Why do customers leave you?

Most marketing activity is still focused on attracting customers. Look at all the deals on TV subscriptions, utility services, mobile phones, insurance and banks. They are all deals set up to attract new customers.

But what if you turned your marketing investment on its head? What if you said that your primary aim wasn’t to gain as many new customers as possible, but was to keep as many existing customers as possible? What different things would you do?

My guess is that your first action would be to understand why customers left you in the first place. Only then could you take the action necessary to reduce the rate of lost customers.

At one client, for instance, management found that invoicing errors and incomplete order deliveries were the biggest drivers of customer defections. Once they addressed these issues customer retention increased. Not only that, but, over time, the company also began to attract more new customers who had previously been put off by the company’s reputation for poor service.

So, how about you? Do you really understand why your customers leave you? And do you know what actions you could take today to reduce their chances of doing so?

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Growth, Simplicity | Leave a comment

Finding The Time To Grow


Many of my clients find it hard to make the time available to develop new growth ideas, strategies and plans. Today’s pressures kill tomorrow’s opportunities.

One CEO, for instance, has patiently waited over six months to find the time to develop an exciting new growth idea with his marketing director. He believes it will take another two months before the time can be found to do this. In other words, it will be the best part of a year before they even sketch out the possibilities, never mind do anything about it. The company is potentially losing £ millions in lost future profits through this approach.

But, as a leader of your business, how can you balance your time and effort between managing this year’s performance and developing future years’ successes? Here are five ideas:

  1. Stop believing you’re invincible. When you’re on holiday you can’t attend meetings or make decisions. And yet, in most organisations, the business still operates effectively – and sometimes better! You must find ways to delegate more so that you are still aware of the issues, but not micro-managing every detail, and that starts by genuinely understanding and believing that you’re not needed to sort every single situation. Believe me, you’re just not that important!
  2. Fix the pipes and lose the buckets. Most ‘urgent’ issues are not one-offs. There is generally a pattern to these issues. In one client, for instance, responding to customers who are frustrated by mistakes in their invoices overwhelms managers’ time. Yet, over the last two years, my client has failed to fix this problem. It is like having a leaking pipe and spending all your time filling and emptying buckets rather than taking the one-time action to fix it! What are the common ‘leaks’ and ‘buckets’ in your organisation?
  3. Agree and communicate demanding development deadlines. Accountability and performance improves when you publicly announce that you’re going to do something. The simple act of communication exponentially increases the chances of a proposed action actually happening. When I worked at Boots, a new CEO announced that he wanted the business to focus on improving on-shelf availability of products. As a result, colleagues from across the organisation made it happen, delivering a 3% growth in sales! Let people know that you’re going to do something, hold yourself accountable and you’re more than half-way there.
  4. Adopt the 80/15/5 rule. One of my CEO clients told me that he and his executive team had adopted a rule of thumb that they should spend 80% of their time and effort on current year performance, 15% on next year’s performance and 5% beyond the next two years. They regularly review their calendars to ensure that they are broadly meeting this commitment.
  5. Set out big blocks of time. You can’t do development work in 15-minute slots between other meetings. You must, instead, block out half days or full days – or at least two hours – to think through the possibilities and drive your ideas forward. In my experience most managers do their best development work in small groups of two or three. Not only do groups develop better ideas, but having the shared commitment to work on the future in your calendars increases the chance that the time isn’t taken over by ‘urgent’ issues.

Which of these five actions would enable you to spend more time on developing new growth ideas and accelerating the growth of your business?

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Speed and Pace, Strategy | Leave a comment

Business Rocks – Fergie’s Time

Growth Riffs Summary Logo

This week’s focus: Sir Alex Ferguson was the most successful English football manager in history. During his 26 years as Manchester United’s boss, he won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and two UEFA Champions League wins. Most ex-managers end up on our TV screens on the sports channels providing post-match analysis, but Sir Alex was recently on a BBC documentary that showed how he has become a Harvard Business School lecturer on leadership. He even has a book out called Leading.

