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The Traditional Revenue Growth Playbook is Broken

by Doug Davidoff | Nov 15, 2016 3:00:00 PM

The Traditional Revenue Growth Playbook is BrokenIf you’re a reader of this blog I’m going to assume that revenue growth is important to your company. Stop for a moment and consider the investment of energy and money your company has made in these efforts. Now consider this question, “How well is it working?”

  • Is revenue growth predictable for you?
  • Are the costs required to sustain decreasing?
  • Are more of your salespeople beating their number (quota) consistently?

According to the research that’s out there, less than 10% of companies can say “yes” to all three questions, and the vast majority of companies would respond “no” to at least two of these questions.

Think about it, if your operational, financial or services process were as ineffective and unpredictable as your sales and marketing processes are, you’d probably be out of business. Yet despite the proof of a structural problem with business’ approach to growth, companies continue to sink more time, money and energy to improve what they already know isn’t going to work.

The traditional growth playbook is broken. And, as the new site that we are launching today highlights, the time has come to build a new one. One geared to creating predictability, control and acceleration at its core.

Before highlighting the keys to the modern growth playbook, let’s identify the three reasons that the traditional approach is beyond repair.

It Doesn’t Align

For 12 years, we’ve talked about creating sales and marketing alignment at Imagine. Reams of articles, blog posts, books and webinars have been created on the importance of creating such alignment; and all of the research I’ve been exposed to highlights just how important and valuable alignment is to business outcomes.

But, have you stopped and asked why alignment is so difficult? It’s not like anyone is out there advocating for misalignment. When you dig deeper into the issue you learn that the problem is the very nature of traditional sales and marketing. They’re simply not designed to align.

As Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance, shares in his discussion on structural tension, when something needs the focus, discipline and effort that traditional sales and marketing alignment requires there’s something wrong with the system. Rather than constantly working to fix an inherently flawed system, you’re better off building a new one.

It Doesn’t “Solve For The Customer”

I am amazed by how little most companies know about their customers. While some of this problem is simply the result of executives not thinking enough about the topic, the problem is much deeper than that.

The nature of the traditional sales and marketing process is not customer-centered. It’s centered on the product/service - a “solutions focus” - and the selling process is the antithesis of being customer-centered (despite the call for “customer centered selling” for years). This is not to say that some companies haven’t overcome these challenges to focus on the customer, but my question is, why are you forced to overcome the system you work in?

I’ve said for years that the most important question a business can answer is, “Who do we want to be a hero to?”  That answer should be the focus of nearly everything else the company does to find, attract, convert, close and delight their customers.

It Doesn’t Match With How People Engage, Shop or Learn Today

If you were to wake up from a 50-year slumber and walked into a business, the vast majority of how the business operates would be shocking to you. But if you looked at most sales and marketing groups, you’d likely be comforted by what you see.

I won’t bore you with a treatise on the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), (click the link to learn more about it), but suffice it to say that the way most companies sell is not aligned with how people want to learn, engage and buy. Sure, more companies are implementing “inbound,” are using landing pages offering premium content and so on. But too often these are grafts onto an inefficient system and the focus is still on pushing product, rather than guiding the buyer through a thoughtful, designed journey that aligns for the buyer and the seller.

Now it’s easy to say what’s wrong with something. It’s far tougher to come up with a better solution. The team at Imagine has had the unique opportunity to work with clients at literally every phase of the sales and marketing funnel (we’re one of very few companies that have done this).

For more than 10 years, we’ve been in pursuit of a better, more effective and more efficient path to successful growth. We’ve learned that while every journey to successful, scalable growth is as unique as the company and people involved in it, there are five common factors to building a predictable, sustainable and scalable growth path.

1. It Moves Beyond Sales or Marketing to a Holistic View of Revenue and Demand Generation

The secret to Imagine’s success is that we’ve never viewed anything through the prism of a sales problem or a marketing problem. We’ve viewed it through the holistic prism of a revenue generation or demand generation problem. Recently, we added what we call “The Third Discipline” to the mix.

Revenue generation is a complex, dynamic process. It involves multiple parties with differing interests, philosophies, needs and approaches. The traditional, silo’d approach is simply not sufficient to drive results. The continually increasing role of “marketing” to driving sales requires that you manage growth through one single, fully-integrated process.

2. It Moves Beyond Solutions

I was fascinated during Brian Halligan’s keynote at Inbound 2016. Being the 10 year anniversary for HubSpot, Brian shared how HubSpot viewed many issues in 2006. He told the story of the most popular piece of advice they got from investors, professors, and even friends. “Focus on the marketer,” was the advice they received.

It would have been smart to focus on providing solutions for marketers, after all that’s what HubSpot was about, right? I firmly believe that if they had followed such conventional wisdom there would not have been an Inbound conference to attend (let alone 19,000 people who registered).

Instead, HubSpot focused on the “marketee.”  They wanted to know about the problems and changes those being marketed to felt. So when they solved for the customer, they moved beyond merely providing a solution (marketers did not lack solutions options in 2006). Instead they focused on how they could eliminate the problems no one else was paying attention to. As a result, in 10 years they created a company that is worth $2 billion.

The new growth playbook realizes that solutions are just another word for a commodity. It embraces the world of the customer, and in B2B, the customer’s customer. It looks to dig deeper and realizes that the only path to sustainable differentiation is the deep understanding of a specific set of customers, enabling the selling organization to address and eliminate problems that no one else is doing.

3. It Moves Beyond Communication to True Value Creation

Where the traditional growth playbook focuses on communications and pitches, the new playbook is totally focused on creating value throughout the entire buyer’s journey.  Value creation is, and has been, among the most common buzzwords in the business language. That said, the companies that have truly embraced it for the last decade have seen better results.

From the first touchpoint (in the ZMOT) through the last, selling organizations must engineer the process to create value. This increasingly means greater personalization and contextualization of the content and communications that organizations create.

4. It Moves Beyond Long-Term Planning and Embraces The Agile World We All Compete In

The great business strategy, philosopher, Mike Tyson, is famous for having said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.” As an old business coach of mine used to say to me, “when developing your sales and marketing plan, remember that the prospect and customer get a vote.”  What’s more, the moment you start doing something that’s interesting and valuable competitors are ready to jump in and copy you.

I remember the first sales playbook I got. I don’t think it changed for the three years I was at the company (and it wasn’t brand new when I got there). That approach doesn’t work anymore.

Today’s successful playbook must be built with change wired in. This means being agile, taking an iterative approach and constantly testing and experimenting. It means that being “right” about something is less valuable than it’s ever been. What’s far more valuable is the ability to ask the right questions (internally and externally) and the ability to make quick adjustments.

5. It Moves Beyond Gut Decisions, Beliefs or Opinions to Data-Back Decisions and Improvements

The late management guru Peter Drucker was fond of saying that “you can’t scale genius.”  Where the traditional growth approach relied on gut instinct and a focus on behavior, the new playbook uses data (rather than opinions or feelings) to drive decisions.

Last week I spoke at HubSpot’s Inbound 2016 conference on the subject of sales enablement and the new growth playbook. I concluded my session with this thought:  

The growth hero of the traditional playbook was the stereotypical, charismatic “mad man” (think Don Draper). The growth hero of tomorrow (and increasingly today) is “the nerd.”  The understanding and application of data is crucially important to success. Simply look at the world of sports and the growing importance data and analytics, and you can see your future in sales and marketing.

Going forward, at Imagine, we’re doubling down on bringing the new playbook to light. The launch of our new homepage is the first step, and I look forward to sharing more with you as we go forward.