by John O’Connell, Founder and Executive Chairman of ScaleUp Group (ex Chair/Founder/CEO of Staffware plc)
We delved into this subject at one of our recent CEO Forums. It seems it is very hard to crack this nut for most tech SMEs – even those which are growing really fast, perversely. So are they ‘simply’ enjoying being on a rising tide of demand rather than their leadgen being exceptional? If so, what happens if the ‘tide were to start ebbing’?
| Read this companion article in this issue by Niamh Bennett, Director of Marketing, ActiveNav on this subject, to get her perspective ‘from the coalface’.
References at the CEO Forum were made to the inherent tension between marketing personnel and salespeople, with the comments which I have heard from time immemorial that marketing provides ‘crap leads’ whilst sales ‘screw up or worse, ignoring the opportunities we hand them on a plate’.
It seems this endemic dysfunctionality is more than a communications issue, although it was revealing how the word “conversion” was interpreted differently in the survey we conducted before that CEO Forum session. To marketeers it was enquiries which turn into leads, whilst to myself and the CEOs it to meant ‘deals done’.
The solution is not just throwing money at the problem – “not knowing which half of our marketing spend is wasted” was disappointing to still hear being trotted out.
Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) have become the more polite terminology for the ‘crap versus wasted’ discourse, signalling an acceptance of the language barriers between the two functions.
Recognition would also help that Marketing can be a catch all/dumping ground for anything which falls outside of the other functions of Sales, Delivery, Development or Administration.
I have to confess that when I was leading Staffware plc I raided the Marketing budget for any of my pet projects, escalating up to sponsoring the Barbarians Rugby Tour whose leadgen justification was highly questionable (non-existent?). Our sales team said they would never have closed that multi-million-pound software deal if so and so guest was not sat next to me at the Royal Box at Twickenham Stadium – and of course I agreed with them! However, it was revealing that Tibco, upon acquiring Staffware, immediately cancelled the sponsorship and I do not recall our sales dipping as a result! (I had departed by then so no awkward questions for me I’m pleased to say.)
A more serious point here is that multiple, often conflicting priorities laid down by management detracts marketing from their core focus on leadgen to other less measurable activities, such as falling under brand development et al. This is not decrying the latter, but it does dilute the focus on leadgen and makes measuring the cost and impact of marketing activities much harder – resulting in general dissatisfaction all round, finger pointing and worse.
Back to the CEO Forum, where the ‘holy grail’ was agreed upon – maximising inbound enquiries. (Niamh has some relevant comments here on this.) One client is achieving 80% of their leads this way. This same client was spending 15% of its revenue on marketing, inc. salaries. This is way more than the others. However, its £20k per deal spend was justified by its average three year total contract value (TCV) of £120k – a 6x return and a 6 month payback on its marketing expenditure.
They were also very discerning about where to spend that money. In addition and as important was the fact that they had a department of ‘bright young things’ who spent their first year or two as office bound (when we all went to offices to work) business development types (used to be called telemarketing in my day) following up MQLs and qualifying them further before they were handed off to those ‘horrible, demanding, greedy sales types’ (I’m playing to the marketing crowd now).
Organisationally, aligning Marketing and Sales as much as possible seems to be vital. (Another point in Niamh’s piece.) Best practice is to have marketing types sit in regularly on sales meetings to better understand the dynamics of the sales process so as to have a continuous feedback loop, facilitating adjustments to marketing messages and initiatives as a result.
Where does Channel fit? In all of the above I am thinking of a B2B software business, where all or most of the revenue is through direct sales as opposed to via channels. A channel-led go to market strategy poses a different set of marketing challenges to the point when a channel may not expect (or want) any leadgen by your company, other than what it does itself and is willing to fund it accordingly. In this case, development of the brand and pro-active partner support such as at Industry events and so on are what is needed.
Adding an International aspect adds yet another dimension to the leadgen challenge and in certain markets – North America especially – cosying up to Industry Analysts is not simply desirable but essential. This is despite the cost of such a strategy, as the marketing budget which most SMEs can afford will not move the needle at all. ‘Influencing the influencers’ forms part of your guerrilla marketing when you become “judged by the company you keep”. This is a viable marketing ploy as ringing endorsements from prestigious customers carries far more weight than you declaring how wonderful you are! So fete them by making them famous in their world, helping to enhance their profile and career in the process, for being the heroes they are. Staffware ran very successful Customer Awards events for instance. Likewise with your partner channel.
Our ‘Ten Marketing Commandments are:
- Spend enough on marketing to support the planned size of your business, not the current level of sales activity – meaning you need to be funded adequately
- Measure constantly the returns you are getting
- Focus on a few initiatives and do not dilute that focus with ‘pet projects’
- Hire the best marketing leader you can afford – again not just for now but for the future also
- Align marketing and sales as tightly as possible
- Invest in business development people also – the bridge between marketing and sales
- ‘Cherish’ clients, partners and other supporters, especially the early ones who are ‘worth their weight in gold’
- Nurture relevant industry analysts
- Win as many awards as you can
- Act bigger than you are
All of the above is likely to mean spending far more than your current revenues can finance.
So here is a plug for ScaleUp Group. We get our clients the funding for growth they need and through our ongoing support such as the CEO Forum and from the lifetime of experience of our 28 Members you to spend it where you get the “most bangs for your buck.” This includes following the ‘Ten Marketing Commandments’!