The city of Las Vegas is an interesting case study in best intentions — overflowing with people hoping that the flip of a card or the roll of the dice will produce luck-driven riches. Yet the vast majority of the time, these dreamers leave with empty pockets and dashed hopes.
If luck is so elusive in Sin City, why would someone think it could be the foundation for any serious effort? Unfortunately, it is seen all the time — a well-meaning entrepreneur or CEO attempting to employ instinct and a megawatt smile, hoping to achieve Bezos-like success. To confirm the real path to corporate success, one needs to look no further than the great business-management theorist Peter Drucker, who once said: “Luck never built a business. Prosperity and growth come only to the business that systematically finds and exploits its potential.”
So, for those CEOs scratching their heads about why the business isn’t growing as fast as desired, perhaps it is time to set aside high-stakes gambling and apply some science — particularly marketing science — to the company’s growth aspirations. For experienced marketers, five common growth obstacles recur repeatedly.
#1 The Unacknowledged Importance of Strategic Marketing
In the small and mid-size space, we often see businesses where marketing is the slave of sales, and that’s not exactly the functional focus that works best. Marketing today is a true leader of the go-to-market plan — charged with bending the minds of consumers toward the company’s products and services.
This is when the big “M” of marketing — the strategic side — is best actualized, creating a cohesive glue that bonds sales and marketing. Especially in the digital age, marketing has a much larger sphere across the buyers’ journey — responsible for the front-end influence that the salesforce needs to carry prospects through the evaluation and purchasing step.
This alliance looms large today — so mighty that it requires the contextual insights of the great philosopher Sun Tzu, who said, “Tactics without strategy is the sound right before defeat.” We would add, along with Sun Tzu, that strategy without tactics is rather like the slowest route to victory, so the proper plan requires a strategic roadmap supported by tactical execution to achieve success. And not the other way around. Simply throwing a handful of tactics against the wall to see which ones stick will likely cost much money and could even cause a budding gambling career to end.
#2 Random Acts of Marketing
According to the adage among CEOs — “I’m spending lots of money on marketing, and half of it’s working. I just don’t know which half.” Many businesses engage in random acts of marketing — the “pin the tail on the donkey” approach to awareness — and it is not successful. Such a situation is not sustainable in a macroeconomic environment where every marketing dollar is now under scrutiny.
One method of eliminating the scattershot approach is called the “Growth Gears” — a three-stage process focused on, first, gathering insights and, second, creating strategy before, third, committing to execution. These are three relatively simple gears that work in sequential order. By employing this method, the CEO and leadership team eliminate things like gut feeling and instinct and apply analysis and findings to the company’s go-to-market plan.
#3 Know the Difference Between Running and Growing the Business
It is problematic when the CEO not only captains the ship but also insists on being the head cook and bottle washer. Many companies want to launch into the next stage of growth. Still, the CEO has not loosened the grip enough to foster the creation of a comprehensive strategic growth plan that involves multiple stakeholders.
When it comes to a new or renewed focus on growth, the CEO must simply be willing to drive. As the head of the company, the chief executive must own the growth planning process and know when and how to delegate responsibility to others in the leadership team.
#4 The Changing Buyer’s Journey
About 70 percent of the buying journey has been completed when a prospect rings the salesperson’s proverbial doorbell. Buyers are looking at the company’s website and other sites to validate the company’s offering and Googling competitors before contacting a single salesperson. And that is only the case if the customer speaks with the sales department. Notably, nearly half of millennial consumers say they do not want human interaction when shopping.
This changed journey means companies must spruce up their digital brand and invest in new thinking, for example, a chatbot that serves as a digital ambassador for the company. The company must also invest in analytics to evaluate the effectiveness of the digital channel.
#5 CEOs Must Remain Proactive in Growth Planning
A lack of focus and organization will be a growth-killer. The executive team can be distracted by many new and popular ideas without discipline. It’s called the shiny-object effect, resulting in an unproven or wayward idea that wastes limited resources. Once the CEO and executive team develop a market-driven growth plan, they must adhere to it with disciplined commitment.
A strategic marketing plan is also like the playbook of a football team — it is a game plan in which every player, and every employee, has their role, and everyone remains aligned behind the strategy. Toss out the playbook, and the team will likely go down in defeat for the season.
Succeed by Avoiding Common Pitfalls
An excellent strategic-marketing plan is a foundation upon which a CEO can build success — a tool that will educate prospects, attract customers, and retain buyers for the long term. But, like any disciplined approach, it requires some rethinking of the conventions standing in the company’s way.
In the current economy, a strategic marketing plan is built around the likelihood of experiencing a setback or two. So, the CEO and the executive team must have a well-thought-out plan to avoid the worst of these setbacks and how to react if and when the company undergoes a problematic season.
Don Lee and Paul Sparrow are partners & chief marketing officers (CMOs) with Chief Outsiders, an executive-as-a-service, fractional CMO firm.