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Friday, September 21, 2018

Lesson #300: Top 10 Traits of High-Performing Marketing Teams

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/21/2018

eCommerce marketers today face two big challenges: designing strategies and campaigns that will stand out from the competition and stayi...



eCommerce marketers today face two big challenges: designing strategies and campaigns that will stand out from the competition and staying abreast of the technological developments needed to compete with and conquer other online companies worldwide.  I reached out to my colleague Erika Jolly Brookes, the CMO at Springbot, an ecommerce marketing data analytics company, to help me in identifying some common traits that are found in some of the most powerful marketing teams in the industry.  Here is what we came up with.

1. They Don’t Make Excuses

The only thing worse than an apology is an excuse. Customers and managers don’t want to hear either one. To be clear, marketing companies DO face circumstances beyond their control: system failures, family emergencies and customers with unreasonable expectations. In all cases, a professional marketing team takes responsibility for all problems or issues that arise in their products or services – even if these issues are not their fault.

2. They Creatively Find Ways to Exceed Expectations

Effective marketing teams always under-promise and over-deliver. They wow their customers with their exceptional customer service, impeccable work ethic and innovative marketing efforts. They solve problems, provide answers and finish ahead of the deadline. In an industry where mediocrity is commonplace and often expected, marketing teams understand one thing: going over the top for customers and managers produces greater job security than any other element of business.

3. They’re Constantly Evaluating Their Performance

High-performing marketing teams are never satisfied with their performance. Their success is not determined by what they’ve accomplished, but instead how that accomplishment springboards to the next challenge. They scrutinize every element of their workflow and look forward to refining their processes for each new campaign. Celebrate your victory, and then get ready to make the next one even more effective.

4. They’re Always Innovating

If there are rules in marketing, your top executives know about them, but they are more focused on finding the next big trend, bright idea and game-changing solution. Great marketers take what they’ve been given from management and create something new out of it. They utilize all tools at their disposal and even develop a few new ones to fuel their high-minded ambitions.

5. They’re Customer-Focused

If marketers are to remain relevant, they have to understand their audience. Translation: They have to care about the customers the business interacts with every day. They have to understand what their customers’ needs are and what they are looking for from the company. They have to adopt their customers’ success as essential to their own. Top-level marketers are empathetic, good listeners and always looking out for their customers’ best interest.

6. They Know How to Make Money

Marketing teams know all too well the impact of revenue. Today’s online marketing tools and strategies, such as omni-channel eCommerce, give marketers instant gratification by allowing them to generate revenue faster than ever before. Marketers can also enjoy a wide range of revenue streams. This produces new challenges and opportunities for growth. Being driven by revenue is fiscally healthy and leads to a greater ROI on your marketing spend.  Re-read this post on driving marketing ROI.

7. Their Goals and Growth are Measurable

Marketers deal with numbers every single day. So, it should be no surprise that their goals and level of growth can be measured using hard data. Without a data-driven marketing approach, online companies have no clue where they are or where they’re going. You can’t dispute metrics, but you can learn from them to carve out a path moving forward.

8. There is Structure in Their Organization

Many high-level marketing teams can appear to be running around chaotically, but don’t be fooled by the hustle and bustle. There is a method to the madness, if everything is thought out and well executed. Effective marketers plan, schedule, analyze and create endless strategies for nearly every move they make. They rarely go into a marketing campaign or new phase of business without a game plan
.
9. They Collaborate

The highest performing marketing organizations are exceptional at working together and collaborating on projects. Each member of the team understands the value of experience and knowledge. Everyone knows that the entire team is better and stronger because of the experience and knowledge of the other members. They approach collaboration with the mindset of discovering and drawing from each other’s talents and expertise.

10. They Can Operate on Flexible Budgets

Large brands operate on expansive budgets, but small-to-midsize eCommerce companies (like most of your businesses) have a fraction of the resources. Invest in building an agile marketing team that knows how to materially move the revenue needle without a material marketing investment, and you’ll be well-suited to ensure your success online against bigger competitors.  Re-read this post for example growth hacking techniques.


