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Andy and I work with a lot of leaders from different backgrounds and industries. Many are senior executives of large companies while others are CEOs of their own start-ups. Regardless of the company and its size, we find CEO marketing mistakes can be very similar between different companies.
Here’s what we’ve seen time and again while working as company insiders as well as hired guns.
Reacting rather than planning
Successful executives are agile and open to new ideas – admirable qualities. However, CEOs who get exposed to great new ideas and act on them immediately can adversely affect marketing efforts. This may work well in other parts of an organization but it’s poison to marketing.
Steering clear of quick reactions is hard for CEOs who have become successful following their instincts.
Successful marketing is all about consistency and long-term planning to create awareness, build out a funnel, and win over prospects. CEOs who market by continually steering the ship in different directions leave waves of marketing inefficiency in their wake. See if any of these examples resonate:
- Product direction changes based on feedback from the latest CEO-customer meeting.
- A trusted resource talks about great event and suddenly the quickly approaching one is a must attend.
- A product unexpectedly gets retired because the newer product is superior.
- A prospect posts a negative comment on social media and the CEO personally responds.
With quick reactions like these, marketing must now also become reactionary rather than strategic. Time spent working on certain initiatives may have to be abandoned to accommodate the new idea. Money already spent on deposits or outside contractors may be lost. If the new idea involves product changes, customers may be alienated.
Steering clear of quick reactions is hard for CEOs who have become successful following their instincts. But marketing requires a steady helm – it’s an ocean liner, not a speedboat.
This doesn’t mean that CEOs shouldn’t be involved in marketing. It just means that they could benefit from doing due diligence before reacting. They might socialize the new idea. Consult with product management, product marketing, and marketing communications. This will help determine the costs, benefits, and impacts of any new idea before everyone is off and running in a new direction.
Misunderstanding the customer
CEOs know their customers. Chances are, they used to be one of them. (Think of a software developer who invents a great new technology and subsequently grows a fledgling start-up into a company to sell this technology to developers.) They know what their customers need because it’s exactly what they needed. And the things they value are the same.
This is another one of the common CEO marketing mistakes. These CEOs may not have developed cutting-edge code or designed a circuit board in decades yet they still feel as though they are stand-ins for their current customers. They make choices based on their preferences, not necessarily those of their audience. Unfortunately, this may lead to a fundamental disconnect from customers, which can attract the wrong leads, result in wasted resources, or irritate customers. Some examples:
- Products are developed based on the coolness of a technology.
- The CEO doesn’t like certain colors so they can’t be used in any collateral.
- The website lists the things the CEO alone thinks are important about their company/product.
- New product features get introduced before anyone knows if they’ll sell.
These actions assume that the CEO knows their customers well enough to decide on what they want. Or worse yet, that they know better than their customers.
CEOs who produce and market products solely based on their own thinking may not be doing their company any favors. They may be right on some occasions but it’s a gamble. It’s far less risky to market products based on a structured product marketing process than it is to go with a gut feeling.
Adding features or products based on their cool factor or the ways in which they show off great engineering is also problematic. Product management needs to research market size and willingness to pay to see if an engineering investment is worth it. Making design decisions based on personal preferences is also unproductive as these decisions should be representative of the company’s market and objectives. Marketing communications, which works closely with professional designers, can likely give valuable input.
Most CEOs interact with customers all the time and have a good idea about their desires. But these customers may only be a small sample size. So, any guess about overall customer behavior or preferences is not infallible. Given our quick-moving business and technology environments, customers are open to a lot of competing forces and can rapidly change strategies. So yes, CEOs need to be nimble, but they also need to be consultative.
Making marketing a lead-gen machine
CEOs are focused on growing their company and/or shareholder profit. Closing big sales opportunities is often where they get personally involved in the sales cycle. For these reasons, they are often sales centric rather than marketing focused.
If a CEO is focused primarily on sales, they often see marketing as nothing more than sales support – a lead generation machine. (An unbridled sales force can also be influential here.) Unfortunately, lead gathering throughout the customer buying journey can turn people away by making a vendor look pushy and opportunistic rather than caring and interested in a long-term relationship.
The best way in today’s pandemic climate to do lead-generation is through content marketing. This may mean blog posts and infographics at the top of the funnel to build awareness, data sheets and whitepapers in the middle to educate and inform, and success stories and product comparisons at the bottom to reinforce credibility and help close sales. Inserting lead gen into this process at the very top of the funnel makes little sense when a prospect knows nothing about a company and/or its products. It’s also counter-productive to gate high-level product-based content when what companies want most is to have prospects learn more about them.
Lead generation can be a delicate dance and is most effective when it’s done somewhere in the middle of the funnel once people know who a company is and what they sell, and want to learn more as a result. The third of our CEO marketing mistakes is to demand lead generation throughout the customer buying journey/sales cycle, which risks getting few leads or the wrong leads.
The bottom line
CEOs and other leaders have much on their minds and responsibilities in their courts. Which means they almost always have many other extremely important things to do than edit whitepapers and/or choose colors for booth graphics. It’s interesting however how many of them do.
If you’re a leader that’s intimately involved in marketing even though you have people already in that role, you might be guilty of some of these CEO marketing mistakes. Consider delaying immediate reactions to even the best ideas, ensuring your audience is the right one right now, and remembering that marketing isn’t just a sales tool.
And if you take this advice to heart, you’ll sleep on it.