As the new year settles in, companies are evaluating and reevaluating their strategic plans, trying to squeeze as much growth as possible out of their current trajectories without running dry. Yet, despite all the hype around growth marketing, many companies plateau — even with all of the effort they put in. In fact, more than half of the companies in the United States fail before three years, and less than 6% are able to make it past the $10-million mark in revenue within 10 years.

Why is this the case? The answer may lie in the approach that founders take to growing their companies.

Growth marketing isn’t magic, but it requires the right mindset. If you want the same results you’ve always been getting, keep doing what you’ve always been doing. But if you’re truly ready for growth, it’s time to change.

It’s time to realize that it’s not about you — it’s about your customers

February marked the beginning of Grow Camp 2018. Hosted by MaRS Venture Programming, Grow Camp is a six-week long series of workshops where thought leaders and entrepreneurs exchange ideas about the makings of a successful growth pathway for companies. The growing and scaling ventures in attendance were all there for the same reason:  to figure out and work through just what was stopping them from becoming international unicorns.

The takeaways?

1. Iterate, align and shoot for the [North] stars

Growth is about value — specifically,  the value you bring to your customers. Does your North Star metric, the metric that best captures your core value, align with this value?

Too many companies get comfortable with their current state and expect growth to just happen. Speaker Sean Ellis — the author of Hacking Growth, father of the term “growth hacking” and founder of the ever-growing GrowthHackers Conference
had a few words to say about this at Grow Camp.

“If you’re not testing, you’re not accelerating growth.” —Sean Ellis, @SeanEllis, @GrowthHackers

To grow, you need to figure out where you can improve.

  • Break down each step of your funnel to identify where you are losing customers.
  • Then, test intelligently. Each experiment you conduct should be focused on accelerating your North Star metric.
  • And never, ever, stop iterating.

2. It’s all in the customers’ hands

Much of the time, we see a brand as something a company creates that attracts customers. But that’s an outdated model. Today, the power is in the hands of the customers. Instead of creating brands, companies create customers who, in turn, build the brands that sustain their companies. In other words, it’s time for companies to place their focus on cultivating their customers.

Known for his writings on branding, innovation and creativity, Grow Camp speaker Marty Neumeier, the author of The Brand Gap and The Brand Flip, discussed the importance of cultivating your customers and shed some light on customer psychology.

People buy for an identity. Psychologically speaking, people want to belong — and what they purchase helps them belong to a specific tribe. Your job as a founder is to ensure that your company’s purpose aligns with your target market’s identity and empowers your customers to achieve the identity they want.

However, to retain these customers, the aims of your customer have to align with your “onlyness” or the unique differentiation your company has. But does your customer agree with your “onlyness” statement? That is, do they believe that what you offer is unique?

3. Be your own customer

It’s all about understanding your customer. Alison Gibbins, an expert in technology solutions at RBC, elaborated on this point at Grow Camp. Who your customers are at the growth stage may be vastly different from who your customers were when you did your initial customer development.  The takeaway is that it’s always a good time to be curious about your customers and to figure out just who is using your product.

This goes back to Sean’s point about testing. Create personas for each type of customer you have and examine your customers at every stage of the funnel. Where are they dropping off? What tests can you run to patch the funnel? What is resonating (or not resonating) with your customers at different stages in the funnel?

Most of the time, we don’t realize the clunkiness of the sales process or of the user flow our customers endure for us, nor do we understand the reasoning behind their churn.

That’s why:

“If you’re not using your product, you should be.” — Alison Gibbins, @alivey

4. Talent acquisition is customer acquisition

No, I don’t necessarily mean that your employees need to use your product (though, they really ought to). Rather, you should take everything you know about developing customers and put it into acquiring talent.

What is your employee value proposition? Why should people work for you? Would you apply for the jobs you’re offering?

As the talent gurus at Grow Camp — Daneal Charney, director of talent at MaRS, and Mark Evans from ME Consulting — noted, you need to keep selling (providing value) to your employees — just as you would to your customers.

“Talent researches your company like a customer.” — Daneal Charney, @dcharney; Mark Evans, @markevans

Your employees know as much about your company as your potential customers do and, as a result, talent acquisition and retention are as much about providing value to your staff as customer acquisition is about providing value to your customer. What sort of people do you want to hire and are you sending the right message to attract them?

How would your customers feel if they could no longer use your product?

Conversely, how would your employees feel if they couldn’t work for you anymore? Too often, we are bogged down with the daily workings and challenges that we face with our own companies, and we forget the big picture. Thinking from the perspectives of both your customers and your talent allows you to frame growth in terms of the value you provide. With this mindset, you can more readily identify the gaps in your funnel, fix the leaks and attract the right talent for your scaling company, even with these company growing pains.

Ultimately, if you want to grow, it’s time for a mindset shift. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about them.

Tannya Cai

Tannya is responsible for the planning, execution, marketing and development of experiential programs and workshops within Regional Innovation Centres and Campus Linked Accelerators in the province of Ontario. See more…