Coming out of the pandemic - and facing inflation and economic uncertainty - it's clear that the Sales and Marketing functions at many companies are in serious trouble. This is happening even as many in the industry refuse to acknowledge it.
At many companies, the two departments that are most responsible for stimulating demand and closing sales have been unable to deliver fully on their revenue promises. This is despite the extra funding provided by the government, the proliferation of media, and an excess of investment capital.
The failure of these Marketing and Sales initiatives has contributed directly to historically high business failure rates, which are compounded in many cases by the supply chain problems that often mask failures of the Marketing and Sales functions.
But the sad fact is that the biggest issue many companies face is that their Marketing and Sales programs simply aren't working very well, if at all. For example:
At least you can be comforted that, if your Sales or Marketing programs aren't working, you're not alone.
So what's really going on?
The problem starts with the rise of Google, Amazon, Facebook and LinkedIn, along with Twitter, Instagram, HubSpot and all the other platforms.
Historically, the benefit that the Web offered to businesses was that it could remove barriers-to-visibility, such as the high cost of advertising and media access. Every business would have a storefront on the Internet. And "if you build it, they will come". Building out these websites and getting visibility online were the foundations of Web 1.0, a legitimate enough enterprise, even if it hurt the traditional (especially print) media. After a while however, because of the large number of businesses on the Web, it became necessary for a tool to emerge - Search - that would help people navigate the Web and find what they needed from an ocean of Web sites.
The problem was, of course, that weak anti-trust laws and Section 230, as well as natural selection, allowed Google to dominate the search market. This means that businesses have to kowtow to Google's algorithms - software that literally controls people's perceptions - if they wanted to get visibility. Entire industries have grown up around guessing what would make Google and other search sites happy, and enable them to get a position on the first page of search results, to the point where today SEO, inbound marketing, content marketing, digital marketing, and the thousands of their technological progeny constitute a $200B+ industry - all just to break through the clutter.
The issue is that for most companies none of this works. And the reason is basic arithmetic.
There is, for example, on the first page of Google search results, room for only 10 or 15 organic hits - which means that 95%, or 98% and potentially 100% (in the case of scammed search terms) of the businesses that are seeking visibility online will basically get none. (It makes you wonder why Google's search results are paginated instead of scrollable, but that's a scam for another day.)
And what if the person doesn't know they have a need, like in the case of an innovative solution? What are they supposed to even search on? At least in the days of print you could buy a quarter page ad in a Trade Journal and know that it was going to get into readers' hands; while today you could spend ten times as much money and get no visibility whatsoever.
And so companies play the game, and then they fail.
A similar thing happens with Facebook and the consumer market, and LinkedIn for business. Facebook, of course, dominates the traffic on the Web insofar as personal use is concerned, and LinkedIn for business. And so companies spend billions of dollars on ads on these platforms hoping to get an impression, a click, and maybe a lead. But given the competition for eyeballs, fewer than 1% of the companies that advertise on these sites ever get a positive ROI on it. As a fallback offering, these sites are more than happy to sell you their users' data, which businesses are free to exploit using thousands of different tools, most of which are equally ineffective. But the tens of billions of dollars that these platform companies rake in each year does little to help the companies who spend it, many of whom slowly and quietly go out of business.
And then there's Amazon, the killer of retail, who exploits businesses with a 40% commission, and the enablement of fraudulent reviews that skew results such that a legitimate business has little chance of thriving in its toxic ecosystem. Anecdotally, we've talked to almost no manufacturers in the past year who sell on Amazon who are happy with it. And yet it's the only game in town for many companies, most of whom die in a race to the bottom.
And Social Media is no better, where 42% of the traffic or more is just bots.
For many companies, the answer is to try telemarketing or direct marketing. There are thousands of call centers to choose from, many of which are more than willing to work on a pay-for-performance or pay-per-lead basis using a half-literate script reader and a high-speed dialer. But trying to get the attention of a real decision maker by reading a script is a fool's errand. And just because you're not paying up-front doesn't mean it doesn't cost you anything. Most companies end up regretting the time they wasted, the reputational damage and the opportunity cost even more than the money they threw away on an unsuccessful campaign.
