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4 Steps to Scaling Marketing and Achieving Real ROI

January 15, 2021

Marketing and demand generation are two of the most critical challenges for modern tech companies. And yet, CEOs have little confidence in solving them. Faced with uncertainty, many teams fail to optimize their marketing efforts. But doing so means leaving revenue on the table — and in our digital age, inaction isn’t an option.

Throughout his career, Shiv Narayanan has consulted hundreds of SaaS and ecommerce companies whose main growth driver is digital marketing. As CMO of Wild Apricot, he grew the company through inbound, digital, self-serve acquisition and product-led growth. Wild Apricot was acquired in 2017. Now, as founder and CEO of How to SaaS, Narayanan works with leading private equity firms and their portfolio companies to scale marketing efforts and create enterprise value.

During B Capital’s Marketing and Sales in a Digital-First Environment webinar, Narayanan shared insider tips on how modern organizations can implement marketing strategies that achieve meaningful ROI.

Here are four steps for driving top-line revenue in a digital age.

  1. Strive for sales-marketing alignment

“An organization’s ability to hit sales quotas has a direct correlation to how much they invest in marketing,” said Narayanan.

Instead of putting sales and marketing in separate silos, ensure that both departments share ownership over all stages of the buyer journey. “Getting people in, educating them, helping them move faster along their buyer journey…the more marketing does that, the more likely we are to hit sales quotas,” said Narayanan.

One way marketing teams can support sales is by identifying, then filling, content gaps. “This could be through ebooks, white papers, LinkedIn videos, blog posts, or social snippets,” said Narayanan. “Customers are reading all of these things before they interact with someone to say, ‘I’m ready for a demo.’”

In fact, studies show that 79% of modern buyers are consuming three to five pieces of content before ever talking to a salesperson. “That means that we need more content than ever,” said Narayanan.

  1. Invest in digital talent

Ninety percent of marketers suffer from a shortage of digital skills — and only 8% of companies feel that they are strong in all areas of digital marketing.

“That’s a funny statistic,” said Narayanan. “Digital marketing talent is harder to find than a cybersecurity expert, a network architecture expert, or a 3D printing expert. That’s because there is a huge supply and demand issue. Every company needs digital marketing help, whereas not every company needs a 3D printing expert — but there just isn’t enough talent around.”

As a result, companies must actively recruit the best marketing talent to fill their skills gaps and drive digital marketing efforts. “There’s almost a battle between companies for this talent to figure out how to scale faster,” added Narayanan.

  1. Track return on investment

“Over time, marketing becomes a secondary cast member, since sales is the main rainmaker,” said Narayanan. “And because of that model, as the world has changed, many companies are struggling to meet their targets.”

Modern organizations must flip this equation. “We want to secure marketing a bigger seat at the table so it can become a revenue driver,” explained Narayanan. “And in order to do that, we need to establish a clearer link between where marketing spend goes and the value marketing delivers.”

To drive maximum value, marketing teams need bigger budgets. But to earn executive buy-in, they must first prove real ROI. “Your board, CEO, or anyone involved with making budgeting decisions will happily give you more budget if you can prove that something is delivering revenue,” said Narayanan.

The best way to demonstrate ROI is by working backwards and track marketing spend all the way through secured sales. For example, say your team allocates $100,000 towards trade shows, $100,000 towards Google Ads, and $100,000 towards content. Whether days, weeks, or months later, you should be asking: What was the pipeline generated from each avenue? How many closed deals resulted from these efforts?

“In many companies, this full-funnel tracking doesn’t exist,” said Narayanan. “That needs to change.”

  1. Scale with strategy — and flexibility

2020 was an experiment in budget reallocation for businesses everywhere. Since trade shows were essentially off-limits due to COVID-19, marketing teams found themselves asking: Where should we spend our money? Does it make most sense to direct these funds towards content, paid media, social, or another digital channel?

The first step in any marketing decision, said Narayanan, is to analyze your existing spend. Determine which avenues are already working, and — if those channels aren’t maxed out — consider spending more money there.

“Then, as you start to fine-tune the engine and your spend is appropriately allocated, you can open up additional channels or additional programs,” said Narayanan.

While scaling your marketing efforts, you may even identify reallocation opportunities that could drastically increase ROI and efficiency. “It’s a very strategic thing to do,” explained Narayanan, “to be able to go back to the board and say, ‘You initially gave us a limited budget and we were generating this ROI for you. Then we changed things around, and we’re getting significantly more ROI. Now we need more marketing budget.’”

The stakes for digital transformation

In a highly competitive market, companies can’t risk stalling on digital transformation.

Beyond accelerating business growth, strategic marketing can also draw investors to your door. “When vetting companies, investors consider the long-term digital potential to be a very important factor in their decision,” said Narayanan. “It’s much harder to buy an on-premise legacy system that can be sold to 100 customers across the world, where you have to do field sales, than a platform that can go to market digitally.”

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