Posts Tagged ‘small business marketing consultant’

Why Look in the Rearview Mirror?

October 18, 2016

bluetooth_rear_view_mirror_hands_free_car_kit

 

 

 

 

What’s the point of looking back? 

As CEO, what can you learn from looking back?  For Marketing Matters (FMM) starts year 10 this week. Given that milestone, I have been reviewing the past 9 years to update the business plan to grow and move forward. Part of that work has been ‘eating my own dog food’: updating and revising FMM’s marketing messaging and positioning.  It is from this place that I have been looking in the rearview mirror.

4 Key Takeaways from Looking in the Rearview Mirror:

  1. What a long, strange trip it’s been:  Revisiting the past 9 years by reading business plans, positioning, and reviewing clients has been fun! The path has taken many turns – some planned and some not. People I have met over the years, distant clients that helped launch FMM, and networking organizations that I was involved with. While time flies by, this is the longest ‘job’ now on my resume – wow!  So while it has not felt long, it has been strange! Some strange people along the way, but that is part of any journey! And with the strange moments being a blur in the rear view mirror it is actually comical to recall…and worthy to recall and learn from.
  2. The Cobbler’s Kids…I am a classic example of the Cobblers Kids not having shoes. So my takeaway is to not be so consumed with work that you don’t MAKE time to work on your own business strategically.  We are our clients’ outsourced marketing department. We develop and revise marketing messaging, design and build websites and keep all marketing materials current. Yet we (FMM) have gone years (yikes!) without updating our own website and our own marketing materials. Key takeaway – make it happen before year-end. I am now on a mission as this is embarrassing.
  3. Go Back. It is not wasted time. It really is enlightening to go back and review the journey. Where have clients come from? What networking efforts are bearing fruit? Make the time to go back and review your journey with an open, inquisitive mind.  There are key nuggets to affirm, to remember and to bring with you as you go forward. And if you are a Kenny Chesney fan like I am, listen to his song I Go Back as you take a stroll down memory lane and take notes.
  4. Celebrate. Celebrate progress. Celebrate accomplishments and how far you have come.  Whatever your milestone, take a step back and acknowledge the progress and the hard work that has taken you this far. It is not easy. However many years you have been doing it, feel good about how far you have come. Reflect on what you have built. As business owners we push ourselves and we work hard. A key takeaway for me is to pause and feel good about where FMM is now and how it started. I encourage you to do the same.

Looking in the rearview mirror has helped create a renewed sense of focus and energy!  Now I look forward to the road ahead and the journey to partner with more savvy CEOs of small and medium-sized growth-focused businesses.  I hope you too find benefit in taking a look in the rearview mirror for insight to help you move forward. And another final takeaway I have come to learn…enjoy the ride.

 

Choose your words carefully

May 27, 2016

chess move strategy

One of my favorite parts of marketing is developing the brand through the careful selection of words.  I am a nerd. I readily admit that and am totally comfortable with that label.

This past month has been great spending strategic time on words. We made considerable progress for one of our clients in further development of the company’s messaging, positioning and terminology. In the past month we announced a new product and all the various efforts of preparing for that launch led to pages of notes, questions, and points of clarification. Additionally, and true for any small, rapidly growing company, the message naturally evolves over time. Two of us on the For Marketing Matters team led the charge to document standards to solidify and clarify positioning, messaging and word choice. Over the course of two meetings with the CEO we honed in on specific word selection to discuss, confirm and document standards including examples and explanations for the word selection. This document is a tremendous resource for our marketing team, but also for the company as a whole. The sessions with the CEO resulted in further clarity and alignment to the point the CEO requested the asset be included in the board package for this week’s meeting.

