Marketing: Back to the Basics, Again

back_to_basicsBack in the late 1980’s, I sold large format commercial graphics, such as giant truck graphics and wall graphics for commercial and retail use. The company I worked for was one of the industry’s leaders.  We had very close ties to the 3M Company, which was very active in providing constant up-to-date sales training for its sales force.

I attended many of these two and three day events. For those of you who are in personal selling and aren’t fresh out of college, you remember the days of identifying customer buyer types, how to deal with each, placing each in one of four nicely constructed quadrants etc…  Remember how complex selling became?

Then one day, we all beat cheeks up to Minnesota for a two day sales training entitled “Back to the Basics.” Yep, the scientists of sales had surrendered. They realized the more we focused on the complex, the less attention we paid to the basics, like making sure you had your day organized, your shoes were shined, you had plenty of brochures and knew your products like the back of your hand.

Fast forward a thousand years (OK, just a few decades,) and here we are poised at the brink of marketing overload. I’m a seasoned marketing veteran (not be be confused with a guru, which I am NOT,) and I can tell you, if I get one more email from a client that asks, “How do we adapt this new social media app into our marketing efforts?” I might bang my head on my desk until I am senseless.

Now that we all know where I stand with regards to taking a drink from the marketing fire hose of information and application, let me offer my two and a half cents on the state of marketing in 2014. Let’s break it down to the basics as I see them.

For those of you with an outside sales force, they are your primary marketing tool.  So for the love of all that is good, be sure they:

  • are well trained on your products and services and have the proper sales materials to do their jobs.
  • know who your most likely customers are and are calling on the right types of clients. If you are a small company, calling on the General Motors of the world is a monumental waste of their time and your money.
  • are trained in planning and organizing their day/week/month to manage their time and territory efficiently and productively. Windshield time is non-productive time; be sure it is kept to a minimum.
  • represent your brand/company properly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ridden with sales reps whose cars are filthy, their shirts are un-ironed, brochures are all over the back seat, and they tell me “my clients don’t care about this stuff.” Trust me….they do.
  • being managed! You or someone you trust needs to be managing their efforts. We know there are always one or two sales people in every sales force that you can truly let go and trust to do all of the above without a second glance. But we also know how bell-curves work, and there will be a majority of your sales force that needs direction and needs to be kept on task to make sure they are working efficiently, creating relationships and closing sales. And remember, even your best employees benefit from positive feedback and reinforcement.

These are the five basics of developing and maintaining an effective and productive sales force. Sure, you can add one or two other things if you like, but to me. these are the very basics that MUST be driven home and perfected before you ever worry about being sure you can identify buyer types and learn how to react to them.

That’s not to say that additional sales training, such as learning to LISTEN is not useful, but just like any successful sporting teams, you’ll hear that coach talk about drilling on the basics or fundamentals until no one on the team has to give them a thought, then continuing to drill on them.

Backing up the outside (or inside) sales force are your other marketing efforts, which is where a lot of the effort comes off the tracks as you fire up your computer everyday to learn there is yet another social media platform you need to tackle. Listen: it is better to be a master at one or two facets of marketing than to dabble in all of them.

Marketing basics depend a little upon your customer or prospects and the information you have, but for a B2B setting, my ideal marketing support would look like this:

  • A professional website that not only shares your products and services with your markets, but shares your knowledge and proves to your audience that doing business with you is a smart thing to do. Think of your website as a place that people want to come back to, because when they do, they find some value in doing so. Maybe you are sharing information they can use, uploading forms they can use as checklists, providing technical data on products they use, or you have built your site as a reference. I would have someone managing my website that understands this and will keep it organized, clean and tidy, as well as updated on a regular basis.
  • I would have a robust eMail marketing program. At a minimum, I would send it monthly or maybe twice monthly at a maximum. Have it professionally put together. I subscribe to many, and too often I see sites that have someone untrained who tries to write copy, edit, format photographs and produce an eNewsletter that represents your brand professionally. It is worth the investment to have it done right. Look at it this way, would you hire someone with no experience to work on your clients’ products? Then don’t employ them to do your marketing; it’s a bad business decision. On that point, let me take this opportunity to shamelessly plug my eMail Marketing Program. OK, let’s move on.
  • If you don’t have eMail addresses, collect them and start planning to institute a program ASAP. Until then, consider direct mail to supplement your eMail marketing programs. These days, direct mail reaches the desk and doesn’t need to be opened. Simple post cards can create marketing awareness with simple messages combined with sales promotions. With clients that have email addresses, I still suggest direct mail marketing to targeted prospects that you want to really focus on for the year. By selecting a smaller target market, you can budget more reaches to a smaller audience.
  • You should be developing company pages on Linkedin, Facebook and Google Plus and start sharing content that I post on my website on these social media platforms. Social Media platforms are becoming a bigger part of Search Engine Optimization, and having links to these social media outlets and links from these outlets back to content on your website will help tie it all together.

Those are the basics of marketing as I see them. Others may see them somewhat differently, but most marketing professional’s basics will look something like what I have outlined.

Once you’ve become proficient and have these basics rolling, start developing a blog similar this one, adding a YouTube channel and sharing visual tips or information that is best served via video, then plunge into other social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the like.

Having solid basics is like having a solid root system on a tree. Like Mr. Miyagi says, “strong root grows strong tree, can withstand anything and grow big and live long,” or something like that anyway. You get the idea. Thanks for reading!

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