The changing tides of digital
So much in the digital world has changed in recent years. There's been a lot of growth and transition as the industry matured. Tactics that used to work well are dying. Technologies that didn't exist just a couple years ago are catching fire. Gone are the days of the inbound funnel where prospects simply convert through a series of forms and downloads through the awareness, consideration, and decision stages. Artificial intelligence, chat bots, sales enablement, and video marketing are trending sharply. Things are changing so fast, it's difficult for organizations to keep up.
Agencies are doing different things these days, and I believe it's all been led by buyer behavior. As consumers have evolved,
I talk to a lot of people trying to get their company to the top. They come to us looking for help acquiring new customers online. My observation is that most organizations aren't attacking the change properly, or even at all. Most of the companies we talk to have fallen well behind. They're facing serious issues with their technology stack. They don't have the marketing assets and collateral to compete. They don't have the infrastructure or processes to track, manage, and serve potential buyers in the marketplace. They're not getting found often enough and aren't worth being found. They aren't capable of treating their prospects and customers the way they expect to be treated these days, and they're missing out on a lot of business because of it.
Understand what you really need to build in order to win
I think the central problem is that organizations don't really understand the game they're trying to play. They're working off partial information that's also often completely outdated. Inbound marketing isn't the answer. Sales enablement is little more than a buzz word in most cases. A strong social media presence is only a fraction of the equation. If you want to grow your business by leveraging the power of the internet, you're committing to building a sales machine. A big, digital sales engine that works while you're sleeping. It's bigger than your sales team. It's bigger than your marketing team. When developed correctly, it's a completely connected combination of all the latest capabilities, working together towards a common goal.
So that's what this article is about. I want to share our approach to winning with digital at this point in time. Things change quickly. A year from now this article will undoubtedly need updates. If I think back to a year ago, there's a portion of our current tactics that we weren't even considering.
Emerging Trend 1 - Introducing the Growth Stack
I'm going to point out five digital marketing and sales trends that our agency believes are gaining traction. They're a combination of strategies and tactics that are emerging as keys for success. They're all working well to drive results where other options are not.
The first trend is the concept of the Growth Stack, or Growth Machine, as I prefer to call it. This is really just a new way of illustrating the need for a completely connected strategy for growing your business through online channels. It's the concept of blending a complete set of strategies, technologies, and people into a cohesive sales and marketing system. I'll cover a lot of details as we go, but the growth stack is the emerging trend you need to get behind. Warning, you very well may need to change your mindset if you want to win.
How we approach growth stack sales and marketing
We know why Growth Machines succeed, and we certainly know what makes them fail. Over the years we've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. We know you're eager to see results and also interested in developing a system for scale. We believe it's our role to guide you through that journey and help you reach your goals. We believe our role as an agency is to guide our clients through the complications and tribulations that come with this journey.
Our agency structure, processes, and technology stack have been built to maximize the results organizations gain from their Growth Machine. We have the core understanding, experience, and expertise in deploying the digital tactics and emerging trends necessary to reach new clients on the internet. Our clients have the intellectual property and industry expertise that make our efforts connected and extraordinary. Our recipe is simple, to combine our strengths within the growth stack to build a winning combination.
We design and develop the complete sales and marketing system to increase client acquisition rates in most cases. While there is a wide array of organizational value to be had, the general the purpose of the growth machine is to rain new clients. To get to the point where new opportunities flow, we need to get the entire system in place and live, so we can enter into a continuous cycle of improvement. Growth stacks can't take years to come together. They can't be stalled by the pursuit of perfection and over-engineering. They need to launch fast and then continue to be built upon in a live state. More on this later.
Why your growth machine is the most valuable asset in your organization
Your digital sales and marketing efforts should include the development of a digital sales machine that's built to serve your organization for years to come. The growth system and strategy we build will generate value well beyond sales leads. The growth stack has a much bigger-picture value.
