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Erik Wolf of estound and Susan Fennema of Beyond The Chaos confront and address the hard truths in marketing.

This video focuses on confronting and addressing the hard truths in marketing. They touch on the following:

  • Why it is important to confront the hard truths in marketing
  • If marketing does not work, the flaw is in your approach
  • No one else can access the information that only exists in your head
  • You can’t outsource your own expertise
  • You don’t get an award for being the busiest person in your company
  • Processes are crucial to success
  • You might not like it, but it still has to get done
  • Procrastination can sometimes be wisdom

Please find the full video transcription below:

Erik Wolf: So welcome. Thank you all for coming. We really, really appreciate it speaking. I’m Eric.

Susan Fennema: I’m Susan.

Erik: We’re going to be talking to you today about, well, confronting hard truths in marketing, but really, we come at it from a couple of different perspectives. I am a marketer by trade. Susan works with companies on their operations. So it’s not just about high-level 40,000-foot marketing stuff. It’s about how we are actually making things work in our organizations.

Susan: Yeah, how do we make it happen?

Erik: Absolutely. A quick favor, we would like to ask those of you who are able we’d love to see your faces. If you’re not able or uncomfortable, if anybody is in a hot tub, we’re totally cool with you leaving it off, but if you can, that would be great. It’s really nice being able to see people on these.

Susan: Please don’t turn it on if you’re driving. Keep your eyes on the road.

Erik: Yes, exactly. Actually, I’m not sure that you should be doing this while you’re driving anyway. So really quickly, let’s do just a couple of introductions for you guys. Susan, do you want to go first?

Susan: Sure. I’m Susan Fennema. I own Beyond the Chaos. We help small business owners get out of the day-to-day of their business operations so they can step back, look at the big picture, and make time to grow their business or in some cases, just to get their lives back. So we are always focusing on process, the right software tools, and the right people in the right seats doing the right things. That’s us. Eric?

Erik: Awesome, and what about your personal background?

Susan: Oh, my personal background. Okay, I’ll share that. I have about 30 plus, I’m going to leave it at plus, years of experience in operations. Pretty much been doing it my whole career, even starting with not realizing that’s what I was doing. It just comes very naturally to me. I started Beyond the Chaos about seven years ago after a long career working for other small business owners. So I’ve seen it up close and personal. I’ve seen the angst that business owners can go through. My dad’s a business owner. My sister’s a business owner. My best friend’s a business owner. So I’m also blessed to be surrounded by people who actually said when I started my business, “Well, it took you long enough,” as opposed to others who sometimes will say, “What are you thinking? Why would you do that?” So I bring a wealth of experience, and I know and understand the challenges that small business owners face.

Erik: Awesome. I’m Eric Wolf, and I am the founder of estound, where we help growing businesses with marketing. We help them find their marketing breakthroughs as we like to say. We work as a fractional marketing department with folks. So there’s a lot of mid-size businesses, a lot of growing businesses that don’t have that expertise on the inside. So we come in and provide it. So I started the company in 2006, and prior to that, I was a marketing director at a consumer products company, and I worked in a couple of other industries, but all in all, I’ve been doing this professionally for very nearly 25 years. I give talks. I have books. We’re passionate about helping people figure these things out and understand marketing and how they can embrace it rather than fight against it. I’m also a part-time professor of marketing at Metro State University here in Denver. So that’s me.

Susan: I guess I should mention my marketing background. I worked in an ad agency for ten years. I wasn’t creative. I did no strategy, but I did the ops at an ad agency, so I have that tie-in with Eric there too.

Erik: So Susan, I thought it’d be cool for us to have an icebreaker. Why does this topic resonate with you? Why is this important to you?

Why Is It Important To Confront the Hard Truths in Marketing?

Susan: I have seen so many small business owners suffer because they’re not building a structure to make marketing happen in their business. They get busy, and they think, “Oh, it’s proactive. I don’t need to do that right now. I can put that off. I can focus on what’s right in front of me instead,” and then they suffer from having no leads, from having no new clients and now they’re trying to deal with essentially emergency marketing, and it is frantic, and they’re terrified because they’re losing their income. I have watched that happen. So to me, confronting the hard truths and building this into your business and the structure you’re going to repeat regularly is inherent to running a successful business. What about you, Eric?

