By Curt Larson
Strategy is the thoughtful planning and design to achieve business success. Marketing strategies comprise the mix of promotion and direct sales tactics to achieve your growth plan. There is nothing accidental about how you will approach this task. Careful planning and discipline will be required as you commit your marketing strategy to paper.
First, ask yourself, “What are my goals?” Is it growth in sales or service volume? Is it support to a new showroom product or distributor program? Is it adding a new commercial product or accessory line? Is it support to a local mass retailer? Or is it simply getting more traffic and closing a higher percent of sales?
Goals must be defined, written on paper, and shared with your team of employees. People rally around goals and work diligently to achieve them if you share your vision.
Goals should be measurable weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly. “What gets measured will be accomplished.” This is a good standard to embrace.
Strategies and tactics
Marketing strategies and the marketing promotion plan are supported by tactics. The day-to-day tactics get us to our goal and support the growth we project.
Deciding the marketing mix
The marketing mix is a set of tools that you will use to accomplish your goals. How much can you spend? What is your budget? This will include promotional dollars and your efforts to close more sales. Useful tools need not be expensive.
Advertising: What you do to generate store traffic, including direct mail, Constant Contact e-mail marketing, newspapers, shoppers and flyers.
Public relations: Press releases that go to public media and ultimately become free articles and announcements. Open house and vendor events that bring in store traffic.
Website and social media: Create a website that provides essential details about what you sell and service. Make it easy for the public to contact you and find you. Use social media to reflect consumer support and testimonials (“Like” you on Facebook).
Store facility (inside and outside): What customers and guests see should be clean and orderly. Create an inviting atmosphere that reflects the image you wish to project. It is amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do. Use clear and easy-to-read signage — inside and outside.
This member of the marketing mix requires planning and training. The goal is to close more sales by your friendly approach to guests, questioning to determine needs, and providing benefits and the message of value in order to lead the sale to a close — ask for the order.
Provide prompt service with fair prices. Set a realistic expectation to customers for what you can do and when.
Measuring your results
The final steps in the marketing strategy are to measure your efforts.
Traffic: How many guests are visiting your dealership? Are you meeting your growth goals (weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually)? How are guests finding you?
Closing profitable sales: Are you closing more sales? Is the ratio of closed sales improving? Sales are created one customer at a time.
Feedback to next year’s plan: Seek continuous improvement and incorporate feedback (success and failure) into next year’s plan.
Share results: Include employees and team members in the feedback cycle and measurements. Employees support what they help create.
How to create a successful marketing strategy
1. Analyze your local competition: Review your three closest competitive dealers. Study and record what they are doing to market themselves, their products and their services. You certainly do not need to copy every technique, but record the best practices they are using to create your own competitive advantage. Adopt those that make sense for your business. What is the consumer, landscaper or commercial cutter seeing at these competitive dealerships that you should add to your marketing mix?
2. Gain new perspectives, ideas and practices from other dealer markets and industries. The experience can make your marketing strategy fresh and forward thinking. I love observing the automotive, powersport and motorcycle dealerships and how they have improved the customer buying experience. These dealer markets have improved store layouts and facilities, capitalized on parts and accessory marketing, and enhanced the service experience with longer and more convenient hours and scheduling. Many techniques from these markets can carry over to the OPE market. Marine, appliance and consumer electronics are additional markets to study and gain new perspectives and methods.
3. Focus on locating new customers to generate store traffic and clinch new business. It is essential to find new customers as attrition and migration will continually drain away your customer base. Bringing in fresh prospects is essential. Experts estimate that 40 percent of new prospects will find you and evaluate you based on a Web search. These are younger consumers that make decisions based on your ability to be found on the Web or social media. Establish and enhance your Web presence to bring in new clients.
4. Increase sales to existing customers. Finding new accounts is essential, but the timing can be long and the effort great. Sell companion products, accessories and services that relate and link to your primary products. Accessory sales can be significantly profitable. Extended warranties, service agreements and service plans provide return business, loyalty and profitable income streams. Parts marketing and merchandising enable customers to see you as a destination for after-sales service. Fuel products and fuel stabilizers are newer, logical categories that help meet today’s market needs.
5. Ask customers to suggest new products and services that fulfill today’s and tomorrow’s needs. Customer feedback and your attention to fulfilling customer needs will generate sales dollars, as well as loyal, happy customers.
6. Be open to product presentations from new vendors and programs that may be a fit. Take advantage of factory and distributor programs that can help establish new business, offer special terms, and save costs.
Curt Larson is founder and president of Curtis Research Associates, LLC, a business development research and distribution consulting firm that specializes in serving industrial, outdoor power, marine and construction equipment manufacturers and distributors, many of whom utilize dealer networks. Larson possesses 35 years of extensive experience in the outdoor power equipment industry. Prior to establishing his consulting firm in 2003, Larson worked 17 years for Briggs & Stratton Corporation, where he served as an elected officer and held three vice presidential positions in sales, marketing, distribution and customer support. For more information about Curtis Research Associates, LLC, visit www.curtlarson.com.