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Business leaders face pressure to deliver above-market growth at the best of times. When the global economy is weak, that demand becomes more acute. While strategic mergers and acquisitions have the ability to generate growth, the fact remains that consistently beating the market over time requires more than that. It takes superior internal capabilities, most notably commercial capabilities in marketing and sales. Hiring new talent is a critical component, but in our experience, developing a market-beating company requires true organizational change.

The case for change

While most major companies understand the need to adapt to the marketplace, we find that they often don´t have the level of commitment needed for a commercial transformation to succeed over time. That´s because better commercial capabilities are necessary to respond to something that we observe more and more often in the marketplace: competitive advantage just doesn´t last very long anymore. What this means in practice is having an agile organization that is constantly innovating, spotting and reacting to new opportunities, and evolving with the customer. Even if your products can be copied, the personnel and process driving commercial capabilities in marketing and sales within your organization are a unique source of competitive advantage.

1. Know where you are and where you´re going

"You need to create the compelling case for change. Define what problem the organization is trying to solve and why the current status is not good enough." We endorse that, with one addition: your clear vision should be based on insights from data rather than on hunches. Companies typically don´t have a strong sense of their commercial capabilities. High-performing companies, however, systematically assess their capabilities at a granular enough level to allow executives to take meaningful action. The best companies are deliberate about identifying their strengths and weaknesses against all capabilities and then mapping them against their goals so they understand which capabilities to prioritize.

2. Create a transformation team built on trust

With the aspirations and fact base in place, the next stage is to create a resilient commercial-transformation team. Since commercial transformations are long processes and involve taking risks, the team must invest in building deep levels of trust to keep morale high over time.

3. Score quick wins

Transformations don´t succeed unless they deliver substantive wins within 6 to 12 months. That´s why leading companies build momentum by focusing first on initiatives that have early impact—and help fund the transformation—then on building a case for further change efforts.

4. Activate the organization

Working with leadership, the transformation team has to devise a plan for pushing change throughout the organization. That requires a clear vision for building new habits at every level. Activating an entire organization also requires finding the right people to make change happen throughout the business.

5. Commit to coaching

Coaching is so critical for success that we want to highlight it specifically. It´s about a real commitment to improving your people by providing constructive feedback, empathizing, helping them work through issues, and reinforcing their strengths—at the right cadence. It´s also about role modeling new behaviors, something that rarely happens in practice.

6. Hardwire a performance culture

Change is constant. Hardwiring a high-performance culture into a company´s DNA is the only way to assure growth above the market year after year. This requires putting in place specific processes and tools to redirect the organization, reinforce behavior, and build new habits. But the really critical component is putting in place the right metrics to track and adjust performance. Without them, it´s virtually impossible to understand what is and isn´t working. A new breed of commercial transformation is rewriting the playbook on how to deliver successful, sustained, above-market growth. At least as much investment is needed in organizational culture and health as in the intricacies of what will change on the ground. Not only do all the pieces of the transformational jigsaw puzzle have to fit, but the picture they create also has to be clear and easily understood by everyone. A strong leader needs to ensure that the enthusiasm, energy, and momentum is sustained throughout the process. It´s likely to be one of the most challenging things a company undertakes—but it has the potential to be the most rewarding, both for your people and for achieving above-market growth.