Sustaining growth in the face of setbacks
Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.
10. Sustaining Growth in the Face of Setbacks
This week’s show we’re going to be talking about the challenges of growth and how to sustain it in the face of blockages. I thought we had a really good show last week, talking about the growth plan itself. We’ll be talking about what we’ve been able to do about it, what organisational drivers push you to making growth and imperative, be it the skills, techniques and behaviours, and the actions you have to have in your armoury today to ensure that you can cope with unforeseen challenges.
I think of growth as what we need to do to change customer behaviour in order to achieve our goals, where we will gain volume from, and what is true about our brand, our proposition that will make customers choose us and how does that manifest itself. That sound about right, Sam?
Yeah, those are the three really simple nuggets to take away in terms of what we’re trying to achieve. I think we could build a bit more on that further, in terms of how to get there and how to do it. So, one of the fundamental steps would be doing a holistic opportunity assessment. So, where are we at now? Where do we need to be in the future? Making sure there is a good understanding of defining the future. There’s a lot of building upon what our consumers want, what our shoppers want, what our customers want, what our community values over time and ensuring we’re not just myopic and stuck on today, we’re also thinking about the long-term strategies and actions that go with that.
A lot of ideation happens when you come to thinking about this. There’s so many things to do with consumer trends, product design and competition just to be sure of the growth platforms that we’re coming up with. Then, quantify them, so the next thing is score carding and prioritising, from all of what I just described you tend to get a lot of volume, a lot of opportunities. So, you’ve got to have a really abrupt, really ruthless way of streamlining and simplifying what you’re really going after and avoiding the small, perhaps minute, incremental opportunities and going for things that are bigger, and then assembling the right team. I’ve talked about team and culture before, those are all critical foundations to actually drive growth and make sure you’re set up for success, you need a strong culture of a team agenda between your team members and you’ve got to have a clear simple view of what the future state is going to be- which I’ve mentioned before all of those come together to drive growth.
Where Many Fall Off the Curve
Once you’re on that growth curve, and you’ve seen a bump upwards, your sales have seen a spike, but then what goes wrong? Quite often, you can see sales drop off. You can see it become harder to achieve targets the following week -why and how do you tackle that? That’s the nuggets that we want to try and get to this week. How do you sustain growth?
But first of all, you have to check that a sales spike is real, not just because you’re buying share. That relationship between enjoying the product versus visibility. What you’ve spent on getting greater visibility is an important one, you want to know that when you stop chucking pounds or dollars at it, that the product satisfaction remains and that you can sustain growth, that would be my first point.
Secondly, it’s about managing the increase of demand affectively, making sure that you’ve scaled up the support services, customer care, band width, stock management- whatever it is- just make sure that you’re not seeing an initial spike due to people wanting more of your product, and that you’re not able to cope with demand effectively, you will then start seeing that drop off, so, they’re two fundamental ones but other blockages can be the handover from marketing to sales, or from new product to existing product development, I think we’ve all been in the situation where we believe that we’ve set up everything right and that we’re now passing it off to another team. Occasionally you might have thought that I would be implementing it, therefore that handover is incredibly important- that baton change.
Cash flow, again another blockage you can find yourself where you have an initial spike, you put the money behind it and you’re not getting the revenues in fast enough, so you take your foot off the pedal and you see a dive down from that as well. I think there’s also a lag, where what you have put in place doesn’t seem to be having an impact and that can be measured over days or months and years. Where you think I’ve done all the heavy lifting, I’ve put all the stuff you’ve talked about in place but I’m not seeing the momentum carry forward and I think we need to be a bit more aware of that and speak about that one.
Another blockage- making sure you don’t get distracted by the next shiny thing, quite often you can be putting a plan into place, or a product or a service and no sooner have you done that and you’re seeing a uptick in sales then direction from you’re CMO or your CEO, I want you to focus your time on that, come off this and look at something else. We all know that these things take longer to bed down as they possibly can. And the final one I think, is about growing sales at your desired margin as well. And that relates to how much money you’re going to be putting into the marketing budget, but quite often sustaining that growth at a margin that is acceptable to business means that you can sometimes find yourself lagging behind where you want to be.