Erik: For me, and I’ll answer it in the form of a story, and I told the story recently, and I think a couple of you might have been there the last time that I told the story. So I was a marketing director at a company, made baby toys, and had a really good run there. I’d been there for five years and realized it was time for me to do something different. Of course, I’d been, at that point in my career, I’d just been a practitioner of marketing, and I would see the way that I would butt heads with the management in the company and that awful feeling that, “The president of the company doesn’t trust me as he should. I’ve got him.” I wanted to leave, and I interviewed for many positions with a lot of smaller companies that weren’t mature enough to hire somebody like me at that point. I went to one of them and said to this person, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a few weeks. I thought we hit it off well when we did our interview. I would love to work with you, and I’m getting the feeling it won’t happen as an employee. So what if I was your agency instead?” So in one very quick moment, I suddenly became both a marketing practitioner for somebody else, which I already was and simultaneously the owner of a business and in charge of being that executive that I had previously hated so much in my own company that had just started. So I have seen how this works on both sides and how even as a practitioner, I fall into the same traps as many of the business owners we work with because it’s very natural. It’s very easy to get frustrated. So it’s time to do things differently. It’s time to embrace the things that we’re not aware of.

Susan: Yeah, for sure. So as we move into this, we also want to encourage everyone. If you have questions as we go, you can raise your hand or enter them in chat, and we will try to address them as we go, but we will definitely have time in the end.

Erik: Yeah. We’re going to make sure that we have time in the end for Q&A. So the definition of hard truth is that thing that you don’t want to accept that maybe we are part of the problem, maybe we’re not always hiring the wrong people, maybe there is something here that we are fundamentally missing. So we really want to encourage everybody to be honest, be vulnerable. I have already said even as a marketing practitioner, I know these things, and yet I still fall into the traps, so it’s important to recognize. So let’s get started. Let’s do it.

Hard Truth: Marketing Does Work. If It Doesn’t, the Flaw Is in Your Approach.

Susan: So Eric, this is your realm, and we know our first truth here is marketing does work, and if it doesn’t, the flaw is in your approach. Eric, I know you have some stuff to say about that.

Erik: Yes, and it’s true. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come in contact with that say, “Oh, well, I did this, and I did this, and so marketing doesn’t work for our company.” It’s like, “Well, no, marketing does work. We need to recognize that the thing that you were doing, in particular, didn’t work.” I used to have back in the day, if you guys remember about, I don’t know, 10, 8, 10 years ago, in any business magazine you got, there would be a $150 free trial for Google AdWords, and they’d come in the mail, 150 bucks, 200 bucks, and people come and say, “You know what? We spent the 200 bucks on Google and it just didn’t do anything for us. So this whole marketing thing, it doesn’t work.” I’ve got a word that I like to use, which is called slacktics, and I’ll define that for you. Slacktics are marketing tasks that have no discernible role in advancing the company’s progress, revenue, growth, et cetera. They’re things that we do because we think that if we check the box off the list, that we’re doing marketing work, and that’s how we’re going to get it done. It’s not the people that are lazy. It’s not the fact that they’re not working hard enough. We’re choosing these lazy things to do that aren’t going to move the needle for us fundamentally. When people are lost with marketing, when people are saying, “Well, I don’t know where to start, and I don’t want …” What I always tell them to do is, “Get to know your audience.” One of the first and best roles for marketing is to be in that position of being the expert on your audience. Susan, what have you seen in your clients where folks have just barked up the wrong tree and given up or that flawed approach?

Susan: I like your thing about throwing it on the wall, throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks because it’s a spattering of marketing tactics that they’re throwing out hit or miss or, in a good Texas term, willy-nilly, and wondering why, “Well, I posted on LinkedIn. Why do I not have 5,000 followers now?” or, “I got a Facebook group, but nobody joined it,” or, “I was a guest on a podcast, but no one listened.” Doing one thing is just not enough. You have to have a strategy around it. You have to have the right messaging. To your point, you definitely need to know who you’re talking to and you have to empathize with them so that they listen, essentially.

Erik: It’s the number one thing. If a new customer is for me, and just to use round numbers and make it easy, the customer for me has a lifetime value of $50,000, so basically, winning a customer means that I’m going to earn over the lifetime of that relationship $50,000 in gross profit. I can take that shot. If I want to use a basketball analogy, I can take that shot from half-court and, as they do with the college games, “Hey, make the shot, get a thousand bucks.” Well, what if I could take that shot from the three-point line instead of half-court? My chances of hitting it just went up. What if I could take it from the foul line? What if it could be a layup? The more that we get to know our customers and the more that we actually are working towards meeting them where they are, that’s where we’re going to succeed. I get the same $50,000 in lifetime value no matter where I take the shot from. Let’s just do a little bit of extra work, and let’s take a higher percentage shot. Let’s build a machine that’s going to do that for us.

