Thoughts and ideas from SHAKE Marketing Group

Advice to CEO’s: Empower Your Marketing Team to Think and Work Strategically

Delegation is often a difficult word for many CEOs and C-Suite leaders, especially those running Inc. 5000 companies. When it comes to the business you built or helped to scale, few things can be more difficult than ceding control of marketing and sales. However, as these emerging growth companies expand, strategic marketing becomes even more vital and challenging. Why?

You know you should sit back and let the marketing team do their thing. However, it's hard to do so when you're not clear about exactly what they're doing. Or if what they're doing isn't producing the kind of results you want. Or if your team's work isn't quite aligned with your vision for the company.

Instead of spending relatively equal amounts of time evaluating financials, assessing IT, and examining product details, you find yourself rewriting copy, revising ad spend allocations, and monitoring social media. Your CMO or marketing director seems talented on paper. However, every time you ask a specific question, you find yourself having to decipher considerable marketing jargon.

You've got some talented folks working for you. But you find them always in your office asking for approval of every ad or marketing expense, pitching a new marketing product or platform to invest in, or, in some cases, clashing with their co-workers about your company's messaging and branding. They seem to be sure of what they're doing, but you aren't. And the numbers show that what they are doing isn't moving the needle as much as you need.

Red Flags That Stifle Strategic Marketing

You're not alone if you're a bit skeptical of your marketing team. According to one industry study, most CEOs (70 percent) don't trust their CMOs to grow their business effectively.

But you want to trust your marketing team so that you're not managing their day-to-day. However, it's hard to know whether they're prioritizing the right things, especially when your sales don't reflect it. And it's even harder to do so if they're operating outside the confines of strategic marketing.

But many scaling businesses do not operate without a comprehensive marketing plan. Instead, they are running with either a CEO-led marketing trial and error supplanting strategy or with scattershot marketing operations that yield few tangible results.

Does any of the following sound familiar? If so, it's inhibiting strategic marketing.

  • Your marketing department is quick to execute every new idea put in front of them. You may even have just stumbled across an idea and want feedback on whether it makes sense. But before you know it, your team has designed a full-fledged campaign around your idea.
  • When you examine the numbers, you're unsure how your team arrived at marketing ROI. The figure seems to be based on many assumptions with little evidence.
  • Your company messaging is unclear and inconsistent. There doesn't seem to be a strong rationale about why you're targeting specific segments and which ones are most important. And you're not sure that any of it is either resonating or is grounded in your brand.
  • The roles and responsibilities of each marketing team member are unclear to both you and the team members themselves. Accordingly, every task takes way longer than expected.
  • You're often or usually last among your competitors to establish a presence on new platforms or try new marketing channels. You find yourself admiring your rival's creativity and wonder why your team can't match that.
  • Customers have strikingly different perceptions of your brand and its value. You see it in customer feedback surveys, social media, and industry publications. Your value proposition is clear to you, so why isn't it clear to everyone else?

If one or more of these conditions resonates, your business is operating with a weak or nonexistent marketing strategy. And as quickly as the B2B market has evolved, it's imperative that you implement a strategic marketing plan. You've got to take the time and expend the resources to make strategic marketing a priority. The longer you operate without one, the more money you'll waste and customers you'll lose.

How To Balance Strategic Marketing With Running Your Emerging Growth Company

But most businesses put off strategic marketing planning in favor of daily crises and ongoing pursuits of the latest marketing shiny object. They may dabble in one or more of the steps but, in skipping some, create major deficits in their marketing operation. And then business leaders wonder why they're not achieving the results they want while marketing managers cobble together vanity metrics to make it appear like the business is performing better than it is.

One estimate holds that 26 percent of marketing dollars are wasted due to ineffective marketing efforts. If this is your company, you need to gather your marketing team immediately and walk them through the following steps.

We call this the Confident Marketer Playbook.

