This is the third article in a series called Biblical Principles for Sales and Marketing. The first article shared five principles that are foundational to Biblical marketing decisions:
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31
A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight. Prov 11:1
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Philippians 2:3
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Ephesians 4:28
Are Research and Strategy Important?
In the last article we discussed the value of clarifying your purpose for being in business. Now that you have a worthy cause to advance, the question becomes, “What is the most effective way to go about it?”
The answer to that question becomes your strategy. If you are not intentional about strategy, you will either drift through various methods or you will stagnate on one method. The principle of love for your customers requires you to serve them in the best way possible.
But how do you determine the best strategy? That is where research comes in. We all know things about our business operations, our employees, our customers, our vendors, our competitors, and more. Some of what we know is based on facts. However, some of what we “know” is really only an assumption.
If your business strategy is based on false assumptions, you are in for some negative surprises. Pull out a pen and write down the answers to these two questions:
1. What are main “facts” that my business strategy is built on?
2. Which of these “facts” do I have no proof for?
For example, you might assume that lower prices are what your customers want most. What proof do you have for that? Just because a few customers complain about your prices does not prove that lower prices are what your customers want the most, even for the customers that complained. You need to do some research to find out what is really most important to your customers.
How to Conduct Research with Love and Service
Have you ever gotten a phone call like this at 11:39 a.m.? “Hi, this is Angela. I’m calling to offer you a free subscription to All American Magazine. All you need to do is answer a few questions. I promise this won’t take more than five minutes. . .”
By this time, you were ready to hang up if you hadn’t already. You felt someone wanted to waste your time asking you questions that you really didn’t care about. Besides, you didn’t want more junk mail. You perceived no benefit in staying on the call, and you were annoyed that this person interrupted you from the important task you were trying to finish before lunch.
Notice a few things about this scenario. Most importantly, you had no idea who “Angela” was. You had no interest whatsoever in All American Magazine. In fact, you would have preferred not to know it even existed. You had no idea where or how the information you might divulge is going to be used.
There is a better way to do research. Don’t let your memories of bad research experiences hinder you from getting the information you need. Research should not be annoying or make someone feel like they are being sponged off of. Rather, it should feel like (and truly be) a service to the research participants.
Ideally, research is tied to a relationship—either a personal relationship between a company employee and the participant, or at least a brand relationship between your business and the participant. This provides context and sets the stage for a healthy interchange. In cases where this is not possible, find a way to establish common ground and build trust before asking for participation.
Research should benefit the other person. It needs to be relevant to subjects they care about. Make it clear how their participation will benefit them. For example, you could share the results of the research with them or give them a free or discounted product or a gift card.
One benefit can be inherent value in the experience itself. For example, at Rosewood we make courtesy calls with clients. We want to research what problems our clients face in relating to us and how we can serve them better. Most clients give a heartfelt thank you at the end of the call because during the conversation they learn things that they can apply in their own businesses. They also appreciate that we cared enough about them to ask how to serve them better.
Design your research format and questions to give you the truth you need to make good decisions without unduly burdening your participants. Avoid nonessential questions. It is important to structure the research to examine our assumptions instead of trying to prove our assumptions.
There are different types of questions. You should consider which type is best to get the information you need.
Open ended questions cast a wide net and allow for many different responses. This can be helpful when you need general direction about what issues are. Open ended questions require a lot of effort to answer. A good rule of thumb is to limit open ended questions to 1-3 per survey experience. Examples:
- What are the three biggest frustrations you have in using our products?
- If there was one thing you could change about our company what would it be?
- What is your biggest concern going into the coming season?
Closed ended questions give much more specific information. They can be useful to pinpoint answers and collect data. Closed ended questions can be yes/no or ask for a specific number, color, etc. Examples:
- Do you remember seeing our ad in the paper last week?
- How many children live in your home?
- How many times per month do you shop for groceries?
Multiple choice questions are useful if you know exactly what the options are. You could use multiple choice of sizes to determine how many sizes you need to manufacture or keep in inventory.
Rating scales are commonly used to determine customer satisfaction levels. You can ask about several areas of customer satisfaction such as, product availability, courtesy of staff, wait time, and product quality. Consider whether to use an odd or even numbered scale.
An odd numbered scale allows the participant to choose a middle option.
Color Selection 1 2 3 4 5
Styling 1 2 3 4 5
Touch and Feel 1 2 3 4 5
An even numbered scale forces them to choose on either side of the middle.
