Businessweek recently did a great interview with Philip Kotler, the authority of marketing in academia.  Anyone in the business of generating new business should read it for a dose of reality.  Without reading it, I submitted the following article to McCombs TODAY.  The voice of resonance is uncanny.  Businesses should be more pragmatic in their pursuits and maintain focus on what creates real value for themselves and their customers.

As always, there's a couple of things in the pipeline - but that pipeline is a strange and ambiguous place.  -- Hugh Dancy

 

Myriad of questions pollute the thought process of how to position a product, and make it difficult to navigate the path to acquiring new customers.  How do we market?  What aspect of our product should we highlight?  What will sell?  I focus on the three most important guiding principles in this quest.

A pre-requisite to any marketing effort is having a product that addresses a real need in the market.  Markets are rife with examples of products that were developed without buyer input, sold on vaporware.  Motorola’s failure of Iridium is a classic example.   Recessionary pressures of recent times have forced a reversal to this attitude and brought a focus on need-driven product development.  This should serve as the blueprint for best business practices for organizations of any size, which also facilitates sustainable customer acquisition strategies.

It is common to mistakenly presume early sales successes to be the silver bullet for long term success. This is particularly true for start-ups that do not have a well-trodden path to guide them, nor the deep pockets to help them ride out an unexpected storm.  Continuous investment in business development is pivotal to exploiting new and changing opportunities.

Customer needs, behaviors and attitudes shifts over time, as do their expectations of businesses they patron.  To grow dynamically with them, and to create a pipeline of enduring customers while maximizing benefits of your marketing dollars, you need to be prepared to continuously redefine the pillars on which successful sales strategies stand.  This is especially true in today’s explosion of new marketing channels through social media and other Internet based functionalities.

 

‘Ideal’ Client

If you do not understand your customer, you cannot have them understand your value proposition. Defining your ideal client is an iterative process.  You need to understand their psycho-graphics and usage behavior, what they care about and what will intrigue them about your product.  One of the best ways to collect this information is also one of the most underused: ASK.   If you learn to ask the right questions, your customers will tell you what they need from you, and eventually the profile(s) of your ideal client will emerge.  This naturally leads to efficiencies in your process of finding these customers and nurturing a relationship with them for long-term growth.   For B2B clients, this can also present opportunities for proliferating within client companies.

 

Channel

I define channel as the methods used to communicate with, and sell your products to, your customers. You need to understand the existing norms and nuances around how your customers process information before you become creative about building channel.  Ultimately, your customer’s point of contacts with your company must be knowledgeable about your product and clearly believe in its capabilities.  In addition, depending on your product, online platforms such as facebook, Groupon have brought new ways of connecting with customers; next year might bring platforms even more fantastic.   You need to maintain a certain level of financial and operational flexibility to adopt such changes into your channel strategies as market forces evolve.    Lastly, your customers must be able to call on references for your product.  In today’s age of online reviews and citations, it is essential to make reliable references an integral part of your channel, be it teacher customers who have had success with your product or those evangelists in your space.  If they accept the efficacy of your product, and they are influencers to your ideal clients, then creating opportunities for them to be part of your sales effort can be game changing in the acquisition of new prospects.

After Sales Support

If you have a product that captures and delivers real value, a significant percentage of your sales should be repeat customers.  After-sales-support is more than managing warranty and upgrades.  It is managing a close relationship with the clients, continuing to ask them how you can improve their lives and executing on some of their desires.  Benefits from promotions such as discounts are short-lived.  Truly engaging your customer is enduring.  You want for your customers to feel that you care more about creating value for them than you do about buffering your bottom-line. 

Recent and very public corporate excesses have made consumers wary and suspicious of marketing overtures.  Be authentic in your approach and your customers will learn to build trust.  Unsurprisingly, the first crowd you will attract is the one that has seen it all and, more than likely, the most discerning and the most influential in your space. 

-- © Copyright 2011, Maheen Hamid