Focus on What Matters: Get Your Marketing House in Order


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I am fascinated by the strategies/methodologies used by business turnaround specialists — especially since a number of these can be used to increase the effectiveness and performance of your marketing department, as well as its ability to impact revenue. How can you tell if your marketing department is failing or needs a tune up? Here are five key indicators:

  • The sales department is not making its revenue targets. A CEO boss that I respected greatly used to say that enough revenue can cover a multitude of sins, but a lack of revenue is always a problem. When revenue is low, there is often a hunt for the guilty party, and that guilty party is often perceived (rightly or wrongly) as marketing.
  • Failure to meet external commitments. We marketing types are usually optimistic and love to please. While admirable qualities, this can get us in trouble if we don’t make our lofty projections. Even the most hard-working marketing departments can be perceived as inadequate if they over-promise. Yes, I have been guilty of this and have learned the hard way that it is best to be a bit conservative and over-deliver.
  • Not being perceived as “significant” players. Respect can be a fragile commodity on the executive team. The CMO has a delicate balance between meeting the needs of the sales force, while not caving to unreasonable demands or counterproductive approaches. This is where experience and a great understanding of the entire lead-to-revenue process are crucial.
  • Inability to get stuff done. Executives love to see their marketing departments busy producing a lot in terms of leads, events, content, website updates, and so forth. I’ve seen situations where the CEO makes it incredibly difficult on the marketing department, either through relentless oversight, or through lack of people or dollar resources. Hopefully, you are part of a company that allows you the autonomy and budget to carry out your mission.
  • Competition is making your life miserable. Bigger and richer competitors can be both a curse and blessing. A curse, because it is hard to keep up with large budgets and people want to demolish you. A blessing, because as a smaller company, you can be more nimble and proactive. I’ve worked for and with smaller and bigger marketing departments and I will take a smaller band of smart and dedicated marketers over a large but bureaucratic and slow-moving team any day.

As mentioned above, I enjoy studying business turnarounds to learn lessons for marketing and sales. One of the best I have read is Right Away and All at Once, by Greg Brenneman, the person responsible for successful turnarounds at companies like Continental Airlines and Burger King. Brenneman talks about the concept of using blue chips, red chips and white chips to describe the items that contribute to success. Blue chips are the high value activities, red chips the moderate value and white chips have little or no value. His advice is that you figure out 4-5 blue chip activities and work on only those — and, as the book suggests, do them right away and all at once.

Blue Chip Areas to Boost Your Performance


Your “blue chip” items are those few things that you can accomplish that have enough impact to stabilize and optimize your marketing foundation? Here are some suggestions:

  • Branding. If your brand and topline messaging are weak and non-differentiated, this will be a tough hurdle to overcome. If you’re not sure of the strength of your brand, take this brief Brand Health Assessment and Scorecard .
  • Website. A larger majority of companies could use improvement to their website in areas such as: Improving organic search visibility; converting visitors to opt-in contacts or leads; and educating prospects to shorten the sales cycle.
  • Marketing and sales model. We refer to this as building the lead-to-revenue (L2R) machine. It covers every aspect of what happens between what you do to create brand awareness and what you do to close the sale and retain the customer. To learn more, you can download an eBook titled The Essential Guide to Building Your Lead-to-Revenue (L2R) Machine.
  • Content. Every part of your lead-to-revenue model will utilize content aimed at the appropriate part of the buyer’s journey. We use tools like content maps and sitemaps to chart the go-forward content plan. Equally important is the content propagation strategy (utilizing social media platforms) to make sure your content is seen by the right people at the right time.

If you are already strong in some or all of these areas, your blue chips may vary somewhat. As an example, a cloud-based software client had a great product and excellent staff, but the marketing function was in need of a performance boost. My five blue chip items were:

  1. Cutting the cost per sales opportunity from $950 to $400.
  2. Boosting company awareness (as validated by website traffic) by 70%.
  3. Moving from a primary push marketing model (90% of leads) to a blended model of 60% push and 40% pull.
  4. Getting the company listed on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for our category.
  5. Having at least four partners producing revenue.

We fully achieved items 1, 2 and 4 and have made decent progress on 3 and 5. Most important, my team was considered a big asset in fueling the growth of the company and we stayed well clear of the marketing failure zone I talked about at the beginning of this article.

Your blue chip activities and objectives will be different from mine, but the important thing is to figure them out and (borrowing Brenneman’s title) act Right Away and All at Once.


  1. Chris, I enjoyed your discussion on the bluechip mindset. Too often, the desire to make changes in business is stifled by a perceived lack of time. And there is no doubt that time seems to move faster when important decisions need to be made. But at the same time, effectively managing your time means taking a hard look at what is truly important. Additionally, it serves no purpose whatsoever to misuse your time or put things off, because time is what holds (or doesn’t hold everything together).

    You cannot honestly say that you are properly managing marketing and business aspects if you aren’t managing your time wisely. And music to your ears should be that the one thing you actually have control over is how YOU systematically approach your work. Going through the bluechip exercise as you suggest reminds us of Pareto’s 80/20 rule – that we spend 80% of our time doing things that will only give us a return of 20%. Likewise, the other 20% of our time that we spend on work actually gets us 80% of our results. And a critical aspect of making your bluechip list comes before you even start: You come to the realization that you need to make it in the first place. Now, that is time well spent!

    You cannot do everything you want to do all of the time. If you take the time to “stabilize and optimize your marketing foundation,” then you will be able to take a realistic assessment of your current state and proactively choose and pursue growth-producing bluechip activities.

  2. Hi Elise, glad you found the blue chip strategy to be so helpful. Proper prioritization of time and financial resources is indeed the key to building not only as solid marketing foundation but also creating ongoing improvement.


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