I was like most business owners when I started. I was good at my core product and thought that would be enough. My training and experience had made me a good CPA. But I had never been trained in marketing and sales. I thought if I just did a good job, the customers would show up. I call this the “Build it and they will come” model. Unfortunately, I soon found out that the big problem with this model is that you don’t know what to do if the customers don’t show up.
Not knowing how to market is the biggest reason businesses fail. Here are the biggest marketing mistakes I have made and have seen clients make over the years:
Not having a true USP. That stands for Unique Selling Proposition. Simply put: When faced with all the possible choices, including doing nothing, why should the customer buy from you? If you can’t answer this clearly and concisely, your sales will suffer.
Not spending enough time on marketing. If you are not spending at least half of your time on marketing, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Giving up control of your marketing. Without customers, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby. You can outsource and delegate basically everything, but you must keep control of your marketing. Even the most experienced marketing professional won’t care about your business as much as you do. You are just one client. No one knows as much about your business or your customers’ wants and needs as you do. Plus, your marketing must match your ethics, values, and goals, or it will fail. Get help but stay in control.
Failing to target your marketing. You can’t afford to market to everyone. Pick a niche and create an offer that will appeal to them. You are much better off being a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond fighting off the sharks.
Not identifying your ideal customers. You should be able to communicate who your perfect customers are. Knowing who those customers are helps you design advertising that attracts them.
Not knowing what problems your prospects need solving. Concentrate on the benefits of your product or service rather than its features. You should know what keeps your prospects awake at night. What do they need help with? What are they worried about? How can you solve their problems and alleviate their pain?
Being inconsistent with your marketing. A company that runs poorly-designed advertising every month will outsell well-designed ads that are only run once. Whatever advertising you choose should be committed to for at least six months.
Not selling to your current customers. Your current customers are your best source of added revenue. They already know you, like you, and (hopefully!) trust you. It makes sense to spend the majority of your marketing time and dollars selling to them. I have personally worked with clients who have increased their sales by 40 percent or more just by having a program of selling additional services and products to current customers.
Not looking for other products to meet your current customers’ needs. The hardest thing is to get the customer. Once you have a customer who trusts you, why not sell them other things they need? Wal-Mart does this by selling eye exams, health insurance, and prescription drugs. You don’t even have to start up a new business. Create an affiliate agreement with a business in another field that gives you a commission for every customer you send them.
Failing to see other prospects who could use your products or services. Is there another niche or type of prospect who can use your product but isn’t doing so now? I followed one business owner who developed a paperless system for bookkeepers and accountants. He found other professionals like lawyers, engineers, and architects with similar problems and sells to these niches as well.
Not asking for referrals. This is directly related to not selling to your current customers. Right now I do almost no traditional marketing. About 95 percent of my new customers come from referrals. A prospect from a referral is the closest thing to a sale you are likely to see.
Not providing outstanding customer service. Today customers will research you online and using social media. It is no longer enough to provide “industry standard” service. To be successful, you must provide legendary service that far exceeds what your competitors offer.
Only using one marketing channel. Your company should have a full quiver of advertising and marketing arrows. Once you find one way to attract customers, start looking for another to attract even more customers.
Not tracking and measuring marketing results. If you don’t measure your results, how do you know what is working, what should be improved, and what should be eliminated?
Not testing your new marketing before making a big buy. If you are planning on mailing out 10,000 postcards, you should test mail 500 first and make sure the results justify the cost.
Not including targeted direct mail. Direct mail still works and can be a very good way to get new customers. Today many business owners think this is too old-fashioned, and focus all of their time on web and email advertising. I have found that only about 20 percent of my customers have signed up for my email list. I would be ignoring the other 80 percent if I didn’t snail mail newsletters and offers.
Not including social media and text marketing in your plans. Many small business owners are missing out on inexpensive marketing opportunities. Every business owner needs to become proficient at social media marketing or will be left behind by savvier competitors.
Not creating an in-house list of your customers. This list is your most important asset. Build this up and you will always have the ability to sell new products and services quickly.
Forgetting to include a call to action and a deadline in all of your advertising. Always tell your customers what step they should take next. Don’t assume they will know and follow through. Tell them what you want them to do and give them a deadline. This works.
Being mediocre in the sales department. You must be able to sell. Your advertising and marketing will bring in the prospects, but you and your staff must be able to sell to them. Yes, some people are much better at this than others. But all business owners must become proficient at selling to survive.
Not knowing the lifetime value of your customers. Knowing how much your average new customer is worth helps you know how much you should spend to acquire them. Cell phone companies understand this and have built their business models around this key concept. They deeply discount the cost of a new phone knowing they will easily make up the difference with huge profits on monthly service fees.
Giving up on what’s working when times get tough. If it’s working, never stop. When times are tough, cut somewhere else. If it’s working, don’t stop, even if you are bored with it.
Passing up free publicity opportunities. Send out press releases for everything. Get to know the newspaper editors and bloggers who cover your industry. Work to become a trusted source.
Not marketing when you are busy. Too many business owners experience the “boom or bust” cycle. This is when they are busy with work and they are too busy to market. Then when they finish up, they have nothing to work on next. This is why it is important to systematize your marketing so it can run on auto-pilot even when you are swamped.
Be sure to check out Part 3 where we review Business Management Mistakes Small Business Owners Make