Stage Appropriate Marketing - Stage 3: Growth
~ Cheryl Flury
You’ve made it to the Growth stage of your business and congratulations are well-deserved – many don’t achieve this stage in the business lifecycle. You’ve successfully turned an initial concept into an offering that you’ve delivered to the market, gained acceptance and adoption, and survived the start-up years.
In the Growth stage:
You have a recurring revenue base providing a consistent source of income.
You’re maintaining a customer base that sustains business while you simultaneously drive growth.
You’re seeing profits increase, yet at that same time, more competition. The more you succeed, the more it feels like everyone is gunning for your business - from companies that preceded you to the market and are now taking notice, to new companies that have seen your success and believe they can capture market share from you.
Roles are changing – you’re onboarding a broad base of new employees with new skill sets. Your start-up that hustled along with people wearing multiple hats and lots of cross-functional effort now needs more definition. As teams grow larger, they’ll need to reshape, evolve and refocus. It’s time for more established processes and a reliable, scalable infrastructure, to ensure you’re not reinventing the wheel as every decision is made.
Goal-setting is now mature, aligned and appropriate. Assess what your growth rate has been and determine what it should be now based Total Achievable Market. Set realistic, achievable and aggressive objectives, then communicate consistently with your team to ensure everyone is onboard and understands how they contribute to success.
From a marketing perspective, it’s time to capitalize on that customer base you’ve nurtured along – they are the best resource to grow your business. Your marketing strategy at this stage is to engage and expand. But your key is in refining and communicating your unique value proposition.
In Stage 3, we’re going to:
Build Voice of Customer (VoC) programs – this is not your grandfather’s Net Promoter Score. It’s not even your customer satisfaction surveys. But those can be integrated into your VoC programs. If you’re not that familiar, VoC is how you understand, measure and improve your customers’ experience doing business with your organization. The expectation of successful VoC should be increased revenue. Companies with best-in-class VoC report:
55% greater customer retention rates
An average 23% decrease in year-over-year customer service costs
292% greater employee engagement rates
VoC programs sharpen your skills in listening to your customers, using this information to take action, and monitoring performance over time. Because success is reliant on each and every customer interaction, everyone in your organization participates in some way in VoC. Now is a good time to conduct a touchpoint audit to understand how well your handoff processes work and identify gaps; as your customers transition through your organization, from marketing to sales to implementation to training to account management, believe me, they’ll see them. And if you ask them, they’ll tell you about them!
Customer experience is continuous, living in the minds of your customers. Great experiences mean expectations are exceeded; good experiences mean they’re met; bad experiences mean these expectations are not met (and they may not come back to you for more of your product or service).
2. Reexamine your brand and key messages. Based on what you now know about your business, your customers, how you solve their problems and what value you deliver, it’s a great time to refine brand messaging and sharpen the lens on value.
Your VoC programs feed your brand and corporate messaging. Clarify your brand, both internally and externally, to keep it strong and focused. Avoid the deepest human / business need – to be all things to all people. Embrace Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept in Good to Great.
Review your positioning documents and do a thorough update, ensuring that you’ve identified changes in the market, competitors and your customers’ needs. As your competitor’s evolve and sharpen their messages – coming specifically after you and the success you’ve built – be sure you’ve completed your process of repositioning and don’t hesitate to test your concepts on both customer-facing employees and a group of actual customers.
3. Become a Thought Leader. When you think “thought leadership,” what comes to mind? I had a unique experience in a previous role. We had the opportunity to define what the market segment (in this case, healthcare e-commerce) would become, what was needed for success, what the risks would be, and ways to keep constituent groups working together. We identified customer advisory boards and leveraged their subject matter expertise to create the future.
In your market segment, look at the following and get input from employees, industry experts and customers:
- How is the industry changing?
- Is it growing or declining?
- What does that mean to the health of your customers’ businesses? Are they at risk?
- How do customers’ measure their success today? How will they measure success 2-3 years from now?
- Does your product or solution help them prepare for the future? What guidance can you offer each other as your business plan for success in coming years?
Your VoC and thought leadership programs will feed not only your business’ marketing plans, but also your strategic planning efforts. In turn, industry communications need to clearly reflect your leadership role in the industry and your strategic position. Now is the time to lead your customer and constituent groups onto the evolutionary path that’s taking shape in the industry.
Ensure the relevance and effectiveness of marketing tactics. Your social media strategies, public relations activities, content development, and overall website offerings need to reflect the depth of your understanding of the industry and your appreciation of both current and future state.
4. Examine your sales and marketing processes and look for opportunities for improvement. Look at several key areas to understand:
- Are there gaps in your sales tools? Does marketing need to create new stage-appropriate sales tools? Is sales using the current tools effectively?
- Are your ROI measurement tools credible and used consistently during the final stages of the sales process? Do customers support the conclusions?
- Do sales and marketing fundamentally agree on key funnel management terms and definitions? This will significantly impact forecasting. Form a cross-functional sales and marketing team to define what constitutes an MQL, an SQL, and when conversions occur.
- Are sales and marketing plans aligned and goals reflecting a consistent outcome?
- Re-examine your outbound marketing processes, content and opportunities. Remember the Holy Grail is inbound. Great outbound, supported by great content, is what lies beneath.
- Measure marketing success – or identify areas for improvement. Your marketing plan included a section for measurement of success. Pull it out, if needed dust it off, and congratulate yourself on what a good job you did determining your measurement strategies. And now see how you did!
Remember that everything we’re doing in the Growth stage is to effectively engage with your customers and prospects to continue to grow your business.
In the next article I’ll cover effective marketing during Stage 4 of the business lifecycle – Established / Expansion businesses.