Nearly a decade ago I left my home in Sweden to help my company expand into the U.S. I started at my company as a technical writer, and quickly grew into a product management role, and eventually GM of North America.
After all these years in the U.S., I am still a big believer that it holds a lot of opportunity and promise to current and hopeful business leaders. But, when I found myself leading a small Swedish company in a foreign (and conservative) market segment that was controlled by global corporations, I realized I needed help and advice. In some cases, I sought out this advice, but mostly, there were a lot of people ready to tell me what was impossible, or what I not to do, to be successful.
Our company has grown to be number one in the market from a sales perspective. We did this by being innovative and bringing a new business model to an existing, and very traditional, market. Needless to say, I’ve deemed a lot of advice that I received in the early days as myths.
Sure, there will always be business challenges that are out of your control. The advice might hold true for some companies and some situations, but to broadly blanket the entire industry by saying some strategies are ineffective or do not matter is misleading, discouraging and in some cases, plain false. Sometimes, if you want to make a difference, you need to dare to be different.
Here is some of the advice I heard, and how you should interpret it for your own business:
1. "The best product always wins."
A good product certainly is important. The product will get you attention, early customers and an excited staff. But, don’t be fooled. If your company can’t support that product, and the customers find them too difficult to use, you will run into trouble eventually. Having a solid sales strategy is equally important, especially as soon as any hype and buzz dies down from the immediate product launch. You also need to work toward implementing the best service practices so that your customers feel supported, want to come back and do not feel compelled to search out the competition. Outshine your competitors in this way for long-term success. This brings me to my next myth.
2. "It’s nearly impossible as a small company to compete with the big boys."
False. If I was paid to hear people ask me how my company could possibly compete against Sony, Cisco and Bosch, I would be a rich man. Instead, we stayed focused on our business goals and committed to our product expertise with the knowledge that the bigger brand names that we would run up against view this aspect of their business as secondary units, and less of a priority. Even though they might have brand-name market share, we kept our heads down on outperforming them from a trust, service and experience perspective. We eventually learned to focus especially on the big boys’ downfalls and that propelled our success. Do not mistake this advice by thinking you should compete on cost.
3. "You better lower your price if you want to gain market share."
Well, we didn’t lower our price standards. We realized that we didn’t want to be known as the lowest cost, we wanted to be known as the most valuable and the company that provided the most profitable business model for our partners’ long term. We wanted our customers to be happy, and we wanted repeat sales, but you would be surprised how very little that correlates to delivering the lowest price tag.
Having a value-first mentality trickles down to your product, service and sales teams and channels. If your product lifecycle matches a long-term customer relationship, your company will avoid the otherwise inevitable sales and customer service hiccups. Think long-term.
4. "Take short cuts and quick wins if it helps you get ahead."
Quite the opposite, our team took a long-term approach to the market, and realized quickly that there are no quick wins. This mentality helped us get ahead in sales, customer loyalty and brand recognition.
5. "The channel is your only priority."
Our business has an all-encompassing sales channel program. It could be very easy for us to separate ourselves from our customer base. Instead, we took the route of responsibility and understanding. Our company realized how important it is to educate the market, with training and resources for both customers and partners, to nurture loyalty, knowledgeability and concern for our products and the industry. This truly helps to foster a community and closeness between the constituents of the company.
After years of growth, we found it important to be physically close to our customers. To further enable the customer service values we had in place we expanded with offices across the country.
6. "Your growth will plateau."
Sales goals always decrease as growth hits, but as long as you can continue to deliver and scale, don’t settle. Push your team and company to hit new goals. If big companies can hit big growth rates, why can’t your nimble team?
By discerning the rate of growth your company can sustain, you should also keep the most important scalability requirements and questions in mind. First, what is your long term potential? Are you limiting yourself by addressing only a limited part of the market? Second, who can you partner with and trust to stay committed? Third, what is your value and will customers stay interested in future releases and products?
7. "Don’t expect your culture to stay the same with growth.”
Similar to our approach to scaling from a growth perspective, our culture was pushed to its limits as well. Our hiring was rapid but controlled. We took a serious, long-term approach to keeping our renowned culture intact as we grew, as our products and services would be only as good as our best employees.
To this day, employees and other company constituents will tell us that it feels like our company has retained our startup culture, even when we are thousands of people globally. It’s important to keep the values and company ethos that you had from the beginning. Accept employee feedback and input to keep engagement and loyalty at the same levels to stay successful.
It’s hard to grow and expand. That’s why many companies don’t make it. It’s a tough task to keep the large number of moving pieces in sync, but they must grow together to keep operations successful and morale high. A lot of companies look to other success stories and try to model their plans similarly. But, every company is different and all approaches must be tailored to the specific business goals set out from the beginning, yet also flexible and amenable to the fluxes that come along with business. Regardless, you cannot accept all advice as tried and true – some of that advice will become myths that your company was the first to dispel.