HOW TO RIDE THE WAVE
“You have to think of your career the way you look at the ocean, deciding which wave you’re gonna take and which waves you’re not gonna take. Some of the waves are going to be big, some are gonna be small, sometimes the sea is going to be calm. Your career is not going to be one steady march upward to glory.”
– Alan Arkin, Academy Award Winning Actor
EMBRACE THE CONDITIONS
1. CONDITIONS: MAP / MEASURE / PROCESS
MAP: Customer Journey
The Ride the Wave Process focuses on three areas that help you to evaluate the external conditions, assess internal skills, and identify areas where you can explore new risk. The process is a holistic approach to strategic planning and serves as a guide to creating new and innovative marketing and sales initiatives. The process also helps to align your organization as well as your sales and marketing activities with the new way that customers buy. The first step will be to understand the new journey and map out the actions that customers take. It will help you to identify areas where you are having success and areas where you will need to improve how you are meeting customer needs. Once the journey has been thoroughly mapped out and you have aligned your new process with the customer, your next step will be to measure where you are having success.
MEASURE: Areas of Success
As you begin to align with the market and meet the needs of customers, you will find areas where you are having success. As you begin to identify the areas where you are meeting customers’ needs, reallocate resources to those areas to help scale those points along the journey where customers are learning the most about your products and services. As market conditions change and evolve, measure your success against your new challenges. As you create new initiatives to meet customers at points along that journey, you can measure the success of new initiatives and compare results to your previous tactics and initiatives. Test new strategies to see if you are able to gain traction, and measure success by using website analytics, “likes,” “shares,” and comments and see if those results have an impact on sales or revenue results. After you map the new journey, measure the results and use that information to create another new repeatable process.
PROCESS: Repeatable Process
Once you have mapped the customer journey and gained a good understanding of how buying decisions are made about your products or services, you will be able to create a repeatable process to measure your results. For each new initiative, begin by mapping the journey and measuring the results. Use a repeatable process to compare your efforts over time. Make the process an established action within your organization and stay consistent. Remain open to new ways of measuring success, since your process will need to change over time. As the conditions within markets change and as customers find new ways of gathering information to make purchase decisions, continue to make incremental changes to the process and stay aligned with the new trends in the market. Establishing a process will provide you with strategic insights into the market. You can use those insights to make marketing and sales decisions that inform how you identify customers and satisfy their needs.
2. EMBRACE THE CONDITIONS: Marketing
In order to embrace the conditions, marketing will need to embrace lead generation and assume the responsibility of this important task. Embracing this change will be important since the role has been more closely associated with sales in the past. As marketing technology continues to evolve and focuses on identifying potential customers for organizations, more and more of the lead generation responsibility will fall on marketers. Marketers will need to use technology and marketing platforms to better understand the customer decision journey and where new leads are coming from. Marketing will generate leads by analyzing website visits and using various marketing channels to drive leads to social media and microsites. They will use that data to develop leads and start the process of marketing directly to those potential customers through a nurturing process. In the new conditions, marketers will be responsible for generating leads but also for grabbing the attention of prospective customers and eventually turning them into qualified leads.
In addition to owning more of the lead generation responsibility within the process, marketing will also need to embrace the development of qualified leads. Marketing will use technology to identify potential leads and begin to nurture those leads. Marketing will own the first part of the process and take some of this lead generation work away from sales. Marketing will need to develop qualified leads that have been nurtured over time and then pass them along to sales to be closed. Since marketing will work the front end of the process and develop leads, it will be important for both marketing and sales to have a clear understanding of who does what in the process, why the process is structured this way, and what the potential benefits will be to having marketing develop leads instead of sales. Prequalified leads from marketing will initiate the selling process and help to speed up the conversion process. The leads that are coming from marketing will be prequalified and prepared for the final concierge phase of the process that is closed by sales.
