When I help CEOs with their growth challenges, I first list of all the problems they face. Then I divide these issues into two buckets – tactical and strategic.
Tactical issues exist when execution isn’t happening and you can figure out something fast to make it work better. You may not have the right people, the right processes, the right software systems or the right plans to make it happen.
When something isn’t working, we jump on the tactical issues first. This is where most entrepreneurs spend their time – continually finding and fixing problems to achieve their goals. Entrepreneurs are really, really good at this.
What happens when that isn’t enough? When the quick fixes aren’t enough to keep the company growing at the same rate it did last year.
At some point in every growth journey, you keep changing tactics but the results don’t change. What worked last year just isn’t working this year.
You change your processes, sales incentives, software systems, marketing tactics, pricing and packaging, website designs or funnel reports. But maybe these great efforts to improve just don’t have the positive effect they used to.
If that’s the case, you’re likely facing strategic challenges. They require deeper investigation and change at a deeper level. Like these seven strategic marketing questions that only CEOs can answer.
Here are 7 telltale signs you have strategic challenges that will limit your growth:
1) Mediocre revenue growth despite lots of energy and attention
If results aren’t improving after sufficient investments in the right people, software, processes and marketing promotion, something else is going on that your sales and marketing team can’t fix on their own. This takes time to figure out and understand, since fixes need to be tested a few times to determine if they are working or not. It may take even longer to discover if you don’t measure and analyze your results regularly
Deeper strategic challenges prohibit great execution in sales and marketing. For example, if you’re still trying to sell to both small businesses and big companies, the best copywriter can’t make a website homepage or landing page convert with both groups at a high rate. No savvy software coder can create a new product feature that will make both of those customers smile.
2) Your team doesn’t tell the same simple story
If your entire company describes your products, services and business in different ways with different audiences, no amount of sales and marketing effort is going to scale efficiently.
“Is that what you would pay for? We definitely do that.” The need to survive and grow causes most early stage CEOs, salespeople and marketers to tell different stories to different customers so they don’t lose any sales and can make their numbers.
That gets you in business, but it will stop your growth at some point. This is typical in small businesses and early stage companies that are still maturing and figuring out what they are.
3) Only the CEO can sell effectively
This is a classic symptom of a business that won’t scale fast. When experienced and well-trained salespeople close business at half the rate of the CEO, something is wrong. CEO selling doesn’t scale.
Savvy founders have years of experience, deep industry relationships, unlimited clout inside their companies and an ownership mentality. They should be able to sell well, but that tactic only takes you so far. If qualified salespeople don’t sell to qualified prospects at a sufficient rate, you shouldn’t keep looking for salespeople who are as “superhuman” as the fanatical founder.
4) MSU (Making Sh#* Up) every day
There is a time in the early stage of every company where you try a lot of things to see what works. If you’re an established company and every day your employees wait for your orders to execute your latest ideas, you’ve got a growth problem brewing. CEOs won’t admit this to me, but their leaders and employees always do.
When it’s all made up every day, no amount of tactical effort is going to help you scale past a certain point. Experienced investors want to see the foundation of strategic scalability with momentum, not tactical hyperactivity that won’t scale.
5) Not getting traction when you expand
When successful businesses expand and don’t experience the same success at the “next level,” something else is usually going on beyond tactical execution. This expansion could be a new region, a new product, going upmarket (selling to bigger businesses), new marketing tactics, a new sales team, a new marketing channel, etc.
Is your product or service really ideal for this new group? Do you need fundamentally different messages and channels to succeed in this new market? Do you have credibility in the new market that gets you in the right conversations?
6) Saying YES more than NO
I can test the maturity and growth potential of a company by how many times they say “No” rather than “Yes.” New companies that are finding their way and trying to survive say “Yes” to anything that moves. That’s not strategic and scalable. Your “solve every problem” and “close every prospect” attitude will become a problem when you want to grow.
Successful companies with traction, happy customers and growth potential actually say “No” far more often than “Yes.” They fiercely limit what they say “Yes” to so they can focus and create great results consistently.
7) Slow delivery of products and projects
As a business grows from the first few team members to 30-50 employees, the pace of execution and delivery tends to slow down. New product releases often take twice as long to deliver as expected (or worse, they get stuck and take much longer). New hires take longer to get up to speed. “Why is everything taking so long when we have so many people?” is a frustrating new reality for many companies.
Your team members probably didn’t get slower as you grew. Execution is just a little harder with additional complexities, higher quality standards and more people to coordinate. If you don’t change your processes in very deliberate ways, the new tactical complexities can slow your delivery engine to a crawl. “Just enough” structure and process is needed, which takes some time to consider, develop and implement.
These are all difficult issues that require more than quick fixes, despite valiant efforts to overcome them with minor adjustments and additional effort.
Something deeper is going on that requires new strategies and approaches to make your tactical execution better and allow you to keep growing.
Be ready to make bigger strategic adjustments when you recognize the simple fixes aren’t solving the problem.