10 min read

Ian Tomlin

Ian C. Tomlin

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Marketing.  It’s one of those business terms that’s shrouded in mystery. For tech startup founders, it can feel like a huge mountain to climb without a map to guide them. Marketing gurus seem to offer all the answers, and yet… how do you approach the task when you are short on time and tight on cash?

Your first campaign will fail. If it doesn’t it means you’ve been very, very lucky. And, as it was more luck than judgement, you probably won’t know why it was a success (even if it was). Which means it’s almost impossible to reproduce. I reckon you should plan and expect your first campaign to fail. Suck it up and live with it.

The important thing is not to pin all your hopes on your first campaign. It’s all about what you do next. Do you dust yourself down and adopt the same mistakes, or do you learn from it?

Don’t blame marketing when it’s your fault 

As a proportion of their overall budget, in 2022, most companies spend approximately 7-12% of their total revenue on marketing. When it costs that much, you need it to work. Unfortunately, marketing isn’t necessarily helpful, and in this article, I explain why—but not before I take you on a bit of a journey!

I cannot count the amount of times a business leader has informed me of the sales lead target they’ve just written up on a whiteboard, expecting my team to somehow magic it into existence. I have to explain that we’re only humans, and I don’t possess a magic lamp! There are some very good reasons why you should stop segmenting your customer lifecycle into blobs of delivery function like marketing, sales, service, etc. You only have one customer audience. Why would you want to slice up the responsibility and accountability roles you need to deliver the customer engagement outcomes?

Let’s spend a little time focused on the subject of marketing.

  • Marketing is too big for the marketing department—if it fails, your business fails
  • It’s way too easy to ‘blame marketing’ when customer engagement isn’t where it needs to be
  • You force marketing to try to justify their existence with ROIs, when many of these measures have no impact on business outcomes
  • You only have one set of customers, so why do you want multiple departments working in isolation to win them, keep them happy and grow them?

And another thingyour customer lifecycle has four phases. Fail to concentrate on them all and you can easily end up with a leaky bucket business model when you spend more time trying to win customers, while your existing customers fall away.

What startups can learn from successful entrepreneurs

There are plenty of books and articles written about successful entrepreneurs and I’ve read a good number of them. Reading them gives entrepreneurs like me a great many secrets to their success, but there are very few common traits that bind them together. The most obvious things successful entrepreneurs do well are:

1. Concentrate on ONE BUSINESS IDEA at a time.

2. WRITE A LIST every day of the priorities that will make the biggest success to the business idea (a one-day strategy if you will).

3. DON’T GIVE UP until they either FULLY succeed or FULLY fail at it.

What STARTUPS can learn from Rockefeller Habits

One of the latest topics to spin around the management consulting world in 2022 is the concept of Rockefeller Habits. Allegedly, John D. Rockefeller put into practice ten habits and routines that helped him manage the chaos of business growth and rapidly scale any company he started. He
adopted a very sensible attitude to business, that of working out a small number of things that—done well, and improved on over time—can lead to better outcomes.

What startups can learn from Marginal Gains Theory

Another consulting approach dear to my heart is the Theory of Marginal GainsSir David Brailsford was the chief architect behind the Olympic successes of the GB cycle team in the 2000s. He took up post in 2003, at the time when British Cycling hadn’t won a single Olympic Gold medal for almost a century.

Brailsford’s belief was that if you broke down everything that goes into racing cycles—and improved it by just 1%—when added together, you were looking at a step-change increase. And his results subsequently justified the merit of his approach. In the 2004 Olympic Games, Great Britain won two cycling gold medals. In 2008 and 2012, the British team dominated the leader table, winning eight gold medals at both.

The learning lesson? Aim to improve key steps of key processes by 1%, and it’s almost inevitable that your business results will improve.

What startups can learn from focusing on the small things

One of my favorite business videos of all time was created by Rory Sutherland, now Vice-Chair at the ad agency Ogilvy UK. It’s here: It teaches us a very simple lesson, that customers care more about the small things they notice over the catch-all big ticket grandiose efforts large companies make to try to impress.

Blend (1) Successful Entrepreneurial Lessons, (2) Rockefeller Habits, and (3) Marginal Gains together, while (4) concentrating on the small things customers care about, and what you get is a foundational platform for successful growth. To summarize:

1.  Keep focused on your business idea and don’t falter until you succeed or fail fully.

2.  Work out what the 10 most important behaviors are that will influence the value of your business

3.  Do this small number of things well, and improve them every day

4.  And don’t forget, it’s the small things that customers care about

So, what about marketing?

Throughout this article, I haven’t mentioned marketing as such. That’s because I can tell you it’s not helpful. It shrouds everything in a veil of ‘art or witchcraft’ that doesn’t help business leaders to lead.

You don’t need a marketer. What you need is to manage a series of actions that result in:

  • Creating customers
  • Satisfying customers and equipping them to buy more and recommend you to others
  • Finding out what new things customers want to buy
  • Managing the four phases of customer lifecycle
  • Failing fast, learning, and improving
  • Installing positive growth habits across your enterprise

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