Before you can integrate sales and marketing into your business plan, you need to define the two terms.
First, what is marketing? It’s best to begin by identifying what marketing is not. Marketing isn’t sales, and marketing isn’t advertising.
Sales and advertising can both be components of a marketing strategy, but as stand-alone items, they’re do not constitute marketing. In general, marketing identifies the needs of a particular targeted customer base. More important, marketing makes clear to this customer base that your company satisfies their particular needs better than anyone else, i.e. the competition. On a good day, marketing exceeds the customer’s expectations.
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:
The process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.
Basically, marketing allows you to communicate the unique selling propositions of your products and services. It includes branding, direct marketing, retail by point of purchase (online or offline), promotions, events, public relations, pricing, packaging, and distribution.
Sales, however, are directly related to marketing. Unfortunately, in many corporations and even small businesses, sales and marketing are often divorced, living in separate parts of the house and communicating like estranged husband and wife. Sales is a part of marketing, but others view this relationship conversely, seeing marketing a part of sales. Either way, the two must work together to promote the overall business plan.
The first person to whom you’re marketing is not your potential customer but yourself. Your position must be clear in your mind. If it is not, it won’t be clear to others. You’re your first target, and you work out from there. Sell yourself first; the others will come easier. Writing your business plan is absolutely necessary and will force you to make your position clear. Don’t assume that the information for your business is clear in your brain. Thoughts often appear much differently when forced to take place on the printed page.
The sales and marketing process then includes studying your competition. This is a mandatory step; unfortunately, it is oftentimes overlooked, usually due to anxiety. It is imperative that you know your competition as well as, if not better than, you know yourself. This will only help you to serve your customers better. You can use the net, database services, and clipping services to keep close tabs on your competitors. But be aware: They can keep close tabs on you, too!
Marketing is two-way communication with the customer. Some small business owners fail to realize that the consumer is conscious of and conscientious to what information he’s gives you. Consumers have become savvy, sophisticated, and skeptical as they are inundated with marketing gibberish and false promises. The main transgression is passing the information on to a third party — that is a breech of trust and will damage the relationship permanently.
As you work through your business plan, and specifically the marketing section, focus on the benefits the you provide to your customers and not the features of your specific product or service. Customers don’t care about the features; they care about how these features improve their life. Listen to your potential customers. They’ll teach you everything you need to know, if you take the time to hear what they are saying.
Be as tough on yourself as you can before you roll out a product or service or the marketing of those products and services. The most valuable input will be your most critical input. Your mother may love you, but if she cannot offer critical and constructive input, she is not part of your test market.
You need tough-minded people to poke holes in your fabric. It’s better to have holes before going to market than to spring a leak publicly. You may only get one chance. Try to make sure you have a strong, bulletproof, waterproof, and airtight model before entering the market.
The sales and marketing section of your business plan is potentially the most important part. Take your time with this section. Ask yourself: How will each promotional effort progress my business toward my desired goals?
Carol Parenzan Smalley is an educator, innovator, and entrepreneur. She is the creator of and instructor for Creating a Successful Business Plan, an online course offered by colleges and universities around the world.