Growing a business is challenging, no matter what sector you operate in. Having a robust marketing strategy in place and the right team to deliver it is fundamental to success. Naturally, your marketing requirements will change as your business faces different challenges. The need for different skills, levels of external support and budget requirements will all change over time. But it’s not always obvious what your priorities should be, and how these might change over time.
In this article, we explore what your marketing team should look like at various stages of growth. We also provide a short summary of the various stages in this video do check it out.
Startup phase - finding clarity
The startup phase is a crucial time for both business leaders and the teams they employ. Everyone is finding their feet; defining goals, developing strategies, allocating budgets and deciding on priorities.
In addition to these challenges, startup leaders have to manage how their roles fit together. Startups are notoriously chaotic during the nascent stages. The job descriptions that you poured over weeks ago are now pretty much null and void. Roles morph and overlap and everyone’s frantically mucking in to get to market on time, on budget and - naturally - to great success.
While it may seem impossible, it’s crucial that you take a step back at this point to see the wider picture. You need to answer some simple questions that will help you gain clarity amidst the mayhem. Sit down with your team, take a breath and ask yourselves;
- What do we offer?
- Who do we sell it to?
- What makes us unique?
- Why should people choose us?
- What will make them loyal?
To refer back to our own Marketing 360 framework, businesses who can answer these questions clearly and succinctly from the outset will be much better equipped to find, win and keep customers in the future.
At first glance, these questions may seem a little basic. But without the right people in the room, you may struggle to answer them meaningfully. With the best will in the world, your finance team are unlikely to be the right people to answer questions on customer retention strategies. And while there are crossovers between the remits of sales and marketing departments, it’s not appropriate to expect Business Development Managers to lead on social media launches or website development.
You can only ensure that these questions are broached thoroughly by recruiting the right marketing team. While budgets may be tight, it’s important to invest in marketing professionals with the right skills and experience. They may well cost more but they will provide the necessary focus to take your business forward.
As mentioned above, few startups have sizeable budgets set aside for hiring marketing employees. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality or make long-term hiring commitments that might not be suitable in six months time. For startups, hiring a small team of freelancers, either full or part-time, is an excellent solution. This enables you to source marketers who have experience working with startups, or in your specific sector. Another route is to engage an external agency which has the flexibility to supply you with different skill bases as you grow. Agencies can be particularly useful as they have access to software and marketing platforms that may be beyond the reach of your current budget.
Opting for professional external support at this vital stage will give you peace of mind, flexibility and the time to focus on your core business of serving customers.
Talk to us today to find out how external support for your marketing team could help your business.
Growth - the need for focus
Once the chaos of going to market has subsided, you need to focus on growth and retention. For senior staff particularly, this is a time to review what needs to happen to achieve long-term success. Internal structure and organisation is key to this. It may have been fun and exhilarating to have everyone doing a bit of everything; fighting fires and sharing successes. But there comes a point when this is inefficient, unproductive - and exhausting.
In terms of your marketing requirement, the focus is now on identifying the specialisms required to grow the business. Not only will this streamline processes but it will enable your teams to refine and develop their skills. This, in turn, creates the loyal staff you need to forge ahead.
Try not to be tempted to embrace every specialism simply because it’s an option. Many companies pay too much attention to social media strategies and tactics just because their favourite brands prioritise them. If this is where your customers and prospects are, then fantastic. If you’re trying to engage Heads of Corporate Governance for FTSE100 companies, recruiting Instagram specialists is unlikely to be your main concern at this stage.
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Consider where your customers are and how they might find you and recruit specialists accordingly. Copywriters for event brochures, for example. Or PPC experts for search engine advertising. And don’t forget to check in with your analytics to see how your marketing efforts have been performing so far.
Whether you’ve been managing marketing in-house or working with an agency or freelancers you should have some meaningful data to analyse at this stage. Take a good look at your sales figures, website engagement data and any other analytics you have set up. What has been working so far and what hasn’t? Why do you think this is? If there aren’t clear answers at this stage, don’t simply discard an approach that you were sure would be successful. Have you given it enough time? Does your website get enough traffic to genuinely show if a page is popular or a call to action is in the right place?
