LOUISVILLE, Ky.-You've probably heard it before: In order to compete, you must first differentiate your business. Yeah, right. And how much does it cost to create a glitzy marketing campaign?
Not much, according to two marketing gurus who said they can produce professional retread marketing materials with items most people either already have or can buy at local business supply stores.
In fact, their suggested system cost below $3,000-considerably below for those who already own some kind of computer.
Babek Commercial Systems' Bob Piagentini and McGriff Treading Co. Inc.'s Jeff Wilson both highlighted the importance of a computer system in developing customized and professional quote sheets, sales flyers, brochures and other marketing collateral materials during an ARA World Tire Conference seminar in Louisville, April 8.
Computer illiterate? So what, Mr. Wilson said, who added he ``can crash a computer as fast as the next guy.'' Today's computer software is generally user friendly and can easily produce high quality materials that can quickly be tailored to individual customers.
A computer system does not need to be complex or expensive, they said. In fact, Mr. Piagentini, who handles commercial accounts for trucking and intermodal fleets at Babek Commercial Tire, said he has completed a number of his company's materials on his home computer.
Retread shops that do not have a computer can purchase one for about $1,200, according to Mr. Wilson, director of marketing and new business development for McGriff Treading.
His suggestion: a 486 DX2 computer operating at 66 to 100 MHz, with a color monitor, mouse and a fax/modem. A quality color ink or bubble jet printer will cost about $500. Finally, software capable of producing brochures with photographs and text will cost an additional $500.
For someone starting from scratch, that puts the total cost of the computer system below $3,000. In contrast, Mr. Wilson noted, hiring a professional marketing firm will cost more than $25,000.
What do you do with that computer system?
The first step in professionalizing your marketing approach is to examine your business' assets, your competitors' weaknesses and your potential customers' needs, Mr. Piagentini said.
``In my mind, there is nothing worse than going out and selling something you can't provide,'' Mr. Piagentini said. ``Know what your people can do, and if they can't provide it, stay away from that particular aspect of the market and go after something that you can provide.''
The next step is to determine the specific needs of a potential customer by asking them questions about their operations. Determine, through your interviewswhat the customers' interests and buying motivations are so you can tailor your marketing package to what they want most.
All of your marketing efforts should highlight how your company's strengths can satisfy a potential customer's needs, Mr. Piagentini said.
Once you are aware of what you want to say in your collateral material, strive for a professional, clean, mistake-free and consistent marketing message that will differentiate you from your competition, Mr. Piagentini said.
For instance, quotes to a potential customer can be transformed from a photocopy of a price list to a complete marketing package.
A typical Babek Commercial Tire package sent to a first-time customer includes, not only the quote and a business card, but a company history an explanation of the retreading process, commercial brochures from suppliers, a list of company locations and a reference sheet of other customers.
All of the information is placed in a binder displaying the Babek company colors and logo.
Each package is sent with a brief cover letter addressed to the specific individual in charge of handling retreading accounts.
The process of personalizing the entire package is important, Mr. Wilson reiterated.
``No two commercial trucking fleets are the same. We have to address their concerns, and we have to sell against our competition,'' he explained. ``We come back to making your first impression and developing yourself in the mind of that customer. . . as a professional, state-of-the-art operation. What you use as collateral material, what you leave with him, what you send him is going to help build this impression of what kind of operation you run.''
Standard manufacturers' brochures, even those customized for an individual retread operation, typically only highlight products, not individual businesses. As such, Mr. Wilson advised, they should only be used when customers are deciding between products not when they are deciding between companies.
``We don't want to lose our uniqueness. That's a God-given gift that each one of us has, and that's something we need to build upon; that's a foundation for our success,'' he said. ``Each of us has a little different style of interacting with our customers. We need to be ourselves; we need to be unique.''