I see it all of the time. You provide an excellent service, a great product, or who knows; maybe you’ve even created disruptive technology that is going to change the way people behave in a given market.
Despite your best efforts, growth never becomes easy or predictable. Sure, you experience enough success and your customers 💖 what you do, so you know that with just a little more effort, a bit more ingenuity, and a pinch of luck your growth curve is about to look like the good news signal from The West Wing.
But alas, the objective always seems just out of reach. What’s more, the very actions you take to drive such growth only reinforces the barriers you’re working so hard to overcome.
No one is immune from this affliction. I see CEOs, sales executives, marketing executives, salespeople, and others, struggle to find the right growth formula. This situation is an outright epidemic in the private equity/venture world as more and more money is thrown at more opportunities, where the only predictable and sustainable result coming from their efforts are higher burn rates and founders losing their equity.
Why? Why are so many smart, hard working people failing to unlock the growth equation? More importantly, what can you do to fix it today?
Having seen this game play out thousands of times, I’ve identified five core contributors that, when addressed, dramatically increase the likelihood of success. There are no guarantees that you'll achieve vertical growth rates, but addressing these five areas will certainly put the odds in your favor.
You’re Getting Commoditized
I launched Imagine in 2004 with the publication of an article on Avoiding The Commoditization Trap. While lots of people talk about commoditization, I’ve found few have defined the term adequately so that growth executives can understand and act on it. In that article, I defined commoditization as:
The underlying process where customers and prospects systematically eliminate everything that businesses believe is different or special about their offerings, reducing those businesses to their lowest common denominator, which is typically (but not always) price.
The implication of this definition is that commoditization occurs when your desired market stops listening to you and your competitors.
Think for a moment about how your business responds when your customers and prospects stop listening? If you’re like most, you’re answering it by shouting louder. You throw some blog posts on the site, send more (crappy) emails, increase the call cadence, etc.
To break through the commoditization trap, you must think and view the world from the perspective of your target market (which means you must fully identify them). It means your sales and marketing communication must create value. Kill all the promotional copy and start teaching, helping, and challenging.
Your Solution is Not Your Prospect’s Problem
I talk to hundreds of businesses every year, and they all start by telling me the story of how unique they are and how great their product is. They talk (endlessly) about their solutions.
The problem is that your solution isn’t your customer’s problem. There is an epidemic of solutions in search of problems, combined with an impatience that renders your value proposition to a level only slightly higher than blather.
The single scariest discovery in my business life is how little selling organizations understand or think about the customers they want to attract. At this very moment, I’m preparing to talk with a client who experiences this problem acutely. They are totally clear on their solution, but they don’t understand that their customers have not yet acknowledged or understood their problems. They keep trying to tell the solution story better, but it won’t be until they slow down and build understanding in their market that they’ll be able to get on the path of predictable, fast growth.
You Lack Focus
The battle cry of the average business is, “If some is good, more must be better.” Executives are convinced that the path to greater, faster revenue growth lies in doing more for their customers. The approach is dangerous, partially because there’s some truth to it, and because it offers the siren song of quick wins.
Doing more can be a great expansion strategy after you’ve built a powerful, successful engine focused on your core business. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it (I admit, this is probably the toughest lesson I’ve learned).
There’s always the siren song of your best customers who love everything you do. You launch something new, and they jump on board. It not only feels good, but it also adds some much-needed revenue. You convince yourself that by providing a broader solution, your value proposition will be stronger.
Except the opposite is true. As shared in the book Good to Great, the key to exceptional results come when you stop fragmenting your focus on areas where you can be good and instead focus on where you can be great.
To get your growth on the vertical track, disproportionately focus your time, energy, messaging and content on the areas where you have the greatest impact.
You’re Not Building the Plumbing
Vision is great. Tactics can be incredible. But, I’ll take the plumbing every day of the week...and twice on Sundays.
Understand that this was very hard for me to accept. I’m a vision and strategy guy. My weakness is that I’ve always thought I could outthink my competition. Frankly, I got frustrated seeing entrepreneurs, whose thinking didn’t hold a candle to mine, grow businesses (and generate wealth) that left me in the dust.
I finally realized that while I was thinking and creating, they were building the plumbing. They built structures and systems that exploited the assets they had. Sure, I had great...maybe even better ideas and visions, but they had systems that did something.
What does your plumbing look like? When’s the last time you reviewed and updated your game plans and playbooks? (Be honest.) How are you using data? What do your dashboards look like?
If you’re not getting the growth you desire, the problem is in one of two places; it’s either a problem with what you’re offering or your plumbing is ineffective.
You’re Data Blind
A key piece, maybe the key piece, of plumbing is your data. I have to admit that I laugh (it’s better than crying) when I consider how many sales and marketing executives who are focused on driving fast growth, don’t even begin to have the data in place to give them the insights they need to make good decisions.
The great philosopher, Mike Tyson, once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The market is a great puncher (it makes Tyson at his prime seem like a stuffed animal), and everyday executives are getting into the ring with a great plan and blindfolds.
If your data isn’t giving you actionable intelligence quickly and seamlessly then that’s the problem you should focus on first. Without a strong data foundation, you’re in danger. In business, the new game begins before the old game ends, and if you’re still following your gut (or your eyes), you’re optimizing for yesterday’s game.
These five points come down to building the engine for growth. Without that engine, you’re facing a gale-force headwind that will drag down even the best ideas and inspirations.