There has always been confusion regarding the differences between marketing and sales. The confusion is initiated when contractors discover that the most important task of marketing is not selling.

Marketing is typically the art of creating, promoting and delivering goods and services to the customer. This activity stimulates the demand for an organization’s services and products. Marketing’s main function involves knowing the customer and adapting the organization’s offering to produce benefits, based on the advantages and features of the services/products.

Selling is the communication of the solutions to the customer’s needs and wants, which is provided by marketing. Once the customer’s needs and wants are established, the marketing strategy, which includes the product plan, sales approach, advertising and promotions, can be decided. There are several methods to finding out the customer’s needs and wants. For example: telemarketing, surveys, industry reports on trends, associations and vendors. But the best method is the direct customer approach, which is based on your established dialogue and knowledge of the customer. Knowledge of the customer is the cornerstone for planning the marketing strategy of any organization.

Planning has many benefits: first, it sets standards of performance; second, it shapes the organization’s direction and objectives; and third, it leads to better coordination of resources, efforts and control. There are those who will argue that it is useless to have a marketing plan in a changing environment. The fact is that the opposite is true. Planning better prepares the contractor for a sudden change in products and competition by anticipating changes and having the ability to respond quickly. Marketing planning and strategy is only part of an organization’s business plan. That plan is based on the answers of the most difficult, repetitive questions facing contractors today:

• What business are we in today?

• Who are our customers?

• What do our customers need and want?

• What is the future for our business and industry?

The answers to these questions will lead to the development of the organization’s mission statement. The mission statement will provide the foundation and the representing image by which marketing can develop strategy for both customers and suppliers.

The tool to analyze your organization, customers, products and competition is called SWOT—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. By taking each function of the organization, and analyzing it under SWOT, you will obtain a better understanding of the markets and your organization’s capabilities. This information will help you in producing a marketing plan with a strategy to take advantage of the opportunity of success and profits. After the SWOT analysis, the next step is picking a target market. The target market can be existing customers and/or new accounts. These prospects should be identified by name, with an understanding of their needs and wants. With this information, a sales direction can be established and supportive literature can be developed to address the target customer.

There are several approaches for getting the message out to the market: TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, yellow pages, Web sites, direct mailing and telemarketing. The cost and return on investment are major factors. The more markets that are reached, the higher the cost will be. Most mass media take a shotgun approach, which means that if your marketing strategy is to develop name recognition or imaging to a large community, then TV, radio, newspapers and magazines become the approach of choice. If you are targeting a particular market segment, then specific trade magazines, section of newspapers, Yellow Pages, Web sites, direct mailing and telemarketing may be your approach. In all approaches, a script of significant points must be developed so that a single message is delivered to the market. The message must focus on the benefits of your products and services, which is directed at satisfying the customer’s needs and wants. Customers buy on benefits, not on technical features and advantages superior to competitive products and services.

Understanding the customer, your organization, and developing a strong marketing plan will, in the short and long term, give you a fighting chance to meet the demands and challenges of the future in an ever-changing electrical market. EC

MARTIN is a business consultant for Alan Martin & Assoc., consultant for SBA, speaker and adjunct instructor with NECA-MEI, based in Morris Plains, N.J. He can be reached at 973.540.1298 or necamartin@aol.com.