Driving Sales Success with a Unified Growth Marketing StrategyKristin Luck
Struggling with consistently growing your business despite your best efforts? It's okay to admit it. You're not alone. Whether you face challenges driving lead generation, responding to incoming leads or staffing a sales team, a more unified and strategic approach to growth the aligns both sales AND marketing efforts can alleviate these struggles and help your business thrive. With the right growth marketing strategy in place, scaling sales becomes much more achievable.
Although I work as a sales and marketing strategist, I don’t come from a traditional sales background. I haven’t attended any formal sales training, I’m not “Sandler certified,” and I wouldn’t call myself a “salesperson.” So how have my startups and business ventures achieved incredible success, at times without any sort of formalized sales team in place? As owners or managers, we often get so focused on the idea of a formalized sales team that we miss the basics behind what can TRULY DRIVE sales – the brand. Brand awareness and brand loyalty are key sales drivers.
There is nothing as time-consuming and expensive as muscling through sales without the help of a solid marketing practice to drive brand awareness and lead generation.
I was once asked, “If you had a dollar to spend in your business, would you spend it on sales or marketing?” I don’t think the two practices – sales and marketing - should be separated and pitted against each other. This division of marketing and sales is a common mistake I see in many firms, where the marketing team functions separately from sales, and, in some unfortunate cases, the sales teams treat marketing like an afterthought or a nuisance. In my experience, there is nothing as time-consuming and expensive as muscling through sales without the help of a solid marketing practice to drive brand awareness and lead generation.
Read next: Sales and Marketing Teams: Friends or Foes?
Three Engines of Growth
Why is a unified sales and marketing practice so paramount to company growth?
Anyone familiar with Lean Startup principles (the growth hackers Bible!) knows there are three engines of growth for businesses:
- Paid - I call this the traditional sales and marketing model. Throw money at sales hires or paid advertising to grow the business.
- Sticky - Focus on retaining existing customers and growing them.
- Viral - Create brand energy and growth through word of mouth and other non-traditional (ideally, free!) marketing strategies
If you’re a small business owner, you may have been advised to focus on one growth engine at a time. If you’re trying to go viral, make your product sticky, and pay for customers, all in parallel, figuring out what’s working and driving growth can be difficult. However, I’ve successfully utilized both sticky and viral growth engines simultaneously. I think you’ll find that working multiple growth marketing strategies to grow your existing customer base while driving new customers virally can easily be accomplished with little overhead.
Companies often resort to “paid” growth models because they don’t know any other way to attract new clients. However, hiring a sales team and paying for advertising requires a significant monetary investment that isn’t an option for many firms. Viral growth strategies, which can drive “sticky” growth by creating brand evangelists among your existing customer base, are inexpensive and can easily be implemented with a little creativity and time.
Here’s how I’ve implemented brand-driven viral marketing strategies that drive sales and didn’t cost a dime (other than my time!).
Focus on brand positioning and thought leadership
Utilizing a growth marketing strategy, such as content-driven social media posts or contributing thought-provoking articles to an industry publication, can effectively position your brand as a ‘go-to’ in your vertical and drive lead generation. Don't think you have anything mind-blowing to contribute? Activate your internal and external networks to generate topics of interest.
Boost your brand with your own army of evangelists
Utilize your existing clients to evangelize your brand. Often, we’re too shy about asking for market validation. In most cases, happy clients are more than willing to assist. Ask clients for quotes you can use in marketing or sales initiatives and co-present on webinars or at industry events. Prospective customers are more likely to be swayed by what existing clients say about your business….rather than what you say about your business. Clients as brand evangelists are an unparalleled sales force. Word of mouth and referrals rank highest for sales conversion, so never underplay its importance.
Give to get: A growth marketing strategy to cultivate value-driven relationships
Build your sales pipeline by developing content-driven relationships with organizations or individuals that promote your brand. Offer to curate or moderate a panel discussion at an industry event. Nervous about getting on stage? Guest edit an industry publication or offer to blog at an event. Getting out and in front of people and starting conversations that attract attention and energy to your business is a powerful driver of brand awareness. I’ve even managed to align myself with editors and conference organizers and avoided "pay-to-play" situations by offering something of value, be it time, connections, or content, in exchange for branding.
Think of creative ways your unique brand strategy can thwart your competition.
At my last firm, Decipher, we rolled out a market research survey software solution in a highly competitive marketplace with well-funded incumbents – and without the help of a formal sales team. It was a struggle at first. Replacing existing reputable solutions from larger brands was a lot more challenging than we’d anticipated. We also underestimated the pain points behind switching platforms – namely that transitioning software platforms required so much ramp-up time that clients would have no choice but to license two platforms simultaneously to transition without a disruption to their business. An expensive proposition!
Rather than flounder, my partners and I brainstormed a solution that activated our brand promise. We drove a viral marketing campaign to promote a plan that allowed prospective clients to use our survey software free of charge for up to a year while they transitioned off their current platform and onto ours. This “Beacon Transition Plan” was so wildly successful that it was perceived as a substantial threat to our competitors. No industry publication or organization would work with us to publicize the program for fear of backlash from the behemoths we were competing against. Better yet, the “Beacon Transition Plan” didn’t cost us a dime to implement (there was little overhead associated with the transition time) or promote through the viral marketing channels we utilized.
Create emotional attachment through authenticity
Some of the best brand strategies leverage emotional attachment to drive growth. For example, Bernie Sanders's rise as a 2016 Presidential candidate in the US harnessed his authentic brand through the #FeelTheBern grassroots campaign, proving him to be a formidable opponent to campaigns funded by Super PACs and the infamous Koch brothers. Ironically, Sanders’ reputation as a stable and honest individual is a consistent, emotionally driven “brand” message that was in place before many of his supporters were born. Although Sanders wasn't successful in his bid for the Presidency, he remains an icon of progressive politics, showcasing the effective use of authenticity in creating an emotional attachment to a brand (whether it's a personal or corporate brand).
You may have guessed by this point that creativity is the secret to creating a humming growth engine. Determine your unique brand strengths and creatively exploit them. Is a viral brand strategy a replacement for a formalized sales practice? Not necessarily. However, when a traditional sales team isn't scaling or is absent due to financial constraints or a lack of access to sales talent, a viral marketing strategy can be effectively utilized for brand activation that drives growth.