As a lifelong New England Patriots fan, Sunday's Super Bowl was a sport-watching roller coaster like none other.
In addition to being an awesome inspirational adrenalin rush from the desperate competitive effort displayed by both teams, this game like few in recent memory served up many tasty nuggets of business value and wisdom.
Here are my top five:
#5. Nothing is Over Until it is Over. Let’s say it again and again. In football, life, and business, it is always best to just keep playing, with every ounce of our best effort, until that clock hits 0:00.
At one point, according to ESPN Stats & Info’s probability chart, the Patriots' chances of winning had dropped below 1%.
It is cliche because it is true: always we must keep at it, keep giving our all, both because you never know and as importantly...
...we owe it to the game, to our lives, to our businesses, to always give it everything we’ve got.
#4. Tom Brady. Has there ever been anyone in the public eye with such bountiful blessings of the good life who has also maintained their competitive fire for so long and so effectively?
What I see when I watch Tom Brady play is a deep and abiding love of the game.
And the byproduct of that love is that what matters above all else is not yesterday's victories or accomplishments, no matter how impressive they might be, nor those games to be played "someday" but this game right here, right now.
Business, at its best, is like this too.
What will we do for our clients and customers today?
How hard will we work to make our product / our service as great as it possibly can be?
How much will we strive to improve ourselves? To be the best?
Or if we are already at the top of our profession, what will we do and sacrifice to maintain that level as age tries to chip it away?
#3. Aggressiveness is Great, Planning is Better. The Atlanta Falcons made it to the Super Bowl and built a seemingly insurmountable lead in it through one of the greatest offenses in league history.
Their game plan and team identity all season was one of aggressiveness and risk taking.
This is nice, but it doesn’t win Super Bowls.
At many points in Sunday’s game just a little more thoughtfulness in their decision making would have resulted in them making a play or two that would have easily won them the game.
But they were seemingly blinded by too firm a commitment to a style of play even when the game's circumstances no longer warranted it.
Sure, let’s be confident and aggressive in our plans and actions, but let’s also remember that these are just tools toward higher goals and not ends in themselves.
#2. Losing is Terrible. No matter their future accomplishments, the Falcons’ players and coaches will never forget this loss.
This can’t and shouldn’t be sugar-coated. The hard truth is that winning is so much better than losing that it’s not even in the same universe.
In sports and business, you’ve got to win.
And yes in a higher number of scenarios than perhaps we would like to admit, to do so by any means necessary.
Because on very many levels nothing else matters.
#1. It is Just a Game. The paradoxical corollary to the above is that even though the Super Bowl is the biggest game played each season, in the end it is just one game.
And at the Monday press conference the morning after it, Patriot's coach Bill Belichick, after winning arguably the greatest of them ever played, already was talking about getting ready for the first game of next season.
Yes the great ones know it, both intuitively and from a lifetime of hard work and repetition that...
...you just give it all you got, to the final whistle, playing with both your head and your heart...
and hate losing as much as you love to win and then always it is...
...onto the next game.
This is how Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots do it, and how in our businesses we should too.
According to statistics from BizBuySell, less than 1 out of 5 of businesses marketed for sale are able to find a buyer and to consummate a successful transaction.
Even this depressing statistic vastly under-estimates how few companies are able to attain a successful exit, as the great majority of the over 6 million U.S. business owners are never able to even consider listing their companies for sale.
That’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears expended on work and businesses that yield comparatively very little.
Even more viscerally, working hard and long on a business that doesn't get to an exit is, far more often than not, a profound form of losing.
And losing sucks.
Now, there are always reasons and excuses as to why better and faster progress is not made: Cheap, overseas competition, difficulty in attracting and retaining talent, taxes, regulations, and perhaps my favorite the lament that one's struggles are caused by customers that don't “get” how awesome our products and services really are.
These reasons and excuses are just that. For every one of them, there are infinitely more possibilities and opportunities that with just a little refocusing of effort and action can turn declining or flat-lining business vectors into solid and sustainable growth trajectories.