If you follow these tips, you can build a marketing team that is highly skilled to execute marketing strategies that will out-perform the competition.  Thanks again Erika for helping me with this piece, and be sure to follow Erika on Twitter at @ebrookes.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Lesson #299: The Search for Product-Market Fit (the Holy Grail)

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/10/2018

Every entrepreneur believes they have the greatest product that is going to revolutionalize the world, worthy of venture capitalists bat...



Every entrepreneur believes they have the greatest product that is going to revolutionalize the world, worthy of venture capitalists bathing them in piles of cash to achieve their dream.  But, venture capitalists don’t back products, they back winning business models.  And, winning business models are anchored by companies that have the potential to generate lots of revenues with easily scalable, repeatable and profitable sales and marketing strategies.  And, none of that will be truly determined, until you successfully test and optimize your product-market fit with potential customers.  This post will help you learn exactly how to do that.

WHAT IS PRODUCT-MARKET FIT?

Product-market-fit is the point at which you have identified the best target industries, buyers and use cases for your product, to the point sales become repeatable and scalable and your product is flying off the shelves.  It is the holy grail for most startups, that dictates whether they are on the path to being the next one-in-ten “10x” investment return companies for their investors, or the next three-in-ten flameouts that crashes and burns out of business. 

HOW TO IDENTIFY PRODUCT-MARKET FIT?

To me, there are several distinct phases in the search for product-market fit: (1) you need to have a basic understanding of the market landscape and the key pain points being solved by your products; (2) you need to research the various industry verticals and potential buyers where your product may sell, to find the one where you think your business will have the most success to start; (3) you need to take your product to market to validate your hypotheses, and begin to optimize your target clients, use cases, messaging, price points and go-to-market strategy; (4) you need to close your first clients and learn your conversion funnel metrics, marketing economics (e.g., CAC and LTV) and learn user behaviors like their product engagement levels, utilization rates and lost customer churn rates; (5) you then optimize the above to make your sales process repeatable and scalable in a large market vertical, including optimizing your hiring, employee training, customer onboarding, the sales-to-operations handoff; and (6) you validate your ability to scale is profitable, your churn rates are low and will result in a material size business.

THE RIGHT WAY OF GATHERING MARKET INTELLIGENCE

The best way of doing market research is actually talking to your potential customers, dozens of them.  And, no, not in some online survey; in an actually face-to-face or phone meeting with them, that is more interactive, and you can see how the conversation evolves in real time.  Ask them what their current painpoints are around your industry, products or competition, or how much they would be willing to pay for that solution, you would be amazed what great insights come out of their mouths.  They’ll tell you exactly what you need to build to make their lives materially better.

In addition, seek insights from your employees, especially your sales and operations team.  Your sales people are in the market everyday talking to customers, you need to have a process to get those insights into the head of senior management.  And, your operations team is typically seeing all the problems with the product and hearing the complaints from your customers.  Any customer facing complaints need to bubble up to management and the product team, so they can quickly fix them.  But, worth mentioning, make sure you have a large enough data sample here—the opinion of one person, is just that, an opinion.  But, hearing the same points over and over again from multiple stakeholders, is something you most likely need to jump on fixing.

TEST, TEST AND TEST AGAIN

There is not only one correct answer for determining product-market fit.  You need to be tinkering and testing with all the inputs along the way.  For example, try three different price points, and see how far you can push it, before the customers start complaining or your conversion rates fall.  Or, as another example, A/B test various sales pitches, emphasizing different aspects of your product, to figure out which specific feature is the one that gets your customers the most excited.  Then double down on the winners after each iteration along the way.

