When I was in 8th grade, my friends and I saw a Saturday movie at the mall about a scientist who accidentally discovered a powerful potion. Rub it on, and you become invisible. After it wore off, you became visible again. How exciting! We chattered away the rest of the day talking about the pranks we’d pull if we had a bottle of that potion. In our teenage excitement, we came up with ideas that involved whoopee cushions, moving furniture just before people sat on it, and spying on the girl’s locker room, as you can imagine. It was hilarious fun for 13-year-olds.
What isn’t so funny is when businesses become invisible to their prospects. It isn’t deliberate. They are not hiding, necessarily. They’ve just fallen off the radar. In a turbulent economy, business leaders need to be more vigilant to changes in the market, not less so.
A few years ago, US-based businesses were faced with reduced marketing budgets and the focus became on how to find the leverage points so that we were investing in the promotions that had the highest payoffs. Now, as several firms I’ve been working with have set more ambitious goals for the coming year than in the past, we’ve noticed that it is easier for mid-market companies to take commanding positions in the marketplace than expected, in industry after industry, from IT integrators to green tech firms to media companies.
Some firms in the last two years chartered a clear course, have moved ahead, and grown predictably. Some have scaled back their ambitions deliberately for strategic or practical reasons. Then there are some firms that think they have held ground or – worse – don’t know where they stand, when they’ve actually fallen into a crack. Why has it become dangerous to stand still, even in an uneven economy?
First, we have a more savvy and connected B2B market than ever before. Smartphone market penetration is now at 43% of the US population according to a Nielsen study. That’s 2 out of 5 in the general population; among business leaders (i.e. decision makers) it’s probably closer to 4.5 out of 5. They have become standard issue, no longer luxuries. Are you connecting with your clients and prospects via new messaging technologies and offering smartphone apps? If not, too bad. That’s where your buyers are, and if you’re not there, you’re invisible.
Second, the tools and services for reaching your target market have become more sophisticated. The dominant online leads databases have gotten the message that accuracy equals survival. New services have sprung up that allow marketing departments to identify and communicate with qualified buyers like never before. Too many marketing departments (and outsourced firms) have focused on the wrong end of social media campaigns with the wrong end of metrics pointed at fans and followers, rather than the ability to reach self-identified audiences with targeted messages. Seeing the jaws of CEOs drop when we pull a list of highly targeted prospects who we can reach inexpensively has become a highlight of my week.
Third, the labor pool has some extraordinary talent and ambition. As you interview for new positions, you’ve got to upgrade the questions you ask to reveal how your candidates have been applying themselves while in between positions. Some will have detailed opinions and knowledge of American Idol contestants and others will surprise you with fresh ideas on how you can use Pinterest to test a new marketing message or use a service like BlogFrog, for example, to gather new customer insights to make your next product launch more successful.
So here is a dose of marketing medicine that will help, even if it doesn’t taste so good immediately: if you know of a business that’s stuck in a rut, know that it is due more to poor leadership than poor opportunities. And unfortunately, it won’t wear off like the invisibility potion in the Disney movie. You’ve got to first connect with and/or ignite your desire to reach more of your market and help more people with your products and services. The tools, technologies, and talent are available. The growth path is wide, welcoming, and waiting.
Your Path to Growth:
- Review your marketing plan for the past quarter. How closely have you followed it? Are you presenting the image of your company that is consistent with your current growth aspirations or is it more in line with your past?
- Examine your current pipeline. Are the projects and clients you are pursuing representative of the business you want to create in the next 6-12 months? If not, it’s time to aim higher.
- Do you have competencies on your team to make sure you are taking advantage of the current state of marketing sophistication? In a time of doing more with fewer people on your team, it’s easy to overlook new tools or new resources.