Marketing will provide leads to people in sales who will then work the leads and go through the final phase of the process, closing them for business. It will be important that both marketing and sales understand their roles, and there is a clear understanding of what is considered a qualified lead. The new expectation is that sales will serve as a type of concierge for qualified leads. The leads that are from marketing should be seen as potential customers and need to be treated as such by marketing before reaching the final phase of the buying process. After marketing has identified the qualified leads, passing them to sales in an efficient and effective manner will be important. You will need to create a marketing-to-sales process that supports this new approach and embrace the changes that this process will create inside the organization.
3. EMBRACE THE CONDITIONS: Sales
In order to embrace the conditions, sales will need to embrace lead generation and where that responsibility now lies. Marketing will take over this part of the process and be responsible for identifying leads, qualifying them, nurturing them, and then handing them off to sales. The biggest challenge for sales in the new conditions will be accepting that lead generation will be primarily done through marketing activities and not through sales. Sales will need to work marketing-generated leads instead of self-sourced leads. The major hurdle will be having sales see marketing-generated leads as better-quality leads and that those leads will help reduce the sales cycle and increase sales conversions. Sales professionals have traditionally seen themselves as hunters—hunting for potential leads and then closing those leads. The new conditions will ask sales professionals to be more like farmers and to work leads that were given to them by marketing and through a new lead- generation process. They will need to farm those qualified leads to make a sale instead of trying to find those leads on their own.
The main responsibility for sales will be converting marketing- qualified leads into sales. Marketing will have spent time nurturing leads through a marketing process built around product or service education. Customers will be passed along to sales as leads having a significant amount of knowledge about the product or service and will be at a point where they are ready to buy or make a final purchase decision. Understanding where the customer is in the process and focusing on converting qualified leads will be the new responsibility of sales. Marketing will pass along a qualified lead with a corresponding lead score, or at minimum, sales will know the kind of marketing activities this potential customer has participated in. Sales will know where to pick up with that customer in the buying process. At this point, converting is about understanding what is needed to move that qualified lead to the concierge phase of the buying process.
Converting the qualified lead will be the responsibility of sales, and in the new conditions, sales will act as more of a concierge of the final sale rather than an initiator. Converting or closing leads will be the goal, but acting as more of a concierge and guiding the customer through the final phase of the buying process will be the desired result. The salesperson will need to know where the customer is in the buying process and provide the last bit of information the customer needs to pull the trigger and make the final purchase decision. This salesperson will be providing the final piece of motivation, but also helping to create a unique customer experience for the product or service in the eyes of the customer. The role as concierge will help reduce the sales cycle and shorten the time between identifying a lead and closing a deal. It will also focus sales on what they do best—working with customers to finalize the buying process and creating a unique experience.
ADOPT A PROGRESSION-BASED MINDSET
1. MINDSET: SKILLS / INVEST / CHANGE
SKILLS – Identify New Skills
Because of the transfer of power from sellers to buyers, organizations will need to understand the unique journey their customers are taking and adopt a progression-based mindset in order to acquire the skills necessary to meet their new needs. Organizations and leadership will need to continually assess their skills and capabilities in the new conditions. By using a progression-based mindset, they will add skills as the market changes and as new challenges present themselves. Adopting a progression-based mindset will help leadership use what they identified as new skills in the market and start the process of building or developing those skills in-house. Leadership will need to evaluate the external market and then change the way their organization operates in order to manage new change, add new skills, and meet the new market demands. The first step is to evaluate the organization’s current skills and capabilities and then to identify the gaps along with a plan to fill them.
INVEST – Training and Development
Leaders will need to be progressive in how they identify new skills and capabilities, but also in how they create training and development programs around building the new skills with the long-term goal of turning those skills into organization capabilities. Organizations will need to create ongoing training initiatives and reinforce the new skills to make them a core competency of the organization. Training around new skills should include marketing and sales teams together and ensure that each functional area understands its role as well as how each group will work together to develop leads, qualify them, and create a unique buying experience for customers. Organizations should invest in quarterly training to reinforce the new skills and also schedule weekly plan of action meetings that will continue to support the new context in which sales and marketing will be working. Training will be needed to ensure that the newly identified skills become ingrained within the new operating context of the organization.
