Author: Dr. Simon Raby
Bringing you a behind the scenes look at the Growth Catalyst program!
Last week we delivered the second module of Mount Royal University’s Growth Catalyst program. Anchoring on the Customer, over a full day participants worked on improving the positioning of their products and services. Participants achieved this by developing an accurate picture of their ideal customer profiles, examining the competitive alternatives, isolating their unique value and selling propositions and considering the trends they can take advantage of.
Here are 3 key insights to the conversation in the room.
1. Be Scientific
We often ask business owners and leaders the question “what is your biggest growth challenge?” This challenge should be the most important factor standing in the way of your current success. The answer we typically hear? “Sales and Marketing”. While clearly important, this response captures a theme, it doesn’t provide leaders and managers with the granular data they require to make informed strategic decisions.
At the core of the answer is understanding the precise action(s) we need to take to increase sales. At this point leaders can often turn to historical anecdotes. If we are not clear on how the actions we took in the past directly impacted sales we are merely throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if some sticks. In order to move beyond the ‘hit and hope approach’ we need to take a scientific approach to sales and marketing.
We have all experienced the scientific approach at school. You’ll remember the chemistry teacher handing you instructions to 1) create the right environment, and 2) mix the right amount of compounds to deliver a specific catalytic reaction. It is these precise instructions you need to create to increase sales, given your unique context and customer needs.
📓 Try This Exercise
Find the Compelling Hook: Look back at the sales you have landed these past 3–5 years. Which of these sales would you assign to the bucket “these customers really love(d) what we do”? Once you have identified a selection of these customers (say, 10–15), reflect on the end-to-end sales process. How did they come to find your organization? What was the hook that led them to buy? What specific need did you meet? What worked well in the delivery process? What outcomes/impacts did you deliver? Once you have conducted this reflective analysis, identify key themes and agree at least one action you can take to improve your current sales process.
2. Focus on the Customer’s Problem
While a lot of business is now transacted in a touchless way, this online and electronic approach can lead us to “push” our products — becoming disconnected from the realities of our customers. However, customers are human, they have needs and problems to solve. In order to (re-)discover the needs of our customers we must build a clear image of who they are and how they make purchasing decisions. These customer ‘personas’ or ‘profiles’ help to uncover new insights — about the problem they are trying to solve and how your solution delivers value for them.
As business owners, leadership teams, and/or product owners we set out to build products or services that will be in great demand. However, there are many factors that influence the marketplace and materially affect what and how customers buy. Understanding what these forces are and how they influence our customers is essential. We can never truly predict market trends, but we can get better at reading them, which enables us to take advantage of them in the way we position our products and services now and into the future.
📓 Try This Exercise
Create a Set of Ideal Customer Profiles: Develop a set of Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs). Go for quantity not quality at this stage. These ICPs should include some of the following components: Label (what will you call this ICP? Be memorable!), what jobs are they performing? (by ‘they’ we mean the individual who will buy your product). What pains or worries are they experiencing in accomplishing these jobs? (These can be functional, social or emotional tasks). What gains or outcomes would delight them? What will get in the way of them making a purchasing decision? What will make them buy? Who else is involved in the purchasing process? (e.g., gatekeepers, influencers). Once you have completed this exercise, the aim is to narrow down those ICPs you believe hold the greatest potential for growth.
Explore Trends and Emergent Needs: One method for identifying trends / external factors is the PESTEL analysis. Though simple, it can be quite powerful. Included here is an exercise we used Module #2 of the Growth Catalyst program, where we identified global trends, honed down into business/industry-specific trends, and then created an action we can take to capitalize on the opportunity. Try it for yourself!
3. Define Your Positioning Story
The ultimate outcome you are seeking to achieve is to define your positioning story “so customers get it, buy it and love it” (Dunford, 2019). In exploring the best practice approach to product positioning, five core themes emerged in the room that can serve as a guide to effectively positioning your solution.
- Cascade: What does your positioning story start? As a startup your company is your product, so it can make good sense to tell this product story loud and clear. However, as your organization grows you add new products and services. It becomes increasingly important to tell the organization’s story and effectively cascade from the organization’s purpose to the product’s purpose.
- Cohesive: What problem are you solving? Have you chosen to be the ‘best of breed’ or do you ‘sell a solution’? It is possible to argue both angles, but whichever you choose make sure you tell a cohesive positioning story.
- Core: What are the unique attributes of your solution? It is easy to fall into a trap of chasing new opportunities. Well, there are so many, and they all look great! However, developing new products and exploring new channels takes precious resources away from your current solution, or what can be termed your ‘cash cow’. If we allow our cow to consume poor feed, not receive the exercise it needs etc. it may not produce the steady profits that are required to invest in new ventures. So, look to create a balance between exploiting your current products while exploring future options.
- Channel: Which channels are you targeting? You need to be clear on the channels you are targeting and the proposition you are using to sell these channels on why they should trade with you. As a B2C company you need to understand how what you do helps the economic buyer and user solve their problem. As a B2B company you need to understand how what you do solves a significant problem for another business. B2B companies may also sell via distributors (where you need to answer the question, how do I make them more money?) and possibly OEMs (where you need to answer the question, how does my solution help them design/make/sell their solution?)
- Critique: What process should I follow to review my positioning, and how often? At least every six months or when something happens. Look for product and market signals. Have new competitors entered your market? Have you launched new product lines? Has a macro-level event occurred (e.g., COVID)? Keep looking out for changing trends and consider how your customer priorities may have changed as a result. If they have, revise your positioning.
📓 Try This Exercise
Form a Positioning Team and Complete the Product Positioning Canvas: Form a cross functional team within your organization of 4–6 people. Prior to entering the room each read “A Product Positioning Exercise”. When in the meeting, complete one Product Positioning Canvas for each product line. Discuss the new insights this exercise has created.
On January 7 we will deliver the third module of the Growth Catalyst Program. Here we will explore ‘Creativity’ — another component of the Seven Scaling Strategies to help organizations grow. Stay tuned to learn more!
About the Growth Catalyst Program
Led by Mount Royal University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Growth Catalyst is an intensive program designed to spark the creation and set the foundation for executing a growth strategy by CEOs and their senior leadership teams.
To learn more about the program and apply, visit us at: www.growthcatalyst.ca