1. Audit your current and past marketing efforts.

Take a hard, critical look at what you're doing. Focus on the things that should be making an impact but are not or have less impact than you anticipated. Effective marketing is not about doing more. It's about doing the right things. And there's simply no way to determine what the right things are without identifying and weeding out the wrong things and things in need of adjustment.

2. Conduct market research.

Great marketing campaigns are grounded in research. You need to know who your prospects are. How do they make their decisions? What do they think of your brand? You should be able to map out your average buyer's journey from the moment your customers realize they have a problem or see an ad that identifies it for them to the moment they sign a contract with you (or with a rival). Understand your customers, competitors, market, and any other factors that may affect the buyer's journey before spending a dime on marketing expenses.

3. Determine your target audience.

Use your research to hone in on who you should be targeting (HINT: it's not everybody). Take a look at past sales data to identify who makes up the bulk of your current customer base. Examine whether there are untapped potential customers in this segment and how you can effectively target them. Also, examine other promising segments using past sales data, online activity, and developing trends. Build customer personas for your most profitable segments only to maximize your sales.

4. Choose goals and tactics.

Now that you know who you're trying to communicate with, how do you communicate with them most effectively? Use your research and targeting insights to determine your optimal channels and messaging. Don't forget to determine how best to keep existing customers engaged and create upselling opportunities. And whatever you do, don't forget to determine how you'll be tracking and measuring success upfront and putting a plan in place to do so.

5. Identify your value proposition.

While you may have a sense of your value proposition - or what you want it to be, consider how customers use your products and services and how they perceive your brand. Are your perceptions aligned with those of your customers? Are your customers seeing things you're not that can enhance the value you're trying to convey? Or is there a perceptual gap between what you believe your value proposition is and what you deliver? Take the time to make sure that you have clearly identified your value proposition based on actual research and place it at the heart of any messaging you develop. Read: 5 steps to create a powerful value proposition.

6. Develop your content plan.

Key to great marketing is consistency. And now that you know who you're communicating with, what messages compel them, and the value you wish to convey, it's time to develop a plan for developing and serving your audience content that does just that. Your content should reflect each stage of the buyer's journey and help guide their decisions while reinforcing your value.

7. Execute your plan.

Now that you have a marketing strategy, it's time to execute it. Essential to solid execution is clearly defining roles and responsibilities, as well as what resources are indeed upfront. It also means being brutally honest about your capabilities. Not every business can execute the marketing plan they need to grow in-house. Some aspects of your plan may need to be outsourced.

Bonus Step: Promote Your Plan Internally

Often, the disconnect between a CEO or C-suite leader and a marketing team occurs when the marketing team fails to clearly and consistently communicate their strategy, progress, and how both fuel broader strategic business goals.

Once your team has their plan in hand, encourage them to regularly share their progress with you and the rest of the organization. The more people know what the marketing team is doing, the less likely it is that pesky rumors will fuel your doubts about your team and their work.

Build Confidence in Your Marketing Team

When you help guide your team through developing a marketing strategy your organization adopts, you'll not only start to see results. You'll grow more confident in your team. And they will grow more confident in themselves.

No longer will you be stewing in frustration, and no longer will your team be at the edge of burnout chasing a thousand different priorities. Your team will be working strategically rather than chasing short-term tactical goals. When your team sees the results they are getting and how they are helping the organization, they're more likely to be more engaged and productive. Moreover, when you invest in your team's development and give them opportunities to grow as marketers and leaders, you'll see your employee turnover rate decline considerably.

We work with talented B2B marketers every day, many of whom are on the verge of quitting because they're on underperforming teams and unsure how to make a difference. We help them learn how to think and work strategically to elevate the business and their efforts internally. And we help them build the confidence and skills they need to add value to their companies.

If you want your team to learn how to take your company to the next level, we're here to help. Click here for more information about how you can build a world-class B2B marketing team and help your business growth soar.

A marketing team of an Inc. 5000 company discusses their strategic marketing plan around a conference table.

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