SET YOUR APART - A HOLISTIC VIEW OF THE BUSINESS LIFECYCLE by Kathi Gurin, Sales Xceleration & Customer Experience Consultant, Sage Consulting, Inc.

If you're reading this, you're likely receiving some great support as you move toward the purchase or the sale of a company. You have already read the excellent articles in previous FBB eNewsletters outlining the "dos", the "don'ts", and the "don't forgets" surrounding the very important business decisions you're about to make (or have just made). And, as either buyer or seller, you've reviewed the target company's finances, legal and HR compliance, tax implications, and much more, all under the expert guidance of professionals. But what can you plan for now, for after the purchase, or (said another way) long before the sale of your new company?

As a good business owner, you fully intend that in between the 'buy' and the 'sell' stages of the business lifecycle you will carefully manage to a budget, watch your operational costs, and deliver a quality product or service. And, of course, your goal is to deliver premier customer service. Many owners start out with the same intentions; they make a few changes to their company's brand, vision, or strategy, put a plan in place, adjust staff and/or operations accordingly, and they are off and running. The outcomes vary, of course, but often those companies that grow, grow more organically - as if by chance - and in spite of the best-laid strategic plan. Then, after a few hard but good years, they may find themselves in the black, but 'stuck' with flat revenues that are highly dependent on just a few key customers. To further complicate things, the owners often find themselves being critical (or the critical path) to closing every sale and working far too many hours just to keep things barely under control. Not quite what they signed up for, even if their company is cash flow positive! And how does one grow a company from there?

If your view of 'success' has a different ending than this, it's important that you take a holistic view of the lifecycle of your business sooner, rather than later, and put a plan in place to step up your game as early as possible.

Take a look at the phases that your business will inevitably go through under your watch and determine what proactive and strategic steps you can takealong the way, above and beyond the typical things you would think about in running your business. You could, for example...

  • Take the time to understand your customer's journey and design the ideal customer experience for every touch-point with your business.

  • Design a sales process (from qualify to close) to make your company 'easy to do business with.'

  • Embrace a customer-centric culture across the organization (front and back office).

  • Put a plan in place for innovation - make it a part of your company's DNA.

To put these ideas into context, let's assume a simple model of the business lifecycle includes: The Acquisition Phase, the Ramp-Up Phase, the Maturity Phase, the Growth Phase, and finally, the Exit Phase. Once you've acquired the business, or as you plan for your exit, what actions will you take during the Ramp-up, Maturity and Growth phases that will set you apart and help you grow?

Ramp-Up Phase
One of the most important things you can do during this early phase is a thorough Discovery to get a clear picture of the 'as-is' situation and to identify gaps and issues. You'll start with what you learned during due-diligence in the Acquire Phase, but now you'll go deeper, spend time with employees, go out on sales calls with your reps, and even get out and talk to your customers. With this information in hand, you're ready to establish your 30/60/90-day and long-term plans, which will include steps to take toward initial improvements to the business model, technology and telecom infrastructure, corporate brand and messaging, etc.

This is also a great time to look at your 'customer journey' - at how, when, and why prospects engage with your company. What is their experience through the evaluation and buy stages and once they're using your product or service? Put yourself in their shoes. Look for opportunities to provide needed information proactively and to recognize where issues often arise so you can address those root causes. Put a plan in place for improvements, determine the key metrics for success, and educate your entire staff on the journey, as they all play a part in the customer experience.

Another foundational step toward success, though often missed by small/medium sized companies, is to establish a sound sales infrastructure as early as possible. This includes sales strategy, process, reporting, and compensation plans to drive desired behaviors. And sales management - your reps want to know what is expected of them; they will deliver better results if coached appropriately.

Maturity Phase
By now you're fully immersed in your business and you understand what it takes to make it run. It's a good time to look for opportunities for business optimization. How can you do more with the same or at a reduced cost, and how you can improve sales productivity? Engage experts to review your telecom expenses and others to look at your financial, healthcare, and other benefit structures to see where you can free up cash for growth. Put plans in place for continuous improvement of the customer experience, including a 'voice of the customer' strategy or perhaps a customer advisory board to ensure you gather critical input to help evolve your products/services.

Also consider using proven methods to foster innovation across your organization - innovation can impact your processes, products, and services; don't just wait for it to happen. Make it happen.

Growth Phase
To expand the company beyond its natural growth, you should evaluate three key areas: Increasing wallet-share in your existing base, launching new products, and expanding into new regions and/or verticals. Strong product management and marketing skills are key to success for either of these strategies, as market analysis, customer programs, and packaging/bundling products will be all be assessed.

In Summary
Your challenge as a business owner is to look for things you can do differently than your competition across the lifecycle of your business. To ensure you'll be in an enviable position years later as you prepare to sell or transition a profitable and growing company... one that has your personal and indelible mark on it and leaves you with fond memories in your retirement.

Kathi Gurin brings a unique blend of executive sales management, sales operations, customer experience (CX) strategy, and marketing expertise to clients.

Kathi can be contacted at: www.salesxceleration.com/kgurin 

Phone (719) 208-7585

(originally published in June 2015 eNewsletter)