Brings me back to a time in my career where I was working on a business in Germany, I had to really roll up my sleeves and fix a bad situation that was kind of getting out of hand and getting worse, and the whole point you made about margins was the classic one in that situation where I inherited a bit of a fiasco handing over sales and marketing and other functions.
The fiasco was we moved to a new plant, which was all great, it was supposed to give us some efficiencies, save us money and increase capacity, but we actually got decreased capacity, increased cost in goods and production chaos. So, that was not fun, and it was a European role that I was responsible for, so imagine dealing with multiple countries, multiple markets, multiple retailers who were all really unhappy with not getting their product on time. So, I had to really rethink about how we were going to deliver the business outcome but also how we were going to drive the growth, and it was a change in business strategy that we had to aggressively go after the margin and it actually meant we were going to have to be more brave in terms of how we did that.
So, it was actually pushing for the higher end pieces of the portfolio and letting go of the lower margins, the lower sales area of the business and focusing elsewhere. We had to be brave in terms of this is how we’re going to get there, bring along the creative partners who had to come up with communication and marketing messaging that actually appeal to consumers, which meant they had more say in challenge of the brief and challenge of the approach and ultimately there’s actually a lot more risk. As I’m listening to this approach there could actually be more risk that you have to take on board, but it was done with a more rigorous analysis of the opportunities and essentially being bolder in the resource allocation in going about it, and so we were perhaps more timid in hindsight than we had been, and deciding where we are going to invest and focus and where we’re not.
So, all of the perfect storm with all of the problems, the snafu and the crisis finally to a better outcome and ultimately, we managed to fulfil the key needs of our key customers, deliver growth and also deliver a margin improvement to deliver the financial commitments we had at the end of the year. So, it’s not necessarily a linear straight path, there’s a number of moving pieces but you have to have a functional team to pull it together and actually figure out how you’re going to get from here to there. So, that was- for me an important aspect of how you think about it, how you learn through it and the approach to the philosophy to make it happen because you could in theory crumble under the weight of all those challenges.
How to Turn a Problem into an Opportunity
But isn’t that fascinating? How much of that is about process as well? I think we underestimate that especially in a period of growth where we don’t have the processes set up, quite often we’re so focused on “can we see movement upwards?” that we haven’t really thought about how we sustain that. And rightly so, we have to be focused on growth, because the audience is so quick to judge these days, a TrustPilot review can be around forever, and I think for some seasonal businesses in Ecom, being set up twenty-four-seven with flexible workforces, it’s essential to take advantage while you can, but again, those reviews are incredibly Impactful, and as parcels get delayed, and tempers get frayed the public can become even less forgiving, so you’ve got to make sure the growth is sustainable and you can actually deliver on it.
That’s why I’m actually quite fascinated by the tech orientated SAAS businesses, the B2B offerings, they do so well because the offering is so scalable. Once they sort out the customer service, you’re pretty confident that they can handle it whether it’s a hundred, a million, or five million, they seem to do that very well, and that again increases their evaluation because I think that’s recognised. But if you are a people’s service or a product business it’s much more difficult because it’s not so scalable but sometimes your strength can be your weakness and sometimes your weakness can be your strength as well.
That human fallibility and what you do to outright is what really counts, and I think if I look back at some of my career around Virgin and when I was CMO there was an example, one of the customers had rung up, complained that they hadn’t received their case of wine, delivery company had let them down, we made sure that we saw every single delivery as part of what we provided, it wasn’t just passing it off to the company, and it turned out in conversation that this person lived in the same town as one of the wine adviser’s parents, he was going down at the weekend and he thought the best thing to do was to surprise them on the doorstep by bringing their case of wine direct to them. And can you imagine that, someone you’ve just been talking to on the phone just turns up and goes look, I just wanted to make sure it arrived, so I delivered it myself. And that is a great example of how you turn a problem into real opportunity.
