By Robin Robins
Well, here we are again, another year behind us and a fresh new one ahead. Why is it so many people need the turning of a calendar year to take a hard look at themselves and “resolve" to finally make this the year they make their million, get out of debt, get fit, etc.? Truth be told, successful entrepreneurs constantly are setting goals, measuring their success and adjusting, tweaking and refining their actions to achieve what we want.
That said, one of the most common questions I get around this time of year is, “How should I go about creating a marketing plan for my IT services business?" The answer I give them is often not welcome advice because it requires them to think strategically about their business, their customers and what they bring to the marketplace, rather than a checklist of marketing activities to a schedule, which is what they want but not what they need.
But for the sake of this article, where space is limited, I’ll give one very critical strategy for mapping out any successful marketing plan for a business. That is, think in terms of opportunity, not campaigns.
When most people think of a marketing plan, they start thinking tactically: Should we hire another salesperson? Start using Google PPC? Send out direct mail? Revise our website for better SEO rankings? All of this is akin to building a house by first deciding on what color curtains you want to hang.
When I’m creating a “New Year" marketing plan, I begin with an opportunity analysis.
First, I determine where I want to be in terms of profits. For me, that’s the single most critical number of any business. Everything else — sales, operational efficiency, utilization numbers, customer service ratings — are predictive indicators for the purpose of producing a profit. It seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many business owners I talk to who cannot give me an accurate assessment of the profitability of their business and where that profit is coming from (or where it is being lost).
From there, we need to accurately assess and measure assets. What clients are the most profitable? Why are they profitable? What can we do — not only from a marketing standpoint, but a messaging, offering and price point — to attract more of them? Which clients are the least profitable? Why is that? How we can we avoid spending marketing dollars on attracting the wrong people? What products and service lines are contributing the most to the bottom line and growth of the company? What employees are the most productive? What marketing systems(we call them Marketing Oil Wells)are producing the highest number and best quality clients? Also, what are some key trends we should be capitalizing on?
Once we know where the money is coming from or could come from (trends and opportunities we’re not currently capitalizing on), then and only then can we make good, intelligent decisions on where our marketing efforts are going to go, putting the effort first on maximizing the assets that already are producing but could be producing more, and next on the new trends and opportunities to make money.
Naturally, eliminating the least productive and profitable clients, product lines, services, activities and even employees is the first step to clearing the clutter and making way for more productive activities and allocating time and resources to marketing those things that can produce the highest amount of profit and growth. Once you know this, your “marketing" plan may require a price increase or an overhaul of your operations to ensure that when you do add more new clients, you can make money instead of simply exacerbating the situation by adding more clients to an unprofitable business model.
I’ve taken many clients through this “opportunity analysis" process, forcing them to give me answers to the above questions. After doing this, the marketing plan becomes a lot easier. Now we know with accuracy where we are, what we want to produce (with an accurate focus on profit) and then what the gap is. We’ve identified the assets and what’s already working and build on that. Without this information, you’ll end up spending money on marketing activities that are nothing more than random, drive-by attempts to get more new clients, wasting time and money and often attracting more of the wrong type of clients.
And if you really want a good “New Year’s Resolution" for creating a marketing plan, get educated about marketing. Convincing a stranger to pay you money to take over the support and control of their computer network is NOT an easy task; yet so many IT services companies put zero effort into understanding marketing and salesmanship. As CEO, you have to get out of the “technician" mindset and act like, think like and have the skills of an entrepreneur.
I once read an excellent definition of what an entrepreneur is on Wikipedia: “One who acts as an intermediary between labor and profits." It did not say one who labors for profits. If you think on that, you’ll suddenly realize that to be successful in this New Year you can’t just hire and abdicate the responsibility of marketing to an employee or marketing agency; it requires a skilled leader to oversee, direct and own this critical function of your business.
Robin Robins, CEO of
Technology Marketing Toolkit Inc.
, is a marketing consultant, sales trainer and author who provides marketing strategies for small to medium VARs, systems integrators, MSPs, solution providers and IT consulting firms.