Why mid-size businesses struggle with marketing
It’s 2021, and despite almost every form of digital and traditional marketing being widely accessible, not every business is actively engaged in marketing. It seems to make no sense, but it’s the way it is. Some of this will be down to the availability of funds, or perhaps the lack of it, but more often it’s about the mindset and culture of the business owners as unconsciously determined by the size of the business.
Both smaller, younger businesses and larger, established corporates are the kinds of businesses most likely to be fully active in marketing despite using very different tactics and with vastly different budgets to achieve their desired outcome.
Daniel Priestly, Co-Founder & CEO of Dent Global, explains the five key phases of business development, namely:
- Start-up – Pre-revenue business, testing out ideas in the market, less time, more stress
- Wilderness – Struggling solopreneur, no product offering, juggling multiple roles
- Lifestyle – A team of 3 – 12 people, fewer hours, more freedom, great revenue, low profit
- The Desert – Too big to be a small business, and too small to be a big business
- Performance – Steady growth, high valuation, investable, great team culture, profitable
He describes this journey as having its own ‘problems and frustrations that come along at a very predictable time‘.
Here’s my take:
Startups: the beginning
Micro businesses and startups are full of excitement and enthusiasm, see a bright, successful future and want/need to tell everyone about everything they do. They’ll typically use every [marketing] channel available to them and find innovative, creative ways to connect and engage with customers.
Performance: the end goal
At the top end, in Daniel’s ‘Performance’ phase, the business, its values, its history and roadmap are established and the messaging is both clear and near-perfectly formed. Turnover will likely be in the region of £20m to £50m, the marketing budget is a given and is crafted to enable access to, and engagement with, established audiences, whilst ongoing growth is organic and ingrained in the company’s DNA.
The desert: the danger zone
Languishing below Performance is ‘the desert’. It perfectly describes where many mid-size businesses find themselves, where turnover is typically in the region of £2m - £10m, and whilst profit margin/EBIT is acceptable, growth is random and spending can be uncontrolled or even out of control.
The desert is the danger zone and is where businesses can struggle in key growth areas. Marketing is often random and unfocused, sending mixed messages because too many well-meaning but non-marketing individuals are involved, all trying to help and do the right thing.
In the desert, you lose track of who you are, where you are and where you’re headed. Mirages (where you’d like to be) are all too frequent an occurrence too, and going after them is a waste of time and money because there’s no road map for success and no experienced marketing team to pave the way.
It’s hard to build a marketing team if you’ve only ever experienced random internal, perhaps less experienced staff doing their best, or have always outsourced everything to agencies. The latter, in particular, is where messaging literally goes out the window. This is not a dig at marketing agencies, only that unless there is internal focus and control over messaging, agencies are frequently left to work it out for themselves and the result isn’t always pretty.
How an Interim Marketing Manager/Director can add value to your business.
Marketing is a complex mix of established processes, traditional methodology, thinking outside the box, personal experience, gut feeling and positive optimism, and no two Marketing Consultants will approach the same challenge in the same way, so it’s important to have a good feeling and positive relationship with them from the outset.
An experienced Marketing Manager/Director will be able to help you with brand development and positioning, a go-to-market strategy, website development, market and competitor insight, product or service launches, sales integration, lead generation, revenue-focused sales, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), multi-channel digital marketing and ongoing marketing campaigns for business development.
Whilst individual companies will have their own requirements, such as where a highly specialised Marketing Consultant experienced in a specific field will be of greatest value, more often than not, particularly with B2B marketing, a more senior consultant with varied business experience, and a hands-on approach to consulting will be able to deliver considerable insight and value.
Business-critical marketing consultancy is about far more than just running marketing campaigns. An experienced B2B Marketing Consultant will have an immediate impact on the project, department and company, providing insight into how the company, products and services are (and should) be perceived, developing the messaging, positioning the company and products in the marketplace and against its competition, educating and integrating all stakeholders within the business, and so on.
A key point of value in engaging an experienced marketing consultant is their impartiality. They will be strategic, think logically and analytically, have a long-term view and be focused on results.
Managing multiple external agencies is like herding cats
There inevitably comes a time when it appears to make perfect sense to outsource certain tasks to a third-party company, and marketing is a prime candidate for such a decision.
Outsourcing relieves the burden of pressure when internal expertise is not available or, perhaps, funds to not allow for taking on full time, internal personnel. It makes sense to brief an agency and let them get on with doing what they’re good at, while you get on and do what you’re good at.
However, it’s not always as simple as that.
There are three likely scenarios;
If the agency is tiny, they’ll likely need more hand-holding. At the outset, this might be mistaken for them being great communicators and wanting to be more engaged in your business, but it will soon become apparent that it’s not the best use of your time. It’s not their fault, it just comes with the territory.
If the agency is large and more of a full-service agency, they’ll be far more autonomous with multiple departments and multiple account managers, each of whom will want a piece of your time. The agency will be able to offer a far wider range of services, all of which they’ll handle for you. It sounds great, but the nature of their business model presupposes they’ll also want to take control of more than you initially engaged them for and you risk losing sight of the original brief and messaging as they begin to shape it the way they think, not the way you think.
