Your Client's Marketing Plan Stinks (Part 1 of 3)


There is a perception that CPA's are the last people in the world that business owners should ask for help when it comes to their marketing plan. Maybe that reputation is well earned, maybe it's not. One thing is for sure though, if you want to help your clients grow their businesses you are going to have to deal with marketing. It comes up in 100% of my client relationships. And it is often one of the biggest value adds you can deliver for your customer.

Marketing is simply the process of conveying your message to the customer in such a way that they buy what you are selling. I'm sure there are more lofty text book definitions, but this is the crux of it. You must have a message. It must be relevant to your customer. To be effective it must drive sales. Over this blog post and the next two I'm going to share the practical side of marketing in small business and the role you should be playing for your clients. The first question I want you to ask is this:

Does your client have a "build it and they will come" mentality?

Years ago my boys decided open up a donut stand on the Saturday of our neighborhood-wide garage sale. I fronted the inventory: about six dozen Crispy Creme donuts. They picked out the location: the baseball field parking lot along the main boulevard through the neighborhood. We set up shop on the tailgate of my truck.

One car showed up, and bought two donuts. Nothing else happened. Finally I said, "Boys, you can wait for the customer to come to you or you can go to the customer."

Now, imagine it's a Saturday morning. You've downed your first cup of coffee and you're contemplating breakfast but everything seems like too much work. The doorbell rings and there stands an eight year-old boy with an expectant look on his face and a dozen donuts in his outstretched hands, silhouetted in a shaft of light coming down from the heavens framed perfectly in your doorway. Would you buy the donuts?

I could not convince my two would-be entrepreneurs to continue pounding the pavement even after our first successful door-to-door sale. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that they were looking forward to buying the remaining inventory from me with their allowance. It's a silly story, but it illustrates the mentality a lot of your clients have toward marketing their product.

It might be a great new product offering. It might be glossy new marketing materials. It might be a remodeled store front. It might be a brand new high traffic location. Whatever it is there is a misconception that just because it's the biggest and best thing happening in the business owner's life it will be similarly huge for the customer. It won't. The customer has other important stuff they're excited about. What is important to you isn't necessarily important to them.

Are they wearing sneakers or loafers

There's a great story about a company called Staff Leasing that started here in Bradenton, FL. It was one of the first big PEO companies. The four owners each put up $5,000 for startup capital and literally set up shop in one of their garages. Every weekday for six months they would pick a busy commercial street and they would go door-to-door all morning. They would all gather for lunch, put on a fresh shirt, and spend the afternoon going door-to-door on the other side of the street.

I often tell my clients they need to go buy a new pair of shoes when they tell me about their latest product offering that is going to be wildly successful. For some businesses the suggestion is literal, for others it is just figurative. But the push back is real. If your plans don't include taking the message and the pitch to the customer I'm not interested in spending a lot of time executing. One of my most successful clients has a social media, adwords and website promotions budget that rivals the payroll of some of his competitors. He has learned the product is nothing if it turns out to be the proverbial tree falling in the forest.

Your role with your clients

It is not your job to construct the marketing plan. It is your job to make sure there is one. It is your job to ask the questions that get your client to consider their ignorance in this area and the need for a better plan of attack. Here are some questions you can ask:

  1. How are current customers going to hear about this?
  2. How many times are they going to hear about it in the next 30, 60, 90 days?
  3. How are new prospects going to hear about it?
  4. How are these people going to be pitched?
  5. How do we know this is what customers and prospects want?
  6. How has everyone (sales, service, support, admin and executives) been trained to deliver the same message?
  7. How is everyone incented to deliver that message?
  8. Why do we think this campaign will be successful?
  9. What are the measures for success?
  10. When will we gather to look at the results and decide what to do next?

Your clients may get too emotionally wrapped up in their latest project to see the rough edges and barriers that you anticipate. By asking simple, but very provocative questions you can help them take a critical look that makes success much more likely.