A Marketing Consultant’s 4-Step Process for Creating and Presenting a Marketing Strategy to Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses (SMB)
When I work with businesses to create marketing strategies to help them meet their business objectives, I always strive to take a marketing consultant approach. I even try to extend my approach to their clients–especially if I am operating in the agency world. A marketing consultant should have experience working with a multitude of businesses throughout a multitude of industries that vary in how they typically market their businesses.
A marketing consultant should also understand that there is more than one way to cook the same egg and that no egg looks exactly alike. I have assumed the roles of successful niche marketers before and greatly outperformed their previous campaigns. That had everything to do with my experiences outside of that particular niche. Some of these companies are still enjoying the fruit of the programs that I built for them years ago. These companies all shared at least two things in common. They were serious about investing in their marketing and they were open to doing things differently.
Common Factors a Marketing Consultant Should Consider When Creating a Marketing Strategy
There are many indicators that determine the best marketing strategy for a business. I have spent most of my career working with small to medium sized businesses (SMB). In the small-to-medium business (SMB) world, budget is the most common factor to play a role in choosing a marketing strategy. A smaller budget creates more conversation around what marketing tactics will be used. A larger marketing budget typically creates more conversation around how much will be spent oneach marketing tactic as few are left out of marketing strategies backed by large advertising budgets. That said, I have worked as a marketing consultant on projects for large corporations and can tell you from experience that large corporations do not always spend more on every project than small businesses do.
Another common factor that influences marketing strategies and that is less obvious, is culture. For example, some businesses are more traditional and prefer to operate where they are comfortable. These businesses are often accustomed to outbound marketing tactics that might include tactics like outbound sales calls, trade shows and radio/television advertising. Alternatively, more progressive companies typically use inbound marketing tactics that generate inbound sales leads and include other tactics such as search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), podcasts and subscription-based email marketing programs that yield inbound sales calls. In an ideal world, most businesses would like to do all of the above, but the budget might not allow it or stakeholders might have objections towards moving in a direction that they have never tried before.
As I stated earlier, I have been blessed with many opportunities to work with companies that were serious about their marketing and open to trying new things. I am not saying that every company agreed with every suggestion. In fact, it took many years to learn to channel my passion for doing things a certain way and accept thank you, but no thank you as an answer. Being an independent marketing consultant for 8 years following college gets you used to doing things your way. Now that I have 22 years and many lessons under my belt, I have learned it is important to understand a company’s culture, so you can be better prepared to pivot when objections come your way and have full knowledge of alternative solutions that stakeholders may be more comfortable with. In my opinion, this is how a consultant’s approach should begin–understanding the company culture and the stakeholders involved in making the decisions.
The Anatomy of My 4 Step Process for Creating & Presenting a Marketing Strategy to My Clients
In an effort to create an efficient system for gaining the necessary understanding of my clients, I developed a 4-step work-bench long ago that allows for a thorough needs assessment–a.k.a. a discovery process–a requirements gathering process that is followed by a proposal and contract that outlines the project in detail. This work-bench was based on lessons from E-myth Revisited and a lean version of a process that I learned from a project manager and mentor who previously worked for IBM. This relationship was my first experience where I learned some of the differences between working in the SMB world as opposed to corporate America.
One might assume working within a large corporation is a more daunting task than working for a small business, but I have found that it is the other way around. I have witnessed numerous individuals who had successful careers working for large corporations struggle to make the transition to the SMB world. Fewer resources were available and more hats were required of these individuals in order to make an impact on smaller businesses, and that was not what they were accustomed to. Not to mention, the tech is different and the attention to productivity is greater in many instances, because the stakeholders often have their finger on the pulse of how each employee is performing.
Alternatively, large corporations have more resources to layer individuals who specialize in specific areas of business in order to fulfill specific roles that involve a more refined set of processes. There tends to be less micromanaging in large corporations due to greater bureaucracy. HR typically makes it harder to let go of employees. There are also more resources to lean on for assistance in larger teams. The SMB world is pretty cut-throat and demands efficiency, versatility and productivity from most SMB cultures.
I do believe both small and large businesses and their employees can learn a lot from each other, and that is precisely what occurred when I was mentored by this gentleman on how to conduct a needs analysis. I now have a sophisticated and tactical approach to understanding my clients, their businesses and their objectives. The time it takes to complete the needs assessment is relatively small, but enough to allow me to build a relationship with my clients, and gain trust, while ensuring as many relative details surrounding their businesses as possible are considered and addressed in my proposals.
After conducting a needs assessment or discovery phase and reviewing the summary with my client, I then start with the requirements gathering phase which is also referred to by some as the exploration phase. The point of this phase in project planning is to determine available options for addressing the needs outlined throughout the needs summary. With these options, I do my best to show them what their competition is doing and how they are performing. The latter is much easier to do in the digital world, than it is in the more conventional world.
I also provide performance projections based on data and research. Typically, I outline these options for the client via an online or an in-person presentation. In the presentation, I outline their objectives, educate them on what is being done by their competitors to meet similar objectives while showing them data on how they stack up, and then I provide them with a vision for reaching those objectives that almost always includes phases and pricing tiers that range from conservative to aggressive.
I prefer in-person presentations over online presentations, because web meetings tend to be followed by quick exits. In-person meetings usually are more accommodating for the presenter and allow for Q&A. My proposals are part of the contract and they include the details of the marketing strategy. If I am offering tiered pricing, I bring separate versions of the contract, so the chances of getting started on the project immediately are greater. The efficiency and thoroughness of this entire process often leaves stakeholders feeling included, excited and confident about how we will handle the execution of their marketing strategy. This is probably my favorite part of every project. Sure, a new contract is always cause for celebration, but the feeling of someone placing confidence in my vision along with the certainty that they made the right decision as I am about to embark on yet another project is what does it for me.