Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What do you mean by "marketing?"

I'm not always sure what people mean when they say "marketing."

PR agencies sometimes call themselves "marketing agencies." So do some graphic design firms. Even the outfits that sell tchotchkes - the stuff you give at away at tradeshows, annual sales meetings, and holiday parties - call themselves "marketing firms."

It can be hard to tell what "marketing" is or what it's supposed to do.

Here's how I think about it: Marketing's job is to help acquire and retain customers.

Marketing supports the entire customer acquisition process:
  • generating awareness
  • building interest
  • attracting leads
  • nurturing leads into qualified opportunities
  • converting opportunities into paying customers.
And in the case of software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, marketing is also responsible for helping to retain and renew existing customers.

Don't squeeze marketing

Yes, it's a broad scope of responsibility. That may explain why folks sometimes squeeze "marketing" into a narrower role.

For example, they call it "marketing," but they're really only talking about building visibility, and the sole focus is on search engine optimization or social media.

Or they call it "marketing," but the primary focus is on establishing credibility and thought leadership. These companies tend to rely heavily on webinars, white papers, and speaking at industry events.

Or they call it "marketing," but their entire task is to generate leads.

Of course, each one of these activities is part of the marketing function, but they are not all of it. And if companies focus solely on one isolated element, they may fail to achieve the overall goal: acquiring and retaining customers.

How can you tell when a company is confused or doesn't recognize marketing's broader role?

Counting the wrong things

For one, you'll see them counting the wrong things. If the primary assignment of marketing is to build visibility, they'll tend to focus on metrics such as "impressions," "followers" or "likes."

Counting these things might be important, but only if they're connected to the overall goal. How many impressions are required to generate a lead that can be nurtured into a qualified opportunity and eventually converted to a paying customer?

Lead tossing

A second symptom is "lead tossing." A marketing group that is tasked and rewarded exclusively for generating leads, for example, will often accumulate a long list of names, phone numbers and email addresses which they periodically toss over to the sales group.

Whether or not sales can actually close any of those leads and secure a paying customer isn't marketing's concern.

Pig in the python

When marketing's role is too narrowly confined, you'll often see a "pig in the python." That is, a large number of prospects stuck somewhere in the sales funnel. For example, marketing attracts lots of website visits, but few visitors provide enough information to become a qualified lead. Or marketing generates a lot of trialers, but the company can't convert them into paying customers.

In these cases, marketing is performing one particular task very well, but the overall process is failing.

SaaS firms in particular can't afford to pay for ineffective customer acquisition. If the role of marketing is too narrowly defined and doesn't span the entire customer acquisition and retention process, it will be difficult for a SaaS business to succeed.

Creative Commons License

This work by Peter Cohen, SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.