Small Business Marketing – Understanding the 7 Step Sales and Marketing Cycle
One of the biggest myths as it relates to business comes from one of my favorite movies of all time, 'Field of Dreams'. In the movie, Ray Kinsella, is inspired by a mysterious voice telling him to follow his dreams. The voice says, 'If you build it, they will come'. True to Hollywood storytelling, Ray does build 'it' and 'they' do indeed come.
Unfortunately, it does not work the same in business. Many business owners have the false idea that if they have the very best product or service, they are guaranteed instant success. In essence, 'if [they] build' it ',' they 'will come.
An incredible, 'knock your socks off' product or service does not guarantee success.
If you're like most small business owners, you've done everything you know how to do, but you're still attracting enough new customers. You've tweaked your website. You've increased the size of your yellow pages ad. You've even sent out direct mail pieces designed to generate some quick holiday business, but none of it seems to be working.
What most small business owners fail to realize is that there is a very specific process for creating demand for your 'it' so that in turn 'they'll come. Just as they miraculously did for Ray Kinsella. This process is called the Sales and Marketing Cycle.
By understanding each step in the Sales and Marketing Cycle, you will have the knowledge necessary to create a marketing 'system' that will allow you to build your very own 'Field of Dreams'.
Step 1. Create a Marketing Plan
This step is unduly the most important step in the cycle. You must clearly define where you want to go and how you plan to get there. As Steven Covey says, 'begin with the end in mind.'
To create a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, you must define your target market, determine your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), write out your goals, and finally establish a marketing budget. Without each of these ingredients clearly defined, your vision will be murky and you will not know when it's time to make course corrections.
Step 2. Get the Attention of Your Target Market
If you've done your homework in Step 1, you're well on your way to capturing your prospects attention because you already know who your ideal customers are and what problems they're trying to solve. Now it's just a matter of finding the proper medium to convey these benefits to your target prospects.
If you're an offline business, a sequence of mailings to a targeted list, lead generation advertising, television or radio spots, joint ventures, and even leaving flyers on car windows are ways to let your target prospects know that you have the answer them seek. For online businesses there is 'Pay Per Click' advertising such as Google AdWords, ezine advertising, joint ventures, or writing and submitting articles to online publishers.
One key to keep in mind, no matter the medium selected to convey your message, you always want to stress the BENEFITS. Sell the sizzle, not the steak.
Step 3. Educate Your Prospect about Your Product or Service
This step is more often than not the most OVERLOOKED step in the cycle. This step is where you begin to actually convert your prospects into paying customers.
Each day consumers are bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands of advertisements and offers for competitive products and services. Often times the consumer is unsure of how to differentiate between competitive solutions. By educating your customer about the benefits offered by your solution, you set yourself apart from your competition and it will go a long way towards gaining their trust and extremely their business.
Some of the ways that you can educate your prospects include free reports via recorded messages, snail mail, or delivered via email spread out over several days. Tele-suspects are also popular these days and are an excellent way to educate your prospects about the benefits of using your product or service.
Step 4. The Sales Transaction Occurs
If you've been able to successfully educate your prospect and have shown how your solution can fill their 'need', a sales transaction should be the most likely result. Keep in mind however, that this is not always the case. When possible, you want to try to find out what it was that kept your prospect from becoming a customer. Some of these reasons may include price, skepticism, they no longer have a need, or they were not fully educated about the benefits your solution offered.
Once you're able to determine WHY they chose not to purchase and if you've seen a pattern with other customers, you should then work to improve your step 3 in order to better educate them as to why you offer the ONLY possible solution to their problem.
Step 5. Deliver Exceptional Customer Service
I do not know if you've not noticed this or not, but the meaning of the phrase 'Customer Service' has changed considering over the years. No longer do you see 'Full Service' gas stations. Receptionists have been replaced by automated phone systems. Airlines no longer offer complimentary meals on flights. This decline gives you a significant opportunity to stand out from the crowd and create immediate loyalty by going above and beyond expectations.
'Thank You' notes, gift baskets, courtesy calls, or special discounts are a few examples of ways to provide service that goes 'above and beyond.'
Step 6. Encourage Your Customers to 'Spread the Word'
While Step 3 might be the most overlooked step in the cycle, this step is unduly the most powerful step if done properly. If your customer has had a positive experience with your solution, it is possible to enlist this customer into your own unpaid sales force.
There are many ways to create this army of marketers for you and here are two that I use quite frequently. The first is to simply ASK for referrals. If you do not ask, they may never know that you expect them to spread the word.
The second way is to ask for and use testimonials. A short, but concise testimonial from a satisfied customer is a very powerful tool for removing skepticism in other prospects considering your solution.
Step 7. Repeat Steps 3-6 with Your Existing Customer Base
After going through the effort and expense of identifying, educating, and extremely selling to your customer, does that mean the relationship must end? Absolutely not! A sad but true fact is that the asset most often overlooked by businesses today is their existing customer base.
Once you have a customer that has purchased products or services from you, simply begin steps 3-6 again with bigger and better products. Marketing to your existing customer base is the cheapest marketing you can do and it has the potential for delivering the greatest returns.
What do you do if you do not have additional products or services to offer your existing customers? In two words, FIND SOME. Create an information product. Assemble smaller, related products into a 'package deal'. Become an affiliate or licensee of someone else's product or service. Whatever it takes, you MUST find more opportunities to sell more 'stuff' on a more frequent basis to your existing customers.
Understand These 7 Steps and You Will Be Able to 'Go The Distance'
As a small business owner, it's imperative that you understand this 7 step Sales and Marketing Cycle and how it relates to growing your business. Once you do, you will no longer wonder why even though you've built 'it', 'they' are not coming. You will instead know the exact steps needed to not only fulfill the first prompting Ray Kinsella received, but you will also have the knowledge and understanding needed to fulfill the next prompting the mysterious voice whispered to Ray: 'Go the Distance.'