The Interim CMO: A Smart Approach to Successful Start-up High Tech Marketing

Recently Attain Marketing joined forces with AgileValue, a Silicon Valley- based consulting firm focused on helping technology companies launch new companies and products, to provide a full range of start-up marketing services. In this blog post, Susan Knorr, AgileValue Principal with over 20 years of experience in executive sales and marketing management, talks about the value of the interim CMO, an innovative approach to start up marketing that helps young companies, or companies in transition, leverage executive level marketing talent on a consultant basis.  As discussed in a previous blog post with financial services pro Charlie O’Rourke, outsourcing marketing is a good way to deal with budget restraints while staying competitive in a sluggish economy.   Smart companies know they should not forgo their marketing activities – especially if they plan on establishing healthy longevity in their business, so they see outsourced marketing, like an Interim CMO, as a great way to leverage talent and stay proactive.

Many high-technology companies start the marketing process too late. They build new products/services based upon a cool idea and technology innovation hoping the buyers will come.

However, all companies need to analyze the market opportunity for new products. Is there a genuine need? How should the new product/service be positioned competitively to win in each potential target market segment?  Bottomline, companies must answer three key questions:  Will they buy? Will they buy from me? Will they buy from me now?

And they need this assistance before the product/service is developed.  In fact, for companies to succeed, a marketing plan is needed while product development plans are still on the drawing board.  Sure, it could be the next Facebook, but in reality chances are less than 5% that a new company will succeed.  Further, these statistics also apply to new product offerings in existing companies.  Many companies typically rely on one bread-and-butter product to generate revenue, but a second “hit” is elusive.

If it makes sense that marketing should occur before (if not in parallel with) product development, why do so many companies wait until the end of the development process to get started?  One reason may simply be a belief in the old adage that says “if we build it, people will come”.  Really?  Still, another common reason is lack of funding to hire the marketing staff required before and during the development process.  Funds are spent on engineering resources without a strategy as to how the product will be marketed or sold. Often, the product languishes before becoming profitable.

More than ever, companies striving for success must consider just how costly it is to build a new company, product or service that won’t succeed.

So what can companies do to maximize their success rate when introducing a new product/service?  One solution is to outsource the marketing function by employing an interim CMO, a strategy that greatly reduces overhead costs while improving the overall potential for success.

5 Must-Have Start-Up High Tech Marketing Activities

Given limited resources, what are the top activities that should take place and where can companies derive the biggest bang for their buck?  Here are 5 essential marketing activities for securing VC funds, launching new companies and introducing new products.

  • Market Opportunity Assessment.  A basic assessment should include needs analysis, market sizing and detailed profiling of key competitors.  This analysis serves as a validation of the product/service offering given the competitive landscape.
  • Investor Package Development.  Investors are most interested in: What is the market opportunity? What are the funding requirements? How will funds be used? What is the exit strategy?  The investor package includes an executive summary, presentation, revenue model, revenue projections, costs, staffing, exit strategy and time frame.
  • Sales Distribution Planning.  Ideally, a good sales distribution plan brings together sales and marketing.  It identifies the target market segments, how to reach those target markets and how to sell to them.  Sales distribution can include direct, indirect, channel partner, retail, third-party and online sales.  Effective sales distribution plans also identify the relative importance of inbound vs. outbound lead generation.
  • Go-to-Market Strategy.   Companies need to come out of the gate quickly with new offerings without breaking the bank.  This includes creating buzz and generating leads.  The strategy may include product launch, PR, events, advertising, search engine optimization, social networking and marketing campaigns.  Once again, it is important to determine how leads and revenue will be generated from inbound and/or outbound marketing.
  • Market Messaging.  This can include product naming, tagline, elevator pitch, product/service descriptors and pitches.   It is important to have specific market messaging for each target market.  In addition, the messaging must be clear, succinct and compelling.  It must communicate what exactly is unique about the product/service and why it is better than competitive offerings.  It cannot be bland or indicate a “me too” solution to potential customers.

In conclusion, it’s never too early to start the marketing function for any new company, product or service.  An interim CMO can help the process by providing the assistance needed, when it is needed, and at an affordable cost.

Product Management and Marketing: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

For this blog post I’ve asked long time friend and colleague, Robert Lonadier to share his insights on the role of product management and the dynamics of its relationship with marketing. Robert’s career spans the gamut of IT hardware, software, and services with an impressive record of achievement as both a product management and product marketing professional – he currently serves as a Senior Product Manager at EMC.
The roles of product management and product marketing have evolved considerably in the 20+ years that I have practiced them. Early in my career, product management and product marketing were largely left to their own devices. Thinking that the positions and function were somehow temporary, we were left to pretty much do as we pleased. Product Management’s job was to tell the engineer’s what the build. “Develop the requirements” they would say. But where to look for the source of the inspiration on what customer’s really wanted? “Talk to Sales and Marketing, they are the ones closest to the customer”.

And the textbooks were not much value, either. They either focused on consumer product management; large numbers of customer’s whose preferences were measured in tenths of a percentage of market share. Does anyone remember the Cola Wars? It’s no surprise these techniques did not transfer over well. A few innovative researchers, including Eric von Hippel of the Sloan School of Management, looked at how lead users identify the source of innovation, often in very surprising and unpredictable ways. Product Marketing grew out of the need to support sales. Help make Sales go more smoothly by greasing the skids. Provide “air cover” to Sales. It really took the classic microprocessor battles of the late 1970s (a good read on the subject is “Marketing High Technology” by William Davidow) for Product Marketing to hit its stride

Given how the disciplines evolved, product management and product marketing often have an uneasy relationship. So many functions can easily fall into each other’s bucket. There is even a well-respected product management body of knowledge called “Pragmatic Marketing”. So, it’s no surprise that many practitioners are confused about the proper roles between the two functions. And management is not making this easier by often times lumping the functions together and not properly defining the roles.

Product Management and Marketing’s Guide to Harmonious Co-Existence

So, what is a product manager and product marketer to do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Reach out to your product marketing/product management counterpart(s). Do not wait for management to step in and suggest this. Seize the initiative.
  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities up front. Especially if there is nothing already documented.
  • Be flexible. Depending on the skill level and capability of your product management/marketing counterpart, you may need to adjust what your contribution is in order to ensure that there are no gaps.
  • Remember you’re both on the same team and the real goal is to help your company reach its sales numbers.

The future of both disciplines is bright as the roles of product management and product marketing are critical to the development and marketing of successful products.  Companies that can clearly define and embrace both roles are more likely to see better overall results in bringing sellable products to market.