When most business leaders think about wanting to grow revenue or market share, what are their first impulses for gaining traction? Usually, they hire a salesperson to increase revenue with current clients or acquire net new clients, add a rep agency to help them connect with more prospects, bring on additional distributors, start a training program with a new tactical approach, or invest in marketing. These are the obvious first steps that we hear frequently from companies that leaders are looking to scale.

But here’s the fatal flaw: These are all inside-out approaches. In the age of buyer control and digital disruption, the best starting point for growth is to look at your whole organization and understand whether all your employees, partners and suppliers are aligned with what buyers really want – and whether you are providing it.

Throwing money, people or training at the problem of growth may only perpetuate your existing results if your foundation is wrong. The key is starting outside, with the customer’s needs and wants, and working your way back in.

Stand-alone marketing is no longer enough. A traditional sales team is no longer enough. The companies that survive and thrive in the age of buyer control – where buyers go online, do their own research and basically name their own price – are those that become inbound organizations.

What is an inbound organization? It’s a company that’s built for and solves for the customer. Everyone is aligned around the goals of the customer, invested in the success of the customer, and clear on his or her role in creating and retaining the customer for the long term. This is the environment in which marketing and sales training will find a context and a purpose.

Many companies recognize the need to change marketing tactics, to use content to draw in prospects, to develop a digital marketing presence and to adapt to the ability of buyers to control the process. However, few see these changes as fundamental to the operation, structure and strategy of the entire organization. This is where they go wrong. Yes, fundamental organizational change is hard. It takes a commitment from senior leadership; resources to back it up; and specific sets of goals, plans and timeframes for everyone involved. Yet without these things, your attempts at growth may be wasted.

A recent study concluded that more than 80 percent of information shared in traditional sales training is lost within 90 days. Some of this loss is due to the methodology used, but lack of alignment with the mission, culture and strategy of the company also plays a significant role in the inefficiency.

Mission Is Critical.

Our research shows that leaders need to do more to make sure the core values of the company are defined, recognized and reinforced. Developing clear, inspiring, customer-centered and customer outcome-focused missions gives everyone a framework within which to make decisions and contextualize training and education. Documenting the company mission and making it a living, relevant part of each employee’s experience keeps training investments and growth initiatives focused on adding to that mission and not merely academic exercises.

If the “why” of your business – your mission – is clear, then your people will value training as being worth their investment of time. Otherwise, they can potentially see it as a cost and an interruption, out of sync with the company culture or standard way of doing business.

Culture Matters.

Inbound organizations create the right environment with the right operating system to allow technical or tactical training to take hold and flourish. Imagine training experienced salespeople to be more empathetic, ask more customer-centered questions and develop listening skills, all the while applying daily pressure to hit a quota or call volume number at all costs. Without the tie back to a customer-oriented mission and vision, it can seem like conflicting direction.

Leaders can create cultures with built-in obstacles to change, including:

  • Layers of unnecessary bureaucracy
  • An environment of politics over customer-first decision-making
  • “Never done that before” thinking and “We don’t do that here” bias
  • Allowing selfish behavior by condoning employees’ choosing their team or their own self-interest over the interests of the customer

The idea that change is hard is as true for companies as it is for people. Despite the clear evidence that customers have changed everything about the way they buy – customers have an endless array of sellers at their internet-enabled fingertips – too many organizations treat them as if the same old-school ideas still work. This approach is not just short-sighted; it’s self-destructive. And it points to an area of significant risk as well as an opportunity for sales leaders.