An approach to help improve your marketing and sales
Rationale for an Action Plan
I often get asked by companies, why do we need to actually have a strategic document or a formalised business plan? It amazes me that today’s businesses can actually function without any kind of written or documented plan.
Now a marketing & sales plan doesn’t need to be a huge plume of a document. It can be a simple, even one page marketing plan, something that accurately identifies and showcases
- who your target customer is
- what you want to achieve
- where you want your business to go to
- what you intend to sell (product / service)
- why customers will choose you over competitors
- how you’re going to monitor and track sales so that you know where you are on your business journey.
In this article, we’re going to cover what I believe are the five key elements that go up to making a marketing and sales Action Plan.
Vision: Where do you want to get to
The first point of any plan is the vision element. And within the vision, what we’re looking for is what do you plan to do over the next 12 months identifying short term planning and key objectives you’re looking to achieve.
- Where are you trying to get to over the next year, two to three years?
- What sort of level of growth are you striving for? etc.
I recently attended a presentation where the speaker developed the idea and rationale for having a 10 year plan. Suggesting that without actually looking to 10 years forward, you are very much just being reactive to market demands. And so you have very little chance of actually impacting on these shorter 2 to 3 year term factors. I’m not going to look at that in this in this article, but will in a future article.
What we are going to look at is putting together an immediate 12 month action plan but ensuring that we incorporate a three year to five year period forward.
Now as part of your visioning, you’re going to need to look back historically in order to ensure that there is some context and numbers. The reason for this being it’s all very well saying “we are a currently a 1 million pound company and want to be 5 million pounds next year and 20 million pounds a year after”. But if historically, you’ve only ever grown by 5 to 10% year on year and you’re suddenly going to have huge, huge, huge aspirations of growth. The question you have to ask is how is that going to occur?
So whilst we can’t drive the business forward by looking at historical information, actually having some historical information is really, really useful. So in that context, as well as obviously looking forward, we do need to spend some time reflecting on historical context.
- What’s happened from a turnover perspective.
- What’s happened from a profitability perspective.
- What other key performance indicators might be useful within the plan,
- How have our product ranges or services changed? Have we launched any new products or new services over the last three years, 12 months, etc.
- The number of line items that we’re selling and value of stock we are holding.
- How many new customers have we gained?
- How many customers have you lost.
- How many prospects have you got in the pipeline?
- Number of employees who are working within the company.
- How many customer orders have been completed.
There are a whole range of metrics that are very, very important that we measure historically. Because if we’re looking for growth, what are our growth expectations how will growth be managed within the business and how that is going to impact on the resources within the business.
Just going back to that first point, if we haven’t got any marketing and sales plans and we’re already running at 100% production capacity. If we haven’t got any plans to employ more people or put in new facilities or equipment, how can we expect to achieve that level of growth?
We might want to consider those historic figures with what we expect to happen within the next 12 months? Because if we’re looking at putting together a new, proactive marketing set of actions, you know, they’re not going to potentially have an impact immediately.
With any marketing / website activities there might be a period of time for any kind of prospecting, engagement with customers to be implemented. Relationship building through to the customer actually making any commitment to purchase.
So we might want to then look at all of these stages to see if there are any pinch points or bottlenecks within these approaches. This activity may then sensibly link back to our marketing metrics in terms of other additional activities that we may want to complete. So the next element that I would suggest we need to look at, to complement our vision in terms of we know where we want to go. The next element we want to look at is potentially one of the most important which is that issue of customers
Customers : Live, Loyal, Lapsed, Likely, Loosing & Lost
Without customers ( I will caveat that with “the correct type of customers” you have no business. Therefore understanding who will want choose your product / service is important. In other articles that we’ve created, we’ve looked at the issue of customers.
I would suggest we have six potential customer states
- Live customers who’ve purchased from you within the last 12 months or whatever purchase cycle reflects to the products / services you sell. We are looking to identify those customers who are “actively” doing business with you. When they next have a requirement to purchase, they will purchase from you.
- If we’re very lucky, we’ve probably got some Loyal customers who irrespective of price changes or other issues will always choose to use your brand or product. It could well be that your product or service is specified into an application. It could be that the customer has used your product for many, many years and totally confident with its performance. Therefore they wouldn’t risk swapping to an alternative brand.
- Likely customers – If you’re like most businesses, then you’re striving to find new customers. So you may have a pipeline a big funnel with a whole bunch of Prospect customers in there. These are customers who haven’t yet purchased from you, they potentially aren’t, aren’t even aware of you as a manufacturing business. So they can be considered as potential customers for the future. So these fit into the very early stage, we refer back to a previous article we wrote with the customer funnel that’s explained in far more detail.
- Lapsed customers : these are customers who have historically purchased but then for some reason haven’t purchased from you recently. Importantly they must have the potential to purchase again in the future. These can be an untapped source if these are people who literally just haven’t been purchasing because they’re forgotten about you.
- Losing customers : these are our customers who are active in using you, but unknown to you you’re not providing the service they demand. In their minds you’re not delivering the level of service, or the quality of products. Perhaps your delivery times have extended, worst your late on deliveries, or has your quality deteriorated. It could be that your product is no longer technically compatible or technically providing the right level of performance. Essentially through poor management on your part this group of customers who could purchase are are being a being lost.
So we have a bunch of customers. Now one of the activities that’s really, really useful is to actually do some customer profiling in terms of looking at the existing customers that you have on the books. By profiling them to actually see to identify which products and services that they have purchased from you. This is a really useful activity as potentially you can identify that certain customers have never actually purchased some key products or services that you would expect them to.
