This is the true story of a small technology services company that got itself on the path to revenue growth in six short months by working with the right marketing coach.
Huh, “marketing coach”?
Yes, I’m using the term marketing coach because I’ve found that often when CEOs of smaller companies are looking for a part-time CMO or marketing consultant, what they’re often seeking is a marketing coach — somebody with the right amount of gray hair (or no hair) who can guide them through the weeds of marketing without putting them into bankruptcy.
CEOs of companies under $5M in revenue are hands-on people. They want to be involved in marketing, but don’t have the time or expertise to do a bang-up job. When they start interviewing marketing consultants they tend to run into the following characters, and often give up.
Selfish Suzette. Many marketing consultants don’t want to educate, believing a more capable client robs them of future billable hours. They strategize on how to make the client more and more dependent on them rather than independent.
In-the-Clouds Carl. This guy only thinks at the strategic level and shudders to think about having to roll up his sleeves and actually get something done in the marketing engine room. This willing isolation from where the rubber hits the road is dangerous for small companies, frankly.
M5 Martin. This is the high-priced CMO who is used to leading a large internal team, with lots of vendors and a sizable budget. He will have a heck of time adjusting his thinking to the resource limitations of a small business having to fund marketing (and marketing consultant fees) within a limited budget.
Alright then, here’s the story of a small company that utilized me in a very cost-effective manner to coach the CEO and team to improved marketing performance.
A Determined but Frustrated CEO
I received the web lead notification from ABC Development (not their real name, surprise) in April 2016. The CEO had been searching for a part-time CMO. He decided to engage with me after the usual process of a few meetings, proposal, vetting, and paperwork signing.
In brief, this was the situation at the company, a provider of outsourced software development services.
- Revenue had been flat for several years.
- Different marketing tactics had been tried over time without success, proper measurement, or consistency
- Past marketing consultants and employees fell short of expectations
- The company had a strong value proposition and reputation. It was operationally sound.
The CEO believed that the right marketing effort could help the company grow, but he was very frustrated that they continued to spend money and experiment without seeing a difference.
Read on to learn about the process that worked so well for this B2B company with annual revenues south of $2M.
Pushing the Reset Button
When you’re digging yourself into a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. Basically, as their marketing coach, that’s what I recommended first for ABC. Marketing activities were placed on hold for a brief period, while I worked with them on a marketing assessment and plan. No great loss here. Nothing was contributing to company growth at the time.
A Marketing Coach with an Up-Tempo Offense
Blame it on my years of work in tech start-ups, but I have a sense of urgency that is deeply ingrained. I have no patience for endless assessments and planning periods. Do it right, do it fast. That’s my motto.
With ABC I scheduled several key components of the project to progress in parallel in order to shorten the time line. Those initial, foundational activities were the Funnel Plan™ and the Marketing Assessment.
Let me unpack them for you.
The Game Plan, aka Funnel Plan™, Today’s Replacement for the Sales and Marketing Plan
After the CEO viewed the series of videos I had created to explain the Funnel Plan process, he was excited to get his team started. This would be the first time that the company’s owners worked together with sales and marketing staff to construct a unified plan.
A good revenue-generation plan must be the foundation for all marketing and sales activities. I use the term “revenue-generation plan” very deliberately. Why not use the traditional “sales and marketing plan”? Simply because companies must stop viewing revenue generation as consisting of two disparate functions. I’ve written extensively in this blog about how traditional sales and marketing planning in companies is hurting performance. It’s time to modernize the revenue planning process in B2B companies. This is what Funnel Plan™ accomplishes.
ABC opted for a self-directed version of the Funnel Plan process. Using the on-line tool and tutorials, the team was able to progress through the 10-step process over a period of 2-1/2 weeks. I Skyped into the end of each session to review their work, provide guidance and a double serving of tough love.
At the end of this stage, the company knew exactly what marketing and sales must do to achieve the revenue goal. They had a focused go-to-market strategy, a prioritization of resources, a revenue funnel model, and a tactical action plan.
This took ABC over two weeks. Not bad, but it could have been accomplished in just three days. If they had opted for a facilitated Funnel Plan, I would have led the team through a rigorous 3-day workshop. The self-directed Funnel Plan process worked for ABC because of their collaborative culture and the CEO’s dedication to succeeding with a new process. In my experience, without these two characteristics, most companies will never finish the 10-step process and walk away disillusioned.
While the planning was progressing I reviewed all the marketing materials and programs, including Adwords and Web traffic statistics.
This is an important step in the marketing coaching process for several reasons.
- I learned what the team is capable of producing in terms of results, content, and programs.
- I saw the low-hanging fruit – the areas in which fast, inexpensive adjustments could improve results.
- I saw the juicy fruit high up in the tree – the areas that promised big rewards, but would require an investment of many months.
- I became familiar with the immediate arsenal of sales and marketing materials. I understood what tools, systems, and content is available now. What was missing.
- Most importantly, I gained an understanding of the level of contribution that the company’s website was making (or in this case, wasn’t making) to brand positioning and lead flow.
