As the CMO and managing partner with Chief Outsiders, author Karen Hayward helps mid-market companies create and execute comprehensive growth plans. In her new book, Stop Random Acts of Marketing, Karen shares with readers the same information she shares with her clients.
With this systematic roadmap, you will be able to see the big picture, take your business where it needs to go and execute the necessary tools for prioritizing, optimizing, and initiating a clear plan for sustainable growth.
As Karen points out in this podcast, having an understanding of this plan right now while the tide is high is an essential strategy for riding through the probable upcoming recession with more ease.
Nikki Van Noy: Karen, thank you so much for joining us on Author Hour today.
Karen Hayward: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here, thanks for having me.
Nikki Van Noy: Of course. Your new book, Stop Random Acts of Marketing, which is a fabulous title by the way. Tell me, what it was that made you want to write this book now?
Karen Hayward: Over the last five years, I’ve worked for a firm called Chief Outsiders and we go in and build growth plans for companies. I’ve seen, in working with a lot of mid-market CEOs, that there’s such an opportunity to leverage best practices and easy strategies to grow their business. And they have such a focus on operations that with just a little bit of marketing, you could really unleash real growth potential. And so, I thought, “Why don’t I just take all of the strategies and execution opportunities that I’ve learned through working at Xerox for 20 years that we could bring to the mid-market to make a real difference?”
The book is really about the things I’ve learned that work in mid-market companies that I have right-sized from best practices and Fortune 500 experiences.
Nikki Van Noy: Just to clarify a little bit here, with a growth plan, are people just generally ignoring marketing in that or they going about it haphazardly? What do you generally see happening in this case?
Karen Hayward: Well, it’s so funny you ask that I do a lot of CEO workshops. And I always start the presentation with, “You know, let me know what aspects of growing your company or sales and marketing you’re struggling with.” And the last thing on the list is random acts of marketing and invariably, that gets A, a chuckle in the room and B, this recognition that, “Yeah, we kind of don’t really have a plan. We tried this and we try that, and this works and that doesn’t work.” And then there’s this huge frustration that they’re spending money and they’re not sure what they’re getting.
There is a proved and tried and true way to go about unleashing growth in a very structured way that doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg and that’s kind of the genesis.
How to Achieve Growth
Nikki Van Noy: What is that proven, tried and true way to achieve growth?
Karen Hayward: You know, instead of just going to an agency and saying, “Take my money and we’re going to do campaigns,” it’s often about getting the right insights from your customer, your competitors, and what your employees think that’s resonating in the marketplace. You really pull your messaging, your market position by triangulating around what your customers think of you in terms of your strengths and weaknesses, what’s going on with your competitors, and where you want to take your company.
Those insights then inform the strategy and the strategy is about, “Okay, what market do we want to go after? What are the offerings and how are we going to position them in each of the different market segments?” Again, so it resonates. And then, once you understand where you want to go, what you want to say and how you want to compete, then and only then do you look at the resources, the tactics, and the metrics by which you’re going to measure success.
Nikki Van Noy: What you’re saying makes so much sense. Where do you think it is that people get led astray from doing this? What are the shiny objects that distract them or whatever the case may be?
Karen Hayward: Well, you know, it’s well documented. We did a study with the University of Texas in Austin and really learned that there are two types of CEOs. There are very operational CEOs and there are very growth-minded CEOs. The vast majority of mid-market CEOs are very operationally focused, and they run sound companies.
There’s a very large difference between running a company and growing a company. Running a company is we’re going to pedal the bicycle faster and faster. You optimize inside the four walls of your company so to speak. Growing a company means that you need to look outside the window and align with the outside forces.
What are your competitors doing? What’s going on in the industry segments you’re looking at, what’s going on in the general economy? Is a recession coming? Do we need to do things differently? What’s happening from a technology perspective? It’s really aligning with the outside forces and then working inside. In a bicycle metaphor, it’s like adding gears to your bike.
