I was a fortunate enough to be part of a Vistage Group for a number of years. Vistage is comprised of business owners who want to participate in a non-binding peer group that is facilitated by an experienced chairperson. I learned a great deal from everyone
, and being the only ‘marketing’ person in the group, it was extremely important and revealing to listen to the conversations carefully. How these business leaders processed issues in their own company as well as hearing their thoughts on what their peers were offering about their own businesses was a tremendous benefit that I took back to my own business.
When it came to marketing one thing was crystal clear. Almost all of the CEO’s had little desire or appetite for marketing. This was within the past 10 years and while there was some level of marketing attribution, the ability to measure is better today. But I doubt those business owners have changed their opinion when it comes to marketing. From their point of view, they had already built their companies into successful enterprises mostly without doing much in the way of marketing.
Some of the companies did participate in trade shows (that’s marketing right?) sending a salesperson to a show (remember trade shows before the pandemic?), perhaps even having a display booth with a couple of signs, a few brochures and giveaway premiums like pens and keychains or even a cool tech thing. With any luck they would have garnered a few worthwhile new business prospects. Did marketing work? Maybe, maybe not. Without sufficient means to measure, it creates the attitude of ‘marketing is an expense’.
Most of the companies were not overly interested in the sale of their company. There were different reasons but many of the companies were family-owned and legacies, which makes a potential sale all the more…complicated. I did have multiple conversations with various members regarding the positioning of their company for future sale, even if it was not in their immediate or future plans. Why? Because if you run an attractive enough company, suitors will emerge which is not only good validation. It also means that you are doing many of the right things to have created a winning value proposition. Even if you don’t want to go to the big dance, it’s always nice to be asked. It was not about them hiring me or our company (this is frowned upon in the group anyway), it was about creating greater value for their company!
Within a company, marketing has many roles to play. Assisting the sales team is frequently a big role for the marketing team – or person. Yet the responsibility for the presentation of the company – i.e. the BRAND, is a side thought or worse, an afterthought. The website and company logo of course should be up to date and yet seem to be ‘works in progress’ without clearly defining the company’s focus and direction. Frequently the company leader would offer that they had a web designer and or ‘marketing person’ who is the son or daughter of some connection. That allowed them to keep the expense down. Smart right? I can’t think of one instance where that approach was the right one for any of them. Boiling marketing down to a website and logo is far too tactical and it is also far from being an integrated marketing strategy.
So how can marketing help a company prepare for a sale they may never want? When we’ve worked with companies who view marketing as an investment that is, a commitment to continuing activities over a period-of-time with defined goals and milestones, a better-looking version of the company invariably emerges. Marketing should support sales with materials sales needs to win new business. This support is in the form of assets – whitepapers, charts, infographics, perhaps animated videos (explainer and otherwise), a regularly updated company blog (if one exists why no posts for years?), webinars and other types of content to always keep things fresh. We’ve been hired on more than one occasion for the specific purpose of helping improve the company’s overall image as it prepares itself for future sale. When the time came that prospective buyers took a look at the company, what they found was a tight, in sync brand that had clearly defined value propositions which were supported by seamless integration between the sales and marketing teams. It looks good, it feels good, and adds to the overall company value. Even if the company never ever wants to sell wouldn’t it still be nice to be asked!