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Finding the coordination to do a yoga move, fine-tune your backhand or push that puck to a goal can be challenging. But coordinating two sides of your business can be downright painful.

In today's column, we're reaching out to our trusted SWOT Team members for coordination tips. We encourage you to provide your advice for this issue's marketing dilemma : How to better coordinate call center and marketing teams. We also want to thank you for your timely thoughts on the previous dilemma: Established company enters niche market. Read below to see your peers' best advice.

If we haven't hit on the marketing challenge currently raising your blood pressure, ask our SWOT Team for help regarding your own dilemma. Join us. We promise you won't be disappointed. And maybe we can get that pressure to drop back to normal (especially after we work out that coordination thing). Tapping into our collective experience, strength and hope really works! And you could win a copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing .

This Issue's Dilemma

Swot Category – Internal Weakness

Coordinating Our Call Center and Marketing Teams

As a marketing director, I am frequently frustrated by the lack of coordination between our marketing team and call center. For example, I do monthly reports about our marketing efforts: how many printed pieces went out, who visited the Web site, who called in about our latest direct mail campaign or ad, etc. The call center information is received from a different part of our organization, and it's still kind of a mystery. I'm not clear about what info was given to customers and prospects and what info came in; and then I'm not sure how to compare it to my own tracking numbers. What infrastructure or checkpoints help most with these interactions?

Could you please ask your readers how their call center and marketing department successfully interact? 

—Sincerely, Marcia M., Director of Marketing

Previous Dilemma

Swot Category: External Opportunity

Established Company Struggles to Enter a New Market

There is nothing sexy about our dilemma. It is just real. We are a furniture company that supplies banquet furniture to high-end hotels both nationally and internationally. After being in the business for more than a decade, we have established a good reputation and market share in our niche—hotel banquet furniture.

However, two years ago, we attempted to leverage our quality manufacturing processes and enter a new market niche—outdoor furniture to consumers. Our product is of high quality. Prices are marked neither too high nor too low. There's a lot of potential in this segment, but our attempts to penetrate this retail channel are going slowly.

We suspect it is because of poor product awareness in the market. We cannot seem to leverage our reputation in our primary market niche into this new market. There is a lot of competition in our new niche and we can't seem to find a way to differentiate ourselves. It is like we are a start-up company trying to make our way.

Any help from readers is sincerely appreciated. What are the best ways for us to enter this new market? How can we transfer our reputation in our legacy niche into this new niche?

—Shelia B., Director of Marketing

Summary of Advice Received

Shelia, This time around we found valuable suggestions from everyone who responded. Rather than choosing just one idea—we believe, if you add it all up together, you will take your niche market by storm!

From the SWOT Team responses, five action steps emerged that can make fine strategic and tactical additions to your business plan.

  1. Forget about capitalizing on your past reputation. 
  2. Perform market research. 
  3. Remember to include Web marketing in your plan. 
  4. Go to market by finding a sales channel (retail stores). 
  5. Form alliances with companies in companion industries.

1. Forget About Capitalizing on Your Past Reputation.

Foremost on our SWOT Team's mind was having a willingness to change and do things differently than in the past. Sándor Fekecs, publisher at HVG-ORAC Publishing House recommends taking another marketing approach:

Maybe you should use your shining brand name acquired in the hotel business and give them the feel of building a luxury hotel outdoors with your furniture. Maybe you could be the outdoor hotel luxury provider. I don't know too much about furniture (don't even have a taste in it), but maybe exclusivity can be a product differentiator. And on the other hand, do you really think/know that going for the average price on this niche market really works?

Tim Zebo, President of Zebo Photography agrees that just because you've built your brand on a certain reputation, doesn't mean that you can't make room for change.

Forget your reputation for the moment. Find 20 people in the market for outdoor furniture and show them your products. Find out what they like and don't like. If the quality and price are right, maybe the design is not what they're looking for? In any case, find out what features they need in outdoor furniture and change your product line to meet those needs.

2. Perform Market Research.

After your resolution to look forward without relying on your past reputation, the next set of advice our SWOT Team provided is: If you do decide to take the plunge, do the research to support your new approach.

Dave Roberts, VP of Strategy and Marketing, Inkra Networks, says you need to re-establish your brand all over again (just as you mentioned, Shelia, like you are a start-up company).

If the highly successful McDonald's Corp. decided to make motor oil, would you buy it? The best way to enter this market is to go back to the drawing board and analyze the market in detail. Figure out who the existing players are: their strengths, and what differentiation you can bring to the party. Do this analysis without looking at your existing capabilities. Rather than asking, “What can we build for this market?” Ask, “What does the market really need?”

The results of this analysis may bring some surprises. It may be that this market is already over served with well-entrenched competitors. Or you may find there is opportunity, but you aren't prepared to service it right now. Or your current capabilities may not match up with the differentiation that you need to provide. If that's the case, you have two choices. You can decide either: 1) You want to acquire the capabilities that will allow you to compete successfully; or 2) You must exit the market, because the leap is too high. Approach the market with all of these possible outcomes in mind, and the right answers will probably drop out of your analysis quite quickly.

Cliff Langston, Department Chair of Marketing for the University of Phoenix (St. Louis Campus), recommends selecting geographic markets, then devising tactics to support your strategy and get your target audience involved.

Think of it this way... As a customer shopping for outdoor furniture, how much would you care if the maker also provides banquet furniture to high-end hotels? What does that mean in terms of how long the furniture will weather the storm? Take a look at what the target market values, and position your company as best you can, in relation to those values. And, yes, the competition will be right there, telling these folks the same thing.

