New businesses need a marketing plan

marketing graphic

Every few days one hears about the closing of a fairly recently opened business. Recently, I heard one of the owners of a just closed business attribute her restaurant’s demise to “poor marketing, we weren’t able to sustain staying open.” Other problems cited were delayed opening in December rather than in a more robust time of the year (as far as restaurant patronage goes, opening during the Thanksgiving – Christmas period is a terrible mistake) and a poor choice of name which gave mis-cues to the customer as to the restaurant’s concept.

Low budgets often blamed for lack of marketing

Every new business needs a marketing plan. Your marketing must start prior to your opening. But many small business owners feel that they are on short financial leashes and so jettison any marketing plan. But, I think many confuse marketing with advertising.

What marketing is

Marketing is a systematic approach to understanding and communicating relevant information about your products with your potential customer. It includes a messaging strategy often called a communications plan that encompasses public relations, social media, paid advertising, community relations and events. It may or may not include paid ad placement. Every new business plan must allocate resources to marketing your business. These resources are time and money.

Be where your customers are

As you begin to develop your marketing plan you must comprehend where and how your customers seek information about the category of goods you sell. If you are selling a product primarily for women between the ages of 25 and 35, understand what influences these women, where they get their information and plan a strategy to have information in those channels.

You can create your own marketing plan

In the case of some businesses, you may find you have less time than money and so you pay a professional to assist with the development of your marketing and communications strategies. If you are a very small business, you can often create and implement your marketing plan yourself, however, in no instance can you choose to believe “If I build it, they will come.” Nor should you put all your eggs in the viral (e.g. “I’m going to create a new video and it’s going to go viral.”) myth basket. It’s great if an aspect of your business catches the attention of customers, but what will sustain actual paying customers?

Provided your services or products meet a need or create a new need and are well made, available to the market with a good distribution system, properly priced, provided with superior customer service and people know about you, and you consistently share interesting information, you will meet with success.

What does it mean to take your business to the next level?

The office phone rang and I answered. The person on the other end said, “Hi, I’m Phil, and I’d like your help to take my business to the next level.” After a few basic questions, I asked Phil what he wanted to accomplish with his business. He could not answer that question.

So, I asked him, “What does the the ‘next level’ look like to you? Still he was not able to respond. Finally, he said, “Can you help me figure it out”?

The mysterious business elevator

Over the years, I’ve had lots of calls from executives and business owners who want to take that mysterious business elevator “to the next level.” Just the other day I read the following in a press release about the hiring of a new CEO for a breakfast restaurant franchise,

“Having a leader of [Name redacted] caliber and experience will allow us to take the brand to the next level. His particular expertise in helping founder-led, franchised restaurants realize their next stage of growth will be of tremendous value as we leverage the increasing popularity of breakfast-based concepts and attract new franchise partners to our family.”

Even in this press release there was no specificity behind the desire to elevate the brand and grow to the next stage. How can potential franchisees reading this comprehend where the business is headed?

If after a few years in business, you want to surge forward, increasing your business footprint or adding a new line of services, or increasing capital investments, but unless you’re specific, “taking my business to the next level” doesn’t mean anything to a marketing consultant.

How can you help your marketing consultant understand the next level?

In the marketing world, we work with quantifiable audiences and goals. We quantify who we want to receive our messages, where they will find or consume our messages and how frequently we expect they will engage with our messages. So we need to be precise.

You, too, should be precise when consulting us. We rejoice to hear goals such as, “I want to increase my Facebook page engagement 20%,” or “I’d like to gain 10 new customers per month for my warranty service.” This laser-focuses us on your business development goals and allows us to begin honing an audience segment. But to get that focused, you need customer insights.

Customer insights — what are they and where to get them

It’s not simple to arrive as these numbers. You need to track your sales trends by customer, period, service, and product. This implies you have the type of data system to allow you to retrieve this insight from either a CRM system or at least a POS system.

Some industries use loyalty programs to help them get data on a segment of their customers who have opted-in to a loyalty / rewards system. Grocery stores love loyalty programs for this very reason. They provide incentives to customers which cause them to use loyalty / rewards cards and the company then has a meta understanding of their purchasing/shopping behaviour.

In my career I’ve established loyalty programs that allowed us to identify our best customers and get more insights on their frequency, recency and preferences. We could identify those who dined infrequently and incent them to dine more.

Restaurants are generally able to pull up metrics such as how frequently particular entrees are sold and cross reference that with daypart/time. This type of insight can help spot the dogs on a menu or the upward trends in taste preferences. This alone can help identify market segments for a restaurant.

If your company does not have a CRM system or way to extract the data, what do you have? Sales associates. They are a real gold mine when it comes to customer insights. They know about issues and customer satisfaction. And they often have insights into new segments or uses for your product.

Sometimes growth can simply be stopping or reducing the customer churn. Everyone loses customers. It happens. But if you’re not staying level, then you’re declining. Your sales associates and customer service staff ought to be able to help identify the reasons for customer churn.

Ultimately, the best way to grow customers is to provide simply amazing service, so that no one wants to leave you. High customer satisfaction comes at a cost. It implies that you have high quality products and services and are constantly refining or improving every aspect of what you do and why you do it.

So next time you want to take the magic business elevator to the top, stop and determine what all the floors are between you and the penthouse.

Still need help to determine what the next level is?

