The Role of Marketing

Currently, we are exploring the concept of “What Good Looks Like“. So to put this post into context, I strongly recommend starting off by reading – What Good Looks Like… an Introduction. So where does marketing fit in? In my experience, far too many companies, especially SMEs, marketing sits firmly in point 3. Marketing is about developing effective market engagement. Whilst it obviously has a key role in this element, it should be involved in discussions on all 3 aspects. Lets look at these in order:

A Strong Proposition

Let’s face it, trying to engage with a market where they don’t value your offering is doomed to failure, however much you throw at the marketing communication process. To avoid this, you need to be considering marketing right from the start of the process. It is part of the marketing role to understand what value you are adding to your marketplace. You then translate this into a message that can be easily understood by your target market. Whilst you may take the view, “I know where I add value“, exploring this more fully often brings up some interesting and unexpected ideas.

A Joined-Up Operation

It is easy to take the view that marketing is all about external communication, but in reality, internal marketing has a significant role to play to ensure that everyone in the organisation is communicating the same message. Furthermore, close integration of marketing functions (whether they be internal or external) with the rest of the organisation is key. The marketing team understands what you are trying to communicate, so are best placed to see where other aspects of the business can have an impact. For example – That service call where your creative solution prevented significant down time for the customer speaks volumes about your creativity & problem solving This should be part of the marketing message.

Effective Market Engagement

Whilst this is seen as the key role of marketing, It’s essential that activities are driven by the company’s strategic plan. A failure to do this can lead to a situation where the “Tail is wagging the Dog“.

So What is the Role of Marketing?

The marketing function is custodian of the company image, and champion for the message you are trying to communicate. As such, it needs to be full integrated into the company strategy. Ensuring this happens is a good starting point in defining the role of marketing in “What good looks like”

The Role of Coaching

It’s always great to have someone to talk to – ideally someone you trust and respect. Running an SME company can be a lonely business. I know many businesses where, even though there are 20 or more employees, they are still owner managed. Ultimate decisions on the direction the business is taking rest with the one or two people who started the company. As early success tends to drive growth the head count grows and there are ever more people looking for leadership. A business that originally relied on the technical or entrepreneurial skills of its founder(s) increasingly demands effective people management skills. While it may have been OK to fly by the seat of your pants in the early days, an effective business must be a joined-up operation with a motivated team. This team must have a clear understanding of, is fully engaged with, the business plans and goals. Without this progression from what is essentially a ‘one man band’ with employees to a sustainably growing business lead by an effective management team, businesses can stall, struggle, or even fail. Where a business is started by 2 or even 3 people, as things develop and grow, the goals and needs of different people vary.  I have come across numerous cases where people who start a business work closely together for many years reach a point where they have remarkably different viewpoints – which are never discussed! – things just carry on. The danger is that this situation can end up undermining an otherwise successful company. Don’t get me wrong, many thousands of people are happily and successfully self-employed with no intention of taking on staff or growing the business and many others like working with a small team that they get on with. Business growth is not for everyone but often it can creep up on a business owner!

Success breeds Success

You start a business you are passionate about and you deliver great products and services. You engage with your customers and markets and guess what, word of your capability spreads and you get more customers! For a while this is OK and you can ride the wave of success but sooner or later you will need more staff or you will start letting customers down. Before you know it’s not just you. You have a successful business and a team of 10 or more who need leadership and management – not what you signed up for! How can you make sure you manage this step to ‘The next level’?