FOCUS ON ONE VERTICAL AT A TIME

It is very easy to say your product appeals to many different industries and many different use cases, let’s go out and sell our products to them all.  That is a recipe for disaster.  When startup budgets are limited, it is always better to have a much more narrow focus, to start, and go really deep in that one narrow vertical.  That will make you the clear industry expert in that domain, which will help spread the viral word-of-mouth and stimulate growth materially faster.  In this case, it is much better being the master of one domain, than being a Jack of all trades.  After you have built your scale and profitability in your first vertical, you take those “bullets” and fire them away in the second and third tangential verticals to your first.  But, before doing do, make sure you have documented your process, learnings and framework from the first vertical, so you can apply to the next verticals, so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.  And, at all times, make sure you stay focused on the long term vision.  Don’t get swept up in the whims of the market that can having you chasing rabbits into unprofitable rabbit holes.

CREATE BUYER PERSONAS—CUSTOMIZE ACCORDINGLY

As you will learn, the behaviors of one industry, buyer role or use case, may have a materially different “rhythm” that another.  So, you can assume what worked in one vertical, will work exactly the same way in the next vertical.  Everything could be different.  From your go-to-market strategy, to your sales cycle to your sales funnel metrics.  For example, let’s say you are selling marketing technology.  The needs of an enterprise level chief marketing officer (more strategic), will be different from the needs of lower level enterprise marketing manager (more tactical), will be different from the needs of a marketing agency serving that same enterprise client (more service oriented).  So, customize your pitch accordingly, depending on who you are pitching.

IMPORTANT BUSINESS CONSIDERATIONS TO MAXIMIZE PRODUCT-MARKET FIT

First of all, you need to calculate your total addressable market size, to make sure you have a realistic chance of materially scaling your revenues.  Second, you need to make sure you have a product that can withstand the onslaught of competition that will follow you into this market, if you are successful.  That typically means having some clear competitive moat or customers who are not sensitive to price.  For example, products related to “wisdom” typically come at premium and defensible pricing to “widgets”.  And, third, think through your lifetime value of your revenue stream.  You want products that are consumed frequently, to drive high repeat purchases, and solve major pain points for your customers.  As I have said many times in the past, you need to be building “painkillers” for your customers, not “vitamins” to have any chance of materially scaling your business.

HOW TO MEASURE PRODUCT-MARKET FIT?

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and the same holds true for your product-market fit.  So, you need to figure out what key data points will help you track your success here.  Some of those data points are pre-transaction, like sales cycle, unit-level economics and conversion rates.  And, some of those data points are post-transaction, like repeat buyer percentage, lost customer churn rates and average daily usage of your product by your customers (e.g., how sticky and engaging is the product).  So, figure out what makes your business tick, in terms of product-market fit, and track and manage against those data points.

David Skok, the venture capitalist at Matrix Partners, wrote a terrific blog post on this product-market fit topic.  It included a great list of the key questions you need to be asking yourself along each step of the product-market fit process.  And, it included a great calculator template to see how you can score your product-market fit.  Create a similar calculator for your own business, and you will quickly learn if you are heading in the right direction or need to retreat into a new direction.

RINSE AND REPEAT THE PROCESS

Just because you found the holy grail of product-market fit, doesn’t mean you will keep it.  You need to constantly be re-learning the market conditions and talking to your customers to learn how their needs may be changing over time.  Constantly stay “paranoid” of losing your customers, to keep your competitive edge at all times.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As you can see, determining and optimizing for product-market fit is a really big deal.  It can be the difference between a huge win for you and your investors, or a complete loss of invested capital, even with a really great product.  If customers are not lining up to buy your product, or your product isn’t sticky enough to retain them, or your product creates unnecessary strains for you or your customers while fulfilling your services, it is time to go back to the drawing board, and start rethinking your product strategy.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Friday, September 7, 2018

We Acquired a Company With Remote Employees. Here's What We Learned.

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/07/2018

Red Rocket recently acquired Restaurant Furniture Plus , a B2B ecommerce website selling furniture to restaurants. What made this busin...




