When people in business talk about marketing, they usually do one of two things:
- Say they already do it, and bring out the marketing plan they’ve done which is essentially a list of activities
- Grumble about how marketing hasn’t achieved anything
To me, the aim of great marketing is to put in place the right things to win new clients and keep existing ones.
So I think it’s fair to say it’s absolutely critical to the profitable survival of any business.
But before we get to the marketing plan and activities there are some key bits of thinking that you need to have completed. Any business owner or MD needs to understand at a strategic level what marketing does – and the job it needs to do in practice.
This is because marketing and sales are the main way that a business growth plan can be achieved. And if what you mean by marketing is what tactical activities you have in place (PR, events, advertising, direct mail, sponsorship, digital, etc), then it’s time to go back a step.
What are the signs that you need to get more strategic about your marketing?
1. Not everyone in the business knows what you sell, why and to whom
A business without a vision or purpose will lack the clarity it needs for its business and marketing plan. Furthermore, if only a handful of people actually know what the business does, why and who for, then your customers (and prospects) are more likely to experience your ‘brand’ inconsistently. This in turn will be confusing to customers and prospects alike and make it harder for them to engage with you.
2. Your business goals and plan don’t link directly to your marketing strategy and plan
This is one of my real bugbears. It is impossible to develop a marketing plan that has any hope of success if it doesn’t follow on from a business plan. So if you don’t know what plans or objectives your business has, there is no marketing plan – or at least not one that is any more effective than betting on the horses.
Not only that, if you’ve done all the thinking for a business, you’re already most of the way there with a marketing plan. And it will bring the pinpoint focus you need in your marketing and enable you to judge what your priorities are.
You might also have a business plan in place and be really excited by the vision and future you have outlined, but then not quite know how to get to a marketing strategy and plan that will support your journey. That’s why both are essential if you want your business to thrive in the way you intend
3. Your marketing and business development happens in fits and starts
We see this a lot. For businesses where people other than the marketing team need to be involved, the main reason we hear is: “I don’t have the time”. This might be the reason, but more often there’s an underlying factor: it could be lack of confidence or knowledge in marketing and/or sales, no systems or process in place to support what you’re doing, not high enough on the board’s agenda or not enough discipline to set aside the time needed.
4. You are finding it hard to progress your current plan as quickly as you’d like
Often, especially in business to business firms, there will be a variety of people – not just the sales and marketing team – who will be involved in the marketing. Your directors, customer sales, fee-earners will all have some contribution to make. This makes it both more likely your marketing plan will be successful and less likely to make quick progress.
There are ways to keep the momentum going but there’s no doubt that it takes energy and persistence to progress the plan.
Three common hurdles hinder your progress:
- There isn’t someone leading the marketing, holding the business or individuals accountable
- You have unused marketing muscles so it is not sufficiently embedded to be part of your business’s culture and approach
- You’re not doing enough marketing for it to make a difference
If one or more of these hurdles sound familiar, you need to think more strategically first and resolve the issues before you develop your marketing plan.
5. You don’t have all marketing you need in place to support every step of your customers’ buying journey, from leads to loyal customers?
If marketing is about putting in place what’s needed to win clients and keep your existing customers loyal, you need enough activities at each of the six steps along their journey to motivate then to want to take that next step.
When we work with clients to identify where in their marketing operation they might be leaking profit there are always gaps. How you fill these leaks helps to inform the marketing plan and points to where your priorities are.
6. You don’t have enough people involved in marketing and business development to make the difference
This links to point 3 above: in professional services and knowledge businesses especially, you need more than your marketing people involved. Those with the knowledge are the service/product and customers and prospects want to see and meet them.
You don’t need everyone to be out there involved in proactive BD, but you do need critical mass both to resource it adequately and generate sufficient impact. And you also need more than the usual suspects helping support marketing in other ways: writing high quality content (blogs, papers, etc), speaking at seminars, posting on Linked In.
7. Your business has reached a plateau and you’re not sure how to get beyond it
Of course you may have reached a happy point where you don’t want or need more clients and the ones you do have are very happy. Lucky you!
If however, and for whatever reason, you do want to step your business up, the only way of doing this is to similarly scale up your marketing and business development efforts. Easier said than done; there is usually an inflection point where you’ll be putting in more time, money and energy than you get out. But keep the faith – if you’re doing the right things, consistently, you will get over that plateau.
8. You’re not doing the work you want for the clients you want to work for
We see this time and again. Working for clients that motivate you because they’re fun to work with and enable you to do the things you enjoy doing means that you’ll do your best work. This in turn will feed your confidence and help you to target and attract similar types of clients.
There’s a question I ask in the workshops I run: who here has clients they’d rather not work for?
Guess how many times at least one person puts their hand up?
100%. There has never been an occasion where no-one has put their hand up. And often, there’s one who has a client who is seriously affecting their working life or motivation.
Be mindful and strategic about who your ideal clients are – put the time in to agreeing who they are and how you filter them in or out
9. You don’t know who your key clients are or where they came from
In most businesses of any size, you will have some clients who are your ‘crown jewels’ – customers without whom you’d be in a jam. Or you may not be quite sure where the best sources of your paying clients are, because you’re not asking the question when they come on board. In either case, it’s time to find out.
- If you find out that you have a small number of clients who account for a large percentage of the business (which is usually true) then I’d recommend thinking about how you can proactively manage, develop and protect your relationship with them, making sure that you (a) add value to them on an on-going basis and (b) check that they are very happy with the service they’re getting. Too often, we assume that because they haven’t said anything, or because we always do a good job, we think this is enough to keep them happy and loyal.
- Similarly, it may be that one or two clients account for an uncomfortably high proportion of your income – too few eggs in the one basket, which points to think about how to spread your risk.
- Understanding which are your best sources of paying clients means you can focus your marketing on those channels – and possibly stop trying to woo clients from the other sources.
If you answer ‘yes’ to even one of these questions – there’s some work to do before you put together your marketing plan. It will save you time, money and make your marketing plan, when you come to it, more focused and successful.
© Bluegreen Learning Ltd
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