An expert on your side

As I said at the start of this article having someone to talk to can be immensely valuable. While many people rely on family or friends, someone who really understands business and the processes you are faced with, but who remains objective, can be a real asset to both you and the future of your business. Even if you started your business with others, a professional third-party who understands the needs of SME businesses and encourages dialogue between the owners, can be immensely valuable. Over the years (and even now!) business consultants can sometimes get a bad press. However, in the past decade or so there has been a growth in highly experienced individuals setting up as independent business coaches specifically to work with SME businesses. At BSA we have several clients where we work very successfully in 3-way partnership with our client and a business coach. Coaching can deliver in many ways including:

  • Business Advice
  • 1 to 1 Coaching & Mentoring
  • Team Coaching
  • Training Workshops
  • Non-Executive Director roles

Whatever your needs, if you decide to work with a coach, it is vital you find someone you relate to. A good coach should always be ready to challenge your norms and ideas. But equally, you should look forward to your coaching sessions! Working with the right coach can help develop the effective, joined-up operation that is a key element of a ‘Good‘ business. If you’d like to read our overview of what a good business looks like, check this out My thanks to Tim Iles of timl.co.uk for his help and insight on this post

What Good Looks Like… an Introduction

What makes a good business? What does ‘Good‘ look like? I reckon it is 3 elements – and ONLY 3:

  1. A strong proposition – a product or service that delivers real benefit to your market.
  2. A joined-up operation – a defined business growth strategy with clear goals and a motivated team engaged and focussed on achieving those goals
  3. Effective market engagement –  A dynamic process to communicate your proposition to your market and through this, to build valuable customer relationships.

Think about the companies you know and respect. I bet you can give them a tick on each of the above. Let’s look at each…

1. A Strong Proposition

This is about what your business does, isn’t it?  True, but what makes a proposition a STRONG proposition? Most SME businesses have competitors who offer the same or alternative products/services. Simply telling your market you offer product X or service Y just puts you in the mix with everyone else. To have a strong proposition you must identify what it is about your business that makes you different. Build your proposition around one (or more) unique differentiators and clearly demonstrate the value/benefit you deliver.

2. A Joined-Up Operation

Even in a very small business, it is remarkable how often there is a lack of internal communication. People just come in and get on with their job as they see it. There is only one path where every member of a team has a clear understanding of the business strategy and is heading in the same direction towards the same goals, yet there are many paths where people are going in different directions. When a business is busy there is work to do and customers to deal with. Taking time out to check everyone is comfortable with an agreed growth strategy and on a coherent path might be seen as a luxury too far – yet looked at as a key element of a good business, how valuable might taking such time out be? An engaged and motivated team on a strategic path they understand towards clear goals can be challenging to achieve. However, this is the heart of a true business and it takes focus and management effort. Without a joined-up operation, is a business any more than a bunch of people doing stuff?

3. Effective Market Engagement

OK, so you have a strong proposition and a focused and motivated team. Now you just need to make the most of what you have created and let your potential customers know about it and how you can really benefit them. The best business idea in the world will fail if people don’t know about it! The famous business management guru Peter Drucker said:

The business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.

Yes, I know this article is talking about 3 things that make up a good business while the esteemed Mr Drucker is talking about 2, but they are different perspectives. Fundamentally, Peter Drucker is correct but to drive marketing you need both a strong proposition and a joined-up operation. In reality, these 2 are likely to be a mixture of innovation and cost – but no-one ever said you can run a business for free! The key to effective market engagement is to do something! If what you are saying doesn’t do justice to your proposition, you can change the message. Similarly, if you are talking to the wrong people you can retarget. In both cases, you have something to work with. In essence. if you aren’t engaging with anybody about anything, you will fail – no matter how strong your proposition or joined-up your operation.

2 out of 3 Just Doesn’t Cut It

Why is it that my 3 elements are so rarely considered together? For many businesses, what they do is what they do. Consequently, these business owners spend little time working to make their offering as relevant and advantageous to their customers as possible – their proposition just is! Even if a business is focussed on service improvement or regular new product introduction, it is developing a joined-up operation and effective market engagement that are so much like oil and water – they just don’t mix. Therein lies a problem. Focus on outward market engagement without the context of clear business strategy and goals together with a joined-up operation makes it more difficult to establish if marketing activity is actually getting you anywhere. When the latest marketing idea comes along, it isn’t difficult to see the grass on the other side of the fence as greener – until it isn’t! Equally, being inwardly focussed on planning and structure without looking outward to your market can become frustrating as all the effort fails to produce commercial results, ultimately risking breakdown of the agreed strategy.    

