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My business is stuck!

  • 2001-08-30
  • Paul E. Adams
"A good sales strategy is to build your business with the customers you already have" - Joe Griffith


One of my readers needs your help. The other day I was e-mailed by the owner of a six-year-old company stuck in second gear. It seems that sales growth has sputtered and stagnated for the past two years. If you will, read her comments and drop me an e-mail with your thoughts on how she can attack her problem.


Dear Dr. Adams,

I am on a growth and leadership mission. My company has had the same sales figures for the past two years and as of April 2001 we were pacing another "maintenance" year. That bothered me so I decided to do something.

Last year, with the assistance of a facilitator, everyone who works here wrote a vision statement, a mission statement and chose six values to help guide us in our professional life. (This project was inspired by a book called "Managing by Values" by Michael O'Connor.) I wrote a vision and mission.

In fact the mission statement was placed on the back of our 2001 coffee mug and the values were proudly displayed on our wall in bright yellow posters. But sadly to little effect; the personal phone calls continued, the coming in late continued and the leaving a little early continued.

As you can imagine, I have been having a hard time.

I started this business in 1995 and it has captured quite a large piece of my heart and soul. I am not willing to let go, quite yet. In desperation I hired a "business coach."

Everyone at my company began a seven-week journey, an intensive seven-week program entitled "Go the distance: values for a winning workplace." Each week we focused on one of our six values and came up with strategies on how to apply that value to our professional and personal behavior to achieve a winning workplace.

We set goals, we designed action plans and re-evaluated goals with new plans. We talked about accountability, proactive behavior, responsibility, and commitment - lots of adult stuff. It made a difference.

So, the seven weeks are over, our hired coach has gone and we are on our own. I am working on becoming a better leader. The first thing I let everyone know at our very first staff meeting was "I am not Marlene" - the name of our trainer who insisted that everyone "raise the bar."

She was a hard-core coach who gave "homework" and let people know when they let her down - a good coach with a strong leadership style. My style is different. I am looking for a management team which wants to make a commitment to build the company. This is the hardest part.

I have six employees and I am not certain if all of them want to be part of a management team. At this point, this is the decision that they have to make. I will be able to ascertain their decision based on their performance. 

I have also made an interesting discovery. We have approximately 500 customers. In the year 2000, the top 100 customers accounted for 76 percent of our annual sales. That's pretty close to the 80:20 rule! As part of my strategy for growth I would like to create a profile of these top 100 customers.

Have you ever heard of an appreciative inquiry? It makes eight assumptions. Typically, people look for the problem, for what is wrong or broken. But the first assumption of the appreciative inquiry is that in every society, organization or group something works.

Change can be managed by identification of what works so first find out what is working and build on that.

We know we are doing something right for our top 100 customers - otherwise they would not be buying from us. The purpose of the profile is to better understand our customers, their needs and how we play a part in fulfilling their needs. We want to go a step further and see how we can better serve them.

This ties directly into our company vision, which is to serve as a resource of innovative business professionals committed to understanding our customers needs, exceeding their expectations and creating mutual growth and success.

Can you suggest questions to help achieve this goal? My thought is, once I have come up with the specific questions, contact these top 100 customers and briefly explain what we are doing and ask them for their input and schedule a 10-minute phone call. I am open to thoughts, comments, direction, guidance - anything you think would be helpful.