Consulting, EOS, & Execution
Introduction: Through the creative world Mind Your Own Marketing Business. Explore a variety of trends in a creative landscape, getting inside of knowledge and advice from the industry’s bests. fjorge is proud to present Mind Your Own Marketing Business, host, Tim Barsness.
Tim Barsness: Thanks for joining us on the Mind Your Own Marketing Business Podcast, I’m Tim Barsness, founder of web and mobile development team, fjorge. Today in our show, we will be talking with Jennifer Zick about her marketing consultancy, Authentic Brand. Welcome to the show, Jennifer.
Jennifer Zick: Thanks so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Tim: We’re glad you could be here. Jennifer, can you tell us a little bit about your company?
Jennifer: Sure. Authentic Brand is a Minneapolis-based marketing consultancy as you said. We work with growing businesses. We’re usually between 5 and 50 million in revenue B2B focused. We help them build their marketing muscle. To do that, we do both fractional marketing leadership, part-time marketing leadership roles with flexibility, as well as marketing strategy planning and messaging strategy. We are uniquely well-equipped to work with businesses who are powered by EOS and Traction because our methodology aligns with that business methodology.
Tim: Very cool. I’m curious, how big is the team?
Jennifer: The company is just over a year old, myself and five fractional CMOs. and I’m actually in the process of hiring to build up our content services team. It’s an exciting time.
Tim: The model is a fractional CMO model?
Jennifer: It is.
Tim: How did Jennifer come to found this marketing consultancy?
Jennifer: It really was based on my own career experience. I didn’t grow up agency, I grew up in-house, but I happen to do a lot of my career growing up inside of a professional services firm that had agency services. I have seen both sides from consulting across multiple industries to also building the in-house sales and marketing functions for a fast-growing business. It’s from those experiences, working in small to mid-sized businesses, that I started to understand what the needs are of marketing inside of a growing company, and how they change over the stages of growth.
Based on that experience, I knew there was opportunity to better serve small growing businesses with high-class marketing support, with the kind of flexibility and scalability that a business of that size needs. That was the genesis of Authentic Brand and the birth of our fractional marketing leadership model together with strategy and support around messaging, which is a personal passion of mine.
Tim: What does your day to day look like, Jennifer?
Jennifer: Well, as the owner and founder of a start-up business, you can imagine that I wear a lot of hats. I probably divide my time half and half between selling and meeting with prospects and clients and supporting those relationships as their executive account contact. The other half of my time is focused on taking my own medicine, making sure I’m doing for my business, what I advise for my clients, which is continuing to create content, thought leadership, be outspeaking, and continuing to learn about this field, and making sure that we’re bringing the best solutions to our clients for what their businesses need.
Tim: You mentioned that you work primarily with Traction or EOS companies, how did you land on that niche?
Jennifer: Well, I mentioned to you that I grew up the bulk of my career inside of a professional services company. That business is now known as Magnet 360 here in the Twin Cities. I started with the company as the first full-time employee back in 2001 and we grew, were like crazy year over year. At some point, we were probably around seven, eight million in revenue when we recognized the need to get more focused in order to support sustainable growth. It was when we recognized that need, that we implemented Traction, the entrepreneurial operating system at Magnet 360. We were one of the first in this marketplace to do so.
It was an absolute catalyst for us in our growth. It was a game changer in helping us as leaders in the business to have a cadence for how we set goals, how we built a vision for the business, and how we stayed focused. It really worked for us. I’ve carried that experience with me over the years into other roles and as I started Authentic Brand, knowing that I would be serving growth companies that face many of the same challenges that we did at Magnet 360, it just made sense to use some of the same kinds of disciplined principles. It was how I ran my marketing teams in past roles and it works.
To translate that and to segue that into how business leaders operate when they run on Traction, just made good sense. It’s been a really fantastic way to open doors for my business and for my company to stay focused as well.
Tim: If a company that doesn’t use Traction comes to you, do you turn them away?
