For small to mid-sized industrial companies, business-to-business niche marketing can be a daunting task. Where to start? Who should we market to? Which marketing direction should we take?

To start, a company needs to review some of the basics. Think about the message you want to convey. Communicating a message should cause someone to take action. The action could be buying your product, using a service you provide, recommending or referring you to others, or changing their behavior. Marketing success is measured by when the targeted people perform the desired action you are looking for.

Understand that creativity is nice, but results are what matters. A company can spend a lot of money on an attractive ad that people will notice, but if the message is wrong, the money can be wasted. Effective marketing is not about winning advertising awards or being recognized as a creative powerhouse. The message must fit the target audience to have the desired effect.

How do you figure out the desired message you need to send? Developing a marketing strategy can give you direction and keep you focused. First you need to answer some questions about the current situation. Where are we now? What are our customers saying? What don't we like about our current situation?

Then ask questions about your future. Where do we want to go? How will we know when we get there? What's our level of commitment? You need to be brutally honest with the answers. A marketing strategy will not make up for operational problems. Make sure you are addressing those issues also.

A good cross-section of the major disciplines in your company should be represented on your planning team. The number of people involved may vary, but all should be in tune with the company and its customer base.

What you do next depends on the answers to those questions. The plan should include all aspects of how you sell and promote your product or service. Aligning all your marketing outlets with your strategy produces a united front. Your sales force needs to state what your brochures promote. Your ads and public relations should also reflect the same message.

If you need help with the creative side of marketing, now is the time to bring in outside consultants or marketing agencies. They can help you visualize your direct message once you've decided on a strategy.

Measure, evaluate and start over as needed. Remember that results are based on the desired change in your target audience. Did you achieve the goal you set?

Evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy. The best way to figure out if a certain marketing program is working is to simply ask your customers. Find out where they heard your name. Was it from your Web site, a direct mail postcard or an ad in a trade journal? This should be one of the first questions your sales people ask. Tracking this information will show you which marketing technique is most effective.

Finally, admit any mistakes made along the way and learn from them. Throughout the process, make sure to ask the questions again as internal and external conditions change. Use your gut instincts about the situation. How does it feel to you? Is it time for a change? It's not necessary to wait until a spreadsheet or number crunching tells you that you need to make a change if you feel something is wrong.

A marketing plan cycle is typically two to three years long. Since it is difficult to accurately predict more than three years down the road, review the plan annually and make any necessary adjustments.

Remember that it's not enough for your company to have great products and services. You need to target those products and services to the right audience and tell them why and how they should buy. A good marketing plan does all of this and will be a major key to your success both now and into the future.