Like It or Not, Your Marketing Strategy is Key the to Your Organization’s Success.

I started my entrepreneurial journey many years ago building a software consulting firm with a business partner. In the beginning, we had a good influx of business from our existing contacts and colleagues, and as we delivered quality, high-value solutions more projects came. As we grew throughout the years, business became harder to come by on just referrals alone. When we were smaller, the repeat and referral business was enough to provide a respectable living. However, as we grew it was harder to maintain a consistent upward trajectory relying solely on this sales model. We needed consistent, steady revenue growth that we could rely on if we wanted to make it to the next level.

I now realize we were far from alone. This is the number one problem facing any small business looking to expand – how to ensure predictable, and increasing revenue that will allow you to grow your business.

Marketing is the Key.

The answer lies in marketing. Don’t get me wrong, understanding and successfully executing your sales process is critical too. However, before you can really sell, you have to understand your business, your position in the market, and formulate a core messaging that highlights your value in a way potential buyers will relate to. This is where many small business owners struggle – I can tell you this is where I struggled. As business owners we are good at providing the products or services that drove us to become an entrepreneur in the first place – but not necessarily good at marketing those products and services. These are totally different skill sets.

Understanding marketing is an essential component of being an entrepreneur in today’s business world. Like it or not, we are all marketers now. The good news is, you can learn this. The bad news is, it will be time consuming, complicated, and even frustrating at times. If you chose to hire outside help, you should still stay very involved, since you are essentially defining the core messaging of your business. If you take a hands off approach, you will most likely end up going in a direction you don’t really believe in (while wasting money in the process).

Relearn Your Business & Plan Accordingly.

I got into my line of business because I am technical. I enjoy building software solutions that solve complex business problems. While I truly believed in the services my company provided, I was not articulating the value and benefits of our services in a way that was compelling to the C-level decision makers I was pitching to.

Our sales strategy in the early years was, get in front of the decision maker, get him to share his problems with you, pitch solution to said problem on the fly. While this strategy does work sometimes, it is not a scaleable solution. And it’s really an indicator of a more serious problem… we didn’t really understand our value proposition.

In order to truly understand your business, you need to get really introspective. Put yourself in the shoes of potential buyers. This will allow you to understand what will motivate them to not only buy, but chose you as the vendor. In the past, I tended to get too into the weeds with customers because I wanted them to know about all the wonderful benefits our solutions provided. Now I know that too much information will confuse the buyer. Your points need to be concise, easy to understand, and clearly outline how your solution will add value to the customer’s bottom line.

To figure this out, you need to have a marketing plan in place that outlines the following:

  • What are the core products and/or services your company provides?

  • What value do they add – not high-level, generic points… be very specific

  • Who are your ideal customers – again be specific. List 10 or more companies that you want as a customer.

  • What is it about these particular organizations that make them the ideal customer?

  • Who are your competitors – be specific.

  • What makes you different / What makes you the same – obviously you want a lot more differentiators than similarities.

  • Your pricing strategy – this will help you know how much marketing you need to achieve your revenue goals.

  • Your marketing goals and strategy – what are the things you want to achieve through your marketing effort, and in what timeframe? What methods, tactics, and tools will you employ to accomplish this?

  • Your marketing budget – and finally, how will you pay for your strategy? You may attempt to handle all your marketing activities in house, but be aware that there is still a cost associated with that, and many times it is a much larger cost than enlisting outside help from the start. There is a tendency to undervalue the benefits and underestimate the effort of delivering good marketing.

Some tools that are helpful in identifying your core message and value proposition are:

  • SWOT Analysis

  • T-Chart Gap Analysis

  • Market Research – both on your ideal customers and on your competition. You can get a ton of great information from just using LinkedIn.

  • Customer Satisfaction Surveys – it can be difficult to get customers to fill out lengthly surveys, so I recommend keeping it simple and concise (no more than 3 simple questions). Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an example of a simple survey method based on responses to a single question.

  • KPIs – internal data surrounding several predefined key performance indicators

It’s Easy to Get Overwhelmed.

Once you have your messaging and value proposition fully defined it should be easy, right? I wish – But the good news is, you are now way ahead of the game, and should have:

  • Copy and content required to put together a killer website and other necessary marketing assets
  • Have a consistent message and strategy to train your sales team allowing you to scale your sales effort

When defining your marketing goals and strategy, you need to be careful not to get overwhelmed. Just thinking of all of the marketing tools and tactics you will potentially need to address can induce a panic attack if you don’t properly plan. If you feel this way, remember that its the drop that splits the rock – be patient and focus on small, but consistent wins.

Here are just a few of the tactics you may need to focus on:

  • Responsive Website Design – ensuring your website is properly setup and configured to look great on all platforms (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile), while ideally representing your brand.

  • Content Development – blogs, white papers, case studies, infographics, video, podcasts, etc.

  • Website SEO – keyword strategy and analysis, website audit, metadata, SERP features, etc.

  • Lead Generation – identify and capture lead contact database and build out necessary segments.

  • Social Channels & Presence – identify the social channels to target, develop and execute your social strategy.

  • Campaigns & Market Automation – targeted email and text message campaigns utilizing lead capture landing pages and market funnel automation tools.

  • Ads, PPC, and Remarketing – identifying and executing an advertising/PPC strategy designed to capture and convert leads.

Power Through.

Again, this probably seems overwhelming. Especially if you are not yet familiar with some of these terms, but it is important to not let this keep you from moving forward. If you are just getting started, don’t try to do it all at once. This is a long process, and its better to gain traction in one area first as opposed to spreading your efforts thin across all tactics. If you have to choose the top priority items, here is how I would start:

  • Build a professional, easy to navigate website that clearly defines your company’s value.

  • Develop solid content that you can use to increase your website’s SEO, as well as utilize in your sales process.

  • Identify your prospects and start knocking on doors.

  • Whatever you decided to do… do it consistently, and don’t give up too soon!

Now, get to work!