As a CEO inevitably you mess up and boy did I ever. In fact I messed up so much that we had to stop selling and marketing (I know the horror!). Our last blog post was almost six weeks ago, but there is a reason for that. Bad CEO's get down on themselves when they screw up or play the blame game. Good CEO's reflect, analyze, pivot and execute. This blog has nothing to do with SEO or attracting new customers; it's simply a business lesson that I hope saves someone some time.
The Runaway Train
If done properly inbound marketing can be a runaway train. What I mean is it continues to work despite not being fed and nurtured. When I noticed we had an operations problem I thought the simple solution was to stop marketing and slow down sales, so that is what we did. We stopped networking, we stopped writing blogs and we refocused our efforts on the operations of our organization.
The problem was the leads didn't stop and even worse the leads we were getting were highly qualified. The leads were ready to be closed; some were begging to be closed. So we put them off... for weeks. It was one of the most painful times I have ever had running this business.
A Broken Operation
The main problem stems from the fact that I didn't properly set up nor monitor our operations. I pushed it to its capacity and then some. I almost broke operations and then realized I had to halt everything to fix it, so that is what I did; I told everyone to stop marketing and selling until we had operations fixed. It sucked but it was necessary.
There is no point in feeding customers into an operation that is at or near capacity and close to the breaking point. That would be bad for the customers, the employees and the organization as a whole.
Putting on the Brakes
We stopped marketing and tried to slow down sales as much as possible so we could analyze the problem and come up with a solution. The result was combing through (or developing in some cases) the organizational chart and writing several job descriptions. We created three new jobs instantly and got those advertised. We also paved out the next three hires after that and the timeline for those. For a six person company that is a major change. It was disruptive but it was necessary.
Hitting the Gas Cautiously
Now the question is when to hit the gas and how hard? Hiring people costs lots of money; money that a small business doesn't necessarily have in the bank. After sitting on the brakes for so long you can't wait to step on the gas and start bringing in new customers again, but you need to be careful.
Set up the process then market - It's not like we are new to business, just new to this rate of growth. We had an operations process in place, but that was for our old business model. When sales start to shift, it is important that operations shift as well to accommodate the growth.
Putting the cart before the horse - It's the old expression and it applies to your business as well. Continue to market and sell, bringing customers into an operations process that is near its breaking point is stupid; it's just backwards.
Processes and organization chart - The processes and organization chart need constant attention and updating. It is hard to sit down and work on those types of items because on the surface they don't make you money; but they are critical to the growth of your business. Your instinct is to sell, sell, and sell some more because it makes you money. But if you sell to an organization that can't handle the sales you won't be in business very long.
Having too many sales is not a good problem to have - Everyone I discussed the challenges we were facing in regards to too many sales but not enough capacity had the same response: "Well that is a good problem to have." No its not, it is an absurd problem to have. If someone is standing in front of you trying to hand you money and you say "I'm good" that is not a good problem to have.
Inbound marketing never stops - I already knew this going in, but I experienced it firsthand. Imagine leads that keep coming and coming and the only response you can come up with is "crap". I have to commend our team that has helped me develop our content over the years because for a bunch of bookkeepers we have done a heck of a job. One of the leads we did close in this tumultuous time found our site through a blog that was written well over a year ago. They are now our biggest customer, double the size of our biggest customer prior to that.
So there is my operations horror story for you and I'm hoping it helps someone from making the same mistake. I for one intend to learn from this and never have to put the brakes on sales and marketing again.