Category Archives: Mentoring

Can A Content Marketing Mentor Add Value

It is difficult to avoid the hype about content marketing (it is everywhere) but is it really of value to businesses in B2B markets? If a quantifiable ROI can be identified then is it best to go it alone or invest in a marketing mentor to guide you through the process?

The (Alleged) Value In Content Marketing

The theory behind content marketing all appears valid. It states that prospects and customers have grown weary of push marketing techniques. They no longer rely on suppliers and intermediaries to push out the information required to make purchasing decisions but actively seek out what they need long before engaging with a potential supplier.

Information (content) that supports potential customers information needs during various parts of the awareness and purchasing process, delivered to a point it is most likely to be read and engaged with is (it is suggested) a far better way to progress the sales process than push techniques.

The theory goes on to state that with strong content in place it can then be used to build high quality inbound links to the business website, increasing the effectiveness of the SEO process and driving the website up the Google rankings. Content may also be used to fuel social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook and increase both reach and potential customer engagement.

The Problem With Content Marketing

All of the above theory is valid and sounds wonderful in principle but there are some key problems to address. The first problem is the ‘build it and they will come‘ mentality. What complete nonsense, nothing is going to waste your time, effort and hard earned cash faster than buying into this mentality. Content must be marketed and delivered by the most appropriate means to reach the target audience.

This brings in the second problem and that is the need for a cohesive plan and strategy that details the target audience, what their individual information requirements may be at various stages in the buying process and (critically) where they look for that information. Without this in place a significant amount of time will be wasted on content that is of little use to the target audience and / or never reaches them. The most obvious resource customers may look for information may be on the web but it is important not to forget offline sources and the power of recommendation and word of mouth

Finally, there is the issue of the time required to build and deliver content. It takes time to create blog posts, slideshares, infographics and other valuable and engaging information from scratch. It is therefore important that the maximum benefit is extracted from the content, it is re-used in as many different forms as possible and it is distributed appropriately. Every effort should be made to seek out information the business already has in place that may be updated and re-used and this should be mixed appropriately with new content to minimise the resources expended on content creation.

Is There Value In Employing A Mentor

In 2015 any business can build its own, content based, inbound marketing process. The issue is the time taken, the resources employed and the time wasted following blind alleys and the often misleading information published online. An alternative is to seek out a mentor that uses content marketing in their own business and is experienced in what works well (and what does not). Although a mentor comes at a cost this should be measured against time and resources lost if they are not available to help guide you through the process.

How To Use Growth Hacking to Grow A Tech Start Up

The term growth hacker and the latest hack for x,y or z seems to be everywhere but exactly what is a growth hacker and how can their skills be used to grow a tech start up business?

What is Growth Hacking?

Sean Ellis, who was instrumental in the rapid growth of Dropbox, is credited with first using the term Growth Hacker back in 2010. Their role is to grow a user (or customer) base from a low (or nil) base into the thousands and beyond. Growth hackers are marketers but they are completely focussed on one metric and one metric alone and that is growth.

The term growth hacker is now, like most buzzwords, overused to the point it is starting to get annoying but it was originally a term associated with start-up growth, particularly for start-ups working on internet based products. Many of the techniques used by those involved in growth hacking are long established and used by traditional marketers on a regular basis, but with a twist

In his 2012 post  Aaron Ginn defined the three key characteristics of a growth hacker as creativity, data and curiosity. Growth Hackers tend to be unusual as two of their key characteristics are from two different ends of the spectrum. A creative person is not usually also associated with a talent for numbers, detailed analysis and experimentation.

Applying To The Tech Start Up

Although growth hacking is most often associated with businesses involved in internet based products, services and Apps their rationale and methods of working may be specialist electronic component from a high tech start upapplied to any high tech start up. However, a pre requisite is the marketing person involved must have a detailed knowledge of the internet, generating traffic (paid and organic), analysis tools, nurturing campaigns and (crucially) how people and information flow online.

As a first step they must be able to identify the best opportunities to achieve new customer growth. With this in place they must then be able to break down the steps required to capitalise on those opportunities into actionable steps, each with a defined start, end and closure point. Finally, they must be able to put the required analytics in place to measure success (or not).

The best growth marketing process for a new technology start up may not have been tried before so experimentation, with data to back up the results, is key. Market disruption is important for any technology start up and the same applies to the marketing process. Often, Tried and trusted will not work and a seat of the pants type approach is the best way forward. This can be both scary and high risk but the risks of failing using something more tried and tested are also high.

