| By Raushan Gross |
“HOW do I get more customers to buy my new services?” a friend of mine frustratingly asked. While she had started her own business, she only had a few regular clients. To keep things fresh, she had incorporated a steady stream of new services during the short tenure of her fledgling venture.
Who is your customer? Who is your market? Do they need, or just want your services? Like most entrepreneurs, she was so busy “running the business” that it had never occurred to her that she needed marketing strategy that aligned with her services. By adding more services, she was actually diluting her marketing—and her clients!
We agreed to meet and discuss ways to evaluate her situation while focusing on putting some revenue-generating ideas together. As soon as I sat down, she shoved a bunch of papers in front of me on the table and exclaimed, “There! That’s my marketing plan! I wrote it last night!” This was going to be harder than I thought.
Typical with most entrepreneurs, like yourself, you want to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible and don’t know where to start the process; this can be accomplished by gathering marketing resources that aligns with the entrepreneurial mix (purpose, practices, process, and people). Thus, understanding the role of marketing in the entrepreneurial mix helps one consider the right marketing tools and resources to use in reaching new customers. It is imperative to use entrepreneurial instincts!
My friend asked if using her own instincts was something that most entrepreneurs do. I explained that using instincts means more than just creating a multimedia website that has her favorite designs, and colors. Rather, it is the process of monitoring the market that consists of existing and new customers’ needs – understanding what customers respond to, or how often they use certain products. Surprisingly, she admitted that, “I don’t know how to market products and services based on customers’ needs using my instincts, but I know how to put together a marketing plan with all my great ideas.” What I had expressed to her was to develop marketing efforts in ways that reflect her personality, character, and personal philosophy. To a large degree entrepreneurial marketing is based on the owner’s personalities, value systems, and personal networks. This is the benefit to marketing an entrepreneurial venture – she get to determine what methods that best works for her business. This came as quite the surprise to my friend, who could put together a robust detailed marketing plan, but was unable to instill her own personal philosophy, and of course, her own character, into her entrepreneurial marketing plan .
Marketing through Informal Networks
I asked my friend if she was part of any social media channels- she said yes! I asked if she had customers who were loyal to her business which she repeated by stating, “Yes.” I then asked her, for the third time, do you have positive relationships with your suppliers, and she stated, “Yes.” Thus, I told her to use these folks that she know who are in her “network” to talk and tell others about her business. She never thought in a million years that her network could help her promote and advertise her business. This is what I told her:
This is where marketing efforts thrive. Think about it, where else would you have unlimited access to customers and people in your industry, and at your very own fingertips? The network typically consists of people who understand the business model and who possibly have shared the same experiences. Start with your existing customers; get them to reach out to other customers for you.
Personal networks are hotspots when using word-of-mouth as a marketing technique. The word of mouth marketing method has a positive long-term effect on building a strong customer base within your network; it creates member loyalty to your product or service offerings. The other benefit in using the personal network is the ability to negotiate terms with suppliers and vendors. Suppliers and vendors are vital to the success of the entrepreneur; they have a direct effect on your ability to obtain what is needed, and the availability to get supplies to the owners when needed. This positive relationship allows the owner to have, perhaps, better terms on back-stock or newly manufactured products, faster shipping times, and to promote the business to their customers in other areas of the industry (e.g. business-to-business). Before you know it, the network becomes the greatest asset in the marketing planning efforts. So, start talking to people about your product or service offerings and you are sure to reap the benefits of the personal network as your public relations agents.
Marketing Through a Bottom-up Approach
My friend and I carried on our conversation in light of connecting people together for the sake of creating new ways to use the folks in her network. My friend asked me: “what else can my network do for me besides talk positively about my business?” This is when I explained to her the importance of customers input, recommendations, and suggestions are the strength of her business. What surprised me was when she exclaimed, “these are my ideas, and I want to do what I have always dreamed the way I want to do them!” My response was to her, “yes, but no.” This is what I explained to her:
Marketing — using the bottom-up approach is not a new idea; rather, it is one that is frequently used in many industries, such as music and politics. Entrepreneurs who use the bottom- up approach gain support, ideas, and ingenuity from those at the “bottom” of your operation. The front-line customers expect your business to have in-stock those items they wish to buy. Instead of the owner, or CEO, determining what to sell next, the customers and innovators in your community (e.g., customer base) are in the driver’s seat; therefore, you are listening to those who purchase from you, and market to them what they demand. This approach requires the entrepreneur to remain responsive to the needs of the target segment (existing customers). However, monitoring the market in sticking to what consumers want is easy when they can approach you (in-network) and give you feedback, suggestions, or recommendations on modifications, or product enhancements for the future. Public relations persons speak positively on your behalf in case you are facing competitive pressures within the market/community. If you use any of the social media platforms you can gather your customers’ data by the amount of “likes” you have on a presented product or service offerings on your social page. Customers feel an investment in the business, and are likely to talk to others about the benefits of your business.
