Young B2B Startup? Here’s why founders fail when not running 360°marketing

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The 360° approach to marketing is becoming a must among young startup companies. They can no longer just tackle one activity at a time or focus on just a few specific marketing activities, without considering the sequence of activities to make sure all required loops are closed (prospect funnel steps for instance).    

The 360° marketing approach means insisting on operating a variety of marketing activities in parallel, but keeping them in complete synchronization: Some examples include coordinating online and offline campaigns, running qualitative and quantitative activities that feed off each other, or synchronizing multiple inbound activities.

The important thing is that these activities are planned while keeping in mind the desired leads (prospects) and the steps they need to go through on their journey to gain trust and awareness of the company, and start perceiving it as a (brand) leader. 

with the 360° marketing approach, multiple activities are employed together with a focus on the company’s business KPIs and the desire to learn what’s working and what’s not (and yes, it can be done in “startup mode” in the sense that it’s feasible with few resources). Content marketing, paid lead-gen or awareness campaigns, official PR announcements, out-of-box growth hacking activities, marketing automation-based campaigns, ABM-based performance campaigns, special email marketing activities, social media communities marketing, thought leadership, industry events, and a lot more. 

Startups and 360° marketing: The reason why

  1. THE LAB‘ – A young startup must establish its initial marketing DNA. It means a lot of things, but most of all, it means that the startup team must learn what’s working and what’s not, better sooner than later, for the sake of future growth. The only way to learn is to run multiple trials, but to ensure coordination and examine how combinations of activities work together (I will discuss it further below)
  2. THE MATING DANCE‘- B2B startups can’t expect instant conversions to just happen out of nowhere. Achieving multiple-touch points via multiple channels with every single prospect is key. Guys, wake up, read the news, smell the coffee and grow up already. No prospect that’s just signed up is ready to become your happy paying customer (or even a free trial one). That’s just not how it works in the B2B arena. I recently had a meeting with a startup company and the VP marketing complained about not converting the leads. Then he explained that the SDR guy contacts the leads 15 minutes (!!!) after downloading an ebook with a direct offering. No further nurturing activities whatsoever. He was actually expecting prospects that downloaded an ebook to be ready for a sales call. Well, nope. This is a sure way to fail. B2B Marketing  MUST ensure multiple touch points with every potential prospect, exposing them to various content, offerings and news updates, each deployed at a time that makes sense. This should go on until what every marketer is waiting for will happen: A viewer becomes a prospect, a marketing qualified lead (MQL), a business opportunity (SQL)… you know the metrics. In order to accomplish that you must run multiple activities, 360°-style, and while you’re at it, continuously learn what works best in converting visitors to prospects, ambassadors and eventually SQLs.
  3. THE TRUST‘ – While startups struggle to manage their business with small teams, limited resources and lack of know-how, they are judged by potential clients without mercy. No one cares that you have only 10 people on board, or that your company was born only a year ago. I meet with so many Israeli startup companies that have developed great solutions and bring real value to the world, but they fail to look respectable. Their digital domains aren’t representing their story well enough, their L&F doesn’t look professional enough, their messages aren’t coherent, or their sales materials are lagging behind. Prospects love brands as brands are easier to trust. When they meet new solutions that they don’t know of yet, they tend to be very judgmental and suspicious. There’s very little time to make the right impression and ensure that we meet a quality threshold in all our domains (social media, PR, website, collateral, etc.) This is much easier to do when there’s a solid 360° marketing strategy in place.

Is 360° right for your startup?

The word “startup” means different things to different people. Some entrepreneurs insist that their company is no longer a “startup” as it already sells its products and is in the process of scaling up their operation. Others describe their company as a “grossing startup” though they already employ hundreds of people and run sales at scale. 

For the sake of this discussion, let’s agree that a startup is an innovative tech company that is characterized by a small team where each team member has several responsibilities (you know… the CEO is also running global sales and HR, VP product is also the CMO, etc.), and that the organization is working with a relatively small and limited budget.

It is still in guerilla mode and many times it runs things on an opportunistic rather than methodical basis and is not yet focused on profitability but rather on looking for proven and stable benchmarks for revenues / sales potential / market fit. The way to achieve these proof points is usually via several pilots / POC projects, strategic partnerships and more.

