Traditionally, we think of the New Year as a time to approach life and work with renewed enthusiasm after a good rest at Christmas. The widespread snowfall in the UK soon put an end to that. As a result of the drop in temperatures and significant snowfall, a week of unsettled working arrangements has ensued. The Federation of Small Business estimates that lost productivity due to the snow could result in losses of at least £1.2bn to UK businesses.
The 40% level of absenteeism has been crippling to some businesses, with closures up to a week long due to an inability to access premises or as a result of the knock-on effect of closed schools and subsequent emergency childcare needs. The Forum of Private Businesses has estimated that staff absenteeism alone could cost UK SMEs £230m.
Some businesses have profited nicely from the weather. Percentage of sale increases in various stores on products such as soup, cooking salt and cat litter have risen 80%, 500% and 55% respectively. Around the corner from our own office (where it’s so cold I’m typing with fingerless gloves on) the local pub has been running an impromptu BBQ stand on the street in order to provide hot food to the public. Only when it snows in the UK can you be guaranteed that the Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker will be able to sell you a sledge.
We asked our Marketing Donut Twitter followers for their input on how this week’s weather had impacted on their small business activities. The responses were mixed and perhaps it is a pointer towards the increasing work-from-home-culture afforded by the Internet, that for some, productivity may even have increased.
Please do add your experiences from this week’s snow disruption.
If a business leader asks his sales manager, “Where should I invest to grow the business another 20 per cent next year?” the likely response is, “Give me 20 per cent more headcount.” If the head of marketing is presented with the same question, a familiar response would be, “Give me 20 per cent more budget for my campaigns.”
But these aren’t necessarily the right solutions for achieving growth. This is where a new strategy comes into play: Revenue Performance Management (RPM). Decisions about how to grow the business should be made by looking at the entire sales funnel — from unknown prospects, right through to closed sale.
Successful companies do not launch new products, open new offices or make new acquisitions without rigorous testing. Yet, historically, sales and marketing have not been subject to the same scientific rigour as other areas of the business. The fastest-growing companies, however, have a “secret.” They have created a “science of growth” by running a high-performance sales and marketing engine that uses data to drive decision-making.
Having a birds-eye view of the point at which a prospect becomes a lead all the way through to the point where the lead becomes a client allows businesses to better understand their previously least understood cost centre – marketing and sales. RPM helps companies manage interactions with buyers all the way through the purchase process to achieve more predictable, rapid, and profitable revenue growth. In other words, it offers “one view of the truth” so that the management team knows exactly where to invest in order to be successful.
For a company to engage in a successful RPM strategy, it must create seamless connections between all of the tools used to engage with prospects — from social media “listening platforms” to CRM — and create common dashboards that give real-time insights into the performance of the sales funnel.
This information must be actionable. Decision-makers must be armed with live data to know what levers to pull to dramatically change revenue performance — whether that decision is to add new sales reps, increase marketing spend or another investment entirely. The solution will vary from company to company. But what doesn’t change is the science of success: Revenue Performance Management.
Stuart Wheldon is the Senior Director of Customer Success & Strategy at marketing automation specialist, Eloqua.
Since we launched our small business resource website in April many people have found the Marketing Donut through typing various queries into search engines. When we looked under the bonnet of our website, we found some more curious examples of the search terms people have entered. Either accidentally or intentionally, people found their way to the Marketing Donut by searching the terms from the following list:
If you would like to know more about search engine marketing and optimisation, we have some handy resources available.
I don’t trust economic forecasts. This is mainly because forecasting is a more or less magical art that seems to me 10 per cent knowledge of previous events, 10 per cent observation of current conditions, 30 per cent guesswork and around 50 per cent wishful thinking. Even weather forecasters using detailed computer models admit they can’t look beyond a few days with any degree of confidence. Fortunately, after recent economic shocks, the financial pundits are tending to be a little more circumspect with their predictions than hitherto - but they’re still at it, nevertheless.
So I’m keen to stress this isn’t a forecast. It’s a series of observations that considers some things that might or might not happen in the world of small business in the next year or so, based on limited knowledge and personal prejudice. Maybe, possibly, perhaps.
The thing is, I can’t help thinking that the conditions are ripe for a surge in small-scale start-ups in 2010. It seems to me there are a number of strong trends apparent in the new year and, mixed together in the correct dosages, these could produce favourable conditions for start-up and small-scale businesses.
Trend 1: Shaky, but slightly increasing, confidence that we have "turned the corner" economically. The number of mortgages being taken out is increasing and house prices are climbing a little; Christmas sales figures were generally quite good. There’s a sense that we may be through the worst this recession has to offer.
Trend 2: The growth of e-commerce. The amount of money being spent online is growing year on year to the extent that it has become "normalised" within the marketplace. Big organisations like Amazon are the major beneficiaries, of course, but the opportunities for smaller businesses that market themselves well are considerable. E-commerce software is also becoming more affordable and easier to operate.
Trend 3: Social media marketing is going mainstream, and there are a host of new platforms emerging. Twitter, blogs, Facebook and the like enable business owners to reach many customers at minimal cost. Online information travels fast and wide, so many more market decisions are now based on word-of-mouth recommendation. Direct online engagement with customers helps to somewhat even out the playing field between large and small firms. In particular, look out in 2010 for mobile apps that enable you to reach customers within spitting distance of your business right now, "real time" search and "social search" - search engine rankings based on user recommendation.
