July 10 2023


Manufacturing and Marketing for Growth:  

An Interview with Mark Coronna, Founder and Fractional CMO at The Practical CMO  

Everyone’s Thinking About the Economy 

We keep hearing about a possible recession, which makes small to medium size businesses (SMBs) in any industry understandably nervous. We forget that the economy cannot grow forever and that up-and-down economic cycles occur historically.  

With the eventuality of an economic downcycle, your business model cannot only be to operate in good times and wait for things to erode during the bad. In an industry like manufacturing built on many family-owned or decades-old shops—survival in a down cycle is clearly a priority. But can your business thrive in a down cycle too?   

That’s where Mark Coronna comes in. He is the founder and Fractional CMO at The Practical CMO and has decades of experience as an executive in sales, marketing, and technology. Almost half of Mr. Coronna’s clients operate within the manufacturing sector, and his website advises SMBs on topics such as marketing for growth via his free blogs, e-books, and podcasts. 

Meet Mark Coronna 

Mr. Coronna left graduate school thinking he was done with technology and sales after working in a data processing center and having a poor experience purchasing a used car. Oddly enough, a couple of friends started a software company and offered him a sales role, which he took.  

Reconfigured into a role selling accounting software, his experience helped him drive growth as the company doubled in size for six straight years. He later moved into a marketing leadership role. He was there for ten years and left a well-rounded executive. He continued his career in businesses ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in various functions, including CIO, CEO, COO, and CMO. His career has been a combination of personal career planning and a willingness to take on new opportunities. 

A Fractional/Practical CMO 

More recently, he worked as a Fractional CMO and Area Managing Partner with Chief Outsiders. A Fractional CMO is an option for SMBs that need to get marketing initiatives off the ground but cannot afford a full-time CMO. Fractional CMOs allow you to tap into years of experience and best practices to get tactical guidance without paying a large yearly fixed salary.  

While on a two-year assignment in London working with big-name institutions on compliance, he kept getting the same request—tell us what to do. That gave him the idea for his current venture, the Practical CMO. If massive companies are asking for practical advice, certainly SMBs need it too. He now helps companies create solutions using practical advice as someone with experience outside the organization. He focuses on pain points and growth challenges—helping businesses to scale profitably. 

From the Outside Looking In 

It’s not easy entering an operation as an outsider—the key is approachability. Being able to speak the same business language is crucial, and his experience in various roles prepares him for this. A master’s degree in counseling does not hurt, either. He admires the sweat equity needed to run a business, running one himself, and this mutual respect creates a powerful partnership.  

Coronna does not come to your business with a one-sized solution because growth challenges are not all the same. Some companies have declining or plateaued revenue, while some are losing market share to competitors. Some businesses need to balance the risk of too few customers and market concentration. The hardest challenge is coming off a record year, then living up to the expectation by doing even better the next. Regardless of the challenge, discovery questions are asked before strategies and solutions get generated. 

“Each business is truly unique, otherwise, everything would be one giant franchise.” 

Often, Coronna finds that the challenge described is not the real need. An example was his work with a $50 million data company that helped operations like hotels optimize their revenue. They wanted to double in size and thought marketing was not up to the task due to poor lead quality. Once Mr. Coronna dug into it, quality was not the issue. The math did not add up, it was an issue of quantity, and they changed their lead generation strategy accordingly to meet their goal of doubling in size. 

Diversification and Scenario Planning 

In a recent blog about driving growth in the current economy, Mr. Coronna mentions diversification. It may go against initial reactions, but strategic diversification could help your business grow during an economic slowdown. It starts by asking yourself what healthy markets work for your company based on capabilities and ability to invest.  

He worked with a plastic extruder looking to diversify. 80% of their business was with large window and door manufacturers, and a concentrated revenue stream like this could get hit hard should the housing and construction market continue to decline. To get ahead, they looked at indoor agriculture and greenhouses, a growing area where they could offer trays and other equipment.  

He often utilizes an exercise called scenario planning, a unique way to think about the future. Instead of focusing on what you make and where else you can sell it (an inside-out view), he recommends looking at what is happening in the market and where your capabilities fit (outside-in view). First, look at all the factors affecting entrance into a market, including economic, competitive, technological, and social/cultural influences. Plan three years out and develop hypotheses about what key success factors would be required for your business to thrive. Scenario planning forces you to identify several futures and to develop the capabilities needed for your business’ success whichever emerges. 

Marketing needs sales to close leads, and sales need the exposure to start conversations—you cannot optimize one without the other. 

Sales and Marketing Alignment 

Mr. Coronna finds that many manufacturers are often sales-oriented businesses, and some do not have a marketing function. When a business does have both, he often hears that sales and marketing are not aligned.  

Having led both sales and marketing functions, he understands what it takes to create alignment, plus integration opportunities to make it one process with multiple participants. He calls his approach the Intelligent Sales PipelineTM, and this process means everything functions together regardless of ownership.   

Manufacturing as an industry often conflates sales and marketing with marketing programs focusing on sales collateral and trade shows. While both tactics can be effective, they must contribute to an overall marketing strategy to demonstrate value and attract prospects. Many companies need to see the value of marketing paired with practical benefits.  

Lead generation and revenue management is a process that must be optimized in a healthy way. When integrated, marketing plans and sales playbooks work together. Marketing needs sales to close leads, and sales need the exposure to start conversations—you cannot optimize one without the other. 

Manufacturing and Marketing  

Marketing is dynamic and complex, making it hard to stay on top of best practices and benchmarks, and that’s why Mr. Coronna often finds many companies without digital marketing efforts in place. He begins by determining an organization’s marketing IQ, looking at what programs are in place between marketing and sales and the results achieved. He then aligns your go-to-market programs with business goals to improve performance.  

He works with companies on a horizon growth exercise to get fast returns in addition to designing a roadmap for growth over 3-5 years. This gives them tools to gauge the performance of budgeted items, like tradeshows, so they can make room for new go-to-market strategies and reconfigure investments for a better outcome.  

He reminds us that the website is the foundation for these programs. It should hold all the answers to frequent questions and all the information about products and services. He once worked with a small company getting 13,000 visits a month but had a 99% homepage bounce rate after a few seconds. He found out that it was being confused for a government site and that traffic did not provide any leads. Once rebuilt and a new URL created, they could identify the right numbers that equated to true success. 

Marketing is Like a Soundboard 

Mr. Coronna sees a lot of random acts of marketing—when an organization supports tactics that do not align with business goals or build upon other initiatives.   

“A marketing strategy is like sitting at a gigantic soundboard at a concert and there are a bunch of buttons, switches, and levers. You can do anything you want with that marketing soundboard, but what are you going to do to move the needle to create more value and more profitable revenue streams for that business”? 

Marketing is a dynamic function with a return on learning (ROL). Testing, revising, and reviewing campaigns and program results are needed to ensure all your tactics harmonize versus making noise.   

A good marketing strategy helps you align all your people beyond sales and marketing. The optimal form of alignment is when everyone in the company understands their part in its success. Marketing initiatives get everyone on the same page in terms of goals, promotions, and priorities.  

Mr. Coronna ties all his advice back to profitability—diversification and growth initiatives as well as marketing initiatives should all tie back to profitability. This economic time presents a challenge, but rising to the challenge by planning and improving your go-to-market programs to drive incremental revenue and profits keeps you moving forward versus staying stagnant or worse. 

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