Here are three of them:
1. Always Ask This One Question. The great Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet's partner at Berkshire Hathaway for over 50 years and one of the most successful investors of all time, is famous for asking his managers this question when it comes to important operational decisions: "What is the Low Cost, High Quality choice?"
What I love about this question is that no matter the business process - marketing, sales, operational, financial - it forces us to not to make the classic (and lazy!) false choice between cost and quality: we can have and deliver both.
2. Start at the End. Growthink Co-founder Dave Lavinsky’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship best-seller Start at the End should be required reading for any and all executives truly interested in building their companies to a successful exit.
In it, Dave goes into great detail as to the effective practice of business goal-setting far out in the future, and then how to work backward to today’s most important projects, tasks and to-do's.
3. Trust Our Guts Less and the Numbers More. Pioneering work by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman has demonstrated that in almost all business arenas - hiring, marketing initiatives, sales teams, customer satisfaction, financial performance – almost always it is the cold, hard numbers that are right and our warm and fuzzy guts that are wrong.
This has always been true, but now for the first time we can protect ourselves from our guts, utilizing Predictive Analytics (automatically making sense and order of our Big Data world) and Business Intelligence Dashboards (automatically giving us a "Quantified Self" snapshot of where we stand in real time against our goals and what to do about it).
It is simple: Be numbers-driven, define as precisely as possible our long-term objectives, and at every turn make the lower cost, higher-quality choice.
Build these muscles and you will avoid becoming unfortunate destiny of the vast majority of your business peers…
February 1st is a great day to look at the various start-of-year economic and business predictions, and at our business resolutions and plans to profit from them.
Famously, the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, respectively signifying “opportunity” and “danger.”
What a great description for 2017 one month in!
Opportunity. With the new administration in Washington comes high hope for reform in five areas of strong business interest and concern: Corporate Taxes, Regulation, Infrastructure, Healthcare, and Education.
Real movement toward positive change in any one of these areas would have profound impacts on whole swaths of the U.S. and global economies.
To the degree that all of these areas were to be successfully reformed, well that could result in the kind of 3% - 4% annual GNP growth not seen in America and in other developed economies in 25+ years, which in turn would mean a whole new ballgame as to business opportunity and money-making.
Danger. Concurrent with its pro-business tenor this new administration has consumed much precious airtime on agendas both tawdry (size of inauguration crowds, media fights, etc.) and depressing (impractical and "small" executive orders on immigration and trade).
Quite simply, the businessperson’s hope is that the distractions and discouragements of the latter don't crowd out and forestall action on the great promise of the former.
Opportunity. This week's announcement of Snap's IPO, combined with the expected public offerings later this year of Airbnb, Spacex, Spotify, Lyft, and Uber, reminds us yet again that more than any other factors technology and innovation drive the business and financial world.
Yes, if there is a business process in need of improvement, whether it be to increase marketing effectiveness, sales conversion, customer engagement - or to reduce their cost in a meaningful way - then there is a technology service out there to help us do so.
This is truly awesome, and we should not let our justified frustrations with modern technology’s complexity and capacity for distraction cause us to lose sight of the massive business opportunities it alone makes possible.
Danger. Right alongside its promise is technology’s massive threat.
The threat from cheaper - and oftentimes better and faster - overseas competitors that technology empowers.
The threats of cyber-security and cyber-warfare.
And the fundamental threat of technology to just eliminate the need for us altogether (see travel agencies, brick and mortar retail, taxi cabs, etc.).
So we all must develop strong processes and disciplines to build our companies such to be “technology hammers and not technology nails.”
And if you don’t know how to do this - how to build and act upon a technology strategy that protects and grows your business, then find someone to help you that does.
Promising. The best business people I know stay informed as to the wider world and its political and technology trends. They are also blissfully untouched by them.
They intuitively know that on a fundamental level businesses still succeed and fail as they have always done so - in the micro and by its leaders working very hard, and focusing and striving on just being a little bit better every day in some meaningful business way.
