- Players: Michael Greyling and Marlene de Lange
- Company: Grow Consulting
- Est: 1998
- Visit: growconsulting.co.za
According to Michael Greyling, co-founder of Grow Consulting, the biggest growth shift the business has experienced happened when they started saying no to potential clients.
“It’s a scary decision to make,” he says. “We were saying no to revenue in order to build future relationships.”
It sounds counter-intuitive, and yet the strategy has proven itself over and over again.
Former Deloitte consultants, Michael Greyling and Marlene de Lange launched Grow with a clear goal to build their people development consulting firm into a trusted industry player.
“This was always going to be a five-day game,” he says. “We were targeting large corporates as clients, and that takes time. You need to build up trust. I knew we couldn’t approach the kinds of clients we wanted from a product mindset. They’re over-run by people asking them for a valuable slot in their diaries to pitch product solutions.”
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Instead, Greyling and his team took the long view, although there were a few hurdles. “It took a while for revenue and reputation to align,” he says.
“I was used to flashing my Deloitte card and watching the red carpet roll out. Now I needed to build brand trust from the ground up. To do that, I needed to know what my long-term
With the aim of real, sustainable growth in mind, Grow Consulting started small.
“We needed to build trust. This meant starting with smaller, less strategic work to get our foot into the organisations that we were targeting. We knew that if we could prove ourselves there, we could work our way up. It’s all about proving value.”
From the outset, Greyling was prepared for the business to take five to six years before it started to gain real traction in the market.
“We facilitate people development and culture transformation projects, which take medium- to long-term commitments from our clients. There’s a significant investment in terms of time and costs involved, and so the sales cycle is long. In some cases we’ve had a two-to three-year lead time before signing a client.”
Part of this can be attributed to the fact that corporates trust capability and track records. “This has always been our focus – concentrate on building trust first, and the business will follow,” he adds.
This is where saying no to potential work comes in. “We’ve built our reputation on a two-pronged approach. Our clients trust us based on what we’ve delivered in the past, often on smaller, less strategic projects to prove ourselves; and they’ve learnt that we genuinely have their best interests at heart.”
For Greyling, the conversation is simple: “We want to understand our clients’ pain points, their business dynamics, industries and pressures – and we don’t want to waste their time. We offer a bespoke solution, and to build long-term relationships and our own future growth, those solutions need to deliver measurable value to the bottom line.
“For this reason, when we know an organisation needs a solution that we can’t deliver – or that we’re not the best at delivering – we tell them. We’ll even recommend another expert or company that we believe can help them. In the short- term it means saying no to revenue, but in the long-term we’ve built incredible and enduring relationships, and that means clients who trust us, and will always turn to us first.”
Lessons in Growth
Know what you’re selling. For example, a new CEO is brought in to turn a business around. We’re not selling training; we’re selling trust in our capability to help them turn the business around.
Understand who your future clients are
The CEOs and CFOs of tomorrow are in our mid-manager sessions today. Our business has grown with many mid-level managers who have gone on to become senior managers and CEOs.
They weren’t buyers, but today they are, and if we’ve helped them to become successful, they’ll always be loyal to us, and want to work with us at a strategic level.
Build relationships with the business – not individuals
We learnt this the hard way. In the early days, 70% of our business was with one client, specifically the relationship we had built up with the HR director. He fell out of favour with the new CEO, and just like that we received no more business from that company.
Now we build relationships across the organisation
There’s a difficulty here, as big corporates are full of politics and you need to navigate them, but if you take the time to understand the lay of the land, you pay attention to the various players and their objectives, and you don’t play people off against each other, you’ll build sustainable relationships across the board.
Stakeholder management is key
Corporates have an interesting dynamic because there is never just one decision-maker. SMEs often forget this going into a complex sale.
The CEO and CFO might love what you’re offering, but they can’t get budgetary approval without the buy-in of Procurement, HR, and in our case Learning & Development.
Each department has its own objectives, and no-one likes to have something foisted on them. Build a relationship with everyone, and remain as neutral as possible.
If you want to be the best, hire the best
This was difficult for us, as we can’t compete with corporate packages. What we can offer is a flexible office environment based on output rather than hours.
We treat everyone like adults and the professionals they are, which means they have the freedom to express themselves and live their values.
It’s a real draw-card for many professionals, and one that allows us to attract and retain top talent. In 17 years we’ve never had a consultant resign.