Why Most Businesses Get Stuck (And What to Do About It)


 

Why do the vast majority of businesses get “stuck” - doing well enough to "stay alive" but not even close to being either a) a source of significant cash flow for their owners or b) an attractive acquisition candidate for a strategic or financial buyer?

Stuck companies face a daunting array of vexing challenges, almost all of which fall into one of these four "M" buckets - Money, Management, Model, and Marketplace.

Money. Most smaller and mid-sized businesses fight an ongoing, Sisyphean battle with money - pushing the cash flow boulder up the hill month after month, only to see payrolls, rents, materials, insurance and marketing & sales expenses drag bank balances down again and again.

However, losing at the money game is almost always a symptom of deeper problems than a cause in itself.

So when money problems arise, usually the best thing is to not focus on them but rather to confront their root causes, which almost always can be found in one of the remaining 3 “M’s” below.

Management. As described in my The Living Company post, in the end, a business is simply a “Collection of Humans” temporarily united toward a common cause.

As such, the “productive vitality” of the relationships between these humans is the most important indicator of its ultimate success, and can be well measured by answers to the questions below:

1. Would / do the people in the company recommend it as a great place to work?

2. Would / do true leaders view it as a place where they can build their careers / make their mark?

3. Does a productive camaraderie exist in the organization such that that those within it do more and better work than without?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then a hard and sober look at the company's management and leadership is required (And, in all likelihood, the problem starts and ends right at the top).

Model (Business). I had the great fortune a few years ago to lead a change management assignment for a large, urban hospital here in Los Angeles where Mr. Charlie Munger - Warren Buffet's famed partner at Berkshire Hathaway - was Executive Chairman.

Mr. Munger's philosophy and credos were well steeped in the organization, of them my favorite was that for Mr. Munger all businesses – no matter the size, industry, or focus – could be evaluated as to their answer to one question, namely:

"Does the business consistently deliver high quality at low cost no matter the field of endeavor?"

Honestly measuring how one’s company ranks on this cost / quality spectrum relative to competition is a great predictor as to its long term success.

Marketplace. Following on Mr. Munger's wisdoms, try on one of Warren Buffet's most famous quotes:

“When an industry with a reputation for difficult economics meets a manager with a reputation for excellence, it is usually the industry that keeps its reputation intact."

Now, when it comes to industry and market analysis, most small and medium-sized companies undertake it anecdotally, if at all.

An investment of time and resources which almost universally yields a high ROI is to have an outside research firm undertake for the business a formal industry, competitive, market, and customer analysis.

It is almost impossible to pay too much for such work, as helping managers gain stronger focus as to what their right market positioning is (and what it is not!) is worth its weight in something far more precious than gold, opportunity cost.

Money. Management. Model. Marketplace.

Successful businesses get the last three right and the first naturally follows.

And, as they do, companies get “unstuck” and recapture the promise and excitement of the business' earliest days, but now with the cash flows and equity value that makes all of the hard work worthwhile.         

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The 5 Questions That Determine Your Business' Value


 

The biggest aspiration of most entrepreneurs and business owners today is to grow and then sell their businesses. And why shouldn't it be? Selling your business creates more multi-millionaires than any other endeavor.

The key issue however is this: are you growing your business the right way, and are you focusing on the right things? You see, when it comes time for buyers to appraise the value of your business, they might find different things to be important than you do. And the last thing you want to do is focus your time developing aspects of your business that buyers don't value. Particularly when doing so forces you to neglect the things they do.

Below are five key questions that will determine your business' value. Answer them honestly. And then work to improve your position on each.

1. How replicable is your business?

When corporations consider buying a business, they make a "build" or "buy" decision. That is, they ask whether the time and money it would take to build a similar business from scratch is greater than the cost to buy the business from you now.

As such, the more unique and less replicable your business is, the better. So think about how replicable your business is. For example, could another company easily replicate your products or services? Could they easily hire and train a team as good as yours? Would it be simple for them to build a customer base like yours?

