In a Changing Economy, Popcorn and Other Marketing Mistakes

Ten years of competitive heinousness!

That was the title of a recent seminar brochure that I received. As I survey some of the forces at work in our economy and observe how they affect my clients, I have to concur. The Information Age is without a doubt one of the most turbulent periods in business history.

And the primary source of turbulence is unrelenting change. Consider the following. In 1900, humanity’s total knowledge base was doubling approximately every 500 years. It now doubles roughly every two years. And the pace is accelerating. According to one futurist, today’s high school seniors will be required to absorb more information in their final year than their grandparents did throughout their lives.

Simultaneously with rapid change, competition is increasing in almost every industry. Foreign competitors have entered our markets, the wave of corporate downsizing has transformed thousands of displaced executives into reluctant entrepreneurs, and the knowledge explosion continues to manifest itself through new technologies that frequently offer radically different methods of accomplishing a task.

As a result?

Almost every industry is experiencing an increase in competition. I have yet to meet a CEO who stated, “I have fewer competitors today than I did three years ago.” Continuously increasing competition appears to be a feature of our economy that we will have to live with for the foreseeable future.

Regrettably, these forces of rapid change and increasing competition have created a cloud of uncertainty for CEOs and sales executives attempting to grow their businesses.

A frequently used response to this cloud of confusion is what I refer to as “Popcorn.” Consider the kernels of popcorn simmering in the bottom of a popcorn popper in hot oil. As the temperature rises, one of the kernels explodes and flies off against the popper’s side. After a few moments, another kernel explodes and flies off in a different direction. Within moments, the canister will be brimming with careening kernels bouncing in all directions.

That is my analogy for how many businesses attempt to increase their sales when the competition heats up. As the situation becomes more tense, they realize they must act. Then a good idea comes along and they lunge at it, popping like a kernel of exploding popcorn.

Anything can be a good idea. Perhaps a media representative makes the suggestion for a new advertisement. That does indeed sound like a good idea. As a result, they “pop” off after that. Alternatively, it could be a salesperson advising them that a computer program will resolve their issues. That sounds like a good idea, and with a “pop,” they are off to pursue it. Following that, an advertising agency makes a proposal for a new brochure. That also sounds appealing, and like corn kernels exploding in all directions, they invest money and energy in short-term “good ideas.”

As with popcorn kernels, they frantically pursue numerous good ideas in the hope that one will be the answer to their marketing problems. The issue is that these excellent ideas are rarely related to one another. Additionally, they frequently offer superficial solutions to problems that are frequently more complex. The company’s time and energy are diverted away from deeper solutions and toward these superficial “good ideas.”

For instance, an advertisement in a trade journal may be a temporary fix for a business that lacks a system for identifying qualified prospects. And a new brochure may be a superficial response for an organization that lacks the feedback mechanisms necessary to comprehend its customers adequately.

Unfortunately, the result is frequently increased pressure, confusion, and energy spent in the wrong places.

Is there a more efficient method? Sure. A far more effective course of action is to develop a strong sales and marketing system. A sales and marketing system is a collection of interconnected, quantifiable processes and tools that result in increased sales. Without a system for consistently producing hot hamburgers, where would McDonald’s be today? Where would Ford be without a system for designing and manufacturing new automobiles? The ability of these businesses to create and manage effective systems to accomplish their goals has been critical to their success.

Sales and marketing can be treated identically. Systematize the process of acquiring customers and then expanding the business with them. If you succeed in developing a viable system, you will be investing your resources most effectively and generating predictable, consistent sales results.

Your sales and marketing strategy should begin with a thorough understanding of the prospects’ needs and interests. Add to that an honest recognition of your company’s unique value proposition to the market, and you have the foundation for your system. Your system should prioritize the market segments with the greatest potential and develop segment-specific processes and tools to assist you in reaching your market in the most cost-effective manner possible.

When your system is designed, you will also have a set of criteria in place to assist you in making an accurate assessment of the potential in items such as advertisements, brochures, and computer programs.

A well-designed system enables you to transition from the desperate reactive mode exemplified by “Popcorn” to a confident proactive mode.

Seven questions will help you determine whether you are operating from a “Systems” or a “Popcorn” mindset.

1. Do you have specific, attainable sales and marketing goals?

2. Have you pinpointed your most lucrative market segments?

3. Have you identified the decision-making process that a typical prospect follows in order to purchase your product or service?

4. Have you identified the critical monthly activities and processes that must occur in order to meet your sales objectives?

5. Do you track the quantity and quality of your key marketing activities on a monthly basis?

6. Are you able to track the exact cost of acquiring a customer?

7. Does all of your marketing collateral (brochures, advertisements, etc.) directly support the system’s objectives and processes?

Clearly, a yes to these questions indicates that you have a well-defined sales and marketing system in place. That means you have transitioned from reactive to proactive marketing and are well on your way to achieving consistent, predictable sales. Negative responses indicate that you have some work to do to transform your sales and marketing efforts into proactive ones that will enable you to compete successfully in the turbulent twenty-first century.

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