Susan: Yeah, I think there’s sometimes that spray and pray attitude, and if something lands, it ends up that you’re lucky if you’re doing that instead of picking that targeted approach, and now you’re actually also getting the client you want and not just some client.

Erik: … and not the client that you luckily happened upon.

Susan: Right, the one you want, and then that matters. That matters to how you will run your business and how it will make you comfortable in it.

Hard Truth: No One Else Can Access the Information That Only Exists in Your Head

Erik: Susan, I want to cue this one up for you to get us started. No one else can access the information that only exists in your head. We talked a lot about this while chatting a couple of weeks ago.

Susan: I have seen this so often with small business owners. They have to do it all because they either can’t or won’t give up the information in their brain for someone else to help them. It’s really important when you’re looking at marketing or, actually, any activity as a business owner that really can only be handled by you. When you start asking that question, it’s amazing how fast you come to, “There’s really not much that can only be handled by me. There are professionals that do it so much better than me. Some team members can execute consistently so much better than me, but I have to tell them what I need. I have to tell them what I expect. I need to develop that system so they can do it, and I have to figure out how to get the concepts out of my head.” If you’re working with a great marketer, they know how to pull them out of your head. Up until 2018 or so, I was writing all my own blogs, and I wrote every two weeks, and then my company started growing, and I’m like, “I can’t keep this pace up. What do I do? Do I write less? Do I share less valuable information? Do I make it shorter? What do I do?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, maybe hire someone to do it instead of doing it yourself.” The person walked me through, got my voice, and the first thing that went out was, “This sounds exactly like me,” and I’ve never written another one of our blogs. Sometimes they’ll interview me if there is information they need to ask, but now, they’re doing it for me, and it’s beautiful. So it can happen without you, but you must be willing to give it up. That’s one part of it, for sure.

Hard Truth: You Can’t Outsource Your Own Expertise

Erik: One thing that I definitely talk a lot about when I’m talking to clients is that many folks think like, “Okay. I hired a marketing firm. I write the check every month. I’m good. The phones are going to light up. We’re going to get 80 new emails a day in email. We’ll be crushing it because we’re writing a check.” I know more about marketing than nine out of 10 of my clients could ever hope to, but they know more about their business than I could ever hope to. Of all the things you can outsource, you can outsource writing, you can outsource marketing, but you can’t outsource your expertise. You can outsource your accounting and IT, but you can’t outsource the part of you that actually runs the business. So keep those things in-house, but figure out how to share them. That’s the thing where you’re going to make magic with your marketing people is where your expertise and their expertise meet. They’re going to see things about your business that you never saw before, and you’re going to teach them things about your business, even if it’s a business. We work with a lot of IT companies, but I am still very open to learning something new about that industry that I never knew before. My first client, the one that I mentioned at the start of this that I started the agency, was an IT client. We’ve been doing this for 17 years, but I can still learn more about IT, and I can still learn more about the flavor that somebody else puts on it, and that’s going to allow me to be better. It’s a loop that feeds itself.

Susan: Since I started my company as just me, Eric, you did too. It was just us, solo. A lot of our brand is surrounded by me because that’s what we were selling at first. Over time, I’ve tried to step out of it, and it becomes us instead of me, but as part of our branding, we have a process document for our whole team to know: how do you talk like me, what are the phrases that I use, what are the terms that I prefer one over the other. So my team can even talk like me when they’re talking to clients to bring that branding into that, and that also helps any marketer I bring in to know how to turn the phrase just the way that I would say it. So that makes it now a Beyond the Chaos brand instead of being a Susan brand, which I think is really important as you grow.

Erik: I’m currently trying to teach ChatGPT to talk like me so I can more easily show others.

Susan: That’s pretty cool.

Erik: We’ve got cool tools now to help us with these things. So it’s fun.

Susan: Getting that knowledge out of your head and into the hands of others is huge. Dropping those things down and letting yourself do it. Proofreading is the last thing I must let go of, and I’m working on that right now. I can’t wait until that’s gone, and it’s so freeing when things are gone.

Erik: Isn’t it nice?

Susan: It’s so nice.

Hard Truth: You Don’t Get an Award for Being the Busiest Person in Your Company

Erik: So let’s talk about the next one. I think that Taylor Swift has a song about this. The CEO is almost always the bottleneck.