Why words matter (and how you could benefit from this same effort):

  1. Alignment.  How aligned is your team? For this client, the management team is geographically dispersed across the globe working at a rapid pace. This poses a real challenge for broader, strategic discussions to occur across the management team on a regular basis. We literally kept a running list of inconsistencies and questions to bring the challenge to light while developing press releases, sales tool kit materials, web content, technical specifications and sales presentations. As engineering was finalizing the product, operations was selecting final exterior finishes and sales was building the pipeline and the risks of mixed messages was high. Everyone had the right intent, but it felt like herding cats.
  2. Ownership. Words should not be casually selected with little to no grasp of the implication it can have. Example.  I was on a call reviewing a PowerPoint presentation and an idea was casually raised wondering if we should edit a bullet n the PowerPoint to describe the product as a “smart device”. I literally almost dropped the phone. Huh? This is not a casual edit to then move onto the next bullet. This type of descriptor needs to be thought through in terms of the implications to the product positioning and to the market and target buyers. If you are a CEO, ownership of messaging and the resulting choice of words needs to be made clear – this is not to be casually edited by anyone in the organization to decide they want to jump on the bandwagon of ‘smart devices’ or ‘Made in the USA’.
  3. Clarity. Literally don’t leave it up to chance. Don’t assume other employees are on the same page. Get it in writing and then distribute it – especially valuable if key personnel are geographically dispersed and don’t have the benefit of being in the same office, picking up important tidbits throughout the day.
  4. Scale. Just like the old telephone game played at many a sleepover as a kid, the message gets distorted with every person added to the chain. If scaling your organization is a priority to achieve your growth goals, don’t ignore the critical role that words have in enabling your company to scale. Capture the words you want employees to use; capture the words you want customers/clients/prospects to hear and understand. Use this asset as part of your on boarding plan.

focus definition in dictionary

 

Some tips to help you build, expand and manage this asset:

Ground rules:

First, it is important to recognize and embrace that this asset is never done.  It is a working document and marketing should own it. If you don’t have senior marketing expertise on your team, you need to. They don’t need to be fulltime, but you still need the expertise.

Second, this is not distributed for review and comment!  The danger of everyone in the company feeling they have a voice in weighing in on word choice is not realistic nor recommended. Marketing owns messaging. Marketing is not part of everyone’s job description. Working closely with the CEO is critical, but the reality is that others in the organization are most likely not well-suited for the nuances of word choice and let’s face it we all have our view of the world (remember those old posters where Boston would dominate the Globe, or New York etc.?)

What to include in establishing messaging, positioning and terminology standards:

Messaging – should include company-level and product level. Include the elevator pitch.

Terminology – document the terminology that is critical to your value proposition. Use examples of how the terms are to be used and what terms should never be used.  Example – for this client, the product is NEVER referenced as a ‘device’.  If this makes your head hurt, secure the right expertise to facilitate this investment – it will deliver a ROI if implemented correctly across the organization. No doubt.

Trademarks and registered trademarks – from a branding perspective, develop standards of how TM and R will be used. Again, consistency and clarity builds the brand. Don’t leave this to others in the organization to know how to handle. Document it and distribute across the organization.

Let’s face it most small, entrepreneurial companies don’t have a lot of overhead. They are nimble organizations. Many have not secured an outsourced marketing department like For Marketing Matters to develop and manage such assets to enable scaling of the brand and the organization. The reality is we can’t review every manual, document, proposal, client report that goes out the door for this client. We can build standards and manage the brand as part of the team and ultimately serve as the internal police to protect the brand.

So what words matter for your company?

As CEO, do you cringe when a team member uses a certain word that you never want used? Do you have a visceral reaction when a client is referred to as a customer or serving a customer is described as ‘dealing with the customer’? If your word choice is not clear internally, how can you possibly be well-understood by the market?

Watch this great Inc. video of how Dermalogica focused on words to build their brand.

The nerd in me celebrates the progress made in establishing standards in terminology this past month.  It feels great and paves the way for scale, efficiency, clarity and consistency.  The ROI is unquestionable.

 

 

 

The Role of a Printer in Maintaining Brand Identity

October 16, 2015

I often refer to myself as the Brand Police. As the marketing team for our clients, we build brand identity and consistently work to maintain a clear and strong brand identity. Personally, my role includes defining brand standards and enforcing the standards; revising client-created materials to ensure the logo, fonts, colors, messaging are all correct and on-brand. I also eat my own dog food when it comes to building and maintaining the brand of For Marketing Matters (FMM).  Although, at times it is more akin to the cobbler’s kids not having shoes! The harsh reality is clients’ needs come first, always.