CHANGE – Manage the Context
Assessing the skills and capabilities of your organization and aligning them with the market conditions will require training, an investment in teams, and a commitment to manage the change in a context that supports your new initiatives. Leadership will need to work with teams, managers, and trainers to make sure the new context is reinforced and that the change process is managed properly over time. Creating milestones on a quarterly and yearly basis will help with the management process and keep teams focused on the new skills during team meetings. Communication channels will help to reinforce the new context. Leaders will need to change their approach if dynamics in the market change and continue to fine-tune training as additional changes occur. Stay consistent as gaps between development initiatives can cause a disconnect between what’s happening in the market and your organization’s ability to handle new challenges.
2. ADOPT A PROGRESSION-BASED MINDSET: MARKETING
In order for marketing to adopt a progression-based mindset toward skills, leaders will need to invest in more inbound marketing skills than the traditional outbound skills of the past. Because of the new way that customers buy and the new skills that are needed to meet their needs, marketing will have to adopt a new marketing process that more closely matches the new customer decision journey. Using an inbound approach to marketing means educating the customer about products and services instead of pushing them through a process to buy. The inbound process is more customer-driven, focused on customer needs, and more authentic in that it puts the customer first, instead of the business goals of the organization. Marketing will take the lead when it comes to inbound initiatives and will manage the first part of the process for sales. The inbound system will be driven by marketing but will need to integrate with sales and their activities in order to make it effective.
Marketing will also have to adopt a new mindset in how they will integrate their inbound activities with those of the sales organization. Inbound strategies can help bridge the gap between marketing and sales, improve sales efficiency, and better align internal processes. The challenge with inbound marketing and an integrated strategy is breaking free from the traditional mindset about the tasks each functional area is responsible for in the overall marketing and sales process. With an integrated approach, marketing and sales will work together and collaborate using a single process that aligns activities under a shared system. Training and development will help to integrate processes, and leadership will need to create the right context around the new inbound strategies. Organizations will need to reinforce the approach through collaborative projects and initiatives, at meetings, and with regular communications to ensure that both groups are on the same page when it comes to the new inbound strategy.
The marketing-to-sales process will need to be aligned so that there is a seamless handoff between each functional area as leads are developed and nurtured by marketing and then handed off to sales. Organizations that use more outbound strategies deal with misalignment and have marketing and sales teams working in silos rather than through a shared process. When the process for marketing does not align with sales, it creates two groups working in different directions for similar results within the organization. In order to meet the new market demands, marketing leaders will need to have an open mind toward skills that support an inbound strategy and will need to make sure they align those skills with the efforts of the sales organization. To be effective, marketing will need to use inbound skills that are integrated and aligned with the mindset of the sales organization.
3. ADOPT A PROGRESSION-BASED MINDSET: SALES
For sales to adopt a progression-based mindset toward skills, they will need to change the type of activities they are responsible for and move away from traditional outbound skills of the past. Sales will need to develop skills that support an inbound strategy that is integrated and aligned with their marketing counterparts. In adopting an inbound approach, sales will need to overcome some of the biggest mental hurdles within the process in order for the new inbound approach to work. Sales has traditionally self-sourced, worked, and closed their own leads with little help from marketing other than the collateral materials that they use with customers. However, inbound strategies push most of those up-front sales activities to marketing. Not only will sales leadership need to retrain professionals that have been selling a traditional way for years, but they will also have to overcome the internal obstacles that a new inbound process can create. A willingness to work collaboratively with marketing will be required to fully integrate sales into an inbound process.
