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.
I was with a client last week brainstorming low-cost marketing ideas when I stumbled across the fact that they had a long-standing sponsorship arrangement with a local golf club. I use the term ‘sponsorship’ loosely; it actually consisted of a rather faded board with a logo on it somewhere around the course. Clearly there was potential to make much more of the arrangement and, by the end of the discussion, we had come up with an exciting plan to really leverage the deal.
Like any other tactical marketing activity, the use of sponsorship must fit into, and work with, your overall strategy. It must, of course, be relevant; there is probably no point sponsoring a basketball team if your target market is mum’s with pre-school aged children for example.
Another key element to a good sponsorship arrangement is the opportunity for ‘activation’. Simply put, activation refers to how you use the elements of your sponsorship deal beyond simply slapping a logo on a sports kit or putting up a billboard at a venue. It is imperative that you put time and money into developing an activation plan to get the best out of your sponsorship opportunity.
There are no end of creative ways to activate your sponsorship deal; here are just a few to think about:
- PR – make sure that you take advantage of every opportunity to create a positive association between your brand and the team/individual or event that you are sponsoring. Include online media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs as well as the more traditional methods.
- Sales promotions – can you offer free samples or special offers to supporters and participants via a database, e-newsletter or fanzine?
- Hospitality – reward loyal customers, staff or potential new customers with VIP tickets to events.
- Signage/logo placement – create positive awareness and reinforcement of your brand among your target market.
- Marketing campaigns – develop marketing campaigns around your sponsorship to gain maximum value.
When most people think about sponsorship they imagine big brands and even bigger bucks. I believe that, with a great deal of focus and a good measure of creativity and commitment, small businesses can implement sponsorship arrangements that can be highly effective in building awareness.
I had a call from a bank last week and, since I was considering changing my business account, allowed the caller to launch headlong into his well prepared sales pitch. After a good three minutes of my time he had managed to miss all the buying signals and went away empty-handed. Why?
It often happens. I’ve done it myself. You have done your preparation, thought about the questions you are going to ask and outlined how you will answer any objections. You are finally in front of a great prospect…it’s all going to plan…and then they say something you weren’t expecting. Instead of listening, taking stock and changing tack, you blindly battle on with your prepared ‘script’ because you don’t want to waste all the time you spent preparing!
All too often your prospect is actually interested in what you have to say and simply wants to get to the information that they want.
Quite how my caller missed: ‘ I might be looking to change my business bank account’, as a buying signal I’m not sure, often they are more subtle. If your prospect asks specific questions about price, delivery, specifications or who else you work for, take it as a sign of interest. If they actively agree with you and are talking positively about how your product or service could help them, take note.
It’s hard enough to get in front of a real prospect; make the most of the opportunity by listening and responding to the buying signals that are probably staring you in the face.
Networking is often quoted as the number one lead generation mechanism for small businesses and frequently appears in lists of, so-called, free marketing activity. So, should you be doing more of it?
I went to a very well attended event a couple of weeks ago and, as I walked into the room of some 200 people, I soon realised I had very little chance of tracking down those people I had hoped to meet. I was approached by someone wielding an A3 presenter who, without asking me a single question, tried to sell me something I had no need of. I squeezed round the exhibition space apologising for bumping over-sized handbags with similarly stressed looking individuals; to be greeted by stall holders intent on making snap decision about whether I would be of any use to them!
Hadn’t they read the books? Networking is about building relationships, it involves asking questions and finding mutual ground; it’s not about selling. It’s not free either, it takes time and effort before, during and after the actual event and we all know that time is money.
Networking is like any other marketing activity; it has its own protocol, a set of rules by which a good networker operates. It is undoubtedly a brilliant tool for business generation when used properly and with the planning and discipline you would afford any other marketing activity.
There are lots of books, articles and blogs about networking. Do yourself a favour and try reading one like FT Guide to Business Networking before embarking on your next campaign.
It was with some relief that I opened the sixth, and final, direct mail piece from a certain Scandinavian book printing company today. You may be wondering why I have received no less than half a dozen different mailing packs from a seemingly unrelated business over the last two months – I certainly am!
