The Conundrum

Are you in business? If so, have you ever experienced the following conundrum?
Your main piece of equipment is on its way out, on the verge of dying; for good, this time, it seems.
Meanwhile, you pull up your current P&L statement, only to reaffirm your suspicions: sales have been lagging for the last few months.
“But… I don’t understand – the weather’s been good, so there should have been customers…”
You look through your office window… The (metaphorical or literal) sales floor/dining room remains empty. Every time someone comes in (which seems rarer and rarer, these days), you jump to attention and hope for a sale. When the sale is smaller than normal, or nonexistent, you’re not sure what to do.
It’s just then that the phone rings. You look up and check your caller I.D.
“Great, another number I don’t recognize… probably some sales person wanting my non-existent money…”
For a second, you try to decide whether or not you should answer.
At the last second, you decide, “What the hell?” and pick up the phone.
And, who should it be but the ad sales guy for the local publication you’ve been meaning to advertise in, but have been putting off for months… who can afford that anyway?
“Yes, I know it sounds like it would be great, but it’s really not in the budget right now… besides, the last time I advertised with you, I didn’t really get any business from it…” You catch yourself telling the guy. “Besides, my main machine really needs to be replaced and sales have been down this month – but that machine, without it I can’t [do my main business]…”
Finally, after 5 minutes on the phone, you hang up, frustrated and annoyed.
“Honestly, though…. Without that machine I can’t serve my customers… and besides, last time I tried advertising, I didn’t even get any new customers from it.” You tell yourself, this time, trying to convince yourself that advertising is a waste.
You look back at the computer, opening a web browser and logging on to your Facebook page. … No new notifications. No new likes.
No action.
“What’s the point, anyway?!” You think to yourself.
….Does this sound familiar to you?

You can change.

Don’t worry. Don’t feel ashamed if this does sound accurate.
You CAN turn this around.
I won’t promise that it will be quick or easy, or that I have all the answers, but what I can tell you is, that with the right plan, you can change this situation.
It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Trap

I know it sucks. It’s frustrating. It feels inescapable. You might even hate me a little for telling you this. And, for that, I’m sorry.
But I really do know how this feels. It really hurts when there aren’t enough sales. When the expenses are overwhelming. When it feels like you can’t afford anything.
It feels a lot like failure.
Anyway, the first thing that goes by the wayside is advertising and marketing (because that crap doesn’t work anyway – right?)…
This is the wrong approach. Believe it or not, I understand the competition for business equipment versus advertising, or looming expenses versus anything else that will help grow. It is daunting. However, this is when we tend to fall into a trap.
It’s the trap that I began to discuss in last month’s post about marketing. It’s the trap of either cutting out marketing all together (and actually failing) or doing “unintentional marketing” – or rather, choosing random tactics (calling that “marketing”) to try to combat the immediate problem of not having enough clients/customers.

It’s not luck, and it’s not magic. It’s strategy. So, let’s make a change together.

Listen, I feel your pain. I’m also working on climbing out of this place, myself. (Of increasing sales and implementing strategic marketing.) But, I also know that this problem (seeming lack of sales) is temporary and it can change.
How do I know?
Because there are other people out there who are doing well, doing the same type of business and making it work for them. There are other companies that are doing well.
And, what are these companies, entrepreneurs and businesses doing?? What do they know that we don’t?
It’s not magic.
They aren’t luckier than us.
But, they are implementing strategic marketing plans. And, it’s working for them.
And, if it’s working for them, it can work for us too!
But, in order for it to work for us, we have to want to change and want to work on it. And be willing to invest in it (whether that is time to learn and do, or money to hire some people to do it or pay for materials, or all of these).
I understand your reservations in thinking that you won’t get the ROI if you do try to do marketing.
I get it.
You feel like you’ve done this marketing thing before – you’ve advertised locally, didn’t see any business directly come from it (immediately), or you joined a chamber of commerce, but didn’t get any customers directly (right away). You maybe even tried a blog, website or Facebook page and weren’t sure why everyone was so fanatical about you having that, because no one mentioned it when they came in.
…So, you abandoned it. You abandoned all of it, because it didn’t work. (Or so you thought.)

But… what if it was working?

What you maybe didn’t realize is that it probably was working, but you didn’t understand on what scale it was working or what role(s) the particular tactics were playing for your prospects and customers, and for your business as a whole.
And, that’s what I want to talk about right now – the role(s) of marketing as it relates to different parts of the sales process.
Because it’s kind of a subtle and nuanced thing. So, what seems like it’s not working, might actually be working very well.
First, understand that every business will have a slightly different sales process, but there are a few parts that are going to be consistent across most (if not all) businesses, since in the end, sales (or buying) is based on consumer (human) behavior and psychology.
The steps that are generally consistent across the board, which are necessary for any type of business, are lead generation, lead nurturing/qualification, conversion and loyalty.
Now, obviously the specifics of each of these steps will vary based on the specifics of the business you are in, but each step exists for all businesses – and marketing exists to help prospects and customers that are in each part of this process – from not knowing you, through being a lifetime customer.

Step 1: Lead Generation: They have to know you exist before they can buy from you.

