Scaling up Strategy
Updated: Aug 3
Advice on how to accelerate your business success with a marketing strategy that aligns with your business strategy.
Welcome to the first of my four-part series on accelerating success in your business growth. After working with over 100 companies as a Senior Business Advisor at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), I began to understand where most companies struggled in their growth plans. My clients ranged from those earning between $1 million in annual revenue to over $100 million in annual revenue. Across the board, there were struggles in four key areas:
I call these areas The Scaling Up Quad or "The Squad" for short, four key areas you need to focus on to scale up successfully to grow your business.
Let's take a look at Strategy.
For many entrepreneurs and business owners, success comes through their initial work in starting their business. At the launch of a company, most owners wear many hats, including sales, operations, marketing and human resources, all rolled together. They grow organically over the years, and if they are lucky in their endeavour they see success and year over year growth. Adding in sales reps, customer service, and product or service team members seems to help serve customers.
In some cases, there has been a decision to grow leads for the business by adding external marketing support by hiring a marketing firm to build a website or start digital advertising. Money gets spent, and work is coming in but there is no formal strategy. Growth has come from a gut feel for the industry and reliable connections with customers or industry partners, and things have been going well.
Then something happens. The company loses a key team member, or a new competitor comes into the market or market conditions change as we've seen in the past few months with the global COVID-19 pandemic. Sales slow down, leads aren't coming and their team has lots of ideas that cost money to implement and no one who has the expertise to lead the new ideas. In some cases, the realization hits that the money they are spending in digital ads doesn't seem to bring in leads, and they aren't sure why. Their agency partner tells them more investment is needed but with no new sales, where would the budget come from?
When we see condition change, or we begin to expand out past our core capabilities, entrepreneurs get frustrated that what worked before is no longer enough. When I've worked with clients who generally are passing the $10 million revenue mark, they commonly begin to see the strain in growth because they haven't invested in creating a formal business strategy.
Without a business strategy, sales and marketing strategies have no foundation to build upon, and are chaotic at best. The team and agency partner is just doing their best to make the owner happy with their investment but without guidance or realistic expectations.
What makes up a solid business strategy?
Hint: it isn't a business plan template. First, you need to decide to want to pause for a moment and do some self-reflection; this absolutely must come from the top of the organization.
Start with these two steps:
Looking outside the business
Looking inside the business
Looking outside the business - Market Research
Many companies are busy running the day to day tasks and put their head down to get the work finished. Now it's time to look around and see what industry, region and competitors are doing.
Review your industry and the growth outlook. Look over a 5-year horizon, which is usually available in Ibis World industry reports. If you don't have access, ask your bank, business advisor or marketing expert to help get this information for you. You can also check with your industry associations for this type of information.
How is the economy doing regionally, nationally, worldwide now and projections for the next 2-3 years? How will this impact your business?
Check out the competition - new, old and online - document the ones you are losing business to as a starting point. Look at it from a potential customer's perspective in that they have a choice in who they work with, and they may not know you.
Create a comparison chart of how you measure up to the competition in value to customers, product selection, customer satisfaction, price and service. Are you still the right choice for new prospects? Or do you need to make some changes? Are you and your competitors all communicating the same things, so it's hard to distinguish between you?
Looking inside the business - Customer feedback & Product/Service review
Sometimes it can be overwhelming to know where to start when self-reflecting, begin with these two steps:
Prioritize customer interviews or a customer experience survey today.
Review your products and services
Getting feedback from customers
Almost all businesses I have worked with have wanted to perform a customer survey or customer interviews but never prioritized this before. This step is necessary to grow your business because it gives clarity on why people prefer your business over your competitors. This step also gives insight into areas you can improve today to keep customers returning.
Who should manage the customer interviews? Have someone outside your sales team manage the project; it can be your customer service manager or your marketing lead. The sales team, operations manager and customer service reps can work with your project lead or marketing lead to craft the questions and set the goals you are trying to achieve with the interview or survey. Transcribe the interviews (ask who on your team is good at transcribing as they listen), or ask if you can record the session and later transcribe the interviews to base the insights on, and to include as the appendix of the report.
Top areas of interest are customer journey mapping, which shares how your customers chose your business, marketing channels they use, what could be better in the experience, and what features or products are missing from your current offering. Looking at the information and summarizing common areas of feedback would be the next step. Look deeper and through a strategic lens. If you say you perform quality work, how does a customer see this in terms of evaluation and satisfaction in your service or product? Prioritizing customer insights is a valuable step to grow, and necessary in crafting a business strategy that aligns with your marketing strategy.
There are various ways to speak to clients. I recently crafted a set of questions with my clients and conducted one-on-one interviews for two clients who have small high-value client lists and an online customer survey for another with a large customer base.
Our goal was to learn more about how customers decided to use my clients' services and what other choices they considered.
We reviewed how we did in supporting customers and identified areas that could be improved, and experiences that brought joy.
Regardless of the path, it will take a minimum of 2-3 weeks to complete the project. The planning, creation of questions, engagement time and evaluation of information can be a group session.
The insights from the feedback we gathered for my clients began the valuable work of crafting a value proposition and giving the reality check on how customers view the business.
Product and Services review
Next, review your products and services. Can you name them? All of them? Group them into business lines and order them in terms of importance to the business revenue growth.
Can you estimate over the next two years which areas you support are increasing based on your market research and customer insights? Can you segment your products and services and identify types of customer traits who may prefer one over the other?
Are you missing any valuable services that competitors have, or can you focus on a more niche area that helps you stand out from the crowd? Do you have too many products or services?
How do your prices compare? Can a potential customer understand what causes your rate to be higher or lower? Are you under or overvaluing your services and products? With just a 1% increase in fees, you can potentially add a team member or an advisor to help grow the business or add more to your marketing budget.
Once you've taken the time to hear from your customers and review your products and services, you can understand where you need to improve, optimize and prioritize sales and marketing efforts.
Now, you are ready to move forward with a strategy
Taking these initial steps will start to give you an idea of what to put in a business planning document and give you insights into what needs to form your strategy moving forward. You can find tons of business strategy and business plan templates, but the work you'll need to fill them in comes from the two initial steps above.
On the marketing side, the core concepts of price, product, place and promotion develop as you work with a qualified marketing person. These selections and strategic initiatives must align with the business strategy. What is our core business, what area do we want to grow in, how much do we want to expand and when?
To scale your growth and accelerate your success, you need to spend time looking inside and outside your business to evaluate where and how best to prioritize your time and ultimately provide the most value to your customers.
Your marketing strategy needs a healthy business plan to support. Without one, you can't have the other.
If you have any questions about these recommendations, reach out anytime.
About the author: Stefanie Gajdecki, MBA is the owner and Principal Consultant for Gajdecki Consulting. As a graduate of the Ivey Business School at Western University, Stefanie brings a financial management approach to marketing strategy. Her experience working in the US and Canada with Fortune 500 companies to start-up ventures, gives her a unique understanding of the challenges large, medium and small businesses face.