Soft Sell

Survey Says . . .

The survey findings dismay but do not surprise marketing professionals who work with small businesses. "I definitely think it's on the money," says Joyce Gioia, president of Greensboro, North Carolina, management and marketing consulting firm The Herman Group.

On the other hand, one of the problems the survey highlighted is that small businesses pursue too many opportunities. "When your resources are limited, you need to develop a more targeted approach," advises David Urban, associate professor of marketing at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

The survey also turned up the fact that few small businesses systematically recruit effective salespeople, and many fail to provide more than in-house training to those they hire. That's even more serious, says R. Keith Tudor, associate professor of marketing at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. "Sales is the most important part of a business," says Tudor. "Without sales, there is no business. So you've got to hire good salespeople, take care of them and train them properly."

So why aren't small-business owners better marketers? Entrepreneurs know the answer. "It's too expensive," says Stephens, who describes his marketing resources as "almost 100 percent inspiration."

Experts agree that small firms lack not only the dollars but also the hours and know-how to improve their marketing efforts. "It's time and money that prevent them," says William F. Doescher, senior vice president of D&B. "Plus, they don't know how to do it and they don't know where to go to find out how to do it."

Survey results indicate that sophisticated marketing efforts correlate with company size. The survey showed a particularly big change at 25 employees, with larger firms using advanced techniques and smaller companies relying on relatively rudimentary tools.

These facts don't excuse entrepreneurs' marketing weaknesses, argues Urban. "A lot of marketing ideas are fairly simple," he says. "In many cases, small-business owners just need [a few classes] to bring them up to speed."

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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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