“Do you have any examples of work in our industry? Anything you can share about a company just like us?”
I hear this question in sales conversations so often that I actually smile slightly as it comes out. It almost always happens right after we discuss how unique their business is, how different their industry is, and why no one ever seems to understand how to solve their problems.
I understand where it comes from, as well. It makes logical sense that working with a company who works exclusively on businesses just like yours would have the best solutions to move your business forward. However, there is some very interesting research that suggests the only way to find unique success is bringing in an outside perspective that provides new points of view. While specializing in industries may be a simple go-to-market strategy, it is not the approach we’ve found to yield the best business results.
Harvard said what?
I’m a Millennial, and my generation gets picked on a lot for being “job hoppers.” Twelve months in one role, two years in another, just one quarter in the next—it can look like a negative job trait. However, viewing it through the lens of researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education shows it in a different light.
In 2017, a group of researchers set out to understand if there was a different path to success than the standard of striving for excellence and becoming an expert in one field. More importantly, they wanted to know what that second path could be. In their work, titled The Dark Horse Project, the researchers interviewed a variety of extremely successful individuals in a wide range of fields. These people included chess masters, expert martial artists, business coaches, chefs, musicians, and many others. What the Harvard team found was these people had a wide array of interests and had worked in many different industries, culminating in the extreme success they found in providing a unique perspective in their long-term field.
For example, Hanneke Antonelli, a successful life coach serving executives, began her career as a foreign exchange money broker in London before moving to Wall Street. She then worked as a pilates instructor before becoming a business and life coach. Talk about divergent paths leading to ultimate success!
Are you saying I want to hire people who jump around?
We all know that hiring and onboarding new employees costs a lot of money. To combat these costs, businesses strive to create work environments that are fulfilling and in turn increase retention rate—thereby decreasing cost, increasing performance, and optimizing business results.
We call this process employer branding, and its main focus is to create a work culture that increases retention, engagement, and ultimately revenue for the business. If every one to three years half of the team turns over, it is going to make it pretty difficult to run a successful business. All this to say that gaining new perspectives and personnel while trying to retain talent may seem counterintuitive.
Rather than think about turning over talent for the sake of gaining “new perspectives,” focus on retaining them and looking outside for unique perspective and expertise. One simple solution? Finding a marketing partner that can aid your team with fresh thoughts, ideas, and feedback.
Looking across our own clients at Element Three, we’ve developed skills that are applicable to all industries—lead generation, sales enablement, and product launches, just to name a few. Whether the business needs to sell thousands of software subscriptions or to drive demand for luxury motorhomes, the principles and frameworks used to craft these plans remain the same.
Our most impactful relationships share a few of the same traits:
There is an internal team member who owns marketing—and they stay consistent.
This person is our point of contact on the inside and acts as an extension of the Element Three team inside of the business. We work with them to determine strategy and direction, and to understand what E3 will execute and what their business will execute. Often, we even help them hire another employee when it is appropriate, or find a part-time freelancer for a specific service.
Marketing is viewed as a business-impact center.
Some people call this a value center. There is business belief that marketing can move the business forward, not just eat up budget.
The internal culture wants to win.
It isn’t about remaining stagnant. It’s about growing and meeting business goals, and marketing is looked at as a driving force behind those results.
None of those traits are unique to one industry—so neither are we.
A better way to shop for a partner.
The question that immediately follows this is, “Ok, so I don’t have to necessarily look for industry expertise, but how do I know if the company can help me or not?”
It’s a fair question. It is really tough as a buyer to know where to start. To get around this, some businesses choose to rely on Requests for Proposal, or RFPs. Typically when a business uses an RFP, they are trying to get a feel for the companies in consideration and to know more about what they have to offer.
The most common thing I hear during an RFP process is, “I just want to be able to compare the companies next to each other on paper.” The challenge is that business doesn’t happen on paper. It happens in meetings, conversations, and relationships. It happens across or around a table working on strategy and making important decisions that will move the business forward. It is impossible to understand if that relationship is going to be the right one when looking at a couple sheets of paper that describe the company’s officers and if the potential partner is an LLC or an S Corp.
Rather than spending the time and energy on a big RFP, just have a meeting. Call your potential partners and schedule time to talk with each of them by phone, video, or in person. These meetings will clearly indicate if there is a relational fit; you can also learn about some of the work each potential partner has done, and how that work is relevant to the business opportunity at hand. You can’t know the complete picture, gain all the context, and understand the main business problem being solved simply by reading a case study online. It is just too much to pack into one piece of content.
Next time you buy, rethink the questions you’re asking.
Rather than ask, “What industry experience do you have?” try asking broader questions such as:
- What is the approach the company takes to solving X, Y, Z problem?
- How is team assignment determined?
- Who does the company do its best work for?
Those three questions, when unpacked fully, tell a far more in-depth story than any industry-specific case study or work example ever will.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career – from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”
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