The RIDE THE WAVE Series - #14

Marketing and Sales Blog

The RIDE THE WAVE Series – #14


“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway





After spending two years meeting with business leaders in a variety of industries and markets, I discovered new insight into their challenges and obstacles. Like the surfer, companies were feeling slammed. They were investing money into sales and marketing programs, but having little impact with their customers. They were struggling in their markets, falling behind competition, and felt held back by their internal processes. The conditions had created a new set of challenges, and business leaders were having a hard time managing this change. I worked with marketing and sales leaders and used the three principles as a way to discuss their challenges. We used the principles as a process to understand the market better, learn new skills, and explore new challenges in the face of risk. By implementing new tactics and strategies, I discovered what successful companies did differently than the status quo and was able to help organizations solve problems in new and innovative ways.


The three principles of the Ride the Wave Process took business leaders on a new journey to identify opportunities both outside and inside their organizations. The process helped them to focus on specific opportunities they identified and   to use new tactics or strategies to build skills and overcome new challenges. As I helped companies work through their challenges, I began using the same principles and process for my own business as well. In helping other companies with their challenges, I saw some of the same obstacles within my own business and realized the impact I could make if I embraced the new concepts that I was helping others implement. I took special note of what I saw that worked and leveraged the new knowledge for my own journey. I was able to watch and learn from the companies that were successful and thwarted the status quo, but also from the organizations that continued to hold onto traditional ideas and were not willing to embrace the new conditions.


The first area where I noticed customers  having  success  was in their approach to marketing and sales activities—specifically, whether or not they were using outbound or inbound strategies. Most marketing and sales teams were focused on outbound activities only and were not using inbound activities at all or in any kind of strategic way.  At the start of our work, leaders felt overwhelmed by the large number of information-sharing platforms and the new technology driven by inbound marketing. As companies began to embrace the conditions and see how customers were finding information as well as buying, however, it was clear that inbound activities would better meet the needs of customers and also align the organization with the decision journey that customers were taking. Based on what I had learned, my first step within my own business was to embrace the changes happening in the market and to get back into the market conditions by using the new inbound strategies.



As companies took small steps toward using more inbound marketing activities, we discovered which strategies were bringing customers to their websites, motivating them to take action from an email, or triggering a potential customer to pick up the phone and make a call. We measured what was working and what was not, but it was clear that inbound activities were more impactful, created more urgency with customers, and made the companies more confident in what they were doing. For example, one of the companies using inbound activities had increased their website traffic to 300 visits per day. These visitors were also using the new contact form on their site, and we found that this generated better-quality leads for the company’s sales teams. This company also focused more of its marketing on inbound activities such as videos and email marketing. The quality of the company’s marketing content improved and these tactics helped reach a new audience. Overall, customers responded to the new inbound strategies, which increased year-over-year sales by 25 percent.


As I began to make progress with inbound marketing strategies for my own business, I looked for ways to continue to leverage what I was learning from my work with other companies and to apply these techniques to my own journey. I had started a new business and was struggling with brand awareness. With all the existing businesses in the market, it was hard to stand out. I would need to be more relevant if I wanted to attract an audience. Even if I had more knowledge or ability, it was still hard to compete with a business that had been around for years, had established clients, and already had a strong reputation in the market. In my work with other companies, I saw that the organizations that focused on producing and delivering good-quality content had the best success with their inbound marketing. These companies had developed content that explored a specific need and used it to help explain to customers how their product or service could solve their problems.


Much like the companies I was working with, I tried to develop quality content and to offer suggested solutions to the new challenges. Just like my second surf attempt in Malibu, I was watching and learning what others were doing and then trying to do those things on my own. There was a lot of trial and error involved in this process, but the more I worked with the inbound strategies, the more I started to measure up with the companies that had been doing this type of work for longer periods of time. I used my website to share content through a blog, and then I would repost that content through social media channels or use direct email marketing to share the content within my network. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook were my main social channels, and I sent out a monthly email newsletter via MailChimp. Along with my website, these areas formed a nice three-pronged approach to inbound marketing and became a great way to drive new content to potential customers.



Prior to my new journey, I had worked in marketing and sales for most of my career and spent time “carrying a bag” at the customer level. I understood an end-to-end marketing-to-sales process, but had been successful using mostly outbound activities. These inbound activities were new to me, but I wanted to develop these skills to keep up with where the market was going. I created a repeatable process for measuring the success of my inbound activities. The process, much like my surf training, involved testing, failing, and learning. As I continued to work with inbound strategies—and specifically marketing content—I would identify topics that would be relevant to companies and offer a solution to a new challenge. After I had created the content, I posted it to my blog and then my social media channels. I was able to see what topics received the most comments, “likes,” or “shares” and could measure my results over a few weeks. I could then use the content that had the best results for my monthly email newsletter, but also repeat the same process and learn as I explored this strategy further.


