A Plan to Grow On

By Donna West

In today’s competitive marketplace, simply opening your door for business will not guarantee you success. You need to put together a comprehensive marketing plan:

Step I: Do your homework.

Identify our industry competitive advantage.

It is people! Although we can do more and more nifty things with our equipment, the real success of our business comes back to real people.

Identify your company’s competitive advantages.

What does your company do especially well? Answer before the fourth ring 96% of the time, etc. What do you brag about? What are you most proud of?

Do Market research before investing in a big way.

Several years ago we decided to begin a Spanish division. We have a fairly big Hispanic population in our area, how could it miss? We promoted a sharp young lady to head and market the division. We hired several bilingual operators for each shift, we advertised in the Hispanic yellow pages, we even put ads in two local Hispanic newspapers, and we closed the division down a year later for lack of interest. The reason being, we did not collect adequate market research for this industry segment.

Do industry research.

This can be as informal as asking “sharing” competitors what is working for them. Or as precise as conducting a customer survey. Really study your marketing options and your resources to carry them out. You can’t market every field at once, so pick a few, such as apartment complexes in real estate, that you feel you can do successfully and then grow from there. It is important not to make the mistake of trying to go in too many directions at once.

Identify the customer benefits you will emphasize.

We stress greater customer knowledge through training. We specialize in servicing complex and complicated accounts, through programming, training and our customer liaison program. And last, we offer greater cost savings using automation.

State your target audience.

We will contact our current property management customers, and potential real estate customers for voice mail options; the local county physicians for new packages utilizing voice mail and operator services, and the general business population (including our former customers) for customized operator services. In addition we have invested in additional training for our order entry sales rep.

List the marketing techniques you will use.

We will use a wide variety of marketing tools, including direct mail (letters, postcards and brochures), a website, our newsletter, networking, a customer liaison campaign, trade shows, advertorials, a referral program, and yellow pages advertising.

Describe your niche in the marketplace; the position that is yours in the eyes of your customers.

Our niche is to provide warm, interested, knowledgeable, well trained, operators who answer before the fourth ring 96% of the time and rarely ever put a caller on hold. We complete 370,000 messages a month, accurately!

Describe how you perceive your comp-any: your identity.

We are an industry leader. As a company, we share a commitment to our customers, our staff and our company to provide accurate messages correctly and promptly.

State your marketing budget as a percentage of your projected gross revenues.

Because we have modest growth plans for 1998 we have committed xx% of our income to marketing (excluding our sales staff salaries).

Be sure this plan is embraced and understood by everyone on your team, your employees, investors (if you have them), your banker, your family, even your vendors. You need to have everyone on the same page, understanding the goals and the opportunities. Don’t share your goals with your sales staff and forget to involve your operations staff! EVERYONE must be dedicated to your market.

Step II: Write a Marketing Plan.

Spell out the purpose of your marketing.

Give yourself clearly defined goals. You may not meet your expectations, but you’ll learn from the experience and be able to judge better next time. For instance, last August when I shared this plan, I was sharing a work-in-progress. We were trying it out for the first time and I was so enthusiastic about our beginnings I couldn’t wait for real results to share with people.

My notes from that seminar read, “Focus Telecommunications, Inc. wants to increase revenues by 15% in fiscal 1997; and diversify our customer base by growing our voice mail division by 20% and beginning a true medical division.”

Here are the results: in fiscal 1997 our revenues did not increase by 15%! There were two reasons for this, first was some surprising leadership problems, and my failure to identify them and act to eliminate them quickly enough. The second, I think was because of electronic competition that we had not given enough respect and attention to, we remained fairly flat last year.

We intended to grow our voice mail division by 20% but we discovered that unless we upgraded our voice mail, that would be a bad idea so we had to rethink that issue. Finally we were going to begin a true medical division, but the person we hired to develop that market turned out to have been better at selling us than selling Accounts!

I am sharing these failures with you because we learned from them and you can too, no use all of us making the same mistakes.

The important lesson here is that if we had not set those goals, we would never have realized why we didn’t grow, we would have forgotten our intentions. Because we had goals, failing to reach them became a great learning experience. We have much more “focused” goals this year. And they are probably more achievable. We have put together a brochure aimed at the medical profession, emphasizing a voice mail solution to their thinning bottom line. We have a fax flyer for medical and dental offices telling about our appointment confirmation package, and we plan to grow our order entry division by 15%.

Step III: Create a Marketing Calendar

When you are making each week’s plans ask yourself what you expect to happen with this segment of your marketing and when you will know the results. Note the “expiration date” in this space and when that time comes give the plan a grade based on how close you came to your goals. In the beginning, you will have to rely on your gut reaction, but in time you will have hard sales and profits to back up your intuition.

As we moved through 1997, we began to see that we were getting no new leads through one small chamber of commerce to which we belonged. We shifted more emphasis to a larger chamber a little further away and did much better. We also noticed that a trade show we had been taking part in for a few years had been having poorer and poorer attendance (and results), so we will not attend this year and we will look for another marketing venue to replace it. If we had not been measuring results, we may not have realized and reacted so quickly.

Step IV: Set a Date and Begin.

Start slowly, but confidently. Remember that if the plan feels too complicated, it will fail. Plan to do no more than each person can comfortably accomplish in each week. In the beginning there will be plenty of “plans gone awry.” Don’t abandon the concept, it just takes some getting used to, and some discipline.

Step V: Keep careful records.

Tracking your results will show you where to concentrate your efforts next year. After three months you should begin to have an idea of how a segment of the plan is working. After six months, there will be no doubt. Grade the plan and go on.

Step VI: As the plan develops you will be able to see which media work for each market segment.

Your aim: to raise your results to straight “A”s every week of the year. Your competitors won’t stand a chance! We are now into our second year using this plan. It has made a difference, and I have no doubt that it will only get better with time.

To work a plan is very important. You can hire a sales person or sales people to promote your company and they will probably succeed, but by developing a plan, a “focus” for your sales staff, and purchasing the right marketing mediums to help promote your services, your sales staff will be much more effective; and that gives you greater results for your marketing expenditure.

Donna West is President of Focus Telecommunications, Inc., www.focustele.com.

[From Connection Magazine – September 1998]