Q: We're assessing our marketing results for 2003 and are trying to figure out why we didn't put more sales on the board. We relied exclusively on direct mail and followed up by phone with the leads we generated. Most mailings produced a positive return, but I still think we could have done much more. What can we try in the coming year to improve our sales?

A: With the new year just around the corner, this is a great time to break out of your old mold and adopt new marketing tactics that will help your company grow. Not only will it make life more interesting for you, it's just plain smart. You see, it takes multiple contacts with prospects--some studies say as many as eight are required--before a sale is closed. Of course, the actual number of contacts will depend on your industry and what you're marketing, but it's easy to see why a program that relies on a single tactic will fall flat.

The best marketing mix reaches your prospects throughout all phases of your sales cycle. So don't be a "Johnny one note." If you focus exclusively on direct mail or PR, for example, at the expense of other tactics, you'll lose prospects along the way. And it's often essential to combine marketing tactics with sales for that final one-two punch.

Turn Cold Prospects Into Customers
At any point in time, your business will have "cold," "warm" and "hot" prospects. To visualize how they become customers, imagine prospects moving through your sales cycle the way hands on a clock face sweep around from noon to midnight.

  • Cold prospects know little or nothing about your company and are just being exposed to your message for the first time. They enter your sales cycle from noon to about 3 on the dial.
  • Warm prospects have been exposed to your marketing messages or are prospects you've contacted using sales tactics, and they reside from about 3 o'clock to 8 on the dial.
  • Your hottest prospects have either passed through your sales cycle or come to you as referrals. Imagine they're advancing toward closing as they progress from about 8 to midnight.

Mix It Up
To create an effective marketing program in the new year, adopt multiple tactics that reach out to cold, warm and hot prospects on a continuing basis and usher them through the sales cycle. To find the right mix, choose at least one tactic from each of the following groups.

  • Advertising media, including print, out-of-home and broadcast, plus online ads and search engine listings that are linked to your Web site.
  • Direct mail and e-mail solicitations to rented lists.
  • Public relations tactics, including media relations, seminars, bylined articles for publication, special promotions and events.

Warm prospects respond to:

  • Ongoing advertising campaigns that build on an established theme in print, broadcast and out-of-home media as well as online.
  • Direct mail, e-mail newsletters and solicitations to your in-house database.
  • Public relations activities, including bylined articles and customer/client events.

Motivate your hottest prospects with:

  • E-mail and direct-mail solicitations and catalogs.
  • Interpersonal contact--whether by telephone or in person. This adds the final heat required to close sales.

For best results in the new year, choose a group of tactics that reach your prospects no matter where they are in your sales cycle. Just remember to mix things up to create a well-rounded campaign that motivates prospects at all levels.