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How to Remove “There is No Budget” as an Obstacle to Exceptional Marketing Performance

One of the biggest cop-outs in technology marketing is falling back on the excuse of “we don’t have budget for that.” We think that marketers who learn to eliminate that expression from their lexicon will be more successful–and happier. Furthermore, they will make the CEOs and sales leaders they support more confident that their marketing leaders know how to make things happen and have the company’s best interests at heart.

Now the purpose of this blog is not to justify the need to spend money on marketing activities just for the sake of spending money. Clearly, tech marketers need to be creative, resourceful, and thrifty. What we are talking about is how to eliminate the lamest excuse for not investing in a potentially company-shifting marketing or sales initiative because the program was simply not budgeted for.

We both have had experiences in our careers that made us realize how impotent the words “we have no budget” have made us feel as professionals marketers. We’ll share those impactful experiences in this blog.

Top marketers need to be on the constant lookout for ideas that will help drive the company’s business. And, this should not stop when budgets are set and the planning has completed. When new ideas occur during the year, even though marketers may not have funds allocated in the marketing budget, there is probably money somewhere in the company that is accessible. We’ve seen too many marketers not take chances on programs or ideas that could be instrumental in helping their firms reach and exceed their goals because funds were not officially allocated.

This just doesn’t apply to large companies. In fact, it’s rather absurd to hear marketers at large companies, let alone small to midsize ones, falling back on the “no budget” excuse to not try something new and important particularly when their company has revenue flowing in. True, companies do cut budgets mid-year and often marketers don’t get as much as they requested. And, in most small to midsized companies, there is no budget to begin with. But trust us – there’s usually money to do what’s right, even after marketing funds have been slashed.

A technology marketer’s primary challenge is managing resources while making organizational priorities happen. There have always been and will continue to be hundreds of creative, clever ways to spend valuable time, energy and resources promoting solutions to the market. For example, the two of us have spent millions on old-school tactics such as print advertising, trade shows, and direct mail.

Today’s marketing spend “opportunities” can include search engine strategies, events, and online promotions. The best marketing leaders figure out which make the most sense to do to move the business forward, and for what cost. And, of course, they know how to execute flawlessly.

Now, most marketing tactics are risky, and even the “slam dunks” come with risk. The demand to prove return on investment (ROI) can stifle even the shrewdest marketer from moving forward with marketing tactics that might have indeterminable return, even as part of a strong, deeply thought-out campaign. Exceptional marketers fight for what they need to help their companies achieve their mission, and great ideas might present themselves after the yearly funds have been set.

HOW FRED FOUND CASH TO FUND A PROGRAM THAT HELPED THE COMPANY BLOW OUT ITS NUMBERS

The realization that “I have no budget” was a limiting approach to take for Fred occurred when he was a marketing director for Compaq Computer Corporation. The company frequently slashed marketing budgets in the fall (fiscal year started on January 1). However, programs were often committed in the first part of the year. One year, the company launched a major initiative to promote its server products to the public sector markets. The campaign would cost in the low six figures and featured a mix of targeted case studies, local events, and partner initiatives.

When the budget was set in place in early January after the business case was made, the commitments to strategic marketing partners were confirmed.

However, in mid-August, the marketing departments around the company were told to stop all spending and cancel all commitments through the end of the year. This would have squelched much of the momentum the campaign had generated in helping the firm move into the new markets. Even though budgets were eliminated, it was confirmed that moving into these new markets was a top ten priority for the firm.

After meeting with select vendors (not all of them made the cut) and negotiating lower prices for their services, Fred went to his division’s president and made a sound business case. Miraculously, even though budgets were reduced to zero, the division’s president approved the spend and quickly found the money. The programs continued unabated and helped the division reach its revenue goals.

DEBBIE’S REALIZATION AND PASSION FOR STORYTELLING HELPED HER COMPANY CEMENT ITS LEADERSHIP POSITION

Throughout Debbie’s tenure at Texas Instruments, marketing budgets were constantly being “reevaluated.” Often, the first programs to be impacted by reductions were events. Originally slated at twelve to fifteen trade shows per year, the number eventually whittled down to five or six.

Yet, there was always one annual event, the mobile industry’s largest event of the year that needed its case to be made every budget cycle. While there was clearly pressure to prove ROI on event participation — whether through customer meetings, marketing leads or media coverage — being able communicate a story around those metrics was the real mission. As any keen marketer can appreciate, storytelling should always be employed as a marketing strategy precisely because it does not require money. It simply requires ingenuity, imagination and an ability to put information in a “relatable” context.

In this case, and due to the hyper competitiveness of the wireless infrastructure and mobile markets, vendors were often said to be “exiting” the space if their presence at a key industry event was scaled back or eliminated. So, in addition to relating prior years’ results and keeping the metrics close at hand, building a compelling story around why not participating at an event might negatively impact the company’s market perception was the approach used in this case. As a result, participation at the event continued for the next few years and ultimately helped the company cement its leadership position, boost customer loyalty, and uncover new opportunities.

THREE THINGS TO DO TO GET MARKETING PROGRAMS FUNDED AFTER BUDGETS ARE CUT

So, what three things can modern marketers do to stick to their guns, lobby for what they believe in, and help their companies achieve their mission?

  1. Secure an advocate: Once you’ve found something that is worth investing in, set up a meeting with your manager to discuss your ideas. If there’s general agreement that it’s an important initiative – and enough to move the dial — document the program from A to Z. A “proof of plan” document should include an overview of the program, details around who will be responsible for what, and what the investment and anticipated returns will be. With an advocate in the C-suite and a documented plan, 80 percent of the hard work is done.
  2. Focus on outcomes: Remember the golden rule of marketing: only make the case for a program if it drives toward a measurable outcome. Whether that outcome is brand awareness, press coverage, customer leads or booked meetings, all marketing programs should be designed to lead to a specific outcome. While it may take different paths to get there, you still need to be able to financially justify your investment.
  3. Test frequently (and fail fast): While there is certainly risk associated with testing out new ideas that have not been budgeted, it’s imperative to embrace the spirit of “try, win, try, fail, try, win.” With the idea that some programs will succeed and others will fail, the reality is that the more tests or “experiments” you run, the more trust you build with management. Ultimately, that trust instills confidence that your programs are having a positive impact on the company. And, if you do fail, (and we all do at some point) fail fast, share your lessons, and move on quickly.

At the end of the day, there is always money to do what’s right, even when budgets are being slashed. Just remember: before making the case for trying a new tactic or saving an existing marketing program, make sure there is data to support your approach, and be prepared to show how the program directly ties back to company’s goals and objectives.

CEOs depend on their marketing leaders to ensure they’re playing a role in helping the firm achieve its mission. Part of that skill set includes finding money even after the budget has been cut.

Fred Diamond is a top marketing consultant to technology companies and the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Sales. Debbie Shemony is the VP of Marketing at MarketBridge, as well as an ardent STEM advocate and tech geek who thrives on translating complex information into everyday language for real humans.

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