Small business owners who are concerned about their sales and marketing capabilities could begin to see improvement by breaking down the term "sales and marketing" into discrete, manageable elements. You end up with a checklist that can be reviewed in order to prioritize areas needing improvement - a checklist that will serve as the groundwork for an effective marketing strategy.
In the suggested list below, I will use examples from a retail florist business to make some points clear.
1) MARKETS. How much do you really know about your current markets or future market? Why do your customers buy from you? What could you offer that would attract more non-customers? How can you sell to more of the profitable customers? If you add features or services, will people pay more for them or will they attract more customers? Are there bulk, institutional, industrial, or corporate markets beyond normal retail that you are ignoring?
Florist: Have you thought about selling regular weekly arrangements to area businesses, especially car dealers, law firms, real estate firms, etc. at a reduced rate, but with a one year contract for 50 arrangements?
2) COMPETITION. Who are they and why are they after you? What is the overall market trend and how are you holding up in terms of market share and profit position? How do you really rank against competitors? What substitutes are there to your products and how much of a threat are they?
Florist: If your funeral business is dwindling, what cultural trends ("no flowers" announcements for example) are important here and how can you counter them (such as sending flowers or a fruit basket to the home of survivors, for example)?
3) DISTRIBUTION. How can you get your products/services out to new outlets profitably? Are there unbranded opportunities? Can you bundle in your products with someone else's?
Florist: Can you partner with service providers for high school proms in the area (photographers, limo services) and offer a one-stop package for young people? This could become a good new sales channel for you.
4) SUPPLY CHAIN: Are you at the mercy of wholesalers for your raw materials or product components? How can you manage suppliers and gain more buying power over them? Can you simplify your products and reduce your supply needs? Can you buy in bulk and store them somewhere in a cost effective manner? Can you buy some things pre-fabricated cheaper than doing it yourself (or vice versa)?
Florist: Use the Internet to locate California-based rose growers who will air freight roses in volume for you and a loose consortium of other florists in your area. They'll give you greater variety at the standard market rate, versus reduced availability and price gouging during holidays from local wholesalers. Be prepared for friction from them, however.
5) POSITIONING. Where do your products/services fall in relation to the total market? Is this truly the position you want? Are you "all things to all people," or should you move more toward a high-end position (charging a premium for a differentiated service), or a low-cost position (undercutting others' prices but at a profit, due to high efficiency)? If you are truly "in the middle," you should examine how well you're doing regularly (with the help of a good accounting system).
Florist: Should you consider exiting no-growth "traditional lines" such as church flowers and move toward faster-growth lines such as silk flowers for weddings? Does your shop portray the position you want to be in?
Continue on to the next page to read more about the elements of sales and marketing that you need to consider as you build an effective marketing strategy.