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10 sales and marketing secrets

FINDING new ways to sell your products is a gruelling task. But this year's Smart 50 are beating the competition by putting their money into simple, inexpensive sales and marketing strategies that deliver a high return on investment, netting them new contacts and customers.

Whether it's through attending trade shows or creating new keywords to enhance their SEO, these smart companies are using simple marketing tools to enhance their reputation and increase revenue, leaving the competition behind.

Here are some of the innovative marketing ideas being used by this year's Smart50. You can read the profiles of the Smart50 here.

Word-of-mouth

Word-of-mouth is often unpredictable, but it can also be one of the most successful tools in a business's arsenal. Several companies on the Smart50 are trying to prompt customers to spread the news to friends and family, creating wide-reaching customer databases.

The secret is simple – customer satisfaction. Companies like Aussie Farmer's Direct are pouring plenty into resources like customer satisfaction surveys, which are then used to improve the customer service process.

Service-based businesses like aged care provider The Physio Co. pump plenty money into training staff to give extra care to employee-customer interactions.

"Providing exceptional service that goes beyond anything they have seen before will soon result in referrals and new business," is their goal, founder Tristan White says.

Plumbing design firm Aqualogical uses what it calls "self-created word-of-mouth" by approaching other companies in the industry when it wins a project.

"When we win a project or in the early stages a shop fitout, we made the first approach to the other contributors on the project to introduce ourselves. We found that we recieved a lot of new contacts and business details through this approach," founder Anthony Freeman says.

Trade Shows

While trade shows are a more old-fashioned marketing techniques, the Smart50 are leveraging these events for networking opportunities and lucrative business contracts.

Nearly every industry holds trade shows throughout the year, and these shouldn't be underestimated as great breeding grounds for new clients and projects. For example, Amblique founder Justus Wilde says he has been able to gain up to three new accounts each at the annual online retail conference.

Dynamiq founder Anthony Moorhouse says he uses these industry conferences to "exploit networking opportunities as much as possible", while interior decorators Pinz say they were able to gain over 100 new leads by simply showing off their products in a simple advertising video at the Blind Manufacturers Association of Australia expo.

"We had a corporate video produced to show the size and scale of our operation, and had this playing on several flat panels. We did not display products, just our capabilities. We ended up with solid leads on over 100 retail blind businesses in Australia who are very keen to source products from us."

NewLease founder Doug Tutus says these trade shows are the company's most "fertile ground".

"In the last year we've ramped up our efforts in the trade show space. Our most successful effort to date was working with Microsoft to host a series of events across three cities titled A Day in the Clouds where we well exceeded both Microsoft's and our expectations. From those events we have an additional $1.2 million in the pipeline."

Entering awards

Being seen as an expert is never a bad thing. If you can get your products and services recognised by industry leaders and representatives, it can go a long way to improving your reputation and convincing prospective clients to jump on board.

Assetivity founder Alexander Dunn says entering and winning awards has improved its reputation as an expert in the field.

"In addition to this, winning recognised independent awards (Smart50, Fast100, Telstra Business Awards, Rio Tinto Supplier Recognition Awards, etc) as we have done, helps to build new and potential clients' trust in our abilities to successfully provide the outcomes that they are seeking."

MyNetFone chief executive Andy Fung says winning an award in PC User magazine in 2005 gave his company significant momentum, and allowed him to expand further into Sydney after gaining a "respectable foothold" in the competitive telco industry.

Enter industy awards when you see them advertised. You never know who will be watching, and what kind of expsoure it could give your business.

Email marketing

Email marketing campaigns are a relatively easy way to get your product out to thousands of people, at a fraction of the cost of a print campaign. A well designed email can net you new customers with a relatively small amount of work.

Ready Steady Print launched an email to 5,000 recipients, and ended up with an 18% response rate, causing a "large jump in monthly revenue" after 900 inquiries.

Software maker Astute People Solutions sends hundreds of emails every week to potential clients, outlining the different ways it thinks it can improve on their current level of service.

"Our most successful marketing effort is well-scripted and content-rich html marketing emails outlining to the Australian recruitment industry just how much time and money our application will save them," founder Nicholas Beames says.

Paradigm Consulting actually uses its email marketing campaign as a competition. It held a contest for all of its clients to enter the draw, with two entries provided to clients who refer the entry email to another customer.

"We had 300 tickets and 150 were added to the draw bowl by the end of the first week. We emailed our list (about 500) three times in a three week period and completed the allocation of tickets and did the draw. It was very sucessful," founder Roger Smith says.

Gifts

Never dismiss a holiday as a good marketing opportunity. Pizza Capers used Mother's Day as a way to reach out to its target market – working mothers in their 30s.

