21 Keys to Marketing Success

Table of Contents



If you own or lead a small or medium-sized business, at some point, you’ve likely struggled to meet your growth targets and felt dissatisfied with your marketing. This is a fairly universal experience, and for good reason: marketing today is complex and confusing, and it seems to require specialized skills that are beyond most business leaders. Nevertheless, in-house marketing competence can be a powerful tool for driving growth, so it’s important to find ways to improve your capabilities while avoiding potential pitfalls. 

The following article looks at 21 marketing pillars across your strategic, operational, and leadership dimensions. Together, they comprise the key components of a successful marketing foundation and provide valuable insights for gauging the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. By assessing your performance against these pillars, you can better understand your marketing competence and begin charting a course for success. 


Small and midsize business leaders have been relying on us for the past decade to help guide their marketing, and we have gained some invaluable insights along the way. We have identified areas that are ideal for assessing a business’s marketing capabilities. These encompass strategic planning, day-to-day operations, resource allocation, leadership structures, and execution ability. Together, they offer a comprehensive view of what drives marketing and, ultimately, business success. 

The real-world data comes from our survey of over a hundred small businesses where we asked them to rate their marketing capabilities across these key areas. The following article refers to our survey insights and describes the best practices we have learned and shared with countless businesses. It also incorporates results from other sources that reflect the current state of small businesses and their marketing capabilities.

The 21 Key Marketing Pillars

This article discusses the 21 marketing pillars in detail. They are divided into three foundational areas:

By developing competencies across these three areas, you will enjoy outsized results. 

Keep in mind that this article is not intended to overwhelm you with data, but rather to provide practical advice. Some of the recommendations are for major structural change, but many of them emphasize incremental, iterative changes. Some of these changes will be easy and some difficult, but companies that implement these best practices have seen amazing results. 

Note: This article uses the word “team” to refer to any people or resources you commit toward your marketing and sales, whether or not these resources are part of a formal team.

Part One: Vision/Strategy/Goals

1. North Star

Your north star reflects your company’s vision and mission, and serves as a guiding light for all your growth initiatives.


Think of your north star as your business’s ultimate goal, the big dream that motivates your every decision and action. It’s like a compass that keeps you heading in the right direction even when the waters get rough. Your north star is a constant reference point for what your business stands for and where it’s headed, aligning everything from day-to-day tasks to your long-term strategies.

Let’s look at the north star of a well-known B2B company, the virtual meeting platform Zoom. 

Zoom’s claimed mission is to empower people through video communications. Their north star is the number of weekly meetings they host. This metric represents Zoom’s growth and overall success, and the company closely monitors this number to ensure its continuous improvement. This north star metric aligns perfectly with their mission: by focusing on the number of weekly hosted meetings, Zoom’s leaders can measure the engagement and usage of their platform.

Your company might not be the size of Zoom, but every company, large or small, should have a unique north star that aligns with their values and mission. And all strategies and initiatives should stay true to these guiding principles.

However, in our experience, the reality is quite different. While most small businesses we work with claim to have a north star, it is often not well utilized. It’s something tucked away in a drawer or folder that no one is using to make decisions. The objective of having a north star is not to just define it — it has to be applied practically to your business processes. The challenge of course is assigning a metric to your north star 

Survey data shows that just 33% of small business marketers rate their company’s application of a north star as excellent or good. 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Choose your north star: Start by creating vision and mission statements that resonate with your team. Picture crafting a roadmap together — one that outlines your long-term goals and how to achieve them. Your vision should be aspirational, inspiring everyone on board, while your mission lays out the practical steps to get there. And don’t define your organization’s north star in a vacuum: invite leaders and other senior team members to share their thoughts and provide feedback. This will help rally them behind the cause. 

Set your north star metric: Whatever your business, this metric should reflect the goals of your satisfied customers, not the benefits you receive from their business. In other words, your own revenue targets should never be your north star metric. Like Zoom’s number of hosted meetings (or Spotify’s time spent listening, Uber’s rides per week, or Airbnb’s nights booked), your metric should represent the value your customers get from your product or service — their success. 

Repetition, repetition, repetition: Once you’ve set your north star, regularly remind your team what you’re all working toward. Make it a primary point in onboarding materials for new hires. Whether through team meetings or company newsletters, keep the vision alive in everyone’s minds. The more you communicate it, the more it becomes ingrained in your company’s culture.

Align goals and conquer: Every decision you make should be in sync with your north star. It’s like having a filter that helps you prioritize opportunities and investments. Ask yourself: Does this move us closer to our ultimate goal? If not, it might be time to reconsider. By keeping everyone focused on the same destination, you ensure that every effort propels you forward.

Adapt and evolve: Finally and perhaps counterintuitively, don’t set your north star in stone. As your business grows and markets change, so too may your vision and mission. Be open to adaptation, always keeping your eyes on the horizon for new opportunities and challenges.

2. Target Market

Focus on specific segments within specific industries and tailor your messaging to address their unique needs.


