How to Be a Business Superhero


There is one key to becoming a business superhero.

One that leads their organization to ongoing growth and success.

It is often overlooked because business, for the very most part, is an incremental game.

Each and every day we strive to make small improvements in key business processes - reducing the amount of time it takes to fill a customer order, or complete a project, or increase the conversions from our marketing efforts into sales leads, or once we have those good prospects to increase the percentage of them that  buy, and at what price.

Then, the well-founded hope is that all of these small improvements, compounded over time, will slowly but surely grow our sales, profits, and business value.

All of the above is 100% true, and in my consulting practice, I have developed analytics and business intelligence tools to win business races this way - inch by inch, key metric improvement by key metric improvement.

AND I've discovered that this analytics-based, incremental approach is completely insufficient for breakthrough business growth and improvement.

No, what has to be added in is that most beautiful thing that the greatest among us have displayed and embodied throughout the ages and even every now and then in today’s marketplace.


Courage is defined by Webster as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

And for better or for worse, it is not a word that comes up all that often in 21st century knowledge work.

Now for those of us whose work consists of sitting in front of a computer, or on our smartphones, the opportunities and need to demonstrate and embody courage are naturally fewer than when work was more physical, more viscerally interpersonal, heck even more violent than it is today.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with this, as we are all blessed beyond compare by how with our analytical minds, powered by technology, we can earn our daily bread.

But more so than we might think, to achieve business breakthroughs and greatness, we need our crowded hours - those special moments where our hearts race, where the pits in our stomachs grow so strong that we have to consciously remind ourselves to breathe, and that feeling of fear envelops us so tight that we want to run away...

...but instead we stand and fight.

And win.

When, in modern business do these moments present themselves?  Where courage as much as competence is required? 

Well, here are two classic scenarios:

1. When Our Business Needs Outside Growth Capital. Courage is needed throughout - from the initial decision to go seek it, to the hard soul-searching and strategic work to develop a compelling business plan to credibly ask for it, to the the fortitude to press on as the apathy and rejection endemic to modern fundraising inevitably pours in, and finally to the transference of our courage to others to fortify them to take the leap into the exciting but fear-inducing unknown of investment partnership.

2. When we decide to fire a key team member, or to quit our current business/company and go start/find another one. Courage is needed here as the vast majority of us default to letting things stay as they are, no matter how imperfect they might be, versus taking on the confrontation and life disruption of big interpersonal business and career matters.   

Of course there are many other scenarios like these.  They come up, in ways big and small, in almost every business day.

And when we feel the fear...and say and do anyway those things that serve our business destiny....

Well then the transformation in ourselves and the world around us is immediate.

We and our businesses leap forward, in some magical and inspirational way that makes life worth living, and business worth doing.

Now, when we couple great courage with laser-like focus on incremental, daily improvement...

Then we become nothing less than business Supermen and Superwomen.

And there's a lot of fun, and money, in that!


What is Your Organization's IQ (Innovation Quotient)?


Your ability to succeed in today's economy is directly correlated with your ability to innovate.

But most organizations change and innovate way too slowly, if at all.

My Growthink colleague Stephen Lehtonen has developed an eight question test to measure an organization's Innovation Quotient , or its "IQ."

The test measures organizational attributes like clarity of mission, process for pursuing new initiatives, the change-friendliness of its culture, and its "intuition" as to customers wants and preferences.

I encourage all to take the test here, as it gives a powerful snapshot of the innovation aspects of a business that are best of class, and those needing re-engineering and rejuvenation.

Business leaders should also look within and authentically ask themselves how committed and able they are, at this point in time, to lead dynamic change at their companies.

Sadly, my experience is that most of them simply are not for two main reasons, both involving that ephemeral but fundamental quality of energy.

The first is discouraged energy, or burnout, caused by the passage of time, by much hard work without ample rest, and by the attempting of very many new things that just didn’t work out and produce as planned.

Telltale signs of companies with discouraged leaders include high levels of absenteeism, late completion of assigned tasks, little if any organizational initiative, and just those sad feelings of hopelessness and negativity. 

The second is unfocused energy, where a great "fighting spirit" is alive and well but is scattered, with multiple new initiatives being pursued at the same time, but without clear senses of prioritization or realistic time frames for their completion.

Tell-tale signs of companies led like this are meetings without clearly defined agendas or action items flowing from them, and a pervasive unease among the company's line workers as to the projects and to dos in their work day that should be given the most attention and time.

In both these scenarios, the outcome is the same: a business that doesn’t innovate - it either doesn’t conjure up good, new initiatives to pursue and if it does is unable to pursue them quickly or effectively.

