Saturday, May 27, 2017

Creating Sales Growth at your start-up

I have now been part of the Marketing teams of two start-ups that have proliferated and achieved phenomenal success.

Visual IQ, a Marketing Attribution Software provider (founded in 2006), was acquired by Nielsen last year, for $2 Billion. 

Zscaler (founded in 2008), a Cyber Security Software company, just had its IPO. Zscaler is currently valued at $11 Billion on the Nasdaq.

I think I have learned quite a bit from being part of these successful teams and also, previous experiences in the start-up ecosystem.

All across the globe, there is a dearth of Marketing talent, particularly in red-hot Software businesses like Fintech, Networking, Data intelligence and Cyber Security.

By Marketing talent, I mean individuals with smarts, training, experience and drive who can take a business to 'the next level'; whether that means faster growth, more sustainable or more significant revenue or higher profits. This goes for any start-up from first-round venture-backed to private equity invested all the way to IPO or acquisition.

For this reason, Start-ups sometimes tolerate the types of personalities that the HR department of regular Fortune 500's would not accept. There are numerous examples of this in the media, but I find the satirical comedy Silicon Valley is the funniest example.

Here's my 7 point plan to create a good start-up Marketing Strategy and then to execute it:

1. E
nsure that you are on the same page as the person who has created your marketing strategy or even better, create that Strategy yourself. So many problems occur when CMOs and CEOs or Investors do not agree on this. See 'Why CMOs never last.' 

2. Data; explore this and find out what is going on. Don't just rely on the facts you see. Talk with people, try to establish whether the data you see on paper matches what you are hearing. Countless times I have dealt with either no data at all or data that doesn't match reality. Don't be the fool that devotes inordinate hours and resources creating complex models using lousy information. 

Even a fledgeling Start-up will inevitably have had many failures already, and you can use this information to avoid making mistakes and model successful behaviour. “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” —Michael Porter (See Porter's 5 Forces)

3. Targets, start thinking about what you are trying to accomplish. Is the problem that you have a weak brand? Is it that no one outside your core user group really understands your products? Are you merely preaching to the converted? 

Do your competitors have an iron-grip in certain Regions or markets? Is it that you have weak growth? Are you sinking resources into the same old Marketing investments getting diminishing returns? Are you accurately measuring your Marketing investments? 

Establish what that core problem is and then drive solutions to that.

4. Create a plan around that. For example:

a. If the problem is that your sales team is not converting your good leads, then bring in added Business Intelligence. A remarkable tool for this is Discoverorg , which has a team of 600 researchers calling companies and finding out information that will enable you to identify opportunities quicker and more effectively.

Additionally, if you are not lead scoring already, then I would suggest you start doing this. The way this works is - your sales team will immediately get alerted automatically when a lead reaches a specific 'threshold' score. 

So let's say that score is 100, then a lead from a company with $1 Billion revenue that has requested we contact them, is 'BANT' qualified and is the right target company and job title, that would automatically become a 'hot lead' at 100 points in your CRM system. 

A Lead from a company that is on our target list would immediately be a 10. A Lead from a company that could be a target would be a 5. When that lead has downloaded 3 critical reports in the last week, then it becomes a 30, and so on. 

However, you have to ensure the algorithm that determines scoring is accurate. I've worked at companies where this is not the case, and I'd say no scoring is better than inaccurate lead scoring. 

b. If the problem is that you lack the numbers of leads needed to start with, then lots of high quality gated content will generate more contacts for your database. 

For inbound, I find Twitter to be remarkably useful, in addition to Google AdWords, and AdSense, and Bing for both display and search ads. Linkedin lead generation campaigns are good value, just make sure you target your prospect audience.

Inmail campaigns work very differently from sponsored content on LinkedIn. So figure out what combinations work best for your business.

I would also work with the Marketing team to create compelling content, from videos to infographics, from case studies to white papers.

Below: Forrester 'Wave report' on Marketing attribution with my company 'Visual IQ' in the top right hand 'Rock star' quadrant.

In the past, we've created great content with Gartner or Forrester or failing that, some other well-known research firm, like IDC. These are high-value pieces of content that your prospects will 'trade' their contact details with you to gain.

One idea that We have done in the past very successfully is an 'Industry report' based on surveys we send out. Usually, I use SurveyMonkey, which I first got familiarised with at Business School back in 2006. 

Everyone is interested in what their colleagues are thinking about and sending these surveys out can also be an excellent way to reconnect with customers and prospects.

Below: 'The Money Show', Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, where I ran LMTech's event for our Financial trading software tool.

Another highly effective area of Marketing I've managed over the last eleven years has been events. I have had some great successes in this regard, from the Money Show at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, to the Adobe Marketing Conference in Salt Lake City, to the biggest Cyber Security event in Europe, Infosec. 

Not a lot of companies employ rigorous financial analysis to the results here, so I have created an edge in this way. I write more on this subject here. 

Suffice to say, we've had events that have generated thousands of leads, and business meetings that have gone on the create millions of pounds/dollars in sales.

I particularly like using Discoverorg to get contact details of attendees in conjunction with using Linkedin inmail campaigns.

Content from blogs can be effective. The only problem is that some companies want to 'vet' and control this content as though it was some kind of financial or legal document.

For this 'awareness' part of your content you need plenty of interesting content; think more about great ideas than executing them perfectly. 

Also your prospects value authenticity and originality. They can spot corporate jargon and stock photos a mile off and it will turn them off instantly. Keep blogs real and interesting. People know when they're simply being manipulated to buy something.

I have developed Ebooks, webcasts, in-depth industry reports and slideshows, which can all be a good source or leads or brand awareness.

5. Ensure that everyone is on board with it. If the management team is not, then discuss it, and get to the bottom of the problems. Time and time again, I've seen marketing teams get on board with a big project that they had serious concerns about.
Once you are sure everyone is agreed on the plan, then execute it relentlessly.

6. Analyze your results regularly, at least once every 3 months and if not sufficient, pivot. If it's genuinely disastrous, be honest about it and go back to the drawing board quickly. This is essentially the same idea that I learned in Product Marketing for innovation, the stage-gate process 

Look at Key financial metrics, like ROMI - Return on Marketing Investment (NPV, IRR, Payback period, etc..  Customer Lifetime Value, Cost per Click, Transaction conversion rate (For B-2-B, numbers of prospects who click on your links which go on to become Sales Qualified Leads).     

7. Finally, and most importantly, encourage criticism and make your entire company a safe place to share information and mistakes. You cannot take critical calculated risks without making mistakes, and you can't learn without them either. If you're not failing, then you're not trying hard enough.

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