Build Growth Muscles at Your Company
If you’ve ever competed in a sport that requires training your muscles-which covers roughly 100% of them-you know top performers approach this as a science. Turns out these athletes are more professional than many business competitors, some of whom take a decidedly amateurish approach to growing their business.
Of course, we have to pick a sport for this analogy. How about something with high stakes that captures the human spirit? Rock climbing. For inspiration, check out the world’s greatest free solo climber, Alex Honnold… the first to climb Yosemite’s 2000-foot Half Dome without ropes.
A striking difference between business leaders and rock climbers is that many of the former think they can reach the top without training their muscles. Imagine showing up at the base of El Capitan with recliner-chair abs and no climbing skills. Ridiculous? What about businesses that proclaim double-digit growth plans year after year, but do nothing to prepare for their climb?
Imagine showing up at the base of El Capitan with recliner-chair abs and no climbing skills
In the 1994 classic, Competing for the Future, Hamel and Prahalad described three steps of competition: 1) developing industry foresight, 2) building capabilities for this future, and 3) then gaining market share. Imagine an athlete who has learned how to win and carefully built the required capabilities for doing so. Now imagine this athlete competing against someone who simply “shows up” without preparation. No contest, right?
Business leaders focused on the short term are just showing up. They compete for market share, hit the reset button, and repeat the process next year. No serious, long-term muscle-training. Count yourself fortunate if you compete against such companies. They’re easy to beat if you train properly. Let’s learn from serious climbers.
Know which muscles to train
Rock climbers build finger strength, endurance, core strength and much more. They know exactly which muscles to train. What capabilities should growth-minded business leaders improve? In most cases, they should develop company-wide skills to better understand their customers’ needs.
Consider Problem 1: “What unmet needs will this market reward us to satisfy?” And Problem 2: “How can we satisfy these needs?” Most companies spend at least 90% of their total project costs on Problem 2. Yet, the leading cause of new product failures for four decades has been inadequate market understanding, Problem 1. As a result, the typical company squanders 50% of their new-product R&D resources on failed projects. They’re trying to answer questions customers don’t care about.
Which muscles must be trained to master Problem 1? Winners know how to…
- Set up interviews to attract the right participants
- Use strong listening skills to both understand and signal interest
- Probe deeply to understand why customers want what they want
- Help customers diverge to all possible outcomes
- Conduct unbiased quantitative interviews to converge on key outcomes
- Interview down the value chain and throughout the ecosystem
- Gather meaningful data during tours of customer operations
- Quantitatively understand customers’ next best alternatives
- Collect data to build value calculators for estimating value & pricing
- Create a compelling business case for development-stage funding
Train with dedication
Knowing what to improve is easy, compared to building these capabilities. Most rock climbers use hangboards in their training. They hang from these devices, using progressively smaller holes, tinier grips, and fewer fingers. With enough painful training, some climbers can do one-arm, one-finger pull-ups.
When Alex Honnold targets a new mountain to climb, it’s not a casual thing. He describes his required focus and desire as “primal.” Most of us are more familiar with fad distractions. In our personal lives, it’s the latest food group to avoid or devour, or perhaps that new exercise machine already gathering dust.
There are plenty of distractions in the business world as well. Some firms exhibit “Brownian motion,” with initiatives flying in all directions. In others, ideas are vigorously debated in action-free zones. One client told me, “We talked about it so much, we thought we had done it.” In other cases, action begins but fades, leaving employees curious about next year’s program. In the saddest situations, long-term initiatives live only in investor relations PowerPoint slides. Heaven help the firm whose time horizon is as short as the fund managers investing in it.
“We talked about it so much, we thought we had done it”
The 20th century quality movement was ignited by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, with his 14 points. The first was “constancy of purpose,” with the corollary, “resist short-term fixes.” Today, a company seeking profitable, sustainable organic growth must also start with constancy of purpose-a primal focus-on understanding the needs of its customers.
Will this dedication pay off? Before the quality movement, companies had no concept of the quality levels they could attain. Today, most B2B companies don’t grasp the level of customer insight available to them… through training.
It’s like this: When Alex Honnold and his National Geographic team were visiting with Chad tribal elders, he wandered off and casually began climbing a mountain behind them. Suddenly, the tribesmen began yelling and pointing at him… on a sheer vertical wall without ropes a thousand feet above. When asked what the elders were saying, the translator said, “It’s difficult to translate, but basically… they think he is a witch.”
You could be climbing high while your competitors are still at the base of the mountain. Figure out which muscles need work, and begin your training.
How to train…
If you’ve already taken core New Product Blueprinting training, you’ve learned your basic climbing skills. But even our top graduates only learn about 50% of what we have to teach. This is where Blue Black and Black Belt certification helps.
Not sure which “growth muscles” you should start developing first? Check out our free B2B growth diagnostic at B2B Growth Diagnostic. With this service, you’ll be able to benchmark your business on 24 growth drivers… against average, top quartile, and top decile B2B companies.
If you’re not sure exactly what kind of training program is best for you, we’re happy to help you out with a free, no obligation one-hour consultation by phone or web-conference. Simply let us know that you’d like to take advantage of this opportunity and we’ll be in touch.
Originally published in B2B Organic Growth Newsletter, Jan-Feb 2015.