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Soft Sell

The latest Dun & Bradstreet survey reveals why entrepreneurs are doing such a poor job marketing their businesses. Think you don't have enough money--or time--to do better? Think again.

In the 1992 movie "The Player," cynical movie executive Griffin Mill dismisses a script with the comment, "It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully."

Marketing experts might say the same about the marketing approach taken by most entrepreneurs. According to a recent study by international business information provider Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), the typical entrepreneur is little more than primitive when it comes to marketing. (For details about how the survey was conducted, see "By The Numbers" on page 143.)

The survey found few small businesses use formal marketing tools to identify new opportunities. Only about half prequalify customers and prospects. Word-of-mouth marketing and referrals remain their primary marketing means, while, for the most part, they spurn the use of unsolicited e-mail and marketing through Web sites. Generally, their sales approach is to react to customer inquiries rather than to proactively reach out to prospects. And only about one in five small businesses strategically plans how to market its products and services.

And entrepreneurs aren't arguing with the survey. "I'm still one of the yahoos," says Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad, an 18-employee computer repair firm in Minneapolis. Stephens, 29, rarely purchases market research, qualifies customers as "anyone who has a computer problem" and relies on word-of-mouth marketing for more than half his sales.

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This article was originally published in the September 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Soft Sell.

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