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Exposing the mystery of Organic Growth: Let's make beautiful music!

Of all the things my firm was challenged with year after year, over-achieving our organic growth goals was always the toughest. As an optimistic and sometimes overzealous entrepreneur, exceeding our growth targets was my minimum performance expectation. After all, I am convinced that organic growth is the third most important objective in your strategic plan after mission and differentiation, which I have previously written about.

Growth can be achieved either internally through organic means, or externally through acquisition. Both are important forms, and when combined, yield powerful results. This article will focus on organic growth, which I believe is an essential building block of a firm’s DNA.

I have made just about every mistake that you can in my pursuit of organic growth. I’ll share a few of my discoveries in the hope of helping you manage organic growth in new markets for your firm.

A big mistake is to simply throw sales resources at a new market and expect results. In 1995, when our firm first entered the Cleveland market with our software solutions, I allowed a trusted advisor to convince me that hiring several local sales reps would give us results. Since we had exceptional solutions to offer the local market there, success was perceived to be a factor of feet on the street. The problem was that we had no existing customers and no one had ever heard of our firm. We had failed to consider the importance of lead gen activities, and came to realize that our commitment to entering a new geographic market had to include extensive marketing. Our results were well below the expectations we set. Realization number 1: marketing needs to lead the sales execution process for successful organic growth. Without marketing as your dance partner, the band will play but the sales department will miss the prom.

Another common organic growth misconception is that if you build it, they will come. We would plan dozens of events to educate, inform and inspire our clients and prospects about great technology. Unfortunately, too many of them were cancelled. Why? Poorly targeted audiences, messaging that missed the mark and not highly differentiated from competition, or inadequate resources for telemarketing to fill seats. Realization number 2: an organic growth goal needs to be supported by all departments within your enterprise working together in a coordinated fashion. It is not just the job of sales working in a silo. When we finally got marketing, inside sales, outside sales and technical support fully aligned, our results improved dramatically. This was accomplished through an investment into product management resources to get all the departments on the same page. With all of our resources in sync, the results improved measurably. This is how organic growth became natural to our organization, i.e. part of it’s DNA.

One area that took us several years to fine-tune was developing the right balance in allocating resources towards existing customers and pursuing new business. Organic growth can be achieved from both of these sectors, and neither can be overlooked. When we put too much attention to one, the other suffered. Competition is often brutal, so ‘tending the farm’ is critical to customer retention. Sales talent is generally exceptional in one of these roles, but usually only adequate in the other. Deployment of resources to optimize results in hunting, farming and account development is the ‘art’ of sales management. Realization number 3: don’t expect great new business results from your top account development people, and vice versa. Create specialized roles that harness the best of the talent you have and deploy them accordingly. It’s OK to have several sales roles with different areas of focus and specialization. Like the many instruments in an orchestra.

Organic growth is the most essential component of your long-term strategy for growth and profitability. As elusive as it can be, it is within the capability of every company to achieve. It requires the participation of every associate in the company, and needs to be coordinated in order to be obtained. With the engagement of the front line players, great tactical campaigns can be developed and executed to support the strategy. Like a symphony, if everybody is on the same page and their timing is right, you will create beautiful music!

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