The RIDE THE WAVE Series - #10

Marketing and Sales Blog

The RIDE THE WAVE Series – #10


“If I’m writing, a lot of it really hinges on how well the writing goes. If I need to be writing and it’s just a really shitty writing day, like nothing’s coming out, nothing sounds good, usually after a couple of hours I let it go and just call the day a loss. Or, if the writing does go well, I’ll ride that wave as long as I can.”

– Mark Manson, Best Selling Author of The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck




QUESTION: What are the trends or new challenges within your industry and market?

The new market conditions have changed the business landscape for organizations. Marketing and sales leadership will need to change their mindset as well as develop new skills and capabilities to keep their organizations competitive. Leadership will need to experiment with new ideas, prototype strategies, and use failure as a way to manage the changing conditions. The three principles of the surfer provide a new process for business leaders to ride the wave of change and find success in the new conditions. The principles can be applied to any new sales or marketing challenge and used as a discovery process to create a roadmap for new strategic initiatives. The first step in the process is to take an external look outside the organization to identify the new trends and challenges happening within your industry and specific market.

ACTION: Industry and Market Analysis

What has happened in the industry or market within the last six to twelve months? What has changed the way customers buy or the way products or services are marketed and sold? What are the trends you need to consider when creating a new sales or marketing initiative? The answers to these questions will come from exploring how market or industry changes are impacting your organization as well as your customers. Exploring the new challenges will provide you with insight into how they are impacting your team members’ ability to do their jobs and how customers are finding solutions to their problems. Gaining insight into the trends and changes will impact your strategic decisions during this process. Most organizations are so focused on the internal challenges that looking externally, outside the organization, can be very hard. Understanding how your industry or the market is being impacted by new technology, new regulations, or new trends will be important as you take your first steps with the process.


Organizations can approach the industry and market analysis as a two-step process. 1) Get your teams together to openly discuss the current challenges and the kind of obstacles they are facing outside the organization. The biggest challenge for your teams will be stepping out of the business to think critically about the market or industry and not their specific roles inside the organization. What new initiatives have fallen flat in the last six months? Was this a result of internal failures or were there greater external challenges impeding progress? 2) Conduct informational interviews with customers and ask about their current challenges. Are they seeking alternatives because of new challenges or market changes? Are the internal challenges your teams are experiencing related to the  challenges  your  customers  are  facing?  Avoid trying to sell or market your products to customers, and instead, use this opportunity to understand their needs. This approach will build trust and also give you the insight you need to evaluate the market and industry more effectively.


QUESTION: How are customers learning about your product or service?

After gaining insight into the industry and market, the next step is to start to understand how customers are learning about your products or services. This part of the process helps you to understand how a potential customer searches for and finds information and learns about your offering. How are they educating themselves during their unique decision journey and what information are they using to make their final purchase decision? Customers are most likely using your website, marketing materials, and sales resources to find the information they need to make a decision. But are there other sources of information available to customers through other channels not managed by your organization? What does the decision journey look like and is the information they are using to make a decision positioning your product or service in the best possible light? Understanding how customers are buying from you will be the next step to better understanding their unique customer journey.

ACTION:  Customer Mapping

Customers now have more ways to source information for the products and services they want to buy. Oftentimes, there are channels that provide information that is independent of what you are offering from a sales and marketing standpoint, but that can still influence a customer’s buying decision. Customer mapping is another external view outside your organization that specifically looks at how potential customers are working through their decision journey and what sources of information they are using to make a decision. Are potential customers using your platforms to find information and resources? Are they also using competitive or social platforms to find additional information? Mapping out how customers buy will be important to identifying where you are having success but also where some of your weaknesses could be. Customer mapping will highlight the areas where you can reallocate or add additional resources to drive greater engagement.


A Customer Map can be used to identify steps in a decision journey that may include your website, social media sites, or action taken from an email marketing campaign. Determining the stopping points for customers along this journey will help you map out how customers are buying from you. This process can also be helpful when simply asking new customers, “How did you find out about us?” Customer feedback will help you understand how they worked through a decision-making process and what information they used to make their decision. Keep an open mind because the process may be different than you think. The customers who are no longer buying from you could also give you insight into how they may have changed their buying habits or found alternatives. “I noticed you have not purchased from us recently. Is there something that has changed?” This feedback will give you insight into how customers are buying, but also point you to the areas along the decision journey that need to be improved.


QUESTION: What message is being driven into customers by competition?

Once you have mapped out the customer decision journey and have a good understanding of how your marketing and sales efforts are helping customers, it will be important to know what your competition is doing and how their efforts are impacting customers. To assume that customers are 100 percent loyal to your products or services would be a mistake. Most customers are savvy and use multiple forms of information to make purchase decisions. They usually spend as much time learning about competitors’ products as they do about yours. Understanding that customers use a combination of channels to become informed is important. Be honest and pragmatic with the assessment of your organizational efforts, but also understand how competition is influencing the customer’s decision. This external evaluation of the market will help you to understand your place within it, but will also help with your understanding of how customers are influenced by the competition.

