Simon Dell: Today, I am lucky enough to be joined by Debbie Richardson, who is, amongst other things, the Director of Marketing for CEOs; the Founder of something called Marketing Camp, which I hope is more interesting than Band Camp, and also the Founder and Marketing Strategist for Three by 3. So, she kind of sounds like she’s got her fingers in a lot of pies. So, welcome to the show, Debbie.
Debbie Richardson: Thank you. Thanks, Simon.
Simon Dell: So first question is: is Marketing Camp more interesting than Band Camp?
Debbie Richardson: It so is. It really is. It’s beyond interesting. So, basically, Marketing Camp has spun out of Marketing for CEOs. It’s actually an online version of how we teach business and how we teach business leaders to engage with marketing strategies. So, I think it’s way more interesting.
Simon Dell: It’s not like an episode or a film. What was the film with Band Camp in it? I can’t remember now.
Debbie Richardson: I can’t remember.
Simon Dell: American Pie, there you go.
Debbie Richardson: It’s more interesting than that, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Simon Dell: Of course. It’s your company, so you have to say it. Okay, right, I’m going to take you right back to the beginning, because obviously, most people will be able to detect a hint of an English accent in there. And the first question I really want to know from everybody is what was your first job? Where did you first start getting paid for actually doing something?
Debbie Richardson: Okay, so my first job getting paid for actually doing something was on a local newspaper. So, a big chunk of my career to date has been in newspapers, which I’ll talk to you about, but my very first job was working for a local newspaper group that got bought out by a bigger newspaper group. I loved the whole media/newspaper sector.
Simon Dell: How old were you at the time?
Debbie Richardson: 22.
Simon Dell: I’m going to have to ask: There were no other jobs before that? You didn’t do a paper round?
Debbie Richardson: Oh, god, yes. I’m sorry, I thought you meant my first proper job.
Simon Dell: No, I want to know right back to the very beginning.
Debbie Richardson: Right back to the very beginning. So, obviously, I’ve established that I’m English. I’m also a Brummie, although some of the accents gone. And so, my first job was working in Lewis’s department store in the men’s wear department on Saturday. And so, I worked, and it was pretty daunting as a 16-year-old working in a men’s wear department. So, I did that, and then I used to leave there on a Saturday at six o’clock and go and work in a pub, so I worked in a restaurant.
Simon Dell: Right. Waitressing, or…?
Debbie Richardson: Yes. Literally, classic first jobs, working in a shop and then working in a pub, in a restaurant. And I did that for a very long time, and I’m a pretty satiable person, so I loved the pub bit and I sort of loved the men’s wear department as well, so it was good.
Simon Dell: This is where I try and get to, because it’s funny when you talk to people in senior roles, in senior jobs, and I’ve had people on here who are entrepreneurs now running global companies and were selling Christmas trees as their first job. Because it’s interesting to see where people came from and how those two first roles really kind of shaped your response to work. What did you learn from those kinds of jobs?
Debbie Richardson: To be honest with you, I’m not one of those entrepreneurs that sold lemonade. I’m not one of those people. A really big chunk of my career, without wanting to give away my age, was in corporate. I’m sure my corporate friends won’t mind me saying, I just really had enough of corporate.
But what those years taught me, and I’m going back to the John Lewis and the pub thing, it actually taught me about engaging with people, presenting and pitching ideas. If you’re selling something, and I’m not a big fan of the word ‘selling’, but I just look and go, how did I pitch ideas? All through that corporate career, that’s really what it taught me, is how do I present my case, pitch my ideas?
I was not an entrepreneurial kid. I took a lot out of my corporate career and then went, “Okay, how can I help SMBs develop thinking around what marketing is?” Mine was really mainly corporate, all about engaging people and convincing them that my ideas were good ones.
Simon Dell: I worked in pubs, that was one of my first jobs as well, but I think —
Debbie Richardson: A good place to start.
Simon Dell: It is a good place to start, especially if you’re over 18, you can have a beer as well. But I think that thing that I really learned from — I worked in a department store as well, and pubs, well, there we go. It must be something to do when you’re English. You work in a department store and then…
Debbie Richardson: I was never going to do a paper round, by the way.
Simon Dell: I did a paper round as well. In fact, I’m actually just writing a blog about things I learned from that paper round, but anyway, I digress. The thing that I always found from working in a pub and working in retail is you have to approach and talk to people who you don’t know. And when you’re that young, they’re a much more senior level to you.
So you have to pull yourself together to be able to talk to a complete stranger about how their day is going, or what they want, or sell them something, or those kind of things. And I think that’s something that I personally found useful later on in life. Does that make sense?
Debbie Richardson: Oh, absolutely. And for me, I’m laughing now, and I’m talking about the men’s wear thing, because it’s sort of like, I was there talking to blokes about their inside thigh measurement aged 16 and 17, and I’m like going… It certainly gave me some clarity around having conversations with people. But I think you’re right, it is. It’s just that sort of how to engage with people and how to have conversations with all sorts of people as I do today.
Simon Dell: Yeah, and the interesting thing is, my last guest on the last podcast, a lady called Rachel Service, she said one of the things, because she did something similar. She did the front of the house in a restaurant. After having done the washing, the dishes bit moved up in the world to the front of the house. She shared one of the things she found quite interesting, which I never thought of until she pointed it out, was that it also taught her when to leave people alone as well.
