This is the time of year when companies buckle down to produce their annual plans. There are high-level objectives that are cascaded to strategies and supporting tactics. Each executive leaves the sessions pumped and ready to jumpstart 2015. And then the rah-rah is over, the holiday crunch winds down, and everyone gets their heads down to work on whatever fires rise from 2014’s ashes.
The best executives quickly start making headway on the 2015 accountabilities that were assigned to them, however there is almost always too much to do and not enough time to do it. This is particularly true for the best executives because they are often the ones who get assigned the most tasks. What’s more, the goals are often so high-level that, even if progress is being made, it can take months or years to see true financial impact in the business.
Fast-forward to 90 days later: You have checked several things off your list, but rarely do they show up on a profit/loss statement at this point. Outside of checking items off a list and reporting progress to a manager, executive team, or board, others around you might not even know that you are making a dent. So, without seeing the fruits from your efforts, it is difficult to maintain momentum on the work; plus it is difficult to get buy-in for more or to get support for changing direction if need be.
So, how do you fuel momentum and illustrate progress? Answer: You make a difference that everyone can see in the financials (if even in the periphery of your primary goals). When you directly increase sales, reduce costs, and help the business grow, you get runway and support for other things you want to do (or not do). Making a financial impact on the business in the first quarter helps make the second to fourth quarter operate that much more smoothly.
In that spirit, here are five things that businesses can do to quantifiably make an impact in the first three months of 2015 and get everyone jazzed about what you’re working on:
The first thing you’re going to have to do is prove that you made a difference. What number that you can influence and is closely and quickly connected to financials is most important to the business? For marketing, it’s most likely sales-related (by dollar, orders, or leads). Companies want to choose something that most quickly converts to cash; leads, for example, may take longer than 90 days to close and there may be little you can do to influence that.
Get that number and then make sure it is accurate and measurable daily. You need to know exactly what the number is today so that you can prove that you changed it for the better three months from now. Then, publish it—big, bold and beautiful—somewhere in your department. Everyone needs to know that the needle is moving.
Work upstream from your single number and produce a linear process by which a customer buys. While a customer rarely takes a linear path to purchase, you need to think of it in that way in order to influence the process and focus on the issues.
Thankfully, this part is relatively simple because in the macro sense, it takes awareness, then consideration, then purchase/conversion, and finally loyalty/advocacy.
You can break your funnel apart a bit more if you really need to but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to write it down. Spend the rest of the hour determining where your biggest issues are in the process. You probably know that off the top of your head, too. Don’t worry about it too much because you’re going to come back to this step after 90 days. For now, you’re just going to use it for context.
The first place to start looking is at the purchase process for your product. If you make even a small difference in this stage, it magnifies everywhere else within the process. This is the easiest place to make a difference and see immediate financial results.
For some people, particularly those that have products sold at retail where you have seemingly little influence, this can be a challenge. However, for most, there are a number of easy-to-use strategies to make quick improvements.
First, observe. Watch a customer buy your product. If you sell online, there is software for this. If you don’t, then you will have to get into the field. What barriers can you remove to sell just a percent or two more product?
Second, ask. Sometimes the best way to figure out why you’re hitting a road block is to find someone who has an interest in your product or service and spend time talking to them. See what they perceive issues to be. What words do they use? If you can find the right people, they can be very helpful and reveal new information.
Third, make changes and monitor results. Set up a feedback loop to test and adjust. Keep watching your daily number. In this process, be sure that everything you want to track is being tracked accurately. This is an issue more often that you may realize.
Every win in this category makes your media cheaper and hits your sales immediately. You can always improve this part of the process and, even if you feel that marketing doesn’t have direct control of this process, you should try to make what impact you can here or as close to here as possible.
Warning: This may mean that you stop doing some things. In fact, if you don’t stop doing some things, then you’re probably not actually prioritizing enough. Most commonly, when we come into a client and want to make meaningful impact quickly, we stop doing most of what they were doing and focus on doing the two or three best things even better.
Figure out what tactics have worked the best for you in the past. To do that, you have to understand what it means to work. It can’t be about what campaign gave you the highest click-through rate or got the most people to give us their contact information. What tactics yielded impact to your critical number? You have to track the tactic all the way through to the sale.
Then, ask yourself if you’ve truly maximized the top two or three things that deliver on your most important number?
Most often, for example, it is email that delivers great results for little cost. Have you done everything that you can do make email perform even better for you? The answer is probably no. You probably allocated resources to social media before you completely maximized email.
Then, skip to the bottom 75% of the tactic list and eliminate anything that isn’t working.
That is easier said than done because most of us are trained to look at anything that is underperforming on expectations and try to fix it rather than eliminate it altogether and focus on the positive. However, there is nothing worse than spending limited time and resources on something that isn’t bearing fruit. Take note and move on instead of trying to force results to happen.
If you have tactics that live in the middle ground of performance, only keep the things that require little to no effort to maintain. But, be careful, a whole lot of “little effort” can still amount to too much time spent for not enough return. It’s far more lucrative and cost effective to tweak a campaign that is already meeting 90% of its intended goals then to spend the same or more money on another initiative that’s only achieving half that.
In this step, you are optimizing the purchase process and maximizing your top few tactics. You are talking to customers or customers who’ve dropped out of the funnel in order to make the most out of those who are at your doorstep. Then you are looking for quick wins inside your top two to three tactics that are slightly further upstream from the conversion. You are not looking to overhaul anything, but making slight improvements. Because, again, small percentage points at each step are magnified quickly. Keep watching your number to ensure that you’re swinging the right direction.
Documenting what you learn through this process is almost as important as the process itself because it is easy to get caught up in tweaking the tactics. However, as you learn the vernacular that your customers use or identify hiccups in operational processes, it is important that you can link those findings back to their impact on your daily number. You will need that later for when you are proposing bigger initiatives for the company.
However, using this process in your first three months of the year is a great way to give you the clearance you need, in cash, influence, and psychological benefit, to pursue the bigger, more abstract priorities for the year that have longer term strategic importance.
By focusing on these five areas, companies can give themselves the best shot at a successful first quarter and hopefully build off that momentum to make it a profitable year all around.
—Reid Carr is president and CEO of Red Door Interactive, a data-driven advertising agency that delivers the right message to the right targets in all the right places regardless of media. Inspired by the art, yet guided by the science of marketing, every solution the agency produces teases the right brain and tickles the left. Red Door holds more than a decade of expertise with a client list that includes Bosch & Thermador, Rubio’s Restaurants, Inc., and Univision. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.