Luckily and not surprisingly, the fix for both energy problems starts with business leaders recognizing their complete power and ability to do something about it.

For the burned out leader, the answer might simply be a long vacation.

Yes, I know real vacations from modern work are hard to make happen, as technology keeps us always so tethered to it.

But we have to recognize that in spite of our technological advancements, that as human beings we are still built for natural cycles of work and rest. 

As for the scattered and frenetic leader, the answer could simply be to learn how to do his or her job better - to study the canon of business leadership (some recommendations in this post!) and slowly but surely cultivate a new executive persona and approach.

And for those in between - maybe both a little burned out and a little disorganized....

....well combine the best of both. 

Take a nice vacation and read some great business books while on it. 

It is summertime after all and yes sometimes the business can wait.

And when we return to work re-focused and refreshed, we might find we can easily accomplish in just a few short hours those things that now seem impossibly hard to even start.

Because yes, sometimes we do need to take a step back, to refresh and reset, so as to lead our companies to an innovative leap forward.

How about You? How well does your organization innovate? Are you discouraged? Scattered? Was your last new product or service launch a huge success? Have you successfully built systems to streamline operations and increase sales and profits like clockwork?

If so, great! If not, send me an email to [email protected] In your email, tell me about an initiative that absolutely must be a success. And then I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.


What Worked Yesterday, May Not Work Today...


Everyday, business owners realize that certain approaches and strategies that worked in the past...

...just don't cut it anymore.

Because the competition has gotten better - offering comparable products and services at a lower cost and also often of a higher quality.

Or because customers have just moved on  - as generations change and their moods and preferences shift.

Or because industries have eroded away, as is sadly happening in traditional retail right now, and has decimated once prosperous industries like newspapers, wired telecommunications, and travel agencies.  

I regularly speak with entrepreneurs and executives grappling with these "the world is passing me by" kind of forces and challenges, and I am both impressed and dismayed by the leadership and strategic choices that they try to make to save their businesses from them.

Two conversations from earlier this week stand out for me - the first with the General Manager of a North Carolina war memorial museum and the second with the CEO a $50 million+ revenue Texas - based satellite services business.

While very different entities in so many respects - from their missions to their organizational structures to their technology fluency - the challenges these two leaders face are surprisingly similar.

The museum director’s challenges were greatly driven by the demographic reality that the older, “analog” generation with personal memory of the wars his museum honors are just dying off, while the "digital" generation that are his current and future patrons just don't go to museums like they once did.

And then squeezing from the other side is the need for and high cost of significant infrastructure improvements at his aging museum facility.

The Texas satellite business CEO had a similar set of “declining sales / increasing costs” challenges.

Their core business for many years has involved the servicing of consumer satellite TV equipment, and as “cord-cutting” has put this business into long term decline, his ability to meaningfully grow his company’s top line has evaporated.

And perhaps most distressingly for both of them, the future trend lines for industry and markets only forecast for their problems to get worse.

Luckily, in my conversations with these fine men, two of the most admirable leadership of them all - resilience and flexibility - were on powerful display.

In the case of the museum director, his resilience came from his commitment to his mission - to honor and keep vibrant the memory of our war veterans.

For our satellite executive, it came from his desire to turn his business around so that its 200+ employees could keep and grow in their jobs.

And from their resilience and determination then came the flexibility to ask the tough existential questions to first save and then grow their enterprises. 

Questions like "how could we fulfill our mission if folks just stop visiting museums like ours altogether?"

Or, “in a world where there is no more satellite television, how can we pivot, without going broke as we do, our business expertise to products and services with a brighter future?"

Questions like these require executives to step into the abyss of the ending of their enterprises as they know them so as to have the “tabula rasa” to re-imagine and re-engineer their sustainable businesses of the future.

Resilience and flexibility.

Without both all businesses are doomed to eventual decline and failure.

But with them both...

...not only can we protect ourselves from technological and societal forces that toss and turn and threaten us unrelentingly and without mercy.

But we can also harness their power to transform ourselves and our businesses into new and more prosperous forms than we have ever been.

What about your company?  Do you see opportunity in your market but not sure exactly how to get there?  If so, send me an email to [email protected] In your email, tell me about an opportunity that if you can execute upon it can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And then I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.



Why Side Hustles Don’t Work


Do you feel sometimes that your work is a “side hustle” - something we do to put a few bucks in our pockets to then feel and do the “good stuff” elsewhere - with our hobbies, volunteer work, personal relationships, and such? 

Well, if we want to really enjoy our work....

And as we enjoy it, build a great business.

Then a side hustle just aint gonna cut it.

Luckily, we just need to make three small changes to break out of the side hustle mentality.

And win big.

