Shortly after becoming HHS’ Chief Growth Officer (CGO), I sat down to plan out my goals for the first quarter and the metrics I’d be looking at to measure success. I started with what you’d expect: new business growth, profit, and win rates. But as I reflected on the winding path that led me to where I am today — the experiences in strategy and sales, the mentors who guided me, and the companies that shaped me along the way — I began to see how the role of the CGO is more than simple metrics and data points.
I’m responsible for far more than growing the organization’s book of business. I’m charged with driving organizational growth — something that encompasses a broader scope of success than just what shows up in the numbers.
What makes an organization grow?
There are four main ingredients to growth: people, processes, alignment, and focus. However, responsibly growing an organization requires more than just throwing all these ingredients together. You have to address them in the right order, apply the proper amount of attention to each, and foster their lasting success.
For me, everything starts with people. Regardless of the industry, service line, or department you’re working in, people are, and should always be, the most essential element of growth.
Team members flourish in environments that provide the right combination of culture, fit, and direction. In other words, you need to have a healthy culture in place, find the right people (at the right time) that fit into that culture, and then ensure they’re guided and empowered to move in the right direction in their efforts.
From a sales and marketing standpoint, the challenge is finding a way to blend the sometimes very different subcultures of the two departments so that they work together in harmony. The key is to establish a deeper understanding of the organization’s goals and unify around key objectives so that these subcultures are able to align themselves and understand how they contribute to achieving the overall mission.
Once you have a culture in place and the right people motivated within the culture, the next area to address is the processes in which your people operate. These processes must be thoughtful and structured to empower people to achieve results in the most efficient way possible, yet not be simply for the process’s sake.
The priority for sales and marketing leaders should be to identify the areas that can be improved or optimized the easiest, without requiring broad change management planning. One common mistake I’ve seen first hand over the last few years is to start with technology.
Countless software solutions are flooding the market that all promise a more streamlined and easy future with the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). Many of these capabilities are helpful when used appropriately and at the right time, but I’ve seen too many organizations begin layering software on top of software before solidifying their organization’s underlying processes. More often than not, this ends up wasting time, resources, and investment without seeing any significant improvements in their performance.
Identifying and assessing current processes should be the first step when looking to streamline or make a change. This initial step will allow leaders to understand the expected benefit of potential changes, assess the impact on workload for adjacent departments, like IT and HR, and develop a roadmap for how and when the changes should occur.
Creating small wins in process improvement and failing fast along the way enables you to quickly establish a stronger department. After benefitting from addressing the low hanging fruit, you’ll see what process overhauls are required or where to install technology to continue seeking efficiency and effectiveness gains.
After you’ve created a foundation with the right people and the right processes, it’s time to get everyone in the same boat and rowing in the same direction. It’s easy for corporate departments like IT, HR, and finance to become wrapped up in their daily tasks and operations and lose sight of the bigger picture — providing value to customers.
In my first several weeks as chief growth officer, I’ve reiterated two phrases: encouraging our corporate support departments to view everything through a “growth lens” and making sure that I make time and act as an “internal integrator” that aligns the entire company to our growth goals and the company’s vision.
I’m emphasizing those two things because it’s imperative everybody understands how their role fits into the organization’s mission. Increasing transparent communications is vital for corporate staff alignment. It is far too common in sales departments to keep news of potential growth close to the chest. While this does eliminate the risk of information leakage, it also stifles organizational alignment and negatively impacts how we ultimately provide value to our customers.
As part of my first 90 days in this role, I’m holding myself accountable for increasing transparency across the company. Thoughtful communication on growth strategy, metrics, goals, and objectives are critical in getting everyone moving in the same direction and the crew excited and engaged. While we need to be mindful of what, when, and how we communicate with the company as a whole, I think it’s best to aim for transparency and to trust our people.
Once you have the people and process in place and each department aligned to the company’s goals, objectives, and mission, growth becomes easier. An essential element when turning your attention to growth is having focus. Focus varies by where you are in the organization and what position you hold.
From the sales team perspective, I look to focus on three areas:
• Protecting the base
• Expanding the base
• Developing new business
Whenever we have a conversation around growth, I think it should always begin with what we’re doing to retain our current customers — protecting the base. This provides the organization with a strong foundation for growth and provides the reference base needed for all other growth areas. But, as most of us know, this is easier said than done.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to work for companies that genuinely care about existing customers more than focusing solely on new business growth. Taking this approach requires tempered expectations around year over year growth rates. Instead of wild swings in financial impact — the peaks and valleys on the roller coaster of sales — you secure a more sustainable increase percentage.
Taking care of your current customers lays the groundwork for long-term growth while affording you radiation opportunities within your existing customer portfolio — expanding the base.
By finding ways to provide current customers value, you become “sticky” within their organization. Your impact on them and their mission molds the business relationship into a true partnership rather than something that operates within merely transactional terms. Your organization is growing its revenue, while the customer is also getting better financial value and generating higher quality outcomes.
The most expensive and complicated form of growth is new business development. Although new business growth is time-consuming, costly, and complicated, it’s a requirement. The one that predominantly gets the most attention both internally and externally.
One thing that all organizations should take into consideration is that all new business development opportunities aren’t “good” business development opportunities. It’s crucial to understand your desired customer profile and develop a qualification process that establishes a framework for defining who the right client is for your business.
Simply going after any new business development opportunities may help your organization achieve some short-term financial gains and new customers, but it typically stunts long-term, profitable growth and makes it increasingly hard to protect the base.
To address this issue, sales, marketing, and adjacent corporate support teams need to align their strategies around a specific customer or partner profile — a customer who fits the criteria to be a good fit for what you’re offering. These profiles should be updated, adjusted, and possibly even redefined annually to ensure that you’re always marketing and selling to the right prospects.
When you establish a strong culture, have the right people and processes in place, and align on a common mission and objectives, organizational growth becomes an everyday reality.
As we all know, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sales, marketing, and business development. I strongly believe in the few things I’ve outlined here, and I’ve experienced first hand how they impact an organization's overall growth. Whatever your growth goals are, the right mix of people, processes, alignment, and focus will launch you on the path toward sustained success.