I presented my marketing assessment and recommendations shortly after the Funnel Plan was completed.
Because of this timing, in the same week we were able to look squarely at the company’s strengths and weaknesses in the marketing area relative to the Funnel Plan requirements.
To give a very simple example, my assessment of their contact database concluded that it was of limited value. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been maintained for three or four years and was woefully out of date. Not having a large, up-to-date database of opt-in contacts meant that we couldn’t rely on email campaigns to do much for us until we re-built the contact lists. This fact also revealed that we needed to put a lot of time and effort into building the list. In short, it was going to be many months before email marketing could reach a scale that could start generating leads in any quantity.
Positioning and Messaging – a Cornerstone
Was ABC positioning itself properly in the market? Was it clearly and powerfully communicating how it was better and different from competitors?
Any assessment of a company must look objectively at the marketing and sales messaging to make certain it differentiates from competition in a meaningful way and resonates with what the buyer considers important.
In ABC’s case, my assessment was that their messaging was helping to sell their category of service (outsourced software development), but was failing to answer the question of “why ABC?” in a compelling manner. As their marketing coach I advised them that they qualified for the race, but would never win unless they changed their messaging.
I conducted a competitive messaging analysis together with in-depth interviews of customers and prospects. Armed with this market insight, I recommended a positioning platform and set of key messages for ABC. The team incorporated the messaging into all communications, including the website. Now their messaging had teeth.
Organic Search – A Cornerstone
If a company wants its Website to attract prospective buyers, it is mandatory that links to the site appear in the top-four positions of Google’s organic search results for search terms their buyers use often. Being on page one (positions 1-10) is great, but the top-four positions suck up over 60% of the total clicks on the page. That’s the place to be.
My search ranking research and analysis of their website revealed a striking truth. The company was not ranked on page one for any terms they believed were important. Furthermore, the site was structured in such a way as to make it impossible for the company to rank highly for more than one or two terms.
Following my thorough SEO (search engine optimization) process I was able to show ABC a set of key terms that had the best combination of characteristics. The terms were relevant to ABC’s services. The terms were popular, meaning they had a certain volume of estimated monthly searches. And finally, it was possible for ABC to rank on page one considering the relative strength of the 10 companies already occupying page one for each term.
Once we had selected 15 search terms to target, the next step was to create a Website, pages, and content that Google’s search bot could crawl easily and index ABC highly for those terms.
I recommended a structure for their site and trained ABC on how to do proper on-page optimization.
Throughout this phase of the engagement I was coaching all of the content creators at ABC, which included the CEO, on how to create content that is optimized, and how to build each page and post for optimum search ranking. I also gave the marketing manager tips on what tools to use for tracking search ranking and search queries.
As a result, traffic from organic search leapt nearly 40% to become the #1 source of traffic to the site. Leads from search soared 500%
Adwords, A Necessary Investment Early On
Based on the Funnel Plan I knew ABC needed to bring a certain number of prospects into the later stages of the funnel – buyers who acknowledged they were experiencing pain and were actively seeking an outsourced solution for software development.
ABC didn’t have a large sales force. In fact, only two of the principals were actively involved in business development. I recommended that ABC launch an Adwords pay-per-click campaign. The company had experimented with Adwords in the past without success. I set up the initial campaign and trained the marketing manager on how to manage the campaign going forward.
The result? Within the first three months of the initial campaign, the company closed two deals from PPC leads – the first-ever marketing-generated deals for the company.
Team Structure, a Cornerstone
A crucial component of the engagement was an assessment of ABC’s marketing resources – people and systems.
One deliverable was a recommendation of what skills and tools ABC would need in order to effectively implement the revenue generation plan. The assessment showed where there were gaps and recommended ways to close the gaps with people, training, tools, or systems. One recommendation was for the marketing manager to become certified in Google Analytics and Google Adwords. Another recommendation was to have a more consistent and reliable source of quality content.
Marketing Coaching Calls
Throughout the engagement I conducted bi-weekly coaching calls with the CEO, and weekly coaching calls with the marketing manager. The regular coaching calls were a very effective way for the client to maintain focus on marketing and use me as a sounding board for ideas over a six-month period. A good marketing coach keeps in touch with the client to ensure the plan is being executed properly and in a timely fashion. Frankly, it’s way too easy and tempting for the client to slip back into old habits.Weekly calls make a difference.
Please don’t see this one case as “the formula” for success. There were elements of the engagement that might not be right for every company. Adwords for example. Certainly the Funnel Plan and resource assessment are cornerstone elements, but every company is different and requires a unique approach to their marketing efforts. I know this well because I’ve worked for over 50 different companies in my career as marketing executive, agency executive, and consultant.
What were the early results for ABC?
In a relatively short period of time ABC was transformed from a company with hit and miss marketing efforts to a company with an aligned plan, measurable tactics, a couple of closed deals, and a marketing team focused on contributing to revenue growth.
There is no reason why other small companies can’t achieve the same results. All it takes is a willingness to learn and change. Oh, the right marketing coach certainly helps.