Does Your Marketing Suck?

Spoiler alert: It probably does, but our columnist is too nice to say it.

I thought of calling this rant ‘Your Marketing Sucks,’ but that declarative statement sounded too in-your-face and presumptuous, even for me. So, I changed the statement into a question to let you decide if your marketing sucks, and how much.

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs play around with marketing plans and tools, but few of them meet expectations and even fewer exceed them. So, let’s consider three critical questions that will help you position your marketing on the positive side of the ‘Sucks Continuum,’ which ranges from ‘Doesn’t suck at all, thank you very much,’ all the way to ‘Sucks so bad, I’m really embarrassed!’  

•          RELATED: The four biggest marketing mistakes you’re making as a business owner.

Question No. 1: How well does your marketing program meet defined objectives?

In order to answer this first question, you might need to consider some follow-up questions: Did your current plan or specific tools meet the metrics you set up for them at the onset? How did they relate to your definition of success? Did you get a positive ROI?

Tip: You know your marketing sucks if it didn’t produce a positive ROI, it and sucks really bad if you didn’t have any metrics to measure and evaluate success to begin with.

To help improve your marketing, you need to clearly redefine SMART goals going forward. They need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. So, think in terms of numbers:

•          How many initial inquiries or site visits do you want to achieve?

•          How many actual phone, in-person or email conversations should result?

•          How many proposals or serious buying discussions?

•          How many actual sales?

•          What’s your ROI—ratio of new business revenue and profit generated (yes, they’re different numbers) to marketing program costs?

•          Did you get any survey or anecdotal customer feedback about the campaign?

Question No. 2: How well do your marketing messages communicate in a customer-centric manner?

And again, the follow-up questions: Did you communicate with prospects and customers the way they like to be communicated with? Did you use their language, not yours? Did you sound like a real person who has value and cares about their needs? Were you customer-centric?

Tip: You know your marketing sucks if you weren’t communicating in a customer-centric manner, and it really sucks if you have no clue what that means.

So, go where they are. Here’s how.

•          Don’t baffle them with acronyms or buzz words.

•          Use words they understand in a syntax that makes you sound authentic.

•          Don’t try to impress them with your lofty vocabulary. Impress them with your clarity.

•          Use the Q&A format—sound like you’re responding to questions they have, or should have, about their needs and your products or services. That’s where ‘FAQs’ came from.

•          Regularly let them know when you achieve a milestone, earn an award or are featured in the local—or national—media. Make it sound like you assume they all really care about you and your business. Some of them actually do. More will when you give them good reasons to care.

Question No. 3:  How well does your marketing program reward customer loyalty?

Follow-up: Do you constantly seek new customers, but make existing ones still feel special? Once you ‘get them in the tent,’ what do you do to keep them there? How much time, effort and money do you spend trying to get new business from existing customers rather than trying to get new customers? Do your customer loyalty and referral programs create positive results?


•          RELATED: The easy way to earn repeat and referral business.

Tip: You know your marketing sucks if you spend more time, effort and money trying to get new customers than maximizing value from existing customers, and it really sucks if you don’t have a customer loyalty or referral program.

So, embrace the time-honored marketing concept that it’s 10 times easier, faster and cheaper to get new business from existing customers than it is to get new customers. Here’s how.

•          Create simple customer loyalty programs with quick rewards that give them a reason to buy from you again and again rather than from the competition.

•          Find ways to reward customers for referring their friends or colleagues. Depending on your industry, consider tangible gifts, coupons for money off, freebies and even donations to non-profits.

•          Analyze your customer base to determine VIPs to be rewarded differently. Think frequent flyer programs with their various tiers of rewards.

•          Periodically talk to your existing customers about ways to improve your products or services. With small customer bases, call them. With larger groups, try targeted emails or a percentage each week or month.

•          Consider invitation-only customer appreciation sales or events.

•          You may give away cool logo SWAG at trade shows to get new customers, so why not periodically send cool stuff to your customers, especially your VIPs?

These questions should help you assess how much your marketing sucks. That’s the easy part. Putting the best practices referenced in the answers to work for your business is the hard part. So, start small and simple. Try a few strategies and evaluate the results. Network with colleagues to learn what they do. Regularly incorporate new strategies with proven worth. Keep striving to move your overall marketing as far to the positive side on the ‘Sucks Continuum’ as you can. Your bottom line will tell you how well you’re doing.

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication,, 440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. 

