Sweat the Small Stuff:
In business, the little things do make a difference

By John Haskell

As companies look toward the future, it is clear the market will become more and more challenging – and as it does, many companies will realize their success in the past was in spite of itself.

Recently a company in the home entertainment, lighting control and energy conservation industry was enjoying great success through sheer luck. The owner is the best person to sell the product, but he has never been trained as a salesperson. Service after the sale was very important, but the company did not have a service contract program.   Timely information about installations was the best way to assure customer satisfaction, but no system existed to get timely reports. The company never developed a budget to support its growth plans. Finally, the company did not have any kind of marketing and sales calendar so every event, such as trade shows, created a mad scramble.

Unfortunately, too many small- to mid-sized companies face similar situations; there are gaps in planning and organization. And as the market tightens, these companies will not prevail without change. If you are doing the same thing today expecting different results, you will be disappointed. The current market is shrinking. You must take an increasing share of a decreasing market to maintain or increase revenue and profits. How can you do this? Simple … the “little things” have to be done!

Budget(s): Most companies recognize that they have to support their marketing, merchandising, advertising, sales promotion, sales and sales management programs. But, there is a natural tendency during harder times to cut back.

This is exactly the wrong move. In harder times, when your competitors are cutting back on marketing and sales spending, if you possibly can, you should increase your spending.

Think of it this way. On average, the top five companies in your industry spend                        $200,000-500,000 annually on marketing, advertising and promotion including trade shows, literature, media advertising, direct mail, etc.   If you assume the five top companies average $300,000 in spending, and your company was at one time matching those numbers, your share of visibility in your market is 20 percent  [$300,000/$1.5 million].

So, now times are hard. Let’s say all of the other companies cut their budgets by 30 percent, so they are spending $210,000 on average. If you maintain your spending, you now have a 26 percent share of the visibility in your market. And if you increase your spending by $30,000 or 10 percent to drive business during slower times, you move up to a 28 percent share of the market activity. That is a 40 percent increase in share for a 10 percent increase in spending. Amazing leverage!  What advantages can this bring to your company?

Promotion: Getting a share of the “noise” can lead to more opportunities for your company. How can you stay visible to your customers and prospects? One very good way is through promotion, which does not mean “discounting.”  Cutting prices is the first tactic of a weak company.   You don't have to cut prices to survive bad times.

Using your product as a promotional tool can often help you develop interest. There are many ways to get customers to want to be involved with you, rather than with your competition, who may be giving product away.

Helping your customers, retailers or distributors sell more is a great way to increase you sales and your market share. Promotions can help them bring in customers. For example, if you create a gift-with-purchase program when the customer gets something “free” it will help the retailer or distributor sell more. You can also create a self-liquidating premium promotion. For example, you supply TV sets or DVD players to be sold by the retailer for a very, very low price. The price you charge is what you paid for it. That is the meaning of self-liquidating. The profit is not important. You and your customers are not in that business. You simply use that product to push yours.

The number of promotions are limitless; the key is to do something all the time. In the past you may have had a single “show special” during a major trade event and then you did nothing the rest of the year.   Now it’s important for you to do something all the time. Take out your calendar and work with your team to develop a powerful promotional schedule, budget and action plans.

Events: If your company participates in shows or events of any kind – from a Chamber table top to a major trade event in a grand convention center – your preparation, performance and follow-up must be excellent to capitalize on the opportunity.

When preparing for the show, think about how you want to present yourself. What impression do you want current and prospective customers to get? What image do you want to project? What are you doing to bring visitors to your booth?   How will you handle them when they arrive? Do you want to write business? If so, how much?

It is vital to be thoroughly prepared for the show so that you can achieve your goals. The show is a big investment. You need good preparation to get a good return on your company's investment.

After the show, what is the follow-up process?   Do you want to participate in this show next year? You can only make that decision based on all your experience from the show.

It’s important to get feedback from every member of your team working the show. One very good option is called the “Show Report.”  Within a week of the event, have each employee who participated send an e-mail report to the executive in charge of the event; this is most likely the same person who will be responsible for decisions regarding next year’s participation. The e-mail report should detail the employee’s impressions of the value of the show for your company, offer comments on new opportunities and suggest recommendations for future participation, including a “skip it” recommendation.

The Bottom Line: Yes, times are tougher – but sweating the “small stuff” will allow you to see your way through difficult times with great success.

Read other articles and learn more about John Haskell.

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