Andrew Arrow Blog

Now that the New Year is underway, those amazingly detailed plans you developed in late 2015 to guide you through a successful 2016 are all starting to come to fruition, right? But even the best-laid plans need to align with the right goals because you can’t hit the bullseye if you’re aiming at the wrong target.

I am a very numbers-centric CEO. I look at revenue forecast, expenses and, of course, profit. Those have traditionally been my measures of success. When I asked a team here at Altitude to work on some realistic goals for the company in 2016, my eyes were opened wide.

During the presentation, there were no charts about revenue, expenses or profit. There was no discussion about scaling, the new hires we need to make or our office expansion. Instead, the team set two goals:

  1. 90% client retention
  2. 90% client satisfaction

The thinking there is if we can achieve 90% client satisfaction, the chances are really good we’ll achieve 90% retention. And if we hit the latter of the two goals, the revenue and margins will fall into place since we won’t need to invest as much in new business development.

Brilliantly simplistic. And I bet you it works.

As an organization, we’ve embraced both those goals as top priorities. We now have group discussions about what to do in a particular situation and how to approach certain opportunities as we assess how those opportunities enable us to advance one or both of these goals.

So while your financial goals may be set for the year, as mine were, January is the ideal time to revisit those goals and ask how you are going to get there. Just selling more isn’t always the right answer. And pulling numbers out of thin air doesn’t give the team something tangible to act on.

That said, here are a few ideas that Team Altitude will continue to emphasize in 2016, which will help us reach our goals … and which may inspire a shift in how you’re thinking about your business goals for 2016.

1. Innovate

Innovation is the cornerstone of success. Innovate or die, as I like to say. It’s one thing to set a goal that your company is going to be more innovative in 2016, but how do you measure it? And more importantly, how to you bring it to life?

I am a firm believer that innovation doesn’t start in the C-suite. It comes from every level in the organization – if you let it. It’s critical to create an environment that nurtures innovative thinking, which starts with leadership showing respect to everyone in the company and recognizing innovative ideas can come from anywhere.

During our 2016 planning, we set aside a nice chunk of change to reward individuals who come up with actionable, innovative ideas that help move the company forward. There is a catch. Innovation must be strategically focused — it must either help us develop or grow a competitive advantage and more importantly, it must help move our customers’ goals forward.

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In keeping with the #1 overarching goal of customer satisfaction, if it doesn’t have a chance of achieving those key goals, it’s innovation for innovation’s sake and will not get the backing required to bring it to life.

We then committed to implementing one new innovative idea, deploying one innovative process or developing one new innovative product offering each quarter in 2016 that meet the criteria.

The takeaway: If you are leaving innovation up to the C-suite, open up your thinking and broaden the search or you may just find yourself playing catch up at the end of 2016.

2. Measure the Right Thing … and Challenge “We’ve Always Done It This Way” Thinking.

Few will argue that we are an increasingly digitally centric world. Whether you are running a small retail operation or a B2B company doing business globally, you need to invest in getting the word out. Since you can’t fix what you can’t measure, make sure you are measuring the right things.

Recently, I was speaking with the CEO of a manufacturing company. He wasn’t happy with his current agency because they weren’t focused enough on SEO. So I probed a bit deeper to try to understand what he meant – and the source of his dissatisfaction. He said the current agency wasn’t spending enough time on SEO. So we peeled back the layers of the onion to compare year over year results. Organic traffic to the site was indeed down 12%.

However, the conversion percentage – the percent of site visitors who requested more information – regardless of how they got to the site – was up almost 50%. Orders from conversions had almost doubled. Dollars per order were up almost 15%. The numbers showed an almost doubling of revenue through the website.

So why was this CEO not happy? He kept saying, “We need more SEO and better reporting. Can you do that for us?”

While we could have walked away with that business saying we’ll put more time into SEO and reporting, we passed on the opportunity. We encouraged the CEO to rethink what he was measuring – and what mattered.

The takeaway: Old habits sometimes die-hard and it’s not always easy if you’re used to seeing a certain report a certain way. It’s never too late in the year to adjust metrics for your marketing efforts, so take a hard look and make sure you are measuring the things that will truly move your business forward.

3. Always be testing.

We’ve all seen the coffee mugs and t-shirts that tout the mantra “ABS” – always be selling. Or if you are Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, you say “ABC” – always be closing. And while selling and closing is key for any business, it may be time to change your outlook because what worked for sales and marketing three years ago – heck, even six months ago – may no longer work today. Competitors are smart and catch on and the rules change. If you keep blindly running the same play over and over again, and it’s the only play you ever run, don’t be shocked when stops working. Like only measuring SEO (see above).

So instead of focusing on ABS or ABC, adjust your 2016 plan to ABT – always be testing.

Technology has made it amazingly easy to test new offers, copy points, landing pages, lists, subject lines on email blasts, even variations of your home page. Simply put, no matter how good things are working, they can always get better.

For example, the concept of constant A/B testing is quite simple: You have your “control” that serves as the standard for (pick your metric) clicks, conversions, orders, downloads, open rates, whatever. Then, you come up with a slight tweak to the control and try to beat the metric.

For one client offering a SaaS product with a long sales cycle, we had a standard landing page designed to capture email addresses by offering up a thought leadership piece. The standard was a landing page that asked people to download an E-book. This was performing at about a 5.5% conversion rate. The test changed “E-book” to “guide.” Guide pulled a 6.16% conversion rate. One word netted a 12% increase in conversions.

The takeaway: In 2016, regardless of what your plan calls for or what business you’re in, commit to ABT, to always having at least one test going on in an effort to continuously improve.