Marketers Need to Know: Where are they? Where are they not?

When I was a student, I must admit I thought it really didn’t relate to my (limited) worldview.  Since then, I’ve found how important geography can be for business use, and the many practical uses of this subject are just as relevant as they were when you and I were in school.  Be assured that, in the world of growing a business, geography is very practical as a tool for marketing tasks, delivery and scheduling decisions, and optimizing staffing levels.

Even in this age of GPS on your mobile phone, physical maps can give very useful information to marketers and managers at minimal cost. Companies analyze where customers come from.  Just as importantly, they also analyze where customers do NOT come from.  This is particularly useful for:

  • Discovering the effect of advertising and use of media;
  • Whether to invest in opening new locations or closing old ones;
  • Directing salespeople to geographic areas;
  • Aiding analysis of market penetration and market share;
  • When overlaid with demographic data, to see whether an area meets the ideal customer criteria;
  • When planning a sales trip to a regular client, a salesperson can determine where to do some prospecting;
  • Figuring out logistics in moving inventory from one location to another; 
  • Determining boundaries for promotions, especially when using direct mail (and before you send an email, direct mail can still be a very effective medium for some businesses).

Many companies use software that can map customer distribution and market penetration to optimize their delivery or service resources.  A small company that serves a limited geographic area can find it easier and more economical to use a manual method.

One company, which serves a three-county geographic area, mounted a regional map on the wall.  They use different colors of pushpins to show addresses of new customers and old customers.  Every three months they take a photo of the map and compare the current distribution of customers to photos from previous time periods.  While this certainly isn’t a precise statistical study, general advertising and customer purchasing patterns show up vividly.  Future promotional and advertising plans can be made from this information.  Naturally, they remove the pushpins after they take the photo and start over.

The same principle can apply if your market is more local or much larger using zip code, state, or national maps.  So, take a geographical analysis approach to track marketing results, get a better understanding of your customer and prospect base, and increase the return on your advertising investment. 

Question or comment to Larry:

Qualify Creatively to Generate Sales, Not Leads

Everyone who sells for a living wants more leads – lots and lots of leads.  So, in companies both large and small, the marketing department turns on the lead-generating machine (more advertising, trade shows, sales events, etc.) and the salespeople start pounding on doors.  Of course, in a small company, the marketing department and sales department is often just one person who might also be the only employee, and so the marketing and sales roles need to be efficient.

All too often, salespeople are chasing bad leads – tire kickers, inquirers, folks who will attend a trade show to just pick up promotional give-a-ways, folks who collect literature, and those who won’t buy anything or can’t buy anything for any number of reasons.  The goal of generating leads is to generate qualified leads (with emphasis on the “qualified” part) so that the time and effort invested in the sales process is spent on those prospects who are most likely to make a purchase.

Non-productive leads can be minimized, but certainly not eliminated, by using positioning statements in marketing strategy and asking the prospect probing questions relative to their real interest or their ability to purchase what you sell.  It isn’t necessary to ask “in person”; your advertising can ask those questions also, often in very subtle but meaningful ways.  

  • An investment firm’s advertising states “If your portfolio is over $500,000…”
  • A home improvement contractor’s website asks prospects to fill in a number of blanks about a proposed project before committing to send out a salesperson.
  • At a trade show, a salesperson of industrial equipment takes an inquirer’s contact information and asks a series of qualifying questions to determine whether to schedule an appointment after the show.
  • An employee training firm asks questions to discover how many employees a prospect has to offer either a “distance-learning” or “in-person” training package.
  • A children’s day school clearly states the acceptable ages of children and then asks about the age of a prospect’s children before offering a complimentary tour.

Sure, if you ask to respectfully qualify prospects, you won’t get as many responses, but you will be wasting less time chasing unqualified prospects, and those who qualify will be more likely to be really interested in and able to purchase your product or service.  The net result of attracting better-qualified leads is that salespeople will spend their time more productively, selling more while prospecting less.  Isn’t a small group of qualified leads better than a ton of bad ones?

Question or comment to Larry:

Soup Keeps the Hungry Beast Satisfied

Last week we meet two other couples, all long-time friends, for dinner at a local restaurant.  We chatted, looked over the menu and placed our orders; none of us ordered an appetizer.  We had plenty to talk about, as we had not seen each other for some time – news about families, vacations, and a little catching up on other friends (OK, it was gossip) who were not there.

Then one of us remarked that it seemed like we were waiting a long time for our meals and we were starting to get hungry.  A couple moments later, the server came and told us that the kitchen staff was running behind and our dinner was delayed, “but, she was going to serve us a bowl of soup ‘on the house’ to enjoy while we were waiting.”  The cups of soup were delivered along with more bread.  The soup was delicious, and our hunger subsided while we continued our enjoying the company of old friends.

Conversation around the table continued, but now the topic was that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle a potential customer dissatisfaction snafu in the kitchen and that they had handled it the right way… bravo!  

They had three options, one terrible, one neutral, and one that would ensure attracting great “word of mouth advertising” and repeat customers.  The terrible option was that they could have ignored the situation, and we probably would have grumbled about “slow service.”  The neutral option was that they could have told us about the problem and “thank you for your patience.”  But they chose the best possible result and exceeded our expectations.  They kept the hungry beast satisfied and will have six people talking to their friends about the wonderful, thoughtful service and dining experience.

We all know that, as much as we want our businesses to always satisfy (over-satisfy) our customers, sometimes things go awry.  Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes the situation is beyond our control, but the customer doesn’t care about that.  They, very rightly, care about their own satisfaction.  But the way we work to rectify the situation is the real issue.

Just as our experience in the restaurant above illustrates, we have three options when things go awry.  A business that plans on growing needs to satisfy customers, even when things are not going perfectly, and the actions they choose to use to delight instead ofdisappoint are critical… and I like my soup served hot! 

Question or comment to Larry:

Rude Prospect – Salesperson’s Lament

The prospect called the salesperson.  He needed a proposal for a custom item the salesperson sells.  The prospect said they were “in a real rush” and needed the information “yesterday.”

Naturally, the salesperson was excited.  She had been sending informative emails for months and following up with telephone calls, with the goal of getting an appointment to discuss the advantages and value of her product, but she had never been able to reach this prospect.  She kept leaving voice mail message after voice mail message to no avail and now, finally, she was excited to see that her persistence had paid off.  Now the prospect was calling her!  

She cleared her desk, met with associates, worked up a proposal in record time, and submitted it with an impressively low price, testimonials, photos, and data sheets that showed the superiority of her product, high level of service, and the specialized expertise of her company.  

The salesperson called the next day, and the next day, and then twice the following day, never getting the prospect, but leaving voice mail and e-mail messages each time… no response.

The salesperson told this all-too-common story over coffee.  “I worked hard to get that proposal out in a rush and followed-up the way I knew I should.”  She even sent a helium balloon in a box with a note, “This is a trial balloon”, hoping to get some response… any response… but no response came other than deathly silence. 

Maybe the prospect had an emergency, maybe he left the company, or maybe he was just “fishing” for a price to use in negotiating with a regular vendor.  There is a world of possibilities why there had been no response, but at that point, the salesperson didn’t know how much energy and time she should continue to invest in this prospect.

“I’m trying to do a great job and, while I want to make every sale possible, I know that I’ll lose some. But I hate not knowing if I am still in the running for the sale, being a pest, or having unrealistic expectations.  It’s so darn rude not to just let me know, even if he says that they changed their minds, I can at least quit spending time and energy on this and move on to something more productive, and all it would take is a few seconds of courtesy.  I would never be that rude to anyone.”

Let’s hope she remembers.

Question or comment to Larry:

Do You Give Good Telephone?

Has this happened to you lately?

You call a company you want to purchase something from or want to get some information from.   It rings.  It is answered.  The voice on the other end speaks with the same level of clarity and excitement last heard at the drive-up window of a fast food restaurant… “thanksforcallingxyzcompanythisisgeorgehowcanIbeofservicetoday?”

Or maybe the name of the company you called has been mysteriously shortened.  You thought you were calling Acme Widgets, Inc. but they answer “AWI” or even worse: “Widgets”?

Or, maybe the person answering the phone just bit into a crisp, crunchy apple?

Or, you get put on hold and no one checks in with you to see if you are still alive?

Your company’s telephone presence is just as important as your web presence, your logo, your signage, and your advertising.  It is an integral part of your marketing.  If a caller gets a bad first impression, all the other things you do to entice prospects and customers to call are wasted because, as the old saying goes, you only get one opportunity to make a good first impression.  The person who answers the phone can win or lose customers for life in just one quick moment if the caller is annoyed, treated rudely, or ignored.

Chances are that these lapses in good phone skills are happening at your company also.  If good telephone technique is important to your company, occasionally conduct a “Phone Audit.”  Call your company (or have someone else do it for you) and listen to the greeting, then call three competitors and see how you compare in clarity, attitude, personality, and helpfulness.

Even though a caller can’t see the person on the other end of the phone line, they can discern the person’s body language by hearing their voice.  That’s why a well-known telephone trainer suggests putting a mirror by the telephone and trains people to smile and look at themselves as they answer to give the caller an invisible smile with their greeting.  I’ve heard people scoff at this, but I’ve also heard that “an insincere smile beats a sincere frown every day.”

Please realize that the same personality issues translate into voice-mail answering messages and other mechanical communications, so they need to be monitored and audited for caller-friendliness also.

Callers can learn a lot in just a few seconds on the phone.  Make sure they learn the right things about your company so that first impression is a good one.

