Many small business owners feel uncomfortable about marketing. Some positively hate it.
A new client of ours — the head of a very successful consultancy — has shied away from marketing for years because to him, it feels intrinsically wrong. In his eyes, markeing is putting on an act, pretending to be something you’re not. Like many people, he thinks there’s a dishonesty at the heart of marketing that doesn’t sit easily with the way he feels about himself or his business.
He’s not the only one. Pretending to be something you’re not is never a good feeling.
We all have a short fuse when it comes to being marketed at by pushy marketers — cold callers, spammy emails, incessant amazing never-to-be-repeated deals (until tomorrow, that is, when you get them again). And that means we don’t want to be that pushy person ourselves
We say look at marketing differently. When you approach marketing from the standpoint of ‘how can we help our customers better?’ rather than ‘how can we sell more stuff?’ it becomes easier. And, it works more effectively. It’s easy to switch off from a marketing message, it’s not so easy to switch off from something that genuinely answers a question that’s been really bugging you.
Right now, it would be impossible for me not to click on something that showed me how to get my 16-year-old son to revise.
You’ll stop seeing it as pushing, lying, or manipulation if you don’t push, lie or manipulate. Create marketing content that is genuinely helpful and you take the pressure off yourself.
Of course feel-good marketing is only possible if what you’re selling makes a difference. But that doesn’t mean you have to be Greenpeace, it just means you genuinely want to improve your customers’ lives.
Do good to feel good. That’s feel-good marketing.
It was while enjoying a series of single malt whiskies, in the Three Crowns Pub, that I was reminded of a marketing lesson that too many businesses are missing in this new digital world.
On finishing our drinks, I asked my brother if he wanted another round. After agreeing to have “one more for the road”, I duly went to the bar and ordered another couple of doubles of Glenlivet. The price I was charged would have made the bottle of Glenlivet just over £100. Yet it is widely available to buy by the bottle for around £30.
Why spend so much extra? I could have easily bought a bottle of Glenlivet in my local supermarket and sat at home with my brother. The drink would have been of equal quality.
The point is that the value was not in what this pub supplied — the drink. There are other pubs that sell the same brand, and there are also many other ways I could have purchased the whisky, many of which would have been more cost-effective.
Rather, the value was in how the pub delivered the product. In supplying pleasant surroundings, a comfortable place to sit, a good atmosphere, a log fire and showing the football, the pub created an experience that was bigger than just the quality whisky. The totality of the experience made the cost of the product acceptable at that moment in time.
Moreover, although this particular pub’s main product is beverages, the landlord had thought about other items a customer may want during their visit. Snacks including crisps, nuts and bowls of chips were available. There was also a quiz machine to play. OK, this is pretty standard inventory for a pub, so why the big deal?
The digital economy has seen the increasing commoditisation of products and services — whether you are a business-to-business company, or a business supplying consumers. We are all now working in the experience economy. Of course, products and services have to be delivered to a high standard in order to compete. However, today that is just the price of entry into any particular market.
The value for the customer is no longer in what you do. Your clients will, more than likely, have a multitude of options, of which you will be just one. The value is in how you deliver the product or service. It is the experience that will differentiate your business. It is also the experience that is more likely to be talked about, shared and which will generate referrals.
Moreover, what you deliver is likely to be the same as a number of other suppliers. This being the case, this is not where the value lies in your business. The most precious resource today is people’s attention. So the value in your business is more likely to exist in data and the customers you supply.
In other words, the real worth of your business is in the engagement and trust you have with your client base. The more you can deepen this, the more valuable your business becomes. Being able to provide added value to “the experience” enables an organisation to earn more money while creating more engagement and value for the customer.
Understanding your customers’ challenges and the contexts in which these occur, will enable you to create new offerings and obtain a greater share of a customer’s wallet. It means being truly customer centric and understanding what else a customer may require when they engage with your business. In other words, what is the equivalent of your crisps and nuts?
When jazz musicians Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young wrote the song ‘T’ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) in the 1930s, little did they know they would be providing the perfect comment on marketing in the digital economy.
Ultimately, what you do allows you to exist, how you do it enables you to compete and differentiate. Too many companies focus all their energies on what they do, rather than how they do it and for whom.
Now that is sorted, I am off for a well-deserved single malt! Three Crowns anyone?
In the current market conditions, businesses rely on their key members of staff more than ever — especially as organisations downsize, cut costs and freeze recruitment plans.
