Here are 30 mistakes entrepreneurs make when expanding fast growth companies, and the lessons they learnt. Some are classic mistakes made from time immemorial. Others apply directly to ’08.
Where do the lessons come from? Countless interviews with entrepreneurs and my research with RMIT University over the past 20 years, which has studied the lessons from high growth companies’ experiences.
Mistake 1: Entrepreneurs still confuse sales and marketing
Entrepreneurs often excel at marketing but are not so good at selling. Why? Selling focuses on the needs of the seller who needs to convert their product or service into hard cash. Marketing focuses on the need of the buyer – satisfying the needs of the customer.
Successful entrepreneurs are usually very market-focused and very good at satisfying the needs of the customer. But developing the skills to sell means acquiring a completely different skill set.
What do the best entrepreneurs do? Keep the two functions separate, but ensure there is intensive knowledge sharing as the internet changes the roles of sales and marketing.
Mistake 2: No clear strategies coming into a downturn
Entrepreneurs loathe doing business plans. So asking for marketing plans and sales plans updated every year is pushing the envelope. But you should now be working towards different strategies heading into 2008 that focus on sales growth in a slowing market, such as entering long-term sales contracts and retainers.
Mistake 3: Loving the customer to (your) death
Spending too much time with low-value clients is a perennial problem, mainly because entrepreneurs take a marketing perspective and not a sales perspective. It also means you miss other sales opportunities, and solutions created for one customer may not be applicable to others.
Mistake 4: Using pre-internet sales methods to sell
The internet is now doing a lot of the job that your sales people used to do. A good website will explain what your product does, its features and why your company is different. So what are your salespeople doing in 2008?
They should be talking to customers about the outcomes they will enjoy and the benefits they will get.
Mistake 5: It costs too much to get to the customer
This is a common mistake made in the small and medium business market. As you can not rely on customers finding you, you must find the customer. A key part of the strategy is to find multiple channels to market. This can be an enormous challenge as often your competitors have already locked up distribution channels to target customers with pre-existing agreements.
Mistake 6: Trying too few ways to get to market
Many companies should be trying out numerous paths to market, using the internet, a sales force, distributors or the channels of larger competitors or customers. While the multi-market approach can work, it can also be expensive.
Mistake 7: Outsourcing sales to the wrong bloke
Some entrepreneurs swear by their distributors. Others say hiring a distributor was the worst thing they have ever done as they were either fraudulent, incompetent or both.
Usually when selling overseas entrepreneurs send Australians, and prefer to set up a presence with Aussies in the office. Then they hire locals.
Mistake 8: Not valuing “selling” skills
Be prepared to change quickly if you’re not getting the results you want. Water tank manufacturer New Water started selling through third parties like Bunnings.
But the systems needed greater explanation than third party salespeople could deliver. And it also didn’t work sending out plumbers to sell the systems. What worked in the end?
They hired people who could sell and sent them out with laptops that could quickly provide plumbing solutions.
Mistake 9: Providing no compelling reason to buy
Do you have the best products in the marketplace? Products that people would die without, if they could not get hold of it right now!
If a customer has a choice between a lot of products or does not have a compelling need to buy your product, your company will not grow fast.
As the discretionary dollar increasingly stays in the wallet this year, marketers may need to remind clients that their products are essential, not a luxury. Watch out that your creatives this year do not develop “feel good” ads that lack triggers to help the customer make the purchasing decision.
Mistake 10: Overcomplicating the product or the service
It’s simple, stupid. Often entrepreneurs who come in to turn around companies say the first thing they did was cull back the number of products and simplify the offering.
The explanatory literature accompanying products also needs to be presented simply by professional copywriters. As time-poor people increasingly scan information, lengthy explanations on how things work that is bogged down with product features that only boffins would love, are out.
Webinars and podcasts are the new how-to brochures in 2008.
Mistake 11: Failure to make the most of email marketing
Email marketing is an art. Develop your database continually by offering prizes, competitions and give aways. Work out the best time and frequency to target people. Use your offline advertising to drive people to sign up to your database.
