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A Winning Growth Strategy Begins With Juggling

May 8, 2015 2:05:52 PM

Jugglers captivate audiences. Juggling just three balls is an elegant and artistic act that seems out of reach for 95% of the population.

However, anyone can do it. (No exaggeration, anyone.)

Michael Gelb applies three key principles to the challenge: (a) break the complex into simple pieces, (b) get repetition on the pieces and then build them into an integrated whole, and (c) create a common language that can be used for training and discussion.

A novice juggler’s natural inclination is to focus on catching the balls. Toss one, then two, then three, and try to catch. Every dropped ball is a failure and a source of frustration. Balls fly all over the place because there is no discipline in the tossing.

Because he’s so focused on catching the balls, he fails to see the mechanics underlying successful juggling. The goal is to toss and catch the balls in an easy, controlled pattern.

Gelb boils the task down to its simplest components. Following his process, a novice can be juggling three tennis balls comfortably in 10 to 20 minutes.

You’ll need to check out Gelb’s book for your complete juggling training, but it goes something like this:

  • Ball #1: Left-hand tosses to the right hand. Perfect the toss. Repeat until the ball drops into the right hand. (Don’t worry about dropping the ball – the toss is what matters.)
  • Ball #2: Cross-toss from the right hand. Ball 1, then Ball 2. Repeat until the tosses are perfect.
  • Ball #3: Ball #3 gets tossed in via a second cross-throw timed after Ball #2 goes in the air. Takes several repetitions, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get it.

In Gelb’s terms, the goal is to execute a juggulation, an aptly named cycle that consists of three tosses and three catches. So, just try for one juggulation and then stop. Once you perfect that, go for two juggulations, then three. Pretty soon you’ll be a juggling whiz.

Juggling to Jumpstart Your Company’s Growth Strategy

In every business, managers are faced with a complex array of moving parts. Dynamic consumer perceptions and behaviors, competition, and distribution channels are the norm. Your market is evolving at a fast pace.

Like juggling, the task of developing growth strategy is complex. A McKinsey study found that about two-thirds of commercial transformations fail to deliver above-market growth.

So, how can we get a handle on it? First, break your business landscape into smaller components on which to focus – the components of your customers’ choice. Think of Ball #1 as your organization, or specifically your product or service. Ball #2 is your customer, and Ball #3 is your competition. The goal of your “juggling�? is ultimately to provide more customer value.

Ball #1 – Your offering. First, think about what you are offering the market. What is it that customers actually choose? Be more specific than your company or division – what do customers actually purchase? A product, service, or brand, perhaps.

Ball #2 - Your customer. Next, think about the people who are doing the choosing. Not large “demographic groups,�? “organizations,�? or “regions of the country.�? Think of human beings who are in situations making choices.

Ball #3 – Your competitor(s). When that customer is making a choice, what other options do they consider besides you? This may be a direct competitor with a product similar to yours (like Diet Coke vs. Diet Pepsi), or it might be more indirect competition (like Diet Coke vs. bottled water or coffee).

It takes a fair amount of work to get a good handle on these three interconnected and constantly evolving pieces. But framing your market in this simple way provides clarity in your strategic thinking.

At Vennli, we incorporate these three pieces into what we call the context statement. This is the strategic equivalent of Gelb’s 3-ball juggulation:

My goal is to grow [our organization/offering] by creating more value for [a customer segment] than does [one or more competitors].

This statement is designed to integrate and create focus.

For example, Vesicare sought to increase its share of the overactive bladder category by better understanding the decision-making of urologists:

My goal is to grow the Vesicare market share by creating more value for Tom, the urology specialist than does Detrol.

This focus on a purchase decision by a specific customer ultimately led to the discovery of some significant misperceptions physicians had about the Vesicare brand. This provided a focus for communications strategy development which contributed to the brand’s rise to the top-ranked position in the category (from #4 .

Another example comes from the Archdiocese of Atlanta:

My goal is to grow revenue for the Grace Scholars Program (Donated Tax Credits) by creating more value for Larry and Sue, prospective High Net Worth donors, than does Apathy/Procrastination (i.e. not donating).

Thinking of their growth challenge in this way led to research with potential donors that helped the Archdiocese team zero in on ways to simplify the donation process. This resulted in a jump in donations from $1.7 million to $2.9 million in a single year.

Similar to Gelb’s juggling method, defining a growth strategy context:

  1. breaks down a complex activity into digestible parts (what is our offering, who is the customer, what are the customer’s choices?),
  2. re-assembles those pieces into an integrated whole (i.e. the context statement), and
  3. builds a language with which we can communicate and teach (concepts like customer choice, value, company offering, customer segments, competitive options, context statement).

Focus and persistent repetition are key to success. The process to developing a full growth strategy is most effective when inspired by a well-defined context statement.

So, captivate your team with a little juggling and an effective way to jumpstart your growth strategy.

Adapted from Joel E. Urbany and James H. Davis, Grow by Focusing on What Matters, New York, NY: Business Expert Press, 2010, chapter 3.

Topics: General

Joe Urbany
Written by Joe Urbany

Cofounder of Vennli and Professor at the University of Notre Dame

Joe is a core marketing faculty member in Notre Dame’s MBA program and past Associate Dean of the Mendoza College of Business with numerous publication credits related to customer decision making and growth strategy.

In 2010, Joe Urbany co-wrote a book entitled Grow by Focusing on What Matters: Competitive Strategy in 3-circles. The premise of the book is that growth and competitive advantage are about effective positioning. The model facilitates speed of understanding and action by focusing strategic attention on what impacts customer decisions. It has been applied in over 800+ MBA projects at Notre Dame. Co-founded in 2013 by Joe, Vennli is based on this proven model. Vennli brings the model to life through the use of collaborative technology and providing a platform that makes an already faster and more intuitive process even more accelerated and streamlined.

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