Lock in with your customers

09/09/2014

Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelle companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.

High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time:

  • Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
  • Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
  • Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship where there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time, mini-padlock-912519-meffort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold. A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.


Non Executive Directors can make a massive difference

06/05/2014

It seems very much the rage at the moment for companies to hire Non Executive Directors (NED). I am a big fan of these “outsiders looking inside“. They provide wisdom, guidance, help to raise the bar and introduce more robust systems and processes, help leaders make decisions and support change. In many instances an NED can help to open up new doors to finance and potential customers – help in the transition of growing up. If you are pursuing VC funding or PE finance then having a NED is often part of the deal.

One observation would be that many young companies appoint NEDs too early on in their cycle. They view them as the saving grace and the magic wand with all the answers. The reality is young fast growing companies should initially seek out a mentor or experienced person and trial the relationship before Companies House papers are signed. There are many individuals out there searching for NED trophies, it almost becomes their barometer for success – food for the ego!

My message to young growing companies who are seeking their new best friend, the NED, is be sure they can add value, be clear on where they can take you and most of all don’t GIVE AWAY equity, people either buy or earn a stake in your company.


Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning

06/06/2012

It is the leaders role to create and communicate a compelling vision and strategy to staff and stakeholders. When this is done with passion and authenticity, strong foundations are built for innovation and creativity; it sets the scene for personal progression and engages teams to fire on all cylinders. But how does the leader gain the inspiration, insight and knowledge to build such an environment. Well the answer may lie in the cliché – leaders are readers. Having worked with over 3,000 small businesses over the past 6 years, many of which would be termed gazelles (high growth innovative firms), the one ingredient that differentiates outstanding performance from mediocre is a leaders approach to learning. Winning Pitch’s work in this field indicates that organisations led by individuals who create space to acquire and apply knowledge go on to derive benefits of faster and sustained levels of growth.

The inability or lack of motivation to allow time for learning often results in leaders pursuing business as usual strategies. In the worst case this leads to disconnection from the market place and the needs of customers. The resultant impact is lack of competitive advantage and a spiral decline in margins, market share and revenue. Innovative high growth business leaders practice the philosophy of 20% thinking and learning along with 80% doing and reviewing. This mental framework facilitates an iterative approach to entrepreneurship, project implementation, idea generation and learning. It is a process commonly associated with scientific discovery. Iteration provides an effective route to positive progression and getting new ideas and projects off the ground more rapidly. It drives momentum, a characteristic commonly displayed by successful entrepreneurs.

Maintaining the healthy 20:80 split is extremely important as a slip in either direction can lead to either inertia, particularly if too much learning prevails or chaos if too much doing dominates the agenda. The latter gives rise to another popular cliché – not being able to see the wood for the trees. So what is the secret sauce to achieving an optimum return for the 20%? It is appropriate to point out that entrepreneurial leaders embrace different learning preferences and styles, however our experiences are summed up wonderfully in the Chinese Proverb:

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

The power of learning by seeing and doing charaterises many of the ambitious entrepreneurial leaders Winning Pitch has worked with. Several learning formats that have emerged from this school of thought, the most popular being peer to peer networking – informal environments where entrepreneurs’ get together to discuss and debate issues and challenges they face. This becomes an extremely powerful option to fast tracked learning, the reason being many problems associated with growth are common – very often they revolve around building teams, finance, access to markets and regulations.

An environment where entrepreneurs debate how they solved specific growth challenges can save others facing similar difficulties an enormous amount of time. Such edited highlights are proving to be an increasingly popular way of consuming new learning. This approach has given rise to numerous entrepreneurial networking organisations such as Entrepreneurs Circle, Supper Club, Tie and Winning Pitch’s High Growth Foundation. Entrepreneurs often make reference to living a lonely life and exposure to their peer group can deliver a whole range of learning benefits, firstly, they can help to alleviate and cope with those feelings of isolation and secondly, they can steer them to solutions only obvious to an external viewer.

Experience sharing is a valuable tool for entrepreneurial businesses and their leaders; more specifically it produces accelerated learning within organisations where training budgets are limited. Simple yet highly effective routes to achieving this can be done by:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales & marketing approaches implemented by non-competing organisations. This helps entrepreneurs to acquire knowledge of trusted advisers and expertise. All too often entrepreneurs end up on the receiving end of bad advice. By speaking to those deemed as exemplar this can fast track to effective support networks.

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong. There are excellent learning opportunities distilled from bad experiences and more often than not entrepreneurs are only too willing to help others avoid the mistakes they made themselves.

Studying biographies of success – we live in an age where the digital environment provides a content rich source of inspirational stories of the tactics and tools successful people have implemented to achieve great results. Many high performing entrepreneurs featured as part of Winning Pitch’s network regularly refer to the insights gained from studying these biographies as being – stimulus for change, acquiring new knowledge and delivering enhanced performance.

In early 2012, Winning Pitch via its High Growth Foundation accompanied 18 entrepreneurial leaders on a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Common to these UK entrepreneurs was their desire to build globally focused organisations. Through Winning Pitch’s contacts on the West Coast ambitious individuals were exposed to some of the largest brands on the planet including Google and LinkedIn. On return participants stated that the learning journey had acted as catalyst for both personal and company progression.  Participating entrepreneurs listened to the stories and methods used by global company leaders – how they go about their business, innovate, manage staff, build culture, access finance – not only what they do but more importantly how they think. The UK delegation were united in one key learning outcome – The mindset and the scale of thinking within Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a quantum level greater than that seen in the UK. Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning (See www.highgrowthfoundation.co.uk for more information)

 

The UK boasts internationally competitive and highly recognised educational institutions, ones equipped to teach strategy, management tools and techniques and associated frameworks and philosophies at the highest level. However, is there a missing link in the provision of assistance? Could more be done to help entrepreneurs embrace a mindset which raises the bar of performance in a big way? The UK economy needs more high growth businesses and new starts to deliver employment opportunities – NESTA’s Vital 6 per cent report clearly showed that a small minority of high-growth businesses hold the key to job creation and wider prosperity. This means we need UK entrepreneurs to learn how to think bigger, no better way of doing that than seeing it in action.