Growing a business without the lumpy effects of the boom and bust cycle is the dream of most business owners and managers.

Yet it is often so difficult to achieve - even for the most successful business people.

You might be asking yourself, how can I advise on what it takes to build sustainable business growth? Fair question. Well, I’m going to have a crack at it using my many years of experience where I have failed many times, won a few times and observed successes and failures of others from afar.

9 key questions to ask your business if it’s serious about generating sustainable business growth.

  1. Do you have a powerful ‘why’ for your business?

    Simon Sinek calls it the Golden Circle’. In general terms, we mostly know ‘what’ we actually do and ‘how’ we do it however; most often, we don’t clearly know ‘why’ we do the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. When this ‘why’ is unlocked it is extremely powerful for employees at an individual level as well as at a whole of business level. The ‘why’ or purpose is powerful because it provides a point of reference for everything that you do. Being able to articulate what actually makes the individual fulfilled activates the emotional or System 1 thinking [1], which is how we as humans are wired to think and behave.

    Now imagine your business is a place where everyone from the cleaner to the CEO clearly understands the purpose of the business and how it relates to their personal ‘what’. Sustainable business growth requires clarity, vision and passion and it all starts with the ‘why’.

  1. Are your leaders working on the business as much as in the business?

    Almost everyone would say that they need more time to work on the business. I wonder, is this because working in the business is less glamorous? Or are we drawn to KPI’s that are harder to measure in the short term? There’s got to be a balance. Working in the business drives success today by having the best people execute. It ensures that accurate insights are garnered and leveraged to enable the business to respond to short-term opportunity and threats alike.

    On the other side of the equation is the planning task, which in some businesses has fallen out of favour as agile management and its adaptive planning has entered popularity. Agile methodologies certainly have their place; however medium to long term planning is essential for sustained business growth. It feeds capital and human resource requirements for the future and funds the innovation pipeline well before eventual launch.

  1. Do you care for your employees as much as you do for your customers?

    The customer is always right. Since forever, this is what we’ve been taught. The goal of every business in the world is to create shared value between customers and the business. And this value is created primarily through employees. Vineet Nayar in his bestselling book Employees First, Customers Second, summarises this neatly by saying that by putting employees first, you actually deliver the promise of customers first.

    We now live in the ‘experience economy’ and user experience methodologies that businesses use to improve the customer experience can also be employed for improved employee engagement. Lastly, research shows that higher levels of employee engagement are derived from employees who work for a compassionate leader. A leader that’s present, dignified, authentic, accountable and empathetic. Isn’t that what we all wish for?

  1. Are you funded to grow?

    It’s one thing to have great ideas, it’s another to see them successfully executed. Too often ideas and breakthrough innovations fail because of sub standard execution. A big part of this failure is wishful financial thinking! That the limited funds available can stretch to provide added value beyond the actual purchase price of the execution. In other words bargain buying. This happens in every business type – from start-ups to established businesses and it’s a trap.

    Being funded for growth relies on sound planning and financial expertise. Ask yourself:
    - Do you need to seek equity finance?
    - Should you consider a test market first?
    - Can your business find savings in other areas?
    - Can you achieve your goals through alliances that share the financial burden?

    A good CFO or Financial Controller earns their keep on this front because being properly funded for growth releases the anxiety leaders can experience when under pressure to deliver ‘more for less’. Leadership can focus their time on value creation tasks rather than simply managing a budget – an important task, but not a growth driving one!

  1. Have you built a defined experience into your product or service?

    As mentioned earlier, we now live in an experience economy. As consumers we now have unlimited choice, we can shop on values if we so desire and we expect the utility of a product to extend way beyond its functional attributes. CX or customer experience is now an essential part of designing products, service provision and communications. In an age where competitive tension if so tight, a great customer experience is what can set your business apart from competitors.

    Customer experience focuses on ‘how’ a business delivers for customers. Mckinsey argues that to improve customer experience you need to move from touch points to journeys. It’s a process that involves observing the product interaction from the customer’s viewpoint, then shaping or redesigning the business from the customer up and finally aligning and performing the way you have defined the customer experience for tangible outcomes.

  1. Do you plan for growth?

    Planning has been a constant theme throughout this blog. Planning is a discipline that sets the vision for growth and provides the evidence to say that it is achievable. Planning helps everyone understand the risk and reward of each growth initiative.

    Perhaps the most important aspect of the growth planning process is the draft and review phases. Ensuring a plan goes through a draft phase is essential for good inter departmental collaboration. Feedback, as the old saying goes, is the breakfast of champions and is essential to ensure 360 degree buy in from the whole business. Setting up a process of ongoing review helps avoid awkward conversations later down the track if things go off the rails. Identify your leading indicators of growth success and track them with critical discussion being held around the data and actions points. As the saying goes… failing to plan is planning to fail, so get to it!

  2. Is ‘Smarketing’ central to your go to your executional strategy?

    Getting Marketing and Sales aligned and on the same page is mission critical for sustainable business growth because they drive demand. So often acknowledged as a problem and yet so often very little is done about it. This is despite the HubSpot research showing that when there is alignment between Marketing and Sales, these businesses experience consistent levels of growth.

    What can be practically done to ensure alignment? The first thing to do is to acknowledge that Marketing and Sales are two sides of the same coin. And a great way to bring to this to life is ensuring that both functions are sharing common KPI’s. Setting up a working charter is also a great idea to ensure emotions are kept in check and that expectations on each party are understood and accountable. Regular collaborations on both short and long term metrics will bring an appreciation for each others roles and encourage the sharing of insights and support.

  3. Do you have a powerful brand (or at least a vision for one)?

    Building a brand is building a framework for deciding what not to be. It’s about making choices around your most profitable target market, which attributes are strengths and the potential benefits they provide. Your eventual brand positioning is what this represents and the time and effort taken to get this right is a key foundation to your sustainable business growth.

    Much is written about well known brands like Apple or Nike. Yes they are powerful brands, however it’s easy to be discouraged by their scale and fame, which might seem unattainable. The great thing about branding is that it must ring true for your business. Like your DNA, your brand positioning needs to be unique for your business. Using market research, behavioural data from your website or good old fashioned customer interviews you need to decide what your brand promises to deliver day in day out. Great branding, ultimately, is about the reputation you earn by doing what you do, according to the brand positioning framework you set for your business. And every business can do this!

  4. Can you replicate your sales process successfully?

    Being able to repeat your sales processes is a key to ongoing success. Being able to create and execute sales processes that can be deployed and scaled overtime brings efficiencies that not only help you grow but also build knowledge for future growth.

    Repeating your sales success will build confidence in your business as it increases forecast accuracy, improves conversion rates and decreases cost per customer acquisition. Finally, a replicable sales process provides the platform to build scale. A great way to start towards this is by undergoing a thorough sales enablement process, which will research and document your ideal sales journey. And as they say…repeat, repeat and you’ll be sweet!

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list of questions, however having worked on both the client and agency side of the marketing function for 20 plus years, I can tell you that my experience is that most businesses do not do all of these well and some don’t do any at all!

I challenge you to ask these questions of your business!

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[1] https://scholar.princeton.edu/kahneman/publications-0