Growing Your Business in a Recession

February 2, 2011

 

Keep a Sense of Focus in Recessionary Times

In November, I posted on How to Market in a Recession, explaining the importance of free information, relevance and careful testing of marketing strategies.

The more I talk to clients and consider the best ways to grow my own business in the current climate, the more synergies I see. So I decided to share these learnings in the hope that they are useful to others.

It may seem hard to imagine, but there is indeed much business in the current climate. It’s just a case of identifying where it is and tailoring your proposition to fit. Here are some thoughts on how to run your business in a recession:

1. Explain the value in your proposition. Don’t just give your customers value, explain where the value is. Your customers may need to justify their spend either to a board, their colleagues or even themselves.

2. Provide open pricing models. Offer a variety of different pricing options with the services very clearly defined for each one. This puts customers fully in control of how much they buy and for how long. This is true whether you are promoting office maintenance services to companies or running a restaurant for tourists. By providing an ‘a la carte’ or ‘set menu’ offering, customers feel in control of their purse strings and are more likely to want to buy from you.

3. Understand your client’s business in depth. By tracking your client’s business, you can help them stay on track and understand the challenges that their business is facing.

4. Deliver quality. Quality is always a prerequisite, but look at the details. What more can you offer to enhance your service offering? What can you do better?

5. Sweat the detail. Think about everything that’s important to your customer and make sure that your products and services meet those needs. For example, if you are running a tourist restaurant next to a beach, what would make someone visit your cafe instead of the one next door? Then, no matter how inconvenient to you, make those changes. If there are fewer customers on the beach, you want them to be eating lunch with you, not your competitor down the promenade. It sounds Darwinian but it’s true. If you are running a telecoms service for businesses, what annoys clients about the way other companies send their bills, extend lines of credit, send their engineers, pick up the phone? Take every one of these points and do them better in your organisation, even if it means taking tough decisions.

6. Continue to market. There are some cuts that need to be made in tough times, but make sure that everyone knows you are still there and open for business. Use innovative strategies, challenge pricing models, by all means, but make sure you promote your company with as much energy as in the good times.

I hope that these thoughts are useful. It would be great to hear your experiences.


How to Decide Whether to Exhibit at a Trade Show

January 24, 2011

 

Why Exactly Are You Going Around the World for an Exhibition?

It’s trade show season and across the world companies are asking themselves “Should we go to Broadcast Video Expo / CeBIT / Gamescom (delete or add to as appropriate)?” You get the idea.

It’s all too easy to go to trade shows for the wrong reasons and easy to stay away because the costs seem high. The following points might make it easier to decide one way or the other.

Reasons to Exhibit at a Trade Show

1. Your customers will be there. Not only will you have the opportunity to promote your company to them and entertain them, but you will exert a presence in an area surrounded by competitors.

2. The right potential customers will be there. Ask the organisers to send you a detailed breakdown of job roles and companies who attended the show last year and who have registered for this year’s event. Ask questions around the industry and find out whether the majority of ‘industry people’ are going to the show or whether it’s considered a turkey.

3. You met the right people there last year. Our memories can fail us. Think back and check your notes. Who exactly did you meet last year? What business did you close as a result of the event?

4. There are highly relevant talks taking place. This will indicate the type of visitors who are likely to attend. High quality, relevant talks will also provide added value and draw the right people to the event.

5. Consider the entrance costs. If the event is expensive to attend and in a place that it costly to travel to, you are likely to have fewer visitors but potentially they will be of a higher level. If the event is free and in a large city, there are likely to be more visitors but there will be some ‘tyre kickers’ along the way.

6. Check the date. Have the organisers considered the date of the event? Are the right people likely to be able to attend? For example, if you are promoting vegetarian food products at a large food fair, what other events or religious festivals might keep some key buyers away?

