In a robust market, businesses are propelled along by strong demand. Mediocre marketing efforts enjoy a “free pass” because it appears they work even when they don’t. Good topline numbers can hide underlying customer dissatisfaction, attrition and even loss of market share.

Overworked managers often turn a blind eye to marketing programs when times are good. They naturally focus on what is mission critical: getting the work done. But when they turn their eyes away, marketing strategies turn to mush.

The worst offenders are those who put marketing programs on autopilot, rationalizing, “We’re doing so well we can afford to ignore it.” They’re content to waste money on pointless campaigns or in generating leads they have no time to follow up on.

What happens when the hot market begins to cool? That’s when business owners find out the uncomfortable truth — they’ve spent a bunch of money on a bunch of “stuff ” and none of it works when demand softens.

Here are some questions to ponder now, when times are still good:

  • Are your marketing programs propelling growth at a rate higher than the overall market?
  • Are you investing in best practices that will work with softer demand?
  • Is your marketing team leading you forward or holding you back?

In addition, avoid these all-too-common pitfalls:

Working on autopilot. Be agile. Continuing to run lead-generation campaigns when you’re operating at full capacity is simply a waste of money. But even worse, it frustrates customers who call you to make a purchase only to find you don’t have the ability to immediately help them. Reduce lead-generation marketing (Google AdWords, direct mail, etc.) when your backlog is full. Save the funds you would have spent on those tools so you can deploy them again aggressively as soon as business softens.

Leaving money on the table. Upgrades and add-ons sell best in prosperous times; you should be selling more of them. Buyers have more money to spend and are willing to invest more for even better results. Present options and guide your customers to wise choices. Don’t assume your buyer understands what seems obvious to you. For example, good drainage is essential to protecting a home and ensuring the health of landscape plants, but few people will buy a landscape drainage system unless that is explained. Point out add-ons that are “customary,” as in: “It’s customary to install landscape lighting and outdoor speakers when landscaping around a new pool.”

Not keeping an open mind. Being busy is not an excuse for lazy thinking. A wholesale distributor told me recently that his stores don’t carry job-site cleanup supplies (brooms, garbage bags, etc.) because “contractors don’t use them.” Yet the professionals I know make an extra effort to leave their job sites in pristine condition. They would probably buy some cleanup supplies from this wholesaler with their other purchases, but he’s too shortsighted to see the need. Too bad he’s going to miss those sales.

Spending “because we can afford it.” Unnecessary marketing expenditures seem to multiply in good times. Sure, treat yourself to some new swag, but avoid saying yes just because you’re having a good year. Always ask yourself, “What return will I get from this additional expenditure?”

Adding new marketing staff. Be careful about adding new people during this busy time. Managers incorrectly assume they have the time to mentor new people. They don’t. It takes a lot of time to teach a rookie your business and our industry. These newcomers flounder with lack of direction. That’s not fair to the new person or to your business.

Jeff Carowitz advises landscape industry firms on marketing and business strategy. He can be reached at