13 March 2023

What Makes a Successful Business? 6 Behaviours of High-Growth Companies Based On 40 Years' Experience

Robert Stead
Written by Robert Stead

Robert is a highly skilled Business to Business marketing director with over 13 years interim and part time experience. A believer in the “if you cannot measure the improvement it doesn’t exist” approach to marketing; completely focused, pragmatic and practical. Energetic, friendly and culturally adept, Robert has substantial European and international experience and is able to engage with the whole business, not just the marketing function. With a good strategic and operational marketing balance, Robert is always happy to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in. Marketing Centre Marketing Director of the year 2014.

Over the past 40 years I’ve worked with over 40 business leaders to help them grow their companies. The best of them were doubling the business every three years. The rest averaged between 5-20% year-on-year growth.

It’s clear looking back that the high-growth companies shared common principles and characteristics that the low-growth companies lacked. The sectors and business models differed - I’ve worked with everything from sewage pumps to high-energy physics - but the best businesses tend to have certain fundamentals in place.

Driving long-term growth is rarely about choosing the right tactics or channels. It’s about business fundamentals. Get the big strategic decisions right and growth will usually follow.

In this post, I’m going to share six characteristics of the high-growth companies I’ve worked with. For each characteristic, I’ll explain how to do it right - and how to do it wrong. 

A clear plan

The high-growth companies were crystal clear on what they wanted to achieve and how they were going to get there. The business goals and strategy were defined by the leadership team, then documented and shared across the business. The goals were SMART and specific people or teams were held accountable.

Every department was working towards the same goals and everyone understood their role in helping the business get where it wanted to go. Crucially, there was a clear line of sight between the business strategy and the marketing plan

Low-growth companies often set vague goals like ‘grow the business’ but it wasn’t clear what that entailed or who was responsible. Every now and again the leadership team would do an off-site or a planning day. But these rarely translated into concrete roadmaps.

Get more information on how to create a marketing plan for your business. 

A rock-solid value proposition

The high-growth companies had a clearly defined and documented value proposition. Everyone in the company understood the value proposition and how they fit into it. It was communicated consistently within the business and in customer-facing comms. 

Basically, it was central to how they operated. It was front-of-mind day-to-day, at every level.

The low-growth companies often didn’t have a documented value proposition. Or they made one a few years ago but it needed updating. It was rarely referred back to when making decisions and every employee had a slightly different interpretation of what the business was really all about.

Effective communication within the leadership team

The high-growth companies had leadership teams that communicated effectively both horizontally (sharing information with one another) and vertically (sharing information and decisions with their departments). 

There was a high level of trust, transparency and accountability. The team got along well in formal and informal situations. They met up at least once every two weeks and, in one case, had daily stand-ups to discuss execution - and these meetings were genuinely productive, not informal chats.

The low-growth leadership teams were often siloed. Communication was unstructured, inconsistent and irregular. Decisions were made but rarely communicated back to the business and there was a general lack of accountability.

Focus on results and reporting

The best businesses took reporting seriously. Not just within marketing but across the business. It was a cultural thing. Departments were expected to prepare and deliver reports on their performance monthly if not biweekly - and sometimes even daily.

The marketing team were set specific metrics they had to hit and these metrics were tracked on a dashboard that was shared throughout the business. The same goes for sales. 

The companies that were struggling had some measurement in place but it was largely gestural; something they felt they ought to do rather than something they lived and breathed. Sometimes they hit targets, sometimes they didn’t. In either case, there were no consequences. 

Get more information on setting marketing goals and holding your team accountable.

A quality CRM

The high-growth companies invested in a quality CRM and worked it hard. The CRM was properly set up and implemented and dashboards were created for sales and marketing. Where necessary, they drafted in specialists to help them get the most out of their technology. 

The reporting and customer data were always kept up to date and compliant with data protection regulations. The CRM was seen as foundational to sales and marketing success and was properly maintained by users and admins. 

The low-growth companies often skimped on their CRM, going for a cheap or *gasp* even free version that limited what they could do. The reporting was usually out-of-date or not fit for purpose. Customer data was unreliable and the email campaigns often struggled with deliverability issues. 

A properly staffed and managed team

The high-growth companies had a marketing team that could deliver on the marketing plan. The more ambitious the marketing plan was, the more experienced and well-resourced the team were. 

Responsibility for delivering the marketing plan was divided up across the team, with each deliverable or workstream assigned to a specific person. Each member of the team was held accountable for specific tasks or metrics. 

Low-growth companies often had under-resourced or inexperienced marketing teams. There was usually no plan for them to follow. As a result, they only focused on tactical activity (‘posting five times a week on social media’) rather than strategic goals (‘helping the business hit its revenue targets for the year’).

Get more information on building a marketing team and how to get the most out of one

Are you ready to grow your business?

Maybe you want to finally unlock the growth your business needs. Perhaps you recognise some of the negative examples we’ve listed above. In either case, our Marketing Directors can help.

We can offer a fresh perspective on your business, highlighting what’s going well and areas you need to work on. We’ll make a plan for growth and help you execute it, so you can get your marketing on track.


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