The 3 Essential Building Blocks of a Successful Business: People, Process, Platforms

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Aligning your People, Processes and Platforms isn't a luxury for a modern business—it's critical in order to promote growth.

Buckley Barlow

Buckley Barlow
Founding Partner | RocketSource

Post Summary

  1. What Exactly is a Digital Marketing Machine?
    Determine the components of your marketing strategy, and how they fit together.

  2. Your Machine Needs the Right People
    Everything in your organization starts with the People you have in place.

  3. Drive Growth With the Right Processes
    Get your Processes right early on. Build, test, refine, repeat.

  4. Don't Overlook the Importance of Platforms
    Give your People access to the best tools available to get results.

In my post about the customer journey funnel, we broke down the process of building a successful business by marketing to your customers from an end-to-end perspective and pointed out what components are missing from most sales and marketing funnels. We also touched on the importance of your People, Processes, and Platforms, something that is more important and difficult than it might seem at first glance.

But don’t just take my word for it—in a survey from CMO Council, marketing professionals reported that the most pressing challenge to implementing an omnichannel model is having the necessary talent, technology and processes in place. Sound familiar?

talent, technology, and process graphic

On that note, I want to take the time to discuss each of these things in greater detail. In order to create a truly effective digital or omnichannel marketing machine, you need the right People, Processes, and Platforms. I call these the 3Ps—and they’re among the first things you need to figure out in order to launch a successful business, scale a disruptive business or transform a mature business. So critical are these three things, that I rarely take my eye off those three balls when strategizing, catalyzing and optimizing for our clients.

What Exactly is a Digital Marketing Machine?

There’s a lot of specialized terminology (that’s jargon for “jargon”) in the world of digital marketing. In my case, I like to talk a lot about using a “digital marketing machine” to drive growth. But what in the world does that mean?

When I talk about creating a digital marketing machine, I really mean a system. A system that incorporates strategic and tactical planning over multiple areas. Some people prefer the term digital marketing engine, but either way, the analogy is that the framework that contains all the different parts that work together in order to grow your business.

digital marketing components

The micro-engines are all the smaller pieces of the machine. For example, a blog, a podcast, a subscriber newsletter, or a lead-nurturing strategy. All of those micro-engines that contribute to the larger whole of your system are a part your digital marketing machine.

The machine, which includes all those micro-engines, is run by People who follow the Processes you’ve determined (like answering phones, writing code or content, paying vendors, or anything else), who are using the Platforms (anything from a payment processing system or Gmail or highly specialized tools you’ve invested in) you choose to power your business.

Think of this machine like a train, boiler, or any old-fashioned equipment that has levers. Your People are the ones pulling and pushing those levers (Platforms) in order to complete their assigned tasks (Processes). All of these parts must be in place for everything to run smoothly.

If you don’t get the 3Ps (People, Processes, Platforms) right, it will cost you in the long run. It will cost you time, it will cost you money—and it might even cost you your business.

people

Your Machine Needs the Right People

I’ve written about this before on my In The Know marketing blog, but when I worked at STSN, I often slept in a basement closet—as did some of my colleagues—because we wanted to deliver an amazing customer experience. These are the kind of People you need to hire. People who wholeheartedly believe in YOUR Story. The ones who are as excited about your business as you are. People who will continue to share the vision you have for the business for 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, and many years down the line.

I won’t say that you should look for People who would be excited about doing the job even if they weren’t being paid because I strongly believe that you should pay them as well as you can. Not only will your People save you money, they will MAKE you money in the long run (and the short run).

When you hire People who are truly vested in your story, they are willing to put in the time and effort needed to streamline your Processes every step of the way. This translates into lower production costs and increased revenues, faster customer response time and product delivery, and greater user engagement and wider customer reach.

The Growth Mindset

Think about the People you have now or the ones you’re thinking about hiring soon. This might sound obvious, but you want People on board who aren’t afraid of change. People who won’t reject ideas just because they’re new. On the contrary, they are just as excited as you are about the possibilities that new tools and technologies can deliver.

While every company out there pumps out job descriptions that include overused cliches like “thinks outside the box”, you can guarantee success in your organization by looking for one indispensable attribute: a Growth Mindset.

how to find employees with a growth mindset

People with a Growth Mindset believe in the power and possibilities of change. If you’re an entrepreneur, you can probably identify with this immediately. But if you want your business to really get traction, you need to make sure that everyone in it shares that Growth Mindset. Because the opposite type of person—someone with a Fixed Mindset—will give up when things start to get difficult. They will drive your business into the ground in no time, so keep this in mind when you’re hiring or deciding whether to keep certain team members.

