To get from Canada to the United States in eastern Ontario, you need to cross the St. Lawrence River. When you cross the Thousand Islands Bridge, it’s like you are crossing two bridges. In between each bridge is an island. If you only cross one bridge, you get stuck on the island in the middle of the river no-man’s land.
This paints a picture of the crossing from strategy to execution. Many businesses get stuck in the middle of the river because they don’t have both bridges.
The first bridge is between strategy and planning. The second bridge is between the plan and execution.
Bridge #1: Focus-From Strategy to Plan
Without a plan, a strategy is simply an idea. The first bridge to revenue needs to convert your strategy into an actionable sales and marketing plan to attract and cross-sell ideal clients.
Rather than have one individual build the revenue growth plan, it should be created by the leadership team. When core leaders have input into the plan there is a much greater chance of buy-in.
The plan should be documented. It should contain a clear picture of your goals, Ideal Client profile, the Ideal Client Experience, and the sales and marketing processes that need to be created and optimized to drive revenue.
Bridge #2: Processes-From Plan to Execution
While the first bridge is critical, without the second bridge, you get stuck in the middle of the river. Plans need to be executed.
The key to execution is process. Most areas of a business like finance, HR, and production run on processes. However, when you look at sales and marketing, it’s more like the wild west. Sales people are told to, “Go make some calls!” Marketing people also tend to struggle with focus.
Implementing sales and marketing processes creates a bridge from the plan to execution. It allows you to understand the resources needed (people, message, technology, and data) needed to support the processes. When new sales and marketing people come on board, you can train them on the process.
Here’s the challenge: you need bridge builders. Visionaries like to live on one side of the river with strategy. Integrators live on the other side of the river with execution. While both these roles are critical, it is important to make sure that you engage resources to build the two bridges.
While bridge builders can come from inside your business, there are many benefits to engaging external resources to help you build the two bridges. At Convergo, we help teams build the first between strategy and the plan in our Revenue Growth Workshop. Then we build the second bridge between plan and execution by helping companies develop their core sales and marketing processes
Does this sound familiar to you: Your company’s monthly sales results look like a roller coaster at Six Flags. You’re up one month, then down the next. You have a great quarter, and then the next you drop off. Why do we experience the roller coaster ride with crazy peaks and valleys in our sales results? In this blog, we’ll talk about how you can create a more predictable sales funnel that is more consistent and has shallower valleys.
At its core, peaks and valleys in your sales funnel point to a lack of consistency. There isn’t a consistent stream of sales coming in, which means that your monthly numbers are all over the place and it’s hard to predict where you’ll be at the end of the quarter, year, etc.
We believe that this problem stems from a lack of consistent processes in both sales and marketing. One example of what this ends up looking like is that your sales reps may do seasonal prospecting. In January, everyone’s out pounding the pavement and getting prospects and then they have a great March because those orders from January finally closed. It may appear like the reps have been doing great work from January through March, when really they may have stopped prospecting at the end of January. So then they’re gonna have a bad April and May because they stopped prospecting months ago and the top of their funnel dried up. They’ll start their prospecting back up in April and May and have a good June.
This same issue happens with marketing as well. What happens if you aren’t consistent with your marketing efforts? For example, if you invest a bunch in Google ads and have a big campaign, you may rake in a bunch of leads. Then once you turn off your ad campaign, the leads dry up. The lack of consistency means that the leads come in spurts, rather than flow in.
Let’s talk about consistency and processes. At Convergo, we like to think that these two things go hand in hand. When things are happening consistently, you can turn them into formal processes. These processes should be trainable and optimizable. It’s crucial to put these repeatable processes in place because it sets you up for reflection, analysis and improvement. One big thing that we are driven on at Convergo is ensuring that companies have processes in place for net-new business, to make sure that your funnels don’t feel like a roller coaster, but rather a steady climb up and to the right towards your revenue targets.
If you implement consistent, well-documented processes that are expected and inspected and managed, then it can really even out those peaks and valleys.