Susan: Yeah, it’s so true. There is no glory. You don’t get an award at the end for being the busiest person in your company. Nobody says, “Woohoo!” and gives you a high five. Most people think business owners don’t do anything, they just sit around, and the money flows in. All the business owners here know that’s not how it works, but from the outside, that’s how people think. It turns out most of us are working too long, too hard, and not as smart as we should be. We had a client who was working 80 hours a week. She had to do everything. She couldn’t trust her team or wouldn’t trust her team. She fought against us putting processes into place to help her. So she’s just going to run this cycle of failure. If she’s unwilling to change anything, nothing will change, right? She will keep being that person who works 80 hours a week and can’t trust any team member because she’s not telling them what she expects.

This applies absolutely to marketing. You have to get your team on board. My virtual assistant is pretty much handling our monthly newsletter now. She puts it all together. She runs it by the marketer at the end, but we told her what we expected, and wow, she’s doing a great job. I’m floored at how good she is. She’s 19 years old, by the way. I’m floored at how she’s like, “Oh, let’s do a theme,” and she can pull everything together. She’s having fun with it, and I don’t have to do it, but I have to empower them for that to happen. So anytime you feel like you are the one that has to do it, change that mindset and start figuring out, “Who else on my team could help me? How do I get this out of my head? How do I make a system?” so that your team feels empowered to support you, and they love that.

Erik: The part about being empowered is a huge one. In marketing, we have a real problem: our people aren’t empowered. There’s a staggering stat that I use in just about every single presentation now. 80% of CEOs are dissatisfied or don’t trust the people that are in charge of their marketing. At the same time, 75% of marketers believe they’re not put in a position to help the company. So we’ve got what appears to be a real problem of empowerment, where we’ve got people who are scared of an outcome, the executives, who are manifesting it by keeping everything inside and wasting all that energy. You’ve got to give people a chance. You’ve got to align your goals. You must ensure that you’re all playing for the same purpose. We’ve got to have a feedback cycle.

It’s really important that everybody on your team that you think will be doing a job, you actually have to give them that job. You can’t just think that if I say you’re in charge of marketing now, that all of a sudden, that will happen. No. I’ve got to give you that job. I’ve got to tell you what you’re allowed to do. I’ve got to set expectations, “We want to grow top-line revenue by 10% this year. So how do we do that? Help me find a way.” These are just a few ways we can get CEOs to get out of the way and let their people shine.

Susan: Well, and I’ll add on to that too. If you feel like your whole team can’t do the things you need them to do, that’s on. You have either hired all the wrong people, or you are not helping them to do what they are good at. It’s one or the other, and it all falls back on you. So you’re the bottleneck in that too.

Erik: Doesn’t that suck?

Susan: It does.

Hard Truth: Processes Are Crucial to Success

Erik: We’re moving through these at a pretty good clip, so we’re going to have a lot of time for questions, I think, which is cool. So the process is crucial. Susan, you said if you don’t have a process, you’re just a bunch of people running around and doing stuff.

Susan: Exactly.

Erik: So talk to me about that.

Susan: It’s not even a business, really, if you don’t have a process. It’s just a bunch of people doing whatever they think is best. It might not have anything to do with your goals. It might not have anything to do with the best way to make money or the best way to treat your team. Everybody’s just doing their thing, and that is not a business. You’ve just put a bunch of freelancers in a room and told them to do something, “Do what you’re good at.” That doesn’t pull things together. So with the process, well, one, also, all of you who say you have a process, but it is not written down, you do not have a process. If it’s in your head, it’s not a process. It needs to be written down. So to do that, you have to identify what needs to be done, how everything fits together and flows, who’s in charge and what are they in charge of, and then what can be simplified because as you start to pull all these things together, you will recognize that, “Okay. We’re duplicating steps. What if we just skip from here to here? What would be the harm? Why have we been doing that?”

I often hear that you ask why enough, and you get to the bottom line of, “Oh, well, we’ve always done it that way.” Okay. That is not okay. You need to have a real reason for why you’re doing it. Absolutely, that step could be because the last time we didn’t do it, the last time we didn’t QA our software development package before it went out the door, the client got so mad that they fired us and didn’t pay us the last chunk of money. Okay. Good reason to have QA in your process, right? If you’re a software developer, you know better than that. Growth hurts, and to grow, you have to put this in place because this is how you, as the owner, get out of your own way and let other people start to do things. This works with marketing. “What do you need to be done by when? I want a monthly newsletter to go out. I have a schedule with steps that repeat every month to make sure that we make that deadline, that it is consistent, and that we have a document that says how it’s branded.” It doesn’t just miraculously happen because some random person put together something that they thought was cool. It’s got to be something that’s well thought through.