An inbound approach will help you to bridge any gaps between marketing and sales as well as improve your efficiency by integrating activities into a single, end-to-end marketing-to- sales process. Your sales teams will need to change how they approach interactions with customers and will need to adopt a new mindset for an integrated process to work. Customers will have more knowledge about the organization and its products by the time they reach the final stages of their decision journey. With an integrated approach, marketing will have done most of the up-front “selling” and will have thoroughly educated the customer about the product or service. Because the process is integrated, sales will know where the customer is in their decision journey and can use that knowledge to create the best experience to finalize the purchase decision. Integrating sales with marketing will make interactions with customers more effective, create a better experience, and align the sales process with the inbound activities of marketing.
Sales will need to align with marketing through inbound activities and continue to integrate their efforts into an end- to-end, marketing-to-sales process. If the sales organization continues to work within the new system using outbound skills, they will duplicate the efforts of marketing and the process will become inefficient. There will be a misalignment between marketing and sales, teams will become frustrated, and they will be unwilling to work collaboratively with each other. Customers will also feel the pain of a misalignment and will be turned off by a product or service where the process to buy is hampered by two functional areas working separately and in opposite directions. Adopting a new mindset about the overall buying process will better align sales with marketing and better meet the needs of customers. Aligning sales with marketing will be one of the first steps to embrace the conditions and help you to adopt a new mindset toward skills that are needed in the new conditions.
USE RISK AS A COMPASS
1. RISK: PLAN / PROTOTYPE / REWARD
RISK PLAN: Plan for Risk
As organizations and leaders continue to move through the process, embrace the conditions, and adopt a progression- based mindset toward skills, they will need to explore risks that move the organization forward. Leaders who want to use an inbound approach and integrate marketing with sales will need to plan, prototype, and test their strategies before applying them to real-world situations. They will need to fail and learn in order to see what will work using a new inbound process and plan for new initiatives by exploring more risk than before. This approach will push the organization to take on new challenges as conditions change and as new skills are needed in the market. Organizations will need to be okay with trying new things and changing quickly to adapt. The first step for organizations that want to identify new opportunities for success and determine where they want to explore risk is to test their strategies with prototypes that pilot and test assumptions.
PROTOTYPE: Pilot and Test Assumptions
As marketing and sales leaders begin to make plans to explore risk, they will need to prototype, pilot, and test their strategies or assumptions. Organizations can begin this process by taking on incremental risk through pilot programs that will help to determine whether to Test It, Kill It, or Scale It. Prototyping strategies will allow your organization to put your ideas into action, see what the results could potentially be, and do all of this in a safe, low-pressure environment. Prototyping a new strategy could take as long as three months using a pilot program, involve multiple functional areas within the organization, and be tested in the market with a select group of customers to see what the potential results might be. A test could be set up as a “sprint” that takes five days and moves from strategic planning on Monday to testing a new idea on Friday. Sprints can be just as effective as longer-term pilots and can give you enough information to help you make a decision. Pilots and tests can minimize a lot of the up-front risk by prototyping strategies in real-world situations.
REWARD: Create Incentives and Rewards
After the risk planning has been completed and prototyping has been done to test your assumptions, organizations will need to reward leadership teams for taking on new risk and create incentives that reward marketing and sales for exploring new strategies. Marketing and sales teams will not explore new risk unless there are incentives to do so and only if the working context inside the organization supports their efforts. Creating the right context around a new initiative and establishing a change management process will be needed to support any kind of new risk you decide to explore. Organizations will need to create shared incentive systems for marketing and sales as they will now be working together and will share in the risk created by new strategies. Prototyping ideas and strategies that are backed by incentives will be the best way to test new ideas and to build new skills or capabilities in the new conditions.
2. USE RISK AS A COMPASS: MARKETING
Marketing will need to use risk as a compass in order to explore new ideas and strategies. Leadership will want to prototype marketing strategies before rolling them out to customers and will have to explore risk as an approach to overcoming new challenges. Prototyping initiatives will allow you to explore risk, but minimize it the more you test your ideas. Marketing can prototype content and messaging to see how customers respond or if they take action because of it. Content can be hit or miss at times and its lifespan is often considered old in minutes or hours instead of days or weeks. Prototyping content with a test market will allow you to test your ideas before they become part of your marketing mix and give you instant feedback before you put the content in front of customers. Prototyping projects like a video series with a small audience will help you to shape the final product and give you the opportunity to work out the kinks before going live with a much larger one.
