I don’t see a lot of Presidents or CEOs that have come up through the ranks of having previously been an amazing Chief Marketing Officer. Most leadership in companies come up through sales. Sales, at least conceptually, is well understood. It’s easy and appropriate to invest in sales processes, strategies, technologies and training and then to measure ROI; we made more sales or we didn’t.
Marketing in many organizations is much less understood, particularly for leadership where digital marketing – which is increasingly the most essential marketing to talk about – is not a conceptual strength. Marketing is often seen as strictly tactical and as a series of activities rather than strategic and comprehensively tied to business objectives, goals and outcomes. In many organizations marketing is tied to communications, so the same team that should be creating leads is designing business cards and printing pamphlets. The misalignment of the value of marketing isn’t only driven from leadership – marketing has historically done a poor job of demonstrating ROI. Many marketing teams simply don’t understand how lead generation is tied to sales, don’t have lead goals or analytics to provide insight or opportunity, or don’t think holistically about marketing so multiple channels and marketing activities are working together for a specific desired outcome.
As Aaron Ross describes in his book Predictable Revenue, one of the biggest mistakes executives and leaders make is outsourcing their understanding of marketing. Without an understanding of modern marketing, leaders make arbitrary goals, define arbitrary (and far too small) budgets, and hold teams accountable to subjective performance measures – if there are any meaningful measures at all. Many marketing teams in small-medium businesses are left to fend for themselves and flounder, wondering what impact they’re supposed to be making.
For companies like this it’s important for executives to develop a new philosophical relationship with marketing. This includes aspects that I think are crucial for leadership to reconsider (or consider for the first time) about marketing in their organizations:
Marketing has to connect to sales
I mean this practically and philosophically. Marketing and sales teams need to communicate about goals, objectives, practices and processes. And marketing needs to be given appropriate priority and energy in an organization.
Think of your revenue goals as a heavy object. Think of sales and marketing as robots designed to lift that object. If the sales robot (organizational priority, resources, etc.) is much larger than the marketing robot, it’ll have to work really hard to carry the revenue load alone. If the marketing robot (department) is large but you only have a couple of salespeople, the marketing robot will have to do a lot of work. If the robots are of similar size, however, the load gets much easier for both to lift. A modern marketing engine should be reverse engineered to support your sales teams and goals. This means looking at things like sales win rates, average lifetime value of a customer, average initial sales price, and other factors. With the right analysis it’s possible to estimate for every one sale it will take x amount of leads. Then you can define the quality of those leads. Assessing the costs per conversion is crucial too – how much is it costing from a marketing perspective to capture a lead? If you’ve never analyzed things this way it can take time and experience to develop this understanding, but once you do it’s invaluable intelligence. Should we do that tradeshow? Buy a billboard? Parachute somebody on the field during the Super Bowl? With some perspective it’s easy to look at the historical ROI of your channels and activities and make smart business decisions.
Your website is crucial to sales and marketing success
The first next thing people will do after hearing about you in almost any marketing or sales outlet is hit your website. Just as likely they’ll do some searching to see who else is in your space and how you compare. People will make emotional decisions about doing business with you just on how they feel about the experience they have on your website. This goes far beyond snappy graphics and a responsive design than works on any device – these are minimum criteria today. Your website has to work for you. Think of it as another employee that never sleeps or takes a break. It should be demonstrating your thought leadership, attracting traffic, converting traffic to leads. It should be dynamic and interesting and accommodate both buyers and existing customers on the mission they’re on that brought them to your website in the first place. For some this is just information, for others this is contacting you, for others it’s learning from you.
All marketing activities should in some way run through your website, helping you assess which marketing activities are working and how they’re working. And, like everything else, there should be traffic and conversion goals for your website that you’re tracking appropriately. Skimping on your website is a serious mistake, and while the proliferation of easy do-it-yourself tools from WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly and others is empowering, for your website to be the powerful piece of your marketing engine that it should be will take more than plugging in mailchimp and some video. A professional perspective around all the ways a modern website needs to connect to digital tools, sales tools and CRMs, social media, automation, and lead generating tools is as critical as a professional’s eye on the user experience.
Marketing takes resources
Most marketing experts agree that high performing B2B companies should allocate 8-10% of their net sales revenue goal on a marketing budget. When I share this with many executives who are used to spending less than 1% of their revenue goals on marketing (and think of it as an expense, not an investment), it makes them swallow hard. But building the engine simply takes resources. Content creation, strategy, new tools, partnerships, advertising and media buys, training – these are just a few of the things a modern marketing engine needs to succeed. For most organizations working your way up to an appropriate marketing budget will take time (and of course, what’s best for your organization is dependent on a number of factors – 8-10% is guidance, not rule), and this is where simply learning to think differently about marketing can help. Learning to dedicate more resources should be complemented by those resources paying off – a product of strategic thinking.
Marketing takes time
I get it – we all want results right now. Tomorrow. Next week. You want to set up an email marketing campaign and have it be churning out highly qualified leads within the hour. And you know what – sometimes it works like that! But usually it doesn’t. This is because great marketing isn’t just about the organization, it’s about the buyer (or customer, or prospect – pick your definition). Marketing has to have a diverse and holistic approach to reach customers wherever they are on their buying journey. A webinar, for instance, will generally attract customers further along their journey than a blog post. But a blog post can nurture a customer into attending a webinar. And without a mechanism to digitally sign up for a consultation or otherwise engage with your product after the webinar, a lead can easily get lost. And before diving into any of those activities an organization should better undertstand its own unique story and strengths and how those things resonate with its audience and customer base. Building these strategic outlets takes time and thought. Doing something fast and cheap can feel like at least you’re in motion, but it rarely pays off.
Marketing behaviors are better than marketing activities
Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing, but sending out a mass email newsletter once a month or capturing registrations through Eventbrite for your next lunch & learn cannot by themselves drive your marketing. These are tactics that have to be tied to a broader strategy around business goals to truly drive performance. Activities involve pressing the occasional button that initiates a marketing action. Behaviors tie those actions into a philosophy around marketing that has answers to questions like, why are we doing this? For whom are we doing this? What are the outcomes we’re trying to achieve? What are we doing next, and how does this activity fit into the next one? This is the stuff of strategic planning and forethought – the heavy lifting that has to happen before you start planning what to post to your blog or if you should buy some Adwords.
Smart marketing starts with smart decisions made by smart leaders. The reality is that for businesses to compete and scale today and tomorrow, they often have to think differently about what they’ve been doing and why. Adopting new behaviors and strategies can take time and sometimes comes with some growing pains, but the sustainable return on that investment drastically increases opportunities, sales leads, and competitive advantage.