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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.

Susan KnorrMany 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.

The Art of Predicting Demand

Stephen Walker is the Managing Director of Colborn Morrison, a boutique business strategy, research & advisory, and project-based consulting services firm, based in Richmond, VA.

There are a variety of components that must be in place to create and execute on a B-to-B revenue growing marketing strategy; differentiation from competitors, the ability to reach your targeted audience, and a clear, well articulated message to simply name a few.

However, on an almost daily basis I’m exposed to companies – of all sizes and across all industries – with marketing strategies that inevitably erode into failure because they lack the cement that holds together a successful marketing strategy: a baseline understanding of what the market in general, and their current and potential customers in particular, will need 3, 6 & 12 months down the road.

Two quick clarifications about the previous sentence:

  1. Although I’m fully aware that no one has a crystal ball that shows them the future, there are a number of overarching themes and trends that marketers can leverage to develop a baseline, or general, understanding of future market demands
  2. I’m emphasizing the word need because it is entirely different from what all too many marketing plans focus on – want. Especially true in the current uncertain economic climate, characterized by budgetary freezes on most everything not essential and directly revenue-generating, what your corporate customers want has virtually nothing to do with what they buy.

Sharing this notion just last week with the V.P. of Marketing for a risk management and compliance software and service company lead said V.P. to exclaim something along the lines of: “Well Stephen, that makes sense and all but a marketing strategy doesn’t happen overnight.”

Of course, forming and putting in place a timely, well-directed, and ultimately successful marketing program does not happen overnight; that’s why building out a marketing program on the foundation of understanding what your customers will need at the time when that program is up, running, and firing on all cylinders is so important!

Although obviously each company’s marketing strategy will differ according to their size, product or service, current and target customer base & audience, etc., there are a number of overarching themes and trends that can, if studied and correctly contextualized into the overall thrust and goals of the marketing program, serve as predictive barometers of market demand.

Two of the more prevalent overarching themes and trends today include:

  1. Those induced by Government – good examples being significant legislative, policy, and regulatory trend changes
  2. Those induced by the private sector – one good example being the rapid evolution of technological advancement.

I know, that sounds pretty general; because it is. However, as mentioned before, the key is putting these overarching trends into context and translating:

  • How that trend will eventually impact the market and what type of demand it will create
  • How your company’s core capabilities and offerings can already be positioned as a leader in meeting that demand.

To quickly illustrate the conversion of general trends to demand predictions, take the notion of what I call “Mobile GRC” – applying relevant corporate compliance and risk management policies & controls to the countless millions of corporate PDA’s, smartphones, and other un-governed mobile devices containing sensitive, confidential, business-determinative information.

How might this create demand in say, the healthcare sector? Well, consider the potential market impact of this phenomenon in light of recent HIPPA crackdowns and President Obama’s pledges to tighten regulatory requirements, modernize healthcare information systems, and both strengthen and stringently enforce patient confidentiality requirements – when hospital personnel can already access patient information from their mobile devices.

During a two week period this year, I personally found 3 “company” Blackberry’s, with no password protection, in the back seat of taxi’s; and I don’t even ride the taxi that much! It’s just as likely to assume that one of those phones belonged to a doctor as it is to assume that it belonged to a stockbroker – which is a completely different, but perhaps even more valid argument for Mobile GRC we’ll save for another day.

In the ridiculously (and ever increasingly) competitive technology and services market, timing is everything; market share, revenue growth, expansion, and ultimately success will accrue to those companies who master the art of predicting demand.