The B2B Revenue Executive Experience
The B2B Revenue Executive Experience

Episode · 3 years ago

Jonathan David Lewis on Factors That Hold Back Growth


If you’ve ever been faced with a period of stagnation, it can be taxing trying to figure out what went wrong and why others are able to scale quickly when you’re stalling out.

We sat down with Jonathan David Lewis, author of Brand vs. Wild: Building Resilient Brands for Harsh Business Environments, and Strategy Director at McKee Wallwork + Co, to talk about what keeps companies from achieving B2B growth and to shed some light on why.

You were listening to the BB revenueexecutive experience, a podcast dedicated to helping the executives train their sales and marketingteams to optimize growth. Whether you're looking for techniques and strategies or tools andresources, you've come to the right place. Let's accelerate your growth in three,two, one. Welcome everyone to the BDB revenue executive experience. I'myour host, Chad Sanderson. Today we're talking about factors that hold be tobe companies back from achieving growth, things are getting their way, and recentresearch that may shed some light on why this is happening. To help us, we have with US Jonathan Davis Lewis, contributing writer for Forbes, author ofbrand versus wild, building resilient brands for harsh business environments, and strategydirector at mckey, Walwork and Co. Jonathan, thank you so much fortaking the time to be on the show today. Excited to be here.Thanks for having me. Excellent. So, before we jump into the top ofthe day, we like to start with a question and provide your valueand context to audience the beginning of the episode, help them understand you alittle bit better. So I'm curious if you look back over your career,can you tell us about a defining moment that you had that taught you alesson or maybe change a trajectory of where you thought you were going? Kindof what that event was and what lesson you took away from it that youcontinue to refer back to today? You know, Gosh, looking back thisthis might be something shared by a lot, but looking back, there's kind ofa two week period right at the end of two thousand and eight,beginning in two thousand and nine, I was just a young man in mycareer and Gosh, you know, the recession was was kicking in and abouttwo week period, every single day at at our firm we were receiving phonecalls from from clients just slashing budgets, killing campaign's, pulling everything back,and it was pretty terrifying. I mean everybody remembers kind of across the worldit was terrifying, but just seeing it in action and of course all ofthose decisions had enormous ramifications on our business. That really made and molded me inmy career and the subsequent years of really trying to survive in my owncompany, really trying to being forced to work with less, be more fruitfulwith less, the far more creative with less resources. I think that kindof stuck in my brain. It's in my bones now and that's part ofwhat has led to the book, into this research and really to the nichefor my entire company. Well, you see it as you see it,not just I mean I remember that time as well. That was a scarytime. I was in services business at the time too, and we experiencedsomething very similar. And then you see, I'm wondering, though, just outof curiosity and and just so the audience knows, I'm going completely offscript here, which happens. But but you know, we look out andyou see like the these movements, and maybe that's not the right word forthem, but all these people that are, you know, doing tiny houses orliving with lasts or, you know, condensing and really getting back to theheart of what, you know, what is important, as Simon Syndicwould say. They're why? What are they doing? And things like that, and I often wondered if that recession hit us all at an extremely vulnerablepoint and kind of gave birth to these types of movements. It sounds likethat might be, you know, part of part of the impact in yourcase, absolutely, I think. You know, just going going and fartherback, you know, thinking about the different impacts that the depression had onthat generation and kind of the the recovery after World War Two and the vibranceof culture and safety and luxury that had on that generation. I think everygeneration has sort of their marker and when you think of everybody who was goingthrough that time, especially that they're a...

