It always seems that when people are put into situations where they are handed inadequate resources — whether it be time, money or some other limitation, and the more limitations the bigger the long shot — they excel. They “beat the odds.” They succeed.
Constraints can have the opposite effect … they can unlock the power of innovation, of passion, of purpose. I was thinking about this universal truth as I was preparing to present at the 2015 B2B Marketing Conference in Bogota this week on what I have learned about marketing in environments with just these characteristics … the intrepid “startup.”
I have survived (and I don’t use that word lightly) three startups in my career. I look back and compare the day-to-day experience to bull riding — you never know what bull is in the chute on any given day, and while the ride may be short and intense, it sure is exhilarating … whether you fall off or conquer the glorious beast.
I looked back on what I learned on these high-octane bull rides, and as I was packaging up the lessons, I realized they weren’t new skills or unique strategies only applicable to small, high-growth companies (aka startups). Rather, they are an approach to leading growth that could be applied to any company of any size. Marketing leaders have an opportunity to lead growth strategy for their company — believe it or not — beyond lead generation.
Here are three simple insights, distilled in the intensity of a startup’s “no time, no resources reality” that any marketing leader can apply:
- There is a formula for growth, and you need to know the equation
- Limited resources are not actually limiting — innovation gets activated
- Sales and marketing alignment must be based on partnership, not platitudes
The growth formula
There are many varied, and some very technical, ways to measure a company’s ability to grow. The term “growth hacking” was born in the startup environment. But I’ve learned to keep it simple and apply the traffic light model.
There are three variables in the growth formula, and answering a series of questions can yield a color for each — red, yellow or green.
- The market. How ready is the market for growth? The trends, the competitive landscape? The perceived need for your product or solution? Are you ahead of your time, or is the market mature? Are the economic conditions right?
- The company. How equipped is the company operationally to sell, onboard new customers and service them? Is staffing at the right levels? Is the product in beta or fully built out?
- The programs. Does the company have the right sales and marketing programs and ability to generate and convert demand? How digital is the mix? Are the processes in place to manage leads through to conversion?
In the end, your ability to grow at any given time is a total value of these three variables. Each one can individually impact the sum of the equation. Red, yellow, green … it adds up to a color that symbolizes your ability to grow. Marketing leaders need to view this equation in its totality — not just the “marketing programs” variable.
Limitations can be a catalyst for innovation
Another truth is that not having enough has always yielded amazing innovation. This is a truth beyond business, but to just apply it here, consider the clarifying power of having only one or two bullets to shoot at the growth target with your marketing gun. It does focus you to really consider what will work … and quickly go for it. B2B marketers have always had to deal with limited resources, but when you do your planning, think about a scenario where you have half as much as you do. Then halve it again. Now start your planning. You will be amazed at what you come up with. This is a frame of mind more than anything.
I am not saying that you give back the spare money … should you be lucky enough to have more than the typical startup! But leading your team to force planning in that box will result in very targeted, high-return strategies.
Sales and marketing alignment is not optional
Sure — we hear it all the time. Of course, you say … this is obvious. But in a startup, the gaps between the two are so much more apparent and have much more dire consequences on the lifespan of a small company. For a larger company, the result of poor alignment may be revenue loss. For a startup, it could result in the doors closing. But the great thing about startups is that marketing gets the opportunity to sit in the sales seat, and sales has to work on messaging like a marketer. It’s a real “walk in the shoes” experience that forever changes both sides.
For example, in one of my startup experiences, I frequently pitched and sold the product directly — this really informed my marketing “practice” to be even more sensitive to what marketing needs to provide to sales to be effective from the top to the bottom of the funnel. Again, this is not something that can’t be considered in a larger company — any marketing leader can proactively reach out to set up common goals, processes and metrics with the sales team. SiriusDecisions says real alignment drives real growth … 24% faster three-year revenue growth, for example.
So … what’s the point of all this?
No matter the size of your company … use the power of resource constraints to drive innovation. Use the growth formula to identify the challenges impeding your growth and the opportunities you have — before your competitors do. And finally, be the voice of growth leadership in your company and the force driving the initiatives to capture it.
Thinking about how to get started? Take this quick assessment of your organization’s current ability to maximize capturing market opportunity.
As a marketing leader in today’s business environment, your ability to ride the growth bull successfully has never been better. Jump on!