Jennifer: No, because, I would say about half of our clients– We’re currently working with 14 accounts in the Twin Cities and a little bit broader. Half of our clients are Traction-using companies, and the other half don’t currently use Traction, but the way that we approach marketing planning, execution, and accountability, works whether you’re using Traction or not. It’s simply guided by some of those same principles for rock setting in terms of identifying priorities, level 10 meeting cadence in terms of managing issues and accountabilities. Those same principles work whether or not the entire business is using traction, but I’m just a huge proponent of the EOS model and I certainly encourage it for any of my clients.
Tim: Are you involved in the EOS community at all?
Jennifer: I’m not formally affiliated with EOS Worldwide. To be clear, Authentic Brand is not an EOS implementer, that’s not what we do. We are a marketing consultancy. Because of my role at Magnet and Emerson, in that, what I would call an ecosystem early in its genesis here in this market, I do have a lot of relationships in the EOS community and I’m friends and connected with many of the implementers here locally. It makes good business sense to support each other and I am frequently connecting with folks who are consulting and helping businesses implement Traction inside of their business.
Tim: Is a lot of your Fractional CMO work onsite or are you working remotely?
Jennifer: Most of the work we do, because we’re a regional business, is done on site with a blend of additional remote support. Usually, the way that we frame a fractional role– We use the term ‘fractional CMO’ because that’s, sometimes, just how people think about it, it’s what it’s understood to be. With the businesses we serve, in reality, it’s much more of a fractional marketing director role because it’s somebody who can guide the strategy and work with the sea level team while still rolling up their sleeves and do much of the integration and execution of running marketing. Many of our clients are just starting to build marketing as a sustained strategic part of their business.
They may have done some marketing in the past but it may be was with a widely spread group of vendors that weren’t connected to each other and now, they’re bringing it in-house and starting to build that acumen. Our fractional marketing leaders will often work two to three days onsite with a client and then provides some accessibility throughout the week. Most of them are working between 10 to 20 hours a week building the marketing function within the business and helping them create a vision for what that function will look like one, three, five years down the road and what resources they’ll need to either bring in-house or bring alongside.
Tim: Got it. Is the fractional CMO model something that’s been done before?
Jennifer: It sure has been done. In this market, it is taking a lot of different shapes. There’s nobody– I’ve not yet run into anybody doing fractional marketing support, specific into the EOS community, but there are a couple providers that will place either fractional marketers, part-time marketing support on contract or marketing leadership on contract. There’s another group that’s national, that does fractional CMO very well, they’ve been around for a long time called Chief Outsiders. I admire their infrastructure, but they’re coming at it at a slightly higher level for, I would say, the mid-market from what I can see.
It’s a model that’s been around for a long time but I’m seeing it really start to take off in a lot of different places. There are other consultancies locally that focus in fractional CFO, or financial support and services, or fractional HR services, or fractional sales leadership or business development services. It’s an interesting way and a very viable and cost-effective way for businesses to start to bring senior leadership and accountability into areas of the business that really need that experience but they don’t need it full-time yet. That’s really the point at which we enter those engagements.
The business has recognized that they may have grown to their first 5 million or their first 10 million through a really focused sales-led effort, but they’re recognizing that to sustain their growth rate, they’re going to need to make marketing a strategic integrated ongoing piece, and they need the experience to help stand that up.
Tim: Sure. In my experience, fractional or part-time roles accountability is challenging. I’m curious if you’ve seen that before and if so, what you do about it?
Jennifer: Sure. Well, what we do is, we work hard on the front-end of the relationship to make sure we’re clear about the paths of accountability because you certainly don’t want to get engaged in a client relationship and have there be grey area about who owns what and who drives what. Usually, when we’re coming into a new relationship, marketing is owned by either the CEO or the head of sales. Then, in an EOS organization, you might be familiar with–
Those who are familiar with traction will recognize the term accountability chart. In an EOS-modeled organization, the accountability chart will have a visionary and an integrator but then there will somebody who owns sales and marketing, somebody who owns operations, somebody who owns finance. Usually when we come in, we are taking on some responsibility inside that sales and marketing box and either reporting up through the head of sales in collaboration or directly to the CEO. Then it’s a matter of making sure we have alignment on the plan, the budget, the execution strategy, and who owns which metrics that factor into that success. Having a cadence for alignment which are the annual and quarterly planning process and for driving results which are the weekly meetings.