Testing content and learning what resonated with my audience was a great way to collect new knowledge. I was able to stay current on sales and marketing topics by creating content, but I was also learning about inbound marketing and what kind  of content, posting strategies, and processes worked the best for my business. By using a combination of website and social media analytics, I discovered that the best days of the week to post content were on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. I had the most LinkedIn activity on Tuesdays at midmorning, the best Facebook responses on Wednesdays in the late afternoon before 5:00 p.m., and the most website visits midweek on Wednesdays as well. I originally started posting daily, but I soon realized that less was more and that I really only needed to create content and share it one to three times per week to be effective. This new knowledge helped me to focus on a posting strategy that targeted specific days of the week, and the process helped me to measure what was working and also made me become more efficient with my time.


The more I worked with an inbound marketing process, the more efficient I became. I focused on specific skills that were strengths, but I also started to build new skills where I had gaps. As I began to narrow down the activities that worked for me, I stuck with the ones where I found success and further honed my skills. I spent less time on activities that did not produce the results I was looking for, which allowed me to use that time to explore new inbound activities that I had not yet tested.  As I began to improve with certain skills, others began to present themselves. There was a natural progression through sets of new skills. Much like the surfer building one skill and then exploring another on the next wave, my mindset toward inbound activities started to change, and I proactively began to search for new methods and strategies, even if I thought they were beyond my reach.





As I changed my mindset and began to add new inbound marketing skills, I realized that the marketing work I was doing would start to cannibalize what I had traditionally done within sales. Marketing and sales are often seen as “siloed” functional areas, with different goals and each having a set of activities that are separate from one another. As I started to work with clients, I noticed that an organization was either a heavy marketing organization or a heavy sales organization. There were only a handful of companies that were balanced and that invested equal effort in both areas. However, when either marketing or sales was more of a focus than the other, challenges arose within the organization. There was a noticeable misalignment with processes, and the differences made existing problems even worse. Imagine the guy in the gym who does all upper body and no legs. He can bench-press a house, but he would fold like a lawn chair if he had to do a squat. The more I worked with clients on inbound marketing activities, the more I tried to integrate these two functional areas to balance what organizations were doing.


The companies that were not integrating their marketing and sales with new skills suffered from misalignment. They worked separately from each other and toward differing goals. I had to work with organizations to change their mindset about skills and also to assess how they thought about their marketing efforts in relation to sales. The biggest discovery was that marketing would need to do more of the lead-generation activities and qualify leads for sales. Marketing was better positioned to identify leads, use lead nurturing to connect with prospects, and qualify leads to be passed along to sales. Email and web activities drove lead scores through marketing and created a qualified lead that could be passed along to sales. This was a challenge at first, since marketing was new to lead generation, but new platforms could help with inbound activities and build a new marketing skill that had not been used before.


As marketing teams started taking on more of the inbound activities, sales teams needed to understand  the  process, but also be committed to the changes and to the new expectations of their role. Traditional sales strategies had field representatives doing their own lead-generation work. Having marketing take over this aspect of the inbound process would be a major change. Sales would have to trust that the leads coming from marketing would be of a high quality and that it would be a better lead than what they could develop on their own. This change took a commitment from sales, but also a commitment from marketing. Both teams had to trust in the new process and believe that this new approach would be worth the change necessary and not hurt the company in the short or long term. This kind of major change is an example of embracing the conditions and how a progression-based mindset is needed to make sales and marketing efforts more holistic and more impactful.



The more work I did with inbound sales and marketing strategies, the more I found that there was not only a mental aspect of making this change, but a significant financial one as well. For organizations, budgets were often the main obstacle in making any kind of change. If you were working at a midsize or large organization, there was a likelihood you had a decent marketing or sales budget and that you were even looking for ways to spend down that budget rather than lose it the next year. But how and where to allocate budget resources can cause differences of opinions internally, slow down progress, and even prevent the new change from happening. Financial pressures can prevent a team from making a good strategic decision, and thinking about how to spend a budget can be more challenging than the actual decision as to whether or not to make a new change. While sales CRM and email marketing systems have nominal expenses associated with them, there is also a change cost to making a decision that could impact the organization’s momentum. Changes in skills can take time and can often disrupt the flow of an organization.