Erik: The part about who’s doing it, why they’re doing it, and their authority level is super important. We run our company on EOS, and if people want to raise their hands or not, is there anybody else here using EOS at their business? Yeah. At the beginning of the EOS process, you do those two big days with putting together the VTO, and you know what the most uncomfortable part of those two first days was was probably putting together the accountability chart, that part where you sit down, and you’re like, “Okay. Who is really in charge of what?” It’s not “Who reports to who?” It’s, “Who actually has the authority and the accountability over certain tasks?”. We wrote a process and got the look, but we were doing this with another company, and we’ve got part of our processes is a similar thing where we say, “Hey, these are roles that need to be assigned in your organization. We need people to be in charge of certain things regarding marketing. We need somebody to be the decision-maker. We need somebody that’s going to be the project manager, essentially. We need somebody that’s going to be responsible for feeding the team with financial data. We need somebody who is going to be the market research lead. We need somebody who’s going to be the creative lead. We need somebody who’s going to be the sales expert. Who’s reporting those interactions back with real customers when we go to meetings? Who’s taking that on from the sales team? Who’s the product or service expert?”

That makes people really uncomfortable to have to nail that down and put somebody’s name next to it and say, “Okay. That’s my job. I’m going to be the person that’s in charge of having a market research plan, putting that into action.”

Susan: Now, somebody has to hold you accountable, right? If it’s not you, you should hold that team member accountable. That’s what they’re here for.

Erik: Exactly.

Susan: That’s really hard if you don’t have a process written. You want to make sure that the process is ongoing. It changes and evolves as your business changes and evolves. There are some great ways to coach to that too. So if you have a failure, you use the process as the excuse to have the conversation, “Where did we go wrong in the process?” So much better approach than, “You did it all wrong. You’re bad,” right? Now, you can work with them to fix the process. You’ll have a better outcome next time probably as well.

Erik: Absolutely, and all of these things are, the accountability is important, the process is important, and whenever you catch somebody saying, “Oh, but we’ll just make the decisions together.”

Susan: Yeah, that’s not great. I think to get your tactics executed, you have to have the processes in place. I’m a firm believer in repeating templates. So if you are always doing your newsletter, all those steps need to be there. We have a client with great marketing ideas, but nothing ever happens. They don’t ever get done. So you have to have those tactics put down in a structured way in a process for the marketing to come to life.

Hard Truth: You Might Not Like It, but It Still Has To Get Done

Erik: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I’m being told that it’s time to move on. I am being gently nudged. So let’s talk about the fifth one. You might not like it, but it still has to get done. Ain’t that the truth?

Susan: Yeah.

Erik: I think there’s a real pain when it comes down to, and there’s a part of your business that you fundamentally don’t like dealing with. For me, I fundamentally really struggle with backfilling the role of being our chief financial officer. We also have a fractional CFO, but I’m still in charge of that, and that makes me very uncomfortable because I feel like I’m terrible with money, and it’s not really the best place for a business owner to be. But it still has to get done, and I must find ways to make myself okay with bringing the people who will support me. That will help me get this done even though I don’t like it. If you don’t like it, you still have to do it.

Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that way about marketing. There is one area in particular that I can tell you for sure that since day one, we have struggled with in dealing with clients is many, many people are intimidated by the writing process. Writing is something that comes very naturally to some, but it’s something that a lot of people are very viscerally uncomfortable with. Since the dawn of this business, one of the hardest things has been getting content out of clients when they’re responsible for that. Now, when we’re responsible for that, it gets a little bit easier, but you’ve got to decide that you will make us responsible for that.

We had a client once, and this is no joke or exaggeration. He was on a one-year contract with us, and we were trying to launch his website before the contract’s end. He wanted a new website, and we were trying to get the website launched before the end of the contract so that if we didn’t renew, we would leave him in a really good place. We said, “Jim,” his name’s not Jim, protecting the innocent, “Jim, you owe us basically five paragraphs of content, and if we can get those five paragraphs, the website can go up within a week. Literally, it’s an hour of work. If you can just put together these five short paragraphs, we’ve got everything we need, the site can go up, and everything will be great.” Jim openly refused to do that work, and we need the Jims in our lives to be truthful about what they’re capable of and to say, “Hey, I can’t do this. How can we get it done? It still needs to get done.”

Susan: I love that your client was at least direct and clear, “I’m not doing it.”

Erik: The tragedy was that he didn’t get his website. It was actually that what it was worth to him not to do it was to basically not have a website.

Susan: I think that another part of this that’s important is if you hate doing it, you’re probably also not good at it. So empower the right person and avoid … Oh, yeah, Roger, raise your hand.