By customizing your messaging to specific industry segments, you not only differentiate your business from competitors but also establish yourself as an authority and a logical resource for these customers to turn to. These are your target markets, or verticals, and the process of refining the focus of your target markets is known as market segmentation

Segmenting your target market and defining your verticals is essential for the success of any marketing efforts. It is a far better strategy than trying to appeal to the greatest number of potential clients, the all-things-for-everyone approach that dilutes your messaging and ends up resonating with no one. For example, targeting the healthcare industry is a far too general approach. There are numerous ways to categorize healthcare businesses into smaller, more easily targeted sub groups. The standard strategies for B2B customer segmentation include:

  • Company-size segmentation based on whether your targets are small businesses, midsize enterprises, or large corporations
  • Geographic segmentation by specific locations, climate, cost of living, urban or rural, or regional, national, or international 
  • Decision-making segmentation based on the target persona’s role in their company’s decision-making process, such as leader, influencer, or end user
  • Demographic segmentation by the decision maker’s age, gender, education, income, ethnicity, or family status
  • Behavioral segmentation by personality types, spending and buying patterns, usage rates, interests, hobbies, values, or attitudes
  • Technological segmenting by the types of technology target customers use, such as mobile devices or social media platforms

By implementing these B2B target-market segmentation strategies, you can better understand your clients’ diverse needs and behaviors, allowing you to tailor your messaging to effectively engage with your target audience in the B2B space. There is an abundance of research that shows the benefit of market segmentation, including one study that found a 760% increase in revenue for segmented campaigns

Note that this is one area where many small business owners may suffer from overconfidence:

Even though over 90% of our survey respondents claim to have a target vertical, this is often not effectively communicated or demonstrated on their websites or other marketing channels.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Analyze your existing client database: If you’re unsure about which verticals to focus on, first look at your client database. Identify the sectors and industries you currently work with that are the most profitable, have the most potential for growth, or offer the largest lifetime value. This can help you determine which segments and business types to focus your messaging.

Know your market: Market research will help you identify untapped market segments that align with your north star and match your company’s strengths and expertise. Look at market trends, the competitive landscape, and customer preferences to determine which verticals offer the best opportunities for differentiation and growth.

Segment your target vertical: Your verticals should be specific and the target customers narrowly defined. For example, if you try to focus on the healthcare sector, you will find it far too diverse to differentiate yourself. Instead, keep segmenting until you identify a more narrowly defined type of business. For example, you might find that your highest potential target with the healthcare sector is large dental clinics. Based on the typical individuals involved and their typical challenges, these businesses may best align with your competencies and goals. 

We’ve recently covered this process in detail in a dedicated article. For a comprehensive, step-by-step approach to finding your verticals, read our article “How to Define Your Target Audience in Three Steps.”

3. Ideal Client Profiles (ICPs)

Document your understanding of your target customers’ challenges and needs in order to effectively appeal to them. 


An ICP is a document describing a specific type of person that you want to target. The ICP outlines the target customer’s unique characteristics, demographics, and behaviors, and how they can benefit from your product or service. ICPs help you identify your most promising prospects, allowing you to tailor your offerings and messaging in order to attract and retain them. According to marketing experts like HubSpot, organizations with strong ICPs achieve 68% higher account win rates

But knowing your customers doesn’t just mean having their names in a database. It means understanding their challenges, desires, and how your business can meet their needs. You also need to understand their decision-making processes and identify the key decision influencers within their leadership and departments such as HR, IT, and Finance. Retaining and organizing these insights is essential for creating successful marketing and sales strategies, and this is where ICPs are indispensable. 

Ninety-six percent of our survey respondents claim to have a “deep” understanding of their customers, the highest-scoring metric.

While encouraging, these claims of deep customer knowledge are often overstated. In our experience, business leaders often rely on assumptions about their customers rather than engaging with them directly or analyzing them indirectly, for example, by listening to sales calls. Additionally, businesses often lack a centralized source of up-to-date customer information that’s accessible to all employees. This means that as customer knowledge grows, it is likely not being organized and utilized for maximum benefit.

So how do you create these customer profiles that you need to keep organized and shared among your team? 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Go to the source: Forget assumptions: talk to your customers directly. Conduct interviews, send surveys, and offer feedback sessions to reveal what they’re really thinking. You need to know what they’re worrying about in order to set their minds at ease, what problems they’re facing that you can solve. Use these insights to refine your understanding of your target audience and then create and regularly update your ICPs.

Segmentation is key: Create distinct groups within your market and develop ICPs for each. Segmentation allows you to tailor your strategies to meet the unique needs of each group, ensuring you’re speaking their language and hitting the mark every time.

Make your ICPs easy to access, update, and use: Establish a centralized location for your ICPs where everyone in the company can review and update them. The logical place for this is a document folder that can be accessed from a dashboard like Coda, Notion, OneDrive, or Google Drive. This also makes it easy for your sales team to upload and enrich the ICPs as more customer information is collected along the way. Having ICPs in your CRM also enables you to more easily segment and track them, facilitating data-driven decision-making, which leads to a cycle of more targeted and successful sales and marketing strategies.

