"We f**ked up." So started a recent post on LinkedIn by skin care brand NØIE. It was a mea culpa post, recognising that in the pursuit of commercial gain and more profit, they completely forgot about their customers, and in doing so, threatened the entire basis of their business – the basis that had provided their success in the first place.
Growth pains are those ‘bumps’ in the road for businesses who have reached a certain point and are struggling to get past it. There are several common growth pains, and the way that founders, owners and entrepreneurs manage these pains set the tone for the organisation’s future. This is as true of professional services firms as it is product-led businesses like NØIE.
One of the most common growth pains is losing sight of your customers or clients. Serving your end customer is the reason you set up your business in the first place, and without them your business is in trouble.
Ask yourself if you know the most significant moments that really matter to your customer or client. If you can answer that, you can design your business, service, team, and ways of working to make those moments significantly more powerful. And by doing that, you create a really compelling USP and differentiator from your competition. This helps you to deliver even better value, so you can retain, grow, and build a better partner relationship with your customer.
So, knowing all this, why do so many businesses lose sight of the needs of the very people they set out to serve? Why put profit ahead of their customers and their people?
Rapid growth is exciting for any professional services firm. It can also be the reason that leaders get funnelled into making decisions that are not necessarily the best for the business. There are usually a couple of reasons for this:
Having set up, managed and grown a business to its current level, it’s hard to relinquish control. Hard to let other people take over the reins, and hard to devolve decision making. But it’s necessary to do this, otherwise you become a bottleneck and a drag on your business. But still, leaders often try to manage growth by doubling down on control. They put hierarchies in place, demand signoffs, micro-manage people and completely lose sight of the purpose of the business – to serve its customers.
Letting go of this control and involving your whole team in planning and strategy can take time. Some will like it, but many will be used to the previous pattern of control and struggle to operate autonomously to being with – you need to persevere so you can build and maintain momentum. Leaders need to invest in this process – not just give it a few weeks and decide to take back full control because they think it’s ‘not working’.
As an organisation grows, there’s usually pressure to set and meet targets. These targets are nearly always financial – turnover, margin, profit – particularly in invested businesses where there are shareholders or investors to keep happy. This reshapes the focus of the business. Instead of being the inventive, creative and disruptive business you started, it becomes a business driven by how much money you’re making. And that also results in trying to do things too quickly – growing too fast, taking on too much new business, targeting more new markets than you need to. Running your business only to hit financial targets ultimately hampers growth because it diminishes your culture and, again, the most important consideration – the customer – is forgotten.
There’s more to this, but it’s something to beware of. Rapid growth often results in cultural stagnation and a significant drop in the customer-first approach. That’s exactly what NØIE discovered, and why it took the decision to completely reverse its business model - and culture - and get back to its original principles.
It’s something we see often – we spend our time working with businesses to normalise talking about f**k ups and mistakes. By working with organisations and leaders to help them adopt a learning mindset and adapting and adjusting their approach to put their customers and their teams at the heart of what they do, we help them change for the better – and grow with confidence.
There are two key reasons why forward-thinking businesses put their customers or clients at the heart of their growth plans.
Firstly, revenue is not a goal. Ideally, your revenue growth comes from the value you create for customers. It simply doesn’t work the other way round. Chasing revenue almost always comes at the expense of the service levels you deliver.
Secondly, talking to and understanding your customers means you can deliver the services they want, and this in turn will increase your business and support your growth.
Both factors mean that it’s less important to have a controlled, hierarchical structure in your business, and more important that you involve your whole team in understanding your customers, putting forward ideas for services and growth, and engaging everyone in the future success of your organisation.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your customers – current and potential. Get rid of the idea of ‘us’ – the business – and ‘them’ – the customer. Instead, create ‘we’ – everyone together, looking for the best ways to deliver the quality service you want to be known for. Make customer research an integral part of your business strategy and planning. And as soon as you feel yourself being dragged back to a ‘profit first’ mindset, get talking to your customers again.
For many businesses, this is scary. And it’s far from simple – it’s a complex process to manage. But by embracing that complexity, mapping out your customer journey, and identifying critical moments that matter, you can differentiate that customer experience. You can also create a forward-looking culture that encourages retention with both staff and customers, makes it easier to hire the best talent and gives you a USP in your market.
Even better? You’ll be doing a better job for your customers, and the revenue – and the growth – will follow.
Join us to learn more in our next webinar focused on growth, ‘Rethink how you grow’ on the 25th of November at 1.30pm. Register your place today.
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