Marketing practices were changing even before the coronavirus pandemic. The new situation calls for a new approach. Greater collaboration between sales and marketing teams, the need for executives to have a broader knowledge base and expertise, and a more flexible work force are common themes in both B2B and B2C marketing practices.
In this episode of Expert Opinion, Ryan Rieches is joined by Karen Hayward, author of the book, Stop Random Acts of Marketing. After 20 years with Xerox, and a number of other start-up and mid-market companies, Karen is now Managing Partner of Chief Outsiders, a firm that provides interim or part-time marketing executives to mid-market companies. The two discuss the growing frustration among CEOs, the changing roles of marketing executives, and best practices for a marketing program that is both measurable and sales-driven.
Welcome to Expert Opinion, the BrandingBusiness forum where leaders share their views, insights, and experiences from the world of B2B branding. And now here’s your host.
Ryan Rieches: Hello, I’m Ryan Rieches and welcome to Expert Opinion. Today’s guest is Karen Hayward, Managing Partner of Chief Outsiders, a firm that helps mid-market CEOs build and execute growth plans by providing interim or part-time marketing executives, such as Karen. Karen is also the author of Stop Random Acts of Marketing, a book that I found incredibly insightful in today’s fast-paced, media-centric world. Karen, welcome to Expert Opinion.
Karen Hayward: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Ryan Rieches: Well I’m a big fan of your book, so maybe why don’t we go ahead and just begin with what motivated you to write it?
Karen Hayward: I had spent 20 years working at Xerox and then a couple of other startup and mid-market companies, and so I sort of had all this experience seeing what best practices were and I’ve had really the opportunity to have world class training. And then five years ago I joined Chief Outsiders. And at that point we were working with mid-market businesses. And I’ve worked with almost 200 businesses over the last five years. And it was such a constant and recurring theme that CEOs were super frustrated that their marketing wasn’t working and it certainly wasn’t as measurable as they would have liked. And there’s this sort of traditional over-reliance on sales. And so, there’s sort of this confluence of this massive amount of frustration in the mid-market. The fact that marketing is becoming more and more responsible for the sales funnel and sales outcomes. And then, an opportunity to share what I’ve learned over the course of a long corporate career. So, I thought I would just take the best practices I’ve learned and put them in a book that’s all right-sized for a mid-market company.
Ryan Rieches: Well Karen, couldn’t agree more with you. So a little background on our firm, we started off 25 years ago as an advertising agency and loved it. And yet we find ourselves too often just being forced to focus on marketing tactics by our clients, the marketing executives. And we didn’t have enough insight into the CEO’s perspective, how to drive the business forward. And that’s when we started shifting, I don’t know, 15 years or so ago to brand strategy to really begin with what is our strategic intent, how are we going to develop a value proposition that will be effective going forward? And then eventually you get to the marketing tactic. So that’s why I couldn’t agree more with you and your point of view. And I do have a couple of analogies I guess to share, in the sense of before you start the marketing akin it to a carpenter “Measure twice, cut once.” Another quote I love is “Vision without execution is merely a daydream, but execution without vision is a nightmare.” It’s so true. Think about it, do it right. Go through the process.
Ryan Rieches: So, I know in your book you speak a little bit about voice of customer. So let me get your perspective before you start marketing to the customer. What are your thoughts around hearing from the customer through research and to understand their point of view of how to develop a relevant and differentiating value proposition?
Karen Hayward: Absolutely critical. You have to start with voice of the customer. And frankly that was a lesson that I learned really early in my career. I was asked in the early eighties to launch Xerox, Xerox’s personal computer into the Quebec marketplace. I grew up in Montreal and, oh, my goodness, I had had this stellar career in sales and I go to launch this PC that’s positioned as a word processor for small business and nobody buys it. Faced with failing for the first time in my life, really micro, I thought, “Oh, my goodness, this is crazy. Why doesn’t anyone want this?” So I went out and I contacted a bunch of CEOs of small businesses and I went and sat at their desk and said, “Why would you buy a PC?” And they said, “Well, we wouldn’t for word processing. The only way we would buy a PC is if it could do our accounting and we could collect our accounts receivable faster.”
