All the publicity surrounding the Copenhagen Climate Conference has reinforced the world-wide need for sustainable development. It seems clear that this can’t be left to governments alone – we’ve all got a role to play, and a responsibility to avoid wasteful behaviour.
Thinking about how we can all eliminate waste isn’t just good for the environment – it’s a powerful perspective for improving the efficiency and productivity of everything we do. And maybe we can do more with the idea than our politicians seem able to.
Where's the waste?
I’m specifically thinking about how we might establish a framework for sustainable sales and marketing. Ever since John Wanamaker famously complained that “half of my advertising is wasted – I just don’t know which half”, marketing has had a deserved reputation as a wasteful endeavour.
Of course the truth of the matter is that a great deal of conventional sales and marketing activity is far more inefficient than even John Wanamaker knew. I’d suggest that in sales and marketing terms, sustainability involves using our resources wisely to generate the maximum customer value with minimum wasted effort.
More Science than Art
I think it is (or should be) pretty obvious to everybody involved that neither marketing nor sales can continue to hide behind a claim that they more art than a science. A series of significant studies from CSO Insights and others have proved the value of repeatable, adaptable process.
In fact, I think it’s legitimate to claim that effective sales and marketing processes foster innovation and creativity rather than suppressing it. So what are the keys to achieving sustainable sales and marketing? Here are three to start with...
First: do nothing that is of no value to your customer. This does not have to mean charging them for everything you do – although sooner or later an exchange of tangible value needs to take place. But before conducting any sales or marketing activity you need to carefully consider whether your prospect would be prepared to invest their time or money on the outcome. For example, does that expensively produced piece of sales collateral play any useful role in facilitating the prospect’s buying process? Most (up to 90%, according to a recent study) don’t.
Second: if you are going to lose, make sure you lose early. Chasing deals that are never going to close, or are inevitably heading towards a competitor, is an unbelievably wasteful strategy. Yet sales pipelines around the world are full of these limbo deals. The problem seems to particularly affect middle-of-the-road sales people. The top performers are too smart to waste their time on a losing proposition. The also-rans are too scared to qualify them out because it makes their pipeline look smaller. If you are a sales manager, the single most powerful thing you can do to eliminate waste is to insist on evidence of buyer potential and intent, and to qualify the remaining deals out ruthlessly as early as possible in the sales cycle, and replace them with better ones.
Third: don’t waste your time pushing your products towards the prospect with scattergun marketing campaigns, find ways of getting them to pull you along with them. You’ve got to deeply understand the trigger events that disturb your prospect’s status quo, and you’ve got to ensure that you get found when they start searching for solutions. Rather than focusing on promoting return on investment, help your prospect to recognise the costs and consequences of inaction should they choose to ignore the issue – and ensure that you can demonstrate that you are the lowest risk of all alternative outcomes – including a decision to do nothing.
There are many other lessons that sales and marketing could learn from the lean thinking that has already revolutionised manufacturing industry. But don’t be misled into thinking of lean as primarily a cost-cutting exercise. I believe that its’ primary value actually lies in the thoughtful and efficient creation of real customer value, and in refocusing everything else onto more purposeful activity. You can read more about lean sales and marketing here.
What do you think? Is it possible to achieve sustainable sales and marketing? What other strategies have you found helpful in eliminating value, avoiding waste and improving predictability?