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A Whole New Ballgame
September 24, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

One of the central planning issues our clients have been facing over the past year is answering the question “how do we achieve real growth in this new normal?” We recently worked with a client who described this as shifting from playing Defense to playing Offense.

Playing Defense
This client has spent the last three years coming through a turnaround situation.  Theirs is a difficult, complex business; the sales cycle is long, the value proposition is difficult to articulate, they face operational and regulatory complexity and change, margins are slim, and technology and scale are important for success.  


For the past three years their strategy and planning has been all about strong, detailed operating plans with a focus on execution.  They fall victim to the fire drill syndrome at times as they are forced to deal with challenges and surprises they didn’t see coming.  Growth over that time period has happened in large part because of their excellent reputation, but the growth has come from unexpected sources that haven’t been in the center of their sales target.

This is a talented leadership team that has successfully turned the business around and positioned it for growth.  They know how to play great defense, but are uncertain about their ability to play great offense.

Playing Offense
Understanding this was important for all of us.  We worked with them to develop a different approach to strategy and planning than they’ve used in the past.  We helped them take a methodical, clear-eyed look at their customers, the marketplace and themselves.  Like many clients, they have been so caught up in day to day operating challenges they just don’t get much time together as a team to talk in depth about the bigger issues.  The result is a one year plan for them that has a very different look and focus than in the past.

  • The 2011 plan is primarily about growth (playing offense)
  • The plan includes just three key focus areas: Growth, Process Improvement and People
  • The plan includes just seven strategic initiatives, and five of them are all about growth
  • We also mapped out the ongoing technology and operational initiatives that are critical for company success

The secret sauce, however, consists of the three huge strategic “ah has” the team experienced in the planning discussions that kicked them from playing defense to playing offense.

  1. They realized their growth from non-sweet spot sources has become a niche market with enormous growth potential.  They are creating a dedicated business unit for this niche and are making it a central focus of their growth strategies.
  2. They discovered that sales from customer referrals close faster, close at a higher rate and carry higher margins than other sales.  Their core growth strategies now center around customer referrals.
  3. Given the complexity of their business and their narrow margins, aligning sales, operations and product design with market segments and niches will impact both growth and profitability, so they will begin tackling that challenge in 2011.

For this business, growing in the new normal means some very visible changes to play offense rather than defense.  What does it mean for yours?



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