Karen Hayward: So, I thought, “Oh, well that makes sense.” So I went and partnered in the Montreal marketplace. We had 60 sales people back in the day and we sold more. I went and partnered with an accounting software and we created a package solution and we sold more in Montreal than the rest of the country combined. And it was because we went and understood what the customer was looking for. And I can’t tell you the number of businesses that I’ve been associated with where the CEO says, “Well, this is what our customers love about us.” And when you go and talk to the customers, it’s something that resonates that’s so completely different. And everybody says we have great service and we have great products. So you really have to work hard to figure out where are you different before you start thinking about spending money. So to your earlier point, getting the voice of the customer is ground zero for a good marketing plan.
Ryan Rieches: So true. So we are typically brought in by the CMO or the lead marketing executive and we’re given a briefing as to what the potential brand could stand for and where the brand could go. In the old days we would have just gone out and started developing our advertising, our marketing program. But once again we’ve taken a completely different approach. And to your point, marketing can’t do this alone. Certainly not without research, but they also can’t do it without the other or the other leaders in the organization because marketing will ultimately make a promise, but the rest of the company has to keep it. And so you might as well understand what the rest of the company thinks about where the brand could go as well. And years ago we came up with a concept which we called the brand council and it’s a cross functional team of leaders.
Ryan Rieches: Think once again marketing, but also, you’ve got sales or operations or customer support or a customer experience; the CEO, CFO, and certainly HR today relates to attracting and retaining talent. So we like this approach of having this brand council be the leader throughout the entire initiative and where we get information from them and after that we share our point of view and then their job is to make decisions and ultimately be ready to launch the brand at the right time. We haven’t spoken about this, but I want to get your perspective on this, the thought of this brand council.
Karen Hayward: I love it. I think it has so many applications beyond even just marketing because good marketing has to reflect the strengths of the company. That can come in many, many different aspects of how the company delivers its service, whether it’s customer service, whether it’s the implementation of a service or the actual product that exists relative to the competition.
Karen Hayward: I have something that I have done that’s really quick and easy and I’d love to share it. It’s called a three, three, three and it is a one-time effort that allows you to tap into your employees and you make it an anonymous survey so everyone can be just totally honest. And that quiet engineer who never says anything when you’re in a big group meeting can be totally open. And you do three things. You request three strengths, three weaknesses, and what are three things they would do if they were the CEO, and you leave it totally wide open. And as you know, really building your brand is building on your core strengths that you can articulate relative to your competitors. So that’s another way to do a very quick where you poll the entire company. But I love your idea of a brand council. Super smart.
Ryan Rieches: Well good. I’m glad you like it. I also liked your three, three, three. We’ll have to… Do I have to pay you a royalty if we start using that?
Karen Hayward: Nope. And it’s all in the book too. I think I talk about it in the book.
Ryan Rieches: Yeah, you do. I liked that. You marked that page. Well, it sounds like we share a similar point of view. So kind of going back as to take a step back, you mentioned early on the CEO being frustrated because of trying to drive sales and kind of trying to go to the finish line. So from a marketing perspective, there’s a lot of pressure on marketing executives today and I noticed that the tenure of a CMO is declining rapidly. Of course that’s also happening with the CEO. But is it the other leaders in the organization, maybe even sales that are driving this urgency to rush to tactics or what can a marketing executive do to get the rest of the company just to calm down for a little bit and just do it right?
Karen Hayward: Well look, I think there are two things at play. So, I have a hypothesis that says a company’s marketing is way more complicated than it’s ever been. And so, you can go out and you can hire a CMO who’s really good at strategic planning, but not really good in digital marketing. And maybe you have to have really good digital marketing expertise once you have the strategic plan done. So I think that because of the complexity of marketing and because of how a company is so dependent on different aspects at different times of marketing, that the CMOs are not able to evolve over long periods of time anymore. And I’ll give you a quick example. We worked with a gun vault company, a company that stores guns securely, and they started out with a brand problem. And so we put an ex Smith and Wesson CMO and who knew the category and the persona and could really work with their agency and move very quickly.
