Growing Gains – Taking Your Business to the Next Level

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A Bentbrook Advisors growth strategy expert shows how to approach taking your business to the next level.

Residential Lighting: Where do you start when you’re consulting?
Charlie Alter: I always ask, “What is it about you business that wakes you up in the middle of the night?” Almost inevitably, the answer is how to sustain the business and grow it, particularly with the headwinds we face. I then follow up the discussion with the first step to take a hard, dispassionate and objective look at the current state of the company. Since it’s the end of summer, do a mid-year progress review of your business. Particularly, find out how profitable the company is. Figure out how you’ve been able to grow.

RL: How can we identify opportunities for development?
CA: Once you’ve evaluated your progress, you have to identify the most important things you can do today or for the next six months to make a difference and get traction. Start with your marketing and sales group. Find out what is getting in their way.
One thing, from my experience, is having too many non-customer- oriented activities. Sometimes, sales has all these ancillary responsibilities and not much time to sell. Find out what percentage of their time is spent genuinely selling – I mean direct contact with customers – and not just going to meetings, filling out forms and reports and other things. Gallup did a study on this and found that it’s not unusual for sellers to spend less than 10 percent of their time in GST – Genuine Selling Time.

RL: And other opportunities?
CA: Innovation. How do you explain new technology so that the end0use customers understand the changes and how it impacts them? What value proposition do you offer?

It’s nota all about product innovation. There is innovation in terms of shipping, logistics, and finding ways to decrease supply costs. Just find ways to offer greater value to the customer and lower cost, which becomes an innovation opportunity for them. The key term is “disruptive innovation.” You want you products and services to be disruptive in the marketplace – that is, they disrupt the market incumbent’s products and services by offering equal or better value at lower price.

RL: You advise “streamling and simplifying.” Explain this?
CA: Simplifying and streamling means aligning everyone to make progress. First, identify the key priorities for growth in the company. Make sure everyone understands his or her individual responsibilities to the program. They need to think: What can I do to support theses three growth priorities? When you make progress against these priorities, you can pick three more priorities.

Second, look at the current state of the company. Think expansively. Where are we really going as a company? Where do we want to be? What vision do we have for this business?

With those two “bookends” in place – priorities and vision – the opportunities and strategies for growth will become clear. I’d start by focusing on growth and innovation. I’d also consider trying to move up the “food chain” by starting to deal with larger customers. It’s actually pretty phenomenal what happens when companies do this.

If your business is not growing, it’s declining. Growth generates energy, enthusiasm, excitement and makes the place a lot more fun to operate in. Growing successful businesses also gets the best talent, because people want excitement. So for me there isn’t the option of not growing. It’s just a question of how do we grow profitably.