Marketing

Keeping and Creating Customers in 2010

An economic downturn can adversely affect a company’s profitability, but from hard times, providers with marketing on their minds rise and find ways to win market share.

In its simplest and most effective definition, marketing is the art and science of keeping and creating customers. From the way you answer the phone to the email blast announcing a sale, marketing is part of your everyday operations and therefore is integral to your success.

As we get set to enter the second quarter of 2010, it’s time for a marketing check-up. So let’s get out those marketing plans as two industry experts share tips on what you need to know for successful marketing in 2010.

Plan Your Attack

Like any lengthy trip you take, you’re going to need a good map. Marketing is no different. A plan becomes a living document that helps you hit your company goals.

“A marketing plan is a dynamic work in progress,” says Melissa Keim,vice president, marketing, education and eBusiness development for The ROHO Group (www.therohogroup.com). “If one doesn't exist today, start one and let go of the past, other than to learn what worked and what did not work. Environmental impact is a constant in our industry, so our strategic and tactical response must be responsive to those changes.”

Keim advised providers to think big and work down to the tactical level. Don't feel overwhelmed by a large document to be completed, rather, look at the basics and lay out for your team in simple terms:

  • Who are your primary and secondary audience members?
  • What is your objective and message to share? and
  • What is the best way to communicate that message? 

“Marketing isn't just promotion — it's pricing strategy, distribution and the product itself,” she says. “Before diving in, consider: Is your business' mix of those elements right for your audience, and are your company skill-sets the correct match to serve that audience? If not, tailor your plan to what is. A wise saying I once heard is: ‘People buy for their reasons, not yours,’ so listen to the voice of the consumer and take action.”

Once you have your plan, set it in action by educating the members of your organization, so they know how to get there, too.

 “You can have the best staff and best services in the world but its not going to do you much good if nobody knows about it,” says Tiffany Cloud, vice president, relationship management and business consultation for Pride Mobility (www.pridemobility.com), which offers marketing services for HME providers. “So a marketing plan is absolutely important and critical and implementing the plan is even more important than having the plan.”

Pay Attention to Industry Trends

Good marketing takes advantage of industry trends. And right now there is no avoiding that retailers in most industries are tiptoeing through challenging times. But even so, from difficult times rise the best marketing minds. In fact, Cloud says now is a great time to try to increase market share from competitors who have stalled in their marketing efforts. 

“Look outside our industry at Southwest Airlines,” says Cloud. “The airline industry was hit hard post 9-11 and hit hard by the rising cost of fuel and the economic downturn. Southwest came out of the gate advertising even more. They took advantage of the opportunity. Not only did they advertise more but they found a clever way of marketing by thinking what does everybody hate about flying and then positioned themselves as the anti-airlines. Providers can learn from that. Instead of a sterile, clinical approach, think about becoming the provider that makes your life more comfortable. Or makes your home environment friendlier. The smartest marketers take a challenge and turn it into an opportunity.”

As the lack of advertising dollars continue to influence marketing planning and propel providers to do more with less, more providers are turning to online sales and social media to get their messages across in an effective yet inexpensive way. Keim warns of this growing yet challenging strategy.

“The world of social media is big today, and will absolutely continue but only go there if you have the resources to manage the medium,” says Keim.  “It's powerful and has far-reaching opportunities, but it is ever-changing and requires someone who can dig in, learn and grow your business. A great-looking website or Facebook page doesn't sell product. The meat within the medium does.”

Cloud suggests that public relations is a cost-effective way to get people through your doors. With so many negative stories being broadcast every day, media outlets are looking for positive stories to balance their reporting. And HME providers are doing notable work. Ideas for press releases include store openings, certifications and equipment donations, especially around certain holidays like Veterans Day.

Other inexpensive tactics Cloud offers is freshening up your showroom with a nice coat of paint, appropriate music and well-trained staff, which can work wonders for your sales.
           
Make More Cash Sales

Reimbursement and certification issues have forced more providers to consider starting or increasing cash sales. The secret, perhaps, is in understanding your customers’ needs and providing those items using a cross-selling strategy.

“It’s like when you keep looking at your own investment portfolio and realize it is time to diversify,” says Cloud. “This is no different. Providers are diversifying their product portfolios. They are recognizing that having both coded and non-coded products in their mix are critical. And with baby boomers aging, the cash sale market will continue to grow and expand. Many providers are recognizing that if they don’t get into the cash business they are definitely missing a key opportunity.”

Keim advises that just because many people are jumping on a particular trend, it still might not be right for your company culture.

 “A cash sales strategy only works successfully if the provider can maintain the model. It may be hot, but just putting up a website isn't enough. Websites and search engine optimization are ubiquitous today. How can you stand out? What makes you different? There is definitely opportunity, but understanding how to merchandise online or on the showroom floor requires planning before diving in. Service to the end user is our most important consideration, so this sale requires high levels of both pre- and post-sale support.”

For those providers who do want to start or increase cash sales, Cloud suggests taking notes on how retailers outside the HME industry are merchandising, dressing and even greeting customers at the door. What type of training does your staff need to increase cash sales? If you have a showroom, accessory placement is critical to increasing cash sales. Cloud suggests setting up your showroom to represent a home environment so customers feel more comfortable and can visualize using the equipment in their own homes.
           
Ask Your Customers

Integral to successful marketing planning is customer feedback. Ask your customers what they want and how you’re doing.

“One should never assume you know your customers as well as the customers know themselves,” Cloud says. “So asking them questions to understand their mindset is critical.”

Keim sees performance and service to the user as crucial in today's market.  Her advice: Make sure you do not assume that what you see in your product mix and team are perceived the same way by the customer. Keim suggests assessing customer-centric values by asking your employees to define the brand as a person (by gender, age, personality, etc.).  Then ask your customers the same question. If the connection isn't there, suggest a change.  And if necessary, find the angle of the change that works for that audience and message mix.

 

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