Consider the American apple grower, who seeks the sweetest, most desired apples from the top of his towering fruit trees. To reach them, he climbs a large commercial ladder to the very top, and works downward, dumping his fruit in a big, burlap bag around his neck and shoulder. If he were to pick the low-hanging apples first, that means he’d be working his way up the ladder with an increasingly heavy load – quite an inverted way to run an orchard business!
Why is it, then, that the term “low-hanging fruit” became a positive term in the business world? First used in print in the late 1960s by writer and poet PJ Kavanagh, the term was used as a parable to indicate an easily attainable task. By the early 1990s, the idiom was thrown into the bubbling cauldron of business, morphing into a buzzword for a “no brainer” opportunity – in other words, a corporate gain that could be achieved with minimal effort.
Today, while some tout the term as nothing more than played-out sales and marketing jargon it’s still a well-known and preferred place to send teams to find a short-term fix for revenue issues, from the startup to the mid-sized company to the billion-dollar corporation. While revenue issues do need to be addressed quickly in the real world, the constant pursuit of low-hanging fruit can replace the expansion strategy, instead of obtaining the right resources and thought leadership to resolve the strategic issue – and develop a more robust plan for growth.
Going after low-hanging fruit consumes more money and time than you realized or planned.
Unfortunately, the rotten truth about low hanging fruit in business is that the low-hanging fruit consumes more money and time than you realized or planned. This is frustrating for a high performing sales and marketing team. While picking the low-hanging fruit can be a successful and often necessary short-term demand generation marketing approach, it’s not wise to leave the ripest, freshest fruit to the competition long-term, because while you are looking at the lower latitudes, some other company may devour your proverbial lunch – or your industry may suddenly become disrupted.
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To avoid the temptation to routinely pick the pedestrian-level spoils, guide your business and your team with these three action points:
- Listen to your teams
Seek feedback from your teams as to what’s working, what’s not working – and why. For example, according to PipeDrive, tactics such as creating sales goals that can’t possibly be achieved with the resources or tools at hand, or without the ability to keep resulting customer commitments, can be a quick de-motivator. In addition, targeting the wrong customers, or alternatively, executing poorly on a hasty, ill-fated launch strategy implementation plan, can be toxic to results and harmful to the brand. Quick wins can be a great thing, but if they’re at the expense of bigger, more important victories, your team is not making the progress it deserves. Remember the apple picker!
Be careful not to confuse activity with results.
Selecting the easiest targets with the least amount of effort might get things started, but you may be confusing activity with the right results for your business. Motivate your teams by engaging them in understanding the problem and creating the right market growth strategy solution. Then, challenge them to deliver. In doing so, you will give them a chance to achieve meaningful results, and witness the fruits of their efforts in the continued success of the company.
- Listen to your customers
Sometimes expediency gets in the way of effectiveness, and often, in the way of innovation and enduring excellence. When your teams are under the gun to make up for a lost client, or are defending an account against an aggressive competitor, they may gaze at an orchard of seemingly unlimited sales and marketing opportunities, focused on the fruit hanging low in front of them. However, if your ideal target clients at the top of the tree are making other choices and abandoning you in the buying path, replacing them with less-than-ideal customers to “make the numbers,” is a sure source of problems down the road.
It’s better to gain customer insights from both existing and lost customers, so you can evaluate what’s happening and fix any fundamental issues. According to Forrester Research, today’s marketing professionals are concerned they’re leaving money on the table because they’re not receiving an adequate and comprehensive view of the customer experience. Customer insight and segmentation technologies like Connectivity, IBM PureData and SAS Customer Analytics are widely available and provide visibility into what’s working – and what needs further examination for change.
On the other hand, having those tough conversations with both lost customers and your most loyal clients can provide important and actionable insights. Is one competitor capturing more of the business in the marketplace, or are you losing business to a broader set? Is the cause internal, like issues with product performance or customer service? Perhaps you have a net loss of new customers, or you’re losing your core clients at a faster rate than others. No matter where the challenge lies, don’t let the pursuit of low-hanging fruit keep you from getting to the fundamental issue.
Send your teams to the top of the tree, after the big goals and the big gain.
- Maintain focus on the core
In our haste to gather as much fruit (clients) as we can, we can forget that not all of them are the same, and in an effort to show gains on our expansion strategy in any way possible, we lose focus on the higher-premium, more enduring, and potentially more brand-loyal clients. In a period of stress, the focus on customer targeting, analytics and long-term customer value may go out the window.
Continuing to reinforce who our core target customer is, making sure that our sales and marketing efforts maintain focus on that customer, and getting smarter through results data analysis and customer conversations can fuel your team’s continued focus on the primary reason you are in business: to provide value to a growing list of your core customers.
So, the next time you want to talk about fruit – send your teams to the top of the tree, after the big goals and the big gain. When things don’t go according to plan, don’t abandon strategy; instead, get input from your teams and your customers; learn and adjust your plan; and stay focused on your core customers. Your clients and your teams will thank you.
Deborah Fell, CMO, Chief Outsiders, is an expert at helping companies identify where the opportunities are (whether growth strategy or marketing productivity), and help them assess and develop more actionable and effective marketing strategies. You can call her at 240.494.6404 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is an outsourced CMO with 30+ years of strategic and tactical marketing experience, including Senior Vice President, Global Marketing Marriott International; Division Manager, AT&T; CMO, furniture industry; Sr. Product Manager, detergent industry, amongst others. In recent years she has leveraged her strong strategy and implementation skills to help mid-sized businesses and mentor start-ups across numerous industries (including healthcare insurance, technology apps, craft brewing, etc.). Deborah resides in the Washington, D.C. area.