Nikki Van Noy: That makes a lot of sense. It sounds to me like it’s sort of an issue of vantage point, to a large extent.
Karen Hayward: I think it’s that. And I also think that CEO’s have been so burned with marketing ideas, you know, that are kind of random and then they think of branding and they go, “Well, it’s not measurable. We can’t figure that out, it’s nice to have.” You know, when you think about it, there are lots of examples out there. Nike has had one logo in all its years and has gone from a very small company to a 36-billion-dollar company that continues to grow. Xerox has had six logos in the last 20 years and its growth rate is declining. You look at the amount of money that has been spent on branding that hasn’t yielded in those two scenarios.
I think people think of marketing as well, “What’s the logo?” Things that you can’t measure and marketing is so much more than that today, especially with digital marketing.
Nikki Van Noy: One thing that you talk about here I want to really dive into digital marketing but before we get there, another word that stands out in your book to me is this idea of reactive. So, specifically, that sales initiatives are reactive and therefore ineffective. So, not supported by solid marketing.
This is really interesting to me because I’m not a CEO obviously, but it just seems counter-intuitive to me that people would put the work into creating products to sell and putting them out there and then not have marketing ready to go alongside that.
Karen Hayward: Well, if you think about how most companies got started, it’s because the founder had some kind of market insight and developed something to fill a niche or to solve a problem. The companies then grow. And then eventually, usually, they get stuck at some point where growth gets harder.
It becomes really important at that point to stop and get more market insight and I think the pressure of just making that number and the fact that a lot of mid-market companies don’t have a marketing leader. They might have a marketing communications person or a marketing helper. They don’t have that strategic person they can turn to say, “Okay, well what is it going to take to unleash this next stage of growth?” They think of marketing very tactically. They think of it as the website, just as an example. I’ll get calls all the time, “You know, we’re thinking of doing a new website. Can you help us?”
The answer is, of course, we can help you, but why are you doing it on a website? What’s the messaging going to be, how do you know the messaging is going to resonate. It’s so funny, we were just working with a company in Edmonton, Alberta and they had tons of leads coming to their website, but none of them would convert into business, and they couldn’t figure out how to generate orders.
Well, the simple process of interviewing clients, looking at competitors, looking at the marketplace, we found that their messaging just didn’t resonate. People were really interested in it, but it wasn’t going to cost them to buy. They went from this whole focus of, “We deliver innovation.” Well, innovation terrifies CFO’s and CIO’s. We turned it around to we’re going to manage, we’re going to protect and we’re going to accelerate your business, which totally resonated and now, all of their conversions have converted. All of their opportunities that converted at a much higher rate and they’re able to engage customers because all of a sudden, the messages resonate.
Nikki Van Noy: That sounds like such a relatively simple tweak.
Karen Hayward: It is! None of this is rocket science, I’ll give you another example. I was working with a cyber-security company and the sales force was really screaming that they were losing to a new market entrant. Dell had a new service they launched, and Dell was $15,000 cheaper. And so, the sales force was rallying for the CEO to reduce the fee by $15,000 and meet Dell where they were. I said, “Well before we do that, let’s just go to the market and find out why we’re winning and why we’re losing.” A very simple thing, win/loss analysis, and so we unleashed a win/loss analysis effort and found out that the reason they were losing, for the most part, was because they couldn’t articulate a product roadmap.
The buyer felt like if they made a cyber-security decision, they’d have to stick with it if those providers didn’t have a roadmap. Well, you know, that was risky, and they could potentially lose their job. You know, what an insight, right? We could do a product roadmap, so what did we do? We got the CTO and the CIO, put together a strategy and a plan, we did some videos, we trained the sales force. Guess what happened to the win rate? It went way up.
Nikki Van Noy: What I’m getting from this is that there’s nothing formulaic about this. So, it’s on a case by case basis, at least based on those two examples. The root of the problem was in different places. How can companies begin to identify where things aren’t working and shift from there in that really focused effective type of way?