Answer these questions honestly and focus on building a profitable AND harder-to-replicate business going forward.

2. How easy will it be to run your business after acquisition?

Why do we pay a premium for a new automobile versus a used one? Because we know the new one doesn't have any problems. It hasn't gotten into any accidents. It doesn't have an oil leak, etc.

Similarly, acquirers will pay a premium for a business that is in great "running condition." Sure, every business will have its challenges, but a business that is simple to run, like a new car, will be highly valued.

So, let me ask you this: if you sold your business today and retired, would the new owner be able to easily run your business thereafter?

  • Do you have systems in place that enable your business to run consistently every day?
  •  
  • Are your employees trained to handle all key issues that arise?
  •  
  • Will your customers continue to buy from your company even though you're no longer a part of it?

Always think how your business will run after you're gone. And if currently it wouldn't run smoothly, take actions now so that it will.

3. How has your business performed financially?

Unless the majority of the value of your company is in unique and patented technologies, buyers will thoroughly review your financial performance.

Clearly, they want to see strong revenues and profits. And they want growing revenues and profits. If your revenues or profits are on the decline, many buyers will project that decline will continue, and thus significantly decrease the valuation of your business. Fortunately the opposite is true, so do whatever you can to have strong and growing revenues and profits.

4. How stable is your customer base?

Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. The revenues you generate from them pay the bills and ideally fund great profits.

As such, acquirers will scrutinize your customer base. And the most important question is how stable that base is. For example, do they expect 50% of your customers to leave after the acquisition? Or 25%? Or 10%? Or none?

Clearly, the more stable your customer base, the more attractive you are to an acquirer. In the ideal situation, you have signed contracts with customers so the acquirer has complete certainty they will be retained. If not, ideally your customers have gotten in the habit of buying your products or services, or have a solid preference for them, so their continued patronage is likely.

Likewise, having a diversified customer base, as opposed to just a few very large clients, helps. Because with fewer, larger customers, there's more risk that one will leave and take a large chunk of your revenues with them.

5. What are the odds of sustainable future growth?

When you combine the four questions above, much of what the acquirer is trying to answer is what your odds are for future growth.

For instance, if you have a stable customer base, your financials are strong and growing, your business is unique, and it will be easy to run your business post acquisition, then your odds for future growth are great and you will have tons of suitors.

And tons of suitors interested in buying your business means that they will bid the value up and up, so when you sell, you will get a great premium. Which is probably one of the reasons you started your business in the first place. So do this, and make it happen!

Suggested Resource: If you want to build a sellable business, watch this free presentation called "Million Dollar Exits: How to Build a Business You Can Sell For Millions of Dollars." It starts by explaining the 3 most dangerous trends facing entrepreneurs today. Click here for this must-know information.

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More Risk. Good for Your Business?


 

Risk is good. Not properly managing your risk is a dangerous leap.

                                                                                         -        Evel Knievel

"The Strategy Paradox," Michael Raynor's classic book, should be required reading for executives interested in understanding the connection between risk and return in strategic planning and decision-making.

Raynor’s basic premise is that almost everyone, because of how human beings are fundamentally wired, over-rate the consequences of “things going bad” and consequently too often default to seemingly safe strategies.

Raynor goes on to make the point that while this may be fine from a personal health and safety perspective, it is quite sub-optimal when it comes to strategic decision-making.

The reasons, he cites, are both subtle and obvious.

The obvious reasons revolve around classic “agency” challenges - namely that there are a different set of incentives in place for owners versus operators of businesses.

The owners - i.e. the shareholders - main goal is investment return. As such, they usually evaluate strategic decisions through the dispassionate prism of expected value.

The operators of businesses, in contrast, usually act as who they are - emotional, empathetic, and personal-safety focused human beings.

And while, as professionally trained managers, they are of course aware and focused on expected value and shareholder return, their analysis of those rational probabilities often get overshadowed by more "human" concerns.

Like friendship. Like the stable, comfortable routine of a job. Of co-workers. Of a daily, comfortable work rhythm.