7. Do the numbers add up? If you think you could get perhaps three new customers as a result of the exhibition, and the value of these customers might be $100,000 each, then the cost of a trade show at $8,000 might be OK. If you think that you will not get any customers, or you will only get one customer at $2000, then it’s a waste of money.

Reasons Not to Exhibit at a Trade Show

1. Your competitors will be there. Ok, this might also be a reason to go, but first you need to consider why your competitors are attending. Is it simply because they have always attended? Don’t get drawn into other companies’ lazy thinking.

2. You are offered a good deal for booking early. Woah! Rein in those wild horses and consider the Reasons to Exhibit listed above.

3. The trade show is taking place somewhere nice. This is the worst reason of all. Book a holiday instead!

One last comment about exhibitions before I slide off to book a holiday at the NEC Birmingham ;o) Even if you attend an exhibition with the right delegates, book a great booth space, design a wonderful booth and meet lots of fantastic prospects, it means absolutely zip if you don’t follow up your leads. What’s more, the follow up needs to be within a week after the show. Yes really.


How Much Should I Spend on Marketing?

November 14, 2010

Strategy Should Define Marketing Spend

It’s not always simple to define the appropriate level of marketing spend for a business. However, here are some considerations that should make it a little easier to analyse.

1. How long has your business been established? If your company is well established with a good market share, it may be possible to operate marketing at a stable, but not aggressive level. However, this depends on:

2. What are your competitors spending on marketing? Although these calculations will never be 100% accurate, you should aim to spend more than your competitors.

How is Marketing Spend Calculated?

The most common method of calculating marketing spend is a term coined by IDC called ”MBR’ or Marketing Budget Ratio. MBR is essentially, a ratio of your marketing spend to sales revenue.

So What is Normal Marketing Spend?

Marketing spend varies by sector, type of business and other factors such as product lifecycle and competition. Technology companies’ marketing spend ranges from 1.1% MBR for IT service companies, to software companies who spend an average 6.5% of sales revenues. Yet there are some quite dramatic exceptions even within this band. Dot com startups seeking rapid growth and market share can spend as much as five times their annual revenues on marketing, although this is only sustainable through investment and with a view to establishing their market position as quickly as possible.

Business to business companies also vary significantly from business to consumer companies. In the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector, it is common to spend 50% of net sales in the first year of a new product, reducing this to 8-10% within a few years. Conversely, B2B companies will typically spend a few percent of their sales revenues on marketing.

Although it only covers media spend, you may enjoy Paul Dunay’s excellent blog on how major technology companies only spend 0.2% of their revenues on media. As he explains, the bigger the company, the smaller media spend becomes as a percentage of overall revenues, making it harder for smaller companies to compete.

I’ve mentioned the importance of tracking competitors’ spend. It is also wise to think about the platforms on which you will need to promote your company. The online space is becoming increasingly crowded; competition for certain keywords is high. It is best to consult with an expert in online marketing before setting marketing budgets if these areas are important to you.

Finally, rather than allocating marketing spend on the basis of what is affordable, it’s perhaps important to take a step back and consider what will really move your business forward. How can you flourish in the competitive landscape? What are the important promotional routes to gain exposure? If the budget is not available, it’s worth considering outside investment or a change of product offering. Unfortunately a good product is not enough. It’s about making sure the market knows you have it.


How To Grow Your Presence Through Co-Marketing

November 10, 2010

Partnerships Can Help You Grow Your Business

There are many ways to increase your presence within your target industry. However, co-marketing is often overlooked and can be extremely valuable.

What is Co Marketing?

Co-Marketing comes about through a partnership with a complementary business. For example, if your company sells printing services, it might be in your interests to form a co-venture with a finishing company so that both sets of services can be presented to a potential client.

This form of marketing is particularly popular in the IT and software industries where it is expensive and time consuming to create additional related technologies but where related software could be particularly useful to customers.

