You’ve probably heard this statement a hundred times: “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Likewise, no marketing and sales plan ever survives first contact with the market.
We’re all guilty. We write marketing plans. The plan doesn’t survive contact with the customer. But somehow we get busy with billable work. The plan stalls but does get revisited next year. The process repeats.
In most B2B firms, marketing and sales strategies are constantly evolving. Strategies are dynamic rather than static. In order to survive contact with the fickle customer, the marketing strategy must evolve and keep pace with the customer. The evolution must be rapid and inexpensive. If the new business campaign does not change quickly enough or spends too much money too quickly, the objectives of the plan will never be validated. In terms of organizational flexibility, organizations that preserve marketing budget do not commit overwhelming budget to actions and investment.
This is the essence of an emergent strategy. An emergent strategy emphasizes the benefits of letting the strategy emerge as assumptions and knowledge gradually becoming apparent through contact with the customer. This approach requires a new organizational philosophy that typically manifests itself as a shift from the scenario where management controls production to one where the workers are empowered to innovate and the role of management is to alleviate anything that slows or prevents production.
Emergent new business strategies are a “try before you commit big budget” approach where strategy is an ongoing process of constant learning, experimentation and risk-taking. In the software development world, emergent development approaches include agile, SCRUM, Xtreme Programming and other lightweight development methodologies. You can read more about it and find a good reading list on this topic here at the Herding Cats Blog.
We all have experienced the sales and marketing process in professional services firms. Simply finding an excuse to get in the prospect’s door is often an opportunistic, adaptive, incremental and complex learning process. But it is important to be very clear – the fact that an emergent strategy is opportunistic does not mean the approach is completely ad-hoc.
Letting strategy emerge through customer interaction provides the environment to learn and evolve the strategy based on real customer requirements. This is not cowboy sales and marketing. There should be process and method to the madness.
In the early stages of business development, new product roll-outs, new business models and new ventures, we go to market with a number of guesses and very few facts about the desires and needs of the customers in that market.
As we sell, we fail, sometimes succeed, fail some more. But most important, we learn what works and what doesn’t. By rapidly repeating this fail, learn, succeed loop, we increase our “knowledge to assumptions” ratio rapidly and hone in on actual customer requirements.
As we learn, we modify the plan quickly before too much cash is spent. This approach is entrepreneurial and the success of web 2.0 properties demonstrates that the best way to figure out what customers want is to put something in front of customers quickly and adapt based on their feedback.
Business owners trained as traditional product marketers, engineers, software architects and other linear thinkers have an automatic bias to define a plan and pursue a strategy. This bias comes from formal project management training where goals, assumptions are generally known. In traditional projects where there are few unknowns, and markets are clearly defined, this approach makes sense. I would never build a tractor or a nuclear submarine using emergent project management approaches.
Tyler Blain has some great thoughts about “selling” the agile approach to old-school barrel riders. I’ll let you read his blog for a better idea of what a barrel rider is. : )
But when little is known about the needs or wants of the market, a linear approach does not make sense. Rapid, small and highly iterative campaigns help you develop a marketing and sales strategy that speaks directly to customers.
Learning and research comes from both the execution and the measurement of simple campaigns iterations. At the end of each iteration, campaign modifications are made and the process is repeated.
Like agile software development, the goal for each marketing or sales campaign is to create something to which a customer can react. It should offer a sampling of the key benefits and provide a solution that is simple enough to understand and act upon immediately. To keep a record of the iteration process, keep a project diary with a record of all changes that are performed to various campaigns as they evolve. Update the diary constantly.
Obviously, the goal for every marketing and sales campaign is success. The analysis of every campaign iteration is grounded in customer feedback (success, click-throughs, or even failure). Heehaw marketing has a good post on the importance of failure in the learning process.
Simple marketing campaigns (experiments) can be executed and measured quickly. Simple projects always take less time to finish than complex projects. The goal of this approach is to do the simplest thing possible….and nothing more. Before you waste a lot more time on brochures and massive rebranding efforts, try simple campaigns that improve your assumption to knowledge ratio.