Have you ever listened to someone telling you about an important change they were going to make in their lives, and you've just known by the way they communicated it to you that they weren't going to succeed? It's almost like a déjà vu experience, with a voice in your head saying "I've seen this story before, and I know how it ends." There are things they say—words and phrases—that give you crystal clear insights into their frame of mind as they approach a significant challenge. If only you could help them frame their expectations for success.
Tryers Seldom Succeed
You know the ones I'm talking about:
"I've known since I was 12 that smoking is bad for me, I've tried to quit a dozen times and 3 months later I'm smoking again, but I really think hypnosis will help me quit smoking for good."
"I've never been able to manage our household budget, but I saw this great app that makes it look easy. I'm going to try that starting with my next paycheck."
"I just can't seem to lose the 20 pounds my doctor says I should lose, but I just read about this miracle diet that promises quick results, so I'm going to give it a try right after the holidays."
In one quick statement they're providing two very telling signals that lead you to conclude, without any additional study required, that these people will not succeed.
They've tried and failed multiple times to accomplish something they say is important, so important that it could affect the quality of their lives.
They have convinced themselves subconsciously before they even get started that this is going to be another failed attempt.
You know, because you've become a good judge of human nature and behavior, that the only way anyone successfully implements a serious change professionally, socially, spiritually, or physically is through an authentic, meaningful commitment – the kind of comitment that puts you on the line, the kind that includes skin in the game and a whole lot of witnesses who help to form a community of accountability.
Learn about Commitment from History
Alexander the Great, the Greek king of ancient Macedon, upon arriving on the shores of Persia with an army that was badly outnumbered, ordered his men to burn their ships, telling them, "We'll go home in Persian ships, or we'll die." You know without a doubt he got their complete attention; he made it clear how commited he was to winning, and he instantly got them motivated by including them in his commitment contract. They might not have been happy with his decision, but they didn't hesitate either; Alexander took away any ambiguity for his army to deliberate on.
It's no different with a business implementing a major strategy shift. If a new initiative is announced by the CEO in front of the the entire workforce, and she or he also announces new positions being created to support the initiative, a mandatory training curriculum for everyone involved, and capital investment plans to build capacity that will be required, it's pretty clear this CEO is fully committed and absolutely expects success. Nothing less will do. She/he is literally putting stakes in the ground, the modern version of burning your ships, essentially saying, "Deliberation is done, we're moving forward with this."
Pardon My Rant, But...
The reason for this rant on commitment was triggered by a recent meeting I had with a marketing leader of a company considering inbound marketing. The conversation started with him conceding that their lead generation efforts weren't working and as a result they had no chance of achieving their growth goals, and recognizing that their target personas viewed his company's products as very considered purchases that took months of research and deliberation. He went on to say he understood how inbound marketing worked in a buyer-driven world, and it was clear that they would benefit from the invigorated sales funnel inbound could deliver.
Here's how the conversation went from there:
Me: "Well, you've obviously done your homework! Have you thought about what your inbound-attributed goals will be, and the budget you'll need to achieve those goals in a reasonable time frame?
Prospect:"Whoa, wait a second! Who said anything about goals and budget? I don't have a budget to do any of this stuff! And let me remind you that I'm the marketing AND business development departments! We're not staffed to do this stuff."
Me:"Okay, I understand. There's no inbound budget today, and you don't have a team waiting to jump in and do the work. But from what you said, you have a $25 million business that will struggle to grow 5%/$1.25 million if you keep doing what you're doing, and would likely grow +10%/$2.5 million if you launch a well-conceived and executed inbound strategy. You told me yourself the biggest opportunity to grow was through attracting more high quality leads, right?"
Prospect:"Yeah, that's right, and the best opportunity for pigs to fly is to grow wings, but that's not happening either!"
Me: "So what are you thinking is the best path forward? Do you want help in making a case to your CFO about the expected ROI from inbound?"
Prospect: "No! You just don't get it! Here's what I think I need to do. I can come up with the money for a basic license, and I'll just try it on my own for three or four months. Do my own little skunk works on the sly, and if I can prove it works, then I could talk to senior management about getting some funding set up for sometime next year, when we could look at really launching this."
It was right about here that I offered my unvarnished opinion of his plan, which in retropect was both the wrong thing to say, and the most honest reaction I could have. My wife thinks my directness should be classified as a high-functioning type of Tourette syndrome; she's entitled to her opinion.
Sending the Commitment Signal
This encounter motivated me to think about the advice I would offer anyone considering inbound marketing for their company:
Take the time to study your current business development process and results. Not every business needs more leads. Some need better products, some need to improve service or fulfillment levels.
Study buyer behavior in your industry to see if online search is an important part of current or emerging buyer behavior.
Analyze online metrics for your business and competitors, to establish baselines and make judgments about the upside.
Quanitify the lifetime value of your typical or target customer, and use that to determine the value of a qualified lead, and the ultimate expected returns your business will realize.
Once you've done enough due diligence to make a well-informed, objective decision that inbound marketing will deliver an attractive ROI to your business, here are the steps to take to make sure it's clearly seen by your team as a transformational commitment that's going to succeed:
Itemize the gaps between what you currently have internally and what you need, consider third party vendors to fill the gaps.
Develop an annual plan, with your team's input and collaboration, that accounts for all the new activities and deliverables and includes specific roles and assignments that have the buy-in of everyone involved, internal and external.
Create a service level agreement between your marketing (or business development) people and the sales team that includes specific goals and agreed upon protocols that each will follow.
Bake everything you're doing relative to your inbound strategy into your overall business plan, including bonus plans for everyone involved.
Kick things off with an inbound workshop, which is equal parts team building, education/training, and motivational kickoff of the action plan.
After going through all of the above your team will have no choice but to conclude that you are absolutely committed to inbound marketing, that your decision is both well-considered and properly resourced, and that they need to get on board the inbound train or start looking at other career options. That's the kind of leadership that results in real change, and the kind of leadership that provides the clarity so many people are looking for and not always getting in their leaders.
Posted by Greg Linnemanstons With 18+ years in senior management roles at Fortune 500® and medium-sized companies, Greg has deep marketing and sales experience with CPGs and manufacturing. He leads strategic initiatives with clients and is involved in developing client inbound marketing plans. Greg holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and a B.A. in Economics from Lawrence University.