ACTION:  Competitive Analysis

Some of the best information about your competition can be gathered directly from your customers. If they’re exclusive to you, ask them why they made the decision to buy from you and what other products or services they considered before yours. Customers will explain the process they took and the information they used. They can also give you insight into how they perceived your competition during the process. As you begin collecting information from your customers, develop a map for your competition as well. Include the information that customers used and identify the points along that journey where your competition was making an impact on the decision journey. Use what you discover to create a map for your competition and identify each point along the journey. As you start to find places along that journey where you are disadvantaged or not providing any value to the customer, you should improve these areas so that you become more relevant within that part of the customer’s journey.


As you are going through the process and finding that your competition is stronger at points along the journey, identify an area where you have an advantage and focus your efforts there. If you are not gaining the insight you need from customers, become a customer yourself. Walk through the process of buying from the competition. Do the research, visit the sites, and go through the process on your own to understand how a customer would buy from your competition. It sounds simple, but we are all consumers, and we do this within our personal lives every time we buy something. The journey is no different for you than it is for someone that would buy from the competition. Make sure you understand how customers buy, not only from your organization, but from the competition as well. What is the journey? How is the competition positioning themselves and their product at each point of the journey? What buying behavior is being driven into customers and is it leading them to buy from you or the competition?




QUESTION: What is the mindset of the organization and does it align with the strategy needed within your market?

In the first part of the process, we were able to gain a new perspective of the external industry trends and new challenges in the market. We also started the process of mapping the customer decision journey to find out how your organization or the competition might be influencing certain parts of that journey. The next step will be aligning the organization with the mindset needed to make strategic decisions and to identify the new skills needed for the market. The place to start this internal assessment is with the mindset of the organization. We’ve discussed the progression-based mindset of surfers and how they are on a constant search for ways to improve upon what they do. The mindset of the organization toward new skills is important, and you will need to evaluate your willingness to take on new initiatives in order to overcome new challenges.

ACTION: Strategy Audit

The first way to gain insight into your strategic sales and marketing mindset is to evaluate your current strategies against what you just learned about the market from your external analysis. Are your strategies aligned with the needs of the customer? Are you providing an easy path for customers to find information regarding your products or services? Customer interviews and internal assessments will give you insight into your organization’s mindset about whether  or not you currently align with the needs in the market, but  also your mindset toward building new skills and capabilities to meet those needs. Are the strategic marketing and sales initiatives effective in the market or do you need to add new skills or capabilities? And if you do, what is the mindset for building these new skills? Will this be easy or a new challenge? Evaluating your strategy against the market will tell if you are aligned, but it will also help you to answer the question as to whether or not you need to add new skills.


The first way to discover some insight into your strategic mindset is to ask the people on your teams, “Are you able to do what you think is right for the business? Are we doing everything we can for customers? Or do you feel tied to rigid internal processes when wanting to do something new?” Talking with your teams will tell you if there is internal red tape within the organization that slows down new strategies and makes adding new skills more difficult. Answering these questions will also help you determine if your teams are being held back from doing what is right strategically for the business if the mindset of the organization is not open to new ideas. If your organizational mindset is not aligned with the market, it could be impacting your ability to add new skills and capabilities, but also your ability to be effective. If your sales and marketing teams tell you that they feel burned out and have a lack of satisfaction with what they’re doing, then this is probably a sign that your strategies are not aligned with the market, which is impacting the mindset of your teams to change and meet the demands of the market.


QUESTION: What new individual skills are needed to align with the market?

A progression-based mindset is needed to help manage the new market conditions and also help you to think about adding new skills. Organizations have teams with specific skills that have made these groups successful. Individuals add value to the companies they work for by continuing to develop those skills or acquiring new ones. As a contributor within an organization, whether you manage teams or work as an individual, you must think about the new skills you will need to build as the market conditions change. Identifying what those new skills are is important, and the work you have done previously to evaluate the market, customer, and competition will point you in the new direction you will need to go. As you start to change your mindset toward progression, you will begin to see your work differently and realize that there are new ways to approach solving your problems. Building new skills will help you do your job better, make you more valuable to your organization, and bring more value to your customers.

