All small business owners want more sales!
Yet, not many small business owners think about how they get those extra sales - about their marketing - in any serious, consistent manner.
Their growth is usually through a number of unrelated factors such as excellent service resulting in referrals, unique products or services filling a vacuum, a market devoid of good competition, even luck.
From time to time, they may find themselves in a quiet period so they "do some marketing" by calling clients they haven't heard from in a while, putting an advertisement in the newspaper or a trade journal, advertising a "Black Friday sale", or sending out leaflets in the hope that someone reading it might come in. Then, for whatever reason (other than by accident that such unfocused and inconsistent marketing is actually working) the business picks up again, and the need for marketing is forgotten.
The problem with this inconsistency is that you are not in control of channelling consistent growth.
Sure, you may not be able to control the wider market and economic conditions, but you can be in control of how you fill your pipeline under any of these external circumstances.
You control the pipeline by having a plan that you follow and consistently apply the strategies that put you forward as the business that supplies the product or service that solves your customer's problems.
Before you get to make a sale, consciously or otherwise, your customers enter a funnel. A funnel exists under any circumstances, whatever industry you are in, no matter how your business operates and whatever you sell. The principles are the same: -
- At the top of the funnel, you need to make your target customers aware of your existence. At this stage, they are cold to you - they do not know you, and if they do, they do not know your capabilities, nor how you are distinguished from your competitors. However, to sell to someone, you need a pool of people to give those messages to. So, you need to fill the top of the funnel with as many of your target market as possible.
- In the online world, this may involve articles where you talk about what you do. In retail, you might put a full-page spread in the newspaper. If you are selling professional services like taxation services to corporate clients, this may involve direct mail.
- In the middle of the funnel, you are dealing with warmed-up targets, people who now know about you, but are still unaware of the detail of what you offer. In marketing-speak, they need to be "qualified". What you need to do is to show them what you can do.
- So, following our examples, in the online world, you offer free value, downloads full of helpful information, and so on. In retail, you publicise "specials" that clearly put you apart from the competition whether because of exclusivity or price. In professional services, you might offer an information seminar about their specific needs. The object of this marketing activity is to show the warmer parties your quality, or your unique selling proposition.
- Below this layer, your targets fall into the target layer. If they continue their interest, they are warm targets, ready to hear more about you. What you need to do for these targets is to show that you specifically understand them and their needs and that you have the solution to their problem.
- Online, you might do this by inviting them to a webinar where you can discuss their specific problem and your solution, expressly the "what" not the "how" and why it works.
- In retail, warm targets have ventured into your store, so you need to set up displays that cater to their needs and that show them the virtues of your product - why it solves their problem, how much cheaper/better/faster/prettier it is than anyone else's. In a professional services firm, as another example, you can offer a one-on-one obligation free consultation - walk them through how you can expertly research the factors that affect their problem and what type of solutions might be available, if only they signed up.
- At the bottom of the funnel is where you have the final sales conversation. If you have escorted them through the funnel in your marketing activities, they are not only warm, they should be hot targets. In many cases, they will have specific enquiries and questions just before they buy, or they just need that final persuasion.
Clearly, it is called a funnel because it is funnel-shaped, and not everyone you meet at the top will make it to the bottom. You interest many, some fall out because they lose interest or have their own favourite supplier or your attributes don't meet their needs. Those that make it to the bottom have self-qualified because they have accepted the messages given by each of your marketing activities as they progressed down the tunnel.
I believe all businesses do this but don't understand how the funnel works. So they do three things wrong.
First, they are inconsistent and unfocused.
Unless you are consistently feeding the right prospects into the top of the funnel, the number who make it to the bottom will also be inconsistent and few. Because of the inconsistent application, the bulk of the target market will have forgotten who you are by the next time you decide to put yourself out there, so the need to continually broadcast who you are instead of what you do will dissipate a lot of marketing investment.
Because you are unfocused, you waste time and money reaching out to those who will never get to the bottom of the funnel because your product is just not suitable for them.
Second, they fail to organise their marketing activities so that they progress their targets down the funnel.
For example, a retailer might start with a marketing campaign by advertising the shop opening in the newspaper. This may initially interest some people.
But then the retailer does not follow up with specific advertising reminding people that they opened and specialise in better/cheaper/exclusive products that meet their needs. So, those people initially intrigued by the notice of the store opening forget it exists because they feel no personal attraction to it. They don't visit, and so they cannot be "qualified" by a store display that highlights the product's ability to meet their needs.
