Part 2: The Changing Marketing Needs of Growing Small Businesses
In part 1, we discussed the importance of defining the specific expectations and responsibilities for those in charge of marketing at small businesses — and noted those expectations and responsibilities will undoubtedly change as the business grows and its needs evolve. In this post, we’ll examine what types of marketing roles tend to be essential as businesses start out, find their footing and begin growing.
There are numerous models charting the typical growth patterns for business. For the purposes of this topic, we’ll use the simple, small business-focused trajectory below:
NOTE: what follows is not intended to be a comprehensive roadmap applicable to all businesses; these are simply our observations based on our experience as an agency focused on helping small B2B businesses. (Read: if you disagree with me, well, you know, that’s like your opinion, man.)
- What’s happening: You’ve developed a product or service (or at least a prototype) that looks promising, and now you’re just beginning to dip your toe in the market. In this stage, you’re trying to determine if you really have something worth offering — and if you do, who will make up your target market, how big the opportunity is and what your market actually wants.
- Marketing needs: The primary marketing need here is market research — the collection of feedback about your market and your offering. How big is the market, who are they and how do they make decisions? What do they like/dislike about your offering? Why would they choose you over your competitors? How much will they pay for it? The more information collected here, the better.
- Who owns marketing: Without the need for extensive marketing execution, the founder typically owns marketing in the inception stage.
- What’s happening: In the testing stage, you’ve determined your product or service appears to be viable as you’ve gained a handful of customers, and you now have a basic understanding of your target market. You’ve also grown from one or two people to a business with a dedicated salesperson, because the business can no longer grow without sales.
- Marketing needs: There’s usually a need for at least some basic branding at this stage — logo, some form of messaging or elevator pitch, maybe a brochure-style website — to give some level of identity and credibility to your business venture. At this stage, the most critical piece of marketing is creating a dialogue with customers so you continue refining your understanding of the market and how your offering fits in.
- Who owns marketing: Unless there’s enough funding to come out of the gate with marketing resources, the founder is likely still owning marketing at this stage — along with pretty much everything else. Marketing tasks like the logo and website are often outsourced to freelance designers and developers (and no, your sister’s teenage son who “dabbles in websites” isn’t a good option here.)
- What’s happening: Up until now your new business development has been purely relationship-based with new customers finding you through referrals and existing contacts. Sales has taken a scattershot approach to growing your customer roster by trying anything, talking to anyone and taking any price it can get. Now, you’re looking to get more targeted so you can hit more aggressive goals.
- Marketing needs: To hit these goals, you need a strategy to focus your sales efforts and simultaneously build more awareness and demand so leads start finding you. To succeed, that strategy needs to be built on market and competitive research which informs a smart approach to positioning, messaging and channels. Furthermore, the plan must be carried out by a team that can move fast, capitalizing on quick wins and taking an agile approach to testing and optimization so the business starts building momentum (and revenue).
- Who owns marketing: Marketing decisions often fall to either the owner or the Director of Sales at this stage, while work like marketing strategy development and implementation is frequently outsourced to a marketing agency or consultant. In other cases, the agency may own marketing at this stage.
- What’s happening: The business has hit its initial revenue and new business goals. Now, as the customers multiply, so do the challenges. The growing list of responsibilities can no longer fall on the shoulders of a few key people, so the business must focus on hiring, training and scaling.
- Marketing needs: This stage is where marketing automation and sales enablement go from nice-to-have to crucial. With a good marketing automation program in place, the marketing and sales teams can scale campaigns and communications without creating a crippling workload for themselves. And, with sales training and enablement, the sales and marketing teams can streamline processes, reduce friction and improve conversion rates.
- Who owns marketing: We see some variation at this stage, but often there’s some sharing of the load. For example, the Director of Sales and Marketing might own strategy while the agency owns commercialization and the CEO focuses on P&L. This type of coordination can work, as long as the roles are clearly defined and each member owns the right metrics. (For more on this, see part 1 of this series.)
While small businesses in the early stages of growth may be able to get away with a more fluid, ambiguous division of responsibilities, clear roles and expectations become increasingly critical as the company scales and accountability becomes less centralized.
In the third installment, we’ll dig into common pitfalls small businesses encounter when marketing without a CMO.