Benefits of Co-Marketing

  • Co-marketing allows you to present another company’s services alongside your own, giving your clients a more useful package of services
  • Your company can gain insights from working with another, non competitive partner
  • The industry is likely to find your partnership of interest, leading to increased marketing and PR opportunities
  • You may be able to share marketing budgets with your partner company, enabling you to promote your business at more, and possibly more expensive, events
  • Your venture, if well chosen, will demonstrate expertise in your industry

How to Explore Co-Marketing Opportunities

  • Carefully research any company with whom you are considering a partnership. Check their financial status, their market positioning, their products and their marketing
  • Ensure there are no areas of competition or anything which would conflict with client agreements
  • Discuss how you will present your partnership and agree protocols for joint marketing and press work
  • Ensure that both parties check all promotional literature that is issuedin their name
  • Look at long term objectives – decide how you want the partnership to develop and work out how to achieve this
  • Create a detailed marketing plan that you are both happy with
  • Ensure that the sales and marketing teams in both organisations fully understand the services delivered by their partner company
  • Use PR – press releases and social media – to spread the word about the partnership and generate additional publicity for both organisations

Co-marketing can be a very successful route to new sales for both your company and your partner’s. If it’s not something you have explored in the past, it’s definitely to be recommended.


10 Tips for Planning an Exhibition

November 3, 2010

Good Planning Makes Exhibitions Easier and More Successful Too

It’s exhibition season and this is the final in a series of posts to help you plan your exhibition presence. For further information on How to Buy a Trade Show Display or Designing Trade Show Displays, please consult previous posts.

This article gives some useful tips on areas to consider when planning an exhibition.

1. Consider your target market. Who do you want to attract to your booth and what do you want them to do when they are there? It is important to set clear objectives and ensure that everyone who will be present on the booth understands the exhibition goals.

2. Contact your contacts. Plan activity in advance of the exhibition to notify key customers and prospects that your company will be there. Get the sales team working to set up meetings. Design competitions and offers to draw people to the booth. Use emails and Twitter to keep prospects and clients up to date with your plans.

3. Use all forms of PR and social media. If you’re not using Twitter yet, you should be! Use Twitter to connect with your audience and link up with visitors to the show using the event hashtag. Use LinkedIn and TripIt to ensure people know you will be at the event. Find out from the organisers about promotional opportunities and use any that you can.

4. Use your website. Set up a special page or area dedicated to the show and direct traffic from your marketing directly to this area or page. This will help you assess the results of your exhibition marketing. Make sure there is a clear path from this area to the next stage of asking for further information or speaking to your sales team. Set up this area as early as possible to help with SEO.

5. Design your booth. Design your booth well in advance of the exhibition and use the most cost effective and secure way to ship it to the location. If you are using an existing booth, make sure that all content on the graphics is completely up to date and order replacement banners if necessary. Order any necessary furniture and lighting. Well lit booths always look better.

6. Plan your AV and electronic requirements. Where will you display any video content? Is there enough electricity for your AV and IT requirements? Do you have a countertop or kiosk for your computers? What about internet access?

7. Review marketing collateral. What are you going to give visitors to your booth? Do you have enough copies? Think about brochures, leaflets, DVDs, and business cards.

8. Organise product samples. Do you need to show any product samples on the booth? Are they available? Do you have permission to display them? Do they need any special display conditions or temperature control?

9. Plan your data capture. How will you capture leads? A simple lead form or a data capture wand? These can usually be hired from the organisers. Who will input the data into a spreadsheet or CRM system? Can someone do this at the event for speedy lead followup afterwards?

10. Plan travel and accommodation in advance. These get more expensive and difficult to procure the later you leave it. Be an early bird.

Every exhibition is different, but I hope that the suggestions above help you to successfully plan your trade show presence and achieve successful results. Have a great time – it’s the closest you’ll get to being on stage 🙂


How to Buy a Trade Show Display

October 27, 2010

 

A Great Trade Show Display is Possible with a Little Investigation

So you’re planning to exhibit at trade shows? What are the best ways find a tradeshow booth that maximises your budget and looks great too?