I haven’t read the book, and so don’t know all the insights he’s sharing, but from my perspective Sir Alex had a ‘command and control’ style of leadership. In the documentary Ryan Giggs, his most successful player, said that he lived in fear of Sir Alex for much of his career and Sir Alex himself was seen telling a London Business School class about the importance of control and of knowing everything that is happening across the organisation.

Some of my clients succeed with a highly-controlling leadership style, but in my experience it is not necessarily the best approach in fast-moving markets where greater levels of empowerment, delegation and the development of a strong, talented leadership team are essential elements of a successful business.

Unfortunately, none of these characteristics can be associated with Sir Alex’s time at United. What’s more, a major problem with a controlling leadership style is that once the controller leaves, the performance dips. In relative terms, Manchester United have struggled since Sir Alex retired in 2013, and so while I admire Sir Alex’s record of football success I struggle to translate his leadership approach to modern, successful business organisations.

Off The Record: Viva La Vida by Coldplay

I used to rule the world

Seas would rise when I gave the word

Now in the morning I sleep alone

Sweep the streets that I used to own

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business Rocks | Leave a comment

Why Your Strategy Retreats Aren’t Delivering


At this time of year many leadership teams take the time and effort to spend some time together reviewing and developing strategy. But, all too often, these strategy retreats are lost opportunities that produce, at best, incremental improvements for their organisations.

So, what prevents the collective wisdom of these companies from generating new insights and new actions that can materially accelerate growth? From my experience of working with executive teams I have identified five causes of failure.

  1. Unclear goals. Many strategy retreats are focused on ‘improving strategy’, rather than finding ways to deliver specific results. One of the most important exercises I undertake with my clients is to identify their #1 goal – the specific improvement in performance that, above all else, will signal success for the business. Your goal may be financial, such as a sales or profit goal, or customer-led, such as number of customers, market share or customer loyalty, or something else entirely. Whatever your goal, once it is clear and unambiguous it makes the rest of your strategy development much more focused
  2. Too much opinion, too few facts. I am not a fan of huge analytical reports, but you need a balance between opinion and facts. In particular, you must ensure that the ‘voice of the customer’ enters the room in some form. In many retreats, however, it is opinion that wins the day and, commonly, the opinion of the individual with the most stripes and the loudest voice. The problem is that these opinions, and the assumptions on which they’re based, may not be valid. I know of a company where the CEO rejected three consumer-focused pieces of research that cast doubt on his new growth strategy. Unsurprisingly, his ill-advised pursuit of this strategy did not generate the returns he was after and he was ultimately shown the door.
  3. Debate is cut-off too soon. Many strategy retreats are a one-off event in the annual calendar and not part of an ongoing process. This means that there is pressure to cut to the chase, even if options haven’t been fully pursued. I’m not advocating unlimited debate, but the best strategies emerge from an ongoing dialogue rather than a single event. You would be better advised to run a series of ‘mini-retreats’ (e.g. Session 1 – Agreeing goals; Session 2 – Reviewing alternatives; Session 3 – Agreeing direction; Session 4 – Resource allocation etc.) rather than a single ‘grand-retreat’ if you want to create a strategy that is both robust and supported by the entire leadership group.
  4. There is no ‘fool on the hill’. Someone in the room needs to be prepared to act as the conscience of the group, identifying when ‘groupthink’ may be preventing progress, intervening when limiting and inappropriate assumptions are being blindly pursued and asking those simple but important questions (e.g. Will a ban on recruitment really help you develop the capabilities you need to enter market x?). A facilitator can play this role, but they need to be seen as a peer and have the respect and support of the leadership team if they are to be taken seriously.
  5. No follow-through. Perhaps one of the biggest failures of strategy retreats is a lack of follow through. Many clients tell me that they can end up repeating the same meeting year after year. It is critical that actions are agreed in the meeting, with specific deadlines and clear accountabilities. These actions should then be followed up and reviewed at subsequent sessions, ensuring that genuine progress takes place.

The next time you plan a strategy retreat with your team ask yourself which of these five failures are likely be an issue, and plan your session accordingly. That, alone, might increase your chances of identifying and delivering more growth for your business than you previously thought possible.