Yeah, we’ve all got examples of how we do that and I think as businesses, entrepreneurs as marketers we’ve always got to focus on going the extra mile and there’s so many ways we could do that, I remember seeing someone, I was just searching online and saw a blog post about one of my brands and it was just a bit weird. They talked about the brand and some one had left an old product on their doorstep so, I don’t know if someone in the neighbourhood had left an old vacuum cleaner, left it on the doorstep, it was broken, it wasn’t working and it was like well who would do that, so my response was actually to send them a brand new product which was obviously working under my brand.
This was all about building your brand, building relationships, trying to surprise and delight to consumers and they were completely shocked that A. I had listened, B. that I’d done something about it and C. it was actually something that they needed. And the shared media, the shared social posts gained a bit of traction amongst her family and friends, and it went a bit broader than that and all it was was taking action when you see someone talk about your product or brand, perhaps in a negative, perhaps in a positive but not letting that sort of pass you by.
Authenticity is Key
Absolutely, surprise and delight is critical, but we’ve seen in recent times that authenticity is key. There’s a story actually carried out across the pond and it’s getting a lot of media attraction about a plumber in the UK, I think Burnley in the North of England who had been called out to fix a boiler or some appliance in a ladies home who was slightly older, and when he submitted the invoice he put zero pounds for the equipment, zero pounds for time and labour, zero for the pieces and the tools and everything, so basically everything was zero pounds. That story has travelled the globe and now I’m sure he’s getting phone calls off the hook for his services and what he does, simply by just doing something good, doing the right thing and a kind gesture and actually for me that’s heart-warming, but another example on how you can impact people, and you can impact the trajectory of your business and your brand by doing something authentic in a genuine way and people will respond to that favourably.
Yeah, I mean it is heart warming to see that story has got to the States, I’m very pleased about that, I think he’s also now looking at how he can set a plumbing service up for the over eighty fives or something like that, ensuring they don’t have to pay for any of their plumbing services. You know again great, but you have to come back to the point that it has to be authentic, it’s got to be with purpose, it isn’t some marketing gimmick, as soon as you start doing it.
I think we’re all getting slightly tired that every time you have a phone call, or you visit a website they go ‘we’re really interested in your feedback’ because now it just looks a bit vanilla, everyone’s doing it and you think “well you’re not really because you asked me that two days ago and you haven’t even realised I gave you that feedback then”. So, I think you’ve got to come back to those human examples that technology can’t do. That has to be about turning that weakness into a strength, I think.
Yeah, think about it Chris, we kicked off talking about sustaining growth, so how do you actually do it, how do you go about it?
I think the first thing is that on the ground it is about a constant temperature check and pre planning. Three points Sam, I think. First one is as I’ve said, make sure you’re doing it scalable and you know your limits. Quite often people find themselves saying stocks run out and we can only get four customer service staff and not eight, or variety of different things, or the servers won’t cope with demand, so make sure you know your limits.
Take the temperature of your customers consistently and put it right, don’t store it on trouble as it will be harder to get momentum. So, if something’s wrong, deal with it in that moment, and have that escalation process. I think you almost need to approach it like an agile method of working, where you’re looking at customer complaints and you think how do we prioritise these and how do you drive it up.
The third one is act while you can and make sure you seize the day. If you’re an enterprise you have to be able to act fast, even if your normal planning cycle is two years if you were seeing an opportunity where the growth is happening now and be it, you’ve managed to get some environmental impact or it’s just become in vogue again- you’ve got to take advantage of it and that is about ripping up the rule book and making sure that you do that. I bet you’ve got a few examples of that from your time as well.
The Future of Marketing
Well, yeah and as you were talking there Chris, my mind was going to the sad thing that I am seeing in the industry right now. More and more everything that we’ve spoke about has been from the marketing perspective and more and more we’re actually seeing that role under threat and seeing a risk that the marketing role is becoming more obsolete. The trend in executive suites these days is replacing the Chief Marketing Officer position and replacing it with this pesky new role called the Chief Growth Officer who oversees both sales and marketing, martech and other perceived growth drivers, so your RND, product and other parts of the value chain.