However, what plans do companies have in place to retain, motivate and inspire their key members of staff? Or are you taking those members of staff for granted? What about the staff who seem to have been around forever or the people that have been ultra-reliable, that you count on and put a lot of faith in?
These are the people who have been working harder than most for a long time. They are the people who put in extra hours without question — the people you can leave to handle things when you’re away from the office; the people who you can rely on to give you an honest assessment of what’s going on.
Yet these are also the people who often get overlooked or taken for granted. They get disillusioned, lose motivation and start looking for other opportunities.
For some firms, it’s the head of accounts or credit control who keeps late-payers in check and makes sure the cash flow is where it should be. For others, it’s the top salesperson that outperforms the rest and brings in large amounts of profit to the organisation. It could also be the head of the admin department or office manager that keeps everything running smoothly.
Now, more than ever it’s important to motivate, inspire and retain these key members of staff to ensure business efficiency, productivity and profitability. So how does your company measure up?
As conditions change, the key players in your team may well be different than the key players in the past. So how do we identify the key players now as well as the likely key players in the future? As businesses evolve, it can be difficult, but you can accomplish it with a simple exercise.
Exercise: Get out a pen and a sheet of paper. Imagine you’re starting the business again today — one that is designed to succeed in today’s market. Draw up an organisational chart of what the business would look like, with the key positions in it. Now step back and have a look at it. How different is it from the company you have now?
If you were to fill in names for those positions on the chart, who are the key players — the essential people you couldn’t do without? How do they compare to your key players today?
As businesses re-engineer their offering, the key players may change. Are your team on board with the changes? How do they feel about it? Can you rely on them to deliver under a new structure?
People need leadership now more than ever. As a leader, people will look to you for direction, motivation and inspiration. If you’re implementing changes in the business, you need the buy-in of your staff members, and particularly your key players for the changes to succeed.
Many change management programmes have failed because they didn’t get the key players on board — those who prefer things the way they were — and the longer they have been in the business, the more likely they are to prefer it the old way.
You need to sit down with them and discuss the changes, the reasons why changes have to be made and what you’re trying to achieve and then get their buy in. Failure to do this properly could lead to people sabotaging the project or stiff resistance at the very least.
If you’re planning on setting up a new team, or re-engineering the business and the people within it, you have a great chance to take a fresh look at the business and set up the perfect teams within it. So what does a perfect team look like?
Right now you need people who are proactive, who will do things without you having to prompt them or stand over them to make sure it happens. You need people who are determined to make things happen and see things through. You need people that are on your side, who you can rely on to perform, no matter what.
Nowhere is this more important than your sales team. Your sales team are always an important part of your business, but now they’re more important than ever. They have a direct influence on your profits and the potential survival of your business.
So right now, who are the members of your sales team that are regularly demonstrating the right traits? They’re going to be facing more objections from clients than ever before — things like "we’ve got no budget", "things are on hold for the moment" and "we need to get a few more quotes" — and these are from clients that would have ordered without a quibble before.
They’re going to be facing more objections from new business prospects. There are going to be more competitors; more projects are going to be cancelled; and more companies are going to be closing their doors. How are your sales team placed to cope? And how are you supporting them now?
You need to work on your sales team and their attitude, skills and abilities — to ensure their sales skills stay sharp and to make sure they have tenacity, determination, resilience, self-motivation, confidence and all the successful traits associated with top sales people.
What can we learn from what is going on around us?
Businesses that have recently suffered the ultimate indignity by keeping their heads well and truly planted in the sand include PC World, Blockbuster, Woolworth and Millets.
It is getting tougher out there for most businesses. Customers are smarter, better informed and less loyal than they had been. They no longer need to, and in fact they don’t, believe you.
Do not join the queue heading for oblivion by competing on price. As Michael Porter says, “Competing on price is a mug’s game unless you can afford go cheaper than the competition.”
Sticking to the old model is what has driven so many businesses into the ground. When 54% of people have more online interaction than offline interaction, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Robert Craven is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. Robert shows directors and owners how to grow their profits. As well as running the Directors’ Centre, he is a keynote speaker and the author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business. His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm.
Every business needs a phone number for prospects and customers to contact them on. But having the right number can help make the phone ring, whilst the wrong number can put people off and drive them into the arms of your competitors.
Let’s take a look at the common number types available and their pros and cons:
These regional geographic numbers are a good choice if you tend to do business locally. They are widely recognised and people are happy to call them. Sometimes customers want to do business with a local supplier, so they can be an advantage if that’s you. If you’re based out of the area it could be worth adding other regional number codes to your portfolio and divert calls to your head office.
