Building a Framework for Solving Business Problems

Turning it around

As the first person in my family to go to college, I had no playbook for how to gain the most from my education. I learned to seek out people with skills different than mine and do my best to understand what made them excel.
In my professional life, that journey continues as I strive to learn how talented people solve problems. I don’t focus on the solution, but on the methodology to getting there. While most people want easy answers, the issue is that the more complex the problem, the less straightforward the answers become.  This is why I think it’s important to develop a framework for problem-solving that you can apply to universal situations and that helps you identify and agree on the underlying issue.
Let’s say a customer acquisition strategy you executed didn’t produce the results you expected. Figuring out how to turn the situation around requires finding the answers to several questions.

  1. Why did it happen?

Answering this question requires checking egos at the door and evaluating all possible reasons that might have contributed to failure, no matter how remote. This exercise leads to understanding and the ability to catalogue and honestly assess all the different reasons why your strategy didn’t succeed.

  1. What could we have done differently?

The next step is to isolate what factors you could have controlled internally and what factors you couldn’t have controlled. A cliché in sports for teams that lose is, “Well, they left it all out on the field. It just wasn’t their day.”  
Marketing and sales do not guarantee results. The goal should be to leave it all out on the field.  Control absolutely everything that you can control and then let fate sort it out.  

  1. What are the different reasons we didn’t succeed?

Within things we can control, there are inevitably reasons why you definitely didn’t succeed, why you probably didn’t succeed, and why you possibly didn’t succeed. Categorizing the reasons this way helps you assign priority and decide what to fix first.

  1. What was clearly a mistake?

Within the three categories in no. 3, each of the reasons you didn’t succeed typically falls into one of four buckets:

  • People problems. One or more people involved in the customer acquisition process are the direct (or indirect) cause for the strategy to misfire.

  • Process problems. Certain internal processes within the company create inefficiency, increase complexity, or are redundant.

  • Data problems. There is a data quality issue that undermines the ability to report accurately and to draw business insights from data.

  • Systems problems. The technology needed for business success is not present, out-of-date, not scalable, or otherwise not positioned to add value.

Of the four types of problems, the people problem is the most difficult and stressful to solve, because, ultimately, companies need to position people to succeed. To do that and be able to hold people accountable, a company has to eliminate process, data, and system problems first.
The Inability to Measure
Inability to measure is at the root of failed customer acquisition and retention strategies.
In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, no company can dominate or lead without accurate data measurement. Successful businesses are successful because they leverage data and adjust their strategies to the type of customer they want to win.
Setting people problems aside, let’s take a look at how the inability to measure applies to each of the other three types of problems:

Process Problems. While most companies are doing their best to integrate marketing and sales activities through technology, it is not uncommon for separate “sales” and “marketing” silos to exist within the organization. Consequently, marketers are not able to understand how the sales process runs across different customer types, personas, industries, and so forth.
Data Problems. The constant rise in cost per acquisition is causing marketers to focus on lead quality. Nowadays, success requires knowing how a lead behaves past the form fill, how it reacts to nurturing, and how well the sales organization converts that lead to a customer. Without accurate data about how leads behave at each step of the sales funnel, it’s impossible to know which leads are the most valuable.
Systems problems. Some companies have integrated the sales and marketing functions but haven’t configured them to report on bottom-line business metrics. This creates a blind spot in reporting where it’s easy to access the number of initial sales but very difficult, if not impossible, to calculate the lifetime value. Measuring the true business impact of sales and marketing becomes a challenge.
Gain Consensus
What all this means is that the reasons behind failed customer acquisition strategies start with the inability to measure. And the ability to measure requires complete consensus on what is important for the organization and why. Most companies’ interdepartmental goals may align, but the silo mentality makes it incredibly difficult to assemble the integrated mosaic.  It’s time to break down those barriers, gain alignment, and collaboratively decide on what to measure. Only then can you evaluate the level of success or failure of your sales and marketing efforts.

Change is inevitable. Progress is a choice.
Let’s get started today.