There are times when getting it right means doing it wrong. Yes, flat-out going against the accepted wisdom.
For example, some investors wait to buy stocks until the market tanks. Others follow a strategy of purchasing only out-of-favor market segments.
Then there's sales. Most sales techniques aim at ``capturing'' customers by identifying what appear to be the ``likely buyers'' and then go after them in the most persuasive manner. Others seek to get lucky through cold calling, particularly when business is slow or they are new to selling.
Only a few salespeople use a strategy of wooing customers and constantly working to pull them closer and closer so that when a need arises, they have a ``top of the mind'' position with prospects.
Such contrarian or against-the-grain thinking also applies to marketing, as well. Unfortunately, executives demonstrate a lemming-like marketing mentality: only do what the others are doing. Since the others don't know what they are doing, more often than not the results are disastrous.
Here is a series of ``do it backwards'' marketing concepts aimed at helping companies take a different approach to marketing-one that fits the times and provides the needed extra energy to drive sales forward.
Advertise when others pull back. In a slower economy, there are far fewer ads. According to studies, advertising was down as much as 30 percent in 2001. Significant opportunities are available when advertising revenues are off. For example, you may be able to negotiate preferential positioning for your ads in publications and on the air.
Use direct mail when everyone is on the Internet. E-mail is quick and cheap. So why not take advantage of it? If quick and cheap is the goal then go to it. If the objective is to position your company and make an impression on the recipients, then most e-mail and broadcast faxes fall in the ``junk mail'' category. Junk by any other name is still junk!
Be direct, not clever or cute. Don't make people work to get your message. They are far too busy to spend time trying to figure out what you are trying to say.
Today, the eye avoids cute headlines in ads, brochures and other marketing communication. Be direct. It shows you are businesslike. Even more important, get to the point fast-otherwise you'll lose the reader.
Write longer-sometimes much longer-letters. Forget everything you've heard about what is known as the ``one page business letter.'' Where's the evidence that a letter should never be more than a page? Readers toss both long and short letters if they are poorly written, fail to involve the reader and are painfully dull. If there is no message for the recipient, then a letter fails-whether long or short.
The length of the letter isn't the problem-it's the message! Start with what's in it for the customer, not this way: ``We're proud to be a new member of the XYZ Chamber of Commerce. This letter is to introduce our staffing services to your company... Our company is proud to be the fastest growing...'' Who cares?
This type of letter is dead before it arrives. Begin with the customer's problems and indicate you have a solution. The point is to engage the customer. If the message takes one page, fine. If it takes three pages to tell a good customer-oriented story, then do it.
Stop making irritating (and useless) follow-up phone calls. Stop plaguing customers with irritating phone calls and voicemail messages: ``I just want to make sure you got our mailing...'' ``Our vice president is going to be in your area this week...'' On and on it goes.
Grabbing the customer or forcing your foot in the door isn't the marketing goal-that was yesterday's approach. Take steps to pull the customer to you so they want to hear what you have to say.
Get glued to prospects. Many companies let business get away without even knowing it is happening. Everyone is so focused on ``making sales,'' no one makes it a priority to build prospect databases.
Salespeople lurch from one call to the next, hoping to get an order. There is no prospect strategy or planning. They make a call and then follow up a couple of times. If there's no order, they give up, failing to recognize that decisions aren't made instantly. Managing the sale is the primary task, not just getting the order signed.
The job is to stay glued to prospects. Management has a responsibility to develop strategies for cultivating prospects carefully and appropriately for as long as it takes.
Take the longer view. This is a tough one. Everyone is so engaged in dealing with this week, this month, this quarter, there is no time for focusing on the future. That spells trouble down the road. If the company doesn't know where it is going and have a strategy for getting there, it gets sidetracked by attractive activities that divert it away from its primary mission.
In a somewhat different way, heed the lesson of a company that, in an effort to make a killing, buys up a variety of enterprises, only to discover that they had diverted attention away from the core business. Having a clear vision of the future helps avoid what can turn out to be disastrous mistakes.
Focus on what you can do for your customers. Too often, marketing and sales considers only what they can do to a customer, not what they can do for a customer.
Everyone says they are there to ``help.'' But look a little closer and it's easy to see that ``help carries little credibility'' because making the sale is all that really counts. Customers can see through such subterfuge.
When Agway, the largest feed producer in the Northeast, recognized that its 500 bagged-feeds dealers, all small business owners, could benefit from learning how to grow and market their businesses, it established an extensive support system for the dealer network. The objective was to win dealer interest in Agway by making a genuine, concerted effort to help them run more successful store operations.
Don't delay-act now. The skeptics will be doubtful about doing it backwards. ``Sure, all this sounds good, but we need sales now. We can't wait,'' they say.
But the statement proves the point: Unless a company is willing to make a fundamental change in its marketing and sales approach, it will continue to lurch from one sales crisis to the next, waste valuable sales time trying to find the next customer and fail to position itself as the dealer, retailer, manufacturer or distributor of choice.
``All I do is call on one kitchen and bath store after another,'' reports one salesperson. ``We have no marketplace identity. They see us as just another cabinet manufacturer.'' And then he adds: ``As I see it, first we shave pennies, then nickels and dimes, and finally dollars, to get the deal.''
That's no way to operate. Unless a company decides enough is enough, it will continue to experience more of the same.
Stay the course. The major failure in marketing and sales is failing to stay on track. As one program gets under way, management kills it and comes out with another. After a while, ``the next one'' is nothing more than a variation on the last one. No one pays attention-nothing really works because there is no follow-through.
Once Ford Motor Co. faced up to the recall of Firestone tires on thousands of its Explorers, the company stayed the course. It continued communicating with customers and even announced that its dealers would replace tires when it was dissatisfied with the way Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. was handling the problem.
Of course, changes should be made if the strategy is flawed-constant switching from one campaign to another is an indication a program was poorly conceived. But the Ford experience illustrates the right way to approach a marketing and sales issue: Once you get it right, stay with it so it can work.
Taking a contrarian position lets a company break old patterns and move in a new direction. While the rest of the pack are trying to outdo each other, contrarians move forward by doing it backwards.
John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass.