Karen Parisi is Senior Vice President of Marketing at CentralReach, the leader in EMR and health tech solutions for the ABA industry.
Marketing finally has a seat at the strategic table. Many CEOs now acknowledge marketing’s potential to drive organizational growth and are willing to invest more equitably in sales and marketing.
High-growth companies must learn to balance competing demands for breakneck speed and careful consideration, especially in the early stages of scaling up. This is why hiring a marketing leader is one of the most important decisions your company can make early on. The right CMO or VP of marketing will bring the strategic vision, practical mindset and people skills necessary to take your company to the next level.
If you are that marketing leader, your next moves are critical. Now is the time for you to build a strong foundation for your company’s scale-up plan. Working at organizations across industries and in various stages of maturity, I’ve seen the pitfalls executives fall into in this phase. My recommendation? Always bring it back to the basics. Start with these five steps, going slowly now so you can scale rapidly later on.
1. Don’t expect the ideal from Day 1.
The quickest way for your marketing team to fail is to demand sophistication before you’re ready. By all means, imagine what your ideal marketing strategy looks like, but don’t forget that it will take time to build — and set that expectation with leadership upfront.
You may want to launch a personalized marketing campaign to your entire base, but you can’t just throw marketing dollars at it and expect it to succeed in a few weeks. What foundational marketing systems and strategies do you need to establish first? Who do you need on your team? What is a realistic timeframe for reaching milestones?
Put the ideal on hold temporarily. Define short-term strategies while planning for your ultimate long-term goal to help your team execute successfully over time.
2. Optimize your organizational structure.
When establishing marketing as a revenue driver, your first hires or newly created positions will be critical. Make sure you have the right people in the right roles. Don’t be afraid to detangle the organizational structure that is in place if it will help you achieve your plan, partnering with your CEO and HR to do it successfully.
If marketing isn’t seen as a revenue driver yet, focus on hires that will address this perception. In this scenario, I recommend these strategic hires for your team:
• First, a demand generation and operations leader to start building the pipeline and measurement
• Second, a product marketing leader to establish the framework needed to achieve longer-term revenue goals and establish the organization’s category
• Third, an established PR expert to bring your brand story to life
These additions can happen over the course of a few months or a few years, but in the end, your team members need to reflect your scale-up plan.
3. Measure and learn.
Lack of measurement is a common pitfall in many organizations, but the good news is that it’s fixable.
One enterprise organization I worked with couldn’t tell me some of their most basic marketing KPIs. They couldn’t tie their costs directly to revenue gained or attribute spend with an increase in reach. They were spending money without tracking successes or addressing missteps. Sometimes you get lucky and can rely on your creative gut to guide you, but most of the time, you need hard data.
When measurement is an issue, reduce or, in some cases, halt marketing spend all together. You’ll need a tight alignment with sales and your CEO when you do this to ensure sales is prepared to do more prospecting.
Evaluate your CRM and marketing automation solution. Can it meaningfully track your marketing campaigns? If not, start over. This is where your organizational design work will play a key role. The expertise of your demand generation and operations leader will help you sort out your data and tracking.
Focus on your basic metrics first, such as conversion rates, marketing qualified leads, opportunities, marketing-driven estimated pipeline and ROI of spend. Only after you have the basics down should you get more sophisticated. While I do track MQLs, I tend to focus success criteria on sales qualified leads, opportunities and estimated pipeline. You can generate all the leads in the world, but if they don’t convert, it’s a waste of dollars. Once you get conversion in the right spot, then you can focus on testing ways to expand MQL volumes.
4. Fine-tune your brand story.
Once you can properly measure your marketing, it’s time to optimize the brand story you’re telling. Some of the best organizations have defined themselves so well in the market that the consumer disregards the competition with seemingly minimal intervention. It becomes a no-brainer to choose your organization over another.
Define what makes you different. Why do customers choose you today? Why will they choose you five years from now? Find the right balance of carving out your niche without pigeonholing your organization into its current market.
Remember that your story isn’t fixed; it will evolve over time. Get buy-in from key stakeholders before going all in on each new iteration. Then train, retrain and retrain again to ensure consistent delivery by any of your customer-facing teams, including marketing, sales, customer success and product.
5. Stay flexible.
Many successful marketing leaders have playbooks. If you haven’t created your own yet, make 2021 the year you do. But also recognize that your playbook has to be fluid based on new findings. Actively document your successes and failures, no matter how busy you get, so you can remain agile. Understand and update your playbook, and know when to pivot away from it. Research innovative marketing methodologies that can help you evolve your strategies for the better.
Your organization needs a best-in-class marketing function to support its growth, and it doesn’t have to be overly complicated to build. To be successful, start with the foundational elements, do each step thoughtfully and don’t try to skip ahead.