HP 8610 printer

The role of the printer in maintaining the FMM brand:

One point of differentiation from our competitors is our commitment to accountability and measurable impact.  An advisor of a FMM client  once commented that FMM was more accountable than other members of the management team who are employees. One way we consistently demonstrate our accountability and results-orientation to our clients is in weekly meetings reviewing goals, metrics and activities, all part of an integrated, phased marketing plan. These reports are clearly branded as FMM documents with statuses of Done, In Progress or Not Started  color coded in the FMM colors of blue, green and white. Except recently the printed reports appeared to be more appropriate for a baby store with pale blue and pink tones. Uggh. I triple checked ink levels, performed the printer diagnostics and resigned myself to the fact that the trusty HP printer was on its last leg.  Add that to the ‘to do’ list.

Honestly, I dreaded buying a new printer.  I hoped to choose the best printer for our needs, then get it set up, with a goal of not losing more than  2-3 hours of productivity to get back to decent quality client reports. A cynical view perhaps, but that was my outlook. I bit the bullet on Monday and headed to Staples. Brand loyalty helped me narrow the field quickly by only looking at the HP All in One Printers and advice from our IT support company helped me focus on two models. My decision was made easier when a gentleman came by to check the ink required for the printer I was leaning towards getting. I asked him about it. He shared he had three in his office and they worked great. He highly recommended it and I was sold. With $100 savings, I headed to the check out line while still dreading the set up and expecting the rest of my Columbus Day to be spent getting the darn thing operational.

Thank you HP. The set up was very easy complete with easy prompts and clear, useful written instructions (a surprise) and the wireless printer was set up, connected to the network and working, printing reports in the FMM blue and green in no time! I was very proud of myself, thrilled to be back on brand and very satisfied to have purchased another HP printer.  As a client commented to me when I shared my experience, no one gets fired for buying an HP printer! Our clients are happy to have properly branded, easy to read FMM reports again, no longer having to figure out what pale pink represents!  Looking for a solid all in one printer? My vote is the HP Officejet Pro 8610. For Marketing Matters is back on brand and that feels good.

Failing to plan is…

November 25, 2014

You know the quote:  Failing to plan is planning to fail. Benjamin Franklin.

So how is 2015 planning progressing for your business?  And, specifically, how is the marketing plan coming?

Plan Word Shows Guidance Or Business Planning

 

Next Monday is December 1st!

So here are some recommendations to help you get started on documenting the strategy for 2015, defining the business goals and then developing the marketing plan to get you on the right path for a great 2015.

Note this will be tougher if you have NEVER had a marketing plan.  If you had a marketing plan in place for 2014, then leverage that as your starting point.

 

Below are 8 steps to get started on a useful plan:

1. Define and document your strategic objectives.  What are the top 1-3 things you MUST accomplish next year? (Not tactics.  Strategic objectives.)

2. Identify the resources needed to achieve these objectives.  (people, money, processes, partners, new clients).  Keeping at a high level, what is it going to take to get you where you want to be?

3. How will success be measured?  If possible, identify intermediate metrics for success along the way and then ultimate success metrics. (revenue, # new clients, margin, # of new square footage operational in the new facility, etc.)

note:  with key business goals defined, then the marketing plan can start taking shape…

4. Define the fundamental focus of the marketing effort.  In other words, is the focus increasing awareness, generating leads and acquiring new clients?  Perhaps retaining existing clients and acquiring new clients to support your growth strategy?  Are you introducing a new product line that marketing will be critical in announcing and bringing to market?  Clearly define the priority and the marketing strategy  that will support the above business objectives.

5. The marketing plan needs to be developed within a budget.  Any increase from this year?  Know what range you are working with to avoid the frustrations of building a masterpiece only to learn your masterpiece has to be re-done to fit the approved budget.  Document the assumptions and as details are developed, code each.  Suggested coding would be critical (critical strategically), important (fundamental work that needs to happen) and nice to have (not essential, but would be beneficial).  With this coding, if budget money becomes available during the year, you know where the money will be funneled vs. late nights preparing for a board meeting figuring out how to build your compelling story of why marketing should get a slice of the pie!