Debbie Richardson: Actually, that’s true. It’s that whole body language bit. It’s like when are you hitting. And it’s really interesting because we conduct so much of our business today over Skype or webinars. I still am a huge fan of being in the room. One of the big questions I ask myself every time I walk into a client’s business, I just have this question in my head which is, “Okay, what’s going on here then?”
And I’m looking at the people. Because we engage. The business is called Marketing for CEOs, and we do engage with CEOs, but we engage with leadership teams. And I think you’re right. Everything we’ve through our careers is like, even when I was a News Corp, I’m looking and going, “Okay, to get this project done, I have to influence this group of stakeholders.” And so, how do I do that?
And I think that’s exactly; she’s right. What’s going on here? What’s the body language? All of that. It just actually shows you how to engage, leave it alone, come back. And I always call it, “Okay, we’ll just loop around another time.” Sometimes, when I’m talking to clients, and I just see it’s not hitting the mark, I’m just thinking, “Deb, just leave it. Leave it and just loop back.”
Simon Dell: There’s a couple of guys who I’ve worked with and are still friends of mine who used to be in their early career in car sales. The whole car sales industry has all of these rules and things about how to encourage people to buy cars, how to make people buy cars. And one of the things they taught me that stuck with me was that when you have a conversation, when you’ve done a pitch to a client, or in their case, someone buying a car, after you’ve finished your pitch, stop talking.
The reason being is that you’ve got to stop talking and then let them contemplate what they’ve heard. And then if you keep talking, and you keep trying to justify yourself, and you keep trying to add things on, it will just distract from all the things that you’ve just already said, and they’ll start to get overwhelmed with information and stuff like that.
And then they said, what they found, and again, this feels like manipulation in car sales, and it probably is, but they found that the person who speaks first tends to be the one who is then in the weaker position. You make your pitch, and then you be quiet, and then you let them think about it and talk.
Debbie Richardson: But I also think as well, I always go back to how they’re feeling. It’s like I look at me and I go, “I know myself, and I know when I need time to think. I know when I need time to process, and I know when I’m being sold to.” So from my perspective, it’s just like human nature. It’s like, “Hey, let this sink in.”
I know with some of the conversations that we have with prospects, it takes them a while to actually understand. And I’ve got a running joke with the client at the moment that probably saw me speak somewhere about five years ago. And he went, “Am I like your longest sales?” And I said, “You probably are, yes.” His business just needed some realisation that he needed to work with us.
I’d rather them come to us when they know they need us rather than that sort of trying to nail the sail type of attitude. As long as they remember, “I’ll just call her, she looked impressive as a marketing strategist.” To me, that’s the piece. It’s like you do need to know when to back off, and I think you’ve got to have confidence that what you’re selling is good, and you know they’ll need you at some point, you just need to keep in their head space.
But I just think people also react very badly at the moment. There’s always stats around about how many messages we get bombarded with a day. I forgot what the number is now, but I think as long as if you are selling and you are pushing, then it feels like that and it feels a bit nasty. That’s how I feel.
Simon Dell: I think you made a good point there that I often say to people, and especially small businesses, is that sometimes, that sale cycle is long. Sometimes, they need to come back to your store or come back to your business two or three times, or maybe more, about 8 to 10 times. But it’s a question of staying in their headspace, staying in front of them so that they know who you are, where you are, if and when they decide to engage you.
And a lot of small businesses just go, when they see someone walk out the door of their store, they go, “Well, that’s it. That’s my opportunity lost.”
Debbie Richardson: I couldn’t agree more.
Simon Dell: And it’s not. They just need to work out how to continue to stay exposed to these people.
Debbie Richardson: And I think one of the things that we see, because we do work with SMBs, that’s our passion spot, is SMBs. What we see with a lot of SMBs is they talk about: when we start engaging with clients, we have to do a lot of cleaning up around the perceptions of marketing. And what we find, when we sort of dig into what they’re doing, what we find is they’ve pulled up too quickly.
If they don’t get instant gratification, they start talking to us in exactly the same way, “Oh, that’s lost an opportunity. They’ve walked out. It’s gone.” And I think if you understand your buyer’s journey well enough, you understand that probably they need to look at you, touch you. It could be probably up to — I think one of the stats is like 14 times before they actually engage with you. So, they need to have these experiences with you.
But I think because a lot of SMBs just think that marketing needs to be some instant gratification, then they pull up too quickly.
Simon Dell: Yeah. We’ll come back to that later because there’s a lot to talk in that sort of space. I want to just get a bit of an understanding about your time at News because that’s a big organization, and that’s, I’d imagine, an organization that’s very easy to get lost in. How did you get into it, and more importantly, how did you get out of it?
Debbie Richardson: That’s two great questions. My love for newspapers. We started off with my local newspaper group. My local newspaper group was then bought by a big, regional newspaper group. And then I just sort of felt like I needed to move out of the Midlands and I was offered a job at News Corp.
One of my old bosses from Birmingham Post to Mirror Group actually moved to News Corp. We didn’t actually work together at the time, but then by complete coincidence, I applied for a job within her department at News Corp, and I got that job. The thing that I loved about it was, I actually got to work on all of the — I got to work on the Sunday Times, the time to send out the news of the world. So literally, and we had a newspaper at that time called Today as well, which was a long time ago.
So really, the thing I loved about it was I got to work on all of the titles. For me, how did I get out? I’m sure if any of my News Corp colleagues are listening, there comes a time where you just have to exit. And I did the same with my corporate roles. I also held a UK Marketing Director, a global recruitment business, and I spent about the same sort of time there. What I would always say about those two roles is that was more valuable than any education I got anywhere else.
