Our job as marketers is to grow sales.  Regardless of the environment we face.  The choices we make either work or they don’t.  Two thousand nine has been a challenge for many of us.  Here are seven marketing sins I’ve seen small business owners commit in their attempts to improve sales in a tough economy.  The lesson in all this: you can only fail if you stop moving forward.

1.  Trying to give them everything. The more sales slip the bigger the temptation to throw in another benefit: if six reasons why your software rocks is good. . .nine reasons are better!  Actually, the more benefits you pile on the more you sound just like everyone else.  Understand what makes you different and important, then COMMUNICATE IT.  One caveat: the reasons people buy what you sell have probably changed in this economy.  Make sure you know what’s important to your customers NOW.

2.  Not changing enough. A new headline for your ad, a fresh look for your aging website or a snappy new brochure won’t be enough if your message stays the same and your customers’ world has fundamentally changed.  And, your customers’ world has fundamentally changed.  Chances are pretty good, then, you need a new value proposition.  Figure that out, THEN change your ad, website and brochure.  Caution: this is not an easy way out, it’s definitely the hard way out.  But if everything else doesn’t seem to be working, chances are good a new value proposition is in order.  That’s the bad news.  The good news: it can change your life, it can be a new wind under your wings that lifts your company to new heights (cue the music, the clouds part and rays of bright sunlight fall upon your brow. . .).  Actually, it’s true.

3.  Waiting. Let’s just hunker down until things get back to normal.  Sorry chief, we’re not in Kansas anymore.   Now, or close to it (somewhat better) may be the new normal.  You can’t wait this out, so get going!

4.  Not embracing social media. Yes, it can remind you of high school.  And no, it isn’t something your agency can do for you.  You have to do it.  But it is where your customers are spending an increasing amount of their time.  So, end of story, you need to be there too.  And if you still aren’t buying the argument, believe Google.  Google is now including a variety of social site content in their organic results.  So is Bing.

5.  Giving in to fear. Most of what’s on this page results from acting out of fear.  Fear slows you down at best.  At worst, it stops you.  Be brave.  Sounds silly maybe, I don’t care.  Be brave, don’t be afraid.

6.  Hesitation. The only way you can fail is by stopping.  Test something, measure, refine or discard it, then repeat.  This may be bad news if you’re a perfectionist, but this is how marketing gets done.  You fail by stopping, by NOT refining your last marketing effort and putting it out again, or by NOT discarding it and testing something else.  A corollary to this: don’t bet the ranch.  That is, don’t invest so much in an effort that you don’t have enough money to take the next step.

7.  Losing sight of your customers. It’s easy to reduce your focus to inside the boundaries of your business when things get painful.  It becomes a problem, however, when you lose sight of how what you do impacts your customers.  Fewer people in the warehouse or less inventory helps your bottom line, but does it stretch delivery times or hurt customer service?  You are exactly right to get your costs in line with where sales are.  Just keep the best interests of your customers in mind as you decide what and how to cut.

Bonus sin-

8.  Not investing in yourself. Making changes, thinking, being smart about things and finding and implementing new ideas, somewhere in here is where the solution is for you to growing in this economy.  If you don’t  recharge your creative batteries, bring in fresh ideas, fix weaknesses you’ve been meaning to fix and otherwise improvie your business, things aren’t going to change.  Invest in yourself.  Go to that conference.  Buy customers lunch and listen to what they have to say, even if it means getting on an airplane to do it.  Redo your website.  Buy better accounting software.

It’s true the most opportunity comes when things are the toughest.  When’s the best time to buy real estate or stocks?  When the market is in the dumps.  When’s the best time to increase market share?  When your market is in the dumps.