Karen Hayward: Well, I think it starts with measuring. Very simple tools like Net Promoter Score, there are free vendors out there who can enable you to go to market and get the voices of customers so you can find out how your customers are feeling about their customer experience, which can guide how you can do product development and things that you can fix operationally.
But more importantly, it’s really an opportunity to understand what it is your customers love about you and making sure that you are positioning your offering to accentuate your strengths. There are lots of easy tools to use. Things like a SWOT analysis. Lots of companies do it, but they never activate it.
You start with a SWOT analysis, what are our strengths? How can we take a strength that we have and create a program around it? I can give you an example. Let’s say you are a company that is selling services to a very large organization and you feel that your strength is your engineers. Well, if you were to map out where all of your clients are and then look at where your largest opportunities to grow your largest clients and protect that business, you could create a program around market innovation, deploying your engineers once a quarter to talk to your client’s engineers. Call it your platinum service and get really intimate with that particular client and you will learn all kinds of things.
You will learn how to develop your product better. You will learn what they love about you that you can do more off, you will learn what they don’t like about you that you can put on a roadmap to fix at some point. But it is really getting out of procurement and figuring out how to get customer intimacy so you can get those insights that will tell you what and how you need to grow. You know what, I can even give you an example from a chief outsider’s perspective.
Nikki Van Noy: Yes.
Karen Hayward: We sell to two audiences. We sell to CEO’s and we sell to private equity. When we interviewed private equity and found out what they think about growing mid-market companies and marketing, they talk a completely different language than CEO’s do. And so, you have to message in the way that the customer finds relevant. So, as a result, if you go to our website, we have information for CEOs in one set of messages and a completely different set for private equity.
And guess what’s happened to our private equity business since we fixed the messaging? It has grown by leaps and bounds.
Nikki Van Noy: Again, so simple. Once you get to the root of what is happening.
Karen Hayward: 100%.
Big M Marketing
Nikki Van Noy: So, as companies begin to develop their roadmap, what elements do they want to take into account? I know we have talked about some of them, but I would love to just take it straight through.
Karen Hayward: You have to start with what we call big M marketing. So, what is the insight that you need? Where are your competitors succeeding? Where do you succeed? It could be a win-loss analysis, so talking to clients about why they chose to do business with you. It is talking to clients who didn’t choose to do business with you, and this is not something you could have your sales force do because you cannot turn it into a sales call.
You get an independent third party to talk to your customers and people who chose not to work with you. And then you look at the competition and how they are positioning in the marketplace. And once you triangulate around those three things, you’ll start to see where you can win in the market. It becomes very clear what your strengths are, how you can leverage them in the marketplace. So, you activate a SWOT. So, you say, “Here are our strengths, here is what we are going to take to market. What does our current client base look like?”
You map your current client base. You segment it and you say, “Where are the biggest opportunities to grow the business and where do I have to protect the business?” So, if you are in a slow-growth business and you want to grow beyond your market rate, you have to go after your competitors. Okay, so what is the plan to do that? And then from there, you look at, “Okay, how are we going to differentiate ourselves in a noisy marketplace?”
You have to be really clear about what and how you’re different. How are we going to position against the competitors and how are we going to price and message? So that’s the next step.
And then finally, the last thing is, “Okay now that we have the right message and we are focused on the right market with the right product, how are we going to generate leads?” So, then we take our messaging and we say, “Okay, what are the channels that we need to be on?”
I see all of these mid-market companies focused on social, Instagram and Twitter, and their customers aren’t even on those channels. So, you have to figure out who are we trying to reach and sell to and then be where they are. It is having the right channels. For sure a website is important. It is having the right sales collateral with the right messaging. It is telling the sales force which ponds to go fishing. And then being at the right trade show and public relations if that is a play and finally really establishing your metrics.
Nikki Van Noy: There is something so satisfying to my brain when I listen to people like you, take these ideas that seem so complex and then just make it very, very organized and linear. Again, all of that seems vastly achievable if you break it down like that.
