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The key to double-digit growth

If you’ve ever wondered why some companies are capable of growing faster than others, new research from Vistage has an answer: They’re highly effective at customer engagement.

Our analysis of more than 1,300 survey responses from CEOs of small and midsize businesses found that high-growth companies — those that grew double-digits each year for two years — are involved in more customer engagement initiatives, are better at executing those initiatives and have stronger leadership to drive those initiatives than companies with flat or declining revenues.

Bespoke Collection, a small business that sells boutique wines and unique objets d’art in Napa, California, exemplifies this approach. The company’s president, Paul Leary, recently shared these three lessons with me on how to use marketing, sales and customer service to quickly grow a business.

1. Great marketing is rooted in authentic engagement.

How can companies effectively reach customers in today’s noisy, fast-paced world? They have to understand what makes their customers tick, and then come up with innovative ways to engage them in meaningful and authentic ways.

Earlier this year, Bespoke came up with a creative idea to do just that. The company partnered with LiveNation on Bottlerock, a music festival in Napa. After identifying the festival’s headliner — the Foo Fighters — Bespoke created 500 cases of wine with a label specific to the band, and sold it from a pop-up shop located about 100 yards from the concert venue.

After the three-day festival was over, the company took the remaining product and sold it through an online portal that was pushed out to Foo Fighters’ 12 million social followers. As a result, “We did about 125 orders a day for a good duration — which, for a small business like us, is an amazing number,” says Leary. “And I paid zero for it upfront.”

Action item: Consider how you can creatively partner with local events to market your business. In addition, look for ways to extend that exposure on social media so you can capitalize on an event long after it’s over.

2. Let data drive your sales strategy.

Companies tend to talk a lot about data-driven marketing, but less about data-driven sales — in part because sales strategies are often focused on human-to-human relationships. But sometimes, data is exactly what a company needs to solve a sales problem or strengthen a sales strategy.

That was true for Bespoke. A law that required wine producers to sell wholesale wine directly to distributors created two sales challenges: One, it gave the company little bargaining power with big distributors. Two, it made it difficult to know how the sale of its products, via distributors, was going.

To address these issues, Bespoke starting integrating data from Nielsen into its existing Salesforce system so it could see “points of depletion” by market, product and account. This provided insight into what was actually going on in the marketplace and allowed the company to gauge the health of its business. It also gave the company a basis for more direct engagement with wholesalers and better management of its restaurant, hotel and retail accounts.

Action item: Identify industry or market data that can help you find new opportunities and measure the health of your business.

3. Invest in technology that improves customer service.

If your technology budget is limited, put your dollars toward tools and platforms that are going to elevate your customer service. Happy customers lead to increased sales and, ultimately, to business growth.

Case in point: To optimize their operations — particularly in terms of shipping its products — Bespoke integrated its system with FedEx and ShipCompliant, an industry-specific software. As a result, all orders that the company receives by noon are shipped on the same day by 4 P.M.

The company is also developing an e-commerce system that provides superior customer service. “It sounds very basic, but it allows us to acquire more customers because we know that the service side of the equation is solid,” says Leary. “You can’t acquire more customers when you have gaps in your sales process or service.”

Action item: Evaluate the systems you have in place to ensure that your customers have a great fulfillment experience — one that will lead them to order again or even refer your company to a new client.

This article previously appeared in Inc. Magazine.

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