6. With a defined marketing strategy and a budget, phase the marketing plan.  We start with defining the marketing priorities by quarter – then breaking that down into months.  This keeps you aligned with the overall business objectives and enables you and your team to not lose the forest through the trees.  Stay strategic.

7. Revisit the marketing foundation.  As part of the marketing plan, there are ongoing foundational elements that require ongoing marketing work.  The Dream list is never done.  What capabilities or services lack the support of compelling client solution briefs and testimonials?  Make sure your plan does not lose focus on efforts to strengthen the marketing foundation in the new year.  Weave this work into the marketing plan.

8. Summarize the marketing plan on one page.  If the executive summary is clear and solid, the detailed plan will be that much better.  Just like an elevator pitch can be the most challenging part of messaging work given its brevity, the same is true for a one page summary.  It forces us to clearly and concisely present the plan that is then detailed across many pages.

It’s getting late in November.  If your fiscal year is a calendar year, you need to get going to be set up for success come January 2.  If you are running a business without a business plan and without a marketing plan, maybe it’s time to think about your New Year’s Resolution now.  After all, as Peter Drucker says:  “What gets measured, gets managed.”

A solid plan is a great way to get ready for 2015.  No time like the present to get started.

Know when to walk away, know when to run!

November 14, 2014

I am not one to quote Kenny Rogers frequently, but boy does this line capture it for me.  Not all business is good business.  Not all revenue is worth it.  We all learn the hard way and with hindsight being 20/20, we commonly look back and think – should have walked away.  So what does this have to do with marketing?

Everything!

A solid business has to start with a solid foundation.  For Marketing Matters has 13 essential elements to be on solid ground and the first two are:

#1.  Define your value proposition.

#2.  Develop your target profile.

If you have completed #2 and I mean documented as clearly as you can EXACTLY who you want to be selling to and working with, then you are in MUCH better shape to assess prospects and decide whether the opportunity is a good match for you and your business.  Congratulations if you have this in place.  Most small and medium-sized businesses skip this step.  Responses include:  Oh, we know that.  Sure, we have done that…. so, I ask them for a copy.  Uh, Oh, it is in our heads.  We don’t have to write it down.

I have a documented target profile and I ignored it.  I was introduced to a business owner, referred by another business owner that I have a lot of respect for and admire.  As a potential source for referrals, I wanted to help his client out and show what FMM can do.

As a marketer, I ignored my target profile, my notes from my initial meeting and my gut. Complete idiot. This business owner did not fit my profile at all.  He is a classic dabbler:  not interested in strategy, just marketing tactics.  His priority was getting an email blast out the door.  He was looking for a silver bullet and I took the bait.  I should have RUN.

Of course, the project (note to self – my business model is NOT to engage in projects, but to earn serving as the outsourced marketing department) had a tight timeframe and details were sketchy.  Again, RUN.  Just this once I will deviate from my core business strategy.  I was referred and I want to deliver.  I left the initial meeting with such clarity of how we could help his business have a clearer, stronger go-to-market plan.  So, I respond with “Sure, we can start with a project.”  In my mind I would still develop some of the core marketing foundational work that he really needed as part of the project and, of course, he will see the benefit.  In my mind, I will help him and it will be all ok.  Doh!  So not true.

To avoid reliving a nightmare of a project, this blog is focused on how you can learn from my stupidity.

Document your target audience.  Don’t skip this step.  This is NOT simply a title and industry.  Dig into the details of what are they like, what is important to you about this company and this individual. My ideal client is MARK.  Not because he is a man, but because he or she wants to make a Mark in this world – they are passionate about what they do and they invest in their business.  They are not dabblers.  They are not do-it-yourselfers.  They are smart, passionate, focused, driven and committed to growing their business.  To do so, they surround themselves with professionals to have the expertise and insight that they need and value.  They are optimists (working with pessimists is a drag for me). They know what they don’t know and they are not nickel and dimers.  I am their partner, not a vendor. They get ‘it’ and they appreciate accountability, hard work, insight and they value results.  They value having a plan to stay on course, but are open to evaluating what is working and what is not.

