A Steady Stream of Customers – The Key to Growth

What’s the biggest issue you face in selling your products or services? Market positioning? What to say? Collateral? Bad Product/service? Too many potential customers (don’t we wish)?

For most businesses – it’s not any of those, but simply a lack of interested prospects to engage in the proposal and acquisition process.


My wife, Diane, and I and our three kids spent 10 years in New England before moving to Denver. We bought a home with a woodland and were told it needed thinning in order to grow strong.

The romantic in me saw how fulfilling it would be to go back to the earth, and this woodland management problem seemed the perfect opportunity. I told a neighbor of my plan to use the wood to heat my house the next winter and even my hot water year round. It was June when I started. He laughed, then explained that I needed to go buy some firewood because the green wood I was felling wouldn’t be dry enough to burn for another year. Undaunted I called and had dry wood delivered in 16 foot logs, cut, chopped, and stacked them outside.

It was a great system until the outside woodpile was depleted some time in early February. Fortunately the oil boiler I never intended to use again kicked on and got us through the winter.

We learned a valuable lesson. A hot fire was not the key to heating the house, and neither was a full load of wood in the inside woodpile. And how many trees there were in the woods was completely unhelpful. The only thing that mattered was if we had enough wood in the outside woodpile to get us through a full winter. The outside woodpile was everything. We paid much more attention to the size of the outside woodpile in the years that followed.


I have come to find out that business development in marketing support services shares the same requirement – the outside woodpile is everything.

My New England experience translates to business pretty well. My woods is my target market, my outside woodpile is potential customers with real names and phone numbers with whom I have easy access (they’ll take my call), my inside woodpile is those potential customers who are actively talking to me about my services, and my fire/boiler are those with whom the pricing and proposal process are complete – the only thing left is for us to get a yes or no decision.

A friend of mine, Art Radtke, helped me see clearly why the key to successful growth is the outside woodpile.


Where does the sales process break down for most for us? If we had a steady stream of potential customers who need what we have and are interested in possibly buying it, how would that impact our sales? If all you have to do is call the next person on the list and begin a buying conversation, would business growth be an issue? It’s not a far-fetched idea, but a very practical way to grow our business that most of us are missing. And it’s the only way to even out the peaks and valleys we experience in the sales cycle.

Ask a business owner how the business is going and you might get, “Great, we have a lot of customers right now” (or the reverse). Translation – “Our ash pile is full of existing customers we closed in previous years. I really don’t have anything in the boiler (yes/no status) because my inside woodpile (proposals) isn’t full, because I don’t have an outside woodpile (relationships with potential customers).” If we don’t have clients, we’re out in the forest (mixers) madly chopping down trees (building new relationships) and hoping they’ll dry fast so we can burn them up.


What we don’t understand is the drying process in the outside woodpile – the process of developing relationships of trust on the way to acquiring clients. It’s the key to consistent and predictable growth.

Mort Murphy, another friend, says there are four major ways to focus on customer acquisition – Advertising, Public Relations, Direct Marketing (including cold calls), and Relationship Marketing. In all my conversations with business owners and sales VPs about how they obtained most of their customers, the 80/20 rule always kicks in. 80% or more (usually more) of their business comes from existing relationships, and 20% or less (usually well less) comes from advertising, PR, direct marketing or other non-relational forms of marketing.

Relationships are clearly the key for us – relationships fill up the outside woodpile with people who need what we have to offer and want to talk to us because they trust us. And these relationships, referrals or migratory relationships (moving from one company to another) are the key to our growth. Ironically, most of us have budgets for advertising, PR, and direct marketing, which account for the smallest percentage of our sales, and no budget whatsoever for building relationships! How many companies do you know with a line item for “Relationship Marketing”? Likely few if any.

Random Hope is not a good sales strategy, but too often it’s our central un-articulated strategy. There is nothing wrong with advertising, PR, or direct marketing, but why do we put all our energy in these when all the evidence says we get our clients from existing clients, past clients who moved to another company, friends, referrals from friends or clients, and other relationships?

If we want to even out the peaks and valleys of client acquisition and see consistent, predictable growth, we need to have an intentional, well-developed, written strategy for Relationship Marketing, including a significant budget to support it. Here are a few elements of a good Relationship Marketing strategy:

