Today’s business landscape is competitive – it’s cutthroat and can easily overwhelm if you have to go it alone. Finding the right strategic marketing partner can not only help shoulder some of the load, but boost your capabilities in other areas you might never have considered.
So, how do you wade through all the noise and promises to find a strategic partner that fits? We’ve got three suggestions:
Make it all about you (at first).
Your first conversation with any potential strategic partner should be all about YOU and cover topics like:
Your business goals – which can include anything from the reputation you want to build, to your sales growth targets.
Your market: Who are your current competitors and what are they doing well relative to you?
Your customer: The insights behind their problems, as well as opportunities, barriers, where and how they find you.
What’s worked before and what hasn’t. You want someone who’s going to dig into past performance data and come up with new avenues to explore – not just tell you to do the old things better.
Once you’ve talked through all the above topics and you think you’re ready to move forward, here’s where you discuss one of the most important make-it-or-break-it relationship questions.
And it goes something like this:
“If we were having this discussion three years from today and you were to look back, what needs to have happened to feel like you’ve been successful?”
This question is a great way to assess if you’re aligned on expectations, trust each other enough to enter a partnership, and if you feel comfortable moving forward with them.
Set the strategy BEFORE discussing solutions or tactics.
Steer clear of anyone who starts the conversation with proposed solutions or channels without trying to understand you or your business. It’s a giant red flag they either don’t get strategy, and/or their expertise is purely in the channel or tactical areas.
It’s worth the investment to get someone up to speed on your business before you start talking solutions. We often find people get too “inside the jar” about their organization, market and solution – which can make it impossible to see the world from outside.
Determine whether you need a full-time resource, or a fractional strategic partner.
Many companies look to hire when they identify a need. However, we find that they hire someone too junior because they need “boots on the ground.” And while they end up doing a lot of “things,” they’re not the right things that advance your strategy. Similarly, if you invest in a full-time chief marketing officer, you’re likely paying a big salary for someone who may not have the interest or skillset to implement.
The demands of marketing today are so varied that you may only need fractional support at the strategy level. This can free you up to set the right course for your business while saving some investment for important executional activities.
The right fractional partner can bring an embedded fresh perspective and objective point of view, as they come with knowledge from experience from other markets and companies.
How much does category experience matter? Lots of companies wonder if they need someone IN their category. This could go both ways. Yes, category experience gets someone up to speed faster, but you may also fall into the world of looking, sounding or being like the category – which is the exact opposite of what you want.
What could a fractional engagement look like? Start with a total project cost. Then, build your strategic marketing plan to include goals and metrics. Define and measure only what matters so you don’t get lost in a sea of irrelevant data. Also look at resourcing recommendations – i.e. what do you need internally and externally to bring your strategy (and all the tactics that come with it) to life?
Set a weekly or monthly cadence for meetings as well as a 90-day review. We all know that marketing is always “on.” Setting regular check-ins allows not only to have strategic oversight of your program in action, but also to evaluate and adjust on the fly.
Finding the right marketing partner is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your business. Choose well, and you’ll be watching your marketing strategy take flight. But like in any relationship, you’ve both got to be invested for it to work out.