The Scariest, Most Painful Business Conversation

By MARK RIFFEY, for the Flathead Beacon.

The most painful (and scary) conversations I have with small business owners are about marketing.

One of the more common ones relates how another company “stole” their business with “more aggressive” marketing.

The victim of this “theft” blames it on someone else’s marketing despite watching it happen right in front of them and doing nothing more than grumble about it.

Sometimes they’ll drag out the old excuse that “the best product/service never wins.”

It’s an attempt to imply that a better-marketed product must be a lesser product and those who effectively market their wares are less professional by doing so. All they’re really doing is deflecting their inability to take responsibility for someone who is running the business better than they are.

It’s a bug in their mindset.

It’s your competitor’s fault?

Most business owners who watched someone use a better tool to create their product would take steps to evaluate that tool to see if it made sense for their business.

The exception? When that “better tool” is better marketing andsales.

In that case, they’ll usually just watch, grumble about that competitor’s so-called “unfair behavior” and do nothing about it.

If you sit and watch better marketing executed in your market and then you do nothing to improve your own marketing, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If you allow your relationship with an existing customer to degrade to the point where one of these “aggressive” marketers could gain your client’s attention and get an appointment or sale, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If your favorite team ignored the quality of one critical aspect of their game, you’d recognize their mistake. You might even yell at your TV over it. Would you blame the teams that win against them because of better skills in that one critical area?

I think not.

A lack of knowledge
Ignoring the quality of your marketing is no different than your favorite team ignoring recruiting or developing young players. You’d think they were inept, at best.

Yet you might still feel that marketing (“aggressive” or not) is unethical and/or unprofessional.

Ultimately, that shows a lack of business knowledge. You have a duty to have knowledge about your profession and to continue to develop that knowledge – and not just the technical part.

Done right, better marketing is typically nothing more than better-executed, better-targeted marketing used with a better knowledge of your market, your industry and what keeps your customers up at night.

Good marketing is one of the essential components of your business. Calling it “snake oil” doesn’t make you more professional and it doesn’t improve your position in your market. I’m not talking about companies marketing a solution that won’t work for a particular customer or group of customers. That’s the real “snake oil.”

When you don’t understand what good marketing is and the how/why of executing it, you’re simply not taking care of business.

That your company would let someone else (particularly the snake oil types) wriggle in the front door and undermine your position with the customer is your responsibility. Why would you let your relationship with the client disintegrate to the point where they would even consider having a conversation with anyone else?

When you let someone else do this and do nothing about it, you are shirking your responsibility to your market, your staff, your family and your community.

Making a decision
The good news is that it isn’t a terminal condition. You can change your direction today.

If you’re willing to sit and watch it being done to you and then complain about it without doing anything to fulfill your responsibilities, that’s your choice.

If you’ve watched it being done and are smart enough to realize that you need to raise your game, then it’s time to do something about it.

It’s time to decide that this is the last time another business will do this to you. It’s your responsibility to do something about it – and a better product isn’t going to do the job all by itself.

The painful thing is that most companies will sit and repeatedly watch this happen to them – and then do nothing about it. Scary.

Check out the Make it Missoula’s Tips for Starting a Business in Missoula, MT and other Business information.

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Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations, or marketing problem? See Mark’s sitecontact him on Twitter, or email him atmriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.

Check out the Flathead Beacon archive of all of Mark’s blogs.