What’s better than right place, right time, right message? Trusted Advisor Status, because then when it is the right time, they will come looking for you. Not your company…you. We all know to do our homework, but I am here to tell you that if necessary the best marketers will do their client’s homework too.
If failure is not an option, you need to do whatever it takes to make informed decisions on your client’s behalf and to help them understand why you are making the recommendations you are. After all, their success is your success, and their failure is your failure. When you start thinking in terms outlined below you will have a better understanding of your client’s business in every setting and meeting moving forward. You become a trusted advisor, not only regarding your services, or industry trends, but regarding their business, and their greedy needs. If you are able to address the greedy needs of every key stakeholder as your roll out your programs, they are going to get behind you. The client contact you are working with every day may not know this stuff, but their executives holding the purse strings think this way so you had better be prepared to discuss your activities in the context they will understand and appreciate.
If you are an above average marketer, you think through your process from beginning to end before you ever lift a finger to execute marketing activities for your own company. You already know your own gatekeepers, naysayers, and champions. You know your company’s culture and capabilities, SWOT, KPIs, sales, and fulfillment capabilities. You know your customers, personas, buying journey, and even which of your reps can handle complex sales and which cannot. Since you know all the important details regarding your own business’ internal and external environment, you are in a good position to market your company. Sometimes it may feel like you are doing so intuitively. It is easier to be “intuitive” when you have all the necessary information. The official term for this process is, conducting a “situational analysis.” It is part of your strategic planning process. Simply put, you also have to gather all the internal and external factors that may blindside your marketing efforts for your client’s company same as you would if you were marketing for your own company.
Sometimes in quarterly reviews, you will hear marketing managers suggest that the things that caused their campaign or program to fail could not have been anticipated. Yes, they could have been anticipated, and worse if they do not stop and go back to gather situational analysis information they are probably going to run into similar failures moving forward for a lot of the same reasons. That is what we are going to talk about here.
Conducting Situational Analysis
Most marketing consulting firms have standard checklists they send over to help capture this information. They know it is important to capture but usually will not spend a lot of effort collecting it (time is money). Unfortunately, your average employee at any company does not stay current on these metrics because they do not appear to affect their daily job, so it is likely no one you are talking with will have all of these answers unless their marketing team is already staying on top of it. If their internal marketing team already thinks this way, they would probably not need your help. Even if they do know this information they will not have your context to connect important dots. You will have to help them. Most employees do not think about that stuff; it does not seem like their job to have that view. It is yours. When it comes time to collect (the information you need to do your job) they will make excuses, whine, complain, suggest they are not going to do your job for you, etc.
Get the information even if you have to do it all yourself. You will not regret it! Whatever information and insights you imagine you need to market for yourself, you will also need regarding your client’s circumstances as well, it just makes sense. That means you will have to go online and research their company on a site like hoovers.com or Yahoo financial. These sites will also help you read their financials and provide insights you may not have caught on your own. They will list financials, competitors, and recent news that may affect your efforts as well. Next, you can read any publically traded company’s quarterly and annual reports here: https://www.sec.gov/fast-answers/answers-form10khtm.html for very deep insights like KPIs and executive salaries. This will help you see the decisions their company is making at a high level. These decisions do not have to be a mystery; the information is all there if you know how to read it.
Real Life Example
I recently got a call from a young friend doing marketing for his company’s reseller partners. He worked for a Fortune 500 marketing team. He wanted me to help him brainstorm some new demand generation activities to recommend to one of their largest reseller partners. His programs required joint funding so he needed to pitch his ideas at an upcoming quarterly business review (QBR) to obtain funding. My programs were doing great so he asked me to share some ideas with him. I appreciate his faith in my results, but those results are because of proven processes, and the first step is to do my homework.
I started asking him the kinds of questions I would have asked his client. Without the big picture, anything we create could be hit or miss and could fail for any number of reasons not presently identified. He is working with low-level marketers at their firm, but the QBR is with executives who do know all this stuff. I suggested he better know it too.
I asked him what he knew about the partners KPIs, SWOT, mission statement, current go-to-market activities compared to his client’s competition. How do their sales reps receive leads, are they tracked after the marketing handoff, what is going on in their industry, have they created their customer personas, do they know their buyer’s journey, how does their client currently go to market, their budget, how they measure success, ROI measuring tools, timing, their bandwidth to accept new leads, upcoming announcements, events, sales rep’s ability to field different types of leads? And a dozen other questions that needed answering (tactically and strategically) before he should attempt to recommend anything. Once he obtained the big picture and allowed me a few hours to study it, I would be happy to recommend activities with a high likelihood of success.
I saw from his face that my friend thought I was just being a dick or didn’t want to give him ideas. He was not happy that I gave him homework when all he wanted was a few wiz-bang marketing ideas. There are infinite ways to market, but only one chance to start correctly out of the gate. The more work you put into your preparation, the less work you will have to put into this account every day and every project moving forward. Every meeting and every conversation after you obtain this insight will have a much higher rate of success.
