Mark Smith: Focus on your own strengths

Chief executive Mark Smith joined email marketing specialist TMN Media in 2003, initiating a fierce acquisition strategy that culminated in the addition of online advertising agency EDR and market research company The iD Factor.

The biggest mistake I ever made was criticising the competition to win business. I soon learnt that you’re much better off focusing on your own strengths, not other people’s weaknesses.

If you are thinking, ‘What is it we do best?’, business will return to you no matter what the competition is doing. You’re the one succeeding and providing a good service, so why would they look anywhere else?

A lot of people expend too much energy worrying about what other people are doing and don’t spend enough time trying to improve their own offering. I explain that to all new recruits in our business, from day one.

Shock of the new

With reference to the acquisitions we’ve made at TMN Media, my goal is to provide a one-stop shop for advertisers. But it’s never plain sailing – no matter how beneficial the additions are to your company, there is always a culture shock experienced on both sides.

It’s something that you have to approach very carefully. I now realise that you can’t just wade in and make sweeping changes, you have to let people have their say and gradually, over time, implement the alterations that you want to make. It’s a challenge to find that balance.

In any case, if you’ve found good companies with a similar ethos, you can learn as much from them as they can from you. Communication is very important: letting people understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. If I bear down on people with ideas, and never listen to them, I deserve everything I get.

The secret of good management is not to manage for the sake of it. If you have very good salespeople who are key to your business, you really don’t need to be going over processes with them and reminding them how to do their job every day. Give them the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, as that should give them the freedom to succeed.

Again, it’s about finding a balance. I think a lot of newly promoted managers find that hard to achieve, and manage everything to a microscopic level. Really, you need to be confident enough in your team to delegate. A lot of young people find this difficult, because they don’t trust themselves to do it well.

Develop your own teams

Email marketing is still a young industry. It’s really only about ten years old, so there aren’t too many people with a true wealth of experience.

Because of that, we have a responsibility as an industry to make sure that we devote time to developing young teams who are working in this field, rather than just searching for the veterans.

Unless we engender loyalty in less experienced staff, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by cannibalising the experienced staff who are available to us and wasting the raw talent that’s out there.

For that reason, I’m now a great believer in promotion from within – but obviously not beyond people’s abilities.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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