...little bit earlier in their career ratherthan having some context and, you know, seeing that their highs and lows andknowing there were good times and their bad times to earlier in your career. I mean you that's that's all you know. You haven't known any different, and so it it. You see the surprising stats. millennials tend tobe a little more conservative in their life styles the previous generations. You know, they're they're less less drinking, less substance abuse, less a variety ofthings, and I think you're starting, you're seeing that in their decisionmaking inbusiness and in lifestyle as well. It's pretty incredible to think, you know, when you think of the sharing economy and the renting economy, where they'rewe're all sort of moving away from owning anything. That's just a that's justrisk aversion. You don't if you don't own anything, you can't lose anything. It's a pretty fascinating study. We're living through it, but I thinkothers are going to look back and make a lot of interesting conclusions. Ohyeah, agreed, agreed. So let's let's do the obligatory. Let's givethe audience of contents kind of on m keeywaworking Co and what you guys doand your role there. Yeah, well, mckeywal Working Company we just celebrated twentyone years and we specialize in turning around stalled, stuck and stale brands. And this this kind of came from our own period of wandering the wilderness. Not only we survived two thousand and eight, two thousand and nine,but we actually made the in five hundred list about ten years ago, andas soon as we made the five hundred fastest growing companies lists, our ownsales went backwards and then we had about ninety four percent turnover. We wehad no idea. I'm you. You've been in the services field. Youknow that in professional services you know your people are everything. So those reallydifficult time. But through that we actually got the contact information for the lasttwenty years worth of ink five hundred fastest growing companies, and we just reachedout to him and did our first national study to try to understand, youknow, why are some companies achieving sustainable growth and whire others hitting these headwings and going backwards? That led to our niche working with these stall,stubbingstell brands, and so that's what we do now. And and I'm anowner here at the company and I really specialize in strategy, business strategy,marketing strategy and, Gosh, I mean, going back to our previous conversation,it, strategy has markedly changed since the recession and with the growing disruptionin the industries, in the economy, really everything just seems to be differentnow and that's what we're grappling with and we're trying to get our arms around. And strategy is a loaded word. I mean when I was back beforeI this phase of my career where I started working on with sales organizations,I would run sales and marketing organizations for large digital agencies and so that strategyword, I've watched it kind of go through an evolution. I mean whenI started selling, I'm this probably too old, I shouldn't be putting thisout there, but twelve years ago, when I started selling, you know, those types of services, and you would say strategy to sea level executiveor to a top sales person or marketing person, it meant something completely differentthan it does today. I mean today it seems to take on more ofthat. You know, help me make sense of what this mess is thatwe're seeing right like the constant influx of digital data influences products. What isthis doing to the way human beings interacts? Help me understand what that means formy business and the strategy around it. Is that kind of a fair assessmentfrom your perspective as well? Absolutely, you know, I guess the wordof our time is really this, this kind of mass disorientation. Ilike that. I'm going to steal it, I'll attribute it, but I'm stillthat. You don't have to you don't even have to do that.It's yours. But no, there's so much information, so much change,there's so much going on that none of us know what's going on. Imean it's disorienting, which through our through...

...our research, I went into mybook, which is a different topic. We've learned kind of just shuts usdown. Most of US kind of try to hide, try to put ourhead down. It's a very natural it's it's really a physiological response and inthat it's not so much about five or ten year plans anymore. I meanit's really number one, what in the world's going on today? And thenhow do we make some shorter term progress, as we expect things to change sixmonths to a year, but we have to get from here to there. And so you know, the principles are of course the same in termsof high level strategy, but but the execution has changed wildly from, youknow, previous generations and how we've employed it. Yeah, without a doubt. So all right, so I totally I know I totally went off scriptwith some of that. So let's let's bring it back. You mentioned thebook came out last I think was you said, last May. Yeah,yeah, so came out last. Man, you guys have been doing some moreresearch. So I don't want to I don't want to take away fromthe book. So if you guys haven't read it or haven't grabbed it,brand versus wild highly recommend you pick up a copy. But there's some newresearch. It sounds like that you guys have been doing that just kind ofcame out q one of this year maybe, and said love to know more aboutthat. So help us, help us understand kind of what was thecontext around the research, what was a goal for doing it and and howdid you execute it? Before we get into kind of the results. Yeah, well, we've been conducting research on going for the last about twelve,fifteen years and what we've learned over that period is that when you boil itall down, there are about seven factors, seven key things that affect growth inbusinesses, and three of those things are external. There's things we can'tcontrol, but of course they impact us. So the economy, of course,competition, just technological disruption, all of those things will impact our growth. What really got US excited and kind of set our company down this trajectoryof working with stalt stuck and stell brands is four of the seven factors thataffect growth are internal. They're inside of our organizations. Are things like alack of alignment among leadership, is highly correlated with growth problems, lack offocus in the marketplace, a loss of nerve, if you can't be bold, if you don't have courage, and then, finally, inconsistency. Thoseare the things that are within our control and are highly correlated with growth problems. So the latest round that we just conducted and finished in q one,we wanted to translate this and really look at how how are organizations within theBEDB sector struggling, dealing with change and kind of finding ways to succeed,and so we've learned a lot from that research and how those four internal factorsare kind of revealing themselves and BEDB organizations today. And so how do yougo how do when you do the research? go about executing it? So wehave we have some standard questions now that from our methodology we've developed that we'retracking over times, but we're also looking at new things as they're evolving.So we went out and talk to a hundred and fifty c sweet decision makerswithin organization. So it includes marketing decision makers but also includes CFOs, CEOS, the sort of things, and we ask him a set number of questionsto really identify where are they in their growth cycle? Are you kind ofup and coming or things healthy are you? Are You commoditize? Are you unhealthy? And then we want to look at how are those for internal factorskind of rearing their ugly heads within those organizations? Excellent. So what typesof findings did you come across that surprise you, things that things that youweren't expecting or maybe, with this recent round, kind of Pique your interest? You know, I guess I wasn't surprised to see that nearly seventy percentof Bab organizations right now are are doing pretty well. They're healthy, they'regrowing, they're optimistic. I guess what...

