We’ve all heard the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and we’ve no doubt used it to inspire our troops or ourselves from time to time.

And why not? It’s a tried-and-true power-of-positive-thinking gem. Even better, it’s versatile. It can be said with a smile or a frown. It throws down a dangerous-sounding non-challenge without placing blame. And it locks us in the cage with all the other “tough” guys without having to be too specific about which of the mixed martial arts we might mix it up with.

But for those of us who think too much it’s also problematical. Once the tough get up to speed, where do they actually go? And, even more important, what do they do to get there?

No, we’re not trying to be funny. There’s nothing funny about our barely breathing economy or about the hazy road ahead. But we are trying to make a point.

Successful business people are nothing if not optimistic. So this time of year we hear a lot of talk about “growth” as in “We want to grow 15 to 20 percent next year.” Or, “If we can’t grow at least 10 percent, we shouldn’t even be in this business.”

We applaud that tough-minded optimism and determination. The attitude is absolutely necessary, especially these days, and can be highly productive. But it isn’t sufficient. What we don’t hear enough of is how companies plan to drive such ambitious growth. They’re tough enough, but where, exactly, are they going and how do they plan to get there?

We have some thoughts on the matter based on 16 years of supporting our clients’ growth by helping them build sales processes, identify leads and set appointments, and better communicate their key messages in a noisy marketplace.

Get Going: Before year’s end, invest time to take an honest, tactical look at what worked for your company this past year and what didn’t. Be hard-nosed when you work the numbers, but don’t forget that qualitative achievements often lead to quantitative ones. Did you expand into new markets or begin to build even a few promising new relationships? How can dumping some tactics and ramping up others pay off?

In our case, much of our marketing success came from recognizing opportunity in the solid, though broadly defined, target market of health care. We expanded our original three clients in that field to nine, even adding professional staff to make such growth possible. Our qualitative insight came when we noticed that some of our new clients were in the industry while others served the industry. We realized we had two potential markets, not one, and that we could capitalize on our experience in one to catalyze our growth in the other. Which is what we did: All of our new clients were the result of referrals from within one of those two segments.

Get There: Which sales people did the job and which didn’t? Sounds easy enough to figure out: Just look at wins and losses. But in fact it may be more difficult than it looks. Are you in markets with long sales cycles or contracts that don’t expire for two or three years? The most telling measure of a salesperson’s success here might not be the number or dollar-amount of sales but the number and potential value of new relationships or the strengthening of current ones. A related issue can be the high cost for prospects to switch to a new vendor.

On the other hand, even when the evidence is clear, too many companies keep poorly performing reps too long. Or worse, in our experience, they keep sales people too long without providing them with the consultative selling skills they need or helping them get solid leads and appointments as efficiently as possible.

There are solutions for all of these challenges. Just give us a call if you want to learn more.

Warning: When setting growth goals, be sure to take customer attrition into account. We see many companies that retain customers for an average of seven years. So, in effect, the customer base turns over every seven years and annual new sales of 14 percent are needed just to stay even. Growth comes on top of that.

Enjoy the Ride: We find that a lot of the fun in selling and marketing comes from testing new approaches. There are many, of course, whether you take the time and effort to do them yourself or opt for more efficiency by engaging professionals: writing a white paper, setting up a blog, spending more time on social networking, attending meetings not only of your trade association but also walking the floor at trade shows where your prospects exhibit. However, be sure to give a new idea a fighting chance. You can’t really do one mailing, for example, and conclude that “direct mail doesn’t work for my business.” The same goes for lead generation and for new salespeople. If you’re doing something new, give it your full support!

So, where do the tough go when the going gets tough? Wherever their drive, planning, and persistence take them. Where will yours take your company?

Be sure to give us a call if you’d like to brainstorm a few ideas that will get your new year off to a running start.


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