Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a very long two days being grilled by congress. Set aside whatever your view is on Zuckerberg and his desire to blend purpose with profits, the recent stumbles Facebook has made, or privacy issues in general--answering 600 questions from grandstanding politicians can't be easy.
It got me thinking. What if you were called to the stand in the Court of Business Growth to get grilled on questions central to your business plan?
If you want a thriving business you should be able to answer these 12 questions:
1. What business are you really in?
I start here to ensure you're not thinking too small; that the market segment you want to serve is big enough to sustain robust growth for the foreseeable future.
Tide detergent opened up new sources of growth when they decided they weren't in the detergent business but were in the clothing care business. The popularity of Usain Bolt's brand exploded when he decided he was in the business of entertainment versus sprinting.
So ask yourself what business you're really in and what market segments/channels you'll compete in to unlock greater growth.
2. Who's your target audience and how will you reach them (cost effectively)?
No matter the business you can't appeal to everyone. Any successful brand I ever ran at Procter & Gamble was crystal clear on who it wanted to sell to. On some brands, we even gave the target consumer a name (like "Joanne") to bring the target to life.
Having a clear, choiceful picture of your target doesn't matter if you can't reach that target cost effectively. And it's critical you understand where your audience might be most receptive to your message to improve the chance of conversion to a sale.
3. Are you trying to get new customers or get existing ones to buy more?
These are two different growth objectives that require two different approaches. Many marketing plans are ineffective because they never start from a place of clarity and prioritization on this.
4. What unmet need will your business fill or what problem will it solve, uniquely?
The most common advice I give to potential authors (learned from editors at publishing houses) is that your "product" has to fill a hole. Why does the world need your product/service? What need will it meet that isn't being met? What problem(s) does your target have that you can solve?
Just as important is to consider how your business will provide this value uniquely. If your offering isn't differentiated from others and if the value proposition isn't crystal clear to potential buyers, growth will most certainly elude you.
5. Who is your true competition?
At one point, Walmart's target audience was anybody with a dollar in their pocket and any retailer who sold anything. Working with them as a "vendor" over the years, I watched them continually refine and narrow their target and get clearer on who their true competitors were (for example worrying about competing with the dollar channel and online retailers more and Target less).
Start first by serving your target audience (always) but then be clear on what competitors you'll compare to and strategically vie against. Resources are limited after all.
6. What are the biggest trends in your industry?
You've got to skate where the puck is headed as they say in hockey. The business landscape is littered with companies who didn't (Kodak, Xerox, Blockbuster, and so many more).
7. What will not change about your industry?
At the same time as question six, you've got to consider this question, a question that Jeff Bezos routinely considers for Amazon. Considering what won't change keeps you focused on delivering the fundamentals that drive your business. It ensures you'll put sufficient time and effort against the basics before you chase new opportunities for growth.
8. How do you define success and how will you measure it?
It's vital that your entire organization is clear on your winning aspiration (otherwise how will you achieve it). And note that too modest an aspiration is far more dangerous than too lofty an aspiration.
I've also found that the old saying "you get what you measure" is absolutely true, so sharpen your measurement systems.
9. What's your pricing strategy?
So many businesses can't articulate a pricing strategy. What's your price point/bracket and why? Under what conditions will you raise or lower your price?
When customers spot inconsistencies in how you handle price they may be confused or worse yet, feel unfairly treated.
10. What are the most profitable parts of your business?
Knowing how and where you make your money is the first part of this question. Then it's about designing a plan around the answer that optimizes the mix of things you sell to maximize profits (growth isn't just reserved for revenue after all).
11. What are your values and purpose?
Being clear on your company's values helps create the culture you want, informs hiring decisions, and serves as a beacon for decision-making in tough times.
Knowing what the purpose of the business is and keeping that at the forefront drives meaning and sustained employee engagement.
12. Do you have a 6 month and 10-year plan?
This is something I learned from working directly with facebook. The company spends most of its planning time on what will happen 30 years from now (which I scaled back to 10 years for the rest of us) or on what will happen in 6 months. The belief is that we spend too much time on the 3-5 year plans, which can be utterly fruitless if you work in environments that change a lot, which is many of us.
This isn't to say that you shouldn't consider 3-5 year plans, this is more about ensuring long-term planning has a greater influence on short-term actions.