What’s wrong with small business marketing today?
I’ve spent years in the business world, and these are some of the most common statements I hear from struggling business owners and entrepreneurs trying to build successful marketing and operations system for their business;
I’ve spent most of my marketing budget on a new website, and it looks great, but it’s not generating any leads.
I’m paying an SEO company thousands of dollars each month. And I have no idea what kind of results I’m getting.
I’m sending out direct mail, and I think some people are calling me from it, but I am not sure.
I’ve started to invest in paid advertising, and people are going to my website, but no one is calling me.
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What do these examples have in common? First, they focus on single tactics and not the entire customer journey. Second, they are focused on one thing and not the entire system.
The opportunity in small business marketing today is to focus on your customers. And you focus on your customers in two main ways other than the product. First, see where your customers are trying to go and how you can better understand them. Second, you need to map out all of the systems that contribute to that journey. This will allow you to repeat the process that works and give every customer the same awesome experience every time.
This post will cover;
This is a long blog post packed with tons of great information for your business. So feel free to bookmark and come back to it later, but whatever you do, make sure to take the time to digest all of this information. I promise it will help in the long run.
Know Your Customers
Before we talk about the marketing hourglass, it is essential to take a step back and understand who your ideal clients are on a deep level. I am not just talking about demographic information either. You need to understand what motivates your target audience, their behaviors, and what solutions they are looking for? After all, how can you guide them if you don’t know what they’re looking for?
Obtaining that level of knowledge is really important before you start developing anything else from a marketing standpoint. First, you have to fully understand where your clients are trying to go to help them get there.
Once you understand who you are targeting, the second part of marketing is to understand your differentiators and how to communicate them to your ideal clients. Next, you need to answer the questions; How are you going to stand out? What’s your competitive differentiator? How are you going to build brand awareness?
After you have clearly defined those steps you can then dive into your marketing and operations systems.
The Marketing Hourglass
The Marketing Hourglass is a proven system that I have installed in thousands of businesses around the world. The marketing hourglass reverberates around a new kind of customer journey for your business.
There are two different types of systems that you need to have in place in order to effectively move people through this journey. They are your marketing systems and your operations systems.
The top of the hourglass holds the first 4 phases – know, like, trust, and try – and they make up the ‘marketing system.’ This part is about getting in front of your target audience, and it flows until they are ready to become an actual client.
The bottom of the hourglass holds the last 3 phases – buy, repeat, and refer – also known as the ‘operations system.’ When someone becomes a client they’re in the buy phase, how can you absolutely blow them away and exceed their expectations so that they become repeat customers and refer you to everyone they know? That is your operations side.
Every business needs both marketing systems and operations systems. You need marketing systems and sales systems in order to grow and generate demand. Then, once you create that demand, you have to be able to deliver the promised value to keep them coming back.
The Marketing Systems: Know, Like, Trust, Try
They can also be thought of as the marketing and sales system. This system is defined by a clear path to help you convert your target audience based on the customer journey.
Ask yourself, how can you get someone to know your business all the way to their ready-to-purchase moment? Some examples of this would be conducting a free webinar with a client consultation as the end goal or launching some paid ads in order to sell a product or service.
First and foremost you need them to know about your business. You can do this in several ways. One recommendation would be to use the P.E.P system.
A lot of marketers put marketing media into 3 buckets; paid, earned, and owned. At Duct Tape we took a new approach and relabeled those buckets Paid, Earned, and Person or P.E.P.
Paid is stuff that you will always continue to pay towards. Examples are; advertising, direct mail, and sponsorships.
Earned is the work you put in, it takes time and patience, but long term, it can pay off big. These are things like; search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and referrals.
The last category is Person and it means that an actual person has to do something. That is networking, speaking, and outbound outreach.
For best results, your journey should focus on at least a couple of these mediums so you do not have all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak.
The Operations System: Buy, Repeat, Refer
Your marketing systems are how you generate demand which then leads into your operations systems. The operations half of the customer journey defines a clear path to deliver the value promised to your clients. Therefore, every marketing system should have an operations system to go with it.
Once someone purchases, how do you move them along as a customer and generate repeat revenue? And if you’re focusing on referrals, what does that process look like?
Onboarding a new client is an example of an operations system. The client went through your marketing system, they signed up, and now you need to onboard them. What are those steps?
Your operating systems do not necessarily relate to a sale, but they are processes that need to be documented in order to keep your business moving forward.
Now that we have the basics covered let’s get into how to build a successful system
7 Steps to Build A Successful Business System
Map Your Core Marketing and Operations Systems
This first step is vital for many reasons. First, mapping out your systems allows you to be efficient and effective. It also allows you to consistently deliver the same level of experience to every single one of your new clients.
Is to get started. Don’t let the unknown paralyze you. Identify your most important (or most profitable) product or service and start with that. You will not go wrong by focusing on the most profitable part of your business.
You need to define the start and stop of your marketing system for that product or service. Ask yourself, “At what stage is the process beginning, and at what stage does it end?
Brainstorm tasks and activities between the start and the finish of each system.
Once you understand your system, you need to document the steps. Start by brainstorming all the steps that need to happen between the stop and the finish of each system. Note; It is important to identify which steps are the most critical to the process and be sure you nail those every time.
Someone attends a webinar, and then what happens? They get an email nurture campaign, and then what happens? You are mapping out the journey to land on your desired end result.
