Marketing, sales or the buyer, which comes first?

It’s a question I am often asked, and my reply is neither – the potential buyer comes first.  Both marketing and sales require a detailed understanding of the buyer, what he or she is thinking now, what motivation, alternatives, and costs are being considered.

Marketing works like the “cement” holding the sales “bricks” together, to form a structure that is stronger than its parts.  The potential buyer may not think he/she needs your product or service, but as a marketing person supporting a sales process, you have to demonstrate that you have thought about their needs and wants, and can supply a solution.

Understanding the customer

One of my more memorable mistakes was when I was marketing a store card.  It was 20 years ago, but I still bear the scars.  Our store had an excellent Santa’s grotto, with long queues, so we devised a competition for the children to win £250 worth of toys.  The competition form had to be completed by the parent, most of whom had the store card, and its aim was to gather names and ages of the cardholders’ children.

The competition went well, and we publicised the winner to maximise the awareness of this wonderful opportunity.  The information collected would help us more effectively market children’s clothes, children’s shoes, and other seasonal toys and games.

At the spring half term, we mailed the cardholders, inviting them to bring their children, “Alice aged seven and Jamie, aged 10”, to the store, to take advantage of our special offer on children’s shoes. Result – uproar!  Our customer service department was inundated with phone calls, we were fending off angry mothers at the service counter, all demanding to know how we knew such personal information about their families.

In retrospect, we understood the value of knowing this information, but had miscalculated on how it would be received when used so directly.  Once we had calmed down the irate customers, which cost us a substantial amount in vouchers, we then reviewed our understanding of the customer.

Future promotions focused on targeting those account holders who had children in the age and gender groups, but did not mention them specifically.  This was much more successful, and a lesson learned!

Maximising the bang for your marketing buck

With limited budgets, it’s important to make every penny spent on marketing count.  That’s why making a plan is so important.  You can set clearly defined goals and identify your budget, in terms of:

  • Money- how much do I want to spend, and am I investing for the long-term more profitable relationship, or simply a quick sale and finish? . By having a clear idea of your budget, you will easily be able to eliminate marketing communications which are too expensive, or will not reach your prospective customers cost-effectively.
  • Physical Resources- what do you have already?  Is your website up to date, does it do what you want it to do, do you have a pile of brochures, newsletters, samples, promotional items sitting under a desk?  Do you have a current database of clients, prospects, old customers, or a drawer full of business cards from people you’ve met at networking but not done anything with?
  • People –if you’re doing everything yourself, have you time to fit in the extra effort to make your marketing work?  If not, who’s going to do it? Do you need additional time from existing employees, or a student with new ideas?  Do you need to train any of your team to develop skills that you need? And have you budgeted for that?

Because marketing is about identifying and satisfying the needs of your customers profitably, it is not an exact science.  Testing new ideas, allowing for not everything to work as well as you thought it would, or better than you thought, is part of the process.  Measuring and monitoring to see what could have been done better, what worked really well, and what was a disaster, will help you use your budget more effectively in the future.  There are excellent tools available for your email, online and social platforms, and there are old fashioned “count them out and count them back” techniques for your other marketing activities.

People buy from people

Just think about what you’ve bought recently.  Did you buy despite the sales person or because of them?  Did they appear to understand what you needed from their product or service, or did they just deliver their usual sales pitch monologue?  Did their website crash and burn before you got to the checkout, or did they annoy you by asking too much information upfront, causing you to switch off?

Selling, whether a product, service, an idea, a political viewpoint,  is a form of exchange, which requires an understanding of what the prospect needs and wants.  Psychologists tell us that most people are motivated by hope of gain, or fear of loss.  When approaching a sales situation, it’s essential to consider what your prospect hopes to gain by this purchase or action, or why they might feel they will lose out if they don’t do something.

One of the best ways to find out about the customer and his /her motivation is to ask open questions –starting with who, what, why, where, when, how.  But it’s not enough just to ask, you need to listen for the answers, too.  You can identify any potential objections, demonstrate the benefits which your prospect is most interested in, and lead them to agreement.  Watch out for body language signals, and whether there are any hidden objections.

Put it all together

Success in sales or marketing can best be summed up by Voltaire, who wrote, “God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best”. Understand your target market, review your resources, make a plan, identify a value as perceived by the prospect, develop your skills, and focus on the desired outcome.

Author: Dianne Edgar, MCIM Chartered Marketer

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