Experience based on experimentation, the data obtained and the workings of the internet is key. Porting a process that works well for one business to the next is unlikely to work but the data obtained in one assignment is certainly important to the next. Finding the right marketing person (or to go back to our original definition – Growth hacker) can be difficult but given the high risk nature of their work and the dramatically increased chances of start-up failure if they do not succeed it is of vital importance. The problem is that outside of the U.S.A such people are in very short supply.

Sources of B2B Growth Support 2014

Although their approach may be far from perfect Government efforts to stimulate growth in the SME marketplace should be applauded. There are several sources of B2B growth support available, in this post we discuss some of the most popular options and the limitations to be aware of before allocating time and effort to the process.

Growth Support Options

B2B Business growth support optionsMany schemes are available that provide an element of funding to businesses with growth aspirations. These include the Design Council, Growth Vouchers Scheme, Growth Accelerator Programme and many local schemes controlled by local councils.

All tend to be focussed on small the small to medium sized business community and those businesses with potential to grow, either in terms of turnover or employees. A problem remains with the definition of what is, and is not, a high growth business but in general lessons have been learned from experience. Schemes like the Growth Accelerator Programme are generally well thought out, deliver generally good support and are far less wasteful than past business support programmes.

The Growth Accelerator Programme

Focussed on the financial and strategic issues holding a business back the growth accelerator programme (as the name suggests) is focussed on small and medium sized businesses intent on growth. One of the major benefits of the programme, which is perhaps less known, is the training, workshop and networking services it provides.

Part funded support is provided to help businesses with access to finance, business development or growth through innovation. A growth manager is usually the first to visit to assess a business priorities, the support required and eligibility for the programme. If there is a way forward they then appoint a growth coach to take the project forward.

More information on the programme, including qualification criteria can be found here

Support Delivery Issues

Although the above organisations control the process, delivery of growth support is mainly delivered by independent Mentors and Coaches. These individuals or organisations are usually vetted and qualified by whichever organisation is responsible for the allocation of support.

If the focus is business development or innovation then a experienced coach or mentor best able to support one or more of the three main business growth strategies will be suggested to a business but it is important to be aware that this will not always be the case.

The controlling organisations (tasked with delivering best value from Government money) can only approve a finite amount of coaches and mentors so to deliver a coach or mentor with specific industry expertise in every situation can be difficult. As a result the advice delivered can be generic rather than specific to a given situation.

Also, in reality, the amount of coaches / mentors tasked with delivering support by the growth managers tend to be only a fraction of the pool available. As in any business activity personal relationships are important and managers tend to have their favourites.

Variations In The Quality Of Growth Support

Most coaches and mentors approved to deliver government funded support are able to deliver a high level of expertise. Although they may not be able to deliver industry (or task) specific advice they can, in most cases, deliver the required result.

However, it is always wise to be cautious and to check credentials. If the coach or mentor is a supposed expert in social media, check out their activity on their own social media channels. If an SEO specialist, how does their own website show up in search? If a new product specialist then what case studies can they show and what industries have they worked in. It is not required to take the coach or mentor offered and always possible to ask for an alternative

Conclusion

More SME business growth support options are available today than have been available for several years with the Growth Accelerator programme perhaps the most successful. There is some evidence that support may be too focussed on new rather than established businesses and the quality of support can be variable but any growth support to SME in B2B markets should be welcomed.

Financial Support For Business Growth – The options

When the recession hit many Government backed financial support for business growth initiatives simply disappeared. Although Government support for the SME market remains far from perfect at least some financial support initiatives to support businesses intent on growth have re-appeared.

This post covers some of the support packages currently available. The list is not exhaustive and includes only those offering modest sums to smaller SME and start-ups in the North East of England. The following excludes finance and grants for working capital and asset finance.

Growth Accelerator

The Growth Accelerator program is available to UK registered businesses employing less than 250 people and with a turnover less than £40m that are intent on growth. Many businesses entering the program are looking to exploit new markets, new opportunities and / or new products or innovations.

Funding is targeted at overcoming obstacles to growth (marketing and / or financial) and on developing the leadership and management skills of senior employees. Funding must be matched to a level depending on the company size. The nominal value of the support available is £3,500 to which a micro business (1-4 employee) would contribute £600 + VAT (@£700)

More details are available at www.growthaccelerator.com, the twitter feed @growthaccel is also worth a follow for latest information. In the North East region both WinningPitch and RTCNorth are involved in the Growth Accelerator project.

