One of my contractors is always talking to me in sports analogies, so I thought I’d take a stab at it myself! (But don’t worry… if you’re not a sports fanatic like she is, this is really more about marketing investment than basketball or football.)
Sports teams, or rather successful sports teams, do a lot of things “right.” They not only have a deep bench of players, they know how to use those players in a way that produces results. Some of this rests on the coach, I guess what you could call the CEO of the team—providing guidance, making key decisions like understanding which team member needs to be cut or where there are gaps in performance that need supplementation.
So, if one of your players gets injured, or your pitcher isn’t performing up to expectations, or you want to bolster your running game, you find the player(s) who can excel in those roles.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say your company is in the service industry and you need to hire a dozen trainers. Each of those trainers needs a team of people to support them. Do you try to manage all of this from your seat as CEO? Or, do you bring in a human resources professional to fill that widening gap in your business operations?
The Trap in DIY Marketing
Unfortunately, the biggest misstep I see among business leaders is that they can DIY their marketing. CEOs view the marketing seat at the C-suite table as something “intuitive” and thus a component of the growth plan that can be shared among leadership or passed along to the “juniors” or outsourced specialists.
The problem with this approach is that when you get marketing wrong, it wastes money. A lot of money.
If I was putting in new bathroom tile, but I had really no experience with it, would I do it myself? Absolutely not. When Hurricane Sandy sent trees crashing through my office window did I even think about repairing the damage myself? Hell no! I needed to bring in the experts to address those needs.
3 Considerations: Risk, Ambition, and Process
There are times when you can take on marketing efforts yourself. But, it’s imperative to know which ones are the right ones.
For example, taking that risk should be strategic—where time and money in play are minimal. Could you deploy an email marketing campaign or manage an organic social media campaign on your own? Probably. But, it might take a few tries to get it right. Email and social media are “inexpensive” compared to other marketing channels, (not counting the expense embedded in wasted talent and time).
We all want to avoid risk, but some of us are more risk-tolerant than others. Consider how ambitious you are about your business goals. I mean, we’re all ambitious, aren’t we? But when we do the math of risk X ambition, we face the reality of those aggressive goals we set.
The reality is this: most CEOs don’t want this job.
Let’s say you’ve planned for revenue growth of 20%. That’s a big ask. We need to be sure it’s based on metrics from the real world, factored to include the cost of time, and hedged against unanticipated challenges we may encounter ahead.
Is that a buzz kill? No one likes limitations, but here’s where getting the right people in the right seats will make a difference. There are aspects of business growth best left to the professionals, especially when we face the truth about what we know—and what we don’t know as leaders in our sectors.
As I’ve written about before, marketing is one of those areas subject to deep DIY-abuse; how hard can it really be? It’s experience and discipline that help surface the right questions so you can be sure how different channels will work against your goals, where there’s risk and upside, and how skilled your in-house team is in taking advantage of opportunity—some of which are front and center to a seasoned leader but may be undiscovered by a junior team. True expertise can give you the lift you need—where you need it and when you need it most.
Here’s a timely one: Everyone is talking about inflation/recession. Maybe even panicking. The savviest CEOs understand they can’t cut marketing completely, but they might need some guidance on what they can prioritize when the going gets tough. The least sexy part of marketing—or any plan—is process.
Can you have too much process? The kind of process that burdens the team, requires integrating multiple data sets, and delivers all the data instead of the right data? This happens.
Making sure you have processes that can push good thinking through to action is a skill. I know, personally, that having great process people around to put ideas into action is a skill I can’t do without.
When DON’T You Need a Deep Bench?
Here’s where the sports connection gets a little fuzzy. To be truly successful, leaders really do need to have their dream team in place. But, there are times when business leaders can move forward without deepening their bench.
If you can reach your revenue growth goals through word of mouth/referrals for 12 months, it’s probably okay to sit tight. Be aware, however, that referrals deliver warm leads and prospects, but at a volume that probably won’t get you to your goal. A client of mine converts referrals at 54% and marketing leads at 24%, but there are simply more leads from marketing than from referrals, so they need a combination of referrals and marketing to get to the finish line. To move beyond referrals is a numbers game, and the sales team can’t expect to do it all solo.
When you get marketing wrong, it wastes money. A lot of money.
If you’ve got a system running your business, and you’ve got all the critical areas covered, you as the business leader can take on some of the marketing. CEOs of smaller companies come to the Strategy Lab so they can drive their own marketing strategy roadmap. Once done, they’ll have a better sense of who to hire, and for what.
But the reality is this: most CEOs don’t want this job. They want the smarts and the seasoning, but their day job beckons, and they need help getting to the outcomes they expect.
Build a Roster Destined for Success
A smart CEO knows what she knows, and knows what she doesn’t. By the time a CEO contacted me on LinkedIn, she’d already invested in technology, she’d survived the first half of the pandemic, and she’d maintained a margin during one of the most difficult eras for small business.
While she truly believed in the power of marketing to fuel her sales team, she didn’t have the reliable data, or cross-industry case studies, to put a better marketing plan into action.
Yes, okay, she hired me and we crushed it. But that’s not the point here.
The point is: This leader had a firm belief, but the courage to know she needed more analysis, innovation, and action to reach her objectives. That’s why she refers to marketing as an investment, not a cost.
To get a little more in-depth on that, here are some resources that might be helpful:
See our entire YouTube channel, Marketing Air-Cover, here for additional guidance on marketing strategy for small business.
You can find more about the Marketing Strategy Lab for small businesses here or a copy of the overview here.