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What Do High Growth Businesses Do Differently?

Over the past 5 years the importance of the “High Growth Business” and how this relatively small group of businesses disproportionally impa...

Monday 25 April 2016

What Do High Growth Businesses Do Differently?

What Do High Growth Business Do Differently?Over the past 5 years the importance of the “High Growth Business” and how this relatively small group of businesses disproportionally impacts our economy, has become widely recognised.  Firstly, let’s just clarify what we mean by a High Growth Business. The generally accepted definition is a business that is growing at a minimum of 20% per annum with a turnover of at least £500,000. 

The now defunct, Government supported GrowthAccelerator service, recognised the importance of this group and provided financial support to stimulate further growth through business advice and leadership & management training. 

Despite its importance, there is very little empirical evidence on what businesses do that is likely to make them a candidate for high growth and how they maintain a high growth state.

However, a report published in the USA by Hinge Marketing as recently as February this year, at last, gives us some empirical insight into the workings of these businesses. It looks only at service businesses, but the results are from a sample of over 500 firms.

I don’t propose to give a blow by blow account of the report but rather pick out some of the more interesting findings. There is a link at the end of this article for those who want to read the report in full detail.

One of the most surprising findings was that High Growth Businesses were 45% more profitable than their no growth counterparts. Put another way, High Growth Businesses in this sample had an average profitability of 19.9% compared to 13.7% for No Growth Businesses. 

This finding seems to defy gravity as conventional thinking tends to suggest that in the high growth phase, businesses substitute top line growth (turnover) for bottom line growth (profit). The report itself doesn’t analyse why but having thought about it a bit, I’ve a couple of suggestions. 

Firstly, High Growth Businesses tend to be better run. In order to sustain high growth, the leadership team needs to have a detailed understanding of how different aspects of the business interact. That tends to mean that they are more efficient as a business including delivery and managing creditors. On the other hand, I know from personal experience that many High Growth Businesses can also be rather chaotically run and certainly aren’t then efficient.

Secondly, could be the adoption of technology. By employing technology appropriately, you can substitute new recruits for capital investment. This means that you can reduce the level of recruitment for any given level of growth. In my experience it is the need to recruit, and recruit heavily, that impacts profitability because it often takes several months for new starters to add value to the business. 

I don’t have a clear answer as yet but do hope it’s something that is followed up in a later survey.

The survey also looked at how firms differentiated themselves: this also generated some startling differences.

In response to the question “What are your five most favoured differentiators?”

High Growth Businesses listed;
Our marketing/ business development approach
Our culture
Our business model
Our use of technology
The quality of our people

No Growth Businesses listed;
Our commitment to results
Where we are located
Awards we’ve received
Our reputation
The specialised services we offer

What is blindingly obvious is that these two groups focus on completely different things and if you wish to embrace high growth there may need to be some significant shifts in your way of thinking.

Let’s now turn our attention to how the two groups approach marketing. The survey uses the idea of Total Marketing Effort, which represents an approximation of the sum of explicit marketing costs and implicit costs such as time or diversion of expertise. The rationale behind this is that no marketing is free because marketing time often competes with billable time.

In respect of total marketing effort, High Growth Businesses investment are slightly less than No Growth Businesses at 55.7% to 58.8% respectively. This may also be somewhat of a surprise as I suspect many would expect High Growth Businesses to be spending a lot more on Marketing. 

Logically then in order for this to be true, High Growth Businesses must have much more effective marketing. I think this goes back to a point I raised earlier that because they have a much better understanding of their business they get more “bang for their buck” out of each pound of investment than their No Growth counterparts.

What is more, High Growth Businesses invest their spend very differently. High Growth Businesses spend much more on digital marketing. Comparing these two groups again, High Growth Businesses only spend 40% of their marketing effort on traditional marketing compared to over 50% by No Growth Businesses. By contrast, High Growth Businesses are much more heavily invested in digital marketing, where they spend 60% of their effort. 

Also, as you might expect because they are more rigorous in measure relevant metrics than traditional businesses. Typically High Growth Businesses monitor at least 4 separate metrics where No Growth Businesses monitor just over 3. This might be for two reasons, firstly, digital marketing is easier to track, therefore building reliable metrics is simpler. Secondly, though perhaps a more circular argument, is that they run their business more effectively which means they’d rather spend their marketing investment where they can monitor its performance which would bias them towards digital marketing.

So what are the takeaways from this survey?

If you want to have a successful High Growth Business, then you need to take a holistic approach and look at how your business can best deliver what you are selling. The idea that culture and people can be a compelling differentiator at the strategic level might be a surprise. However, if you look at many of the highly successful businesses of the recent past, these two components have been key attributes to their success.

Marketing isn’t just about spend, it’s also about finding the right techniques to use. Currently digital marking is delivering a better ROI, however, that might just be because traditional marketing is harder to measure, not that it’s less effective.

We are a specialist High Growth consultancy. Using our Seven Steps programme we can help you set your business for long term High Growth. For further information please go here 

This article was originally published on BusinessZone.co.uk

For a full copy of this survey go to Hinge Marketing


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