Working practice evolution

According to figures from the Federation of Small Business, there has been a 59% increase in the number of businesses since 2000. 89% of these are sole traders. Alongside this growth, there has been a significant change in the way many businesses work. This change is underlined by one word – Flexibility. This flexibility is driven by one thing – Technology Mobile communications mean a business isn’t tied to a particular location Cloud services mean data is available anywhere you have an internet connection But there is a downside… No office base means people don’t see each other so often, meaning less opportunity for discussion/planning. This maybe OK if you are a sole trader but even here, inherent flexibility can make the discipline of ‘running’ your business more challenging Not having a permanent base can significantly reduce overheads but sometimes holding meetings at the local Coffee shop doesn’t cut it. Flexibility can also lead to a lack of structure and lack of planning. Sometimes having a base (even part time) for your business helps give focus. There are increasing opportunities to access low cost, shared workspace which can be a great option. If you happen to be looking for such an option in the Glossop area check out our new facility – www.glossopgasworks.co.uk Access to professional meeting space may also be just what you need – when you need it!

Don’t forget marketing and business development

Ever since I can remember, marketing has been the Cinderella of the SME business; easy to forget and deserving of more attention! As working practices evolve and flexibility grows, it can get even harder to focus on working ‘On’ your business rather than ‘In’ your business. In BSA’s day to day work, I reckon one of our main jobs is ‘nudging’ clients to make sure that plans we have developed with them get put into action. Central to our role with clients is taking ownership of action plans to work with our clients to make sure things happen.

BSA takes responsibility but we do need input!

We also find our technical knowledge immensely valuable in getting things done. We looked at delivering effective web services from a business rather than a primarily technical point of view. Linking marketing and business development with internet/web support can have unexpected benefits – We look for practical and effective solutions rather than ‘techy’ answers which can be unnecessarily expensive, overcomplicated and divorced from the real world of SME business.

Example Case Study

We have a new client who wants to develop their business by setting up effective marketing and business developments processes as a core element in succession planning. The first step we are taking is recognising some of the hurdles/inefficiencies in existing processes (which are mainly IT based) and addressing these from a practical business perspective. Key elements are:

  1. e-commerce website
  2. PC-based accounting package
  3. Web-based logistics/delivery service
  4. Web-based CRM system

Lack of integration between these elements means too much of time taken with multiple data-entry, maintaining consistency etc. We aim to connect these systems in a practical way. This will develop joined-up processes. These will free-up valuable time which can be spent on developing the business. The important consideration is that improving these processes is the means, not the end. The goal is an enhanced and more effective approach to business development. Improved technical integration is the path to achieving this goal. There isn’t a big budget but by seeing the process improvements as part of a wider project to implement effective business development activity the objectives are kept in perspective! Creative use of ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions can deliver practical, real-world solutions. They may not be the most technically perfect but they can be implemented cost effectively and really work! There is no question that technology has driven fundamental changes in SME business practice. Is it now time to look at technology as the means of delivering real business growth, rather than the end in itself?

Launching a brand in the digital age

We are very proud of the fact that we typically have long term relationships with our clients – often running to many years. Recently I have had a number of conversations with clients where they are looking to develop their brand within the B2B arena, The discussions got me thinking about the process of launching a brand, in world focused on the short term. In summary, my thoughts were as follows:

  1. Brand marketing, once the domain of big corporates is now, thanks to the digital revolution, open to all businesses
  2. Launching a brand needs a clear understanding of what you offer, and how this benefits the marketplace
  3. And this is the Biggie! – To do it properly takes time & planning.

