Good marketing is about listening, not talking

Owners of small and medium-sized businesses tend to have more faith in sales than they do in marketing, but this is often due to a misunderstanding of the marketing process.

Marketing has traditionally received a lot of bad press. It is regarded by many business owners as a vague, ill-defined process that involves spending a lot of money on persuading people to buy something they might not necessarily want - often with few tangible results.

Good marketing, however, is not about persuading someone to buy something you have - that is selling. Rather it is about understanding the needs of the marketplace and providing goods or services that fulfil those needs. In other words marketing is matching your product or service to people's genuine needs.

If your marketing is working well, you will need to do little more than inform prospects and customers of your products or services. If you are providing something they really need you will not have to persuade them that they need it.

This is not to say that persuasion does not play a part in marketing - it does. In a competitive market, for example, you need to convince prospects and customers of the relative benefits of your product or service as against those of your competitors. But if you have understood the needs of the marketplace well and differentiated your product or service accordingly, the benefits of what you are providing should largely speak for themselves.

We hear a lot of talk about 'Unique Sales Propositions' (USPs) but the time to be unique is when you are positioning your product or service in the marketplace, not when you are trying to sell it. Perhaps it might be better to call them 'UMPs' - Unique Marketing Positions.

The best way to steal a march on your competitors is to listen carefully to customers and prospects, understand their existing and emerging needs, and constantly modify your products or services to meet those needs .

The problem with emphasising sales over marketing is that you tend to put more effort into talking to customers than into listening to them. This might help to drive up sales in the short-term, but no business can build lasting success on trying to persuade customers to buy what it already has if it does not listen to its customers and provide what they actually want.

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