Operationalization

The right mindset and level of ability and ambition you need in your People are not exclusive to internal or external talent—you’ll need both for a successful initiative. Promoting from within is great, but an outside perspective—whether in-house or in an advisory role—is vital.

Large-scale initiatives can be uniquely challenging. It’s not unusual for organizations to see the writing on the wall and take the first steps toward restructuring as a consumer-centric culture. At large corporations, they often have the budget to undertake these efforts, but operate their own divisional P&L and are structured functionally around roles, departments, products, or channels instead of journey stages.

When a company sets out to be customer-centric, restructuring the organization to match the customer journey is vital.

 

Assessing Your People

Start by identifying who is on board and whether those people are in the right places. Depending on the size of your company (or your department), you may be able to start the assessment process on your own, based on what you know about the People who work for you. Just remember that their job titles and responsibilities might not always reflect the ways in which they can deliver the most value to you and your business.

Here’s the overview of what you need to do.

  1. List the People in your organization and their current job responsibilities.
  2. For each person, consider current skills and how the person gets the job done, as well as how willing he or she is to learn new skills, and how open he or she is to change.
  3. Consider whether you need to change current responsibilities or bring in new People.

The point here is to individually assess the strengths of each employee and identify who is willing and able to cope with change. Because if your goal is to have an active, agile organization that is built to adapt based on what’s working and what isn’t, you’ll need this kind of mental flexibility in all of your team members.

Make the Necessary Changes

Once you’ve taken a closer look at your People, you might have to do some rearranging. Every Process in your business—we’ll talk about Processes in a moment—needs to be assigned to a specific Person. When you assess your People, be open to reassignment or replacement.

These decisions are often difficult. In the long run, however, you need growth-minded People who are ready and willing to try new things, learn new skills, and be driven to create an amazing customer experience. When you have those People in place, you won’t need to micromanage. You’ll be able to focus on optimizing the customer experience, developing cool new products, and more.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to clarify the best path forward for building up your team:

  • Are there People in your company who are truly resistant to change and/or greatly opposed to learning new skills?
  • Should those People stay in your company? Are they truly vested in your success?
  • Are there People whose skills are currently untapped, who could better help your business grow in different roles?
  • Can you easily shift them into new roles or tweak their existing responsibilities?
  • Are you missing People to play critical roles in your business?

When you have a solid team of vested People who are constantly eager to learn and move forward, you’re well on the path to driving increased revenues.

processes

Drive Growth With the Right Processes

Every action you take related to your business is a process. Your Processes could include your email newsletter strategy, the in-person events you attend, how you take orders on and offline, and more.

If it helps you to visualize things, you can think of your Processes as a series of interconnected cogs inside your machine. Each Process exists individually as its own cog, but all the cogs have to turn together in concert. If one cog stops, the entire system grinds to a halt pretty quickly.

But when they’re combined into a single machine that runs smoothly from start to finish… that’s where the magic happens. And real organizational transformation based on Processes happens from the top down—leadership must promote and advocate for holistic change in order to achieve remarkable results.

Building a Process

Like any major project, making your processes run smoothly together won’t be easy. But it’s worth it.

Every time you build a new Process, remember that it should always be focused on providing your ideal customer with a stellar experience.

Generally speaking, the idea is to keep your ideal customer’s needs in mind all the time. So if you’re creating a Process for replying to customer concerns sent by email, start from the customer’s perspective. Think about the steps the customer has to take, and what will happen. For example, you might consider:

  • Is it easy to find the email address they need?
  • Do they have to fill out a form with multiple drop-down menus, or can they simply use their email program to compose a free-form message?
  • What address will the reply come from and how will they know to identify it?
  • How long will they wait for a response?
  • Will the response solve the problem, or will there be several rounds of back and forth?

Get it Right the First Time

I can’t stress this enough: You absolutely must get your Processes right from the very beginning. Short-term patchwork solutions that allow you “get the job done” when you have just a handful of people will inevitably cause chaos and disaster down the line when you’re ready to scale up. Investing time (and money) early on to perfect your Processes will pay off hugely in increased revenues. When everything aligns to ensure that your buyer has a smooth journey from start to finish that’s how you get growth. Serious growth.

Of course, getting this right is all in the planning. You need to reserve an appropriate amount of time to prepare your Processes before launching the business. In an ideal world, everything would be perfectly lined up, just waiting for you to press the big button and go. Sadly, reality usually doesn’t match the fantasy. And you certainly shouldn’t spend so much time planning that you never actually get around to launching, but look for a happy medium. There is a certain amount of planning that you must do before engaging with potential customers.

