By Carl Carter, APR, ATS
You have to do something fast. You huddle your staff. What went wrong? Who’s to blame? You feel a need to do something dramatic to regain your lost footing. Fire somebody. Rename the company. Hire a consultant. Crank up a national ad campaign.
First, take a deep breath. What’s the longer term perspective? An occasional “wake-up call” can be healthy if it forces us to look at our own businesses realistically. So let’s start there.
- Get better at measuring. I’ve seen very few auction companies that do a great job of collecting and analyzing data beyond calls, bidders and web visits. Why not measure the efforts that go into those numbers? How many sales calls did we make last year? How many visits? How many web meetings? Speaking engagements? If you’re not out there pitching, you’re going to get beat. That has nothing to do with technology and major trends. It’s just a reality of life.
- Identify rationalization and excuses in your self-talk. This is a subjective, messy and painful process, and sometimes it helps to have a friend without an ax to grind who’s willing to challenge you. One “red flag” is if you find yourself saying, “I know this is the way things are being done by most folks, but our market and customers are different.” Sometimes they are. But even if that’s the case, they may just be lagging the rest of society. It’s generally safest to assume your market reflects the rest of the universe.
- Don’t be in a rush to identify the cause. In our quest to make sense of things, we may see a cause-effect relationship between things that may just be a coincidence. The other guys are advertising in a certain magazine, and they just booked an auction you wanted. Maybe it’s a factor, or maybe they just out-hustled you!
- What are we doing that’s working? You’ve obviously been doing some things right or you wouldn’t be where you are today. Identify those, quantify them as best you can, and look for ways to build on your success.
- Broaden your “database.” Be wary of relying too much an anecdotal evidence. By all means, use “straws in the wind” to guide you in your quest to improve, but don’t stop there. Check industry and demographic data. Keep an eye on trends through such sources as Pew, Gallup and others. But be discriminating. I’m leery of “studies” from companies that sell the products they’re reporting on.
- Review your own marketing materials. This is a good time for a “gut check” on your own brochures, proposals, slides, sales pitches, web site, advertising budget and other factors. You could be wasting money on media that aren’t working for you any more while missing opportunities elsewhere.
- Evaluate your core marketing message. This is a tough one because a lot of us aren’t clear on what our core message is. Many point to their slogan, which is fine, but it doesn’t hurt to ask yourself what it actually means. I had a client (not an auctioneer) who used the same tagline – “A New Attitude” – for 15 years. None of us knew what it meant in the first place, and it had nothing to do with its products or customers. In truth, a new slogan might help, but that alone won’t fix your problem.
Sometimes you really do have a crisis. You really might have to do something big. But don’t start there. A little tuneup will probably produce faster results at a much lower cost than a major overhaul.
(Adapted from Auctioneer Magazine, March 2014. Used by permission.)