I can at least take an educated guess. Though I have never had the need for a book printer, I did publish a magazine (until I sold the business some 6 months ago). My details have obviously been captured and ‘plonked’ into the generic category of ‘publishing’ and the data sold on to some poor unsuspecting marketer hoping for a list of relevant prospects!
Here are some of the questions you should ask before agreeing to rent or buy, what looks like, a relevant database?
- Where has the data come from and how is it kept up to date? Has the data originated from a legitimate source, has it been verified and on what basis is it kept up to date?
- Can you buy the relevant portion of the data and how can it be segmented? If you are looking to target businesses in a particular sector can they be easily identified?
- What level of detail does the database contain? It is essential that you have a named contact and you may also want a ‘phone number and email address.
- On what basis can you use the data? You can rent lists for one-off use or multiple use or you can buy the data outright. Be clear about what you need and what you are getting.
- How will the data be sent to you? The format in which you will receive the data is particularly important if you are using an outsourced mailing house. Make sure it is compatible.
There are lots of good databases out there – by asking the right questions you can make sure you choose the one that will work for you.
I had a ‘phone call today. The caller simply made me a, very kind, offer of 90 litres of spring water and 100 cups delivered to my door… absolutely free. I hesitated before giving a polite ‘no thank you’, not because it wasn’t a compelling offer, but because it was totally inappropriate.
I had visions of trying to cram an enormous bottle of water into my, already pretty ‘spatially challenged’ home office. I mused at the idea of chatting (to myself) around my new water cooler. I wondered how long it would take me to use up 100 cups. And still my answer was no.
I should never have received that call. Surely given a couple of simple facts about me and my business someone could have worked out that I probably wasn’t in the target market? And even if I had slipped through that particular net, shouldn’t the caller have qualified who I was? Even the… ‘can I speak to the person responsible for purchasing 90 litres of spring water and 100 cups please’ … introduction would have been better than nothing.
Granted it’s not always easy to identify and reach your market. But it’s certainly worth a try. Identify your target audience as precisely as possible, talk to them in their language, make them an appropriate and compelling offer and, you never know, they might just say yes.
Thinking about a brainstorm meeting I was due to have with a new client, I decided I needed a good, old-fashioned flip chart. Something simple, something portable that looked vaguely professional. A quick google search uncovered a handful of supplier websites and I’d soon selected the product I wanted. So far so good.
Before making my purchase there was just one detail I needed to check…the size of the flip chart. I clicked a tab entitled ‘product information’ to find… well… not a lot really. The distinct lack of detail stopped me in my tracks. I was ready, credit card in hand, to complete the purchase but one crucial detail was missing.
Mildly irritated, I picked up the phone to the customer services team; at least the number was easy to find on their website. The call was answered promptly and I felt sure I was on my way to finalising my purchase. Not so. The operator could not find the information and promised to call back. Which, inevitably, she didn’t.
What a waste of some really quite good marketing. Google ads taking them right to the top of the rankings, an easy to navigate and clear website plus a responsive call centre…but without the right basic product information for me, the customer, all utterly fruitless.
Look at your customer journey from end to end, including all the small stuff. It could just mean the difference between as successful marketing campaign and one that falls at the final hurdle.
A small business client passed me a piece of direct mail they had received a couple of days ago. A good quality piece, strong message, clear call to action. So what made it so utterly fruitless as a marketing communication?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of direct mail – I’ve seen it rise and fall in popularity over the years and have always maintained that the label ‘junk mail’ is not altogether fair (though I admit that in far too many cases it is perfectly justified). It’s not enough though to have a well designed mailing piece, as with any marketing communication, it needs hit the right audience – your target market. Those potential customers that need or want your product.
So why send a nicely crafted mailing piece about commercial waste services to a small service business which is likely to have no more ‘commercial waste’ than a few bent paperclips?
Direct mail can work as part of a well thought through business to business marketing campaign but will only be effective if all the elements are right. Defining and understanding you target audience in detail is fundamental to developing any good marketing communication and is well worth taking the time to analyse and articulate as part of your marketing plan.