4. Value Proposition

Ensure your offerings are unique and that your marketing people understand them well enough to promote them effectively. 


Having a strong, unique value proposition relative to competitors is the foundation of a successful business. And a marketing team that understands this value proposition and can promote it effectively is essential for driving successful marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, A lack of understanding often boils down to poor access and collaboration with the people responsible for creating the product, delivering the service, or speaking to customers.

This has become even more important, as research shows that customers are spending the vast majority of their decision-making time researching information online by themselves rather than interacting with sales representatives. Your sales reps therefore have a limited window in which to communicate your value proposition, so they need a deep understanding of your products and services. 

Eleven percent of respondents indicated challenges with marketers not knowing enough about the value proposition of their product or services. 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Provide training: So, how do you make sure your marketing team is up to speed? It starts with comprehensive training. Take the time to walk them through your offerings — the features, benefits, value propositions, everything. The more they know, the better equipped they’ll be to convey your message to your target customers.

Listen and learn: Training is only the beginning. Your team needs real-world insights to truly understand your customers’ needs. Have them regularly review recorded sales calls so they can hear firsthand what your customers are actually asking for and how your products or services address those needs. 

Don’t leave it up to outsourcers: Agencies and freelancers can be useful for SMBs who don’t have in-house marketing teams, but you can’t rely on them to define your value proposition. To operate at scale, most of them rely on templated pitches that will do nothing to differentiate your company or connect with your target market. Make sure you have an internal person or team who can lead your marketing strategy and ensure the messaging and value proposition is clear. 

5. Brand Messaging

Brand messaging establishes a clear and consistent identity, differentiates your business from competitors, and fosters customer trust and loyalty.


Brand messaging is crucial for any small, growing company. Your brand messaging isn’t just words on a page, it communicates the north star you defined for your business. It’s what sets you apart from the competition and leaves a lasting impression on your audience. But nailing it isn’t always easy. 

Your website homepage is often the first impression you make, so it’s crucial to get it right. The challenge here is that most first time visitors to a commercial website spend less than 10 seconds scanning the page. This is all the time you have to convince your potential customer that they have come to the right place. Yet, many companies fail to quickly and clearly communicate what sets them apart and how they help their customers. 

Sixty-one percent of business leaders admit to struggling with getting their message across effectively. 

So, how do you make sure your brand messaging stands out and captures who you are? 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Create a blueprint: Start by creating a brand messaging document — a blueprint that outlines who you are, what you stand for, how you solve your customers’ problems, and why you’re different from the competition. This is another opportunity to reference your north star, ensuring you stay true to your identity. 

Focus on your customers’ needs: Avoid making your message all about your own attributes and capabilities. Ideally, your blueprint will give your brand messaging a logic that’s easy and appealing for your target customers to follow. It will create a guide for them to solve their problems by using your offerings. A good framework for creating a blueprint that combines your value propositions with your customers’ motivations is Donald Miller’s StoryBrand BrandScript

6. Brand Messaging

Develop a marketing strategy to effectively manage your resources, connect with your target audience, and achieve long-term business growth. 


It is essential for a small business to develop a marketing strategy. This statement may seem glaringly obvious, still, or survey revealed many businesses don’t actually apply a strategy to their business planning. 

Thirty-nine percent of businesses admit they are flying blind when it comes to their marketing. 

Having a solid marketing strategy isn’t just about drawing up ambitious plans — it’s about researching potentials, calculating costs and returns, and ensuring that everyone in your company understands the game plan. The viability of any business depends on strategy, yet it’s one of the biggest hurdles for businesses to overcome. 

It’s not within the scope of this article to explain all the options and processes involved in developing your marketing strategy. But fear not, we do have the most important best practices to guide you toward that goal.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Gather information: First, review your mission, vision, growth targets, target audiences, and messaging. If any of these are missing or underperforming, make a note of them as areas for improvement.

Create your marketing foundation: Next, conduct a SWOT analysis to clarify your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Use these insights to create and refine the foundational documents you will need to reference. These include your ICPs, market analysis, competitor profiles, and any aspirational firms whose success you believe you can replicate. 

Communicate: Share your marketing strategy and any specific action plans with your entire organization. Make sure everyone understands the marketing team’s responsibilities and is in alignment with them.

Create your action plan: Once you have your foundation in place, it’s time to create your action plan. Identify low-hanging fruit opportunities, pinpoint the channels you should focus on, and allocate the internal resources needed to execute your marketing plan effectively.

Measure and optimize: Finally, it’s essential to apply the iterative approach. Gather as much data as you can and review your strategy at regular intervals — for example, every 90 days — to see what’s working and what needs tweaking.

7. Growth Targets

Establish clearly defined quarterly, annual, and multiyear growth targets.


