I have found that most people don’t understand the difference between sales and marketing. Most people think that they are the same. They are not. They are very different. The best definition of marketing I ever heard was: "Everything you do before and after the sale." Good marketing inspires customers to buy from you--and keeps them coming back. Poor marketing drives customers away from you and to your competitors who are good marketers.

What are the most common marketing mistakes? In my experience they are:

  1. Poor company name. Many of the company names I see make me wince. Most of them don’t give you any indication of what the company does. I have seen people name companies after their children, their dogs, their initials, and even their favorite place to vacation. While that may seem cute at the time it doesn’t help you build a brand. When I bought my current company its name was New South Supply. It wasn’t a terrible name but it gave no indication of what we supplied. People called all the time asking what we supplied. The addition of one word made it very clear as to what we supplied. That word was "construction." We are now New South Construction Supply. Now we no longer get phone calls asking what it is we supply. Also, people driving by stop in if they are looking for construction supplies as our name now makes it clear that we sell construction supplies.
  2. Poor or no logo. Some logos are just block letters. Others scream 1950. Your logo should be done by a professional and employ color and graphics that look up to date and professional. Ours includes the image of a bear wearing a hard hat with a carpenter’s pencil tucked behind his ear. The bear implies strength and the hardhat and carpenter’s pencil indicate that we serve the construction business. Now, a lot of customers know us as "That company with the bear on the sides of their trucks." At least they remember us.
  3. No tagline. You should have a tagline under your logo that makes a brand promise to your customers. Under our logo we have our tagline which states: Know How. Can Do. This tells our customers and prospects that we have industry know-how, and a can-do attitude. It also tells our associates that they need to live up to our brand promise. I have had more than one customer tell me that our associates clearly live up to our brand promise.
  4. Bad or no website. It amazes me that in 2011, when websites are so inexpensive to create, that a lot of companies still do not have a website. Or, they have one that says "Under Construction," or all they have is one static page, unprofessionally done. I don’t know about you, but when I hear of a company that we don’t do business with that is referred to me, the first thing I do is google their name and look at their website. If they don’t have a website that tells me that they are not a player, and if they have a terrible website I’m not inclined to look any further. Remember the old adage: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This applies to your website, too.
  5. No use of social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites are no longer just for geeks. They have gone mainstream and if you aren’t using them you look behind the times. Every major company, sports figure, newscaster, and Hollywood star has a social media presence. If you don’t it says that your company is behind the times. Plus, it is free!
  6. Dirty store or office. If you have been doing your marketing correctly why fumble the ball on the one yard line when a prospect comes to your store or office and they find it to be dirty, old-fashioned looking, or otherwise unattractive. Make sure that your place of business looks up-to-date and professional. Otherwise, don’t waste your time and money getting prospects to come to your store or office.
  7. Dirty vehicles. If you have delivery trucks and/or company vehicles with your company name and logo on them make sure they are clean. Better yet, make sure they sparkle. A clean vehicle says a lot about your business and so does a dirty vehicle. What do you want your vehicles to say about your business?
  8. No newsletter. Again, in the Internet age, it is extremely inexpensive as well as easy to create a very professional looking electronic newsletter to send to your customers and prospects. We send out a monthly newsletter to our customers and prospects and we get three suppliers to underwrite the cost of the newsletter in return for featuring their products. We also include information on business-related topics including the outlook for price increases or decreases on our key products. Our customers tell me that they look forward to our newsletter each month and that they use it to help them decide how to price projects. I even get emails asking when the newsletter will be out if it hasn’t been published and the end of the month is nearing. Click here to see an example of our newsletter, website, and logo.
  9. No uniforms. When I see a company that lets their employees dress however they like it doesn’t look professional to me. At least not in our business, which is building supplies. If you are a computer programmer, a doctor, an accountant, etc., you don’t need to wear a uniform but you should look professional. In our business we provide our truck drivers and our inside sales people with company shirts. Most, but not all of our outside salespeople wear company shirts as well. Every spring and fall we get new shirts for them. This is all part of projecting a professional image.
  10. Sloppily dressed employees. It doesn’t matter how nice the uniforms are that your associates wear if they come to work without showering or shaving, shirt tails hanging out, ketchup stains on their shirts, etc. Coming to work slovenly reflects poorly on your company. Have a dress code and enforce it.
  11. Poor phone etiquette. I am immediately turned off when I call a company and am greeted unprofessionally and/or rudely. Come up with a standard greeting and phone etiquette guidelines and monitor that all of your associates adhere to it.
  12. Poor business cards. Business cards also make a good or bad first impression. Spend the money on a professional looking logo and then don’t skimp on the cost of your business cards. Use heavy stock paper so they aren’t flimsy and don’t fall apart. Also, give business cards to every single one of your associates. Everyone who works with you knows other people and can give them their business card if they express an interest in your product or service. Plus, lower-level employees feel important and are more likely to promote your company if they have business cards to hand out. We pay under $100 for 500 very professional business cards.
  13. Poor signage. When I to go to a business for the first time if I see that their signage is out of date, faded, or, worse yet, hanging crooked by one bolt on the exterior of the building that speaks volumes to me about the quality of the company and their services. Make sure that your signage is replaced periodically so that it always looks fresh and up-to-date.
  14. Poor advertising. I feel that you’re better off not advertising at all if your ads look unprofessional. This applies to print ads as well as TV or radio. Many business owners can’t be objective about their own advertising so form an advisory council of key customers and prospects, take them out for dinner in a private room in a good restaurant, and ask them a series of questions about how they perceive your advertising and other questions about your business. It’s much cheaper than having an advertising agency put together a focus group and you get the added benefit of spending quality time with your best customers and prospects.
  15. No yellow page ads. If your competition isn’t in the Yellow Pages you don’t need to be either. However, if your competition is in the Yellow Pages both print and online your ads need to look better than theirs. They don’t mess surely have to be better but they should look better.
  16. Cheap or reused bags and boxes. If you have a business like mine where people shop in your showroom and take merchandise with them, have first class looking bags for their purchases. If you ship products to your customers make sure you have sharp looking boxes with your logo on them. Also spend a few extra bucks to put your logo on the packing tape as well. Every little detail adds up and creates an image in the mind of the consumer. If you market your company properly the image created is a great one and adds to your revenues and profits.
  17. No catalog or a poor one. If your business sells from a catalog don’t cut corners on it. We publish a printed catalog, a CD version, and our catalog is also online. We don’t put pricing in our catalogs so that they aren’t out of date the minute we publish them. We get our suppliers to pay for ads in our catalog so we end up with a very professional looking catalog and it costs us next to nothing due to the support of our suppliers.

I believe that the image your company projects in the mind of your customers and prospects is the sum total of your marketing efforts. What image does your marketing project? Jim Sobeck is president of New South Construction Supply, West Columbia, S.C. This article originally was posted on Sobeck's Biz 101 blog. Copyright 2011 by Jim Sobeck. All rights reserved.