What Tech and Professional Services CEOs Should Expect from Marketing

Earlier this year, I met with a CEO of a growing professional services firm in the enterprise software space. He requested the meeting because he was looking to double the size of his company from around $25 million to $50 million by 2018 and was searching for new go-to-market ideas.

When we met, he said he raised the question to the two people on his marketing team and didn’t get the strategic thinking he was hoping to get. Most of their answers circled around increasing social media activity and perhaps attending some additional shows. While he was okay with their social media and digital efforts, he said he was looking for more insights that would be in line with the business goals.

I’ve worked with hundreds of tech and professional services CEOs to develop and execute smart and effective go-to-market plans for their companies. We usually get engaged when the firm decides to grow either by (a) bringing their existing products or services to new markets or by (b) finding new markets for their products or services. Often, we get called when they expand their sales force and need a more effective marketing strategy to support the larger team. I’ve gotten to understand how they think about what Marketing should be doing for their firms.

I was reminded of the aforementioned meeting recently when I participated in a roundtable discussion on B2B and enterprise sales and marketing strategy. One of the attendees, a marketing vice president at a mid-sized tech company, asked why CEOs don’t seem to “get” the value of marketing, or for that matter–sales. People around the table nodded in agreement.

I recalled an experience I had 15 years ago when I first launched DIAMOND Marketing. I was meeting with as many people as possible to communicate the angle I was trying to bring to the market with my new marketing consulting firm. I met with a tech-savvy CEO whom I had worked with when I was at Apple Computer. This gentleman had successfully managed a few world-class sales organizations and launched two successful startups. I spent 30 minutes discussing how I was going to help tech companies launch successful products into new markets. I discussed a new approach I had developed to help companies truly get a grip on their competitors. I also discussed market penetration ideas to tap into new markets. It was pretty compelling stuff, I thought.

After I finished, he looked straight at me, shrugged, and said, “I could probably use some help with my PowerPoints.”

In my head I thought, “Didn’t you hear the McKinsey-level market planning and execution services I would offer growing tech and professional services firms? All you heard was that I could clean up some slides for you?”

However, I nodded contemplatively and replied, “Happy to help you out.” It was an interaction that changed my approach for the next 12 years.

It clued me in that the majority of my tech company CEO clients are engineers, software developers, analysts, scientists, and technologists. Here’s what I’ve learned about them over the years:

  • They’re left-brain thinkers.
  • They think in terms of analytics, numbers, and quantifiable results.
  • They measure activities throughout the organization that will impact the business.
  • They want well-thought-out strategies that will move the business forward.
  • They want to grow their business and sell more.
  • They want results.

I’ve also learned that they’re willing to invest in Marketing if the outcome is quantifiable and in line with the goal of the organization. And I’m not talking about entry-level logo creation or some simple data sheets that the CEO’s niece created. This means that the marketing activities must focus on helping the organization in the following four areas.

Reach the Revenue Goals

Marketing should be clear in how it will help drive the top line that management has set for its goal. It could be going from $3 million to $7 million; $20 million to $50 million; or $250 million to a billion. I’ve worked with companies all across that range. The top line is always set and Marketing must be clear that everything they are working on will help reach that goal. The revenue goal may be out in the distance, and it may be quite audacious, but if Marketing is not communicating that they are acting in line with that goal, the value of their activities are limited and just seen as an expense.

Grow Market Share

The goal of growing share from 5 percent to 7 percent will help the marketer determine smarter programs to develop. In many cases, though, market share is unknown. In those cases, having a customer acquisition goal will help the marketer create the right programs, such as add 15 new enterprise customers or two new powerful channel partners.

Other Sales Goals

We’ve established that marketers need to think in terms of revenue growth, but there are other sales goals they should be developing strategies to support. Perhaps it is to help the firm win larger deals or accounts. Maybe it’s to help accelerate growth into a new market or two. The goal could also be to help accelerate growth at the firm’s largest account.

Other Business Goals

The marketer needs to be aware of where the CEO wants to take the company, so other business goals to know about might include geographical expansion, acquisitions, or new product introductions. Marketing can assist by leading efforts to position the company where it wants to go.

When I was early on in my marketing career, I wasted a lot of cycles trying to show the executives I supported the value of marketing. I learned to shift my thinking to suit the results needed from the above four categories. When I moved into consulting and took on roles as the outsourced marketing leader for many companies, the four categories above drove all of my thinking and actions. Marketers need to know that those are what the CEOs they serve think about and expect them to support. Once that happens, they can truly deliver value to their leadership.

Fred Diamond is the top go-to-market strategy consultant and execution expert to tech and professional services companies in the Mid-Atlantic region. He is also the co-founder of the Institute for Excellence in Sales.

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