Setting growth targets is a practical and measurable way to map out your journey to success. The process includes monthly, quarterly, annual, and multiyear milestones, and a roadmap that keeps everyone on the same path and moving in the right direction. Without targets, it’s impossible to know if you’re winning. 

Only 14% of respondents believe that their growth targets are unclear. 

There are several reasons small businesses may struggle to accurately forecast growth and set achievable targets. Market conditions often shift with changing trends and consumer preferences, and new competitor strategies can suddenly pose a threat or offer an opportunity. But the biggest challenge for most SMBs is a lack of data and analytics for their marketing effectiveness. Without proper insights, setting relevant, realistic growth targets becomes a daunting task. The issue comes down to simply not having access to accurate and informative data.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Define your goals: Whether you aim to maintain stability or pursue rapid expansion, ensure your targets are crystal clear — no guesswork allowed. Examples include mature growth (10–20% annual revenue increase), steady growth (25–50% annual revenue increase), or rapid growth (2x, 3x annual revenue increase). You can also set targets over multiple years, such as 2x growth in three years.

Establish OKRs (objectives and key results): Think of these as milestones along your journey that let you know you’re accurately pursuing your mission. Objectives should articulate desired outcomes, while the key results provide specific metrics for gauging progress. Break down larger annual or multiyear objectives into smaller quarterly or monthly key results to make progress more manageable and measurable.

Monitor and share: Update everyone in the company on growth performance in quarterly all-hands meetings. The growth numbers are not just for your marketing and sales team. Growth impacts the whole organization, so everyone should see how their work contributes to the growth objectives.

Adjust and optimize: Just as an aircraft may need course corrections due to changing winds, air traffic, or deviations from the planned route, your business goals may also require constant evolution along the way. Schedule regular check-ins to assess your progress and make any necessary adjustments. Stay nimble, stay agile, and don’t be afraid to change course if needed.

Part Two: Team/Resources

8. Marketing Budget

Establish a marketing budget to track and improve return on investment (ROI).


A defined marketing budget isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s essential for small businesses looking to maximize their resources and achieve their marketing goals. A budget will make it easier to calculate ROI and compare the relative success or failure of marketing activities. It will help you prioritize marketing channels and projects and allocate funds. Despite these benefits, the marketing budget is something that at least a quarter of businesses struggle with.

Twenty-seven percent of survey respondents admit they either haven’t created or can’t stick to a formal marketing budget. 

For many business leaders, defining a marketing budget is of course easier said than done.  Baselines are what you should be looking for at this stage. For example, there is a widely accepted rule of thumb to invest 8–10% of annual turnover into a dedicated annual marketing budget. Other research shows that across companies of all sizes, marketing accounts for an average of 13% of total budgeting. Another option is to research the established average for your industry and use that as the ballpark. 

If a sudden increase in spending seems daunting, you can follow the path of many SMBs who incrementally raise their investment toward their target. Whatever number you choose, your marketing budget should be tied to the lifetime value of a customer and your growth targets, as discussed in the previous section. 

Best practices and practical recommendations:

Track your spending: Calculate how much you’re currently investing in marketing and try to assess the return on investment. This will give you a better picture of where you stand and what adjustments can be made to reach your goals. 

Appoint an accountable leader: Simply creating a marketing budget isn’t enough. You need someone who’s capable of being responsible for resource allocation — that is, spending or not spending that money on marketing activities. 

9. Marketing Leader

Create a leadership role for someone who can take responsibility for the success of your marketing efforts.


A dedicated marketing leader is vital for driving strategy, building teams, fostering collaboration, and achieving results. Yet, establishing this role is something that many businesses struggle with. A common challenge is the willingness to delegate responsibility from an owner-led marketing situation to an “outsider” marketing leader. Additionally, many companies simply procrastinate on hiring a marketing leader. 

Fifty percent of respondents from companies in the $5M–$10M revenue range indicate they lack a dedicated marketing leader.

In today’s market, every business with ambitions to scale can benefit from an experienced marketing leader. This even applies to smaller SMBs. If you feel your business lacks the resources to hire for this role internally, a fractional or part-time marketing leader can be an affordable way to get the strategic direction and leadership needed to take your marketing efforts to the next level.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Designate an accountable leader: This person will be responsible for the success of your marketing efforts and therefore the growth of your company. They should have the authority, expertise, and vision to lead your team toward achieving its goals. If you don’t already have a marketing leader in place, this article will help shed light on how to hire one.

Establish clear objectives: Your marketing leader should set clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your growth targets and marketing budget, both of which were discussed in previous sections. Provide them with a mandate to optimize budget allocations for maximum ROI, but hold them accountable for delivering on their promises within specified timeframes.

Provide support and resources: Last but not least, empower your marketing leader with the tools and autonomy they need to execute strategies effectively. From budgets and technology to talent and resources, make sure they have everything they need to succeed.

10. Marketing Resources

Incrementally increase your marketing team’s size, composition, and capabilities to continuously meet your goals.


