It’s July, and the start of a new financial year for businesses operating in Australia.
Perhaps more significantly, the change of month and focus heralds the end of seemingly countless, inappropriate and largely ineffective End-of-Financial Year Sales.
The era of door-buster sales events has lapsed, a product of too many sales, a lack of consumer focus and a noticeable detachment from such initiatives by large segments of the population and business fraternity.
It is ironic and contradictory for entities, that espouse commitments to being customer-focused, customer-driven and customer-centric, to conduct marketing campaigns that are about themselves, their inventories, tax obligations and stock control.
Few consumers gear their lifestyles and buying patterns to financial years, historic celebrations centred on the Boxer Rebellion (Boxing Day) or the Grecian calendar.
Little wonder that sales events centred on those dates and occasions have waning interest, relevance and patronage.
Moreover, in an era of Big Data, it is evident that many consumers and clients have greater and deeper understandings of businesses, than those entities have of those whom they seek to serve. Such events are predictable, and offers of up to 60% off are effective in discounting the value and integrity of a brand name.
Among those who do respond to, and buy from “door-buster” sales is a key entrepreneurial sub-group who transform from customers one day, to competitors the next day, when the heavily discounted merchandise is resold at higher prices on Gumtree and other social media channels.
The arrival of a new financial year is a timely opportunity to implement a business model, which is founded on:
In with the new,
out with the old.
Past, traditional and established practices need to be disrupted, removed and replaced. Clients and customers are waiting for fresh, new and exciting offers.
1. BOUNDLESS. BORDERLESS. TIMELESS
Artificial, largely meaningless parameters impinge on business performance and market appeal.
Moreover, they have little relevance to, and influence on consumers, clients and buying patterns.
The exceptions are, typically, bureaucratic and government operations, which are allocated funds on an annual basis.
Most evident is that many parameters have little advantages, rewards and benefits for targeted consumers.
Little wonder then that “End-of-Financial Year” sales events are recording decreasing interest, traffic and sales.
That is a construct whose currency is limited to a business operation, and has marginal relevance to consumers.
Likewise, promotion of “local” is increasingly less effective.
Geographic considerations are marginalised in the contemporary, global and digital marketplaces.
Access and responsiveness are fundamental points of appeal.
Australians, and people at large, have progressively become less tribal and parochial.
Self-interest and financial gain do overwhelm many emotions.
To shatter another commonly-held myth, size does not count, in most instances.
Being, thinking and acting big can imply abundant resources, capacity and competitive advantage.
It is also reason enough to dislike entities, products and services.
Examples are self-evident in banking, telecommunications, social media and the public service.
The underlying and key message is the need to cast off barriers, filters and impediments. Supply chains in the future will not be determined by, or service physical business networks alone.
Personal assistants will not occupy offices and desks adjacent to the manager’s suite. Indeed, they may not interact physically at all.
Thus, the present – and the future – for business are boundless, borderless and timeless. The limiting factors are the mind, perceptions and past experiences. In many instances, those are the factors which are holding business back.
2. PRODUCTIVITY EXPERTISE. REALLY!
Let me share with you a recent, very educational experience.
I received an unsolicited telephone call at the office from Tony.
He introduced himself as a productivity expert, and offered a free in-house presentation to overcome my and Marketing Focus’ innate procrastination.
The bait being offered centred on the lure of increased revenue, profits and performance as a direct consequence of enhanced productivity.
My interest was sparked … on a number of dimensions, but not on the offer itself.
I inquired how it was that he was phoning me.
The personal and company names had been provided by an external list broker.
When asked what he knew about Barry Urquhart and Marketing Focus, Tony’s response was prompt and concise. “You’re listed as a consultancy”.
Breathtakingly deep and meaningful.
I endeavoured to engage Tony as a peer consultant, keen to learn and benefit from some insights into his practices.
Our own established practice of not undertaking cold-call canvassing was explained and justified on the grounds that experience showed that positive response rates to such “inertia-calls” were close to, if not exactly, 0%.
I sought his reassurance and support for the established policy.
He countered that his response-rate was a lot better than that.
We engaged in some discussions and I surrendered the research findings that cold-calls in the broader marketplace typically elicited about a 1% positive response – 2% at best.
No, No, No, expressed Tony. “I get about a 1 in 10 commitments to provide a free in-house initial presentation.”
Impressive, was my immediate reaction.
However, I pointed out that at that point in time of the relationship no income had been generated.
An inquiry was made about the conversion rate from a free initial presentation to an income producing brief.
One in five was the response.
Tony expressed pride in his personal productivity.
