It's a Good Time to Look at Business Development Strategies

As I wrote in my previous column, l've been evaluating tools that might help my clients generate new business more strategically and efficiently. Lead generation has never been my strong suit, but I, too, have been doing some soul searching about how my company can be smarter in our own business development efforts. I'm reading nearly everything I can get my hands on, and we've been working with consultants who have forced us to look closely at how we sell, to whom we sell, and what we sell. It's been a humbling and instructive experience.

Not Business as Usual.

Long before that ghastly September 11 morning, the lackluster economy was teaching all business owners that it was no longer sufficient to rely on what worked in the past, even if that past was a mere four years ago when technology companies were powering euphoric growth in nearly every industry. The technology boom itself presented its own set of challenges to our business-as-usual mentality.

Now, with an even bleaker economic picture, productivity and profits have risen to the top as businesses' number one concern. In our manufacturing sector, the heydays of the past decade provided smart companies with the capital to improve production processes and communications tools that streamlined prepress and pressroom productivity, as well as interaction with customers via Web-based initiatives.

However, the boom times also blurred the importance of strategic marketing practices. We were more concerned with how we were going to be able to pump up our service capabilities to accommodate all the new business pouring in. Clearly, times have changed.

Attitude Readjustment.

While retaining existing customers should remain our top priority, how we attract new, profitable customers has become equal in importance. Prospects are no longer knocking at our doors and they are looking for providers who can deliver not only quality products and service at highly competitive prices, but exceptional added value as well.

Unfortunately, these demands come at a time when small and mid-sized companies are most vulnerable. Consolidation has brought bigger competitors with deeper pockets. Workforces have been cut, dramatically in many instances, to bring costs in line with falling revenues. Sales personnel are being asked to pick up the customer service slack due to layoffs. And management is being required to take on more duties to fill supervisorial and other staffing voids. All of these factors add up to more stress on an already overstressed work environment, given the broader economic, political, and social uncertainties. They also combine to require a much more strategic approach to marketing.

Define and Articulate the Value.

It wasn't that long ago when I proudly wrote about my willingness to turn cartwheels for my clients. While I never will compromise this commitment to serve my clients in every way possible, I've also learned from hard experience that open-ended service doesn't necessarily translate into a client who values that service.

I don't articulate the over-the-top value my company brings clients, I just assume it's understood by clients. But I've been proven wrong. We don't charge for the untold, unbudgeted hours in meetings to educate clients' staff members about marketing principles and programs. We often won't charge for the research we need to develop brand positioning, if a client can't afford it. We don't charge for hours-long conference calls with clients, staff and vendors to get their marketing infrastructure up and running. Even more depressing, I've never put a price tag on the nearly two decades of industry knowledge I bring when I'm asked to consult.

Believe me, I'm not complaining, I'm just trying to make the point that even if we don't charge for these services, we must at least make clients aware of their value. If we don't, we lose the very essence of what makes us different from and better than a competitor.

A clearly defined value proposition is a prerequisite to any strategic marketing effort. In branding terms, it's called a brand driver, or the critical characteristic that differentiates you from the competition. Saturn's "people like you" and Chevron's "people who care [for the environment]" are good business-to-consumer examples. Likewise, business-to-business enterprises, like commercial printing companies (and marketing firms who serve them), must also have a brand platform that succinctly articulates the value of doing business with them versus the competition.

While the process of defining a company's brand can cost millions of dollars in agency fees, as in the two examples above, it can't be side stepped. It is fundamental to an organization's success and its ability to market strategically.

Profile and Qualify Prospects.

In strategic marketing, your database is your greatest asset. Hopefully, you have a central database into which all sales and prospecting activity can be recorded. Ideally, it also allows segmentation by list source, industry code, buyer job title, products purchased, purchasing history, and profitability. I've written in earlier columns about the importance of tracking client profitability and profiling profitable customers to inform strategic sales. This takes on even greater significance in our current economic climate.

While the process of defining a company's brand can cost millions of dollars in agency fees, as in the two examples above, it can't be side stepped. It is fundamental to an organization's success and its ability to market strategically.

Qualification of prospects will also be extremely important in these tenuous times. With fewer resources, we'll have to be smarter about how we sell and to whom we sell. It's another lesson I've learned over the past year.

While the process of defining a company's brand can cost millions of dollars in agency fees, as in the two examples above, it can't be side stepped. It is fundamental to an organization's success and its ability to market strategically.

In hard times, it's hard to pass up any new prospect. But business that comes with high maintenance costs is not necessarily the best business. In any new relationship, it's difficult to know what prospect will be high maintenance or what prospect has the potential to become a dream client. While high maintenance doesn't necessarily mean unprofitable (if you're able to build in associative costs), it does mean you must be extra diligent in evaluating a prospect.

In our own self-examination, my company has instituted for the first time a qualification questionnaire in order to ascertain a company's readiness for marketing. We ask prospects if they have a brand platform or positioning statement, and if they've conducted marketing research on their own. We find out about previous marketing efforts, what worked and what didn't, and why. Have they ever worked with a marketing firm before and, if so, how much did they spend and what was their perceived return on the investment? Do they have a viable marketing database, and if so, in what program, does it integrate with production, and how do they currently use it? We identify who the decision-makers are and how marketing decisions are made.

Systemize the Sales Process.

Historically, new business comes to my company from referrals, people reading these columns, and networking. Because of these "personal" connections, I've never wanted to impose these qualification measures, nor have I felt it necessary to sell our services or value, believing that, since they've called us, they must already know how terrific we are, what we do and how we do it.

Wrong. Don't ever assume prospects, or even long-term clients for that matter, understand the scope of your services, how you do business, or the value you bring. Be explicit at the outset. Explain what makes you different from a competitor. Don't be afraid to ask as much from them as they require of you, to ensure the relationship will be a win-win. Detail how the process of doing business with you works. Finally, listen very, very carefully to what they say they want, and then repeat what you think they said. Just recently, I spent hours on a proposal for a printer who I thought was asking for a marketing program, only to learn he only wanted copywriting services. Shame on me.

Justify With Action.

Hollow promises won't play to today's skeptical audiences. If you promote exceptional printing quality, you'd better deliver 99-percent of the time on that claim. If you proclaim better service than competitors, be prepared to back it up with demonstrable proof. And if you provide that "extra-mile" service, put a value on it and proclaim it, whether or not you charge for it. I'll discuss the specific strategic marketing programs in my next column.

Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte

© 2001 Charlotte Mills Seligman

September 2001
Print & Graphics
Col#30, 9/01
Printing Journal
Col#30, 9/01
Strategic Marketing
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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