When I started out on my own business, it was about creating marketing plans for SME growth. I thought the importance of marketing plans were central to the success of of any business. Without a marketing plan, there is no direction, and with no direction you are a little bit lost. I still believe this is absolutely the case.

What I do now, like all small businesses, has morphed into something else. It’s not just the marketing plans now. Its providing experience and guidance in Marketing, Sales and Business Development for those smaller businesses who don’t need or cant afford a full time director. They still need ‘something’ or ‘someone’ who can make a difference (in a cost-effective way).

I was talking to a small business owner last week who acts as a Sales Consultant for SMEs. She was telling me about the number of clients who have set up a business based on their skills and experience in their own particular field, who then assume that they will be able to manage the Sales and Marketing of that business. But they don’t have the aptitude, skills and experience in those particular disciplines. 

I have experienced the same. Sales and Marketing is often seen as something ‘everyone’ can do. What can happen is the activity is often neglected as the business owner pursues the operational side of the business. They struggle to find leads who they can convert to customers. In this sense, marketing is massively devalued, ultimately impacting sales.

Research of SME’s

There is an interesting study of nearly 250 SME Owner-Managers across a range of sectors made by the ‘Centre for Entrepreneurial Management and Innovation’, that will strike a chord with many. A summary of the Sales and Marketing findings were as follows…

The majority of owner-managers (80%) felt that they had a clear understanding of who their customers are and why they buy from them – this is a great start! I’m not always sure this is the case however. The process always starts with the customer and there are many instances where the understanding of who they are or why they buy is a weakness for business. Its just whether the owner-manager is willing to admit it!

Word of mouth (WOM) was also strong. Many companies state WOM is their main source of new business generation (65% agreed). WOM is great, its the BEST form or marketing and its the cheapest form of marketing. But when a business is starting up and existing customers are thin on the ground, the WOM can be hard to come by.

However, the weakest area for SME’s was their possession of formal marketing plans that they regularly review. Just over half (54%) indicated that they did not have a formal marketing plan. Only 29% said that they did actually possess such a plan. 29% of businesses running without a plan to get business!!

Another interesting question is whether marketing activities were sufficient to create enough qualified leads to allow the sales teams to achieve their targets. Only 30% agreed that this was the case, with 35% saying no and 35% reporting that it was only partially the case. This is why marketing plans are so important.

THE BOLD LETTERS BIT…..An analysis of the relationship between marketing plans and lead generation found a significant relationship between firms that had formal marketing plans and those that were generating good sales leads. 

For example, nearly half the firms (49%) that reported having formal marketing plans also report getting good sales leads from their marketing activity. 

By comparison 50% of the firms that did not have formal marketing plans also report not getting good sales lead generation from their marketing efforts. 

What SME’s say

During the collection of the diagnostic data the owner-managers commented on things that were of concern to them. Many owner-managers lacked the necessary skills and resources to undertake marketing. The following comments are typical: 

“I don’t have a lot of marketing experience. To me, I do a ‘roundabout’ way of marketing and I constantly look at what others are doing”. 

“I could be more targeted in my marketing efforts”. 

“We don’t do any marketing. Our marketing strategy is to do no marketing”. 

“My main problem is time and keeping on top of marketing. Website needs urgent attention as does the email database.” 

“I am branching into a new avenue soon, which will require a level of marketing that I am not currently performing.” 

“We don’t invest sufficient in marketing”. 

“I have no marketing team”. 

“I don’t have the money to invest in a marketing team.” 

Another common theme emerging from the comments was in relation to customers. This related to the need to both attract and retain customers. For example: 

“We have to have new designs frequently to keep customers coming back”. 

“I don’t know if we are reaching all prospective customers.” 

“A problem is not having sufficient recurring customers to increase sales”. 

“Letting customers know that my business is here; settling on my definitive range of products and pricing them accordingly.”

Do you recognise these statements? Of course, its not just small business who experience this. I have worked in Private Equity backed firms and large corporate’s where some of these statements apply just as much. 

What really surprised me is the high level of business owners who know who their customer is, but then fail to get the leads they need.

The need for a plan

It highlights the need for a plan. A plan to go out and find the right customers. A plan that encompasses everything from the brand through to how to find, talk to and retain customers. 

A lot of people don’t know where to start. I empathise completely. I feel the same way about physically building a website, fixing my car or the central heating – wouldn’t know where to start, don’t have the necessary skills or experience , which is why I pick up the phone and call someone to help. No shame in that – not my area of expertise while others do it every day. 

But just the same as everyone needs a website, everyone needs a plan. In fact the plan comes before the website – and is so much more important. 

You might think bringing in someone to write a plan with you is expensive. In my experience, it more than pays for itself. I have worked with so many businesses who are pissing away money on things they don’t need. Sometimes large sums of money paid every month on retainers or advertising commitments that are bringing no benefit.

Cost-savings can be made against spend that is bringing you no benefit and isn’t being measured. Combine that with an increase in quantity and quality of leads and of course, higher conversion and retention. Before you know it, the cost of bringing in a marketing professional more than pays for itself. 

The cost of creating that plan is so small relative to the benefits of having that direction and peace of mind. You should investigate it!

My approach

My business name ‘One Objective’ is built around objective based planning methodology that I have learned and used consistently through my previous career. Within this, the team works to a single achievable objective of where a business (or a marketing team) wants to be and how it is going to get there. One Objective, see what I did there!

Once there is an objective in place, you create series of Goals, the Strategies you need to get there and the Measures you require to ensure we are making progress. The Objective, Goals, Strategies and Measures (OGSM), sit on a single piece of paper and everyone in the team is aware of them. This is the marketing plan that everyone is working to. It links to and supports the wider business goals (sales, profits, costs, awareness, conversion levels, retention etc etc).

The marketing plan also links to the level of resource in the team. Its not a long bucket list of the things that we would love to do in a perfect world. There is a place for that but not in a marketing plan. In fact the market plan starts with the bucket list, which needs to be prioritised and reduced down and linked to the amount of time we have available to actually ‘do stuff’!

The other thing about a marketing plan is the small matter of delivery. My preference, what I really want to do, is work with businesses as a part time marketing director (or a fractional CMO) helping them to create the plan and then to deliver it – so its not just sat in a drawer, gathering dust. That is the difference between bringing in a consultant to write a plan. They give it to you as a shiny report or flashy PowerPoint and then ride away into the distance leaving only a large invoice in their wake. You read the report, realise that you don’t have the resource or expertise in the team to execute it and put it in a drawer. A part-time director resource, helps you create the plan then ensures you can deliver it and be accountable for it.

Contact for help

Obligatory plug or in wanky marketing speak, the ‘call to action’ – if you would like to talk about the benefits of putting together a marketing plan for your business, please get in touch at chris@oneobjective.co.uk or call me on 07551 089754

Chris Perkins is an Outsourced/Part-time/Fractional/Portfolio Marketing Director/CMO, struggling with his own identity, and working with clients usually on a part-time basis, to provide marketing leadership, strategy and direction. If you require further help to manage your brand development, sales/marketing strategy and execution, please email chris@oneobjective.co.uk

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