Last Updated on October 20, 2023
Growth is one of the greatest and most vexing challenges all businesses face. A challenge I encountered many times in my 31 years in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur, a CEO, a Venture Capitalist and serving on the board of directors of 21 companies. A challenge business leaders must meet every day.
Top-line growth is critical because it’s the only way to create real and sustainable shareholder value. If your business is growing faster that its market, then you are gaining market share and the top businesses in any given market receive a disproportionate share of value compared to their share of market. As Bracken Darrell, the CEO of Logitech once told me: “There is only growth or death!”
Its eight o’clock Monday morning…
You lead a business facing its moment of truth. What do you do to outpace the market and grow faster than your competitors?
It turns out that the answer to that deceptively simple question comes from the fascinating world of skydiving.
A stunning jump
On July 30th, 2016, in Simi Valley, California, Luke Aikins made history.
He jumped from an airplane at an altitude of 25,000 feet. Now jumping from an airplane, to me, is really not a big deal. That’s because, I have done it over a thousand times. I spent literally 20 hours of my life falling, yes you read correctly, just falling at 120 mph like Luke Aikins on the picture below.
What’s remarkable about Luke’s jump versus all my skydives is that he did it without a parachute. No, he didn’t die, he safely landed in a 100 by 100-foot net (see the little red square below).
There is one thing critical to the success of his jump and to his survival: he had to create and maintain a perfect alignment between his body and the net.
Any entrepreneur, any CEO, any business leader who wants to grow its business faces a similar challenge: That challenge is to create and maintain a perfect alignment between the business and its target market.
That alignment is the secret to generate real growth for any business. That’s the secret I wanted to share with you today.
How do I align my business with my target market?
To understand what it means to align a business with its target market, let’s explore the exotic world of timepieces.
Indeed, businesses are similar to mechanical watches. They are complicated, they are sensitive, and they must be resilient in a challenging environment.
It’s quite remarkable, a watch like the one above works flawlessly for decades and the mechanical pieces inside move a lot. For example, the particular gear at the bottom is called the balance wheel, it oscillates 28,800 times per hour. If you take into account all the pieces that are moving, you can calculate that they move a billion times every two years. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.” That’s a lot or movement!
How come such a remarkable mechanism works so well for decades?
There are two key reasons: one is the way the mechanical system is designed and the other is because of the blue dots you can see on the picture above. They are called jewel bearings. Now, you have figured out why the management consulting firm I run is called Blue Dots Partners.
These jewel bearings are made of synthetic sapphires or rubies. They are absolutely critical to create and maintain a perfect alignment of all the fine gears that are moving between the two plates. Without them, the mechanism would not keep its alignment and the watch would work for a while, but then slowdown and eventually stop ticking.
The eight universal jewel bearings of business
I stated earlier that the secret to generate real growth for any business is to create and maintain a perfect alignment between the business and its target market.
In 2014, I got an epiphany: I realized that in business, like in a mechanical watch, there are jewel bearings that are critical to create and maintain a perfect alignment with the target market. In fact, there are four pairs of jewel bearings, four axes of alignment if you will, to realize that perfect business alignment. The stunning fact is that they are absolutely universal. They apply to a café on the Left Bank in Paris, a startup in Silicon Valley, a small business in Miami or a Fortune 500 company headquartered in the heart of Manhattan.
Let me describe these four axes of alignment that exist between any business and its target market, which is defined by the sum of all prospective customers the business wants to serve.
Somewhere in Applewood, Colorado, a small town located 17 miles west of Denver, a woman named Sylvia is suffering from a persistent migraine. She goes to see a pharmacist, who hands her a box of pills that he says will relieve a stomachache. Surprised, the woman says, “My pain is my head, not my stomach.” Obviously, she is not going to buy the pills.
This encounter illustrates the first axis of alignment: Pain versus Claim.
The pain of the customer and the claim that the business is making to address that pain must be aligned.
Now imagine that the pharmacist has the right pill for Sylvia’s headache, it will cure her in ten minutes. He tells her in French: “Voilà le medicament qu’il vous faut et qui soulagera votre mal de tête rapidement.” Sylvia has never been to France and never studied French. She can’t speak a single word of it, although she might have understood the word “voilà.”
Even though it’s the perfect pill for Sylvia, she will never buy it because she does not understand what the pharmacist is talking about. In other words, the Message, which is the expression of the claim, is not at all clear to her.
This represents the second axis: Perception versus Message.
Now imagine the pharmacist speaks perfectly good English and knows about the right pill for Sylvia. He explains to her: “There is a very effective medicine for your headache, but you have to drive to Denver to get it.” There is no way Sylvia is going to drive 34 miles back and forth to Denver to get the pill, especially because she is standing in a pharmacy right now with her head pounding! Would you buy a product if you had to put so much effort into getting it?
The way customers want to buy a product or service must be aligned with the way it is sold in the marketplace.
That’s the third axis of alignment: Purchase versus Sale.
Let’s now examine the fourth and last axis of alignment. The fourth pair of jewel bearings.
I had the good fortune to spend three years at Apple. During the last one, I worked directly for Steve Jobs and yes, that’s how I lost my hair in case you wondered!
There are three lessons I learned from Steve that have served me well and that I still apply today:
The first is: Don’t be focused… Be hyper focused. I have never met such an intensely focused person in my life.
The second is: Simplicity is really, really, really hard. This is what Apple is all about.
The third lesson is relevant to the fourth axis of alignment. I came to the realization that there is one and only one business on this planet. That unique business we are all in, is the manufacturing and delivery of delight.
Imagine you just bought a product. Before unpacking it, discovering it and using it for the very first time, you have a certain expectation of delight. That expectation has to be met. There can’t be an impedance mismatch between what you expect and your experience as you consume the product or the service, from discovery, all the way to disposal.
After Sylvia finally got the headache pill and swallowed it, her pain persisted, and she started to feel dizzy and a rash appeared on her skin. Clearly, this is not what she expected! Based on what the pharmacist promised, she believed her pain would go away in ten minutes and that she would then go on with her daily routine.
This embodies the fourth and last axis of alignment: Delight versus Offering.
The secret to generate real growth for any business is to create and maintain a perfect alignment between the business and its target market along these four axes using eight jewel bearings:
- The Pain of the customer and the Claim the business makes must be aligned.
- The Perception of what the claim is and the Message delivered by the business must be aligned.
- The way customers want to Purchase and the way the business Sells must be aligned.
- The expected Delight by the customer and the business Offering must be aligned.
The secret to grow any business is this: the only way to generate real growth is to create and maintain a perfect alignment between the business and its target market.
This is achieved along four universal axes of alignment: Pain and Claim, Perception and Message, Purchase and Sale and finally Delight and Offering.
There are, in fact, tools and techniques to precisely measure these four alignments from zero to one hundred percent. I recently wrote a book titled Aligning the Dots: The New Paradigm to Grow Any Business describing some of these tools and explaining how insights revealed by these quantitative measurements determine the right set of actions to address any misalignment. This alignment approach is also used with CEOs who dare to venture into The Alignment Zone, a TV series that is produced by Blue Dots Partners and Rick Tocquigny and distributed by C-Suite Television Network.
These specific actions define a specific Growth Playbook that is right for the business. That growth playbook tells the entrepreneur, the CEO or the business leader exactly what to do on Monday morning at 8 o’clock to start growing revenue faster, fly past competition and be successful… just like Luke Aikins was on that hot summer day of 2016.
Written by Philippe Bouissou.
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