Here’s a template you can use to be more specific regarding next level growth when you’re going to talk about your marketing with a consultant.

Quantifying the Next Level – A strategic approach to identifying what you’re going to accomplish.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive planning document. This is an outline to comprehend where you want to go and what is required to get there. Obviously greater planning of every component must be undertaken. What would you add to this? Leave your comments below.

Step 1: Identify the Goal

Over the next _____ (months/years) our company will grow. Specifically we will:

 

  • Add ____ (number of ) customers for ______________________________ (service/daypart/segment) and we will expect these customers to spend $00.00 per person per ____________ (week/month/quarter/year).

OR

  • Increase our top line sales by ________ percent

OR

  • We will open ____ (new storefronts/add new sales outlets/distributors)  in ________ (locations).

OR

  • We will increase customer satisfaction after the sale by ___________ percent. We will measure this using our customer survey.

OR

  • We will increase customer retention from __________ (months/years) to ___________ (months/years).

Step 2: Outline Your Strategy

Our strategy for accomplishing these goals will be:

Enumerate and outline exactly what will be required to accomplish this growth. Include all necessary components and their expected cost.

  • Personnel
  • Bricks and mortar
  • Technology
  • Capital
  • Training
  • Raw Materials

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

Your Business Website: Avoid Cost-overruns, Late Deliveries With Advance Planning, Clear Direction

This evergreen post was originally published in 2012. We continually update it to keep it fresh and applicable.

Your business website can be completed on-time and on budget, but only if you are clear about the website’s goals. You and your planning team must be able to tell the website developers what you want the customer’s experience to be and what outcomes you expect the website to deliver.

Poor business website planning, confusing coordination make waste

 

In 2012 the FBI unveiled their new computer file system, Sentinel — far past its due date and with significant cost overruns. 

We can postulate on the reasons for such terrible cost-overruns and missed deadlines—poor planning, plain and simple. Many people focus on the final result and expect a website to magically appear, when in reality, the finished product, a fully-functioning website, is the result of many hours of observation, conversation, strategy and finally, design and coding. Many business websites are designed by committee, rather than a team that is close to the customer/user. The very best business websites come from absolute clarity about customer needs and business goals.

Business website strategy first

There is a great amount of strategy behind a good website. Very few products or services are sold upon first look or first visit. Those that are, are generally consumables. Know how long it takes a customers to make a purchasing decision. 

During your product’s life-cycle, your customer seeks information about the care of their product or they seek advice to evaluate options and purchase a replacement when the product they possess wears out or passes it’s useful life. Understand this path to purchase and you can map out the kinds of content needed on your website.

Plan your conversions now. For example, a brand new customer may want to watch a video on how the product works. A customer who purchased a product two years ago might like information about how to maintain the product or how to get the most value out of it. Someone whose needs have expanded might be looking for the next generation of their current product or they might be making a dramatic shift leading them in a new direction. Expansions or changes lead to new requirements. When you comprehend the life of your product and the needs of your consumer, you can develop content and materials to bring them to your site. Your company becomes the authority about the issue they are trying to solve.

If you ask them, they will tell you

You must to speak with your customers to understand their purchasing path in order to have the most useful website. And you must have insight from the sales team who hears every day what customers say is most valuable to them. And don’t forget to speak with the customer service team. They have highly useful advice for your business website planning team. Their customer insight will make your website better.

Budget appropriately

As web designers and developers, we frequently hear from customers who have no idea what they can spend on their website’s development, yet have a wish list that is miles long. It is better to proactively budget what your firm can afford, and prioritize your must haves; nice to haves; and next phase items so your web designer / developer can help you achieve your goals and provide the most for your money.

Realize that a business website that generate leads, moves customers toward purchases and helps customers find information is a very important investment. Built correctly, your business website is a valuable asset. Planned and built poorly, it’s a money pit that does nothing to help your business grow.

After the planning team has charted out what the website requirements are, then it’s time to meet with a website designer. Provide the findings and requirements to the website designer. This is where the collaborative work of building your business website begins.

Business website planning tips:

  1. Know who your business website customers are.
  2. Understand what “triggers” send them to the Web for information, products and insights.
  3. Know the “fit” your products and services have with customer needs and triggers.
  4. Know the life-cycle of your product and the decision path customers take to reach the decision to purchase. For example, if you sell a product that normally wears out after three years, you must create website content that feeds customers’ need for care information for the product and information that helps them make a buying decision.
  5. Know your “sales funnel” and the discrete steps your website users will normally take to convert to a sale.
  6. Plot each step you want your customers to take as they advance towards a purchase. For example, a.) visit site b.) view video c.) request information d.) review product specs e.) purchase product
  7. Know common customer frustrations and most frequent reasons customers call your service staff. Develop services in the website that address these needs. For example, if your product requires assembly, and customers frequently request additional assistance on how items fit together, you can create videos showing exactly how items are assembled, lessening customer frustration and decreasing call volume.
  8. Have a budget and priorities in place.
  9. Enter the web design and development process as a collaboration between you and your web developer.
  10. Invest in your business website, your online business asset. Very few “get a website tonight” products will help you achieve exactly the look, feel, function and results your company needs.

If you want to get started planning your business website, you may find our business website planning survey helpful. You may download it here.

And if you need help planning your website, we would be glad to work with your company and team. Contact us.

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash