What type of marketing help do you need?
Most that contact me want someone to "come and do it for me".
"Will you write my website for me?"
"Will you be doing the posts to social media for me?"
"Will you find me new business...get me sales?"
"Will you do my marketing for me?"
The answer is simply "no, I won't."
Which then brings us to the interesting question: what will I do for you?
I re-discovered the below framework from my class notes when I did an MBA some years ago, and it gives an excellent overview of the types of outsider roles a consultant can play.
|Kiel & Mclendon's consulting roles|
The "will you do it for me" type sits in the bottom right-hand block: the "hands-on expert". I will do it for you...I will tell you (exactly) what to do. The "come and do it for me expert" is what most business owners dream of after years of marketing frustration driven by a lack of time and costly activities with little sales to show for it.
But from my experience, the bottom right-hand block hardly ever is a true solution for the small/medium-sized business, and here's why:
Firstly, the right answer is that no-one has done exactly what you are doing, before. As a business owner, you are on a lonely, unique journey. As a small / startup business, there is no "exact replica" of your business somewhere else. Your business, your customers, your market environment...your type of people, your style of doing it...your brand. It is all unique. There is no perfect "let me show you how" kind of help out there for young businesses. We are all creating something new; not learning to drive an old car.
Secondly, because your business is your creation - your baby - everything is personal. There is almost no chance that you are going to let someone else tell you how you should do marketing for your business. You will not merely sit back and let another person build your company, the way they want to. You are going to want to be part of it, at least up to the point where the business is large enough that it is starting to operate independently from you (when a company goes from "medium" to "large" and starts to corporatize). Until this point, it's your business, and no-one is going to tell you how to package it to the outside world. Either they work with you, or they will eventually get the boot.
The "come and do it for me expert" is what most business owners dream of after years of marketing frustration...
Thirdly, as a small-medium sized business, it is suicide to leave the sales and marketing activities entirely in the hands of someone else. By removing yourself from these activities, you are stepping away from the coalface of market interaction where the real learnings take place. There's a good bit of advice in Silicon Valley that goes something like this: "as the owner, you should not be in your office, but out in the market". Being out in the market is where sales and marketing takes place, and this cannot be anyone else's primary responsibility than the owners'.
So, what about using a small agency then, I hear you ask? This is where the difference between a consultant and a contractor come in, in my opinion. The above matrix relates to consultant roles, not contractors. A contractor is someone that comes in to execute a well-defined job for you. You already know who your target market is; what your value proposition is; defined your brand position, and have clarity on which channels to use and only need an execution partner. At this point, it becomes a good idea to get an outsider in to "come and do it for you" or "show you exactly how to do it". It relates to tactical tools - how to use LinkedIn; Google SEO...produce a YouTube video, etc. Contracting; not consulting. Implementation; not strategy.
But what about someone who has been a successful marketer in precisely the same type of industry that you are in now? A retired packaged goods CMO to come and tell you EXACTLY how to market your food startup? Or an ex tech-CMO to come and tell you how to build your SaaS startup? Is this not an option? It is, but here's the thing - it only works when your company is not only in the same industry but also the same level of maturity to the one that the outsider comes from.
There is no exact "let me show you how" kind of help out there. We are building businesses, not learning to drive.
If you're a small SaaS startup, you're not just a "SaaS business", but you're also a "startup". Both classifications matter. You see, there are two variables. Most business owners only focus on the one - the fact that they are in industry A or B, but forget the type of business they are. This reality means that even if you bring an expert in from outside; if they haven't worked in an environment like yours, they may be largely useless.
All of this brings me to this idea of a "fractional CMO", which is essentially the idea of an outsourced CMO - a concept well established within financial circles as an outsourced CFO. Can marketing follow a similar model? My answer is yes, but only if the company is not only in the same industry but also the same life stage as the one the CMO has experience with, and then typically the "mature" phase. Put differently: you can't be the fractional CMO for a company that is still in the growth phase. There is only one person that can be the CMO for a growth-phase company, and that is the owner / CEO.
So, in summary, I believe one should use the "consulting roles" model in partnership with a company's lifecycle (below) to determine your needs for outside marketing help, at a senior level.
|The company lifecycle|
Only when a company is in the "maturity" and "decline" phases should it reach out to an outside expert (in marketing) to "come and do it for me" or "show me exactly what to do". Up to this point, there still is too much learning to happen to completely outsource the marketing role.
In short, the unpleasant answer for many founders and owners is this: no-one can come and do your marketing for you. You must do it, but likely with an outsider to help guide you. Find a good consultant with diverse experience working inside young companies to help you in the capacity of a teacher, a coach and a partner - someone to help you learn.
Forget about your ideal solution. No-one can do your marketing for you. It doesn't exist - focus on finding a sherpa, not a solution.