North East Business Support Fund

The business support fund is available to North East based businesses in B2B markets that have less than 250 employees. The fund (to a maximum of £1,400) does not cover capital purchase or printing or advertising costs but does cover a wide range of (new) projects including financial planning, process development, marketing, HR strategy and product development. Up to 40% of the full project budget may be funded (capped at £1,400)

The project is managed by NBSL. More details are available at www.nbsl.org.uk

With the economic outlook improving the above funding covers some of the costs and eliminates some of the risks associated with new business development but as both funds are time limited (Growth Accelerator closes mid 2015) then it is important to start the application procedure as soon as practical.

What Is A Business Mentor

The definitions of what is a business mentor are many and varied. Mentoring and coaching are closely related and this often confuses the issue. Rather than try to define mentoring this post sets out to explain the services delivered by a typical business mentor and their value.

Mentoring is a one to one relationship between the mentor and the mentee. The mentor is a specialist in one particular area of business and generally much more experienced in that area than the mentee. A mentor is:

An Expert

In their particular area of business, they will generally hold a range of relevant qualifications and have many years experience. It is this combination of up to date knowledge and practical business experience that is at the core of a mentor’s value to a business.

A Sounding Board

The first skill any good mentor should employ is listening and active questioning to get to the key issues, to understand the needs and aspirations of the mentee and to understand the real root of the problem to be addressed. The mentor is also there as a sounding board for the mentee to bounce ideas off and to obtain constructive feedback on those ideas.

Adviser

The mentor should use their skills and experience to suggest the best course of action and to agree a way forward and plan for the mentee to implement. The mentor’s role is then to provide ongoing advice to deal with issues as they arise during roll out of the plan.

Sergeant Major

With the plan in place the role of the mentor is to hold the mentee accountable for their actions and to keep them on track delivering support and guidance as appropriate.

Role Model

Depending on the seniority of the mentee the mentor may act as a role model. The mentor may also be required to act as a motivator and / or councilor to ensure the overall objectives of the mentoring service are met.

Introducer

An often overlooked value of a mentor is their ability to arrange introductions to providers, suppliers and contacts of value to the mentee both in the implementation of the plan and in general. A mentor can often point to potential opportunities that may not be immediately obvious to the mentee.

A mentor can deliver real value to a business by developing the skills of the mentee who in turn can apply those new skills on an ongoing basis to benefit the business. A mentor can also deliver value by introducing both valuable contacts and opportunities that otherwise would not have been available to the business. However, it is critical to success that a mentor is chosen with the specific skills, qualification and experience that precisely matches the needs of both the mentee and the business.

Business Mentoring And Coaching – What Is The Difference

Many find the difference between business mentoring and coaching confusing and often believe the two terms are interchangeable. Given the many definitions of mentoring and coaching this confusion is understandable. This post attempts to define the key differences between the two disciplines.

One of the better definitions of mentoring (from MentorSET) is it is a partnership between two people (mentor and mentee) normally working in a similar field or sharing similar experiences. It is a helpful relationship based on mutual respect and trust. A mentor should ask questions and challenge while providing guidance and encouragement.

The key difference between mentoring and coaching is a mentor is generally more experienced and qualified than the mentee whereas a coach often has no specific experience of the mentees occupation or role. A mentor can often use their specific knowledge and contacts to open doors that otherwise may be closed to the mentee.

Coaching tends to be short term and focussed on specific issues whereas mentoring tends to take a broader view and can last for a considerable amount of time. Mentoring tends to take more of an interest in the person and their development than coaching which is more focussed on specific development issues.

In any mentoring process the mentee generally sets the required agenda and the mentor simply provides the guidance and support required. Generally a mentor provides challenges to the mentee and makes them accountable for their progress. With coaching the focus is on achieving specific and short term goals. The agenda is often set by a manager or immediate superior.

In conclusion there are actually major differences between business coaching and mentoring. Effective coaching may be delivered by a coach without specific industry or discipline expertise and is focussed on helping a person learn rather than by teaching. A mentor uses specific and relevant expertise to teach and guide the mentee.

Engaging External Marketing Support? – What Are The Options

If any small business is to invest limited funds in an external marketing support it must generate a return on investment and deliver results in the shortest possible timeframe. This article compares the various options available.

