Since I’ve spent over a decade studying the business habits of top-ranked sales performers, it’s also given me an opportunity to look closely at the companies that employ them. Specifically, I’ve looked at the choices and strategies that those in the winner’s circle consistently adopt to manage growth, to define how they work with a growing list of customers, and to be a talent magnet that attracts and rewards more top performers.
It didn’t take long before a repeatable pattern emerged in that work.
Among the most successful firms out there today, I’ve found that there is a kind of common fingerprint they each share, consisting of three traits:
1) Pipeline velocity: This is defined by how well are you building your sales pipeline so that there is steady throughput of high quality, high quantity leads that suits your marketplace, your sales structure and your customers.
2) Growth structure: This is defined by how you build your company so that it’s made for growth, paid for growth, and chosen for growth. Not enough companies think about the structural requirements for growth and instead settle on simply managing growth tactically—dealing with it as it appears.
3) Client management: This is defined by how you go about classifying your customers based on what they need, and then developing a strategy to meet those needs in a focused, specific way rather than by having a one-size-fits-all approach.
The right spin: synchronization is key
Think of these as spinning wheels, all needing to work in proper synchronization to run properly: much like the gears on a really well tuned bicycle. There are three big risks that can happen by having the wrong mix, putting these wheels out of proper sync:
Pipeline Velocity + Client Management
but no Growth Strategy = Burnout!
Much like riding a bike and planning only for ideal conditions—no wind, no hills, no long stretches without places to stop—if you build without a plan to tackle growth, you risk burning yourself out when adversity comes calling (and believe me, it will). The result: eroding profits, worsening morale internally and being left with no way to grow your way out of the problem. In other words, this is a recipe for anarchy.
Here’s an example: a global manufacturing client consistently communicated to their clients they had a two week lead time between placing and shipping their orders. Since they didn’t have a growth structure in place, the firm’s plant manager had no way to adapt quickly to address large orders. One day, the firm was hit with an exceptionally big order from a customer and as a result, the factory fell behind to an eight-week lead time for that order—backlogging all other customer’s orders by up to four months until they could catch up. Ensuring that the firm has a growth strategy in place in the future means that they will not get caught shorthanded like that again.
Pipeline Velocity + Growth Strategy
but no Client Management = The perpetually flat tire
Much like that slow leaky tire on your bike that has you constantly stopping for air and makes you pedal twice as hard, if you don’t have client management procedure, you are losing customers as fast as (or faster) than new ones come in. While manageable for brief periods, it is an unsustainable problem to have over the longer term.
Here’s an example: A software client of ours was struggling to grow despite achieving a 15% annual increase in new clients. The reason? They suffered from a client retention rate that was dramatically below the 75% industry average. When we implemented our Sales Leader Client Management system their retention rate rebounded by a 10% margin to 77% and they were then able to get back on the right track to accelerated growth.
Growth Strategy + Client Management
but no Pipeline Velocity = Stagnation
Without having a plan for your sales pipeline—one that keeps it filled with good prospects and growing to suit the needs of your market—you risk stagnation. Or to complete the cycling metaphor, you get stuck riding your bike in a loop, featuring boring scenery that never changes. Stagnant companies are shrinking companies. Talented people don’t stay, innovation gets stifled, customers move on.
Here’s one more example to illustrate how this works and how you prevent it from happening. A technology firm I work with was struggling with a sales problem. Internally, they had not coordinated with their marketing group to determine the right quality and quantity of leads required for sales to hit their targets for the year. After reviewing their Q1 results, the team was 20% behind. From this, the VP of Sales assumed that the lead flow had dropped off. In fact, sales and marketing had never worked out together how many leads were required for the new growth targets. VPs of Sales and Marketing sat down and ran through a lead-generation calculation based on their actual conversion rates. From that, they determined what it would take to remedy the situation. Based on the results of that meeting, they increased marketing activities, generated more leads, and were back on track by the end of Q3.
Strategy is about choice.
As Zig Ziglar once reminded us: "You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great."
Strategy is about choice. The choices you make in how you get those three wheels to spin has a significant bearing on the sales outcomes you will achieve.
Get it wrong and you’ll have problems to troubleshoot.
Get it right and you’ll have rapid and lasting revenue acceleration.