And February 1st is a great time to look back at those start-of-year goals and plans (or make some if you don't have them!) and recommit ourselves to both dreaming big and backing those dreams up with daily hard and intelligent work.
Dangers. There's nothing dangerous about the above. When in business doubt, or anxious from the political and technological changes and upheavals all around us always - let’s come back to those few timeless, simple business principles.
Value, Integrity, Hard Work.
Those work on January 1st, February 1st, and Forevermore!
Last week, I wrote about the “Commercially Important People, the "CIPs," in all of our business lives, and of the importance of being very clear as to who they are (and are not!), and to then connect and communicate with them in a manner and with messaging apropo of their so special and valuable status.
A fundamental premise of the post was that the distractions and "leveling effect" of modern technology and social media make it dangerously easy to treat our contacts and professional network too much the same, and thereby not prioritize our CIPs to the exalted status they deserve.
So the first point was to just not do this - to recognize that for the vast majority of business types and executive roles electronic communication - email, text, social media, etc. - is fundamentally limited as to maintaining and growing the very high value relationships that can and do propel businesses forward.
Instead, we must and should nurture our CIPs as has been done since business time immemorial - in-person and over the phone.
Yes, with just the simple habit change of more meetings and phone conversations and less “electronic stuff” our best business relationships returns will go up significantly.
The key caveat is that the quality of our CIP interactions can and do swing wildly.
From interactions that are filled with positive energy, mutual value add, and win-win next step projects and action items...
...to ones that are “salesy,” leave both parties feeling empty, and for our CIPs with the sense that that the next time our call comes in voicemail (and an unreturned one at that!) is its most likely destination,
How do we avoid this depressing fate? And especially so with our most Commercially Important People, the ones that make multi-million dollar financial differences to our businesses?
Well, it comes down to a few bedrock principles on which every business rises or falls.
And again, in our technology-enabled, shallow communication-defaulted modern business world principals that we can too easily be distracted from and overlook.
The most basic of these is value.
Yes, before we pick up the phone, before our CIP steps into our office or we into theirs, before we go to that conference, lunch, dinner, golf outing, Burning Man, etc...
....we need to look deeply within our businesses and our ourselves and ask what real value we can and do bring to those that make the biggest difference in our business lives.
As in how much, in quantifiable dollars today and in the near future can we contribute to our CIP’s bottom lines?
Or, more softly how can and will our CIPs feel better about themselves and their life prospects by speaking to and working with us?
Unfortunately, for too many businesses and executives what will be found as they ask these questions are big gaps as to “CIP value adds.”
Our products and services are found to be dated, or overpriced, or incomplete in some critical way.
Or as damningly, we find our organization lacks the "evangelical" belief in those products and services that would inspire our CIPs to buy, use, and enjoy them.
As we identify these “value holes,” the only right response is to roll up our sleeves and work like heck to fill them.
To improve and modernize our product and service offerings.
To reduce their price. Or to add such great features and benefits to them that it is easy to increase it.
And to improve ourselves.
To re-dedicate ourselves to our craft and rediscover the enthusiasm and passion we had for it when we first started.
As we do this, as we increase our fundamental business value and our ability to passionately embody and share it...
....we might just not find that not only do our calls with our most Commercially Important People go easily and swimmingly well...
...but we don't even have to pick up the phone to make them, as our CIPs are standing in a long and patient line just waiting and hoping for the opportunity to talk to us!
At Singapore Changi Airport for a fee available to all is the “Commercially Important Person,” or CIP experience.
At its highest "Jetside" level, as they exit their planes traveling CIPs have a uniformed agent greet and whisk them to the tarmac to a waiting Mercedes that chauffeurs them to a special terminal where customs is cleared quickly, luggage routed, and for travelers with connecting flights amenities of the elegant CIP lounge include complimentary food and drink, free wifi, private showers, and more.
While not materially different from high-end VIP experiences the world over, I find the phrase “Commercially Important Person” wonderfully evocative of the super pro-business culture for which Singapore is rightly famous, and a great one for entrepreneurs and executives to adopt as they think about those most important relationships that can and do propel their business forward.
