Running an audit for a business is not a new concept.
Many businesses conduct audits, bringing in a 3rd party to help provide an objective assessment, whether it’s for financial accounting or regulatory compliance.
But what about auditing your marketing?
As a critical engine for business growth, we’re often surprised to find that companies fail to conduct a systematic assessment of their marketing.
Especially with the overall trend of organizations to focus on doing a better job of tracking and trending their marketing.
Why Perform A Marketing Audit?
Companies often focus on building a marketing plan, whether it’s mapped out over a quarter, a year, or longer.
And while marketing planning is important (we’re big fans of it), it’s only part of the process.
A lot of the marketing plans that we’ve seen define specific goals and outline initiatives that are required to achieve those goals, whether it’s expanding online advertising, doing more trade shows, adding public relations, or revamping the content marketing strategy.
But rarely does a marketing plan begin with a comprehensive analysis of where the company is today.
Not from the perspective of the bench mark of a goal (like being at 15 new clients per month and wanting to grow to 22) but from the perspective of the resources and infrastructure that is in place to support it.
The audit provides clarity on the marketing infrastructure and all of the pieces of an organization that support revenue generation.
When to Use a Marketing Audit?
OK, the idea of an audit sounds intriguing but what does one do with all of the data that inevitably comes out of it?
It’s important to note that, on its own, a marketing audit doesn’t terribly valuable. Without a framework to use the information to make decisions, it becomes nearly impossible to convert this information into action.
The beauty of the marketing audit is that when it is coupled with a marketing plan, the outcome of that is the gap analysis.
Essentially the point by point breakdown of where the organization is today with marketing, where it wants to go, and the distance that must be covered to support the goals.
Let’s consider an example:
Thunderstorm Motors uses a dealership model to sell its motorcycles, developing an arrangement with a handful of local independent motorcycle dealerships to promote their motorcycles. And while they’re currently doing 50 sales per month, they want to rapidly increase this to 100 sales per month in the next twelve months. The ideas on the table are to increase advertising, build more dealership relationships, and promote Thunderstorm riding clubs (aficionados call themselves Thunderheads).
Uncertain where to begin (or even if they’re equipped to achieve their goals), Thunderstorm Motors hires Inspire Business Concepts to conduct a marketing audit.
In the scenario described above, Thunderstorm Motors has a handful of activities outlined, any one of which could be the key to helping them to achieve their new goal.
Unfortunately, with the exception of increasing advertising dollars, none of them is easy to test out.
And even with the increased advertising dollars, there’s really no way to be sure why the outcomes are what they are.
When it comes to pursuing goals (especially aggressive ones), businesses need to have a solid understanding of there they stand today.
Institutional memory, assumptions, and process documents aren’t enough. Businesses evolve over time, constantly changing in countless little ways that create new gaps, new risks, and new opportunities that may not be well understood.
Marketing Audit Risks
Performing an audit is not a zero risk activity.
It’s very easy to become infatuated with the outcomes of your own marketing audit, seeing the world as a wide open field that is ripe with opportunity, if only we cleaned up all of our messes.
You will find things that scare you. You will find things that excite you. You will uncover buried treasure (opportunities you didn’t know were there).
Many people in your organization have a vest interest in the status quo. You might even be one of them.
And while we’re not big fans of the status quo at Inspire Business Concepts, we also recognize that as a living organism, businesses are only capable of achieving so much change before they lose cohesion.
When it comes to your marketing audit, we always caution our clients to have realistic expectations up front.
But before you start jumping into it, you need to start with the end in mind.
This means having a realistic understanding of how much change your organization can handle. Discerning the biases that exist within your team and making sure that they’re adequately addressed up front and along the way.
One of the best approaches to managing these risks is to have a communication process set-up, either in the beginning or developed along the way. Be transparent about why your company is completing a marketing audit and the long-term benefit it will provide the organization.
It is entirely possible that as your company implements changes as an outcome of your marketing audit that people may find they no longer fit into the organization.
This is a normal and natural outcome, especially if your marketing audit identifies dramatic opportunities. It may not be desirable to lose team members, it ultimately works out for the best because when your company goes through changes, you’ll need everyone on board.
Just make sure that people leave because it’s no longer a good fit. Not because you failed to communicate effectively or frequently during the process.
We love asking the question, “Why do you do it that way?” And we hate hearing, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it”.
And while it’s not our favorite answer, we recognize there is a core truth to that belief and the idea that “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
The reality is that many processes ARE broken but they’re close enough to not broken that things still get done. Outcomes are achieved. Results happen.
Often the outcome of a marketing audit will deal with weaknesses in the processes performed by sales, marketing, accounts receivable, customer service, and fulfillment.
And while it might seem like a great idea to go in and fix an obviously broken function, we caution you. Your business is a complex system of many interlocking pieces and it’s easy to lose sight of how pulling on one thread can cause something much larger to unravel.
When it comes to making process changes, we recommend evaluating the process itself and what systems it impacts. Determine whether the change is critical and the impact to making it.
It’s entirely likely that something down the chain could break. But if you’re methodical about it, you’ll be looking for problems down stream and be better positioned to handle them.
