75 Startup Secrets

Marketing and Sales

Marketing Smarts
How you spread the word is as important as the word itself.

You may have the greatest product or service in the world, but if nobody knows about it, they can't buy it from you. That's why effective advertising and marketing are so important, especially at the startup stage. Doug Hall , founder of The Eureka Ranch, a Newtown, Ohio, creativity think tank that helps clients tap new ideas, advises the following to make your advertising and marketing more effective:

55. Give them a reason to believe. Too often, says Hall, entrepreneurs assume that people will believe in their business, product or service because when they talk to their friends or family, those people think the idea is great. However, effective has elements that give the business credibility. Hall suggests testimonials, clear explanations and limited hyperbole. "Don't say 'Our muffins are the best-tasting.' Say 'Our muffins have more chocolate flavor because we use more chocolate chips than our competitors.' That gives your customer a reason to believe your product is better."

56. Articulate the message. "Small-business owners often think features are benefits," says Hall. "Features are the stuff; benefits are what the customer will receive, enjoy or experience. So don't sell me books; sell me knowledge." Customers need to know what's in it for them. (new graph) Be wary of going overboard, however. "After they've figured out how to [sell] benefits, many businesses start throwing in more and more," says Hall. Research indicates that you need to stand for just one thing, he says. While it's tempting to pile on all the great things about your business, you only have a brief window to capture a prospect's attention, so focus on the one thing about your product or service that will make them say "Wow!"--and make them want to do business with you.

57. Choose the message before the medium. New business owners often get a barrage of inquiries from media representatives trying to sell them advertising. Local newspapers, radio stations, cable TV networks and the like all want your advertising dollars. But, says Hall, it's critical to remember that the message is the most important element of any marketing activity. "If you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a Super Bowl [ad, but your] ad has zero effectiveness, zero times hundreds of millions is still zero," he explains. "Don't listen to people who tell you they have a cool radio station. It's the message that makes a difference."

58. Testing, testing. Hall advises his clients to continually test their messages and weed out those that don't work. From using different telephone sales pitches to sending regular postcard mailings with different offers, he believes that entrepreneurs should always test, track results and try to top their most successful efforts.

59. Plan for the long term. When you create your advertising and marketing plan, be ready to commit to it for the long haul. "Too often, small businesses consider marketing and advertising an on-off switch. You do marketing to get work, then get too busy and don't do any marketing. Then when the work's done, [you] worry," says Hall. Instead, you need to invest in a program of consistent, effective marketing and advertising to keep attracting customers and getting the name of your business out into the marketplace.

Continue learning: Our marketing coach Kim T. Gordon is full of amazing ideas. Read her archive  to jumpstart your own marketing campaign.

Sales Force
Get out there and show 'em what you've got--literally.

Every small-business owner knows that selling is a critical part of keeping the doors open. After all, without customers, no business can survive. So of course, having a game plan to move your product or service from your business to your customers is of the utmost importance. The following tips will help you get things moving.

60. Know yourself. "The first thing to know is why someone would buy your product," says Louise Anderson, president of Anderson Performance Improvement, a Hastings, Minnesota, sales consulting firm. Having confidence in your product or service, its benefits and how it serves a need that the customer has will give you the confidence you need to sell. And that confidence will come across in your voice and demeanor, making you a more effective salesperson.

61. Celebrate the "nos." Getting lots of "no" responses shouldn't be discouraging. "Sales is ruled by the law of numbers," says Anderson. Even when the responses aren't positive, if you're getting out there and contacting customers regularly, you're making progress.

62. Find out why. Anderson says that too few business owners dig deeper after a sale is made. She advises her customers to ask questions after the sale and find out why the customer decided to make the purchase.

63. Plan for cycles. Every type of business has a different sales cycle. During a strategic sale, Anderson says, a customer may need to be contacted a dozen times or more. Use your knowledge of the industry and research your competitors to determine what your sales cycles are likely to be. Will you have spurts of business during seasonal periods? Will you need to invest months of time to make a sale? Are sales more likely to occur at a particular time in your customers' fiscal year? Anderson says that by looking at the factors of making a sale, you'll be better able to plan your sales activities.

64. Educate the customer. According to Anderson, conventional sales wisdom dictates that spending time educating the customer about a product or service is a waste. She couldn't disagree more. "You have to be willing to educate the customer, sharing time with them, showing them why you're better than your competitor."

65. Choose the right channels. From retail locations, catalogs and independent distributors to websites and direct marketing, choosing the right venues by which your product or service is delivered to the marketplace is critical. Look at the myriad options you have to sell your product, and look for ways to maximize your return. While you may initially have thought you would sell only through your retail location, you may find that selling online--through your own website, an online retailer or even eBay-boosts your bottom line and the market you can reach.

Continue learning: To learn more about the sales process, visit our Sales section, which covers everything from prospecting and cold-calling to managing a sales team and tips from experts.

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This article was originally published in the March 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: 75 Startup Secrets.

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