Budgets are tight and the temptation to eliminate marketing looms large. As the lights go out in companies around the world, now is the time to put a spotlight on your organization so customers can find you.
In an economic downturn, the priority of any company should be to generate sales. Marketing plays a vital role in ensuring the sales team's success by providing lead generation. In a vibrant market, businesses are best served by subscribing to a robust marketing mix of trade shows, advertising, seminars, direct mail and public relations. This lets potential and existing customers see that the company is accessible and thriving.
Today's reality demands extreme measures since most companies are in survival mode. The first response is to cut all marketing programs. But this leaves sales in an untenable position of having to muscle its way into appointments. Marketing can ease this challenge by attracting quality leads and supporting the sales effort through direct mail and public relations.
Direct mail, either e-mail/html or printed material, gives sales immediate results in the form of customer leads. The more qualified the mailing list (slightly more expensive), the better the prospects. Now is not the time for a shotgun approach to direct mail. The more targeted the lists, the better the odds that sales will reach qualified buyers versus tire kickers.
Marketing can provide added value in these lean times by offering research support on the leads generated. This may include investigating the prospect's recent news, management changes, product launches, etc. This information will help sales secure a purchase order faster.
Public relations is another key tool to support sales. No sales person wants to be in a situation where the competition has been called out in an article and his or her product is not mentioned. With an active public relations program, the sales force benefits from reprints of positive mentions and third-party reviews that let customers make informed purchasing decisions. By providing links to online articles, the sales team can send information directly to its prospective customers.
A public relations campaign should include continued visibility with key industry analysts who may provide introductions to partners and potential customers. A campaign also may include bylined articles and quotes by technical staff that show the depth of knowledge within an organization, establishing that you understand the challenges facing your customers.
Though effective, public relations is not immune to budget pressures. Where to cut in public relations depends on whether the company is public or private. In any public company, these cutbacks should be a last resort. Visibility in the market is a necessity for investors, potential customers, partners and employee morale.
Private companies can focus on maintaining industry press relations and allow contact with business and financial press to slide for a month or two. Keep in mind that once ties have been broken, reintroducing the company and its products will be like starting over.
To further trim costs, marketing teams can write first drafts of their press releases (and interview their own technical staff for content). This lets your agency focus on outreach to journalists and analysts.
Another area that can be trimmed is the time spent developing speaking abstracts and pursuing speaking opportunities. Cutbacks here are usually consistent with other cost-cutting measures, such as a freeze on travel.
In short, by curtailing advertising, seminars and trade shows and streamlining direct mail and public relations, you can overcome the economic hump with a limited budget. But this is not a long-term strategy. Marketing, while critical to sales' immediate success, will eventually need to return to developing product roadmaps and defining long-term vision for the company.
Meanwhile, if the option is to dim the lights or go dark, realize that in an uncertain market, going dark suggests you are no longer a player, or worse yet, no longer in business. If you are forced to radically reduce your direct marketing and public relations budget, develop a plan to reinstate it within three months.