victor-clarkeVictor Clarke has been the owner of Clarke Inc. for 20-plus years evolving it from strictly a commercial printing firm to an inbound and outbound marketing firm using marketing automation. We recently checked in with him to gain some of his marketing insight. Here’s what he had to say:

Can you tell us about how you transitioned your business from a print shop to an inbound/outbound marketing firm?

My 20-plus years of experience has taught me that bigger isn’t always better. The latest management fad is just that, a fad. Implement now, perfect later.

I always thought that I wanted the big, fancy building as a monument to me along with dozens of employees to keep my monument humming along. I learned I not only managed 25 employees, but also their families and problems, too. I likely managed 100-plus people if you counted all the families involved with the business. The family problems became business problems, which became my problems. Bankruptcy was a distinct possibility if I didn’t change how I did things fast!

I spent way too much money investing in the latest management theories and software in an attempt to be perfect. Nobody and no business can be perfect. A few years ago I sold my building and laid off most of the employees, but kept all my customers and brokered out the business. Now I spend more time, and less money, growing my business rather than investing in the latest fads.

What were the most important real-world marketing lessons you learned while building your firm?

Create an integrated marketing plan. Identify all of the many promotion sources in an integrated marketing plan before you start a campaign and highlight how they can link across media platforms. Consider, for example, how a print ad might direct consumers to enter a contest on your website, helping your website’s performance. Product packaging such as a rewards program also has a role to play in an integrated marketing communications plan. This could take the form of a rewards programs that allow consumers to “earn points” through purchases and taking part in an online community.

Move away from transaction-based to relational marketing. Transactional marketing campaigns focus on the sales process for an item. Due to the strong emphasis put on the sale, it can be an overly aggressive hard sell that can put off the consumer. Relational marketing is more effective because it attempts to create a relationship between the customer and the salesperson or business that will build loyalty. An integrated campaign can build loyalty by engaging your database in ways that are not always a hard sell.

What were the biggest mistakes that you made early on with your business? What did you learn from them?

Forgetting this basic rule of accounting: “Profit is an opinion. Cash is a fact.”

Years ago I left the financials to my accountant and rarely looked at my business financials. Now I watch my checkbook and accounts receivable like a hawk.

What do you think are the most important skills or tools those in inbound/outbound marketing need to have?

Find a true differentiator. Everyone has “quality products and great service” these days. What makes your products and services unique? Do you serve a specific niche? Do you have a different approach to a specific problem or technology? Define what truly separates you from the pack. Offer helpful information without a sales pitch.

What do you think are the most overrated skills or tools?

I believe the days of “old” selling styles using techniques like “The Puppy Dog Close” and the “Ben Franklin Close” are over. These techniques evolved when the sales person was in control of the information. Now customers are smart enough to see through this and may consider the salesperson an amateur.

Today the customer has access to the same information as a salesperson. They can self-educate and will only speak to a salesperson when they have exhausted all self-help information. Today’s sales close is just the end of a process where you help the customer get answers and make an informed decision.

How can marketing automation help small business owners?

When most small business owners discuss client acquisition they think about hiring a salesperson. I’m willing to bet that 90 percent of sales hires end in failure. It’s not because the salesperson has poor skills or is lazy. It’s because most salespeople are awesome at objection handling and closing skills but stink at prospecting.

To acquire new customers a business needs a constant stream of qualified leads. To grow your business don’t hire more people. Invest in marketing automation. And hire a great website designer to create a website that will attract, nurture and delight prospects driven to your site by automation. Prospects will qualify themselves as hot or cold leads to pass along to your awesome sales staff.

How can businesses use marketing automation most effectively?

1. Provide Helpful Content

Provide marketing content that helps the buyer by focusing on their areas of interest, rather than your background or how great you think your company is. Initially, their interest will be to solve a small problem, something they don’t need to hire your company to solve. But when your content gives them a viable solution, and they apply it, they start to see your company as a resource. This positions your business as top-of-preference and not just top-of-mind when your services or products are truly needed.

2. Tailor Your Information to the Stages of the Buyer’s Journey

It’s important to give the prospective buyer the correct type of information relative to their position in the funnel. For example, a prospect might still be trying to figure out how big or important their problem or challenge is. They aren’t going to make any buying decisions until they know the scope of the situation and have some criteria in place for making a choice. Trying to sell anything to a person at this stage is a complete waste of time, and they won’t appreciate the pressure. A piece of marketing content such as a checklist or a simple diagnostic tool can help them walk through the issue in a thorough manner so they understand what they are really up against. Then they are ready to enter the decision-making phase of their buying journey armed with the information needed to make value-based choices. And guess what, when that information was sourced from your website, it makes your company look like a really good option.

3. Get Up Close and Personal

You should do everything possible to ensure your prospect’s experience with your company is a positive one. Do this by making your marketing personal.
Personal means that emails come from real people in your company, not just the “info” email address. It can also mean they are connected on social media to people in your company, not just be following the company page. Most importantly, it means your help-based marketing content really addresses their needs and it’s delivered in a timely manner. This shows your business puts the prospect’s interests ahead of its own.

4. Use a Range of Media to Retarget

As many as 90 percent of visitors to a website never convert to sales or clients. Most of them won’t return. If you retarget through advertising on a wide range of mediums you will be more visible and it may help entice visitors back to your site. Retargeting allows you to bring traffic back and convert it later on. Offer helpful content they can subscribe to or download when they complete a form. Then email them to come back to get more helpful information. You can see how this easily translates into the design of a marketing funnel supported by a drip email marketing campaign. If potential leads also see you on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ you may end up in their subconscious thoughts. Link posts on social media back to your website, ideally a landing page that will channel them down the next step of your funnel – for example, an ebook, promotion, trial or a purchase.

What trends, headlines or innovations in inbound/outbound marketing are you most excited about or interested in right now? Why?

Outbound products no longer exist to be the sole source of information for buyers, despite the fact that’s what we have done since 1439 AD. Don’t forget that print cannot possibly compete with nearly free and virtually unlimited digital storage space. Your outbound marketing exists to create awareness of your company. It exists to drive prospects to your website to capture them in your marketing automation system. It exists to act like your inbound marketing, but better.

Why better? Have you noticed how many email messages fill your inbox every day? Have you noticed how many direct mail pieces you receive every day? If your email inbox and USPS mailbox are like mine it’s like a 50:1 ratio of emails to direct mail. Start using direct mail again because nobody else is. Your marketing is going to be noticed because there is a lot less competition for your attention. Start mailing printed newsletters with links or prompts to your website and blog.

Create rack cards and flyers and banners that invite prospects to learn more by using QR Codes which make it easy to access your digital sites. Ah, the much abused and maligned QR Code! Used properly these things are gold. Don’t take your customers to a static home page when they scan it. Take them to a landing page to sign up for your blog, webinar, eBook, etc. and let marketing automation take over from there.

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