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Improve Sales With a Marketing Plan

Need to step up your sales? Create an easy-to-follow marketing plan that'll help you along.

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Are you serious about growing your ? Then it's time to ditch your old "catch as catch can" approach and put together a plan that you can manage along with the daily operations of your business. Too many entrepreneurs focus on marketing only during the slow times and, as a result, put their businesses on an economic roller coaster where it's always feast or famine. A well-planned marketing program helps you build year-round and is easier to manage because it removes the stress and anxiety of having to play catch-up every few months to jump-start sales.

Choose Your Tactics
The best marketing programs reach prospects with a smart mix of tactics. When it comes to marketing, being a Johnny-one-note is a bad idea because a single tactic is rarely sufficient to move prospects through the sales cycle.

Most every small business has three types of prospects: , warm and hot. Cold prospects know little or nothing about your business. Warmer prospects are familiar with your company and are about midway through the sales cycle. Your company's hottest prospects are those closest to closing or who've purchased from you in the past. Either you've successfully moved them through the sales cycle by exposing them to multiple marketing messages and sales contacts, or they've come to you by way of referral and simply need a bit more information or personal to make a purchase or sign a contract.

When creating your marketing program, it's essential to include at least one marketing tactic to reach each of these types of prospects. Cold prospects, for example, might be reached through newspaper ads or direct mail, warm prospects via an e-mail marketing campaign, and hot prospects might respond best to PowerPoint presentations along with face-to-face selling to add the final heat to close sales.

Choose a mix of tactics that'll reach and motivate your prospects--and fit your company's marketing budget. Whether you're bootstrapping or flush with funds, there's a group of tactics that'll work for you. Tighter budgets sometimes require tactics that take a bit more hands-on execution. For example, a cable TV campaign will reach cold prospects, but so will home parties-and for considerably less cash.

Put It on Paper
The trick to successfully balancing all your marketing tactics is to have a written plan with a manageable timeline. That way you can create your campaigns and materials well in advance of your deadlines and have them ready to go when you need them. You can also save money on design and copywriting fees by having many of your marketing tools--from ads and brochures to website copy--created at the same time. And you can lower your printing costs by having all your new marketing materials printed together.

Unless you're creating a to help win funding (in which case you'll need a more elaborate, in-depth document), your company's marketing plan can be simple to create and easy to follow. There should be five principal parts:

1. Situation Analysis: Generally only about a page in length, this section provides a brief overview of your company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This is a helpful benchmarking tool because when you review your plan a few months from now, you'll be able to see how your situation has changed.

2. : If you're marketing to consumers, write a target audience profile based on demographics, such as age, gender and household income. If your target audience consists of other businesses, include a one paragraph or less description of those businesses here. This target audience description is absolutely invaluable when evaluating whether a particular publication or media opportunity will help you reach your best prospects.

3. Goals: Write a short, bulleted list of your company's marketing goals. Be sure to make them measurable, such as "increase new accounts by 10 percent by March 31," so you can evaluate the performance of your campaign.

4. Strategies and Tactics: Outline your company's overall and the list of tactics you'll use to reach prospects as they move through your sales cycle. Create a timeline or use software with a calendar function to note important production deadlines.

5. Budget: Price out the execution of the mix of marketing activities you've chosen. If they appear to take you over budget, don't get discouraged. Remember, there's a tactic to fit every budget. Rethink your plan until you have a mix of strategies you can afford and that'll reach out and motivate your prospects year-round.

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