Lean marketing defined: the case for cutting costs and increasing your flexibility
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
If your marketing team is running lean because of attrition, budget cuts, or just scaling up, it might be time to think about embracing the mindset of a small in-house team. Marketers have a long tradition of being asked to do more with less. Not since the 1960s when advertisers strutted the miles of Madison Avenue have marketing teams had blank checks and carte blanche freedom to run campaigns. The digital revolution has only accelerated the pressure and increased the heat on marketers to prove their worth to the board and c-suite. To many, marketing is a cost center that can’t tie their spend to leads, sales, or share of wallet. Even in this golden age of marketing technology—with more than 7,000 companies considered martech—categories like attribution, analytics, and big data have all failed to produce the panacea for marketers to regain unvarnished an unimpeachable credibility with the c-suite.
The result is, unfortunately, predictable.
Sales down? Cut the marketing budget.
Leads not producing? Cut the marketing budget.
The economy turns? Cut the marketing budget.
Researchers at Gartner recently commissioned a study to survey the future of marketing spend. Nearly 70% of CMOs and marketing leaders surveyed said they are bracing for moderate to severe budget cuts. Think about that for a minute: almost three out of every four leaders plan to cut spending this year. And if history is any indication, they won’t be granted a reprieve from delivering leads or campaigns to help their sales teams.
When faced with the prospect of “moderate to severe” budget cuts, there are basically two options for marketing leaders. The vast majority of your marketing spend most likely comes from two categories:
Roughly 14% of a B2B marketing budget is spent on technology. Cutting here could make a large dent in hitting a bottom line dictated by your CFO. And most marketers have staggered contracts that expire at different times throughout the year, so unwinding your tech spend seems like a plausible option. Until you consider the future landscape.
Sure your marketing automation is expensive, but how will you email prospects (and customers) without some sort of investment? Perhaps you downgrade your CRM—though I’m not sure the president of any company or leader of any sales team would allow this to happen. Project management? Sure, Post-It notes could be used to organize campaigns and content… until they fall to the ground to create paper piles of pandemonium. At best, enterprise-grade solutions can be substituted for slightly less expensive solutions, but technology cannot be cut enough to move the needle during drastic times.
As the saying goes, drastic times call for drastic measures. Usually. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it doesn’t need to be a drastic time to re-think the way we invest in projects and the people who fulfill them.
Consider for a moment the traditional marketing team. A B2B organization with at least $30 million in ARR, probably has an organization chart that looks something like this:
A senior leader (CMO) has a marketing leadership focused on each stage of the funnel: Awareness, consideration, and decision. This is the way it’s been done for years. The benefit comes from subject-matter experts at each stage with experiences and background that fulfill the needs of a marketing department trying to help their sales team. Need help with PR? Hire a recent graduate who studied communications. Looking for lead gen leadership? A simple search on LinkedIn shows more than 380,000 people with the word “demand generation” in their profile.
This is the standard. The way it’s been done for years, because it has worked for years.
Some of these positions can be outsourced. And in an economic downturn, you might even consider cutting a few positions. If you’re a smaller organization, you probably work with some vendors and partners already. Either way, you probably divide your team into functional areas that focus on distinct areas of the sales funnel. Your organization probably looks something like this:
Here, you retain the benefit of SMEs at each stage: the PR agency has relationships at business publications to get you more press, better press, or any press. The content team writes all day every day and has teams of designers pumping out your eBooks with the same efficiency of Henry Ford’s assembly line. But unfortunately, the eBook you get back looks like the same design they created for the dozens of other clients they work with. Sure, your logo is on it, but there’s nothing particularly valuable in the content or the design that will resonate with prospects and help your brand stand apart.
Chances are you’ve worked with an agency who provided a recommendation that started with, “In my experience,” or even more pointedly, “In order for this to work, you really need to, (insert idea that you can’t execute for any number of reasons. These contracts are expensive. And they’re usually long. 12 months. 24 months. Sometimes even 36 months. That kind of investment handcuffs your flexibility and doesn’t create incentive for the agency to produce growth-hack results until you near the end of their deal and consider an RFP.
Part of this comes from the agency knowing (rightfully so) that they don’t need to do everything. Doing a job 70% of the way is enough when the PR leader can clean-up an ambiguous strategy, correct type-os or adjust the advertising spend. Agencies ultimately make recommendations that marketers evaluate, consider, and, sometimes, act on.
The world needs more action.
So consider the third model—one where nearly every role is outsourced except for the senior marketing leaders developing strategy and those optimizing and reporting the results.
At 18squared Marketing, we've developed a framework to help. We call it lean marketing:
Remember: the original exercise was to cut costs. And your heaviest levers were tech and people. We all agree that cutting tech, at best, moves the needle only marginally. So look at the team of people. The original org chart had 16 heads reporting into a CMO. This one has four.
“But I need a big team. Bigger teams mean I’m important. My job is tied to having a big team.”
False, false, and false.
Your job is to help the sales team. Your job is to make sales easier. Your job is to make sales faster. Your job is to increase the number and value of sales deals.
Everything you learned in school about product, price, promotion, and price is still true—but you don’t need a large team to execute it.
In this model, you and your marketing leadership team are laser-focused on the strategy. HOW will you help the sales team? Everything else goes to the vendor.
Vendors are incentivized to get you what you need as quickly and cheaply as possible because if they don’t, you’ll move to the next vendor. You have to because there’s no one else on the team to do the work!
Meanwhile, you retain back-of-house staff to publish and optimize campaigns, reporting data to you and the marketing leadership team with the intelligence you can use to start, stop, or continue the strategies you’ve already launched. In turn, you refine your plans and work with the agency to iterate accordingly.
And all the while you maintain the flexibility to cut costs any time you need to while still meeting the needs of the business.
Need a news release? Turn on the PR vendor.
Need an eBook? Turn on the content vendor.
The key here is, of course, to partner with vendors who understand the urgency and weight you’re putting on their shoulders.
You’re not looking for a trusted advisor who understands your goals for the year. You’re looking for a hired hand to knock out a piece of content you can gate for leads. It’s not about helping you with your annual review (and tying themselves to an annual contract), it’s about executing now. Immediately.
What have you done for me lately? No. What have you done for me today.
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