Karen Hayward: But then it became very apparent that once we had the brand under control, the next opportunity was to fix e-commerce. Well that brand expert could not, was not an eCommerce expert. So we actually traded out CMOs three months into the engagement. So three months in we had CMO number one who was the brand expert. And then for the next nine months we built a whole e-commerce strategy and executed it. And the CFO would tell you that we’ve saved the year for the company. So getting access to the right marketing expertise when you need it, I think has become more important than ever. And then I think your other point was people who… The other leaders who were really having this crazy sense of urgency. I think in a lot of mid-market companies you see combined roles, you have the VP of Sales and Marketing, and that tends to drive an intense focus on tactical delivery.
Karen Hayward: Because if you’re a VP of Sales and Marketing, you got to feed 30 or 50 or a hundred families every month and you’ve got to be on the revenue. And I’ve been all three roles: sales, marketing and the combination. And the combination is extraordinarily hard to do. And then everybody is also a marketing expert, right? I mean, you don’t have eight people sitting around the table telling the CFO what to do, but you have eight people with opinions telling the VP of marketing what they should do, which is another reason why you’ve got to go back to the voice of the customer and data so that you can bring the organization along with that data so.
Ryan Rieches: So very true. I know in your book you speak a little bit about that sometimes the CEO doesn’t even understand the difference between sales and marketing. Do you continue to see that issue out there?
Karen Hayward: You know, in the mid-market it’s huge. Our number one blog on our website is What’s the difference between sales and marketing?
Ryan Rieches: I believe it.
Karen Hayward: And most mid-market CEOs tend to have an operational orientation and they’re great operators. Running a company and growing a company really kind of require different views. When you run the company, you optimize inside the four walls. And when you look to grow a company, you have to optimize outside the four walls. You have to optimize against the marketplace, against technology, against regulations, against the economy. It really just requires a different orientation. And the other point that I made earlier is that it’s becoming so much more complicated. I think some CEOs are like, “I don’t even know where to start on this.”
Ryan Rieches: Well, that’s your point of why you need a number of different experts that you can rely on where it used to be the old agency of record could do everything. Now that’s not the case at all. You need a number of different experts in order to deliver.
Ryan Rieches: So, I think you just mentioned a couple of interesting points about inside the walls and outside the walls. So let’s, for a minute, just take a look at inside the walls of the company more than in terms of the internal or the employee branding. And the true success of an organization is based upon the quality of its people, both the intellectual understanding and the emotional connection to the brand. And so over the years and out of frustration, we built our own model. We call them guiding statements of purpose, vision and mission. Purpose is why we exist. The vision is what we aim to achieve; and mission, how we’re going to achieve it. So you might have a similar model, but I just want to get your perspective of the importance of these guiding statements to truly engage, align and inspire the important asset, which is people.
Karen Hayward: I think it’s the fundamental starting place. You have to figure out your purpose and why you exist and your vision and your values. And your values are what leadership should look to when the going gets tough. And the values guide you in difficult times and everything needs to stem from that, I think when you look to build your brand.
Ryan Rieches: Yeah, well we are a firm believer in that thought process. So now outside the walls, the customer is more informed today than they’ve ever been. And especially in the world of B2B, they can do a tremendous amount of research. The sales cycles are long, and (with) multiple decision makers. And it’s also a considered purchase, but now the customer is more informed and probably more in charge than they ever have been. More empowered. How can marketing possibly use that reality to their advantage? Are there any ways they can do that?