Small business leaders often misjudge their marketing needs, leading to misallocation of resources and poor growth. Examples of common mistakes include relegating marketing responsibilities to a single person or small team and expecting them to grow the company in addition to completing their main responsibilities. Another common mistake is overestimating the ability of marketing agencies and freelancers to capture your mission and vision in their marketing campaigns. Overall, this was one of the worst-rated capabilities among our survey respondents. 

Thirty-six percent of businesses are frustrated by the size, composition, and capabilities of their marketing team. 

Fortunately, while a lot of companies experience problems with allocating their marketing resources, the types of problems tend to be limited in number. Based on our research and experience, here are the most common pitfalls that businesses face when it comes to building their marketing teams:

Best practices and practical recommendations

Define your missing resource(s): Take a hard look at the competence of your current marketing resources. Whether you have an individual or a team, dedicated or ad hoc, what are their skills and capabilities? Do these align with your goals? Try to identify gaps and areas you need to fill, then create realistic job descriptions and pursue the highest-impact hire for the short term. This article sheds light on how to build your in-house marketing team

Build in steps: For most SMBs, a fully formed marketing team isn’t something that happens overnight. You can develop your marketing resources through small, incremental steps. For example, you could opt for the minimal viable marketing team, a three-person team of marketing leader, marketing technician, and content manager. 

Invest in training and development: Accept that you will have to give your team the tools and resources they need to succeed. Whether it’s through workshops, courses, or on-the-job training, investing in your team’s skills will deliver positive ROI in the long run.

11. BD/Sales Resources

Create a business development role responsible for generating quality leads.


Having a dedicated business development (BD) or lead generation specialist is key to attracting new customers. A talented BD specialist in a lead generation role will be responsible for building lists of prospects and attracting customers through various initiatives, such as outreach, events, and strategic partnerships. These functions are fundamental to growing a customer base, yet many businesses struggle to find someone to lead the initiatives, or they don’t bother creating a BD role at all. 

Twenty-nine percent of businesses report being dissatisfied with their lead generation efforts.

Based on our research and experience, here are some common pitfalls when it comes to lead generation:

  • Confusing sales, marketing, and lead generation
  • Lack of understanding on how to develop the lead generation functions
  • Assigning lead generation to junior or administrative personnel
  • Relying on low-return tactics like sending out generic promotional emails to purchased lists of low-quality leads

Best practices and practical recommendations

Designate a specialist: Your dedicated BD/lead generation person or team should focus solely on identifying and qualifying prospects, initiating outreach efforts, and nurturing relationships to turn leads into loyal customers.

Define responsibilities and goals: Clearly define the key performance indicators for your BD specialist(s). Establish measurable targets for lead generation, customer acquisitions, conversion rates, and revenue growth to effectively track progress and performance.

Provide resources and support: Ensure your BD individual or team has the skills, knowledge, and resources to succeed in their role. Provide access to tools, technology, and databases to streamline prospecting, outreach, and lead management processes.

12. Roles and Responsibilities

Ensure your marketing team members have specific KPIs and understand their value to the company.


Clearly defined roles and responsibilities are essential for building a focused, accountable, and high-performing team. In efficient teams, members know exactly what they are supposed to do and what they can rely on others to do. This is the fundamental state of task ownership, and it leads to multiple benefits. Studies show that organizations with well-defined roles have high levels of productivity and low turnover. These workers also report much higher levels of satisfaction with their leadership. However, nearly one-third of businesses struggle with this challenge.

Thirty percent of respondents with multiperson marketing teams report little or no differentiation of team roles. 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Audit time and task allocation: Take a step back and assess where your team’s time is being spent. Are their activities aligned with their existing job descriptions? Are they prioritizing high-impact tasks or getting caught up in time-consuming, low-return ones? Conduct an audit to compare time allocation with ideal distribution, identifying tasks that could be outsourced or delegated to free up resources.

Conduct role mapping sessions: Bring your team together and discuss their current responsibilities. Identify any overlaps or gaps in roles and document the findings. This will give everyone a clear understanding of who does what and where they fit into the bigger picture.

Assess skills and identify gaps: Interview team members to assess their skills and identify areas where skill gaps exist. Use this information to determine the structure of new team roles or identify the need for new hires.

Define the roles: Collaborate with each team member to create detailed job descriptions that outline their roles, responsibilities, and KPIs. Tailor descriptions to individual skills and expertise within the marketing function.

Establish reporting structures: Clarify reporting lines and communication channels within the team. Define who each member reports to and schedule regular check-in meetings to review progress, address challenges, and provide feedback. Use each member’s KPIs to keep performance reviews as objective as possible. 

Regularly review and readjust: Understand that roles may evolve over time due to changing business needs, market dynamics, or team composition. Schedule regular reviews of roles and responsibilities to ensure alignment with business objectives and individual strengths.

13. Marketing/Sales Alignment

Marketing and sales teams must meet regularly to ensure they are in alignment.


Regular alignment between your marketing and sales teams is essential for maximizing efficiency, enhancing communication, and driving revenue growth. Numerous studies show the benefits of sales-marketing coordination — so many that HubSpot gathered them into a single report. The key takeaway is that close collaboration between sales and marketing enables critical business growth.

