The Root Cause of Marketing Failure is NOT The Marketing, It’s Weak Strategy
There's a lot of nuance in marketing advice. But after 10 years working in marketing from manager to CMO, advising B2B startups, and talking to hundreds of marketers in the Exit Five community, I know one thing for certain:
The number one cause of marketing breakdown inside of a company has to do with weak strategy.
Weak strategy can look a few different ways:
- No clear revenue goals
- Weak product strategy
- Unclear story
No clear revenue goal
I’ve seen companies where there isn't clear revenue guidance for anyone - sales, marketing, CS, the business at large, etc. Or the CEO wants the functional leaders to set goals themselves… isolated and not based on a larger target.
The company I’m thinking of had so many other strengths: a great team, top notch culture, and a fantastic product. In this case you just don’t grow as quickly as you could. Marketing is doing stuff for the sake of it, not sprinting to hit a number.
Weak product strategy
On the flip side, I’ve seen the inside of companies with very clear revenue goals - so at least marketing can set targets and sprint to hit them.
If the product strategy is lacking, marketing can still hit the short term lead and revenue goals. There will always be early adopters who “get” what you’re building, even without the perfect story or true product market fit. I've seen marketing drive 4 million ARR without product market fit. So it's not that you'll get nowhere.
But as the goals get larger, marketing struggles if the product strategy is weak.
A great company story makes marketing feel like magic. Everything clicks. Genius taglines fall out of your mind, and building a strategy is actually easier because the audience, product, and message are all aligned.
Without a good story, your messaging might not resonate.
As a marketer, you're "testing" all kinds of different ways to describe the problem and the outcome, but none of it feels like it *hits.*
You might still be included in RFPs because you're in the right G2 category, but the sale will be harder to come by over time.
All types of weak strategy
In all cases…the marketer is usually sharp enough to set up a bunch of good things, or at least to do what the competition is doing. Blogs, webinars, events, podcasts, sales collateral, co-marketing, digital.
With any of these strategic weaknesses, it could seem like maybe marketing is to blame for not hitting targets. Some things to look out for are: the leads slow, channels that used to work don't really anymore, CAC goes up, sales close rate goes down, churn creeps higher etc.
Also: I realize that marketing does not control all of the elements here. This is why marketing must be able to influence change across the organization and link sales + product. Keep an eye out for these things, and work with your team to solve them.
Go back to first principles:
- What are the company revenue goals for this year?
- How will marketing contribute to those goals?
- How we will measure our efforts in those areas?
- What is the main issue that your business solves for customers
- What key metrics are they improving with your product?
- Who is the niche audience that is the perfect user, no-brainer sale
- Why does your business exist?
- In general, and relative to other options
Everything beyond this is noise.
Four books to help you here:
- Playing to Win - Alan Lafley & Roger Martin. A primer on business strategy. I don't know how you can do effective marketing for a company without understanding the company strategy. If your company does not have one, maybe you can help lead this exercise using this book.
- The Next CMO - Peter Mahoney, Scott Todaro, Dan Faulkner. I don't think there's a better book out there on "operational excellence" if you'll need a playbook like this to influence change inside of your org.
- Data-Driven Marketing - Mark Jeffery. There's more in this book than you'll need, but it gives you a great overview of how to think about measuring the effectiveness of marketing and what matters inside of a company.
- MOVE: The 4-question Go-to-Market Framework - Sangram Vajre, Bryan Brown. This will help you advocate for a unified strategy across marketing, CS and sales. Written by the practitioners behind Terminus, fast and applicable read.
Four books??? I don't have the time for that Dave ...
Well, let me tell you a secret: if you want to be great at something, you must put in the work. There's no 500 word blog post that's going to help you solve the issues your company is facing. There's no one podcast episode that will teach you business + marketing strategy and how they need to work together. There's no YouTube video that you can watch to become a great CMO. Like anything else in life, you do in fact have to put in the work. But the work becomes easier if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and know what you're working toward. And this is a good place to start.