Even worse than the pay-per-lead scam is the siren song of the "guarantee".
The reality is that there are no meaningful guarantees in Marketing, insofar as getting good results is concerned (as opposed to simply "doing stuff"). And anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a bill-of-goods. It's nothing more than cheap insurance - worthless when you go to make a claim. Ponder this: If you're only willing to pay for a set appointment, and you refuse to pay just for the effort, what's to stop the agency from bribing your prospects with $250 for a half hour of their time to hear your pitch (after which they will NOT buy), charging you $500, and pocketing the difference? (Nothing.) And he'll do it because you can't incentivize him enough to risk his business on your promise to pay! And if you think that setting "lead qualification criteria" is going to help, and you're only going to pay for leads that meet it, think again. That agency is far more experienced in gaming the system than you'll ever be. And they'll be happy to take your money until you get tired of receiving bad leads. Ultimately, the sad truth is that just because you have to offer your customers a guarantee doesn't mean your Marketing vendor can or should offer you one. But if you insist on it? Consider yourself warned.
And the games Marketing experts play to rip you off are endless. Do you want to get a page #1 rank on Google? It's easy - as long as you define your geographic market small enough. Do you want to get a better response to your emails? It's easy - as long as you're willing to get your domain tagged as a spammer. Do you want to get a higher PPC response? It's easy - as long as you're willing and able to outbid your competitor, to the point where you're losing money on every sale.
In fact, they even teach this stuff in school. College students today can get a degree in Social Media Marketing, and never take a course on Sales. They can major in Web site design, and never learn what a close rate is. And they can know everything there is to know about A/B testing, and know nothing about persuasion.
Welcome to the new Marketing Matrix.
And if you do what these so-called experts recommend, and it doesn't work out, guess what? It's because of some exogenous factor over which they had no control. So it's not their fault. But you're left holding the bag.
And, by the way, if you think that hiring a Marketing Director is going to solve the problem, think again. They may know everything there is to know about social media marketing, inbound marketing and content marketing. But are they willing to be accountable for revenue? Of course not. Maybe they'll say they have no control over what the sales team does with the leads, and you'll agree. Or they'll say that their job is to get traffic, exposure, clicks, hits, demos and downloads, but not revenue. And you'll agree to that, too, because you don't know any better, do you?
But did you ever think about why turnover among Marketing professionals is almost 50% per year?
And your Sales people are no better. When you hired them, did they tell you that, "If you can get me in the door, I can close anyone"? How's that working out for you? Or maybe they're generating their own appointments, but they just can't close them because of the pandemic and Work-at-Home, or competition, or pricing, or the war in Ukraine, or the weather.
But one thing you can count on: As soon as they see that they're not going to make their numbers, their resume will be back out on Indeed.
Or maybe you think the solution is to hire a Chief Revenue Officer. That seems like a good idea, right? Hire someone to be responsible for both Sales and Marketing, so you can stop the finger-pointing and the blame game. But here's the problem: How many people are out there who actually understand, and have meaningful training and experience, in both Sales and Marketing? And then on top of that, how many of those have management training and experience in both? To be sure, if they don't have line and management training and experience in both Marketing and Sales, all you're doing is giving an unqualified employee more responsibility than they can handle. And that's yet another path to failure.
But don't worry. It's not you. It's them. But maybe you'll get a Participation Trophy.
Here's the sad truth: The industry has created a game that gives you the illusion of control, and of the potential for success. And it's enabled all manner of agents - digital marketing companies, software developers, consultants, list vendors, marketing experts, and even your own employees - to help you play, and keep you in the game. But if you play their game, you can never win. You might get by, but the odds are much higher that you will lose everything. The platforms will simply continue to get richer. Vendors will come and go. And your employees will move on.
Recognizing the problem is half the battle. After that, it's just rolling up our sleeves, and getting you the numbers you're looking for.