Unfortunately, this kind of internal communication was another area where a significant number of survey respondents are experiencing challenges.

Twenty-one percent of respondents report a lack of understanding regarding how each team contributes to overall business objectives.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Schedule regular meetings: Establish a consistent schedule of meetings between the marketing and sales teams to discuss goals, initiatives, challenges, and opportunities. These meetings could occur weekly, biweekly, or monthly, depending on your organization’s needs and priorities.

Share information and insights: Foster open communication and information sharing between the marketing and sales teams. Share insights from marketing campaigns, lead generation activities, customer feedback, and market trends to inform sales strategies and priorities. Implementing a dashboard or central source of information for marketing activities and providing open visibility to the company CRM can enhance transparency and facilitate communication and collaboration.

Define shared KPIs: Collaboratively define everyone’s shared goals that align with both marketing and sales objectives. This may include metrics such as lead quality, conversion rates, pipeline growth, and revenue targets. Ensure that everyone comprehends their role in achieving these shared goals.

14. Ability to Scale

Meet fluctuations in demand for sales and marketing by leveraging external resources, such as freelancers or agencies.


Having the ability to scale your marketing activities is crucial for maintaining agility in the face of changing business needs. Most businesses greatly struggle with this. 

Forty-two percent of businesses report being dissatisfied with their ability to scale their marketing, the second worst-rated metric. 

The numerous contributing factors include: 

  • Being overly reliant on outsourcing without hiring an internal team as the foundation of marketing
  • Expecting multiple competencies from a single marketing role — i.e., trying to hire or turn people into all-in-one marketers
  • Lacking the tools and SOPs that facilitate marketing scalability and efficiency 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Establish a core internal marketing team: Successful marketing comes from committed in-house people who understand your vision and mission. Outsourcers are rarely able to truly own your marketing. The solution is to create your own minimum viable marketing team. At its leanest, this is a three-person team: a marketing leader to set strategy; a marketing technician to administer platforms, web presence, and your CRM; and a content manager to create and edit your messaging. Additional specialists can be brought in as needed through agencies or freelancers. 

Leverage flexible staffing: Create agility by augmenting your core internal marketing team with contractors and freelancers whenever you need them, for example, if you’re faced with sudden opportunities, seasonal variations, or specific project needs. This way, you can effectively manage your resources and have the right talent in place when needed. 

Develop your in-house skills: Promote cross-training and skill development among internal team members to enhance the versatility and adaptability of your marketing team. Ensure team members possess a diverse range of capabilities that enable them to take on various responsibilities as needed, while avoiding overburdening them with multiple roles simultaneously.

Utilize technology: Optimize your scalability and productivity with the latest digital tools, such as marketing automation platforms and project management software. These can greatly streamline your marketing processes and enable your team to handle larger work volumes more efficiently. (This is discussed further in the Software Stack section below.) 

Part Three: Execution/Operations

15. Campaign Planning

Plan out your marketing schedule at least three months in advance.


Planning your marketing activities at least three months in advance can ensure consistent alignment with business goals and effective resource allocation. Without regular planning, marketing becomes reactive, ad hoc, and destined to be defeated by more proactive competitors. In addition, without regularly assessing marketing performance, less critical tasks can end up taking precedence over more important projects, and team members can lack clarity on their daily or weekly priorities. While a proactive marketing strategy seems fundamental, it was the worst-rated area among all 20 in our survey. 

Fifty percent of respondents indicate they don’t have a marketing schedule planned out in advance. 

The absence of a well-planned marketing schedule is often a downstream effect of lacking an accountable and capable leader, a core internal team, or a defined strategy.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Set clear goals: Define clear marketing objectives and KPIs for the upcoming quarter, whether it’s increasing brand awareness, generating leads, driving sales, or launching new products/services.

Outline campaign themes and initiatives: Identify the promotions, product launches, or seasonal events that will be the focus of your marketing efforts during the planning period. Outline the specific initiatives, tactics, and channels you will use to execute each campaign.

Allocate resources: Determine the resources, personnel, and budget needed to execute your marketing plan effectively. Allocate resources strategically based on the priority and expected impact of each campaign or initiative.

Create a content calendar: Develop a document that tracks your marketing output throughout the planning period. Include the topics, themes, and formats of the content pieces to be created and distributed across various channels (e.g., blogs, social media posts, email newsletters). Ensure the content is aligned with your campaign objectives and audience interests.

Monitor and adapt: Regularly monitor the performance of your marketing campaigns and initiatives against predetermined KPIs and objectives. Be prepared to adapt your tactics and adjust your schedule based on emerging trends, changing market conditions, and performance data insights. For quarterly campaigns, monitoring should be monthly. 

16. Software Stack

Give your marketing team the tools to do their job effectively.


Ensuring that your marketing team has access to appropriate technology is essential for optimizing their performance and productivity. This is one area of our survey where a majority of respondents believed they are on the right track.

