There’s progress in the C-suite when your client, the CEO of a private career college, complains that her website is not adaptive. No, she did not say, “mobile-friendly.” She said, “adaptive.”
It is an on-demand world. But something more is afoot. Airbnb is disrupting hotels. Lyft filed for an IPO, continuing disruption of the taxi and limo business. How many cab companies are on an exchange?
What’s happening here is more than the natural ascent of a technology across the chasm and into mass market acceptance.
People want a different kind of experience. They want to live and work in new ways. Technology is the enabler, not the driver.
For a decade, Jeff Bezos plowed profits back into the Amazon platform and infrastructure. It infuriated investors; now he’s a genius. Meanwhile, now-defunct retailers plowed millions into the hands of Wharton school grads to patch and fix data silos in their finance, accounting, and ERP systems. Their CEOs propped up an online presence—mistakenly concluding that human beings who shopped in their stores were different people when logging onto a browser.
No matter the roll of the dice in your sector, you still have time. In truth, technology moves incredibly slow. Yes, adoption is more rapid today. But customer loyalty also is harder to come by. You have time. Do you have the vision and grit to stick with the trials and errors of iteration, like Jeff Bezos?
What’s wrong with your marketing department
If you are a founder, CEO or other CxO, you may know that adaptive means your website will display not only properly on an iPhone—but the design and copy literally change to be more readable and scale nicely on the screen. You can tell at an instant that a website on your tablet was tweaked by someone who knew what they were doing to fit it on the screen.
So, it makes you crazy that your website—your business card to the world—is clumsy and awkward to navigate for 70% of its visitors.
“What is the matter with my marketing people?” you say to your spouse walking in the door. You’re encouraged to just put the phone away.
“I pay them well, I treat them well, but you have to tell them to get out of the rain.”
Disrupt the market, not your culture
You do not need to shake down your company to enact meaningful, lasting change.
In fact, we live in a fractional economy where consultants and contractors can come on board—without disrupting your culture and still disrupting your market.
Without the costs of a full-time executive headcount, a small business or startup can engage part-time experts. The founder or CEO openly, transparently leverages an expert’s deep talent to re-think strategy, double-check the pro forma, and execute game-changing moves in broad, deft strokes.
More important than cost considerations, this new model of hiring a factional CxO helps entrepreneurs to pursue a vision while instilling best practices. Rather than pretend to be all things to all departments, the CEO welcomes assistance on the business model and putting into action some programs for customer acquisition, sales pipeline development, and marketing campaigns.
Go-to-market strategy is the most common go-to area. Smaller companies value an outsider’s expertise and demonstrate ROI quickly if only due to their size and nimbleness to enact change. Whether scaling a successful new product’s sales or fixing an aging cash cow, the fractional chief executive is a one-person assault team. They bring fresh perspectives that are informed by years of proven experience. They apply new strategies and tactics, plugging the organization into solid but simple processes that make good things happen at incremental expense.
Who needs a fractional CMO?
Companies often get frustrated with their marketing departments, feeling they’re unresponsive, too enamored with pretty pictures over profits, and out of touch with what sales needs to get deals and drive revenues.
The real problem is that the marketing team needs CMO-level know-how and leadership. Candidly, the marketing personnel at a small company are unlikely to be veterans of Google or Toyota. They do the best they can while reacting at the drop of a hat—to please you and protect their jobs.
This dynamic infects the culture and becomes toxic in a short amount of time. Unable to fish or cut bait, you rinse and repeat. You leave some where they are, you have a revolving door for other positions. You can’t keep the names straight anymore.
Bringing in an interim executive can put the house in order. They can improve your core brand messaging, product positioning, and how you execute your go-to-market plan. The right fractional chief marketing officer also hired and developed more people than you have employees on your payroll right now. They have executive presence. They can express how to assess and graduate your team to the next level. From the right interim CMO, your marketing folks will become sponges, absorbing not only how to do things right, but how to decide the right things to do.
Can you trust a consultant?
Often, consultants are referred by a banking contact or they get chosen because they “know the industry” and claim to have a Rolodex. (You remember what a Rolodex was, right?)
Unfortunately, no correlation exists between success and having industry contacts in your phone. How many salespeople have you hired on the basis of prior industry experience? You know, the one that missed every quarterly quota until your people said they feel duped and accused her of being lazy, stupid, or worse?
Your salesperson wasn’t loafing. She was successful once upon a time.
Why she failed is not a question of character or intelligence. You have the emotional intelligence to recognize the two-way street of her expectations and needs, and your own organization’s capacities to formalize how she was on-boarded, coached, and enabled to find success. Sure, some can sell ice to Eskimos. But most mere mortals need some ride-alongs with a VP and some decent, qualified sales leads for a head start.
Choosing the right fractional executive
When engaging a consultant, the best indicators of success are like any mutual fund. Past performance is not guarantee of future growth—but it raises the probabilities.
Successful consultants listen first, then talk. The consultant is not withholding keen insights. The consultant is being prudent. By the same token, if the consultant is just hungry for the next gig, they may agree with you all too readily as to what frustrates you and why. Then, they’ll pitch a set of services that just happen to match what they like doing—not what needs doing.
If improving your marketing is what ails you, these are the kinds of services you’re most likely hunting to have done by a competent, experienced professional:
- Target Markets and Buyers – Analyze, size and describe the best market fit for your products and services. Who are the decision-makers and influencers, and what key benefits and core value propositions most appeal to them?
- Sales Pipeline – Study and improve the sales funnel. How do we get more qualified leads into the top of the funnel and at what cost per lead? How can marketing automation nurture the leads? What should sales say to prospects and how do they close the deal in the most consistent, efficient ways?
- Content Strategy and Execution – Product marketing involves the matching of messages to each buyer’s persona. The content needed to help sales happen comes out of a creative process only after the persona of the buyer is defined. Are you A/B testing your messages? Do you know where and why deals breakdown in the sales process?
- Goals and Measurement – Establish and monitor key performance indicators, like lead volume, cost per lead, cost of customer acquisition, and lifetime customer value. Are you using KPI or OKR? Are they pie in the sky, investor expectations, or up-to-date, fact-based assumptions? Sales’ job is a lot of things, but it isn’t managing your investors when you learn the market dynamics are different than you thought.
- Executive Voice – Add an impartial voice to your team’s go-to-market ideas. Can you embrace feeling uncomfortable? Do you or members of your executive team seek answers and truths, or do some prefer to be right and pick at what’s wrong? In a short span, you’ll discover the true nature of what drives the company culture.
Sources for the right consultant may be your banker, an investor, or cruising LinkedIn. There’s no one answer. Take time to interview more than one if only to fully vet that the candidate your gut tells you is a dead ringer is just that, a dead ringer. The right consulting fractional CxO is not with you forever. But the right one leaves a long-lasting legacy for the better.