I learned so much, and particularly at News Corp. Whatever you think about that whole, the News Corp as a business, it was probably the best job of my life in terms of, it was just — You all know the London media scene or the UK media scene is so competitive. And we were producing a product every day. We had a new product every day, as well as a very strong competitor set.
We also had the beginning of the decline in newspaper sales. So, I started working on some of that early digital stuff. And for me, it was just the job of the lifetime. But then you just become institutionalised if you’re not careful. And I just saw an opportunity to go and do something else, the role at Robert Half International allowed me to do some European work, so that was the appeal for me. And then I became part of a European marketing group.
But both of the jobs were exceptional, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, but at News, we just have to call it quits at some point.
Simon Dell: I can imagine. One of the things you said right at the start of that was that love for newspapers. Where did that come from? Again, one that springs to mind here, Justin Dry from Vinomofo, who is wine, he is wine through and through and has been since early teens, before he was legally allowed to be drinking, because he had an uncle who was into it and was teaching him about all these wines, and all these kinds of bits and pieces. What happened in your life?
Debbie Richardson: What happened to you?
Simon Dell: I mean, I can understand the love of newspapers and media, but was there some sort of triggering event somewhere?
Debbie Richardson: The first job which was the local newspaper — I’d love to say that it was before this, but I sort of got into the first role — and I just loved the speed. I loved the speed. I loved the way we worked. I loved deadlines. I liked the whole communication piece. And particularly, I’m not in the regional press, but particularly in news — And I also have a love of politics, by the way, so there’s a flick of that, too.
I actually love media in general, so how a story is told, and what we have today is a just a bigger range of media with Twitter, Facebook, and everything else going on. So I think I just have a general love of media, communications, how we use that media. One of my jobs at News was every morning, we were expected to read our own newspapers clearly and all of our competitor’s newspapers as well.
It was interesting to see how we were portraying stories. So I just think that, really, for me, it’s the whole news cycle thing: the deadlines, and just that whole what’s going on in the world type of thing.
Simon Dell: You know, we could have another hour-long conversation about how media has changed and social media, but I’m going to avoid that.
Debbie Richardson: We’ll save that for another time, maybe.
Simon Dell: Yeah, that’s a rabbit hole.
Debbie Richardson: That’s a biggie. Yeah, it is.
Simon Dell: I want to talk about CEOs now because — I was going to say they’re one of my favourite subjects, but they’re not one of my favourite subjects.
Debbie Richardson: They’re one of mine.
Simon Dell: I know. They have to be. I want to ask you why you think a lot of CEOs, and I’m not going to say all CEOs, but a lot of CEOs don’t understand marketing or at least don’t understand the importance of marketing.
Debbie Richardson: That’s a really good question. I think because actually marketing, as a sector, is very confusing. I do not think we do ourselves any favours at all. And I go into businesses every day and look at who’s been there before me, how they’ve been positioning marketing, and I look at the confusion on the CEO’s faces. I think historically, a lot of marketing has been — I think we’ve moved a lot, and I certainly feel, in the businesses that I took to, we’ve definitely moved on from the language of advertising. Like literally, that was painful.
“Oh, you work in advertising?” “No, I actually work in marketing.” “Oh, isn’t it the same?” Where I feel we are today is, a lot of our clients talk about marketing comms instead of marketing strategy. Typically, the conversations get all caught up. There’s a pile of hype at the moment, as you would expect around social channels. So, social is just a channel. It’s an important part of channel strategy, but it’s only one element of your marketing strategy.
And I think what happens in answering your question is that so many marketing firms just go in and sell them what they have to sell rather than selling them what the client needs. So I sit there with clients, and they’re going, “Well, I’ve got this SEO proposal. Should I be doing that?” “Oh, I’ve got this bladibla proposal. Should I be doing that?” I’m like going, “Actually, you just need to move it up a notch and think about your strategy.”
There are firms that go in, I look, and they’re driving their clients towards what they’re selling rather than driving their client to what the client needs. And so, I think it’s our fault more so than CEOs, and really, that’s why I get out of bed every morning just like, “How can I help CEOs understand that marketing is strategic and not tactical?”
Simon Dell: If you were in a marketing team that felt undervalued or under-utilised, probably under-utilised is a better word than undervalued, but how would you go about explaining to the CEO the benefits that you as a department can deliver?
Debbie Richardson: Some of our businesses don’t have marketing people, and some do have marketing people. What we’re trying to help them do is shift the conversation up a notch. We show them what is tactics and what is a strategy, and so, we try and help them then shift the conversation up, so some of the decisions that you need to be making are…
And basically, what I did was I came out of corporate and I remember sitting next to one of my very first SMB CEOs. His name was Jerry, and we were sitting in New Malden of all places. I was trying to explain to Jerry what marketing strategy was and he was just like, “Haven’t you just come here to fix our brochure?” “I really have not come here to fix your brochure.”
And so, basically, what I started explaining to him at that point was, and this is where we run our business intellectual property called the 9 Boxes. It’s something I’ve developed to help SMBs understand marketing strategy. But what I was trying to explain to him, is the whole pile of decisions that you need to make before you actually get into the tactics like understanding who your market is, understanding how you price, understanding what products you sell, understanding which channels actually are going to help you reach your perfect market.
So what a lot of businesses do is they just throw a whole pile of money at tactics and then go, “Oh, this marketing is shit. It doesn’t work.” And actually, when we unravel it, we actually go, “We haven’t made the strategic decisions.” The problem that we have, to answer your first question is, typically when an SMB business recruits a marketing function or a marketing person, I hate to say this, it tends to be last week’s receptionist, or somebody’s niece or nephew.
