A recent McKinsey journal article provided a sobering look at the top 500 non financial US company’s top line growth performance.  During a 10 year span from 1997 - 2007 only 1/3 of these companies (revenues over $500M) experienced compound annual growth rates of greater than 10%.  The average rates are one half this if we look at the companies over a longer period, from 1965 to 2008 with just 5.2% 3-Year CAGR percent.  This is against a median GDP growth rate for the same period of 3.2%.  Finally, 44% of the companies with growth rates of over 15% between 1994 and 1997, they went on to say, were growing at rates lower than 5% ten years later!

Above average growth rates clearly are tough to create and even tougher to sustain over more than just a few years.  Why so many casualties?  Why is it so hard to maintain top line growth?  Certainly there are many different factors that play into this, but one that I firmly believe is at the root of this issue is the lack of a consistent focus on delivering superior customer value. 

A concerted long term focus on delivering superior customer value that in turn produces long term sustained, superior growth and profitability is hard to do, clearly.  Few companies can maintain this focus across their markets over time because they don’t maintain a customer value driven culture across their organization.  They may have portions of their organization that do this from time to time, they may get “lucky” and strike a rich vein of value for a while, but it’s not sustainable.  

Physics tells us that an object at rest tends to remain at rest and an object that is moving, without constant energy applied, will eventually grind to a halt.  Inertia in the physics has another name in organizations - complacency.  Without the north star focus on customer value, organizations tend to look inward and become self-satisfied and self-deceived.    And when this happens they start losing their value advantage because, just like nature, value loss creates a vacuum of opportunity for other organizations to pursue.  Value in today’s fast-moving tech world has a shorter and shorter “half-life” - it decays quickly, sometimes quite abruptly.

The end of this article alludes to the core value issue when the authors state: “...the benefits of patience and discipline: patience to nurture new growth platforms over many years and discipline to uncover the types of growth that will create the most value.”  But, in my opinion, this still begs the question what “nurtures” new growth platforms and how do you “uncover” growth that creates value.  I firmly believe the patience and discipline needs to be in discovering and delivering superior value to a specific group of intended customers.

So how’s your top line growth?  What does your 5/10 year CAGR look like?  These are a great indicator of your will and ability to create and maintain superior customer value?  Tough questions to answer for sure, but even tougher to ignore.  What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear from you!

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    John Geffel

    Value is a much abused, misunderstood and misused word, everyone thinks they provide it but so few show real evidence that they do!

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