Metrics Lead to Predictability
Increasing metrics are obviously a positive sign when it comes to sales and marketing. This can also be a valuable tool when adjusting any type of process within your business. Let’s say you know the clear gates between each stage of your pipeline and the conversion rate between one stage and the next is 50%. This allows for a more accurate adjustment because you have an actual number to go off of. It’s an easier way to keep an eye on the metrics that are doing well and those that are not. Check out our most recent blog post for a better idea of sectioned “gates” within the sales process.
Once you have clear processes you can measure two things: quantity and quality.
How often are your team members executing your processes and the activities at each step? How often does a prospect make it from one pipeline stage to the next? You have two things to consider once a process has been established and those are quantity and quality. It’s critical in sales that every aspect becomes a process because then you can actually count it and measure it, and then you have something that you can optimize. Always ask yourself what’s working and what isn’t really working. You want the roller coaster feeling of going up and up. Keeping up with the quality of those conversion rates is key. Without that quality, you’re probably going to be stuck on that roller coaster going up and down.
Progress, Not Perfection
So where do you begin? Maybe you have some activities happening consistently. Maybe you have a couple of formal, documented processes. Maybe you have a couple team members that are very effective and consistent.
One easy thing to get started is to pool all of your resources. Figure out which person is doing really well at each activity that needs to happen and figure out how you can turn what they are doing into formal processes that can be repeated by the rest of your team members. Basically, who is achieving very well in each stage and how can you replicate what they’re doing. Give all of your team members the knowledge and resources they need to have the same success.
Since you are now setting out to create repeatable and clear processes, you can now hold your team accountable. You may be able to have a measurable for each team member that you can coach them on now. For example, if the average conversion rate on your team between stage 1 and stage 2 is 50% and you have a rep who’s converting at 20%, it’s clear what you need to coach that rep on. If the average activity on a given stage is 20 per day, and you’ve got a rep that’s doing 5 per day, you have a coachable opportunity there. When you have repeatable processes, you end up with clear numbers that help you pinpoint coachable opportunities to help your team.
When we sit down with our prospects for a first initial meeting, we often discover that they don’t have a defined sales process or experience that they are guiding prospects and clients through. This can be challenging for a couple reasons:
- It’s difficult for managers to keep their team accountable to a loose process.
- It’s impossible to accurately predict what’s coming down your pipeline.
When clients come to us with an unclear and loose process, we jump at the chance to help.
The clearest way to describe the problem (and then to solve it) is that there are no defined gates between the stages, so nobody understands what it takes to move and motivate your prospect to move from one step to the next in the client experience.
What could happen if we don’t have formal “gates”?
A few things could happen if you don’t have formal gates between your pipeline stages. All of these make for an inefficient and unproductive team. Sales reps sometimes tend to skip over vital beginning steps, like a proposal based on an assessment or qualification. Without these important foundational steps, everything in the Client Experience becomes useless. We need to start early with some tangible gates.
“If you don’t hit the gate, you don’t get points for the gate.”
In the Olympics, kayakers and canoers alike must go through their gates before scoring any points for that run.
In your sales pipeline, if you didn’t go through the clear “gates”, you might be way down the course in handing a prospect a proposal that’s based off of nothing because you didn’t have relevant or meaningful gates earlier in your client experience.
- If you didn’t hit the gate to get into the previous stage of your experience which may be doing an evaluation of the prospect’s needs. In this stage you’d be defining their business problem and asking the prospect to validate and agree on it. If you skip that gate, the proposal you crate for them won’t be relevant to them. It won’t actually be helpful in solving their problems because you never took the time to figure out what their problem is.
- You’ll get into the next stage, and it’s not going to go anywhere. Because the proposal isn’t based off a business problem you can help them solve, you haven’t given them any motivation to sign the proposal and to actually do business with you.
- Until we understand a motive to move and we’ve defined a gate to the next stage, the pipeline is meaningless.
What does a good gate look like?
Firstly, they can’t be subjective. It’s best to have gates that require some sort of commitment, whether it be verbal or written from the client. It takes out all the guesswork in evaluating your pipeline and the commitment that your prospect has to keep working with you.