Karen Hayward: There are very specific tactics that you can also apply. You know we probably have a recession coming. I am hopeful that everybody is thinking about, “What is it I need to get in place so that when the going gets tough, I am able to continue to grow my business?” When the going gets tough, the tough get going and I think now it is really the time to say, “I need to have a plan to win more business and be more aggressive in my market outreach because it is going to be a tougher sell when the economy starts to slow down.”
It is taking some of these best practices, whether it is protecting large accounts because your competitors are also going to get more aggressive in a downturn economy and figuring out how do we protect what we have and how do we go get more of what they have.
Nikki Van Noy: That is an interesting point. So, you know obviously, we are hearing about this probable recession from all different areas right now. From what you’re seeing are businesses beginning to take heed to this and prepare or you are not seeing a lot of action at this point?
Karen Hayward: I think people are really enjoying the rising tide that is floating all about right now.
Nikki Van Noy: It is hard not to enjoy that when it is present and think ahead.
Karen Hayward: Absolutely and everybody is busy, right? They are busy and the business is coming their way. And what’s going to happen when things start to slow down is for those people that really in a B2B world have not flushed out their core messaging and their demand in lead generation plans and really optimize marketing so that they rely less on sales, those people are going to have the toughest time because you look at salespeople today, nobody answers their phone.
So, you know if you don’t have a digital strategy, softening and creating awareness, it makes selling pretty tough for salespeople today. Yes, they can go and call on the same clients they have always had. But breaking into new accounts has never been tougher for a salesperson.
Nikki Van Noy: Another thing that I wanted to discuss with you is in terms of implementation, you talk about how in terms of marketing, companies can tend to either delegate their growth strategy to outside agencies or to junior marketing resources. That is interesting to me because it seems like it is one extreme to the other right there. Where ideally in your mind would this fall, who would be overseeing this?
Karen Hayward: So, building your brand is an inside job. Finding the soul of your company that best resonates with the market is something that the company has to do for itself. Now, whether you bring in a vice-president of marketing to do this or you hire a fractional CMO, which is what Chief Outsiders, my firm does, you need to have someone who has done this many, many, many times. It is hard to do. It is simple. But having someone who has seen that movie before can go significantly faster and can really build you that roadmap.
What happens when you delegate to an agency is they keep coming back to you looking for the strategy and the plan. “Okay, we have built these campaigns. It is not working, what is the strategy and the plan now?” And then the company is put in this awkward position, where they think the agency has put a strategy and a plan together before them, but it is not about really growing the business. It is about being very tactical and running some plays to drive traffic to the website.
But when you think about really growing a business, it is looking at the business, it is doing an x-ray of the business and finding what are the vehicles that are the easiest to grow the business. And if you think about it, the easiest way to grow any business is to figure out how to get more from your current customers because they already know you’re in line here and then figuring out how to cross-sell or upsell. An agency isn’t going to do customer segmentation for you and figure out what your best customer opportunities are.
So, it really is an inside job and I think you need either a coach or an adviser or someone to help you work you through that process. There is also a very good book that was written a number of years ago by Chief Outsiders, called Growth Gears. And that also gives you a roadmap to the three gears in growing a business: insight, strategy, and then execution. I would say marketing without a strategy is like driving with your eyes closed. And there is no CEO out here that would get in their car and drive with their eyes closed.
It doesn’t really have to be this daunting task. It can take three to four to six months, certainly less than six months to really build that strategic plan that is going to take you to the next level. I think doing that ahead of the coming recession will really ensure that you can weather some stormy weathers that are coming.
Nikki Van Noy: So, the book is Stop Random Acts of Marketing. Is there anywhere else that listeners can find you?
Karen Hayward: Yes, I am chiefoutsiders.com, Karen Hayward or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow me @HaywardKG on Twitter and I’d love to hear from you.
Nikki Van Noy: Excellent. Thank you for joining us today.
Karen Hayward: Oh, thank you. It was my pleasure.