Once you have this type of target profile clearly defined, convert it into questions to evaluate prospective clients!  Once you have the profile and the associated questions to evaluate prospects, use it.  Be consistent.  I ignored my notes.  Not because I wanted to work with the business owner and his business, but because I wanted to deliver on the referral.  Stupid.

Then leverage your written target profile to help you and others in your company consistently and clearly evaluate prospective business.  Not all business is good business.  Not all revenue is worth it.  Not only will it help you RUN AWAY from potential clients that are not a good fit, it will help you scale your business to have more business development folks evaluating potential business in the same way. Make it part of your sales process.

If you don’t have a target profile developed, get this done.  In the meantime go with your gut.  I know a great marketing company that can help you grow…but you’ll have to fit the ideal target profile!

 

Hey marketers! Stay in the race to prioritize the leads you are generating!

September 26, 2014

The hand-off in a relay is a critical point in the race.  Valuable time can be lost if the baton hand-off is not precise or even worse, the race can be lost if the baton is dropped.

Baton handoff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hand-off of leads from marketing to sales is like the relay race hand-off.  Not only can time be lost, but revenue can be lost.

Ways marketing can help with the hand-off of leads to help sales and sales management (while also helping marketing in its efforts):

1.   Gather information to help qualify the lead.  For example, with a web form, design the submittal form to gather important information that will help ‘qualify’ the lead.  Work with sales to identify desired fields and then balance what is reasonable to ask while keeping the form short.  Example:  For a B to B client, we designed the web form to enable the individual to indicate if budget is approved, timeframe a decision will be made (having pre-defined timeframes set) and enabling files to be attached to the lead to provide further specifications.  Forms can be designed to test layout and number of fields required and option to determine what will work best for your industry.

Know your audience (marketing 101) – give your prospect flexibility; while for one client we would like to gather phone and email, the reality is our target audience is more likely to prefer email over phone.  Knowing that, we do not require a phone number at the risk of receiving no leads vs. leads with less information than is ideal.

Benefit to sales: marketing is handing off leads that have quality indicators that assist them in further qualifying the lead:  budget approved (yes or no), timeframe of need, specification files attached.  Level of detail in the form submitted assist sales in acting on this lead quickly with a focused list of questions.

2. Too many batons…Any other marketers out there frustrated that leads generated are not being followed up on?  Uggh!

Years ago when initially getting started with a particular client, the client acknowledged they lacked leads.  There was NO inbound activity.  The company was solely reliant on its existing customer base with little to no new business being generated.  The sales function was largely an order taking function.  Fast forward, we get the marketing foundation in place, start executing an integrated marketing plan and the tables turn.  Leads are coming in the door and guess what?  Sales is now having a tough time prioritizing and keeping up!  Now leads are not being followed up on and sales is complaining that the volume of inbound leads is too much.

How can marketing help with this challenge?  Stay in the race after handing off the baton.  What I mean by this is, marketing run alongside sales as they work the leads to learn more about what is happening to the leads.  Gather the facts (not hearsay) as to how leads are being assigned, what leads are not good and why, and help contribute to solutions vs. walking away and categorizing the issue as a sales problem.  Gathering facts will help you determine if there is an opportunity to refine the lead generation activities and reduce overall volume while maintaining or improving overall quality.  Running alongside sales will also shed insight into raising the important issue of leads not being worked at all.  As part of the relay team, do your leg of the race well and then support your team members in getting to the finish line strong.

3. Offer insight into Prioritizing Leads

Not all leads are created equal.

Many would argue that prioritizing leads is squarely in the court of sales management and not marketing.  I would agree, except For Marketing Matters’ clients are small and mid-sized businesses.  Organizational structure and responsibilities are not always as defined as we have seen in our corporate experiences.  So while staying in our lane, marketers can provide great insight into working with sales to help prioritize leads.  Specifically, marketing as keeper of the brand has developed the ideal target profile, is aware of and well-versed in entry-level products/services and those that help build a loyal and committed customer.  Marketing offers great insight into what should affect prioritizing a lead.

