Over the course of the last 7 years, I've spent a considerable amount of time managing sales and marketing for my own 2 software companies as well as a web consultancy. I've attended conferences, made sales calls, printed flyers, and schmoozed at investor gatherings. And I've come to believe that marketing is just sales without accountability. Bear with me for a moment.
Marketing is Sales
Both marketing and sales are intended to produce the same end result: make more sales. Marketing is the top of the sales conversion funnel; the first interaction with a potential customer in which good salespeople provide value and make a lasting impression. But let's not loose sight of the end goal: that first contact with a potential customer is fundamentally about sales.
Companies don't sponsor trade conferences and staff booths because they want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on snazzy signs and airfare, they want to make more sales. Companies don't maintain blogs because they want employees to become excellent writers, they want to be noticed for their contributions to their niche and make more sales. Companies don't buy television, print, and radio advertisements because they want to support actors and graphic artists, they (you guessed it) want to make more sales.
Marketing Isn't Measured
The problem with marketing is that it's so far towards the top of the sales funnel that it's difficult to measure. Sales calls either result in a sale or not, so it's natural and easy to measure their effectiveness. It's a lot harder to measure the value of meeting someone new at a trade show. Will the person become a paying customer? Will they refer someone to your business? Will they write about what great work you are doing? Or will they trash you to a potential customer? It's just not something that's obvious or easy to measure.
As a result, businesses and business owners (myself included) simply throw up their hands at some point and start generalizing. "We have to get our name out there somehow, and people watch television, so why don't we try a TV ad?" Or perhaps "We know some of our customers attend the BigConf Trade Show, so let's exhibit this year."
The unspoken rule of marketing is that most of it is wasted effort, but for a myriad of reasons, it's too costly to figure out which part is wasteful. My suspicion is that for companies in established markets, what most folks would recognize as marketing probably is worth the time and energy. Most companies can't prove that, or course, but the fact that they are still around means that they are either spending little enough on marketing that their failures don't sink the ship, or the marketing efforts are actually paying off.
Stop Marketing and Start Selling
If you work for a tiny company or are building a new product, you can't afford to waste resources on unprofitable marketing or sales. You have to start measuring marketing efforts in the same way that you might measure sales. At this point you might be saying "Yeah, well, that's all fine and dandy, but how the heck do you propose I do that?"
Simple: pick some metrics and start recording data.
Here are some examples of things that I've personally tried:
- Enter people you meet at trade shows in a CRM and track sales as they come in later.
- Attach a coupon code to print materials and track how many times the coupon is used.
- Ask incoming sales leads how they heard about you, be bold and ask for a name if the person is willing to give you that information.
You might now be saying "but I'll never be able to measure activity X!" One striking thing I've noticed about sales is that salesmen and sales departments are loath to invest time or money in anything that can't be tracked. That's a good starting point for marketing too. That doesn't mean you can't do activity X. It just means you have to get creative about tracking it. In cases where you can't find any way conceivable way to track it, that's generally a good indicator that it's not a profitable marketing channel.
You might well choose the wrong metrics to measure the first time around. For instance, the first two years that I attended trade shows for my company, I measured booth traffic. I literally just wrote down how many people talked to me at the booth. It turns out that people visiting the booth didn't predict sales at all. But that data saved us more than more than $10,000 when it came time to exhibit in year three. We had hard numbers that suggested that either 1) it didn't make money for us to attend trade shows or 2) unqualified visits to our booth are not related to making sales to qualified leads. Dodged a bullet there!
Marketing doesn't have to be blind, and when it does, don't do it. Treat marketing like sales, measure everything you can, and in a year or two you should be able to make at least one decision that saves your company $10,000.