Accountability becomes a non-issue so long as it’s established upfront and everybody knows what piece of the pie they own.
Tim: Another part of EOS is the scorecard. I’m curious what scorecard items are your CMOs accountable to?
Jennifer: Developing that marketing scorecard is part of our initial planning process. One of the things that we find as often the case with when we come into a new opportunity where there has not been a marketing leader or experienced leader in that role often the metrics that they are looking at for a marketing perspective aren’t the real business metrics that matter. A lot of organizations get stuck looking at what we call just engagement metrics. How much website traffic? How many people did we scan at this event? How many clicks or likes or followers are we getting across channels?
Those are all helpful metrics and they can be helpful indicators in terms of whether you’re growing in the right direction but it really doesn’t matter if you have 100,000 visitors to your website if they’re not the right influencers or buyers for your product or service. We help businesses start to connect the dots between value metrics attached to revenue and how to capture the right input along the way so that you do know what’s working for marketing or not.
It usually means starting at breaking down what their sales process looks like today and what do they call a lead, what is the definition for a sales-ready lead or a sales-acceptive lead, then what are the criteria for that to become an opportunity that starts to count as viable pipeline. Then we back it up from there into what is considered a marketing qualified lead and what systems, either technology or manual, do they have in place to capture that input. Ultimately, what we need to do is tie every investment, campaign, and program that marketing is building and supporting back into and connect it to what’s driving the lever on developmental pipeline in ultimately closed business.
Tim: Do you find that companies you begin working with have a pretty solid sales process?
Jennifer: It really depends. We work with businesses across a lot of different industries and some industries are more apt to have a documented and refined sales process than others. I’ve done a lot of work in the SASS and technology space and just by the nature of the speed and pace of that business and what business development looks like in a SASS company, there tends to be a pretty well-ironed sales process and it’s documented and there’s data behind it and there are systems behind it.
By contrast, I’ve done some work in a more traditional industries or long-standing family-owned businesses where there isn’t a lot of technical infrastructure, where the seller maybe is still the owner-operator of the business, where everything is in somebody’s had in box or an excel spreadsheet. Then there’s a lot more work that needs to be done both to educate and to build infrastructure inorder to capture and grow and really identify, if dollars are spent, how do they work their way into leads and opportunities and revenue downstream.
It really depends. In some cases, we’re holding hands with the business helping them transform from being an order-taking organization that waits for a phone call so they can do an estimate to becoming a business development focused organization that says, “Here are the kinds of businesses and opportunities we want. Let’s go find them. Help them find us.”
Tim: That transformation that you just mentioned going from an order-taking organization to a business development organization. What is involved in making that happen?
Jennifer: Well, it depends on the business’s readiness and the urgency and pressure they’re facing in the competitive environment to make that happen. Some of the clients we work with will bring us in because there are sudden competitive pressures that are forcing them to change that they are losing business and they’re actively becoming pushed out of their market. Then it becomes more of an urgent situation. Other clients will bring us in when they recognize that there are new opportunities to differentiate, build business, and grow.
The way we go about solving that problem depends on what the point of need is. Are we sitting in an urgency, emergency situation or are we looking at this opportunistically? We prefer to work with businesses who see that marketing is an opportunity to build from what they’re already doing successfully. If there’s an urgent emergent situation inside of a business, marketing is never going to be the fastest lever to solve that problem. Usually, that’s a leadership and accountability or systems problem that is deeper than marketing.
I’ll be the first to tell a prospect there’s nothing auto-magical about marketing. There’s a lot of misconception about marketing automation and digital and lead generation that is not helpful when it comes to solving some of these bigger business issues. There’s just no lights that you can flip that makes qualified leads start to come into your business. You have to fix the foundation, you have to fix your brand and your message and your narrative that you’re bringing to the world, and then you have to fix the systems processes and sales and marketing practices on top of that.
Tim: There’s no lead lever?
