Erik Larsson, Enea AB focuses on the role that marketing plays in accelerating business growth, especially for European scaleups in B2B high-tech markets. He describes five common mistakes, and give recommendations on how to avoid them.
Small, growing high-tech companies need several key competencies to succeed: excellent technology, clear strategy, good people management, solid sales skills, and impactful marketing.
In this article, I will focus on the role that marketing plays in accelerating business growth, especially for European scaleups in B2B high-tech markets.
Based on my experience of heading marketing at three French high-tech scaleups, and observing the mixed success of similar companies, I will describe five common mistakes, and give recommendations on how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Appointing a marketing leader “by default”
- In some small high-tech companies, marketing is so poorly considered that the marketing leader is appointed “by default”, often because she/he was not the right fit for any other function
- In several cases, I have seen companies ask one of the co-founders to head marketing, because this person was the least technically skilled (the most technical founder became CTO)
- In other cases, a low-performing sales person became responsible for marketing
Sometimes, a CEO is forced to change this default marketing leader due to poor lead generation, negative feedback from the salesforce, or as a prerequisite by investors for a new round of funding.
Many high-tech scaleups underestimate the crucial importance of quality marketing for business growth. This mistake can easily be avoided by appointing an experienced marketing professional at an early stage.
Mistake #2: Not investing enough in marketing
- I have heard several CEOs say “we will invest more in marketing if we are successful”
- Marketing is often seen as a cost center rather than as an investment: “Could we do it cheaper? Could we do less of it?”
In reality, strong marketing attracts the best prospects, who become your best customers, who force you to build the best products, which attracts even more quality customers, which increases your market share and profit margins – a virtuous circle!
Like any other budget, a marketing budget can be optimized. However, in every industry a minimum investment is required to create a market impact, establish credibility, and boost business. Examples of “must do” activities: key trade shows, conferences, strategic partners, analyst white papers, webinars.
Make the right investments and marketing becomes a business accelerator for small tech companies.
Mistake #3: Reducing “Marketing” to “Product Marketing”
- Many small tech companies are only familiar with “Product Marketing” (focusing on the product) and “Marcoms” (focusing on communications, events and graphics)
- Little effort is spent on optimizing marketing content for different audiences, for different media, or for different stages of the sales funnel
Some companies even combine Product Line Management (PLM) with Product Marketing, and leave Marketing Communications as a separate function (“the Marcom girls will handle communication and events”). The consequences: few leads, poor quality leads, long sales cycles, slow growth…
What many small high-tech companies fail to realize is that the magic happens when you focus more on the audience than on the product.
Portfolio Marketing (or Content Marketing) is a new, key function focusing on audience and demand generation. As an evolution of traditional Product Marketing, Portfolio Marketing goes a step further, by establishing a detailed understanding of buying behavior, mapping the offering to the audience, optimizing content for different stages of the funnel and orchestrating targeted campaigns.
Use Portfolio / Content Marketing to go beyond the product and create an efficient link with the audience in order to ensure effective lead generation.
Mistake #4: Not hiring a diverse, international marketing team
- I have seen European marketing teams composed of people who have never lived in an English-speaking country, using their school English to produce content aimed at the US market
- I have heard Europeans come back from US trips complaining that they had difficulties understanding what Americans were saying…
- Some marketing teams include members with engineering degrees only and have limited respect for marketing; “I understand the technology, how hard can marketing be?”
For a tech company, the US is typically the single largest market and English is the reference language. I have always told my marketing colleagues that our web presence should look more like a large, US company than a small, European company.
There is plenty of technical and product knowledge in a high-tech firm. But good marketing skills are rare and difficult to acquire: it is often easier for a marketer to understand technology than transform an engineer into a marketer (this is my experience of managing marketing teams for 20 years).
Ensure that your marketing team has diverse skills and backgrounds (business, technical) and is able to write and speak perfect English.
Mistake #5: Top management interfering with marketing
- I have seen several competent marketing teams who are afraid that the CEO will want to micro-manage obvious marketing decisions
- Examples of interference: choice of visual branding, PowerPoint templates, look & feel of Website, layout of business cards, etc.
A good marketer loves to hear the CEO say “I don’t know anything about marketing, so please take care of it”.
Steve Jobs once famously said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
The same is true for marketing.
Give the marketing leader enough freedom and resources to leverage the skills of the team to deliver high-impact marketing.
This list of mistakes is based on my experience within French B2B high-tech, but I suspect that the same principles apply to other European high-tech scaleups.
By avoiding these common mistakes, top management can leverage marketing to create a strong, positive impact on value creation!
Senior Vice President Marketing & Communication at Enea AB