do I need a plan?’ but; ‘what form should my plan take?’

It seems that many entrepreneurs are frighted that a plan will restrict them and stifle creativity. It’s an understandable concern; especially if they have been involved in the often bureaucratic and rigid planning processes undertaken in the corporate world.

I found this short video from Cranfield School of Management which I think makes several good points about business planning. In particular it advocates a mix of structured planning and actually getting out there and testing your business idea. It’s an approach that I tend to take with my clients; encouraging them to write down what they already know about their businesses, their market and competitors, their customers and so on and to think about what the information is telling them.

If you don’t have a plan and are still wondering if it is worth spending the time to produce one, I will leave you with this thought… according to research undertaken by Cranfield, writing the right business plan can improve your growth potential by 30%.

Need I say more?

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Act like the business you want to be.

Big tree little treeI’m lucky in that, despite working mainly with SMEs, I am able to keep in touch with new marketing concepts and big ideas in the corporate world through my connections with Cranfield School of Management. The challenge is to translate the theory and new thinking into practical actions that smaller businesses can really benefit from.

I’ve noticed that those business’s that really embrace new ideas and are keen to try different approaches tend to progress more quickly towards their goals. By contrast, those that use lack of time or money as an excuse for not breaking the mould tend to move more slowly.

Granted, it’s not always easy to decide to throw your marketing budget, however limited, at new marketing techniques and it often feels safer to stick to tried and tested methods even when they don’t work particularly well. Far from being defeated though, some businesses simply thrive on finding creative solutions to stretch their budgets. What seems to set these companies apart is their willingness to think, and act,  like big businesses. They are by no means reckless, more they are prepared to make tough choices and decisions to get to where they want to be.

The others? Well, they may be happy to plod along doing OK whilst never quite reaching their potential, but they will never be the big businesses of the future.

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

How can small businesses build their brands?

Super brandsI can understand why many small business owners believe that their brand is just another term for their logo. In fact, I tend to glaze over when terms such as brand essence and brand voice get bandied around by agencies. But, if as a business owner, you fail to recognise what branding is really all about you are almost certainly missing a trick.

When we talk about branding we tend to think of big companies with even bigger budgets; so what can small companies do to build their own brands?

I received a fantastic, yet stunningly simple, example of good branding from a small local company today in the form of a basic door drop. The leaflet invited me to an open day at a local bespoke curtain makers. Here’s why I thought it was so great in terms of branding:

  • The materials used for the invitation were in keeping with the brand – high quality card with a glossy laminate finish which oozed luxury
  • The images reflected the product – professional and creative images which shouted ‘attention to detail’
  • The overall design was clean and precise – much like the bespoke products they produce I expect
  • The message was confident and clear – we are here, come and meet us and look at our work
  • The trade body logo was displayed – telling me that they are serious about what they do.

By aligning every aspect of this simple piece of marketing material to their brand and really focusing on getting the detail right they have succeeded in getting their message across brilliantly.

It’s not often that a simple piece of card can actually give you confidence in a product before you have even seen it…I wonder if the open day will live up to expectations?

It doesn’t take any more money to create a great piece of marketing material that will really enhance your brand than  to create a mediocre piece. It does take time, thought and attention to detail though; but isn’t it worth it?

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/