Zee2A's Marketing Edge Blog

February 18, 2009

Two Marketing Mistakes to Avoid in Your Start-up Business

Two Marketing Mistakes to Avoid
in Your Start-up Business

You can hunt ducks and pheasant with a shotgun – a weapon that sprays tiny pellets around a broad area. But if you want to bring down big game, that approach won’t work. Why? Because the mass of the pellets is simply insufficient to bring down the animal. So you need to change your weapon, and use a hunting rifle instead. Hunting rifles are designed to propel a massive bullet with sufficient velocity to get you your trophy – but there is a downside. You can’t just aim in the general area of the target and ‘spray’ bullets. You need to be pinpoint accurate with your shot – and most times you get just the one shot.

Right about now you’re thinking: “What the …? I don’t read this blog for hunting lessons!” An understandable reaction, of course, but in a roundabout way that is exactly why you read this blog! As business owners and Sales and Marketing people we are hunting down new business and revenue streams, and we can learn lessons from things hunters already know. Like the fact that you can hunt rats and mice (and birds) with a ‘spray and pray’ approach; but when you want the impressive wins you need very sharp aim.

Small businesses pass through four phases in their passage to becoming big businesses, and each phase requires a slightly different aim. Over the next few articles we will look at each phase, and analyse the Sales and Marketing ‘aim’ required in each.

The four phases come about at the intersections of two key dimensions: Your offering (we’ll call it a product), and your market.

Primary Focus: The Start-up Phase

When a business first begins operations it sits at the Product/Market intersection labelled ‘New/New‘. An untested product offering is being marketed to an audience of prospects who have never done business with the organisation before. It goes without saying that this phase is fraught with dangers and challenges! However, the good news is that once you have passed out of this phase there is no need to ever re-visit it – although some willingly step back into the maelstrom for reasons which escape me.

The Indiscriminate/Ineffectual Approach

There are two ways in which we can get it wrong in this phase: First (and very common), we can take a shotgun and fire on anything that moves. We don’t care what we kill, as long as the pot doesn’t remain empty at dinnertime! Here at Zee2A, we call this the Indiscriminate/Ineffectual approach. It is manifested by a high level of marketing activity, spread across an impossibly wide range of channels. Think: three or more networking commitments a week in widely different environments; brochures; flyers; adverts in the local paper(s); AdWord campaigns; Yellow Pages-based cold-calling – and the list goes on. If you’re checking boxes for the majority of these in your new business, you may well benefit from going back to First Principles.

Why does this approach not work? For starters, by taking the shotgun rather than the hunting rifle you have pretty much guaranteed that you will only ever bring home ‘rats and mice’. None of your many marketing initiatives is massive enough to influence substantial prospects into doing business with you. And there’s a further consequence – by blazing away at big game with a shotgun you run the risk of causing irritation, thus losing the chance to ever do business with that prospect. This happens when you put in front of a key prospect an ill-prepared marketing message or sales proposal – because you didn’t have the time to focus on their real needs. Once the door closes behind you (and it will) it will be extremely difficult to open it again.

Another reason to avoid the Indiscriminate/Ineffectual approach is because even duck-hunters have to have some semblance of good aim! Yes, the shotgun makes it easier, but you still have to be pointing at the right area of sky, and be able to time the shot.

The Discriminate/Ineffectual Approach

A second way to get it wrong in the Startup phase is to take our hunting rifle, then use it to shoot at ‘rats and mice’! Sounds crazy, I know, but we’ve seen it happen. This Discriminate/Ineffectual approach is characterised by a small set of highly-prepared marketing and sales initiatives, delivered with precision to the wrong audience of prospects. You’ll know you’re doing it when you find your order bookings are rising but your profits are shrinking – then when you try to raise prices to address the profit issue your order-book shrinks. You’ll also be guilty of it if you invest so much of your time and skills in working with the prospect before getting an order that they then don’t place the order because you’ve addressed their need for free.

Why does this approach not work? Principally because the business won doesn’t warrant the investment in winning it. It’s a gruesome visual, I know, but imagine how much would be left of a rabbit struck by a bullet from a rifle designed to hunt Wildebeest. Not enough to go in the pot for dinner – and that’s precisely the problem!

Being both Discriminate and Effectual is the Key

How can we avoid these mistakes in our start-up business? Consider the following pointers:

  • Know what you are hunting. Understand clearly who your target market is, so that when you get a prospect in the cross-hairs you can decide in an instant whether to take the shot or keep looking.
  • Know where to hunt. Know the demographics and psychographics of your target market, so that you can choose marketing and sales initiatives that will bring them – and only them – into your gunsights.
  • Be confident and positive in offering your product to prospects – after all, they’ve never done business with you before so they don’t know what to expect. Planning and preparation are the key to success in this area. Hunters don’t ask for permission – and they’re okay with the fact that they don’t hit the target every time.

In a future article we will look at the marketing and sales focus needed to a business in the Core Market phase of growth. In the meantime, Good hunting!

©David Deakin and Zee2A Limited 2009. Would you like to reprint this article? You may do so as long as you include the copyright notice and the following paragraph: David Deakin, CEO of Zee2A, is a marketing mentor who works with Professional services Executives yearning to take their business to the next level. Through one-on-one and group mentoring programmes he helps them to create sustainable marketing strategies that attract more clients at profitable rates. To learn more, sign up for his e-zine, or make an enquiry please visit www.zee2a.com.

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