In today's market, many are looking for a quick fix to their sales woes. Unfortunately, there are no magic answers. As a marketing professional specializing in the concrete industry for the last 15 years, I often am asked what the most effective means of marketing is with regard to return on investment. Although I am partial to public relations activities, the right answer depends on such a myriad of variables including your goal, target audience(s), budget, message, past activities, and much more.
Although there are no easy answers, there are several tips I've learned over the years for improving your sales in slower economic times. These are tried-and-true techniques that I can't take credit for developing. But I have witnessed many industry professionals use them to great benefit.
1. Visit your customers. It sounds obvious, but when sales are down, we tend to focus on new business and forget about checking in with past or existing customers. When I was marketing director for an engineering firm and things were slow, our president would urge everyone to go visit existing clients. Without fail, when we'd employ this technique, we'd come back with projects. Oftentimes, they were smaller in scope than what we were accustomed, or they were atypical in terms of the services we provided, but they were meaningful, billable projects nonetheless.
2. "Don't waste a good recession" is a common mantra I've heard many leaders express in the last year. What is meant by this comment is the opportunity to use slower times to perform housekeeping, whether that is in the form of refining services, performing research, developing new products or services, earning certification, or more. Key to success is tackling all those projects you ignored during the busy times. Although when cash flow is tight it is tough to invest in outside expenditures, many housekeeping activities can be performed internally with your existing staff. Your efforts now will pay dividends, as well as position you for smart, efficient, sustainable growth when the economy rebounds.
3. Fire the bad clients. Although this may seem counterproductive during these times, it is crucial that the work you have is profitable and not draining your resources. Perform a customer segmentation analysis in which you rate what you value most in a client and then evaluate your existing customers using this criteria. You'll likely be surprised to find that much of your effort is going toward clients that are slow to pay, haggle you on price, and don't appreciate the value you bring, while you are neglecting or not focusing enough on your "A" clients.
4. Be nice. Once again, this sounds like an easy one, but in today's hurried and stressful environment, it is a rarity. Because of the economy, many professionals are admittedly a bit cranky. In response to this reality, my firm has adopted an attitude of being positive and nice. In fact, our mantra has been to "kill with kindness." Going the extra mile to be nice and positive, and even biting your tongue now and again, goes a long way.
As a final thought, history validates that those who continue to invest in their marketing and sales presence in a downturn fair much better when the economy rebounds. A consistent marketing effort coupled with the aforementioned proven techniques will position you for success.
Kimberly Kayler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a marketing professional who works with a variety of concrete associations and professionals. For more information, visit www.constructivecommunication.com.