Top marketing advice for those in a Private Equity backed business


I joined a business as Director of Marketing & Lead Generation when it was valued at around £20m. I left the business 3yrs later and it was sold for around £60m… how? A number of reasons, many not in my remit, but I did my fair share to support this increase in value, primarily by implementing a digital sales & marketing platform.

The first point to make is that I went about it with a plan, using a framework which I had used previously, which I still use and which I know works. I will describe it to you in this blog.

The second point, arguably a more complex one, is that executing a plan without distraction or burnout takes leadership talent. Whilst there’s no silver bullet, I will share my lessons on this with you too.


Lesson 1: Don’t be under any illusion about the goal


Do not be mistaken, at a company level the single goal is to create a healthy EBIT. Brand reputation and good will have their place, but not ahead of a solid EBIT in most cases (unless you’re lucky!). In basic financial terms, typically you will want to reduce both the cost to acquire business and the cost to serve business, yet at the same time ensure the business is scalable. The beauty of cost is it can be broken down to a departmental level, so in my case, as Marketing & Lead Generation Director, the goal was simple; I had to reduce the cost to acquire new business and ensure the way we went about finding new business, at that cost, was scalable.


Lesson 2: Be hard to copy


There are several ways to develop new business, each with their own cost. I would recommend you list yours out. Here were mine:

  • Outbound emails
  • PPC
  • SEO
  • Aggregators
  • Referral partners
  • Associations
  • Physical events (remember those?!)


Now, take each of the items on your list ask yourself ‘could a competitor who has deeper pockets have an impact my performance?’. Each source will have it’s own exposure to this. For example, a competitor can drive up the cost to acquire from PPC and aggregators by bidding against you. Yet, a high performing blog post can secure new business, regardless of the competition, just like a contracted association or trusted referral partner.

Most businesses will rely on a varied mixture, but keep the above in mind. Your exit multiple is built on demonstrating you can acquire new business at a low cost, and they also want to see it’s protected.  

I’ve been tempted to ‘buy leads’ in order to hit the top line growth. It can keep the wolf from the door and the sales team off your back, but it doesn’t necessarily build value and as soon as the competition wise up to your ways, they will out bid you and send your cost to acquire up. 

In summary, in order to build shareholder value think about your lead sources in terms of cost, protection and scale. 

Lesson 3: Minimum technology is probably enough

I am technology led in my thinking and have spent most of my career implementing sales and marketing solutions; SAP, Oracle, Dynamics, Salesforce, Pipedrive, Hubspot, Act!, Filemaker Pro and bespoke custom builds… and I have learned that in most cases they miss the point, hence our retainer service for SMEs.

The point they miss is that technology should be seen as nothing more than a way to process people. They start one end and, hopefully, end the other. Alternatively, they may leave along the way.

The main principles are 

  1. 1) keep people moving through the process. 
  2. 2) Use automated processes steps
  3. 3) Qualify people out of the process 


So, whilst there is an investment phase to establish the right technology landscape, technology is a big enabler to driving down the cost to acquire, as it can automate many of the steps required to capture data, nurture people and qualify them.

Lesson 4: It’s not just about new customers

There are 5 distinct areas to apply lessons 1-3. These are:  

  1. Lead generation of new customers
  2. Onboarding customers
  3. Cross selling
  4. Up selling
  5. Renewal/returning clients

It can get complicated, so I would recommend you measure your effectiveness of these on two measures: 

  1. Customer life-time value
  2. Net promoter score



Lesson 4: Understanding the sales and marketing interplay is easier than people think

The balancing act between lead volume and sales conversion rate, influenced by sales materials, sales process etc… but also MQL and primarily SQL. 

Lesson 5: Personalise everything

Lesson 6: Reporting and decision making

Keep it super simple. 

Lesson 7: Be political

Use the right language. Keep things simple. First board report. Last board report.

Lesson 8: Leadership

Lesson x: The handover




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