As market research firms, we use many methodologies to help our clients understand their customers’ (or users’) experiences, from Web site usability studies and secret shopper projects to ethnographies. We need to take a similar tack with our own marketing plans.
Marketing is not just about ads, Web sites, social media and your sales team. Though most people rarely think about marketing beyond those kinds of constraints, marketing encompasses every aspect of a business (i.e., its people, products and processes) that touches a client or prospective client and in doing so, has an impact on their buying decision.
Remove the rose-colored lenses
So, when it’s time to work on your marketing and sales plan, remove those rose-colored lenses from your glasses and take a fresh (read: honest) look at your firm through the eyes of your clients. Here are 14 suggestions to help you get started.
Note: Depending on the size and structure of your organization, some of these ideas may require the use of a “secret shopper” to help out.
- Look at your marketing materials as if for the very first time. Or better yet, get an outsider to do it for you. Brochures, proposals, e-newsletters, letterhead, business cards, ads, etc. – read every single word. Look at the layout. Is the message still on target? Are the look and feel still current? Do they convey the perception you intend? Is there consistency across all pieces so the reader knows they have all come from the same firm?
- No need for a full-blown usability study – get a friend or neighbor to surf your Web site and blog. Are they easy to read? Easy to navigate? Are graphics fast to load? Do all of the links work? Is it easy to find your contact information? Are they integrated with your other marketing materials? Are they kept up to date? Does your Web site provide valuable information or is it just an online brochure? If your blog posts allow for comments, are you checking them regularly and responding as necessary?
- The same goes for your firm’s social media sites (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
- Do you have an e-mail address on your Web site like firstname.lastname@example.org? Use it. Send an e-mail requesting information about your firm. Is the e-mail acknowledged? How quickly? By whom? Does the response have a logo and/or relevant message in the signature?
- Do you have sales reps on staff? If so, have them deliver a sales presentation to you. Are they delivering the message and representing your firm the way you thought they were? How would you describe their sales and presentation skills? Challenge them during the presentation. Make sure they take this exercise seriously, like their job depends on it – because it should. Don’t have salespeople? As the senior executive, are you doing the presenting? Then you need to present to some of your colleagues and be open to honest feedback.
- Call your office (often, a prospective clients’ first impression of your firm). Do you get a human or an automated attendant? If a live person, are they friendly and professional? If automated, get rid of it. If you absolutely must keep it, are the prompts clear and easy to follow? Can the caller get to anyone in the firm with just one or two button pushes? Try calling after 5 p.m. – what happens?
- Do clients sometimes come to your office? If so, do a walk-through. Does it look sharp and professional? Are your employees friendly and do they introduce themselves? Is there a client-specific welcome sign at the front desk? Do the furniture and decorations look nice? Is the atmosphere what you want? Is there functional signage outside to direct your clients?
- Look at your invoices and statements. Are they branded? Are they clear and understandable? Above all, are they accurate? Are they sent out on time, every time? Is there a phone number (on the invoice) to call in case of questions? Go ahead and make that call. How is your problem handled?
- Take a fresh look at your client-facing personnel (e.g., project directors, account managers, etc.). Place a call to them. How is it handled? Are they professional and friendly? Do they under-promise and over-deliver? Can they/do they do a little upselling? Are you investing in their development?
- Take a look at your logo. Does it need changing? Does it look like the new millennium or is it a remnant of the ’90s (or ’80s – yikes!)? What is your first impression of the firm when you look at the logo?
- Do you have a plan in place to constantly improve? Are you surveying your clients after every project? Listening in on sales and project calls? Training your employees? Rewarding excellence from your staff? Great adage: You can’t take care of your clients until you take care of your employees.
- Are you staying up on the latest trends in our industry? Market research is changing rapidly – thanks largely to advances in technology – and if you’re still doing things the old-fashioned way, you’re likely to get left behind.
- Go back to those clients who have left you and conduct an exit interview. Ask them why they left. If it was a big client, do it in person. Ask them what you did right, what you did wrong, what changed and where you can improve. It will be painful – but incredibly insightful.
- Finally, look at yourself. A manager does things right; a leader does the right things. Which are you? Which do you need to be? If the above list contains some things your firm needs to do, are you the one to make sure they happen? Then do it!
- Bonus! Now that you’ve looked at your firm through the eyes of your clients, do the same for your competitors. Take a fresh look at them using the above list. How do they compare? Where are they stronger than you and you stronger than they?
Wherever, whenever, however
There are probably another hundred suggestions we could add to this list. Look throughout your firm. Wherever, whenever and however you could potentially touch a client – that’s where you need to be auditing what you do.
Look, learn and then – most importantly – do something about it! Put a process in place for learning where improvements need to be made and then have a dedicated team responsible for making them happen. The fact is, you’ll never be done with this job. You will never achieve perfection but you should always be working toward it.
Note: This article was originally published in Quirk’s online (http://www.quirks.com/articles/2012/20120627-2.aspx).