Question or comment to Larry:

I’d Like to Welcome You to the Company

The new hire comes in for the first day on the job, palms a little sweaty with anticipation, resolved to do a great job, to make a difference, to prove that the company made a great hiring decision, and to make a great first impression to everyone in the company.  So, with a deep breath, she gets out of her car and walks briskly through the door.

Introductions are made.  Hands are shaken. Forms are filled out.  Manuals are distributed.  

No matter whether the new hire is a seasoned veteran or a part-time high-school student in their first job, this is a critical crossroads both for the new person and for the company.  In the first few hours, the newest hire intuits the culture of the company, meets the people she will be working with, and starts understanding her role and how she will be judged, and she starts judging the company, her manager(s), and her co-workers.

If the company is properly prepared, the new hire will be starting along the path of transformation from raw recruit into a productive member of the team.  If the company’s hiring and on-boarding process is really a process of “winging it”, the new employee will start being demotivated, losing enthusiasm and confidence by the minute, so don’t let de-motivation set in.

To start the new hire on the path to becoming a successful employee in the shortest amount of time, a successful orientation should be well organized and well-orchestrated to build confidence and competence in the new person.  When this period is over, new hires should understand the culture of the company, its competitive advantages, its position in the marketplace, the products and services the company sells (even if they are not in a marketing or selling position, and the way the company responds to clients, prospects, and the public.

In effect, the on-boarding process is marketing the standards of the company so that employees will be able to quickly grasp and understand their individual contribution to the company’s overall success.  The goal is to have this person, like all people in the company, be an integral part of the customer satisfaction team – no matter what their job description says.

An effective and organized orientation should emphasize the company’s focus on the satisfaction of the customer; otherwise, new staff ends up doing their job focused on their own agenda and satisfying the wrong person.  The on-boarding process is an internal marketing task and, if successful, will improve the performance of the company.

Hungry? It Might Be Twenty More Years

The customer leaves the supermarket with bags of groceries filled.  It would be ridiculous for the grocer to scratch that customer off the list of prospects and stop marketing to them.  That customer will need more food soon and the sales cycle starts over again.  

But few businesses sell products and services that everyone on the planet needsto use daily and purchase every few days.  Their marketing and sales model is different.  Very few businesses only sell their offerings in a “once and done” model also.  But it is shocking how many businesses appear to follow either that model or the “we did such a good job for us they will come back when they need our products or services again.”

The roofing company packs up and leaves.  The home has a new roof, one that will last for fifteen to twenty years.  The roofer can scratch that address off the list of prospects, or should they?

The manufacturer of corrugated boxes “high-fives” the salesperson as the truck packed with boxes heads to their customer, but can they afford to not follow up?

The jeweler sells an engagement ring and wedding band to a lovesick man, andhopefully, the ring is the beginning of a happy, long marriage.  If the jeweler markets to the happy couple, they will be back for anniversary rings and other expensive gifts.

That grocer has to market continuously to the same people because the prospect requires their products at least three times a day.  The roofer’s customers won’t be in the market for a long time, so the roofer should be marketing at a different pace. That customer will need more boxes soon, and the jeweler should send an anniversary card because there are many opportunities for future sales if they continue marketing to those customers.

In twelve years, the roofer could start sending an annual newsletter showing advances in roofing techniques and styles, just so the homeowner is aware of the company that did the last job.  In fifteen years they could do a “Free Inspection.”  In following years, the marketing effort should increase because that roof is going to need replacing soon.

Your product or service probably has a sales cycle somewhere between that of the grocery and the roofer.  Plot out a graph of the cycle.  Determine when the typical customer is going to need your product.  Plan a method of getting to them so they know who to turn to when the time is right.  If you don’t, it might be twenty years before you have another chance at them.

Question or comment to Larry:

Harvest is Over… Better Get the Ladder

When business is good and customers are eager to buy, it sure is a great time.  Business seems bountiful and everlasting.  You’re hot.  The phone is ringing, orders come through a cornucopia of the internet, customers stand in line… easy pickings… like harvest time in an orchard and all you have to do is just walk over to a tree and pluck another apple… one customer after another… you feel that you are a business genius.  Here’s some advice from someone who has been there: better enjoy it while it lasts.

Because, after a while, the orchard is picked over.  Sometimes there is a drought.  Insects or disease or a frost attacks the crop.  Customers now are standing in line somewhere else for the next shiny thing.  The market swings in other directions away from you.  The easy pickings are long gone.  Customers have dwindled.  You are no longer a genius, what oh what to do?  Wringing your hands doesn’t help.

In the orchard, some starve because they can’t get to the harder-to-reach fruit, even standing on tippy-toe, sigh, and give up; survivors build ladders to climb higher.  In business, some give up and close shop.  Those who have the resources and the gumption to survive evolve by changing product, marketing harder and smarter, perhaps even changing their business model.  They change their offerings and bring out new, improved colors or sizes or capacities or groupings.  They take groups of products or services into and put them into different combinations or bundles with new pricing.  

