If it’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s to listen to our customers. If you boil down marketing to its core elements and principles, that’s exactly what it is; listening to people, understanding them and then solving their problems. It’s what we teach our clients in workshops and in consultancy, and what we practice with our own campaigns.
The virtual marketing services project was born out of the need to solve our customers problems, but the traditional consultancy model just wasn’t working for us (or them!) any more, and we had to have a sit down and reconsider what exactly it was that we offered our customers.
Identifying the problem
For years we’ve acted as consultants for SMEs across the North of England across various industries in b2b and b2c markets. Often we’d work from customer offices, working to develop strategies and campaigns to generate them more revenue, retain their existing client base, bring them into the 21st century or solve specific issues.
One of the major issues we faced was bringing their marketing team (or sometimes individual) on-side. The problem with bringing in a consultant to assist in developing marketing capability we often found, was that the person(s) responsible for marketing within the company felt threatened. Imagine if your boss all of a sudden brings in someone to do or assist in the job you’ve been doing. It probably isn’t going to feel great.
We found that we often struggled to get ‘buy in’ with these people, and we had no authority to lead, manage or hold them to account when work wasn’t done to the required standard. In some cases they actively sabotaged campaigns or dismissed valid ideas out of a misconceived notion of self-preservation.
Another problem we faced was fluid nature of consultant or contractor hours. Businesses often found that they were paying more than they were expecting, as campaigns took longer than predicted to complete or ‘mission creep’ happened and more hours were invoiced.
This was far from ideal for our clients, and it wasn’t ideal for us either. There’s nothing worse than an invoice being paid begrudgingly, late or not at all. Even if results are brilliant, there’s nothing like an unexpected high invoice to put a dampener on the mood. We want our clients to be happy and feel they have received value for money.
That’s why we sat down and thought about what we could do better.
Solving the problem
For years we’ve worked alongside businesses that have used ‘virtual assistant’, ‘virtual office’ or ‘virtual receptionist’ services. These are usually completely remote workers, that offer a high level of service at a significantly reduced price when compared with hiring in-house. They manage to do this passing cost-saving on from lower overheads, servicing a number of clients at the same time and leveraging opportunities made available by technology.
The idea intrigued us, and there are (still at present!) very few people offering the service. We didn’t feel that 100% remote working was conducive to good marketing, unless it was task or technical orientated such as conducting on-page SEO. We wanted to be more than that.
We played with the idea and created the Virtual Marketing Director and Virtual Marketing Manager solutions. They provide a combination of on-site and remote working, and target specific needs. Adding strategic capability to businesses that would otherwise not have it.
It allowed us to come into a business with a level of authority in the eyes of the current marketing team, with clear responsibilities to manage and hold them to account on tasks or projects; thus removing one of our main issues when working as consultants.
Rather than working from a time based pricing system, they utilise set monthly pricing, and focus more on scope of service than the number of hours worked. While this isn’t a highly scalable service for our business, it does mean we can have more impact on a smaller number of quality clients.
As such, the people we work with go through a selection and scoring process to make sure that we are firstly going to be a good fit, and secondly that we can make a positive impact on their business.
Testing the solution
Before openly marketing the services we needed to test them.
We leveraged referrals through our network and tested the services on 3 new clients at a discounted rate over a 10 month period. Ironing out operational creases, identifying new opportunities and taking on valuable feedback from our clients.
It was at times a frustrating process, taking ideas back to the drawing board and ensuring we didn’t fall back into the traditional consultancy style of service. But we were happy with the results, and most importantly so were our clients.
The next step was to take this revised version of our services to people in our target audience and outside of our initial referral network.
See how we refined it further using LinkedIn >