Eighty-six percent of business leaders believe they have the right digital marketing tools at their disposal.

However, our experience shows two issues often occur at opposite ends of a spectrum. First, marketing teams underinvest by trying to push the limits of a tool beyond its intended use — for example, trying to use simple task management software to run an entire project, or trying to replace a CRM with a collection of ad hoc spreadsheets. 

Second, marketing teams fall into the trap of pursuing shiny new objects: they overinvest in technology designed for radically different or far larger companies. For example, they may hire a PR company when the target market is only local or regional, or subscribe to premium HubSpot tools when they barely manage to send out one newsletter per month. These kinds of misinvestments waste money and contribute to general confusion in how to maximize the marketing tech stack.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Choose the right tools for the job: Assess the requirements of your marketing activities and identify the technologies that best support your team’s workflows. Consider factors such as budget, scalability, ease of use, integration capabilities, and alignment with your overall marketing strategy.

Provide training and support: Be sure your marketing team can effectively utilize the technology that you invest in. Provide access to tutorials, user guides, webinars, and ongoing support resources to ensure team members are proficient in using the tools to their full potential.

17. Performance Tracking

Use key performance indicators to evaluate the performance of your marketing team and the return on investment of your campaigns.


Utilizing KPIs to assess the performance and ROI of your marketing is essential for repeatable outcomes and long-term growth. With any given marketing strategy, the key is optimization: constantly measuring success and refining tactics. A third of companies struggle with this fundamental process.

Thirty-two percent of survey respondents say they face challenges with performance tracking in their organization.

This issue is particularly prevalent when there is no individual held accountable for marketing performance. Another common issue occurs when businesses waste time tracking vanity metrics. These make a business look good on the surface but do not provide meaningful insights or contribute to lead acquisition or growth. Examples of vanity metrics are website traffic, social media likes, and email open rates. While appealing, none of these track real engagement metrics such as contact form submissions, inbound calls, or service signups. 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Set relevant KPIs: Identify and define the KPIs that align with your marketing objectives and business goals. These may include metrics such as: 

  • Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs)
  • Conversion rates
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLV)
  • Marketing contribution to revenue and ROI
  • Customer churn rate
  • Lead-to-customer conversion time
  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter scores (NPS)

Use analytics tools: Implement tracking and analytics tools to monitor and measure the performance of your marketing campaigns in real time. Leverage tools such as Google Analytics, CRM systems, marketing automation platforms, and social media analytics tools to track your KPIs and gain insights into your campaign performance.

Learn from the data: Schedule regular meetings to review the performance data to achieve two goals: assessing the effectiveness of your marketing efforts and identifying areas for improvement. Monitor trends, patterns, and correlations in the results to make data-driven decisions and optimize campaign strategies in response to changing market dynamics.

18. Iteration and Testing

Improve your campaign performance through continuous A/B testing.


Adapting campaigns based on data reviews and continuous A/B testing are essential practices for improving campaign performance and maximizing return on investment. The techniques required for this are not general knowledge; unsurprisingly, this was one of the worst-rated areas in our survey. 

Thirty-nine percent of respondents indicate they do not conduct any A/B testing of their marketing campaigns or attempt to adapt them to conditions or performance. 

This lack of emphasis on data-driven decision-making might be attributed to the absence of foundational elements in many respondents’ strategies. Consequently, adapting campaigns according to data and conducting A/B testing may not be a priority for most of them, despite it being highly effective. 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Drive decisions with data: Use analytics tools to monitor the performance of your marketing campaigns in real time. Analyze key metrics such as click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, and ROI to assess engagement levels and identify areas for improvement.

Run continuous A/B tests: Implement testing methodologies to compare different versions of your marketing assets, such as ad creatives, email subject lines, landing pages, and call-to-action buttons. Test the versions systematically, measure the results, and iterate based on insights gained to optimize campaign performance.

Establish hypotheses and objectives: Before conducting A/B tests, define clear hypotheses and objectives for each experiment. Identify specific elements you want to test and hypothesize how changes may impact user behavior or campaign outcomes. This ensures that tests are conducted purposefully and insights gained are actionable.

Segment and personalize: Segment your target audience based on their demographics, behavior, preferences, and past interactions to deliver more personalized and targeted campaigns. A/B test different messaging, offers, and creative elements tailored to specific audience segments to maximize relevance and engagement.

Document learnings and best practices: Keep detailed records of your A/B test results and the insights and best practices you can draw from them. Documented learning allows for knowledge sharing across the team and facilitates informed decision-making for future campaigns.

19. Lead Qualification

Develop a method for qualifying leads.


Having a well-defined method for qualifying leads is crucial for ensuring that sales and marketing efforts are aligned and focused on the most promising prospects. Many businesses we’ve spoken to over the years admit to handling leads in an uncoordinated way, and it’s an area where our survey respondents struggle the most. 

Thirty-two percent of respondents report that they do not manage a consistent volume of qualified leads.  

