By Diane M. Calabrese / Published August 2023
Generate interest. Get prospective customers to take a close look. Give them a good product.
The cycle of selling goods and services is as old a venture as the economic activity it propels. From traveling show-and-tell wagons to bazaars that provided trading venues in a series of towns, nothing is new about it.
What has changed is the way of generating interest. Seizing the capability of the digital world for instantaneous communication, sellers gather feedback and share it.
Star ratings are so ubiquitous, shoppers are inured to them. What doesn’t get four or five stars as an average?
Customer reviews? Well, without real identification of the source, no one can be sure.
On the other hand, the age-old word-of-mouth promotion of a product or service still works. Nothing is more of an endorsement than an enthusiastic appraisal from a trusted person—person-to-person.
For some target groups, celebrity endorsers can garner as much attention as a recommendation from a respected colleague. Of course, not everyone shares the affinity for the same celebrities and things can go awry.
There are as many ways for things to go awry when advertising a product as there are ways of advertising. Among them are adverse events caused by natural disasters.
Any event that disrupts a marketing plan calls for an adjustment in the speediest possible way. If it’s not working, it’s not working, and an industry veteran will know when to make a change. “Give it more time” is akin to cooking a burned dish a little longer in the hope it will taste better.
If something has gone wrong, something has gone wrong. Begin again.
To be in business is to be ready to modify the best conceived plans. Dennis Black, president of McHenry Pressure Cleaning Systems Inc. in Frederick, MD, explains that a variety of unexpected events can necessitate a change of course.
“We have made adjustments several times,” says Black, “caused by various reasons—pandemic, economic conditions, workforce availability, and inventory shortages.”
Black explains the approach taken. “Our usual adjustments are to lower or maintain a tighter grip on inventory, adjust what markets we concentrate on, and allow other purchasing or ways to solve customer needs and problems.”
There are economists who spend their days tracking trends in economic activity. Among the indicators they produce, are there any that help an owner decide to jump in and adjust a plan?
“I don’t believe so; the pandemic, of course, was the first and hopefully last event we experience like that,” says Black. “Before that adjustments were usually caused by economic conditions—a slowdown in construction, weather, and what our customers are experiencing.”
Changing course is something that every owner will have to do at some point. We wondered whether there is any way to be philosophical about the change.
“Not that I know of,” says Black, adding a realistic note that is philosophical. “I have found that our business is usually affected by downturns later than or after some other markets, which gives us a little more time to react.”
The bit of extra time to observe and respond to what’s coming helps. So does the nature of a customer base.
“I believe the extra time is in part due to our geographical location and other factors,” says Black. “We have a fairly diverse marketplace, with no dominant industries or markets. This allows or assists us in ‘seeing’ changes in the marketplace.”
The opportunity to get a good idea of what’s coming before it arrives makes adjusting a bit easier. Overall, though, it’s about balance.
“We don’t experience the dramatic swings that other markets do, such as the oil patch market,” says Black. “Of course, we don’t get the highs either.”
Location and varied markets are significant. “These factors allow us to make gradual or less dramatic marketing changes,” explains Black.
The surest way to avoid the need for an adjustment is to get it right from the beginning. Obvious and difficult, or is it?
Some marketing plans are doomed because they do not fully weigh whether the investment is worth the return. Veterans of our industry know the perils of selling quantity instead of quality.
Offering 10 percent discounts on products or services for the month of April might seem like a way to draw new customers. But it only works at the net level if it brings in 12 buyers for every 10 that might have come anyway because 11 is the break-even point.
What if it doesn’t bring in 12 and beyond? Then, there’s a loss in addition to the expense of advertising the discount campaign.
Discounts are risky and so is flash.
Websites can be expensive to maintain. Designers can offer all sorts of options—from scrolling to tiles. Rotating tiles with product options do call out to prospective buyers who stop to look, but serious buyers are less interested in flash than substance.
Some websites get so caught up in enticements that the substance gets buried, or worse, jettisoned. It’s another balancing act.
There are so many options for reaching people digitally. Paying for a boost in a search engine or directing ads to those who are searching for specific products may bring results, but it may also just be for naught, given that with so many ads popping up many users ignore them.
Every marketing effort should be evaluated in terms of investment and return. Yes, every company must have some sort of online presence with the basics. But expansive websites should be more about drawing in customers with information than sound and videos.
A contractor seeking an upgrade in a pressure washer wants to know the specifications on the machine and wants them straight up. Watching a video of the pressure washer in action may be useful if it’s capable of something novel, but videos are available everywhere.
Get into the head of the prospective customer—the target—and ask what they most want to find when visiting a website. Take care of the simple stuff first. Make sure the information is provided in a condensed, organized, and readable way.
Readable includes font size and color. Even in 2023, there are sites with gray-tone and other muted-colored text that may become difficult to read. Time to adjust.
Look around and beyond the digital world for places to adjust. The best marketing plan can be undone by a cumbersome phone system or a less-than-cordial individual who answers. Make sure the basics are in place. If not, adjust.
What is being sold? If it’s been some time since thinking through all the dimensions of the answer, take the time to do an assessment.
Beyond the specifications of a quality product or service, many customers look for other things. Some customers want USA-made products. Some want environmentally friendly certification. Highlight the extras that customers may want to gain a bit of advantage over competitors.
Identify what it is that’s being sold. For machines and ancillaries, assess the uniqueness, the special capabilities, the longevity, the ease of use, and so on, and use the assessment when developing a marketing plan. For service, assess the experience, the care, the reliability, and such of providers, and make them part of a marketing plan.
Who is the target? Understanding the demographics of an area being served is a must when developing a marketing plan. Match the outreach to the audience.
A homeowner in Des Moines wants to know if a residential cleaning contractor will provide excellent service. Evidence of that service from past projects, such as before and after photos, will be more persuasive than the biography of the company owner.
Results are what the targets/buyers want whether it’s when they use a product or pay for service. So always sell results.
With a focus on results, how can things possibly go wrong with a marketing plan?
They can and do, usually because somewhere there is a disconnect between operations and marketing.
If a marketing program is built without the contribution of the sales team, it is almost destined to fail. Seasoned sales representatives know the customers, and they understand the way repeat buyers and new prospects evaluate companies.
Before concluding that a marketing plan is not bringing expected results because it’s not sufficiently intense—e.g., too few ads—step back and be sure that the campaign is not being hampered by other factors. Adjusting a marketing plan is not synonymous with doing more (and spending more). It is about doing more that works and less that does not.
No marketing plan will bring optimal results without the corollaries in place. The first contact must be positive, whether a genial voice on the phone or an effortless website interaction. Frustrate potential buyers with scripted and sluggish chatbots or slow response—or worse, rude
or disheveled employees on site—and the marketing plan becomes as worthless as no plan at all.
In fact, let’s add one more point to the three in paragraph one: Give customers a good experience.