- Improved brand awareness, identity, and reputation
- Increased performance across all key performance metrics we goal towards
- Real-time visibility into all marketing/service/web/sales activity, as well as lead sources
- Increased effectiveness for sales with lead follow up, active selling time, accuracy, and win-rates
- A centralized hub for managing and tracking a total customer experience
- Your website will serve as your #1 tool for sales, marketing, and customer service
There aren't many assets that provide the business with that level of value. I think the business world is still lacking the ability to truly conceptualize and leverage digital assets to this degree. I believe a lack of understanding and lack of tangibility are key reasons why technology-based systems aren't valued the same as other organizational assets. It's easy to put a tangible value on people, buildings, and products. It's harder to get a grip on the deep level of capabilities and value that lurks behind the veil of 'the cloud.' Make no mistake, it's in there. You just have to set it up correctly and then turn it loose.
Winning with digital takes vision, and mindset for growth
One of the most common reasons for lagging, stagnant, or abandoned digital campaigns comes from a lack of organizational buy-in and top-down leadership. Success comes from a commitment to success. If your organization wants to get serious about competing to win online, you have to get behind this initiative. They have to build and lead the vision for modernizing their business processes.
I've seen a lot of great plans killed by organizational in-fighting and power struggles between departments. I've seen sales individuals refuse to adopt systems, built to support them in serving the buyer's expectations because they were too entrenched in old habits. I've seen organizations that overcame these challenges with strong leadership, and other organizations give up and fall further behind. There are many things that can make the Growth Machine die in the early innings, but none are as common or ominous as misaligned vision.
If you want to get it right, everything can't be a fight. You can't afford to have people working against each other, preventing progress, stalling deliverables, and fighting the modernization initiative. My call to action is for leadership. You must embrace an attitude for change because the world we're competing for new clients has changed. The Growth Machine will provide plenty of opportunities for quick wins and confidence-building achievements, but it's the long-term success most businesses crave. My warning is that you shouldn't get so caught up in short-term results that you take your focus off the long-term scale. If you want immediate results, advertise. If you want to build a system that pays the organization back for years to come, build a Growth Machine and get into a continuous improvement process. Make adjustments, but don't make sacrifices.
The need to have a big-picture view of results, goals and scale
I believe it's critically important to understand that results don't come overnight. While there are always opportunities for quick wins and early success, it's the sustainable and scalable Growth Machine you should goal towards. The approach requires vision, patience, and careful execution to bear fruit.
Vision comes from looking down the road towards goals and putting plans together to help you get there. We believe in providing a road map for the first year, so our clients have a good idea of how strategies and priorities will change. We know successful Growth Machines require different elements, strategies, and tactics at different points in time, especially in the early months, when global strategy elements and systems requirements are so heavy.
On the other hand, it can be really difficult to see 8 or 10 months down the road. Everyone involved will learn a lot from the successes and struggles faced during the first year. I'm a big fan of letting performance metrics light the path forward. I'm leery of agencies that believe the best way for organizations to grow is with an Inbound retainer with the same amount of the exact same activities, run for 12 straight months. In my experience, growth campaign priorities must evolve to maximize effectiveness at different points in time.
Competing in this age of sophisticated buyers and changing strategies, I believe agencies need to be much more adaptable and versatile. They should be able to adjust strategies and assets as the campaign matures. Because of this inevitable desire to adjust tactics, Revenue River plans growth campaigns differently. We've found we can maximize results and reach client goals by taking an annual outlook with different themes to help everyone stay focused on what's important. The goals are the compass, and the road map has a few milestones to work towards.
Focused planning over shorter blocks of time
With an annual outlook in place, we'll get more granular over shorter periods of time. This is where I think there's room for different approaches. We have an approach we know works, but there are others. Many agencies leverage the Agile or Scrum for their clients, which spawned from software development project management process. This approach generally includes really short burns (often called Sprints) of days or weeks. While I appreciate the approach to planned execution over short periods of time, we've found an adaption to sprint planning to be highly effective.
