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Marketing's role is to create an interest in your product or service.

As an independent sales representative I am constantly looking for new products or services to sell. My typical customer is a small business that is growing or at the very least has a solid operation. The business owner has leads yet they hate to make sales calls or worse they don’t have the time needed to follow up on their own prospects.

Notice that I said “has leads” yet hates to “make sales calls.” This is an important distinction between marketing and sales. I wrote an e-zine article in 2007 entitled Selling vs. Marketing – Is there a difference? In that article I made the point that marketing is the method of building initial interest in a product and then keeping that interest into the future.

On the other hand selling is the method of giving the correct product to the correct customer in a timely manner using the process of “Open, Probe, Pitch, and Close.”

Marketing activities are used to build brand awareness of products. They are used to keep the idea of a product or even the need for a product in the minds of POTENTIAL customers. Most marketing activities are used to introduce, describe, advertise, or explain how a product can solve a specific customer need.

Marketing also includes packaging, testing, and analyzing the results of particular campaigns.

In short you can’t create a sales campaign until you are well down the road of your marketing campaign. Marketing comes first. From your first business card to your first cable TV advertising campaign these activities stimulate the sales process and in some cases may even replace the sales process.

As an example in terms of replacing a sales campaign there are some products that only need marketing efforts and do not need sales efforts. Let’s look at a bar of soap. There are certainly sales professionals that sell bars of soap to grocery chains. Those highly paid sales professionals build relationships within their customer’s organization to gain shelf space. The better the relationships the better the shelf space allotted to the product.

However once that bar of soap is on the shelf it is up to the bar soap’s marketing department to build the brand’s awareness, create coupons, and share advertising expenses with local grocers. The customer just picks up their favorite brand of soap based on what they know and what they have heard about the product.

In the case of the bar of soap there is no real need for a professional salesperson to be standing in front of the shelf. That would be too expensive and clearly a waste of resources. Occasionally you may have a “product demonstrator” standing in front of the soap but again that is a marketing function not a sales function.

Amazon.com is another great example of a company that doesn’t need traditional salespeople for their core business. Amazon’s marketing department drove you to their website. Once on the website it is up to you to find the product that you want to purchase. Once you make that decision their marketing department steps in again and suggest other similar products for you to purchase.

In Amazon’s case this is all automatic. The marketing department has it set up so that if you choose product “A” then they will also suggest product “B.” This is very slick and very well laid out for the customer.

Small business owners need to fully understand the difference between marketing and selling. The reason… both marketing and selling cost money. Depending on the product being sold, the difficulty and the length of the sales cycle the cost of both can be considerable.

You could guess that the soap manufacturer selling to a large grocery chain and Amazon.com both spend millions “marketing” their products.

So what is a small business person to do? Obviously there is not a million dollar marketing budget to play with. The budget maybe just a few hundred dollars let alone a $1,000 dollars.

Can you get it done for a few hundred dollars? The answer is YES.

Here are a few marketing steps that absolutely have to be answered BEFORE trying to hire your first sales representative.

  • Identify who is your target market?
    1. Can you sell your product to everyone or is your product limited to a select type of business? Another way to look at this is do I advertise in the sports section of a local newspaper or do I need to send a personalized mailer to all homes priced over $1,000,000 with three children and at least two $75,000 cars in the garage?
    2. Get this wrong and you will quickly go out of business? You have to stay focused to conserve your marketing budget. Test, test, and then retest your marketing campaign BEFORE you commit your marketing budget. Find something that works.
  • How do your competitors market their business?
    1. Yes you need to do your homework here. I’m currently looking at picking up a new customer. I went directly to the web to locate some competitors. What I quickly noticed was there were literally hundreds of competitors advertising on the Internet – so if you are in this position and thinking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) or just a fancy website forget it, you’re doomed. You need another marketing plan or you will be spending money faster than you can make it. Knowing what your competitors are doing can save you a lot of time, money and agony.
    2. Do you know the differences between your competitor’s product and yours? If there is no difference, which is often the case then YOU, the business owner, becomes the competitive advantage and you have to MARKET YOU not the product.
  • What is your ROI?
    1. This acronym is called “Return On Investment.” If you really know this dollar amount then you will know exactly how much you have to spend on your marketing and sales efforts. Not knowing what this number is… well you are doomed if you do not know this number.
    2. Simply put ROI basically says that for every dollar you put into a specific TYPE of marketing campaign (marketing campaign equals: print, TV, networking, radio, search engine optimization, pay per click internet advertising, etc) you get back “X” amount of dollars in return. Hopefully you get “X” + that marketing dollar in return. Basically you want to put your money into the type of advertising that will work for your business – put your money in the one that produces the highest ROI.

Finally notice this entire article deals with MARKETING. You just read over 1,000 words on marketing. Marketing has to happen before you even think of hiring a sales person.

If your product or service needs leads to begin the sales process then do not hire a salesperson – hire a MARKETING PROFESSIONAL. You need someone that can look at your business and tell you what type of marketing campaign fits your type of business. Hiring the right marketing professional can save you and make you a lot of money.

David Peterson – President  Atlanta Sales and Consulting