By Jill J. Johnson, MBA.
If you are struggling with sluggish sales, there are two critical areas you must review to address the situation. The first is determining if the slowdown is due to changes in your target market. The second is determining if your sales and promotional approaches are ineffective. While there may be complicating factors beyond your control, most of the time a sales slowdown can be attributed to one or both issues. This type of analysis reviews your demographics, competitors and the effectiveness of your marketing messages to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the demand potential for your business. When combined with a marketing audit, you have a powerful opportunity to turnaround your sales.
A demographic assessment is the foundation of determining if your products or services remain feasible. Understanding your target market demographics provides insight regarding the impact of any changes in market volume. A demographic review can help you determine if you are in a short-term sales slump or if a more significant market decline is expected over a longer time horizon. All too often the cause for a revenue decline is evident in the demographic data. The key is to allow the data to show you objectively what is going on in your market.
A well-executed demographic analysis evaluates shifts in the variables of your consumer’s age, gender, income and other economic variables impacting the market you sell to and identifies potential market risks impacting your business survival. Business client demographics include company age, revenue, number of employees, or number of locations.
Be careful in defining your market area boundaries. Too many businesses use wider geographic areas for their market than they realistically serve. Overly optimistic boundaries will overstate your market potential. Think of your customer demographics as you would a doctor looking at your vital signs. Demographics will help identify new opportunities. Or they will confirm your market has shrunk to a level where you should re-consider your offerings.
Some organizations conduct probing interviews of customers, employees, key community leaders, industry associations, and vendors to gain insight on what is changing within their marketplace. Interviews provide you with insights into what makes your competitors tick or help you understand what your key target audiences really think. Interviews can help you understand what is going on and provide you with insight to refine your marketing messages to improve sales.
While the Internet has made it easier to gather basic information on competitors, competitive intelligence involves deeper methods. Look at what products and services they are promoting. Evaluate how they are positioning these resources including how they address pain points to meet customer needs. You can use primary research techniques including networking with industry experts, customers, suppliers, key referral sources and even competitors to better understand your market environment. Combine this information with the use of secondary research sources such as news media or subscription databases to help you gain additional insight. Researching your competitors will provide you with a deeper awareness of opportunities or the need to revamp your offerings. Competitor insight also can help you develop more effective strategies to address the impact they might be having on shaping your consumer attitudes or restricting your market area.
Secret shopping allows you to better understand how effective your salespeople are at sharing your brand message with your target audience. You can assess their conversation approaches, closing techniques and positioning efforts when responding to contacts from a prospective customer. You can combine this approach with secret shopping your key competitors. Secret shopping your team and competitors will give you greater insight into identifying opportunities for improvement and enhancing sales effectiveness.
Effective marketing strategies balance the critical interrelationships of the elements of the marketing mix with your organization’s strategic plan to reach identified target markets and generate desired sales results. A marketing audit evaluates the effectiveness of your marketing and promotional tactics to identify what needs to be maintained or improved to support your organization’s strategic vision and plan. This would include a review of your website and sales approaches (phone, drop-in, Internet, etc.). Review all of your marketing collateral materials to assess improvements to enhance consumer decision-making. Carefully evaluate how you utilize your social media channels to identify more effective tactics for sharing your marketing message and engaging with your prospects or key referral sources.
Sometimes your team needs outside support to review their sales approaches to improve overall performance. It is not uncommon for novice sales people to be given a few books and some sales manuals with the expectation they will intuitively figure out how to sell. Closing deals, whether to a consumer or a commercial client, can be a much more complicated effort, especially if it involves a complex sale. Complex sales do not resolve in a single interaction and they often involve multiple decision points before the final decision to buy. Sales professionals often have to tweak how they converse with prospects. Developing better skills and questions for probing prospects can help isolate decision criteria and move the sale forward.
Engaging in a Strategic Market Analysis is a powerful approach to uncovering the true reasons for your revenue slowdown. The goal is to determine if your marketing approaches or your lack of a viable market is the cause of your situation. If it is your marketing, you can adjust your sales and marketing messages to better align with your customers and their decision triggers. If it is the market, you can review your pricing strategy and geographic market area boundaries to better optimize those elements impacting your target market.
Sifting through the data you gather will help you reassess your market trends, growth factors and competitive dynamics. You gain an understanding of the implications of this information relative to your organization, as well as an assessment of how well you are positioned for long-term success.
Jill J. Johnson, MBA, President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, is a management consultant, accomplished speaker, award-winning author, and Business Hall of Fame inductee. She helps clients make critical business decisions and develop plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted over $4 billion worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information, visit www.jcs-usa.com.