Enterprise Ireland senior adviser Angela Byrne poses the key questions Irish SMEs must ask when building a sales and marketing strategy around Brexit.
The prospect of Brexit brings the marketing and sales capability of Irish companies into sharp focus. How do we retain and grow our UK customers, assuming they are the right customers in the first place? Are we confident that costly decisions on diversification into new markets or new customer segments are rigorously investigated and based on the right assumptions?
Improving marketing and sales capability seems like a logical way to sustain and grow your business in challenging times – yet it is still the road less travelled.
Many Irish business leaders admit that they don’t have the wherewithal to properly assess the return on investment (ROI) from marketing and sales. For these companies, it’s not unusual for things – particularly marketing – to be run on a shoestring budget, which adds up to a series of unsatisfactory tactical fixes.
Some of these businesses grow at a decent pace in international markets year on year, in spite of this shortfall. Staying under the radar, they act as role models of product leadership, or operational excellence, or for their ability to win long-term loyalty on customer value measures such as agility and reliability. How much more scale could these companies achieve if they made the right calls on improving their marketing and sales skills and resources?
‘Companies with more advanced marketing and sales capabilities displayed revenue growth 30pc greater than the average’
Renowned global business consultants such as McKinsey are focusing their sights on the marketing and sales function as the next frontier of business improvement for companies with growth ambition. Citing the example of how companies embraced the lean manufacturing revolution, they say it is time for companies to apply the same level of scrutiny and commitment to marketing and sales.
McKinsey’s study, published in March 2015, showed that companies with more advanced marketing and sales capabilities displayed revenue growth 30pc greater than the average company within their sector.
One way that Enterprise Ireland is working with Irish companies is by extending the reach of the Strategic Marketing Review (SMR) programme, which 100 client companies have undertaken since 2013.
Nearly 70 years of experience supporting Irish companies to engage with target customers in the international marketplace has led Enterprise Ireland to distil its collective insights into a framework of practical steps to lasting capability in marketing and sales, outlined below.
1. Continuous intelligence gathering
What nuggets of insight can you use to position your offering more favourably with the prospective customer?
Irish companies are becoming increasingly adept at acquiring customer insights to understand what’s driving buying decisions, their relative positioning vis-à-vis competitors, and knowing which industry networks and social media sources will enable them to listen to and influence buying decision-makers and their influencers. Those that excel here are mastering content marketing to engage the customer while developing a culture of competitive intelligence-sharing.
2. Differentiated customer value proposition
How is your value proposition different and better than competing offers?
While the terminology of customer value proposition is now widely embedded across the Irish SME community in their commercial activities, some still are hesitant about involving customers in its validation, and fail to utilise the value proposition consistently in their digital marketing communications and in engagements with prospective customers.
3. Sales process and route to market
How do you ensure your sales pipeline is populated with the right quality prospects?
Knowing what an ideal target customer looks like for your business is one thing but ensuring there is minimum time spent on non-prospects is quite another. Hundreds of Irish SMEs have made quantum leaps forward in the rigour and discipline of their sales processes in the past 10 years and can forecast sales outcomes more accurately as a direct result.
Do you operate a direct sales model, work through channel partners or a combination of both?
If channel partners are seen as the right route to market, Irish companies should recognise the need for due diligence to ensure they choose the right ones, and that they support and invest time and money in those partnerships once established. Gone is the naivety that appointing a channel partner is an end in itself.
4. People and finance resources
Is your sales team getting in front of enough of the right opportunities?
A deep review of marketing and sales inevitably gives insights on whether the current mix of marketing and sales skills and resources in the company are fit for purpose. The answer is often ‘No’. In recent times, Irish companies opting to take the plunge and invest in the right strategic marketing leader for the first time are seeing positive ROI impacts across the business.
What type of financial analysis is employed around marketing and sales decisions?
Financial resources for marketing and sales may be adjusted periodically but should ideally be based on an agreed plan. In the best-performing companies, this is counterbalanced with keeping a close eye on customer acquisition cost and measuring the profitability of individual customers.
5. Effective communication and cultural awareness
Are you optimising the range of communication channels to the customer or marketplace that you are trying to influence with the right content? How good is internal communication? Are gaps in cultural awareness and language skills holding you back?
Just taking the digital marketing dimension, ‘Must do better’, sums up where many Irish businesses are at on this score. Some companies view their website as delivering poor return as a generator of leads but are under-committed to the resources needed to drive better results. Others are woefully behind the curve in terms of their digital presence. Wolfgang Digital’s recent study bears that out.
6. Ambition, passion, vision and commitment
Inside-out or outside-in: Are you passionate about your product or about solving customer problems? Are you and your management team motivated to diversify into new markets and customer segments because you want to or because you have to?
By taking the time for an in-depth look at marketing and sales practices in the company, a management team can reach a point of clarity and consensus on the capability gaps limiting their growth potential and devise realistic actions to correct them over a six-to-12-month timeframe. We have a growing contingent of Irish companies reaping those rewards.
By Angela Byrne
Angela Byrne is a senior adviser at Enterprise Ireland and an experienced executive in international sales and marketing, SME internationalisation and growth strategy.
Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit SME Scorecard and more resources can be accessed at www.prepareforbrexit.ie.