And so, it’s hard for that person to start having a strategic conversation. That’s why we’re called Business Marketing for CEOs. Can you imagine I’ve had an incredible amount of feedback over the name? I’ve stuck to it because I don’t care. What my business is trying to say to CEOs is, you actually need to take some responsibility and business leaders for marketing strategy in your business. Otherwise, how can you guide and direct? Marketing is one of the only growth functions you have in your business, and why wouldn’t you be directing it?
Simon Dell: I’ve had two conversations this week, just this week, one on Monday, one on Tuesday. The first one was a reasonably-sized company, and he talked about how he was in the process of hiring a marketing-admin person. I immediately sit there and just go, “Alright, there’s somebody setting themselves up to fail.”
This is no disrespect to people who do marketing or people who do admin. Because if you’re in that sort of position, and you’re doing marketing and admin, and there’s a lot of admin to do, the marketing will never get done. It never works the other way around. It never goes, “Oh, I’ve actually got a lot of marketing to do so that I won’t do the admin. Forget the admin.”
So it’s always the marketing that gets second on the list, and all of a sudden they have a couple of business weeks and then they haven’t done any newsletter out, or they haven’t updated an Adwords campaign, all those kind of things, and the brochure has got put back three weeks, etc. But it’s okay, because the admin’s got sorted.
Debbie Richardson: And it’s interesting, because one of the conversations that we have before we actually engage in a long-term relationship with our clients is, I know you think that we’re going to come and wave a magic wand, we’re not. Because we’re about making them responsible for their marketing choices. Also, this is one of our, and people that know me will hear me say this all the time: Marketing is not just something that you can pick up on Friday afternoon and give it a go.
It’s something that you’ve got to have a plan for in your business that you constantly need to be attending to and seeking. And actually, if the person that you can afford is last week’s receptionists, concerning receptionists, it’s like, give them some help. Help them. Get them momentum. Get them somebody that can help upskill them. What we talk about when you’re recruiting is actually, please, if you can, please try and recruit someone for the way your business is heading rather than where your business has come from.
If you want significant growth, and a lot of the businesses that we work with are looking for significant growth. They either want to open in a new international territory, launch a new product, launch in a new Australian territory. You’re not going to do that with last week’s receptionist. You need someone that can really get this moving and get a strategy planned around it.
And we do frame that up right at the very beginning, like, “Please don’t engage us if you’re not serious about improving the marketing capability.” Because we’ll just be another one of our marketing woe stories, you know. And we do let clients go when we see that happening. “If you’re not engaged with us in the process, let’s just shake hands and go,” because I don’t want to be one of those, “Yet another expensive marketing action that didn’t work.”
Simon Dell: Yeah, that they would have a whinge about later on.
Debbie Richardson: Yeah, absolutely.
Simon Dell: The other guy I spoke to this week, he had the classic response that when I say, “Who’s your target market?” He was in the finance space. I said, “Who is your target market?” And he went, “Anyway from age 18 to 80 who wants to get a loan.” That’s the other thing that makes me sigh, roll my eyes and go, “Okay, so you want to be selling car loans for $30,000 to students?” He goes, “No. We don’t want to be.”
So, okay, let’s just get rid of students out of this. So, straight away, we’re up to 21, 22.
Debbie Richardson: You’re already filtering.
Simon Dell: Yeah, you’re already filtering. “Do you want to do people who are on pensions or low-income?” “Oh no, we don’t want to do those.” As soon as you start talking them through this, you get narrower, and narrower, and narrower. People just don’t think. They just go, “Oh, I’m going to sell to everyone. Everyone’s going to buy my product!”
Debbie Richardson: And actually, what we point at them is, you actually don’t have that much marketing money anyway. Because we establish, “Okay, what do we have?” Because we help our clients also set marketing budget instead of going, “Okay, what budget do we have?” You don’t really have enough budget to do — because marketing money is always tight in SMBs. We completely understand that, and we’re always just trying to show them shortcuts to get value for money.
But what we’re saying to them is, you’re actually a bit like your finance guy. You don’t have enough money to go after everyone, so how do we narrow it down, filter, focus and get to the pointy end of really: Where are we going to invest our money? Where are we going to get our best return? And that goes back to the conversation we had three conversations ago: That’s the thinking you need to do before you start spending money, and that’s the strategy bit.
Simon Dell: Just on that, and my last question around CEOs because I’d rather we talk a little bit more about SMBs, but for CEOs listening to this, and if a CEO is listening to this, please hire Debbie or myself.
Debbie Richardson: Please do.
Simon Dell: Please do. But what could they do differently today from a marketing perspective?
Debbie Richardson: When we use the phrase CEO, we mean SMB CEOs, any CEOs. For us, it’s the leader of the business. It just so happens that CEO is the best thing to me. What could they do differently? You know what? I could just stop for a second and have a think. It’s like literally, because I would bet both with apples and dollars they’re not getting the results they want or expected from their current marketing investment.
So when we first go in, when we first go to a client, we do a period of time with them which we frame up what’s called fit for purpose because it’s like, we’re just tidying them up. We’re getting all the basics. We’re looking at what they’re currently doing. We’re just seeing what results they’ve had with markets.
