…is written for you if you are a leader of a business
- and you are determined to install processes and skills in order for your business to grow
- or you feel that your business should be achieving more with the resources you currently have.
…might have particular relevance if you are the leader of a smaller business that sells products or services to other businesses (B2B).
…is a summary from observing the successes and challenges of 32 determined business leaders who we have had the good fortune to support, in some capacity or other, in 2014.
…is, of course, not suggesting that your business will be successful if it implements just these 12 practices. Business life is more complicated than that. However, these practices make for a good start, and if you judge where your business stands versus these, you will know that you are at least on the right path. And, of course, this article may spark your strong opinion, which we would love to hear.
So here goes.
The leaders who were successful in growing their businesses in 2014 through successful marketing and sales, did the following…
1. They communicated clearly that their businesses were permanently striving for sales goals
The leaders may have been disciples of BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) thinking or something more scientific (such as Sales & Operations Planning), but whatever their approach, they knew that they had to have specific, immutable numbers and diary dates in order to galvanise the efforts of their team. Once they had these set and agreed, they communicated performance monthly, and to everyone.
2. They had a marketing plan that reflected the resources they had available.
These leaders knew it is too easy to create an unrealistic wish-list of activities that simply would not get completed. The credibility within their teams would be lost.
Some leaders used the 5M’s model for sensibility checking their plans:
- Money: they made budgets available that were realistic to delivering the plan
- Machines: they ensured they had the equipment for delivering the plan
- Materials: they ensured that the marketing collateral and new product pipeline was consistent with delivering the plan
- Minutes: they ensured that they had sufficient time available, in the right places, to deliver the plan
- Manpower: they ensured that they had sufficient people and skills to deliver the plan.
3. They didn’t over-plan, they just got started.
Our leaders knew that it was better to get going than to try to be right. They knew that their current view was just a best guess hypothesis, given the information they had to hand. And it was simply action that was needed to prove this hypothesis right or wrong. They implemented quickly and invested more if it was right, changing if it was wrong. They knew there was no such thing as failure, just learning on the pathway to success.
They retained nimble businesses and did not try to create a (turgid) planning function, reflective of a more corporate business.
They recognised where they were starting and, because their business journey had no end, they defined a vision (ie what the world would look like as a result of their influence). This vision kept their companies going a certain direction, rather than an alternative direction, and made decision-making easier.
In moving from a starting point towards their vision they defined a mission, or elevator statement, that defined their day to day activities by
- Profiling who their target client was
- Defining what the target’s source of pain was
- How they could help them
- What benefit their client got as a result.
5. They implemented a Client Relationship Management (CRM) process because they recognised that modern B2B selling is long and complicated.
Our leaders recognised that the modern B2B buying process required a very ‘mechanical’ sales process because:
- A buyer is constantly distracted and research shows that a seller needs to ask for a piece of business in excess of 5 times. Our leaders monitored where their businesses were in the marketing and sales process. And they didn’t give up.
- A buying decision in the modern B2B world typically takes 3-6 months after the point that parties are first introduced to each other in person. The successful business leaders found interesting ways (of interest to the buyer) to keep in touch and add value to the relationship over this long period of time.
- They realised that buyers are really looking to buy trust, not whatever was being sold. Buyers know that a ‘spanner will hit the works’ sometime in the future and, so long as the service or product they are buying is considered to meet the current requirements, they were looking for a partner who they could trust would be there, standing with them shoulder to shoulder, when something unforeseen did go wrong in the future.
- The buying cycle is long. Winning new clients is difficult and expensive. These successful leaders knew that the implication was that every person in their organisation needed to think and contribute to ‘client lifetime value’: what was invested now, and along the way, should be seen in context of the value of a client’s business over the long term (the most ambitious would consider 10 years, or more).
- Depending on the size of the buying organisation the leaders knew that more than one person was likely involved in the buying process. The leaders sought to influence each of these individuals: the Economic Buyer (the one with the cheque book or budget responsibility), the Technical Buyer (the person with responsibility for product or service specification), the User (the person who was to use the product or service), the Coach (the person in the buying organisation who supported our client, from the inside, in their bid to win the business).
6. They knew that they could not succeed over the long term without investing more in digital marketing activities.
Our leaders knew this is for several reasons:
- Digital marketing (for simplicity, think ‘website’) means that their marketing was permanently switched on: ie promoting their business was not limited to the normal hours of business. They knew if they were not undertaking 24 hour marketing, their competitors surely were.
- Research shows that a buyer typically makes 50%, or more, of their purchasing decision before they make contact with a supplier organisation in person. Our leaders knew that, in the old days, the first thing the buyer did was to pick up the phone, and that now the first thing buyers do is to conduct online research. Our leaders knew that if their businesses were not highly visible online, then they wouldn’t feature in the buyers decision making process.
- Digital marketing can be highly automated and measureable. Therefore, our leaders knew that digital marketing was a cheaper route to selling. If they were not doing it then their cost of selling would be greater than their competition.
- Modern selling is about building a feeling, within the buyer, that the seller is trustworthy. Our leaders knew that the internet is one of the first places that a buyer goes to in forming an opinion as to whether a particular seller can be trusted.
7. They had a marketing plan that measured activity and conversation rates
Our leaders knew that the only thing that really counted, from a marketing and sales perspective, was how much sales revenue they were winning. However, because any one sale was more than 3 months away our leaders had to get a feel if they are on the path for zero sales, one sale or hopefully a great deal of sales. The only way they could do this was to:
- create a pipeline of ‘gates’ that each sales prospect had to move through on their way to becoming a client
- create activities (eg send out newsletters, write blogs, make whitepaper downloads available) that were appropriate to the interest of each prospect at each gate
- measure the conversation rate of moving a prospect between gates.
They knew that modern marketing is so complicated that is it was not possible, nor made economic sense, to employ all the necessary skills in-house. They employed external specialists on flexible arrangements that enabled their company to keep their overheads low and their output high.
9. They stayed focused on their target markets because they knew that they couldn’t be everything to everyone.
They had limited resources. In order to keep on top of their game, to serve their clients better over time and to develop leadership in a specific field, they knew that they had to stay focused. This sent a positive message to new clients too because these clients knew they could be relied on to stay specialists for the duration of their relationship.
By measuring their performance at every step in the marketing process and the cost of moving a prospect between gates, they knew that if they invested a specific additional sum in increasing the size of the pipeline, they would get a specific size of sales revenue as a result.
11. They were very particular in ensuring that all their marketing collateral and sales talk spoke of ‘you‘ and not ‘we’.
They knew that to truly portray that they were putting their client interests first, they needed to talk in the correct pronoun: ie ‘you’.