ACTION:  Skills Assessment

The next step is identifying the strategic skills you want to develop as an individual. Building a new set of skills that are aligned with the needs in the market could radically improve your business and increase the likelihood of finding success. Having a mindset based on progression will help you to identify those skills and to find out what’s needed in the market. Based on what you learned from the external analysis, are there skills that you need that would better align you with the needs of the market? If you evaluate or assess your current skills and there’s a gap, what is the new skill that is needed to close it? Is there someone inside your organization who already has that skill? Is that person tasked with a different type of work and could he or she add this as another area of responsibility? Assessing the skills needed in the market will be important for your own development, but knowing the current needs of the market could help you to determine if a new skill is needed within the organization as well.


If your individual assessment points you in the direction of a skill you do not currently have, find out if this new skill would be something the organization would want to develop as a special project. Most people want to be challenged and want to feel like they are progressing in their careers. Developing a new skill can be motivating and can also bring new capabilities to your organization. If you do take on the new work in order to build a new skill for your organization, hand off your duties to someone else who is also looking for additional exposure to a new role or skill. If one of those strategies is not an option, find examples of that skill in the market and hire that person to join your team. How often have you seen a marketing campaign and thought, “Wow, I wish our marketing looked like that.” Finding out who did that work might lead you to hiring that person or at least finding out more about what individual skills you really want to add to your teams.


QUESTION: What new organizational capabilities are needed now and in the future?

As you start to build new skills within individuals and on your teams, you will start to understand what’s needed for the organization now and in the long term. You will need to decide which skills you want to become organizational capabilities and start to develop those skills as core competencies for the organization. Just as you have developed new individual skills and progressively built them over time, you will need to assess your team’s capabilities and how you are building those skills to support the entire organization. Individual skills will become organizational capabilities, and you will need to consistently reinforce those skills so that they become the core competencies of your organization. Building from skills to capabilities and then to core competencies will support a mindset based on progression and prepare the organization to meet new challenges as the market conditions change. Determining what those capabilities are will take time and careful assessment, but you will want to ensure that individual skills within the organization translate to company-wide capabilities.

ACTION:  Process Assessment

After you have assessed the individual skills of your team members, you will need to determine if they are also capabilities of the organization. If a marketer leaves the organization, will you survive or do you need to hire someone to backfill that role or replace those lost skills? An assessment can determine which parts of your marketing and sales process is owned by an individual and which is managed by a larger team. Is there an individual who is the only person who truly knows how that part of the process works? Or is there another person or a group of people who could cover that portion of the process if someone leaves? Just as you mapped out the customer decision journey from the first part of this process, you should also map out the internal process that your organization uses to market and sell products. Where are you strong and where do you need to build out individual skills into an organizational capability? An assessment of your process and how you sell and market to customers should give you the insight to identify the capabilities needed within your organization.


If you take a short-term approach to adding new skills and capabilities or do not think about the impact they will make long term, you will have challenges gaining traction with new initiatives and will constantly be hiring to replace skills or talent that leaves your organization. Do not hire talent just for a role. Hire new talent to fill organizational capabilities. If you hire a person with a specific skill and then he or she leaves, that person will take away that skill too. Think about your hires as filling long-term organizational capabilities. Hire for desired skills, build those skills into capabilities, and then develop them into core competencies. A progression-based mindset will help you to build new skills over time but also help you to turn those skills into core competencies within the organization and be the foundation for exploring greater challenges and increased risk.




QUESTION: What will you do differently and how will you explore new risk?

The first part of the process is focused on embracing the external conditions and discovering the new demands within your industry and market. The second part of the process looks within your organization and helps you to identify the skills and capabilities needed to meet those newly discovered demands. You are adopting a mindset toward progression and using this process as a way to build new capabilities over time. In the final part of the process, you will take the new knowledge you’ve discovered and put it into action. Identifying the objectives, tactics, and projects you will implement, you will also explore new risk in order to be successful. This third part of the process will help you create the vision of what you want to accomplish and will be the starting point for designing the process to explore your objectives regardless of the risk.

ACTION:  Process Design

After you have evaluated the external market and determined the skills you want to build within your organization, your next step will be choosing the objectives you want to focus on and creating a strategic process to support your efforts. Your next step will be to create a process that will help you to implement the new objectives and also support the new context in which you will now be working. Mapping out the customer journey and choosing the new skills to add to the organization will have provided you with enough insight into what this new process will focus on. It is now time to develop projects and to decide how your sales and marketing functional areas will implement each of the new objectives. Creating a strategic vision that outlines the new process and the responsibilities within this process will help to support the new objectives during implementation. You will need to identify the key stakeholders responsible for the tasks within the process and make sure that the new objectives are explored, even in the face of adversity and risk.


