Editor’s note: JMark Business Solutions Inc. CEO Thomas H. Douglas writes in parable format to address the challenges, shifts, demands and opportunities for small and midsize businesses. He leans on personal lessons from JMark’s fast growth to unpack a business system known as “The Algorithm of Success.”
Every part of the business must have a plan for growth. Product and alignment problems can cause issues for years (and) selling something and making promises that are challenging to deliver can haunt a company for a very long time. Sure, it gets cash in the door, and sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. However, most of the time, cleaning up a mess is harder than not making a mess in the first place.
In his book “Predictable Success,” Les McKeown goes through the phases of working toward a repeatable experience for customers and employees. When you are first starting out (what he calls the “Early Struggle”), you essentially say yes to everything. From there you move into the “Fun” stage, where it’s fun to solve problems, add revenue and be heroes saving the day. However, you quickly realize that it’s impossible to scale.
As a company begins to put the processes in place to make things consistent and repeatable, you go through “White Water.” This is where companies often stall. You cannot stay in White Water forever – it’s too painful. You either have to get the systems and process in place to progress into the “Predictable Success” phase, or you must shrink again and go back to the Fun stage. Both are fine outcomes, as long as it’s what you want for your life and your business. Les shares that you can go too far in systems and processes, too, and unintentionally prevent innovation. I highly recommend reading his book to understand the full process.
The unique selling proposition that Chuck [from a previous chapter] lacked includes knowing your product, knowing the pricing and selling it right, and is the responsibility of the Growth Engine. Additionally, incentive plans must align: The Growth Engine team must understand how and why the pricing gets set, and they must understand the value that the product delivers to the respective personas.
The information we’re going to dive into now directly feeds into the data required in the next chapter, where we get into the details of the model and how to know your structure is right, sustainable and achieves the outcomes you expect. But first, to build, rebuild or verify your Growth Engine, we have to go through a few steps.
The Unique Selling Proposition
Once you know your target customer, you are in a position to communicate to them what you provide and why they want you rather than your competition: your unique selling proposition.
Why is the USP so important? Well, let me challenge you to an exercise. Run to your company’s bank. Withdraw about $50,000 in cash. Bring it home, have your spouse join you, invite a few friends over, and grab some beer and marshmallows. Then light the $50,000 on fire.
OK – so don’t really do this. This thought exercise is to help you realize that marketing for the sake of marketing, or a sales team for the sake of a sales team, is a waste of money. If you burn all that money in a bonfire, at least you’ll get over it quickly and focus on putting in a plan that produces results, instead of trying and hoping for a year, three years or more (like I did) before getting focused.
We did the spray-and-pray approach to marketing for years, assuming that brand awareness would have the right companies calling us when they had an IT issue. The reality is that spray-and-pray marketing rarely works. Don’t get me wrong – there is definitely a reason to drive brand awareness, but it must be a part of a full strategy, not the primary source of lead generation. Top-of-mind awareness is great, but you must know your target customers and be able to share your unique selling proposition and why it is important to them … so you can speak to their pain.
Then, communicate a message that resonates with them, so when they have that pain, they think of you and want your product. After all, Bud Light doesn’t sponsor church events. They sponsor sporting events where people sit around to watch games and drink their beer. However, having some fun with that, I can totally see them sponsoring a section of the evening news: “Welcome back from our commercial break. Our politics section is sponsored by Bud Light. We know you’ll need a beer to put up with this s---.”
Every product and sales effort requires a USP, and there are entire books focused on developing one. One of the best is “The Ultimate Sales Machine” by Chet Holmes. In this book, Holmes shares his strategy for the Dream 100 and how to develop a Core Story. I highly recommend the book and his organization’s courses if this is an area in which you need more advanced help.
Right and wrong ways to create, rebuild or verify a USP are out of scope for this book. What we need to ensure is that your USP includes some fundamental components that drive sales channels, sales steps, Growth Engine, and how you measure cost of sales and return on sales.
Springfield Business Journal’s 2023 Trusted Advisers event honors 20 businesspeople.