How do you act on this? Make a high-volume point in selected geographic markets, then give some product away, sponsor outdoor events where people sit, try radio promotions or other tactics that support the strategy. This is an inviting challenge... You seem to have the operational support (i.e. manufacturing, etc.) to deliver on your marketing promise—just make it one your potential customers care about.

3. Remember to Include Web Marketing in Your Plan.

An anonymous SWOT Team member shared several ideas about promoting your new product line, and reminds us how valuable your website can be as a tracking tool.

Seeing that you cannot leverage your current reputation, my first question is, while obvious, have you approached your existing customers? If not, here are five ideas:

  1. Offer them a promotional rate on the new furniture, in a way that does not really cost you anything. 
  2. Use an interactive virtual campaign, an interactive CD, which can be geo-targeted or nationwide as a promotional item or even a media kit for “free” advertising. On the CD, deliver a direct-to-consumer virtual experience, presenting your furniture in a setting with music, people, etc. When linked to your website, or by following up with those who received the CDs, you can track whether or not people viewed your presentation/commercial. Knowing who viewed the presentation is an added tool for your sales staff. 
  3. Approach private country clubs. Because they pride themselves on having nice furniture for their guests for banquets, weddings, tournaments, etc., this would be a great way to get your name out, especially if you generate publicity. 
  4. Try a commonly-used option: telemarketing. A well-trained staff is key. 
  5. A multifaceted advertising campaign, using magazine/newspaper ads with specific targeted websites can tell you which ads have the most impact. Tracking visitors to these ads can help you target your advertising, marketing and sales initiatives and each ad's effectiveness. Improving the appeal and navigation of your site can also turn browsers into buyers.

P.S. I avoided newsletters and press releases as they are old, and generally end up being used to light campfires.

John C. Tanner, Consultant with Positive Positioning, reinforces that the Internet can be a cost-effective promotional tool.

Cost-effectively speaking, the Internet is definitely the way to go. Properly done, you can track target visitors in order to obtain a steady stream of qualified, paying customers. Without going in to detail, I recommend three things to be successful.

  1. Increase conversions. Conversions are metrics used to measure success factors such as target visitors filling out a request form, making a purchase, asking for a brochure, etc. In order to increase conversions, first, you must understand the goals of the website. What is the purpose of the website? What do you hope to achieve or want your prospect to achieve? Do you want them to subscribe to a newsletter, request more information, make a purchase, refer a friend or simply visit your website? Your website must have a professional image, consistent design, intuitive navigation, and conversion or sales funnels (desired paths). Well-written content, an easy purchase process, and the ability to convey trust (which is where your 12+ years in business come in handy) are also essential.
  2. Increase relevancy. If your website is not displayed within the first three pages of natural search engines, your website could lose out on thousands of potential customers. Top placement may not be easy to obtain, but can be cost-effective and have long-term benefits. In order to increases relevancy, you must have a good understanding of how your competitors do it.
  3. Increase exposure. Paid listing can often have a high return. What are you willing to pay for each qualified prospect? Then it comes down to supply versus demand and cost per click versus cost per acquisition. The phrase ‘outdoor furniture' is currently going for as much as 62 cents per click with a leader in pay for performance venues. The great thing about going this route is you know what your ROI is. Whereas in traditional marketing, though essential, it is a bit more difficult to measure your precise return on the dollar. Have several analyses done (key phrases, target audience, competitors, task analysis, website effectiveness, usability, etc.) and develop a solid online marketing plan that satisfies all your goals.

4. Go to Market By Finding a Sales Channel (Retail Stores).

Building on the importance of the Web, establishing a sales channel is essential for getting the word out and increasing sales. An anonymous SWOT Team member wisely recommended a retail channel:

How much do you want to sacrifice? Consider pairing up with an upscale retailer like Ethan Allan or Bombay furnishings. You'll get quick distribution of your product line into a very specific niche group of upscale shoppers with salespeople who can help differentiate your product line. Pick a target market and place an insert ad in the local/regional paper's home section to test interest—it will help if you have a web site to drive some sort of response via a contest, by answering some survey questions to gather market intelligence.

5. Form Alliances with Companies in Companion Industries.

In today's economy, it's hard to go it alone. Use your new product offering as a way to connect with companion industries. In the furniture business, hotels are a prime example of this type of relationship. Luke O'Dwyer of Australia says,

Use the leverage that you have with hotels to target ones with outdoor cafés, restaurants, and pool areas. Brand your furniture conspicuously, but tastefully. Add contact details, so customers can come to you direct. Then be ready for them with full product line brochures, website and services (e.g. delivery and installation). Use the catalogues to extend your brand, and offer other products that suit this market. You could even use your leverage with your hotel contacts by offering repeat purchasers a prize drawing for a weekend getaway in one of the hotels you supply.

Rotna Das, Marketing Consultant at Management Services Group reinforces that even with a companion industry, defining your own strategy is paramount.

It is difficult to transfer your reputation from the primary market into this new niche market. At best, existing hotel customers can be customers for outdoor furniture also (for swimming pools or gardens); otherwise, the outdoor furniture market will have to have its own strategy.

Two Cheers for Swot!

Once again, we did our best to provide a thorough overview of your thoughtful responses. Thanks for your participation, and if you would like the complete text of all responses for your own analysis, please click here .

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Tamara is a writer at InternetVIZ and is available for freelance work.