Verdict: generally a good choice
These freephone numbers are widely recognised and can boost response when used in adverts. However, whilst calls from landlines are free, calls from mobiles can cost up to 50p/min, which irritates a lot of people. With the rise of mobile phone use, you may be harming your response by using them.
Verdict: proceed with caution, consider alternatives
Calls to these numbers are charged at fixed rates from landlines but are more expensive from mobiles. They are useful for customer service lines but should not be used as the main contact number as a lot of people resent them.
Verdict: customer service lines only, and even then proceed with caution
These numbers are free for the owner and can divert calls to a landline or mobile. However, they are expensive for callers so should be avoided unless you want to annoy your customers and drive them away.
These are revenue-generating numbers. They can be useful when you provide a service (such as tech support) and want to charge people for your time and limit the number of unimportant calls. They are not suitable for marketing.
Verdict: do not use for marketing
Not yet widely recognised, 03 numbers are the non-geographic equivalent of 01 and 02 numbers. Calls are charged at regional rate, even from a mobile. They are also covered in any inclusive calls package, making them an attractive proposition. They are getting more popular as awareness grows, especially with mobile users put off by high call charges to 0800 and other non-geographic numbers.
Verdict: an excellent choice, but publicise low rates to maximise calls
Unless there’s a good reason to choose otherwise, our advice is to select an 01, 02 or 03 number to make it attractive for customers to call you. Paying a little extra for a memorable number is usually worth it, due to the increased number of calls they generate.
Matthew Guise is writing on behalf of Callagenix.
It is hard setting up a new business. It is even harder scaling it up.
This inevitably requires the entrepreneur to hire people better than themselves. This requires both courage and humility. Entrepreneurs usually have plenty of the former, but can be a bit short of the latter.
Anyone starting a business has to be versatile. They have to have enough sales ability to secure some customers; then they have to be able to deliver on their promises, often working long hours; finally, they have to do their own finances.
This can be very hard work and explains why a large number of businesses run out of steam in the first year. But if you are successful, you can then start scaling.
I discussed this process with Spencer Gallagher, who stumbled into web design after a career in clothing retail. He had early success with his company Bluhalo doing simple websites for start-ups; his bright idea was to trawl the database at Companies House for newly registered businesses and offer them a quick “get up and running” service.
Business was good and they were able to expand, so Spencer realised it was time to hire people to do the jobs he hated the most. Top of the list was finance.
Spencer approached the job of finding a Finance Cornerstone in exactly the right way. It had to be someone whom he liked, and who understood and agreed with the direction he wanted to take Bluhalo. He then told this person that they also had to pay their way as soon as possible, to cover their salary and more with increased profits.
The new financial rigour introduced by this person was not always popular — with the rest of the team, or with Spencer himself, who had to submit to it.
The natural mode of the entrepreneur is to say “yes” to members of staff, which can lead to a lax regime for personal expenses. It is very common for a new Finance Cornerstone to attract the nickname “Dr No”, but increased awareness of the need to control costs is a natural part of the growing-up process for any small company.
The next expert that Spencer hired was an experienced project manager from IBM. Small companies usually deliver projects by the proverbial seat of their pants; this works for a small number of customers, but scaling this up is very hard. It requires skills that can only be gained from the successful delivery of large projects, skills most often found in large organisations.
This project manager was again given the specific brief of saving her own salary and more. She used the project management methodology they used at IBM, which turned out not to be as monolithic or inflexible as Spencer had first feared.
This enabled Bluhalo to raise themselves from the hundreds of thousands of companies who offer web design to one of the most successful in the country. Bluhalo now specialises in large sports sites. These have large numbers of visitors looking at increasing amounts of ever-changing content. This requires advanced software development skills as well as expert customer management — all skills that Spencer has brought into the company.
Taking on people like this enables the entrepreneur to back off from management and to spend more time turning the next good idea into a great business, which is what many of us are best at. It is, in a way, a recipe for eternal youth: perhaps the best role model for the aspiring entrepreneur is not Richard Branson or Bill Gates, but Peter Pan.
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2014. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker. This article is a chapter from This Is How Yoodoo It — a collection of Mike’s Financial Times columns.
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Spencer Gallagher left school at 16 with no qualifications. Armed with only £4,500 redundancy, he formed Bluhalo, which was acquired by Gyro International in 1998.