Every business must have some sort of lead generation process, otherwise there will never be any customers. This is literally the first step in doing any kind of business. Why?
Well, because lead generation is basically creating first impressions.
It’s the stage of finding and generating new potential customers – whether this is something you do (via research/direct outreach), a sales person does for you, or your inbound marketing does. Either way, it has to happen; otherwise you won’t have anyone to try to convert into a paying customer.
Basically, the goal of lead generation is to build awareness for your business, what it does, who it’s for and to make an impactful and meaningful first impression – i.e. one that will truly connect with the person it comes into contact with.
(If this sounds like the stuff I talked about in my post on branding, then you were paying attention! Good for you!)

How does “marketing” relate to this phase?

This is one of the first and most important reasons we do marketing. Do you remember our definition of marketing from last month? Lead generation basically encapsulates the core of the definition.
For review, here’s the definition: “Marketing is the collection of any research, activities or communications done in order to create awareness, value, or a selling opportunity for the company’s offer and in order to create, maintain or enhance the company’s relationship to its audience as well as its emotional (brand) impact and overall reach. Marketing includes many tactics, such as paid advertising, promotional events, promotional sales (discounts), charity event sponsorships, market research, focus groups, customer service, public relations, loyalty programs, referral bonuses, social media, blogging, direct mail, websites, promotional materials, etc.”
This step incorporates 4 primary elements of your business plan: defining your target market, market research, defining your branding and generating interest/awareness.

Don’t aim that arrow blindly, pick your target strategically.

While there are many tactics to generate leads, depending on the business you are in – for example, it could be as simple as putting up a sign outside, or a print advertisement in a newspaper; a poster on a bulletin board; or even Search Engine Optimization on your website, attending a networking event, running a promoted post or ad campaign on Facebook – before choosing which combination of tactics to employ, it’s key to have defined your target market and your branding.
It’s essential to understand who your customers are – who you are targeting. But, not only that, you have to have an understanding of what media sources they consume, where they go (online and in real life), what are the key phrases they’d be searching for when looking for a business like yours, and what triggers them to look. This will help you determine which tactics to employ and where to advertise/promote, what associations to join, etc.
How do you learn this information?
Well, I’ve already discussed some tips for defining an authentic target market in my post on authenticity in marketing a few months ago – so let’s assume you’ve already understood why you need a target market and basic identifiers of who you are targeting.

Do your research. Really get in their heads. Don’t be afraid of the “creepy factor” – just do it. Study human behavior and psychology.

So, next, take a second to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand the situations they are in, what they are going through – at all stages of interaction with your business (from first contact, to buying, to using your product/service, to after). What are they feeling? What are they experiencing? What do you want them to feel and experience? What are the things that led them to you and to make the purchase? Where do you think they found you? Where else might they be likely to look to find you? Where do they go on their own? What are there other interests? Did they come into contact with you before they were in need of your service?
Now, once you’ve thought about this, test it. Talk to some of your customers. Administer a survey. Research it online. Learn about their *actual* behavior!
(Note: this is something that I’m still improving on – so if you have any feedback on how I can do better at meeting you where you are at, or things you’d like me to incorporate into my marketing, please feel free to contact me directly via email to let me know.)

Plant the seeds of your message.

Once you’ve done this critical research, the next step is determining where you’ll find them and what you’ll say.
Because the idea of this stage is to build awareness for your business and your brand in general, it’s key to have already defined your brand at this point. The branding you develop (see this post for more info) will help you determine the content of your promotions and the messages you are putting out there – which are also based on the trigger points your customers are experiencing (which you learned about through your research).

How do I know if it’s effective?

I know, sometimes it can seem like you’re not getting the ROI on a campaign or marketing activity because your customers aren’t mentioning it directly. But, the truth is, that the marketing activities you do at each step of the sales process are going to be different, serve different purposes, and therefore, have different kinds of results. That’s why, I like to start everything with some intention or goal in mind. With lead generation, because the purpose is to build awareness, one way you might be able to measure that is through “impressions.” Basically, the number of times the promotion gets seen and how many people are seeing it. If it’s an ad in a print publication, this is usually in the ad sales packet that they provide you, and can be estimated based on the readership details. If it’s a Facebook ad or your website, you can look at the analytics and see the unique impressions and general impressions. With that information, you can determine how wide of a net you are casting, and determine some general conversion rates of leads to paying customers. This is just one example, though.
(Note: there will ALWAYS be more leads than actual customers, it’s about determining what is the optimal conversion rate for your business – is it 10% or 50%, or what? This can be an industry-based number or something unique to you. But, it’s important to remember it’s not likely to be 100%, and that’s not only normal, but ok, because you’re not going to be the right choice for everyone that sees your promotion.)

Keep them engaged!

Once this is all set and the person has come into contact with you once, that leads us to the next step – lead nurturing and qualification. But, since this post is already pretty long, we’ll be discussing that next month.

Tell me…

For now, let’s discuss lead generation. Tell me, in the comments on this post, what is one thing you currently do that fits under the lead generation category? How might you determine it’s effectiveness? How could you make it more effective for you? What’s one key point you’re taking away from this post that you can apply to your business right now?
As always, please share this post with anyone you think it will help. I am grateful for any sharing you do!

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