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When growth stalls, opportunity starts

By Steve McKee

It’s amazing how many people in the B2B C-suite underappreciate the power of marketing. In their minds, sales fills the pipeline, engineering and production make things happen, and finance collects the dough. Marketing? Well, marketing designs the brochures and schedules the trade shows. It’s a formula that can work (to an extent) despite its flaws — as long as times are good. But times haven’t been so good lately, and there’s no telling when they’re going to get better.

Many corporations don’t know what to do other than work harder, price lower, and hang on tighter. That’s discouraging, at best, and potentially highly destructive. It’s also where a marketer who’s paying attention can make a difference, bringing to the strategy table new knowledge that can be critical to turning things around.

Richard Rumelt, a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, put it this way: “A structural break is the very best time to be a strategist, for at the moment of change old sources of competitive advantage weaken and new sources appear.”

I submit that in an economy where almost every company is struggling, one significant new source of competitive advantage lies in understanding the destructive internal dynamics that may be keeping your company down.

For the past seven years I’ve studied the nature and destructive power of internal dysfunction. My research shows that while most leaders of struggling companies are preoccupied with external factors like the rotten economy and fierce competition they don’t realize that their operations may be rotting from the inside out.

Whether it’s a lack of strategic alignment among the management team (the single most common problem turned up by my findings), a lack of focus in the marketplace, a loss of nerve (usually manifested by discounting, price-cutting and spending cuts), or inconsistency in market outreach, these self-destructive dynamics are particularly sinister because the often go unrecognized. The good news is that once they’re understood, changing them is completely within the purview of those affected.

But somebody first has to bring them to light, and that could be you. Visit WhenGrowthStalls.com and take a brief, completely confidential, and no-registration-required self-diagnosis. It will give you a good sense of which, if any, of the above issues are holding your company back. It will also give you a good starting point from which to begin your turnaround efforts.

Contrary to what your management team may think, it’s not just the economy, stupid. By providing a strategic, insightful and intelligent analysis that goes beyond what’s hammering your company from without to what’s damaging it from within, you’ll demonstrate that marketing isn’t about catchy slogans and Facebook pages, it’s about solving the real-world issues facing the organization.

Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland and author of When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck and What to Do About It. He can be reached at smckee@mwcmail.com; follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 
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