Removing Barriers to Growth In The Middle Market

by Sean McCosh

Shortly after college and a brief stint working for the summer Olympic Games, I read a book entitled Jump Start Your Brain. The book, written by Doug Hall and his team at Eureka! Inventing in Cincinnati, was about how to help “jump the tracks” of typical thinking and create bigger, more transformative ideas to help your business grow. It really resonated with me at the time, and the work they were doing seemed consistent with my skill set and career aspirations. So, my new mission became landing a job with the eclectic team of inventors and misfits at Eureka! After a wee bit of stalking and a 60-hour job interview (a 2.5 day client project), I landed the job and moved to Cincinnati. Yeah! While with Eureka, I had the opportunity to help design and lead innovation consulting projects for several of the world’s leading companies. We worked “upstream” to help create new products, services or process innovations for amazing companies, including: American Express, Nike, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, Chrysler, P&G, CapitalOne, Mattel and a LONG list of others. We also worked with a handful of mid-size businesses and a few startups along the way. It was fun and challenging work. I learned a heckuva’ lot and didn’t sleep much during those years.

After Eureka! I joined a technology startup and digital publishing company called SparkPeople. As part of a great team we built one of the largest digital health and wellness communities in the world, with over 16-million members and super-high user engagement for our category.

Now that I’m a Partner at Differential and have worked closely with well over 100 companies (from startups to the Fortune 500), I’ve learned that so many organizations, no matter their size, share two common challenges:

• Clearly and quickly identifying barriers to growth

• Knowing how to approach building tech solutions (products, services, or processes) to remove these barriers

Startups tend to be less risk-averse and hard charging. Innovation is in everything they’re doing, but they usually don’t call it that. They’re just trying to solve an existing problem in a new way. Sometimes with technology, sometimes not.

Big Companies in mature markets are more likely to be engaged in low price/low margin street fights with established competitors. Many of them have realized, if they’re going to continue to grow, “innovation” may be their only path. As a result, innovation becomes part of their lexicon, to the point where they hire people with fancy titles like Innovation Systems Administrator, Director of Innovation or Chief Innovation Officer. Because they have so much at stake and vast resources, big co’s may create whole departments who are solely responsible for upstream innovation.

Middle-Market businesses tend to be a little different, however. What we’ve found through first hand experience working with fast-growing, mid-size organizations (and through a series of customer interviews) is that they’re not so focused on the need for “innovation,” but they’re definitely looking for ways to better manage their growth today, and to remove barriers to future growth. At the end of the day this is splitting hairs. Removing barriers to growth is essentially the same thing as “innovation,” but mid-market execs are wearing many hats and often don’t have the time or personnel to think about it that way. Can you relate?

At Differential, we love partnering with organizations in the middle-market. That’s because helping them remove barriers to growth using technology can make such a big impact in a relatively short amount of time. When working with mid-market organizations, we also tend to truly become a trusted partner pretty quickly and feel part of the team - allowing us to provide long-term value as we work on multiple projects together. This is a good way to work, for everybody.

So, how are companies using technology to remove barriers to growth? Here are five proven growth strategies companies are using, and a few real examples of how Differential has been helping them execute.

1) Market Penetration - sell more of your current product to your current market

Example: One of our partners offers a highly unique and differentiated hardware + software solution in the healthcare space. Their product has a proven ability to help patients prevent specific types of injuries, and is also successfully used to provide rehabilitation services for a variety of patient types, from pediatric to senior care. They partnered with Differential to take their legacy PC application software and create a modern, cloud based version that could offer new benefits and remove sales barriers and objections they were commonly hearing. Although their core product isn’t entirely new, the new benefits provided by modernizing it allows them to sell more units into their current market.

2) Product Development - sell a new product to your current market

Example: We partnered with a leading brand of golf clubs, bags and accessories that has been facing slowing growth in their manufactured goods sales and wanted to create new digital products and services to help drive future growth opportunities. Differential worked with their team to create a digital product that pulls in data from a wearable device and translates it into insights that helps the golfer improve his or her unique golf game. The first version is now in market and they are planning on adding additional digital services over time.

3) Market Development - sell your current product to a new market

Example: Differential partnered with a major manufacturer of home storage and organization solutions who moved from retail distribution to a dealer and direct model. They needed to offer a more effective and efficient way to help consumers and customers design custom organized living spaces. Differential helped them build a “design your own space” digital tool that is helping them sell more of their products to a new market - dealers and home builders.

4) Diversification - sell a new product to a new market

Example: We recently partnered with a with a large printing and enterprise software company whose core business has been weakening in recent years due to advancements in technology and shifts in consumer behavior. Differential started by helping them discover and define a new product vision they could sell to new (and some existing) customers. The output of that initial project generated a lot of internal excitement and unlocked additional funding. We are now in full development of the digital product and their team is actively selling it to major enterprise-level customers.

5) Complexity Management - removing process bottlenecks and inefficiencies

Example: One of our clients is a healthcare services company that wanted to create a radically simpler, more modern way to measure health outcomes. We partnered with them to build a multi-platform (mobile + desktop + tablet) digital product that provides health pros with a simple, secure way to collect real-time health information from patients - so they can provide them with the right health resources at the right time.

Can you think of ways that your organization is currently using these strategies and digital innovation to remove barriers to growth? If so, we’d love to hear about them. We love learning about how others leverage tech to grow. If we may be able to help you, please connect with us, as we’d love to meet you.

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