Marketing for SMEs – Where do I start?
Okay, so we have a product, now we need to sell it. That’s marketing, right? Well, yes…and perhaps no. It is just not as simple as that. Where does the sales function fit into the marketing plan? Are we in a B2B or B2C business? Do we need to reach millions of consumers or ten procurement officers in large corporations? Are we able to fulfil orders if they start to soar? There are many issues to consider in compiling a realistic marketing plan for your business.
Start with “Why”
If you have not yet viewed Simon Sinek’s excellent TED Talk on “Start with Why” then take the 18 minutes over a coffee to watch it. When you know what your “Why” is, most of the rest of the business kind of falls into place. Most entrepreneurs are passionate and excited about the innovative new products that they are building. To the extreme. As George Deeb mentions in his Entrepreneur article (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/276922), they also love to talk about their products with anyone willing to listen, detailing every feature and functionality of their offering. They are intent on getting others to love their products as much as they do, until, alas, they realise the sales are not going according to plan. They question how that could ever be possible, given how great the product is and the impact it will have on society. This is where the “Why” becomes way more important than the “What”, as customers simply do not have the same passion that you have for your products. They are only really concerned about how much it can improve their business, if you are in a B2B environment, or how it will improve their lives, if in a B2C situation. The sooner you focus on the “Why” instead of the “What”, the sooner your sales will improve.
That said, you still have to have a marketing plan if you want to get your product off the shelves and into your customers’ hands.
The Marketing Plan
This article is about “Marketing - Where do I start” so we’re going to keep this simple with follow up articles in the weeks to come to share more of the technical aspects of marketing your business. The marketing plan is probably the most difficult part of marketing as this requires the substantial thinking compared to the execution of the plan, which is just the “doing”, although this may present its fair share of challenges as well.
As the staff writer/s in alternative Entrepreneur article (https://www.entrepreneur.com/) advise, this is a task that should be conducted over a period of time, months rather than days or weeks. Even if it is only a few pages long, developing the plan really is the “heavy lifting” of marketing. While executing the plan has its challenges, deciding what to do and how to do it is marketing's greatest challenge.
Period of the Marketing Plan
The plan should cover one year. For small companies, this is often the best way to think about marketing. Things change, people leave, markets evolve, customers come and go, and the plan needs to adapt to those changing variables. At a later stage, once the business is slightly more mature, a medium-term future of two to four years can be compiled. However, the bulk of the plan should focus on the coming year.
Distribution of the Marketing Plan
Who should see your plan? All the players in the company need to be sold on the plan. Firms typically keep their marketing plans private for one of two very different reasons: Either they're too skimpy and management would be embarrassed to have them see the light of day, or they're solid and packed with information, which would make them extremely valuable to the competition. You can't do a marketing plan without getting many people involved. No matter what your size, get feedback from all parts of your company including finance, manufacturing, personnel, supply, in addition to marketing itself. This is especially important because it will take all aspects of your company to make your marketing plan work. Your key people can provide realistic input on what's achievable and how your goals can be reached, and they can share any insights they have on any potential, unrealised marketing opportunities, adding another dimension to your plan. If you're essentially a one-person management operation, you'll have to wear all your hats at one time but at least the meetings will be short!
What's the relationship between your marketing plan and your business plan or vision statement? Your business plan spells out what your business is about, what you do and don't do, and what your ultimate goals are. It encompasses more than marketing and it can include discussions of locations, staffing, financing, strategic alliances and so on. It includes "the vision thing", the resounding words that spell out the glorious purpose of your company in stirring language. The “Why” of the business. Your company's business plan provides the environment in which your marketing plan must flourish. The two documents must be aligned and consistent with each other.
Benefits of the Marketing Plan
There are several benefits for the small business owner to develop the company’s marketing plan.
Your marketing plan gives your troops something to rally behind. You want them to feel confident that the captain of the vessel has the charts in order, knows how to run the ship, and has a port of destination in mind. Companies often undervalue the impact of a "marketing plan" on their own people, who want to feel part of a team engaged in an exciting and complicated joint endeavour. If you want your employees to feel committed to your company, it's important to share with them your vision of where the company is headed in the years to come. People don't always understand financial projections, but they can get excited about a well-written and considered marketing plan. Launch the marketing plan to your people with a bit of a fanfare (celebrate everything that you can celebrate!) and generate some excitement for the adventures to come. Your employees will appreciate being involved and will align themselves better to your overall vision for the company.
Chart to success
We all know that plans are imperfect things. How can you possibly know what's going to happen 12 months or five years from now? Isn't putting together a marketing plan an exercise in futility, a waste of time better spent meeting with customers or fine-tuning production? Yes, possibly but only in the narrowest sense. If you don't plan, you're doomed, and an inaccurate plan is far better than no plan at all. To stay with our sea captain analogy, it's better to be 5 or even 10 degrees off your destination port than to have no destination in mind at all. The point of sailing, after all, is to get somewhere, and without a marketing plan, you'll wander the seas aimlessly, sometimes finding dry land but more often than not floundering in a vast ocean. Sea captains without a chart are rarely remembered for discovering anything but the ocean floor.
Company operational instructions
Your child's first bike and your new electronic gadget came with a set of instructions, and your company is far more complicated to put together and run than either of them. Your marketing plan is a guide to assist in your company's success. It's in some ways more important than a vision statement as it executes on the vision. To put together a genuine marketing plan, you have to assess your company from top to bottom and make sure all the pieces are working together in the best way. What do you want to do with this enterprise you call the company in the coming year? Consider it a to-do list on a grand scale for your people, products, place and promotion. More about those later…
You don't allow your financial people to keep their numbers in their heads. Financial reports are the lifeblood of the numbers side of any business, no matter what size. It should be no different with marketing and should be viewed just as seriously as finance. Unfortunately, marketing has gained a reputation for being a bit fluffy in many companies, whereas in most successful companies, marketing is the lifeblood of its success. Apple comes to mind…
Your written document lays out your game plan. If people leave, if new people arrive, if memories falter, if events bring pressure to alter the givens, the information in the written marketing plan stays intact to remind you of your planned course.
In the daily hurly-burly of competitive business, it's hard to turn your attention to the big picture, especially those parts that aren't directly related to the daily operations. You need to take time off periodically to really think about your business, whether it's providing you and your employees with what you want, whether there aren't some innovative wrinkles you can add, whether you're getting all you can out of your products, your sales staff or your markets. Writing your marketing plan is the best time to do this high-level thinking. The team compiling the marketing plan needs to devote themselves solely to thinking hard and compiling the most accurate plans they can of the immediate future of the business.
Now that we have reflected in a philosophical manner on building a marketing plan for your company, in essence, where to start, we can look to future articles on the more advanced aspects of marketing your business to the world.
After writing marketing plans for a few years, you can sit back and review them, year after year, and check the progress of your company. The reviews can provide an incomparable objective view of what you've been doing with the trajectory of your business over a number of years.
Deeb,G. Stop Selling the 'What' and Start Selling the 'Why'. 1 July 2016. Accessed 5 July 2016 from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/276922
Staff Writers. Entrepreneur. How to Create a Marketing Plan. Undated. Accessed 5 July 2016 from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/43018