Betty Palm is a veteran executive of the direct selling industry’s leading companies. She held executive leadership roles in several well-known global companies such as President, N.A., Tupperware; Executive VP, The Pampered Chef; VP Sales & Marketing, The Longaberger Company and was recruited by large consumer brand companies like Mars, Inc., and Jones Apparel Group to lead the development and execution of newly created direct selling business units. In 2012, she launched her own consulting firm, B. Palm Group, LLC, servicing the direct selling industry. The firm provides strategic and operational advice and focuses on business plan development and execution, sales and marketing strategy, infrastructure planning, and advisory support for emerging and established companies. Betty is a past member of the U.S. Direct Selling Association’s Board of Directors. She currently is on the Board of Advisors of Ruby Ribbon.
Guest Post by Betty Palm
Returning to Growth After Hitting a Wall
Most companies plateau at some stage in their life cycle and it can happen at $5 million, $50 million or $500 million. Plateaus can be thought of as unintended places where companies can either recharge or stagnate. From the vantage of a plateau, leaders can consciously survey the landscape and explore options for renewal or teeter precariously along a cliff’s edge.
When a business reaches a plateau phase key stakeholders want reassurance that leaders understand the dynamics that stalled performance. Lagging indicators like KPIs and financial statements confirm these patterns. The existing condition of sales, recruiting, margins, inventories, expenses, etc. are outcomes of decisions that were implemented earlier. These decisions need to be “reverse engineered” and scrutinized for the role they play in any supply chain problems, software glitches, quality issues, or poorly executed programs that contributed to results.
Firms that rally faster to downturns also examine “hidden” factors, which all too often aren’t measured let alone comprehensively understood. The good news is that once identified they are easy to influence.
1. Growing Too Fast: Hyper growth can be a problem especially if growth is outpacing the ability to deliver quality products, provide topnotch service, or assimilate new talent —- you may need to consider slowing down the pace — before your field does it for you.
Twice in my career I instituted recruiting freezes so we could get our house in order. When sales consultants experience backorders, out-of-stocks, quality issues, and long holds times for the call center they will slow down. Some experience a crisis of confidence believing that company operations can’t support them — and that leads to higher turnover, decreased recruiting, and a decline in productivity.
The recruiting freezes allowed time to develop the infrastructure for the next phase of growth and rebuild trust with the sales force.
2. Cultural Shifts: Direct selling firms consider their culture a competitive advantage; culture is often cited as a key reason for joining and staying.
As the company grows, new hires are added and they bring ways of working from their old jobs, and those work styles may not necessarily mesh with your company’s philosophy. If new hires are in management positions, roles and responsibilities may shift and longer-term employees may feel undervalued. Turf wars and politics can start for the first time; loyal and valuable employees leave and take with them the institutional knowledge and relationships that underpin your culture.
If corporate employees are feeling adrift those concerns will reach the sales organization. Disengaged employees undermine field confidence, which ultimately impacts overall company performance.
When the culture starts to morph into something you’re not happy with, address it right away. Acknowledge a shift and communicate a clear message about what the organization does value and keep communicating it.
3. Introducing Too Much Change Too Fast: Enhancing the compensation plan, improving the hostess program, introducing new software, and announcing new product categories are all good initiatives —but not all at once.
While well intended, too much change can paralyze a sales organization. The field needs time to develop skills, competency and confidence. A learning curve will be required for most change and that takes time.
Carefully evaluate the amount of change you’re asking your field to absorb, and consider phasing in new programs and products in 6 to 9 month increments.
4. Not Measuring or Moving with Your Market: Start-ups are emerging with omni-channel strategies; new products and technology are released at lightning speed, and social media fuels the buzz around innovative companies.
Scanning the competitive landscape is challenging but imperative. You don’t have to be first-to-market but you do need to make sure your offering remains contemporary, is meeting the needs of a changing market, and that your value proposition is clear.
5. Focusing on Costs Above All Else: When sales start to slip, it’s common to cut back on expenses and limit spending. Taken too far, this approach can further weaken sales performance. Ongoing cost-cutting measures often result in fear – fear of making a mistake, fear of layoffs; creativity and risk-taking is stifled. A strategic communication plan needs to be developed emphasizing that innovative thinking is needed now more than ever.
Returning to growth requires a pipeline of talent, and new products and services. Above all else, intensify your focus on delighting customers.