Ask your team: Is the business profitable overall? Are there areas that are not? Although it may be difficult to excise the areas of no growth (or worse, markets that are losing money), make the decision to be free of segments that are not productive. Know what areas you do not want to be in, or get into. That's the only way to gain the resources to sustain and grow the business, and improve your position.
"Take a brutal look at yourself and assess why growth has stalled, keeping in mind it's not 'them,' it's you," said Dr. Jane Linder, managing director of NWN (Fast Growth No. 75). "Your company may be in the wrong markets, offering the wrong products or services, or failing to provide enough comparative value. Take your best customers to lunch and ask them what they are buying that you are not selling. Consider edging out into areas where you have a foothold in skills, know-how, or customer relationships."
2. ... Then Stay On That Path
It's common for business owners to get frustrated when business is not growing, or is not meeting expectations. For start-ups especially, it's easy to get thrown off, make adjustments on-the-fly and lose focus. Often, it's not what your firm builds, it's how you build it. Customers expect quality, but also want budgetary constraints respected and the schedule adhered to.
"Slowly climb the mountain. It takes a lot of time," said Mark Galyardt, executive vice president of XIOSS, No. 1 on the CRN Fast Growth 2012 list. "We are growing it incrementally brick by brick, and that is making it easier and easier each step of the way."
He and his wife Susie run XIOSS, a $10 million solution provider specializing in storage solutions. The pair has bootstrapped their way to the top of this year's Fast Growth, with 3,266 percent two-year growth.
3. Know Your Customer
Many companies stuck in the doldrums are simply not giving the market what it wants. Those that do, prosper. Some may think they know their customers, but their sinking sales figures tell the true story. It's a simple and all-too-common mistake, said Steve Charles, executive vice president, immixGroup (Fast Growth No. 67).
"I'm reading a book right now, 'Designing the Customer-Centric Organization,' by Jay R. Galbraith, in which he illustrates how many market-driven companies think they are focused on the customer. In fact, they're organized -- and employees are compensated and recognized for doing things their customers already count on them to do. That is not enough," Charles said. "In the tech industry, where we have constant change, it's easy to get fatigued and lose sight of the fact that our real job is to get inside the heads of our customers to not only understand where they are going, but also to have substantive conversations, so that they think of us in terms of future solutions, not for the things they already know we do."
Too often, company executives meet with clients to sell a product, or themselves. Take a step back and realize the customer can be a valuable partner on the road to "recovery." Let them help define problems that they see not only in the market but also within your organization. By allowing them to be a part of the solution process, they can be a critical part of reenergizing your business and provide perspective you would not otherwise have.
Customer meetings that aren't sales-driven let you hear why customers might be aggravated, and tempted to take their business elsewhere. When Agilex asked its government customers, for example, what their biggest concern was, Jay Nussbaum, co-founder of Agilex, said they replied: "We spend a lot of money and do not get value." Nussbaum and his team worked to make Agilex unique, to differentiate itself from competitors, and to provide what those customers wanted: value. "To do things the same old way was going to turn people away," he said. "Refresh yourself, and understand customer demands."
However, it may be the case that your company's difficulties may in part be due to your customers' business problems. "If your customers are in extremis themselves, identify a vibrant vertical market that you're not yet serving and take your show on that road," Linder added.
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