If there are not parameters in place for prioritizing leads and you as the marketing team are generating leads, develop a straw man to work with sales management to finalize and agree to.  If sales is not working all leads or loses sight of past leads that were important, but are no longer on the radar screen, get a simple yet clear prioritization process in place.  This helps get some leads to  “NO” quicker and helps sales and sales management clearly understand what leads deserve attention and what ones take a backseat.  Not all leads are created equal.  Don’t allocate time equally across leads.

How to get started:  Use a simple prioritization indicator such as A, B, C, D or use 4 star, 3 start, 2 star and 1 star or 1,2,3 or 4.

If prioritizing is an issue and sales is losing sight of where to spend their time, marketing can get this prioritization underway, agreed to and incorporated into pipeline reporting.  This helps marketing show the quality of leads that they are generating and it helps sales learn how to allocate their time and sales management can mange the pipeline and coach to this prioritization.  With an agreed to prioritization, you can also address head with facts the quality of the leads being generated by marketing and by sales as all leads should be prioritized in the same manner no matter the source.

 

The revenue generating engine in any company includes marketing and sales.  Instead of throwing leads over the fence, handoff the leads and then stay in the race to monitor, learn, and refine.  Marketers should be an active participant in generating revenue.  Then when the baton comes back to marketing for lead generation, you are in better shape to run your leg well and greatly contribute to overall success.

What I meant was…

October 26, 2012

In this heated political environment, the difference between what one meant to say and what was actually said is big. In fact, it could be the difference between winning and losing an election.

In the world of marketing, word choice and meaning is critical. Not only is developing the message important, but delivering it clearly to convey the emotions and intent is both an art and a science.

An example of where the art and the science came up short was evident to me on the highway earlier this week:  Sherwin Williams Paint or SWP.  Their trucks prominently promote the following message: “Cover the Earth”. The dominant image is paint dripping over the globe.

Really? This message grabbed my attention and elicited an immediate negative reaction.  I don’t want to see the globe covered in paint! In this era of going green and protecting the environment, they depict the globe being covered in paint – really?!  Who thought this was a good idea?  I doubt the marketers at SWP thought through the implications of this message when they designed any and all components of how this message would be delivered. Like some politicians, I would expect their spokesperson to start the explanation with “what we meant was…” A suggested message for SWP is to try a more positive message such as: “Let us brighten your world”.

Resist the marketing wilderness

September 26, 2012

A colleague of mine in Colorado, a business coach, asked me to assess a marketing proposal that her client had received from a local small business marketing firm. I was happy to help her out and provide my perspective on what the marketing consultant had proposed.
Forwarded to me was an email summarizing the cost and recommended marketing tactics (side note – surprising to not see a proposal). The email was a series of marketing tactics. All may be legitimate options for this small business seeking marketing support, but my immediate questions were: what is the strategy? how is success going to be measured? is there a marketing plan or just a laundry list of tactics? The client and the marketing firm were BOTH operating in the marketing wilderness – losing the forest from the trees by focusing on marketing tactics (e.g, Facebook, Google +, website, advertising, etc).
It is not easy, but resist the temptation to be sucked into the marketing wilderness! The gravitational pull is strong – especially these days with the attraction and pressure to jump into the social media section of the wilderness with both feet and no focus or strategy (in many cases).
If you are planning to strengthen your marketing efforts – great. But don’t lose your solid business sense in the process. Be sure you have a clear strategy, metrics to track success and a small business marketing consultant that is NOT just doing marketing tactics. Establish clear goals (not just tactics) and define what success will be and how it will be measured.  THEN, prioritize the marketing tactics that will best support the goals and work within your budget.  A marketing consultant worth their fees will embrace accountability and not work in the wilderness.  Don’t confuse marketing activity with progress. Stay out of the marketing wilderness. In addition to being overcrowded, it is truly a jungle.