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April 2, 2016

6 Marketing & Sales Lessons Learned in our First 4 Years in Business

lesson learnedI am proud to say that April 23, 2016 marks four years since we first opened our doors. And though I’ve led the growth of other organizations, this is first time I’ve built one from scratch. To that end, it’s been truly interesting to learn what it really takes to grow a business.

And based on that education, here the top 6 marketing & sales lessons that I think have had the most impact on our success…

#1. Spend time working ON your business… not just IN it.

As a small business owner or senior executive, it’s difficult not to get sucked into the details. Often, you have no choice. But if you don’t step back once in a while and ‘think’ a little, you’ll always be stuck in the ‘do’ mode and will constantly be forced to be reactive. Use this thinking time to take charge of your business.

  • #1… Talk to your clients – they’ll tell you everything you need to do.
  • Go on corporate retreat… even if you’re a solo-preneur.
  • Scratch out some sort of marketing & sales plan… stop winging it.
  • Spend a little time checking out the competition. Can you say, ‘secret shopper?’
  • Think about new markets… new products & services… consider what-ifs.
  • Pay attention to new marketing & sales trends and technologies.
  • Take a class (or two) on marketing & sales.

This time that you dedicate on the front end to thinking, learning, strategy and planning will pay huge dividends at implementation time.

#2. Create a simple marketing & sales plan.

While I would counsel everyone to create a comprehensive marketing & sales plan, having any sort of plan is better than none at all. At its essence, a plan should contain the following:

  • Some strategic direction and goals (uncover these doing #1 above)
  • Deciding on which tactics to use (pick tactics that support those strategies)
  • A budget and calendar by which to manage the tactics
  • A measurement system to see what’s working

Need a simple framework to help you get organized? Consider the Marketing & Sales Pyramid™, a step-by-step process we developed for those whose primary job is not marketing or sales.

As you get into your planning, here are two keys to consider:

  • Start small. Don’t try to cram too much onto your list of marketing & sales To-Dos. Better to do a few things really well, then do a lousy job with a bunch of them. Then, once you get comfortable with the few… you can always add more.
  • Consistency is key. Do a little every day. Not only does a consistent effort over time help to level out the ‘feast or famine’ all too common in our industry, it also ensures that your message to the marketplace is seen on a regular and frequent basis.

Remember the old saying, “If you fail to plan… you plan to fail!”

#3. Get it done.

By far, the biggest challenge for small and mid-sized businesses when it comes to marketing & sales is that they [say they] simply don’t have the time to get it done… to execute.

I get it. I’m in the same boat – I’m a small business owner with limited time. But I’m also a believer in the adage that “If you keep doin’ what you’re doin’… you’ll keep gettin’ what you’re gettin’!” So, to find the time for marketing & sales, you must do two things differently…

  • Make marketing & sales a priority. Yeah, I know, you say it’s a priority… but it’s really not. You don’t “wait for things to slow down” to send out invoices, or return a client call or submit a proposal when asked for it. You must assign that same level of priority and importance to your marketing & sales efforts.
  • Make marketing & sales a habit. Find a few-hour block of time every week to do nothing but work on marketing & sales. For me, it’s every Saturday morning, 7am at the same coffeeshop. It’s where I do my weekly marketing metrics, write articles and blog posts, reach out to people on LinkedIn, etc.

Priority + Habit = Progress. Years ago, I had an uncle tell me, “If you don’t have a routine, you’ll get into a rut.” Boy, was he right!

#4. Be different.

I get it! Each of us thinks our business is different or special… and that all clients can easily see how we stand out from all the others.

But if you were to be completely honest, you’d see that that’s not true… at least to the extent that you think you’re different.

If you describe your points of differentiation (PODs) as “we do great work… we have great people… we provide great customer service” – know, now, that those DO NOT make you different or special. In today’s market, they are the price of admission!

But, when you find or develop a true POD – and promote it effectively –you will legitimately begin to separate your firm from all the others.

Want a little help with this? Download our eBook, Why Should I Choose You? How to Differentiate your Firm in a Crowded Marketplace here:

#5. Be known.

Fact: Prospective clients can’t do business with you if they don’t know you exist. Therefore, a fundamental marketing & sales strategy is to become widely known in the markets you serve and – here’s the challenge – to be known for the things you want to be known for.

So, consider these guidelines:

  • Build general awareness (with a website & SEO, advertising, social media and exhibiting)
  • Engage with the community (with social media conversations and email marketing)
  • Make connections (through social media and networking at industry events)
  • Establish (and maintain) your position in the marketplace (by writing & speaking)

Remember, your goal is not to just build a name in the marketplace, but to build the name you want. For example, if your firm has expertise in online qualitative research – and if that’s something you want to be known for – then make sure the messaging in your ads, website, content, etc. all reinforce that.

Here’s the other critical point… building awareness is the pre-cursor to generating sales leads, the first true step in the buying-selling process. You’ve got to get it right!

#6. Share your knowledge.

Go to the website of any firm in our industry and they will showcase whatever they claim their expertise to be…

  • “Experts in the CPG industry” or
  • “Experts in Hispanic research” or
  • “Experts in ethnographic research” or
  • “Experts in patient satisfaction studies” and so on… and so on…

Expertise is an easy attribute to claim… and a difficult one to prove. But it’s the “proving it” that will help you get hired.

So, to help you prove your expertise, you need to share some of it… to give some of it away. I’m talking about engaging in Content Marketing.

There are several kinds of content to share…

  • Information & education (e.g. How-tos, explainers, etc.) – the most popular category
  • Observations from industry events and the industry, as a whole
  • Opinions about MR and the markets you serve
  • Vision – where you think the MR industry and the industries you serve are headed
  • Entertainment – sometimes you just gotta make ‘em smile!

And so many ways to share it… Blogging, Articles, Social media posts, White papers, Published articles, Case studies, eBooks/eBooklets, Presentations, Webinars, Podcasts, Videos, Social conversations, eNewsletters, Infographics and more.

So, think about the best way to deliver content to the marketplace (see #1 above), build it into your plan (see #2 above)… and go to work!


In the classic baseball movie, Field of Dreams, the voice in the cornfield says to Kevin Costner’s character, “if you build it… they will come.” Sadly, that only works in the movies. In the business world, if you want them (customers, that is) to come, it takes a solid marketing & sales effort.

Our first four years in business have been a blast… building a growing company… engaging with interesting clients across the U.S. (and around the world, for that matter)… taking on a wide variety of challenging projects… and maybe most importantly, learning a little something new every day. Thank you for helping us get here.



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