brownies on a plate with candles in them

The Serious Business of Getting Busy on White Space:

Step Four - What's counted ... counts

As we said at the very beginning of this series, living things grow, change and evolve. Going after whitespace and opportunities grows your business, regardless of its initial size or age. In this final segment, we examine the importance of keeping track of your whitespace project's growth and development, and the ways keeping your finger on the pulse every step of the way can help the project itself grow and change as well as influence future efforts.

We began by defining whitespace in general and thinking about methods of discovering hidden or overlooked markets, or areas that may require different efforts from most of your business. Then we set out to formulate a plan for success and named some common pitfalls and speed bumps to anticipate and avoid. Last time, we set the plan in motion, and began the fun part - execution. This final step in getting serious about white space is measuring and tracking what happens - both successes and failures - and responding to that information in real time to maximize your project's success.

First Steps

Now is the time for measuring, and you want to begin with the certainty that everyone measures using the same yardstick. Define what success will look like, and make sure the definition is unanimous. What does success look like? Are we hitting it or missing it? Are we on track to achieve it? Do we need to modify our path? Defining the major tenants of success isn't just important, it's critical.

people working together

For instance, will we measure success in cases or pounds or dollars? Profit? Or all of these? Whichever you choose as your measurement, define it right up front. Without a clear definition of success, no one on the team really knows whether you're on track to achieve it.

Set goals up front and keep them in front of everyone as they are tracked - otherwise some team members will be high-fiving each other, and others will feel like they've failed because their measure of success had them striving for a different goal.

Leverage Points


Set a timeframe for measuring and tracking that begins early in the project, so you have a clear picture of where you're starting. Then, schedule regular check-ins to hold your teams accountable, both for performance and for guidance.

Check in across all the modes of execution included in your plan -- this is what allows for the agility you need. National accounts, brokers, your direct sales team - track everyone's performance. You can't evaluate what works and what doesn't without that specific information. And you can't act on trends or market responses you don't know about or can't see.

Be mindful of the schedules and timetables your whole team is working on - expect brokers to report on their usual schedule, semesters or trimesters, unless you've made other arrangements. Collect all the information you can, and keep in mind a broker needs time to fully execute your plan before you evaluate their performance. Just as you would for your direct sales team, be mindful of the context surrounding each mode of execution.

When you check in, check in deeply - parse out the numbers to see where you should apply your resources. Gangbusters in the west but slow in the southeast? Modify the southeast and double down in the west. Dig into the insights the data can give you, so your leadership team has built in agility to make strategic decisions on the fly.

Not Just Sales Execution

Keep in mind this is execution we're measuring, and not just sales execution. If you're executing on social media, or you're looking at the mileage you're getting from a new landing page focused on the whitespace, you want to watch the metrics alongside the sales numbers. You're measuring impact, rather than just cases, dollars, or pounds. Those other metrics measure the groundswell you're creating for future sales and guide you in what's resonating with your customer and what isn't.

Best practices in this space measures and tracks both current sales and impact:

  • Influence and engagement on social media

  • Traffic on website

  • Food show presence

  • Broker performance

  • Direct sales team performance

people working together

What's the response? Are you collecting leads, building awareness, making sales? If so, how many? If not, then again, what are the sticking points?

What's working for your brand and what's not? Review all the positives and negatives and make the necessary adjustments. Which social media messages got responses? Which marketing messages seemed to hit home? Are there sales methods that seem to work better for your product, and methods that fall flat?

Learn from your tracking and reports. When I worked at McCormick, we found that absolutely nothing worked as well as sampling when it came to Cattlemen's Carolina Tangy Gold barbecue sauce. Even without a piece of chicken, operators loved the sauce as soon as they tried it. In fact, seven out of ten - an astonishing 70% - chose to buy when they sampled it. Once we heard this and saw it in the numbers, we knew to tie everything we did to sampling the product. Because that's what sold it.

Make it Safe to Fail

Leverage your relationships with direct salespeople, brokers, digital media consultants, marketing, and the whole team, to create a space where it's safe to fail. Then get out there and make mistakes early. Maybe your whitespace assessment leads you to a segment you don't have much prior experience in, and you've miss calibrated your approach. Make that mistake early, and get to the bottom of what does work, so you can hear the feedback, see your error, and put an adjusted plan in place.

Hurry up and make your mistakes! You can course correct and get back to making progress toward your goals.

As we discussed in our third segment, leadership should create a space where team members can discuss things that work - like sampling barbecue sauce - and things that don't - missing the mark in your approach to a specific segment. A prominent safe space allows everyone to benefit from experience, so the whole project succeeds and sets the stage for future successes.

Raw Honesty:

Even when we create a safe space or even encourage risk-taking and allow for failures, human nature can make people hesitant to share all the details of their failures. Some companies state "Failure isn't an option". This is a problem because the negatives can be more valuable than the positive responses. Knowing what doesn't lead to sales can help shorten the search for what does lead to sales. Normalize this process. Fail. It's what you do next that matters.

Sometimes the types of details surrounding a failure can be harder to track and capture. Human nature will lead people to talk long and loud about their successes, and not at all about their losses.

People naturally want to talk about their successes and track them in the CRM, but the comments section can go blank when the salesperson gets a "no" from a customer. This is true of in-house sales teams and of brokers -- nobody wants to spend a lot of time documenting their failures.

Documenting the details -- "Timing wasn't right," for instance -- can help set the team up for future sales and successes. If giving one piece of information or focusing on one product feature doesn't help close sales, the whole team can benefit from knowing that. By eliminating one feature that doesn't get results, salespeople can move on to more effective approaches. Everybody wins.

Whitespace can increase a company's revenues and help ensure solid future growth, particularly when they're well-planned and well-executed. Begin by building a leadership team with an eye for finding the 10% of the market that just isn't being reached. Create a plan with room for pivots and agility and gather the resources you'll need. Execute the plan. Track your successes and failures, learn from them, and adjust your course. Then look for more whitespace, start again, and keep growing your business as you gain momentum with every step forward.

Julie spent 25 years in sales and marketing for the French's Food Company and McCormick, and then just over 4 years as a broker in senior & executive leadership roles across sales, marketing, digital & business development. She has interviewed over 100 potential manufacturers - she knows what she's talking about!
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