I was at my desk writing my next small business marketing manual, when I got a call from John from Chicago with a chicken or egg question. John is starting a new business providing technology management services to small to mid-sized businesses. He’s identified a promising niche and is working diligently on his business plan. He called to ask when he should start thinking about strategic marketing.
If you are developing a new business or a new product, should you complete your business plan before you start thinking about marketing strategy?
Isn’t it important to clarify your business objectives and processes before you pay attention to your small business marketing?
This is a which came first, the chicken or the egg question. Obviously, you can’t market a product or service you don’t have or can’t deliver. On the other hand, one of the biggest mistakes people make is developing a product or service without a clear understanding of what their prospects want and how to market their products or services. You don’t want to make this costly mistake.
Over the Wall Marketing Strategies
Several decades ago, the auto industry had a simple process for planning, building and selling cars. First, the design department would create a beautifully drawn plan for a new automobile. Then they’d “throw them over the wall” to Engineering. Engineering would study the plans and discover that certain features couldn’t be built as drawn, and they’d throw the plans back to Design.
After a few trips back and forth, the plans might finally get to manufacturing, where the same thing would happen all over again. After looking at what the engineers had drafted, the manufacturing department would shake their heads and toss it back, saying, “We can’t build this as drawn”.
After numerous delays and cost overruns, the new model car would be built and marketing would be called into action. Some of the larger goofs that were handed off to marketing to sell include the Edsel and the Pontiac Aztek.
Can you imagine trying to sell a product that your target market doesn’t want?
Marketing can’t succeed when marketing communication and business planning are compartmentalized, no matter what the size of the business.
Most manufacturing companies currently use an integrated planning approach. Business marketing has a seat at the table during the design phase to insure that the final product reflects what customers want, and engineering and manufacturing are included to ensure that products can be built efficiently and reliably.
Whether you want to grow your business, launch a new product or service or start a new business venture, you need to make sure you have a current clear understanding of your client’s needs and wants.
Ask existing clients or prospects:
• What are your goals for this year?
• What are your biggest concerns (relative to your product or service)?
• What one thing would make the biggest difference to helping you improve your business or your life?
Don’t depend on the limited response you’d get from an email; pick up the phone and call prospects and clients you know. Use the above questions to get them talking about their problems and concerns.
Use the common needs you learn about to drive new product development and as themes for planning your small business marketing strategy. For example, if your are in the business of technology management and you hear repeated complaints about computer crashes or lost data, and concerns about computer security, use these to generate both your services and the language you use to market them.
Tony, an old friend who lives in England, takes this marketing research approach to the extreme. Tony writes and self publishes training guides for the education market. Instead of writing a book, publishing it and then waiting to see if it sells, Tony sells his books first and then writes them.
Yes, it’s true. Tony’s product development strategy is as follows; he sends out a mailing promoting a handful of titles. Based on the orders he receives, he decides which book to write.
Tony immediately responds to his customers with a note letting them know there will be a delay in shipment and offering them one of his previous overstock books for free. Then he works like a fiend for six or eight weeks to research, write, publish and ship the new book. Not my cup of tea, but Tony makes a good living with this small business marketing first strategy.
Don’t get stuck with a chicken or egg approach to your small business marketing. Integrate your business planning, product development, market research and marketing planning. When you do you’ll find your marketing and your products and services working together to attract more clients and customers.