As a vice president and general manager for the Nielsen Company, Tom Gunderson was brought on to help take the firm into a new direction that would eventually lead to strong growth and business opportunities beyond the firm’s traditional core competencies, data and research services.
Tom helped execute a classic growth strategy by establishing a new capability—business strategy consulting—that helped grow the company’s revenue and propelled Nielsen to a successful IPO. Once more, he helped pull this off organically by realigning internal departments, which helped Nielsen avoid the expense of buying another firm or hiring scores of new people.
An expert in strategy and growth, today Tom is a Vistage chair in the Twin Cities where he is the co-leader of two peer advisory groups. This week we had a chance to sit down with him to capture his insights on growth and strategy and learn several actionable guidelines for planning the growth strategies of your own firms.
A Growth Strategy Platform
Tom is quick to note that smart growth that is profitable and sustainable is neither accidental nor easy. He encourages CEOs and leaders to create a growth strategy platform that is driven by their vision, mission, and core values. With that platform in place there is guidance to pursue strategy assessment and execution. In the end, successful growth strategies demand a clear understanding of who you are as a business, and a deep commitment to achieving your goals.
In “7 Steps to a Growth Strategy That Works” from Entrepreneur, the author observes, “For your business to sustain long-term growth, you must understand what sets it apart from the competition.” Tom calls this the unique value proposition. “These need to be concise, differentiated and memorable.”
Get to Know Your Competitors and Customers
For some companies that do not have a clear picture of their competitors and customers, Tom suggests leadership teams go through a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). This structured process helps reveal where your product or service portfolio stands against a broad range of factors. Comparing your offerings to competitors will also show where you have weaknesses that could be exploited by savvy upstarts trying to steal your market share. Conducting stakeholder research can also provide insights critical to a SWOT analysis.
Of course, knowing your customers is just as important as knowing your competitors. In fact, not knowing your customers or competitors is one of “Four things that can kill your business growth,” says writer John Boitnott, in an article of the same name.
Perhaps what’s most important about any self-analysis is emerging from the exercise with a clear understanding of your company’s strengths. Knowing these strengths is essential to creating your growth strategy. That’s because when you grow from your strengths, you lessen your risk. For instance, it’s much easier to launch a new product that’s a brand extension or a similar product into an adjacent space, says Tom.
Cultural Alignment is Critical
Before you take any strategic growth steps, however, spend time scrutinizing your company’s mission, values, and corporate culture. “The lack of cultural alignment is the major cause of acquisition failure,” says Tom. Without cultural alignment, companies won’t have the right people or processes in place to pull off any growth strategy, which incidentally, can happen organically or via acquisition. But that’s a topic for yet another article.
Want to get better at creating and executing your own growth strategies? Try a Vistage peer group meeting, for free!