Red Rocket recently acquired Restaurant Furniture Plus, a B2B ecommerce website selling furniture to restaurants. What made this business different from most of the other businesses I have managed was the fact it was 100 percent a virtual company. The founders worked from their homes in California, and the fulfillment team worked from their homes in Ohio. We decided to try to continue to operate the business as a virtual workplace, with the owners working from their homes in the Chicago and Raleigh, N.C., areas and the rest of the team working out of their homes in the Cleveland area. It has been an interesting learning opportunity that I wanted to share with you as you consider the pluses and minuses of virtual teams for your business.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Top 5 Things to Do Before Scaling Marketing Efforts

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/04/2018

I recently wrote about scaling companies, and the importance of having a solid marketing plan in place to support that growth. But what ...



I recently wrote about scaling companies, and the importance of having a solid marketing plan in place to support that growth. But what I didn’t talk about was when should you turn on that marketing in the first place? The answer is pretty intuitive—not until you are ready! But, what does that specifically mean? Read on.

Read the rest of this post in Forbes, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Lesson #298: Top 5 Trade Show Marketing Ideas

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/24/2018

If you are a B2B marketer, industry trade shows are often the ideal meeting place to network with your industry peers, all in one central...


If you are a B2B marketer, industry trade shows are often the ideal meeting place to network with your industry peers, all in one central place.  So, incorporating trade shows into your marketing plans is often a terrific way to get in front of your target customers.  For example, with me now an owner of Restaurant Furniture Plus, where better to find a bunch of restaurant executives to sell our products than the National Restaurant Association Show (“NRA Show”) each year.  There are many ways to get the word out about your company at trade shows, with varying degrees of cost.  Below are the top 5 options to consider, in order of cost, from least expensive to most expensive.

1. Speak

The best thing to do is position yourself as an authority on a certain topic that is relevant to the audience of the show.  The show organizers are always looking for good speakers to fill their agendas, and why can’t that be you!!  You never want to pitch your company as the primary topic, as the show organizers won’t let you simply stand up and promote yourself.  You want to pitch a topic that is educational to the attendees.  Maybe the NRA Show attendees would be interested in learning the hottest new trends in restaurant designs and restaurant furniture, as an example. 

And, where you can, find a brand name customer of yours to collaborate with on that pitch to the show organizers.  Instead of you pitching your own success, it would be even better if your customers can pitch that success for you.  So, as an example, get Chipotle’s head of new store design to speak to how you helped them reinvent their prototype to stand out from the crowd.  So, look for collaborative pitches with your customers, as the show producers love getting brand name speakers on their rosters, much more than unknown startup executives.  And, the best thing about speaking, there are typically no costs to you, other than the travel time and costs to get there.

2. Attend

If you can’t become a speaker, make sure you at least become an attendee of the event.  Attendee costs are typically not that expensive, and they can yield a big pay day as you are networking throughout the event, rubbing shoulders with prospective customers at the lunches, break-out rooms and while walking the exhibit halls.  Attending also has the additional benefits of educating yourself on key industry trends and keeping an eye on how your competitors are marketing themselves at events like these.

3.  Advertise

There are several ways to advertise your business at or around events.  Maybe there is a trade show magazine or directory, that you can buy an ad.  Or, a show website or email list, you can buy an ad.  Or, maybe you advertise on things related to the show, but, not through the show itself.  That could include handing out fliers to people in the hotel lobbies or bus shuttle stops near the show.  Or, buying ads targeting fans of the show on Facebook.  There are options for all size budgets here, depending on how creative you want to get.

4. Exhibit

Having a booth as an exhibitor is one of the more expensive options.  Because the booth comes with a cost of the booth (e.g., $5,000) and the space rental (e.g., another $5,000), and you typically have to have a couple people manning the booth, including all their travel related costs for those days.  But, at least with having a booth, you are ensured of having good visibility to people in the exhibit hall, provided you locate your booth in a highly trafficked location (so study a show map before committing to a booth location in a bad location).  Also, don’t forget to have handouts ready at your booth, so visitors can take with them, to remember you by when they are back in their offices (e.g., personalized zip drives with your logo on it and company presentations included).   Based on my experience, if you can at-least break even with sales coming from leads generated by your booth after the show, you are doing a good job.

