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What Drives Growth?

Every company is looking for new ways to drive growth, which is especially true of franchises and other small businesses. But many have missed this very simple concept:

  •  Unique insight drives strategy
  • Strategy drives execution
  • The combination drives growth

Great strategy comes from exceptional insight. By coupling that great strategy with effective execution, the business has a solid platform for performance.

But it all starts with unique insights. Your organization can gain competitive advantage and improve profitability by taking advantage of proven insights into how factors important to current and former customers, employees, vendors, franchisees or prospects change over time. The concepts discussed in this article are not limited to the company/customer relationship. They are valid for all business relationships, including franchisor/franchisee, employer/employee and so forth. For sake of brevity, all these relationships are summed up by using the term consumer.

Gaining unique insights begins with listening to the four things your consumers want to tell you.

Certain things are basic (the cost of entry). They must be done consistently well. They don’t add value, but consumers will leave if they are performed poorly. So they can’t be taken for granted. Examples include taking too long to answer the phone, a hard-to-use website and poorly trained front line personnel. Consumer expectations are higher than ever on the basics.

There are things consumers highly value in your product, service or experience. They expect your business to maintain and improve performance against the elements they value most. Excellent performance in areas valued by consumers creates opportunities for significant differentiation. Conversely, weak performance requires the need for extra focus and investment. Successful companies understand and track performance against those attributes most highly valued.

There are things your business does that irritate consumers. Many times consumers will accept them because your competitors irritate them in the same way. Smart businesses use irritations to fuel their innovation teams. These irritations may become differentiating opportunities when solutions add value.

Finally, there are things that are unimportant to consumers. Investments in attributes considered unimportant should be redirected to high-value items, increasing productivity of both management and capital.

Optimizing Business Success

The key to optimizing business success is to understand which elements of the business fall into each category and to track company performance in each critical area. This understanding enables management to focus its strategies and execution on elements that will make the most difference in growth, retention and profitability.

Proper research can track changes in consumer perception of both importance and performance. An additional benefit comes from identifying new irritations that may be mitigated or leveraged before the competition even knows they exist.

With reduced cost of data acquisition and increased importance of executing well on the critical few initiatives and strategies, a key question emerges. Why are more companies not aggressively gathering, processing and using information that has never been so inexpensive and readily available?

It’s because companies have become increasingly absorbed with the short term and distracted by the urgency of the current. They have little time and energy for the insights needed to become more effective in delivering their product or service, thereby making them more dangerous to their competition because they are able to better understand and track market and consumer dynamics.

In today’s business cyclone of activity, companies need a steady diet of insight. The needs and wants of any business are changing quickly. A finger on the pulse of change is not just nice to have, it’s a necessity.

Strategic Direction

For example, a strategic plan creates the platform for the budget process to support strategic initiatives identified in the plan. Often the strategic planning process is initially structured by key departments. Marketing, operations, sales, administration, finance, among other departments, all define the strategic paths they believe are best aligned with their respective responsibilities.

Each department usually has its own perspective on the strategic direction. Marketing wants to invest in social media. IT thinks it’s time for a major software upgrade. Operations believes the field needs more support people. Finance wants to trim overhead.

Overall strategy thus becomes a negotiated process with department leadership attempting to align divergent priorities, knowing the upcoming budget process will impact strategic direction. The organization ends up with challenging and passionate negotiations.


Alignment only occurs when the CEO takes control to achieve a plan and budget that supports the diverse departments, but stays aligned with the critical initiatives.

This process can be successful, but the company might perform better if all managers would understand and align their leadership around the insights gleaned from consumers. If they can identity, agree on and execute just three things that will make a difference, they should see substantial improvement in the business. Business leaders are thus working on issues whose value has been established from both company and market viewpoints. They concentrate on effectively executing those critical few priorities they know will make a difference, because the consumer has told them so.

Opportunity Disguised as Irritations

A byproduct of knowing your market is also the ability to recognize and track opportunity disguised as irritations.

For example, a leading overnight delivery service was performing well on items the marketplace valued highly. The company understood the importance of on-time delivery and correct billing. But buried in their research was a key differentiating opportunity. Consumers wanted real-time tracking to be able to constantly know the status of their packages. Such a tracking system did not exist at that time, so consumers could not effectively value it. But they continually expressed the irritation of not having this service.

The company determined its future success depended on beating the competition to the marketplace with a tracking system that would erase this irritation and create a new critical value. The plan worked because leadership turned this customer irritation into a value item they were the first to deliver. This put the competition at a significant disadvantage, requiring them to catch up.

Of course, that highly valued component became a basic once the system had been duplicated by competitors. Consumers came to expect a tracking system as cost of entry.

Shared Focus

As noted earlier, any key business relationship can be greatly improved when structured insights bring focus and effective execution influences results. One significant example is the franchisor/franchisee relationship. It is important to have a process to help franchise organizations better understand key issues that face each organizational group. This process can map the divergent perceptions of these segments and provide insight that can influence alignment and shared focus. Done correctly, this generally leads to improvement in both relationship and business performance for both franchisor and franchisee. The map enables organizations to visually understand the basics, valued items, irritations and the unimportant mentioned earlier, and reveals how your organization performs in each of these critical areas.

Most companies believe they understand what consumers are telling them. However, the only business certainty is that things will be different tomorrow.

Listening brings understanding. Common understanding produces alignment. Alignment produces a focused strategy. And the combination of focused strategy with effective execution produces results.

The success formula starts with insight. Is a structured and frequent process for gaining this insight alive in your business today? ⎯

Michael Isakson is senior partner of Insight to Execution, a consulting and research group. For a free download of the process map, go to Isakson, IFA’s 2007 chairman and retired ServiceMaster president and COO, can be reached at 901-482-7730 or 

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