Why Marketing Fails In Small and Midsize Businesses

Why does marketing fail? The E Myth Revisited, the classic on entrepreneurism by Michael Gerber, talks about the needless management failures of small businesses. I’m reading it for the first time (thanks Kaarina Dillabough for suggesting it). It reminds me of the needless, all-too-familiar small and midsize business marketing failures I’ve seen over and over again.

So here are the top five causes for marketing failure that make me wonder: “What are these people thinking?”  

Maybe you have a few others you’d like to add in the comments below.


1. Willful failure to understand and heed the customer

Small business owners can be so overwhelmed by operations that they don’t have time to communicate with customers on a regular basis. But what about those that have time for trade shows, association meetings and being wined and dined by vendors – but no time to study and interact with the influencers and decision-makers who can make or break their business?

The sad truth is many business owners, especially in B2B businesses, aren’t curious about their customers’ needs, ideas and feelings until sales start to plummet. Fail!


2. Failure to create key relationships

Taking it a step further, businesses often have no relationship with a customer company’s actual decision maker.  It’s not easy to form these relationships, but if you can offer them some value – information, perhaps – you can make your own luck. A B2B firm may get 80% of its revenue from a handful of individuals within their client companies. It’s essential to create relationships with them, ask questions about their needs and issues – and listen.

The same principle holds true for B2C businesses. If you can’t meet them in person, identify the digital marketing tools you can use to create relationships. Can’t make the effort? Fail!


3. Failure to develop or adhere to a plan

This is where a lot of companies let the perfect become the enemy of the good.  You don’t need a perfect plan.  But you do need:

  • An understanding of the people you’re trying to serve
  • An educated idea of where the marketing opportunity exists
  • Some ideas of how marketing might serve that opportunity
  • Some reasonable goals
  • Some ways of measuring your progress

A plan, based on some knowledge of your market, helps you develop momentum and supports your business objectives. What you shouldn’t do is lurch from initiative to initiative, with no organizing principle. No time to formulate a plan? Fail!


4. Failure to develop key (or strategic) messages

To me, this is the foundation upon which marketing is built. But it’s a step that even sizable businesses skip. So instead of being market leaders, they just muddle along.

Here’s a recent post that includes a “Marketing Message Starter Kit.” It covers a company story, value propositions, key benefits and positioning.

Companies that don’t develop a set of compelling, complementary messages, using consistent, plain-spoken language, risk boring customers and employees alike.  And confusing them. Fail!


5. Failure to address major weaknesses in products and services

Do your prospects just not get why they should give you their business? Do they keep objecting to your product, pricing, or to some other component of your overall solution?

Or are you just not listening to what they’re telling you?

When the market signals that you are not meeting its needs, go back to the drawing board. Invite your best customers to go with you. Make fixes that allow you to compete.

Unfortunately, many businesses think marketing’s role is to paper over substantial product problems.  Fail!

* * *

These are some of marketing failures I’ve seen over and over again.  I bet you’ve seen some – can you add to the list?

14 thoughts on “Why Marketing Fails In Small and Midsize Businesses

  1. Thanks Pam! “We” make it so difficult? You’re not including me and you, are you? 🙂

    I think for marketing to work in a small or midsize business environment, someone has to provide leadership, organization, some combination of knowledge+experience, and a passion for connecting with your community. Simple, huh?

    It’s a lot harder for those who don’t begin with the customer, that’s for sure.
    barrett recently posted..How To Avoid The “Solutions That Matter” Trap

  2. I’m glad that you’re enjoying the E-Myth Revisited: required reading for all my clients:) I do believe we make things far more complicated than they need be, in terms of serving our customers. And isn’t that what customer service is?…serving? And isn’t marketing all about getting your message to your target market in the ways and means, timing and language most suitable to the customer?

    Lots of people say they’re customer-centric, but do they listen well? Do they connect with them to keep them? (I’m astounded at the number of businesses who will spend time, energy and money to acquire a customer, then forget all about them once they have them.)