5. Sponsor

Becoming a key sponsor of the show, typically comes with a very high expense.  Maybe you sponsor the show’s lunch for the day, paying for the meals of all, in exchange for you getting premier brand exposure and a 5 minute sales pitch during the lunch.  Or, less expensive things, like paying for the show badge lanyards, and getting your logo included on the lanyard.  Or, paying to get your flyer included in the shows “goodie bag” for attendees.  There is a wide range of options to consider here, at a wide range of prices, depending on how big of a splash you want to make at the show.

Where to Find Trade Shows to Attend

When looking for new trade shows to consider in an industry, I typically start at Google.  For example, maybe with a “restaurant industry trade show” search, to see what I stumble on.  I’ll also research the key trade associations (e.g., National Restaurant Association) and key trade publications (e.g., Nation’s Restaurant News), as they often produce large annual events and have large followings.  So, do a little digging, and you’ll be surprised how many options you will uncover.  For Restaurant Furniture Plus, I found about 20 different shows on various topics in various locations throughout the year to consider.

How to Prioritize Which Trade Shows to Attend

It is hard enough for an early stage company to afford one trade show, yet alone 20 shows.  So, until you are much bigger in size, with unlimited marketing budgets, you will have to be very strategic in how you prioritize which trade shows to attend.  For example, a gathering of Restaurant CEOs may be perfect if you are selling a strategic solution to companies, and a gathering of Restaurant Executive Chef’s may be perfect if you are selling them a new food option.  So, figure out which shows will have the highest number of target customer prospects (not target companies), and go from there. 

Obviously, you will also want to bias shows closer to your home region, will save on costs and make sure logical target customers will be there.  As an example, it would be hard for Restaurant Furniture Plus to leverage a trade show in Europe, when there isn’t a cost effective way for us to ship our U.S. made furniture to overseas customers, as an example.  Not to mention the higher travel costs of flying to Rome vs. flying to Chicago to attend.

Concluding Thoughts

Trade shows would not be my first marketing effort for an early stage company.  I would bias more cost effective things like Google search ads and targeted ads to my prospective customers on LinkedIn first.  But, when you can afford to add trade shows to your mix, you should.  But, they are not cheap.  As a benchmark, the average cost per B2B lead may be $250, and the average cost per B2B lead sourced from a trade show may be $750, around 3x more expensive!!  So, just make sure you have a high enough average ticket, to cover that level of marketing investment before taking the plunge.  If you are selling $50,000 orders of furniture, you are in good shape.  If you are selling $50 orders of napkins, you may want to look elsewhere.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the importance of trade shows for B2B marketers, when to use them and the range of options and costs to consider.  Don’t forget to bring enough business cards with you!!


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Lesson #297: Top 10 Warning Signs Your Startup Will Fail

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/17/2018

Being an entrepreneur is no simple task, given 90% of startups collapse. But, based on the learnings from these past flame-outs, there ...




Being an entrepreneur is no simple task, given 90% of startups collapse. But, based on the learnings from these past flame-outs, there are some leading indicators that can identify whether your startup is headed for failure. I collaborated with my colleague, Taylor Ryan, a five-time serial entrepreneur, author and expert digital marketer (currently the CMO at Valuer.ai) to come up with the following list of warning signs that you should look out for in assessing the health of your startup.

1. Lost Focus on Primary Goal

For some startups, their focus can divert to unimportant factors than the primary goal at hand. A successful startup learns to prioritize its efforts, and stay religiously focused on that end goal. Keeping the team firmly focused on the end goal can also be beneficial for the work environment as it will keep the team all rowing in the same desired direction. If you see a startup flailing in the wind of change, going in multiple directions based on the "flavor of the month", you know that business is in trouble.

2. Poor or Slow Execution

There are startups that begin with innovative concepts but cannot execute them properly. This is due to a number of reasons – lack of relevant resources, lack of motivation or poor  working habits for starters.  Firms that are properly tracking their progress with regard to a particular project will quickly see if they are falling behind and come up with ways to correct the problem before it becomes a material one. Those that are not executing well will suffer deficits in capital or timelines. There is also a problem with the speed in execution, with many startups not being able to push out products or services as fast as their competitors. Speed is critical, to staying ahead of your competitors as the first mover, and not being forced to play catch up..

