13 Techniques For Subverting A Marketing Program

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The goal in business is to outdistance the competition and make profitable sales by producing more customer-friendly products or services. To reach this goal, you need an advantage to improve your batting average-but it's getting more difficult and complicated to obtain this advantage, let alone keep it.

Just adding more salespeople is no longer the solution. It's important to have the right message delivered to the right prospects at the right time in a way they want to receive it. This is the marketing mission. Only when this is achieved will there be a need for additional sales staff.

Unfortunately, marketing activities are often subverted by those who misunderstand the marketing profession. The following checklist can best be described as 'inadvertent strategies,' since no one consciously sets out to create them. Nevertheless, they are effective techniques-effective, that is, for impairing marketing programs.

1. 'Our job is to get it out the door.' This is number one for good reason: It's the most pervasive problem in marketing. While the announced goal may be to bring in more leads or increase sales, those involved with direct mail, advertising, or trade-show activities often see the job differently. They are concerned less about success than simply getting it out the door. For this reason, it shouldn't be surprising that most marketing activities fail because of a lack of attention to quality and detail. Nothing matters other than getting it done. Who cares that nothing is personalized, the list isn't accurate, or the message doesn't fit? Just get it done and move on to something else.

2. 'Who says the message doesn't make sense? We wrote it!' Why should customers and prospects pay attention to the letters, brochures, and direct-mail pieces they receive? More often than not, the focus is on the company sending it, not on the customer. They are all about what we do, our capabilities, how long we've been in business, and how good we are. It's all backwards. Marketing is about customers. The goal is not to tell your story but to let prospects know you understand their problems, their industry, their business, and their needs.

3. 'The only thing customers care about is price.' Most salespeople assume that every buying decision will be based on price. This is the posture they take in approaching every prospect. As a result, they don't listen to what a customer is saying. There are two reasons for price being the primary factor in making a buying decision: First, no effort has been made to differentiate the product or service from what the competition is offering. Second, the sales staff specializes in order-taking, not sales. Either they aren't selling benefits or they haven't been trained to cope with the competitor's offerings.

4. 'It's the end of the month, we've got to do something.' This occurs so frequently that there should be a book on 'panic-based' marketing. While it's often necessary to respond to an urgent situation, far too much activity is the result of panic. Wait until sales are down and then scramble.

The project gets done but it doesn't work because it's not thought through. The objectives are unclear and the message is fuzzy. There's nothing that grabs the recipient's attention, and the offer is weak. Even more to the point, it isn't part of an ongoing program, so the results are dismal. Doing nothing is often better than doing an ill-conceived something.

5. 'Planning? That's only for big companies.' Far too often, marketing receives attention only when sales are lagging. Only after the curve has flattened for a period of time does someone start to think that action is needed. Then everyone wants (and needs) instant results. These are the companies that experience turnover in the sales department. Management pins its hopes on the new sales manager's 'convincing' speech. It isn't sales managers who are at fault; they have simply learned what it takes to get the job. More often than not, the problem isn't in sales but in management's failure to invest in creating and implementing an effective marketing plan. The sales force stumbles because there's no marketing support to identify prospects, communicate the message, or position the company in the marketplace.

6. 'The boss likes it and that's all that counts.' Large companies are just as susceptible to corner-office pressure as are smaller firms when it comes to marketing. 'He [it's always a he] reads that magazine so that's where he wants our ad. End of discussion.' It can just as easily be a radio station, television program, or trade show. The company doesn't do direct mail because the president thinks all mail is junk mail and he doesn't look at any of it. 'No one reads that stuff,' he states. 'The only way to do the job is to get out on the street and make it happen.'

While being forced to defend a position and support your recommendations is valuable, basing a marketing program on personal opinion is extremely dangerous because the results will be negative. (But everyone knows that no one complains about failure when management is behind it!)

7. 'But our competitor has a great Web site.' Marketing activities often take their direction from what the competition is doing. A salesperson brings back a competitor's glitzy, full-color brochure, and a few days later a bigger and better one is in the works. The competition has a Web site and history repeats itself. A Web site may be valuable and a brochure helpful, but keeping up with the competition tends to obscure the need to ensure marketing programs are need-based. Just having a Web site or a full-color brochure isn't enough when it comes to affecting prospects and customers. The only test that counts is what you need to accomplish.