Using inbound platforms and integrating sales with marketing can bring unforeseen change costs inside the  organization  and also create up-front financial  costs  when  starting.  For the companies that I worked  with,  the big-ticket  items  were a website, marketing automation platforms, and sales CRM. Social media and email marketing platforms can be set up at  a low cost or no cost at all if they are done in-house, but these areas were more expensive if someone had to be hired from the outside. With my own business, I started with a website, social media platforms, and an email marketing system. I added a blog to my site and used it as one of my main inbound platforms. The blog was free, a great way for posts to show up in organic searches, and also a way to push potential customers to my site, using free content. I also used videos to help explain the Ride the Wave Process and the three principles. I used Vimeo as a posting platform for my digital content, which is another free platform and a great way to deliver content to your audience.


The inbound marketing activities I used helped to present content to customers that solved a specific problem or need. Once the visitor had enough information and felt compelled to take action, I created opportunities for the person to connect with my organization. I created an action step that included submitting a project proposal, setting up a workshop, or searching for a related resource. After spending time on my site and becoming more motivated to connect, customers needed a way to take action, and I needed the opportunity to close the sale. The mechanisms included a link and button to a contact form, a link to send an email, and a callout to my direct phone number so that a customer could reach out by phone. The inbound marketing process did most of the heavy lifting and created opportunities for me to act as a concierge and to close the sale.



As I built new inbound marketing and sales skills, I aligned everything I was doing into a single strategic process. I continued to work with the process until I had aligned everything I was doing from a marketing standpoint to what I was doing with my sales. Around this same time, I was working with a healthcare organization and saw how an end-to-end process that was inbound, was integrated, and aligned marketing with sales could support a high-volume strategy. The company had a small sales force and an even smaller marketing team. But because the process was aligned, it was more efficient and the company was able to drive significant sales for a small organization compared to the much larger companies that had massive sales and marketing teams and were only doing outbound activities. After working with this company, I applied what I learned to my own business and created ways to integrate my marketing and sales strategies with my inbound activities.


Once my sales and marketing process was aligned and driven by inbound activities, I did research to identify the industries and companies I wanted to support. I also found the key contacts at those organizations that held sales and marketing roles and created lead lists for my targeting. An easy first step was to invite those leads to connect on LinkedIn and  add them to an email-marketing list using MailChimp. Over time, I accumulated thousands of contacts and started to build targeted email-marketing lists by industry. As part of  my marketing strategy, I created content that identified the main challenges that my new sales and marketing contacts might be experiencing, specific to their industries. I offered the workshop as a way for my contacts to learn about how to identify and overcome these challenges. The workshop was a great way for potential leads to learn more about how to solve their specific challenges, and for me, the process made it easy to identify participants and create a way for them to connect with my organization.


The inbound marketing activities drove potential customers to my site who could be interested in the workshop. I used a contact form to collect the names and company information from interested participants. I even had some company leaders call me to set up a time to connect in person or via Skype or GoToMeeting. The workshop strategy worked well because it aligned directly with what I was doing from a content-marketing standpoint. The marketing was driven by content built around the workshop, so when someone did the workshop, it was just a continuation of everything the person had learned while researching on my website, blog, or social media platforms. Doing the workshop allowed me to connect with a new contact in a low-pressure environment since the content was non- branded and meant to be informative. It also provided some credibility, as I was able to display my knowledge about what was changing within sales and marketing and help to uncover the challenges that participants were facing.





My new inbound marketing skills began to develop, and I continued to integrate any new marketing strategy with my sales whenever possible. By thinking holistically and as both areas as a single process, I was able to align and streamline much of what I was doing. I found that my marketing and sales efforts were more focused and more effective. After a few months of inbound activities, customers started to reach out to me. That was the biggest change and very different from what I had experienced with my efforts a year earlier. It was a great feeling to have a customer notice my marketing work and ask about my interest in one of their projects. While this was a nice change, I knew that I could not stop exploring inbound strategies. By working with company leaders during workshops, I knew that risk was the single biggest obstacle holding an organization back from trying something new. Organizations would stick with the familiar, even if this meant not achieving the desired results. In order to lower the bar for companies, we started to explore more risk by planning for it.


I was able to learn from the companies that were having success and using the principles of the surfer to lower the bar for risk. We used the principles as a process to test new ideas and identify areas of new opportunity. The process allowed us to explore new ideas in a safe environment, and the more we worked through them using the process, the lower the bar was to doing something new. By going through the process, companies had more information and felt more confident in their decisions. A new idea was less of an unknown, and the process produced enough information for us either to spend more time with it or to cut bait and refocus on something else. As an example, an organization used the process to identify where it would allocate its marketing budget for the upcoming year. The process forced the company to think hard about what aspects of marketing and sales it would invest in further and  if there were new areas to commit to that the company had avoided previously because of the risks.


