Could the Spirit of Sam be Seriously Harming your Marketing Efforts?

By Russ Sharer

Sam Bankman-Fried, the mercurial founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, talked a lot of venture capitalists into pouring millions of dollars into his business before its sudden collapse and $8 billion of investors’ money went missing. Russ Sharer looks at the possible parallels for marketers and asks, “Do you know how your money is being spent?”

Is Sam Bankman-Fried One of Your Consultants? No, not the actual SBF; he’s busy with court matters at the moment. I’m talking about the spirit of SBF – apparently brilliant yet without the ability to clearly communicate how it all works – ending with an empty bank account. Let me explain why I feel the spirit of SBF may be seriously harming your marketing efforts.

During the days of the 2021 crypto boom, NBC News interviewed a woman at the Miami Bitcoin Conference. This woman had invested her life savings in crypto and was proud of talking many of her friends into doing the same thing. After her burst of enthusiasm, the reporter asked her how crypto currencies worked. After starting and stopping her explanation a couple of times, the woman looked at the reporter and said, “I can’t explain it, but it works.” I compassionately wonder how that woman is faring financially today.

But even more, I think about how many marketing departments are following the same path.

Not long ago, I was speaking with some representatives about how their digital agency was spending their marketing dollars. The woman gave me a high-level overview of spend by categories, then looked and me and said, “but beyond that, they start talking, and it’s all Greek to me.” Tens of thousands of dollars per month being managed in the spirit of SBF. And when a new marketing leader joined the organization, a few questions proved the agency was the equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes – nonsensical ideas and practices leading to embarrassment.

Here’s the bottom line: If your digital agencies, marketers, and consultants can’t give you a clear explanation of how certain budget dollars are driving results, fire them.

An Ability to be Measured

After decades in marketing and sales, I recognize that one of the beauties of digital marketing is its ability to be measured. Grand strategies are fine, but they have to translate into data that informs where dollars will continue to be spent, where you should be increasing spend, and where you need to cut back.

A digital marketing strategy has lots of components – SEO, keywords, geofencing, conversions, to name a few. But getting results in all of these is not brain surgery or FTX algorithms and could be spin that cannot be understood by normal businesspeople. I’d encourage you to sit down with your digital specialists as soon as possible and trace how each strategy leads to results. Ask how Google and other search algorithms will interpret the actions. Then ask how the actions they are taking will also impact your prospects.

One of the most common sales approaches digital agencies promote is to publish a lot of content with buried key words. Certain phrases are then grabbed by web indexes that will lead to higher search rankings. Not only does it not always work, but also in the rush to quantity, the content can be written very poorly, tarnishing your brand. Real people, it turns out, read it, too. From my experiences, if your consultants are saying “we know how to trick the algorithms,” they are likely taking shortcuts that will harm you in the long run. Again, the spirit of SBF.

Start with Clear Goals

Start any digital market plan with clear goals – unique visitors, source, length of time on the site, what pages are visited, what content is downloaded and most important, how many will convert to leads and customers. How many give you more information on themselves? If you are advertising, what key words and phrases are delivering results, not just page views. In the case of the digital agency I previously mentioned, the key words the agency was buying had limited appeal to actual prospects but drove unique visitors to the site. After removing the agency, cleaning these issues up with knowledgeable consultants has resulted in significantly better results from significantly reduced spending. Too many people only hear that “more spend will solve your issues” when we all know more “dumb dollars” just make budgets vaporize.

And if you don’t have anyone on staff who can ask intelligent questions, talk to your network and ask those you trust who they are using.  But beyond a name, ask how that agency or consultant is delivering results, how well they explain the digital strategies and tactics they are deploying, and more importantly, what metrics are they tracking and how do they compare to industry averages. Maybe your friends are wasting their money, too.

If you’re a digital agency or consultant, I know you’re frustrated by the con artists out there. A few bad folks can taint the whole industry. That means you’ll have to spend more time educating clients before an engagement – conducting analysis on their statistics and making concrete suggestions. Yet time invested yields smarter customers that will ultimately make your business better.

The goal is always to build brands and businesses, not bubbles. Learn to ask good questions of your digital agencies, marketers, and consultants that get answered in your native language. I’ll bet a bunch of SBF’s clients wish they had done that before their dollars disappeared.

Russ Sharer is a business leader with over 35 years of experience in B2B sales and marketing, Russ serves as Chief Sales Officer of The Brooks Group, a Sales and Sales Leadership training company. He is co-author of Agile and Resilient: Sales Leadership for the New Normal. Previously, he was founder and principal of Sharer & Associates, a professional consultancy working with Executives, Sales, and Marketing leaders. He combines his work experience with a lifelong commitment to learning and strong communication skills to help individuals and team maximize their outcomes.

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