Examples of good gates
Let’s look at Convergo as an example.
Early on in our Ideal Client Experience — the Attract Stage — we’re attempting to get to know new contacts and leads. To do that we leverage a referral network and inbound marketing strategies to meet new people and get them into our CRM. Before somebody can leave the Attract phase and enter into the Engage Stage, they also need to be qualified. Your lead is lined up against some critical attributes related to your ideal client and Prospect Profile.
At Convergo, for example, one of our critical attributes — our Ideal Client Profile — to qualify a contact is that we work with companies that use the entrepreneurs operating system or a similar system. So if a lead comes in and they don’t meet that criteria, guess what, that person is not hitting the gate to the next stage and they can’t move forward in our pipeline. If they have met the criteria of our Ideal Client Profile, they’ve now clearly gone through the gate to the Engage Stage.
The gate to exit the Engage Stage and move to the Explore Stage is that an Explore Meeting is scheduled with the prospect’s leadership team.
To move from the Explore Stage to the Plan Stage, the prospect needs to sign a statement of work to do either an in person or virtual workshop with your team.
To move from the Plan Stage to the Grow Stage, the client needs to again sign a statement of work for an ongoing engagement with us.
Benefits of Having a Clear Client Experience with Defined Gates
Peace of Mind
Peace of mind is a huge benefit. When the pipeline is factual with clear gates, it provides a more consistent, accurate and predictable data and pipeline. If sales managers or executives look down the pipeline without organization, it would be difficult to predict its accuracy.
We want to be able to rely on accurate metric data and information. Metrics and data don’t lie.
Ability to Automate Appropriate Messaging
This whole process also allows for clear and concise messaging. It is important to keep clients in the loop when they are going through the Client Experience, answering their questions and providing content that shows you understand what their problems are and how you can solve them. This messaging is how Convergo gets our clients through the gates as efficiently as possible.
It makes it much easier to manage a team of salespeople if you have a repeatable consistent process. If you’re measuring your pipeline and you can trust your data, then you can begin to improve on the metrics and things are going to change for the better.
It provides a basis for that sales manager to not only to have an understanding at a macro level what business is going to come in next month, in three months, in six months, but also the ability to manage each individual rep much more effectively because each individual rep will have their own metrics that will that will provide a basis for sales management and coaching.
Overall it is important to have clear gates to help your prospects move through your client experience/pipeline and so those in leadership positions can more effectively manage the business.
To hit your goals you need competitive advantage. How can you create strategic advantage in your competitive marketplace where imitating competitors seem to frustrate your efforts to differentiate?
The answer for strategic advantage comes through customer experience.
As entrepreneurial companies that focus on operational excellence, the tendency is to think about driving new operational efficiencies to lower costs. We might also think about launching new products. While these are essential, they can be easily imitated.
The reality is that competitive advantage can be created based on how you deliver your products and services—your customer experience.
In his famous Harvard Business Review article, “What is Strategy”, Michael Porter defines strategic positioning as “the creation of a unique and valuable position involving a different set of activities.”
The way your company delivers products and services creates your strategic position. This means that you can create strategic advantage as you transform your buyer experience and customer experience.
Consider Uber. For people wanting to get from point A to point B, taxi cabs were the only option. Through the eyes of a customer, Uber looked at every stage of the buyer experience (finding and waiting for a driver) and the customer experience (riding in the cab and paying). This led them to improve every stage of the experience.
Yes, Uber created an app which drover operational efficiencies, but the app was primarily an enabling technology to make the experience better for the buyer. As a result of strategically positioning their company by improving customer experience, Uber generates almost $1 BILLION in revenue each month!
What do your buyers want? What could you do differently than your rivals at every stage of the buyer experience to create a more strategic position versus your rivals?
In their groundbreaking work, The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore say, “Even the most mundane transactions can be transformed into memorable experiences.”
What could you do to improve your customer experience? What if you applied creativity to each stage of your customer journey from the time a prospect first encounters your company through their entire lifecycle with you?
