There’s an old saying about technology that goes something like “analysts invariably overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term.” It’s fair to say that with recent economic developments staring them in the face, more marketing and sales leaders have begun to make decisions about resources and strategies based on what they’re hearing now rather than what they know will drive success over time.
We are often asked to comment on market developments, something that we shy away from as it only speaks to now, not what our clients need to know to gain or maintain best-in-class status. In this article, we will focus on five key activities that will help get you past today’s hype and maintain your focus on systematic, predictable revenue growth.
One: Complete A Benchmark
Companies that focus on continued excellence have long understood the power of benchmarking, but also know it’s not enough to simply measure what and how you spend money, or how your demand funnel performs in a vacuum. You must understand how a group of peers that look like you – with size or industry not the only comparatives – as well as a group of companies that you aspire to be like are spending and performing. Over the past seven years, we have built a database that allows for these relevant comparatives to be made; they are a fantastic tool to protect budgets, to justify spending and to set realistic goals for performance improvement. It’s easy to start cutting when times get difficult, a strategy that is penny wise and pound foolish for most. The best organizations, on the other hand, embrace what is difficult and keep distancing themselves from the pack as a result.
Two: Enable Sales
Marketing is legendary – or better yet, infamous – for prioritizing its efforts on the top of the demand waterfall, primarily in the form of sourcing leads. In fact, we estimate that the typical b-to-b field marketing function spends nearly 92 percent of its budget at the funnel top, leaving the remaining 8 percent to support sales in its efforts to take good-quality leads and bring them to opportunity and close. This balance should change in any economy, especially one where sales cycles elongate and “no decision” becomes your strongest competition. Depending on the demand scenario, spend ratios should range anywhere between 80/20 and 65/35 between the waterfall top (sourcing, nurturing) and the bottom (sales enablement). Marketers that continue to endorse the imbalances that we see are not only jeopardizing their sales forces, they are jeopardizing the chance that leads they source will propagate into the waterfall and truly make an impact on the business.
Three: Focus On Process
One of the most underrated routes to better results is process improvement, something that often doesn’t require a budget line item at all. Every company employs sales and marketing processes that don’t work well, those that employees spend the most time creating excuses for or workarounds to avoid. Think about your lead flow process (or lack thereof), your linking of reputation activities to demand creation (or lack thereof) or the formal ways in which sales tries to apply tools and content to the buying processes it finds itself trying to shepherd (or why it doesn’t, or can’t). Taking on just one of these areas to improve the process that surrounds it may be an investment in time, but is one that is low in dollars and significant in potential return. An additional positive outcome of fixing the processes that are most broken is freeing up wasted personnel time, something that is almost certainly no longer a luxury for your organization.
Four: Maximize Vendor Investment
It’s a natural inclination of companies when they struggle to try to turn to a third-party vendor – be it for technology or services – for some “instant” help. Often, they wind up disappointed because they sought to automate a process that didn’t exist, or to simply outsource a job in the hopes that results would follow. In these times, b-to-b organizations must choose their partners with a newfound care, and realize that they may have to live with these choices for a lot longer than normal. We counsel clients to make sure they have sound, collaborative processes in place before they attempt to select or deploy technology, no matter how reputable the vendor, or at the least understand that they will have to work with the vendor’s services function (or another vendor) to create these processes. We also strongly support the notion of co-sourcing, understanding that just as much responsibility lies with the client to make a vendor relationship work as it does with the vendor itself. If your organization does not understand what it needs, how what it is buying meets those needs and what will need to be done on your end to prepare for a purchase, the chances are that you’ll waste funds that are way too precious to waste.
Five: Explore Cost-Effective Tactics
One budget bright spot for b-to-b organizations is the emergence of social media tools, from blogs to Twitter to LinkedIn. We have found that these tools often require a greater amount of effort and consistency to make them work than they do money, perfect for tighter budget times. Finding the right social media outlets and testing them – or at a minimum monitoring the buzz on your company – is a requirement you can meet without draining significant dollars from other projects. An example of where social media may help you reduce cost is testing feedback via social media in place of traditional mechanisms, or trying an online event rather than a live one. Depending on your market and where they turn for knowledge, you may find trying new ways of influencing the conversation is the best bet you make this year.
About the Author:
SiriusDecisions, a leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance.
©Sirius Decisions, October 2008. Reproduced with permission.