In the early 2000s, I was an investor and advisor to a company that sold a fairly well-known sales force automation (SFA) tool. Like most software at that time, it was sold in boxes containing CDs. We used to call unused software of this type “shelfware” because the box actually sat on a bookshelf.
At any rate, this company had a great lead in the space and strong reputation among sales managers. Unfortunately, they chose to stick with the packaged software model and not pivot to the emerging Software as a Service (SaaS) model. I think you can figure out the rest of the story.
Planning for Growth
As you prepare your marketing, sales and revenue plans for the upcoming year, it behooves you — and others in your organization that have revenue responsibility — to take a candid look at issues that have important revenue implications. It’s my job to work with CEOs and other C-level executives (CMOs and CSOs) to craft and execute revenue growth strategies that are effective, repeatable and sustainable over time. Sometimes, this requires injecting a dose of reality into the discussion.
To have a better revenue future it helps to benchmark your current state. A useful tool to accomplish this is the Sigmoid Curve. Where are you on the curve: in startup phase, growth, maturity, or possibly in decline? Where is the rest of your industry? Are you growing while they are in decline, or vice versa? Chances are that you are on a similar trajectory but you need to know this to progress.
When you are in a post-startup phase, growth can seem almost magical. Earlier in my career, I worked at several software companies where growth rates of 30, 40 or even 50 percent were not unusual and even expected. However, it is a lot easier to go from $5 to $10 million than $50 to $100 million and competitors who ignore you as a small company will consider you a mortal threat as a medium to large player.
The best time to address the implications of the Sigmoid Curve is when you are in the growth stage, headed toward maturity. You need to get ahead of the curve (pun intended) and find the next area of growth and innovation before the decline starts. Great companies, including yours, should not be looking just at protecting and extending their current revenue stream, but also preparing for the next.
As you carefully analyze your current position in the market and craft a plan for pivoting to your next growth trajectory, keep in mind that what got you here, isn’t necessarily going to get you there. Chances are, there are some areas of your product development, delivery process, or marketing and sales operations that persist out of habit, not a conscious choice. If you ever catch yourself saying, “We’ve always done it that way”, this is a clue that your strategies and processes are hindering, not enabling more sales.
Note that I am not saying that much of what you do isn’t effective. After all, it is the reason you have a viable organization today. However, the true litmus test is whether you would develop, deliver, market and sell the same products and services in the same way if you were to design your business from scratch.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
When I ran marketing for an enterprise content management company, our leadership team would go offsite for a 3-4 day executive retreat. Fortunately, we had a savvy CEO who would allow us very little time patting each other on the back for the great things we had accomplished in the previous year. The theme of the meeting was always focused around how the marketplace was shifting, how we were positioned for that change when compared to our chief competitors, and how we could get ahead of the curve.
I don’t recall that we ever talked about the Sigmoid curve, but the concept was the same: pinpointing when we were nearing the top of the growth curve and pivoting at least part of our resources to the next growth area. We were always trying to stay on the leading edge (but not the bleeding edge) of the market. Moreover, as the opening example illustrated, it doesn’t matter how good your products or services are; if you defy the direction and strength of a market movement, you will likely lose market share.
Changing Your Approach
The marketing and sales world has changed. Have you? Just as your company practices may need some updating, your personal approach to how you market and sell may also need a refresh. As Benjamin Hardy put it: “In order to get to the next level, you must cast-off who you’ve been for who you will become.” And even if things are working well (especially when they are working well), always challenge your preconceived notions. They will either stand up to scrutiny or you will find a better path. A win either way!
Internal competition can be tougher than external. Every leader with time in the saddle has faced the issue of overcoming internal resistance. At times, you may believe that conquering the market is easier than getting your own team to play well together. I’ve been there and it’s not pleasant. These issues don’t usually work themselves out and a bit of CEO intervention may be advisable.
How you sell can become just as stale as what you sell. Understanding your macro environment (e.g. your place on the Sigmoid Curve) and quickly acting on a shift in the market environment will go a long way toward putting your company on a better revenue trajectory in the coming year and beyond.