The B2B Revenue Executive Experience
The B2B Revenue Executive Experience

Episode · 4 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 revenue executive experience, a podcast dedicated to helping the executives train their sales and marketing teams to optimize growth. Whether you're looking for techniques and strategies or tools and resources, 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'm your host, Chad Sanderson. Today we're talking about factors that hold be to be companies back from achieving growth, things are getting their way, and recent research 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 of brand versus wild, building resilient brands for harsh business environments, and strategy director at mckey, Walwork and Co. Jonathan, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show today. Excited to be here. Thanks for having me. Excellent. So, before we jump into the top of the day, we like to start with a question and provide your value and context to audience the beginning of the episode, help them understand you a little 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 a lesson or maybe change a trajectory of where you thought you were going? Kind of what that event was and what lesson you took away from it that you continue to refer back to today? You know, Gosh, looking back this this might be something shared by a lot, but looking back, there's kind of a 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 my career and Gosh, you know, the recession was was kicking in and about two week period, every single day at at our firm we were receiving phone calls 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 world it was terrifying, but just seeing it in action and of course all of those decisions had enormous ramifications on our business. That really made and molded me in my career and the subsequent years of really trying to survive in my own company, really trying to being forced to work with less, be more fruitful with less, the far more creative with less resources. I think that kind of stuck in my brain. It's in my bones now and that's part of what has led to the book, into this research and really to the niche for my entire company. Well, you see it as you see it, not just I mean I remember that time as well. That was a scary time. I was in services business at the time too, and we experienced something very similar. And then you see, I'm wondering, though, just out of curiosity and and just so the audience knows, I'm going completely off script here, which happens. But but you know, we look out and you see like the these movements, and maybe that's not the right word for them, but all these people that are, you know, doing tiny houses or living with lasts or, you know, condensing and really getting back to the heart of what, you know, what is important, as Simon Syndic would 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 vulnerable point and kind of gave birth to these types of movements. It sounds like that might be, you know, part of part of the impact in your case, absolutely, I think. You know, just going going and farther back, you know, thinking about the different impacts that the depression had on that generation and kind of the the recovery after World War Two and the vibrance of culture and safety and luxury that had on that generation. I think every generation has sort of their marker and when you think of everybody who was going through that time, especially that they're a...

...little bit earlier in their career rather than having some context and, you know, seeing that their highs and lows and knowing 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 to be 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 of things, and I think you're starting, you're seeing that in their decisionmaking in business 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're we're all sort of moving away from owning anything. That's just a that's just risk 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 think others are going to look back and make a lot of interesting conclusions. Oh yeah, agreed, agreed. So let's let's do the obligatory. Let's give the audience of contents kind of on m keeywaworking Co and what you guys do and your role there. Yeah, well, mckeywal Working Company we just celebrated twenty one 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, and as soon as we made the five hundred fastest growing companies lists, our own sales went backwards and then we had about ninety four percent turnover. We we had no idea. I'm you. You've been in the services field. You know that in professional services you know your people are everything. So those really difficult time. But through that we actually got the contact information for the last twenty years worth of ink five hundred fastest growing companies, and we just reached out to him and did our first national study to try to understand, you know, why are some companies achieving sustainable growth and whire others hitting these head wings 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 an owner 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 disruption in the industries, in the economy, really everything just seems to be different now 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 before I 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 strategy word, I've watched it kind of go through an evolution. I mean when I started selling, I'm this probably too old, I shouldn't be putting this out there, but twelve years ago, when I started selling, you know, those types of services, and you would say strategy to sea level executive or to a top sales person or marketing person, it meant something completely different than it does today. I mean today it seems to take on more of that. You know, help me make sense of what this mess is that we're seeing right like the constant influx of digital data influences products. What is this doing to the way human beings interacts? Help me understand what that means for my business and the strategy around it. Is that kind of a fair assessment from your perspective as well? Absolutely, you know, I guess the word of our time is really this, this kind of mass disorientation. I like that. I'm going to steal it, I'll attribute it, but I'm still that. 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. I mean it's disorienting, which through our through...

