Archives for category: Marketing

Scaling a business is hard. Sometimes it must feel like you’re literally having to scale the business, in the sense of climbing up it, or order to scale it in the sense of growing it out, sustainably.

Scaling a business is perhaps the third stage in a company’s existence. At first you’re a solution to a problem, trying to get traction. In the second stage you’re a company with product market fit. People have a need for what you provide, and if you took what you provide away from them they would be in trouble.

Scaling the business is the third stage, where you’re building the business in a way that it can keep on building. Whereas you can see how a business moves from first to second stage, it’s less clear cut how the transition works from stages two to three. There might be a gaping chasm to cross, which calls to mind a very famous business book from two decades ago.

A scale up is defined as a company that grows by 20% or more for three consecutive years, starting from a base of at least ten employees. So, where a company can move quickly from stage one to stage two, getting to scale-up stage is a significantly longer investment, of time and money. Furthermore, by the time you’re getting close you may not have in place the right structure, the right foundation and the right people that got you from one to two, and almost to three.

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I love a good heteronym, don’t you? A heteronym is two versions of the same spelled word that mean different things but are pronounced differently. In this blog post title, I’m referring to the word ‘live’ as in ‘we’re live in 10 seconds’, not as in ‘we live here’.

This post is not really about language, though, it’s about decision-making and about how mass communication has changed these days. I was talking to a neighbour of mine the other day. He’s a cameraman for a TV station here in Ireland. He was explaining how TV has gone. Many people now watch their drama in box sets or via piped, on demand television. The only currency in television nowadays, he said, was in live news and live sports. People still need to live in the moment and experience the present tense as it unfolds.

My neighbour is in the news business and was getting exasperated in a team meeting about a news item. A decision was not forthcoming and time was running out. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘either we go live, or go home.’ So succinct really. We’re in the live news business, we either get out there and film this thing or we’re done for the day, otherwise we miss the window, the moment has gone.

If you’re in the business of producing television, you either go live or you go home. Currency is the currency.

This post, according to the admin screen of WordPress, is blog post 900. That’s exactly 300 weeks of writing and publishing 3 blog posts a week. You see, a mathematics education has not been a waste.

When I first started this blog, in September 2013, I wanted get into the habit of writing regularly. I also wanted to write a book, in my spare time. The act of writing the blog, in short punchy posts that the reader can get through in a minute or two, has guided the shape of the book. I started the book in 2015 and finished it in 2018. It was a long process. Now I’ve finished sourcing the imagery for the book. All I gotta do now is get it designed, laid out, proofed and published.

I’ve started making noises about stopping this blog at exactly blog post 1,000. That’s in a little over 33 weeks’ time, at my current level of productivity. Again, it’s amazing what the human mind can compute. I should really get the book out there before blog post 1,000, so that’s a rather nice milestone for me to aim for. Then this blog would have topped and tailed the book project, formed a temporal ring around it if you like.

Which feels like a good thing to do. Onwards and upwards! Thanks for reading at least 1 of the 900 posts so far.

I took a leaf out of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment-writing book the other day. You may recall the famous – and almost certainly mythical – job ad from a century ago:

MEN WANTED

for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.

Simon Sinek used it as the perfect example in ‘Start With Why’ of how to get people with similar values to yours to follow you for the right reasons.

How does the Endurance expedition from the 20th century connect with my project in 2019? Well, I’ve written a book and I’ve sourced the imagery. It’s not a long book to read, but it is a book of many pages. You might say it’s a coffee table book. I know how I want the book to look. I need a designer to take on the ‘arduous’ task of designing and laying out the words and pictures of a publication which will stand or fall by how it looks. It’s not an easy task and I haven’t much money to bargain with. What I’m hoping for is to spark the interest of someone else who shares my desire to see other people succeed, since that’s what the book – and a lot of what I do in my job – is about.

I can’t offer them a job, but I do need a job doing, if you see the distinction. Hopefully they do too.

A while back I wrote a post called Are You Working In or Working On? Working in the business is a ‘head down, bottom up’ thing where you’re getting stuck into the everyday tactical stuff. Working on the business is the strategic, directional side of it.

I want to tweak that question slightly in this post, to this: are you working on something, or towards something? This to me is a pretty fundamental question. There’s no right or wrong answer. In fact, I think you have to do both.

Working on something means you’re in the moment, dealing with the present tense, getting it done. Working towards something means you’ve an eye to the future, or to a destination. It’s like the difference between the journey and destination. A means in itself, or a means to an end.

If we don’t know where we’re going with something it’s hard to shape what we’re doing right now. Conversely, if we don’t know where we’re going with something we can learn from the journey. After all, we can’t necessarily see the finish line but we can see the next few hundred yards and that’s enough to keep us on track.

Keeping an eye on what we’re working on sets us up for what we’re working towards. Keeping the other eye on what we’re working towards improves the quality of what we’re working on. Sounds like a pretty virtuous circle to me.

 

Do you remember the phrase ‘there’s an app for that’? You’d hear it all the time, until apps started to tail off a year or two ago, to be replaced by web-responsive-designed websites. So now it’s a case of ‘there’s a website for that.’

The other day I landed at Galway train station for a meeting, but I wanted to post a letter first. I don’t know Galway city well enough to remember where all the post boxes were, and I’ve mentioned before how they’re quite scarce compared to their UK counterparts.

