When I looked at developing my own start-up this year, I naturally gravitated to the bricks-and-mortar retail sector. My background before I launched my own marketing agency five years ago was in beer, and more specifically, in the retail marketing side of beer. I’ve worked for companies such as Coors, Heineken and Tiger Beer over the years, and way that liquor retail outlets are planned out to engage customers fascinates me. That fascination extends to all retail, and the way that retail has evolved over the past five to ten years to survive in a digital world is even more exciting.
So when we launched our beacon-led start-up, I made the assumption that retailers would jump on the opportunity and we could ‘fast start’ into the market. We wanted to start selling in September and be a significant player by December. It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
The Sales Cycle Is A Longer Than Anticipated
From presentation to decision to implementation isn’t instant in retail. It isn’t instant in a lot of industries but retail often has an extremely fragmented decision-making structure. This means that the person in charge of the store may not necessarily have any decision-making power when it comes to the marketing of the store. What starts off as planning in two meetings, often blows out to weeks and months of heading backwards and forwards.
And each store is different. Walking along a row of retail outlets, every one has a different structure – independent, small chain, national chain with management, national franchise. Taking a singular approach to all of them will come undone quickly.
Multiple Levels Of DMPs
That sales cycle length is often a consequence of multiple levels of DMPS – decision-making people. For example, our presentation to the head of IT in a major travel agent chain was highly successful with the guy in question turning into a brand evangelist for us before our very eyes. But then we had to get sign off from multiple brand managers and marketing managers of the individual retail brands, and whilst we managed to get in front of the IT guy, presenting to that level of management proved more problematic. Every level of DMP needs to be engaged and sign off.
Implementation Is One Battle; Continual Engagement Is Another.
Once we’d implemented our tools within the retail environment, the next challenge was ensuring continued engagement. With all the ongoing challenges of being involved in a fast moving retail environment, finding team members willing to be part of the ongoing execution was just as hard as any of the other steps. The solution here is close management, planning in conjunction with the retailer and ongoing monitoring.
What Are The Consequences?
With these three challenges, this means that the funding allocated to the sales process had to be substantially revisited and projection timelines expanded. Yes, that does make it harder to predict profitability but now the numbers are considerably realistic.
The core lesson is to be prepared for a longer timeline with retail innovations or start-ups and plan accordingly; that might mean higher investment or more team members. On the plus side, if you’re struggling then so are any of your competitors. So if you do break through and begin to make an impact, it will be a lot harder for your competition to catch up.