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Posted: July 07, 2011

Fatal marketing mistakes for tech companies

Avoid these or risk failure

Christopher J. Ryan

For all Colorado's diversity of tech companies and entrepreneurs, there is still a small list of marketing missteps that can cause them to limp along far beneath their potential, or worse yet, fold outright.

As veterans who have built and marketed tech-based companies from Silicon Valley to Colorado, our team has seen it all. We've even had the displeasure of being at ground zero for some of these common blunders and fatal mistakes. While no magic bullet can guarantee you success, steering clear of these big rocks greatly increases your odds of not only surviving, but flourishing.

Engineering a Marketing Fiasco
A team of highly skilled engineers rolls out a product that passes beta and actually starts to get some traction. Encouraged by their first few orders, the company promotes those engineers or product developers to fill the marketing and sales roles. Who better to sell the product than the person who built it? Besides, it's so good, it will sell itself, right?

We have seen a few companies luck out and have this scenario come true. But for most tech companies, evolving from the "two guys in a garage" phase into a sustainable enterprise means finding the marketing leader who can turn your technical inspiration and list of features into compelling value propositions that hit the right audiences using a fluid repertoire of proven tactics - all driving quantifiable awareness, leads and revenue. Let your engineers design. Find a marketer to market. It's worth it.

Sales is Not Marketing
Just as marketing is a distinct and vital discipline from engineering, so is sales from marketing. Some tech companies throw a bunch of cash or equity at a sales guy with a huge contact list or give the reins to some cheap cold callers. This seldom works. First, the sales model must proceed from a structure in which your product strategy and brand promise have been carefully forged.

Secondly, that new hotshot sales VP or that boiler room you hired to cold call are going to fail if they don't have enough targeted, qualified leads. And even the best VP of sales won't have the time to be very good at sales if he or she has to keep the top of the conversion funnel filled with leads. That's what a VP of marketing is for.
Asking that of your sales team is a terrible use of their time. If you want results and are focused on growth, bring the right skill set to bear on the endeavor.

Misguided Marketing Strategy: Too Broad or Too Narrow
On the "too broad" end, lots of SMB tech companies, desperate for recognition and revenue, try to be everything to everyone. One of our teammates worked for a company whose small C-level and business development team had dozens of potential deals cooking, not one of them anywhere near the one-yard line. The company's core position changed with every potential new partner. In the excitement of infancy, they were saying "Yes" to anyone who would pay attention to them, rolling out pilot programs whose execution was burning cash and burning out the staff.

Aiming too narrowly is equally fatal. We encountered one software company who based their revenue success on scoring massive deals with partners. If it worked, the company would have been awash in cash. But it didn't, and there was no Plan B. Another marketing CMO focused all of his efforts on winning plaudits from big-time analysts like Gartner and Forrester, but there was no effective strategy in place for generating leads when this approbation didn't materialize.

True marketing leaders take your team to market with a clear idea of what differentiates you and who needs to hear your message. They then direct a multi-dimensional mix of content and collateral, social media and PR, tradeshows and webinars, to fill the leads funnel. They also create consensus with other leaders in the company around how many of those leads they need to get, and how many sales need to close for the company to hit its revenue targets.

Positioned for Success
For the company who has its sights on growth, it is critical to avoid the pitfalls that condemn an enterprise to extinction or mere subsistence levels of revenue. Avoiding these mistakes means seeing marketing as a vital addition to your growth strategy, driven by a B2B or B2C marketing expert whose has the proven, hard-won knowledge to conceive and manage a real, quantifiable campaign for awareness, leads and revenue. Thus armed, you're separated from a universe of talented also-rans who were dragged down by all-too-common mistakes.

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About the Author
Christopher Ryan (@CRyanFusionMkt) is president of Fusion Marketing Partners, a strategic B2B marketing and sales enablement consultancy based in Colorado Springs. As both a services provider and in-house marketing executive, Ryan has played a transformative role in driving marketing and sales programs that achieved shorter sales cycles, higher close rates and greater profit margins. His new ebook, Powerful B2B Marketing Strategies to Drive Awareness, can be downloaded free here. For more information, please visit http://fusionmarketingpartners.com.

 

Christopher Ryan is one of the nation's foremost experts in B2B marketing and sales. Author of How to Create an Unstoppable Marketing and Sales Machine (Fusion Marketing Press, 2009), Mr. Ryan is founder and President of Fusion Marketing Partners (www.fusionmarketingpartners.com). Chris Ryan was formerly a senior marketing executive at noted companies like Stellent, Inc., FrontRange Solutions, PeopleSoft, Sybase, and Group 1 Software. Mr. Ryan's latest book can be obtained at Amazon.com or at http://fusionmarketingpartners.com/get-the-book/.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Mike, your comments are much appreciated. The process you describe, where sales reps are expected to generate their own leads, is practiced at many companies. But as you suggest, it is very inefficient. Below is a link to a study of the sales habits of over 2,000 commpanies. On average, only 41 percent of a their reps' time is spent on direct selling activities. It is almost always better to design a process where salespeople sell and marketing people market. http://bit.ly/gizu7p By Christopher Ryan on 2011 07 13
Thanks for the article Chris. As a sales professional in B2B IT sales for the past ten years, I have worked for several companies that expect me to be the marketing for the company as well. I end up spending so much time trying to get and find leads that I don't spend as much time as needed on the actual prospecting and selling. And they wonder why we have a hard time hitting numbers sometimes. A sales person will do what they have to do, so I don't mean to complain, but I find there are much more sales when they have a dedicated marketing department that works closely with sales to produce programs that actually garner real leads. Regarding moving engineers into sales roles; I would have to agree, however, it is nice to have someone highly technical to take on sales calls with you. By Mike Webb on 2011 07 13
Bart, Thanks for the kind comments. I was happy to contribute. And you are right - getting the mix of strategies, channels and media correct is keeping a lot of marketing leaders up at night. Having so many options — and so many ways to measure them — can be daunting, especially for a marketing leader at a small or medium enterprise who has to assign resources carefully. I'm happy to explore this in a follow-up article. Best, Chris Ryan By Christopher Ryan on 2011 07 07
Great stuff Chris - indeed, nice to have you on cobizmag.com. For the benefit our non-tech readers, would like to hear more on your comment.. 'They then direct a multi-dimensional mix of content and collateral, social media and PR, tradeshows and webinars, to fill the leads funnel.' Companies often struggle finding the right mix for their situation. Again thx. Bart Taylor, Publisher By Bart Taylor on 2011 07 07
Good point LeeAnn. There's always a latest social media trend, consuming a lot of time and resources, without regard to the value proposition or the target market. Misusing social media is almost like ignoring social media altogether. But targeted use of social media channels that fit the business can yield great results. By Myron Berg on 2011 07 07
Jay, thanks for the comment. You are exactly right about the marketing department placing emphasis on things that don't really matter while ignoring the real keys to success. This can be fatal to a start-up technology company. Best, Chris Ryan By Christopher Ryan on 2011 07 07
Great article, Chris - absolutely right on. I would add another to the list, though - going after Social Media in a hit-or-miss, "isn't Facebook where we ought to be?" fashion; spending many wasted hours on Social Media channels that do not reach your target market. A smart b2b marketing plan is strategic about the Social Media effort in order to grab leads from it. Nice to see you in ColoradoBiz! By LeeAnn Fleming on 2011 07 07
Great article...I have worked in so many start ups and often find marketing is about making the brochure pretty. It is so much deeper...Differentiation and identification of who needs to hear the message is right on and well said. Thanks for your insight! By Jay Bojan on 2011 07 07

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