What If Nothing Works?

After working for some time with a great client, the results for the last year came in at 15% under plan.

What made this news so perplexing was that we applied everything we knew for improving the client's direct marketing program. We enhanced the creative work, revamped the prospect database, improved the tracking systems, and created a basic CRM program setting up a testing structure where appropriate.

Responses did improve and generally beat the previous creative work as expected. But sales overall were lackluster in view of the fact that a bad economy should have helped to boost sales for this particular product.

Admittedly, sales for this company have been on the decline for several years due to the successful growth of numerous competitors. But past marketing efforts were amateurish compounded by a lack of attention and funding. So interjecting professionalism into the program should have delivered far better results.

So why did the campaign fail?

Having faced such challenges in the past, we know where to go from here if the client has the patience and foresight to study the problem. The first step in solving any problem is to get a handle on why things happened the way they did and take responsibility for dissecting the situation.

Go back to the beginning. Not the beginning of the campaign, but the beginning of how the product came about and whether or not the customer still perceives it as a solution to his problem. 

In other words, when campaigns begin to fail when they used to work, then the problem lies deeper than the creative work, the offer or even the target market (in this case, the prospect mailing list). It lies within the service or product itself and how the customer now perceives how the product solves his problem.

Here are the essential steps we recommend when well-planned and implemented campaigns fail.

1. Perform primary research. How do the targeted prospects perceive the company's solution or product? Has anything changed? What external factors encourage or discourage the sale? The market changes continually sometimes killing sales opportunities. It's like navigating at sea -- retake your bearing.  

2. Consider expanding the prospect relationship earlier in the buying process. This means positioning the company as a solution before the prospect is aware they may need the product or service. For example, start building a relationship with a car lease customer a year or 18 months before they need a new lease rather than two months prior to the lease expiration date.

3. Broaden your target audience. In today's world, CPAs, bankers, doctors, the clergy, consultants, relatives, friends and so on influence the buyer's decision. Small and inexperienced companies often ignore or do not understand how to improve sales by creating positive centers of influence for potential customers.

4. Shore up the company's Internet presence. Most companies today actually rely too much on a single channel. It's OK to be strong in a single channel such as the Internet, direct mail or DRTV. But it pays to give prospects multiple ways to find the company, get information and then respond. Companies sometimes ignore the Internet at their own peril.

The bottom line: go back to the basics beginning with the customer. Long-term sales problems rarely respond to innovative campaign strategies alone. Get behind the prospects' needs. Feel what they feel. Understand better how the company can help them beyond just selling them something. If you solve their problem in ways they cannot verbalize themselves, then the company has just uncovered the pot of gold.

Posted on July 17, 2012 and filed under Direct Marketing Strategy.