Because typically, and you’ll know this, you’re going to businesses, and everybody’s done something. We rarely get to a business that’s done zero marketing. So we just sort of go, “Oh, what you’re doing now is not really serving you, so why don’t you just stop for a while?” I always tell them just to breathe, stop, breathe, and look at what they’re doing, what’s working, and what’s strategic.
The other bit is really; this is the fundamental starting point for us which I think most people mix, is like, where is your marketing connected to your business strategy? So when we go into businesses, one of our first pieces of work is, “Can you present your business plan to us?” And we don’t care if it’s on a beer mat. In fact, some of the really big ones we’d see would just be gathering dust. Some of the best ones we’ve seen, some fabulous company has gone, “Actually, these are the three things we want to achieve.”
So it doesn’t need to be more in piece, and we can see their element of surprise. It’s like, “Well, why do you want to see the business plan?” “Well, because we’re about to invest marketing money to help you grow your business.” So, if we don’t know what you’re trying to do, we might as well pack up and go home.
Simon Dell: That’s actually my strategic framework when I talk to clients. My first question is, “What are your objectives? What are you trying to achieve?” I never forget this, but I’ve sat in a room with about 10 or 12 lawyers. The heads of the business, the partners, senior management, senior directors. And I said to them, “What are you trying to achieve?”
You just get this blank look from what are incredibly intelligent people. A blank look from everyone around the room. And then you go, “Right, okay, we haven’t got any objectives, but let’s try and rephrase this: How much money do you, as a firm, want to earn this year?”
And you still get a blank look. They’ve still got no idea. And you just go, “How does this business operate, still?” There is no understanding across the board of what they’re trying to achieve.
And just one other thing I just wanted to say based on that sort of stop and think lesson is, one of the things I’ve done in the past with clients, I’ve said, “Write down your last ten new clients and write down next to them how they actually found your business.”
It might be word of mouth, or it might be a brochure through a letter box, or whatever it might be. And then I say to them, “Now, if you do those things on the right, they’ve got those ten clients. Now, if we do those better, and we invest money, and we do it more strategically, and we think about it, what do you think the consequences are of the number of new clients that you’re going to start getting in?”
And then the light bulb tends to go on where they go, “Okay, let’s not kind of do this haphazard reactionary kneejerk approach. Let’s stop and think about it now.”
Debbie Richardson: Exactly. And it’s really interesting, because I always ask them. I do quite a lot of workshops, and presentations, and things like that, and I ask the CEOs or the business leaders in the room. I love the fact that you use words of mouth because when they say words of mouth, I just say that means you don’t know. Its sort of like everyone goes, “All of our stuff is word of mouth.” I’m like, “Okay, that means you’ve got no idea. You really don’t know.”
And then you sort of go down the next layer. So, whose words from which mouths are they coming from? Because to me, that’s referral partners. And a big thing that a lot of businesses miss, because we talk a lot about stakeholders. We don’t just talk about customers and prospects. We talk about, “Who are all the people that your business needs to influence?” And it’s not just the customers or the prospects. Actually, to us, it’s a really huge piece that SMB businesses miss, is how to market to their channel partners.
In our nine boxes, we have a box called channel, and how we divide that is it’s traditional marketing channels, and it’s referral, and partnership, or strategic partnership channels, we tend to use the language of the business that we’re in. And what we find is, and you and I have spoken, I work very much in a B2B space, so a lot of B2B is not about traditional marketing channels. Traditional marketing channels, to me, also includes social media platforms, advertising in that door.
A lot of B2B don’t really need to touch that. And maybe some, but what they do really need to focus on is that word of mouth: Who are those people that are referring them? Do they have the right channels? Do they actually measure where their referrals come from? So if you go even down the layer in word of mouth, they’ve still got most stats or data around the clients that come from those, per se, word of mouth people.
Simon Dell: There are two questions I always ask with word of mouth, and the first one is, what happens when word of mouth stops?
Debbie Richardson: Or how do you get more out of word of mouth? You’ve got a whole pile of other clients.
Simon Dell: Absolutely. And I say, “What happens when word of mouth stops?” And the second question I ask is, “Are you comfortable having your entire business success in the hands of a third party that you don’t control?” Because that’s what word of mouth is. You’re reliant on third-parties, and they may be customers, or they may be clients or some sort of stakeholder. But you’re relying on other people spreading your message for you.
There’s ways of managing that, and there’s ways of encouraging it, things like that. But realistically, if your entire business is built on other people recommending you, there could be a day when somebody stops recommending you.
Debbie Richardson: And it’s a bit interesting, and you’re absolutely right, one of the things that we talk about is, “How do you have five or six of those referral relationships?” I actually think about, and this could be a whole nother conversation, the role of sales. But literally, I look and go, if you manage your channel well, your channels well… And I don’t mean one; you probably need, depending on your business, you probably need anything between one and six of those word of mouth relationships.
There’s channel relationships; they need love, care, attention. You need to understand their business. Their business could completely change, which means your business will completely change. The level of sophistication and understanding, and I think there’s several, as we go through all of our clients, we always looking at that channel area and go, “I think that’s the most underserved, under focused on, within SMBs.”
And they need to get smarter at that for all of the reasons that you’ve just said, is that word of mouth is a fabulous, fabulous sort of business, but you do need to have some control over it, and some influence over it, and understand it rather than just sort of sit there with your fingers crossed, hoping they’ll keep sending you business.
Simon Dell: My next question has probably already been answered, but I’ll ask it again. My next question is about the biggest challenge that you see facing SMBs in the marketing space. Is it that channel management, or is this something else that you think they tend to stick their head in the sand and ignore?
