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SME Focus: Choosing The Right Marketing Partner

Posted on 22 February 2019

Unique Challenges Require Unique Skills and Experiences

It is not easy choosing a new marketing partner for your business as there are so many elements to consider. Operating in the power, energy, or even process sectors comes with unique challenges. These are market areas that lean heavily towards the involvement of engineering, meaning a reliance on developing and selling technical products and services through and to, very technically competent people. Because of this there are several key ingredients that should be considered when looking to take on a new Marketing partner (consultancy). Whether it be simply to oversee marketing activities, support certain critical projects, or the provision of a multitude of marketing, sales or business development services longer term, choosing right is critically important.

An Outsider Can Benefit Your Business

Firstly, as elementary as it seems, consider whether you need a consultant. Some examples where it would be clear you may benefit from an outsider may include; despite best efforts, sales/profit continue to struggle? Are decisions being shirted because they just hit a nerve or there is a general lack of inspiration? Have you tried various approaches and still feel sales and marketing ROI is lower than expectation? Are you simply spending less and less time on developing new business because all hands are on deck? These are just a few reasons but of course, there are many other reasons why getting an outside consultant involved would really benefit the business. Remember, a senior Marketing professional delivers a comprehensive business development toolbox and can often provide instant effective sales support for any SME business. Therefore, it is important not to consider Marketing consultants as one trip ponies.

Juggling Sales, Business Development and Marketing

The structure of many of the smaller sized engineering companies tend to employ Sales Directors who have the role of overseeing both the traditional marketing function, and if they are very lucky, a separate communications person or team, and the sales and business development function too. Anyone who has been in or close to this role understands that not only does the director role often get taken up by a well-seasoned sales person with minimal marketing appreciation, but also the sales responsibilities (meetings, reporting, budgets, firefighting projects, sales force HR activities, and official company engagements), take much of their time. This situation often leads to Marketing and Communications being given less time and often fending for itself. The outcome of this is often that these people or teams muddle through the best they can as there appears to be less understanding of the Marketing needs of the business and how Marketing can contribute to the overall business objectives. However, a Marketing consultant can not only see it from your mountain top, they can provide the crucial third eye, that can re-balance the lack of understanding, and enable a much more joined-up approach that meets the needs of the business.

Your Mountain Top

It is important that you engage with a partner who can demonstrate an understanding of the key drivers in your market place and therefore able to not only empathise with why your business plan looks the way it does, but also is able to question and advise on alternative approaches. This understanding transcends into your products and services in such a way to enable them to contextualise your product life-cycle positioning and advise on any adaptation to the marketing approach. This adaptation is essential to maximise the support for the front-line sales people that are often on the road and eager and engrossed in finding and solving the next customer challenge.

The Right Tools for the Job

It is time to step away from this misconception that a Marketing consultant deals only with promotion and advertising. The truth is, they should be capable of so much more and should be able to provide an authoritative voice for how to generate revenue through both sales and marketing strategy, and the resulting tactical deployment of resource. Sometimes it is difficult for managers to see the wood from the trees, and it is the role of the Marketing consultant to advise from one step removed, how the business can achieve results by utilising the most effective tools including the adoption of better systems and processes. According to the Marketing and Sales Standards Setting Body (MSSSB) the key purpose of Marketing (or Marketing consultant) is to:

Advance the aims of organisations… by providing direction, gaining commitment and achieving sustainable results and value through identifying, anticipating and satisfying stakeholder requirements.

The MSSSB was responsible for the National Occupational Standards (NOS), and the NOS were centred around the eight areas of a summary functional map. It is important to note that the key purpose targets stakeholders (inside and out of the organisation), and not solely customers. The eight areas cover amongst other elements:

1.     Providing Marketing intelligence and customer Insight

2.     Developing Marketing strategy (including how sales people can be utilised)

3.     Supporting the development of sustainable products and services

4.     Developing Marketing Communications (including lead generation & promotion)

5.     Develop information systems and processes to support Marketing decisions

6.     Lead marketing programmes & operations

7.     Build business relationships, manage customer accounts, procure marketing services

8.     Manage the sales and marketing people

The message here is clear, only one area deals with promotion and advertising (area 4). However, it is interesting to recognise that personal selling and events and experiences (both of which reside under the promotion tab), do require the Marketing consultant to perform various business development needs. And, further to this, there is clearly an element of business development in area 7. Whichever way one looks at this list, it is obvious that the role of Marketing and that of the Marketing Consultant should be far more than just Promotion and advertising.

Marketing as a Philosophy

For those people that are fully committed to the art and science of Marketing and strive to understand it more every day, a mere overheard discussion in the works canteen or kitchen, is enough to set the blood boiling. The Marketing consultant should always be taking a holistic approach to providing his or her service. Marketing should be considered a management philosophy in that it touches every function and every person in the business. As we have discovered, Marketing is not simply a collection of promotional elements found in the Communications toolbox. Therefore, it is imperative that the Marketing consultant has eyes and ears to continuous improvement across systems and processes that affect the Marketing key purpose.

Continuous Improvement

As with any business wanting to keep their clients happy, a commitment to continuous improvement is essential. A partner that simply talks the talk and reminds you of what they stand for pales into insignificance to firm evidence of a willingness to get their hands dirty, an eagerness to learn more about your business (and your offer), and to be active in providing constructive advice in regard to what might work, why it would work, and how things could be measured to make sure you know whether or not they have worked. Continuous improvement in the business is important as it reflects not only on the service delivery of the partner but also the perception of your business to the outside world. It is always wise to agree a ‘gelling’ period in which both your business and the new partner can appreciate the ways of working and the required attention to detail and transparency is evident. 

Willing to Push Back

The main reason for investing in a Marketing consultant in most cases, is that it has been identified that the knowledge and skills required to take certain marketing-centric decisions, does not currently exist in the business. Also, in many cases, to employ someone with the knowledge and skills and may be cost prohibitive. In any case, having invested in contracting a Marketing consultant, it is essential that you get the best return on your money spent, and that means contracting a resource who is willing to question what has been done before, challenge the business approach, and yes, from time to time, simply disagree. It stands to reason, you cannot expect a Marketing consultant to argue too much unless they can see things inside-out and outside-in. In terms of accreditation, look out for most of the following (the more the better):

–       Do they have 10 years industry experience in relevant roles?

–       Do they have 10 years CIM membership and hold MCIM or FCIM Accreditation?

–       Are they actively engaged in CIM Continual Professional Development (CPD)?

–       Do they hold Chartered Status?

–       Are they able to present examples of their success?

–       Can they provide trusted third parties to deliver on needs?

In Conclusion

A senior Marketing consultant will deliver a ‘one stop shop’ for developing new business streams, including lead generation from various methods, management of the marketing support to sales or business development teams, and will be able to participate in front line activities as and when needed e.g. exhibitions, industry events, and even personal selling opportunities including customer presentations. It is important that the consultant can prove accreditation and being Chartered at Fellow level (FCIM), although not essential, does provide an added assurance. It is this experience gained to achieve FCIM over many years of practical application, that a holistic view of Marketing’s potential to impact a business, is possible. It is also from this experience and nurtured and matured skill set that the consultant can identify issues within the business that have probably been causing pain but simply not confronted due to simple inertia. It is the role of the experienced marketing consultant to push back on the normal ways of doing things, and by doing so, ensure the business benefits from continuous improvement in the must change areas. 

Author: Jonathan Brindley (JBPRM Ltd)

Tel: 07484186400

Email: jonathan.brindley@jbprm.co.uk

Website: www.jbprm.co.uk