Earlier this year, Bill Gross, founder of Idealab, spoke at TED on the topic of top factors in startup success. Since Mr. Gross has founded and funded many successful ventures, his advice is worth listening to. After studying 200 startup companies (both successful and not) it was determined that, of the five most important factors, timing was the most critical to the eventual success of the venture. You can watch the TED video for more details, but a summary of the data is shown in the chart below. By the way, I find it interesting that so many entrepreneurs are obsessed by the funding issue, or with starting with right team or business model, while in fact; it turns out to be the least important of the five factors.

Just as with startup success, timing is a critical factor in marketing, and sometimes the overarching issue. As an example, we occasionally get asked to rescue a company whose market share and revenues are dropping. While we are happy to work in this scenario, unless the product is sold online and the sales cycle is short, marketing alone is not an effective short-term fix. The situation may need to be stabilized through aggressive sales techniques or cost-cutting measures starting now – with marketing used as the key factor in ensuring medium and long-term success. In such a case, the timing can work against you on the marketing side.

Success Factors

Timing is also a factor when it comes to marketplace receptivity. During my earlier career in the enterprise software industry, I was in situations where marketing and selling were relatively easy because we had technology that filled a current hot need among our target audience. At one company, a senior rep exclaimed, “Selling our software in this market is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel”. In this case, market timing made our marketing department look like superstars. We were good, but not that good!

Conversely, I was in a couple of situations where the timing was not good, either because the marketplace had passed us by or because a competitor had achieved a significant price or technology advantage. Despite our best efforts, we were fighting an uphill battle and struggling for revenue and relevance. In those circumstances, good B2B marketing can help – but just as a great quarterback can’t help a mediocre team win the Super Bowl – great marketing alone will not overcome lousy market timing.

Fortunately, timing is not set in stone and can often change to your benefit. And you can certainly impact market timing by adjusting your positioning, changing your business model, creating a new offer, or fixing whatever it is that is not working for you. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of keeping up with your target audience, optimizing your business for greater efficiency, and preparing to catch the next big wave in your industry.

I’ll leave you with two great quotes about timing. Pierre Trudeau once said, “The essential ingredient of politics is timing” – perhaps this is equally true if you substitute the word “marketing” in place of politics. And Rick Springfield said: “If the timing’s right and the gods are with you, something special happens.” I hope something special happens for you!