Debbie Richardson: Okay. I think there’s a couple of things. I think the first thing is the general understanding of strategy. I think they need to understand marketing strategy fundamentally. To me, that’s 101. You need to understand that every business — So the reason that we developed the 9 Boxes is there are nine areas of strategic marketing that need attention.
And it really does depend on where your business is in terms of growth, its business cycle, the sector it’s operating in. So, almost all the work we do is pretty bespoke to each of the clients that we work with. We have a benchmarking tool, and I’d say just look at the stats that come out of that, I would say understanding your positioning and being really clear about all that stuff you and I talked about earlier, who is your perfect client, the market, your stakeholders, so the positioning strategy definitely, I would say, channel.
I look at channel and go, “Are you using channel well?” And another one of our boxes is called buyer’s journey. It’s like, do you actually understand habits? That’s all about pipeline management. How do you manage your buyer’s journey, or client’s buyer’s journey and pipeline? And I think the final one for me, which amazes me about SMBs, is never underestimate the amount of money that’s still in existing clients. So quite often, once they’ve made the sale, they don’t think about what else could they buy from us.
Is there more revenue, there’s less money on the table with a client? So, we’re working with someone at the moment, and we looked at their revenue asks for the next 12 months all through July 1. One of the questions we asked them is — I think they were looking at something around another 8 million. They need to do 8 million next year, and we just sat down and went, “How much does that all come from existing clients?”
And they just looked at us like we were crazy. I said, “Really, you need to go through your client list and go, “What else can they buy from you?” They did the job. They went through it, and they found that out of the 8 million, 3.5 could come from existing relationships. That’s the sort of stuff we try and teach them. I’d say positioning, channel, buyer’s journey, and then just looking at your existing customers. There’s a million other things, but those are the ones that are really coming up for us at the moment.
Simon Dell: Just on the other flipside of that, what do you see that SMBs are doing well? I don’t want to make it sound like they’re all a complete disaster out there, but what do they generally do well?
Debbie Richardson: From a marketing perspective?
Simon Dell: Everything, really: marketing, service, sales, those kind of things.
Debbie Richardson: I think from a marketing perspective, I think they’re generally — we go in, and we find that pretty good around product and service. So, they’ve got a product suite or a service suite, and they understand that. I think they do that well.
They also understand actually how to service their clients well. They don’t always ask them for extra money or extra revenue, but they do actually love them to death once they’re in the main. We’re finding that that happens. And then there’s a real range. Some of them are quite good at comms, and some of them aren’t. Some of them are good at sales. They’ve all got little pockets of bits there.
This is what we always say to our clients because they tend to come to us. By the time to get to us, it’s like, “Oh, we’re a marketing disaster. Marketing’s been a disaster for us.” And we sort of start the conversation, “It can’t be that bad because you’re growing your business.”
We work with businesses, turning over millions to businesses that are turning over $250 million. So you haven’t got to $250 million being rubbish at marketing. So what we do in our benchmarking process is we find out what they’re good at. And there are pockets of everything, but they differ for most businesses. We have a client at the moment. They’re a mid-tier client. Their actual delivery of brand and brand strategy is better than some corporates. They’re exceptional at it. So there are little pockets in there that they put at one of the nine things.
Simon Dell: I’ve worked with an IT company, and I’m sort of saying, I keep trying to say to them. Unfortunately, it tends to fall a little bit on deaf ears. I’m going, “Your brand and your positioning, the visual elements of your brand, your service levels, they’re not the problem. The problem is more about you need to just reach out to more people.”
They’ve established themselves as a brand, but it’s now that they’ve sort of gone, “Right, well, we’ve got our positioning right. Now, what do we do?”
Debbie Richardson: I think probably going back to your other question, which is, “What are they good at or what are they better at?” I do sometimes think that visual element brand is — because that’s what they think marketing is, and that’s what a lot of our fellow marketers sell. My heart sinks when I go into a client and, in fact, this is a real-life client.
One of our clients wanted to actually open in a new territory in a new state. Their previous marketing firm told them to rebrand. I’m like going, “Seriously? Seriously?” I think probably, and that answering your question from before, I think if they’re good at anything, they’re probably better at the brand and visual identity piece because that’s what a lot of our fellow marketing people sell.
Simon Dell: And I’d put myself in that exact category maybe 4-5 years ago, when you’ve sat there, you’ve built yourself a little agency, you’ve got three graphic designers, and a client walks in and going, “How do I grow my business?” Your natural reaction is to go, “You need to rebrand, or you need a 20-page brochure.” All the things that you go, “All right, when I look back at it, that’s probably not a first thing that could’ve…”
Debbie Richardson: Yeah, and that’s why I’d go back to the original point of conversation. It’s about, how do we help? One of the things that we do is actually help them manage external suppliers. We sit and talk about, at lots of different elements that make up a marketing — I mean, and marketing is confusing. I sit there and scratch my heads up times, and I’ve been out forever for it, but we sit down and look at who are their current suppliers.
Businesses do need digital specialists. They need brand specialists. And maybe you’re not really supposed to ever talk about what you don’t do, but one of the things that we do a lot is we sort of scope, “Hey, we’re not coming in to fix your site or rebrand you. If you need that, we’ll help you find people to do that.” But I think that is just the natural way, and it just goes back to what I was saying at the beginning.
There are so many brand firms out there; it’s the natural place to go. “We need new brochures”, when actually we don’t. We need to have a conversation about the business plan, what we’re trying to achieve, and how do we get you fit for purpose.
