Last week we started by mentioning all the metaphors business people use to describe their endeavors – wars, machines, forces, etc. One we did not mention was a roller coaster, and for obvious reasons. While this is sometimes used, it is never in a positive or desirable context. Unfortunately, some businesses can accurately be described this way, especially among those providing professional services.
The roller coaster metaphor brings to mind images of a labyrinthine wooden track, oscillating rapidly between peaks and valleys – which are the crux of the metaphor. At the peak, business is booming. This is ostensibly a good thing. You’re busy providing your services, making lots of money, and feeling productive serving your clients. But when you are this busy, it becomes easy (almost necessary) to ignore core business functions.
It’s likely you’ve felt this with the finance or operations aspect of your business. Recall that moment of frustration as you finally sit down after a busy day only to stand back up again, frustrated as you remember an invoice that needs to be sent or an email waiting to be drafted.
While this is aggravating, you’ve probably never had this experience with your marketing, because marketing is a much more intangible, indirect function. It’s easy to let marketing slip to the back corner of the back burner, and the costs of pushing back a planning session for your marketing strategy or delaying getting that ad out go unfelt. That’s because the cost is to future growth.
Forgetting to bill a client hurts a definite amount today, foregoing marketing hurts an indefinite amount tomorrow.
The Roller Coaster Trap
And this is how professional service providers get strapped into the roller coaster. By letting your marketing slide, you quickly get caught up in moments of performing the functional work of your business. But these moments eventually end, and you don’t have any future jobs lined up because you haven’t been marketing.
It is easy to fall into this trap because most small business owners are actually technicians. Their skill set is focused on the specialized task that they do within operations, not on managing the other three core business functions: marketing, sales, and finance.
Knowing your own skills is key to being successful, and this, along with wanting to get off the roller coaster, is why the most successful professional service providers hire on dedicated marketing resources (either as employees or through other complimentary professional service providers). Just as understanding your business as a process in the context of the four functions is necessary to realize its full potential, seeing the potential for marketing to be a process is key to its effective, ongoing functionality. This is a key concept to understand when deciding whether to find the time to struggle through it yourself or recruit an expert that could provide you with a steady stream of potential clients.
BIG Marketing – Four Steps to Escape the Roller Coaster
Marketing of course starts with a strategy. If you don’t know your goals or destination you can’t really make progress. Thinking back to the four functions of business, marketing exists to send leads onto your sales function, where they are further qualified and grow in commitment until they finally decide to buy or drop off.
This is accomplished through three broad categories of action: planting, nurturing, and harvesting. The obvious farm analogy is intentional because the nature of the process is similar.
First, of course, you have to find leads. These can come from in-person contacts at industry events and conferences, organizations’ contact lists, LinkedIn, or numerous other sources. Some of the best marketers are those that explore creative ways to consistently find new leads. Making that initial contact is just like a farmer planting a seed in his field. He does so knowing that not every seed will grow into what he wants, but if his process is correct and he plants enough seeds, then a sufficient number of them will turn into the harvest he needs.
After the lead is planted it needs nurturing. This is where the real marketing work comes into play. We at BIG focus on a content marketing strategy – hence this blog you are reading – and try our best to provide valuable, informative content and ideas to build a positive relationship with our potential customers. This process can go on for weeks or months or wrap up fairly quickly. It all depends on the type of product or service being sold and the mindset of the lead. Of course, there is no excuse for shoddy content, and everyone will see right through that. If the focus is not actually on providing value but on rushing someone along a sales funnel, it will hurt the organization in the long run.
Once someone is engaging with the brand consistently and has identified themselves as having an actual need that could be solved by your product or service, then it is time to start thinking about harvesting. Unfortunately marketers don’t have the actual crop in front of them to gauge like a farmer would. Instead, it is a matter of finesse, demonstrating services and showing the benefit to leads while always providing value. At the far end, the harvesting function blends into sales, just as some sales of course blends into marketing. Rather than hard and fast lines between each business function, there are estuaries where the two meet.
With this chain of events in mind – strategy, planting, nurturing, harvesting – it becomes possible to turn your marketing into a process. The easiest way is of course hiring someone that does it professionally and so benefits from specialization, expertise, and scale. But keeping marketing efforts in house, either by doing them yourself or hiring someone to help, requires trial and error. Only time will tell the best sources of leads for your specific practice, or the best types of content on which medium to deliver.