As we slowly open up the world economy and learn to live with what has turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, almost all businesses will be looking to figure out a way to grow their businesses as quickly as possible and as fast as the current situation will allow them to grow.
If there is one thing that I have learnt in the last two and a half decade of working, it is that sustained growth requires a lot of thinking and deliberate action with a clearly defined and articulated strategy and goals.
Ad hoc tactics for spurring growth are exactly that – ad hoc and tactics. Their impact is short-term, if they work at all. There is a time and place for those as well. However, if you would like to build a sustainable growth engine, you will need to be deliberate and put in place long term strategies that create a flywheel effect for your business.
What this current situation has done is created a level playing field for most businesses. There is no clear market leader right now in most markets. The consumer preference has been reset. So, all businesses or brands have an equal chance for becoming the chosen one, if they play this well.
So, here are some gears that could be explored to create a sustainable growth engine.
One of the first things that most businesses would do is to start going after customer acquisitions. However, smart businesses would take a step back and look at all the different components of their portfolio and decide which one’s in the portfolio needs to be their focus.
This forced reset gives businesses the opportunity to relook at their portfolio with a fresh perspective. There are many ways or lenses that you can use to look at the portfolio. You can look at the products from the perspectives of
– How easy it to sell (in the current circumstances)
– How profitable is it for the business?
For each of the products in your portfolio, think if there are any alternate uses for the products that your customers could use the products for, specifically, in the current circumstances.
IF you have a good deal of products in your portfolio, it becomes important to focus on specific products and be laser focused on selling them.
You could arrive at this pick of products to focus on by figuring out which one of them can have the biggest impact on your customers lives (if they are consumers) or businesses (if they are businesses). The impact need not necessarily be financial or economic. Impact can be emotional or psychological as well.
That brings us to the next lever or gear.
One of the recent resets has done is give each organisation the opportunity to do a complete reset on every aspect of the business if they so desire. As we speak, almost all businesses (and most of the consumers) will be under severe cash flow strain.
So, it is obvious that most business would like to go after the customers who are:
1. Low cost of acquisition and serving
2. Most profitable to serve as customers
3. Most strategic customers
Do you already know who these customers are? Do you already know the best (fastest & cheapest) channel to acquire them? How well are they recovering? If you have done your work on the product portfolio, you will be focusing on selling products that potentially will be high on their priorities.
One other aspect that you can look at is if there are any new set of customers that you can find for the alternate use of your products or services. This could pave a way for you to look at new markets in times to come.
One of the ways that you can have a significant impact on your topline is by partnering. We are in a world where ecosystems compete with ecosystems rather than companies competing with companies. The larger and more impactful ecosystems orchestrated in a way to help customers in ways that makes sense for them, the more impactful the partnerships will be.
This is a time for each organisation to explore some unusual partnerships. If you know that your customers will have cash flow issues and will not be able to buy from you, you can look at partnering with some financial services companies, who would either help your customers finance the purchase or can allow you to finance the sale (by extending the payment terms for your customers).
Explore partnering with other businesses that sell to the same customer segment and explore if you can come up with joint business offerings that you can both take to your customers which together might be a stronger offering for your customer than each one of your products individually would.
If you have identified a new use for one of your products or find a new customer segment that can be served, you can use that to find a different partner who can bring in the expertise to reach out and connect with that segment and solve that specific challenge.
Another way to look at this is to partner with your internal employees. It is quite likely that most organisations will reach a point in time when you might have to let some of your people go. Instead of letting them go, can you find a way for them to start a business and as your partners who will go out and sell your products or services (and get paid) for the leads or sales that they bring in.
This way, you continue to keep your talented employees working for you without having to pay the fixed costs of the having them as full time employees and at the same time increase the foot on the ground selling your products or services.
Technology can play a significant part in increasing the overall sales. You can create new digital channels to offer your products to your customers and therefore create new channels for customers to buy your products or services from.
There are many more channels today than there were in the past. You can start selling using your own e-commerce website, or through third party e-comm stores or through social media like Facebook Stores, Instagram stores, WhatsApp or WeChat and any other piece of technology where your customers hang out.
You can look at creating a new physical channel. If your customers are unable or don’t want to come to your place of business, can you go to their place of business or residence. Some retailers are trying out retail trucks (like food trucks) and go from apartment to apartment with a highly curated selection of goods.
Use technology to create online presence, if you don’t already have one. If you have an online presence, use technology to create additional channels as indicated above. You can use technology to do many things that can help your business. Some of them could include:
1. Use technology to find out who your most profitable and loyal customers (super consumers) are? Then do whatever you need to do to keep them loyal and continue to do business with you.
2. Use technology to find out micro-segments within your customer base. Today, you have technology that can help you create a fully customized online experience for each one of your segments. The segments could even be a segment of one.
3. Use technology to enable new business models. Can you embed technology within your products? Can you create new services from products and new products from your services?
4. Use technology to keep your customers and prospects engaged. Every interaction you have with your customers need not be about making a sale. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about the need to keep giving to your audience a lot before asking them to do something for you. Know what your customers are struggling with and figure out a way to help them – with or without (mostly) trying to sell something to them.
Most organisations forget to use one of the most crucial resource that they have at their disposal – their people. When you are in the middle of a crisis like the one that we are in today, it is easy to look at the balance sheet and be totally immersed in the numbers.
However, you can also look at your existing organisation and look at how you can use the power of your people. Just like a general decides to move his troops to the place where they are needed the most, you can also move re-organize your troops (people) to the area that you need most help with.
So, if you need more people on the ground to sell your products, move people from finance, HR, supply chain and from whatever function that you can find them from and move them to the field. They might not be super productive in the field, but they sure can be more productive on the field than they are in their offices.
Of course, this will require some amount of training, some amount of supervision and some amount of convincing. But this is way better than letting go of people or risking the closure of the business itself. You can and will always have the option of reorganizing your workforce based on the area that you need the most support in.
This has the added advantage that when you bring in people from other functions, they might see some of your practices and might call out the assumptions that you are working under, which might no longer be true. Cross pollination like this brings new insights and has the potential to significantly improve productivity and impact.
In conclusion, I can only say that there are a lot of things that we can do to reignite growth in our businesses. I have only listed down a few that I could readily think about. I am sure that if you looked at each one of these headlines and think about them from a growth perspective, your teams can come up with extremely creative ideas.
As they say, you should never let a good crisis go to waste. You have the opportunity to re-define the culture of your organisation to whatever you want it to become, while finding a way to grow at the same time.