CIP is value-neutral - it just recognizes that of course some clients, partners, and employees are far more important than others for a company's bottom line and should be treated as such.
For client and partner CIPs better and more personalized service and attention.
For employee CIPs more money, perks and recognition.
All of this should be obvious. But in our technology and social media overwhelmed world, it can be dangerously easy to treat as of having the same value the various likes, followers, and online friends and connections that can be globbed onto oh so easily and seductively!
And then what happens is that start to treat quantity of contacts and breadth of exposure as sufficient measurements of marketing, sales, and client relationship management effort and success.
CIP is a shorthand to break out of this trap. We just ask:
“How much value - in quantifiable dollars today in the near future - will this relationship bring to me and my organization?”
Yes, this is an unfeeling question.
And a difficult one to answer, as most business relationships are somewhat indeterminate as to when and how they might be monetized, or might not lead to direct compense themselves but are enablers for other relationships that do, or are relationships that provide us the comfort and inspiration we need to build and do great things.
Yes, all of this is true and right and real, but...
...really grappling with what a business relationships’ true and quantifiable value actually is can save a lot of wasted and frenetic effort.
My experience with this exercise is that the vast majority of businesspeople find that the truly Commercially Important People in their business lives are:
And so yes, in spite of all of our technological progress, in spite of the almost cultural “faux pas” it has become to not put technology at the center of all of one’s business efforts, that the best business is still done pretty much as it has always been - over-the-phone and in person.
Now, a really neat byproduct of this realization is that as we winnow down and focus our efforts on those few and truly relationships, that a lot of the noise of our business lives naturally goes away.
What is freed up is more business time to invest in those things that actually make us have more value to our clients in the first place.
Like investing in professional skills development.
And in preserving and cultivating our energy so as to be able to deliver those skills to clients that can both benefit from them and pay us for them.
And as we keep doing this over and over again, to and for the right and few commercially important people in our business lives, we might just start to find....
...that the most commercially important person in your business life will become exactly who it should be.
January is always the best time of the year to set big growth and success goals for the New Year. There are two main approaches to doing so:
1. Set Attainable Goals. This is the incremental “get a little better” approach, letting past results guide and drive our goal-setting.
2. Set Stretch Goals. Stretch Goals are goals that are beyond, often well beyond, what we have accomplished in the past. Stretch Goals usually feel unrealistic, even to those that set them. These are the goals of “Childhood Imaginings,” the goals we really want to accomplish but as we grow older are almost embarrassed to admit it.
A classic Business Stretch Goal is BIG revenue growth, and a great one especially for smaller business is to put it right out there and aim to doubling revenue not in 5 years or 3 years but in the next 12 short months!
Now many executives react poorly to stretch goals like this. They consider them Pollyanna and distracting to more pressing matters at hand, like keeping the lights on!
Well, in these first few days of the New Year when hope is fresh, as we do our goal-setting let me suggest we set solid Attainable Goals that as we accomplish them in their aggregate add up to Stretch Goals that tickle the loins and fire the imagination!
To demonstrate, let's break that “Double Revenues This Year” Stretch Goal down into a series of Attainable Goals whereby we improve performance the below four key business processes by just 20% each:
1. Marketing Campaign Conversion
2. Sales Team Performance.
3. Product / Service Pricing
4. Customer Repurchase Rate
Marketing Team Conversion. For the sake of our example, let’s assume in 2016 we send out 100,000 direct mail pieces where we offer a complimentary consultation to learn more about our products / services.
And let’s say on our past campaigns we have achieved a 1% “conversion,” or 1,000 out of the 100,000 recipients took us up on our offer (i.e. 1,000 leads).
Now, in 2016 let's improve the quality of our message / positioning such that as opposed to those 100,000 pieces sent resulting in 1,000 leads, we do 20% better and generate 1,200 leads.
