In good times and bad

Jan. 1, 2020
In times of financial downturns, the first two things to get axed in the interest of cash flow are education and marketing.
In times of financial downturns, the first two things to get axed in the interest of cash flow are education and marketing. If you are considering or have already cut in these areas, I hope you will change your mind. Unless you have an older staff, your employees probably have no experience in dealing with market downturns as serious as this one. Many on your staff may be feeling like they are trying to sell snow to Eskimos. How do you get them beyond that and working on creative strategies to weather the storm? Education is the answer — as long as it is handled professionally, strategically and with an appropriate follow-up to make sure any new ideas or processes are implemented properly. Otherwise you might just be wasting time or throwing money at the problem without addressing the underlying conditions.

A smart investment might look something like this: Get your employees together — not just the sales people — and tell them that you want to brainstorm some ideas to create new sales strategies. You will get more buy-in from your employees if they are helping create the solutions they will employ. If you are not a good facilitator for this type of event, maybe you could spend some money to bring in professional help. This is affordable education and should, in effect, pay for itself in better results. It teaches your people to solve problems, communicate and adjust their own attitudes. Just because we are trying to save money does not mean that we eliminate programs. It means we take more creative approaches to them.

If you offer a product, you HAVE to advertise. Advertising is difficult to track. That does not mean it is not effective. In fact, most business gurus will tell you that in times like this you need to expand your marketing and advertising budget to take advantage of competitors' reduction in advertising and to get your story out there more. Just like education, it takes planning and discipline. You should seek smart, measurable and sustainable campaigns.

A smart campaign identifies your best opportunities to make sales and creates an innovative way to add value that is relevant to current market conditions. Keep your core values front and center, but tell your story in a different way to attract new customers.

To make a campaign measurable, you may want to consider adding a special offer that is unique to a particular media outlet you are working with or adding a market expansion phone line to your business. These are great ways to track the effectiveness of an ad or media outlet. If you want a cheap, but still pretty effective way to measure a promotion, encourage your employees to ask each customer where they heard about you and keep a log.

Sustainability is also very important. There are advertising deals out there now. Before you jump into an advertising media that you could not normally afford, ask yourself and the provider if you can negotiate a price that fits your budget to get enough repetition. You can't expect the phones to ring off the hook the first time you advertise, so pick a target audience that you can afford to hit at least six times for print or mailings and more if you are doing radio or television. If you can't sustain it, you won't succeed with it.

It takes a little more effort to create these kinds of programs. When sales are down it seems like time is the one thing we have lots of. Some of the best programs we have ever created happened during slow times and have paid dividends long after the slowdown was forgotten. Donny Seyfer is a second-generation repair shop owner and ASE Master Technician. An active industry educator, Seyfer hosts two automotive radio shows, serves as chairman of the Automotive Service Association of Colorado, works nationally to help repair shops with IT and service information utilization and writes for Motor Age, a sister publication of Aftermarket Business.