A tried-and-tested framework for mobilizing your commercial organization
The Covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine have created levels of uncertainty not seen in recent times. For companies, returning to top-line growth is more of a challenge than ever. The traditional answer? Improve your use of internal resources. But this formula no longer works. What business needs now is a more dynamic, fast-acting solution specially designed to cope with unpredictable environments. We propose a top-line results framework that requires a shift of mindset by companies.
New times, new solutions
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies had enjoyed nearly a decade of earnings growing faster than revenues. To a large extent this was thanks to a strong focus on cutting costs and making efficiency improvements. But the pandemic threw a spanner into the works, pushing companies' top lines into negative territory in 2020 compared to 2019, across all industries. Returning to top-line growth now represents a major challenge for businesses, especially in the current environment of extreme unpredictability. Traditional approaches are too small-scale, their focus is too internal and they are too slow to deliver improvements. What businesses need is a bigger, more dynamic, faster-acting solution – one that is able to cope with the uncertainty of a world in turmoil.
Our top-line results framework covers four key areas: goals, strategic rules, a dynamic roadmap, and an adaptable organization.
Goals: Commercial goals should form the starting point for the company's return to growth. The leadership should define achievable goals for the company's positioning, sales, gross profit and customer satisfaction. The key word here is "achievable" – if the goals are unrealistic, the workforce tends to ignore them. Moreover, the goals must leave enough room to let the organization's collective power do its magic and achieve what a single person could not.
Strategic rules: Companies need a clear set of simple rules to guide their
operational decisions and form a basis for action. Good rules lead to good choices. First, the leadership needs clarity over how other players in their industry create and capture value. Next, they should draw up different scenarios for how the ecosystem could develop and assess them in terms of their impact. A
strategy game can help with this task.
Dynamic roadmap: A dynamic roadmap is a set of operational actions and decisions, in which top-down ambition is seamlessly linked to bottom-up actions. The approach here should be one of trial and error. Commercial actions should be joined up – that is to say, defined across different functional disciplines rather than based on targets developed by separate commercial units. Ideally, they should be driven by cross-functional teams.
Adaptable organization: Businesses need to remove any barriers to adaptability that they identify within their organization. Having the right skills in the right place is important, of course, but the interactions between different individual nodes are significantly more important than the nodes themselves. To ensure adaptability, leaders can draw on four design principles: address purpose, nominate owners, test don't guess, and spark collisions.
To achieve the necessary shift of mindset, we suggest companies ask themselves five key questions – as discussed in our recent Harvard Business Review article 5 Questions to Help Leaders Achieve Growth Amid Uncertainty. These questions cover a range of areas, from how the company can harness the power of networks and build dynamic partnerships with players across traditional industry boundaries, to where it should set up "commercial squads" within the organization – small cross-functional teams whose task is to develop actions for improving
operational efficiency drawing on the creativity of the various squad members.
From theory to practice
When supporting clients, we follow a specific methodology that has proven highly effective in the past. Known as Commercial Check – Fast Forward, this forms part of the broader approach that we present in detail in our 2021 publication
Results Factory . The process lasts up to four weeks and begins with the leadership appointing a core team to set the overall goals. This team then develops a short, prioritized agenda that includes a scope, targets and an initial portfolio of actions. The team appoints commercial squads of the type described above, and there follows a series of waves or streams of work focused on different topics, each lasting four to eight weeks. Work within squads is organized into sprints, with a "pit stop" held once every two weeks – a plenary session where the different squads present updates on their work, challenge each other and generate new ideas, while the leadership checks on the overall alignment of projects.
Top-line results – How to grow in times of heightened uncertainty
The Covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine have created levels of uncertainty not seen in recent times. For companies, returning to top-line growth is more of a challenge than ever. What business needs now is a more dynamic, fast-acting solution specially designed to cope with unpredictable environments. We propose a top-line results framework that requires a shift of mindset by companies.