Jennifer: If there is you just need to point me to it because that’d be a money machine, wouldn’t it? [laughs]
Tim: Sounds great. I’m curious with the fractional CMOs. What is the process after on-boarding? How do you day-to-day engage? You mentioned that people are sometimes onsite, sometimes not. Can you tell me a little bit more about what it looks like what they’re working on?
Jennifer: Yes. Again, I’ll tell you fractional represents about half of the business we do, the other half is strategic engagements around messaging and content. In the fractional work that we do, there’s a methodology that we put in place from day one to create that cadence of how the work gets done. What I would say is that the framework for engagement is the same across the board but what’s being done on a day-to-day would very greatly based on what the business already has in place from an infrastructure or a content perspective or whether we’re in there completely building from the ground up or whether we are taking pieces that have been done externally and starting to channel them together and integrate them for efficiency, it depends.
But the way that we onboard and the way that we go through the process as it starts with a first ramp workshop. I’m usually involved in this as a facilitator together with the fractional team lead to develop the marketing Traction road map. This is our version of a simple flexible but very concise four to six-page marketing plan. It again cascades off of the traction EOS methodology uses many of the same kinds of concepts that you would see there. It’s what we use to boil down the one-year plan, the three-year, and ten-year vision for the marketing organization with specific goals, quarterly rocks, a defined budget, and a list of exact commitments that we’re going to pursue for 12 months which maps into that budget.
As we get on board, what do we need resource wise in order to execute to the companies goals and what are we measuring that it’s going to show that success? From there, that plan moves into a quarterly execution cadence. Making sure that those top priorities those rocks are being driven forward while the day-to-day tasks are getting done inside of marketing as well, that there’s accountability to the budget, there’s accountability to the matrix and then we’re coming back together on a quarterly basis to refresh that plan, to look at what happened with the rocks, to set new rocks, and to continue moving that accountability forward.
That’s how the job gets framed and then how it gets done it depends on the initiatives that that particulars fraction marketing leader is working, whether it’s content focused, whether it’s campaigns, events, just depends on the mix for the client.
Tim: What is a typical annual cost of an engagement?
Jennifer: Well, I would say it’s easier to break it down into what to expect on a monthly basis or an hourly basis. If we do our job well as a fractional marketing leader, the entire idea is to come along side of growing businesses. Those are companies that are going to keep growing. If we do our job well, that marketing function is going to become proven and valuable and it’s going to need to expand. Eventually, we’ll work our way out of that job usually between six months to two years into the gig depending again on the speed and the pace of growth of the business.
The cost is going to depend on hourly, weekly utilization. Currently, we don’t expect our clients to contract us on a retained basis. Our value proposition or our promise to our clients is value with no strings attached. We get that fractional leader on ramped, the plan in place, and embed it in the organization at 10 to 20 hours a week. The average hourly rate for a fractional marketing leader is around $150 an hour. That will give you a sense. Then we build monthly based on actual hours utilization and it’s the responsibility that marketing leader and that team and their accountability team to put that time to use and make sure that value is moving forward.
Tim: What are some obstacles to growing your consultancy?
Jennifer: Well, again, I’m one year in, it’s been a fantastic first year. I’m learning a lot as a business leader and my team of fractional consultants who are placed on client accounts. We are meeting together on a monthly basis and sharing best practices and getting the lift of all of these marketing thought leaders and experience together in one room to help each other solve challenges. I would say when I look forward, where do I see obstacles and challenges? I think one thing is going to be, I’m not sure what the ceiling is on talent in this market to fill these fractional roles.
As I continue to work and build the demand in the market, I’m going to continue to need to build a bench of fractional marketers. For me, the criteria to be an authentic brand fractional marketer is somebody who’s got at least 10 probably more like 15 to 20 years of B2B marketing experience, somebody who did not grow up agency, but has grown up as a somebody internal who has built teams, built programs, knows how to bring all the vendors together, understands metrics and accountability at the CFO level. Somebody with that level of seasoning and experience has to be somebody who is already committed to the consultant lifestyle, not someone who’s looking for moonlighting opportunities or somebody who wants to give this a try, it because I think it’d be fun to move out of corporate and do some consulting.
