Unlike externally financed startups, long-lasting enterprises ultimately have to learn how to stay in business. Learning how to survive and thrive in an constantly changing environment requires a strategic action plan. Your strategy and your roadmap, with the key ingredients for success, will help navigate and focus business activities. Here are the six key actions to get you ahead, to retain your competitive advantage, and to sleep better at night, from This Way Up's Hung Nguyen and Dave Darsch.
1. Build a 12-month sales pipeline cycle
Bring your marketing and sales together to build out a 12-month pipeline. In that, you allow the marketing team to build their marketing qualified leads (MQLs) at least a quarter ahead. Then your sales team will take the leads to work on turning these MQLs into sales qualified leads (SQLs). Your product positioning and messaging must be clear. Interview your customers, study the market and your buying personas to understand how to find, and convert your potential buyers. Clearly structure resources to your potential revenue, whether it comes from inbound marketing, sales mining and hunting, existing/current customers' growth, referrals or partnerships and so on. Project your potential revenue and allocate budget and resources to each revenue source, and track them accordingly.
2. Develop a strategy to continuously compete with "the big boys" as well as with lean, new entrants
There will always be competitors. Make a list of the top ten big players in your market, and another list of the smaller entrants. Study your competitors thoroughly. Learn their product offerings, positioning and messaging, the target customers and the average sales or total contract value they are going after, how they market their products, their financing structure, and their direct competitors.
From there, you should know how your company and product offerings are different. Accentuate the unique value you can bring to your customers. Is it a particular niche that you can do better than anyone? Is it the personal attention and excellent services that enable you to pamper your customers better than anyone? What are the key values your customers are looking for that you can offer better than anyone? You must ensure that not only sales and marketing staff know your differentiators, but all of your employees should embody this knowledge as well.
Refresh your lists and relearn your competitors periodically. I do it in a six month cycle to keep it fresh. Also, find out which competitor you can befriend. Are there complementary offerings that you can partner on with this business? Remember that a competitor of your competitors is your friend.
3. Develop a product and business model innovation cycle to quickly adapt to market conditions
Product offerings and business models are like fashion. They go in and out of favor every few years. Study the market trends and laser focus on your customers' consuming behaviors. Learn how their buying journeys change and how your competitors are offering similar products and services differently. Assume that your business model will need to change every two years. Allocate resources to research and innovate ahead of time so your business can lead with not only best practices but also leading practices. This two year cycle empowers you to architect an innovation cycle, allowing new products/services to be introduced before your current products reach end-of-life.
4. Plan for leadership/HR turnover to stay talent-current
As your business grows, you will also need to grow your leadership team capability. The founding executives who are loyal to you and the business might not have the capacity to grow with the business. You will have the conundrum or loyalty versus competence. There will be turn-over. There will be replacement. What does your executive dream team look like? What are the gaps compared to your current team? Develop and execute your plan incrementally to maximize leadership talent and minimize business and culture disruptions.
5. Create an elastic workforce that allows quick pivoting
When your business is seasonal and requires rapid ramping up and down, you need to build a flexible workforce to fulfill your business as well as customers' demands. Outsourcing and independent contractors are good ways solve this elasticity problem. You can outsource virtually every function, from software development and testing, to marketing, finance, HR, and so on. Determine what are the key positions that you will always need and want to keep in house, and then outsource the rest.
6. Balance growth versus profitability with a healthy balance sheet to be financing-ready
As you grow your business you will need capital. If you're self-funding, then your sources of capital might be limited. Sure, the funding might come from positive cash flow generated by business, but at some point, you will need more cash to grow. A business line of credit is an example of an affordable source of cash for growth infusion. You want to run your business with a healthy balance sheet, and in anticipating when you need the money, the banks will compete for your business.