‘Wouldn’t it be great if someone designed a website that told you where your nearest post box was,’ I thought. ‘Wait a minute, may be there is.’ A minute later, a search for ‘post box near me’ led my phone to offer up postboxmap.com. I located the nearest postbox, a 1-minute walk away, and I was off to my meeting with 5 minutes to spare.

Maybe I could have simply asked my smartphone verbally rather than through google, and maybe I’ll be tapping keys much less often in future, but I was still very pleased to have found what I needed in such a short space of time.

A picture tells a thousand words, as the well-worn phrase goes. Most of us would find it very easy to use up a thousand words describing a painting, picture or diagram, and a good picture kind of does all the work for us. People find it much easier to retain something visual, so as sales people, marketers and storytellers we rely on a picture to bring people along. I tend not to do it so much myself, but a lot of people at work tend to want to whiteboard what they’re explaining.

I’m a words guy rather than a picture guy, but that’s not to say I don’t appreciate a good picture. A good picture is simple, powerful and influential. Pulling against this force is the desire to put everything in, include all the thousand words so that nothing gets left out, or left to chance in the mind of the person we’re trying to communicate with. When we do this we risk the simple message being lost, so we’re back to square one.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped me trying, at every business I’ve been involved with, to draw picture of everything that goes on in the organisation, so we can show how it all fits togethers, all the elements and interdependencies. Every time it gets too complicated, too difficult, and I run out of space.

The other day I mapped all the sales, marketing and service functions for your typical organisation serving a customer through their entire lifecycle, from not-yet-a-prospect through to an active advocate customer. It came out as a multi-ringed circle diagram, and I quite like it. I might have cracked it. It helps me help companies see where the gaps are in their coverage and strategy, where the holes are in their 360-degree view of their customers. Of course, it’s not exhaustive, you’d probably need ten thousand words for that, and there’s not a powerpoint slide, poster or whiteboard that could do justice to that level of detail.

You have to stop somewhere, and I have. It’s my new shiny ten thousand word picture. Now I need to test on my market and see if they get the big picture.

Our American business friends love the phrase ‘peeling back the onion’. It’s used a lot as a metaphor for life, but I hear it in business most of the time. People use it to describe how you can layer a story or a whiteboard to get your message across, or to reduce something complex and muddle to something simpler to grasp, but for years I was never sure I knew exactly what they meant.

Sure, I get the analogy of how you can remove the layers of an onion, and there is a satisfying feeling to doing it that probably dates back to six-year-old-birthday-party games of ‘pass the parcel’, but there’s not much to it when you peel away the inside layer. There’s no reward in the centre of an onion.

For me, the direction is wrong. Even though I’m an outside-in kind of a guy – by which I mean that I need to understand the whole picture so I can see how the little bit I’m dealing with fits in – I much prefer the inside-out onion layers approach, starting with the core and adding back in the onion layers, or the concentric rings of a diagram, as you go.

Adding the onion layers, rather than peeling them back, starts with something small and simple and builds as you go. It’s not a breaking down or disassembling process, it builds from the nub, the core, the kernel, and layers on the colour, complexity and detail.

‘I’ve had nothing back from her.’

‘Radio silence so far.’

‘She’s not come back to me yet.’

‘Nope, still waiting, got nothing back.’

This is par for the course when you’re trying to reach people in business, at work or at play. It’s not even confined to sales people trying to reach prospects and customers. We’re all busy and we’re all trying to reach other busy people whose agendas and priorities don’t necessarily mesh with ours.

It still makes it tough to get through your work and keep on track if you rely on input from others. You can get all scientific and favour certain days of week and certain times of the day, and then you’ll have those days when you get nothing back from anyone, which can be pretty frustrating.

We have to keep plugging away. We have to use all our skills and powers of persuasion to make sure we package those emails, voicemail messages and chats in a way that’s going to appear minimum impact to the recipient, with the maximum chance of a positive response.

Funnel and Hubspot Flywheen

Funnel and Hubspot Flywheel

For decades we’ve been talking about funnels – or hoppers – to talk about how we manage sales, especially in B2B circles. Marketing throws leads into the top of the funnel, perhaps helps leads advance down the funnel, and sales pushes them down through the bottom until they emerge out of the funnel as a customer, a sale. It’s also assumed that the funnel has holes in the sides, since leads and opportunities get qualified out or are lost during their journey, but that’s not really talked about and not what I’m talking about either.

Then there’s the flywheel. The flywheel analogy and image is a Hubspot creation, – at least I think they originated it – and aims to better integrate the customer, ideally the delighted customer, into the selling process from an advocacy point of view. After all, with the funnel, once the opportunity emerges as a customer there’s not a natural way for it to come back into the funnel as a repeat customer or as an influencer to a new customer.

I like the flywheel approach, although I prefer a wheel analogy myself, and I can see where they’re going with the idea that a flywheel increases in speed due to the rotational energy of delighted customers feeding fuel to the marketing and sales engine.

Hubspot acknowledges that you still need funnels in a business that measures its success, and argues that you can put funnels within the various stages of the flywheel. That doesn’t seem particularly elegant and they don’t even try to present it visually. But, viewing your customer’s buying journey as a circle rather than a straight line certainly helps you keep your focus on developing your existing business and leveraging customers to bring in new business.