Designing a process to support the new objectives will be critical to your success, but the new process must also explore the risks associated with your new strategic decisions. Trying to implement your new objectives without updating your process to include the new risks would be a mistake and lead to failure during execution. Working through your new ideas and creating a process that supports exploring the new risk will support you through the next set of steps in the process. To minimize your risks and keep the process balanced, use objectives from each of the areas we have discussed previously. Choose both external and internal objectives that will focus your efforts both outside and inside the organization. For example, choosing an objective with an external focus like customer mapping would be an easy first step in identifying what you need to change internally with your sales and marketing. Your new process needs to support that change, and you will need to ensure that the tactical actions taken by your teams all support the larger organizational objectives.


QUESTION: How much tactical risk are you willing to take on and explore?

Within your new process, a new set of tactics will align with your objectives and support your new process. Choosing the right tactics will be important, but taking on new risk will help you to push in different directions than you have previously explored. Based on what you now know, how are the tactics within your new process going to help you explore new risk? You will want to determine what you will need to do differently now that you have a new set of objectives and now that your process is guiding you in a new direction. A tactical assessment of what will now work in the new conditions will help you to decide how your teams will be executing on your new objectives. Identifying new technology or sales and marketing platforms to help support your teams could also help you accomplish what you have now planned to do tactically.

ACTION: Sales and Marketing Platforms

During your tactical evaluation, look closely at the potential improvements you can make from a sales and marketing technology standpoint. Are there platforms that will support your new objectives, the process, and what you want to accomplish tactically? At each point within your new process, you will want to be critical about how each task will be accomplished and determine if there is a way for technology or automation to support your efforts. Is there a way for a platform to complete a task automatically or a way for customers to do it themselves? Assigning new responsibility or changing how a task was done previously will require you to explore new risk. You will need to let go of how a task was done in the past and trust in the new way that it will be done now, especially when automation or technology is involved and where there is no human touch to move a task forward. Can leads go directly from your email marketing system to your sales teams through CRM? Do they need to be qualified by an inside sales team first or can your account teams manage the task without slowing down the process?


These are questions you will need to answer, but they will make sense after you have gone through the process and when you start to consider whether or not these new tactics will support your objectives. Ask yourself, “Do we move closer to our objectives if we do this? What new marketing or sales tactics are we going to use to support our new objectives?” The old tactics that do not support your new objectives should be removed from the new process. If improved lead generation is a new objective, and the organization wants to improve how the lead generation process is managed, you will need to determine if sales will continue to develop their own leads or if marketing will own this under the new context. At each point of building out your new process, keep your strategic vision clear and design an end-to-end process where the tactics all support the new objectives. The more risk you decide to take with your new objectives and tasks, the more you will increase the likelihood of success and discover something new from the process.


QUESTION: What are the projects that will support your new objectives?

After you have determined the new objectives and the new tactics you will use, you will now want to bring these ideas to life through projects. The next part of the process is to figure out the sales and marketing projects you will need to develop to implement and execute on your new objectives. The projects can be both short and long term, but you will want to think about your projects as an opportunity to do something new and also keep in mind that you will need to explore risk to execute on your new objectives. Each time you begin a new project, ask your teams, “Is there a way we can take on more risk with this project? And if we take on more risk, will it close the gap on our objective?” Like the surfer, you will need to think of risk as the limiting factor in your overall success. The more you are able to push in the direction of risk and do something new or different, the more impact it will make on your customers and the overall success of your organization.

ACTION:  Project Planning

The biggest obstacle with projects that involve risk is simply getting them started. Project planning on the front end will help you map out what needs to be done. Prototyping and testing will provide you with the insights you need to feel confident moving forward with a risk-driven project. Once you have planned and prototyped your projects, evaluate the risks against the potential outcomes and what you could learn from them. What would we learn if we go live with this project now? Is there a way to prototype the project and lower the bar or further minimize the risk? Answering these questions during the project-planning phase will help you develop reasonable expectations of your potential outcomes. Remember that this process is a long-term approach and full implementation will take longer than you think. At this point, your focus is on testing and prototyping your ideas and being willing to put yourself in a position to explore new ideas and objectives through a progressive process of risk.


Start the planning process by prototyping aspects of the project, and have all the various moving pieces in place without actually implementing the new initiative fully. Prototype or test small portions of the overall project and see what you can learn from each step of the process. You will want to have pilot teams test your ideas in the real world or in comfortable, low-pressure environments where the risks are low, but where you still have the ability to gain insight from the results. Your pilot teams will test your assumptions and learn some valuable lessons in the process. Repeat the tests and prototype as often as necessary until you make progress toward your new objectives. Change the context within the organization to support the new objectives and create incentives for exploring new risk. Recognize teams for taking on risk that supports your objectives with incremental rewards. Developing tactics and supporting the initiatives through projects will help you to minimize the risk, learn new skills, and progressively build out your business in new and innovative ways.


All the RIDE THE WAVE Series posts are available in PDF format.  

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Excerpts taken from: RIDE THE WAVE: How To Embrace Change And Create A Powerful New Relationship With Risk


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