I took pains to detail the arithmetic model he had outlined:
10% success rate – for free initial presentations
Nett Balance: 10 prospects
20% conversation rate (1 in 5) 2 clients
Therefore, the applicable business model was founded on 100 cold-calls, 98 rejections and 2 successful, fee paying briefs. That is 2%.
I asked Tony to relate the concept of productivity to value, effectiveness and efficiency.
No attempt was made to offer any gratuitous advice.
MORAL OF THE STORY
- Beware prospect details from list brokers.
- Those lists can be obsolete within 3 months.
- Unwanted, unsolicited calls do considerable brand damage.
- Research and analyse information on the inert prospect.
- Always refer to known information on entities, products, services and people.
- Customise the telephone conversation. “A consultancy” falls well short.
- Detail, monitor and quantify the cost/benefit equation of the prospecting business model…
- Particularly, if one is promoting productivity.
- Assess one’s ability to be confronted with 98 rejections, to secure 2 contracts. Mental strength, not agility, is imperative, and rare.
- Seek out, evaluate and market-test alternative business prospecting models.
- Finally, undertake a revision based on mathematics, so….
- Make sure “things add up”.
3. TRUST ME – SIZE DOESN’T MATTER
Consumers don’t trust big businesses, banks in particular.
It’s a common reframe throughout Australia and New Zealand.
The sentiments extend to Britain and North America.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the expression may not be totally accurate or correct.
Take for example the direct and immediate fallout from the Global Financial Crisis, which unfolded from August 2008.
Individuals, couples, families and corporations sought protection for their funds.
Many found comfort, reassurance and security in depositing and transferring money to the major banks.
In so doing, they revealed trust in the banks.
Moreover, a significant percentage of smaller building societies and credit unions subsequently changed trading brand names to include the word bank, as a competitive factor.
It is true, that many people and, indeed, bank clients, don’t like banks.
The deficiency tends to centre on a lack of respect.
There-in lies the fundamental challenge for banks.
That is, to win and retain the respect of the public and clients.
Foremost in the collective public-mind are the reported instances of poor advice by bank-backed financial planners, foreclosures on home loans and the seemingly injudicious call-in of commercial loans for otherwise viable small businesses.
The pillars on which relationships with banks are founded are:
DISLIKE A common prevailing attitude is that banks charge interest and fees “on my money”, for which they provide little return.
Clearly, there is not a lot to like on what, perceptually, if not actually, is an imbalance, unfair and inequitable relationship.
TRUST Consistency, continuity and, therefore, predictability fulfil the need for peace-of-mind.
Those major banking institutions which are too big to fail satisfy a want and need for security.
RESPECT This is the challenge.
It is typically established on a belief that an entity and its people understand, and therefore are able to care.
The sentiments are emotive, subjective and difficult to quantify.
Thus, big businesses, particularly banks, need to be, sensitive to the fact that they may not be liked, diligent in retaining the trust they enjoy, and striving, at all times, to be respected, by exhibiting genuine, persistent and universal empathy.
In fact, all business leaders, managers and owners, regardless of the size of their business will be well advised to focus the culture on respect.
They will do well
By doing good.
4. THE AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS BATTLEFIELD – INTELLIGENCE OUTRANKS INFORMATION
Truth is the first casualty of war.
It is a strategic planning lore that should be recalled, reflected upon and respected on the battlefields of Australian, New Zealand and British commerce.
Much of the information available from multiple sources is contradictory, conflicting and spurious, a product of, knowingly or unknowingly, propagandists.
Some may call them public relations consultants or corporate affairs spokespersons.
Their intent is the same – to project images, facts and factors in the most favourable light.
Incomplete data and selected information are inherently dangerous, particularly when it is used as a basis for company strategies, tactics and campaigns.
Business leaders and managers need to respect the following principle:
“Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it”
On May 1 this year Britain conducted memorial services for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, in France.
A century earlier, a total of 19,240 British military personnel were killed on a single day.
It was carnage.
A lack of effective planning was a major contributing factor.
Many of the tactics, including front-on infantry advances – deployed in the battle were adaptations of those used by the British at the Charge of the Light Brigade, in the Crimean War.
Little consideration was assigned to advances in weaponry, and to the use of basic bi-planes.
Strategies and tactics, like products and services, have relatively short life-cycles.
Just 23 days later, around the village of Villers-Bretonneux, a total 8,833 Australian troops were casualties of poor planning, which was based on inadequate, incomplete and unverified intelligence.
Sadly, a total 1,918 of those Australian diggers paid the ultimate price.
