Early Success Can Be Tricky – Take Care!

by Mike Audet on April 9, 2014

DangerWe work with all types of companies and organizations and have the opportunity to see many different approaches to successfully delivering products and services.  Successful companies have many similarities and when you look into them closely you see certain constants.  These companies almost always have strong leadership, values and a clear vision that is understood by everyone that works there.  When you look back at their evolution you see a company that stayed on track to their core mission.  You’ll see a company that understood the basics and paid attention to detail, their customers, what the market was asking for and they delivered.

But success, as anyone knows, can be a slippery slope. In fact, sometimes it is success itself that creates problems, especially for young, growing companies. Yesterday’s success story can quickly turn into today’s has been.  We’ve seen it over and over and yet it continues to happen.

Some of the reasons are very understandable when you think about it.  First, we often have a really hard time doing anything different from what made us successful.  If it worked then it must work now, right?  Second, as a small company grows, the brain trust and visionaries that brought the early success find that they can no longer do all the same things they did when they were just getting started.  And third, as we start to experience success and more success we believe we’ve made it and we stop paying attention to things that were core to our success in this first place.  This is over simplifying it but I have seen it time and again in companies as they start to experience success.  Take a look at each of these points and see if there is any truth to it in your company or organization.

We Keep On Doing What Brought Us Here!

If there is one thing you can count on in our lifetime it is change!  Everything is changing and those that can manage change in their lives and businesses prosper from this reality.  Unfortunately, while many of our businesses start as the result of a desire to deliver some new and exciting service or product, needed in today’s changing landscape, once we experience success we often get rigid and static.  Our very success keeps us from rocking the boat.  We’re afraid to change course.  Success today, however, requires continuous course adjustments. Things are moving fast and if you stay still for long you are going to be run over, it’s that simple.

What this means for your company is you have to continually challenge your assumptions.  Just because something worked last year doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow or next year. One of my favorite quotes is by the famous inventor, Charles Kettering, who says:

 If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong!

 This is true for product design, customer service, sales, everything.  Don’t be afraid to challenge anything and instill this value throughout your company.

How Do You Clone Yourself As You Grow?

We’ve all been to presentations by new companies where the young executive or team, full of vision and energy, tells us about their company, their products and services and what this means to us.  There is an energy and excitement about their vision because it is their vision, their baby.  This energy and passion, this company personality, are often the key reasons these companies take off because it is infectious and compelling.  When an early customer wants something a bit different, no problem, the man in charge says “we can do that” and they do, they adjust real time.   The problem is, as success occurs, things change.  Now there are customers to attend to and product issues to deal with and staff to hire and train and on and on.  The little things that brought them early success can’t be done anymore because that core team is being pulled in a million different directions.   How can that core team clone themselves so they can respond to their success without losing the very things that made them successful? How do they keep that core vision, responsiveness and company personality as they grow?

The answer is by finding ways to keep that same dynamic going even though the core team can’t do it all by themselves anymore.  As the company grows and demands on the key leaders increase they have to have clear strategies to maintain connections with their customers they can no long do in person, in the same way.

Do Customer Research From Day One And Forever

Customer research should be in place from the beginning of a company and have no end date.  I think this may be the most common mistake I see in every small company I work with.  Young companies may have done research as they bring a product to market but then think of what happens.  Their brain trust is usually on the front line.  They are meeting with potential customers. They are pitching their vision.  They are getting instant feedback.  They make changes.  They pitch it again.  They make adjustments and keep on doing this cycle as they bring a product or service to market.  Research is actually happening live with the actual decision makers that can take action real time because it is critical to their success.

Then success occurs, sales come in, customers come on board and things change dramatically. They go into delivery mode, which is how they make money.  This is wonderful but at the same time they stop getting the type of instant feedback they did initially.  They make the mistake of thinking that because they are making sales everything is on track.  It might be or might not, but if they aren’t doing customer research they won’t know for sure.

Doing research for a small, young company is hard and there is a cost and most if they do it, do it themselves, which is a mistake as well.  Doing customer satisfaction research on your own products and services is like asking a mother to rate her children.  You can’t be objective.  Another problem is customers will often not tell you the truth if they like you but they will tell a 3rd party researcher the truth every time.  I can’t tell you how often I have heard someone say during an interview something like, “I wouldn’t say this to them, they are such great guys, but…” It’s just human nature.  You need to hear what they like and what they don’t like on a continual basis.

So the message is, spend the money and do your research religiously.  If things are going great, you’ll confirm it and can use those testimonials in your marketing ads.   If there is a product or service issue, you’ll find out and you can address it when the problem is small and easy to correct.  Most importantly, you’ll continue to get this information to your key leadership to keep them in touch with your most valuable asset, your, clients.

Don’t Lose Your Company Personality

Remember, one of the key reasons your company was successful as you grew is because your key decision makers were on the front line, sharing, listening, adjusting and innovating.   As your company gets bigger and bigger you can’t do it the same way but you still need to share, listen, and innovate.  Research is one way to listen but you also have to find ways to let your key leadership touch your customers.  With growth that becomes more difficult but remember, people buy from people and companies they like and trust.   You need to stay in touch with your customers and to make sure as your company grows you don’t lose that company personality they were attracted to, to begin with.  Start a blog if you don’t have one already and do a monthly newsletter. Keep your core team in front of the customers using these channels.  Make it interesting and make sure the tone reflects your company personality.  Share your successes and challenges and use those channels to share your client stories on how your products and services are working for them.

Another great way to reach your clients is to schedule events around national conferences.  This is a great opportunity for your key leadership to touch as many customers as possible, so take advantage of it.  The important thing to remember is to make sure the event reflects your real company personality.  Make the event fun and use it as an opportunity to thank your clients for their business and to strengthen your relationships and leave sales for another time.  Your customers will appreciate it!

WAV Group

WAV Group helps growing technology companies make the leap from brilliant startups to market leaders.  From research and strategic planning to sales channel development and developing successful convention strategies and more, we can help you reach your business objectives.

To learn more about how WAV Group can help you reach the next level of company growth email us at mike@wavgroup.com or call us at 716-839-4628.

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