This article was originally published on LinkedIn - please join the conversation here.
I've spoken a lot about customer growth in the context of Agile Business Management. You've probably seen my definition of this a few times, but here it is once again for good measure.
"Business growth comes from applying profitability to customer growth. Profitability comes from delivering services to your customers, accurately and efficiently."
Given that business growth is a critical factor in any business, I want to give you 9 focus areas to help you in this area. These are especially relevant for the growth of an agile business.
- Focus on Your Customer Relationships: While the customer trust triangle is an article for another day, the ultimate goal of your agile business is to build stable customer partnerships. That is, where your business goals and your customers' goals are completely aligned. You want to move away from relationships built on contracts to relationships built on trust.
- Focus on Developing Opportunities with your Customers: By partnering with your customers, you move your relationship to one of strategic growth; where you are directly helping them to achieve their long-term business growth goals (in addition to your standard, operational products or service offerings). By helping your customer to grow, you align your growth with that of all your customers.
- Keep your Promises: This approach of strategic partnerships only works if your customers trust you. If you commit to work just to win a contract & are then unable to deliver, you will not only lose the trust of your customer, but also damage your corporate reputation. Also see points 4 & 5 below.
- Focus on Integrating the Sales & Marketing with the Delivery Teams: Related back to the previous point. There needs to be a close alignment between the sales team and the operations teams (whatever your domain). I recommend you embed sales & marketing professionals directly within your teams (remember 7+/-2), so that as each feature/product set is ready, the sales professional is also ready to promote the new features. Most importantly, they will understand the true cadence of the operational team and should be in a position to over-commit.
- Focus on Building the Team by Dropping the Commission: To fully align the sales and marketing professionals with the customer goals, drop commission based sales. To build those strategic partnerships, we need our salespeople clearly focused, and not distracted by short-term incentives. If you want to include incentives, assess bonuses on the development of long-term relationships. Here is a great article on this from ThoughtWorks: http://www.thoughtworks.com/insights/blog/challenger-sales-customer-value-and-not-dollar-value
- Clear, yet Dynamic, Corporate Targets: Finally, just like your organisation is Agile, so should be your sales & growth targets. Everyone in the organisation should share responsibility for customer growth; this is why we create empowered and accountable teams in the first place. Staff who are aligned to customers can identify market shifts early, allowing for more realistic targets.
- Focus on Building Partnerships with your Vendors: "End the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust." - W. Edwards Deming. Just as you want to build partnerships with your customers, your vendors should be building partnerships with their customers, you. You want your vendors to be committed to your business growth with, of course, the expectation that as you grow, so can they.
- Focus on Leveraging the Buzz around Agile: Don't forget that right now, Agile is a corporate buzzword. We can use this to our advantage as a means of attracting potential customers. The risk is that they may misunderstand the implications of Agile, but your job is to educate them and begin to build those partnerships.
- Focus on Leveraging your Agility: You're Agile, your competitors aren't. You should be able to leverage that to take advantage of new opportunities when they become available. This does mean that you need to be able to identify opportunities and take the corresponding risk. But the point of an adaptable business is that you can experiment with opportunities (as in the scientific method of hypothesis -> testing -> analysis -> repeat) and fail quickly, with minimal cost, if you are wrong.
If you would like to share your experiences (both positive and negative), please comment below. Also check out my book, ‘Directing the Agile Organisation’, published by IT Governance Publishing and available on Amazon, at Book Depository, and all good bookshops.