As a business owner, it can be tough – especially if you don’t have a marketing background yourself – to get a really good idea of how well your marketing function is, well, functioning. Or how to figure out where it’s going wrong.
We see this question come up a fair amount, because we specialize in helping growing companies take the next big leap. And you usually start to experience challenges with your marketing function when you’re trying to grow quickly.
How marketing teams get in over their heads
While there’s many paths to get to this point, it’s a common problem when a company grows organically: often as a company starts to need more marketing support, they’ll move an internal resource over to handle marketing. Sometimes that person has a marketing background, but more often it’s a case of someone who has an interest in marketing, or a marketing-adjacent background, like graphic design. This person runs their social media, and maybe sends occasional emails, and keeps the website updated. And it’s totally fine for that early stage of development. Especially if the company doesn’t have the budget to bring in a full-time, experienced, marketing manager or marketing director.
The problems can start to arise when you grow beyond the social media page-email-website phase, and you’re expecting your self-grown marketing person/people to suddenly start to drive real revenue. I’ve seen teams that have stepped up to the plate and done a great job, but in the majority of cases these inexperienced teams can get over their heads. And fast.
This can happen even if you initially outsourced the majority of your marketing; the amount of experience you could afford at the time often isn’t enough to seamlessly transition your company to a larger, more professional phase.
How to tell if your marketing team is functioning well
So how do you know which bucket your marketing team falls into – the on-the-ball or the under-water? Here are some signs:
- You aren’t seeing results. After all, the whole point of marketing is to drive revenue. If it’s not, then something may be wrong. Notice, however, that I use the word, “may”. Be careful not to assume automatically that poor results means bad marketing. Remember that marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum: we’ve gone into at least one company that had zero revenue from marketing, but it turned out that the lack of results had a lot more to do with bad pricing than with bad marketing. Even the best marketers can’t sell something that’s priced completely out of the market.
- Things take a long time to get done. One of the most obvious signs that your marketing people are in over their heads is if things aren’t getting done in a reasonable amount of time. If they’re not sure what you’re doing, they have to figure stuff out as they go. They don’t know from experience what works and what doesn’t, so they have to trial and error things. And they have to look up how-tos on a regular basis. All this drops the productivity of the department into the basement.
- They’re hiring a lot of freelancers. Bringing in some freelancers is great – and a quick and easy way to inexpensively augment a small marketing team. But if your team keeps coming to you with yet another person they want to bring on board, you may want to ask yourself if this is because they don’t have the confidence to implement these campaigns themselves.
- There’s as many opinions as there are people. If your marketing meetings tend to be a bit of a free-for-all, it’s a big warning sign that your team needs help: namely, that you don’t have a clear marketing strategy in place. Experienced marketers will always be working from a marketing plan. If your team isn’t, it’s playing whack-a-mole and putting out fires rather than focusing on the important stuff.
Team needs help? Here’s where to start
Let’s say you recognize your team in a few of these points. What do you do about it? Here’s our 4-step process:
- Get a marketing expert to do a team skill diagnosis: a good marketing consultant will be able to get an idea of how underwater your team is (or isn’t). They can also often spot things that you may have missed, both because of their experience, but also as an outside perspective.
- Have a marketing strategy created: one of the biggest roadblocks to good marketing is a reactive approach as opposed to a planned approach. A good marketing advisor will be able to build you a marketing plan that supports your business goals (and, if necessary, fits your teams’ skill sets). Much of the marketing paralysis that can happen in smaller companies goes away once team members know what they are doing in reference to the master plan.
- Ask for help growing your marketing function: A surprising, but extremely useful, role for a marketing advisor is helping you hire the right people to support your marketing strategy. Vetting people for a skillset you personally don’t have is pretty tough. A marketing professional will know what to look for.
- Bring in ongoing advisory: Once you have your team in place, trained, and following a marketing strategy, it’s a good idea to make sure they have ongoing leadership to keep them on the right track. This can be handled one of two ways: either spring for a full-time marketing director/VP of marketing, or outsource to a fractional/part time marketing director if your budget is tight.
One last thought: we honestly believe that internally-developed marketing teams have a lot of value. What they lack in experience is often made up for in loyalty to the company and in-depth product knowledge. We rarely suggest that you should scrap ‘em all and start over. With a good marketing strategy and the right guidance, they can develop into a truly well-oiled marketing machine.
Katie & Theron
Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.