Simon Dell: Yeah, I sometimes think that the answer sometimes isn’t even marketing. I go, “The answer is probably actually sales.” And what we could better spend some of this money on is putting somebody out there, knocking on doors, or making phone calls, or doing introductions, and things like that to sort of bring more clients in. Because somewhere, that might be a better solution than —
Debbie Richardson: Are we allowed to just have a conversation about marketing and sales?
Simon Dell: Go on then. I don’t know. I don’t know how this conversation is going to go but go for it. Because I’ve been on both side of the fences. I did sales for a very long time, and then I moved into marketing, but go on; you destroy sales if you like.
Debbie Richardson: No. I’d just like to try and give it some context around marketing. Because we get asked a lot, “What’s the relationship between marketing and sales?” It’s probably the third most frequently asked question. And this is probably an experience that we see, is quite often, and this took me a little adjusting when I came out of corporate because corporate, everything came out, everything was driven by marketing, market research, all of that.
When I came out into the real world, into SMB, what I saw is actually businesses had a very strong focus on sales. Because literally, you start a business and you go out and sell, and then you adjust and then go out and sell some more. And so, sales are quite dominant in SMB businesses. But what happens is it gets lost or misguided; they end up in that ‘go back to your finance’, that sales people have targets, they become under pressure, that any dollar is a good dollar.
It goes back to your example, anybody 18 to 80. What we try and show them, if you try and get your marketing strategy right, so you’re defining your operating market, if we start to talk to your finance guy, then okay. So, finance guy, you are allowed to sell to someone that’s 30 to 50 years old. Because your product set should sit in that space as well. So basically, what happens is, we often go in where sales have been quite strong and then we’re trying to position marketing in that business.
To me, marketing sets the tone of sales. We set the tone of, “Okay, this is the operating market. This is what we’re after. We’re not after the 18 years; we’re after the 32 to 50-year-olds.” But sales people, they become under pressure, ‘any dollar is a good dollar’, and then we have a whole pile of clients that we probably don’t want. Quite often, that’s a conversation we have when we go into client and say, “Tell us who is your ideal client.” “Okay, how many of those have you got?”
And then what we try and help them with is, how do you actually move, shift your client base from the clients you don’t want to the clients that you really do want? Because nobody wants everybody. It’s just impossible to do.
Simon Dell: I often use the analogy that marketing is there to supply the tools for the sales people to succeed. That’s kind of where I’d go. A sales person out there with a strong brand, with great communication, with a strategic —
Debbie Richardson: With a strong positioning strategy.
Simon Dell: Strong positioning strategy, knowing who his target market is, is going to be a lot more successful than a salesperson who doesn’t have all those things.
Debbie Richardson: Great. And if you look at sales today, and we started this conversation with sales. If you look at sales today and don’t forget, I’m sitting here with my B2B hat on. Sales today has become more of a technical sell. There’s two things around what I think are experience in a market, are your customers know more about you ever before than ever today than they do before. There’s so many tools. They almost know you before they’ve engaged in a conversation with you.
And so, that sale piece, that’s why your marketing strategies need to be really strong because it’s almost — they can dismiss you before they’d even get engaged in a conversation with you. If you think of the funnel and you go, “Okay, so they’re closer to the point of sale when they come to you.” What happens is then, the close needs to be more technical. It needs to be more service-driven, more technical-driven, and it’s way more. So, the sales people that we have today are smarter than the sales people the year before, and they know their stuff, and they know how to close. But the sales element of the funnel is way less than it used to be.
Simon Dell: One of the other things I often see with that sales element of the funnel is that if you don’t have that good sales element of the funnel, if you don’t have someone in there that can close, you end up in this kind of eternal marketing loop that the prospect client just keeps going around and around. It needs someone with a sales function to go, “Hold on, let’s stop. They’re here. Let’s now just get them to buy. Let’s close them and get their money.”
Debbie Richardson: We also look at the capability of — We’ve just done a campaign with a client, and we’ve generated some really excellent leads out of it. We’re going, “Right now, maybe you need to close these leads.” That’s what we’re looking at. We’re going, “How do you close this?” They don’t need to be recent. They are there. They are sniffing; you need to close the deal. And that’s the interesting piece.
And we look at that in every one of our client’s business. “Have you got sales that are capable of actually making that close?”
Simon Dell: And you know what? This is going to loop all the way back to the admin-marketing person. Because if you do all of this work, and then the person that’s answering the phone to an inbound sales inquiry is your admin-marketing person, and they haven’t been trained how to sell, or they haven’t been trained how to get the right details from someone, or who to pass it onto.
Just a little weaknesses in the funnel-like that can just destroy everything that you’ve done that at the top of the funnel, because the admin goes, “You know what? I’m really busy. I’ve got a thousand things happening. I’ve got a filing to do.” And all of a sudden, answering the phone, doesn’t really take the call seriously and loses the sale.
Debbie Richardson: And loses the sale. And it’s interesting because one of the things that we talked to our clients about, is everybody in your business is a marketing person. One of our favourite clients, when one of us came to Australia, they used to have what they call Pizza Friday. Once a month, they’d get together, and they’d actually allow the marketing team to present. And so, they talked about a whole pot of results, what has each department done in it.
But it allowed marketing to actually present, “Hey, this is what we did last month. This is what we are doing this month.” If we’re talking about values, they actually got to educate their business about what they were doing from a marketing perspective. Because we do view everyone as a marketing person in that business. And one of my favourite stories is a client of mine; they had a value set of something like friendly, caring, blah-blah. I can’t remember the other two. They clearly forgot to tell their receptionist that that was one of their values.
