5 Ways for Marketers at Mid-Sized Companies to Survive (and Thrive)

Today’s author is Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing at DNN. He is awesome and this research is really interesting. We are lucky to have the opportunity to have him on the Funnelholic today.


I’m trying to channel my inner Billy Beane. No, I don’t imagine that Brad Pitt will play my role in a made-for-Hollywood true story. You see, I’m a marketer at a mid-sized software company (DNN). In Marketing, we’re like the front office of a ball club. We make moves and stay on the look-out for interesting opportunities. But like Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, we have limited resources, compared to the New York Yankees of the software world. Despite that, management expects us to contend for a championship. This means that we have expectations comparable to the Yankees, but far less resources available. You know what else? The “Moneyball” tactics employed by Billy Beane (i.e. using analytics to derive unfair gains against statistically-averse competitors) are now commonplace in Marketing. That means that “test, measure, adapt, interate” is part and parcel of being a marketer today. Beating the Yankees requires far more than that.

Marketing Got Complicated

But wait, there’s more. According to a research report commissioned by DNN, marketers at mid-sized companies are faced with an increasing degree of complexity in the tools and systems they use.

dnn, marketing, marketing technology[Download a copy of the report, “Marketing Got Complicated: Challenges (and Opportunities) for Marketers at Mid-Sized Companies.]

Based on a February 2014 survey of 300 mid-sized company marketers, the report notes that particular marketing technologies aren’t all that complex; but the integration needed to tie all these systems together can certainly be complex. CMS, marketing automation, CRM, online community solution, webinar platform, A/B testing, web analytics: they all need to speak to one another. The majority of marketers at mid-sized companies, in fact, are managing five (or more) marketing solutions:

marketing technologist, marketing automation, dnn

Source: DNN 2014 report, “Marketing Got Complicated.”

5 Ways to Survive and Thrive

Billy Beane found opportunities where no one else was looking. Marketers at mid-sized companies need to act in a similar way to survive and thrive today. Here are five concepts to consider.

1) Use Analytics to Your Advantage

When all other teams were using conventional scouting approaches to player selection, Billy Beane went against the grain by studying player statistics and related trends. Beane decided that On Base Percentage (OBP) was far more impactful than Batting Average (BA). He made a number of player selection decisions based on that metric alone. In Marketing, everyone thinks they’re Billy Beane. So you need to become Billy Beane “times two.” Marketers at mid-sized companies need to develop and sustain more innovative and robust measurement methodologies than their competitors. A “culture of measurement” must pervade the Marketing function and important decisions need to be backed up by data. Once a baseline of analytical methods have been instrumented, go deeper and more targeted. Analyze data by vertical industry and user persona, then by user personas within vertical industries. You may find yourself winning business from community managers in health sciences.

2) Agility and Deftness Wins Championships

If you’re a mid-size marketer competing against enterprise players, use your agility to your advantage. Big companies have a layer of process, wrapped inside several more layers of procedure. You have far less (if any) process at your company, so take advantage of that agility. You can try a new tool and see if it accomplishes your needs. If it does, purchase it. If it doesn’t, move on. In the time you’ve done your evaluation and made your decision, your large-company competitors are still having meetings talking about whether to have a conference call to discuss the new tool. Advantage: you.

3) Predict the Future

Yeah, that would be nice, right? But do the next best thing to predicting the future: stay on the leading edge of the current. Several years ago, web-based A/B testing first became available. The first marketers to deploy that solution generated an unfair advantage over their competitors. What’s the “next new thing” that can have an impact on your Marketing? Maybe it’s custom content or predictive lead scoring. Only you can answer that question for your organization. So go back to your desk (or, if you’re there now, stop reading this) and figure it out. One thing I like to do is use a carefully maintained list of marketing blogs (using feedly) to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening and what’s next.

4) Hire for Curiosity

In baseball, “five tool players” refer to the cream of the crop: those who can hit for average, hit for power, field, throw and run (fast). Marketers at mid-sized companies need to be five tool players and they need to hire the same. But beyond that (ha ha), one attribute I look closely for is curiosity. I’m referring to an intellectual curiosity (i.e. one who always asks “why”), combined with a general curiosity to constantly learn new things and new skills. You want people who continually ask “why,” and then go on to answer those questions on their own. Next, you’ll find that they figure out “how” (to solve a problem), by identifying the problem without you telling them that one exists. Finding five tool marketers like this are like discovering gold.

5) Market Yourself Internally

Sometimes we get so immersed marketing our organization’s products and services that we fall short of marketing ourselves (i.e. the Marketing function) internally. Marketing may be able to survive without support from the executive suite, but they certainly cannot thrive.

marketing budget, mrm

Source: DNN 2014 report, “Marketing Got Complicated.” At mid-sized companies, 59% of marketers have a budget of $2MM or less. In addition, the average number of functions (tools) managed by mid-sized marketers is six:

marketing technology, dnn corp

Source: DNN 2014 report, “Marketing Got Complicated.”

For this very reason (i.e. modest budget, combined with a wide scope of responsibilities), it’s critical that marketers at mid-sized companies market their own results. It’s virtually guaranteed that this year’s $2MM budget will not see an increase next year if executive management is not convinced of the Marketing function’s ROI.


While we may face an increasing degree of complexity in our jobs, marketing at mid-sized companies has never been more fun. High expectations paired with modest resources gives us the opportunity to become heroes within our organizations. We need to be innovative, crafty and agile in order to succeed. And we need to look in places where others are not. If we plan and execute well, then perhaps one day Brad Pitt will portray us in a movie after all. The title might be “Revenue Ball.”

About the Author

Dennis is Director of Product Marketing at DNN (@DNNCorp), where he’s focused on product and content marketing. Dennis is a contributing author to the book “42 Rules of Product Marketing” and is a frequent contributor to the DNN blog. Feel free to reach out to Dennis via email, dennis.shiao@dnnsoftware.com or find him on Twitter, @dshiao.