What It Takes to Grow Your Business

A few years ago, I placed a couple of ads in the Kansas City Business Journal. In these ads I called into question many small business owners’ commitment to grow their businesses. I asked a few questions in the ad. In this post, I’ll share the questions with you and explain why I asked them.

Here’s a list of the questions:

  • Are you willing to work a lot harder?

  • Are you willing to understand the subtle differences between a customer and a prospect?

  • Are you willing to lose money to learn something?

  • Are you willing to develop the skill set so you can lead a market driven organization?

Are you willing to work a lot harder?

My intent in asking this question is not to anger anyone but to point out the obvious. If you have a stable business that through a 5-10 year period stays at basically the same sales level give or take 20%, you are not working hard enough. If you are serious about growing the business, there are thousands of ways to grow a business and numerous markets companies can enter with relatively low risk. You can also refocus yourself on your core business and identify ways you can distinguish yourself so you can grow your business with your present customers and add new customers.

The key to doing this is thinking, brainstorming, and then experimenting. There are a ton of opportunities to grow your business. You have to experiment and try new things and pay attention. Working hard does not necessarily mean more hours but does mean thinking deeply about what you are doing and how you can do things differently.

One of the things I always do with my clients is try to determine how big their market is and what percentage of the market my client has. In one of my current projects, we have brought in 10 new customers who put out a couple of hundred million dollars a year of business my client can do for them. If we execute well and stay focused on these new customers we should be able to grow the business significantly. If we are just an average vendor or perform slightly better than our competitors we may not be able to grow the business. We have to work harder. We have to find ways to distinguish ourselves and delight our new customers and they will throw new business at us.

Are you willing to understand the subtle differences between a customer and a prospect?

The difference between landing a new customer and losing the business is sometimes very, very subtle and slightly nuanced. I once lost a million dollar order because my client did not want to work his people over the Christmas holiday. We eventually got the business but not until a year and a half later. Each prospect has their own nuanced needs. Some are willing to pay for something up front and some are not. Some need to know that you will never be late and some are concerned about how the company is organized or the quality systems in place. The point is you will never know until you make the effort and spend the time to deeply understand how your prospect’s organization works and what is important to them. Sometimes losing a quote or two to a desired prospect is the easiest way to visit with the buyer or engineers and solicit specific feedback to why they are not selecting you.

Consistent, focused effort will allow you to understand the difference between winning and losing business and in turn start winning more new business.

Are you willing to lose money to learn something?

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes the most worthwhile lessons cost money. You may have to spend money on a brochure, new sales guy, upgrade to the website, travel expenses, or a new marketing or engineering person to grow your business. Sometimes the effort proves to be a bust. The value in the bust could be what did you learn from it? If you are committed to growing and you learn the lessons from your missteps many times the cost will be worth it.

Many of the presidents and business owners who hire me expect me to get results and to get them pretty quickly. It is always amazing to me that these presidents are not more interested in learning and understanding what I am learning about their marketplace and their competitive position. Knowledge is power. As I learn about an industry and the companies in these industries, I learn to present my clients and their resources in the best way to interest our new prospects. In turn I bring back the information I am learning and present it to my clients. Sales is not black magic nor smoke and mirrors. Even small companies can land the huge customers if they just spend the time to figure out what is needed and wanted. Sometime acquiring this knowledge costs money.

Are you willing to develop the skill set so you can lead a market-driven organization?

If you are the president or owner of a company that is not growing, you have work to do. Over the last 10 years I have worked with my clients to bring in as new customers some of the biggest and well-known companies in the world: Baxter Healthcare, Boeing, Cessna, Briggs and Stratton, Kawasaki, Eaton Corp, 7-Eleven, Johnson Controls, and others. It took a tremendous effort and incredible focus to make this happen. These new customers offer my clients tremendous opportunities to grow.

The same effort to land a new customer is required internally to maintain and further grow business from these new customers. My clients and I have lost a few of these customers due to late deliveries, shoddy performance, and incomplete or inaccurate information delivered to the customer. My effort to bring in new business is the beginning of the growth process. It cannot be maintained if changes are not made throughout the organization to raise the performance of the entire organization. This is incredibly hard work and takes focus and the courage to make tough decisions.

Managers need to stop being lazy, risk adverse, and tentative. Step up to the plate. The rewards are not only financial. I told one of my clients it is as if you are sitting in the driver’s seat of a bus but the steering wheel does not work nor does the brake or gas pedal. He learned to do the things he was not comfortable doing. In turn he grew as a leader and his organization is a much better place to work. More importantly he feels like he is driving the bus.

Growth takes effort, money, focus, and leadership. There are no shortcuts. Leaders willing to step up are in short supply.

Lean, LeadershipDennis Sweeny