In this continuation of his series on business asset management, the author delves into prioirtising frontend assets over backend operations. His main take on the subject is that customers first engage with a brand at the frontend, making it the foundation for business success.
There is a constant debate about what is easy in business and what is not.
For most people, the backend seems easier than the frontend, which is true. The backend is easy, while the frontend is challenging. This is because the backend is inherently limited, with limits to its reach. In the backend we know what needs to be done and what works. It involves several easy steps to prove, where most outcomes and scenarios are finite and predictable.
Moreover, people involved in backend activities are usually limited. So, all the assets created in and for backend often make your balance sheet healthy. This is good for the bank but it can be less attractive to investors due to the lack of full resale value and high returns.
Comparatively, the frontend is more challenging, mainly because it is vast. While we may know what needs to be done, we wouldn’t necessarily know if all of that would work. It is difficult to prove. Additionally, there could be infinite outcomes and scenarios. The people involved are enormous and unlimited. Essentially it is often your entire customer base. It is everything that is outside of the company. So, all the assets created in and for the frontend often increase goodwill and brand value in the market. This is very good for investors, but may not be so attractive for banks.
Now the key question you may be asking is—“What is the backend and what is the frontend?” To put it simply, anything that happens in the back office, or behind the scenes, can be termed as the backend. That includes your R&D operations, production, QC, logistics, HR, and many other such things. Basically, everything that is happening within the company.
On the other hand, the frontend is what customers can often see or experience. It could be marketing, sales, and also in many cases your customer service.
So why is it important to have sales and marketing assets in place?
First of all, it is indeed essential to document how your product is made or how your service is delivered. But additionally, it is equally important to document how it is marketed and sold. You and the team must know the process to get it to the end users and customers repeatably.
A few key marketing and sales assets
The frontend can be messy with a lot of subjectivity. This subjectivity adds to variation, and variation increases the unpredictability of outcomes. Therefore, a repeatable marketing and sales process becomes a highly important asset for any small business in the long run; especially, when you want to scale the business eventually.
- Customer or user personas. Often, these personas are defined by gender, age, demographics, and similar characteristics. But, in my experience, it can be highly limiting in several ways. At first, you may end up locking yourself out from a potentially growing market outside the demographics you have defined by sex, age, or location. But, on the other hand, if you define these personas by the problems they face, it’s a much better approach. Age, gender, and other stereotypes are old-fashioned and may not apply 100% to most potential customers these days. This means if you were to follow the customer and user persona approach, you risk losing out on a significant portion of the potential market and getting the communication wrong. Define customer personas by the problems they face and what they struggle with, not by the demographics they belong to. For example, instead of saying that our product is for a husband and wife aged between 30 and 35 with one kid, say that our product is for parents struggling to keep kids engaged. The latter definition includes single parents and many other scenarios. So it encompasses everyone who could potentially use your product.
- The values and principles you would like to highlight. While this seems obvious, businesses often get too reductive. Instead, create a long list of these principles and values. The only key here is to prioritise the list while keeping it a bit broad. This way, any marketing activity or messaging won’t look monotonous but can still have a recognisable theme to it.
- Positioning in the ecosystem. Many times, I meet entrepreneurs at conferences or other meetups who have confusing messaging about their positioning in the ecosystem. Positioning in the ecosystem means where and how you work in the overall ecosystem of your market. For example, are you B2B direct sellers, or is it B2C? Do you supply parts to OEMs, or are you an aggregator. Either way, define that positioning. One of the benefits of clear positioning is that it will clarify your marketing budget and activities. Meaning, if you define yourself as a B2B solution provider, you will rarely show up anywhere in B2C events or platforms because your main customers don’t go there. They go to different forums. Usually, bigger businesses are good at defining this early on, while many small businesses often learn by doing. But not everything should be learned that way.
- Stories you tell. The stories you tell as a brand or upcoming brand often shape the narrative you support or drive. They often form a pattern that shows your inclination in society and directly affects the brand. Any narrative you would like to pursue as a strategy or want to establish must be defined as an asset. Everyone on the team needs to be aligned to that, lest you risk coming across as a scattered bunch of people. The stories you tell as a brand or upcoming brand often shape the narrative you support or drive.
- Lead generation process. Everything in the business is downstream from a well-qualified lead. Without that nothing can happen. If there is a lead, there is a potential to make a sale. When a sale happens, production functions, people work, salaries get paid, new products get developed, and the entire company benefits. Therefore, everything begins with a well-qualified lead. Everything in the business is downstream from a well-qualified lead. So the key question is, “How would you generate a continuous stream of qualified leads?” If there is no defined mechanism and process to execute, you will struggle to keep a steady pipeline of work or customers. For any new salesperson joining, having this process can set them up for success. Combine it with appropriate collateral and assets to maximize, and you would have made them unstoppable.
- Customer’s journey. A customer’s journey in your business context is the path your customer would follow to acquire your product or service, then use it, and eventually continue using it or detach from it. At each step, the customer is in a different state of mind, with different questions, struggles, and likely different circumstance. Knowing that can be tremendously helpful in building your processes around the customer’s journey. This way, your customers can feel and experience more value, leading to better engagement and, overall, a win-win situation.
- Tools, systems, and collaterals. As mentioned above, every step in a customer’s journey requires a different approach and interaction. Customers ask different questions, and they might need different things to help them with.
It could be a simple information brochure, diagnostic tool, free keychain, a how-to video, or something entirely different. As long as you have those things ready, you will be good. Many of these collaterals are also known as cornerstone artefacts. Having appropriate tools to track progress and deliver on the collaterals is equally important.
Keep one thing in mind though—at any of these stages in the customer’s journey, until the time is right, you don’t want to be salesy. Keep it shareable, maintain infotainment value, and it will help.
The point is…
Setting up the frontend over the backend must be prioritised. Not because sales or marketing are important, but because that’s what customers see first, and they are the first moments of truth.
Additionally, having ways to measure and track customers’ journeys can be immensely helpful. Because when the market shifts, you want to know that it has shifted, or better yet, you want to know that it is shifting so you can adapt better and faster.
Always remember customers’ journeys keep evolving. So any system or asset you design must evolve simultaneously. There’s no point in building a concrete road when people keep walking different paths every day. Adaptability and flexibility are the key attributes here and always.
Anand Tamboli is a serial entrepreneur, speaker, award-winning author, and an emerging-technology thought leader