Often people come to us because they’re looking for that silver bullet to all their business problems. Perhaps their growth is stagnant, or they’re busy but not profitable, or they’re unable to retain their clients, or they’re struggling to attract the best talent. Usually it’s a mixture of all these things.
The hope when they enquire is that by generating more leads all the individual issues will float away, but in reality they’re only compounding these existing challenges.
It doesn’t matter what market you’re in, there are certain foundations that always need to be established before worrying about growth.
- Your position – this is the single most important and it’s something that in my experience fewer than 10% of businesses have successfully defined. Your position is a combination of your core competencies plus your audience (what you do and who you do it for), and these decisions are at least 53,000 more important than anything else. Trying to develop a marketing strategy for a company that doesn’t know its strategic position is like trying to ride a bike without handlebars, only less fun and more painful.
- The product – whatever your market, your growth will ultimately b determined more by your product engagement and retention (see viral coefficient article for more information) than it will by anything else. This is particularly true if you are operating in a tightly defined customer universe. Your product fit will determine whether your audience is developing into a compound asset or just a series of burnt bridges.
- The customer experience – in some markets the product is the beginning, middle and end of the customer experience, but in other markets (particularly where you are selling a commodity or something else hard to differentiate) the broader experience surrounding the product becomes everything. Most businesses fall somewhere between the two. If I go to a restaurant, for example, the experience can of course be ruined by the product – the food – but that alone is only a small part of the experience which begins the moment I make contact to place my booking through the duration of my visit, regardless of whether or not I’m paying for any given component. In fact, it’s the moments I don’t pay for directly (and therefore anticipate) that often have the greatest impact.
- Operational excellence – as Stephen Kelly of Sage Accounting once told me, “A class exception and B class strategy beats A class strategy and B class execution, every day of the week.” Strategy of course sets the ceiling for any brand, but in most markets it comes down to marginal gains, not silver bullets, and those marginal gains are primarily determined by operational excellence. Perhaps more importantly, there is absolutely no point in trying to scale a brand if the operationa engine is not finely tuned, or the whole thing will overheat the moment sales and marketing kick in.
- Pricing/monetisation strategy – there’s no point tying to scale something that isn’t financially healthy. That will mean different things in different markets. In many, particularly those with a strong digital dimension, there may be a sense that the monetisation will emerge as an inevitable consequence of scale, but for more traditional markets the notion of economies of scale is an often dangerous promise. If you can’t achieve a healthy profit when doing things at a small scale, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to make a profit at a large scale. Understanding where you sit on this scale vs profitability spectrum is such a huge strategic consideration for many companies, particularly in markets where traditional incumbents are being challenged by more digital and scalable entrants.
- Sales – this is hopefully most obvious point of all – there is absolutely no point in generating leads if the conversion process is flawed. You will only be torching bridges today that could have been walked across tomorrow. On the other hand, if you have developed an unusually strong sales process, it will mean you can afford to spend more acquiring leads than your competitors, thereby making every channel more scalable.
Few things are more exciting in business than pushing the button on an ambitious new marketing campaign, but just remember that there are a bunch of other buttons that need to be pushed first!