A startup at these stages is usually backed by investors and has probably completed a seed or round A / B funding. Its investors expect it to first show encouraging trends and then, following later rounds,  a “hockey stick” growth trend (as that’s a strong indication for a good market fit).   

The marketing operation in startups at these stages has either not really started (The website was somehow handled by the founders, no methodic messaging process was conducted, content is written whenever someone in the team is in the muse…) or that it is still lacking many activities, metrics and more. Sometimes there’s no marketing owner in the company or tha tin other times there’s one of just a few.

You see, if you compare startups to corporations, there are endless differences, in the level of resources, budgets, type of KPIs, way of operation, expectations, work methods, stability, and the list goes on. Naturally, the way they operate their marketing should also be completely different.

The search for the 360° startup marketer

If you managed to find a single marketer (after all, most young B2B startup companies can’t afford to hire multiple workers and / or execution agencies that accompany them) that can run this 360 puzzle, that’s great. But, finding such an internal resource can be challenging.

Like in almost every walk of life, outsourcing is becoming acceptable, and in many cases, expected, standard. It has specific benefits that in today’s world just make sense.

When it comes to marketing, the startup-world has some unique challenges and needs. The big question mark is around who can you outsource your 360° startup marketing to…

Finding that startup marketing master (internal or an agency) can be difficult but totally worth it.  

A couple of reasons:

  1. Tabula Rasa! Like I said above, the DNA of early-stage startups is a blank page

Startup companies don’t have established and proven marketing tactics and knowledge to rely on. They are relatively new, and haven’t yet managed to go through the critical trial-and-error phase in marketing, a phase that helps more established companies gain valuable experience.  That’s why, many times, when it’s time to start marketing outreach, startup founders are confused and not sure where and how to start.

So they can either start learning slowly and while dealing with other tasks (hmmmm… is it really a valid option? Will they survive to tell?) or they can look to work with someone who is proficient in multi-area startup marketing.

  1. Startups must try out a bit of everything – but traditional marketers and agencies work differently  

Startups need to trial a little bit of everything (a ‘make-sense everything’)  when it comes to marketing. They need to build the basic marketing infrastructure and then start piloting different activities. How else would they know what’s working and what’s not? They need to run some social media activities, make noise in communities, run different content marketing initiatives, work on their sales tool kit, run PR activities, PPC campaigns, SEO optimization and the list goes on.

How can startups afford running “oh so many” activities in an optimal manner? Working with specialized agencies maybe?

Most marketing agencies today will offer to work with you on specific chunks of your marketing activity: PPC campaigns OR PR OR branding and visual identity, etc.

Some will offer support on several areas, but you will always stay with some missing elements and more importantly, with the need to run the strategic planning and the coordination yourself. For that, you will need not only time, but also experience. 

For a startup, this offering is not sufficient. While some activities aren’t usually supported at all, others are overpriced. The high price is due to a minimal project capacity that the agency requires per client. Quite rightfully by the way. While this capacity (and pricing) can work for corporations, for a startup it’s an overkill.

On the other hand, in most cases, it is not justifiable for many young startups to work with numerous agencies, nor is it feasible. Not in terms of the available budget per activity, the internal resource needed to supervise the agency,  or the actual agency fees.

Let’s take PPC agencies for example – Startups, who many times allocate very small budgets to paid media campaigns, are rejected by agencies that are working under a 15-20% commission model. For such media agencies, it’s just not worth it and they set minimum spend per project. Also, the operation is different and much more challenging. The most logical thing to do in the trial and error phase is to utilize micro-budgets to learn what’s working and what isn’t (history is a blank page, remember?). What you want is to avoid spending too much during this stage and learn as much as you can. But media agencies (with a commission based business model) are looking to spend large amounts of money in a short time frame. Do you see a bit of a conflict here?  

And do you really need a specialized branding and design house to work on your logo and visual identity at this stage, spending tens of thousands of dollars on the project, before there’s any evidence or final decision on the high-level direction (or concept or value)? I don’t think so. 

That’s why “traditional” marketers or agencies, offering the same values to startups and corporations are impossible for startups to “digest”. It’s just not working. if I only had a dollar for every disappointed startup founder… 

3. Startups need to build a marketing infrastructure from scratch, and that’s a very unique skill

Think about it for a minute. When a new marketing person comes on board to an existing operation, she or he faces a very specific set of challenges, usually around fine-tuning and improving existing activities and launching new ones based on learning from the past.

