Stop looking for silver bullets and start asking smart questions

Marketing and public relations problems are not monsters, but lots of people seem to think they are.

If I can just find that single right tactic – that silver bullet or wooden stake  then I can slay the demons of competition and win the business.

I’m not kidding. I’ve had clients basically say things like “All we want is a news release” or “We just need a really good-looking brochure” or “If I could just get my website to rank highly on Google …”

Even when an agency, marketing-communications manager or freelancer delivers on those goals, the client is still likely to be disappointed. (And you can guess who gets blamed then.)

Here’s the point: No single tactic or channel is going to solve all your marketing problems.

Whenever I hear clients start to say “We just need …” I start asking questions. Because I know if I don’t figure out what outcome they actually want to achieve, they probably won’t be happy and I may not be working with them for long.

Clients are smart. Sometimes they’ve worked through all the questions and they really are just looking for that one final tactical execution to get their marketing efforts across the finish line. And they want to get there as quickly and cheaply as possibly; fair enough. In those cases, you still need to ask questions.

Knowing the desired outcome is critical to executing a tactic effectively.

But usually when a client says “we just need …”, what they really need is to start asking a bunch of questions. “We just need” is often code for “We have a marketing problem, and this is what I think might be the quickest, easiest way to solve it, but we really don’t know for sure – we’re just guessing.”

Often, though, the marketing problem has multiple causes, and solving it will require addressing them all.

So, when you hear  or say to yourself  that you just need that one silver bullet in your marketing plan, STOP. Instead, ask yourself some questions. Here’s a good list to get started with, though it’s not exhaustive.

  • Have you precisely defined your target customers or clients? Given your sales and profit goals, are those the right customers?
  • What are you doing to make sure those customers want to buy from you? Do they even know about you?
  • What are you doing to stay in front of people who have bought from you in the past?
  • What are you doing to encourage referrals, word-of-mouth and advocacy?
  • What are you doing to stay in touch with people who expressed interest in buying in the past, but chose not to at that time?
  • Do you have a unique, compelling position in the market, or are you perceived as just another provider? Have you communicated that difference clearly, powerfully and consistently? Do you offer proof of that difference?
  • Are you making offers on a regular basis to your potential clients or customers?
  • Are you listening to your audience? Are you asking them what their needs and problems are, what they think of your industry and what they think of you? Have you asked people who don’t buy from you why?
  • Are you asking these questions consistently?

There are a bunch more questions you should have that are specific to your industry and business. But as you can see, asking them, answering them honestly and then acting on those answers can be a lot of work.

You might find your sales funnel is full of holes, or that there’s not that many leads coming in the top of the funnel to begin with. Those problems aren’t usually solved with just one tactic or channel.

Yes, this is a lot of work. And yes, it can seem a bit intimidating to take it on. But I guarantee you, it’s less scary then firing that single silver bullet and discovering the monster is going to keep coming.

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