Many of the projects and businesses I’ve helped launch were done in a narrow window of time—narrower than some team members were comfortable with. I know how difficult it is to face a massive workload with many layers of tasks to get done, but with the right Processes in place, you can prioritize and crank things out in no time. That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, or even that you will get all of your Processes right the first time, but you will look at these as opportunities to improve rather than huge obstacles.

Invest in Metrics

I’d love to outline exactly which metrics to track, but every company is different, and each industry is unique. But I can tell you that you need to put in the time to determine what that metric is for your company. Otherwise, you won’t be able to measure it—and you certainly won’t be able to improve it.

It’s really important to find the metric that actually matters most for growth. If you just concentrate on the fun numbers—such as the people who sign up for a free trial or take advantage of your biggest sales—you might see an upward trend. But if there’s a big dropoff in users at the end of the free trial—or an empty storefront when the sale is over, you might have a problem.

In manufacturing, for example, your key metric might be the total cost to manufacture a unit. That could include labor and overhead and would give you a baseline number that you might be able to reduce as you build your business so that you can increase your pro t margins.

But your key metric could also be your on-time delivery rate—because late deliveries could result in refunded fees, lost customers, and more.

A retail store might be interested in measuring foot traffic—how many people enter the space on a given day. But the real metric to focus on could be something else entirely. What’s the metric that matters to your business? This is where you’ll need to apply the expertise you’ve gained in your industry over the years. How can you improve on that number? That’s your north star, and that’s where you should focus if you want growth.

Investing in metrics doesn’t just mean finding some number to focus on. Think of it more broadly in terms of the data available to the entire organization. How can you gather all of it and put it into an accessible format? How can you share it with the company? What insights can we derive from this new information? Who is going to do all the work? These initiatives can be especially difficult for larger organizations with established silos, where executives may balk at the idea of sharing information with other groups when there is no clear incentive for them to do so. But this goes back to your People, who should be able to accept either organizational or procedural changes that will ultimately help the entire company.

Optimizing Your Processes

Getting absolutely everything right the first time sounds great, but it just doesn’t happen. You do the best you can, see what’s working, then make adjustments. Here’s an overview:

  1. List the Processes in your business.
  2. For each Process, identify the bottlenecks. What’s causing them? How can they be eliminated? Consider whether you can consolidate steps and remove unnecessary procedures.
  3. Evaluate your expectations and consider whether they are realistic.
  4. Revisit Processes regularly.

The whole point here is to identify problems, brainstorm possible solutions, and adjust the processes accordingly. This may also require evaluating your expectations, especially when the outcome depends on variables such as staff, timing, budget, and more.

Know that you’ll need to revisit your processes regularly, which can mean monthly, quarterly, annually, you name it. Consider creating a dedicated process or a system—even if it’s as simple as scheduling a calendar reminder—to ensure that your business runs smoothly.

platforms

Don’t Overlook the Importance of Platforms

You have your vested People and you’re working on your Processes. Now it’s time to talk about the tools you use to actually get the work done: your Platforms.

I use the term Platforms to cover everything from software systems, to social channels, apps, and a wide range of other tools that help you work and also gather and evaluate the information that will enable you to constantly improve performance—and revenues.

With the right Platforms, you can drill down to see WHERE your best customers reside, HOW they are buying from you, WHY they are buying from you and WHEN they are buying from you. On the other hand, if you don’t have the right Platforms, you’ll spend time and money in the wrong places. You’ll invest in channels that don’t pay off. You’ll spend and spend and spend—and you’ll have nothing to show for it.

Avoiding Platform Overload

If there’s a drawback to the software-centric world we live in today, it’s that there’s too much choice. We’re no longer forced into single-vendor solutions, but there can be dozens or even hundreds of incredible tools that empower its users to tackle a single given task. How are you supposed to make sense of it all and create a cohesive experience for you and for your ideal customer?

Selecting the right platform for any given task is, at its core, a process—one that can and should be implemented and revisited periodically. But start by considering your goals, go back to your Why and understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and what this new platform will do to help get you there.

Keep in mind that many of these tools are new, and new things can be intimidating. But without the useful data that these tools provide, you won’t have a clear understanding of w Ithere your best customers are, how they respond to your offers, or why they choose to buy (or not buy). Without the right Platforms in place, you’re more likely to spend valuable time and money in the wrong places.

Implementing new software can be a challenge, but remember that you believe in the importance of a Growth Mindset and it’s time well spent. Even if the project sounds scary, like switching email and file management to Google Apps, tweaking your social media strategy based on new metrics, or installing a new automated payment processing system on your website, you’ll have the right People and Processes to get you through it.

