Part 1: To Do or Not To Do: The Marketing Dilemma among Entrepreneurs

“Marketing is sales,” said one small business owner to me when I asked him how he defines marketing. For most small-to-medium businesses, staff within these organizations wears many hats.

The roles of sales and marketing are not as clearly defined as in the larger organizations whereby there will be different people carrying the sales and marketing portfolio. So to these businesses, most of them not likely to have more than 50 staff, sales and marketing are one and the same.

My first-hand experience in this was years ago when I was working with a small start-up company that consisted of about 20 staff. My title was ‘Sales and Marketing Manager’. I was probably doing a lot more sales than marketing as my typical day-to-day activities involved meeting prospects and closing deals. Marketing activities were few and sporadic, and if they ever occur were in the form of running marketing events and sending out flyers.

Marketing Equals Sales?

But is that really all there is to marketing?  Is marketing just about marketing events, brochures and advertisements? And is marketing, sales? I realized that not many small business owners understood the distinction between the two. To them, marketing has to be about sales.  Yes, true. If marketing does not lead to sales and revenue ultimately, then marketing is redundant. Yet the difference is that marketing cannot be translated to sales straightaway.

This is especially true for companies with B2B or not-easy-to-understand offerings. Placing an advertisement in the paper will not automatically translate to sales.  Neither will running a marketing event translate to sales. So is marketing wrong? Or does this mean these methods no longer work?

The owner of a small IT business once lamented to me. “I’ve been doing a lot of advertisements, PR and marketing events but why is that I still do not see my sales increased?” He was obviously exasperated as he had invested into these activities and he had yet to see the return of investment (ROI).

This was the same fear that held back many small business owners when it comes to marketing. In their mind, they have a limited budget when it comes to marketing spend and they are all afraid their hard-earned money will disappear into a dark, bottomless pit called ‘marketing expense’. Marketing to them is ala that high maintenance car or expensive watch that is good to have but something they can live without. So is marketing something to be ‘indulged’ in only when we have excess funds?

Marketing is Not a ‘Sales’ Vending Machine

When I analysed further with the owner of the small IT company, we discovered what really went wrong. It appeared that after every marketing event that was done, there was sufficient interest generated from those who attended.  Some of the attendees indicated they would like the company to follow up on them with a meeting.

But alas, the IT company had only one sales representative. The sales representative could at most only meet with just three prospective clients per day. Thereafter, he had to return to the office, draw up the proposals for all the prospective clients and meet again with the prospects a few more times before he could close the deal. In essence, he simply was not able to handle all the demand generated from the marketing events. I was even more surprised to find out that some of the prospects actually called up the company to find out why was it that no one followed up on them!

More often than not, the blame goes straight to marketing when there are no sales. It would appear that marketing person had not done it right or the advertisement did not work.

Some sales people if they have their way, would expect the sales to be handed to them by marketing on a silver platter. They sometimes treat marketing (people or methods) as a sales vending machine and that all they needed to do is just to get the proposal signed, and collect their sales commission.

 Marketing is About Strategy, Not Just Following Routine Tactics

Now, moving on to the part about the advertisements. The business owner shared with me that he was positive that advertisements were the way to go and he was confident that right after people read his advertisements, there would be incoming calls to find out more about his product.  After all, he has placed his company’s name and phone number on very large font on the advertisement. Surely, no one would miss that.

Yet throughout the entire three months, there were just two calls that came in, and they were not even from relevant buyers.  The fact of the matter was that the business owner was seeing things from his own perspective and not from the customers’ perspective.

As he was selling an IT software that cost more than RM50,000, surely he needed more than just his product name and company’s phone number on the advertisement to get people to call in. Moreover, it was a product that is only relevant for business use. Understanding the buying behaviour of customers is an important element of marketing. People simply do not call up to find out about an IT product for business use, simply by looking at an advertisement, especially if it costs so much.

There is nothing wrong with placing advertisements and it is not that advertisements no longer work. They have their use but strategy needs to be employed rather than just following routine tactics. If not done right, it may even hurt the brand more than help the brand.


 ###Special Thanks to MAD Incubator and Jeanisha Wan from J1 Consulting for sharing this article with the readers on ###

Business coach, Jeanish Wan is one of the featured speakers and coaches for MAD Incubator’s flagship event Bizstart in its nationwide roadshows. Jeanisha Wan is the Managing Director of J1 Consulting, a Marketing Consultancy company. She loves coming up with unconventional marketing ideas and her favourite questions are always “Why?” and “Why not?” You can email her at [email protected] or check out MAD Incubators’ Bizstart event below;