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Your product sucks ! You can't cut your way to growth!

Don't cut your way to growth
Don't cut your way to growth

Here's a letter I would love to send to a few companies yes and founders I see struggling...

Dear company leaders & founders

If you're struggling with a growth company like a startup (or a growth division) - you can't cut your way to growth !!!! Because that doesn't fix your product. (Because that's the problem)

Let me say that again - YOU CAN'T CUT YOUR WAY TO GROWTH !

You can temporarily cut your way to profitability - or to conserve cash - but that will be the start of a death spiral. Growth requires people, investment and risk.

So let me say this again - you can't cut your way to growth! It's not some kind of magic action.

If you are struggling to hit your over inflated sales numbers - and haemorrhaging money every month - double down or get out! (Get your investors to be bold!)

You - "the management" picked those massive sales numbers to raise money or justify internal investments. Did you ask anyone that was going to sell the product if they were real? Did you validate it with the market? Or was it just a nice round number to hoodwink investors?

I see startups - time and time again - they have a big commercial rush at the beginning - especially when they hit regulatory clearances - they over stretch and hire a ton of people - get into a load of countries. Do a boat load of expensive promotion activity! and....

Then... they can't sell to the numbers in the absurd sales plans that disconnected management team dreamed up. Cash goes out faster. So the sales team are deemed "the failure" - the company will then go through a cycle of selling the great story to the new commercial lead "It's amazing - It's wonderful... the issue was just the old sales leadership had no idea how to sell..." - And then the delusion sets in - and the company turns over another commercial lead - and another - and ..... (like watching a failing premiership club change out manager after manager.)

The CEO and Board then continue to think - "This is clearly the inability of the sales team" - They just don't know how to sell this wonderful product: WRONG !!!!

The most likely reality is - You built the wrong product - or your product doesn't work as the customers expect and demand !!!! In short: Your product sucks !

A product that works and delights customers will be on a growth trajectory independent of the quality of your sales team. It will go stellar if you have e a great sales team - but it won't "not sell" if you have the right product.

"But we did well at the beginning of the launch! Everyone said it was great !" : No. It's a forced fit product that will initially get sold to the simple (and keen)- "low hanging" accounts first - then stall as the "real market" gets hold of it. Initially the management will all pat themselves on the back as they sell the first 10 product to their close advisors - and then be shocked when no new accounts come online...

Then in a panic, the leadership thinks - "Cut the expensive field resources - cut the sales team - cut marketing spend!" It often means "Cut out the expensive middle management and seasoned people (that have the knowledge) those on the higher salaries... The team in the field!"

And often it means "Cut out the squeaky wheels!" - remove the people that have been complaining for months about the quality of the product and the performance of the product: "Our product is wrong. It's not working." (And that's usually the sales managers, because they get the screams of the current users, and the push back from the market. Every day !)

But the far removed management team thinks "We know the problem right... it's just the wrong attitude by the sales team. All they do is complain." (FFS!)

*And then the CEO will get into panic mode and tell everyone in the company "All get out from behind your desks and go and sell !" - how hard can it be? It's a classic failed strategy.

All of this is wrong - especially if you're fighting a behemoth of a competitor or two. It will delay the death of your company - but it won't fix it. You will not cut out the heart and soul of your company (the commercial teams) and so magically fix your crappy product.

(Sorry to be brutal: but I'm sat here watching a dozen bad products flail around in the market; and the blame be levelled at the sales teams!)

Advice 1: Fix your F'in product - get it right - get it functional - stop finger pointing and have your R&D fix the real issues. If they can't fix it - fire half of them and go external for help.

Advice 2: Retain your best and most seasoned sales talent (they will be the most expensive but the best) they own relationships with the Market - with KOLs - so keep them at all costs! They are the people that will get you through (until you fix your product) by the power of their relationships with customers! Fire them at your peril !!

Advice 3: Don't get to this point in the first place - make sure your product works before you scale. Change your R&D early on if they won't admit their baby is ugly (learn from so many mistakes of other companies.) Stop letting R&D tell you "what's good enough!" People out in the field - professionals of the industry and their customers will tell you "What's good enough." Listen to them.

Advice 4: Marketing hype won't substitute product functionality. Customers are not stupid. Neither is the market... You can make all the fancy slick videos you want. Once the customers get through the shine - they will get to the real functionality of the product. Stop the spin! 

Advice 5: Understand market needs (properly) before you even build the product. I can't stress this enough. If you want to avoid this horrendous catastrophe in the first place... Ensure you build a product that the majority of customers need. And ensure your product has all that functionality (working) before you go commercial. Half baked - under featured crap - is crap. And customers know it - and vote with their wallets.

Advice 6: If you can't fix your product or strategy - get outside help - get outside help - get outside help! Stop thinking your own abilities and that of your team are the best on the planet. If they were - you wouldn't be in this mess and reading this article. It doesn't matter if you are a start up or a monster of a company. In specialist areas get help! And get it fast!

Get that advice before you get going - and I'm talking here especially to big companies that think their current knowledge of their sector translates to a new category. It doesn't - Period. "Build to buy!"

Advice 7: If you're stuck in this downward spiral - listen to your teams on the ground - not your group think around the management table. Especially if most of the people around that table have zero clue about market reality. I can assure you - your teams on the ground think your management decisions are stupid. You will have lost faith from your teams. When you lose trust - it's over. Get out of your ivory towers and listen to the people on the ground and their customers.

Advice 8: If you are just out of cash - can't raise more money - and you can only cut. Realise - You can't cut your way to growth - but you can cut your way to survival. Stop being commercial 100%. Reduce to the core - regroup and genuinely start again; building on what you learned. Don't be in limbo "half commercial but under resourced" - nothing will eventually kill your company and destroy your brand more than that. Customer friends limping along - struggling every day - while your product under delivers and under delivers time and time again. Because you've not fixed the problem... you are still trying the fix the symptom. Eventually even your most loyal customers will throw you under the bus.

Advice 9: Stop lying!

When you are in this situation you will be lying to yourself (first and foremost) - then you will be lying to your board, your investors, your colleagues and above all - your teams. And guess what. Your team knows it - all of them. 

Stop lying to "The new managers" painting a rosey picture of rainbows and unicorns. Any manager into their first thirty days will know you've sold them a pile of crap. Then they will be angry. Instead - fess up and tell them the mess. You will be amazed at how many professionals will still join to take on the challenges. 

Admit you are in trouble - admit the product needs fixing - and above all... fix it !

(And when I say fix it.. I mean fix it. Not do a half assed job - launch it again - and have to admit it is failing again - pull it from the market AGAIN! Fix it and get it right before you relaunch.) You only get two bites at the cherry.

Ask the front line teams to hold the fort until the product is right - and be prepared to reduce (stop growing and only service current accounts) or actually suspend usage out in the filed until it is right. The product must be right - and if that means a total redesign - be bold. Your teams, your customers and your investors will fully understand. In fact - most will respect you for having a sense of reality.

Yes it's a re-do - but that's okay. It's better than the slow withering death spiral.

Yours sincerely 


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