Over the 25 years as a marketer in both the SME and corporate worlds, I have seen quite an array of approaches to sales & marketing.
Back in the early 90’s when I started my career in a large corporate engineering company. sales was king, and marketing’s responsibility was to support the sales effort through the provision of market intelligence and promotional collateral (brochures, exhibitions, advertising PR etc). Measurement was all about meeting the end of month sales figures, and marketing was seen as a cost.
Roll forward 10 years and things had changed somewhat. Whilst it was still about the figures at the end of the month, the relationship between sales and marketing had developed to being more of a partnership. Whilst sales was still about doing the deal and meeting the revenue targets at the end of the month, marketing was being seen much more as an investment in creating and developing the brand. In this new era, marketers were able to take a much longer term view of their activities.
It was at this point that I took the plunge and entered the world of SME Marketing.
In the early 2000s internet marketing was in its infancy, (Google moved out of the garage where it started up in 1999 at which point it had just 8 employees).
For SMEs, marketing was about creating sales leads, usually through direct promotions like advertising, PR and direct marketing by mail & telephone. At this point branding was still very much the thing big FMCG corporates did, and was outside more modest SME budgets.
Progressing another 10 years to today and things have moved on again, predominantly due to the rapid development of online & digital marketing. This revolution has had 2 key impacts on the world of marketing:
- The ability to measure pretty much everything
- The dramatic reduction of the costs of developing and communicating your messages
In my experience, SMEs have tended to embrace only the first of these, focusing on delivering leads through tools like SEO, pay per click advertising, email, etc. and measuring success in the short term through conversion rates and return on investment and so forth.
In my view it is the second impact that delivers the real opportunities.
Back at the end of my corporate days, building a strong brand was becoming the norm rather than something only FMCG busineses did, and the ones who did it well are now reaping the benefits. The internet revolution has opened opportunities for SMEs to do the same and the idea of building a brand on an SME marketing budget is now reality.
For smaller businesses, creating & converting leads that put money in the bank is still vital, and thus the ability to measure and tune activities in real time is a real bonus, but the true benefit comes from the opportunity to cost effectively create & communicate a brand on a limited budget, as it has been proved that having a strong brand makes the sales process much easier.
So what’s this got to do with networking? The fact is that most SME’s approach networking with the attitude ‘who can I sell to today?’, and measure success by counting the short term leads at the end of the meeting. In my experiences, even if successful, this approach is unsustainable.
Alternatively if you can find the right groups, networking meetings are a great opportunity to build your brand and develop relationships, and ultimately it is these relationships that will deliver leads in a much more sustainable manner. So to finish, I would like to leave you with these 5 rules for successful brand building through networking:
- Understand clearly the value you offer, and how top communicate this
- Look for ways you can demonstrate this value to the group
- Look for opportunities to “sell” (most networking groups will offer this through things like the “60 second pitch” slots), but other than this focus on engaging with the other participants rather than selling to them
- Integrate your networking with other media (website, email, social media etc)
- Be consistent in your message
Ultimately – Focus on the long term goal of building a strong brand, engaging with people and demonstrating the value you offer, and the leads will take care of themselves.