If you’re looking for yet another way to kill some time, go research the old game show The $64,000 Question. The show ran from 1955 to 1958, so it’s pretty safe to say that most of us haven’t seen an episode recently. (I watched reruns when I was a kid.)
The premise of the show was simple. Contestants were asked a trivia question, starting with a prize of $1. If they answered the question correctly, they could take the prize money or keep going with more questions (each more difficult than the last). And with each new question, the prize money doubled (more or less).
“The $64,000 Question” is now used to describe a problem or question that seems inherently difficult and perhaps unanswerable. (Though most people use the wrong number. I often hear people exclaim, “That’s the million-dollar question!” And the nerd in me wants to say, “You mean the $64,000 question.” But I don’t do that. Because, you know …)
At The Starr Conspiracy, we get asked the same $64,000 question nearly every day. “What should we be doing right now?” And with the massive crises we find ourselves facing each day (I don’t think I need to list them) it’s a pretty good question to ask. But unlike the real $64,000 question (and the current colloquial use of the phrase), the answer is deceptively straightforward.
When it comes to marketing and selling Work Tech in 2020, you have to W.O.R.K. (More on that later.)
Fortune Favors the Bold
As a business owner, I empathize with you. These are tough times and the future is uncertain. But I know in my heart that Fortune favors the bold. And it’s not just a good, lucky feeling I have. There is evidence everywhere you look, from the way Work Tech companies performed during the Global Financial Crisis based on their marketing strategies, to the way companies are performing now (again, based on their marketing strategies), to the amount of funding that is still pouring into Work Tech investments, unabated.
During 2009, the worst year of the GFC, the Work Tech segment grew by 13%. But more importantly, the market share deck was completely reshuffled, and companies who poured energy into marketing (while their less bold competitors took a wait-and-see posture) outperformed the market by leaps and bounds, and even overtook entrenched competitors to become true market leaders, both during the crisis and in the years following. They went from 8’s to aces. Think: Taleo, SuccessFactors, Cornerstone OnDemand, Ultimate Software, Achievers, Virgin and Limeade (just to name a few).
Here’s what those companies got then that we need to get now. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the trajectory of your brand forever. As Work Tech companies, the world badly needs our wares. The practitioners that we interview are buying new software and services. They are buying solutions to help get them through these difficult times (with a central focus on creating the best employee experience possible) and they are buying new solutions to help prepare them for the post-COVID future. Case in point: we’ve had several conversations with Talent Acquisition vendors in the past couple of weeks who are seeing a spike in sales. Who the hell is buying TA solutions right now? Well … companies who recognize they aren’t going to be able to hire people the way they used to (you know … before the whole pandemic thing).
Work Tech companies are purpose-driven organizations. I’ve rarely met an entrepreneur who didn’t start their Work Tech company because they wanted to create a better experience for employees, and thus make the world a better place. So now that the world needs us more than ever, we can’t go into hibernation. It’s time to live up to our purpose.
So back to the $64,000 question. “What should we be doing right now?” Like I said, the answer is deceptively straightforward. It’s time to W.O.R.K.
- Wake Up – We all need to wake up to the reality that waiting around to see what happens next is not a good business strategy. The time for caution is over. It’s time to act. Moreover, we need to wake up to the opportunity. Brands will be defined by their forceful presence in the market during these challenging times (or lack thereof). As more cautious companies slash marketing budgets and hoard cash, the daring among us have a chance to shape the conversation in Work Tech and gain brand recognition and market share against timid competitors. Seriously. Companies are reevaluating their entire technology stack in a way they haven’t since the invention of SaaS. There is a new organizing principle at play that will launch a whole new buying cycle, and the companies who benefit will be the ones who offer a compelling alternative to early twenty-first century solutions that don’t line up with the way we work now.
- Own Up – You know you have what people need. And they’ve never felt the need in a more acute way than right now. Own up to the fact that your solution is more valuable now than ever, and that people need to know about it to buy it (whether they pull the trigger immediately or in 2021). I’ll go even further. Own up to the fact that you have a responsibility to help people find your Work Tech solution. Because people can’t continue performing in this environment for much longer with the tools they have now (or the ones they don’t have).
- Ramp Up – Sure people are going to look at you like you’re crazy when you ask to quadruple the marketing budget. But listen. There has literally never been an opportunity to stand out as a Work Tech brand that matches the one we have right now. The formula is simple. Buyers are looking for new solutions to transform their employee experience at the same time that many market leaders are slashing their marketing budgets, waiting for a recovery. And that has created a huge opportunity for your company. It’s much easier to be heard when you’re not yelling over a crowd. And if you increase your volume with a big-ass rack of killer amps, you’re going to drown them out even if they are half-ass trying to keep their conversations going.
- Keep it Up – Starting down the path of creating market leadership in a downturn is a burn-the-ships proposition. That is to say, you have to be in it to win it. There’s no turning tail, getting back on the boat and sailing home. You have to finish what you start. And that means scaling up your entire sales and marketing production for the foreseeable future. You can’t just send a few campaigns in the fourth quarter and say, “Well that didn’t work.” You have to be comfortable with the knowledge that results will manifest over time. But only if you keep it up.
The Next 30 Days
We’re going to spend the next 30 days in September sharing stories with you of courage, resilience, boldness and success. And it won’t just be me talking. We’re going to introduce you to many people we’ve worked with over the years (customers, team members, partners, influencers and more) who demonstrated courage during trying times, helped a lot of people along the way and were richly rewarded by the marketplace as a result.
We are (all of us) Work Tech. We are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to companies succeeding by drawing on the power of everyday heroes — their employees. We are what the world needs now. This is our time. And we shall rise to meet the moment.
Now let’s W.O.R.K.