How to be successful marketing online

Date: October 2, 2019
Author: Kristin Zhivago
Photo of successful business people, happy with their marketing

In some ways, everything about marketing has changed. In other ways, nothing has changed. How can you make decisions about digital marketing without knowing which is which? How can you make good decisions about hiring, processes, applications, systems, customer desires, expectations, and preferences, without understanding how all this works—and the forces that drive buyer decisions? 

The answer, of course, is you can’t. Which is a big problem, not only for more-established business owners competing against more tech-savvy competitors who grew up with the internet, but also for anyone who is looking at just part of the picture. That’s the first, most common mistake that business owners and CEOs make when they attempt to attain digital marketing success.

When you’re being a customer, you know how much the digitization of business has changed how you buy. You expect to be able to find relevant search results in Google. You probably shop at Amazon, in addition to the more tech-savvy-but-smaller companies. You know what you expect to find—a wide variety of products, that are easy to search for or navigate to. You expect someone to be available via chat. You expect detailed product descriptions that answer all your questions. You expect reviews from real customers. And, thanks to Amazon, you expect “more like this” suggestions and “customers answering other customers’ questions.” 

This is the bar, and so few companies meet it that it is laughable, considering that the web has been a commercial medium since 1994, and Amazon was founded in July of that year. 

Meeting customer expectations is both difficult and expensive. It’s even more expensive not to try. If your site is not up to snuff, customers will come and leave, never to return; competitors will get the business you should have gotten; and your business will suffer. We have found that more established business owners are particularly susceptible, because the intensity of the competition and the complexity of the digital environment have snuck up on them. 

By now, they have tried a number of online marketing strategies, usually one at a time (which is part of the problem) with lackluster results. Meanwhile, tech-savvy competitors are getting smarter. 

This is not good.

So how can you be successful marketing online?

Frank Zinghini and I talk about this at length in our webinar, “How to be Successful Marketing Online,” which is part of our ongoing series called “Go Digital or Die.” But I want to spend time here amplifying and organizing what we talk about in that session.

Get involved, learn constantly, and do your part. Over the last few years as the owner of a digital marketing management company, and having seen which clients turn into shining examples—with impressive, hockey-stick results—I’ve come to an iron-clad conclusion. The most successful clients are the ones who work right alongside us, and do their part. The reason the word “partners” is in our company name is because we can’t do what we do without the client and the client can’t get the results they want without a partner like us. (Secondarily, we also partner with the best specialists we can find, which is the other concept behind “partners.”) 

I’m learning not to take on clients who think that they can hire us and then wait for the magic to happen, as they have attempted to do with other digital specialists. Only this time, their hopes are even higher, because there’s a revenue coach (me) at the helm. But we are marketers, not magicians. We work just as hard for the less-involved clients as we do for the more-involved clients, and the results don’t come close to those of the more-involved clients. 

What does “do your part” really mean? Just that. Being successful at digital marketing is a fast-paced endeavor. Input and approvals need to happen quickly. Tasks that are in the client’s court need to move fast. Thought needs to be applied. We’d rather work with a client who is super fussy but very involved than one who just accepts everything as is. For your digital marketing to succeed, it will take the full energy and deep thinking from us, with all of our digital marketing strategies and revenue growth experience, and from you, with your deep and detailed knowledge of your products and services. 

Digital marketing changes constantly. Google alone changes its algorithm 8,000 times a year. That’s more than 20 times a day. New tools come out every week. New techniques and channels are discovered, revealed, tested, and then saturated within a matter of months. So part of “doing your part” is to be aware of this state of change, to be willing to experiment, and to realize that no one—not a single human being—is an expert on this stuff. We are all in this together, learning every day. No one has a magic wand.

Embrace the fact that customers spend more time talking to each other than listening to your pitch. This is the biggest change in the marketing industry; customers are now the biggest source of information for other customers. If you’re really smart, you’ll get ahead of this train and try to figure out how to help your customers talk to each other. You’ll make sure that you have lots of reviews posted, everywhere people expect to find them. You’ll interview customers as often as you can to make sure that you are keeping up with their new desires, needs, and expectations. 

Understand who you really need to hire now. When I did marketing department turnarounds for companies as a revenue coach, I had to work with the people and the structure that was already in place. I’m happier right now than I have ever been in my working life, because I have been able to build the perfect marketing department, which we now “rent out” as clients need. This time, we—it has definitely been a team effort—have built an organization that is designed to deliver digital marketing results. 

What have we done? We started with the infrastructure. My very first team member was an infrastructure specialist, whom we fondly call our “app whisperer.” The world of business is now a world of apps. You need to pick the right ones and make them work together successfully. The person who does that evaluation and implementation is not just a nerd. He or she has to understand the goals of the business and how to make the apps meet those goals. This same person helps to set up systems to measure results, campaign management apps and processes, and the campaigns themselves. 

Then, you must hire channel specialists. Your digital marketing (with offline marketing thrown in as appropriate) will consist of a variety of channels—SEO, online advertising, social, email, directories, influencer outreach, account-based marketing, content marketing, a customer-friendly site, landing pages, and more. 

Each of these channels should be built and managed by people who know what they are doing and are a good mix of business and tech. They can’t be so nerdy that all their decisions are driven by “the cool tools we like to work with.” Sometimes the less-techie tools are best—tools that everyone in the company can understand and that you can manage. 

Success in a given channel depends on 1) the fact that your customers go there when they are looking to buy or discuss your type of product or service; 2) that your product or service would actually appeal to them (don’t guess; interview them instead); 3) that you can test the channel in a small way before risking too much budget on it; and 4) that you continually test and optimize until your results are where you want them. 

One caveat. There are many digital specialists out there. They talk a good game during the vetting process. Making sure you end up with a good one is not easy. One early test: are you getting traction early? Did the person jump right in and get to work? Do they have an obvious and thorough onboarding process? Are they glib, or thoughtful? 

Know what drives the sale. The problem with marketing is you can go through all the motions and still miss the mark, if your basic concept is wrong. For example, people selling B2B products and services tend to forget that the biggest driver in an enterprise sale is fear of embarrassment. In a corporate environment, everyone has their own personal “white board” hanging around their neck; the more black marks there are on that board, the less that person is respected. If too many mistakes are made, that person is ostracized long before he or she is fired. 

This is why it is so important to answer the question, “What’s going to happen to me after I buy?” B2B buyers do not want to be the person who made a bad decision. Software companies have been notoriously terrible about this; the experience after you buy is often nowhere near as satisfying as the developer would have you believe, especially if integration is involved. 

Measure everything you can, and make new decisions. The market moves fast now. The days of “set it and forget it” are completely and totally over. You have to watch, measure, ask, analyze, and decide. 

On the other hand, you still need to give things enough time to work; search engine optimization usually takes the longest. But online advertising can reveal trends in a month or less, if your audience is large enough to collect enough data. 


Frankly, I think marketing is more difficult than it’s ever been, and not just because it’s changing so quickly. Customers have gotten very good at avoiding sellers, who have gotten very good at automating their outreach activities. As a result, customers are inundated, and are pushing back. 

Whatever you do, don’t just sell. Offer something valuable to them, at each step of your conversations with potential customers. 

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