Management Talk: Do you hear me?

It isn’t uncommon to expect people in the marketing domain to check or seek information on marketing budget before being hired, or when they structure a promotional campaign. The advantage that one may have may differ depending on the size of the company. For convenience’s sake, we may divide this size into following categories., Business

09 May 2016 | By Suresh Ramakrishnan

Large companies set aside a percentage of their expected turnover as promotional budget. There is a rationale behind this, which usually evolves from in-depth market research, product understanding, arriving at the segments you wish to target and so on and so forth.

These days, start-ups, especially those backed by VCs, have disproportionate marketing budget - much to do with customer acquisition, product discounts and increasing the product off take, which winds towards a valuation game for the company in the end.

On the other end, small-time traders and retailers depend on word of mouth and local crowd, with aspirations which aren’t sky high. The self-funded or bank loan initiated business takes an organic route and takes years to build, but it remains rock solid as long as the business focus and vigour isn’t lost.

Then there is another segment, businesses with high aspirations. The owners believe in their products /services / capabilities and are eager to spread the word, but have limited funds and resources. They do not have assets other than their ideas and qualifications to raise loans. They literally pool in funds from friends and relatives to bootstrap the company.

What options do they have to scale and make it to the big league?

Power of good content: There is nothing more powerful than helping someone learn. The discerning C-level executive or decision maker in a company is always on the lookout for something that upgrades his existing knowledge base. I remember a white paper that we as a team had prepared several years back (as part of my role as enterprise strategist for a magazine that I was involved in since its inception). It captured the aspects of a CIO decision-making cycle for procuring enterprise IT hardware. This involved speaking to several CIOs and mapping their decisions to suggest a pattern that fit most corporate. This helped us break through several vendor accounts (who advertised in our magazine) who wanted to understand more about the decision cycle; several agencies called me and my colleagues for a lecture as well. In today’s day and age, the power of blogs, social media and the internet in general has created additional avenues for content.

Focused targeting through intense research: I am carpet-bombed through mails several times a week. Many don’t address me by name, many don’t understand what we do, the mails are a mile long, some have umpteen different fonts and colours, significant number have language issues and some even send attachments that are 5mb or more. You get a sense of the problem. If you know who your customers are likely to be, it is critical for an intelligent resource to carry out some in-depth study on the customers. I remember, as head of a content solutions start up, we created a 24-point grading scale, which we used to segregate companies that were an ideal fit for us. These were carefully mapped with our services and we wrote a document (a short one) that showed them direct benefits that would accrue to them. It was like pre-empting the questions that would come to mind and answering them to an extent that would get them interested and curious as well. The strike rate, if I remember correctly, was way above the quoted industry average.

Customer service and project management: Eventually you are bound to get an opening through your first sale and may be a couple more. It all boils down to how you deliver what you promised. Exaggerating or agreeing on a few deliverables that would stretch you to your limits or may be break you as well is seriously avoidable. Many customers test waters through small projects and increase size over time. The first few customers have trusted you for what you told them; make sure you never lose them. I remember an instance when an eLearning project from a customer took a tumble because we promised some aspects assuming we would hire the relevant resource when the project kicks in. The project when it came through was a massive size and the deliverables were so specific that our existing and new resources could not deliver.

Your first set of customers is your best reference: Their specific testimonials and their initiative to introduce you to people they know works wonders. The power of such a network is priceless.

I have spent several years in start-ups, which usually had a meagre budget to work on to acquire customers. As they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, so my colleagues and I ended up finding frugal means to build products/ companies.

Suresh Ramakrishnan is the publisher at Haymarket Media (India).