8. 'Is this the cheapest way to do it?' Use this approach often enough and almost any marketing program can be destroyed. The question puts a marketing project into perspective: 'We don't care what it is, how it looks, or what it will accomplish. Just make sure it's cheap.' It seems almost a caricature, but it isn't. For this type of buyer, 'What's it going to cost?' is more important than making sure the program will be successful.

There's always more than one way to solve a marketing problem, including more cost-effective ways of accomplishing the goal without compromising impact or effectiveness. While cost may be a factor, success is the objective. Once that is compromised, whatever money is spent will be wasted.

9. 'Let's see how this goes. If it works, we'll put more money into it.' It doesn't end here-there's usually more: 'No we don't have a budget. We just spend what's needed.' In reality, of course, they don't spend what's needed because they don't have a budget. Anyone who tries to be responsible for marketing in these circumstances must be a masochist. The message is not so subtle: 'If we decide it didn't work, we're not going to put another dime into it.' The problem is a basic lack of commitment. Perhaps management is maintaining this tentative approach to maintain control. The function of marketing is to position a company or product, increase visibility, and attract customers. These tasks can't be accomplished instantly.

10. 'Do we have to keep doing this very long?' Marketing can be perceived as necessary evil, money that must be spent when there are problems. The president of a company that services physician groups called, saying that changes in the health care field had resulted in a drop in her business. The marketing efforts of the past were no longer effective. It was only a few days later when a marketing professional met with her. She was smiling. 'After I talked with you,' she said, 'the phone started ringing.' The crisis had passed. Marketing was no longer a priority. She evidently held the view that marketing programs exist to get a company through the rough spots. If we take the medicine, we can stop when we feel better. Such a view of marketing is widespread.

Before criticizing, it's well to remember that marketing is still relatively new. Even in large companies, it can be dismissed as the servant of the sales department rather than as a resource to help create customers.

11. 'We just get our salespeople to make calls.' This marketing strategy is used by supposedly sophisticated companies. It was a Monday morning when a woman from a bank called. Upbeat and enthusiastic, she asked, 'Can I come over and just spend a few minutes talking about banking arrangements?' There it is: Her sales manager had put this salesperson into the position of being a marketer as well. She is placed at a disadvantage: Her chances of getting appointments, let alone making a sale, are minimal. Why would any CFO, controller, or business owner meet with a stranger to discuss the company's financial affairs? Even though the idea sounds absurd, this is the most common form of marketing.

Salespeople have a specific objective. Their job is to make sales, not to spend valuable time trying to talk someone into meeting with them or destroying valuable contacts by handling them inappropriately. Putting salespeople on the street as marketers leads only to lower-than-necessary sales, staff burnout, and prospects' irritation. The answer to the bank person's question was, of course, no. And that was the answer the question deserved.

12. 'That's too complicated. Just keep it simple.' Successful marketing is complicated, and there's no way to keep it simple. The task of understanding customer requirements, identifying and tracking prospects, creating a continuing series of marketing activities, and following up and evaluating results is complex. Just maintaining an adequate customer and prospect database is demanding, let alone creating and managing a series of marketing programs.

13. 'Doing research takes too much time.' Marketing without accurate information is like building a skyscraper without the benefit of architectural drawings. Research is essential to understand customers and what they want in order to implement programs that hit the target. But it's also a tool for gaining a competitive advantage. If the competition knows more than you do, you lose. Understanding customers is not a waste of time or money; it's the most cost-effective way to plan and execute effective marketing programs.

Those who work in marketing recognize each of these inadvertent strategies kill even a carefully crafted marketing program. It takes only an uninformed word or two to cancel months of effort. Each of these destructive strategies can be avoided if management is aware of what causes them and gives marketing the same support and safeguards that are enjoyed by the sales department.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm founded in 1976. He's the author of a new book, 203 Ways To Be Supremely Successful In The New World Of Selling (Macmillan Spectrum, 1996) and Magnet Marketing: The Ultimate Strategy for Attracting and Holding Customers (John Wiley & Sons). Graham writes for a variety of publications and speaks on business, marketing, and sales topics for company and association meetings. He can be contacted at 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170, (800) 659-0069; fax (617) 471-1504; j_graham@grahamcomm.com. The company's Web site is http://www.magnetmarketing.com.
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