  • Email
  • Next up: Dont be the Next Unicorn Frappuccino

    Dont be the Next Unicorn Frappuccino

  • Email
  • Next up: Tips for Your Business: Don’t Just Network, Engage!

    Tips for Your Business: Don’t Just Network, Engage!

    “There’s no denying that building a professional network is critical for successful business owners, and networking is a great way to establish new contacts and engage with and learn from others,” says Ed Stevens, Chairman and CEO of Stevens Strategic Communications, Inc. “Social media sites like LinkedIn are helpful networking and promotional tools, but they cannot take the place of face-to-face interactions that allow you to expand your network and cultivate quality relationships.” Here are a few sure-fire strategies to connect and engage at your next networking event: 

    “There’s no denying that building a professional network is critical for successful business owners, and networking is a great way to establish new contacts and engage with and learn from others,” says Ed Stevens, Chairman and CEO of Stevens Strategic Communications, Inc. “Social media sites like LinkedIn are helpful networking and promotional tools, but they cannot take the place of face-to-face interactions that allow you to expand your network and cultivate quality relationships.” Here are a few sure-fire strategies to connect and engage at your next networking event: 

    1. Do Your Homework. When attending a networking event, preparation is key. Find out who else is going to be there, make a list of people you want to meet, and then do a little research so you can talk intelligently to them about their business. If you’re uncomfortable approaching someone, ask someone you know to introduce you.

    2. Set Goals for Yourself. Networking is not just a race to collect as many business cards as possible; it’s about opportunity and making real connections. By setting goals for yourself, for example the number of new contacts you want to make, you can better focus your time and energy on meeting the right people. 

    3. Don’t Just Talk, Listen. “You’d be surprised at how much people are willing to share about issues and challenges in the workplace in order to find solutions,” says Stevens. “You’ll find much more success if you try to help someone solve a problem, even if you are just making a referral or pointing them in the right direction, rather than trying to make a sale.

    “I’ve found that you can’t do everything by yourself in business,” says Stevens. “If done right, networking is an opportunity to meet knowledgeable people, make connections and exchange solutions. Remember, we are all in this together.”

    Want more expert advice? Check out COSE Expert Network, an online forum connecting business owners with creative solutions to the tough questions they face every day. 

    This article originally appeared in the March 2, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.

  • Email
  • Next up: Don't Just Sell: How Being a Trusted Advisor Can Yield Big Business

    Don't Just Sell: How Being a Trusted Advisor Can Yield Big Business

    Selling isn’t just selling. It’s about building a relationship with your customer. Here’s how you can do that.

    People buy from people they know and trust.

    You’ve probably heard that sentence a million times. But how do you build that trust with your customer so that you’re able to close your sale? Nationally known sales trainer and consultant Marvin Montgomery says it’s all about becoming a trusted advisor to your customer during the sales process.

    Below are the steps you can begin taking now to gain your customer’s trust.

    Take time to listen

    The first step along the road to becoming a trusted advisor is taking time to listen to what your customer says. This is important because it allows you to sell on value and not price. You can show your client how you will design a custom-made solution for your client.

    Offer a solution

    Once you have ascertained what the customer’s challenge is, you can present your solution. Don’t just do an information dump here, Montgomery says. Walk through a needs analysis once the customer has explained what they’re looking for.

    There’s no such thing as ‘no’

    Don’t use the word, “No.” It’s never “no.” Instead, Montgomery says, you should be using the words, “Not now.” Make plans to follow up with the customer later on to get an update on what their current needs look like and whether your product or service might be needed now.

    The follow up

    By the same token, your sale isn’t complete just because your customer gave you a, “Yes.” Take time to follow up with your customer after the sale and continue to build on the relationship that you started.

    At the end of the day, the techniques listed above will help you overcome objections and better explain how what your company is selling matches up with what your customer needs. For a deeper dive on the power of prospecting, and the latest sales techniques and fundamentals, register for the Nov. 2 Sales Academy, led by Montgomery and his fellow sales trainer Hal Becker. 

  • Email
  • Next up: Don't Sell Yourself Out When You're Selling

    Don't Sell Yourself Out When You're Selling

    You don’t have to forfeit your self-esteem just to land a sale. Consider these do’s and don’ts.

    Selling professionally can sometimes require the modification of your behavior and the altering of preconceived ideas. But how do you stay flexible with your approaches to selling without compromising your integrity or convictions for your company?