 

Brand Marketing Open to All

In the days before the digital revolution, building a brand was expensive, because communication tools were expensive. But now this is no longer the case. With the introduction of the web, the marketing communication costs have plummeted:

  • Websites
  • Email Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Video production
  • Global Targeted Advertising

Are now limited less by having the financial resources to access the tools than by having the creativity & ideas to use them effectively.

Marketing is More than Communication

Many people take the view that Marketing = Marketing communication. But in reality, when thinking about Brand Marketing, this is far from the truth. A good brand starts with a clear understanding of the value that it offers to the marketplace, and how this value to be perceived. This element of developing a brand is in reality more tricky to master than the marketing communication process, and is something that is all too often skipped when marketing a business. This recent post – What is a brand – Goes into the subject in more detail.

Building a brand takes time

I said at the beginning of this post that brand marketing is no longer exclusively the domain of those with big budgets. There is however a caveat to this. It assumes you are not trying to do it quickly. Building a brand quickly still requires big budgets, I am writing tis post from the context of SME marketing where big budgets are normally not available, and in these circumstances an alternative resource is required – TIME. In both the cases I mentioned at the start of this post, the process of building the brand has been going on in a sustained manner over years, and whilst the companies have remained sound over this time, it is only now that the real growth that a strong brand can deliver is coming to reality.

The Bottom Line

We regularly state our view that marketing is a process not an event, and this is never truer when the marketing objective is to build a brand. Strong brands are created by having a clear understanding of the value a business offers to the marketplace, and a sustained process for communicating this value. It is this combination, that given time will deliver the real value of a brand.

5 Golden Rules of Joined up Lead Generation

Putting money in the bank

On one level, business is all about putting money in the bank. To do this we need to turn prospects into customers. In many businesses, a key step in this process is finding people who are looking to buy – The generation of leads. A business’s approach to lead generation can take many forms, from the grab the opportunity as it passes approach, to having a process to nurture and develop prospects in your target market. To help assess your approach, we have come up with a fun (hopefully) quiz to establish if you are a well-structured lead generation bee with a joined-up, collaborative approach to lead generation. (You can take the quiz here). Being a “lead generation bee” requires you to use all your resources in a co-ordinated & joined-up way to create a sustainable pipeline of leads (hopefully you see the link!).

BSA knows about lead generation

BSA has a good deal of experience in telemarketing; it is what we did in the 80’s and 90’s. In the short term telemarketing is great for generating leads. Ring 100 people and a few of them will probably want what you are selling (a lead) but many more may be in your market just not ready to buy right now. It is easy to ignore these and focus on the short term leads. Whilst this is fine in the short term, down the line when you need more leads, you have to start all over again. For more detail on this approach, check out this post – its a little old now, but still very relevant! A more joined up approach is to take the longer term prospects identified, and create a process to nurture and develop them through other more sustainable means. This way, as future opportunities arise, they will be easier to identify.

5 Golden Rules of Joined up Lead Generation

  1. Every contact is valuable –  even if they have no potential, By identifying these contacts you will not waste valuable resources, and everyone else is a potential customer either now or in the future
  2. Use your resources appropriately – Some resources, eg sales people, are very impactful, and very expensive. Whilst others, like social media or email, are less so. You should use resources appropriately focusing more expensive ones on more immediate opportunities.
  3. Every communication should reinforce your brand offering. Whether it is using email and social media to help contacts understand the value you add or converting the lead, via face to face, telephone or personal email contact.
  4. Your process should have a method for handling prospects at every step of the sales process, from target audience with little immediate interest – right through to where do I sign… and beyond
  5. Any lead generation process should be sustainable and measurable – The process will take resources to sustain. To be effective, these resources need to be committed in the long term. The process also needs to be continually monitored and managed to ensure that the resource use is appropriate and is meeting the objectives of the business

Follow these 5 rules, and you are well on your way to a joined-up, sustainable process.