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Leadership, Strategy | Leave a comment

Fresh Eyes: Growth Lessons From Cezanne


The great impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne, enjoyed painting Monte Sainte-Victoire, near to his home in Provence. In fact, he had a bit of a thing about it, and is known to have painted the mountain over 60 times.

Although the paintings are inherently of the same view, each is different. The colours, the textures and the light are never the same in any two of these paintings.

Cezanne looked at the mountain with fresh eyes each time he carried his easel, palette and paints to his favourite viewing spot. He wasn’t influenced by what he had seen before, but by what he could see on that particular day.

‘Fresh eyes’ is a phrase that keeps coming back to me as I work with various businesses on new growth projects. By far the biggest success my clients achieve is when we focus on looking at their markets objectively, dispassionately and unhindered with our historic prejudices.

Over the past 12 months, for example, some of the biggest growth projects have been driven through the identification of:

  • Under-served customer groups;
  • Adjacent markets and categories where the company doesn’t seriously participate;
  • Under-utilised and under-resourced assets and capabilities; and
  • Channels that the business has historically ignored.

None of these initiatives required huge creativity. They did, however, demand that the client and I looked at their markets and business anew, and that we were both willing to consider opportunities without bias.

‘Fresh eyes’ and a new perspective can do more than add new revenues; they can transform companies’ fortunes.

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Growth, Innovation, Simplicity | Leave a comment

Business Rocks – The Discipline Of Accountability

Growth Riffs Summary Logo

This week’s focus: Last week I finally submitted the manuscript for my new book, First & Fast, to my publisher. It’s been a long process and over the past few months I had to ask my wife to check up on my weekly progress. Otherwise, it would have been too easy for me to procrastinate and to fail to complete the next section or chapter.

I am increasingly convinced that a discipline of accountability is the key to ongoing success and growth. At one client workshop this week, for instance, it became clear that several strategic priorities had not been delivered mainly because the CEO had failed to embed a discipline of accountability. As a result, the day-to-day stuff had got in the way; the urgent had killed the important.

For many entrepreneurial leaders, ensuring a focus on effective delivery can seem, well, a little boring. But it is these ‘boring’, practical tasks that are the difference between good ideas and brilliant results. What steps are you taking to ensure that your organisation has a discipline of accountability driving the delivery of your most important strategic initiatives?

Off The Record: Blame It On The Boogie by The Jacksons

Don’t blame it on the sunshine

Don’t blame it on the moonlight

Don’t blame it on the good times

Blame it on the boogie

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business Rocks | Leave a comment

Creating A Powerful #1 Goal

As I’ve written previously, clear, unambiguous and powerful #1 goal can have a transformative effect on the success of your business (see here). I worked with Topps Tiles, for instance, to establish a #1 goal for the business of growting their market share in the UK retail tile market from 25% to 33% over a four-year period. The goal made a difference. Not only did sales grow by 17% to £200 million, but annual profits doubled to £17 million. As Matt Williams, the CEO of UK retailer Topps Tiles, put it, “Our goal galvanized the entire organisation and has been a key part of our success.

But how do you create an effective and powerful goal that will drive the actions and behaviours of managers and teams from across your business? There are three factors you need to focus on:

  1. Does the goal drive our financial engine? The goal in itself doesn’t need to be financial, but it does need to drive financial performance. Topps Tiles’ share growth translated into sales and profit improvements. Management didn’t simply aim for share growth at any cost, but did so in a profitable way that ensured the benefits of any improvements in market share added to the bottom line.
  2. Can managers influence the goal? The goal should not be remote or abstract. It should be something that your managers and teams feel they can influence and control. At Topps, local store managers, for example, could build their local market share by developing stronger relationships with local tradesmen, while head office teams could influence the results through better range management, pricing management and new store openings.
  3. Does the goal build organisational engagement and commitment? The goal must be easy to understand and works best where there is some level of emotional commitment from your teams. This is why profit or shareholder goals have such little impact outside of the boardroom; they simply don’t connect with the reasons that your people work for the business. Topps Tiles’ market share goal chimed with colleagues’ desire to work for a winning and growing business that was better than its competitors.