Our consultants are all people who are established in their own business entities and who feed into the authentic brand model. We place them in roles and they lead those roles. Keeping that bench healthy and bringing the right level of skill and talent to our clients is a real commitment and that means we’ll scale at the pace that we have the right talent to fill the roles.
Tim: On the fractional side of the business, I’m curious, do you sometimes find that clients have marketing FTEs reporting to a fractional CMO?
Jennifer: Yes, that can absolutely happen and in fact, I myself played a role as a fractional marketing leader when I was just starting my business for a friend’s SASS Company. When I came into that position as the director of marketing for that business, they did have a marketing staff, two members of the marketing staff as a manager and an intern. The way that we structured it from an HR protocol, those members reported to my upstream. At the time, they were reporting in through the CEO, but they were day-to-day accountable to me.
I would do their personal development plans and work with them on their one-on-ones on a weekly basis and then I worked very closely with the CEO on their professional development, and all of those HR factors.
Since I was contract and not a full-time employee, we did keep the official direct relationship in-house with an employee.
Tim: Got it. Very cool. Let’s move on to a couple news stories from the Authentic Brand blogs.
Tim: Our first story from “What” to “So What”: Building a Messaging Foundation for Modern Marketing, that’s written by you, Jennifer. Can you give us a summary?
Jennifer: Absolutely. I think one of the most interesting challenges that I see repeatedly with our clients and it’s one of the first conversations we’ll have is that they have struggled– They may see this or they may not see it when we first start talking, but most businesses as they are growing will find at some point that they are struggling to differentiate in the market that their story, their website, their collateral looks and sounds like a lot of their competitors. What we talk about at Authentic Brand is really helping move clients from a “what” message which is all focused on their business that what we do, our culture, our products, our services, our process, to a “so what” message which is really about framing up how you deliver value or solve problems for the buyers and speaking in their language and relating to them in the way that they’re thinking about the value or the risk.
This is something that’s really hard for businesses to do internally and I even feel it already as the owner of my own business, it’s hard to message your own business. We become myopic, we get too close to our own industry terminology, sometimes it’s just hard to see the trees through the forest. We have an exercise in messaging planning and building a messaging framework that really walks the brand through getting clear on what there why is, what their greater purpose is, and that’s something that doesn’t change in short amounts of time as your products or services may change.
Then taking that why and part of their brand narrative and translating the what of what they do and in their products and services to the so what message of what the value is for the buyer. That blog you’re referring to takes it into a little bit of a granular tactical level for people who want to know how do we walk through that process, and if you didn’t want to hire Authentic Brand or a messaging consultancy to help you with that process, what questions could you start asking of your business, your customers, and your brand take to really kind of break it down and extrapolate it.
Tim: Got it, very cool. Thanks for that. Second story today also by Jennifer is your marketing muscle week five indications that you need to pump some serious marketing iron. Tell us about what are the five indications.
Jennifer: Yes. Well, I started that piece off by sitting back and thinking over the past years, I’ve talked with many prospects and our 14 current clients about what the challenges are that they’re facing in their business that have made it hard for them to make marketing something that is sustainable, valuable. A lot of them are engaging us and they’re like marketing is like the big black hole of where we throw money and we hope it works, but we have no idea what’s working or what’s not. When I really look it across the board, what are the common diagnostics across these brands comes down to five big things that I see on a repeat basis.
One is that either the CEO or the VP of Sales is the one who owns marketing today, and there’s not a marketing leader inside the business who has the experience level to handle the strategic integration and the things we talked about, what’s the plan, how do we execute it and tie these things together, and then how do we measure it in the measures that actually matter for driving our business growth. We’re frequently having conversations with CEOs who are saying, “I own marketing but that means I never get to it,” or it’s a head of sales who grew up as a sales rep and a sales manager and they know and they understand the value of marketing, but they’ve not sat in that seat and they’re not sure how to put all the pieces together.