3. Lack of Customer Engagement

A lack of customer engagement is something many early-stage startups face. There are a many possible scenarios in which customers might lose interest in a product or service.  Maybe the startup didn't properly research the market to ensure meaningful demand?  Maybe sales and marketing efforts are not the best strategy for that business?  If you don’t truly understand your customers pain points, they will never have a serious interest in your product or service. It is best to figure out why customers are not engaging, sooner than later, to try and resolve those product or marketing related issues to see if they are fixable, before deciding to cut your losses and close shop.

4. Poor Teamwork

Sometimes, perfectly capable and promising startups begin descending into failure because of differences among team members or lack of effective teamwork. This does not necessarily have anything to do with how well a person or a group of people can perform in the workplace.
It just means, at times, some people cannot work well together. It is a startup CEO's responsibility to know what is required to keep the team gelling and how to improve the team's performance in thinking and acting like one well-oiled machine. If ineffective teamwork goes undetected or unresolved for an extended period of time, the startup will struggle to recover.

5. High Employee Turnover Rate

If the employee turnover rate is high and recurring, it could be an indicator of a failing startup.
There could be a number of reasons why the turnover rate is high. For one, a startup’s culture plays a strong role. If employees are unsatisfied with the work environment, don't like the people they are working with or don't have confidence with their management, they will most likely be looking to leave.  So if you have a revolving door with your staff, something is wrong and needs to be fixed, as you can't scale a business on a wobbly foundation of talent.

6. Lack of Adaptability

Any startup that says it is immune to changes in the market is setting itself up for failure. External market forces ultimately dictate how your startup will fare against changing trends and competitors in the industry. If a startup doesn't truly understand or disregards what is happening outside of its own office, it is doomed to fail.  For a startup to truly reach success, it may have to pivot several times until it finds the right mix of product-market fit. If a startup does not pivot fast enough, that is usually a sign the end is near.

7. No New Product Development

For a startup to stay relevant, it needs to constantly be reinventing itself. Your product development efforts are never done, as you should always be striving to improve from version 1, to version 2 to version 3 over time.  Because if you don't, you can rest assured your competitors will clearly copy whatever you are doing successfully today, and will be improving their business at your expense.

8. Unaware of Finances

Every good startup should always be aware of its financial situation.  But, you would be surprised how many entrepreneurs have no clue about their finances, and hence cannot easily predict they are about ready to slam into a brick wall. There needs to be financial reports, dashboards and KPI's that a startup studies closely each week to understand how much it is spending, earning and retaining vs. its goals.  You can't manage what you are not measuring, so make sure you get your key reporting metrics identified and tracked.

9. Creative Block or Stubborness

Oftentimes, a startup’s team gets hung up on a particular perspective or approach to an issue. When things are not going well, it is important to push the team to change their perspective and try something new and creative to solve the problem. Startups that are heading towards failure are often unsure of where they should be heading as a company, and lack the creative thinking skills that are required to ideate potential solutions. Or, they are simply inflexible and not willing to entertain a different approach.

10. Boredom

The team getting bored with what they are working on can surely be a startup killer. Early in the startup’s life, the team is motivated, as the venture is exciting to work on, and the team enjoys working towards the success of a startup. Hence, everyone works with dedication and puts in long hours.  But, the reality is, after the euphoria wears off, it is easy for the team to get bored with their work.  It could be due to their attention diverting elsewhere, lack of motivation, or monotony in the day-to-day grind of the workplace, especially if the business is not succeeding as planned. A good entrepreneur will figure out ways to keep its employees engaged and motivated at all times.


So, do a critical assessment of your business to make sure you are not about ready to drive off the cliff.  If any of the above resonates as happening with your business, it is time to put an immediate fix in place.  Thanks again Taylor for working with me with this post.  If any of you need help connecting your startup with logical corporate partners, Taylor and his Valuer.ai platform could be your solution.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



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