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Sales and marketing

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If you think marketing isn’t a key issue for start-ups, think again. If you fail to make enough sales, you won’t survive. And unless you’ve got customers beating a path to your door each day, without effective marketing, you won’t make sales. Simple.

What is marketing?

It’s a common misconception, but marketing involves much more than advertising, publicity or selling. The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines marketing as: ‘The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably’.

Rather easier to understand is the organisation’s explanation that marketing seeks to get ‘the right product or service to the customer at the right price, at the right time.’ And that: ‘Without proper marketing, companies cannot get close to customers and satisfy their needs.’

Market research for start-ups

Effective marketing is underpinned by sound knowledge of (potential) customers and competitors. Only by knowing your customers' needs, wants and aspirations can you hope to satisfy or 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 reveal much. You need to find out what they think about your products and prices.

Market research isn’t complete unless you weigh up the competition, of course. This, too, can be achieved quickly and at little cost. Simply looking through your local paper or business directory or carrying out a quick Google search can reveal a great deal of valuable information.

Find your target market

Market research can enable you to tailor your offer to fit a gap in the market (‘niche’). Being the best supplier within your niche (or one of them) should be high up on your list of ambitions. It’s a well-worn route to success. Remaining close to your customers enables you to stay in tune with their needs.

And you’re more likely to succeed if you have a marketing plan, which sets out your objectives and explains your marketing strategy.

Marketing and promoting your business

Marketing success is underpinned by the Four Ps: Product; Price; Place (ie distribution channel); and Promotion. Together, they form the ‘Marketing Mix’. Get it right and you’ll maximise the success of your marketing efforts. You also need powerful messages and a unique selling proposition that convinces customers to buy from you.

You must promote your business effectively and it’s a never ending task. Online marketing is now at the heart of many business’s promotional efforts. When done well, it can help to attract and retain large numbers of customers, often for much less investment.

Online marketing of course involves making best use of your website (including optimising it for search engines such as Google), as well as including email marketing and electronic newsletters, online/pay-per-click advertising, and using social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Vine.

You could enter into affiliate marketing deals with other businesses, while some raise their profile through effective content marketing (including blogging).    

Key 'offline' marketing options include advertising, direct mail, leafleting (which still works very well for some businesses), public relations (PR) and networking (including visiting and having a presence at fairs, trade shows and exhibitions). The most potent promotion comes from satisfied customers, so it pays to ensure your customers are delighted if you want to ensure word of mouth recommendations.

How to make sales

In business, the ability to convince customers to spend is arguably the most valuable skill. To some small-business owners, it comes naturally. Others get better with time. There are a number of techniques that can be learned, but you need to be able to recognise buying signals and close the sale.

Marketing isn’t something you do occasionally, it 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.

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