Karen Hayward: That’s one of the things I think that the mid-market really needs to catch up in, is understanding your buyer’s journey because so much of that research is done online before they even decide who they want to consider. So let me give you an example. One way, this is very tactical, but very, very, very effective. One way is to take from your sales team and your sales leadership and your marketing leadership and your customer service people and, or it could be your council, your brand council, you take your brand council, you say, “What are the biggest objections that we get to buying our product or service?” And then you assign that objection to a subject matter expert. Then, once they write up the answer, then use search engine, optimize it with the right key search words, and then you post it and you create a blog.
Karen Hayward: And one of those should be, “Well, what’s the difference between ABC company and DEF company?” Every company should own the answer to that question. How many times have you Googled something and said, “What’s the difference between SAP, ERP and NetSuite ERP?” And up comes a big description of the difference. Well, each company should want to control their own dialogue on that. And so that’s just one super easy way to do that and engage the salesforce.
Karen Hayward: The other way that takes a little more work is win-loss analysis. Mid-market companies do not do that. And you can find out so much by looking at five or 10 wins and a couple of losses and not having the salesforce do it, and not having someone inside the company do it because the clients don’t want to hurt your feelings. So you got to have a safe place where the client can unleash confidentially on what was that experience. And you’ll get a crazy number of insights on how you can either better support your sales people through that process or more align your content and material support to help them make a favorable decision your way.
Ryan Rieches: Oh, those are two great examples of the customer journey and how you can learn along the way. So, after you now take all this input and gone out there and utilize it in terms of a marketing and sales strategy, are there any other areas of measurement that can be managed that you maybe could speak about?
Karen Hayward: I think today there’s a new sales funnel and or sales and marketing funnel, and you’ve really got to think about what is driving what. So number one, I want to always understand what the metrics are of my key competitors. So there are tools you can use to understand what’s their website traffic, where are they getting their website traffic? Is it from social media? Is it from direct links, so on and so forth. So having some metrics that you follow relative to the competitors is important. I think the other piece of that is creating a metrics, the analytics for a digital marketing funnel. So it could be managing your sales funnel in three sectors. What’s top of funnel? So how are you getting people into the funnel and how are you measuring that? What’s the middle of the funnel, how are you pushing people through?
Karen Hayward: And then the bottom of the funnel is how am I turning my cross back into sales opportunities and referral business and customer advocates? And so there are measures, metrics that you can apply at each of those stages. And I’ll just give you a couple of examples. So at the top of the funnel, it could be what’s your reach? What are your ad impressions? What are your keyword searches? What are your branded searches? How many visitors are coming to your website? What are the page views?
Karen Hayward: The middle of the funnel could be, what’s your bounce rate? How many content readers do you have? How many people are filling in your form? How many new people are you gathering email addresses for newsletters? And then the bottom of your funnel is really how are you getting prospects to respond to your CTAs which are calls to action? So, if you have call-to-action emails, let’s say, what’s your response rate and how many of those are turning into leads and how many of those are either getting demos or closing and becoming a customer? So I think really taking a thorough view from a beginning, from a digital perspective all the way through to someone becoming a client referral is kind of what’s needed today.
Ryan Rieches: Well, those were great practical examples. I also saw the visual in the book and can definitely relate to it. So thank you for sharing that. Well Karen, it’s been wonderful. I mean the 20 some minutes has passed very, very quickly. We’re almost out of time. I’m sure our listeners are going to find tremendous benefit in this. Is there anything else at all that you’d like to share?
Karen Hayward: You know, I would just say we are in very uncertain times right now and I think using this time to lay the foundation and the engine to grow your business has never been more important. So stay close to the voice of your customer and really look for those ways to add value to them in these challenging times.
Ryan Rieches: Great closing thoughts, Karen. Thank you for being a guest on Expert Opinion.
Karen Hayward: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Ryan Rieches: Well, that concludes our show for today. This is Ryan Rieches, and you’ve been listening to another edition of Expert Opinion, a BrandingBusiness forum where thought leaders share their point of view. If you’d like to listen to past shows or read our blog series, visit brandingbusiness.com Until our next show, grow your business by living your brand promise.