“Thanks to Sharon Spooler and Chief Outsiders, I understand marketing better. I understand how to strategically approach things, which questions to ask, and how to use data to drive results.” Josh Garner, CEO, AvantGuard Monitoring Centers, Inc./Freeus
A consummate entrepreneur, Josh Garner built successful sister companies that provide security alarm monitoring systems and medical alert devices. The operationally-focused business experienced substantial growth, but the growth felt accidental. Desiring a strategy to ensure continued, measurable expansion, Garner engaged Sharon Spooler from Chief Outsiders. Spooler built a tactical plan that blended Garner’s operational focus with data-driven marketing. As a result, not only has the company experienced strong growth in the past year, but Garner now has the framework to make better marketing investment decisions going forward.
Strategy for Growth
AvantGuard and its sister company, Freeus, provide alarm monitoring and medical alert devices. Thanks to a caring, family-oriented business culture, high quality products, excellent customer service and intuitive leadership, the company has enjoyed solid success.
Even so, CEO Josh Garner knew there was room for improvement. As he said,
“Our business was very operationally focused, not very sales or market driven. All of our growth felt like it happened on accident. We needed to put some strategy behind it.”
Process Engineering Meets Marketing
While at a business event, Garner mentioned to another CEO his desire to find a way for the company to up its marketing game. That discussion led Garner to Chief Outsiders and Sharon Spooler.
Spooler, a Civil Engineering and Operations Research major from Princeton with a background in applied mathematics and process management, turned out to be a great match for AvantGuard. The idea that marketing could be systematic, logical, process-oriented and measurable resonated with Garner.
“When I engaged with Sharon, I soon learned that there is science behind marketing,” he explained.
Like many operationally-focused CEOs, Garner thought of marketing in terms of ads and creativity. He needed a way to judge whether or not his marketing was getting a good return on investment. Spooler explained it this way,
“I have seen many operational CEOs frustrated with marketing. They assume marketing is not measurable. They wonder if they should be getting more, but they don’t know which questions to ask.”
Engagement and Education
After a couple of initial onsite meetings to kick off the ten-month engagement, Spooler traveled to AvantGuard corporate offices once a month for two or three days. In addition, she would join executive meetings and meet with the marketing and sales teams remotely.
Over the first three months, she developed a snapshot of the business in its current state, as well as a plan for moving forward.
“The plan provided a view of what marketing could do for the companies, and what people, processes and technology are needed in order to accomplish that,” Spooler explained.
Once Garner identified an area of focus, Spooler began making customer calls and conducting market research. Her research yielded insights into key demographics, competitors, and also untapped market opportunities.
Next, she brought together ten or twelve CMOs from Chief Outsiders to conduct a peer review. This group outlined several growth options and described the pros and cons of the different directions. The peer group met again to review the strategy before it was presented. For Garner, these peer reviews were particularly impactful.
“Sharon took all of the challenges and projects that we were working on and presented them to an advisory group of other Chief Outsiders,” said Garner. “It was great to know that there were other people thinking about my business.”
Strategic Marketing Plan
Armed with market research, Spooler outlined a strategy to address both the immediate need for measurable growth and a roadmap for the future. This strategy included several key points:
- Customer Segmentation – Recognizing that a single approach was not likely to fit all scenarios, Spooler mapped the top 20-30 customers into segments according to current sales and customer profit potential. The plan then identified strategies to match each segment.
- New Distribution Opportunities – Upon determining trends in the marketplace, Spooler outlined new distribution models, evaluating the opportunities and risks involved with each.
- Product Roadmap Planning – She recommended plans for the launch of new products and end-of-life planning for older devices.
- Long-term Innovation – Looking beyond 2018, Spooler outlined a plan to combine marketing with business development to stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of evolving technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT).
With the strategic plan as a starting point, Spooler developed detailed marketing tactics specific to the medical alert device side of the business. Building on the key strategies above, the tactical plan included:
- Identifying key marketing hires
- Executing current marketing channels, including trade shows and search engine optimization (SEO)
- Testing or building new channels through outbound lead generation, pay-per-click (PPC) and digital advertising testing, and marketing partnerships
- Launching new products
- Improving marketing automation through better processes for handling website and email leads and more effective Google Analytics
By introducing metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs), the company gained the ability to measure success by factors such as the number of leads generated, ROI by marketing programs, and ROI by channel.
Purposeful Sustained Growth
Spooler estimated that the business was on a steady growth trajectory in 2017 compared to the prior year. This was exactly the result Garner hoped to gain by engaging Chief Outsiders.
“It’s yielded continued growth,” he reported. “That was my biggest concern or question prior to this. How can we sustain our growth? How can we continue to grow if it’s just been on accident? We needed to be more purposeful.”
Framework for Marketing Investment Decisions
In addition to generating significant growth, the process of carefully evaluating marketing and distribution options taught Garner the right questions to ask. It also provided him with the understanding of how to use data to achieve desired outcomes.
Because they now had the tools in place to clearly identify both the source of new leads generated and the strength of those leads, Garner’s team could more easily determine which processes yielded results.
“I think a key result of the engagement is having a framework to make better marketing investment decisions and to evaluate the performance of marketing,” explained Spooler.
Balanced Approach for Future Growth
For leaders, like Garner, who are operational by training and by approach, it can be highly frustrating to see marketing as fluffy and not measurable. Spooler helped Garner to find the synergy between the creative, organic side of marketing and the more logical, process-oriented side. This, in turn allowed him to chart a powerful path for future growth.
“Thanks to our engagement with Chief Outsiders,” reports Garner, “I now know what it’s going to take to continue to grow our business.”