Finding Hidden Pockets of Revenue Growth

by Victor Cheng

The last month has been such a whirlwind of activity for me.

In addition to working with existing clients many of whom are having record sales years, I’ve been working with several new clients getting them ready for having a big year in 2010.

In addition, I’ve been doing the road warrior thing giving speeches across the country. I started a month ago in Baltimore, then moved on to Dallas, Las Vegas, Seattle, Boston, New York City and I’m off to San Diego in about an hour.

Business owners everywhere are concerned about the economy and how to do well in it. I suppose it’s good to be the “recession guy” in the middle of a recession. (There is a really big lesson in that last sentence if you read it very carefully a few times. Hint: I was NOT the recession guy BEFORE the recession.)

What has been interesting to me is to get feedback from business owners across many different cities in America.

In my speeches, I talk about the importance of finding the overlooking opportunity in your business that is growing despite the fact that it is being ignored and under-resourced.

When I mention this idea, the initial reaction is often “Ha! like I’d overlook that kind of gift.”

Towards the end of my talk, I often ask people in the room how many have some portion of their business (often it’s a small portion of the business) that is either growing or has not been negatively impact by the economy as much as other parts of the business.

For some businesses, it’s a particular product or service line. In other, it’s a particular customer segment that continues to buy despite the economy.

But what I have noticed is that in EVERY audience I speak to, about 10% – 15% of the businesses owners in the room, when prompted, acknowledge that this phenomenon happens to describe their business.

Then I ask the “killer” question… the one that “shames” people into action… I then ask, “Over the past 12 months, have you increased your personal focus, staffing, or funding to further develop this particular revenue stream?”

And 95% of the team the answer is a very sheepish, “No.”

The owner of a very successful business up in Seattle said it best, “Ya know, I’m almost ashamed to admit. But you know, we actually do have this one service that has been growing month-over-month for the past 15 months in a row.”

“It’s a service that I think is kind of lame. I personally find it annoying. But, when I think about it our customers must really like it because it continues to grow despite our best efforts to ignore it.

We originally offered it on whim, but customers keep buying each month. And ya know, we haven’t done anything with it at all. Geez… that’s just so embarassing.”

This is reaction is extremely common. Many very successful business owners overlook these growth areas because the growth does not match their mental model of their own business.

If they think they are in the business of selling “Product A,” they interpret any growth in Product B as an accident… and they’re slow to recognize it as an opportunity.

One of the reason I insist that all of my clients look at their dashboard numbers regularly and for making major strategic decisions is to use facts to blow away any assumptions they’re holding about the business.

The facts describe reality. What you choose to do with it is an entirely other matter.

For example, I also met a former General Motors executive who was probably one of the top 50 in all of GM. He described to me how GM would look at their monthly sales figures and compare them to Toyota regularly.

They noticed that monthly sales had shrunk steadily 240 months in a row (that’s every month for 20 years). During that same time, Toyota and Honda sales grew steadily 240 months in a row… in the exact opposite trend of GM.

How did other GM executives interpret these market facts?

They concluded that Toyota didn’t know how to make “real” cars. They didn’t know how to “push iron” like the folks in Detroit.

Geez 240 months in a row of declining sales for GM vs. 240 months in a row of increasing sales for Toyota. There is a message in dashboard metrics if one is willing to look at it objectively.

See the real problem was DENIAL. GM was unable to accept the brutally harsh reality that Toyota was doing something right–at least by customer’s standards. It never occurred to the executives at GM to deal with reality and to learn from it.

This is a mistake. Don’t let happen in your business.

Business metrics tell a story… if you care to look. If your business stinks, it stinks. Deal with it. But whatever you do, don’t just stick your head in the sand and deny it.

Similarly, if the runt of your product line is selling well… don’t deny and discount it’s successes. Often times, you will stumble upon doing something exactly right in your marketplace. When you do, it’s important to be smart enough to realize you just got lucky, and capitalize on it.

Of course, it helps a LOT to be deliberately experimenting with new ways of generating revenue. Lots of disciplined trial and error will eventually allow you to stumble upon an opportunity.

The trick is then to realize you just got lucky and to capitalize on it.

This is how you find growth in virtually any business. It’s the process I used with all of my clients to find ways to grow their businesses when their competitors are shrinking.

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