For example: Lets imagine you’re manufacturing widgets. You might identify customers who have purchased widgets but never purchased a maintenance plan for them or utilised a repair and refurbishment service.
So a really good short term opportunity is to go through your customers list to make sure that your “not leaving any money on the table”. Now if you have a fully functioning well set up accounts / CRM system this should be relatively straight forward. If not it may require some hard work to dive deep into the data. Either way its a really useful activity because it leads us to another exercise which we sometimes call sack the customer.
You may well find in doing your analysis that you end up identifying customers who are potentially not spending a great deal of money with you. Unfortunately they are actually causing issues within the business and stopping you from making other sales. They could be a drain on your technical services, only purchasing if heavily discounted, only using you when they are desperate and they complaining or paying late etc.
So customer base evaluation allows you to identify perhaps who you should and who you shouldn’t be dealing with. It allows you then to actually develop a very clear profile of who might be your ideal customer profile, or your ideal customer profiles.
This would allow you to establish who you want to target.
If you’re a business to business are there specific companies who you’d like to target, are there companies who are perhaps interested in exactly the kind of technical expertise that you can help? Perhaps you’ve got some production technology that is suited for the perhaps you have some industry expertise or some sector expertise. So this can be really useful in terms of identifying and developing your target customer profile.
Products / Services
The next element that is directly linked is evaluating the products and services that you provide. It may well be that you’ve got quite a narrow or very limited product portfolio of just one or two items.
We see many manufacturing companies whose product and service portfolio has grown extensively over time. The classic scenario being that a customer requests a “variation” or new product to be developed.
Being an “engineering focussed company” they love solve engineering problems so simply respond to the customer’s need and set about creating a new or variation of products. This means that over time their product portfolio increases, with all the associated issues.
This may actually be detrimental to the business.
Analysing which products or services you’re selling, how many you’re selling, which of your products / services are most profitable? This again is another really extremely useful Marketing & Sales exercise.
You might find that some of the products that you’re selling, are actually the wrong products to be offering to the marketplace. Perhaps the reason your making lots of sales is because you are too cheap and actually losing money on certain products you sell. Now I know that sounds daft but unfortunately we often come across this
Alternatively you might have really good products, that haven’t been selling because they need greater focus on their marketing and promotion in order to make the right customers aware of them.
If the right customers are aware of them, who are prepared to pay the correct market value they will value the product / service being provided.
So the rationale of looking at the products and services is really, really important. Again, from a manufacturing perspective, I go into so many companies SME manufacturing companies, and they’ve got products that they’ve been developing for many years on the on the back burner. Unfortunately they’re too busy doing the wrong things to actually focus on developing them and establishing if these products are commercially viable. In fact, if they were to to find the time and make the effort, they might establish they had a product or service that they could sell at a premium price for which there’s very little competition. “UTOPIA”
But they never get round to actually identifying those opportunities. So product or service review is a key element of the marketing and sales action plan.
So far we have considered vision, customer segmentation and the products and services that you’re offering. The next stage within this planning process is to look at competitors.
Do you have any competitors
Now let’s start at the very simplest level. I would suggest that you’ve got three types of competitors,
Direct customers, e.g. if you’re the manufacturer of stainless steel, conveyors, there are other manufacturers of stainless steel conveyors who are competing directly against you.
Indirect competitors, e.g. non stainless steel conveyor manufacturers or other types of conveying solutions
Future products or services. e.g. products or services that aren’t currently competing – Technology where products will won’t need a conveyor they’ll actually through electromagnetic force just moves around the factory environment and be placed in the correct location. Probably not realistic at the moment, but I’ve watched a great deal of Back to the Future. Films and I’m sure that there’s a flying skateboard out there.
So three distinct types of competitors. The most common one that combat that companies look at is that direct competition. The obvious activity is to compare themselves with the closest local competitor or their nearest national competitor.
Unfortunately in my opinion competitor analysis is never completed in a robust and analytical manner.
When you ask a business, how are they doing compared to their competition? They go. Company A is always cheaper, and company B are they’ve you know they’ve always got a shorter lead time or Company C they’re always higher specification. But in none of these cases do they provide quantifiable evidence.
Competitor analysis is completed anecdotally by corridor conversations. When we actually get into doing some detailed competitor research. We identify that competitor A may well be cheaper. But the basic product is very basic and by the time you’ve added the additional features and met the technical specification. Competitor A is substantially more expensive than the item that you’re offering. Or it may well be that it’s significantly cheaper.
There is a genuine financial value to actually checking out competitors and identifying how they are compared to you against the issues that are of importance and value to a customer. Meeting the issues of importance to a customer is a completely different activity.
When detailed competitor analysis is completed, it allows you to actually look at how well you are performing and what you need to do as a business, in terms of communicating to your customer types.
This is important if you can quantifiably identify that your product or service is better and different than the competition.
Creating a Cunning Marketing & Sales plan
- So if we’ve established what we want to achieve, let’s imagine they’re looking for a 10 to 15% growth this year.
- If we’ve identified our target market who we want to target
- Prioritised the products or services that we’re hoping that these people have the opportunity to purchase.
- From the competitor analysis and customer perceived value perspective, understand what makes us different and better than the competition.
We now need to get into the process of actually putting together a set of marketing and sales activities in order to allow us to gain these new customers. So imagine that we have no new customers and prospects in our list. It may well be that we need to actually do a lot of awareness. create awareness in order for people to least have some kind of knowledge of what we’re offering before in order for us to then gauge details of them in order to then be able to target them