There’s a reason brochures, slide decks, and other marketing materials are called “collateral”: They’re secondary.

While thoughtful design and presentation are always useful, they take a back seat to what marketing is really designed to do, which is to add value to a business by directly increasing revenue and profitability.

Good marketing doesn’t require slick design—some of the most effective marketing can literally be scrawled on the back of a used envelope, if it convinces customers of the unique value of your products or services.

Here are some things all effective marketers do:

They specify and quantify the unique value their products and services deliver to customers in terms of how much money customers earn (and/or save) by purchasing them. If that value isn’t clear—or, worse still, doesn’t actually exist—they redesign their offerings with value in mind.

“Redesigning” doesn’t necessarily mean reconfiguring hardware. It means changing the “product,” which I define as the results customers receive. Different specifications, guarantees, delivery, payment terms, reliability, durability, and field support are just a few of the many ways to differentiate the same exact hardware into different products—at different price points.

If you find yourself competing on price more often than you’d like, I suggest you examine, specify, and quantify the unique value of your product or service. Then, offer different versions of that value at different prices. Doing this one thing can transform your sales.

They develop specific strategies to sell more products at higher prices. The strategies include objectives and timing, but more importantly, answer the question “How will we do it?” Details on customers, products, positioning, pricing, promotion, people, and the actions that need to happen—and when—are understood by everyone involved.

Note that this also includes making sure that all salespeople are clear on which team they’re on—that is to say, your company’s. Too often, salespeople cut special deals with customers that undercut not just your profits, but the relationships that exist within your company as a whole.

They compete where they can win. They know their products aren’t right for every customer and every opportunity, so they focus on offering the best solutions to specific problems, and creating a “better future” for customers who don’t have obvious problems.

They identify what good and bad business looks like, and save their company money and time that would be wasted chasing customers and opportunities they can’t win. Doing more and more business with a big but unprofitable (or low-profit) customer is a sure way to tank both morale and revenues.

They price their products based on customer value and position that value as an investment instead of a cost. It’s a lot easier to sell a product and a price when you can tell the customer something like: “For every dollar you pay me, you’ll get three in return.” Then, they back up that claim with strong business cases, data, and guarantees. Guarantees are a great way to close business and not terribly risky if you’re selling something effective and reliable (you are, aren’t you?).

They don’t make their customers think too hard. In conversations, pitches, and presentations, they provide easy-to-understand reasons why customers should buy, and the results customers get in return. They don’t get into jargon or micro details that customers really don’t care about.

They create demand by speaking and writing about how their products and services have helped customers improve their business results. They know that customers are much more interested in how you can help them earn or save money than they are in your new hex-head screw. They don’t want products or services, per se—they have a problem they want solved. Always be focused on how you can help them solve that problem.

They make it easy for first-time customers to buy by reducing the risk most customers feel when they’re about to buy a new product from a new supplier.

Like it or not, customers perceive risk in changing what they’re used to buying and doing. They will even tolerate big, expensive problems for years if the solution to those problems has too much risk attached to it. (Remember that old saw about people preferring the devil they know to the devil they don’t know—there’s a lot of truth in it, even though this sort of thinking isn’t logical.)

You can come up with all kinds of logical arguments in terms of why the customer should buy from you. However, if the customer perceives an unknown risk (and the customer always does) in buying, and you don’t address that risk early in the sales cycle, you will have a harder time selling.

You can reduce risk in a number of ways with small trial purchases, strong guarantees, and the right kind of proof that you can succeed.

They’re honest with themselves, their salespeople, and their customers.

A lot of what passes for marketing is little more than sketchy, exaggerated claims.

Your salespeople and customers aren’t idiots. People hate being misled or lied to. It’s off-putting and greatly reduces your credibility. Nothing establishes your credibility more firmly than being able to honestly say things like the following:

  • This is what we do well, and here is the proof behind that claim.
  • We’re not the best partner for you if you want to do x, y, or z. You may want to try [competitor product service or internal solution] instead.
  • We achieved that level of performance only once, but we’re working to duplicate the results.
  • Based on what you’ve said about the size of your budget, I don’t think we’re the right fit for your needs.
  • We offer a full guarantee for two years. If you’re not happy with the performance during that time, we’ll give you 100% of your money back.

If you remember nothing else about marketing, simply focusing on a) honesty and b) value will put you leaps and bounds ahead of most of your competitors—with or without a stack of glossy brochures.