If you’re like most businesses, it is important to gain real value from your budget. It is therefore best to find a solution to your tradeshow requirements that will work time and again. Here are my suggestions for scoping out your requirements and getting the best deal.

1. Assess your Requirements. At which tradeshows are you planning to exhibit over the coming year? Work out the potential size booth that you will most likely want at each show. Contact the organisers and ask for a quotation for the space and for a specification for the booth. Find out the height of the ceilings and whether there are any restrictions on size.

2. Consider your Requirements. If you are looking for the simplest possible route, a ‘pop up’ booth might be the answer. These can be assembled in minutes, usually come with lights and tend to be very good value. However, they are not easy to use if you need to cover a large space which will change in dimensions each time. If this is the case, it is worth considering a modular booth. These are made up of a number of screens which lock together either in straight lines or at right angles. If, however, you have a generous budget and need to make a big splash, it is worth considering a custom made booth. These trade show displays are best used in situations where the competition is high and the potential value of a customer conversion enables a little more creativity.

3. Compare Prices. Trade show displays are now available from a number of suppliers, so it is worth comparing prices and ease of assembly. Some systems lock together very simply, whereas others need a certain degree of expertise! It is easier to get better prices if you start to plan for your first exhibition early so that you can look around comfortably.

4. Consider Reusability. How easy is it to get new panels printed to replace the existing ones?

5. How Easy is it to Transport? A good trade show display should come with carry cases, preferably hard ones that can be shipped internationally without damage. If you decide on a custom built booth, consider transportation in the scoping exercise.

I hope that you have found these suggestions useful. Please feel free to share your comments and experiences.


5 Ways to Market in a Recession

October 22, 2010

Reinvent your Business and Flourish in Recession

Recently I have reviewed nearly everything associated with my business in order to provide the market with the type of service that they need and want. At the same time, I have been involved in purchasing services for clients across a range of types and price ranges. I noticed how my own behaviour has altered as a purchaser and seen how clients now purchase marketing and other services. This was a very personal experiment and not something that I believed initially would be of any real value to anyone else. However, meeting with all levels of professional, from financial to media professionals, owners of startups to consumer businesses, I believe now that some of my experiences might be useful to fellow entrepreneurs and marketers.

How to Market to an Industry in Recession

1) Be Flexible

With more pressure on budgets, there is more pressure on purchasers to make the right decisions. Offer ‘tasters’, either free or for a one off charge, to  enable clients to try out your services. If they like what you offer and find that it is successful, businesses will be shrewd enough to consider buying a larger portion of your services. For example, I looked at two PR distribution sites recently. One enabled you to send one press release; the other only allowed you to buy a year’s subscription. I picked the company that allowed me to buy just one release at a time.

2) Be Measurable

Wherever possible, try to show how your products and services produce measurable results for your clients.  This could be clicks through to the client’s website, increased sales, more footfall within a store, increased covers in a restaurant. However, try at all times to tie your activity directly to the end result. For example a restaurant could issue a postcard with a coupon which could be redeemed against an online booking. This would offer complete measurability as to the success of the campaign. This is nothing new but it’s even more important when budgets are squeezed.

3) Be Transparent

Be transparent with your costs and demonstrate where the value is in your services. Take time to really understand your client’s business and in turn, this will generate respect for your company.

4) Be Innovative

Be innovative in the areas where you look for business. Enter new markets but research them thoroughly. Leave no stone unturned.

5) Be Dynamic

Consider how to improve your business. If your business is about supplying information, how can you offer better, deeper insights? If it is about supplying goods, can they be better quality? Here’s an example from this week. I was looking at online baby gifts for a friend. There were several sites offering excellent quality gifts at about the same price. I picked the service that provided the gift in a box personalised with the baby’s name. Well done Baby Gift Gallery.

We’re all working to keep our own businesses in good shape and I hope these suggestions are helpful. For further assistance with marketing your business, don’t hesitate to contact me.


