As markets, industries and technologies transform at an unprecedented pace, businesses that hope to survive—and thrive—must change, too. But the rapid pace of day-to-day business can make it difficult for leaders to see the big picture. How can you take proactive steps to drive business growth when you’re so busy reacting to change?
A strategic approach to growth can help you move from reactive to proactive and transform your B2C business—as long as you understand these five truths.
When you consider your competitors, it may seem that their growth occurs organically, almost magically. Something triggered the company to begin growing virally—and the rest is history.
In reality, business growth almost always involves planning, prioritization and investment. This means it is also replicable and predictable. Rather than hoping to hit on a magic formula for viral growth, you can analyze your competitors, the gap between your organization and theirs, and their competitive advantage, and use that information to develop a strategic plan for predictable growth.
Understanding your market, your capacity, and your relationship to your competitors is critical for both startups and mature businesses. Depending on your industry, you may need to conduct such an assessment annually, quarterly or even weekly.
Monitoring shifts in the marketplace helps you develop a strategy for responding to these shifts. For example, if customer expectations are shifting, you need to develop a customer experience strategy. If imports are putting pressure on your prices, you need to develop a pricing strategy. Creating and documenting a strategy for each key area of operations will put your organization on the path to predictable growth.
When your organization sets out to accomplish something new, develop a new capability, or move in a new direction, it’s essential to set targets. Setting targets without prior history can be scary, but in order to grow, it’s important to take risks.
Targets must be presented within a context of learning, acknowledging that until you have data to back them up, they are only best guesses. Use targets to set and justify a budget; then go after your targets aiming to learn as quickly as possible with the least amount of money. (Note: this doesn’t mean necessarily a little amount of money.)
Use what you learn to adjust your target. As you learn, your targets will become more accurate and more attainable. Beyond results, you are also obtaining an organizational capability- a potentially sustainable resource that benefits your business over your competition.
It may sound odd to say that we need an “excuse” to focus. But when you focus, you’re necessarily doing something at the expense of something else. The problem is that each “something else” involves people—people who have personalities, desires and fears; people who may worry about what will happen to them if their department or function is no longer a focus.
As a manufacturer begins to sell direct to consumer (D2C), for example, it must reprioritize its investments and resources. Without strategy as a transparent conversation, a mechanism and explanation for these changes, salespeople and even executives may fear for their futures as they see focus shift away from their one-on-one customer relationships toward D2C channels.
Though often overlooked, the “human factor” is key to successful organizational transformation. Strategy offers a way to shift the human to a latter part of the equation, help the team to align on what’s best for the business, and re-focus the entire organization around a common goal.
The phrase “shared vision” may conjure images of executives loftily sharing their vision from on high. But visions are most effective when executive teams develop a shared vision together. Learning organizations that bring the entire team, with its diverse experiences and skill sets, to the table are best able to create visions that get everyone on board, from the board room to the fulfillment center.
Three more steps are key to developing a strong shared vision:
• Question it. It’s natural to feel threatened by questions and try to quash doubts. But often, the best way to gain support for a shared vision is by converting doubters. Something as small as the way a vision is worded can prevent people from buying in, so it’s critical to encourage questioning and engage in open conversation during the process.
• Agree on reality. A shared vision is not only a vision for tomorrow, but also a shared vision of your organization’s current reality. Some team members may think the status quo is just fine; others may believe your organization is on a fast track to failure. Without agreement on where the business currently stands, you can’t develop a strategy for moving forward, let alone call on others to contribute passionately.
• Get an outside perspective. Seeing your business through new eyes helps you see things in new ways. An impartial third party, whether that’s a business consulting firm, a strategy consultant or just a new hire, can yield valuable insights to help craft your shared vision.
Many organizations try to gain a competitive advantage by throwing different tactics at the wall to see what sticks, often in the name of innovation, but really in the vein of confusion. While you can learn from this approach over time, it’s not strategic—which makes it a very costly way to obtain a competitive advantage. You’ll see this pan out in stories around the internet and in magazine articles, but the fact is, folks like that have defied the odds, and for every successful one, there are myriad stories of expensive failures. It’s wise to heed this advice: a little strategy can go a long way.
Strategy shortens the path to gaining a competitive advantage. It allows you to put forth a concerted effort, directing your workforce, investments and resources in a specific way toward your shared vision.
Organizational transformation doesn’t happen overnight. But if you commit to creating a learning organization, setting and attaining targets, and developing a shared vision for tomorrow, you can align your team to achieve predictable growth—and transform your B2C business.