Roger: Was Jim not willing to sit for an interview with you so that you could write the content?

Erik: We were also not able to secure that time with him.

Roger: Got it.

Erik: It literally was, “I’m not participating,” and we had already actually, at that point, helped him with a lot of the writing. It wasn’t part of our scope, but we helped him with it anyway, but whatever it was, these last few bits just would not get done. We ended up being in a position where our contract was up, and we had to leave. It was not ideal, and it’s not something that we like to do. But of course, we’re also a business and can’t work for free. The fact that he was unable to do it and unable to say, “I will allow you to do it for me,” or, “I will allow you to cut those pages from the website, the two pages that are missing content, let’s just not launch them,” could make either of those decisions.

Susan: Wow.

Erik: That’s an extreme example, but it’s a real example of what happens to people when they get locked up in things they don’t like to do and opt-out. Opting out is just generally not the right decision.

Susan: Well, I think that brings us to our last thing here, too: procrastination can sometimes be wisdom.

Hard Truth: Procrastination Can Sometimes Be Wisdom

Erik: Yeah. This came from that book that, Susan, you encouraged me to read, and I did, Not How but Who. Is that what it’s called?

Susan: Who Not How by Dan Sullivan.

Erik: The book’s premise is that when you’re sitting around thinking, “How am I going to get this done? How can I do this? This isn’t my thing,” you shouldn’t be asking yourself how. Once you say how you’re locked up in this cycle of trying to figure everything out and doing all these things that you’re uncomfortable with, instead, you should be asking, “Well, who can solve this problem for me?” I don’t know. If I’m looking at my board and I’m like, “Oh, my God got so much stuff going on. How am I going to get this stuff done?” that’s not the right question. The question is, “Who can help me with that? Susan’s an operations expert, maybe Susan can give me some insight on getting this done, and if she’s not the right one to actually do it, maybe she can say, ‘You know what? Talk to this person. They can take this off your plate.'”

Susan: I’ve even done that with my team where I’ll be like, “Ugh, one of the things we like to do is be well-versed in the software that we recommend to our clients. We recommend a lot of SaaS software.” So when a partner software asks us to come to a, “Hey, this is what’s up and coming for the software,” I’ve always felt like I had to go until it dawned on me, “Wait, I have a whole team of people who need to know this. Somebody else goes to this and tells us what they said.” It was so eye-opening to just change that mindset of, “Wait, it doesn’t have to be me. I can spend my time more usefully by growing the business or developing relationships with people. They can bring the facts back.”

Erik: There was this quote from the book that I really grabbed onto, which was, “Procrastination is wisdom.” The idea is that if you’re procrastinating on something and it’s something easy, how many times do we procrastinate on something that would only take us 20, 30 minutes to get done, and it just sits on the list, and it sits on the list? That’s wisdom. That’s actually our brains telling us we’re not the right person to do this job.

Susan: Or, it’s not important enough to do it all, or maybe you didn’t break it down into small enough parts to actually be able to tackle it. So there’s a lot of wisdom in procrastination.

Erik: For the purpose of marketing, there’s a lot of wisdom in understanding that you, as an executive, grew up in this Steve Jobs world, where we’ve got this prototype of what an entrepreneur is and this idea that we should be that. Steve Jobs was an absolute marketing genius. He did things that other people can’t do just because that’s how he was made, but we can’t do that. We make a lot of bad decisions based on the fact that we’re trying to be Steve Jobs, and we think that like, “Oh, no, I’m the marketing expert at my company,” because that’s what the entrepreneur does, but in reality, what we end up doing is procrastinating on the real work, putting it off, putting it off, putting it off, and not bringing in the people who can do it for us.

Susan: Yup, definitely.

Erik: So, on that note, we’d love to open it up for questions and hear what you guys are thinking. Suppose anybody wants to share a pain, a story, or a problem. Or your hard truth.

How Do You Prioritize Marketing as a Small Business?

Pete Essex: Hey, I’ve got a quick question. It’s Pete. Susan, good to see you again. Eric, thanks to you and Susan for putting this together. I’m an outsource VP of sales. I’ve done marketing and run sales marketing departments, but it’s interesting. It’s something I really didn’t enjoy. I understand it and think there’s a synergy between sales and marketing. When you look at your number three, where there are always bottlenecks, and it’s usually the CEO, there’s always a budget that they have to work with. I’ve got some clients, one in particular, that are really investing nothing in marketing right now. My thing is, I think they need lead generation, but I think lead generation is a separate bucket. If you start doing this lead generation, they will start investing in the company. You’ve got to have a great website, you’ve got to have good content out there, and then you give it to sales. Then they close the deal, and hopefully, things move forward. So how do you prioritize all that because small businesses may not even have allocated money towards marketing? This particular client I’m thinking of has not, but they need to. So how do you approach that from when you put your marketing hat on?