And the result of this natural human bias toward "the comfortable" is executive decision-making that defaults too often to the seemingly (that word again) conservative option.

Now as for why this conservatism is a strategic problem, Raynor delves into the concept of survivor bias and how it pertains to traditional studies of what factors separate successful companies from the unsuccessful ones.

Survivor bias can be best illustrated by all of those statistics that too many of us unfortunately know by heart regarding the abysmally low percentage of companies that make it through their 1st year of business, those that make it to 5 years, to 10 years, etc.

Now most of us naturally interpret these statistics as to mean that the leaders of these failed businesses were too aggressive, that they took too many risks, made too many big bets that didn’t pan out.

But Raynor's research actually demonstrates the opposite.

As opposed to Jim Collins’ famous (and famously flawed) Good to Great analysis, Raynor found that when the full universe of companies were surveyed – not just those that survived – that there was a direct negative correlation between those that didn't make it and the relative conservatism of their leaders and their pursued business strategies.

Or from the other perspective, the successful businesses were led and managed far more so by leaders who could be described in those "seemingly"pejorative terms - "aggressive," "risk taker," "bet the house" types.

So what does this all mean for the executive / entrepreneur interested in making quality higher risk / higher return strategic decisions?

Well, to quote the title of a famous self-help book: "Feel the Fear…but Do It Anyway."

Accept that as human beings, we are wired to be afraid.

BUT to prosper in modern business we must push through this and trust that the riskier choice far more often than not is...

...the strategically correct one.

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In Business, Your Destination Is Your Reality


 

The last time you needed to drive to a place you had never been before, what did you do? 

Did you the load the specific address of your destination into your GPS, determine the best route, and then follow the directions?

Or, did you print out and follow your directions?

Or, did you do the opposite, that is, did you aimlessly follow random roads hoping that eventually you would arrive at your destination?

Sounds crazy, right that someone would consider this?  But, that is exactly what millions of business owners do every year and it is the reason that less than 20% of businesses succeed long-term. 

Building a successful business is not a collection of random acts of guess work and blind decisions.  To realize your dream of a successful business you have your make your destination a part of your current reality.

Know Your Destination

When Alice was in Wonderland she asked the Cheshire Cat which road she should take.  He asked her where she was going.  Alice replied that she didn't know.  Then came the much quoted Cheshire Cat reply of, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go".  

That may work very well in fiction or for a day of exploring a new hiking trail.  But it doesn't work that well in business.  Most business owners don't start a business thinking "Okay, I'm going to sink all my money, time, and effort into this venture, play it by ear, and if I lose all my money that is perfectly okay." 

Businesses are typically born out of a goal or a dream, such as "to be the best Italian Restaurant in the Tri-County area and be booked 3 months in advance" or "to grow my consulting business to $2M in revenue by my fifth year in business."

These aspirations and reasons for even starting are also the destination -- and they cannot be forgotten or buried in the frenzy of daily operations.  

Your destination must be known and visible every day.  It must be at the core of every decision you make. 

Large corporations don't have a vision and a mission just as a fad.  They have these plastered all over the walls because knowing your destination helps assure you will get there. 

The same way you would enter the precise address of your destination on your GPS, so it is in running your business.  Know your goals and keep them front and center to make sure you are in route to achieve them.

Importantly, take time to review your business plan or your 5 year strategic plan.  What were the main objectives of your business?  How do you describe your end-game?

Have Milestones

When planning a long road trip, you typically break it down into small pieces.   You study the map and learn the paces you will drive through.  For example, when going to New York to Las Vegas, you may map stops in Ohio, Missouri, and Colorado.  Because you prepared, and know what to expect along the way, and you know that if you see a sign that says "Welcome to North Carolina," you have veered off course.

Marking key places in your road map to business success is equally important. If you determine that for your business to thrive, you need to have 100 new clients by December, then reasonable milestones would be 25 by March, 50 by June, and 75 by the end of September. 

By planning milestones in advance, you know whether or not you are on track to meet your goals.  If by July you only have 30 new clients, you know you are off track, and need to reconfigure.  On the other hand, if you have 80 new clients by August, then you know you are ahead and can consider revising your goal upward.

So review your strategic plan, and then break down your goals into shorter term objectives.  Identify specific, objective measurements that you can take at precise intervals and map them out.  These milestones can take many forms such as sales, revenue, profit, clients, etc.  The important part is that you use quantifiable data that will tell you clearly if you are on track. 

Institute Scalable Systems


People, especially business owners, dream of success.  They have very vivid visions of the day they will "make it big," but so many are not really prepared for success.   Very often a business owner will successfully pitch their product only to have to turn down a lucrative deal because they don't have the production capabilities.

Take the "Wal-Mart Catch."  Inventors of new products salivate to have their product on the shelves of every Wal-Mart in the country.  However, when Wal-Mart puts in an order, it's not for 100 units.  It's for tens of thousands of units.  Inventor after inventor has lost their distribution contract because they did not have the systems in place to allow them to quickly scale up their business.  They did not have the manufacturing support to produce so many units. 

They knew the destination, but were unprepared to arrive. 

What is your end state? Do you have the systems in place to support having your dream come true tomorrow?  Be prepared.  Know exactly what it will take to run your business such as it will be at the end of your 5 year plan, and have all the partnerships, alliances, agreements, channels, support staff, and raw materials identified and ready to access when needed.  

If you want outrageous success, you have to be outrageously prepared for it.  

Your Destination is Your Reality

Your everyday business operations need to be focused on your destination.  When you are driving to the mall, you are driving to the mall.  Every turn you take, every road you choose has one purpose, to get you to the mall.  The same applies in your business.  Every product you manufacture, every service you provide, every relationship you cultivate must align to your target end-state. 

Avoid falling into auto-pilot.  Actively work toward your "end" every single day. Be conscious of how every sale gets you close to hitting your next milestone. 

Carefully measure your progress.  If you are off track, don't wallow.  Make adjustments and keep moving forward.  If you are ahead, pin-point the actions that are giving you an advantage, and do more of that! 
Keeping your destination alive and visible in your daily functions will keep it as your current reality and help you prepare for the success that comes with arriving!

And make sure you have a written strategic plan that maps out your end-vision and your periodic goals and milestones. If it's not written down, you can't achieve it. My strategic plan template allows you to quickly and easily get your plan down on paper.

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Great Advisory Boards: Harnessing Their Power


 

Over the past few weeks, I have talked about the demonstrable, high ROI of strategic planning for companies of all types and sizes, along with suggested processes and tactics to complete that plan on time and under budget. 

As important as the creation of the plan is its ongoing review and updating. Both in comparison to actual results and then the corresponding “Gap Analysis” to evaluate what went right and should be done more, and what went wrong and needs adjustment, discontinuation, etc.

One of the best ways to recalibrate like this is through the establishment and regular meeting of a Board of Strategic Advisors.

For smaller, entrepreneurial companies, a strategic advisory board can perform many of the functions that a fiduciary board does, but for far less cost, headache, and without the emotionally and financially complex decision around loss of owner control.

For companies like this, here are a few ideas on how to set up and earn ROI right away on a strategic advisory board:

Accept the Truism that Often It is Better to Receive than to Give: While advisory board members, unlike with formal boards, do not have liability nor fiduciary responsibility, their time and energy requirements to participate are significant.

And for most smaller companies, the financial incentives it can offer advisory board members are relatively little compared to the value of board members’ time.

A good if imperfect analogy is that for many senior executives their involvement with a smaller company advisory board is almost a philanthropic endeavor, where they give of themselves without expectation of direct reward, financial or otherwise.

Correspondingly, the owners and managers of the small company must approach the sage advice and good energy offered by their advisory board fully in “receiving” mode.

For businesspeople of the mindset of always trading value for value and reciprocal obligation, this is hard. But only by clearing this space can an advisory board’s counsel be best received.

And somewhat counter-intuitively, often only by management fully accepting the “gifts” of its advisors will the board member’s experience be richest.

Begin with the End in Mind: For companies beyond the startup phase, its operating executives are naturally pulled to the shorter-term challenges and realities: this quarter’s revenue and profits, this month’s sales, the challenges and angst of a difficult employee decision, etc.

An advisory board discussion, however, by both its nature and by the kinds of folks attracted to serve on them, naturally pulls to the longer view - to the big "why" and "which" questions that all businesses should be regularly asking themselves always but rarely do.

The why questions are hopefully embodied in the Company’s mission and its values, and need the regular attention of strategic planning sessions like advisory board meetings to keep them from existing only in “hot air.”

The “which” questions are in many ways the harder ones that an advisory board dynamic can specifically help address.

This is because ambitious entrepreneurs and executives, especially after they have a little success, are naturally drawn to expanding their sense of their market opportunity, and correspondingly their list of product and service offerings.

This naturally leads to a diffusion of focus, of trying to be all things to all people.  A thoughtful advisory board will challenge management to clearly define where they are aiming to be 1 year, 3 years hence and beyond, and from this vision where resources and attention should be focused today.

Speak Little, Listen Much: Managers and owners of emerging companies are often also the lead salespeople, the lead “evangelists” for their companies.

As a result, their default mode is to always be selling, always be pied-pipering their incredibly bright futures.

This is natural and good, but when strategic planning in board settings it is of equal importance that the challenges, the obstacles, the concerning risk factors be discussed and grappled with long and hard.

Even if, especially if, so doing is buzz-killing and / or depressing.

Why? Because it is often only in the “low negative” energy state that a certain kind of reflective creativity can flourish, and completely new approaches to solving vexing problems can be discovered.

Brevity is Next to Godliness: Strategic planning sessions in a modern business context should be tightly scheduled to last not more than 3 hours.  After this length of time, diminishing returns starts setting in fast.

A tight frame also requires all participants to come to the meeting prepared.  And, in turn, that the meeting organizers select the right meeting homework and then plan and moderate the agenda with the proper balance of structure and free-flowing dialogue.

Doing all of the above requires work – a good guide is that for every hour of strategic meeting time there should be 5 hours of planning time by the meeting organizer and at least 2 hours of preparation time by each participant.

Given that the only way to increase the value of a business is to either a) increase its bottom line financials and/or b) to improve its strategic positioning and growth probability, a structured approach involving first the development of a formal plan and then...

...staying committed to its ongoing “review and resetting” as is done in a well-moderated advisory board setting should be a FIRST priority of any responsible manager of a company with ambition.

These are classic “non-urgent, extremely important” business building activities to be ignored at one's peril, and benefited from in ways well beyond reasonable expectation.

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What the Research Shows about Strategic Plans


 

The research is conclusive:

  • A study completed by the University of Oregon showed that companies that prepare business plans are 20% more likely to grow their business, and twice as likely to secure investment capital than those that don’t.
  • The M3 Planning Strategy Benchmark of 280 U.S. firms found that companies whose owners had a high commitment to strategic planning reported 12% greater sales growth and 11% better net income than those that did not.
  • Research by Solo-E.com showed that of 26,000 business failures, 67% had no written business plan.
  • Research conducted by Columbia University showed that formal strategic planning reduced the risk profile of a company (as measured by variability of earnings).
  • Research conducted by Entrepreneur Magazine and Washington State University, businesses that complete formal business plans are TWICE as likely to successfully grow their businesses or obtain capital than those who do not.

Yet...

...McKinsey found that only 23% of companies regularly draft and update their strategic plan that 86% of executive teams spend less than an hour a month discussing strategy. 

So what gives? Why does the research show how good strategic planning is for virtually any business, yet so few businesses regularly do it and even fewer do it well?

Need Help with Your Strategic Plan? Click here to schedule a complimentary consultation with a Growthink Expert.

Well, Accenture asked this question and found that 80% of executives just flat out disliked their company’s planning processes.

My 17+ years of experience of leading and moderating strategic planning processes for companies of all types is similar: no one argues that strategic planning is a high ROI use of time and energy, but in most companies far more often than not planning processes are undertaken either informally, infrequently, under duress, or not at all.

And perhaps even more frustratingly, when strategic plans are started as often as not they are never finished, with a combination of planning “fatigue” and “de-prioritization” to other more “pressing” business matters being the usual culprits of abandonment.

This is sad, but with just a little “re-framing” of our planning mindset and approach we can gain the rich business benefits of strategic planning as described above, be confident that our planning process will be done right, and...

...done in such a way that when completed the process naturally and elegantly transitions to the agreed-to projects, tasks, and to-dos.

How we can do all this?  It is really quite simple: Outsource It!

Just as most businesses don’t do their own taxes, or defend themselves when sued, or host their own websites, or write their own accounting software, or run their own payrolls, or self-insure, we are long past the point where executives should be expected to be experts on a process as complex and nuanced as strategic planning, especially as it is the kind of skill that is best learned by doing.

And doing a lot of it.

Now, for some very large companies like General Electric and Proctor and Gamble (both famed for the quality of their strategic planning), this is not a problem. 

Firms like these have large and well-trained teams that do nothing but strategically plan all day.

This is obviously not the reality for most small and mid-sized firms, where executives are tasked with it all - strategy, tactics, execution, HR, sales, marketing, operations, and more.

These executives just don't have the time to learn how to strategically plan the right way and then maintain the stamina in the midst of all their competing responsibilities to finish a planning process in a reasonable amount of time without burning themselves and everyone else out while so doing.

Now let me be clear: Outsourcing a company’s strategic planning process does not mean outsourcing the responsibility for the completion of the projects, tasks, and to-dos that will properly and inevitably arise from it.

Such responsibilities of course remain those of the operating executives.

But this is far different from attempting to undertake a planning process completely on one’s own. 

Just like the best Olympic athletes have coaches to help them attain peak performance, so do the best-performing executives and companies have high quality, outsourced providers to help them beat the competition and win at at all aspects of their their businesses. 

And strategic planning, when you cut through all of the noise, is just another business process.

When we see it like this, and not as something magical or obtuse, then almost always the right decision is to reach out and get some outside help to do it right.

And fast.

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Never Say This to a Child or Entrepreneur


 

When my kids were younger, I recall one night when we were eating dinner. My kids were saying "I want this" and "I want that."

And then I said something that I immediately realized I should never tell my kids, or any entrepreneur for that matter.

What I said was this: "you know, money doesn't grow on trees."

Now, you may not think saying this is so bad. So, let me explain.

The reason why I said this was to show my kids the value of money. And that we have to work to make money to spend on the things we want.

But here's the negative: saying this paints the wrong picture. It paints the picture that we can't always get what we want. Which is the exact opposite of the attitude I want my kids, and all entrepreneurs, to have.

What my kids and all entrepreneurs MUST be thinking is YES, I CAN get whatever I want. Yes, it won't just come to me, but with hard work and ingenuity, I can and I will get what I want.

Fortunately, right after I said that to my kids, I caught myself.

One of the reasons I caught myself was from the interview I did a while back with Ken Lodi, the author of "The Bamboo Principle."

In the interview, Ken explained that timber bamboo shoots grow very little for four years while their extensive root system is growing and taking hold. But once the roots are firmly in place, the bamboo can grow a shocking 80 feet in just six weeks.

This story made me realize that money does in fact grow on trees. The key is to work on the tree's roots. To build such a strong foundation that generating money becomes easy.

Every great company has a strong foundation. They create a brand name, sales systems, delivery systems, etc. And then, they can generate cash and profits each and every day.

So, focus on building an extremely strong foundation. Think through your business model. Learn the best practices for each of the key business disciplines - marketing, HR, finance, sales, etc. And then, put your thinking into a strategic plan.

Your strategic plan is your roadmap to success. It is the tool that turns your ideas into reality. For example, the great marketing idea in your head isn't going to become reality unless it's documented in your plan and a team member(s) knows to execute on it. Likewise, your new products and services won't be built or fulfilled unless they are documented and your team knows what to do. Get your ideas in your strategic plan and then you build the tree from which money does grow.

So, never let anyone tell you that "money doesn't grow on trees" or that you can't have everything you want. Because money does grow on firmly-rooted trees and you CAN achieve and get everything you want out of life if you resolve to do so. They key is to build your plan -- your foundation -- and then grow systematically from there.

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Breaking the Shackles of a Business' Past


 

       The past is never dead.  It's not even past. 

                                                           -        by William Faulkner

A vexing challenge in attaining a business breakthrough of any type - sales, profitability, business model, company culture - is the inexorable "backward" pull of a business' historical results and accomplishments (or lack thereof).

For sure, as effective executives, we know to focus on opportunities not problems and that past performance, good or bad, is neither indicative nor predictive of future results, yet...

...whether we like it or not we are reminded always of what has gone before, with the “unsaid” being that no matter how hard we try, the future of our business will be more or less like its past, with the best we can realistically hope for is just a few percentage points of growth here and there.

This frustrating reality is caused, to a very large degree, by the day-to-day operational “inertia” of most businesses, big and small.

It is the inertia that develops when the same people interact with each other in the same way - managing meetings, running projects, and assigning to-dos in that default and “comfortable” way.

Over time, individual executives start bringing to these repetitive business interactions increasingly hardened perspectives.

And then this inertia turns to a creeping lethargy that stops a business in its tracks, especially when opportunities that require proactive action to pursue present themselves.

Now I hope that just by describing the problem sheds light on how to solve it: Consciously and constantly injecting into a business new, different, and extraordinary stimuli.

The stimuli of Organizational Change - bringing new people in and encouraging under performers to depart.

The stimuli of Branding Change - ditching the old logo, tagline and website and starting over new and fresh.

The stimuli of Financial Change - seeking and securing investment capital to grow faster and more strategically.

Heck, just contemplating new stimuli like these can be a breath of badly needed fresh air - forcing executives to visualize and imagine what their desired business of the future should and can be...

...and then working back to the present time to define what needs to be done to get it there.

Yes, when it comes to breaking the shackles of the past, the default strategic stance should be that new and different is always better until and unless proven otherwise

I wouldn't worry too much about whether this approach will lead to poorly considered risk-taking.

Because whether we like it or not, our businesses’ pasts are always with us.

But by taking conscious, definitive, and different action - repeatedly and determinedly - we can easily break free of it.

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How to Get More Sales Without Selling


 

"The point of marketing is to make selling superfluous."

This is a great quote from management guru Peter Drucker. What it means is that if you do a great job in marketing, sales will be easy. Likewise, there are other things you can do to improve your sales without having to resort to aggressive sales tactics.

This article details such strategies.

1. Create a Stronger USP

Your USP or unique selling proposition is what distinguishes your company from others.

Here are some famous USPs:

  • The nighttime, coughing, achy, sniffling, stuffy head, fever, so you can rest medicine. (Nyquil)

  • Pizza delivered in 30 minutes or it's free. (Dominos Pizza)

  • When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. (Federal Express)

  • 15 minutes or less can save you 15% (GEICO)

Each of these USPs does a great job in distinguishing these companies and getting customers to choose them over competitors.

2. Provide Clear Benefits

In addition to a strong USP, make sure you detail the benefits of your products and/or services to your customers.

For example, do your products:

  • Remove their pain
  • Save them time
  • Improve their success
  • Make them feel better
  • Etc.

You generally want to provide a list of features associated with your products/services, but lead with the benefits.


3. Use Many Different Marketing Channels

After you create the best USP you can, and identify your key benefits, you want to convey your message to as many of your prospective customers as possible.

But realize this: not all of your customers are in one place or read/view/listen to one media source. So, use multiple means of reaching them.

For example, you can reach customers through each of the following marketing channels among others:

  • Direct Mail
  • Email
  • Event Marketing
  • Networking
  • Partnerships
  • Press Releases/PR
  • Print Ads
  • Radio Ads
  • TV Ads
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Pay Per Click Advertising
  • Social Media Marketing (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

 

4. Understand and Improve Your KPIs

Key Performance Indicators or "KPIs" are the metrics that judge your business' performance.

And, as you might know, you can't improve what you can't measure.

So the key is to 1) identify the most important KPIs in your business, and 2) measure/track them over time so you can judge your progress in improving them.

While there are hundreds of potential KPIs to track, here's a small sample of KPIs that most companies must measure:

  • Net Profit
  • Sales
  • Sales by product/service line
  • Cost to acquire new customers
  • Lifetime customer value

Importantly, as you understand and improve your KPIs, your revenues and profits will grow. In fact, identifying and managing your KPIs is one of the pillars of an 8-figure business.
 


5. Make It Simple to Purchase from Your Company


When you make it easy to buy from your company, you'll get more sales.

For example, not accepting credit cards will dramatically hurt the sales of many businesses.

Similarly, making customers complete tedious paperwork (that may not really be necessary) may frighten off some customers.

Conversely, having your product for sale not only on your website, but on Amazon, eBay and others, could make it easier for some customers to purchase from you and prompt more sales.

So, think about ways to make it easier for current and prospective customers to buy from you.

Start using these five strategies today, and watch your sales and profits grow.

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What is a Business Intervention?


 

I recently moderated a strategic planning session for a Texas-based developer and distributor of specialty software for the financial services industry.

For them, on the one hand it was truly the best of times: an 8 - figure revenue base and possessing of a recurring revenue business model with long term clients including some of the biggest banks and brokerage firms in the world.

But...and like many companies now in our technology fast forwarded world, serious storm clouds threatened: minimal revenue growth and more disturbingly pricing (and margins) driven down by aggressive overseas competition.

As concerning, the Company’s Founder - rightly revered for his work ethic and charismatic leadership - was uncharacteristically indecisive, waxing on a bit too nostalgically on how “easy” business was in the “old days” versus addressing today’s challenges.

So we got “stuck,” so that even in the areas where there was agreement as to the strategic and tactical changes needing to be made, the executive team just couldn’t make them (and then have those decisions stay made!). 

Now, as I have found from my 15+ years of leading strategic sessions like this, at some point as often as not they turn into Interventions, defined by Webster as “becoming involved intentionally in a difficult situation in order to change it or improve it, or prevent it from getting worse.

And, in the context of a company refining its strategic plan, the intervention (at a top level) normally involves leading the executive team through a series of “Why,” “What,” “Who” questions.

First, there are the “why” questions to re-ground us in the business’ “reason for being” and the fundamental values it brings to its stakeholders - shareholders, customers, employees, etc.

Questions like “Why do customers choose us?” and more poignantly for the team “Why do we work here?" and "Why is it important to us as individuals that this company be successful?”

As these “whys” are grappled with, strategic clarity usually emerges and the questions turn to “Whats” - to tactics, projects, deadlines, and to-dos.

As this point, everyone (finally!) starts “getting real” with each other, to who is responsible for what and more to the point is there really an accountability-based culture in place to promote and sustain high performance and positive change?

As these exercises proceed, what normally re-awakens is the understanding that the leadership team’s responsibility is to the organization as a whole, and not to any one particular individual, division, or practice area.

In this company’s case, from these exercises the hard decision was made to transition a pair of executives, as they embodied a legacy mindset and approach unsuited for the “business of the future” needed to be built.

And, as is more often the case than not, these transition conversations were more difficult in their anticipation than actuality, and as they were completed a new forward looking-energy and initiative was unleashed in the team members that remained.

I would encourage any business that feels “stuck” in any important aspect - revenue growth, cash flow, client satisfaction, culturally - to prompt a business intervention like this.

Yes, the outcomes will sometimes be difficult for specific individuals, but almost always beneficial for the organization as a whole.

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