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One Marketing Question Tech CEOs Should Never Ask

It was déjà vu all over again. A millennial marketing manager and his baby boomer tech company CEO requested a meeting to discuss marketing strategies for their software company. Their main market was the building management market. (Disclaimer: I guess I’m also a baby boomer, and also a Yogi Berra admirer, so no disrespect intended.)

I looked forward to the meeting. The majority of my clients have been tech or professional services companies looking to grow, and from what I could tell, they might have reached their first hurdle and were ready to go to the next level. We arranged to meet at their office later that week.

Prior to the meeting, I did some Linked In research on both participants. The marketing manager was three years out of college. He went to a good school with a degree in business. This appeared to be his third job. The CEO had a career in building management and construction management before that. It looked like he’d been the CEO of this 50-person company for 12 years or so. His degree was in chemical engineering. Like most of the tech company CEOs I’ve serviced, he came from the technical side.

After exchanging pleasantries, the newbie marketing manager wasted no time in asking, “Should we invest in Fast Followerz.”

I should have seen it coming. It was a request for an opinion on a random marketing tactic without any context about overall go-to-market strategy. This was the 623rd in my career that such a request was made, give or take.

Of course, I am aware of the concept behind services such as Fast Followerz. For a fee as low as $4, you can get hundreds of thousands of Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook followers or fans. If you tweet, all of a sudden your Twitter presence will presumably look much more significant than it was five minutes prior. It could be a great service, but that really didn’t matter here.

I then answered, “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s not important.”

The marketing manager was taken aback. He pursed his lips.

IT WAS DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN

When I was a junior marketing director at some of the leading tech companies in the mid-1990s, I had the fortune of having large budgets. This allowed my teams to try many different marketing tactics. Back then, the print publications were coming up with products built on advertising dollars. There were specialized white papers, advertorials, data cards, post cards, and dozens of other ideas. In addition to their big properties, the trade show companies offered shows in a box, shows within a show, and shows on boats where one of our execs could take a cruise with dozens of CIOs. There were hundreds of direct marketing options, promotional items to buy, and brand new events to sponsor.

I must have been presented over 1,000 marketing tactics to purchase over the years. Most of them looked good on paper. Each salesperson attached to the item had a compelling argument to make and was always enthused by their offering. And at least 500 times I was asked by someone above me, “Should we do this marketing tactic?” At that time, I was lucky to have seen millions of dollars wasted on marketing tactics that looked cool but in reality had no right being deployed based on our goals.

And for years, I tried to make value judgements about each tactic until one day when a division president asked me if a particular tactic could help us reach our $100 million revenue goal. Aha! It’s not about the tactic; it’s about how it fits in with the go-to-market plan to reach our revenue number. Ah. My life changed at that moment, and I began to look at each item more diligently to see how it fit into the organization’s business goals.

As simple as it seems now, it made me a more powerful marketer and ultimately led to my motto, “Marketing that doesn’t lead to revenue reward is a huge waste of time and money.”

WHAT THE CEO NEEDED TO HEAR

After shocking the marketing manager with my answer, I turned to the CEO and said that the question is invalid. I then proved why by grabbing an orange marker and writing four questions on the white board:

  • Who EXACTLY is your target customer?
  • How many target customers do you have?
  • Which employees within the target customers are important in the sales process?
  • What’s the best way to get to them or to prove that you’re the best supplier for them?

The CEO became illuminated. I could see the wheels in his brain beginning to turn.
He then told stories about some of the firm’s past successes and how they won a few big clients. I asked about his vision for the firm and where he hopes to have it in three years. I asked for revenue goals, client acquisition goals, and other growth strategies. He was able to give me good, thoughtful answers to most of my questions.

We then spent the rest of the hour discussing the attributes they needed to document about the target customer base and questions they should ask to understand how and why they would be interested in their solution. We then chatted about how to develop strategies to take for getting all of the data and answers they needed before they could make value judgements about marketing tools such as Fast Followerz.

He concluded that expending dollars for shiny tactics was at least a waste of his money and at most, an egregious waste of his money.

CONCLUSION

This is not really about the marketing tactic; it’s about how any marketing expenditures and efforts can be a total waste of time and money if they’re not considered in context. Marketing tactics shouldn’t be lame, shiny objects. Some work; some don’t. Some work some of the time; some work less of the time. The point I wanted to get across to the tech CEO was that he needed to think about how his marketing tactics should be of service to the company’s mission.

And I wanted the junior marketer to understand that his reason for being was to help the firm reach its business goals through sound, smart, effective, and relevant marketing strategies–not by chasing after shiny objects. I’m sure I’ll get this point across during our engagement.

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. If you have any questions about technology marketing or sales, give me a call or shoot me an email. I love talking about this stuff with CEOs and marketers alike.

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