What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say “marketing”?

I’ve been conducting an informal, extremely small sample research study on this topic, here is my unscientific extrapolated results; small-medium sized business owners (most printers) think of marketing as their brand. By brand I mean, they think of their logo, their colors, the sign outside their business, and what their website looks like. This is corporate marketing. Unless you’re a billion dollar public company you don’t need corporate marketing. Your logo, your brand colors, and what your website looks like does nothing to drive the growth of your business and you don’t have shareholders or Wall Street analysts that you need to worry about projecting the right PR message to.

Marketing isn’t about making you look pretty; marketing is about one thing – lead generation.

The most frustrating conversation I have in my consulting career is trying to convince “marketing people” that their ONLY job is to consistently deliver quality leads. They want to tell me about all the work they are doing to develop the brand and the messaging. I get bored very quickly. I want to hear about who they are targeting, how they are reaching that target market, and what are the results of their activities? I spent X, to attract Y, who created $Z in revenues (this is really all it comes down to). Marketing has moved from a soft, creative, and mostly unsupervised place to play with budget money to a job that can be precisely measured and requires some math skills. This is a tough transition for most marketers.

Lead generation in small businesses has traditionally been wrapped up into the sales function. The sales team is thought of as a one-stop shop. Go get new leads, nurture the leads you already have, and also take care of your existing customers because you have to earn that commission each and every month. This model results in a group of commissioned customer service representatives (CSR) instead of sales people. Most sales people suck at lead generation; therefore they avoid it at all costs. The typical reaction to this is that sales management forces some tracking of lead generation activities; e.g. calls, e-mails, meetings, etc. that sales people reluctantly do to meet the requirements. So these people reluctantly do these activities (poorly), then spend more time tracking the activities they did (poorly), and your sales manager spends time reporting to you on those activities. Sales people race back to where they feel comfortable – shepherding existing customers through the ordering process (you have created the commissioned CSR model, which is unsustainable unless your average transaction cost is six figures to the left of the decimal point).

Your sales team deserves consistent lead generation from marketing. Sales deserve to be setup to win by getting a steady stream of leads to follow-up on and close. The sales representative who has the greatest close ratio should get the most leads. This is why there is so much tension between sales and marketing in large companies, they are out of alignment because sales is being held to a very measurable result and for the most part marketing is still being measured on their creative output. The internet is changing all of this. Most marketing is moving online and everything online can be measured. Marketing is a measured profession now. Marketing can and should have a quota. Marketing can lose their jobs when they fail to meet their lead generation quota three months in a row, just likes sales. Nothing would align marketing more to sales than if they both were held to quotas, nothing would help companies more than having sales and marketing work together to deliver more success to the company via larger pipelines, more productive pipelines, and most of all predicative revenue growth.

Stop thinking about marketing as corporate marketing (logos, promotional products, and colors), marketing is about one thing; producing qualified leads, of which a certain percentage of them will convert into new customers. You need marketing – the kind of marketing that focuses on lead generation not your brand. Hire for this position. Hire a dedicated lead generation resource rather than another sales representative. What would your current sales team accomplish if they were being fed qualified leads? Doesn’t that sound more productive than simply adding another resource to the commissioned CSR pool?

The challenge is that too many people who report to have “marketing experience” have the kind of experience that leaves you staring at new logo pens, a depleted marketing budget, and no new qualified leads. Be careful hiring for a marketing role, if you find someone who can create a sustainable lead generation system, they can also handle your website redesign because they will be focused on the right thing – how to drive traffic that converts to qualified leads, not on the color scheme. Be careful of those marketing folks who say you have to pay for lead generation online via Google AdWords. My colleague, Valerie DiCarlo, a print search engine optimization (SEO) expert, likes to use the analogy of renting vs. owning a home. Paid search is like renting, you will pay every month, and you build zero equity with that payment. Organic search is like owning a home, it does take longer to build up the traffic but in the building you are creating online equity in the form of “earned traffic” to your site. Organic traffic gets more clicks and converts at a higher rate than paid traffic. When you’re winning by earning the traffic, everything you do online is cumulative; you are building a competitive advantage via “authority” with the search engines. When you are paying for traffic, the minute you stop paying, everything shuts off.

Paid search is good for experimenting; paid search is good to amplify your organic search efforts. Paid search is not a marketing strategy unless you’re interested in funding Google’s next great experiment (Google Glass, self-driving cars, etc.). Paid search is good for Google. Organic search is good for your long-term business success online. Attracting traffic via content marketing / inbound marketing strategies is a required skill for every modern marketing role. Earning your traffic by engaging with your customers, telling your customer stories via your blog, and creating compelling content about how you solve customer challenges is good for search and good for your overall business.