...surprised me as almost thirty percent aredisplaying some real signs of fear, trepidation and feeling that they just don't havethe right business model, which is translating to really unhealthy activity inside the company. So we're seeing things like if companies can consider themselves commoditized. Forty threepercent of them agree that work is harming their personal relationships, and this iswhere we're seeing that. You know, work, work is personal, businessespersonal and when things are going wrong at work they really you bring that homewith you. I also was fascinated to see that fifty percent of these companieswho are who are experiencing slowed growth, they think they need a new businessmodel. I mean, that's fundamental. It's not that old growth is slowing. We need a new marketing campaign, we need a new cell strategy.No, no, they think they need a new business model. I meanit does it get more fundamental, and that's a seismic shift. I meanfor an organization to all of a sudden say, okay, the way we'vebeen doing business, let's throw it out the window and start over. Itis I mean it goes to the core of everything and how you operate asa business, and that's probably going to what you were mentioned earlier. That'show strategy has changed so much. I mean, I don't walk into acompany now and say, okay, what's your marketing objective? I say isyour product even relevant to the current market place? These are fundamental questions.But I think the most positive thing we've learned from our recent research is thatthere are really truly early warning signals that you can look for, that youcan identify to help yourself avoid commoditization. And that's where I get excited,because it there is hope. There are ways to navigate this uncertainty and that'swhat I try to teach my clients. So what we've learned is things likeif you think your company is lost, if you're more opportunistic than strategic,or even if you feel like you and your leadership team are overthinking things.These are all top responses from organizations that are near commodetization but not quite thereyet. So if you can identify some of these bad habits that are beginningto creep up, usually when growth is slowing. You're not quite commodetized yet, but you're not you're coming off your peak, you can begin to interveneand get back to growth, get back to internal health, the very thingsthat will help you be successful as you're dealing with change. And so whenyou look at these things, are there? Are there ways? Are Things thatyou help? You know, provide guidance, you provide to these executivehealth them navigate this disruption, to navigate this I mean those sound like fearresponses right, if your opportunistic versus strategic and and are thinking feel like you'reloss. I mean those are very emotional types of reactions to disruptive situations ormarket so how do you help them navigate that disruption? Well, the firstthing we all have to recognize is that in many ways, through all thisresearch we've conducted, and including the research that led to the book, oneof the key findings here was it's not so much the external factors, andeverybody is dealing with automation, everybody's dealing with artificial intelligence, etc. We'reall in the same plane field. There what really truly separates those that cansucceed and change and disrupt themselves and become relevant again and those that can't isthe internal dynamic. So the first thing we recommend, and any boy scoutwill tell you this, any survivals, because if you're lost, if youfeel disoriented and you're beginning to act out of fear, you need to stop. Stop, stop, think, observe, plan, and it's because you hitit right on the head. You become emotional when things start going thewrong direction. You kind of you you lose your logical reasoning activity in yourbrain, you move to the the emotional side of your brain and you beginto make short term, often poor decisions.

