Over the course of a year I speak with hundreds of small and mid-sized business owners. Most of them now recognize that online marketing is no longer a “nice to have”, and that they must make investments in online marketing in order to grow their business.
This shift in thinking is occurring because the buying process has fundamentally changed; potential customers are increasingly going online to find and evaluate product and service providers.
As a result, making online marketing a priority is a critical first step. The question then is how to proceed. When I’m asked by business owners about the best way forward, my response is to approach it strategically. Take a business-driven approach to online marketing.
So, what exactly does this mean?
As with any key business strategy or initiative, it starts with a plan. A well-developed online marketing plan provides clarity as to which online tactics and mechanisms are appropriate for your business (based on objectives, target market(s), influencers, competitors, etc.) and how to execute these tactics consistently to drive sustainable results.The plan helps to ensure you are investing in the right online infrastructure (people, processes, and technology) and that you will effectively track results so you can make the necessary adjustments.
Without the clarity that a plan provides, you will likely spin your wheels, spend money needlessly, and get sporadic, disappointing outcomes.
Focus on Results
Being business-driven requires that you focus on results, not tactics.
Online activities are just a means to an end and must be evaluated within the context of tangible business outcomes, such as increased leads/opportunities, conversion rates, and ultimately revenue.
But you must be realistic. Results won’t happen overnight. You need to commit over the long-term – online marketing is about the long game. It does take time for online activities to take hold, build momentum, and produce sustainable results.
When I’m asked how long it will take to get to sustainable results, my rule of thumb answer is one year. Think of the first twelve months as an investment in planning, building an online infrastructure, consistently executing, and learning from the wealth of data available from analytics. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes it takes longer. It depends on factors such as competition, prospect buying behaviour and the length of your typical sales cycle.
However, regardless of your situation, if you do the right things consistently over time, the results will come.
It’s About Business Development
Online marketing should be viewed in business development terms:
- How will leads/opportunities be generated?
- How will these opportunities be nurtured so that the probability of a sale is increased?
- What are the right conversion tactics to get prospects to “yes” at every stage of the decision-making process?
- What can be done after the sale to continue creating value, making sure customers are retained, and leveraging customers to drive more revenue?
The key is to determine how online marketing activities can optimize performance in each phase of the business development process:
- Which online tactics should be used to increase reach, visibility, and credibility to generate a consistent flow of quality inbound leads?
- What information do prospects require to make an informed decision, and how can this insight be provided using online means?
- What conversion tactics will be compelling enough for prospects to identify themselves, and that will ultimately lead to a sale?
- What information or incentives can be consistently offered to existing customers so they buy more or refer others to buy from you?
By effectively using online marketing to optimize performance in each phase of the business development process, you will achieve revenue growth. It’s simple math; more opportunities and a higher conversion rate lead to increased revenue.
There are three core investment items associated with online marketing:
The single biggest online marketing expense for small and mid-sized businesses is the people cost. You must have people who are responsible for activities such as content development, social marketing, analytics, online advertising, and search engine optimization (SEO). They must specialize in online marketing and this must be their primary function. You can’t assign people to manage online activities in their spare time; there’s just too much work to be done if you want to be successful.
2. Online Infrastructure
You must build an online marketing infrastructure so that strategies and tactics can be effectively executed. I often tell business owners that you can’t behave like a marketer if you can’t execute. So, before you begin spending money on online tactics, make sure you have an infrastructure that allows you to execute consistently, make adjustments as you go, and exploit new opportunities.
Some of the elements of an online infrastructure are a well-structured website optimized for search and conversion, analytics tools, social marketing platforms, database/email marketing technology, tools to schedule online activities, etc.
Most of the investments in an online infrastructure are incurred in the first year.
3. On-going, Relentless Execution
Once the infrastructure is in place, it’s time to “flip the switch” and relentlessly execute. On-going execution activities include content development and distribution, social marketing, online advertising, influencer outreach, developing high quality inbound links, search engine optimization, lead nurturing, etc.There are many things you can do; the key is to concentrate on the right things. As far as the cost of these activities is concerned, a good rule of thumb is to add 20%-30% annually over and above the people costs.
Most business owners believe that online marketing is critical to their long-term success. But you can’t approach it in a haphazard, undisciplined way. You need to take a business-driven approach and make the necessary investments. You need to support the people who are doing the work – whether they are employees or an outsourced team.
To be successful online, you must invest in people, infrastructure and execution support. You must learn as you go and make the necessary adjustments based on this insight. If you do the right things consistently, you will build momentum, and this leads to consistent results.
It’s too important to ignore. Dabbling won’t cut it. You must be committed.
Core Online Marketing is an outsourced online marketing agency for small and mid-sized businesses. Contact us to accelerate your online marketing activities!
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