Why is it so hard to grow a B2B business like we used to?

Ed Marsh | Mar 5, 2014

The curse of "the new normal"

"When the world changes, industrialists get stressed. That’s because the industrial system is optimized and polished and stretched to be good at maximizing profit." Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception
Every B2B business owner or senior exec with whom I speak offers a similar take on business.  It's tough to grow.

The normal answer is something like "We're doing OK.  You know we're holding our own and showing some growth." And there's always a 'but' implied by tone.  Later in the conversation that 'but' becomes clear and is usually some form of "But growth isn't fast enough to:"
  • create opportunity for family growing into the business
  • maintain a wide comfort margin over loan covenants
  • strengthen performance adequately in preparation for a planned liquidity event
  • generate enough free cash to invest in the proactive programs to support future growth
"But your worldview, by its nature, keeps you from seeing the world as it is." Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

The curse of your "lizard brain"

"Just because you have risen to a senior leadership position doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any easier to walk through your fear. Frankly it’s a hell of a lot easier to say “no” to a new venture than to risk being wrong or looking foolish. As leaders we can do better than defaulting to the least risky position, to letting our lizard brain win. If we are going to say “no” we need to know what a “yes” looks like. And we need to be able to communicate that to those we lead. And when they come back having addressed our concerns and resolved our doubts, then we owe them that “yes.” It takes guts to say yes, and you owe it to your team to be clear and consistent about what earns a “yes.” Your job is to use your guts, not to hide them." Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception
Fear (and it's siblings and cousins) live in our amygdala - the part of the brain that has been programmed over thousands of years to "play it safe."  

That doesn't necessarily mean risk free - signing a personal guarantee isn't risk free, but doing so based on a traditional business plan reassures our amygdala that we're not taunting the dinosaur.  We're playing the game the right way.

And often manufacturing and engineering minds are particularly attuned to this natural line of thinking.  Working through a very linear analysis, plenty of rational facts are available to reinforce traditional approaches and support the emotional (and maybe outside investor and advisor) demand for conservative stability.

In other words we are programmed to approach today's challenges using tactics that are no longer suited to the environment.  We're trying to play it safe....and safe no longer is.  Maybe it's comfortable, but they say that the final moments of life while drowning or freezing are oddly peaceful and comfortable as well.
"As the power and impact of the industrial age peak and inevitably shrink, safe isn’t helpful. We can be as safe as possible and it’s not going to generate growth, it’s not going to take advantage of the myriad connections we can now make, and it’s certainly not going to benefit you." Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

And that impacts our growth how?

OK - nothing remarkable thus far.  We all know the world has changed.

But that's precisely the problem.  The world has changed and you know it.  It has changed for your company; for your customers, and for their customers.  And what has evolved in your business development to substantively embrace those changes?

NOTHING.  Seriously.  A little fiddling with SEO here or a press release there isn't going to do it.  Neither will a new rep or a tradeshow in Canada.  Your casting about within your comfort zone to find solutions to challenges that have moved well ahead of your comfort.  In other words you're banging away with your hammer - but the business development challenges you face today are no longer nails.

The techniques with which you are comfortable aren't going to create growth.  Period.  It's trite...but true.  You will have to take a leap of faith - with eyes open and vision forward.  

Until you do, you'll bear the stress of looming covenants and trepidation about your impending liquidity event.  But once you adjust your business development approach, growth will become natural and engaging.
"The safety zone has changed, but your comfort zone has not. Those places that felt safe—the corner office, the famous college, the secure job—aren’t. You’re holding back, betting on a return to normal, but in the new normal, your resistance to change is no longer helpful." Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

The blessing of amazing resources

The great news is that while we labor under curses (that we've heard repeatedly are justifiable hesitations) we also have tremendous resources available today that weren't - even just a few years ago.

The internet, to state the obvious, really has changed everything including the way you buy, and the way each of your customers buys.  And for companies interested in business growth (rather than just lamenting the difficulty) it provides a platform for new approaches to B2B sales & marketing which are remarkable.
"The extraordinary thing about our revolution is that it is turning most business into show business. Even nonbusiness projects, from school to fund-raising, feel more like show business than we’ve seen before." Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception
The internet also will convey the value that your business offers to every corner of the globe.  International sales were once the domain of multinationals - but are now well within the profitable reach of even micro businesses.  For B2B manufacturing companies, global business development should be a pillar of corporate strategy.

You were once bold - are you still?

You've lived the somber reality of reactive business development.  Perhaps you've glimpsed the opportunity of proactive, parallel efforts in B2B digital marketing and global business development.

The real question for business owners today, therefore, is whether they can recapture the bold vision which empowered them to create products and launch a company - and apply that bold approach to today's environment and opportunities.  Or will they wilt - unable to summon the energy to dynamically pursue the opportunities.
"Unfortunately for those considering a timid step...the odds of external success start small and grow slowly. So we can’t just commit to one act of kamiwaza, one bold emotional risk, and be done with it. We have to commit to a lifetime of them. It’s a process, not an event. You don’t do a little...and then go back to work. Your work is your art (and vice versa)." Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception
Make no mistake.  It's scary & exhausting.  It takes a ton of work and a commitment to persevere despite the naysayers (internal and external!)  This is about CHANGE, and will impact every corner of your business.

But the alternative sucks!

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