You are currently viewing Sean Parnell: Ensuring Small & Mid-Sized Businesses Win with Innovaxis Marketing
Sean Parnell

Sean Parnell: Ensuring Small & Mid-Sized Businesses Win with Innovaxis Marketing

There is that magical realm of Hope and there is that wicked realm of Despair. You live your life by the virtue of the realm you choose: in Desiderata or Deteriorata. While in reality, you cannot change your home that easily but changing where you live your life mentally can be changed instantaneously. 

When thinking about your future, it’s important to know two things: use sunscreen (thank you Mary Schmich) and that you can actually predict your future by developing your exit strategy and working backwards.

According to Sean ParnellOwner of Innovaxis and the protagonist of this Insights Success’s story of ‘The Most Inspirational Leaders in Business to Look out for 2024,’ “To achieve your goals, you need first to formulate them and work backwards as Merlyn did and remember: if you don’t know where you’re going, any way will get you there.” 

Life’s Rewards

Reflecting on his professional journey, Sean tells us about a crucial juncture in his life. When he was 12, his parents sat him down one night and said, “It’s time for you to get a job.” Sean was terrified but became a paperboy soon after and loved it despite being bitten by a dog, sustaining an eye injury, and having three vertebrae pulled out of alignment by the weight of his paper bag. “I should’ve known then that a life of work would be rewarding despite the pain along the way,” chuckles Sean. 

The idea for starting a business germinated upon joining Pi Sigma Epsilon, a national student sales and marketing organization, at its Northern Illinois University chapter (Gamma Zeta). Sean recalls, “We sold products and services that we developed as part of “sales projects.” He then took classes in the Small Business Institute at NIU, where they worked on student projects for actual companies, one of which culminated in pitching Baxter with an innovative surgical instrument invented by a local doctor. “I even started up my first business, Northern Marketing, which sold campus promotion services but probably didn’t net more than about $150,” he says, smiling. 

After graduating with honors from NIU with a BS in Operations Management & Information Systems and a post-graduate traineeship at a medical distributor in Finland as part of AIESEC, an international student organization, Sean started his professional career working for a market research firm that developed go-to-market and other channel marketing strategies for Fortune 500 manufacturers and service providers. He then worked for three different manufacturing companies in a product management capacity, serving on cross-functional product development teams – “I even led flagship product development projects, leading teams of engineers.”

The Evolutionary Curve

Sean started Innovaxis Marketing in 2007 with his wife, Lina. They provide marketing strategy and custom marketing programs to small and mid-sized B2B companies and nonprofits that want to fuel sustainable, double-digit revenue growth.

Challenges are inevitable. They are always there like teachers. Though, many times you might see them as villains. However, Sean, born optimistic, always asked himself, “What can I learn from this?” 

He is as honest as hope: “I feel like I’ve made every mistake in the book at least once but believe that it’s important to have more wins than losses – and there will be losses.”

Innovaxis has had three main evolutions and will likely experience more before it is over, starting with me, myself and I serving as a marketing consultant, followed by becoming an opportunistic marketing agency, to becoming a B2B marketing consulting agency,” adds Sean. Each evolution began shortly after arriving at the top of “Mount Stupid” of the previous evolution – i.e. that point where you think you’re hot sh*t and have it all figured out only to quickly find yourself in the Valley of Despair.

Living Up to the Promises

Yet, overcoming them all, Sean and his team Innovaxis made a significant impact on the industry. They’ve helped well over 100 companies and nonprofits grow and prosper, several of which were acquired without being for sale—“Like in The Godfather, they got an offer they couldn’t refuse,” recalls Sean with a glint in his eye. 

Telling more about his firm and its foundational pillars, he says, “Our #1 value is integrity: our work, commitments and working relationships reflect the highest standards of fairness, honesty and reliability. We live up to our commitments and take responsibility for our mistakes.”

Without integrity, what do you have?” he asks before answering. “In my opinion, you cannot generate sustainable results without integrity—nor lead a happy, satisfying life.”

When asked how his organization promotes workforce flexibility and his role in it, Sean says that they worked from home two days a week before the pandemic – “Now it’s three – and we’ve always provided the flexibility our team needs to have a healthy work-life balance.” Team members do not work long hours nor weekends, and they do some fun things together on a regular basis. Sean adds, “We also believe in everyone having at least 3-4 weeks of vacation soon after being hired – we all need ample time to recharge and live life outside of work.”

Technologically Human

According to Sean, technology is fundamentally important – marketing today is at least 90% digital in almost every industry. “So, we live and breathe it,” he saysFrom website development, Google, search engine optimization (SEO), and core web vitals to distributing thought leadership via content marketing, marketing automation, social media, and other digital means. However, it’s important to realize that good, old-fashioned print, mailers, shows, and shaking hands often play an important role – those who are out of balance may not reach their true potential.

As a side note, says Sean, they believe that AI is overrated because everyone claims to utilize it. It’s basically just advanced pattern recognition, which has existed in various forms for over 20 years until ChatGPT popularized it—much like Darwin popularized evolution. As with investing, according to Buffet, you get the AI innovators, the imitators, and then the idiots—and when the idiots show up, run!

The Emergent Strategy

Sean furthers that with ChatGPT, there will likely be an explosion of content, which makes original, valuable content—and the ability to find it—essential to marketing and sales success. That is why foundational marketing needs to tell your brand’s story in a way that resonates powerfully with prospects – hint: lead with the problems you solve before getting into solutions, features and benefits – and articulate your value through thought leadership – i.e., original content. Everyone else can recycle existing content using ChatGPT and the technologies that follow. However, when AI becomes truly sentient, everything may be up for grabs…

Blue Ocean Strategy is also emerging in B2B marketing as a way to render the competition irrelevant and tap into enormous, blue oceans of uncaptured demand – in a repeatable way.

Growing Together

Divulging his goals for the future, Sean says, “We have what I call the “2032 Plan,” which has guided our work since 2016. Of course, we want to grow our revenues and the team, but that will only happen if we help our clients grow and scale what we do so that we can serve more. Ultimately, we want to be one of the leading B2B marketing resources for small and mid-sized businesses in the U.S. by 2032. Tick-tock! (We’ve still got a way to go…).”

Finally, Sean’s advice to the next generation of aspiring business leaders is pragmatic. “Talk to as many people as possible and listen powerfully to them. Learn from their mistakes so you can avoid making them. Surround yourself with people who build you up instead of those who tear you down – and avoid those who are neutral towards your success and well-being as well. Get up every time you fall, just as Abraham Lincoln and Michael Jordan did.”