But that’s not the situation in a young startup.

Many times, when I on-board a new startup, there is nothing (or almost nothing) there in terms of methodical and organized marketing.

The brand and visual identity were usually done along the way, without the full needed attention. The website is many times just a mini-site landing page with basic (and not very clear) information (and no sufficient lead capture or trust elements), or that it is missing important content. The company’s story is not well articulated and exists mostly in the founders’ minds. The marketing materials are non-existent or that they need a major overhaul, let alone work methods and processes, and the list goes on.

Establishing a marketing infrastructure is a 180 degrees different skill than coming into something that’s already there. You need to envision a clear direction of where you want to take your marketing to. Then you need to build things in a smart way that will give you the flexibility and freedom to launch more and more activities later on, without too many surprises along the way.

On top of that, you must always keep in mind that you work for a lean (and limited) startup and use feasible tactics, solutions, technologies and resources. And you must move fast. Ha, and you don’t have money. 

Examples include building the website in phases, making sure that important technical aspects are implemented ahead, for the sake of the future (analytics, pixels, funnel design, connection to the marketing automation system, landing page mechanisms, etc.) and more.

You will probably not leverage all of these tools right from the start, but you will save a lot of time and resources thinking of them ahead of time. (when we work with website developers, we don’t pay extra for adding these components, so it makes sense to get them ahead)

When it comes to specialized agencies, many can support you with specific campaigns and initiatives, but, will they get involved in the setup of your marketing infrastructure? How many of them really start from scratch? And can they run their activities successfully without overloading your team? After all, it is a startup…everybody is swamped already.  

Traditional marketers or agencies can easily fail if they aren’t experienced in the startup world. 

A 360° marketing persona (or an agency) that has the required expertise and knowledge, and can handle both what you would expect your CMO and your external agencies, hence can toggle between different activities (each conducted in the timing and volume that’s right for a startup), is what startups are struggling to find. If you go for an agency, you must look for one that offers a business model that does not create any conflict of interests. Similarly to an internal CMO who shares the exact same interests as the company.

I know that I am biased as I founded and I co-manage a 360° startup marketing agency. I am sure that more similar agencies will emerge as necessity is the mother of all inventions.

Summary and some final tips

We know that more and more startups today find the option of outsourcing their marketing operation appealing. But they are still looking for their unique and specific marketing needs to be answered and they are looking for someone to run with, long term. As mentioned before, it’s critical to select the right type of agency to work with. 

Just keep in mind that the different marketing disciplines must be fully connected. They have to support and leverage each other to generate satisfactory results. This means that alignment and coordination is no less important than execution.

Startups must look for partners that will help them see the whole picture, plan accordingly and execute everything, for a feasible price, with minimum overload on their internal teams.

Here are my final tips for making a decision on who to work with on your startup marketing agency: 

  1. Global startup marketing experience – Look for specific experience and expertise in startup marketing.
  2. Stay true to your KPIs – Make sure there is a match between the agency offering and your actual needs.
  3. Look at the business model –Ask about the agency business model (hour bank, monthly retainer) and make sure everything you need is covered. Make sure that they not only track work capacity but deliverables as well.
  4. Consider the alternative – Compare the cost of the outsourced agency to the cost and skills of an internal marketer + external agencies on top (an internal marketer simply doesn’t know how to run many complex marketing activities and doesn’t have time to deal with everything), see what makes sense for each stage your startup is in. 
  5. Examine the level of flexibility – Your company is a startup, and it’s very likely new priorities will come up, the focus may shift and what you need from your team will change. You want to work with a partner who can evolve with you in the long term.
  6. The proof is in the pudding – Ask to hear about case studies (and get recommendations) to fully understand the agency’s ability to deliver.
  7. Consider work methods – Get into the specifics of work methodologies: What’s included and what isn’t, how the day-to-day work is managed and measured, how do you stay on top of what’s going on (weekly sync, access to documents, review of materials), etc.

 

Good luck!

Einav Laviv
Einav Laviv is a tech marketing expert, a startup founder and the CEO at G2Mteam, that supports Israeli startups with full stack global marketing services. She lives, breathes and loves startups & marketing: B2B, B2C, Mobile, online and product
Einav Laviv
Einav Laviv
hello [at] g2mteam.com