The economy's new momentum offers an opportunity for marketing-oriented companies to boost their sales. But unlike most businesses, these firms won't be relying on improved economic conditions to fuel those new-found sales. The most successful will get ahead of the competition because they have had the foresight and made the effort to implement winning strategies. Here are 16 strategies for gaining a clear marketplace advantage.
1) Become highly aggressive. Change your marketing strategy to fit the psychology of the times. Emphasize how your products and services save time, cut costs and increase productivity.
2) Work at retaining present customers. When things start looking up, it's easy to forget about existing customers. Work harder than ever to demonstrate you care about present customers.
3) Increase sales to present customers. Only a fool assumes that all customers know everything you do. Whether you've been doing business with a customer for a month or a decade, plan a marketing program that aims at educating your customers on all your products and services.
4) Build your prospect list. Rivet attention on specific prospects you would have as customers. Make as inclusive a list as possible, but define your prospect profile carefully. Then, develop a plan for making regular contact with these prospects. Explain why you have a special interest in them and show them how dealing with you has special benefits. Ask what you will have to do to get their business.
5) Use `Value-Added' techniques to get an edge on competitors. Distinguishing your company from others in the same field is more important now than ever before. To discover what you can do to dramatize your uniqueness, think like a customer. It's never the value you want to add that makes the difference. It's the value the customer wants to receive that's important.
6) Polish your company image. Position your firm in the best possible light by customers, prospects, suppliers and opinion leaders in your business and local community. Does your firm appear professional? Is it known for a high level of expertise? Is customer service your No.1 priority? Then, publicize those ``special'' qualities.
7) Keep a watchful eye on the competition. Too many businesses take their direction straight from the competition. Now is no time to let a competitor lead the way! The competition may be completely in the dark and its activities could be nothing more than weak attempts to get moving. Write your own marketing and sales plans and then stay on track.
8) Increase your promotional efforts. With the economic pie still shrinking, the quickest way to add market share is to take business from the competition. Go on the offensive and promote, promote, promote.
9) Make your employees and suppliers your firm's ambassadors. Improved economic conditions can lull many companies into a false sense of security. This is very dangerous. Communicate often, emphasizing good news via pay envelope stuffers, bulletins and newsletters, suppliers and customers.
10) Practice niche marketing. Look for markets that best match your company's products and service-and come out swinging. Competition is generally less intense in niche markets and your strong position will fend off intruders.
11) Maintain a strong financial position. An improved business situation tends to loosen company purse strings, particularly after a long recession. Continue to pay close attention to the accounts receivable. Also, be vigilant for price increases from suppliers.
12) Become marketing-driven. It's easy to become totally sales-driven, forgetting to pay as much attention to customer concerns. A marketing-driven company operates one way: the total effort-product, service, price, and promotion-must be adapted to customer needs and wants.
13) Concentrate on the basics. The single most important job is to get and keep customers. When you have customers, you have sales. The only way to do this is to help your customers solve their problems better than anyone else. Learn what ``better'' means to each customer and prospect. Then, adapt your product or service so it is perceived as ``better'' in their eyes.
14) Concentrate on consulting. Customers aren't looking for ``off-the-shelf'' solutions to their problems. Continue to develop new ways to tailor your services to meet precise needs.
15) Demonstrate a `we-can-do-it' attitude. You may have the best products or service, but that's not enough. Go the next step. Show enthusiasm for going out of your way to prove that you're still highly service-oriented.
16) Tell your customers and prospects that you want their business. Don't ever assume that they know. Don't think that price is all they care about. Show appreciation.
These strategies aim to give a company the extra edge, to propel it forward faster than the competition.
Mr. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass.