Q&A: Structuring S/Marketing for Success with Mike Diaz, Founder and Principal of Growth Canvas Consulting
In startup culture, "growth hacking" is an ubiquitous buzz word, founders are urged to "do things that don't scale" and scrappiness is a trait to be admired above near all-else. Startups tally wins by doing more with less and hacking operations together, across both product and marketing. Yet, at some point growth will overwhelm these non-scalable processes, and either stagnate or decline; unless, that is, the team can figure out how to formalize their hacks and build a solid plan to continue growing. In this endeavor, sales and marketing is the path by which demand is created, and thus scale is achieved. While the early stages should mostly consist of exploration and trial-and-error, startup entrepreneurs should nonetheless be aware of the how scalable processes are established from the start, so that they can be prepared to optimize their strategy when the time comes.
Today, we had the pleasure of talking with Mike Diaz, who shared with us some of his knowledge of how startup companies should be thinking about their sales and marketing from day one. Mike offers advice from his own experiences consulting with companies in the midst of rapid growth, and through time spent in multiple marketing director roles, as well as chairman and board member of two marketing organizations.
Incipia: You have worked with companies of all types and sizes to help them scale by optimizing strategy, operations, and customer experience across sales and marketing. What are some common qualities of organizations that achieve rapid growth compared with their peers?
Mike: Sales and marketing alignment is critical to scale up quickly and meet business expectations, particularly in periods of rapid growth. Top performing organizations typically achieve significant synergy from sales and marketing collaboration. Sales and marketing teams must have clear objectives and be held accountable by the organization for meeting them, but there are also typically some shared objectives and metrics that drive a sense of focus and teamwork.
Sustainable growth comes from focusing on customers and helping them to be more successful. A passion for customer success comes through interactions with sales, service, technical support teams and in marketing content development. It is not surprising that focusing on the customer experience can be a powerful catalyst for growth. Customers that are consistently "wowed" will buy more, stay for a long time, and tell their friends.
It is also absolutely critical find and capitalize on the 80/20 rules in your business. If you are scattering your investment and resources evenly across diverse segments, channels, and activities, then you are not doubling down when and where it matters. It is often these big bets that can make all of the difference. If you are focused on everything, then you are focused on nothing. A lack of focus is also confusing to customers and prospects, so it can lead to big headwinds for your branding efforts.
Incipia: Many startups begin by focusing on creating systems and processes to initiate growth as fast as possible; yet sometimes they fail to revisit these initial systems as growth takes hold. What is an example of what can happen to teams that do not revisit their tools/processes as they scale?
Mike: Rapid growth can take a huge toll on an organization's capacity to manage data in the blink of an eye. Customer data, website, financial, and operational data are all important, but pay particular attention to the data that you need to report on business goals and KPIs. You need easy, frequent access to this data just to steer the ship. You don’t want to be making course corrections too late. You also need a plan to scale data management that you revisit frequently. Companies that do not plan to address the increase in data sources and volume as they grow find themselves keying or importing the same data repeatedly into multiple point systems, wasting time searching for current and accurate data, and struggling to allocate resources, optimize activity, and integrate data from different systems and silos. They lose the agility required to quickly identify address changing customer and market needs and competitive threats.
Automation is a powerful tool to drive efficiency and enable growth, but it can be a minefield for rapidly growing businesses. Marketing automation drives efficiency by automatically advancing top-of-the-funnel prospects through their buying process with helpful content. Nurturing leads in this way allows sales activity to be focused on stronger prospects at the bottom of the funnel. Marketing automation can do amazing things, helping your organization to accelerate growth, but it is not a magic bullet. You need to understand your buyer, their needs, and their buying process. You must adapt marketing activities and processes to customer needs and buying processes if you want to maximize marketing automation and content investments.
Incipia: We’ve heard of agile methodology in the product management and development world, but agile marketing is a new concept. Why have marketers become more interested in leveraging agile methodologies?
Mike: Marketers have typically been slower to adopt agile methodologies than their counterparts in product management and product development. As with product development, agile development processes are about incremental changes driven by testing and customer/user input in short time windows. The objective of agile marketing is to leverage continuous testing and improvement of marketing initiatives with customer input to drive marketing results and avoid overinvestment. Rather than taking a big-bang approach to improving marketing and customer experience, changes are smaller and they are implemented faster, which accelerates the delivery of value to the customer.
Incipia: Why do rapidly growing companies need to focus on scaling data collection and management? Why is it helpful to think in terms of a data supply chain?
Mike: As companies scale, they typically add specialized point systems for entry and use of customer, market, and sales-related data. Integrated systems that combine features and functionality of multiple point systems are often too expensive, and they typically require IT expertise and programming for customization. It is important for companies to create a plan for how they will leverage, aggregate and integrate data from these point systems.
Intuitively, we can understand the importance of a supply chain in the manufacturing context. If aircraft engines do not arrive on time, it can result in shutting down the aircraft production line at a very high cost. When we experience a breakdown in the supply chain for data, the implications may be less apparent, but they are also significant. Optimizing selling, marketing, and operations often depends on real-time flow of data. Importing or rekeying data as part of a manual process stalls critical efforts. Resource requirements escalate too quickly, driving inefficiency and hampering optimization at the breaking points. Organizations that are scaling quickly must take stock of the data that is most critical for running the business and measuring and optimizing performance. You must create a plan to ensure that the data will continue to be made available when and where it is needed. Identify critical weak links and key dependencies. Your data supply chain will only be as strong as its weakest link.
Incipia: You mentioned that you have been seeing studies that show Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) tenure is declining. What do you think is driving that trend?
Mike: That’s right. As an example, a 2015 study global recruitment firm Spencer Stuart concluded that the average tenure for Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) had declined by four months, the first decline since 2006. Median tenure declined even more sharply, from 35.5 months in 2014 to 26.5 in 2015.
These findings are in line with what I would expect. CEOs and boards have raised the bar for CMOs’ impact and the pace of change. This perfect storm that is both a challenge and an opportunity for CMOs. They are being asked to help deliver a highly differentiated customer experience by measuring and optimizing customer touch points throughout their organizations. This is no small feat. There is also the growing challenge of selecting and implementing the right technologies and tools to improve marketing measurement and impact in an "omnichannel world.” The landscape for marketing tools is growing in size and complexity. Overall, accelerating investment in customer experience, marketing automation, and marketing technology is helping CMOs to build and expand capabilities, but this funding also holds their feet to the fire to demonstrate the impact and ROI of marketing activities and investments.
All told, the bar is high and getting higher. The good news for CMOs is that organizations need strong leadership in marketing to tackle all of these challenges and to champion marketing success internally. Top performing CMOs are likely to see a strong demand for their services for quite a long time.
Mike Diaz, the Founder and Principal of Growth Canvas Consulting, helps business leaders to accelerate their growth by improving the focus, speed, impact and ROI of their marketing and customer experience programs. Prior to establishing his own company, Mike spearheaded successful growth initiatives as a marketing leader and business strategist at Thomson (Gale) and ProQuest. Mike is a certified Net Promoter Associate for customer experience management. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Direct Marketing Association of Detroit and is a CODiE Award Judge for sales, marketing and competitive intelligence solutions with the Software and Information Industry Association. For additional information, see Mike’s Profile on LinkedIn.
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