Do You Sell Too Many Things?

Watch out for the “take on too much” syndrome

This might seem like a strange question. But many small businesses gradually proliferate the number of things they sell until it’s hard to manage, and their image is muddy in the eyes of their customers. A few examples:

Consultant. “I mostly do one-on-one consulting, but I also offer workshops and seminars. I have to create workbooks for each workshop, and this plus the marketing to fill events definitely gets in the way of sustaining a healthy consulting practice. Yet the workshops do bring in consulting clients. So it’s a puzzle.”

Bakery. “At first we only sold wholesale. Then we opened our own shop. Then we started selling online. Each of these required different kinds of marketing skills and activities, so that the same person couldn’t handle them all. Very different inventory needs and production schedules. And I was appalled when I compared the profit margins of each.”

Contractor. “Our sweet spot is $10–$20,000 jobs. But we keep getting pulled into these smaller neighborhood jobs. These have conflicting scheduling demands. Then we took on this big government job as a subcontractor. That’s the one that is running me ragged.”

I call this the “Take on too much” syndrome. How do you recognize this in your business?

  • It’s impossible to give your elevator pitch in one sentence so that it makes sense to the person you’re talking to.
  • You need different marketing campaigns, websites, and perhaps different sales people for each part. Different customer lists, inventories, accounting for each
  • It’s driving you crazy! You can’t keep up with it.

Large corporations have multiple divisions, but in your small company you have to keep on top of it all. Yikes!

If you suspect that you suffer from “the take on too much” syndrome, here are some questions you can ask yourself.

  1. First, list all the different kinds of things you sell. Both products and services.
  2. What things do you offer that some customers are unaware of or are not taking advantage of, when you know they should be?
  3. When you quickly explain your business to somebody, which offerings do you have trouble fitting into the brief explanation?
  4. Do any of your offerings require a different website, different customer tracking system, different marketing or selling expertise?
  5. Does one part of your business get in the way of the others? Do you limit one opportunity by pursuing business with less potential?
  6. How well does each offering fit your long-term business strategy and growth plans?
  7. How profitable is each offering? I.e., what is its gross margin? (If you don’t know the answer to this, that’s a whole different problem.)
  8. How much growth potential is there for each?
  9. Which do you enjoy most? The least?

Having a broad range of offerings is not necessarily a negative. It may be important for your business. To analyze this, ask yourself how well your offerings balance each other. For example:

  • Tried and true vs. new and untested
  • Mature product line, perhaps on the way down vs. up-and-comers
  • Steady sellers vs. big swings in revenue
  • Different selling seasons, counter-seasonal
  • A sequence of offerings, inviting customers to move up, e.g., entry-level purchase, intermediate, and luxury or advanced
  • (What else?)

Based on your answers to these questions:

  • Which offerings are the most important? Which are least important?
  • Which offerings fit well together? Which are not such a good fit?
  • Should you consider dropping any of your offerings?
  • How could you change an offering, or your message, or your pricing, to make it a better fit?

Where are the gaps? After looking at all these questions, let’s consider the opposite. Where are the gaps in your offerings? What should you add, if anything? E.g.:

  • Things your customers want that you don’t offer
  • To fill in your line, for a turnkey offering
  • To match — or exceed — a competitor
  • To keep up with changing times, technologies, trends, marketing channels

Take corrective action. Finally, if you’ve gone this far, write a few To Do’s — things that you need to follow up on after this exercise.

This is raw material for your next strategic marketing plan.

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