Or will it just tell you what you already know?
Many marketing consultants use a web-based scorecard questionnaire system that will ask you multiple questions about your current marketing activities, mindset and processes, and then send you an automated (or semi-automated) report that will enlighten you as to what needs to be done to change and fix what’s wrong.
There is some merit to this approach as it feels natural for us, when faced with a challenge, to be able to answer questions and have someone provide us with an instant solution. You know, similar to how receiving a ‘tested and proven’ horoscope prediction does by telling you exactly who you are, why you’ve lived your life the way you have and how you should live the rest of your life in the future.
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits them and sells itself.”
– Peter F. Drucker
Marketing Scorecard Questions
Recently, I came across a marketing ‘scorecard’ questionnaire that included almost 40 questions, many of which were largely pointless because the answers would reveal nothing of any value about the problem the [potential] client was facing with their marketing.
Each question had the option of responding with (Yes/Maybe/No), although selecting ‘maybe’ would, in most cases, sound more like a coy response that might otherwise be, “I might have, but I’m not telling you.”
Here’s a small selection of the questions (‘cleverly’ written in the first person to help create more of a connection).
- We have created a clear marketing strategy
- We have built a profile of target customers
- We regularly add to and improve our online presence
- We meet our customers regularly
- We have a defined process for delivering customer service
- Our customers regularly refer us to other businesses
- We gain regular feedback from our customers
Far from being deep and insightful, and focusing on and addressing the real issues the business owner is experiencing, these questions are nothing more than a poorly disguised attempt to figure out how much work the consultant might be able to squeeze out of them.
And the topline responses in the subsequent report, well, they beggar belief:
The overall score suggests that your marketing is not working well, and this may be affecting your business performance. Our detailed feedback focuses on key improvement areas.
BRAND: Below average scores. These suggest that there are some areas that require immediate attention as they may be impacting on your business performance. Use the detailed feedback to make improvements.
PLANNING: Attention! Your scores suggest that your planning is not a key focus in your business. This will mean ineffective marketing performance. Look at the detailed feedback to help you.
CUSTOMERS: Below average score. Use the detailed feedback to make improvements in the areas that you are less strong in, and maintain your focus in the elements you are working well at.
COMMUNICATION: Below average score. The overall score suggests that your communication plan is not fully in place and therefore not benefitting the business. Take time to review, identify gaps and take action.
These are not only stating the blindingly obvious (in the way only an automated response can, of course), but they’re also staggeringly negative observations. I mean, why shoot someone when they’re already down?
Asking Better Questions:
Of course, the full report may make interesting reading to some and even touch a raw nerve or two because it’s just a form of positive reinforcement that tells you what you already know. You chose to complete the questionnaire in the first place, so you already know what are and are not doing, but you really don’t need a report that is only going to reinforce that.
Consider this; they will negatively bias the report because its job is simply to get you to understand the damaging effects of what you’re doing badly, or not doing at all, in order to persuade you to use the marketing consultant to help put it right.
There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, but if you’re at the point where you already know you need help with your marketing activity, what you really need is positive statements based on your needs, not negative statements based on your failings.
It would be far more beneficial for you to answer questions such as:
- Can you explain what you do?
- Do you know why your customers buy from you?
- Is your business currently over-reliant on one or two individual customers or industry sectors?
- Do you understand exactly who your perfect target market are and their defining characteristics?
- Can you accurately define your business proposition in less than 10 words?
- Are you currently marketing your business through more than one or two channels?
- Do you know how many enquiries you need to generate to hit all of your targets?
Questions like these are not frivolous. They will make you take stock and think hard about what you’re doing, and certainly why you need help with marketing your business.
The first question (Can you explain what you do?) is a killer question that very few business owners (or, indeed, anyone else at a senior level) can answer. It’s not a trick question, but it is designed to help you understand exactly where you are, what you know about the business and how you will develop it going forward.
For example; if you run a fish and chip shop, what do you do? Sell fish and chips? No, that’s the vehicle. What you do is provide a convenient and incredibly satisfying way for families or friends to enjoy a treat that reminds them of the seaside, happy days and laughter. The tongue-tingling, tangy taste of salt and vinegar is already making your mouth water just thinking about it (isn’t it?) and the smell of crispy fish and chips wrapped in paper permeates the car on the way home and the kitchen when you get there. People love the experience of buying and eating fish and chips because of how it makes them feel. That’s what you do.
“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
The second question (Do you know why your customers buy from you?) is equally challenging and is, again, something very few business owners or even salespeople can answer accurately, if at all. The majority of business owners never even consider this question in a way that could influence everything about how and why they operate. You can read more about that here.