  1. Define for your business what would describe Raving Fans and Advocates. For me Raving Fans are people who refer to me without asking, Advocates are those who are glad to help if I give them very specific direction.
  2. Make a list of your Raving Fans and Advocates.
  3. Develop these relationships so Advocates become Raving Fans, and Raving Fans send you even more potential clients. The best way to do this is become intimately acquainted with what will actually help them in their businesses and figure out how to help them get there. All businesses talk about and even believe in serving their Raving Fans, but few of us actually do it.
  4. Make a list of people (not businesses! – people buy from people) who you would like to have as Advocates and Raving Fans. See #3 above.
  5. Which of your existing clients are not already Advocates or Raving Fans? What actions do you need to take to get them to become one? See step #3 above.
  6. Put marketing money into events that serve your Raving Fans, Advocates, clients, and potential clients (inside and outside woodpile). Don’t sell them, serve them where they are at, even if it has nothing to do with your business. People become our friends because they find that relating to us serves them. Why do we treat our business relationships differently? Recreation such as golf, wine-tastings, cooking classes, education on business principles, co-sponsoring of charity events – the list can be endless of things that you can do to develop relationships that will lead to more sales. See #3a above.
  7. Strategic Alliances. What other business owner is chasing the same customer base as you, but isn’t competing with your company? These are just about the best source of new clients. You could rain on each other for years to come. Build these relationships!
  8. Follow up. Events or meetings are only a beginning. How many trade show booths and/or wine socials have you sponsored where follow-up wasn’t done well if at all? And how many of these were actually well-planned to specifically develop your intended relationships vs. a company-sponsored “mixer” for all conference attendees? See #3 above. ?

The key to successful Relationship Marketing is an outside woodpile full of people who know you. This moves you away from “contacts” to “connections” and creates a much higher close rate.

Make Relationship Marketing a central part of your marketing strategy and budget.

Shooting a gun in the woods is not bear hunting, and throwing money at advertising, PR, direct marketing, or even Relationship Marketing is not a marketing and sales strategy. Identify the relationships that are feeding you business and the ones you wish were, and focus deeply and intentionally on serving them in their businesses. This will make them want to refer to you and help you build your outside woodpile.

The Other Green Revolution (the one that makes you more money in less time)

What is the Purpose of OWNING a Business?

To create the lifestyle we want for ourselves and our significant others/families.

WHAT Lifestyle?We go into business to create a lifestyle for ourselves and our families, but at best, our families get to enjoy the lifestyle. We bought or started a business and ended up being an employee of ourselves, unable to get off the treadmill.

Most of us are stuck in Survival or Subsistence. How do we get to where we own the business instead of the business owning us?

Each person’s lifestyle is driven by:
How much money your business makes and
How much time you have left over when you finish working.


How do we do this? Ask Mexico.
Something happened in the Mexican farming industry in 1943 that teaches us how to make more money in less time. Something called The Green Revolution. The objective was to produce more food and to have excess to feed the world.

For thousands of years 100% of work-time was focused on schlepping grain and hunting animals – survival was the only focus. Farming changed all that. Suddenly only about 80% of the workforce was focused on survival. For the first time 20% of the workforce could begin to create a lifestyle focused beyond survival, on success and significance. By 1900 the 80% had gone down to 41% still involved in feeding the rest of us (USDA – The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy). But curiously, less than 100 years later, the survival workforce dropped from 41% to 1.9% of population – almost “overnight”.

It took thousands of years to cut the subsistence workforce by 50%, and yet less than one hundred years to cut it another astounding 96%! This is remarkable progress. In a very short time, the world moved from a focus on Survival, through Success, to a focus on Significance. After thousands of years of very little change, how did it happen so quickly?


One significant contributor – In 1943, some Mexicans started dedicating a small percentage of their field to learning how to grow better crops, testing seeds, fertilizer, and watering techniques. Productivity went down the first two years, but by the third year, they had greatly increased their yield beyond their expectations. This farming technique was adopted everywhere.

The key to growing more food was the willingness to focus a small portion of the field to developing future growing strategies, working ON their farming, not just IN it. It’s the same key for businesses.

The Green Revolution is based on the strategy of working ON your business, not just IN it. The Mexicans understood that the key was Yield Per Acre – how do I grow more food in fewer acres. For you, the key is Yield Per Hour (YPH) – how do I make more money in less time?

Are you in Hunter/Gatherer Mode?

Most business owners are in hunter/gatherer mode – surviving from one day to the next, not at all focused on creating that lifestyle that brought them into business in the first place.

How do you measure if you are in survival mode? It’s easy. If you leave the business for a few weeks, does it run itself without going backward? If not, you are in survival mode and haven’t fully experienced the Green Revolution in your business.

More Money Doesn’t Get You Out of Hunting and Gathering Mode

I know multi-millionaires who are in survival mode – while their families are out on the boat, they are back at the office working to keep all the money coming in. There is a difference between being rich (having lots of money) and being wealthy (having the ability to choose what to do with my time). We spend so much time trying to get rich that we forget the objective is to be wealthy.

Invest a Small Percentage of Your Time Strategically Growing Your Business

The most successful business owners invest time regularly working ON their business, not just working tactically IN their business. The Mexicans understood that investing a percentage of their time working ON their farming was the only way to grow their yield exponentially.

What percentage of businesses do you think are in Survival Mode?

Think of 10 businesses you know – the owner dies tomorrow, does the business survive? If not, it’s in Hunter/Gatherer mode. I believe overwhelming majority of businesses are stuck in H & G mode.

What percentage do you think stay in Survival mode their entire business life?

Again, the overwhelming majority. Most business owners think it’s normal to live in subsistence simply because there are so many other businesses stuck there, too.

