I had presumed that most people, from sales directors to marketers, have clear cut objectives with their activities — but conversations I’ve had with people leading up to this piece indicates I’ve been dishing out too much credit. In fact, it seems that “activity over structure” is all too often the order of the day, so I wanted to explore that.
It appears that more organisations than you would think just “go at it” with sales activities in the assumption of some form of result at the end — “if we create loads of momentum and activity at one end of the cycle then at the other end we’ll see some form of result deemed acceptable for the costs and effort”. It happens, especially in smaller businesses. We can’t be entirely unforgiving here — often you will go into a new sales or marketing activity uncertain of exactly what your anticipated return will or should be, and in SMEs and startups there are more “firsts” than in a larger enterprise, so you naturally hit more unknowns and you have to test things to learn what does and does not work.
So you might be attempting something new — maybe your first marketing campaign or lead nurture activity — and you have no idea what you should view as an acceptable return. In this situation it’s easy to want to go to the numbers — “if an activity costs me X then I will set Y as my goal”. Numbers are tangible, a natural unit of measure, so it’s the first marker that comes to mind. The problem is what if the sales cycle for your product is a long one? At any one time only about 3% of your market is in a buying cycle, and when an activity starting in January brings a lead in February that doesn’t convert until three months after the campaign concludes, the sale could fail to be attributed to the original activity. This happens in a lot of companies and is often down to poor CRM tracking or usage.
So if you can’t put a semi-accurate £ value against what you’re doing, if it’s not a monetary activity, or if you simply don’t know where to put your stake in the ground because it’s that unknown, what should you do? You might not be able to model a success ratio for your activity before you start, but what you can do is model a channel or path that your activity will follow, with clearly defined markers at various stages for you to review and adapt if you need to. This is easier than you might think…if you plan it. I do this by breaking a project into the following three stages. It sounds simple, and that’s because it is…but you’d be surprised at how many companies aren’t doing it:
- Objective setting — “what do we want to achieve from this”? This can be tough if it’s the first time you’re trying a particular activity or, more likley, the first time you’re attempting to tap in to a new audience. That doesn’t mean you can’t put some objectives in play. The key here is not to tie a noose around your neck with your objectives. Break the objectives in to a number of areas, for example: “It would be amazing if this resulted in x” followed by “we would really like to see y” and finally “we absolutely can’t accept…” Objectives should also cover a number of broader bases and not be singular focused. If you undertake a sales and marketing activity because you want to sell more units of ‘product x’ this quarter, or increase you market penetration in a sector or geography, you should also throw some non-sales centric objectives in to the mix. For example, if you’re pushing out a marketing campaign to increase those sales of ‘product x’, you could also include a secondary objective around getting your content to encourage newsletter sign ups for related customer products. These objectives touch different teams, and that promotes the ‘group win’ rather than just a ‘sales person win’, which can be a morale superpower for your marketing team.
- Defining activities — “how the f**k are we going to do this”? What are the activities that you could undertake that are going to carry you on that objective journey? The more ideas you put on your list the better. Not all will make your eventual playbook, but it’s easier to take out at the beginning than to retrofit once you’re on the road. It’s also important to note that you don’t need nor want to use all your tools every time. Different audiences will be more receptive to different forms of content and communication mediums than others, and what resonates will depend on three main factors; what you’re pushing / communicating, what sector you’re talking to, and the discipline of the recipient (procurement, IT, CEO, CFO, etc.). So work out what you’re going to convey, how you’re going to convey it, who you’re conveying it to and when, what your follow up activities should be and who will undertake them, the list can go on!
- Identify measurement — “what are we classing as a win, or even a base hit”? These are your stakes in the ground that I spoke about at the beginning of this article. You won’t always know up front what tactics are going to give you the return you desire, but you can define up front the stages at which you’ll review how things are going. And you can build in some contingency plans up front so that if things aren’t going as you’d hope then you’ll have other avenues you can quickly execute and push onwards. For example, did I know when I started publishing articles on my website, Medium, LinkedIn and Twitter, what would resonate? No. But what I could do was set review points to see what content was resonating on each channel and adapt (and see what content wasn’t resonating at all and publish less of it). In the case of this piece, if the engagement levels look good, my follow up activity would probably be to publish a piece on a semi-related tool covered in this article, such as the power of email over social media as a means to keep your audience engaged, or the pitfalls of poor CRM adoption.
It’s okay not to have certainty over what you’re doing (in fact some of us, myself included, thrive better with some uncertainty). With so much content out there about how you should approach your sales and marketing activities, it’s easy to assume everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing.
The truth is they can’t, because every business is different, their objectives are different, and what will work for you depends on what you sell, who you sell to, where you sell, whether you’re B2B or B2C, how your sales process operates…everything. But you can always clearly set your objectives, and by doing that you can set your activities and measurement into a defined funnel. This enables you to review and quickly adapt your activities with agility if things aren’t working, and ultimately remain in control.
It’s a process that works for anything, and it’s not rocket science, you just have to deconstruct everything to find your markers, start measuring, review your data as you go and adapt where you need to.