I have now been part of the Marketing teams of two start-ups that have grown extremely rapidly and achieved phenomenal success. Visual IQ, a Marketing Attribution Software provider (founded in 2006), was acquired by Nielsen last year, for $2 Billion. And Zscaler (founded in 2008), a Cyber Security Software company, just had its IPO. Zscaler is currently valued at $5.5 Billion on the Nasdaq.
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I think I have learned quite a bit from being part of these successful teams and also, previous experiences in the start-up ecosystem, including 4 years as Head of Marketing (Vice President) at a Start-up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
All across the globe, there is a dearth of Marketing talent, particularly in red-hot Software businesses like Fintech, Networking, Data intelligence and Cyber Security.
By Marketing talent I mean individuals with smarts, training, experience and drive who can take a business to 'the next level'; whether that means faster growth, more sustainable or greater revenue or higher profits. This goes for any start-up from first-round venture-backed to private equity invested all the way to IPO or Merger and beyond
For this reason, Start-ups sometimes tolerate the types of personalities that the HR department of regular Fortune 500's would not accept. There are numerous examples of this in the media but I find the satirical comedy Silicon Valley is the best example.
Here's my 7 point plan to create a good start-up Marketing Strategy and then to execute it:
1. Ensure that you are on the same page as the person who has created your marketing Strategy or even better, create that Strategy yourself. So many problems occur when CMOs and CEOs or Investors do not agree on this. See 'Why CMOs never last'
2. Data; explore this and find out what is going on. Don't just rely on the facts you see. Talk with people, try to establish whether the data you are seeing on paper matches what you are hearing. Countless times I have dealt with either no data at all or data that doesn't match reality. Don't be the fool that devotes inordinate hours and resources creating complex models using bad information.
Even a fledgeling Start-up will inevitably have had many failures already and you can use this information to avoid making mistakes and model successful behaviour. “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” —Michael Porter (See Porter's 5 Forces)
3. Targets, start thinking about what you are trying to accomplish. Is the problem that you have a weak brand? Is it that no one outside your core user group really understands your products? Are you simply preaching to the converted?
Do your competitors have an iron-grip in certain Regions or markets? Is it that you have poor growth? Are you sinking resources into the same old Marketing investments getting diminishing returns? Are you properly measuring your Marketing investments even? Rarely have I seen this happen, actually, particularly with Company Events.
Establish what that core problem is and then ensure that all your efforts are geared towards driving solutions to that.
4. Create a plan around that. For example:
a. If the problem is that your sales team are not converting your good leads, then bring in added Business Intelligence. A remarkable tool for this is Rainking, which has a team of 600 researchers calling companies and finding out information that will enable you to identify opportunities quicker and more effectively.
Additionally, if you are not lead scoring already, then I would suggest you start doing this. The way this works is - your sales team will immediately get alerted automatically when a lead reaches a certain 'threshold' score. So let's say that score is 10, then a lead from a company with $1 Billion revenue that has requested we contact them would immediately be a 10.
A Lead from a company that is on our target list would immediately be a 10. A Lead from a company that could be a target, would be a 5. When that lead has downloaded 3 key reports in the last week, then it becomes a 10, and so on.
However, you have to ensure the algorithm that determines scoring is accurate. I've worked at companies were this is not the case and I'd say no scoring is better than bad lead scoring.
b. If the problem is that you lack the numbers of leads needed to start with, then both ZoomInfo, which I started using back in 2009 or Rainking, which I started using in 2015, are both effective for outbound activity.
For inbound, I find Twitter to be remarkably effective, in addition to Google AdWords, and AdSense, of course. In the last few years, I've found Linkedin lead generation campaigns to be good value, just make sure you target your prospect audience (ideally starting by creating buyer 'personas')
I would also work with the Marketing team to create compelling content, ideally Gartner or Forrester or failing that, some other well-known research firm, like IDC. These are great because they are high-value pieces of content that your prospects will 'trade' their contact details with you to gain.
Also, Linkedin has also just developed a new Account-based Marketing - (I met with the Head of Linkedin's EMEA business in a previous blog post) tool called Lead generation forms.
One idea that We have done in the past very successfully is an 'Industry report' based on surveys we send out. Usually, I use SurveyMonkey, which I first got familiarized with at Business School back in 2006. Everyone is interested in what their colleagues are thinking about and sending these surveys out can also be a good way to reconnect with customers and prospects.
Another highly effective are of Marketing I've managed over the last 9 years has been events. I have had some great successes in this regard, from the Money Show at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, to the Adobe Marketing Conference in Salt Lake City, to the biggest Cyber Security event in Europe, Infosec.
Not a lot of companies employe rigorous financial analysis to the results here, so I have created an edge in this way. I write more on this subject here. Suffice to say, we've had events that have generated thousands of leads, and business meetings that have gone on the create millions of pounds/dollars in sales.
I particularly like using ZoomInfo to get contact details of attendees in conjunction with using Linkedin inmail (you can download the list of attendee companies into Linkedin and then run targeted adds to the job titles of those you think are going).
Content from blogs can be good. The only problem is that some companies want to 'vet' and control this content as though it was some kind of financial or legal document. The point of blogs is that they are quick and dirty; if the stories have been edited through several rounds of management review, they will rarely be fresh or dynamic anymore. I have developed Ebooks, infographics, Webcasts and slides, which can also be a good source of leads or simply creating additional awareness of your company.
5. Ensure that everyone is on board with it. If they are not, then discuss it, and get to the bottom of the problems. Time and time again I've seen marketing teams get on board with a big project that they had serious concerns about. In certain environments, only the courageous (or stupid!) will give their negative opinions. Once you are certain everyone is on board, then execute the plan relentlessly.
6. Analyse your results regularly, at least once every 3 months and if not effective, pivot. If it's truly disastrous, be honest about it and go back to the drawing board quickly. This is essentially the same idea that I learned in Product Marketing for innovation, the stage gate process
When you do this look at Key financial metrics, like ROMI - Return on Marketing Investment (NPV, IRR, Payback period, etc.. Customer Lifetime Value, Cost per Click, Transaction conversion rate (For B-2-B, numbers of prospects who click on your links who go on to become Sales Qualified Leads).
7. Finally, and most importantly, encourage criticism and make your entire company a safe place to share information and mistakes. You cannot take important calculated risks without making mistakes and you can't learn without them either. If you're not failing then you're not trying hard enough.