An Integrated Approach to Marketing

When it comes to building a successful business, solo- and micropreneurs have a huge advantage over small businesses born and raised in the industrial age. These small businesses define marketing by the Four Ps: product, price, place and promotion. In other words:

Marketing is putting the right product at the right price in the right place at the right time.

As a result, most small businesses have separate teams responsible for product development, marketing, sales, and customer service. Though the marketing department provides information and support to the product development and sales teams and receives feedback from the customer service team, coordination between departments is minimal. In fact, in many cases the goals for each individual department take precedence over the long-term goals for the business.

In this traditional business model, the role of the marketing department is to conduct market research to determine the unmet needs of the company’s ideal clients and provide that research to the product development team, who design products to address the identified need. The marketing department then uses information provided by the product development team to determine a price before promoting the product to the company’s target market. At the same time, the marketing department provides information about the product’s features and benefits to the sales team, who engage in direct conversation with prospective clients. Once the sale is made, the client becomes the responsibility of the customer service team, who answers questions and responds to complaints.

It’s an efficient system, except for one fatal flaw.

Each department is evaluated according to a different metric: the product development team is evaluated on the number of marketable products developed within a specific time frame, the marketing team is evaluated on the number of media impressions and level of brand awareness, the sales team is evaluated on conversion rates, and the customer service team is evaluated on customer retention. Four distinct yet interdependent departments are thus evaluated on four distinct and competing criteria.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

Over time, product development professionals learned how to turn out more and more products in less time and with fewer resources; the marketing industry became adept at creating demand for products that we never knew we needed; the sales force learned how to identify and push our pain points so they could meet their sales targets and earn a commission; and the customer service team, which is left to deal with complaints, came up with ways to convince clients to give the company another chance.

Interdepartmental competition inevitably leads to an increase in office politics and finger-pointing and a decrease in employee performance and willingness to take responsibility beyond the confines of a job description. And we can’t really blame them. When a person’s livelihood depends on closing a specific number of sales, she probably isn’t going to take time away from her sales calls to help make the product better and more responsive to her customer’s needs. Especially if it’s not her fault that the product isn’t as good as the marketing materials claim and she won’t have to deal with the fallout from angry customers.

The Information Age calls for an integrated approach to marketing.

The traditional business model outlined above was developed during the Industrial Age, which held mass production and consumption as sacred values. As we move into the Information Age, which values knowledge and connection, businesses are developing a new model that is more in keeping with the times. The sales and marketing tactics of the past are no longer as effective as they once were, in part because consumers are privy to much more information and can influence so many other people through social media.

The most responsive businesses have started to change their operating model, removing competing evaluation criteria and introducing more coordination between the various departments. The commission structure, once ubiquitous throughout the sales profession, is being challenged and slowly disassembled as companies begin to understand that it not only fails to motivate the sales team but hampers the development of good customer relationships. A feedback loop now integrates customer needs and experiences into the development, marketing, sales, and support systems, and the once separate departments are evaluated on cooperative instead of competitive criteria.

Solo- and micropreneurs are ideally situated to this new model.

As a solo- or micropreneur, the hazards of the traditional business model simply don’t exist—unless you introduce them. You already have an integrated approach to marketing because you are the one who develops products, markets those products, engages in the sales conversation, and responds to questions and complaints from your clients. Your relationship with your right people drives product development and is at the core of your marketing efforts. Solo- and micropreneurs are particularly agile, so if a client calls with an unexpected problem, you can respond directly to their needs.

You understand the bigger picture and the importance of good relationships. Your primary goal during a sales conversation is not to close the deal. It is to be of service, to understand if what you have to offer is really the right fit for the person with whom you are speaking. You abide by a philosophy of service over sales. And you know that even if a sales conversation does not result in a sale today, it is an opportunity to build an even stronger relationship that may result in a referral or a sale later.

But there is a hidden danger.

If you hire a company or individual to write copy, create collateral, and develop and implement your marketing strategy—and you bow out of the process—you put your own business values and ability to truly serve your clients at risk. Marketing is a core function of any business. To opt out is to hand your business over to another who is not nearly as invested in its long-term success. If you struggle with your marketing efforts, I encourage you to get the help you need. But it is critical that you drive the process and remain engaged in every aspect of your marketing.

Marketing is an integral part of how you serve the world. It is a tool that helps you share your wisdom with those who need it most. It allows you to be of service and connect in a meaningful way with your right people. In the traditional model, the end game of all business activities was to close the sale. In the new model, the end game is to be of service so that you may develop a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

This week, take some time to look at the cycle of product development, marketing, sales, and customer service in your own business. Which of these functions is strongest? Which one needs a little bit more attention? What can you do to intentionally integrate this process even further into your business model? Please share your questions, tips, and experiences in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Photo Credit: Caleb Roenigk

About Erica Holthausen

Erica Holthausen is the Chief Instigator behind the Honest Marketing Revolution and creator of the 10 Steps to Honest Marketing. As a marketing mentor, she helps solopreneurs and microbusinesses fall in love with sales and marketing so they can help more people while building thriving, life-sustaining businesses. She believes marketing is an integral part of how you serve the world. Sound good? Sign up for her email newsletter and join the revolution!

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