On this episode of the Fuel Growth podcast series, my co-host Clint and I got to sit down and speak with growth expert and multiple hat wearer Rachel Spasser. Rachel is not only a Managing Director and the CMO at Accel-KKR, she also leads the AKKR Consulting Group. Accel-KKR is a global technology-focused private equity firm headquartered in Silicon Valley with over $14 billion in total assets under management. They help grow their portfolio companies with access to capital, expertise, and a network of growth consultants.
Rachel came on our podcast to talk about a topic that she, throughout her entire career, has been extremely passionate about—creating a culture of growth. That means simply putting your employees’ and customers’ needs first. Growth culture emphasizes the holistic development of employee and customer relationships, creating an environment that values long-term viability and overall success. Below are five steps Rachel outlined on how to build this kind of positive culture, as well as three common pitfalls to avoid.
5 Steps You Can Take To Build A Culture of Growth
1. Start With Alignment—Get Everyone on the Same Page
Organizational alignment is arguably one of the most important things your company can prioritize. It allows strategies and processes to be put in place to ensure that each member of an organization, from entry-level to executive members, shares a common goal and vision for the success of an organization. Rachel echoed that when she said, “when I look at fast-growing companies, you can tell when you walk in the building. You can tell even when you just interact with an employee that they’re part of a culture of growth. Typically, what I’ve seen is that the growth culture is pervasive throughout the organization, in part because there is total alignment across the company—goals are well articulated. The company is on a mission to accomplish something, and everyone feels like they’re rowing in the same direction, and that direction happens to catapult them into a high growth mentality”.
Your employees need to understand the why. Rachel hit this home when she said, “it’s really hard for companies to do a lot of things well, simultaneously—they can do a lot of things well, sequentially, or they can do a few things well, simultaneously. And I think that one of the big mistakes people make is that their focus is unclear. And so having a very clear alignment, to me, means being very focused, being able to communicate that, incorporating that into the day-to-day operations of the company, and then measuring yourself against that”. This can all be as simple as leadership creating effective communication channels, sales incentives, priority lists, and plan design to get everyone on the same wavelength.
2. Remember You’re NOT the Customer
What you think the customer needs may not line up exactly with what they actually need. You can’t speak on behalf of the customer based solely on what you think. Rachel called this out when she said, “a former colleague of mine once said to me… ‘Rachel, always remember you’re not the customer. And so, I think saying that over and over again to people, whatever you’re doing, whether you’re coming up with messaging, whether you need to do customer research, you need to test messaging, you need to really make sure that you’re getting customer input into the product development cycle, etc. So, I think that even putting a sticker on your monitor that says ”You’re NOT the customer” and just reminding yourself [of that] over and over again is extremely critical.” Taking yourself out of the customer’s shoes can help companies create growth by remembering to gather and source customer feedback. You shouldn’t get stuck in a rut where you rely heavily on what you think the customer wants, but rather go out there and actually find out what they want. If you can nail that, customer needs will be truly met by the groundwork and research you do.
3. Bring Your Customer Into the Equation, Literally
Sometimes when you need that extra push in the right direction, it’s best to look outside your organization. Rachel added, “we used to have a customer come to every sales QBR that we had. Sometimes when you’re in a sales QBR, you get into the metrics or even talk about the obstacles you’ve faced. [But] there’s a person behind every deal, right? So we would have someone come in and say what they liked and what didn’t they like. It really brings the voice of the customer to the center of what you’re doing and keeps you grounded in the value that you’re creating for customers. So, while I think that’s somewhat tactical, it worked really well for us”.
4. Identify Point A and Point B, Then Create A Roadmap to Get You There
Rachel kicked off this idea by saying, “I think success really depends on what the vision of your organization is and where it’s going. So I think defining that really, really well, and understanding the ‘why’ behind it, will help you realize where you want to get and then figure out how to get there. And so, depending on where that end game is for you, that kind of growth can come from a multitude of vectors”. This is where leadership needs to sit down, lay all the cards on the table, and start to build what a successful roadmap looks like for your unique company needs. Just like Dorothy needed her yellow brick road, you need your strategic roadmap.
5. Actions Speak Louder Than Words—Don’t Just Say You Care, Show Them
Build up the value proposition. To do so, you need to be able to understand three things: your unique selling proposition, how you solve someone’s pain, and how you really create value for your customer. Rachel defined these when she stated, “often you have to explain to someone how you can solve their pain, and in some cases, even point out the pain and make it feel more painful than maybe they’ve even realized. I think it’s critical when you make that shift from taking orders to really trying to create demand because then you have to think through understanding the customer and thinking through the channels where they are, the influencers who can reach them, and the salespeople who really can sell the value and sell to their pain points, as opposed to selling features and functions”.
The Three Biggest Pitfalls Companies Can Make When Creating Growth Plans
Along with the steps you should take toward building a culture of growth, there are a few things you should avoid doing in order to accomplish the same thing. According to Rachel, these are the three most common pitfalls she herself has either fallen into or has seen other companies struggle with:
- Your talent is the most critical thing that can determine success or failure. Rachel stated, “I was able to see it across our portfolio company and watch how putting the right person in the right seat can make such a huge difference in a company’s success. I would say having the wrong people or having the right people but in the wrong seats is probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made personally”.
- We often think there’s one way to do something. Rachel added, “we get very caught up in that one way that we learned or that we’ve done before. What I’ve learned is there are often many ways to get something done. Instead of hitting your head against a wall multiple times or continuing down the same path, be open-minded about looking for other paths. There will always be status quo and trends, but don’t get caught up in the trend. Just because everyone’s doing ABM [for example] doesn’t mean you have to—it may actually be the wrong approach for [your company]”.
- Companies will suffer if they don’t define or have a clear focus on what they’re trying to achieve. Rachel stated, “it’s really hard to galvanize a lot of people and be successful running towards something when they don’t know what they’re running toward. Being able to articulate where you’re headed, why you’re headed there, and how they can measure themselves every day to make sure that they are doing the right thing and not focused on doing the wrong thing is critical. I’ve been at companies, and I’ve seen companies that don’t have a well-articulated focus, so you end up running in circles for a long time”.
A Culture of Growth Only Happens When Organizations Start to Look Inwards
By looking inwards, organizations can begin to examine their own modes of operating to learn what makes them tick. In order for a company to succeed, its leaders need to set missions, visions, and goals and then determine a strategy and objectives for achieving those goals to reflect what’s best for their employees and customers. It is important to create a win/win situation to balance the dominating needs of the organization with those of the individuals in order to retain satisfied employees and meet organizational goals.
Want to learn more? Listen to our full podcast conversation here for a more in-depth look into how switching to a product-led sales model can be the driving force for acquiring, retaining, and growing your customer base. If you want to catch up on our previous episodes, you can do so here or on your favorite podcast app.