...our research, I went into my book, which is a different topic. We've learned kind of just shuts us down. Most of US kind of try to hide, try to put our head down. It's a very natural it's it's really a physiological response and in that it's not so much about five or ten year plans anymore. I mean it's really number one, what in the world's going on today? And then how do we make some shorter term progress, as we expect things to change six months to a year, but we have to get from here to there. And so you know, the principles are of course the same in terms of high level strategy, but but the execution has changed wildly from, you know, previous generations and how we've employed it. Yeah, without a doubt. So all right, so I totally I know I totally went off script with some of that. So let's let's bring it back. You mentioned the book came out last I think was you said, last May. Yeah, yeah, so came out last. Man, you guys have been doing some more research. So I don't want to I don't want to take away from the 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 new research. It sounds like that you guys have been doing that just kind of came out q one of this year maybe, and said love to know more about that. So help us, help us understand kind of what was the context around the research, what was a goal for doing it and and how did 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 it all down, there are about seven factors, seven key things that affect growth in businesses, and three of those things are external. There's things we can't control, 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 trajectory of working with stalt stuck and stell brands is four of the seven factors that affect growth are internal. They're inside of our organizations. Are things like a lack of alignment among leadership, is highly correlated with growth problems, lack of focus in the marketplace, a loss of nerve, if you can't be bold, if you don't have courage, and then, finally, inconsistency. Those are 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 the BEDB 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 factors are kind of revealing themselves and BEDB organizations today. And so how do you go how do when you do the research? go about executing it? So we have we have some standard questions now that from our methodology we've developed that we're tracking 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 makers within organization. So it includes marketing decision makers but also includes CFOs, CEOS, the sort of things, and we ask him a set number of questions to really identify where are they in their growth cycle? Are you kind of up 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 factors kind of rearing their ugly heads within those organizations? Excellent. So what types of findings did you come across that surprise you, things that things that you weren'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 percent of Bab organizations right now are are doing pretty well. They're healthy, they're growing, they're optimistic. I guess what...

...surprised me as almost thirty percent are displaying some real signs of fear, trepidation and feeling that they just don't have the 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 three percent of them agree that work is harming their personal relationships, and this is where we're seeing that. You know, work, work is personal, businesses personal and when things are going wrong at work they really you bring that home with you. I also was fascinated to see that fifty percent of these companies who are who are experiencing slowed growth, they think they need a new business model. 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 mean it does it get more fundamental, and that's a seismic shift. I mean for an organization to all of a sudden say, okay, the way we've been doing business, let's throw it out the window and start over. It is I mean it goes to the core of everything and how you operate as a business, and that's probably going to what you were mentioned earlier. That's how strategy has changed so much. I mean, I don't walk into a company now and say, okay, what's your marketing objective? I say is your 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 that there are really truly early warning signals that you can look for, that you can 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's what I try to teach my clients. So what we've learned is things like if 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 there yet. So if you can identify some of these bad habits that are beginning to 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 intervene and get back to growth, get back to internal health, the very things that will help you be successful as you're dealing with change. And so when you look at these things, are there? Are there ways? Are Things that you help? You know, provide guidance, you provide to these executive health them navigate this disruption, to navigate this I mean those sound like fear responses right, if your opportunistic versus strategic and and are thinking feel like you're loss. I mean those are very emotional types of reactions to disruptive situations or market so how do you help them navigate that disruption? Well, the first thing we all have to recognize is that in many ways, through all this research we've conducted, and including the research that led to the book, one of the key findings here was it's not so much the external factors, and everybody is dealing with automation, everybody's dealing with artificial intelligence, etc. We're all in the same plane field. There what really truly separates those that can succeed and change and disrupt themselves and become relevant again and those that can't is the internal dynamic. So the first thing we recommend, and any boy scout will tell you this, any survivals, because if you're lost, if you feel disoriented and you're beginning to act out of fear, you need to stop. Stop, stop, think, observe, plan, and it's because you hit it right on the head. You become emotional when things start going the wrong direction. You kind of you you lose your logical reasoning activity in your brain, you move to the the emotional side of your brain and you begin to make short term, often poor decisions.

You have to stop. And once you 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 you hear 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 in this market place, some opportunities. You need to Orient Yourself to what truly is going on and once you have the truth, then you can get to work. And you know how you get to work has changed from kind of these 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 decisions out of emotion and stop, just stop. Well, I mean in the ability to do that right to be to be completely honest with oneself. Do you think that's easier for, say, smaller be tobe companies versus I don't want to set a threshold, like I don't want to set a size or dollar toushold, but I think of like smaller organizations, startups or boutique shops or things like that that ability to stop and truly be honest with oneself about what'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 do it, so that ability is a bit challenging there. And then when you get into larger organizations it's not that honest. He's not difficult because it's all on your shoulders, but because so many people are depending on you or you're going to impact so many people. Were so many people have to be involved in the decisionmaking process. How do you how do you suggest that? You know what would be like the top to two things you would suggest organizations to really 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 really believe in an employ for our our own clients that we actually have borrowed for Patrick 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 that he wrote is getting naked, and he has these two concepts. First, every organization, especially when they're at these critical moments. They have to be willing to enter the danger, and we've all been in those meetings where you know we're talking at circles. Everybody, or several people, know what's really going 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 second concept and that's enter the danger with the kind truth. Truth isn't enough because you can go in there and wreck house and you'll turn people off and kind of scare them. But kindness isn't enough either, because it's impotent without the truth. 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 biggest difference between big and small in terms of how the bed be organizations react and act isn't so much in their willingness to be honest. I have found most people aren't willing to be honest with themselves or even incapable of sort of seeing the truth of the situation because because they're so close, it usually takes external circumstances to humble us to the point where we actually take a step back and look at the reality of situation. The biggest difference I see in the in the biggest smallest organizations are their ability, once they've been humbled, to then cope. The smaller organizations often can move quicker. They don't have as much at at risk the bigger organizations is obviously...

