Some companies promote their business and products without rhyme or reason. A seminar here, some direct mail there or perhaps a couple of ads in unrelated trade magazines. Random, untargeted promotional actions, however, are destined to fail for they do not build a company's image and reputation as a problem solver and value adder. What is missing are overall promotional strategies that tie all actions together, resulting in that sought-after commodity: mental and in-person contacts with buyers and prospects.

Promotion Must Be Strategic.

In the military sense, strategies are plans or actions based on maneuvering forces into the most advantageous positions prior to actual engagement in order to win a war or a portion of it. In the business world, this approach has everything to do with gaining a competitive edge.

When it comes to promotional activities, sound strategy is a critical ingredient. What is needed is a strategic focus that aligns all actions, creating a "macro-positioning" within a particular niche. Each of the following strategies has been proven successful in the problem-solving and value-adding business community.

Prioritization

Research shows most business comes from current or past customers or clients. In the banking industry, for example, it costs eight times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. This reality holds true in the professional services field. One Southern California consultant, who set his priorities on new prospects, spent all his time and money chasing new clients, and still, he recorded his worse year ever. When he re-prioritized, focusing on gaining business from old clients, he made more in six weeks than in the previous 12 months.

Be Consistent and Persistent.

It requires at least seven contacts (public speaking, writing, phone, fax, e-mail, direct mail or in person) before potential customers can begin to understand how a problem-solving and value-adding vendor can help them. After the first seven contacts, many more may be needed to develop the relationship to the point where prospects are ready to buy.

"I sent several letters and newsletters to one prospect without response," says Drew Robb, who runs Tujunga-CA based Robb Editorial. "It was only when I arranged to 'bump into this person' on another matter entirely, that he recalled my mailings and became interested in utilizing my services."

It is vital, therefore, to keep the company name in front of the prospect's mind. And if this contact presents a consistent strategic message, orders will come sooner rather than later.

Follow-up

Follow-up is a strategy that ensures future success. Whether the business materializes or not, develop a series of questions to discover why the customer bought or why he/she went elsewhere. By isolating exactly what is being done right as well as wrong, adjustments can be made with new contacts and presentations.

One Monrovia, CA-based engineering firm discovered the firm was perceived as an entertainment industry specialist, leading some in the power industry to mistrust the firm's technical competence. A promotional campaign emphasized the firm's many satisfied power industry customers, leading to greater acceptance in that field.

Integration

Instead of chaotic promotion, have each promotional activity lead logically into the next and follow a particular sequence. For example, send out letters inviting prospects to visit a trade show booth; query booth visitors on their situation and problems; demonstrate and give selected marketing collateral; and send follow-up letters after the show offering onsite assessments or demonstrations.

Orientation

Rather than only looking for orders, the most successful businesses focus on building relationships. This is a highly effective long-term strategy. Try "giving" before trying to "get." Focus all actions on serving customers' or clients' needs. "The only reason for any sales call is to be of service to the customer," says Roy Chitwood, President of the Seattle-based sales training organization Max Sacks International. "By adopting this philosophy as a way of life, you automatically do what's right for the customer."

Database Marketing

The importance of automating contact management function cannot be over-emphasized. Simply put, it is far superior to learn to manage the marketing process than it is to manage each individual contact. Such process management is enhanced through an enlightened view of database management that carefully isolates the various categories of people who must be sent promotional materials.

Only database marketing allows a business to plan the comprehensive coverage of specific categories of database contacts, utilizing automation to optimize the management and operation of the process. To promote in any other way means that marketing opportunities will be missed and a great deal of time will be wasted.

Within Limits

Once promotional strategies have been adopted, the specific tactics used to implement them will vary from business to business. Some do well with public speaking or direct mail, while others prefer the Internet, phone, newsletters, events or magazine articles. Bear in mind, however, that seeking referrals from former clients, customers and colleagues brings more business than any other tactic. The important point, though, is to focus on a few tactics, plan them well, integrate them and follow up. Chose three primary promotional tactics that forward your strategies, and three secondary tactics.

Why three? That number is much easier to manage and tends to be more successful. Otherwise, someone can end up trying to do everything a little, without doing any one thing well. If referrals work well, formalize the referral process. If newsletters are successful, get them out regularly. Concentrate on three primary tactics, even though you may add other elements from time to time.

Arriving at the Intersection

The goal of marketing is to have targeted clients buy solutions to their problems using a problem-solving vendor's defined services or products. In order for that to occur, a strong, positive reputation is critical. And this is where promotion comes into play. By creating a high volume of mental and physical prospect "intersections" and instilling the right image, you will generate valuable short-term and long-term sales.

William T. Mooney Jr. CPMC, is a member of the Institute of Management Consultants (imcusa.org), the nation's premier professional association for consultants. He is the principal in the Torrance, CA-based firm, Center for Consulting & Professional Practices, a division of William Mooney Associates. For further information, please call (310) 324 2386, or contact him at wmooneya@ix.netcom.com

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