In summary here is what I was asking him to put together:
From Principles of Marketing v2.0 by Jeff Tanner and Mary Anne Raymond.
He answered that he had not talked with his customer about “any of this stuff” (see my field of dreams marketing blog). They had asked him to present some ideas and he wanted to do that. He was working for them and was not comfortable giving an assignment to the client. I think his client was being lazy and he was being lazy, either that or stupid. I understand that it is not easy, but it is the most important part of my process and to what I attribute any small success of my own activities to. I am not willing to throw out ideas even ones that were wildly successful for other clients because depending on the client, the same idea may not work at their company.
Below Is a simple flowchart showing the steps in creating a Marketing Plan that I borrowed from the book, Principles of Marketing v2.0 by Jeff Tanner and Mary Anne Raymond.
See the big red box all the arrows are pointing to? That is the part I am specifically talking about here that many marketers skip because it does not seem relevant, or is just too much work. I am here to tell you, three hours on this before you begin, will save you untold hours of work producing hit or miss activities moving forward.
From Principles of Marketing v2.0 by Jeff Tanner and Mary Anne Raymond.
I have also noticed that in the process of helping you collecting this information about their company, your contact will also develop a deeper understanding of what you together should be trying to accomplish. You will have better conversations and better results. Moving forward whatever you develop for them will already have this going for it. I gave my friend a few basic templates to fill out that I found online and suggested he get on a call with the partner to discuss these items before he even starts thinking about go-to-market activities.
I told him that once he puts some basic information together and spends an hour studying it himself, good ideas would start to make themselves known. He will have the context needed to design a truly amazing activity that fits the client’s culture and capabilities.
The best part of this story (bet you saw this coming) is that after my friend and his client started working together to answer the long list of questions, discussed marketing and non-marketing elements that could affect their strategy, talked about the partner’s clients, reps, sales and all…they didn’t need me anymore. I got an email that several great ideas came to them while completing the forms, and my input was no longer needed. Yay! Thought him to fish instead of giving him a fish. He may still think I’m a dick, but he can do a better job now.
Free Download “Principles of Marketing v2.0”
So what was in the list of questions? Nothing magical. For a deeper dive into the process, here is an easy read that provides much more context and detail about this (and other marketing best practices) than I can go into here. You can download it as a pdf for free here (normally sells for $75): Principles of Marketing v2.0 by Jeff Tanner and Mary Anne Raymond.
Probably the same stuff that you would have put on your list right? Whatever it takes to get a foundational understanding of your client’s important metrics from your client’s perspective is helpful here. The conversations your list evokes is the real magic, not the questions themselves. Get clear on their company goals, culture, mission statements, value prop, KPIs, SWOT, sales process, current tools, existing collateral, customer persona, journey of customers, existing analytics (or lack of), so many great “connect the dots” ideas will arise. When you start talking about what they have tried, what their competition is doing, what has run them afoul before, you often will have many great ideas filtering up. Give it a couple days for your subconscious to work on it and make sure you keep a notepad by your bed because great ideas are going to make themselves known. Be ready to catch them. Creativity happens when it happens. With research, you can lay the foundation for your inspiration’s success.
Maybe your client’s internal marketing team has already have done a great job of gathering and providing this information (probably for their investor’s page). Maybe you have to think about your questions and put some together that are relevant in addition to what you find. The information itself is crucial, but it was more important that they got together to talk and have that “big picture” perspective in place before trying to come up with any ideas. Honestly, when you get talking with them, they will not know many of these answers themselves. They should, most don’t, you need to. You will likely need input from several folks there to get enough of a picture to have solutions start presenting themselves to you. Learn enough about their business and strategy so that when you add your marketing perspective into the mix, you become an extremely valuable resource and made privy to conversations their “marketing firm” would normally never have access to. There are a thousand paths to success, and they are all dependant on this information.
Trusted Advisor status is a responsibility
What’s better than people finding your amazing content online and following it back to your landing pages? Them picking up the phone and calling you because they know you are actually able to help them. Understanding their business like you do, you are probably the best person to go to for insight and perspective about their company and situation as it applies to marketing. Your outsider perspective plus your marketing expertise makes you a very valuable resource. People come to you when they believe you understand them and sincerely want to help them. The checklist will show them you are willing to do the work to understand them. Your conversations afterward will prove it. Deserve that trust. First, strive to understand aspects of their business that are important to success better than they understand them, then use your expertise to always advise them honestly, even when it is not advantageous to your sale. You may lose sales that are not the best fit for your company, but you will win all of the deals that are. It makes for more human relationships and leads to mutual success.
With inbound marketing, your goal is to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right message. However, add a face they trust, and a voice they can talk to when they really need someone, and you have advanced your relationship way past “right place right time.” They will come looking for you specifically next time they have a problem. These people are not nearly as likely to go ask a bunch of “professional” strangers online (with hidden, but obvious agendas). They are going to move heaven and earth to find you specifically.
What’s that worth to your customers, your company, to your career?