© 2019 CMC Today and Tim Kist, CMC

Conducting a marketing audit should be the first step in creating a winning game plan.
The answer we should all have is, “of course!” But, do you really answer “yes” every morning when you look in the mirror and ask yourself this question? Is every person in your organization filled with the same level of confidence as the CEO who answered “absolutely!” More important than a “yes,” do you know why customers choose you over your competition? And how do you know this to be true?

In 2017, Forrester conducted worldwide research and asked CEOs if they believed they were customer centric. 91% responded “yes.” Only 10% of the customers of these same CEOs responded “yes.” This vast gap in responses indicates that too many organizations are internally focused and not client centric. According to Dr. Linden Brown and his son Chris, authors of the 2015 business book of the year “The Customer Culture Imperative,” a customer centric culture is the primary driver to improved business performance. How can you assess whether there is customer centricity and alignment in your culture and actions? 

In North American football, a game plan is created for every contest. This is the tactical plan that each team wants to activate to try and win the game. The culture of the team is its players and the schemes that are used. A game plan includes offense, defense and special teams’ key plays that are practiced so that they can be executed at the right time in the upcoming game. After each game there is considerable review and analysis of the game film. In my brief experience as a Canadian Football League player (many years ago) and as a coach at the University level in Canada, this post-game analysis is always very illuminating for players and coaches. The film is taken from a camera high up in the stadium to enable a view of the entire field. Unlike most TV camera angles that are focused on where the ball is, this overall view allows each player to see when they properly performed their assignments and when they did not. There is a phrase “the eye in the sky doesn’t lie” that means every true action is there for everyone to see on the game film. Successful teams use this assessment to improve both team and individual performance and execution of assignments. Teams will use this data to make adjustments for the next game. 

If we apply this same analytical approach to small and medium-sized businesses, and if we consider the marketing audit as the film review, we can take a detailed dive into an organization’s performance on a more regular basis than likely occurs today. In football there is a need for fundamental skills to be in place before more elaborate training can be considered. The same holds true in business so we will focus on the four foundational components of marketing – product, place, price and promotion – to help us understand if we will buy from ourselves. Dedicating an assessment to the 4P’s, you will apply a level of discipline to your analysis that, in my experience, is not regularly considered in most small and medium-sized organizations.

Begin with an assessment of your product. Fundamentally, if your product or service is not highly sought you are probably in trouble. Just because you have built that proverbial better mouse trap, does not mean that people will beat a path to your physical door or internet store. If you do not offer something more compelling than great service or friendly staff (your competitors likely offer the same thing), you will become a commodity, and selected exclusively on low cost. 

When was the last time you spoke with your customers in detail about how your product was used and what benefit people receive from using it? Have you seen this in action? Where is your proof? When a customer is selecting your product or service, they are also assessing the quality and knowledge of your staff, and the level of support provided before, during, and after a sale. Many companies claim they deliver customer service as their difference. And yet the staff are not empowered to make a decision that benefits the customer. Assessing how you empower your employees to ensure consistency, and to learn from actual interactions with customers, is a key step in creating a customer service experience as a differentiator. 

Next, is a review of the place component of your product or service. Place isn’t always a physical “place.” This is your distribution channel, which includes your sales force, other sales channels such as your physical store or plant, and any online sales platforms you may have. Again, there are some important questions to ask yourself. Have you tried to place an order at any of these touch points? Are you certain that each step is rock solid, and no one will ever say no? Have you ever conducted a shopping cart abandonment assessment to see how many dollars were not spent on your site? Exceptional sales professionals ask insightful questions to uncover the true needs of the customer by getting the customer to talk about their situation. More importantly, the sales professional listens carefully for the answers to create the strongest possible connection between the problem your product or service is designed to address and the value-added solution it provides.

The third component to consider in your marketing audit is your pricing policy. This is often overlooked, except when your customer says your price is too high. How do you know for certain that your price is too high? Have you assessed the price of your product or service against your competitors? Have you considered the impact of market demand and industry supply? Do you generate cash from operations? How about your late payment and collection policies? Are these factors properly customer-focused? In a previous professional role, when I relied solely on a sales representative to explain why they believed the price was too high, this was always an indictor that there was not enough exploration conducted to determine the true needs of the client. Sometimes it was a vendor-managed inventory requirement or the ability to have an order delivered at specific intervals that was more valuable than the lowest price. Your sales team needs to dig deep. There is an adage in customer decision-making that states, “if price is the reason, it is the only reason.” If you are honest in your assessment, I believe you will find this a true statement and you will know where to help your sales team improve in their investigative process.

The final component is a review of your promotion efforts. This is the marketing component that typically gets the most attention because it includes your traditional advertising, social and digital advertising, and any public relations activities that you may undertake. Have you ever reviewed all your messaging for consistency and relevance? Corporate social responsibility activities are also included in this area. Do you have a structured corporate giving program that guides where you want to invest to make your company a great place to work and improve the quality of life in your community?

These initial questions should be carefully considered as the beginning of a marketing audit. This is not an exhaustive list. You should also assess the PESTEL (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal) factors to see what is happening in your entire operating environment. 

Starting with great questions and applying them in a structured approach will help you uncover whether your organization is truly aligned for people to want to buy from you. Sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer famously stated that “people don’t like to be sold to, but they like to buy.” 

Having confidence in your product or service, in the people that deliver it, and the messaging that you use, are all part of a customer’s buying process. When you have all these elements properly aligned, there is a much greater chance that your customers will select you when their need arises. If any of the four Ps are out of sync, then your chances of sales success are reduced. 

Tim’s bits: 

  • Remember to keep the customer at the center of all your decisions. 
  • Manage customer expectations within your operating environment to ensure you can profitably deliver what the customer expects. Tom Peters stated that “winners focus obsessively on their customers. Losers don’t.” 
  • Do you consider the product, place and price together to help craft promotional messaging that works? After working through a structured review of how people buy from you, you are probably doing many things well. Use the data that you uncover to create a game plan to fill the gaps. 
  • Organizations only have a finite amount of resources – time and money – to address these gaps. Prioritize the areas that require immediate attention to deliver the wins you seek. 

Please remember to communicate with your employees about any changes you make. When people understand how their role fits in the delivery of a solution to generate satisfied customers, they will become more engaged to find better solutions in the future. Building a disciplined assessment of your marketing activities is a critical factor in creating a winning game plan. The next step is to apply what you learned, correct mistakes and build off the successful plays that you made so you will be better in your next customer interaction.

With this winning game plan in place, you should now be able to look in the mirror and answer “yes!” to the question with pride. 

About the Author:
Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant working with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer focused. This includes creating a customer-centric culture and ensuring everyone in the company knows they are in marketing (they serve internal and/or external customers). Tim has more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions, where he led teams, launched products and services, suffered corporate bumps and bruises and learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. He is currently a Director-at-Large on CMC-Canada’s National Board, a member of the Marketing and Advocacy Committee of ICMCI, and he just completed seven years on the Board of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba, including two years as President.