Five Ways to Improve your Marketing

October 20, 2010

Improving your Marketing is Really Very Simple

We are living in times of thin resources, both in terms of time and money. It’s not always possible to have the team of marketing and PR professionals inhouse that you might prefer. So how, with limited resources, can you get better at marketing your company and improve your results?

Here is a guerilla-style guide to getting your marketing in better shape.

1. “My website isn’t performing well on the search engines” This is a common problem with many companies. The ranking of websites on the search engines is now an increasingly professional activity. It needs experts. Call in the experts (you can start with me if you like) and get your site reviewed for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) purposes. This will include a study of the way the website code is written, how the site is structured, the copywriting and design of the site. After this, there will need to be a study of the links to the site from other sites and a plan for how to improve the number of links. This is called Linkbuilding. For more information on this topic, please visit my blog post Planning Search Engine Optimisation from Scratch.

2. “I’m not standing out from my competitors” It’s probably your branding. You may need some work on your branding to help it stand out from the competition. Branding is much more than just the development of your logo, it’s about the essence of who you are as a company. The colours, style and images used for your branding are really only a reflection of a deeper projection of your brand values. This does not mean throwing a bunch of ten pound notes at a wall to see what sticks with an expensive advertising agency, but it does mean developing a coherent approach to explaining who you are and reflecting this in your marketing.

3. “Our competitors seem to be everywhere” That’s probably because their PR and understanding of SEO is better. It’s important to develop an ongoing PR strategy that issues news on a regular basis. Trade press PR should be a monthly activity. Digital PR on websites and blog sites should be a weekly or biweekly activity. Social media (Twitter, LinkedIn) should be a daily activity. Sound a lot? Yes, it is quite a lot of work, but it will certainly help you get new customers.

4. “We need more customers” SEO should help significantly in this area. However, when you are trying to sell business to business services, sales activity is very important. There is absolutely no substitute for metaphorically ‘knocking on doors’, whether this means spending time at the right industry events, responding to online debates, phoning up regular customers and contacts or sending very personalised emails.

5. “Sales are so Patchy” That’s probably because like many companies, sales and marketing are not ongoing activities, but dipped into when business is quiet. Then -bingo! – it all comes at one time. Then goes quiet again. End your own personal cycle of boom and bust and give someone the role of seeking new customers on a weekly basis. Measure their output and performance and give them lots of support and encouragement. Make sure they are searching in different parts of the market and assess which areas are performing best.

It might be tough out there, but there’s no reason to let your competitors steal a march in these easy-to-fix areas. Good luck and feel free to ask any questions on the suggestions raised.


Five Considerations in Spending Your Marketing Budget

October 15, 2010

 

How Would you Spend your own Money?

 

About this time of year, marketing directors around the world are considering how to allocate their marketing budgets. Sometimes it is hard to decide whether the marketing methods you choose are reaching the right people and leading to new orders for your company.

Here are five considerations that may help you to decide whether the money is well spent.

1. Will it reach your target market? If you are in business to business marketing, as with B2C marketing, your target market will be those who have the need, and the budget, to buy your products or services. No one else matters. Awareness raising is all very well, but focus on the people who count.

2. Is it appropriate? If your business is selling car parts to automotive companies, your communications should reflect reliability and engineering prowess; if you are promoting your game development services to Electronic Arts, you are going to want to show creativity as well as technical ability. Does the route taken reflect your brand and people’s perceptions of it?

3. Is it measurable? There is often a way that you can make marketing activities measurable. Anything internet based can be easily measured and you should aim to select measurements that are as meaningful as possible. Also, due to the sheer glut of information available with a lot of website monitoring packages, try to reduce the number of stats you work to. Just pick the best, only use a few, and you will have memorable stats to refer to over time. For non internet based activities, try to think of ways to add in a call to action such as a website registration, a phonecall to your customer service team or a response paid postcard – or all three.