...the logistics of making substantial changes is just bigger and harder to execute, so they tend to be slower and sometimes more risk averse well, and I think that maybe a contributing factor why we see all the stats on all of those failed, quote unquote, change initiatives right, for it sounds like having having been a part of them that have failed and succeeded and worked with clients where and some all you know, they'll change the label. Maybe it's digital transformation, organizational transformation, whatever it is, it's something transformation. Right, they've all got a modifier. But at the end of the day, the ability to do that requires doing it from a 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 way that is leveraging those lessons right to make the positive changes, not just for yourself, but for your teams, your organization and hopefully into the market. Yeah, and this is something we argue about a lot, is this question that is it possible for an organization to disrupt themselves? We all talk about it, we all pretend like it's possible, but really, truly, when you look at the case studies, in the research, is it possible from within to disrupt yourself? And and so far I have found very few examples where it's been, you know, something that grew from within. It's usually required some external force of some kind forcing the issue. No, I would agree with that whole hardly. From my experience, I don't. I'm in fact, 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. But as we're as I think about it, I can't in a twenty plus your career. I'm not sure I could tell you one company that I've worked with or encountered where the disruption was internal, where it was where it was a decision. It typically is much more reactive, and I'm curious why do you why do 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 based response? All the above, I mean, I'm kind of from your perspective and experience. 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. I mean that's fundamentally the reason they're still consultants out there. You know there you can bring a lot of stuff in in house, but you just can't bring perspective in house. It's literally that's the point of perspective, is a step outside of yourself and see yourself honestly. So I really truly think that's a big part of it. But also it's just it's so easy when when revenues go in the right direction, when profits go in the right direction, it's so easy to say, you know what, that person's a headache or you know maybe 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 things come 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 just so rare. You know often I think you have to you find it in companies with sort of dictators as as like Steve Jobs and others, and that that's where perhaps you can do it within because you have some visionary who's WHO's scary to work with and he's going to or she's going to just force it through. But by and large it just doesn't work that way. And and what 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 you just 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 excited is you can find early warning signals. You can tell, you can literally take a test. We have a survey based on this. Three National Studies we'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 it I don't know what to do except for hope for the best. When things go wrong, crush your figures, gets...

...your asked by. So if somebody wanted to get ahold of that survey, where how would they go about that? Reach out to you or to the company we have. Well, the the simple version, is on our home page, M Keey Walworkcom. You know, it's a simple, free survey, twenty questions and they're the twenty most predictive questions from our three rounds of national research that are tied to the internal 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's based on the larger questions so that companies can actually kind of diagnose themselves and find out where they are in the growth life cycle, find out how many of these internal factors are dealing with. And what we're seeing is if you find yourself, you know, getting close to commoditization, but not quite there. Then here, you know, here are five things you can do to avoid that scenario. It get back to health. Excellent. All right. So let's change direction just a little bit here. I ask all of our guests kind of two standard questions towards the end of each interview. First is simply, as a founder, I have a company that makes you, in sales parlance, a prospect war target, which sounds a little rougher, but I've always like to ask her guests. When somebody wants to get in front of you that you don't have a relationship with, they don't. They don't ever referral right. They literally are trying to capture your attention, build credibility and and get you to give them fifteen to thirty minutes a time. What's the 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 calls try 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 where I take the call or I read the email. It's fairly rare, but the biggest thing to me is relevance, because I can't tell you how much I receive. That really is irrelement. Somehow I'm on the list because I'm breathing and I'm a company rather than you know, there's there's a specific need in 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 know it's not just about here's this new product, give me something, give me some inside, give me something that's going to help me, that's relevant to my problem, which unfortunately means you have to do some work, you have to learn about me, you know, you have to find out what's relevant to people in my industry, you know. So relevance is everything to me because there 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't take a lot of time. For those of you out there, we've talked about this a hundred times on this on this podcast. If you're not going to do your homework, if you're not going to show your prospect or the person who going to talk to the respect of having done a little bit of homework and attempt to nail down that relevance, your success rate is going to go through the floor and, quite frankly, you're going to just annoy people. And I am one of those people that you are annoying now, because it's my job, I happen to respond and say, Hey, this is how you could have done this better. And No, I still don't want the 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, one piece of advice that, if they listened, you believe would help them hit 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 around us to look at and measure. We it's so easy to forget to listen and have a little bit of empathy and and in my experience that itself has gotten me and and people I know... much farther. Excellent, Jonathan. Best way for people to reach out to you and connect if they want to 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, the survey 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 Absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Yeah, likewise, it has been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me. All right, everybody that does it. For this episode, you know the drill. Hit US up a bit to be REV exactcom share the episode with friends, families and Co workers. Drop us a line let us know who else you'd like to have on the show so we can interview and provide you value at every step. Until next time, we have value, prime solutions with you all, nothing but 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 or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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