Most SMEs want to grow. They have started, and proven themselves via great products, persistent sales but feel somehow restrained in their capabilities to grow faster. Their first instinct is to often get outside equity or cashflow to boost investment, but often they will have the capabilities to boost significant growth by just focussing on a few core internal behavioural issues. I’ve been consulting with a few SMEs recently and the symptoms are generally the same:
- Too many cooks – here there is often co-leadership or lack of strong leadership as the business will have grown organically with the originator of the product and partners/friends. Often departments are not clear on roles and responsibilities and tread on each other’s toes. This is not only frustrating, but frankly a huge waste of valuable resource in a small enterprise.
- No clear, simple set of strategies for all to see – small businesses are agile. The leader or leadership team are in contact frequently and develop the business, the brand and the client base as they go. As they begin to grow, they bring in staff who are not within this circle of confidence and are not party to these nuances.
- Average to Really Bad Marketing – Primarily this will be because marketing will be approached as a cost centre vs a profit centre, which is different vs the big consumer brand players (Coca Cola, Unilever, Diageo etc.). However, to be more specific let’s split this into three sections:
- Bad strategy – as you develop your business, you adapt as you go. However at some point, you need to fully understand your consumer segments, their behaviours, their needs and decide which of these offer the highest return on your time/effort.
- Boring or just bad creative – time rushed and mostly junior marketers or senior execs who are double-hatting marketing with other functions (sales, operations or finance) will push out bad briefs. Bad briefs get back bad or average work. Ideas and creative are more than just pretty pictures and entertainment. They convince a consumer at an emotional level to buy. Emotions are harder to push in a price sensitive environment, so consumers with an emotional connection to a brand will be with the business for longer.
- Poor execution – this is where most sme’s spend their time. They are often quite agile in marketing spend, but perhaps not that analytical in how and why the media has worked or not worked and proactively looking for ways to improve. They also don’t have the advantage of bigger company resources in analytics and media relations.
- Great intentions, poor executions – I love working with smaller companies, because there is a level of enthusiasm and ‘we can do it’ mentality which is sometimes missing in larger corporations. However, getting stuff over the finish line when there are 101 other priorities is harder. This is where close workplan management is needed. A senior manager needs to take responsibility to follow up the actions that will drive forward the strategies or else the ideas will never see the light of day, or do, but done poorly and in haste.
- Poor Follow Up – Similarly to no. 4, I’m amazed how little follow up there is, sometimes. I saw one business where a team was deployed targets and was terrified by them, but they were never again mentioned or discussed with the board – the targets were not met, but could well have been with the right level of help. Alternatively a management team will agree to action something which is then left to the side because of overwork, but without a discussion on where this item fits in the priority list vs what is being worked on etc.
So here’s my ‘plug’. Get in help. Find people, like myself, who have more experience over multiple brands and challenges and sectors to help think through the issues. Who can connect you to the right agencies, international distributors etc. I find that generally the team expertise provides the answers and that what is needed is just some structure and coaching. Look to outsource areas of expertise you can’t afford full time – get in a marketing strategist to set your brand direction and campaign and then use your mid-level or junior marketers to execute within it. Get the MD or CEO a business coach or mentor who can follow up with them and check how they’re doing on this.
The final word is to reassure that it’s not only SMEs who have these issues. ALL of the brands I worked with have had them to some extent, but were often more able to fetch in the help they needed in terms of the right recruitment or outside consultancy.
Originally posted on Linkedin by @toniaoc