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Tactical Marketing for a Tough Economy

During recent years many corporate functions, marketing included, became bloated and picked up a lot of overhead and expense. What was lost was the understanding that the objective of a company, as Theodore Levitt (of the Harvard Business School) once said is "to create a customer" (e.g., sell.) Nebulous goals such as "building the brand" took precedence over ‘building sales' - and resulted in a marketing function that is hard to justify, let alone deliver any kind of ROI.

In a depressed economy where sales are hard-fought, marketing has to return to the basics - part market reconnaissance and part sales support. In short, the orientation has to be more short-term and tactical. Anything that can't show results in the next several quarters is a luxury that usually can't be afforded.

In other words, marketing has to be tactical - concerned more with the short-tem generation of sales revenue than long-term concepts. Quite ironically, effective short-term marketing can often highlight the pending strategic issues more effectively than dedicated, so-called ‘strategic' marketing. The reason being is that when you sell to today's customers they are often building solutions for tomorrow's markets - and you will begin to see which way the markets are headed. This is especially true for productivity tools or enabling technology.

What characteristics should tactical marketing possess that will make it a management asset? Here are several metrics to use in assessing whether your marketing will help you to survive the current downturn:

Tactical marketing should be tightly aligned with revenue generation (e.g., sales)

Just about every task undertaken by marketing should be, in some way, directly traceable to the sales effort. One metric for this is lead generation, but there are also others, such as helping the sale force become more productive by off-loading prospect qualification (through more effective sales material content and communications), and helping to shorten the sales cycle. (Providing competitive distinction information to prospects so they can transition more quickly to the closing phases of the sales cycle.)

Take a look at our article on the Marketing to Support Sales for a discussion of how this alignment is developed.

Tactical marketing should be quick, flexible and relatively inexpensive.

The competitive environment can change rapidly (such as the introduction of new players, technologies or external events) and marketing has to be flexible enough to change with the environment. Hence, long-term programs planned a year in advance with large budgets are now marketing dinosaurs. Pretending to know (or predict) what would happen over the course of a year was always an illusion - now its an unaffordable one. Needless to say, traditional advertising should be looked at skeptically.

Tactical marketing should be considered an important tool by the sales department.

To paraphrase the classic Packard automobile tag line: "Ask the salesman who uses it." In other words, if the sales department doesn't use the services and output of your marketing department, it's difficult to see how marketing can be effective in supporting the sales effort. Look beyond the talk - can marketing walk the sales walk? That's the real test.

Tactical marketing should look at the sales experience for primary market research.

Many companies are uncomfortable with initiating and utilizing market research, especially primary (e.g., first hand) research. Too often, this view comes from the fact that the methodology advocated is used more by academics than those in the selling arena. Focus groups, market ‘perception' and ‘awareness' studies are thought to be for those with lots of budget and plenty of time on their hands. The real key to tactical market research is to be able to diagnose your successful sales and pick up on customer buying patterns and key sales success factors. That's why tight alignment with sales is so critical to successful tactical marketing. But in order to know what to look for, the marketing staff really has to understand the sales process. When it comes to that understanding, for most marketing departments, you may as well be talking a foreign language.

Take a look at our article on the The Sales AutopsySM for some ideas on how to develop these insights for your firm.

Tactical marketing should generate all content for communicating with customers and prospects.

One of the tell-tales of ineffective marketing is lots of slick collateral (or slick web sites) which cost a lot to produce - and doesn't get used. Usually the kind written by highly-paid agency copywriters. All tactical marketing content should be produced, or at least tightly architected, by the marketing department (with a critical review by the top sales people) - and fairly quickly at that (not taking more than 30 days to produce.) If you are going to specify a hammer to be used on a project you're building right now - you should at least know how the carpenter is going to use it. And you can't wait for two quarters to get it - that's opportunity lost. A lot of marketing material resembles hammers that were designed and made by people who never saw a nail.

Can marketing be eliminated in the short term? Several companies are doing just that. But it's a bit like trying to save money on a trip by driving by every gas station until you're real low on gas. If you don't find an open gas station exactly when you need the next fill up, you'll run out - and come to a dead stop. At best, you'll be late to market, and there's a real good chance you'll miss the sales boat altogether. Better hope another one comes along. That's usually not a good bet in a tough economy.

© 2009 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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