Why not spend an hour with your team, identifying a goal that meets these three objectives? If you do, and if you pursue that goal with focus, discipline and determination, you might just find that, like Topps Tiles, you can transform your results.

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Growth, Simplicity, Strategy | Leave a comment

Business Rocks – Your Next 90-Day Challenge

Growth Riffs Summary Logo

This week’s focus:  When new CEOs, executive directors and other senior managers are appointed into their new role they often set themselves a 90-day challenge, so that they make sure that they hit the ground running. By establishing clear objectives, actions and timescales these executives make sure that they make real progress in their first three months on the job.

Yet it’s rare for the same executives to set themselves a similar challenge for their next 90 days in office. They simply start to operate in tandem with the wider organisation. Unsurprisingly, their level of progress and impact also subsides.

To be honest, I don’t understand this change in behaviour. I believe that rolling 90-day plans can have a transformative effect at all levels; individual, team and organisational. Three months is long enough to do something of real substance, but short enough to ensure rapid action.

When I worked for Boots, for instance, the company turned around a sales decline by implementing a 90-day focus on improving in-store product availability. This simple focus enabled the entire company to get behind a short programme that very quickly delivered sales improvements.

What about you and your business? What could you focus on in the next 90 days that would have a transformative effect on performance? And what would you then focus on in the following 90 days?

Off The Record: Days by The Kinks

Thank you for the days

Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me

I’m thinking of the days

I won’t forget a single day, believe me

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business Rocks | Leave a comment

Business Rocks – The Innovation Gym

Growth Riffs Summary Logo

This week’s focus:  I hate the gym. My body is an endorphin-free zone and so exercise is always a miserable chore.  I do it because I know it’s good for me, but every visit is an internal battle of wills. That’s why I use a personal trainer. Having booked myself in for a session, I’m committed to attending. If, instead, I could take a magic exercise pill I would be the first in the queue.

Many companies seem to take a similar attitude to innovation. They periodically seek to drive new product and service development, but this is often a reaction to sales pressures rather than a proactive drive for growth. They somehow want to achieve success with an instantaneous ‘magic pill’ solution. As with personal fitness, however, this approach rarely works.

You should, instead, be creating and pursuing a daily exercise regime for innovation, making innovation a way of life rather than an isolated change programme. Innovation is no longer a strategic alternative; it is a strategic necessity.

What steps do you need to take to turn innovation into a way of life for your business?

Off The Record: Parklife by Blur

It’s got nothing to do with

‘Vorsprung durch technique’ you know

And it’s not about you joggers

Who go round and round and round

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business Rocks | Leave a comment

Business Rocks – Unexpected Successes

Growth Riffs Summary Logo

This week’s focus: The common understanding about growth is that you spot an opportunity, develop a solution and invest behind its success. Things don’t always work that neatly, though. Not only do most ideas fail to deliver, but sometimes it’s the non-ideas that do best; it’s the unexpected successes that drive your business forward. For instance, IBM’s move into consulting in the 1990s was, by all accounts, initiated as a result of the surprisingly high level of demand being placed on its customer service teams.

Similarly, in the past week, I’ve had two conversations with different retail leaders who were considering investing behind some unexpected successes. One had found that the company’s consumer retail offer was increasingly being bought by commercial customers, while the other had found that the demand for the accessories to its core range was outstripping supply even though the company spent next to no effort in creating the accessories offer.

Look around your business. Where are there some unexpected successes that, with a little focus and investment, could surprisingly drive your company’s next phase of growth?

Off The Record: A Life Of Surprises by Prefab Sprout

Darling, it’s a life of surprises

It’s no help growing older or wiser

You don’t have to pretend you’re not crying

When it’s even in the way that you’re walking

I’ve always loved Prefab Sprout since seeing them play in the early 1980s – Swoon and Steve McQueen are great albums. This song comes from a later album, Protest Songs, and you can listen to it here

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business Rocks, Strategy Confidential Video Series | Leave a comment