I went to this business every month, and every month, she did not raise her head. She made me wait at the reception. Every month, she said, “Who are you here to see?” It’s like the same person that I was going to see every time I come in. So, somebody had forgotten to tell her that friendly was one of their values. I just think that’s super. Everyone in the business needs to understand at least the top line of the business plan.
What are we trying to achieve? What do we sell? What are we doing from a marketing perspective? What’s our purpose? Why do we get out of bed every morning? We sometimes forget to tell people that.
Simon Dell: Fantastic, and I think that’s probably a really good point to move onto my last three questions for today. And the first one is the one that you didn’t want to answer. What are some of the brands that you like and that you buy frequently? Why do you buy them frequently?
Debbie Richardson: I knew you’re going to ask me that, so I did actually do a bit of thinking even though I said to you, “Don’t ask me that question.” The main reason I don’t like those questions is my heart sinks when people stand up and start talking about Apple. Because I’m like going, “How does my gorgeous SMB client in Brisbane CBD really relate to what goes on at Apple in terms of their own business? Okay, they can love Apple, and that’s that.
Simon Dell: I’m going to interrupt you there because I’m going to argue that case back to you. Because I would sit there, and I’ve had that conversation with small businesses, and I sit there and go, “What brand do you admire?” And they go Apple, and often you get Virgin out of it, or you get all of these other ones. And I go, “Look, you’re not going to be Apple. You’re not going to be Virgin.” But I go, “If you were working at Apple, if you sit there and look at your business and go, “What would Apple do in this situation?”
And you go, that might be a hard parallel for them to work out, but it also gives them a level or set of standards that you go, “You know what?” A good example of Apple would be, when you walk into the Apple Store, every single one of their team members is wearing the same T-shirt and looks identical, to build that brand identity. Now, I’d go, that’s a lesson that a plumber with three staff can take.
Debbie Richardson: We can learn a lot from that.
Simon Dell: That’s the reason I asked that question, because I go, “What are these big brands doing?” What are brands that you like, or even small brands do that people can learn from?
Debbie Richardson: Okay. And so, I did give some thought to that question. So, I think for me, the brands that impress me most, and I’ve sort of went through my head and gone, “Okay.” So, the brands that impress me most are the brands that are authentic and easy to deal with. One of my favourite brands at the moment is iiNet.
Simon Dell: Yes, that’s a good one.
Debbie Richardson: I just picked them. Not around any of their marketing — I realise iiNet, they good, they look okay. I’ve been a client of iiNet for nearly three years now, and my engagement and experience with them has been second to none. And I love that. I love the fact that I get their marketing comms, but I also experience them every time I have to speak to them, which is, I have to say, very rarely, that every time I get off the phone with them, their service in the moment and their follow-up is absolutely excellent. I’m sure there’s going to be a whole pile of people out there not very happy with iiNet.
Simon Dell: So then that brings me back to that original question, is that something that an SMB could do is? What is a lesson that they could learn from iiNet that they could do in their own business that you find so attractive from iiNet?
Debbie Richardson: Have a service strategy and service KPI, and never let a customer leave a conversation with your business until you know they’re completely happy. So seriously, I’ve had a guy from iiNet going, “I’m not letting you off the phone until we’re completely happy, that everything’s working for you.” And I’ve only had to call three times in the last three years, and it’s sort of — So I would say, once they become customers, make sure you love them in a way that you promise that you’re going to love them through the sales process.
Simon Dell: If anyone’s listening to this, and for yourself as well, if you go back and listen to Annie Parker’s interviews… She was the CEO of Fishburners, she’s now moved to work for Microsoft, I believe, but she has some experience back in the UK working for a telco. She said one of the things they did to try to stop losing customers was they gave the people on the phone that were dealing with this customers leeway in order to try and make them happy.
It’s funny that you’ve now identified something that Annie Parker was putting into place 15 years ago in the UK in a different telco, and how that has now actually resonated with you as a positive service experience. It’s interesting to see that cycle come around.
Debbie Richardson: It is. And I knew you were going to ask that question, so I’ve got to think of someone, but I’ve had a really good experience with CS. Hello iiNet, it’s you.
Simon Dell: Are there any others or are we just sticking with iiNet?
Debbie Richardson: I’m sticking with iiNet.
Simon Dell: Alright, next, second to the last question. What’s next for you? Where do you go from here? Not literally today, but in general career-wise, that kind of thing.
Debbie Richardson: You mentioned Marketing Camp. We’ve had a soft launch of Marketing Camp, as you can imagine, there’s some technical stuff going on. We’re looking at an official launch of Marketing Camp probably sometime in the next couple of months. And for us, that’s super exciting.
You can just imagine what we want to influence is how businesses engage with strategic marketing and we can’t get to them all. Marketing Camp is like a Netflix for marketing. So you buy a subscription, and there you get all your marketing tips and hints. For us, that’s an important launch before the end of the financial year.
Simon Dell: Okay, last question. Where can people find you if they want to come and talk to you?
Simon Dell: Debbie, thank you very much for your time today.
Debbie Richardson: Thank you so much, and I’m sure we could’ve had a million conversations about a million different things, but that was great.
Simon Dell: I know, I think probably an hour is enough for people to digest, but maybe we’ll catch up again at another time and go on down one of those rabbit holes. Thank you very much for your time.
Debbie Richardson: Thank you, Simon. I’ll speak to you soon.