Here is a recent story about an experience I had with growing sales in a small business.
A number of years ago I, along with 2 business partners, were running a company in the construction industry. We had yet to really identify whom our customer was and whether or not we wanted to be in the insurance business plus new construction business or one over the other. A previous customer had asked us to quote on a large new construction project and if we landed it, it would comprise 20% of our budgeted annual revenues. Exciting sales prospect – one that we could not resist.
Led by my savvy business partner we landed the project and briefly celebrated. 6 months later we reviewed the financials on that job and found out we had a gross margin of 4.7% without taking into account any owner(s) time. Along the way, we had endured dozens of numerous unbudgeted extras, stressful conflicts and sleepless nights trying to be all things to this large construction client.
In hindsight, we were not set up to deliver excellence to this customer segment – from our financial team, administrative team, installation team, and sales team. We had stepped outside of our core customer and it was painful. It soon dominated every discussion in the office and began to choke off other positive cash flow opportunities for us.
It was a sharp reminder how critical it is to define who your customer is and set up your company to be all things to your chosen customer and not all things to all customers. We recovered, learned from it and subsequently went on a 400% revenue growth curve over the next 5 years, in large part because we were far more disciplined in what type of customer we were committed to excelling at servicing. This discipline allowed us to sell with accelerated results.
Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great,” talks about the discipline required to effectively lead a sales team.
At the core of his message is:
- Know who your customer is and is not – write it down
- Market to that customer specifically
- Educate people on why you are not chasing revenue for the sake of revenue
The belief is, be all things to some customers but never all things to all customers.