Unfortunately there is no single solution which will work overnight (if only!). A marketing process based on that in use in large corporate land (by consultants or advisers with a large corporate background) is likely to be of little use. The best advisers are those who have been there and done that in small and micro business marketing.

So what are the options available? If we exclude the complete do it yourself marketing option then the options are:

  • A marketing mentor or coach who visits the small business on a regular basis.
  • A marketing mentor or coach who works remotely and is contactable via phone or Email.
  • Outsourcing the entire process to a marketing agency.
  • Plan everything in house and use various suppliers to deliver individual marketing services.

A marketing mentor or coach may guide the business on the do it yourself route or the small business may choose external marketing suppliers to deliver individual tools or services. The most expensive option is to hire a coach or mentor then to buy in individual services, followed by outsourcing everything. The remote coach or mentor will usually cheaper than the one visiting a business on a regular basis

What matters however is not so much the financial outlay (although important) but the returns generated. Using a coach or mentor may be expensive but it lowers risk as they provide expert advice on what will / will not work. However, as noted above, it is important to choose the mentor wisely.

Outsourcing the entire process to a marketing agency can work well but only if the agency is properly briefed before the project starts up and monitored. Failure to do so will almost certainly lead to money being wasted on ineffective marketing. The external marketing support available via a mentor will ensure a valid plan and brief is in place. The small business must decide if the extra costs involved provide value.

To plan everything in house then engage external suppliers may be the lowest cost route but it is also the highest risk. Many small businesses may be expert in their own field but are not expert in marketing. There are many unscrupulous marketing service suppliers who will take advantage of this lack of knowledge and fail to deliver. Even with reputable suppliers a failure to brief correctly will lead to poor results.

An experienced marketing adviser may be relatively expensive but costs should be weighed against the costs of wasting money on ineffective marketing. However, if expert support is to be utilised it is important to choose the adviser wisely making sure they have real experience at the small business level.

What are your experiences at the small business level? I would be interested to know which approach you have found best?

Current Best B2B Marketing Practice

Best B2B marketing and business development practice has changed dramatically in recent years driven, primarily, by the rise in internet marketing and increasing resistance to aggressive marketing techniques.

For many years marketing in B2B markets was entirely push based. It was based on proactive sales work, telemarketing, advertising, print / direct mail and (although it could also be classed as a pull technique) press release. More recently Email marketing pushing a sales message was introduced to the mix.

A fact often missed (or ignored) is business people also have a personal life. With the growth of the internet, social media and all sorts of comparison and review sites people have become conditioned to search out the information they need (and make comparisons) online before making a purchasing decision. Bad practice Email and telemarketing practice, particularly in the B2C world, have built a resistance to these techniques that spills over into the business world.

Marketers have recently switched on to this change and current best practice in B2B marketing is pull rather than push based. It is based on delivering information to the point decision makers may access it to inform their decisions. The trick is to ensure the information is valuable, engaging, builds credibility and gently guides the decision maker along a path towards the offering of a particular business.

The pull process has become known as content marketing and is based on delivering content using a wide variety of tactics – many of which are listed here. The content itself may be white papers, technical notes, how to guides, industry comment / trends, comparisons, regulatory issues of interest and much more. Many businesses sit on a large amount of information that could be updated / amended to benefit customers and prospects.

Content marketing does not deliver results as fast as traditional push techniques and it does require significant resource to implement successfully but the resulting quantity and quality of sales leads tends to exceed that of push marketing. There are many challenges to overcome including finding and / or writing sufficient engaging content and finding the most appropriate channel to deliver that content.

The impact of push marketing then is decreasing with pull marketing the new focus. However, although pull marketing delivers more consistent and higher quality sales leads, it takes longer to deliver results and is resource intensive. Therefore push marketing techniques still have a place and can be selectively combined with pull techniques to deliver the best overall result.

How A Experienced Marketing Mentor Can Add Value

Many medium sized businesses in B2B markets employ a marketing person (or team) with considerable market experience and knowledge but still fail to generate the sales leads they need to take the business forward. This post considers if an experienced marketing mentor, employed on a short term contract, may assist an existing marketing team to deliver more value.

Marketing has probably never been as fast moving as it is today. What worked well only 18 months ago may not work at all today and may actually do more harm than good. Push marketing based on telemarketing and traditional advertising is less effective but the alternative pull marketing is primarily internet based and is changing at a rapid rate.

