De-clutter Your Marketing Space

For small businesses, going back to basics can be the solution when competing against big rivals

De-clutter Your Marketing Space

Not so long ago, every shop on every high street was a specialist.

As a child, I remember my mother taking me to the butcher (a family friend of many years) for meat.

We’d then go to the greengrocer for our fruit and vegetables, followed by the newsagent for a magazine and the haberdashery shop for some bread (although to be fair I could never work out that anomaly – wool, thread, dance shoes, bread and cakes!)

When I was about ten years old, the greengrocer started selling newspapers, which at the time I found odd, then gradually stocked more and more items of tinned goods, meat and other items.

Their stock of fresh fruit and vegetables diminished and they became just another convenience store

At a similar time, the butcher retired and the little shop with the bread and wool shut down and became a normal house.

With these shops disappearing and the former greengrocer ceasing to be a specialist and instead selling a very limited range of many products, my parents started going to the supermarket instead.

As there were no specialists left locally, it was better to go to the large supermarket where there was a better range and cheaper prices.

Although the butcher had closed down voluntarily, the little greengrocer had made business decisions which had encouraged my parents to shop elsewhere – they no longer specialised, they had dramatically reduced their range of their core product, and had become a small version of the nice new supermarket down the road.

In most industries these days, there’s a mixture of large “generalists” who provide a wide range of products and services at off-the-shelf prices, and smaller specialists who provide a small range with considerable expertise in their area.

In the B2B arena, these smaller players are often less expensive than the big players due to their lower overhead costs. This works well and caters for most sections of the potential

This works well and caters for most sections of the potential market, until one of these smaller specialist companies decides to branch out into something new.

This can be a recipe for disaster if not managed well, because typically their costs, and therefore their prices, will increase to a level on a par with the big players

In itself that’s not a problem, except that they tend to have more limited ranges of products or services, and lose their “expert” badge as they broaden their product range.

Before long, you have a small business trying to compete in the same market as a large player with an equally generalist approach to specialism.

The difference is, that the smaller business has a more limited range in each area covered. Sound familiar? Before long, the customers begin to drift to the larger competitor where they perceive a greater choice of the products they need, and the smaller business has lost its unique selling point of being a specialist.

At Naturally Sales, we’ve had this dilemma for a while.

Our core area is business skills: sales, leadership, presentation skills, negotiation techniques, team-building… all connected areas in which we have recognised expertise and in which we specialise.

We also have an interest and popular range of products to help people succeed with spreadsheets. We differentiate ourselves effectively by offering Excel training which is specifically aimed at business application, taught by business-people, not technical trainers.

This differentiation has helped us to avoid the problem described above and the two product ranges run well side-by-side.

As part of the packages we offer, we include reinforcement and further learning to clients and non-clients alike.

One of our channels is our blog at www.nsales.co.uk/blog – we post sales tips, leadership advice and, until recently, posted Microsoft Excel tips to help people gain new skills.

Although our business worked well on the model of business skills alongside Microsoft Excel, our blog didn’t, and the number of visits began to drop off.

Why? It’s always hard to be certain, but some limited feedback suggested that we’d clouded our marketing space by mixing topics which, on the surface, were unconnected.

Depending on the day people visited the blog, they could have been looking for sales articles and found an Excel tip, or vice versa.

We recently split our blog in two – the existing blog is now used for purely business skills content, and we have launched a new blog for our Excel content at www.excel-4-business.biz. Initial statistics are very encouraging for both of them.

What does this mean for you and your business? Well, I’m certainly not advocating that you stick with existing products or services if you have more to offer.

The world economy is changing, and the only way to survive these turbulent times is to change as well. What I will recommend is that you be aware of your product offerings and how they might relate to your various markets.

Give careful thought to your messaging and ensure that the wrong audience isn’t seeing the wrong message. If they are, then you could be clouding their perception of exactly how relevant your portfolio is to them.

Back to my original story… we moved away from the area some time ago, but I still pass through occasionally. The newsagent is still there, but now looks more like a convenience store, with tinned goods and dairy products, and the former greengrocer which had become a convenience store… well, it’s now a specialist greengrocer again!

Neil Shorney is director of  Naturally Sales Ltd

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