Standing out from the crowd is tough when your competitors are also working towards the same end. Occasionally, though, a business that has been doing ‘fine’ suddenly starts doing better than fine. In fact, it goes from being good to great. For some, this success is temporary and they soon slink back into the pack. A select few make a significant shift and go on to achieve sustained greatness.

How does a good business become a great one? Hot on the heels of his groundbreaking work with co-author Jerry Porras on the bestselling management book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, researcher and author Jim Collins set out to answer this question. As a result, he produced an even better book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap & And Others Don’t.

Collins’ team of researchers drew up a list of extraordinary companies that met three criteria – they had to have performed at or below the rest of the market for 15 years; then undergone a change; and then significantly outperformed the stock market for 15 years or more.

Collins wanted to understand what these businesses had done to transform themselves into market leaders. His findings suggest there are seven keys to creating a great business.

Disciplined people

  1. Adopting level 5 leadership: build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

  2. Considering who first, then what: begin by getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off it) and then work out where to drive it.

Disciplined thought

  1. Confronting the brutal facts (yet never losing faith): all good-to-great companies began their transition by analysing the facts of their reality while being determined to rise above that reality.

  2. Embracing the hedgehog concept: this entails getting clear answers to three questions:

  • what are you deeply passionate about?

  • what do you know you can be the best in the world at?

  • what drives your economic engine?

Disciplined action 

  1. Fostering a culture of discipline: getting sustained great results requires self-disciplined people who take disciplined action.
  2. Using technology as an accelerator: good-to-great companies avoid technology fads, but become pioneers in carefully selected technologies.
  3. Creating ‘flywheel momentum’: sustainable transformations follow a pattern of build-up and breakthrough. Like pushing a flywheel, it takes effort to get things moving, but persistence builds momentum and breakthrough.

In our experience, the final idea needs further examination. Momentum is a great outcome, but how do you get it?

In b2b marketing, organisations often come up with a great idea, try it once and then go looking for another great idea. This is fatally flawed. Not only is it hard to get good at anything this way, but the market becomes confused.

Consumer marketers know that perceptions take a long time to build. They create ads and sell their message consistently. As B2B marketers, we have to do the same. Create campaigns that last for years, and execute them again and again. Refine those plans when necessary, but only after robust measurement and testing.

Adhere to these rules and you’ll soon hear that flywheel humming.