Growth Insights for CEOs

How to Eat an Elephant One Bite at a Time: Working Successfully with Your True Marketing Capacity

Posted by Dawn Werry


It’s not the prettiest analogy ever written in marketing – but the American vulture is truly a great example of a creature that has perfected the art of “biting off one piece at a time.” Whether it’s a roadside meal here in my hometown of Richmond, or a massive, expired elephant in the African Serengeti, there’s only one surefire way for the big bird to eat its dinner – one patient, calculated bite at a time.

Do you take the same approach to marketing your B2B business – or do you dive into an expansive, expensive marketing strategy like a man-eating piranha? Sure, you’re enthused about your brand and its new product – but have you truly invested the time to ensure that your customers will enjoy it, too?

Seek to Understand, then Be Understood

In The Growth Gears, Chief Outsiders’ leaders Art Saxby and Pete Hayes outline a proven approach to marketing – one that starts with insights and strategy – and then execution. Without that insight, you don’t know where to focus, or what’s important to customers. Instead, you simply jump in and “boil the ocean,” taking on too many marketing initiatives, too soon.

Companies large and small get burned in today’s marketplace by attempting to expand their product lines and markets before they’ve even mastered their basic offering. The people who got it right in the past, and continue to get it right, Inc Magazine says, create lasting demand instead.

For the vast majority of organizations, this scattered and over-extended approach to launch leads to frayed nerves, 100-hour days, wasted effort – and little to actually show for it. Attempting to build or market a product or service that works for the entire world is not only ambitious – it’s just as irrational as the vulture thinking he can drag the entire elephant to his safe place, and eat it all by himself.

Prioritizing Your Marketing Initiatives

No matter what your company or marketing aspirations are, it pays to stay realistic about what will really drive customer impact, what your marketing capacity looks like, and how you’ll really measure results. Last fall’s #Perform2015 Conference focused on refraining from boiling the ocean, and instead, prioritizing the initiatives that allow you to reach the right audience – with the right resources and budget in place.

So how do you prioritize? The key to prioritizing comes from that first step in any great marketing program: insights.

To keep it simple, here are three actionable ways to gain the insights and focus that allow you to prioritize your marketing initiatives, take an incremental approach and eat your elephant one bite at a time:

1. Begin By Optimizing Your Core Offering

When sales are down, it’s tempting to think that adding products or services is the answer. After all, if we have more products, we’ll meet the needs of (and sell to) more customers, right? Not necessarily. You run the risk of spending significant time to develop a product, only to fail to hit the mark or cannibalize your existing offering. 

Minimize risk for your company by beginning with your premier idea for an offering – and employing a laser-like focus to get that offer right. Take the time to develop insights about your target demographics and the potential risks and pitfalls, and test the waters. Your team can always plan to boil the ocean later on – after you dip your toes in a bit. 

2. Improve Your Customer Experience – By Design

If you haven’t already, it’s absolutely essential that you step into the shoes of your customer. No matter how great your product is, if it’s a hassle to deal with, customers will find an alternative. And, B2B companies are notorious for creating buying processes that drive away customers. I once worked with a company that had a great product for small-to-mid-sized businesses. But, in order to get that product, customers had to sign a lengthy supply contract. Smaller businesses simply didn’t have the legal team to review that contract, so we lost their business.

To create a great customer experience, you must get comfortable with throwing hunches and good feelings out the window as a basis for customer experience. Instead, map out your customer experience to see where your best intentions are leading to barriers and hardships for customers. Consider whether that customer experience pays off the brand promise you’ve made to your customers – across every touchpoint, from the product to the buying process. 

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to transform data into actionable insights about your customers – so you can provide both marketing experiences and product experiences that are just right for them. As Oracle notes, today’s audiences, by design, need much more attention and relevance to engage and take the next steps in the conversion path. It’s up to you to determine what drives attention and relevance for your brand.

3. Don’t Leave Marketing to the Marketers

Our CEO Art says “Marketing is too important to leave to the Marketers.” And, he’s right (but don’t tell him I said so)! 

A market-focused culture can make or break a company. In fact, our own study with University of Texas showed that the most successful small-to-mid-sized businesses are ones that started as operationally-focused companies and added on market focus. In fact, it’s so common that we have a term for it…dogs can become cats.

Creating a market-focused culture may seem daunting, but it’s really not that hard. It’s not about sending your whole team to be out with customers three days a week, or requiring a sales background – although both of those would help. It’s more about setting the tone at the top. As a CEO, do you know what’s happening in the market? Did you take a few minutes to read your market’s news this morning? And, do you talk about it regularly, even starting your meetings with an external view, rather than internal (financial) one?

I had the privilege of working with a very market-savvy CEO early in my career. When people came to her with product ideas, her first question was some variation of “what do the customers think?” It only took people a few times of not knowing that answer to get used to the practice of asking customers first, before they decided to dive into anything. That simple question set the tone from the top and made a huge impact on the culture. 

While many mainstay B2B businesses (like Adobe, AT&T, and Ciscohave continued to thrive within today’s buyer’s journey and digital space, since 2000, over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list have gone bankrupt, merged with another company, were acquired, or simply ceased to exist. Ensure you’re staying as lean and mean as our friend, the vulture, and guide your company in the practice of biting off just one piece at a time – to ensure growth, viability, and overall business success in the new economy.


Topics: Marketing Strategy, B2B Marketing

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