Topic overview

Sales and marketing

Notepad with sales and marketing written on it.If you think marketing isn't important for start-ups, think again. Marketing drives sales for businesses of all sizes by ensuring that customers think of their brand when they want to buy. Marketing helps a new business to become better known and attract and retain customers so it can survive and grow.

Market research for start-ups

Effective marketing is underpinned by sound knowledge of the market. Only by knowing exactly what your customers want can you hope to satisfy (or better still delight) them - and possibly even lure them away from your competitors.

Carrying out market research for your start-up business needn't be complex or expensive. Finding the answer to the most basic facts is key and a simple conversation with potential customers can be highly revealing. Find out what they think about your products and prices, and whether any of their needs are not currently being served. Ask also what they think of your brand.

Market research isn't complete unless you weigh up the competition. Start by carrying out online search tio find out who you are up against, what they offer and how. If possible, ask their customers what they really think about your rivals. Crucially - ask what you can do to be better than them.

Find your target market

Market research can enable you to spot a gap in the market ('niche'). Being the best supplier within a niche (or one of them) should be high up on your list of ambitions.

Trying to appeal to everyone can leave you appealing to no one. Better to focus on the needs of one or more specific groups of people ('segments') within a market. Broadly speaking, they share characteristics, aspiration, taste, buying habits, etc. There are many ways to segment the mass market. Gender, age, social class, location, ethnicity, marital status, occupation, income and spending are all common methods.

If you identify a segment that isn't already being served - caution is advised. Others might have found it impossible to run a viable business serving that niche - there might just not be enough sales. Alternatively, you might be onto a winner, having spotted a lucrative gap in the market.

Marketing and promoting your business

Marketing success is underpinned by the Four Ps: Product; Price; Place (ie distribution channel); and Promotion. They form the 'Marketing Mix'. Get the right combination and you'll maximise your success. You also need strong messages and a unique selling proposition (USP) that convinces customers to buy from you and not another supplier.

Promotion is a never-ending task for businesses and online marketing is now at the heart of many business's efforts to attract and retain customers. When done well, it can help to attract and retain large numbers of customers, often for relatively modest investment.

Online marketing involves making best use of your website (including optimising it for search engines). Other options include email marketing and e-newsletters, online/pay-per-click advertising, and using social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and Vine.You could enter into affiliate marketing deals with other businesses, while some small businesses even raise their profile through content marketing (including blogging).

Key offline marketing options include advertising, direct mail, leafleting, public relations (PR) and networking (opportunities include fairs, trade shows and exhibitions). The most potent advertising comes from satisfied customers, so it pays to ensure your customers are delighted if you want to earn word of mouth recommendations.

Once you know which customers you are targetting and how, you can put together a marketing plan, which sets out your objectives and explains your approach (marketing strategy).

How to sell

The ability to convince people to spend their money is probably the most valuable skill in business. To some, it comes naturally. Others get better with time. There are numerous techniques that can be learned. Crucially, you need to be able to be able to quickly convey the benefits of your products/services, recognise customer buying signals and learn how to close the sale.

Marketing must be part of the everyday fabric of your business. You need to assess your sales and marketing activity continually, learn from your mistakes, build on your successes - and remain open to new methods.