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Most solution providers don’t put a lot of credence in marketing mostly because they regard it as a dark art where measuring precious capital investments is at best difficult and at worst impossible.

As a result, solution provider executives tend to prefer to invest in more tangible efforts to drive revenues, such as salespeople who call on customers or engineers that build offerings that salespeople can sell.

Of course, marketing people usually don’t help their cause as they wrap the process in empty buzzwords that usually make people who are that highly focused on the bottom line suspicious of being ripped off.

So, with an eye toward trying to reconcile solution providers with the more esoteric discipline known as marketing, here are the seven stages of marketing grief that any solution provider needs to get through to get a return on their investment:

1) Discovery—This may seem a little more than obvious, but you’ll be amazed how much divergence there is between what you and your employees think about your company and what your customers think. And given that customers usually have a better handle on what makes you valuable to them, this is always the best place to start.

2) Reconciliation—It usually takes a while for you and your employees to get over the fact that customers don’t see you the way you see yourselves. The best thing you can do here is get over yourself as quickly as possible and embrace your value as defined by your customer because chances are that’s the very value other customers are looking for.

3) Planning—Once you get past the first two steps, you need to plan rather than execute. Planning means identifying what class of customers you are after and who is the decision maker at the company. And, as part of that planning process, the most important thing to do is to hone in on what are the major pain points of your customers and create messages that speak to their issues rather than your own.

4) Build Materials— Only until you’ve completed the first three steps should you actually start building materials. Until this point, you have not spent an enormous amount of money. But once you start hiring people to build creative, time is once again real money because these people get paid by the hour.

5) Test—There is a natural tendency to want to rush things after struggling through the somewhat painful self-actualization process described above. But the best thing you can really do at this point is to test some of the materials you’ve built on a small number of customers to see if they actually resonate.

6) Execute—This is more complicated than just loading up the shotgun and firing. You need to take the time to figure out where to actually place your message. Well-crafted marketing messages are a massive waste of time and money when they show up in places that your customers don’t frequent. Or, worse yet, you spend huge sums of money reaching tons of people who have limited interest in your service. In other words, the more targeted your message is, the more success you will likely have regardless of how sophisticated your message actually is.

7) Forensics—Never accept it as an article of faith that your marketing is actually working. Markets and customers change and evolve. That means you need testing to be a continual process rather than a single event. It’s very easy for an evolving market to simply pass you by or, worse yet, miss new opportunities that could significantly expand your business.

Rather than thinking of marketing as an art, you should probably view it more like a craft. Artists tend to want to take a very long time on the first five stages of marketing. But it should not take a year to get everybody in the company to use the same elevator pitch. The most important thing to remember about marketing is that its primary purpose to lower the cost of sales. If you don’t see a drop in the cost of sales as a percentage of overall revenue, it means that marketing is not helping to open more doors for your existing salespeople.

This doesn’t mean you won’t have to hire more salespeople to drive up sales, but an effective marketing campaign should have a positive impact on the amount of profitable revenue generated per salesperson. And, at the end of the day, that’s the only metric that really matters.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at