Growth path, step 1: Admitting that you have a problem

“The question is: how to best put it into work for you benefit? How to put the company back on the growth path?”

The title probably sounds like the world’s most obvious cliché, but like in many cases, it’s what makes it true. We are not good at admitting we need to change. It is much easier to go on like we’re used to. Just making a few adjustments. Hoping it will all work out in the end. Sometimes we might get lucky. But often we need to rock the boat, so that we force ourselves to learn how to swim. This is a follow-up post for Unused growth potential leading to troubled times.

When we want to take things to the next level or drastically change course, we don’t need solutions to fix a problem in what we are doing. We need to take actions that carry us towards a new, brighter future. We need to fundamentally change the way we do, and look at, things. If we just keep fixing problems over and over again, we never get to the things causing them in the first place. We don’t need to feel better for a while, we need to change what is making us sick.

Solutions that won’t get you there

  1. Sales trainings are an important tool for keeping your teams’ competencies on the top level. It is said that it all starts with people, and that the people in your company are your most valuable resource. I totally agree. You should invest in developing and keeping competencies up to date. But the thing is just that.. training your team should be a continuous investment. The reality is probably different for many smaller technology companies. Maybe you don’t train your sales staff on a yearly basis, or if you do, you might not have a plan on how the trainings should support achieving the company’s goals. On the other hand, the great thing about trainings is that, when planned properly, they are an efficient way to support change by giving people new ideas. But if sales trainings are the easy fix to all your growth problems, you are going to be disappointed.
  2. Encouraging people to sell more has an important role in motivating people and setting sales targets. And it’s something that every sales manager and director should do. However, when you are trying to put yourself back on a strong growth path, it simply isn’t enough. Meeting more customers and doing more of the same won’t help you develop. It won’t make your company stronger, nor develop its capabilities for growth. Your people need help in finding ways to grow, both in terms of who to sell to and in what ways. Your team needs to know what not to do anymore. They need new tools and smarter ways of working. Encouraging people to run more and faster increases activity in the short term, but will not solve the problem.
  3. Incentives and bonus pay are tools often used in sales organizations to direct actions and create hunger for closing deals. Depending on the business you are in and the products you are selling, incentives might well work to your benefit, creating more of the wanted behavior. However, before implementing personal incentives, you should carefully consider the type of sales work your people do. Incentives have been shown to work well in straightforward, do-this-and-you-get-that type of tasks. But if you have long sales cycles, selling requires a lot of team effort, or your team is more motivated by solving customer problems than simply getting a new car, you should carefully assess the potential downsides of aggressive incentives. In the best of cases, they could end up having close to no effect on growth. My advice would be to first look at target setting and systematic sales planning. Later, when you know what should happen on an individual level, support that course with incentives, if you think it will help. Don’t create aggressive sales incentives just because you believe you should.
“It doesn’t help to buy new tires, if the engine is broken. What we should do, instead, is to start looking at a new form of transportation.”

What connects the three solutions above is that they should work on a daily basis. They are hygiene factors. They help you achieve what you want to do, when you know what should happen. They help you run faster on the path you have chosen. But they will not help you change the path.

So the first steps towards growth are..

  • Admitting that you need to make changes in how things work. Not only fixing what seems to be broken. You need new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things, new structures, new tools, and even some new people. You need to develop your company’s strengths, instead of only relying on strong individual effort.
  • Ambition and will to grow. Change is everything but easy, and you will surely encounter difficult situations and unpleasant decisions. If you hesitate every time, it will be too hard.
  • Understanding where you are at the moment. You need to have a good feel for the current state in order to define the right path. This is important to understand internally from a cultural and resource point of view. And of course externally from a business environment perspective as a foundation for your strategy work.
  • Deciding on a strategy for growth. You simply cannot find your way, if you don’t know where you are going. A well-defined strategy should tell you (1) where you are going, and (2) how you plan to get there. It will also make it much easier to create a realistic change story, for people to support and believe in.
  • Support is crucial, since there is a lot of work to do and decisions to make. The problem is often how to have time for both daily routines and customer work as well as development work. This means that in many cases you will need dedicated resources, from inside or outside of your organization, in order to get things done. It will not magically happen by itself. There is nothing more frustrating and costly than failing the same change process every other year.

If you have read this far: thank you! Let me know what you think. My next post in this series will be about key elements in setting up a growth program.