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Ten Tips for a Successful Marketing Plan

By Paul Marchesseault, Abshier House

Your small-business marketing plan should identify the customers you want to sell to, how you're going to price your product or service, the channel(s) you plan to use to put the product in front of your target customers, and the resources you have to market your business.

Here are ten tips you can use as you prepare a marketing plan for your small business:

Describe your potential customers

Who will buy your products or services? What are their needs or wants? Can you group them for targeting — local accounting firms, hair styling salons or spas, women over 40, families with children?

Select sales channels to reach targeted customers

Is your product best placed in a retail environment or sold through a sales force? If it is retail, will you place it in brick-and-mortar stores or online? If online, will you sell only through your website or will you use services like Amazon and eBay?

The choices for getting your product to the right people at the right time are endless. But as a business owner, you must be decisive in the face of many choices. Decide which ones you will use and move on. You can always revisit next year!

Define how you will promote your products or services

Big companies buy advertising on TV, radio, and the Internet and in newspapers and magazines. Small businesses — especially ones that are just starting — have to be more creative until they have the cash flow to afford the more traditional media.

Ask yourself, "How can I make my target customers aware of my products without spending an arm and a leg?" Coupons, a newspaper or internet review, or a mention in a professional journal article may be avenues to explore.

Happy customers may Like your business on Facebook, and that puts you in front of other potential customers. Can you provide an incentive to get current customers to promote for you? What organizations do your potential customers belong to? Join them and get very involved. These are prime opportunities to not only create awareness, but generate real leads.

Define what distinguishes your product from the competition

Why is it better? How does it accomplish what it does more effectively? Is it easier to use? Does it last longer? Is your service more reliable?

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that your product is so unique that you have no competition. For every product choice, there is an alternative.

Document how you will price your products

Your marketing plan must address how you will ensure that your prices are competitive while allowing you to make a profit.

No matter what your pricing strategy, keep checking competitor's prices to see if there are competitive changes in prices that require adjustments on your part.

Define your marketing strategy before you tackle tactics

You must focus on the "what" before you can figure out the "how." Strategy questions include what, who, and why. The tactics follow with the how, when, and where. For example:

Strategic questions Tactical follow up
What people are most likely to buy my products? How do I advertise to them? How do I sell to them?
What value do my products and services bring to the market? How do I create a message that clearly communicates the value? How do I make sure every employee knows the value proposition?
What does the perfect customer experience with my business look like? How do I train employees to ensure that experience? How do I find out if my customers are having that experience?
What resources are available to grow my business? How do I get creative so I can live within my resources and still be successful? How can I overcome the resource constraints?

As you might imagine, the process is cyclical. Strategic decisions lead to tactical questions that may raise additional strategic questions you forgot to answer the first time around.

Decide what strategies and tactics are best for you

You can't be all things to all people — especially when you're just starting out. You will have to make tough choices to focus on one market and not another. As you grow and succeed, you can expand to the other market.

Define a core message that will appeal to the target audience. Then determine what advertising medium best reaches your market while staying within your budget. You can't afford all channels, but you can select from those that are best for your business segment.

You are probably the best sales and marketing channel for your business when it first starts, but be sure to delegate as you get bigger.

Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to lead generation

It isn't the number of leads you can generate that defines success; it's the number of leads that can be converted to sales. Generating ten leads that convert to three sales is better than fifty leads that convert to two.

Listen to your staff and your customers

It's amazing what you can learn by just listening. Set up a system of brainstorming meetings for staff and other trusted advisors. Listen to customers via surveys or focus groups. Boost participation with a discount or a free sample.

Prepare an analysis from what you learn and take appropriate action. Inform the staff of what you find out and intend to do.

Prepare a marketing calendar

Use a calendar that shows monthly marketing activities and follow-ups. Put target dates on weekly actions for preparation, execution, and what tracking and follow-up will occur. Make sure each staff member knows who is responsible for what actions.

If you can place your quality products or services at the best price in the view of the targeted customers, you'll be successful.

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