Survivors have a way of going after an increasingly more elusive harvest.  They have larger crops in good times when the picking is easy and can sustain themselves when there is a drought or other calamities.  Whether the tool of survival is a ladder, a marketing plan, a customer retention plan, customer service training, sowing, fertilizing, weeding, pruning, and harvesting… it all needs to get done year after year.

Increase your reach now, plan your evolution when business is good, before the drought, before customers defect for the latest fashion, before the next shiny thing comes and replaces you in the marketplace, before something else gains favor.  Always be aware of events that arise and affect your market and circumstances beyond your control.  Keep your eyes and ears tuned to the changes happening around you and your business.  Do that and you will survive and prosper in good times and bad.

Question or comment to Larry:

Robots Don’t Win Oscars!

I recently published an article that stating that “marketing scripts” can be written to answer customer questions in an informative, concise, and friendly manner.  I got a number of responses from people telling me they hated the idea of using “scripts” to deliver information. 

When I inquired as to why they had a problem with scripts, the universal response was that they “didn’t want to sound like a robotic-sounding telemarketer reading a ‘canned’ spiel.”  

We’ve all heard “robots” trying to impress or sell and their stiff, badly practiced (or not practiced) monologues having the opposite effect, which turns off the listener.  The people who responded to my article are right.

I offer this counterpoint in response:

When you turn on your television to watch a drama or comedy show, do you feel like those actors are reading from a script?  No, they sound like they are talking naturally, yet we all know they are not just making it up or “winging it.”  They started with a script.  That script was written by a group of writers.  Then they memorized their lines, and once they learned the script, they practiced their lines over and over until it sounded like normal speech.  Then they practiced it with the other actors in the scene, and then they performed it in front of their director, who probably modified it several times to get it right, to ultimately sound like they were speaking in a manner appropriate to their scene.  Those actors certainly are not talking normally, it just sounds like it.

It’s the same way that a customer-friendly company gives information on the phone, in an office or showroom setting, or at a trade show.  There is a script created to answer, to inform, to extoll the virtues, and to ultimately to close the sale.  That script is honed and practiced until it is delivered naturally.  It sounds like natural speech, but it is the practiced answer to an inquiry.

A practiced, scripted answer delivered in a friendly manner will better inform customers and build their knowledge and the relationship.  So, start cataloging questions or inquiries and develop short scripts as the basis for standardized responses.  Practice them, think “Lights! Camera! Action!” and you will sound natural.  Think of making the sale as winning an Oscar (“I’d like to thank my writer, my director, my acting coach, and my supporting actors.”)  You’ll look great on the red carpet! 

Question or comment to Larry:

Get Asked “Dumb” Questions? Turn them into Opportunities!

I was in a bakery recently.  The phone rang.  The clerk answered.  There was a pause while the caller asked a question.  Then the clerk, took a deep breath, sighed, and in a voice that sounded like she was rolling her eyes while dripping derision at the same time said, “Yes, we do sell birthday cakes, this is a bakery.”

How often does a prospect ask a question at your business where the answer should be clearly evident… in other words, a “dumb question”?  It may seem like a dumb question to you, but it really is an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to improve and clarify the way your company communicates.  It is also an opportunity to add a pointed sales message to the answer or to answer with a question that engages the caller.  Imagine how much more likely the bakery would be to make a sale if the clerk had answered, “Yes, we bake delicious and beautiful birthday cakes; everything from fun, decorated cupcakes to triple layer double-fudge chocolate with sprinkles on top and we always have at least twenty sample cakes on display.  What are you looking for?”

  • They ask the Realtor.  “Do you sell homes in the north side of town?” 
  • They ask the Printer.  “Will you fold and collate my printing?”
  • They ask the Banker.  “Do you have safety deposit boxes for rent?”

What do they ask when they call your business?  Perhaps, instead of answering the question with a derisive tone and roll of the eyes, you can turn that question into an opportunity.  Take a look at your communication efforts and think of forward-moving, sales-making responses to the opportunities that arise.  Create some “stock” responses that better explain and differentiate your products and services and engage the prospects in a discussion that will have a much higher percentage of making a sale than, “Yes, we do sell birthday cakes, this is a bakery.”  If your customers or prospects don’t know the services or products you offer, you should be getting the word out better, not only in your advertising, but in all possible devices for communicating.

As a project for the next few weeks, list every “dumb” question asked of your business.  Then review possible answers and create talking points to explain, differentiate, and entice those who ask into becoming customers.  Have everyone who could be on the receiving end of these questions practice their responses instead of making callers feel foolish for asking.  

Question or comment to Larry:

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