Have you ever worried your best growth years are behind you or your growth is contingent on factors you cannot control? When I was first tasked with helping companies in dire circumstances find sources of new business and innovation to turn around their businesses, I took inspiration from Peter Drucker. He wrote of how strategy and innovation can find their impetus from stakeholders beyond the corner office. I refer to these sources of growth stimulus as the “Three Cs”:
1. Conservators, who are not just internal top management and owners but also boards of directors and other advisers;
2. External customers—past, existing and prospective—and possibly vendors; and
3. Internal customers—employees, who some say are the ultimate stakeholders.
When my clients have needed to find new business or new innovations, some of the greatest jolts to the innovation and sales funnels come from bringing together customers for innovation growth sessions. During these sessions, we speak to customers for their own benefit, not directly the client’s benefit, and we work to identify growth levers through the process. We don’t say “come into our offices or to this retreat site to help us grow our business.” Instead, we say, “Come to this growth summit to help you and other customers like you grow your businesses by sharing best practices with each other and hearing from outside vendors and business growth experts who will help lead the session.”
When Fortune 500 companies have hired me to facilitate customer growth summits, they often have had the budget to sponsor and pay for world-class locations, five-star restaurants and high-end entertainment. But smaller companies have hosted such sessions very successfully and on the cheap, including being held in barns with the CEO manning the grill.
Invest In Customers. In agribusiness, we often see winter vacations given away to top customers. I’ve interviewed those customers and heard their resentment. They question why they can’t just get a product discount rather than an expensive gift positioned as a thank you junket but with little to no business focus. Those very same customers, though, have told me how much more valuable they have found invitations to getaways that include some vacationing but focus most on attending a growth summit with genuine growth- and innovation-focused dialogue, workshops and speeches.
Just today, with the top management team of a small eight-figure company, we listed its larger customers with the highest growth potential. The potential for growth with those customers was literally fivefold. Capturing just a fraction of that will result in millions in new sales and profits.
For this client, the value became obvious to bring together many of those high-growth customers for a “Customer Growth Echelon.”
My office can send you one of my books with ideas for strategic thinking, leadership training and innovation sessions as well as ideas for outlining a win-win-win Customer Growth Echelon. Odds are there are gold in “them thar’ hills” of your existing customer base.