Challenging it may be, but knowing the answer to that question will help you understand if there will be long term success in your sales process with what you know now, and what to do about it, and this is true whether you’re B2C selling fish and chips, or B2B selling accounting software.
The domination of supermarket giants in and around every town, combined with the ever-expanding availability of everything online, has pretty well killed off customer loyalty. High streets continue to be decimated mainly because of a lack of customer loyalty as it’s so much easier to buy everything from one, faceless supermarket than it is to walk along your high street having conversations with friendly shop owners who will often bend over backwards to help you.
If you believe this unquestioningly to be the future, you may as well pack up and go home.
OK, yes, it’s true to a degree, but regardless of the type of business you run; micro-business or SME, high street or online, B2C or B2B, you can offer something most big, faceless, uncaring stores can’t; excellence in customer service and giving people exactly what they want.
Marketing is how you tell them about it, customer service is how you prove it.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
– Simon Sinek
The above are hard-hitting, soul-searching questions and really are the only type of questions a marketing consultant should be asking if they genuinely want to understand the challenges you’re facing, both now and in the future, and be able to create a solution that will transform your business.
It’s not important how many social media posts you get out there if you don’t know why your customers buy from you.
Is Marketing an Expense or an Investment?
Businesses of all types and all sizes go through phases, not just in relation to growth, but also in terms of successful periods where everything seems to be slotting into place and profits are up, and not so good periods, where nothing seems to be working, margins are thin and finances are a struggle.
Ironically, it’s the latter situation that often forces companies to cut back on marketing activity, even when everyone knows doing so is completely counterintuitive. Why, when you need to increase sales and cash flow, would you stop reaching out to grow your potential customer base? It makes no sense on the surface, but it’s typical behaviour because marketing has always been seen as an expense, not an investment.
It’s All in the Mind
Regardless of the availability of funds, whether marketing is seen as an expense or an investment is a mindset issue, not a question of fact. Larger companies tend to be run by accountants - or at least they have a major influence over the company’s operations - and they often have shareholders to consider too.
The truth is anything that sits in the expense column will always be up for review and likely to be cut or reduced when times are tough.
However, the real question the FD should be asking of the marketing department (in-house or outsourced) is not, “how much are we spending [on marketing]”, but, “how much is it making us?” Sadly, accountants rarely, if ever, ask this question of their marketing people precisely because the cost is seen as an expense, and accountants love to be able to cut costs!
“Marketing is not anyone’s job… It’s everyone’s job.”
– Jack Welch (Chairman and CEO of General Electric)
If the mindset were to change and marketing costs were moved to the investment column, very different questions would be asked and a whole different conversation would ensue. People right at the top, including shareholders, would be interested in what’s going on and how marketing is working to grow the business. In fairness, this may well already be true of the giant retail and consumer brands because, without far-reaching, high-value marketing campaigns, their brands would cease to exist.
For smaller, lifestyle-type businesses it’s even more difficult because any amount of money spent potentially has a detrimental effect on the availability of funds to cover other expenses. Smaller businesses often live day-to-day or week-to-week and without much of a back-stop for when lean times hit them. They’re also less likely to fully understand the cost of sales, relying instead on the overall revenue made from any/all sales, regardless of the general business costs building up.
A typical example of this, though not directly related to the cost of sales, is VAT. Way too many small and medium-sized business use their output tax (the VAT added to the goods and services they sell) to fund their business until the VAT return is due and then scrabble around collecting monies owed to pay the VAT bill at the end of each quarter. It’s a desperately hand-to-mouth way to run a business, and it’s never sustainable long term, as evidenced by the innumerable businesses that failed because they can’t pay their tax bills.
So, what’s the relevance of all this to marketing?
Like every surviving highwire walker will tell you, it’s all about balance. If you can find a way to market your business that continually generates a flow of new inquiries and/or new customers, your cash flow will regulate itself, becoming more consistent and predictable. In time you’ll also be able to predict more of what’s likely to happen, and when, and plan ahead for it, such as during seasonal changes to your sales figures.
So the question remains; is a scorecard questionnaire really a good way to decide if this consultant or that consultant is a good fit for your business?
And the answer? Not really, no, but if it helps solidify where you are in your business right now, even if it only confirms what you already know to be true, then its value is in it being a positive conversation starter.
However, if the less-than-self-fulfilling questionnaire doesn’t lead to more direct questions, such as, “Why do your customers buy from you?” when asked face to face, then there is unlikely to ever be a long and fruitful relationship, only more expense.