So, you’re not a “digital native.” I understand. You didn’t get to where you are professionally by mastering social media or building your reputation through a smart online presence. You’re not savvy with computers, but you know how to make a deal, inspire a team, read people, and make tough decisions. As far as you’re concerned, Who cares if you don’t know how to tweet? The best thing you can do is to get in a room with a client because closing the deal is your specialty.
But here’s the problem: “Getting in the room” is more difficult than ever. In fact, it’s common these days for companies to do all their business remotely, without ever meeting clients or vendors. Also, your company and the product your company is selling can be easily documented, rated, reviewed, and compared to other similar products and companies on the Internet whether you like it or not. If you’re not actively defining your target audience’s online experience, you’re not getting in that room.
I’m an engineer, but I started my career in technical sales, and that has become an invaluable experience. Learning the art of the deal at a young age has benefited me greatly, and continues to do so. In 2004, fascinated by the web and the future it promised, I started a web development firm called Entermedia. In the past 9 years, my team and I have worked with a range of clients from Dell to Texas Monthly.
What continues to amaze me, as I connect the dots in my career experience, is the brash and loose way many business leaders spend their sales and marketing budgets. These are extremely smart high-achieving individuals in practically every way, but there’s an archetype out there that tends to ignore how business has transformed over the last decade.
Here are some common scenes of a typical business day starring a character that I like to call “The Sales Guy CEO.”
The Business Trip
Sales person: “We have a meeting with [exciting client opportunity name goes here], I’m meeting with them tomorrow in [somewhere on the other side of the country].”
CEO: “This is an important meeting, I should come.”
Sales person: “It’s actually pretty early in the process. I’ll be demoing our products and taking a tour of their offices. It’s just a meet and greet.”
CEO: “Great job! I’ll let you know once I’ve got my ticket booked. See you tomorrow!”
The Marketing Budget
Marketing person: “We need to update our website. Our clients can’t get the vital information they need, the design is outdated, it doesn’t work on mobile, and we can’t update it ourselves.”
CEO: “How much?”
Marketing person: I’ve received an estimate from a highly recommended firm in the area. It’s going to cost [more than the CEO thinks it should cost].
CEO: That’s an outrage! Can’t we do it ourselves? My nephew builds websites, I’ll give him a call.
Marketing Person: Um, okay [rolls eyes, smiles awkwardly, leaves room].
“Moneyball” for Business
In Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, old school scouts spit and swagger, then choose players based on gut. In a game rich with data, they go on instinct and intuition. Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Bean had seen enough, so he goes in another direction: Sabermetrics. Using advanced statistical analysis, he selects players based on their overall contribution towards winning games.
In Daniel Kahneman’s groundbreaking book Thinking Fast and Slow, he posits that human beings are actually quite good at intuitive decision making, except when those decisions involve statistics and/or logic. In other words, trust your intuitive mind when deciding who to marry or where to go for lunch, but think slowly when casting your vote or allocating your sales and marketing budget.
Advice for the Sales Guy CEO
Stop thinking fast about things that involve logic and statistics. Don’t spend $2,000 on travel and expenses for one meeting, but refuse to spend $3,000 on making your website available in Spanish when that’s an important target market for your products. That $3,000 will benefit your organization for years to come as a true asset to your business and bottom line. The $2,000 on travel and expenses might result in one sale if you’re lucky.
Figure out how to market and advertise your products or services on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, or Google. There are more places, but start here. I don’t care what type of business you’re in, there is something you could be doing on one or all of these sites. Online sales, marketing, and advertising is the most cost effective means available with the highest ROI. The strategies get complex the further down the rabbit hole you go, but the payoff is worth the effort.
Hire people who “get it.” If your marketing team or advertising team aren’t experienced with social media or building online tools, then change agencies or make the necessary changes to your team. Also, many people nowadays have the ability to promote your company’s products or services in a very natural manner by participating in the conversation online. So, hiring well can lead to indirect marketing benefits at no additional cost.
Don’t write an RFP. Create a map that shows where you are today and where you want to be in three months, 6 months, 1 year. Interview design companies, marketing agencies with a digital focus, and web development shops. Let them tell you what you need to get there and how much it’s going to cost.
Build the web platform you need and invest for the long term. All too often business executives decide their budget, scope, and deadline without any regard for what it will actually cost to have it done right. This can lead to choosing a lower cost provider with less skill, which can be disastrous in the world of code. You’re better off changing your business map than sacrificing quality for quantity.
Embrace the changing landscape. You mastered the world of sales and ascended to the top of the company hierarchy, but don’t stop now. It’s time to learn new skills. All the information and guidance is out there, online, waiting to be consumed and applied to your business. Those who do will thrive. Those who don’t will struggle.
What used to be money well spent might be better spent elsewhere. Rethink everything, rework your culture, iterate, and improve. Never stop pounding the rock, because one day you might crack it wide open.
Ethan Worrel is the founder of Entermedia, an agile team of web development, design and strategy experts specializing in Drupal content management solutions.
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