How do you move from Survival, through profitable Success to Significance?
Name a business you know that after a year or a few years noticeably expanded? How did they do it? I’m willing to bet they committed some resources (time and money) to figuring out how to grow. If you want to make more money in less time, you will have to invest a little money and a little of your time now toward your future.

If you decide to work ON your business, not just IN it, you are much more likely to increase your Yield Per Hour, so that you can make more money in less time. It’s all about Yield Per Hour.

Stop Doing Business by the Seat of Your Pants

If you want to increase your Yield per Hour, you need to adopt the business practices of successful business and focus some time working ON your business:

  1. Get some peers involved in your business. Get into a peer advisory group to get objective input on your business from other business owners. And invest time in these relationships. We have the screwy notion that “community” is only for the neighborhood. It’s just as critical for the successful business, too.
  2. Block regular time to invest in asking the right questions. Strategic time working ON your business is an investment. Tactical time working IN it is an expenditure. Increase your Yield Per Hour by working strategically, not just tactically.
  3. Know where you are and where you want to go. He who aims at nothing hits it every time. If you’re wondering why you’re business is in the same place it was a few years ago, it’s likely because you don’t have a clear picture of where you want to go.
  4. Sow today what you reap tomorrow. “I don’t have time or money to invest working ON my business. When I get a little more ahead I’ll be in a better position to do that.” The overwhelming majority of businesses are stuck in survival mode not because they can’t get out, but because they are making decisions based on where they are right now, rather than on where they want to be.

Yield Per Hour (YPH) – making more money in less time.

The Mexicans understood they needed to commit a percentage of their fields to working ON their farming. As a result cultures have moved from Survival through profitable Success to a focus on Significance.

Are you in Survival? Or are you moving to put in place a business and lifestyle that will create Significance for you, your family, and the world around you? As the old Chinese proverb goes – “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Commit to the four steps above today, start working ON your business, and get moving toward Significance. Speed of execution is the #1 indicator of success in business.



Why Bad Plans Will Make You More Money Than Good Plans

Good plans, aren’t.

The Marine Motto.

When I was on the Marine soccer team many years ago, our team action plan was:
“Bad plans carried out violently many times yield good results. Do something.”

We weren’t the most talented team. We played a Brazilian team that was like watching a Monet get painted, or poetry in motion. The ball stuck to their feet like velcro and they passed and controlled beautifully. When we were lucky enough to get in the way, we would kick the ball as far down the field as we could, run under it and hope we got there first.

It was a bad plan, but we carried it out with commitment, and more often than not, our bad plan worked better than their good plan, because we were more committed to our plan than they were to their good one. We didn’t win the league, but we went far beyond our collective skill set, and made it to the finals. Not bad for a bad plan.

Good business works just like our Marine soccer team. Somebody did a study of sales people who make over $250,000 and found out that the #1 reason for their success was SPEED OF EXECUTION. It wasn’t how smart they were, or how much better their product was than they next guy, and it certainly wasn’t that their plan was better then somebody elses. When something came along that would help their business, they moved on it faster and made more money.

Did you ever really come up with a good plan anyway? How many business plans have held up for more than a few weeks before they begin to change because they came in contact with the real world? What you thought was a good plan was just a bad plan that you spent way too much time on before you implemented it. If you would have exposed it to the light earlier, you could have perfected it much more quickly.

Really. Speed of Execution is the #1 indicator of success in business. Get there before the next guy. There was a book written a while back that sums it up in the title “It’s not the big who eat the small, it’s the quick who eat the slow.” I never read it because the title gave it all away.

Execute Now. Perfect As You Go. I’m not advocating you run your business on bad plans. I’m advocating that you perfect every plan by getting it into practice as quickly as possible, so that the real world will inform you as to what has to change to perfect it. The key to success in planning:

  1. Get the plan into production at the very earliest opportunity.
  2. Carry it out violently. (or in business terms, with complete commitment). It’s better than the plan you didn’t have before. If you just fool around with it, don’t expect to win.
  3. Perfect as you go. The problem is that we either a) think about the plan forever and don’t do it, or b) implement it immediately and then never learn and improve. The whole point of contact with the real world is to give you a better chance of turning your bad plan into a great one. Entrepreneurs love to role out bad plans quickly – it’s a great strength. They also get bored easily and rarely perfect the plan they’ve rolled out. It’s a great weakness.

Bad plans carried out violently sometimes yield good results. The number one indicator of success is SPEED OF EXECUTION. Time kills deals, and it kills businesses. Figure out the essentials and get moving. Then focus intently on constantly improving the bad plan until it runs itself.

Most businesses are stuck in Survival. The idea is to move through profitable Success to Significance. We don’t get there largely because we want to get it right before we do anything that would actually help us get it right. Get a bad plan and carry it out with commitment and watch your business grow. This will also help get you off the treadmill and back to the passion that brought you into business in the first place.

Carpe diem and all that stuff. Like the Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” Stop thinking about it, go dig a hole, and plant something that will help you grow your business. What bad plan have you been thinking about too long? Get moving on it.