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Small Business Marketing Leadership

What Is It, And Where To Start?

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Small Business marketing leadership is not about building websites or being an expert at marketing tactics. It’s about being clear on your purpose and being committed to achieving it through others.

Just like any leadership role, marketing leadership is about having a vision, a mission and a clear sense of purpose. It involves enrolling people into your vision, directing and course-correcting their efforts along the way.

The challenge for many small business owners is they lack a clear vision for sales and marketing. They often try to delegate their leadership role without providing a mandate or direction. The results are predictably dismal.

It’s not that you can’t delegate leadership, you can. The problem is you need to delegate leadership to another leader, not a technician. Abdicating your marketing leadership to a junior staff or a vendor rarely gets the job done. It’s often a recipe for disaster.

Since it’s challenging to delegate something you don’t understand, let’s start by clarifying the role.

Stages Of Marketing Leadership

There are three stages to marketing leadership. The first is The Design Stage. This is where you get clear on your mission, vision, values, branding, positioning, and define your value ladder, goals, constraints and more. You develop plans and forecast results to help make sound marketing investment decisions.

Next is The Build Stage. This is where you build a team and create your marketing content, develop business processes, procedures and implement the technology that enables you to market and sell at scale.

Finally, The Grow Stage is where you put your planning and marketing infrastructure to use. You promote your business through sales, search marketing, online advertising, events, shows or whatever you’ve planned for. This stage is a perpetual cycle of pre-campaign planning, running campaigns, post-campaign analysis and continuous performance improvements.

The skills involved and who you need to be as a leader in each stage of your marketing program, evolve with your business.

You need classic human leadership skills as well as an understanding of the requirements in each stage of your marketing program development.

Marketing leadership is not about selecting and implementing the next marketing tactic. It is about defining the customer-facing, profit-generating, front-end of your business. For a deep dive into what’s involved in marketing leadership and program development, we’ve just published a book on the subject called Mastering Marketing.

What Normally Happens?

In the big-budget world of consumer products marketing, where companies invest millions, there’s an executive team directing the marketing program. There’s a Chief Marketing Officer, a VP Sales, a Creative Director, a Copy Director, a Technical Director and a Chief Information Officer. Not to mention a small army of creative and technical experts.

In the small business world, the reality is quite different. The business owner and leadership team do their best, often with junior staff and some contractors. They are often driven by urgency, focused on promotional tactics and spending as little as they can. The focus is putting out fires and controlling costs rather than investing strategically in earnings growth.

The Small Business Reality

Unfortunately, small businesses can rarely afford or attract a Chief Commerical Officer or a Chief Marketing Officer or any of the other marketing leaders to guide and direct investments.

Often the only viable alternative is to take on the role of marketing leadership yourself. This does not mean you do all the marketing. It means you create a vision, define your success criteria and become the sponsor and the champion of the cause. Most importantly, you need to articulate your vision to your team.

How Do You Create Your Vision?

There are several options available. You can become a student of marketing. You can engage a marketing coach or a fractional CCO / CMO to guide you. You can engage a consulting firm, enroll a mentor or build an external board of directors. Whatever path you choose, know that it’s up to you to take the role on.

What Happens Without Marketing Leadership?

The most common scenario is what we refer to as Random Acts of Marketing. This is where there is no real plan and marketing is treated like a “to-do list” of independent tactics. It looks and feels like putting out fires or a game of Whack-a-Mole.

It often goes something like this: We need a website – Check. We need to be on Facebook – Check. We need a LinkedIn Profile – Check. Oh, there is a trade show up next and we need a display – Check. It’s one continuous stream of reacting to urgencies.

Who has time to measure results and learn from past campaigns when we don’t know how and we’re busy racing to implement the next “wish and a prayer” tactic or dousing the latest fire?

Without marketing leadership, marketing can become a series of painful lessons in what not to do. Eventually, people run out of money and their optimism turns to frustration and apathy.

Making The Shift

Taking on the leadership role in marketing is not as onerous as it sounds. It’s not far removed from the role of owner or executive director. What’s required is an understanding of the business and its mandate to customers, your competitive positioning, the value of a sale and the lifetime value of a customer relationship.

It requires a shift in focus onto your customer’s experience, as you choreograph their journey through your business. Each successful relationship developed is a new profit centre driving earnings growth.

Your biggest obstacle is not technical, it’s not knowing what customer experience you need to create.

What’s The Answer?

There are four things you need to take on:

  1. Recognize the three stages of development (Design, Build and Grow)
  2. Start viewing marketing as your system to reach, engage, and enroll people over time
  3. Develop a big-picture program view and champion the system development
  4. Get some guidance and direction on marketing leadership

Your system needs to work from first introduction, through completed transactions, all the way to repeat and loyal clients. The system needs to be reliable, scalable and deliver feedback on its effectiveness.

You can’t delegate this role to your vendors or to a junior manager. It takes a leader to bring your vision into being.

Marketing is not a series of one-off projects. Marketing is the development and management of the customer-facing half of your business.

Where To Start?

You begin by accepting the marketing leadership role. You’ll need to define your target customers and your competitive positioning in terms of the experience you seek to create for clients. You need to develop a vision for sales and marketing beyond your first sale and the latest marketing tactics.

Once you’ve defined your vision, you’ll need to build a team to help you bring your program to life and operate it over time.

Don’t think you need to be a big company or that all this needs to happen overnight. You can do this work as a solopreneur. Also realise that even large companies take years to design, implement and refine their programs.

What’s important is that you accept and take on the role. Once you do, you’ll find there’s help available along the way. You’ll also find your process accelerates once you get over the philosophical hurdles and your resistance to taking this work on.

To get you started and flatten your learning curve, we’ve prepared a series of Free Marketing Leadership eBooks. Once you’ve had a read and understand what’s involved, you’ll be ready to Make The Shift and take on the role of marketing leadership.

About the Author

John Watson is the president of Accrue Performance Marketing and the author of Mastering Marketing, the Being Profitable Program, several ebooks and an avid blogger. He serves as a sales and marketing coach and fractional Chief Marketing Officer for companies that cannot yet justify a full-time CMO. He's focused on helping startups and growth-focused companies develop powerful brands, customer-centric websites, sales leads and complete commercialization programs.

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