    I could go on and on, but I’ll end with this: listen twice as much as you speak, treat others as you wish to be treated, and communicate in a way that is understandable to the listener/customer. Cheers! Kaarina
    Kaarina Dillabough recently posted..What are you waiting for?

    • Kaarina, one of the things I didn’t like about the ad biz when I was neck deep in it was that so many well-paid “technicians” – writers, art directors, creative directors – not only didn’t listen, they had an arrogance that took them in the opposite direction of their clients. I find myself talking too much at times. 🙂 But in the end, I love to listen for clues, especially about emotional cues that can make your understanding much deeper, and your communications more powerful.

      Thanks for visiting, and thanks again for the E Myth suggestion!
      barrett recently posted..My Horrible Blog Post

  3. In my world our challenge is to change the customers perception so we are not treated as just a vendor and then get customer to fire the person they are currently using so we can come to work for them. No problem, huh?

    Key relationships are critical; better take the time to get to know the decision maker even if he is pushing the busy work down stream and that’s who you deal with on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been fired more than once because the person I had the relationship with was not calling the shots.

    I don’t disagree with any of your 5.
    Bill Dorman recently posted..Who is your bell cow?

    • Bill, if your job was easy, then anyone could do it, right?

      If you’re able to change people’s perspective, I bet you’re a good listener (to Kaarina’s point). If you want what you say to make an impact, you’d better listen, and listen well. How you can have a good back-and-forth, and create great relationships otherwise?

      I’ve also lost business because I didn’t make the effort to build a relationship with the right people in the client’s organization. You live and you learn, huh?

      So, can you add to the 5? I bet you can, you deal with lots of small businesses don’t you?
      barrett recently posted..Rethink B2B Marketing

      • Yeah, for businesses that are beyond small and startup stage, for sure. “Failure of the CEO to engage and set direction.” The best campaigns I was ever involved in included a president, CEO or general manager. When a marketing consultant is working for a marketing director, the work gets filtered down a bit.

        Marketing directors can sometimes be hesitant to bring a CEO (or whoever the boss is) into the process. They may think that they’ll look bad in the process. Or they may think that their job is to protect CEO from time-suck meetings. But if the CEO isn’t part of the process, the end result will suffer, one way or another.

  4. Will ad that book to my ‘maybe someday I’ll read another business book’ list. 😉 The lack of plan – it’s one of my biggest peeves of late b/c it’s become so undervalued. Everyone wants everything right now already, but not take the time – and expense – of coming up w/ a strategy. Winging it won’t but no one wants to hear that, wants to skip over the icky ‘work’ parts.

    All these are spot-on, so I’ll just highlight #2. I’m a PR after all; relationships take time to develop and so many get it wrong. The key influencers may not be who you think they are, so you could be working the wrong people. Sure C-level exec may make the final call but that’s only after being presented a narrowed-down list from the most trusted of the rank-n-file gatekeepers and mid-managers. FWIW.
    Davina K. Brewer recently posted..Please don’t change MY Twitter

    • Davina, I’ve read, and can believe, that most B2B companies focus a disproportionate amount of their efforts on purchasing agents and end users, when the majority of efforts should be focused on the influencers and the P&L owner. Rings true to my experience. If my business derived 80% of its revenue from fewer than 10 clients, I’d sure as heck try figure out some program to engage the influencers and decision makers on a much more meaningful level than an interchangeable and replaceable supplier!
      barrett recently posted..Two Grocery Stores, Two Lessons

    • This blog just became more international! Thanks for your comment Tim.

      Small businesses have special marketing challenges, and not all of them are related to budget. It’s hard for business owners and managers who are stretched for time to actually work on their business, rather than simply in it. That’s the basis of The E Myth Revisited. It’s one of those ideas you probably always understood, but the author articulates it beautifully.

  5. Pingback: Business Results - DON’T Keep Your Eye on the Prize - Clarity for the Boss

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge