Marketing Plan's Results Outweigh Development Costs

Entrepreneur's Notebook
by Sharon Berman

A surprising number of businesspeople do what might be called "mystical marketing." They market without a plan, strategy or essential information. They believe that as long as they are devoting energy to marketing even if it's wasted energy spent going in the wrong direction business will magically come their way. You could also call it "cross-your-fingers" marketing.

What has contributed to mystical marketing and its superstitions is the fact that business has been so good for so many years. Professionals believe they don't need to market, or that it doesn't matter if they market effectively, because momentum alone will carry them. Unfortunately, momentum does not continue forever.

How do you exit from the dark realm of mystical marketing into the "real" world? Here are a few guidelines.

First, you need to know where you are going. That means establishing your targets for revenues, profitability, etc. Mystical marketers lack objectives. Some believe that if they work diligently enough, they'll reach their goal even if they don't know where it is. Others are too superstitious to set objectives, fearing that an objective will actually hinder them because it will turn into a barrier they can't cross. There is nothing about an objective that says that you can't exceed it.

The more pessimistic are afraid to set an objective because they don't want to confront the possibility of failure. True, setting an objective can take courage because if you don't meet it, you will feel disappointment. But the truth is that setting an objective helps focus your marketing so that you get more return on the time and energy you invested. Setting two objectives increases the probability of success: it's likely that you'll at least achieve one.

The idea is to set a conservative objective and a fairly realistic "wish list." You're allowed to readjust your target; it's not cast in stone.

Establishing a path

Now you need to determine how to get there. Mystical marketers hold that success is an enigma, that getting from point A to point B is shrouded in mystery. Once they've told me that they did $500,000 last year and want to do $650,000 this year, they stare blankly when I ask them how they plan to get there. Some say they'll attend lunches and breakfasts, but aren't sure with whom or what they want to communicate.

While marketing is not a science, it's not magic either. You can and must influence the outcome, and there are many ways to do so. Having a reasonable target is the first step. Outlining a plan based on your knowledge of the market and your own business will move you a long way toward that goal. Your plan can be a streamlined plan you refer to and update often.

Knowing your markets is another must. Some try to divine what the markets want, what they value and what their purchasing criteria are. You are much better off talking with clients, prospective clients, vendors, referral sources, etc. Find out what their likes are and where they see the market going. Many professionals can't even answer a basic question about their customers, such as what publications they're reading.

Some businesspeople don't know where their business comes from, wasting energy because they don't know whom to target. A tracking system does not need to be a complex database. It can be as simple as tick marks on a sheet of paper.

Tracking sources and trends of business is critical. Certain referral sources might be getting stronger than others, but you won't know until you see it in black and white.

Recognizing necessity

Another part of mystical marketing is the belief that you don't need to market. I still hear, "I just do good work for clients, and they come back or tell others about me." That worked 30 years ago, but not today.

Competence is a given in many professional fields. But even if your clients tell colleagues about the wonderful work you did for them, they may have no idea that you offer a range of other services. If someone asks if they know someone who can handle a complex business transaction, your name may come up because that's the service you rendered. But they may not know that you can also counsel them on a real estate transaction or that your partner does business valuations.

Are they still thinking of you when they're not actually being asked for a referral in your area of expertise? Most likely not. And that's just when your competitor does magic in front of that prospective client and gets their business.

It's important to educate clients on a continuing basis about the range of your expertise and services and always remind them that referrals are welcome.

Don't fear when ominous prophecies speak of the impending end of the economy! You know better. With a place to go, a plan to get there and knowledge of the forces at work in your market, you can not only survive a temporary eclipse, but come out looking like a miracle worker.



Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Corp., a Los Angeles-based marketing consultancy. She can be reached at berman@berbay.com.



Entrepreneur's Notebook is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact James Klein at (213) 743-1759 with feedback and topic suggestions.

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