My friend was shocked when she realized that she had a plethora of resources at her finger tips that could propel her marketing plans. At this point she immediately got on her Facebook account and asked her customers for suggestions, and gave coupons for adding their suggestions to her site.
Entrepreneurial Marketing Is Informal
Please remember this friend of mine started our conversation with her dumping this 300 page novel on the table saying that it was her business roadmap to the future. Well let’s just say this was a hard lesson for her in being a new entrepreneur. I had the toughest time prying her ten year marketing plan from her hands-literally. However, I told her I will give her a couple of pointers that will make her entrepreneurial marketing easier. This is what I told her about crafting a marketing plan for her new entrepreneurial; venture:
Planning your next marketing activities should be made with simplicity and ease. Why do I say this? Because of the access she has to her customer base, suppliers, and entrepreneurial venture is small; thus, keeps the marketing planning informal- is critical success in marketing. By taking an informal approach to marketing planning keeps things flexible and responsive to a turbulent market. Therefore, do not plan what you are going to do too far ahead; keep this in perspective based on the size, age of your venture, and environment. But, also, remain flexible to be able to incorporate innovative new product or service selection, which is the role of marketing in your entrepreneurial mix.
Get to know your customers better by using their opinions; find the best media channels and social media to reach “like-minded” (target) customers. The informal marketing planning process I am advocating to engage the entrepreneurial mix will help cut through the existing clutter in the environment. This allows the conceptualization of a solid competitive advantage by carefully constructing an integrated marketing communication message, and activities to get closer to your target segments.
Entrepreneurial Marketing is Customer-Oriented
The new business owner, my friend, jumps up with excitement and shouted, “I got it now!” So all I do is follow my customers and embrace their loyalty as I continuously meet their needs?” I said to her, “well-sort of, but we have to realize that marketing as an entrepreneur is deeply customer oriented.” After a minute to think, she excitedly stated how she is great with customer service, she even told a story of her first job her manager praised her for having high customer service ratings. This was a good start for her, but she needed to understand customer orientation as an entrepreneur. So, this is what I told her:
What makes entrepreneurs successful is customer-orientation, and intense flexibility when switching directions in pre-set marketing plans. Customer-oriented business owners have to determine whether marketing methods implemented are effective or ineffective with the intended direction. Customer orientation is the understanding and responding to customers’ needs by creating quality, and maintaining a positive predisposition in customers’ minds. Also, having and developing technical skills that match industry demands (e.g. creating blogs, social media sites, and product placements), and procuring the best resources from the best supplier—to insure quality.
Entrepreneurs who build stronger relationships with their customers have an increased opportunity to address customer service issues. Handling potential issues create long-lasting bonds with customers; and hopefully, the owner remains in contact with each of them to further advance their loyalty. Working side-by-side with customers and or potential customers forms a dyadic relationship. This type of relationship is two-way, meaning, they invest in your business and you invest in their business.
I asked my friend if she understood what I had explained to her, and if she had any questions. She explained that she felt a sense of relief because now she can be flexible in her approach to marketing her products. So, I asked her, “What’s next?” Her first response was that she was going to trim down her robust marketing plan and contact all her customers through her social media sites, and offer excitement-filled promotions to get into closer contact with the existing consumer base.
After checking back with my friend since our conversation, she had remembered to use her instincts, personality, built a solid network consisting of many of her customers, friends, co-workers, and supplies. Not to mention, she had over 1,000 folks that follows her social media sites. This conversation explained the role that marketing plays in the entrepreneurial mix. As already stated, one of the many benefits in being an entrepreneur, is the adoptability and responsiveness in how you plan to market your product or services. The ability to do these activities depends on your personality and philosophy of how customer-oriented you want to be. Needless to say, my friend is now recruiting more customers than ever-before; while selling products in more than one country. She is able to see success now that she can save time in producing a flexible informal marketing plan that aligns with her entrepreneurial business in her ever-changing turbulent industry.
— Aug. 25, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT