One Number That Can Tell The Future

In our Convene Advisory Board meeting, as we were all talking through our 2016 goals and how we might track progress, one of our CEO’s asked: “What’s your one number?”. He went on:  “If you could know only one number that would tell you where your business is going, what would it be?”

This takes some thought.

It isn’t likely revenue or profit or calls or satisfaction.  Those are all measurements of the present or past.  It isn’t necessarily inventory or items on order or the size of the sales funnel, but it might be.  One way to find it is to ask – what number (or trend), if you knew it “then”, would have told you what was about to happen?

In my past, it’s turned out to be things like the 13-week trailing average of booked orders.  We had been looking at the 52-week average for years, and, in retrospect noticed that if instead we had also been tracking a shorter time period, we  would have noticed a dip sooner, and likely would have reacted months earlier to the coming downturn.  Averages can smooth out normal ups and downs, and can hide coming issues…

It’s also not been samples sent or people in the pipeline, although those were good to know.  As we looked at the customer’s journey with us (drop me a line at if you’d like a bit more on what a “journey” might look like), we realized that samples requested – not sent – were better indicators of the development of a relationship that led to orders.  It’s a different question, to ask your team “How do we get more people to request samples?” versus “How do we send more samples to people?”.

The number may not be internal – maybe it’s corn futures or the price of oil or some other macro factor that ties well to the customers or industries you serve (oil is one that might help you if you serve manufacturing plants, as an example, as it’s the “blood” of equipment).

Just like knowing my cholesterol number can likely indicate how healthy my body may be in the future, knowing a key number that relates to my business or part of my business helps me keep a pulse that at least sets off warning bells.  Is it everything?  No.  It is, at least, something.

So – what’s your one number?  For those that work with you, what’s their’s?