If your data is telling you that a particular approach or tactic is consistently delivering results, then don’t be afraid to double down on that approach. Good strategy requires you to be decisive.
During the growth stage, it is these analytical skills that will serve your marketing department best. You must have a team that can focus on the metrics that really matter such as cost-per-acquisition or marketing as a percentage of sales. Increasing revenue at this stage is your priority. If you have time to look at website traffic, that’s great, but don’t lose sight of what will really grow your business.
Alongside your analytics experts, you’ll need to also consider the other marketing skill sets you need. Your experiences as a startup may make these decisions easy but if you’re struggling to decide where to place your budget, both in long or short term, it can pay to use the services of a business mentor or coach, to get support for developing your team.
Maturity - the need for efficiency
As your business reaches maturity you need to carefully consider how to improve efficiencies and ROI. You’ll need to have the support of professionals who truly understand your sector and its challenges.
Take some time to review your learnings from the growth stage. What has worked and what hasn’t? How realistic were the deadlines? What needs to be capitalised on and what can fall to the wayside for the time being? Both startup and growth stages have a tendency to rely primarily on tactics. Now is the time to focus on strategy. Whatever has worked for you in the past needs to be supported by an actionable and cohesive strategy that can streamline the successful delivery of this activity. Failure to do so means your cost-per-acquisition will become unsustainable.
Business publications are very fond of statistics relating to customer acquisition vs. retention. But there is plenty of truth in these. Retaining your customers, upselling, cross-selling, creating advocates - these are all hugely valuable tactics in your long-term sales and marketing strategy. If you’re launching new products, make sure your customers know about them. If you’ve improved or enhanced a service, why not let them know? Maximise the value of what you already have, ensure your customers feel valued and looked after and you’ll create loyal advocates who will recommend you to their peers (and hopefully on review sites).
Your experiences as a manager or business leader are likely to change considerably at this point. You need to operate at scale and you need to know who can help you make this happen. Perhaps it’s time to move external support inhouse or recruit a consultant to help you see the wider picture more clearly. If you’ve been using agencies for a substantial period of time, don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify their offering and successes to you and seek their advice on how they could help you even more. A good agency will welcome this request and rise to the challenge. They may even have been waiting to be asked. It’s also possible you may have outgrown the agency so it’s worth understanding how you can move forward together at this stage.
Renewal: revisiting your business purpose and vision
Even the most committed, creative and passionate business leaders can become complacent or fail to understand when their business needs reinvigoration or a new purpose. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it can be a genuinely productive and progressive activity if done with clear goals and an open mind.
From keeping an eye on your data over the years you’ll think you know what works and what doesn’t and you may be tempted to continue to repeat these tactics. Humans have a tendency to see what we want to see and even with hard data-led facts in front of us, we may be blind to warning signs. Look at your market and customer base with an entirely objective outlook. How has your audience changed, and why? What other external factors could be affecting your offering or your market? Have you dismissed competitors that are now gaining traction? Are there channels you haven’t tested for ten years that could be lucrative now?
What is needed at this stage is a reappraisal of the fundamentals described in the startup phase:
- What do we offer?
- Who do we sell it to?
- What makes us unique?
- Why do people choose us?
- What makes them loyal?
Consider how your answers now differ from your original standpoints. Then imagine a new value proposition that can hold its ground and get you back on track. Perhaps it’s time for a rebrand or a content audit of your website. Perhaps you need to do some market research or get out in the field yourself, to events and suchlike, to find out how the land lies.
At this stage, you need to be supported by senior marketing professionals who can drive the results you need to reinvigorate your business and keep it on the right track.
Creating actionable strategies for evolving your business is challenging and requires the leadership of senior marketers with years of experience. Many businesses find that engaging a marketing consultant with specific experience in rebranding or business change can be helpful. It can also encourage your internal team to think about new approaches or ways of working that support the changes. Everyone needs motivation from time to time and a fresh pair of eyes can reinvigorate and revitalise your efforts and add clarity and creativity.
Getting this level of clarity is necessary - but it isn’t easy. If you’re struggling to find the right answers for these crucial questions, our part-time Marketing Directors can provide much-needed perspective. Click here to learn more.