Businesses are living, breathing things. They are born. They grow. They triumph and falter, succeed and fail. They change. They age. In time, they die. Nearly all businesses experience a similar life cycle, although at varying speeds. For businesses that have enjoyed longer-term success and now find themselves struggling, questions and problems can be daunting, answers and solutions elusive. Indeed, it’s difficult for business owners to have the necessary in-the-moment perspective to save a business when it is in decline. It’s hard to see the proverbial forest for the trees. Which brings me to the title of this article…
The Second-Best Time
I often tell business owners and sales professionals that while the best answer to a sales proposal is “yes”, the second-best answer is “no”. “Maybes” are the worst; they string you along. Leave you hanging. Fill you with false hope. A definitive “no”, on the other hand, frees you to move on to better prospects and use your time more productively.
So, with that perspective ingrained in my psyche, I did a double-take when I recently came across what is perhaps from a Chinese proverb:
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
Despite its similar phrasing to the “second-best answer is no” philosophy, this proverb made me expand my point of view. It made me think about the bigger picture of smaller businesses. About their challenges. And about their opportunities.
The Challenges Many Small and Medium-sized Businesses Face
Yes, every business is unique, but there are often many similarities in the challenges they collectively face. For example, businesses that have enjoyed success inevitably encounter changing market dynamics, or even market disruption by a new player (often via new technology and innovation within the industry). Likewise, businesses must cope with changing customer dynamics. This could be due to routine turnover of personnel, including key contacts, or it could result from large-scale compression of human resources that sends waves of change through the industry.
Challenges can also be internal – even if related to external forces. For example, adoption of technology to keep pace with industry changes could be lagging. Similarly, sales strategies and sales processes could become stagnant and unresponsive to what modern prospects need and demand and deserve.
Very often, the writing is – and has been – on the wall for a long time. It’s simply hard to see the trends and appreciate the seriousness of threats when you are mired in the day-to-day business of running the business. This is not due to a lack of will or even an innate ability to lead; it is merely the lack of perspective it takes to provide the leadership required in the moment.
Perspective. Ah, there’s the rub!
The best time to save your business from failing was long ago. But indeed, the second-best time is now.
If you have challenges, you also have opportunities. You can assess and respond. You can act! But beware: do not assume that what made you successful will keep you on the path to continuing success. You might have been a terrific leader when your company was in the start-up and early growth phase; but has your leadership grown in sync with the expansion of your business?
Again, it’s about perspective. It’s about being able to see beyond the problems of the moment and taking in the big picture. It’s about being humble – and wise – enough to realize that you, yes you, could be the bottleneck in the growth pipeline by continuing to insert yourself in too many processes. In particular, this can be deadly if you are not a professional sales leader and continue to take a key role in the sales process!
The Second-best Time is “Just in Time”
Before it’s too late, before you are consumed by regrets, you can take positive, meaningful action. Just in time, you can plant the seeds that will continue to bear fruit for generations to come – if you take a step back and truly see that big and not-necessarily-all-rosy picture.
The first and most important things to recognize are your own strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve done that you can commit to doing what you do best and bringing in experts to take a leadership role in other areas. If you’re not a numbers guru, bring in a CFO; if you’re not a tech wizard, bring in a CTO; if you’re not a sales management expert, bring in a VP of Sales.
Okay, I hear you: “We aren’t big enough to afford that kind of high-caliber leadership team.” I beg to differ. Again, perspective. You can’t afford NOT to have excellent, responsible, and focused leaders on your side. The good news is that you don’t have to have these experts on staff full-time!
For example, if you recognize you need help managing the sales effort, consider hiring an outsourced VP of Sales. This allows you to bring in experienced sales leadership consulting on a fractional time basis. The benefits of this approach are too numerous to list here (but, of course, you can find a Sales Xceleration Advisor who will be glad to discuss them with you!). Meanwhile, the risks – and relative costs – can be quite low.
There is no time like the present to take action to save your business from failing. Sure, the best time to make the necessary changes might have been long ago, but the second-best time is now. What are you waiting for? To learn more, contact us at 844.874.7253.
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