You have to stop. And onceyou stop, that's when you need to Orient Yourself to your surroundings.I mean in a wilderness of scenario, you need to sit down literally,you need to look around. You need it. You know. Can youhear a stream in the distance? Is there a mountain in the distance?Do you did you supplies? You know. And in the business context it's similar. I mean it's what do we have to work with? Yeah,maybe some things aren't going well, but we do have some strengths left inthis market place, some opportunities. You need to Orient Yourself to what trulyis going on and once you have the truth, then you can get towork. And you know how you get to work has changed from kind ofthese long term planning cycles to to short term testing, etc. But first, first things first, recognize that you're probably going to make the wrong decisionsout of emotion and stop, just stop. Well, I mean in the abilityto do that right to be to be completely honest with oneself. Doyou think that's easier for, say, smaller be tobe companies versus I don'twant to set a threshold, like I don't want to set a size ordollar toushold, but I think of like smaller organizations, startups or boutique shopsor things like that that ability to stop and truly be honest with oneself aboutwhat's going on is challenging one. I think in smaller in smaller organizations,because everything's on your shoulders, right, you're the one that has to doit, so that ability is a bit challenging there. And then when youget into larger organizations it's not that honest. He's not difficult because it's all onyour shoulders, but because so many people are depending on you or you'regoing to impact so many people. Were so many people have to be involvedin the decisionmaking process. How do you how do you suggest that? Youknow what would be like the top to two things you would suggest organizations toreally get to that point where they can truly stop and be honest with themselves. You know, there's a couple of a couple of principles that we reallybelieve in an employ for our our own clients that we actually have borrowed forPatrick Lyncy on you. I don't know if you read any of stuff,but great speaker, great author. He one of my favorite business books thathe wrote is getting naked, and he has these two concepts. First,every organization, especially when they're at these critical moments. They have to bewilling to enter the danger, and we've all been in those meetings where youknow we're talking at circles. Everybody, or several people, know what's reallygoing on but nobody's really willing to say it. I've been in those meetings. Have to be willing to enter the danger, look them in the eye, face the truth. But that's not enough. You really need the secondconcept and that's enter the danger with the kind truth. Truth isn't enough becauseyou can go in there and wreck house and you'll turn people off and kindof scare them. But kindness isn't enough either, because it's impotent without thetruth. So if you're willing to enter the danger with the kind truth,you'd be amazed at what companies and teams of people are able to get through. It's incredible when you look at survival stories and look at case studies.We're really capable of almost anything if we're willing to do it with honesty,with humility and to really operate as a team. I would say the biggestdifference between big and small in terms of how the bed be organizations react andact isn't so much in their willingness to be honest. I have found mostpeople aren't willing to be honest with themselves or even incapable of sort of seeingthe truth of the situation because because they're so close, it usually takes externalcircumstances to humble us to the point where we actually take a step back andlook at the reality of situation. The biggest difference I see in the inthe biggest smallest organizations are their ability, once they've been humbled, to thencope. The smaller organizations often can move quicker. They don't have as muchat at risk the bigger organizations is obviously...

...the logistics of making substantial changes isjust bigger and harder to execute, so they tend to be slower and sometimesmore risk averse well, and I think that maybe a contributing factor why wesee all the stats on all of those failed, quote unquote, change initiativesright, for it sounds like having having been a part of them that havefailed and succeeded and worked with clients where and some all you know, they'llchange the label. Maybe it's digital transformation, organizational transformation, whatever it is,it's something transformation. Right, they've all got a modifier. But atthe end of the day, the ability to do that requires doing it froma place like you just talked about, where you have really accepted the truth, you have been humbled and it is it is coming back in a waythat is leveraging those lessons right to make the positive changes, not just foryourself, but for your teams, your organization and hopefully into the market.Yeah, and this is something we argue about a lot, is this questionthat is it possible for an organization to disrupt themselves? We all talk aboutit, we all pretend like it's possible, but really, truly, when youlook at the case studies, in the research, is it possible fromwithin to disrupt yourself? And and so far I have found very few exampleswhere it's been, you know, something that grew from within. It's usuallyrequired some external force of some kind forcing the issue. No, I wouldagree with that whole hardly. From my experience, I don't. I'm infact, I mean I'm we're so far off script, but this is awesome. It's this is what the this is the beauty of the podcast. Butas we're as I think about it, I can't in a twenty plus yourcareer. I'm not sure I could tell you one company that I've worked withor encountered where the disruption was internal, where it was where it was adecision. It typically is much more reactive, and I'm curious why do you whydo you think that is? Why do you think is it perspective?Is that I can't see the forest for the trees? Is it fear basedresponse? All the above, I mean, I'm kind of from your perspective andexperience. I'd love to know kind of what you're seeing in that regard. Well, a hundred percent it's it has to do with perspective. Imean that's fundamentally the reason they're still consultants out there. You know there youcan bring a lot of stuff in in house, but you just can't bringperspective in house. It's literally that's the point of perspective, is a stepoutside of yourself and see yourself honestly. So I really truly think that's abig part of it. But also it's just it's so easy when when revenuesgo in the right direction, when profits go in the right direction, it'sso easy to say, you know what, that person's a headache or you knowmaybe that strategy's not quite right, but whatever, we're making money.I got other things to worry about. It's when things go poorly that thingscome to a head. You have to face reality and I just said,I think there's not the self motivation it or it's or at least it's justso rare. You know often I think you have to you find it incompanies with sort of dictators as as like Steve Jobs and others, and thatthat's where perhaps you can do it within because you have some visionary who's WHO'sscary to work with and he's going to or she's going to just force itthrough. But by and large it just doesn't work that way. And andwhat happens is things unhealthy habits, unhealthy practice, is unhealthy relationship ships.They go on too long, too far, and then's something bad happens and youjust hope it hasn't gone too far where you can't turn it around.And what we're finding in this research is the the what I'm finding so excitedis you can find early warning signals. You can tell, you can literallytake a test. We have a survey based on this. Three National Studieswe've conducted their early warning signals and if you find those in your organization,that itself maybe that external impetus to do something about it, because without itI don't know what to do except for hope for the best. When thingsgo wrong, crush your figures, gets...