In businesses operating in B2B markets the person (or team) responsible for marketing often has been promoted from within the organisation. This approach has several advantages as the person is likely to have an intimate understanding of products, markets and customers and a close working relationship with other internal departments. However, their marketing tools and techniques will, most likely, be based on what has always worked well in the past and that is the problem.

An experienced marketing mentor can add value in such circumstances as they possess both experience of what worked in the past and works today. They are therefore best placed to make comparisons, discard what is unlikely to work, modify an existing approach to deliver better value or suggest new tools or techniques.

Today, content (or pull) marketing is more likely to deliver results for businesses in B2B markets than push. As the name suggests, content marketingis based on delivering valuable, engaging information to both existing and potential new customers to stay front of mind with those customers and to build credibility. Prospects are more likely to thoroughly research products, services and suppliers before engaging in any sort of sales conversation. Content marketing is about delivering the information prospects need during their research process via appropriate channels.

As stated above an internal marketing person or team has many advantages over any outsourced marketing services provider. A mentor, engaged on a short term contract, may utilise their experience to deliver advise, guidance and education to the in house team to bring them up to speed with best current practice and help them put the marketing systems and processes in place to take a modern marketing process forward to deliver a consistent supply of quality sales leads to the business.

In a fast moving world where outdated marketing techniques can cost businesses both in marketing costs and lost sales leads a experienced marketing mentor can deliver considerable value by offering the guidance and support necessary to bring a knowledgeable internal marketing person (or team) up to speed on current best practice.

In Need Of B2B Marketing Advice? – What Are The Options

For any business reaching out for B2B marketing advice and support there are many potential solutions. Clearly, whatever option is chosen has to deliver on the business development objectives and the supplier must be credible and effective. Beyond that the choice is largely influenced by personal preference and the financial resources available. This article explores the options available.

The four main possibilities are the full in house option, a part in house option with the rest outsourced and managed in house, mentoring, coaching or outsourcing the full marketing process. Each option has good and bad points and some are relevant only to certain businesses and / or individuals.

A marketing mentor transfers relevant knowledge, skills and expertise to their client so the client can learn to perform the task themselves without the need for further support. Mentors do not tell their clients what to do; they simply guide them down a path to success.

A key skill for any mentor is listening and questioning to get to the root of their clients issues. Mentors tend to be highly experienced and well qualified in their business discipline. They tend to be well networked so that may point their clients in the direction of appropriate suppliers and partners to assist the business development process.

Coaching is similar to mentoring but it tends to focus more on the individual (being coached) and their personal issues more than the organisations issues. Coaching focuses on improving a person’s performance and developing or enhancing an individual’s skills. The skill set for a coach is similar to a mentor although they are less likely to be expert in a particular discipline.

When using an outsourced B2B marketing company the emphasis is not on learning and the process it is simply on delivery against a defined business growth and development objective. Assuming the specification is correct then B2B marketing agencies generally deliver the required outcome with minimal reference back to the client.

The final option is the do it yourself option where there is no physical marketing advice and support the required information is simply sourced online and implemented in house. There is a mass of free marketing advice online, some good, some bad and some just plain wrong. The difficulty is in finding good quality information which is current.

There are many sources (some paid for and some not) including  education material from the professional bodies like the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Blogs and online education websites each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Often various pieces of information need to be stitched together to give an overall understanding before implementation.

Which of the above is the best option very much depends on what a business is looking for and the funds available. If a business simply wants the marketing task performed while they get on with operational and delivery issues then an outsourced marketing agency is best. However, this approach will leave little training or education behind when completed which means outsourcing again when the next task arises.

Both coaching and mentoring will leave behind skills in the business which can be utilised and improved upon over the medium to long term. A coach or mentor will not do the work for the business so it may still be necessary to bring in some outsourced suppliers which can make the overall process more expensive. The decision between coaching and mentoring must be made at a personal level based on what the individual business owner or mentee is looking for.

The in house, do it yourself approach is by far the cheapest and the medium to long term legacy is obvious, however, it is also the most risky and time consuming. It requires ongoing commitment as an ad hoc approach simply will not work. Finding the right educational resources and stitching those resources together to understand the whole is a major issue.

The choice then depends on funds available, the needs of both the individual and the business, the requirements of the B2B market in which the business operates and the required outcome of the marketing advice and support process.