    Selling professionally is a process. You can't conquer the process overnight. And no two people will learn the system in the same period of time. Conquering the art of professional selling is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. People don't learn to sell at a seminar, although attending seminars is a good idea. Nor do they learn to sell from tapes, books and videos. These are useful tools—similar to how training wheels and a parent’s balancing hand are useful when learning to ride a bike.

    Unfortunately, many people believe that there's a shortcut to learning how to sell professionally. By the tens of thousands, these are the people who every year attend seminars and buy books and tapes that are produced by self-appointed sales training experts who entertain, but don't teach. Popular sales trainers have promulgated the idea that it's a salesperson's duty to sell by the numbers. Give presentation after presentation to anyone who will listen, and eventually someone will buy!

    I'm prepared to tell you that's all wrong. There's no self-esteem in that kind of selling. In fact, it's not selling. It's clerking. And it doesn't work anymore. One of the keys of being truly successful at selling is staying true to yourself and your business that you’ve worked so hard to create.

    Keep the integrity of your business and your confidence high with these do’s and don’ts of selling:

    DON’T give presentations to anyone who will listen; DO be targeted and intentional.

    DON’T perform a “dog and pony” show every time you pitch your business; DO make sure you subscribe to the theory that sometimes less is more.

    DON’T roll over like a puppy dog; DO keep in mind that the customer may not always be right.

    DON’T be subservient; DO feel confident enough that no matter how much you want the business you should never forfeit your self-esteem.

    DON’T be overly enthusiastic about your product or service if that’s just not in your nature; people can tell if you’re faking it so DO act genuinely.

    DON’T allow prospects to shop your proposal; DO attempt to control your prospect’s buying process.

    DON’T just get involved in any sales training program; DO learn and develop a good sales process that works specifically for your team.

    Tom Scully is sales consultant and owner of a Sandler Training franchise in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

  • Email
  • Next up: Effective Networking Is Right in Front of Your Face

    Effective Networking Is Right in Front of Your Face

    Small business owners are always trying to figure out how to effectively network and they keep looking for new ways when in fact the basic old ways work well. Many of the processes to meet new clients has changed with social networks, the Internet and creative new ways to bring business owners together. But, once you meet additional business owners and/or key professionals, what is your response and more importantly what is your first or immediate response process? That is the KEY because today we have less time to make that impactful first impression.

    Before you commit to making changes you need to figure out an important question: What separates your company from the rest? Generic answers don’t work anymore, such as, “We provide great customer service,” because I hope you do provide that type of service or you should not be in business. Determine the one or two aspects that truly separate your business from the rest and surround your networking with that one thought in mind and deliver the message strongly and passionately.

    That leads to one thing clients and buyers love to see: passion and belief in your product. There is nothing better to encounter or deliver in a networking situation than to feel passion from you and receiving it from someone else. I believe there is a real sense in each of us to want to be associated with people who have passion.

    The last thing that should be the first thing when you meet potentially new clients in a networking setting is to ask them first, “What do you do and who is a prime target client I should look for if I refer someone to you?” Once again, this shows interest in them and desire to help them grow their business. Once they have answered your questions, they will ask you what you do. Be prepared to separate yourself from the rest with your answer.

    Networking in action
    I am constantly asked how to meet new clients. I still cannot believe this is a problem. I have a constant challenge to find the time to meet all of the new potential client leads. One day, I figured out how many different events I attend with local and regional professional organizations, how many speaker presentations I attend and the list goes on. Guess what? The room is FULL of potential new clients. I started telling myself I am missing the boat at each of these events.

    So, I set a goal that each event I go to I find someone in that room that I might slightly know, but not in a big way or someone I do not know at all. I approach at least one or two people at each event and exchange business cards. I make sure we have a short, but meaningful exchange as previous explained.

    Once I get back to my office within the next three days I send them an email explaining how I enjoyed meeting them and want to meet them again for breakfast, lunch or coffee. I explain the purpose is to learn more about them and their business because I might have future referral for them once I know more about their business and services or products.

    Amazing things take place. People look forward to meeting new business people, polite people, professional people and good hearted people. I have never had anyone turn me down and I have built some great friendships and business-ships.

    What amazes me most is that all of this was right in front of my face for years and I just didn’t see it. NOW, I am passionate about never letting another opportunity slip by me. My networking is a whole NEW ballgame and it is working really well! Call me and lets meet.

    Timothy Dimoff
    President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security Expert
    Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at

  • Email