Top-Shelf Tip No. 45:

"The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do."

Michael Porter

Your Sales Slump May Need More Than A Band-Aid

So, your Q1 sales are less than stellar compared to last year's numbers. Your president comes to you and says, "You're the head of marketing. We need you to come up with a new idea."

In other words, the president is looking for a quick fix, a shot in the arm, a short-term tactical solution to the sales slump.

Searching for a single elusive idea is like looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. It depends on that which is neither familiar, nor within reach. It calls upon disconnected tactics instead of a focused and cohesive strategy. And, in the end, it manifests itself in the form of one-off and lackluster attempts that yield underwhelming results.

Want to address the true need behind the "new idea" myth? Promotional Consultant Today shares these tips from Andy Slipher, founder of Slipher Marketing, for moving away from this myopic approach. His tips suggest a more strategic and holistic way of finding better tactics and more creative pathways, and getting greater results from your marketing.

Focus first on the bigger challenge. Take your attention off the symptoms of the moment-a sales slump, for example. Instead, begin to ask yourself these questions: What is the nature of the challenge or problem we face? Is there a larger issue we're not facing that is causing our current predicament?

A short-term bump in sales, for example, is going to be hard to bring about without a larger understanding of what is causing the symptom of a temporary sales slump. Is it due to the seasonality in your business? Is it due to an increase in competition? Or, is there a downturn in the market or economy that's causing customers to spend fewer dollars? Develop a plan instead of brainstorming a single idea.

Know what you're up against before you assume that your current predicament can be solved through a single tactical idea. Understand the underlying factors contributing to the dynamic that has brought about your present challenge. By understanding the true nature of the problem at hand, you will effectively prepare yourself to devise a better and more accurate approach. This new approach can be used to mitigate or overcome the forces that are causing a symptom, such as a short-term dip in unit sales.

Develop a strategic plan. Yes, develop a plan instead of brainstorming a single idea. Will it take longer and require more effort? Most likely, yes. Will it also solve your issue more effectively than a short-term tactic? Definitely.

Strategy is a form of problem-solving. Good strategy clearly identifies the problem, and then formulates a larger and binding approach to addressing, head on, the problem at hand. In marketing, as in other areas, good strategy demands choice-choosing a path to the exclusion of others, whereby all plans can be coordinated and work together to overcome a problem (not just a symptom). Symptoms can sometimes be relieved through temporary tactics, but rarely will they go away for any length of time or with any great effectiveness without a strategy to deal with their source.

A good strategic plan integrates:

• Goals—the end for the effort, usually one or two, at most;

• Strategy—the binding approach that will inform all other plans and tactics;

• Plans—individual recipes, each with coordinated activities in accordance with your strategy, that will serve your goal;

• Objectives—observable, measurable and time bound declarations of how you know you are successfully fulfilling your plans; sometimes called key performance indicators (KPI's);

• Tactics—the details and activities that will be undertaken to fulfill plans and reach your goals.

Rely upon integrated tactics . Once you have a thoughtful strategic marketing plan in place, you will be shocked at how much more easily the tactics present themselves. Why? Because a thoughtful strategy focuses everyone around a centralized, agreed upon approach. And because strategy forces choice, it eliminates the need to consider disparate (and sometimes desperate) ideas.

In fact, what you once thought of as innovative and other-worldly ideas will become almost foregone conclusions when a strategy is present. New possibilities present themselves more readily when you and your team are provided a guided pathway upon which to engage creative thought and energy. Best of all, because such ideas must fall within a guided strategic pathway they become, by default, integrated tactics.

Use this three-step process to tackle the larger problem, and you will move away from trying to respond to a request for a quick fix.

Source: Andy Slipher is founder of Slipher Marketing, a consultancy where strategy comes first, followed by tangible marketing results. He is an accomplished strategist, interim CMO, speaker and writer on marketing strategy. He is a marketing segment lecturer for SMU's accredited Bank Operations Institute for professional bankers, and for the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT). Slipher is also the author of The Big How: Where Strategy Meets Success.

Compiled by Cassandra Johnson

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