Crew Appearance 1 2 3 4 5 6
Workmanship 1 2 3 4 5 6
Respect for Your Property 1 2 3 4 5 6
Prepare your attitudes before you analyze the results. Choose humility and curiosity, and don’t be defensive. Look for patterns that would prove your assumptions wrong. Remember, the truth sets you free. Denying it will keep you bound.
Determining Your Strategy
Now that you have a basis of truth to build on, you can confidently explore the best strategy.
Perhaps “strategy” has a negative connotation for you, bringing to mind ideas like deception (pulling one over them), sneakiness, or me vs. them. Strategy can be this way in war, politics, some types of games, and sadly, in too many businesses. A business strategy built on the Biblical principles of love, truth, humility, contentment, and service will not have any of this negativity.
Love. When we have charity toward our employees, vendors, and customers, we will look for ways to create win/win relationships. Look for ways to maximize the value for each party. It’s a team effort, and your customers are part of the team because they need you and you need them. Together you win or lose.
Truth. Building strategy on the truth about our customers shows them that we understand them. They feel that we are pulling for their success. Building strategy on the truth about ourselves keeps us from being unrealistic about our abilities. Being too aggressive with goals can waste resources and demoralize employees with too much failure. Being too passive with goals can also waste resources (especially opportunities) and demoralize employees by not giving them enough of a challenge.
Humility. Humility means that we recognize that our business is not perfect. We have a lot of room to improve, and we enjoy learning and growing.
Contentment. Contentment means that we will not drive for growth or a rate of change that sacrifices work/life balance or puts undue stress on employees. Contentment moves us to over-deliver to our clients instead of pinching the last penny of profit out of every transaction.Service. Service is about benefiting the customer. As you create your strategy, consider how you could increase value in each of these different ways:
- Financial – If your customers are consumers, how can you help them save money, reduce risk, or increase resale value? For business clients, how can you help them lower expenses, increase revenue, or solidify their financial future?
- Emotional – How can you brighten someone’s day? This can be through a smiling voice on the phone, a quote in your email signature, or a genuine pat on the back. Simply being reliable removes stress from your customer’s day.
- Physical – Is your facility clean and safe? Do you have drinking water or other amenities available? Does your product design promote health or is it a health hazard?
- Relationship – Can you encourage conversation between customers? Can you connect them to other people who can help them in ways you can’t? Do you make it easy for customers to contact you? Are you available?
- Educational – How can you help your customers learn? Can you offer classes to improve their skill in using your products? How about giving them a list of training resources that other customers have found helpful? Should you have a “problem solver” on your team who can help them solve issues with your product specific to their situation? Is there a Q&A or Help section on your website?
Three elements of marketing strategy
Marketing strategy includes planning, branding, and messaging. Let’s look at each one.
A marketing plan is a document that specifies how and when time and dollars will be invested into marketing efforts. The how is often in a budget format listing the ways you will use trade shows, brochures, online advertising, printed advertisements, etc, with time and dollar amounts attached to each line item. The when is simply a calendar of activities that need to be done, along with who will do them. Clearly communicate the plan to those responsible for each part of your marketing.
Testing and measuring is an important part of planning often overlooked in small business. Being a good steward of our marketing investments requires tracking how well each marketing effort worked.
While this can seem difficult at first, the effort to put this in place will pay off more than you might think. One company recently stopped going to a trade show that they had attended for years. At one time it had been their best source of new leads, but things had changed over the years. Because they were tracking how many leads converted into customers, they knew the return on investment (ROI) of that trade show was decreasing (even though the trade show itself was growing).
After they tried and failed to improve the lead generation and conversion rates at this trade show, it was easy to make the decision to cut the expense. Knowing the truth about what is working and what is not is essential for good marketing planning.
Branding is about managing your business’s reputation. You should be intentional about communicating the truth through the unspoken signals your marketing sends. Do your brand and business operation have an air of humility about them? Do you present a self-glorifying image or does the customer feel befriended?
Messaging deals with the key points you need to communicate to your prospects and customers to help them make good buying decisions. Is all the information stated and implied in your marketing true? Or is it stretched just a little? Does your marketing stir up an inappropriate discontent or covetousness in your target customer? Does the message focus on how great your business is, or does it explain how the customer will benefit?
Does your business strategy advance the highest purpose of your business? Look for ways to tweak your strategy to exert more influence on your business purpose. Involve your employees, customers, and vendors. Often the people in the thick of the day-to-day activity have the best ideas for improvement.
Make your research and strategy development a matter of prayer. Ask God to direct your steps as you invest all the talents that he has entrusted to you for the best possible return for His business.
About the Author: Roy Herr is the senior marketing consultant at Rosewood Marketing. The Rosewood team guides business owners through marketing challenges into sustainable growth.