So, will the CMO be around in five years? I’m really concerned that it’s going to be replaced by the Chief Growth Officer and think about the role of a marketer’s growth and transformation which means you’ve really got to design your job around three things. Making sure that you win with employees and skilling and upskilling them and making sure they have the correct skills for today, customer and consumer trust. So being strategically and competitively fit with your consumers but also the customers who you may sell to and the shoppers who actually ultimately buy, and a lot of stake holder management, you’ve got to make sure that you have strong interpersonal relationships with key internal stakeholders. You’ve also got to make sure that you’ve got the right processes in place to support your marketing technology and marketing culture. So, a lot of those elements are critical for the CMO to own, to drive successful outcomes. But anyway Chris, I’ve been ranting about the Chief Growth Officer.
No, no it’s a really good point but I wouldn’t worry too much, Sam. I think that the term now generally tends to be CMO, two or three years ago it was all about customer experience directors, two years before that it was all about multi-channel marketing directors, then there was a bit of a challenge from product directors and how much would be run out of product management versus marketing and before that it was are you a digital marketing director or do you work on the core business.
And I think that the bottom line is that one of the things marketing does a lot and not necessarily for its own good I think is rebrand it’s job but ultimately, I think you have to ride the different waves, the ocean doesn’t really change. Head of growth, growth hackers, growth officer, it does allow an organisation to focus and everyone to align behind it, and if that playing field is to be reset then it shouldn’t be a shoe in for the marketing director, I think there will be other skilled disciplines like a product director, for example, that would be able to do that and that’s fine, I do think the healthy competition is fine but sometimes we can find that we’re reinventing some of the roles.
Ultimately, if it’s about growth and it’s about focusing on the martech, the marketing and the sales and those perceived growth drivers that you articulated, I would want my CMO’s to be making sure that they were top of the pile of that and relevant and not stood still, which relates back to a couple of things that we were talking about before. Make sure that we’re demonstrating resilience, adaptability and agility, marketing used to have their own territory, but so did sales and tech and I think that that is a time long gone now. At the moment it’s much more about collaborative working, there’s a lot of merging between product management, sales, marketing and the roles shift all the time. So, I wouldn’t worry too much, I think this podcast isn’t going to be redundant for a few years yet.
What Should Marketers Be Striving For?
You were describing what they should be focused on, I think marketers should be equally adamant and advocating in moving the conversation forward and building the function and the organisation for future growth. And the modern marketing P&L has elements of volume, so making sure you drive the volume in new and modern ways which could be the online shop ability or the non-branded share of voice that your brand has versus other brands. Engagement is a huge part of what the P&L should be, again this may not be traditional financial P&LL.
The marketing P&L means your content, your internal content, customer relationship management, processes and work streams, advocacy, again another key element of the modern P&L in terms of what’s your brand health, your net promotor score, customer sentiment and all of those things will drive your business result, drive your revenue, we’ve used the word capabilities but definitely your marketing technology, your consumer journey, the competitive fitness in terms of having the right tech in the right place are all key elements in doing marketing today. So yes, I would still say the marketer needs to define what a modern P&L is to ensure that the marketing role is elevated and has a seat at the board table but also drives the business and financial agender.
So, how do they achieve it then, Sam? What do you think looking at it through your lens, what do they need to do?
Well, the key question I keep coming back to is does your company invest in marketing capabilities upfront? Capabilities from the perspective of actually the staff, the technology, the infrastructure, the organisation, but do they really value investing in people, investing in building the organisation, I think the organisation needs to ensure a lot of those roles or those functions I talked about, those areas have career pathways within the organisation as well. So that you see marketing as much more than just advertising and communication, you actually see it as the technology, you see it as the customer relationship and the data driven roles. You see it as the brand building roles but also you see it as a revenue generator opportunity as well. So, does your organisation invest in marketing capability for developing the people but also building on infrastructure to ensure that you’re fit for today and the future?
