Look back to move forward
by Louis Feuer

Marketing is not selling, but so many want to interchange these words. There are many great salespeople, but they are often working in a marketplace developed by someone else. What we also need to understand is that those to whom we market have their own set of challenges, time limits and business goals. Massive documentation requirements, ensuring acceptable clinical outcomes and the need to maintain licensing requirements are just some of the challenges that fill the days of the customers we want to reach.

Remember, just as you are being required to learn new software and products and also allow precious extra time for networking and selling, so are your potential referral sources. When you view the world from the eyes of a referral source, it helps you focus what you as a salesperson need to accomplish in a limited space of time.

Now is the time to decide what your 2017 marketing plan is going to look like. Look back at the structure of your 2016 marketing. Make a list of every networking event you attended throughout the year, and then identify the cost of attending; track any positive and negative sales results. Then, write a brief report of each event, including your recommendations for going again. (Be sure to note how many staff members attended, registration fees, raffle gift purchases, time away from the office, etc.) After this evaluation, ask yourself if you would invest in the same event again.

Focus on Time and Keep to Your Message

Sales calls are becoming shorter because the attention span of referral sources is shorter. The average call lasts less than four minutes. It’s all about time, and the more time you spend in your car glaring into the windshield, the less time you have for sharing your dynamic personality with a potential referral source.

Be aware of what differentiates you from other companies in your area. Consider meeting with your office team members to make a list of what you do better than your competition. Consider the overall service you provide, staff expertise, convenient location or an excellent order-taking process.

A major concern is how much money should be spent on marketing. Large companies such as Twitter and LinkedIn spend more than 30 to 50 percent of their revenues on marketing. While no one would expect a small company to do that, these numbers do help signal that some monies must be allocated to marketing. Small companies usually spend between 10 and 15 percent on gaining a new lead or customer.

Be patient! The Small Business Administration once noted that 30 percent of start-ups fail within the first year and 50 percent within the first five years. Businesses often begin with overblown expectations and no plan or patience. Marketing is a process—not an event. Good companies grow and expand from word of mouth, and that requires time and patience.

Monitor Marketing Investments

Ask customers when they call how they heard about your company. Send a thank you note to someone who shared a good review about your company. You must determine what meetings are working, what advertising is attracting business and possibly what salesperson is the best business generator.

You may need to make some marketing adjustments in the coming year. Consider adding video to your website, and include the bios and outline the expertise of your customer service staff. Ask your existing customers to introduce you to new potential business leads. Stop asking for business during sales calls, but thank the contact for the opportunity to share the message about your organization.

Be a quality networker. Ask your customers what groups they join that may guide you toward professional associations. Do not simply join those groups, but focus on becoming an integral part of the organization. As it becomes more difficult to reach new customers at their places of employment, expanding your community reach is important to your growth. Start by making a list of all the medically related and civic associations within your market (Kiwanis Club, American Lung Association chapter, local Chamber of Commerce). Have your staff get involved in various community groups.

While a small pen with your phone number on the side can be a good tool, look ahead to see if sharing some of your operational procedure forms may also be valuable. Can you share with customers how you track and learn from complaints? The careful and detailed process for handling an order? I have never heard of a customer ordering products from a company simply because they had great mugs.

Part of any marketing plan is not just about the messages you send, but also how you send them. Ask every referral source to share their email address. (Remember, anything you write in an email can become public knowledge.) Consider email training before 2017 for yourself and staff.

Any 2017 marketing plan must have a “hold on” plan. How will you hold on to the customers you worked so hard to attract? It costs a company up to five times more to find a new customer than it does to keep an old one. Find ways to stay in touch. Your competition is waiting for you to forget to take care of your existing customers so they can seize the opportunity to poach them. Consider management visiting these customers or sending long-overdue thank you notes.

Steps to Take Now

  1. Purchase a 2017 write-on calendar.
  2. Make a list of all professional recognition days (staff birthdays, anniversaries, etc.), and note them on the calendar.
  3. Consider developing a monthly marketing budget, which will allow you to be better able to look back on what you spent in 2016.
  4. Identify events that your company will potentially sponsor.
  5. Identify events that you will not sponsor again but may consider attending as a registrant.
  6. Set aside funds for unexpected marketing opportunities.
  7. Consider placing recurring advertising in a local paper or magazine to increase your visibility and potential customer awareness.

To your surprise, you may have a public relations team working as part of your marketing operation—your staff. Your staff creates customer impressions and can help seal a positive relationship with a customer. Remind your staff that everything they say can impact the reputation of your company. Often what a staff member says in front of a customer will be repeated—not once but several
times. Hopefully, everything they say—and everything that is repeated—will be positive.

Never forget to sweat the small stuff. There is no such thing as a small customer problem. When a patient has a problem that goes unresolved, it can be disastrous to your business. Make sure your marketing plan indicates to customers that you care about them. A few details to be aware of:

  • At the end of a sales appointment, thank the referral source for their time.
  • At the end of a phone conversation, thank the customer for calling your store.
  • Send thank you notes to referral sources for the time they allotted you for making a presentation. Those brief comments or carefully chosen words can make all the difference.

Each quarter, consider what you are planning to share with customers, and continually remind staff that without customers you have no business.

Marketing plans are not only about what you want to share, but also must be developed in light of what you believe the customer wants to hear.

A successful marketing plan is based on what you did in 2016—what worked and what didn’t—and what you want to make sure you do again. If you don’t think about each of these items, you may be doomed for failure—you don’t want to be responsible for helping your competition have their best year in 2017. Plan now, and make the success all yours!