The Press, June 2004

The sale. That moment when the order is signed, when the figurative cash register goes 'ka-ching'. It's what makes any business tick. But if sales are the engine of your business, then marketing provides both the fuel to power it and the oil to reduce friction.

Legendary business thinker Peter Drucker goes further: "... The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him or her and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available."

Hard spam

The opposite of this approach is email spam. Those emails that clog your system selling insurance policies, dating services, medicines and whatever else. Spammers make no effort at all to understand your needs. Their approach is to relentlessly hammer away with hundreds of millions of emails in the hope of attracting a tiny percentage of people with that particular need.

That kind of sales effort is hard and unrelenting and doesn't build long-term, profitable relationships. It is practiced by companies when they have a product that buyers don't typically think of buying, or when they have an over capacity and want to sell what they make rather than produce what the market wants. Or, the company simply hasn't done the work to understand their market and try to overcome this by forcing their product onto customers.

Using marketing to support a hard sell is risky. It assumes that those who buy your product will like it, or if they don't, they will forget their bad experience and buy it again later. Marketing guru Philip Kotler puts it simply "... the average satisfied customer tells three others about their good experiences, the average dissatisfied customer tells ten others about their bad experiences."

Contrast this with L.L. Bean, the venerable US retailer of clothing and outdoor sporting equipment, which noted in their original 1912 catalogue that they "... do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and the customer still is satisfied."

How can marketing help your sales?

Marketing is often seen as simply the 'promotion' part of getting the sale, something superfluous if you don't have the time or money. But it is a far more powerful weapon in your sales strategy.

As with anything where marketing is involved: always, always, always think of the customer first. The more you understand the needs of your customer and design your product to fit, the less resistance you will experience in the sales process.

If you already have a product, find the customers with the highest need. Your selling effort will be least when the gap between their needs and your product benefits is smallest. If you were digging for oil you would complete some early exploration and tests before setting up your expensive drilling rig. The same goes for putting in some rigorous market analysis before letting the expensive sales force loose.

Conversing with your market long before the salesman knocks on the door is crucial. Buyers go through a process: from having no knowledge of your product, to becoming aware, to an appreciation of its benefits and so on. The aim of promotion is to lay the groundwork for your sales force.

Understand how your buyers "buy". What process do they go through to buy your product, what decision-makers are involved, how do they compare, evaluate, decide and so on. Think about how you can help them through this process. Think about what can you provide or do to make this process easier and simpler.

What requires the most effort for your buyers? If it is cost-justification, then provide a cost-justification tool. If it's seeing and touching the product, then perhaps provide a trial version. If it is approval by a third party, then you may need to promote to that group. Remember to start with a clear understanding of the buying process first, rather than simply arming your sales person with 'stuff'.

Selling is one of business' great skills. It is the moment of truth between any company and its customers. Good marketing can make those moments come more easily and more often.

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