Erik: Yeah. So a few things. First of all, on the topic of budgeting, really, the way that we try to look at it is that sales and marketing are the same process. They’re just different parts; sales are good at part of it, marketing is good at part of it, and we’re bad at doing each other’s jobs. Marketing is really great at the part where communications are one-to-many. The marketer is the person that’s standing at the front of the auditorium and talking to a thousand people at once. The salesperson is really great at that one-to-one communication. They’re the person that you want mingling at the cocktail hour after the auditorium part is done. So there’s a process that gets you there, and there’s a handoff.

There’s a point at which one-to-many communication stops being effective and where one-to-one communication will take you the rest of the way. So sales and marketing are part of the same process. So the way that we really look at it is that there’s a cost of acquisition for every client that we get every new customer, which should be shared by sales and marketing. It takes both to make that journey happen. So we look at in terms of then how do you spend that money. If it takes me $10,000 to get a client, and I want 20 new clients this year, then that means that my budget should be $200,000. How am I going to spend that $200,000? Well, let’s look at the parts, and we use a hill instead of a funnel, but basically, there are stages.

There’s the part where you’re understanding the marketplace, and there’s awareness. There’s the part where people make that connection. Typically, that’ll be where they’re maybe on your website or recognize you as a brand in the space. Ultimately, some of those people become opportunities, some of them will get to be sold to, and some of them will then become customers and will worry about retaining them. We encourage people to do is be honest and look at all the parts in the process that they’re weakest at and focus on the things that are closest to the bottom of the hill. If we’re only good at doing the top-of-the-hill stuff, that’s fantastic, but we’ll never get there because we’re so lousy at this stuff. So we start bottom up. It’s generally how I prioritize.

Susan: I think another part of this, too, is to simplify. For the small business owner, simplify what you’re selling. You don’t need a 50-page website. Maybe you could start with a nice homepage explaining the service you’re offering, and maybe you have to start with one service or a three-tiered service or something that is simpler than, “We sell everything to everyone.” That will take a lot of money, but selling the right thing to the right person doesn’t cost nearly as much.

Erik: How did we do, Pete?

Pete: Great. Sorry, my internet went out just for a second or two. I think that was great. The only thing I didn’t hear was how you prioritize lead generation versus marketing.

Erik: Oh, okay. So, generally speaking, what I like to do is do lead generation activities. Lead generation is the middle of the hill. It’s really good to experiment with that. Lead generation is really going to take off at the point where you’re doing the stuff closer to the bottom of the hill because, essentially, we’re making the lead generation job easier as we go. We’re blazing that trail for folks. So I actually will, a lot of times, start by experimenting with lead generation to see what’s working and where the right levers are. Then I’ll use that information to build out what I want my bigger message to be. So I’ll do a little bit, and then I’ll move back down to the website, the other materials because I don’t want to overinvest in that stuff until I’ve got a really clear picture as to what’s going to work because I want to spend that money wisely. So basically, I’ll do that, then move down, and then everything just goes. It’s about getting people to the top of the hill.

Susan: So essentially, sussing out the messaging that’s working.

Erik: Our tools right now, and especially when we get into things like lead generation, we’re talking a lot about things like email marketing. We’re talking about Google AdWords. and by the way, with AI, we’re seeing many people having a lot more success on Bing since they changed their platform, but we’re usually talking about a lot of those types of activities. The great thing about them is that they’re easy to experiment with. It’s really easy to learn from them. It’s really easy to throw things up there strategically and say, “Hey, is it this or is it this?” We can learn a lot from that. I also like to do market research at the same time. Then I like to use that to feed the rest of the messaging and figure out what the rest of that megaphone looks like that I’m going to use.

Pete: Perfect. Great. Thank you.

Erik: Who else has something? Man, you guys are quiet.

Susan: I know.

Which Do You Fix First: Operations or Marketing?

Michael Sweet: I’d like to jump in, maybe pivot off of what Pete brought in, which I think is really good, and I got to ask the question. Do you think it’s a competition between operations and marketing for the same dollars, and as a leader, how will you make that choice? Do you build it, and they’ll come? Or do you have the crowd waiting outside, and then you’re trying to fulfill each one? It almost seems in opposition, and yet we know that it’s crucial that they come together. I’m curious what you think about that.