We like to plan three critical phases of the first year through detailed planning. Each phase (or "Sprint") has a focused theme, and is customized with a different blend of strategies and tactics meant to provide an escalated pace of results. One key is that subsequent sprints are planned as the Growth Machine comes together, not before. It's so important to allow pieces to come together, data to begin coming in, and strategies to mature. Here's what the first year of a Growth Machine strategy should look like:
TOTAL LAUNCH PAD GROWTH MACHINE
In the first sprint you've got to get the critical pieces in place, live, and operational. I'll get into the detail below, but my advice is to do everything you can to ensure that all pieces of the machine get launched. Unnecessary hold ups with parts of the machine will prevent the other parts from being effective. This is foundational and fundamental. Success won't come from something that's half-built in draft mode.
WEAPONIZING THE GROWTH MACHINE
Once you get your Growth Machine off the ground, it's time to build some weapons. I describe the challenge of competing to win online like an arms race. Your competitors have been building munitions for years. They've built more weapons than you have. If you want to win the war, you have to weaponize. You have to build a lot of arms (marketing and sales assets) if you want to start winning some battles for new customers.
RACING TO GOALS
While I encourage prospects and clients to treat their digital strategy as one long race, proof of concept is important. Organizations can't wait forever for results to pour in, and I've found no better way to demonstrate that their Growth Machine strategy is working than by achieving their most meaningful goals. This phase of the plan should include less creation, more promotion, and the lion's share of any available advertising budget. You've built the weapons, now it's time to win a battle.
Technology is at the heart of digital success
One of the first things we discuss with a prospect is their technology stack. We want to know what they have to work with, recommend what they may need to add in the short term, and even develop a roadmap for
The need to blend a best-of-breed software stack around your team has never been so important. It's also never been so complicated. The Chief Marketing Technologist has been documenting technology landscapes since 2011. Over that time, the technology that businesses have access to has exploded from 150 to 6,800.
With so many choices for technology, keeping track of which solutions will actually serve your business can be a real bear. Even for agencies built to research, learn, implement, and master new software, we can only evaluate a fraction of what's out there. At Revenue River we chose HubSpot to be at the heart of our technology expertise back in 2012. That bet has really paid off, as HubSpot is the clear best-of-breed solution for launching and managing a Growth Machine.
One reason they're they clear winner is because they've chosen to open up their system to all kinds of other software products. Connect Partners as they're called are free to access their API and build native integrations. That's completely opened up the arsenal for agencies and organizations alike, allowing us to configure robust technology stacks to solve literally any and every challenge the Growth Machine faces.
We serve as our client's software planning partner through the term of our relationship. It's our job to identify the need and best technology to solve, as well as lead them through evaluation and onboarding. I believe the organization should always own the licenses and control over everything we implement. This provides them peace of mind in knowing they're not entrenched.
As our relationship develops, we help our clients realize the value of each piece of technology, leveraging the unique capabilities each software provider offers. Our clients trust us to initiate timing and negotiations for each purchase, serving as an adviser on their behalf. As top partners with many of the suggested
Launching your Growth Machine
Before you can generate results you have to develop the critical elements of the growth stack identified during the sales cycle as priorities. From our phased approach above, the first step in a successful Growth Machine strategy is building the machine itself. We build growth systems for organizational scale, not for short-term results.
A cohesive strategy to bring everything together, fast
We believe in a launch pad strategy process because we've found it our best chance of getting all elements of the Growth Machine live and working in a short amount of time. This total-digital growth stack has to launch fast and provide value early. To get there, we first have to align our teams and future efforts towards the goals I keep referencing. We start by developing a strategy to get us off the ground quickly. Because of all the interconnected pieces involved, we can't over-engineer the system to the point we delay go-live. It's a careful balance of building a ton of critical elements.