These are salutary lessons for Australian business leaders, owners and managers.
Plan carefully and prudently.
Always defend one’s hard-won territory in the most appropriate manner, and attack where opportunities – not competitors – exist.
EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP WINS
In 1917, a young, lowly ranking Brigadier-General John Monash was subsequently appointed to lead the local allied forces on the Western Front.
He retrieved, verified and analysed the available field-information.
Careful and detailed analysis transformed raw information into intelligence, and was the foundation of a strikingly new, innovative and above all else, successful strategy, including the use of newly developed tanks, which consistently defeated the German forces.
These were progressively embraced by other allied forces and nations.
Momentum was achieved and sustained.
It shortened the war, minimised casualties and changed forever the concepts and rules of warfare strategic principles.
FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLE
It is folly for smaller, limited-resourced independent operations to copy the successful strategies and tactics of larger national and global trading groups.
Being number 1 in the marketplace typically orients the business to a defensive posture. In many instances the best form of defence is offense, which is supported with strong advertising, marketing and promotions.
Number two in the marketplace will be inclined to be on attack, focused on the dominant competitor.
Third-ranking entities in a given marketplace appropriately seek out and fulfil uncontested segments, as a flanker.
That is, to avoid head-to-head competitive moves.
Smaller firms and outlets generally represent the largest numerical presence.
They are most effective when they embrace guerrilla tactics, centred on rapid movements, creative manoeuvres, prompt withdrawals and recognising their inability to effectively defend large territories over the intermediate-to-longer-term.
Personal relationships, customised service and small-order packaging (possibly, including delivery) are the forte of small businesses, which are readily and widely recognised, valued and willingly accepted as having a reasonable premium applied.
In short, everyone can be a winner, with the right strategy.
Casualties in the broader Australian, New Zealand and British commerce sector, independent outlets in particular, will be inevitable in the immediate and intermediate future.
Some can be avoided, and the overall effects minimised, by detailed, objective and timely assessments, reviews and possible refinements to existing operations.
Claiming territory, customers and favoured market positioning for products, services, applications and relationships will be fundamentally important.
Looking beyond the company is always an imperative, particularly now.
Disciplined planning, rigorously implemented, leverages the prospects for sales, competiveness and sustainable relationships.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the great, but flawed, French general was right when he declared: “God is on the side of the big armies”.
Scale is, and will continue to be, a competitive advantage for the mass, consumer-driven retail market.
However, to smaller independent hardware operations, for example, niche marketing (read: guerrilla warfare) represents a tempting and real opportunity.
Foremost in those instances will be another lore of military thinking, being:
“The first objective must always be to win the hearts and minds of the people.”
Local small business owners, tradespeople and the countless non-skilled, non-handy men value personalised service, knowledge, responsiveness and flexibility, for which reasonable premiums are paid.
Geographic isolation is no protection in the current global and digital world. Intrusions are possible and probable from remote locations.
Delivery by drones may be some time off.
However, sales and revenue leakages are conceivable with the ready access to on-line communication and purchase channels.
INTERNAL RECORDS, EXTERNAL RECONNAISSANCE
In marketplaces where comprehensive, verifiable and reliable intelligence is not available, maintaining electronic, real-time records of transactions, inventories, consumer store visits, sales conversion ratios and financial balances is imperative.
So too are the documenting and analysing of overall, product category, units and lineal metre-age stock-turns.
These latter groupings are a true measure of the velocity, productivity and efficiency of an operation.
Carrying-costs for slow-moving products are a burden that must, at all times, be minimised or eliminated.
The physical presence, image and appeal of a retail business are enhanced with well stocked displays and fast-moving, attractive and needed merchandise.
Knowing the local territory and the activities of competitors are imperatives.
A disciplined, structured and scheduled visiting pattern of competitive outlets, and the premises of existing and prospective clients, provides invaluable market information and insights on why specific demands and actions are being taken.
It also reinforces and highlights how one’s own presence and being recognised underscore the importance of the marketing philosophy:
Share of Mind
Share of Market
In the battle to win customers’ and clients’ interest, custom, loyalty and referral business, information about market share data and rankings accounts for little in isolation.
Neither can be banked.
For all business leaders, owners and managers, being aware, alert and assertive are essential prerequisites for success.
Information is important. It makes for better decision-making, strategy development and risk minimisation.
However, in isolation, too much information can, and sadly often does, lead to paralysis by analysis.
The challenge, and the charge is to simply go out and win business.
Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is an internationally respected business strategist, consumer behaviour analyst and conference keynote speaker.