4. Is it creative? Even if you are using a tried and tested route, seek to be creative and different. Try to keep your branding moving on without destroying the brand ethos that people know and love.

5. Is it value for money? Read books on purchasing strategy and treat your marketing budget as your own money. Go the extra mile to get extra quotes and use more time consuming but cheaper routes. For example, if it will cost £1000 to airfreight an exhibition stand in three days but £300 to ship it by land three weeks earlier, plan ahead to make sure that this happens.

There are so many considerations to making the right choices with your marketing budget, but aim to get best value wherever possible. Try to imagine the route from an interested potential customer to the final order. How does it happen? What are the steps along the way? How can you make it happen quicker, cheaper, more creatively? We’re living in financially straightened times, let’s all get more creative.


How To Write a Marketing Plan

October 13, 2010

 

 

The Marketing Plan - Where Creativity, Marketing Expertise and Financial Responsibility Meet

 

Marketing plans are critical to the success of your marketing year and are the only way of controlling costs. As a company grows, it is essential to map out the intended direction of the company and how marketing plans and expenditure work in this context. If you have never produced a marketing plan before, October is a good time to start putting together your marketing plan for next year. In my next post, I will discuss how you decide which items are important to include in your marketing plan.

There are long articles on marketing plans and what they should include. I’m assuming that you do not have all the time in the world but need to create a workable document that can be built on year by year.

Here is a short guide to some of the elements that every marketing plan should include:

1. Introduction to the Marketing Plan

Even if this is the company’s sixth marketing plan since its growth from a tiny corporate acorn, it’s still important to summarise the objectives of your marketing plan. It helps everyone to focus and to put the plans and their associated costs in context.

  • What is your current market position? How much of the current market is serviced by your company? How do you rank against your competitors? Devote a section to each of your competitors and how you compare to them. Do a SWOT analysis.
  • Explain the company’s objectives. What is your desired position in the market? Where do you think it is reasonable to aim for by the end of next year? What are the longer term objectives?
  • What were last year’s sales figures? Where did you feel you succeeded and where is there room for improvement?
  • What were the results of last year’s marketing activity? Item by item, what would you repeat? How did your results measure up against costs?

Depending on the complexity of your product offering, it may be necessary to segment this section to cover progress across different products or business lines. This will help your company set targets and consider how marketing and sales can best work together going forward.

2.  Describe the Market

  • Estimate the size of the market for your services or products
  • Explain the approach that is needed to reach each target market in turn
  • Analyse the demographics and psychology of the market
  • Describe the motivation for purchasing your products or services and any key influencing factors
  • Explain the potential route to a purchase and where marketing can help to influence purchasers at each of these stages

3. Explain the Direction of the Plan

  • Summarise the key areas of the plan
  • Explain why you have chosen to favour particular activities
  • Discuss the results you hope to gain from them
  • Explain how these activities will be measured

4. The Plan Itself

  • Use Excel to create a line-by-line breakdown of all activity
  • List the activity and next to it, the budget in all relevant currencies
  • Show actual expenditure in a column next to the budget
  • Show the difference between real and actual expenditure next to the other columns, positive or negative
  • Breakdown bigger costs into smaller items. Where an item involves a large number of smaller costs, break these down on a separate worksheet and place the total on the main worksheet at the front
  • Total up all figures at the bottom of the spreadsheet so that you have a total spend in each currency, and over time, a total actual spend and total variance between the two figures
  • Set an agreed currency exchange rate. If you are working in different currencies, set an agreed exchange rate with your finance director

5. Managing the Marketing Plan

Over the course of the year, you should keep the actual spend updated and make a note of any items that you later decide not to proceed with. Do not remove them from the spreadsheet as you want to track your annual spend against budget – just put a zero against the actual spend for that item

I hope that this post has helped to demystify the marketing plan for those working in B2B marketing. I’d love to hear your thoughts.