Today we publish the second edition of the Outsell Growth Framework, a map for driving growth as a data, information, or analytics business. Chock full of details on how to set and execute a strategic plan and tie it to M&A and product initiatives — buy, build, or partner — the Growth Framework is a how-to guide for all CEOs and their executive teams. It’s a cornerstone of how we serve our market and key to growing any business.
As I was reflecting on the Growth Framework this week, I wanted to share 10 pitfalls to avoid, which are the most common mistakes we see leaders make each year.
1. Not Understanding the Value Chain
Companies need to position themselves in value chains, both in the industries they serve and the ones in which they participate. See our value chains to plot a course. It’s essential to know one’s coordinates because they provide context for the plan.
2. Not Having a Strategic Plan
Plans are agile these days — they don’t take long, arduous hours to develop — but they need to get done, and they must be short, sweet, and relevant to the organization. We see too many companies that don’t have a compass to point to where they’re headed and don’t have criteria through which to filter opportunities because they don’t have a plan. They also don’t have a purpose to energize their talent.
3. Overestimating Market Size or Growth
A lot of leaders think their target markets are bigger than they are or that their growth will be faster than it is. Most information companies grow organically in the single digits in our industry — it’s a market share game rather than greenfield. Capturing budget is hard and takes time, and too many investors and CEOs think their markets are bigger or faster-growing than they really are.
4. Not Linking the CPO, CTO, and CDO Roles
Product, technology, and data/editorial/analytics need to operate in concert in what we call the “three legs of the stool” for executing product strategy. It’s essential to have these roles in motion operating in concert at the behest of whoever runs product.
5. Doing Too Much
Years ago, I learned the hard way that doing one thing great is better than doing several things mediocrely. I see too many companies with portfolios that are relevant for firms five times their size, and even the behemoths have too many offerings that create confusion for customers. Have a platform strategy, execute product on the platform, and streamline. Doing too much is a road to nowhere.
6. Lacking Alignment
Too many teams we speak with don’t know the direction of the company or the why behind that direction. Having a strategic plan and product roadmap, and having it clearly communicated while keeping all C-suite leaders aligned is critical. When there’s a lack of alignment at the top, the organization will operate like wonk.
7. Having a Meaningless Measuring Stick
Good plans show “whats by whens by whoms.” They also have measurement goals, so it’s clear when targets are met or exceeded. We see too many organizations that don’t have KPI dashboards generated by finance (the official scorekeeper) going out each month like clockwork after the close. What gets measured matters, and what doesn’t get measured leads to more mediocrity.
8. Not Managing Board Expectations
Our industry has more PE ownership than ever before, and too many leaders are led by their boards instead of managing them. Deliver the growth, execute the plan, or perish, but CEOs aren’t puppets operating at the owners’ behest. It takes a concert, and the money men and women aren’t always right — in fact, they often aren’t. We see too many PE owners getting involved in decisions they have little clue about or who think the answer is spending half a million with large consulting firms. Save the money.
9. Being Impatient
Most CEOs I know are living in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance. It’s the nature of being leaders. We are out in front, leading the charge, taking the hill, and asking for followship while we serve. By definition, though, when we are out in front, we are where we want to be or can see our destination, and we struggle wondering why others aren’t there with us. It takes time, repeated messages, consistency, and the willingness to be patient while understanding that our role is inherently to be ahead. Accept this reality with grace.
10. Failing to Demand Accountability
Ensuring that a company and its culture are accountable and internally motivated rather than external in a “blame” culture is everything. When people say “I will,” “I could have,” or “I should have,” that’s different than when they say something didn’t happen “because they…” A “we/they” culture is toxic, and ensuring alignment with values and purpose is critical. Not everyone belongs in every culture. Demand excellence and alignment with values — and accountability to them.
At Outsell, we serve CEOs and their teams and investors operating in the data, information, and analytics economy. As trusted advisors, we are here to ensure that our clients grow revenue, and watching our clients’ backs is just one thing we do. To learn more about how we can serve you and obtain your copy of the Outsell Growth Framework, please contact us.