Mistake 12: Not making the shift from old media to alternative media
Many of your competitors are already exploring new online and mobile advertising. Alternative media provides a way to directly meet a highly targeted community with a very measurable return on investment.
Mistake 13: Not running a paid search campaign
The vast majority of Australians now search online for goods and services, so a paid search campaign is critical. As words get more expensive to purchase in the global marketplace, make sure you have an expert bidding for the right words.
Mistake 14: Building a website that is not optimised for search
Some web builders create sites in Flash, which is not searchable. Make sure your web builders have in-house search specialists involved in building or re-launching your site.
Mistake 15: Pushing products people don’t want
There is no excuse. Technology now allows you to find out an enormous amount about your customers. From setting up a quiz to ask your customers about their preferences to using internet profiling to find out more – knowledge is power.
Mistake 16: Trying to outspend gorilla competitors on advertising
You never will and you will get lost in the noise.
Mistake 17: Marketing in short bursts
Don’t. Keep your name out there constantly, any way you can. Highly successful entrepreneurs develop very close relationships with the media. They can be relied on to give comment on an issue, be launching a new way of doing business, or providing off-the-record gossip. It is a very cheap way to get your message continually out there.
Mistake 18: Taking word of mouth for granted
People will tell others all about your great products and services; right? Well, don’t take it for granted. Use “Send to a Friend” campaigns, viral campaigns or ambush marketing.
Mistake 19: Selling to the wrong department
Targeting big business? Software developer Atlassian found it was easier to sell at a department level rather than target the CFO. Alternatively it can sometimes pay to go to the top first, so you can name drop to the rungs down under.
Mistake 20: Sales and marketing staff don’t understand the product
The sales and marketing staff should not just be trained in your products and services; they should be using them.
They should visit customers that use your products and services and understand the benefits for your business. And consider this. If they can’t understand your business and you are paying them, how can they understand a customer’s business?
That goes for outsourcers as well. Everyone from your PR agency to your web designers should understand the basics of your business.
Mistake 21: Taking the sale for granted
So you think you have the sale. But the sale is not closed until the document is signed. Often sales people can be sloppy, start counting their commission and going off to the next sale, while the documents lie unsigned. They may also be insufficiently motivated or have no idea how to professionally close a deal.
Mistake 22: Ignoring new ways to advertise
It is becoming more popular to place your advertising where your customers are and when they are in the right frame of mind. New trends range from putting your name on coffee cups, street umbrellas and even naming hiking tracks after your brand.
Mistake 23: Ignoring social media
In the US, websites with product reviews are growing. Make sure your marketing people are on top of this.
Mistake 24: No try before you buy
Always offer a trial or a get one free hook. It is almost mandatory these days.
Mistake 25: Believing there is no competition
The majority of fast growth companies believe they are in the market first and have no competition. But they do. And they are usually giant gorillas already operating in your industry and planning to attack. Make sure you know what your competitor is doing so you are always focusing knowledgably on your superiority.
Mistake 26: Not fighting hard enough when a major client is walking
Never take a major client for granted. And never accept them walking away. Entrepreneurs tell stories of working for two to three months for nothing in order to make up to a client. And they never regret it.
Mistake 27: Being cut out of the complaints loop
If you don’t know if customers are complaining, because someone lower down the food chain is taking the calls, change the system instantly. Either receive a regular report on complaints or ask for complaints to be brought to you directly.
Mistake 28: Lacking integrity
As the economy becomes more difficult to read this year, consumers will turn to trusted brands. Make sure your brand is seen as credible and your company has integrity. The “green theme” is so mandatory now its impact is minimal.
Mistake 29: Forgetting in the new world that old methods work
Case studies, testimonials and leveraging off the name of large customers is still bread and butter in 2008. But spruce them up, and add them to your online advertising mix.
Mistake 30: Letting customers speak to machines instead of people
No explanation needed.