One of the most frequent questions I get from other cash flow professionals is “What are the best marketing tools and methods to find new prospects?” The truth is there is no silver bullet and one size does not fit all. Some marketing tools and strategies work better for some, while others… well, you get the idea.
Therefore, the correct answer to these questions is “It depends”. Of course, no one wants to hear that answer because it’s simply not what anyone wants to hear and everyone thinks I’m dodging the question. Is it an honest and correct answer? Yes. Is it a constructive one? No. Or is it?
Maybe if we understood on what “it depends”, we could better focus on how to optimize the effectiveness and efficiency of our marketing by selecting the most productive tools and strategies. By the way, by “effectiveness” I mean the quantity and quality of the marketing results, while “efficiency” refers to the investment (i.e., money and/or time) required to achieve those results.
So what does it depend on? Which are the variables that really influence the success or failure of your marketing the most? This may come as a surprise, but here are the key contributors and most crucial variables you can influence directly that account for most of the difference between your marketing success and failure:
1. You (your background, expertise, skills, personality, style, etc.)
2. You marketing message and communication
3. Your investment (time and money)
However, the marketing tools you choose in order to deliver your marketing messages to your target group play a role as well, of course.
To illustrate this point I have first grouped the various and most commonly used marketing tools/strategies into three distinct groups:
1. Direct approach such as ads, direct mail, flyers, brochures, website, and even cold-calling: The marketing purpose is obvious. It’s a one-on-one delivery directly to your target group and focuses clearly on the benefits of your product/service).
2. Indirect approach such as networking, presentations, articles, press releases, and social media: The marketing is more subtle and more of informative nature. Benefits communicated could be more generic, i.e., not only linked to your specific product/service but to the product/service category. It’s delivered to groups – not individuals – which may also include contacts outside your intended and immediate target group.
3. A 3rd party referral approach is the typical relationship based marketing approach; you don’t “market” per se, but you build relationships and a network of strategic alliances with people who can and will refer business to you. Also referred to as “word of mouth” marketing.
Based on our own experience and what others have told us about theirs, we can then sort the various marketing “delivery tools” by their effectiveness and efficiency. Now, this information may be useful when you have to decide which marketing tools to use and which ones you can do without. Here is a summary of what we found:
Referral based marketing / word- of-mouth strategies are rated as highly effective and most efficient. This seems logical, as nothing beats a good recommendation, and all you have to do is earn one! Of course, this is often easier said than done.
Among the “indirect approaches’, networking is also seen as highly effective, yet slightly less efficient, because it involves a heavy investment of time and patience. Results are seen mid- and long-term, but success does not come overnight.
“Direct approaches” – especially advertising, direct mail, and even the frequently shunned cold-call are effective marketing delivery tools. Of course, they also rank among the least efficient, as they require a lot of investment (both, money and time).
The final vote on social media strategies is still out and so far and currently a mixed bag at best. Some have a lot of hope and swear by it, others consider it a waste of time.
Other “direct approaches” such as websites, brochures, and business cards are considered a clear “must have”, but their value as New-Business-Development tools seems rather limited.
While this is a good start and may function as an initial guide, we have to realize that it is not a “scientific model” with hard numbers behind it. It’s merely an aggregate of opinions. Expert opinions, but opinions nonetheless. Secondly, the model is only derived from marketing tools used in a B2B environment without any validation in the business-to-consumer marketing world. Although I would surmise that similarities are likely to exist.
However, the most “noise” in this data comes from three variables that are not even on the map: You, your marketing messages, and your investment (money & time)! And here is why.
While most people agree that “client referrals” are one of the most effective and efficient methods to develop new business, other “tools” are not quite as clear-cut, because it really depends on how you use them.
Take networking for instance. Again, most people report that networking has been a highly effective and quite efficient business development tool for them. But imagine what would happen if you were a lousy networker who made all the typical networking mistakes under the sun. Do you think networking would be an effective marketing tool for you?
Or take cold-calling. People who do it properly see it as an effective tool for business development. Those who don’t do it properly typically pooh-pooh it and consider it an anachronism or a waste of time and resources. But think about it! Of course, cold calling will never work for you if…
you are horrified at the sheer thought of even picking up the phone
you don’t say the right things when someone answers the phone
you don’t invest enough time to make enough calls
you waste too much time calling the wrong people.
Or, if you can’t deliver a decent speech or presentation in front of a group of people, even if your life depended on it, don’t do it! Presentations and public speaking engagements won’t work for you.
The same goes for any other marketing tool or method as well, by the way. If you don’t use it properly, it won’t work. No surprises here I hope.
To make matters even worse, if your marketing message stinks, it won’t even matter one bit how you broadcast it to planet prospect, i.e., via advertising, direct mail, flyers, websites, magazine articles, brochures, etc. Your marketing will simply not work. End of story.
The point in all this madness is this:
1. Referral based marketing systems typically provide the best results at the most reasonable investment level. The downside is you don’t really control your pipeline, because you depend on leads that other people send your way. In order to manage towards specific, quantifiable objectives in a given time period, you can therefore not solely rely on referrals to build your business.
2. Indirect marketing methods provide an excellent complement to whatever else your marketing plan demands. They allow you to build somewhat of an “expert” status and – when done properly – move you away from a hard-sell approach into a consultative one. However, since you can’t always control who your audience is, you can also not manage numeric and time sensitive business development goals very well with this approach.
3. Direct marketing methods are the only ones that really put you in control of your business development goals. However, those that are considered most effective are also the ones that require the most investment. Either in terms of money or time or both.
However, long before you decide which marketing tools and methods to use, make sure you got the other parts right: Persuasive marketing messages as well as the professional skills and expertise required for particular marketing tools (e.g. for cold calling, networking, article writing, public speaking, etc.). Then determine how much money and time you can invest in your marketing efforts.
So, to hit a home run with your next marketing plan, consult the above-captioned analysis, develop a powerful marketing message, and focus your resources and marketing budget solely on marketing methods that
a) play to your personal strengths, and
b) are able to reach and get through to your target group.
Remember, ultimately, it’s not about which marketing methods you choose, but how well you execute them. And don’t forget: While your target group may consist of businesses, the recipient of your marketing barrage is still a person. So whatever you do, keep it personable!
Ralf Bieler is one of the principals and the CEO of Multiple Funding Solutions, Inc., a leading trade financing company in Florida for new and established small businesses nationwide. He is also the Co-Founder, President & CEO of Cash Flow Exclusive, LLC, a resource provider for other trade financing professionals in the US. He is a frequent speaker at industry events, the published author of “Marketing Magic – The Bigger Bang for the Smaller Budget”, and the recipient of their trade association’s 2006 President’s Award for Outstanding Industry Contribution and Representation. If you would like to learn more about Ralf and/or the companies he represents and the services they offer, you can connect with Ralf directly via LinkedIn or visit the companies’ websites at http://www.MultipleFundingSolutions.