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What Is A Marketing System?

And Why Should You Care?

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Before I write an article, I always conduct keyword research to make sure I’m using the right terminology. I want to use the words real people use to find things. In this case, when I went to lookup Marketing Systems or Systematic Selling, I found very few people looking up anything of the sort.

I expanded my search and looked up Selling Systems – not much there. Business Development Systems – nope. Marketing Process Mapping – nada. Rather than the thousands of searches per month I usually find, I saw 2, and 3-digit counts. Marketing Automation with 5,400 searches per month appeared to be the only search term representing an interest in marketing systems. I wager the people searching for Marketing Automation are more eCommerce focused than your average business owner.

Marketing Plan gets 18,100 searches per month and Strategic Marketing Plan gets 8,100. Clearly there is demand for help with marketing. I am not, however, seeing the average business owner engaged in the marketing systems conversation, yet.

Why The Lack of Interest?

Every business owner wants a return on their marketing investment. They want sales from new and existing customers. So where is the interest in making the sales and marketing process effective? Marketing Analytics gets 4,400 searches per month, so we know people are at least interested in improving performance.

Here’s the thing. To make any sense of the raw marketing analytics data, you need to start thinking about systems and the customer’s journey. Without the context of the system, it’s difficult to make performance improvements.

Performance and Efficiency Basics

Our routines, processes and systems are what make us productive and effective. The industrial revolution showed us all the power of business processes and assembly lines. So, where’s the conversation about marketing systems development?

My theory is that people are still looking at marketing from a task, project, and campaign perspective. Taking the next step and recognizing sales and marketing in system terms requires a mental leap. Sure, the eCommerce folks get it and we all hear about big data and the information economy, but how far have these practices trickled down? The search statistics indicate we have a long way to go.

Let’s Start With a Few Definitions

Systems theory “…analyzes a phenomenon seen as a whole and not as simply the sum of elementary parts. The focus is on the interactions and on the relationships between parts in order to understand an entity’s organization, functioning and outcomes.” A Brief Review of Systems Theories and Their Managerial Applications.

What is a System?

The Business Dictionary defines Systems as: “… (a) inputs, outputs and feedback mechanisms, (b) maintain an internal steady-state despite a changing external environment, (c) display properties that are different than the whole (called emergent properties) but are not possessed by any of the individual elements, and (d) have boundaries that are usually defined by the system observer.”

What is a Sales and Marketing System?

In simple terms, your marketing system is your repeatable process for initiating and developing client relationships to maximize lifetime value. I prefer to focus on the purpose of the system rather than the component activities. The purpose of a marketing system is to develop long-term client relationships, maximize lifetime value and drive earnings growth.

Let’s Break Marketing Systems Down

You can break a marketing system down into a series of macro stages or cycles to setup and optimize. These stages include:

  • Reaching or helping people discover you
  • Engaging prospects in relevant conversations
  • Enrolling people and helping them take constructive actions (resulting in sales)
  • Serving and retaining people as repeat customers
  • Developing long-term client relationships

This is an over-simplification, but you get the idea. There are several customer-facing macro stages in the process that fit together as a system. Each stage may involve several activities, recurring campaigns, and support technologies. Each of which can perform well or poorly. They either create value, or they cost you money.

Think about all the activities and subsystems necessary to initiate and nurture client relationships over several years. This is the system business owners need to set up and manage. Why? Because it’s how you grow your business and achieve financial goals.

How Are Sales and Marketing Managed Now?

Generally, sales and marketing get treated as tasks, projects, or campaigns. It’s not wrong, it’s actually the easiest and most pragmatic way to get things done. Unfortunately, the focus ends up being the completion of each task, out of context with its role and purpose within the system.

Independent Tasks and Activities

Independent tasks are the most granular components. They are the nuts and bolts of the system. There are 100’s if not 1000’s of them. Each with the potential of being made-to-purpose or generic parts for someone else to sort out how they fit. Think about your logo, your tagline, an individual blog post, a sales call, a networking meeting, a hero shot or an advertisement. They are generally random bits and pieces of your marketing toolkit, that can be stitched together in several different ways.

Marketing Projects

Marketing projects involve stitching many nuts and bolt components together into larger and more complex tools. Websites, brochures, videos/animations, and setting up CRM software are good examples.

Marketing Campaigns

Campaigns are the next level of complexity. They generally involve several projects that work together to produce a result. They are often cyclical in nature. Driving traffic to a sales-focused website, old school catalogue mailings, tradeshows and fundraising drives are all good examples of campaigns. You might have dozens of campaigns running at the same time focused on different objectives.

An Earnings Growth Program

This is the global or systemic view of how all the activities, projects and campaigns work together to achieve strategic objectives. You can think about it as analogous to net worth management in financial terms.

Its purpose is to align and harmonize all the nested parts. It is the C-level management view of your sales and marketing investments combined with how you are managing and developing customer relationship assets.

Where Are You Operating?

The most common answer is at the task and/or project level. We affectionately call this being engaged in Random Acts of Marketing. It’s characterized by sales and marketing busyness. There might be a lot of activity, but it generally amounts to very little in terms of tangible results.

Why? Because there is no clear purpose, stated objectives, performance measurement or continuous improvement involved. Hope is the strategy and things are begrudgingly financed out of discretionary funds. Throwing spaghetti against the wall is another common metaphor for what normally happens.

How Do You Make The Shift?

Fortunately, making the shift to a systems approach is not as onerous as you might think. It is more of a paradigm shift than anything. It mostly involves shifting your perspective and viewing all the nuts and bolts as components with a defined role to play within your system.

If there’s no clear role for a component, it gets axed from the roster. Once a role and purpose are defined, you establish performance criteria for each stage in the system as well as the system as a whole. Once your system is working and you can measure its performance, you start the tuning and refinement process.

You’re Not Spending Money on Marketing

Building and optimizing your front-end business system to maximize earnings growth is an entirely different proposition.

You shift your focus from spending money on random activities, to investing in optimizing your customer’s journey through your business. You’re constantly monitoring your system and investing wherever you’ll get the biggest lift in performance.

Systems Are Not a Big Business Only Proposition

There is nothing preventing small business owners from taking a systems view of their sales and marketing function. There’s no calculus involved. The system requirements are all accessible to small businesses. The only barrier is you changing how you think about sales and marketing.

The rest happens a little at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are marketing systems and earnings growth programs. What you do is make sure you’re always “starting with the end in mind”, allocating marketing resources strategically, measuring your KPIs and working to optimize performance. The alternative is endless waste on the random acts of marketing treadmill.

Where to Begin?

To get you started, we’ve prepared a series of free eBooks and a book called Mastering Marketing. Mastering Marketing breaks the marketing system down into three phases and twenty logical steps. The goal is to help you see marketing as a system and understand how it works. We’ve also prepared several articles to help you Make The Shift.

About the Author

John Watson is the president of Accrue Performance Marketing. John is an author, sales and marketing coach and strategist who lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He's consulted to start-ups, business owners and corporate executives since 1993. John's passions include entrepreneurship, digital marketing and customer data analysis, leadership and personal development, writing and photography.

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