The extreme changes in the market are putting a spotlight on business philosophy.
I have witnessed companies embrace marketing with renewed vision and excitement. They have come to see it as an investment.
I’ve also seen companies mishandle marketing – fumbling the message or cutting back because they see it as an expense.
I find that the companies that reign in their marketing efforts during hard times are the same ones that never fully realized the benefits of a strong sales strategy when times were good.
The simplest analogy I can think of is fishing.
When you’re out on the lake and the fish just aren’t biting, is the answer to pull your rod? Or switch up your bait and throw a few more lines into the water? The answer is simple. If you want fish, more hooks makes sense.
Sticking with that analogy, there are times when there simply are no fish to be found. The market has changed. Or the economy has soured. You can verify the situation with analytics (in this case, a fish finder) and make an informed decision about moving your boat, or even leaving the lake entirely.
In this analogy, fishing represents your marketing efforts. When I see companies starting to pull their lines in as it were, by limiting sales calls, reducing their salesforce, and curtailing promotions, I get the impression that they’re giving up on marketing. They believe the lake is dry.
Giving up on marketing is part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reduced effort means reduced results. Lacklustre results seem to confirm the decision to reduce marketing. It’s circular logic.
Put simply, you’re not going to wind up with the same number of fish in your boat without sustained efforts to catch them.
So why do some companies fall into a spiral of reduced marketing efforts and dwindling sales? It might stem from the fact that the cost of marketing is easy to quantify, but the results are often difficult to measure. The wisdom of investing can be clouded by ambiguous statistics. You start asking yourself some difficult questions:
Were the last six months good because your sales and marketing efforts struck a nerve in the industry? Or were they good because the local market turned a corner?
Would your results have been as good without the promotion, the flyers, and the trade show?
Would your customers have made the same purchases with or without the ad you ran?
Are they buying from you simply because you have it on the shelf? Or because they have a strong and trusting relationship with your sales staff?
Did the promotion really add to your sales, or just come straight off your bottom line?
Companies that have never felt the value of an effective sales and marketing strategy are quick to eliminate or reduce it when sales start to slow. It’s a bit of an artform to devise an effective strategy with creative promotions while still adding to your profitability. Promotions always need to have a specific and definable goal. Whether you are trying to increase sales by a certain percentage, build loyalty, strengthen relationships, or create awareness you have to figure out a way to measure its success. Carefully planned and with the proper investment of time and money, it will always get a return.
Everyone needs marketing. There isn’t a company in the world that will thrive if its target customers don’t know it exists. There isn’t a product on the market that will make money if people don’t know where to find it, how to use it, and how to get it.
It goes without saying that whatever you invest in marketing, you should be getting a return that covers the cost. There’s a proven formula that you can use. Take the sum of your sales growth minus the marketing cost, and divide it by your marketing cost. That represents your return on investment.
So if you normally sell $5,000 worth of widgets a month and you spend $500 to promote them and you see your sales jump to $9,000, your return on that $500 is 700%.
You can advance these formulas to factor in average organic sales growth over time, or a variety of other factors… whatever makes you feel comfortable that you’re measuring actual results from your investment.
And for those of you who have been tempted to reduce your marketing spend, consider this: If investing in sales and marketing brings a return, the same must also hold true in removing marketing cost. There is a penalty to pay.
What message is a company sending to its staff and to the market when it pulls its marketing investment? That’s generally seen as a short-sighted move to hit a temporary goal.
True, the business environment often forgoes long-term brand investment to achieve quarterly results. But be careful, because from the outside you’re conceding that there’s little or no growth to chase and you see nothing but a decline of market in the future.
Zara Wishloff is vice president of sales and marketing for Automotive Parts Distributors (APD) with four warehouses in Alberta and Saskatchewan. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.