Match Platforms with the Customer Journey

Learning, testing, and incorporating new Platforms isn’t the same as working, even though it can be a lot of fun and it often feels like work. Be careful of taking too much time away from the work you need to do right now.

When you consider your goals—that is, the company’s goals, the WHY that drives you to work—there are times when incorporating a new Platform is critical. But other times, testing new Platforms is a way to avoid doing the real work, which will get in the way of reaching those goals. And since your goal should be making the customer journey easier, what better way to do it than by finding key platforms that line up with the customer journey?

example of a marketing tech stack

Image courtesy of ion interactive.

As you can see from this example, the tech stack aligns directly with the layers of the customer journey. This type of approach is key to building and implementing the right kind of platforms to foster growth, a data-driven culture, consumer centrism, and more.

Of course, just because you signed up for a service that looked promising—or even paid for a full year in advance and put it in your tech stack graphic—doesn’t mean that you should stick with it. Sometimes a Platform is costing you or your People time or money—or both—that you cannot afford. In those situations, you need to figure out how to quickly and effectively transition to a new solution, even if it ramps down productivity temporarily.

Auditing the Tech Stack

Periodically, you will need to add new software to the lineup or consider alternatives for a platform that isn’t quite hitting the mark. Use this basic framework to help evaluate whether a platform is worth keeping around:

Inventory the tools.
Note the following details for each:

  1. What the platform is used for.
  2. Which team(s) use the platform.
  3. The cost and billing frequency.
  4. The value the platform provides to the company.

Separate the tools into categories.

  1. For removal or replacement. These offer no value to the organization.
  2. Not leveraged. May have potential but are next in line for removal.
  3. Not adopted. Include helpful features and functions, but require support or training.
  4. Essential. Deliver a lot of value to the organization and should be used wherever possible.

Similarly, new platforms should be considered in terms of what it is replacing or the new need it aims to fill—don’t base your decision solely on price, convenience, or even prior usage. The most useful platforms are usually the ones that get the job done and are easiest to adopt and use. Sometimes you’ll find that there are no perfect options for your use case, but odds are there’s something out there that will do the trick.

slack logoHere at RocketSource, we use the Slack communication platform instead of crowding our email inboxes with internal messages. It works in a browser, has Mac and Windows applications, and mobile apps for Android and iOS. It supports voice calls, instant group chats, muting (in case you don’t want notifications), and many more features that fit right into a dynamic, fast-paced environment.

The Platforms you choose must suit the needs of your organization. They could also include features or integrations that you aspire to use, which is an opportunity to grow into them.

 

The Cost of Free Platforms

If cost is holding you back from a new idea, it doesn’t hurt to consider free options. For every expensive platform you think you need, there are almost always free or low-cost alternatives. Sure, you’ll miss out on a feature or two, but you’ll get most of what you need.

But don’t be so fixated on saving a buck that you cost yourself – and your company – a lot of revenue down the line. In other words, don’t be too cheap to pay for an upgraded version of a Platform or switch to a more expensive solution if it will make it significantly easier for your People to do their job, or if it will give your ideal customer a more consistently awesome experience.

There will come a time when the additional cost for a superior software or services Platform pays for itself.

You don’t want your People to be stuck, and you don’t want your customers to suffer because you wanted to save a little bit of money.

Always Start With the Right People

I’ve hinted several times at the order I have in mind, but I don’t blame you if you’re wondering which of the 3Ps should be your starting point. I used to wonder this myself, but after trial and error, I’ve found that a truly successful business must start with the right People.

People matter more than Processes. The right People can take a half-baked, mildly interesting idea and transform it into a wildly successful reality.

Meanwhile, the wrong People will drive your Processes into the ground. A customer calls in for product support and gets transferred from department to department because no one feels responsible. The customer is forced to explain the same issue multiple times, and no one can help him. Think he’ll be back? Not only will he leave, he’ll probably tell everyone why. That’s not good—and that’s just a single, all-too-common example.

With the right People in the right places, you won’t need to micromanage. You’ll be able to focus on optimizing the customer experience, developing cool new products, and increasing revenue. You’ll be poised for the kind of long-term, sustainable growth that can only come from having hard-working, like-minded individuals working together to build something amazing.

Written by Buckley Barlow

Buckley Barlow

Founding partner of RocketSource. Author of The Growth Code. I live at the digital intersection of tech, data, creative, and CX. I roll up my sleeves with some of the most forward-thinking teams in the world to help them deliver best-in-class brand outcomes.

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People, Process, Platforms (Dark)

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People, Process, Platforms (Light)

Growth Mindset Infographic

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