Yeah, I get that I get that. Let me give you a scenario though, coming back to our topic around growth and blockages. If I’m a CEO worried about how sales have dropped off last week and my cashflow can’t sustain it for much longer, it’s difficult to think about planning for the future and it's difficult- we’ve all been in that situation where training budgets are one of the first things to go -and certainly personal development too. So, how can we do what you’ve talked about quickly, cost effectively, as part of the day job while we’re focusing on getting the growth in? You don’t want to end up being part of the problem, you don’t want to end up being a part of those blockages that we’ve been talking about. Sam, how many times have you seen training cancelled or delayed when a company is under pressure, how do you manage that, how do you manage both of those successfully?
Well, the key thing is to remember that training is not just for the sake of learning in a vacuum, it’s actually to think better, it’s not just theory, it’s designed for practice. And who wouldn’t want to invest in that? Understanding what programmatic means- that you’re better at briefing but also deciding on the responses that you’re going to give back to your agency. So, you’re being a better partner if you actually understand what that means, or understanding the right metrics to inform creative choices, or marketing choices, turning things on and off or implementing new creative that works even better. Not deciding upfront based on what the CMO prefers, you know in the complacency of ‘said it and forget it’ marketing. The critical thing is the investment in growing your business today and driving your business results, not something that is deemed a luxury or a side bar when we have time or when we can get to it.
Yeah, fair enough. I buy that absolutely.
So, Chris, bringing it back to the blockages, how do we seriously remove them, talk to your boss and make it happen? How have you done it in real life.?
For me, it has to be about focusing on that common goal, that collaboration with your tech team and your sales team and your business ops team and your customer services team. You want them all believing in, not just seeing the graph go up, but seeing customer satisfaction stay incredibly high. I think unless you really focus on customer satisfaction, then sooner or later you’re going to have a problem. So, first thing I try and do is make sure that we’re all focused on that so that you can have a good conversation. Because if you’re seeing stuff that’s stopping you, process not working, not being delivered on time, lack of marketing budget, you want to be able to make sure that everyone is speaking the same language, that’s the first thing.
The second thing is it has to be about imperative. These are problems that cannot wait a day, a week, a month and I think sometimes we forget that businesses are driven by those commercial measures. Fair enough, you might be in a start up or equity backed organisation where it is said you’ve got a runway of a year or eighteen months, therefore as long as we see momentum, you’re fine, but ultimately that changes. Unless you can find that discipline where you’re looking at those commercials on a day in day out basis then you’re going to be screwed at some point in the future. Therefore, making sure that you’ve got that commercial discipline where you’re looking at the data and you’re understanding what you’re going to do as a result of it I think are the two steps that I would say to unblock the blockages.
The final one is about being prepared for the unexpected. Most of the time, this isn’t just part of the play book and therefore you have to be adaptable, you have to be resilient and, as you talked about the evolving skills that are required, whether we call it a growth officer or what we may well call in the future- the bottom line is about how do you understand the marketing tech stack, how do you make sure you’ve got a really strong understanding of the capabilities and how do you bring those influencing skills to bare so that you have all of the organisation in a matrix structure working for you. So that’s what I would say Sam. Any you think I’ve missed there?
No, I think you’ve been quite comprehensive in covering the key areas and thank you for bringing it back to the show topic that we kicked off with.
That’s alright. So, look Sam, that’s the time, times getting on. Bring us home.
Three Key Take Outs and Reflections
Sure, so, I’d say the first one is to be and bring a solution focus in terms of customer satisfaction, centricity and also the adaptability and resilience that is required to succeed in this role.
I’d say the second one is we discussed whether or not the CMO will survive and I think we conclude that actually the CMO actually will survive, yes there is a Chief Growth Officer out there, but the CMO role is still critical and they need to be able to blend the old school but also bring the new school.
And the third thing I would leave you with is the idea of the marketing P&L of the future. Yes, there are the classic sales and financial drivers, but you’ve also got to think about the modern drivers of sentiment, engagement and advocacy which all contribute to driving momentum in your business results and business outcome.