Prototyping strategies and tactics will allow you to explore risk before going live with new initiatives. Piloting is a more formal way to explore new ideas, and this process also allows you to receive real-world feedback at the same time. Piloting a new marketing message on a blog or using downloadable content such as a white paper will allow you to test your ideas with an audience and can give you a form of measureable results. Piloting content on a blog will allow you to track page views, and with downloads you can determine how many customers were willing to provide an email address in exchange for the white paper. Piloting new messages or new ideas in this way will help you make decisions about how strategies will make an impact and give you insight into the kind of response you might have from it. Piloting allows you to explore new risk in a safe environment and to develop new marketing skills at the same time.
After prototyping and piloting your new ideas and strategies, you can begin to test final versions of new initiatives in order to see which will be most effective. If you have marketing content that you are ready to launch, conducting tests will help you to determine which ones could make the biggest impact. Creating two sets of videos for YouTube and testing them both can help you see which one is the most viewed, liked, and shared or which video might be worth the prime real estate on your website. Running tests on content allows you to see which ideas are worth it and which could be hit or miss. After testing strategies and determining which are effective, you can then allocate additional resources to them. Tests can identify which marketing strategies are resonating with customers and help you to determine where to focus your efforts. Testing is another form of exploring risk, and using prototyping or pilots can help you test new marketing initiatives and lower the bar for risk each time you explore a new strategy.
3. USE RISK AS A COMPASS: SALES
Sales will also need to use risk as a compass to explore new ideas and strategies. Just as marketing will prototype new strategies, sales will need to do the same to reduce the risk of new initiatives. Prototyping new platforms and tools is a good way to understand how your sales teams might use these materials and what aspects of the new tool will be most relevant to their needs. Before investing your entire budget into a new tool or sales platform, prototype its effectiveness with a small portion of your team to find out if the platform gives you the strategic outcome you were looking for. Since every sales force has different needs and its own unique way to approach customer interactions, you will need to prototype multiple platforms to see which one best supports the needs of your sales team. Prototyping will determine which tool or platform will work in a short period of time and allow you to take the risk out of a much bigger decision that could impact the organization long term.
Sales leadership should also consider piloting new initiatives with customers before fully implementing any new strategic initiative. Pilots will allow sales teams to test ideas more formally and gain real-world knowledge about which new strategies might work with customers. Sales can pilot webinars about specific customer challenges and see which topics are attracting a new audience. Webinars will tell you who is attending an event and create an opportunity to follow up on a lead that could become a potential customer. Webinars are not static, and you can change or adapt them to your audience as needed. Content can evolve as you pilot more programs, and it can be tailored to specific audiences based on the feedback you receive. Sales can also pilot events with existing customers and use their feedback to create programs that attract a new audience. Piloting events is a good way to reengage with existing customers, but also an easy way to identify new sales strategies by piloting them with established customers.
As you work through new sales strategies by prototyping and piloting new initiatives, you will gain more insight into opportunities and more confidence in the ideas that you will want to test more formally. After prototyping and piloting programs, you can now test your strategies with potential customers. A workshop will allow you to test materials with a new audience and gain immediate feedback that you can use to improve sales collateral. Testing point of sales materials and collateral is another way to put new concepts in front of customers and will help you to see which pieces will work in other selling situations. For sales, testing a new sales message in a low-pressure environment can help you gain insight into a new strategy, but it is also a way to take on the risk of trying something new. Just like the surfer exploring a new break or surfing a larger wave, you will need to use risk as a compass and test out new sales initiatives with customers in order to find success in the new conditions.
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