Trend 4: Red tape and regulation aside, it’s easier to start, run and promote a business than since - well, quite possibly ever. Again, the Internet and other mobile communications are making it possible for small scale entrepreneurs to operate successfully in niche markets with low overheads. The large number of empty commercial premises also means there are good deals to be had, including on very short-term leases.
Trend 5: In a post-recession economy characterised by slow recruitment, there are a lot of talented people who are either unemployed or underemployed. It’s entirely feasible for them to start their own business without taking considerable financial risks - or even to do so alongside flexible working options.
Ok, so these few trends (there are many more) present a fairly rosy view of things. No doubt there are plenty of obstacles and the road back towards economic growth will be a slow and arduous one. I also expect it’ll be big companies that benefit the most in the long run, too, because they always seem to come out on top. For now, though, I think BigCo Plc does not have control of the major contemporary marketing channel and route to market, and this is very significant.
It’s my belief that we’re living through the "golden age" of the Internet before it becomes too regulated and controlled by government and big business. I think 2010 could likewise be a golden age for small scale start-ups using the web as a sales and marketing resource. Like all golden ages, it will likely be all too brief; but right now we have the motive, the means and the opportunity. So, could 2010 become the year of the micro-business?
What a year it has been for the Marketing Donut! We have had such a busy time with bringing small businesses the best resources to help them with their marketing that we are having a well earned break over Christmas and into the New Year.
The website and all its resources will be fully available but this will be the last blog post and there will be no Twitter activity from @MarketingDonut until Monday 4 January when we will be back with a renewed vigour and determination to help your small business take on the challenges of 2010.
If your craving for small business donuts is so insatiable, why not gorge yourself on our Facebook Fan page? Start a discussion with fellow small businesses or ask the community a question. If you can’t stomach any more Christmas television or you have lost your Radio Times, head over to the Marketing Donut YouTube channel.
We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped make the Marketing Donut all that it is so far, be that our experts, sponsors and you, our readers. We wish you all a restful Christmas period and a Happy New Year.
James, Simon, Rachel and Kasia - the Marketing Donut team.
We had some great ideas from our readers on how to handle the festive yet fictitious PR crisis of Dickens’ most miserable small business owner, Scrooge.
First up, @SimonJTurner suggested the simple use of a social media and search strategy in order to play to his negative strengths, saying he would recommend that Ebeneezer “go down the Social Media route - Portray his 'Bah Humbug' sentiments as ironic & give him a blog for link bait.”
Similarly, @theinsidelineuk reckoned that Scrooge has all the qualities necessary to be the face of a price comparison website. His thrifty, tight-pocketed character is a natural fit with such a venture and @theinsidelineuk even suggested a name and strapline: “Scrooge.com - Saving you money, on everything!”
The wider debate of dealing with a tricky PR case was explored by Chris Hughes, head of PR and communications with Sine Qua Non International Ltd. “The knack to any crisis is to avert it in the first place!" Chris stressed. "Assuming we are past that stage, the business owner should use local media to give staff the feeling that they are an integral cog in the business wheel.”
The Frockery offered some rather creative thoughts on how to deal with Scrooge the small business way - and got in a cunning plug for their business at the same time:
“As one of our best customers, Scrooge is better known to us as Sustaina Bill! Like us, he believes it’s not only frugal, but also fashionable and eco-friendly to go retro, and he carries off that Victorian re-enactor’s costume better than most. Look after the planet and the wallet will look after itself, he reckons – and besides, it’s all positive PR.
“This Christmas, he tells us that, having saved so much money at The Frockery, he is treating his staff to two pints of lager and a packet of crisps (each!) in true Scroogenessabounds style.”
Of course, Scrooge could be seen as a hopeless case. After all, in A Christmas Carol this cruelles, most cold-hearted of individuals was beyond earthly influence and needed a magical intervention to see the error of his ways. Emily Leary, a Marketing Donut expert, wonders whether ANY PR company could handle sucha difficult account:
“My feeling is that no honest PR could rescue Scrooge's reputation," she admits. "Any claims that put a spin on his motives would be dishonest, and, contrary to popular belief, that's not what PR is all about! You could argue that he's just a shrewd businessman and try to pitch him as a savvy entrepreneur, likeable because of sheer success - but without any evidence of redeeming or charitable behaviour in any area of his life, that would be a hard one to sell. He's a pretty two-dimensional baddy until he starts to reflect on his past.”
A post-visitation Scrooge, however, is a different prospect altogether and Emily reckons any PR firm worth its salt should be able to make hay from the inspirational story of a reformed businessman with a new outlook on life. “There's a great 'turning over a new leaf' angle, of course, which, if pitched right, could get national interest given the amount of money he has accumulated and the very human story of young Tim and his family," she explains. "There could also be interest from HR and business, both in Scrooge the man, and in the business case study if Scrooge was able to measure productivity and profit levels before and after his shift to the goodwill approach. A little regular, ongoing charity work in the community, and he could be looking at a reasonably good reputation."
Amen to that. Thanks for all your contributions - and have a prosperous, enjoyable and realaxing Christmas and New Year.