Make this process repeatable. The system needs to be identifiable and easy to follow. Write it out in plain English or better yet have a visible outline. Also, make sure everyone on your team has access to the steps and follows the process. Next, physically go through the plan you have mapped. This exercise will help you identify any holes or areas of opportunity.
Get started mapping our your first system
Identify your most profitable business system
Define the start and stopping points in this system
Brainstorm tasks and activities between the start and finish of the system
Clearly label all stages and make the process easily repeatable
System Mapping Tool
We use a product called Whimsical. It’s a free tool to help you mind map and brainstorm in a clear and visual way.
Below are a few tips for organizing your visual system map;
- Use a terminus shaped symbol to define your start and endpoints
- Use a rectangle to identify your tasks, activities, and processes
- Use a diamond shape to identify important decision points
- And use arrows to indicate the flow and direction of each event
Remember to start from the beginning and keep asking yourself, “What needs to happen next?”
Example Marketing System – made with Whimsical
The start of this marketing system is a webinar and this is made clear by the terminus shape. The arrows are pointing to the right so you can see which way the process flows and the next step. A rectangle indicates that the next step is a task where the client enters an email campaign. Then there is a pivotal call to action for a consultation booking.
Here you see a branch in the system. Do they book the consultation? If not, they are put into the down-sell campaign because we can see that they are not quite ready to get on the phone.
However if they booked the consultation, they continue through the system to the next task or CTA. And so on and so forth until they are either onboarded as a new client or put into a future email automation bucket.
This systems mapping process is the first step towards transitioning from tactic to strategy and from hacks to systems. It’s getting all of these pieces in place by answering the question and then what happens next?
Determine What You Can Automate
The next step is setting yourself up for success and avoiding burnout by asking yourself, “What can I automate in order to be more efficient?”
I recently went through this exercise with a client. She was spending hours making custom agreements for her clients. Mapping her systems allowed her to see this and we got her a proposal software. Now, she changes a few key terms and is done in seconds. She uses the time that used to be spent creating, editing, and sending the document to acquire clients.
Now see what you can automate. If there is a task that ties you down, ask yourself, “How can I automate this?” Call reminders and email follow-ups are great examples of processes that you can easily automate.
Document Critical Stages and Processes
Next, take a look at the most important processes in your systems. The areas where things fall apart if they’re not handled correctly.
Create these stages so that someone else could conduct a consultation call just by accessing your documents and jumping into a checklist. These steps should be very detailed, so that if you are not there someone else will know exactly what to do and how to do it, from start to finish.
Identify Key Metrics
Identify the specific areas in your business where you want to track metrics. A good rule of thumb is to track metrics for all of the critical steps in your system.
Using the example above, you would want to know how many people got on a consultation call or how many new clients were onboarded. This would help you to see the performance of each stage. By tracking key metrics, you can see if there are gaps and where you need to focus to improve your system moving forward.
Team Member Accountability
If you have a team, you need to assign key stages and metrics to them depending on their role. This way they have more accountability and you can see the results they are driving.
If you have a marketing team, you might assign digital ads performance tracking and reporting to them. And if you have a sales team you would assign a different stage to them. Then you would look at all of your systems, and you and your team would divide and conquer.
This is also an important stage for solopreneurs. For example, we started Duct Tape Marketing with just two team members. So we would say, “Okay, this stage I’m in the marketing role, this stage I’m in the sales role, this stage I’m in the customer service role.”
You need accountability and metrics for each of these stages, and you need a person behind those metrics. Completing this step will also make it easier when you do decide to expand or hire because you will have clearly identified roles and responsibilities.
Schedule Weekly Review Meetings
From there, schedule weekly review meetings with your teams based on your systems. In these meetings, you should go over their systems, metrics, and accountability chart.
These meetings also allow you to lead, congratulate your team on their successes, and see where you need to step in.
Hold Quarterly Strategic Planning Sessions
Next, you need to start holding quarterly, strategic planning sessions for your business. If you are not sure where to start, know that your systems should direct these meetings.
Once you install this process, you will be able to quickly identify what your growth opportunities are for both halves of the hourglass. For example, you could see what steps are holding you back from converting more clients in your marketing system. And on the operation side, you can start to understand why clients aren’t becoming repeat clients.
When you build these systems, you are taking out the guesswork and creating essential strategies that can scale—resulting in a business that scales.
Why go through all of this process mapping?
Predictable lead generation and growth are two main benefits that come from documenting new systems. In addition, you can make quicker and better business decisions based on metrics and evidence.
Following a system allows you to develop processes to help you avoid errors and significantly reduce the number of mistakes. In addition, you will build an accountability culture for yourself and your team. I know from experience that employees work better with a clear direction and a culture they support.
The clarity in these systems allows you to have hyper-focus and to get the most out of weekly meetings. Resulting in strategic planning that is not crowded with excess and focused on your most important goals.
The goal of identifying and mapping your marketing and operations system is to increase demand for your business.
And along the way, it also helps you have more clarity and control in what you’re doing. This clarity and control will allow you to grow and scale in a smart and sustainable way. Not only leading to more profit but more peace of mind.
This post was written in partnership with Spark Lab Consulting – a new initiative from the founders and team that brought you Duct Tape Marketing – designed to help you operationalize your marketing AND fulfillment systems.