4 valuable lessons 2020 has taught us about ‘futureproofing’
- While the pandemic and economic downturn proved fatal for many businesses, some organizations have managed to not only survive, but thrive. The difference between the two? The companies who futureproofed their foundations to weather unexpected challenges that came their way.
- For organizations to have any hope at responding to unexpected external circumstances, the first step is making sure teams are aligned about everything. This spans interdepartmental playbooks, messaging and KPIs.
- Futureproofing also means thinking outside your ROI. Not everything should be linear. Companies should be investing in areas that contribute to brand perception and relationship building, even if the ROI isn’t immediate.
- Futureproofing helps companies think beyond the importance of collecting data. They identify potential markets and prime their schema for shifts in segmentation so they can adjust as needed.
- Organizations will be a step ahead when they shift to hiring “Swiss Army Knives,” seeking and developing talent to do more than one job so they can maximize their resources.
There’s no doubt about it – 2020 has thrown a curveball (or, more accurately, a bag of wrenches) into everyone’s plans. And in doing so, it’s called attention to the fact that businesses need to be able to make decisions quickly and keep their fingers on the pulse of customer changes. Unfortunately, many haven’t passed this test. But even if you haven’t, ‘futureproofing’ your business for uncertainty that is sure to come down the road again, is still achievable.
Whether you’ve had to pivot to a different segment of customer or completely uproot and re-tool your messaging to reach a buying committee of ten instead of two, you need to understand how your foundation dictates your results.
To that end, here are some important foundational lessons we’ve learned this year about what it takes to ensure you can react to any changing market condition successfully:
1) Alignment is everything
We’ve been beating the drum of alignment for a long time – and we’re not stopping anytime soon. Why? Because it works.
This year has only reinforced the fact that agile companies must be aligned at their core if they hope to respond swiftly to external circumstances. Future-proofed companies must have alignment in the following ways:
When COVID-19 hit, companies immediately began scrambling to create new sales playbooks, especially those who had previously been relying on outside sales. If there’s trust between sales and marketing, marketing can efficiently and adequately step in to help to scale these efforts. But if there isn’t initiatives like this often come off half-baked. And the trust must go both ways.
Marketing also needs to have a relationship with the sales team and understand the motions they go through. The only way to achieve trust is by stepping into the shoes of sales, get on prospect and client calls and understand the buyer with the same depth that sales does.
After all, that ‘marketing in a vacuum’ approach is why sales has a distrust of marketing in the first place; so by upping marketing’s buyer IQ it both allows for that critical relationship with sales and makes them better marketers in the process. Only then can both teams adapt to external events on the fly in productive, meaningful ways.
All too often, companies are siloed. This results in marketing’s failure to establish a unified organizational voice, which can be detrimental, especially in times of upheaval.
Think about it this way… Perhaps during the first half of this year, your marketing and sales teams have been trying to overserve what was an initially reluctant buyer and help them navigate the waters of the pandemic effectively in an industry decimated by COVID.
But then, unbeknownst to you, billing sends a template email threatening discontinue service due to an invoice that is only a couple days late. Tone deaf communication like this undermines relationships and makes your organization sound disorganized.
To avoid this, marketing should have their hands on the design of all messaging used across the organization. If that’s not possible clear guidelines have to be provided and communication visibility established cross-team to ensure everyone has full knowledge of the conversations taking place with customers.
Balance between leading and lagging indicators
Does your team have insight into what measurements really drive your company? Can they see their direct impact on these key levers? If they’re focused mostly on superficial metrics like how many attendees showed up to your webinar, you have work to do.
Your role is to align everyone around performance indicators that keep everyone moving in the right direction. Sure, we all need to track acquisition, eyeballs, clicks and all that, but our teams need to have visibility into lagging metrics as well. When change strikes, everyone has to make a difference – so they need to know their efforts are contributing.
The business’ net profit is what everyone is tied to, but they should also be held to leading metrics like bookings and campaign responses, and to hitting project timelines and whether a client buys again. This balance between leading and lagging indicators keeps everyone motivated and on track toward shared goals.
2) Think outside your ROI
Marketers have been conditioned to think linearly, in terms of ROI. But unwavering focus on only the channels that yield you the strongest straight-line ROI can shoot you in the foot when major world events unfold.
For example, consider the businesses that put all their eggs in the trade show bucket since it historically gave them the best returns. That worked fine – until the global pandemic shut down said trade shows.
They weren’t prepared to shift to digital tactics, and many of them crumbled under the pressure. The ones who did survive took far longer to shift strategies than was necessary.
So, think about building your brand and investing in areas that either don’t have immediate ROI attached directly to them or contribute to brand perception and relationship building. Maybe you’ve spent the last few years proclaiming that your buyers aren’t on Twitter or LinkedIn.
But guess what? You can bet they are now.
Time won’t be on your side if you suddenly find you need to build trust digitally, so you’ve got to start earning it today. Invest in those channels, even if they’re not your predominant acquisition channels. Then, when disaster strikes and the world is flipped upside down, you have the infrastructure in place to ramp up those areas quickly.
The same is true for content. If unexpected events occur, you won’t have time to create a new trove of content. During these times, focus now on building a solid content refresh engine, putting yourself in a position to simply refresh or re-package pieces when needed rather than scrambling to create something brand-new.
We recommend putting the bulk of your spend into the two or three acquisition channels that work best for you, and then peppering in some spend and infrastructure to support additional channels for an omnichannel approach.
If you already have a little bit of momentum in a relatively unfamiliar channel, you won’t have to waste time building it from scratch, evaluating partners, whipping up creative, and integrating the entire process when the proverbial crap hits the fan.
3) Your data should be the foundation
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk data. Many organizations had to go and get new data this year when the new coronavirus forced them to make changes, and it just added more time to their response. You should have access to data in all the markets to which you could possibly market; capture those data signals and keep them clean.
Furthermore, think about your data in terms of segmentation. Your data shouldn’t be hard coded just because you historically had success with customers in one or two industries. Your data schema needs to be primed to support more granular shifts in segmentation, allowing you to quickly slice data in a new manner and adjust the messaging accordingly.
We saw this with COVID along lines of company size, maturity and the market and buyers they served. Collecting this data is critical and it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, in order to do this your data must be clean and accurate.
4) We all need specialists who have interdisciplinary skills
Specialists are awesome and necessary. But if your team is made up only of specialists, you’ll be screwed when sweeping changes take place. You need core people who understand all of the disciplines and specializations around them.
They may be experts in product marketing, but when field marketing gets suddenly cut, they know how to take that on and think beyond their specific discipline. You need a couple power users who know where all the bodies are buried and can put on multiple hats if need be.
When you hire, think about hiring the human equivalent of Swiss Army Knives. They should be able to do more than one job, and you should have a clear line of sight into who has what experience. Then if you encounter a time when layoffs have to happen or departments get slashed, you can maximize the key resources you plan to keep.
It’s safe to say that none of us could have predicted the events of this year, but some reacted much more effectively than others.
But now that we’ve been able to identify the preparations that truly make an impact during times of unpredictable change, we can learn from them and do better by futureproofing our businesses for the next time we face disruption of this magnitude rather than furloughs, fear and failure.
Justin Gray is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue performance consultancy, having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. He has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture.
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