The reasons for this are organizational. There is often little coordination between sales and marketing teams, and no tagging system or CRM to manage leads effectively. This means that whatever stage a lead is at, it lives only in the mind or personal notes of the salesperson with no chance to be fed into a qualifying system that nurtures it. 

Lead qualification should be a priority for SMBs. By ensuring that leads are worth pursuing, you save time and resources by focusing your efforts on the prospects with a higher likelihood of conversion. Ample research backs this up. Studies by LinkedIn found that collaboration between sales and marketing teams to score and qualify leads results in a 55% higher lead conversion rate and a 45% increase in sales productivity.

Best practices and practical recommendations

Develop criteria: Define specific factors that determine whether a lead is qualified or not. This could include their interactions with your company, like downloading a lead magnet, attending a webinar, or submitting a contact form. Ensure that these criteria align with your business objectives and sales goals.

Implement lead scoring: Implement a lead scoring system to objectively assess the quality and potential of each lead based on the criteria above and how well they fit your ideal customer profile (ICP). Assign numerical scores to different criteria and activities to prioritize leads for follow-up so you can allocate resources effectively.

Establish lead qualification: This refers to the famous MQL (marketing qualified leads) and SQL (sales qualified leads) system. Establish a standardized lead qualification process that outlines the steps and criteria for qualifying your potential customers. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of your marketing and sales teams in the lead qualification process and establish clear handoff procedures between the two. This SMB’s Guide to Lead Filtering and Qualification will help you get started.  

20. Lead Capture and Nurturing

Develop a system for collecting contacts and keeping them engaged via well-crafted emails. 


Having a method for capturing leads and then nurturing these relationships is crucial. It is one of the most important aspects of the sales process, and companies that do it well generate more leads with less effort in a shorter period of time. As we saw with lead qualification in the previous section, there is a large amount of research backing up the efficacy of lead nurturing. For example, the business-mentoring firm Forrester found that companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost, and nurtured leads have a 23% shorter sales cycle and make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

Lead nurturing works because even if your ideal client lands on your website, they might not be in a position at that moment to purchase your product or service. So it’s essential to offer them something valuable in exchange for their contact information, and then follow up with outreach that addresses their needs and pain points. The objective is to be the one they think of when they’re ready to purchase. 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Offer lead magnets: One of the most common ways to attract and capture leads is through free offerings on your website that provide immediate value and address specific pain points of your ideal customers. They act as incentives for potential customers to exchange their contact information for resources they find informative and beneficial to their success. There are many types of lead magnets depending on your line of business, for example: 

  • eBooks, white papers, case studies, and guides
  • Templates, checklists, surveys, and quizzes
  • Free assessments, trials, and demos
  • Webinars or online courses

Publish a newsletter: Provide a regular newsletter with a mix of educational content, product updates, customer stories, and promotional offers to keep subscribers engaged and informed. Test different subject lines, content formats, and sending frequencies to optimize open and click-through rates.

Create nurture sequences: Send sequences of targeted emails to leads that are personalized and tailored to their specific interests. The sequence should address the lead’s pain points and showcase the benefits of your products or services. Use marketing automation tools to create sequences based on your leads’ interactions with your website, emails, or other marketing channels, and to track engagement and trigger follow-up messages at appropriate times.

21. Referral Engine

Harness the power of satisfied customers to champion your business and drive growth.


Having a well-oiled referral engine is the holy grail of marketing. It means you’ve established a system for consistently identifying and reaching out to happy customers to enlist their help in championing your business. This could be through writing reviews, participating in case studies, and most importantly, referring your business to new potential customers. It can take a long time until you are receiving consistent referrals, and it’s hard work to implement the processes and campaigns to make it happen, but the dividends are huge in the long run. 

Best practices and practical recommendations

Identify your champions: Use client satisfaction tools like Simplesat or Smileback to pinpoint those delighted customers who are most likely to sing your praises to others. Similarly, you can survey your customers with an NPS (Net Promoter Score) questionnaire that measures their loyalty and willingness to recommend you to their peers.

Create incentives: These are the people who could be your biggest advocates, so make sure you’re paying attention to them. Whether it’s a seasonal promotion or a special reward for each successful referral, giving your champions a little extra motivation can go a long way in driving referral activity. Incentives could be anything from free or discounted services to universally appreciated gift cards to simple cash rewards. 

Broadcast your success: Create accounts on referral engines sites like Yelp and Clutch, where verified customers can share their reviews of your business. And make sure to monitor the open review sites like Google Reviews, Facebook, etc. 


Navigating the complexities of marketing can be a challenge for any small business leader, but it is essential for driving growth. This article has identified 21 marketing pillars that create a framework for evaluating your marketing capabilities across strategic, operational, and leadership dimensions. Use them to identify areas for improvement, strengthen your existing resources, and make informed decisions for the future of your business. Embracing this approach will lay the groundwork for lasting marketing stability and growth.

For further insights on building your in-house marketing capabilities, arrange a no-obligation call with a Fractional CMO.


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