What steps are involved in market research? This question arises for salesman in the beginning of their career. Most of my career I have been just too darn lazy to sell. You know what I mean. That feeling of sales procrastination is overpowering when the mountains are calling me to go skiing in the winter, or to go hiking in the warmer months.
For you, it might be the siren call of your fishing boat, your golf clubs, a good book that you couldn’t put down until 2:00 AM, or late night reruns of the O.J. trial.
Whatever causes our laziness, up until now there has only been one piece of unkindly sales managerial advice echoed throughout the selling world:
GET BACK TO WORK, YOU BUM!
Well, enough of that salesman abuse (and self abuse, if you work for yourself). It’s time for you to try a paradigm shift to what former President George Bush might have called a kinder, gentler sales model… one that has given me a quality of life one only finds on Baywatch.
In order to reach this beach ball bliss I have rediscovered five steps to marketing success that virtually eliminates the drudgery of cold call prospecting. That’s right.
This is a program that will allow you to downsize your telemarketing department, for instance, and still make more money next year than you have ever earned before… without all of those management headaches that sales people create for you.
I came upon this 5 steps of strategic marketing planning process, interestingly enough, by reading back issues of magazines and other sales and marketing materials, including over 70 of my own marketing columns. But, enough about me (as the old saying goes), here are the five steps I now use, the reasons behind each of them and how I am using them to build a canvassing-free sales environment that has filled our pipeline like never before.
Step 1. Research your marketplace to identify a product vacuum and identify what you have that people will buy right now.
The first step in the marketing research process is to research the marketplace. This sounds simplistic, but don’t skip over this part. It is as important as it gets. Isn’t this, after all, how Fed Ex got its start? I have noticed, from my research of past articles, that many of us become so smitten by our own ideas of what our customers need that we often fail to offer them what THEY think they need.
Seven years ago, for example, I was convinced that Microrim’s RBase would take over the database world simply because it was the fastest to learn and the fastest to run. I didn’t take the time to ask the market so I was surprised when it didn’t and we lost a fair amount of time, training effort and money trying to convince people otherwise.
Back then, we sold well enough, but we didn’t take enough time to listen to what the market was really telling us about ourselves. Whenever I would meet with other business owners, they would say something like “You do something to do with office cabling, don’t you? Boy is our cabling system a mess.”
“No.” I would reply. “We are in the total systems integration business. Blah, blah blah.”
Last year, by comparison, I applied step one of this five step plan and revisited my marketplace to ask them what intrinsic core competence they thought we had that they actually needed, knew they needed and wanted someone to provide.
Now, this is an unremarkable concept that has been noted in these pages from time to time, but, like in the Kellogg’s Corn flakes commercial, I had to “taste it again for the very first time.”
What I “tasted” was that whenever people move their offices, or enlarge them, or upgrade their infrastructure, or even downsize their staff, they need somebody to advise them as to how best to modify their cable infrastructure.
Evidently, everyone had thought that we were the best outfit to handle that chore, but, until performing our recent research in step one, I never realized that this could be a full blown market niche for us.
Clients, it seems, found that cable providers were too close to the sale to plan it from the buyer’s perspective, while architects and space planners are too far removed from the technical training to keep pace with changes in the business.
This revelation brought me to step two.
Step 2. Create a new product or service offering from the vacuum identified in step one.
Some may say that this is the most important step and who am I who argue. But, for me, it is also the easiest. Why? Because, I have always found that reaching the destination is never as hard once you have mapped a destination to go to.
In this case, we determined, after all these years, that our advice in planning cable infrastructure not only saves construction costs today, and save reconstruction costs tomorrow, but that clients recognize our ability to meet that need and are anxious for our help.
So, to complete step two, we decided to promote that infrastructure competence. But how should we get the word out? Remember, we are “lazy” salesmen, after all. This leads nicely to step three.
Step 3. Find a ready made sales army who are already well trained and who will benefit from carrying your flag into battle for you along with their own.
I remember reading about how the post World War I German Army was to be limited to a small force, so it would no longer be a threat to the rest of Europe. Never faulted for their lack of efficiency, Germany spent the next decade building an small army of field officers who all would be capable of commanding troops.
The key to an effective army, they reasoned, was not to have large numbers of soldiers, but to have the most number of effective leaders who could be counted on to accomplish many varied missions when required. From that example, once we determined what our new marketing thrust would be, we considered how best to get our message out.
We turned our attention to who else might benefit from promoting our work to their clients. Two groups emerged: Architects and Commercial Realtors.
These two groups are involved with most corporate infrastructure changes, are thought of as highly professional and benefit themselves when they can identify solutions to the client problems we identified in step one.
Introducing us to their clients becomes a big win-win. Our decision was, therefore, not to canvass potential clients, but to create strategic alliances with our new army of professionals who:
a. Already had the clients we want.
b. Recognized the client’s needs and desire for our help.
c. Would enhance their relationships with their clients by calling on us to meet those client needs.
Make no mistake about it. These professionals have their own businesses to run and they are not going to stop what they are doing to sell our services. In order for them to be of greater use to their clients and to us, we have to make it very easy for them. This led to step four.
Step 4. Provide your army with weapons to win your battles.
This is a tough one. If you are too lazy to sell and you want others to do that for you, you must give them weapons. Yet, you must also recognize that this is neither a paid army, nor one of loyal countrymen fighting for an ideal, nor one that is full time, nor one that even thinks about you very often.
In our case, we wanted something that could do the selling job for us, was easy enough for our army to carry around, would not require changing established habits and would be both unobtrusive and all-encompassing at the same time.
By process of elimination, we finalized on a series of 8 1.2 X 11 brochures, tri-folded down to envelope size, which meets all of the stated criteria. They are easy to read, are easy to carry and promote professionalism. “Boring” is not always a bad look if you don’t want to be thought of as salesy to start with.
We compensate for small and easy to carry by using a more expensive four color look, even though we are targeting a very small audience and don’t require large print runs. It’s amazing how much more receptive people are to color graphics. Also, I put my photo on the back panel.
I have found that, like Frank Perdue, Chrysler’s Lee Iococca and Wendy’s Dave Thomas, no matter how ugly you are, people who have never met you are willing to accept you if they know what you look like.
Interestingly, we test mailed one hundred of these brochures to every targeted army capable of quadrupling our business if we weren’t careful. This generated twenty responses which set the stage for our final step five.
5. An army travels on its stomach. Feed it well… and often.
The last step in the marketing process often includes food. Every respondent was offered lunch. Every one who accepted lunch was offered another lunch. Every meeting paid for itself in new business referrals of significant size. Two members of our new army became clients themselves. One member of our new army brought us a large and famous international financial services company as a client.
We only lunch with senior officers or partners, movers and shakers. Yet these lunches are not four hour, four thousand calorie orgies. Senior people are trying to cut down on both. They are productive meetings and they are very much fun to do.
So, my five steps for building your business are:
Step 1. Research your market. Identify the product vacuum.
Step 2. Create an new offering to fill that vacuum.
Step 3. Find a ready sales army to carry your flag into battle.
Step 4. Provide this army with weapons that will win.
Step 5. An army travels on its stomach. Feed it well… and often.
This is the perfect way to build a growing business… especially when you are just too darn lazy to sell.