Sales Team Performance. Let’s assume our sales team is now, on average, turning 20% of these leads into customers. But, in 2016 we invest in sales training and technologies such that performance increases by 20% so instead of turning 200 of the 1,000 leads into customers, we do so at a rate of 240 out of 1,000.
Pricing. Let’s also take the bull by the horns and raise our prices by 20% from, say $5,000 per order, to $5,600 (and we invest in improving our brand positioning and value proposition to support this higher price).
Repurchase Rate. And finally, let's operationally improve the quality, speed, and efficacy of our offering such that as opposed to our customers buying from us at an average repurchase rate of twice per year they do so at a rate of 2.4x per year (20% more often).
The math is as follows:
Business as Usual: 100,000 marketing pieces x 1% response x 20% sales conversion x $5,000 x an average repurchase rate of 2x / year = Annual Revenues of $2,000,000.
20% Better. 100,000 marketing pieces x 1.2% response x 24% sales conversion x $6,000 x an average repurchase rate of 2.4x / year = Annual Revenues of $4,147,200.
Voila! We set a Big Stretch Goal of Doubling Sales and we then got there through Attainable Goals of improving four key business processes by 20% each.
So before the year gets too far in, let’s set Big Stretch Goals like this and then invest the time and do the work to identify, evaluate, and improve by 20% four business processes to get there.
Just think how great it will feel in January 2018 to look back at a year with this kind of exciting growth!
A lot of optimistic energy is pulsing through the business and financial markets in these 1st few days of 2017. Perhaps more than in any other year since the Great Recession, “macro” conditions feel right for businesses across a wide swath of industries and markets to have breakout years. Here are 5 ideas to make it so for your business:
5. Push the Risk Envelope. When business and economic confidence are high as they are now, the right mindset when it comes to strategic decision-making is to push the risk envelope. As so eloquently proved in Michael Raynor's masterpiece, "The Strategy Paradox," the vast majority of executives take too little short term risk, and by so doing subject themselves to far greater longer-term dangers.
In essence, this is because most usually the real danger for a business is not its sudden or dramatic failure, but rather slowly sliding into technological obsolescence, commoditization, and a low to no profit economic model.
While this conservatism is more pronounced in times of recession, in good times it is doubly insidious because both the opportunity costs of being too conservative and the likelihood of risky initiatives being successful are so much greater.
A great shortcut question to ask yourself is: “If I had no considerations of time and money, what would I do?”
The answer will usually point you to the riskier, and more often than not, the more strategically correct business decision.
4. Embrace New Technologies. In the past few years, we've reached a tipping point as to the ability of companies of all types and sizes to earn quick ROI via implementing and utilizing business process technologies that allow for the completion of work more quickly and cost-effectively, and at a higher level of quality and consistency.
Cloud-based, on demand, proven and inexpensive technologies are available now for almost all business processes - from sales CRMs to marketing analytics, to project management software to HR, accounting, and finance.
And because of an almost overwhelming number of great software companies building new business process services (and because of SaaS, improving the ones they have almost daily), the cost of these tools continues to drop while their quality and efficacy rises. So let’s all make the business resolution to “try out” a new one of these tools each and every month in 2017 and see what additional marketing, sales, operational and financial efficiencies and improvements we can muster from them.
3. Pursue Global Markets. The volume of US exports hits new records year-after-year, and is projected to cross the $2.5 trillion mark in 2017.
Never before has it been a) easier to sell products and services globally b) have there been so many customers with money to spend the world over and c) has the reputation of US companies for technological leadership, quality products and ethical dealings been greater than it is right now.
So if you have a global growth strategy, build on it. And if you don't, get one.
2. Be Organizationally Creative. The maturation of business process technologies combined with the “flattening” and full-on “virtualization” of most modern work has created extraordinary opportunities for every company - no matter how small - to profit via organizational evolution, outsourcing, and fractionalization of work.
Things like organizing one’s enterprise via a mix of W-2 employees, 1099 contractors and outsourced technology, project administrative work low partners from around the globe.
My experience is that most of us intuitively get how this stuff works (as evidenced by how much of work we all now do on our mobile devices), but are still held back by a sense of how a “real” company should be organized.
