By Chuck Leddy
As a new year beckons, it’s time for B2B marketers to reflect on how to improve marketing operations performance – are you ready? Here are 5 to-dos as you climb the mountain to peak performance.
1. Align strategy, goals, and KPIs
Align and stay aligned. It starts with a good strategy, which is simply a working hypothesis/prediction about the future that may or may not hold true. In a landscape of accelerating change, the five-year plan may be dead, but that doesn’t mean marketers can forget about planning. Plan and be ever-ready to change plans. All marketers need agility, meaning they can quickly recognize changes in the world (emerging technologies, trends in customer behavior, etc.) and accommodate them just as quickly.
To ensure alignment, reflect upon one all-important question: Do the future-oriented assumptions upon which you’ve based your strategy still hold true? If not, what should you do to adapt your strategy to emerging realities? Next, do your goals still make sense, are they aligned with your strategic assumptions (see above)? If you tweak your strategy to accommodate change, you also need to tweak your goals. Finally, are you accurately measuring progress toward goals with the “right” KPIs? If your strategy and goals change, your KPIs must also change. This dynamic alignment process never ends — it’s the key to maintaining organizational agility in 2019 and beyond.
2. Check you’re measuring the right things
Measurement itself isn’t enough, although it’s essential. You need to measure the things that move the needle on your strategic goals. We’ve all heard of organizations that have amazingly precise tools to measure almost everything, but who measure things of no strategic importance. Measure what matters, and follow the data. Data exists for one purpose: to inform better decision-making around the strategic goals that help your business grow. All data isn’t equal. A 40% increase in leads doesn’t help you much if you convert none of those leads into buyers. It might be better to focus instead on lead nurturing, where (clearly) you have some problems.
Getting regular “check-ups” on your alignment and marketing performance, much like getting health check-ups, is simply a must in order for marketers to thrive. If your goal is peak performance, then check-ups are doubly vital.
Outside expertise can help, just as a sherpa who knows the mountain can guide climbers to the peak. Great sports teams, for example, have coaches who provide strategic support during the game. Teams also have strength trainers, nutritionists, sports/performance psychologists, and other supports. Each of these coaches pays attention to one specific area that’s important to the team and to individual performance (nutrition, physical strength, positive psychology, etc.). Getting a full check-up is the least marketing teams can do to prepare for 2019.
3. Begin from where you are
No matter how high the peak you’re seeking to climb, whether Mount Everest or 8.5% higher than last year’s results, you’ll need to begin with an accurate assessment of where you are. You may not like what you see when you look in the mirror, but this is where every worthwhile journey begins. On the other hand, you may feel like you can run a marathon next month, but your check-up may show you’re only ready to run a mile.
Setting realistic goals is essential. Try running a marathon when you’re not fully prepared. The result is massive disappointment, as well as (likely) major physical injuries. Begin with “small wins,” gaining enough momentum over time to tackle larger wins (that marathon) down the road if you continue to improve. Audits, check-ups, and benchmarking (i.e., your own performance over time and/or comparing your internal performance with the larger market’s) are the ways you’ll gain this all-important sense of where you are.
4. Attack low-hanging fruit, then keep climbing
After you’ve gone through the audits and check-ups for your marketing operations, and also benchmarked your performance against that of the market, you may need to take a deep breath. Reality checks can be jarring, but they’re essential. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t even acknowledge that it exists. That takes some courage.
Your check-ups will offer you a baseline and uncover areas of weakness, as well as strengths. Benchmarking is a great way to identify areas where you can improve. For example, if you’re successfully cross-selling to 35% of your customers, that number may sound positive. But if that number was 45% last year or others in your market are successfully cross-selling to 40% of their customers, your “good” KPI no longer looks so good.
Once you’ve identified a gap/weakness, you can then go about investigating what to do about it while prioritizing next steps. For instance, if competitors who are having the best results with cross-selling are using automated email messages, and you are using telephone outreach, then you might consider moving to automated solutions, possibly blending them with telephone outreach for situations where customers need a more personal touch. That way, you get the most out of technology and your people, while freeing up your sales team to perform higher-level functions like finding new customers or upselling to existing customers.
The idea is to identify areas with the largest performance gaps (from your benchmarking analysis), and prioritize attacking gaps that can be closed fastest, potentially by adopting/implementing ideas that others are using. Once you’ve attacked this “low-hanging fruit,” attack the next level on the tree, closing the biggest gaps and working your way up the tree accordingly.
And if your “data house” is in such disorder that you can’t even access the internal data you need to begin benchmarking, you can find help here at Sojourn. We’ll work with you to get you set up and ready to benchmark.
5. Remember, optimization is never “done”
The iterative process of improvement never stops. If you truly seek peak performance, eliminate the word “done” from your vocabulary. Why? Because optimization is a dynamic process of (1) assessing where you are; (2) measuring yourself against your internal goals through audits/check-ups and benchmarking your performance and/or against the wider market; (3) analyzing your “opportunities for growth” and prioritizing options for improvement; (4) implementing solutions; and (5) going back to the first step and continuing the loop. The peak performance you seek is ever-moving, so you must keep on climbing the mountain to get there.