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Listening to the Numbers

A couple of months ago, I sat down to help a company that was struggling to grow beyond subsistence for a few people. Before actually sitting down with them, I spent time talking to the CEO about the state of his business. It was clear that there was a lack of process and discipline, and this was not doing the business any favors.

In business, it’s critical to have ways of cataloging progress and give a historical perspective of what is going on. Sure, revenue is a useful reference point, but it says nothing about how the money was made – or how it could be made more effectively. Ideally, this would be rolled up into a financial model which used historical numbers to project forward. But even without this level of detail, it is still possible to derive useful information from even the simplest numbers.

After my phone discussions with the CEO, I clearly understood that the business was not doing whatever it took to generate business, and that my emphasis was going to be on more face-to-face networking and pitching to local companies.

So, there I was, standing at the whiteboard, ready to point out that their lack of revenue was due to not enough in person sales. But, as the CEO and VP of Sales went over what metrics they had about conversion rates, I suddenly realized that I was wrong. The numbers told the story – and the story was that there was no way that they could get the revenue numbers they needed without a radical change in the business. It was a relatively simple, but radical solution – to stop going after individual customers and instead focus on channel partner recruitment.

For this company, it was a revelation that their sales strategy was doomed to failure, and, for me, it was yet another lesson in listening to the numbers, even the few you might have.