Even more challenging for larger businesses is commissioning multiple agencies each to work on smaller, more specific elements of an overall project. You may, for example, divide a marketing project into two or three disciplines (brand development, creative, and go-to-market) and expect there to be some level of collaboration between the agencies in order for the overall project to be delivered on time and on budget. However, this will never happen organically, and without an internal resource, such as a marketing consultant/interim marketing Director/Manager to oversee the relationships, keep track of deliverables and control timelines – and keep all stakeholders in the loop and happy, it really will be like trying to herd cats.
An Interim Marketing Manager/Director is a Powerful Solution
There are many reasons a company might choose to explore engaging an interim Marketing Manager/Director, such as providing cover for long term sickness, parental leave or seasonal/random staff changes, but it’s most likely to be because of the need to take a fresh look at where they are or to solicit expert guidance for a new product or service launch.
An interim Marketing Manager/Director can be instrumental in establishing a new strategy and adding much needed, hands-on expertise with the implementation and execution of multiple marketing campaigns.
There is tremendous value in engaging an interim Marketing Manager/Director, as they provide:
- Flexibility: Contracts are typically short-term, from 6-9 months, with working days configured to suit both parties. Nowadays, hybrid working is expected and this removes the need to provide a new semi-permanent place of work.
- Focused expertise: Engaging a consultant with knowledge and experience of, for example, B2B marketing, means they will be focused on what they do best and exactly what you need.
- Availability on tap: Within reason, an interim Marketing Manager/Director is available when you need them and only for the project and time you need them for.
- Quick results: Interim Marketing Managers/Directors will typically be looking to generate the result you need quickly and efficiently, and as interim contracts are usually short term, lasting six to nine months, a typical interim Marketing Manager/Director will expect to walk into sometimes complex and challenging situations, develop the right, long-lasting solution and move on.
- Value for money: Whether or not a marketing team is in place, if a product or service launch is planned or there’s a need to jump-start the marketing function within the company, it makes sense to engage an Interim Marketing Manager/Director because the expenditure is short-lived and doesn’t involve setting up payroll for a temporary employee. Even for larger businesses, long term investment may not be budgeted for, so it’s better to have control over the length of time the Marketing Consultant is engaged as this creates flexibility with cash flow too.
- Guidance on adapting to opportunities: As opportunities arise or quick decision making is needed, an Interim Marketing Manager/Director will be able to offer insight and experience exactly at the point required, allowing for rapid action to be taken and quicker results achieved.
There are many positive reasons to take on an Interim Marketing Manager/Director, as highlighted above, that will enable you to:
- Benefit from a wider range of knowledge and experience than may otherwise be available from existing staff.
- Arrive where you need to be in the market more quickly than waiting for organic growth.
- Hit the ground running with a new product or service launch.
- Take advantage of specific skills and market expertise.
- Avoid getting caught up in organisational or office politics.
Aligning the Marketing and Sales teams
It goes without saying that marketing and sales teams/departments are far more effective when working together than they are when working apart, but the latter is all too common.
In the article The Differences Between Sales & Marketing, I help business owners and senior managers understand why the differences between the two exist and why they need to be put to bed. It’s counterintuitive for there to be in-fighting between the two departments, but it exists because they each have different views on what the customer wants and will generally build their own narrative and messaging around that.
In short, Marketing should be seeking guidance from Sales as to what’s going on at the front line and what questions customers are asking, whilst Sales should be asking Marketing for support by creating campaigns that respond directly to customer needs. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s so not.
A Marketing Consultant is Not a Lone Wolf
The role of an experienced Marketing Consultant is collaborative in nature. The idea is not to come in, take control and remain secretive and introspective about the ideas and methods used for invigorating the marketing function within the company.
A good Marketing Consultant will collaborate, not just at the senior management level, but with all stakeholders — everyone who has anything to do with influencing how the company, its products and services are perceived by existing and prospective customers, and by shareholders if appropriate.
Reception staff are as valid as heads of department or directors as each plays a vital role in shaping the company’s image. If you haven’t realised how vital your front line staff are, it’s time to open your eyes.
It’s a widely suggested, but little observed notion that each member of staff should be able to pitch your business.
- Can any back-office member of staff pitch your business?
- Can every frontline member of staff pitch your business?
- Does EVERY member of staff really understand what the company does and what its values are (e.e. why it does it)?
- Do you know what your staff say in their own time when asked what they do for a living and/or whom they work for?
“Marketing is not anyone’s job… It’s everyone’s job.”
– Jack Welch (Chairman and CEO of General Electric)
This is as much about marketing your business as any big, expensive, flashy campaigns are because they each tell a story and each portrays an image in the mind of the reader/listener/observer.
As a Marketing Consultant, I would expect to engage with the majority of staff on some level. It would be part of my remit to understand how the staff feel about what the company does, for without staff a company is nothing, and with staff who convey the wrong message, a disaster is brewing.
The challenge that long-standing internal marketing teams often face is the struggle to remain both objective and creative because they already are the voice of the company. They already live and breathe the messaging and they understand the customers better than most — certainly better than the senior management team.
And if the internal marketing department is a one-person team, the problem is intensified because they’re expected to shoulder way too much responsibility.
Furthermore, if marketing has typically been the remit of the sales team with help from admin staff and/or a third-party agency, there will be no long-term or bigger picture view because that’s not their job.
When a new product or service needs launching, but nobody has thought through how to get across why it will be needed, not only what it does, then it’s potentially doomed to failure before it even gets off the ground.
So, if any of the above scenarios feel familiar, then bringing in an interim Marketing Consultant/Director/Manager will be the right and most cost-effective solution for your company.