The past several years have shown amazing growth in some businesses and outstanding failures in others, seemingly without notice. If we set aside the obvious causes of amazing growth such as scientific and technological breakthroughs, then business growth can be dramatically improved by following these three values.
Customers are the Driving Force
In my nearly 30 years of R&D and new product development, lack of focus on the customer is the number one killer of most products. This is obvious. The cause is not. The cause is the burning desire in most (mediocre) organizations to place internal “consensus” or “alignment” above market demands.
Textbook theory applauds alignment. What’s neglected is that while everyone may believe they have an equal voice, the customer, and his representatives in sales and marketing, are more equal. Metrics that only affect internal measures are meaningless to customers. Instead of being project requirements, these should be ongoing improvements to the business’s overall performance.
Tip: Make sure your project scorecards allow all departments equal access to provide input but weigh them heavier the more they impact customer performance.
Success, not Perfection, is a Key Value
Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What one department may deem a disaster, another may claim as victory. The search for perfection in a product inhibits more success than it will ever produce. Customers expect that a product will have minor flaws and have features they wish worked somewhat differently. They figure out how to adapt as needed.
Fear is the driving factor in the quest for perfection. If all departments perform exactly as required and the project, or business, fails, did their perfection really matter? This is the main problem in the “silo’d” organization. Departments can achieve their metrics while the overall objective is lost because the fear of failing at unimportant goals is stronger than the rewards of business success.
Tip: Watch for these keywords in project meetings: “buffer,” high confidence point,” and “alignment.” Challenge each of these through the lens of “sufficient for success for the business” and not simply departmental goals.
Schedules Are Sacred
Missing an announced launch date is one of the few things that customers will not forgive, especially in the B2B space. In B2B, your customer relies on you for products he resells. If you miss a date, he misses his commitments, and revenue, too. Do this once or twice, he will not return for a third failure.
Similarly, your sales force will become gun shy if they are disappointed too many times. They will not implement your sales and marketing plan until they know the products are in the warehouse and can be shipped. This delays the start of your revenue by months and can significantly reduce the product’s lifetime revenue.
Tip: Make your marketing communications group an integral part of all product development teams–do not just include them at the end of the project. They can tailor marketing messages based on progress and level of risk.
Not one of these three topics requires investment in technology. It does, however, require the most difficult work of any business-changing internal processes and culture. If all decisions are taken considering the needs of the customer first then followed by internal needs, then the scales will begin to fall from your organization’s eyes and true progress toward business growth can begin.