Any company is naturally looking to grow their inbound sales leads, and yet few seem to create systems and campaigns that deliver. The core reason behind this in my opinion is maturity or a lack thereof.
It is my observation that now the business community at large are generally aware of lead funnels, landing pages and drip campaigns, they build these complex systems with a perfect end state in mind and then are surprised when they don’t work. The reason being that 9/10 they are simply not mature enough to build out systems that put their potential customers needs first, they don’t fully understand the buying journey and they make decisions based on “ideal” processes rather than “as-is” practicalities.
In this article I wanted cover the different stages of maturity as I see them, the methodology I would apply to each stage and the difficulty in growing.
Although few of you reading would like to admit it, there are many businesses in my experience that simply do not keep good records of their sales and marketing activity. As such they only have anecdotal evidence as to what is working and why, and although they may know their customers…have no idea how to find and convert them.
I call this the soil stage because it’s about creating a fertile sales/marketing environment. At this stage it is important to define in simple terms your current customer base and desired customer base. You need to establish the sales process as it is today and define taxonomy such as what a marketing lead is, what a qualified lead is and who communicates with a prospect at each stage. You then ensure that you create marketing material for an outbound approach as well as focusing on materials which can reduce burn time by answering prospective buying questions.
The benefit of this is that it allows companies to review their definitions at a basic level and can be an especially useful exercise when expanding a sales team in ensuring consistency. The downside is that as an activity it is not strategic and a level of testing will be needed to find the right approach and messaging. The principal of failing fast is key at the soil stage in establishing a sales and marketing approach that is practical in nature. The soil stage may take anywhere between 3-6 months depending on your industry/vertical.
When you have both marketing materials and a sales approach which is working and this can be verified with data, you can then move onto the next stage. It is here that I apply key principals of Agile Methodology to the sales and marketing approach.
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Many businesses look at how to get the most out of marketing automation and drip campaigns, but simply do not have the throughput of data needed to establish best practice. Where marketing and sales sit in silo and communication is separated, it is no surprise that the best converting messages get lost. The aim at this stage is to establish consistency of approach, and best working practice for the individuals within that system and then consider the best tools for delivery.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
Here I would swap the word ‘software’ for ‘sales funnel’. It is more important that your sales and marketing functions are working than they are working perfectly within a documented system. That means that pipeline needs to be created, communication on different platforms needs to be regular and sales approach should be documented. At the flower stage, I would advise that a top-level overview of your sales funnels and sales processes is all that is needed, and a more comprehensive approach can be built using the data from this stage.
- Projects should be delivered incrementally
In the soil stage you will have established a target audience, creating the fundamental materials and approach to reach them. In the flower stage we can begin to expand outwards and this means delivering messages in a greater range of mediums, expanding upon the knowledge and references available and building outwardly based on the data of what is working. At the flower stage we can begin to build out basic systems for automation and pipelines, but they must be built on the “as-is” processes of today rather than an idealised version.
- Responding to change over following a plan
Although planning is always important, at the flower stage our ultimate goal is to establish best working practice so that we can begin to build robust systems and mechanisms. This means that we will have to be flexible in our design, pivot the strategy and platforms that we use to achieve our goals and not be afraid to go back to the drawing board. Sales and Marketing must create a system that minimises bottlenecks and encourages speed at this stage.
In this stage the ultimate aim is to establish best practice over the 8 key elements of a sales and marketing effort namely:
- Who you are today
- Outbound Sales
- Web Presence
- PPC & advertising
- Content Marketing
- Public Relations
- Events & Tradeshows
- Customer Retention
The Flower Stage may take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to achieve and I would say that for most mid-tier organisations, this is the level that they are at and is appropriate to them. Business-As-Usual activities and the growing rate of market change may mean that although building more may be desirable in the long run, having the time and investment to do so may distract from core activity.
In my analogy the different flowers represent service lines or verticals and should now be at a stage where they all have an established and successful way of working, a suite of marketing material and full campaigns.
It is at this stage where we can really begin to consider Process Improvement at a granular level and the question is not whether you should do something, but how you can improve what is working.
- Process Mapping
A growing number of organisation are realising the benefits of taking a process-orientated approach as a form of total quality management and continuous improvement. In the past total process oversight was an incredibly manual, but new technology has enabled a more efficient method of process management. When it comes to sales and marketing, if you have established a basic approach which is successful, at the garden stage you can then map out, examine and refine this process to reduce burn time and increase efficiency. You may consider the impact of marketing automation here and balance out the potential time -savings against the lack of personalisation. It is crucial however not to forget the role of individuals within your system and bear in mind that it is rare that one set of rules can be applied to all prospects.
2. Plan actions based on impact
Where before we were considering an overall plan based on 8 key elements of sales and marketing, once mature enough these elements and processes should be applied to each service line and industry. Although not every service line will need a PR plan or its own Content Marketing strategy, they should nonetheless be reviewed against objectives to determine the level of maturity and investment which is appropriate to each one.
3. Continuous Improvement
As the sales and marketing approach becomes more on testing and tweaking, it becomes increasingly important to have not only relevant data, but also the ability to read and understand it. Problems often arise where there is not one version of the truth. Having data in different locations and from different providers and people can often lead to a disjointed view of performance. The problem is often that combining all the data for a even a single prospect can actually overwhelm, making it harder to find out the relevant information needed. Too often data is collected that is not aligned to company objectives, or only serves one unit in silo. This is why it is always better to build systems based on what is working as opposed to building from scratch and map out processes at a basic level to see which different departments will be affected. There will quite obviously need to be a major investment of time at this stage, but as above it can be justified as you are building off of what has worked.
The Garden stage never ends, it is a process of constant re-evaluation and tweaking. Sales naturally ebbs and flows and new approaches and new markets will always need to be tried and tested, and will become more mature in time.
The formula for maturity
Even where an organisation may be aware of their own immaturity, the question remains of how can they effectively gauge the right timescales to move onto the next stage? The formula for this is relatively simple in that success drives all time investments. Create simple sales milestones, and at such time as they are achieved you can then justify the cost of marketing making more material/campaigns etc.
It is a trend and problem today that many more business owners expect the refinement and gains of the latter stages without wishing to first go through the building process. Without the necessary data and first hand experience, it is hardly surprising that many organisations are wasting time and resources to create complicated systems that simply do not work. Effective planning must take into account the current maturity levels of the organisation, as well as where it hopes to be, or will simply become an educated guess that distracts from core activity. Success can be used to drive more time investment in the right areas as systems are built.