...your asked by. So if somebodywanted to get ahold of that survey, where how would they go about that? Reach out to you or to the company we have. Well, thethe simple version, is on our home page, M Keey Walworkcom. Youknow, it's a simple, free survey, twenty questions and they're the twenty mostpredictive questions from our three rounds of national research that are tied to theinternal factors and we kind of look at how healthy or unhealthy you are.And these four internal factors were currently based on this new round of research,put it together a more sophisticated, deeper read sir, sorry, survey that'sbased on the larger questions so that companies can actually kind of diagnose themselves andfind out where they are in the growth life cycle, find out how manyof these internal factors are dealing with. And what we're seeing is if youfind yourself, you know, getting close to commoditization, but not quite there. Then here, you know, here are five things you can do toavoid that scenario. It get back to health. Excellent. All right.So let's change direction just a little bit here. I ask all of ourguests kind of two standard questions towards the end of each interview. First issimply, as a founder, I have a company that makes you, insales parlance, a prospect war target, which sounds a little rougher, butI've always like to ask her guests. When somebody wants to get in frontof you that you don't have a relationship with, they don't. They don'tever referral right. They literally are trying to capture your attention, build credibilityand and get you to give them fifteen to thirty minutes a time. What'sthe most effective way for them to do that? Oh Man, well,I'm sure you you experience this every day. I'm inundated with emails and phone callstry to sell stuff to me or to the company. It's really difficult. I would say it's not. It's not ineffective. There are times whereI take the call or I read the email. It's fairly rare, butthe biggest thing to me is relevance, because I can't tell you how muchI receive. That really is irrelement. Somehow I'm on the list because I'mbreathing and I'm a company rather than you know, there's there's a specific needin my category, specific to my company, that it clearly is hyper relevant.So relevance is everything. If there's if there's an email, you knowit's not just about here's this new product, give me something, give me someinside, give me something that's going to help me, that's relevant tomy problem, which unfortunately means you have to do some work, you haveto learn about me, you know, you have to find out what's relevantto people in my industry, you know. So relevance is everything to me becausethere are times I call Google, reply to emails or phone calls,but it has to be relevant, excellent. I'm relevance is everything. It doesn'ttake a lot of time. For those of you out there, we'vetalked about this a hundred times on this on this podcast. If you're notgoing to do your homework, if you're not going to show your prospect orthe person who going to talk to the respect of having done a little bitof homework and attempt to nail down that relevance, your success rate is goingto go through the floor and, quite frankly, you're going to just annoypeople. And I am one of those people that you are annoying now,because it's my job, I happen to respond and say, Hey, thisis how you could have done this better. And No, I still don't wantthe meeting, but that's part of the fun I get to have.So all right. So last question. We call it our acceleration insight.If there's one thing you could tell sales, marketing or professional services people, onepiece of advice that, if they listened, you believe would help themhit their targets and be more successful. What would it be and why?Oh Gosh, it's got to be empathy. Listen. We're so focused on selling, we're so focus on hitting numbers, and there's so many more numbers aroundus to look at and measure. We it's so easy to forget tolisten and have a little bit of empathy and and in my experience that itselfhas gotten me and and people I know... much farther. Excellent, Jonathan. Best way for people to reach out to you and connect if they wantto talk more about the topics. Learn about the book, the research,the survey. What's the best way to reach out to you and follow up? On this show you can find everything about me, my company, thesurvey and my book on our website, the key while workcom. Of course, brand versus wild is available on Amazon as well. Excellent, perfect.Thank you, Jonathan, very much for taking the time. Has Been Absolutepleasure to have you on the show. Yeah, likewise, it has beena lot of fun. Thanks for having me. All right, everybody thatdoes it. For this episode, you know the drill. Hit US upa bit to be REV exactcom share the episode with friends, families and Coworkers. Drop us a line let us know who else you'd like to haveon the show so we can interview and provide you value at every step.Until next time, we have value, prime solutions with you all, nothingbut the greatest success. You've been listening to the BB revenue executive experience.To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show and Itunes oryour favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until nexttime,.

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