Susan: That’s a great question. I get asked that a lot. What should we do first? Do we fix our sales process? Do we fix our ops backend and our delivery? If you don’t have something to deliver to a client, you are screwing up your marketing on the other end. So if you sell somebody something, you can’t deliver it, and now you have negative marketing out there. So you have to get those ops set up to deliver what you’re promising. You can work it simultaneously, but you don’t want to overload your fulfillment, for lack of a better word. Your fulfillment area has a ton of leads coming in from marketing that you can’t fulfill because that will have the opposite effect when they start reviewing you and everything else. Of course, I’m saying that as an ops person. Eric might have a different opinion.

Erik: I think that you really can’t … So I would say that the classic tug of war is that people think, “Well, I’m investing in operations, and that means that I’m investing in basically scale and profit.” That is at odds with the idea that “I’m investing in marketing and sales because that’s investing in revenue.” So it is a tug of war, and somebody ends up actually being the rope. That’s not fun. So from my perspective, I think that it’s really necessary. I agree with Susan. I think you can’t have a functional sales and marketing operation if the rest of the business isn’t functioning at a high level.

Susan: Let’s face it, it can’t be an either-or.

Erik: You have to do both.

Susan: That’s like saying, “Do I need to manage my finances to make a profit, or do I need to take care of my customer or my team?” Sorry, you’re the business owner. You got to do all of it. So you’ll have to figure out maybe, “What’s the biggest pain point right now? What can I put some money towards?” You have to figure it out. That’s why you get paid the big bucks, right?

Erik: We are being played off of the stage to keep everybody on time. The music is going on in the background. I know you guys can’t hear it. I’m happy to hang out for a few minutes if there are more questions, but really quickly, before we let people go, Susan, what’s the best way for folks to work with you?

Susan: You can get a free ebook that talks about three ways to get out of the day-to-day in your business. If you are an overwhelmed business owner and you’re like, “I don’t have time for any ebook,” just contact me, and we can talk.

Erik: We’ve got the link there for you, and for us, we are happy to … If anybody is interested in learning about how we approach marketing, email me. I’d happily send you a book and get you guys the good stuff.

Susan: It’s really good.

Erik: It’s the best way to understand all of the crazy things that are in my head and laid out in an easy-to-digest way. So there’s that. If you’re looking to solve a problem, if there’s something that’s just absolutely eating you up, contact me. I’m happy to do a half-hour Zoom and just talk.

Roger: Thank you so much. Well done.

Erik: Thank you all for coming. We really, really appreciate it.

Susan: Thank you for coming.

Peter: Thank you for reaching out. Thank you.

Stephanie Perard: Thank you.

Erik: I’m happy to hang for any last questions.

Susan: Yeah, I’ll hang around too.

Stephanie: Are you still taking questions?

Susan: We’ll take them. We have a few minutes. We can stick around.

Which Basic Marketing Tools Do Small Businesses Need?

Stephanie: Okay. So the question that I have for a small business that’s still on the ground up, that’s not out yet, is what would be the basic marketing tools they need, bedside or website?

Erik: Tell me a little bit about the business.

Stephanie: It’s a photo booth business.

Erik: So you’re renting photo booths?

Stephanie: Yes. So we’ll go to the event if someone needs a photo booth, and then, of course, we’ll be there with the equipment as the people are taking pictures. So I know my husband is working on the website regarding what we offer for our services. So what would be the next marketing tool we will need? Of course, I know I have to go to those events, that wedding event. I probably need to subscribe to anything they’re doing in Dallas just to get the word out, but what other tools can I use?

Erik: I would look to build a lot of content and just share the message on Pinterest.

Stephanie: Pinterest, okay.

Erik: Huge in the wedding industry, and then Instagram.

Stephanie: Pinterest and Instagram. Okay.

Erik: You can advertise on both platforms as well because people are using those tools to really get … They’re always looking for ideas and the fun stuff. Photo booths are unquestionably fun. So you’ve got to build that vibe around it, and you can definitely reach people on those platforms.

Stephanie: Okay. Thank you. I did not think about Pinterest and Instagram. Thank you.

Susan: Does anyone else that stuck around has any questions?

Erik: Cool.

Susan: All right.

Erik: We’ll go ahead and wrap up, but thank you, everybody. Thank you all for coming. We really appreciate it, and we’ll see you next time. We’ll see you.

Stephanie: Bye-Bye.

Erik: Bye.

Susan: Bye.

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