The heck with that! All that should matter in decisions like this is whether it works - i.e. does it deliver higher quality at a lower cost? Everything else is just noise.
1. Have a Plan. Conditions are good. The world is our oyster. Let's commit, in writing, that we're going to make the most of it.
In the immortal words of Goethe, once a commitment is made, Providence moves too.
The spoils and thrills of victory in our so competitive but so opportunity-laden world go to those who devise bold plans of action and then go out and do them.
So let’s make great plans - organizationally creative ones that leverage technology, take intelligent risks and pursue and win opportunities around the world.
That sounds like a great 2017!
December is a natural time to reflect upon the accomplishments of the past 12 months, and to set goals and objectives for the New Year.
In doing so however, most of us think too much about next year, and too little about our longer term and multi-year business horizons.
[To listen to a recording of the webinar, Click Here]
On this recorded webinar, the Growthink Innovation Series turns to the transformative world of financial technology.
According to PWC, within the next 3-5 years, cumulative investment in FinTech globally could exceed $150 billion. Quite simply, the digital, mobile, and Internet revolutions are transforming the way customers access financial products and services of all types, and across all consumer and business sectors.
Traditional financial products and services being fundamentally disrupted by these new digital technologies include consumer and commercial banking, fund transfers and payments, investment and wealth management, insurance, and investment banking.
Webinar Description: Entrepreneurial and Investment Opportunities in Fintech
You’re invited to listen to a webinar, hosted by Growthink co-Founder and Managing Partner Jay Turo, where a select group of Fintech entrepreneurs and investors will share how they and their companies are winning in this incredibly dynamic space.
The panelists are:
On the webinar, the panelists answer questions including the following:
Listen to the webinar via the below link:
The three big economic stories since last month’s election have been a dynamic stock market rally, a strengthening dollar, and rising economic confidence.
Here are some encouraging statistics to ponder:
Of course and as one looks for them, threatening economic clouds can be found everywhere. But for now, the US economic mood is one of optimism, confidence, and possibility.
And so the ambitious executive should ask: How should 2017 business plans and performance expectations be “reset” in light of this improved outlook?
Here are three ideas:
#3. Raise Capital. As your business has adjacent opportunities for which the raising of outside growth capital would accelerate their pursuit, now is the time to go out there and get it.
In my 15 years of working with companies of all types and sizes with their fund-raising efforts, I have found that overall economic confidence is by far the most important factor as to the success or failure of any particular company's financing efforts.
When economic confidence is low - as it was during the Great Recession -almost nobody can raise money.
And when confidence is high, for example as it was during the late 1990s, almost anyone with a solid plan and who gives a heartfelt, assertive effort can.
So if the predictions of 3%+ growth for the US economy in 2017 hold true, then with them will come increasing economic confidence and thus a far easier time for companies of all types and sizes to raise capital.
#2. Work Harder. I vividly recall a conversation I had with a very successful IT services entrepreneur a few years back. He said that in reviewing his financial records October 2008 to March 2010 he determined that he would have made more money if he had closed his doors and sat on the beach during that time instead of actually running his business!
Well, good economic conditions like these are the karmic reward for those that fought and scratched to keep the "lights on" when times were dire.
AND the right reaction is NOT to work less because getting good results takes less effort, but rather to work twice as hard to profit from all the growth and expansion opportunities frothy conditions uniquely allow.
#1. Raise Expectations. As a proud and lifelong New England Patriots fan, I have been so inspired by the “winning is the only option” mindsets of Messrs. Belichick and Brady.
Sure, there's always some excuse for why a game was won or lost, or why a business grows or does not.
Excuses yes, but really no good reasons.
And just like my Patriots are marching relentlessly toward another division title and Super Bowl berth, so is 2017 shaping up to be a championship season for US business.
And that should be the expectation for all of us - record years for sales, profits, asset allocation, and growth.
The macro conditions are there for the taking.
Now it is up to us to go out and win the game.