For many organizations the opportunities identified during a marketing audit require investment into the business.
This investment may be new software, the development of new processes, hiring new people, or bringing in outside expertise.
Some of these investments are sunk costs and will not yield a direct return on investment.
The key to managing this risk is understanding that but also understanding what the expected benefit is from making a particular benefit.
Run controlled experiments wherever possible. And if you have something where you have to commit in order to receive the benefit, commit to it.
We’ve seen companies fail to achieve their goals because they were not prepared to go the rest of the way in completing their engagement.
Your Marketing Audit
We’re not planning to give you the end to end on how to complete a marketing audit in this segment, as it would run hundreds of pages long and it would still fail to adequately prepare you for running one on your organization.
Instead, let’s revisit the example of Thunderstorm Motors and see how their marketing audit is conducted.
At the start of the marketing audit for Thunderstorm Motors, Inspire Business Concepts evaluates a number of key information points including (but not limited to):
- Marketing tracking systems
- Lead generation and management
- Sales processes
- Dealership support & promotion
- Customer service
- Buyer’s journey
During the course of the analysis, Inspire spoke to several of account managers (responsible for dealer relationships), the dealership owners themselves, and the floor sales personnel.
At the start point of the process, the data collection is focused on casting a wide net and seeing which pieces yield data that may be significant in providing impact.
Each opportunity is bucket under the broad categories of sales, marketing, service, finance, and operations.
Once that is done, each is weighed for potential impact and further data collection.
One of the key issues that was identified during this process is that the dealerships and the floor sales people aren’t really certain how to position the Thunderstorm Motors motorcycles.
Some of the floor sales people expressed frustration with the fact they’re never quite sure who would be a good fit for the motorcycles or how to position them over other models. A further review showed that the sales people with the problem were the newer ones (less than a year), which unfortunately for Thunderstorm, is many of the floor sales reps.
Inspire went back and pulled the sales data for the past 2 years. Of the sales that were made, over 60% of those sales came from sales people that have been on the floor for at least 2 years.
Once a significant data point has been identified and more data has been collected, it’s critical to dig into why that data point is significant. What about is is driving the outcomes that the business is seeing.
Since it is clear that the tenure of the sales representative is a significant data point (consistent with the feedback from the sales people and the sales data), Inspire had to figure why the data point mattered.
Inspire and Thunderstorm reviewed the dealership on boarding process.
When a new dealer signed up to work with Thunderstorm, an account manager would visit the dealership and provide training to all of the floor sales people about the motorcycles. They’d cover the specifications, the target audience for each, and the kinds of things they should listen for to figure out if Thunderstorm is a good fit.
And that’s the last time they conduct training. They send new product specifications when they need to be updated (pricing, model technical specifications) but nothing else.
When the old sales people leave and new ones join, all the ones see are the motorcycles and the specs. It’s not until they’ve been there a while that they learn what they need to know in order to start selling them effectively.
It’s often during this juncture that your management team can become excited. It’s clear that there is a potential cause driving the outcomes that Thunderstorm is seeing – it might just be that failing to follow through on the training is what is preventing them from achieving their goals.
But before declaring this a win and implementing a widespread solution, it is important to test your hypothesis.
To do that you need to agree as to what the expected outcome will be, how you will measure success, and what you will do to implement your experiment.
Failing to bring this level of intentionality to your process improvement, especially with marketing, brings the risk of repeating the same mistakes you’ve made in the past.
Working with Inspire, Thunderstorm constructs an experimental model outlining their hypothesis (that training of new sales people is important), a mechanism for tracking success, and an outline of the steps within the experiment itself.
Through the partnership with the dealership owner and management team, Thunderstorm put together a training program to work with the newer sales people and collect feedback along the way. They also set a specific time period over which to measure results – 3 months.
In month 0 (the month before the changes started), the dealership sold 12 Thunderstorm motorcycles (with an average of 14 per month for the previous 24 months).
In month 1 (the first month of the new training), the dealership sold 22 Thunderstorm motorcycles.
In month 2, the dealership sold 19 Thunderstorm motorcycles.
In month 3, the dealership sold 20 Thunderstorm motorcycles.
At first glance, this seems to be a roaring success. The average of the 3 months during the experiment is 20 (compared to 14), an improvement of 42.9%.
While they haven’t solved their goal of getting to 100 motorcycles per month, if they could increase sales by approximately 50% across all of their dealerships, they could get at least halfway there.
The first experiment in this example seems to be a success but it’s really only just the starting point. The initial results are good and further monitoring should happen. It’s enough success to warrant testing in a different dealership to see if the results are repeatable.
Marketing Audit Conclusions
It’s important to restate that a marketing audit alone is not enough to create results for any business. It’s just a stepping stone to finding opportunities and shining light on gaps within the organization.
Without taking action of validate the results and performing strategic experiments with your marketing, there is no way to extract any real value from the process.
Without action, it’s an academic exercise at best and a waste of resources at worst.
Marketing audits should only be performed by organizations committed to extracting all of the value they can from them.