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How To ‘Tweak’ Your Marketing To Build Your Small Business

As a small business owner have you ever wondered what benefits you should be getting from investing resources – time, people and  money – in marketing? To help you answer this question, I will discuss a related question: What business objectives can marketing be used to deliver?

I was recently referred to a small IT Services provider. All I knew was that they wanted to ‘improve’ their Marketing and Sales.  It was one of their customers who referred me and they confirmed that the business has a fantastic reputation. I checked their website and it looked very professional.

When I met the co-founders they confirmed that they had been in business a few years and had approximately 100 customers. The interesting comment was that as Engineers that they had built the business, having worked in the sector for over 20 years each, without much time being devoted to marketing. They now had a lingering sense that the business was missing out by not investing in marketing but they did not really know where to start. Here are some of my reflections on their situation, most of which I have shared with them. In summary, I told them that all they need to do was ‘Tweak’ their Marketing to build their Business.


Marketing is an approach to your business

Marketing is firstly a philosophy on how ‘you’ do business. As a Marketing graduate it may seem strange to say but I don’t think that the Customer is King. From dealing with small businesses every day, Cash is King. The customer to continue the analogy is Queen. Every business has to meet the needs of customers. But firstly the contract that you agree with each customer has to meet your objectives – ideally you need to make money from each Sale.  Without profit, your business will not survive.

On a related point, I often have to tell startups that foregoing salary for the sake of the business is unsustainable. If a startup can not pay a salary to the promoter after a certain period, its future must be called into question.

Continuing the ‘Deck of Cards’ analogy, within the context of professional service businesses, the Ace in the deck should be the Staff. Personnel are critical to service delivery for all customers. Care and attention must be paid to recruitment and selection, induction, ongoing training and most importantly they must be given responsibility and trust within the business.

The first objective of marketing is research

I see Marketing Research as being essential to making decisions on how you manage your business. You need information to define your strategy. Established businesses have a wealth of information or what is referred to as ‘domain knowledge’ that they often use instinctively on a daily basis. Formal market research is very valuable. I would generally suggest that some form of research be undertaken on a yearly or regular basis to confirm the assumptions that drive your business every day.

In between an orientation that all staff must listen to customers is required. Some of the questions we need to ask include:

– Who is our ideal customer?

– What problems does our target market want addressed?

– What solutions do we offer that help us stand out from the competition?

– How do our customers buy?

The second objective of marketing is Building Awareness while the third is Developing Interest among the Target Market

I often tell start up promoters that there are people out there who have absolutely no interest in what they are doing. I quickly add that is fine and that what they need to focus on is building awareness of what their business offers among a wide population so that interest can be developed among people who are ‘real’ potential customers. Instead of ‘real’ you can read ‘Qualified’ being customers who have a need and have a budget to buy at that moment in time.

The story I tell to illustrate the difference between awareness and interest is this. I visited my sister one evening at her home. She did not have a credit card. She asked me for a loan of my one. She came back ten minutes later and gave me €100 euro. She showed me a flyer for Zumba Dancing. She reminded me that she went to Salsa a year previously and the company had sent her a flyer about Zumba. I was now Aware of Zumba as a new dance form. Hopefully I wont ever have to participate. But my sister had seen adverts in the local paper and was interested. She acted on this interest when she got the flyer. It was 10PM at night but she was able to ring a number in Dublin and book a place on the course to start the following week.

This all happened about 2 years ago and shortly afterwards I recall Wayne Rooney (Manchester United hero) tweeted that he used Zumba to stay fit during the summer. The awareness of Zumba skyrocketed after all the media coverage that tweet received and now I bet most people know someone who has experienced Zumba (which my sister absolutely loved). The moral of this story is the proactive approach taken by the company to market and sell a new service to a previous customer. Lots of businesses do not have a disciplined process to ask customers for their contact details.

Marketing and Sales is all about experiments – trying something and if it works repeat it. Every business needs to learn what works for it in terms of Marketing & Sales. A ‘Marketing Audit’ should be undertaken regularly to define what is working and answer the question : What is the most cost effective way to reach and acquire customers?

Marketing must focus on supporting sales

The return on investment on Marketing is generally measured in Sales as measured by increase in total Sales volume, sales of new products, and/or sales to new customers.   In most small businesses one manager is probably responsible for both Marketing and Sales. This has the benefit in ensuring that customers receive a consistent message. This includes development of appropriate marketing collateral and ensuring strong calls to action. The related issue is a focus on Customer Retention by ensuring the maintenance of continuing high standards in service delivery.

Conclusions for the IT Services Company

I drew the following conclusions for the owner managers of the IT Services Company:

  • The business are ‘doing’ good marketing if you assess their reputation among customers, their staff, subcontractors and partners. The old adage is that you can not NOT communicate. This applies equally to Marketing. Every business is marketing itself every single day whether they realise it or not.
  • As an established player, the business holds significant knowledge about its customers. But it is always useful to challenge assumptions held by asking your customers for their views – the world is always changing. With this information a business can answer these questions?- Are there new customer segments or geographic markets that we can target?  What new ‘products’ can we introduce to sell more to existing customers?
  • The business needs to engage in promotion aimed at their target market to increase Awareness. They also need to develop offers that they ‘know’ will be of value to this market to increase the number of potential customers who are Interested. In this particular case I am suggesting a focus on Referral Management, Testimonials, White Papers, PR, and refining the website content to include SEO.
  • The key priority for my IT Services business is to set Sales targets – in this case decide how to approach a small fixed number of customers who fit the profile of its best customers – and work at the top of the pipeline using creative marketing tactics. To meet these targets I am suggesting a review of the current Sales process and Sales pitch and creating a plan of action to include examination of the suitability of eTenders. A key issue remains the budget to be allocated to Marketing and Sales and if a person should be recruited to fill a new role in this area.

In summary

The objectives of marketing are to:

  • learn about the market to include knowledge of customer problems, market trends, and the competition.
  • increase awareness and understanding of your brand;
  • generate interest and inbound enquiries from potential customers ; and
  • support your Sales team to include partners to deliver Sales

which collectively lead to a sustainable business primed for Growth.

I hope you agree that there are significant benefits to every small business from investing resources – time, people and  money – in marketing. But do you agree that these are the primary objectives that marketing can deliver? I look forward to hearing what the Tweak Your Biz community thinks.

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Trainer, Mentor and advisor to business in the start up and growth stages on marketing and business plans.

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  • Great points you mentioned, Donncha! I’d also like to add marketing data makes sense once they are analyzed accordingly. By figuring out which campaign generated the most sales, the number of new customers and return customers that bought from you using different tools (Google Analytics being one of them for e-commerce sites), and the products that sold well, you can tweak the marketing approach to your business to maximize your sale.

  • Christina Giliberti

    Some excellent points made there Donncha! Love the analogies to – staff are usually considered further down the ladder and that’s a real shame in business, as they are ‘Ace’.
    Also liked your thoughts on the client knowing their business. I find that clients speak to marketers as if their marketing knowledge is enough. It isn’t. Without a sound knowledge of the business and the customers, marketing alone will never work effectively.

  • Donncha Hughes

    Christopher – i agree completely with the need to analyse marketing data. I think that all marketing activity must be driven by an integrated strategy – a one page document of goals and next actions – where one fundamental component is a regular review and assessment of return. A key measure is customer acquisition cost. This figure should decrease as you get more experienced at using particular tactics. But, I generally advise to use a mix of tactics to inlcude new approaches as eventually all your marketing will be copied by keen competitors.

  • Donncha Hughes

    Christina – a ‘sound knowledge’ of the business is most definitely required. As a marketing advisor I find that I have to spend time with the client to build up this knowledge before I can make any recommendations or ‘sell’ them a service. They are happy to provide this time to me if the discussion is interesting. In early meetings I like to let the client do most of the talking. I showcase my ‘expertise’ by asking the right questions; telling relevant stories of what worked for other clients; and summarising what has been discussed.

  • Donncha – Interesting points. I think the first objective you have mentioned is the most important one. Most business owners relate marketing to advertising with the objective of building brand awareness and generate leads. However, you need to focus first on what I call strategic marketing, which involves researching the market, competition and identifying target customers. If you do this right the subsequent objectives will be met easily.

  • Great post Donncha!
    I just want to add one-Your marketing objectives should also be consistent
    with and indicate the priorities of the organisation. The objectives should
    flow from the mission statement of your business, towards the financial
    objectives and to the rest of the marketing plan.

  • Like much. The effective way to gain success is the frequent updates about the status of the business. Searching out the ups and low points gives the business an awareness for what should be prioritize most, what part that are going to maintain and the parts that need urgent innovation for the recovery and for the satisfaction of the target costumers.

  • Donncha Hughes

    I completely agree Barbara – In working with small business owners, some assume that the priorities of the organisation are understood by everyone when perhaps they are not. When the mission, and financial and marketing objectives are documented on paper, often for the first time, it can add greatly to the effectiveness of the business not just the marketing plan.

  • Donncha Hughes

    I will agree and disagree on this one. What you refer to as ‘strategic marketing’ is massively important and must become part of the ongoing model of every organisation. The next objectives can have equal weight depending on the stage of the business and the people available to the business. I would not really agree that ‘subsequent objectives will be met easily’. Thankfully for lots of marketing experts, there is skill, creativity and lots of hard work required to meet all the objectives of marketing – it is not all just building brand awareness and generating leads as you mention. This is why marketing in my (biased) view can be a key source of competitive advantage for almost every business.

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