What Small Business Owners Can Learn From Big Business About Marketing

For 26 years I worked in corporate consulting, helping Fortune 500 companies with customer segmentation, customer treatment strategies for marketing & operations, and how to improve their long term customer relationships.  What I learned is as applicable for the single entrepreneur as it is for the corporation seeking to improve its stock price.

  1. Marketing isn’t sales, it is a part of every client transaction
    Having a client isn’t about making the sale.  It’s about forging a relationship that will endure from the sale, to the delivery and support, to the cross-sell, up-sell and the referral of new clients.  The business who is focused on marketing solely as a lead generator for the sales team is completely missing the boat.  As Seth Godin quotes in his landmark book Purple Cow, “Marketing is far too important to be left to the marketing department.” — David Packard.  In other words, take a close look at each step of your client-facing process from promotion to sales, to delivery to follow up.  Are you being remarkable?  Do you delivery a sense of “wow”?  How can you improve your client’s experience so they can’t wait to refer you to others?  Big businesses invest in process optimization because they realize that while they can win the client with promotion, they can just as easily lose them with inattentive service.
  2. Develop a brand image.  People relate to brands and buy brands, not services.
    People don’t date an online profile, they date a person.  Companies don’t hire a resume, they hire a person.  People don’t buy a product, they buy a brand.  Take the time to think about the way your firm projects itself online and offline.  Are you consistent?  Do you express what makes you unique or do you sound like the next guy?   What are your brand values?  What are your vision and mission statements (i.e. why is your brand here on this Earth?).  All of these factors influence how your client will feel when they purchase and use your service, and how enthusiastic they are about referring you to others.  Big companies invest in their brand to establish what they’re all about.
  3. Know your client…REALLY know your client
    Big companies invest in client segmentation strategies.  They use what they know about their clients to present relevant offers (OK so not the telecom companies who offer “new customer only” specials to current customers, they haven’t quite nailed this yet!).  Successful big companies who have never been protected by regulation, carefully mine their client data to learn as much as they can in terms of likes, dislikes and behavior in order to market to a “segment of one”, as Pepper and Rogers so aptly wrote in their seminal work “The One To One Future“.  This is the foundation of Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
  4. Even in Marketing you get what you measure
    Small business marketing investment tends to blow with the wind. You hear a great pitch from a sales rep on an SEO service and you drop a few hundred a month without really doing your homework.  A local magazine calls you with a last minute crazy offer for ad space and the discount percentage sounds enticing so you send them a check.  The reality is that marketing is becoming more and more measurable.  Before spending a dime on a marketing campaign, first look at how you will measure its success.  Will you be able to track hits to your website?  Will you track inbound calls?  How well do you measure the source and conversion rate of each of your lead channels?  Is it worth spending money on that Groupon offer?  Only if you can track the conversion of deals to full price clients.
  5. Long term wins over short term

     How much should you spend to acquire a new client?  Do you know?  If you think of that client in terms of their first transaction, then your answer may be quite different than if you think of a client in terms of their long term relationship with your firm.  This is the CRM concept of Customer Lifetime Value or CLV, known to big business since the 90’s.   How much will that client pay you over multiple deliveries of your service?  Are they likely to refer other profitable clients?  Begin by taking a look at your past client list and run a report of their total revenue since they first came to you .  If you’re not yet tracking hours by client you should definitely start.  What did it cost you to deliver your service to them?  Which marketing channel did they use to find you?  How much does that marketing channel cost on an individual client basis.

    Big business has been applying these 5 simple marketing strategies for decades and it is time for small business to get on board.  There are now tools on the market that support client segmentation, focused strategies  and measurement of marketing campaign results.  Today small business has the good fortune of accessing tools and techniques previously only available to corporations for millions of dollars.  Don’t waste this opportunity!