The biggest challenge for me was how to take on new risk and balance it with how I was progressing with building new skills and abilities. Just like my surf training from the previous chapter, my progression was limited by the amount of risk I was willing to explore. The more risk I took on, the more I progressed. The more I tried to push toward new skills, the more my professional world began to open up and create new opportunities for my business. I learned that the risk-taking process was not about risk for the sake of risk or pushing myself beyond what I was capable of skill-wise, but trying     to systematically work through a progression of steps to go somewhere new. Planning for the risk and scoping it out on the front end helped me take a progressive approach to what I was doing, and I was able to move forward faster because of it.



In exploring risk and using the Ride the Wave Process and principles to explore new strategies, I continued to look for opportunities to test what I was doing. I tend to be the type of person who pushes for change and tries new things, even when a change is not necessary. On most occasions, things work out, and the risk usually pays off. But there are occasions (like trying ocean surfing for the first time) where I try something new and end up looking a fool. That’s  okay with me. I would rather   be like the surfer who tries to pull off a technical maneuver and fails versus the surfer who does the same old trick and receives no enjoyment from it. I think it’s better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. As I continued to take that approach with my business, I prototyped new ideas and strategies in order to find out what would work, but also to lower the risk I was taking. We tend to think of prototyping as an approach to product design, but there’s no reason we can’t take this same approach within business. I actually found this very effective when the risks were at their highest.


An area where I would try to prototype new ideas and strategies was with my messaging. Some of the best feedback I have received has often been from moments where I prototyped an idea, just to see how it would work. Another way to see if a new idea will work is to create a situation where you can pilot it. I also tried to pilot new ideas during webinars and workshops. For Ride the Wave workshops, I preferred to do them face-to- face, but there were times, due to travel or schedules, where  I would do them via Skype or GoToMeeting. For the online workshops, I pilot-tested new presentations and my new messaging. I was able to go through the presentation and see how the flow of the talk worked with the audience. Participants could also be involved by asking questions, and I could receive instant feedback on an idea or strategy. But in this format, I was able to pilot new ideas and did not have the pressures I would normally have when trying to do something new.


As I prototyped new messaging and piloted online programs, I was able to see what was working and what was not. In most situations, there were some risks, including things not working or receiving less of a response, but I planned ahead and did what I could to lower the risks. It helped to know how something that worked in practice might work in reality and not just in theory. As I tested the messaging for the Ride the Wave workshop and figured out what the triggers were for marketing and sales leaders, I could focus on the tactics that were bringing success and put more focus on those areas during presentations. Once I knew the triggers that participants responded to, I created  a separate workshop page on my website with the triggers and then used sponsored ads that directed traffic to the workshop page. I found that there were certain keywords such as ”strategy workshop” and ”marketing strategy” that worked well. Prototyping my messaging and doing pilot presentations helped me with this process and made the keyword tests and ads more effective.



After spending over two years working with hundreds of business leaders within marketing and sales, I saw firsthand the challenges they were facing. They encountered new conditions, had to identify and learn new skills, and faced a new level of professional risk they had not experienced before. It was clear that a new process for overcoming these challenges was needed. Based on what I learned from the companies I was working with and applying what I learned to my own business, I developed the three principles of the surfer and the Ride the Wave Process. The process helped companies to create a new view of problems or challenges, a new perspective as to what the organization thought was possible, and a new path for organizations to find success. The new view for the organizations that embraced the conditions, changed their mindset, and added new skills was a new view of how to explore risk as well as to see risk as less of a threat and more of an opportunity or the new compass for success.


Companies used the Ride the Wave Process for identifying opportunities to create strategic growth and as a guide for navigating new risk. The process helped to create a new roadmap for achieving market success and fundamentally changed the way the organizations did business. I created the Ride the Wave Process for myself, but also as a process  to help companies manage these new conditions and to think about marketing and sales in a new way. Business leadership used the process to integrate sales and marketing processes and aligned each functional area around shared goals. The new process helped marketing and sales explore risk by building new skills and capabilities that better aligned with the customers in their markets. By using the process, I helped companies solve challenges in three ways: 1) Supported companies as they developed new sales and marketing strategies 2) Assisted companies with the development of new systems and processes that were more efficient and effective 3) Gave leadership a new way to solve challenges and learn how to ride the wave on their own.


Leaders who used the process helped to create a new reality for their organizations. They were more confident in their abilities to identify new opportunities and discovered white space in their established markets by going through the process. The Ride the Wave Process helped me to realize that products and services are more than just that; they should be unique brands that are customer-driven, solve problems, and differentiate themselves from the status quo. I used the Ride the Wave Process to assist companies as they overcame the new challenges within sales and marketing, but I also created a new reality for myself during the process. I developed new sales and marketing skills and capabilities, but I also changed how I fundamentally thought about business and what I was capable of doing within it. The reward for taking on this new risk was the creation of my new reality and the new perspective that I will bring to my work and personal life.


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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