The Four Principles of Growth

Like a hearty garden, sales and marketing takes planning and expertise.

By Carole Mahoney

Since I can remember, my hands have always been in the dirt. If ever I need to go to a happy place in my mind, guaranteed it is somewhere in one of my many gardens buried in the woods in the Maine lakes region.

Before I was in kindergarten, my mother was showing me how to plant marigolds in front of her garden beds because they “attract the good bugs, and the bad ones don’t like them.”

I also still remember my Nana by my side as I picked beans and she planted the next crop of whatever it was she planned on canning that fall.

As I grew up, I collected bookshelves of gardening knowledge, from my grandfather’s Victory Garden organic methods to urban bio-intensive square-foot gardening. Throughout the years, even as I moved around, I experimented and learned various gardening methodologies and processes. In the end, I combined them all together to form my own hybrid style of gardening.

A Critical Business Growth Mindset

As I was checking out from my supply store last weekend, I was given a free copy of guides and tips that included reasons why I should have a garden, what a GMO is, how to do organic, etc.

At first glance, it was stuff I thought I probably already knew, but when I saw the information was from a source I trusted, I took a closer look at it when I got home. One article talked about the four principles of intensive gardening. As I scanned it, I learned a few things.

First was the method I have been using for years had a fancy name. Second, it reminded me of things I had forgotten that could solve some of the growth problems I was having.

How willing and able are you to learn something new and not assume you already know what you need to? Although this is not a principle, it is certainly a mindset I look for when someone comes to me and says they want to grow their business. In fact, it could be the subject of an article all by itself.

Why is that so important? Expect that the best laid plans will pivot and change, and that will require stepping out of comfort zones. I’ve also come to believe that growth requires an empathetic culture that isn’t just in tune with buyers but understands them. Growth requires we be comfortable with a continuous learning process.

While in the midst of my gardening activity, I realized the same approach I have taken to my homestead, organic, square-foot, bio-intensive garden is also how I work with sales and marketing and the executives and entrepreneurs who are trying to grow their business.

The Four Principles of Growth

1. Permanent garden beds. In other words, don’t move it around. Focus on building one area of growth at a time, and then build pathways that connect your growth areas so that you don’t step on growth.

For a business, this means focusing on the areas of your business where there is growth. To do that, you must have a foundation for your growth and that means knowing the numbers. Don’t waste valued resources on things that don’t produce growth!

Seems like common sense, but I have seen businesses try to be all things to all people, keep up with the competition, and just do things the way they have always done them (despite the fact it is returning less growth).

To connect your pockets of growth with common pathways, build partnerships that will tie your growth areas together. For example, if your focus is on new wells, but your past customers are asking about annual water testing and you don’t do it, partner with a testing company and combine the services together for a value-add rate.

2. Reliance on compost. Compost is what feeds plants long term and introduces healthy microorganisms into the soil—in other words, life. Growth requires continuous feeding both in gardening and in business.

Consistent marketing is needed to feed a sales pipeline. Continuous training and development of teams is critical to improving on the buyer experience. A better buying experience with excellent customer service creates loyal fans that turn into referrals to further feed your sales pipeline. Your culture will feed your growth like compost does for a garden.

3. High-density mixed planting. This planting method makes sure you use every square inch of soil available. Different plants grow at different root levels and span different lengths above the soil. They also mature and produce at different time spans.

Businesses looking for growth need to mix it up as well.

Sales should always be customizing their approach and discovering new needs that current customers have. Marketing should be segmenting your buyers for targeted, relevant messaging. Executives should be diversifying to find the new opportunities (pockets of growth) in other markets that could use your core product or service.

Don’t put all of the same plants in one spot.

4. Prompt succession planting. Staggering your growth seasons based on when plants mature means a gardener must plan in advance when to pick and process and replant for another harvest. You should always be planting, nurturing, and harvesting all at the same time.

There is nothing more frustrating than sitting around waiting for growth, eventually have it happen all at once, and then have nothing again. When there are such long periods between harvests, waste happens because it is so heavy you can’t keep up with it. Things are left on the vine to rot, or there is just not enough room for it.

Fast growth with long spans of time in between can kill cash flow, increase waste and lost opportunities, and will ultimately impact the buyer experience. Plus, it will stress you and your employees out. Staggered growth that happens in manageable spurts allows you to ramp up the teams to service and deliver and then quickly repeat.

It requires work, planning, and some expertise (otherwise known as trial and error). There will be ups and downs. And that is why I recommend asking yourself these questions:

  • What does growth look like? (What does the harvest need to be? Lots of what?)
  • Why now? (And if not now, when do you want to start eating those vegetables?)
  • What has prevented it? (Bad soil, not enough light, lack of water?)

There is an art and a science to sustainable gardening and to business growth. It requires forethought, patience, and diligence.

As the noted banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller once said, “Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. If you are not afraid of these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were.”

Gain More Insight Into Mahoney's Four Principles of Sales Growth
Mahoney dives into greater detail of her four principles of sales growth in an NGWA: Industry Connected video.

Have a Sales or Marketing Question for Mahoney?
Is there a sales or marketing issue that you have wondered about for a long time? Do you wish you or your team had a technique for better closing sales or promoting your business and its products and services? Unbound Sales Growth columnist Carole Mahoney can help. Mahoney is the founder of Unbound Growth, and sales managers using her programs have seen their teams reach more than 130% of their sales quotas. Email WWJ Editor Thad Plumley at and he will arrange for Mahoney to answer your question in an upcoming NGWA: Industry Connected video.

Carole Mahoney, as the founder of Unbound Growth, has coached Harvard Business School Entrepreneurial MBA students on sales and been featured as a top sales coach by Ambition and Sales Hacker. You can contact her directly at