Small Business Marketing For Sales Growth

Most small business owners would agree on the need to have a plan for sales growth. Yet far too many small businesses rely on “sales effort” and far too few establish appropriate marketing strategies for sales growth.

Most marketing experts suggest three marketing strategies that are open to all businesses, large and small:

o The least-cost strategy. Using this strategy, a company competes by selling uniform, standard products. Market demand for these products is usually highly elastic. An increase in price triggers a sharp drop in sales volume because (1) demand is low, supply is high, or (2) there are plenty of competitors who can supply substitutes. Buyers expect price concessions, which naturally lead least-cost firms to emphasize production at the lowest possible per-unit costs.

o The differentiation strategy. A company using this strategy attempts to offer unique products that are set off from the competition by superior quality or service. Market demand tends to be inelastic (that is, sales volume doesn’t vary in proportion to price). Goods are priced well above production costs. The company that pursues a strategy of differentiation must invest heavily in product development and innovative packaging and promotion. And it must stay closely in tune with customers’ changing needs and desires.

o The niche strategy. Using this option, a company sells a premium priced product or service to a few buyers. Unit costs are high because output is low and costs such as labor or research and development may be great. Brand identification and customer loyalty are the keys to success.

In adopting a marketing strategy, most small businesses should opt for the differentiation or niche strategy, or a combination of the two. The least-cost strategy is the least successful for small companies. There’s a simple reason why: production costs.

A company’s production costs tend to decline as it accumulates experience in producing the product. How much production experience a company has the opportunity to acquire depends on its share of the market. The larger its market share, the lower its costs.

Therefore, the dominant competitor in a market is in the best position to pursue a least-cost strategy. It can and will shave profit margins to drive out competitors who can’t compete on price. The market leader is assured that the more it can produce and sell regardless of price, the lower its cost will go. So, the least-cost strategy is usually used by very large companies that have the resources to dominate a particular market, local, regional, national or international.

A clear message here is to stay out of areas where there already is a dominant market leader unless you’re prepared for a costly business battle. That means building on your business’s own experience, pushing its competitive edge to the limit in an effort to become the dominant competitor. You can do this by:

o Developing a new product;
o Differentiating your product to appeal to a segment of the market where you have the most experience; or
o Finding a niche in a highly fragmented market where there is no clearly dominant competitor.

When developing new products, stick to your strength. There may be a virtue in staying small, at least in one sense. For one thing, contracting for a service may be cheaper than doing it yourself. Aside from that, each distinctive business function has its own little tricks, short-cuts and hidden pitfalls. In starting a function from scratch, you are committing time, money and capital to an area where competitors, because of their greater experience, may have a clear cost edge.

It’s a common story these days that new, high technology products are no sooner brought out of the designer’s “garage” than they are an instant hit in the marketplace. A production facility is quickly put together and business blossoms-until a larger competitor swoops down with a copycat product and takes the business away.

The cause isn’t just the predatory nature of big business. Often, the designer’s experience in research and development doesn’t carryover to functions that are vital to success in a competitive market: sales and marketing, distribution and financing. The new business can’t come close to matching the larger firm’s experience and proficiency in these areas. And this gives the larger firm an insurmountable edge in the marketplace.

You should consider an alternative strategy: If your business is good at R & D, consider joining with a business that is good at production, sales and marketing. If you have the edge in one geographical region, join with a business that has strong national marketing and distribution channels. Above all, concentrate your resources where your experience is greatest.

Another avenue to sales growth is differentiation. Break away from the pack and make your product stand out from the competition on the basis of superior quality and innovation. Your objective is to maintain the unique appeal a product has to quality-minded consumers. At the same time, look for ways to make carrying your product more attractive to wholesalers and retailers as well.

Profitable niches are often found in markets where there’s no clear industry leader. For example, Enterprise Rent-A-Car built the world’s largest rental car agency by specializing in “wreck replacement” rentals. At the time, the market was under served and there was no clear leader for the service. But finding the appropriate niche can take patience. And once you find it, it’s vital to cultivate customer loyalty and confidence.