That’s one big piece that we often fix. Another common symptom is the company has no established marketing budget. They certainly have marketing spend and they might be able to report how much they spent on marketing last year, but they don’t have a discipline around creating a proactive budget, understanding what percentage of overall revenues is going to represent sales and marketing, what piece of that is marketings to drive, and then how do we categorically plan for our expected spend in the year and prioritize that. In the blog you mentioned, I’ve actually provided a very high-level marketing budget roadmap and it kind of breaks down the major categories of marketing spend that a business can expect to be thinking about as they mature the marketing discipline.
A third big common problem is that there’s a lack of marketing cadence. We’ve already talked about the importance of accountability and it’s really important in aligning sales and marketing leadership and aligning to the overall business strategy that there is a cadence. It’s amazing to me how many organizations marketing might be done by a part-time person, a few vendors, or an intern completely on a silo and completely separated from what the core business strategy is. That’s why we’ve developed that very Traction-es methodology to how we do marketing with planning, quarterly, rocks, weekly accountability. It keeps everybody in sync, it prevents miscommunication, and it makes sure that it really important initiatives actually get advanced.
Fourthly, we already talked about this on this call. A lot of businesses are stuck looking at the wrong metrics, they need to shift their focus from general fluffy engagement metrics which don’t translate into knowing an answer about is this helping our business or not and move the focus to revenue attached metrics. Getting there might mean that they need to put some new systems and process in place to capture data, but they need to make that shift. Finally, we just finished talking about messaging that’s stuck at what rather than a so what message that’s a real common symptom.
Even for traction companies who’ve done the good hard work of creating a vision traction organizer that to page business plan, there’s a box on that plan that says marketing strategy and they’ve done the work of saying here’s our target audience, and here are three uniques that make us really unbeatable in the competitive market. Well, those three uniques generally are still very us focused. Here’s our process, here’s our services, here’s our unique competitive differentiation it’s still company focused not customer focused. There’s a translation that needs to happen there and that’s what we help do with our messaging program.
Tim: What company isn’t suffering from at least one of these if not all [unintelligible 00:29:20]
Jennifer: Exactly. Depending on where you are on that growth trajectory, and the maturity of the marketing practice in your business, some of those are going to be more painful pain points than others, but that’s natural, and it’s normal, and it’s not something to beat yourself up over you know I liken it to a growing business building a healthy growing business is like building a healthy body. Like you can get so far and then things change, your requirements change. When I was in my 20s, I used to just be able to go out and go for a run, do that every single day and my body was fine with it, but into my 30s and now into my 40s, I’ve had to integrate yoga and weightlifting because my body I was beating it up just doing the same thing. couldn’t get any further, it’s the same with a growing business. You can get so far down the road with just a really great– “Let’s hit the pavement and sell,” and that approach can work until it doesn’t work anymore to sustain a healthy growing business and then–
Tim: I agree. I would agree there’s nothing wrong with that approach.
Jennifer: There’s nothing wrong with that approach, nothing at all. In different industries, approach marketing differently, like I said SASS, if you’re a series a funded technology company, you’re going to have a marketing strategy and technology Mart exact in place day one, because you’re going to be driving heavy lead generation and that needs to happen, but if you’re a third generation construction subcontracting company, it’s probably a slightly different path to getting to being a business development focused organization.
There’s no one-size-fits-all I think that’s kind of the conclusion, but the most important piece is when the business hits the point at whatever they hit it, where they know that sustainable growth means having good strong marketing, it needs to be a long-term view. I really strongly suggest that you bring in some seasoned leadership to own that function, and because it’s really expensive to put someone junior in charge of marketing and figure it out as they go because ultimately you’re going to spend a lot of money figuring out what doesn’t work before you figure out what does work.
That right there is the bridge to why fractional marketing leadership can be a fit for a growing business.
Tim: Absolutely. We are out of time so that’s it for today on Mind Your Own Marketing Business. Thanks for joining us, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.
Tim: You bet. You can find the company at authenticbrand.com and thank you, our listeners, for joining us as well. You can download episodes of the program by going to fjorgedigital.com/mindyourownmarketingbusiness or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio.
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