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.

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    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. 

    Next up: Dont be the Next Unicorn Frappuccino

    Dont be the Next Unicorn Frappuccino

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    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: 

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    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.

    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.

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    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. 

    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.

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    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

    Next up: Effective Social Media Practices for Small Businesses

    Effective Social Media Practices for Small Businesses

    When it comes to social media, there are several effective practices your small business should consider. Check out this recap of a recent COSE WebEd Series webinar for tips and tricks to maximizing engagement on your social channels and scroll to the bottom for the full presentation.

    Contrary to popular belief, social media in and of itself is not a strategy. It’s a tactic that needs to be folded into your existing marketing strategy.

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    During the most recent episode of the COSE WebEd Webinar Series, Kasey Crabtree, president of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the American Marketing Association, highlighted that there’s been a jump in social media use by adults from just 20% to close to 70%, led by Facebook, with Instagram a close second. With that in mind, Crabtree laid out some tips businesses could employ to maximize their social media ROI.

    Be authentic

    Authenticity is a key factor when it comes to social media. One of the reasons social media was so popular early on was that people were draw to the sense of authenticity. Businesses then started to move in on social media and capitalize on that desire for authenticity.

    When it comes to Gen Xers (ages 35 to 54), 85% want to know that the brands they support are authentic—and they know when you’re being real and when you are not. If you’re a business owner, nobody is going to have the same passion about your business as you do. When you bring that passion to your social media personality, it can come across as being truly genuine. If you’re unable to do that yourself then Crabtree suggests that you partner with someone who can help you get that passion into words or photos on your social platforms.

    There are two main ways to go about increasing the authenticity and passion in your social personality.

    Authenticity Tip No. 1: Showcase happy customers. Sometimes this comes naturally just by having a good product or service that satisfied customers are willing to post about—and you can then share those testimonials with your larger audience. Sometimes it might require putting the idea out there or directly asking a happy customer to participate. So find your passionate customers and showcase their posts, and your audience is sure to love the passion you exude.  

    Authenticity Tip No. 2: Put your genuine feelings on display. Your genuine feelings can touch other people—especially when accompanied by a proper visual at the right time. Sometimes you have to take off that business façade and allow yourself to be a little vulnerable. If you can let that part of what you put out there, then people will respond.

    Stay mindful of best practices

    When it comes to posting, Crabtree indicates that, in addition to being authentic, there are five other best practices you should consider.

    Best Practice Tip No. 1: Be brief. These days, most people are looking at stuff on their mobile devices. Shorter posts are more likely to keep your audience engaged, and will also hopefully require less effort, time and editing.

    Best Practice Tip No. 2: Be quick. Get to your point early in the post—because, again, everyone is busy and flying through everything.

    Best Practice Tip No. 3: Encourage engagement. Ask questions to get people involved. What do you think? Which do you prefer?

    Best Practice Tip No. 4: Give a call to action. Make sure it’s something relevant to your product, but give your audience a directive that achieves your goal. Don’t be too sales-y but make it clear what you want people to do—go to your website, sign up for an event or register to join.

    Best Practice Tip No. 5: Increase impressions. Always make sure to tag a company or another person, or use a hashtag when possible. This will naturally help increase how many people view your post.

    Match your voice to the channel

    Not all social media platforms have the same feel and characteristics. So your personality on that platform should correspond appropriately. Here’s a breakdown of each one and how you can best utilize them to accomplish your goals.

    Facebook: Probably the social tool you’re most familiar with, Facebook is seen as the friendliest, most community-oriented platform. Facebook presents the opportunity for the longest posts and is the best option for posting videos. With Facebook, it is important to use some sort of visual with each post. If you are just using text, your post will have little opportunity for viewing. Also, your important posts will rarely be seen if you aren’t putting money behind them. A professional should be able to help you decide how to best use money to boost your posts.

    LinkedIn: Known as the professional platform, LinkedIn is the best place for networking and posting or looking for job opportunities. You can show some personality but depending on your profession, people might expect you to be more businesslike.

    Twitter: If you haven’t tried Twitter before, Crabtree advises doing a practice run with a fun, safe name and follow people and observe how to get a feel for how it works. Be smart and avoid talking politics, religion and sex unless those topics are your niche. People love talking about sports, pets and food so those are all safe topics.

    Instagram: This is a photo-based platform and people must follow you for you to be consistently seen. With Instagram, people search a lot via hashtags and might find you easiest that way. Crabtree indicates that, of all of the platforms, you want to make sure you especially don’t over-post on Instagram. When it comes to your business, stick to posting photos of more universal interest. Don’t get into posting a ton of your family for your professional site. Be sure to crop and use filters for best framing, and of course be sure to use hashtags as well.

    Hire a pro

    Do you know how to stay up-to-date on social media stuff and do you even have the time to do so? It’s an ever-changing landscape of technology and it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to figure out.

    Hiring a professional will help you:

    • Keep up on changes;
    • save you time and aggravation;
    • figure out “pay to play” so that you’re making the most out of the social media algorithms when it comes to your dollars spent; and
    • determine how to best go about advertising on social media.

    You’re (probably) not a plumber so you aren’t going to do your own plumbing. Get in touch with a marketing professional and plan out a marketing strategy that makes sense for your size and type of business. Even if you are a marketer yourself, it’s best to incorporate the perspective from an outside person into your overall strategy.

    If you would like assistance in finding the right professional for you, COSE can help.

    View the full webinar presentation below. And click here to get caught up on past COSE WebEd webinars.