A “SMART” Start to 2011: Author Identifies Objectives For Growth Via Segmentation

Published: January 4, 2011

In her new book, Nirell promotes a “SMART” approach to achieve company objectives, and through an exclusive interview with DGR, shares the barriers keeping organizations from reaching their goals and the “4 Ds of Segmentation.”

DemandGen Report: You emphasize the “SMART goal” in your book. Can you explain the process of creating one and how it helps sales and marketing teams cultivate a greater role in the growth process?

Nirell: SMART Goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Each SMART Goal supports at least one Critical Goal Category, and the timeframe should not exceed three to nine months.

SMART goals are essential to manifesting a company’s vision. SMART Goals are one of two components in a company’s Top Growth Objectives (TGOs). Think of TGOs as a way to bridge the gap between the “What” (your company’s vision and values) and the “How” (strategies and actions to fulfill your vision). Developing your TGOs is a two-phased process.

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First, sales and marketing teams can help identify the most important areas of your business that need addressing, which I call Critical Goals. These are typically categories where your company is weak or lacking resources, such as cash flow, quality assurance, IT support, marketing planning, or sales effectiveness or productivity improvement.

Second, your Critical Goals must be supported by specific, short-term SMART goals that address those key areas. When I worked for a $1.2B sales automation company in the late 1990s, I saw this planning process work very well. Every team member had no more than three SMART Goals each quarter. One third of my bonus depended on whether I met my SMART Goal. Believe me, there was no confusion about where to focus my energies.

DGR: How can organizations effectively prove their value in a given market? What are the “metrics for success?”

Nirell: Value is a by-product of several factors:  the perception of your brand, your ability to communicate your brand clearly and ethically, and how consistently your brand and delivery mechanisms align to ultimately create a positive client experience. For all you left brained executives, this will drive you crazy. There is an art to creating value, and it cannot always be quantified. It takes a blend of great listening skills, the ability to think on your feet and the courage to be provocative. If you are not willing to challenge and provoke your prospects and clients, you are probably in the wrong profession. You may be better suited to be a full time employee who takes guidance and direction from a leadership team. This is not a judgment statement. True trusted advisors are unafraid to be unpopular in order to be catalysts for inspiration and change.

Proving your value happens at every brand touch point: your voicemail, trade show appearances, blog, company dress code, email signature and office appearance. If you are not providing new, valuable perspectives and tools that will improve your client condition and peace of mind, your value will rapidly diminish. You know you are being successful when you are invited to weigh in on important client challenges before they can even articulate them. Trust increases.

DGR: You’ve worked with an array of clients from different business worlds, including Microsoft, Wells Fargo Advisors, Sony and a number of consulting firms. What have been the most frequent mistakes companies have made in terms of growth planning and goal setting?

Nirell: After working with hundreds of entrepreneurs and several Fortune 100 companies, I discovered that only two major GAPS stop companies from executing a successful growth plan: lack of a practical, easy to understand written plan and an inability to manage their company’s limiting beliefs. Most companies develop plans from the inside out — financials, operations, SWOT analyses, and ‘what if’ scenarios. In the past two years, we saw how some companies who remained inflexible and internally focused have perished. If you plan from the outside in, you are constantly in tune with your client demands and changing needs.

The second biggest gap I see occurs when leaders ignore their company’s limiting beliefs, and forge ahead with planning in spite of them. When I lead seminars, it’s quite common for 60%-70% of the participants to admit that they have no system to address or manage their limiting beliefs. I affectionately call them “The Beast.”

My job is to provide companies with discussion tools that can help them tame the Beast when it surfaces. Healthy cultures confront the Beast so that their growth plans have a much higher chance of succeeding.

DGR: Can you expand on how determining the lines of segmentation, or the “Four Ds,” creates guidelines for success?

Nirell: The number one purpose of segmenting the market is to establish an addressable set of target clients who share a common problem that you can help to solve differently and better than any of your competitors, and in which you will be rewarded handsomely. The segment must be willing to pay you well for what you offer and to solve a big problem or aspiration.

Many companies follow a traditional view of their ideal client. They look at market size, company location, demographics, and the level of the decision maker in the organization. In fact, many firms often pursue the same segment as their competitors. This often leads to “me too” marketing and intensifies price competition.

I apply a different strategy with my clients. I admire the model that Philip Lay, Managing Partner of TCG Advisors (www.tcg-advisors.com) has designed. Philip says “It is usually better to adopt a contrarian approach and start from the opposite direction than the one that is likely to be adopted by most of your competitors. Therefore, instead of using Dimensions such as physical size, financial parameters, or vertical segment as your initial guideposts, start with a look at (a) customer organizational deportment (or behavior), (b) then industry and market dynamics, followed by (c) industry and business demographics and only at the end, (d) dimensions. Only after you have seen which criteria lead you most directly to a fertile set of potential customers should you give weight to attributes in one or other of the first three groups.

Here are four aspects of segmentation to expand your thinking about your ideal client—and to attract clients your competitors may not even be approaching.


The Four Ds of Segmentation

Deportment (Behavior): Leadership or management style of the prospective client, decision-making processes in the organization, culture of the organization.

Dynamics: Growth rate of the peer group (i.e: the same industry sector or vertical), competitive pressures, expansion, consolidation or shrinkage of the sector, level of compliance with Baldrige quality criteria.

Demographics: Type of business or function (i.e: wholesale distributor, value added reseller, boutique consulting firm, or online retail store); Volume of transactions (a few custom projects vs. many simple transactions); Complexity of business processes

Dimensions: Industry verticals or sectors, geographic location; financial parameters

Source: www.tcg-advisors.com

If you are working on a market segmentation exercise, I highly recommend you consider all four of these categories. Then see if you can narrow down this list to two or three key dynamics that your segment shares in common. The more they relate to real, organic issues that your targeted market struggles with, the better.

This exercise will lower your marketing and sales expenses dramatically, and increase your profitability. You will spend a lot less time chasing troublesome clients who will suck the life out of your resource pool, disrespect your team members, pay slowly, and require too much hand-holding.


Lisa Nirell is the Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth. She helps BtoB companies increase their wealth, improve their performance and attract great clients. Lisa has worked with BMC Software, Microsoft, Wells Fargo Advisors, IBM, among others. She’s a sought-after speaker for BtoB companies and associations and has led programs in nine countries. Lisa is also an award-winning business columnist, FastCompany expert blogger, and the author of EnergizeGrowth® NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company.

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