Michael Porter says, “The essence of strategic positioning is to choose activities that are different from rivals.” What could you do differently to create strategic advantage in your market?
I look forward to visits to the Apple Store. As a fan of the brand and a tech nerd, visiting any Apple facility is a joy to me. (I even went out of my way to see the visitor center at Apple’s corporate headquarters last time I was in Silicon Valley.)
So, last week when my wife said that she wanted to go to the local Apple store to get a new iPad, I gladly offered to go with her.
When I arrived at the store, there was a security guard watching the door. In the tent, another security person interrogated us, asking us why we were there. After explaining that we wanted to buy an Apple product, she then told us to wait our turn.
Understanding that accommodations need to be made, we waited patiently for our opportunity to go in the store. Surely the in-store experience would be better. After all, Apple is the gold standard for customer experience.
In the store, we found a makeshift wall of white plywood with booths kind of like a ticket booth at the train station. Behind the glass, the employee barely welcomed us or thanked us for coming in. Instead, they asked for our order number. We explained that we hadn’t placed an order. Instead, we decided to drive 30 miles to the store so we could see the various models of shiny new iPads. The store employee apologized and said they were out of stock on the model we wanted. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Nope.
I left the store dazed and confused. One of my favorite brands had confronted me with a dystopian experience.
Look, I’m not going to sell my Apple gear. The brand has 14 years of positive equity built up with me. But it got me thinking, “How does a store like Apple not get this better after a year of social distancing and updating processes for customer and employee safety?”
And, if my experience with Apple was like this, how are our clients experiencing our company?
I realize that we have all needed to make accommodations for the pandemic. I understand that going virtual is a challenge. I appreciate the reality that we need to protect our employees. I get that life in Zoom meetings or behind a sheet of plexiglass is not fun. All of this is true. However, it’s time for us to ask the question, “How can we make our experience better inside this virtual reality in which we must conduct business?”
Client Experience (CX) is critical to business success. Great experiences drive cross-sell revenue and loyalty. Poor experiences do the opposite.
Right now, it’s critical that we work as teams to improve customer experience. This applies to us for the remainder of the pandemic. It also applies as we chart our path forward beyond the pandemic.
Map Your Experience
The first step is to identify the stages of your experience. Look at it through the lenses of a prospect and client. What happens from the time they first encounter your company all the way through their time as a customer? Break it into stages. Then look at each stage and begin to ask, “How could we make this better?”
When we are leading a Revenue Growth Workshop for a company, I enjoy seeing teams of marketing, sales, and operations leaders work together to map their customer experience. Lightbulb moments happen as they put themselves in the place of their buyer or customer.
“This is the way we’ve always done it” simply doesn’t cut it in this dynamic market. As a result, we must be intentional to ensure that our experience is as remarkable as possible. Plus, with so many companies delivering a poor experience right now, creating a remarkable experience is a beautiful way to shine and create a competitive advantage.
Smart companies are intentional about every single experience. In Revenue Growth Engine I use my wife’s newborn photography business as an example. She has inspired me to pay attention to the details. Even as her business was able to open up with the right safety precautions in place, she has continued to look at the details of the experience she provides to new moms. The amount of goodwill and loyalty this creates is powerful, especially in the midst of so many bad client experiences that people have.
Consider New Options to Communicate
In his book, Never Lose a Customer Again, Joey Coleman outlines six options for communication that can be used during the stages of the client experience: in person, email, mail, phone, video, and presents. Your business may have relied on in-person interactions. During the pandemic, maybe you leaned heavily on email. What could it look like if you tried some other ways to communicate. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:
- Send a thank you card in the mail after someone makes a purchase or meets with you
- Send a creative mailer after the first meeting. (Interesting ideas in this podcast: Nick Runyon-Tactile Marketing Automation)
- Pick up the phone and call them (Tip of the hat to Jeb Blount!)
- Send a video in place of an email to re-humanize your interactions
- Find a gift to send that aligns with your values and supports the stage of the process
What can you do to improve your client experience? Take bold steps in this area and you will build competitive advantage that will drive revenue growth!