"In the early days, on Mothers Day, Anthony hand delivered flowers to all the mothers that ordered pizzas. This was a big thank you to all of them for supporting our company and it definitely improved sales for the ensuing months," founder Anthony Russo says.

PR

You might not think about writing a press release for your new product or service, but sending a quick statement takes little effort and can give you big results, especially if you're expanding into a new area. Aconex co-founder Leigh Jasper says the company was able to gain new clients after a push into the US through the use of PR.

"Twelve months ago, we entered the market with almost zero awareness; now we are talked about as one of the market's main providers and have recently won several high-profile deals. We used a PR agency to obtain coverage in the highest-circulating trade and technology media."

Marble Group has used the same tactic, targeting industry press with ideas targeted towards specific readerships. "This has greatly increased the industry 'buzz' and we've noticed a dramatic increase in brand awareness among our industry peers," the company says.

If you're having trouble getting your name out there, write up some press releases or even hire a professional to handle your PR. Target specific publications your customers are reading, and you may get a free boost to your reputation.

Search engine optimisation

Whether or not your business actually sells products over the internet, your website should be a crucial portal for information and, subsequently, SEO should be at the forefront of your marketing plans.

Among the Smart50, Google Adwords is a staple for online marketing. Ansaranda says its most successful campaigns are due to the use of Google Adwords, bringing in plenty of users to the website where they can learn more about the business.

But simply using SEO to bring customers to your website isn't enough. Ready Steady Print says it used an online calculator on its website to get customers coming back for more and buying more often. Founder Joshua Kamil says SMEs can't just point to their website, they need to develop ways to keep customers around.

"As we trade only online, our focus is on our conversion rate, abandonment rate and retention rate. Getting traffic to any site is easy, but getting them to trust you and spend money with you is a completely different story. We have managed to get our conversion rate above 3% for our SEO traffic and 4% for our PPC traffic - and it's climbing every month."

Using SEO isn't all about using your own methods, however. When Freez Clothing had just started with no customer database, it identified a high-traffic site and then started advertising sales through it to start building a reputation.

"When we opened our online store in 2007 we quickly discovered that while we had a fantastic website we had no customers. We decided to trial a 15% off the entire store for one week only with an advertising website who claimed to have a data base of 100,000 and in that week our sales went through the roof and our data base grew rapidly," co-founder Lisa Allen says.

"We advertised with that same website monthly advertising these great specials and we always had an amazing response from that website and they have always been to date the biggest driver of traffic to our site after Google."

Print advertising

There's nothing wrong with a little old-fashioned print – if it works. Selmar Institute of Education says its most effective method has been using local news publications to get the word out to new customers.

"It is reletively cost effective and can bring in over 100 enquiries per day using this method only. Our other methods are based around word-of-mouth and referals," founder Marcus Sellen says.

Community marketing

For many businesses getting involved in the local community – sponsoring sports teams, schools and other events – helps bring in customers and improve brand recognition. With so much of its business depending on good reviews from families, fresh food delivery franchise Aussie Farmers Direct makes sure its delivery staff work with schools and other community groups.

"Word-of-mouth is the most important activity that drives our brand - through third party endorsement of our service from existing customers to their family and friends within the local community," co-founder Shane Hodskiss says.

"Our network of franchisee or milkmen in each state and area are our biggest asset for this, working very closely in the local community to support customers and lend support beyond simply just delivering our produce."

Community involvement is especially important for rural companies. Apricus says targeting individual customers in small towns can get good reviews spread quickly.

"Attacking regional Australia has by far been the best marketing strategy we have launched to date. Finding the best person in a country town can have a wonderful benefit in terms of reinforcing the value and strength of your brand in the marketplace."

Measuring marketing performance

One of the most common marketing and sales mistakes among SMEs is they simply don't know how much money they are spending on each method, and which is giving them the best return. Without any knowledge of your return on investment, how do you expect to get ahead?

MegaBuy Group answered that question with technology, using click-through rates to determine the ROI from advertisements placed on price comparison sites.

"Previously we used to manually work out at the category level which products aren't worth listing," founder Yury Karpowicz says, "but we figured that we can automate it by tracking clickthroughs to our website from price comparison websites (which charge a cost per click) and then correlating those with out product and sales data. "

"We now automatically delist products which get lots of clicks with insufficient sales to cover the cost of the clicks. The algorithm is actually a lot more complex, but in the online world where you can track everything there is no reason not to."

Figure out exactly how much your marketing tactics are netting you. If you aren't getting your money back, it's time to find a new method.

This article first appeared onSmartCompany.com.au, Australia’s premier site for business advice, news, forums and blogs.

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