By Diane M. Calabrese / Published January 2022
A good product or service sells itself—perhaps. Or perhaps not. Prospective customers must know how good a product or service is before they embrace it. Marketing is nothing more than getting out the good word.
Make that getting out the plusses built into a product or service via the optimal way to carry the word. It could be satisfied customer to satisfied customer.
One certainty is that marketing—via any medium—to those not part of the prospective customer pool wastes time and money. Dennis Black, president of McHenry Pressure Cleaning Systems Inc. in Frederick, MD, offers some perspective.
“Since print media has declined, almost 100 percent of our marketing is now by website, emails, blogs, and Facebook,” says Black. “Our goal is to display and communicate what we do best to the small percentage of people out there that are truly our customer. We are not a worldwide or even a nationwide business, so we don’t want leads we cannot service.”
Therein, Black presents the first step in developing a marketing mindset: Identify the target audience. Once the target audience is established, strategies for reaching it can be devised. And to reemphasize the point: Marketing is part of business. In the past it may have been possible to work on referrals alone, but that approach has become more difficult.
Attention must be given to marketing. “It is more important now than in the past, especially for a small business,” says Black. “We have realized the need to market what we do best and find our niches.”
Marketing has changed. “The internet and social media have made it more challenging, while providing us more ways to market,” explains Black. He adds it is the proverbial double-edged sword.
Demands of business sometimes push marketing from view. “We get caught up with day-to-day business and spend a lot of time putting out the fires that happen,” says Black. “Thus, marketing for tomorrow takes a back seat.”
Back to the other edge of the sword, however, and it’s an assist. “One nice thing about the internet is that it is always there, always open 24/7,” says Black. “So we have to get involved, first with a website, then maintaining some level of ranking, doing blogs, email communication programs, and so on.”
At Black’s company, the marketing falls to him. Given the commitment of time required to both develop and execute marketing plans, he wonders whether the niche should have someone dedicated to it.
“My recommendation is to look at someone as an employee or hiring a professional,” explains Black. “I really think even our 10-employee business’s needs have grown to justifying a 10- to 20-hour per week position.”
Beyond the fundamentals of a marketing—flexible selling—mindset, he has one more recommendation: Learn from everything—experience, consultants, books, mentors. “All those methods along with trial by error, constant learning by doing, and listening to what works for our distributors or similar businesses,” says Black.
Anyone who’s ever taken a public-speaking course probably has heard a version of “know the audience.” Assessment of the audience in speaking or in reaching out to a potential customer pool is a must. Marketing experts call it targeting. It’s what Black refers to as finding a company’s niches.
And then, focusing on the niches. Thanks to the internet, it might be possible to make a sale to someone in Belarus. But after the permitting required to ship, any duties, etc., and the time to complete the sale, will there be any profit or just a loss?
Options for advertising in the digital world get more sophisticated each day. A person may search for a company that removes graffiti, and in addition to a listing, ads from companies that accomplish the task will likely start appearing on the person’s screen.
Do such tracker ads have value? Do they annoy the person being tracked? That’s a call that must be evaluated with real data.
Many companies try to bolster their outreach by evaluating how customers found them. Care must be taken there too, though, because surveys such as “how did you find us?” are becoming so numerous as to be numbing.
One way to refine targeting is to take every opportunity to do an informal assessment. When there’s a chance to chat briefly with a customer, ferret out how they became a purchaser.
The results may be surprising. For some customers it’s all about convenience—the seller was closest or available first (to complete service). Other customers buy on cost, but when a company is selling a quality service or product line, competing for those customers can be a poor decision. If they do not want to pay for quality, they may begin to quibble about things.
For contractors in particular, what prospective customers see can greatly influence their decision. In urban areas where there’s always someone having cleaning done—windows, exteriors, decks—passersby notice how the job is being completed. If they witness chaos and clutter, they will take note of the company name on a vehicle as in vowing never to use it.
It’s just the opposite if a project that puts a glow on a residential or commercial space is completed unobtrusively. And it’s even better when passersby encounter a team member on the project carrying items to or from a truck and are met with a “good morning” or “good afternoon.”
The most refined targeting will never compensate for sales or service teams that create a bad impression. Similarly, the availability of online chat and bot responses does not eliminate the importance of polite interaction. An administrative associate who answers the phone in a gruff voice or resists relaying a message can cause a prospective customer to call another business. Whatever the audience, the audience wants to be met with cordiality as well as competence.
Manufacturers, distributors, and contractors who have the goal of developing or honing a marketing mindset find an enormous amount of help available. Small companies can accomplish a great deal without hiring a consultant by tapping resources from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Choose something like a primer on marketing and sales from the SBA.gov library. Use it as a foundation.
Any marketing analysis should include five parts (variously named). We name them competitiveness, sales how-to, goals, execution, and budget.
What is the product or service being sold? Define what makes it unique or better that its competitors. Know the competitiveness of products or services being sold.
How will the product or service be sold? List every method. For a service, such as exterior cleaning, include any efforts that will be made to generate sales via informal conversations with fellow community members through religious, civic, or educational associations.
How will success be measured? The measure may change over time. A fledgling business wants to secure enough customers to sustain itself. A more mature business may want to increase sales by a certain percentage or add new markets.
Which digital or real-world paths will be used? It’s possible the paths will differ with time of year. Radio ad buys for a contractor aiming to fill the calendar in autumn may make more sense than doubling down on digital ads; the ad would reach those who were not thinking about off-season cleaning.
How much can be spent? Once the ideas start to flow, restraint may be necessary. That restraint comes in the form of a budget line established for marketing. Strict accounting for marketing expenditures includes return on investment; and it allows appraisal of what’s working and what should be either reconfigured or jettisoned.
Another way to describe a marketing mindset is to begin with the customer. And think of the customer as the focal point.
A business owner wants to make certain prospective customers know about his or her company. The next step is to convert that awareness to a purchase; not just a one-time purchase, but one that leads to another. The successive purchases signal commitment.
And commitment from a customer includes the positive things the customer says about a business in digital or real-world conversation. In 2022, word-of-mouth advertising still carries a great deal of weight.
Putting aside the enormity of marketing advice available, we can try to distill a marketing mindset to its three essential elements. One, there must be a product or service to sell. Seems obvious, but it’s not to some startups. Be sure that a company’s focus can be described in a nugget and that the nugget is the genuine item (quality).
Two, it’s not just a product or service a company is selling in 2022. The company is also selling itself to creditors, insurers, and future employees. Excellence must be part of the marketing mindset to satisfy all of them as well as customers.
Three, the first and last word of all marketing literature is that no amount of marketing will sell a bad product or service.