They remain cold.
Third, they don't focus on who their target market should be.
This is the hardest to explain to a small business owner, who thinks any sale is a good sale!
The problem is unless you focus specifically on a primary target market, you cannot organise broadcast marketing activities at the top of the funnel to attract a pool of targets you can work on.
If you market to everyone, you market to no one, because your messages are so broad that anyone who hears the message cannot connect with what it might mean to them.
Let's take the example of the tax professional who does their best and most profitable work for corporate clients with complex tax structures. If they do not focus on corporate clients with complex tax structures. then their broadcast messages will be about general taxation.
Anyone in their primary target market simply ignores the messages they hear because it doesn't apply to their needs; anyone else might pay attention but there are so many accountants doing general tax that they simply file it away as "another one". Neither will move further down the funnel.
This problem not only persists, but it amplifies as you work down the funnel.
Unless your marketing activities speak to the specific problems your target market has, they do not speak to them personally.
Think of how much more streamlined it could be if you focused on your primary target market:
- Your broadcast marketing activities might include a direct mail campaign to corporate clients, but in it, you discuss the challenge met by corporate clients with complex structures.
- The majority of recipients who are potential corporate clients but without complex structures might file it away, but done right, you have piqued the interest of corporate clients with complex structures.
- Then you follow up with an invitation to a seminar on a specific topic that would be troubling to them within their structures, say how international tax affects their complex structures.
- Of those who became interested in your direct mail campaign, some will attend. They attend because your invitation spoke to their specific problem. They are now warm.
- The content of your seminar shows them how you understand their specific issue, why you are uniquely qualified to deal with it, and how you have helped others in the same position to find solutions.
They get warmer.
Immediately after the seminar, you send out a letter that invites participants to a one-on-one obligation free discussion about their own variation of the issues discussed at the seminar. Not all, but a proportion of attendees will accept because what you said at the seminar appealed to them.
In the discussion, you now have them as an individual target. Show them your knowledge and understanding of their problem, talk about options, and how these have to be further researched and then invite them to consider the next step where they appoint you to solve their problem.
Follow up with the sales conversation - answer any last queries and objections, and ask for the sale, reinforcing every message they have received so far about how you know and understand their problem, how you are an expert, and how you can solve it for them.
Now, for those of you who are screaming that surely you should capture more than those who filtered through the funnel, that surely you shouldn't leave out large parts of the total market, I say don't indulge in FOMO - the Fear Of Missing Out.
Business is about investment and getting the best return on investment. If you are going to do any marketing at all, then you want to know you are getting the best results for your money.
This means capturing the lowest hanging fruit.
Don't spend your money shouting into the wind, make sure that every utterance you make has the greatest chance of being heard. And the only way of doing this is to talk about what people want to hear and to show them that you specialise in what they want to hear, which is why they should come to you instead of just another competitor who doesn't really understand them.
Believe me the focus works. Not only that, apart from your primary target market, you may have secondary target markets - those sectors where you don't have to do any specific marketing for, but might be attracted by the marketing to your primary target market. Focused marketing builds momentum outside of your target market.
I use a 7-step method called SMART Marketing to help people focus on what they are selling and who they should sell to.
The 7-step method also happens to prepare a marketing plan but that is no coincidence. In order to be focused, to be consistent, and to be organised in your marketing, you need to have a plan and follow the plan.
In my 7-step SMART Marketing method, I ask people to: -
- See their product, not for what it is, but for what problems it solves;
- This leads them to then identify their primary targets, the sector that has the problems your product solves;
- Make sure their business and not just their product can meet their target market's requirements;
- Design or calculate a selling price that is aligned to the messages and can be used as a factor in marketing;
- Identify the most appropriate marketing activities specific to your target market and specific to each part of the funnel;
- Develop an overall marketing campaign that is consistently active over a whole year; and finally
- Implement the campaign, monitor, evaluate and tweak continuously.
If you want to know more about this 7-step system, our online brand Teik Oh Dot Com provides free video training on the system along with a couple of other free tools. You can get it for free here.
Remember - be focused, be consistent, be organised in how you progress prospects down the funnel.
You cannot grow your business successfully and under your control without a focused marketing plan that organises your activities specifically to move your prospects down the funnel, and that maps out a consistent set of activities throughout the year.