Now before I go through what these changes, let’s talk for a moment about both the positives and limitations of the “side hustle,” the “corporation of one” mindset and workflow.

The positives can be for very many of us - because of the time and place we are in our lives (students, parents with young children, etc.), and / or the kind of work we do (really anything these days that mostly involves sitting in front of a computer), that side hustles can be awesome.

They allow us to work “virtually,” to have (theoretically!) that golden elixir of work-life “balance,” and to find and serve customers all over the world from the comforts and ease of our home office.

But obviously we can’t build a great business this way.

No, this can only be done by "collections of humans" gathered together under a common banner and brand...

...and doing great things together as cohesive, inspired, and hard-working teams. 

Now doing this is harder today than it has ever been. 

And the core reason why is the same one that makes side hustles so attractive..

All of us are just...distracted.

Staring at screens from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, in a technology-induced daze that if we are not very careful will insidiously prevent and preclude real human connection and teamwork.

Because we are still fundamentally wired as we have always been.

As homo sapiens. As primates who over hundreds of thousands of years have evolved to naturally organize ourselves into small groups and clans, and communicate face to face, in person, with all five of our senses.

And this “natural” method of collaboration and communication has been how throughout business history the greatest teams have done the greatest things.

Like Thomas Edison's famous invention lab, or Steve Jobs leading the development of the original Apple computer, or how our greatest movies have been made, to in more recent times how without irony the #1 social media in the world designed its new headquarters floor plan to be just.... very large, loud, and crowded room. 

Unfortunately, too many of us have never had team experiences like this at work.

And of course the days of yonder and of Edison and Jobs and the first Apple are never coming back.

And most of us do not want to work on a crowded, open floor like at Facebook’s new office. 

So the goal is to keep those blessings and miracles and modern, virtual work - of  telecommuting, flex time, work / life balance, etc. - and have a great team environment.  

It just requires the three small changes.  And then a pig-headed determination to stick with them no matter how strong the temptation and inertia to revert to business as usual.  

These changes are:

1) Use a group chat and messaging tool instead of email 

2) Whenever possible choose video calls 

3) Schedule longer in-person team meetings, but on a more in frequent basis.

Let’s go through them one-by-one:

#1. Use a Group Chat and Messaging Tool Instead of Email. Group chat and messaging tools - like Slack, Voxer, Yammer, and Hangouts - are
much better for electronic communication than email because : 

a) They are “real time” (more on this in a moment);

b) The etiquette on them is such that when others are “cc’d” there is not a reply requirement to reply;

c) In a chat message there is no need for a subject line as there is with e-mail (think about this for a moment); and, 

d) As group messaging is inherently by "invitation only", it naturally avoids the soul-sucking email spam deluge.

Now a big reason why folks shy away from group messaging apps is because of that first and key “real time” benefit, which for many can be distracting from their main work flow.

To this I say if in this year 2017 of ours you just have to
find the balance.

Yes, it is not right to just let ourselves to be pinged and distracted all day with chat messages, but nor is it right
to not try to make the “virtual reality of physically sitting next to someone” that real time communication allows fit into our workflow.

The darling group messaging tool of choice of the Silicon Valley types is Slack.

Slack finds a great balance between lightness, simplicity, speed and feature richness for virtually any business communication process need.

And even me - a grizzled old man / old school executive - loves Slack’s fun and varied “emojis,” which really do help communicate emotion and feeling.

#2. Video. Business phone communication conducted with video - which can be done at high quality at virtually no cost through a ton of apps - is just better communication than audio alone.

It is better because we are visual beings.

And it is better for the very reason so many of us shy away from it. 

Because it is hard.

When on a business video call for business, we first must present ourselves professionally, i.e. no relaxing in tank tops and flip flops allowed!

And we must actively listen - i.e. look right in the camera as we listen and not multi-task, and show that we “get” what is being said.

And just like with group messaging but perhaps even moreso, as we do we replicate in-person reality and communication and collaboration results and efficiencies soar.

#3. In person meetings. Now the great thing about group messaging tools and video calls is how they allow us to preserve the brevity and ease and lifestyle benefits of virtual work flow while staying connected to our colleagues.

But of course none of these tools will ever replace the need for a lot of in-person meetings and get togethers to build great team collaborative energy, ideas, and accountability. 

These tools will, however, let us have less meetings and can make the ones we do have far more productive.

I've written elsewhere on good flows and agendas for the various internal team meetings that drive mission critical business initiatives forward, but for here it is suffice to say that if a team is communicating effectively with group messaging and video calls as described above, that in-person team meetings can be reduced to as few as one to two times per month.

These in-person meetings should be a bit longer, a bit more free-flowing and relationship building focused than perhaps they would be if all were working under the same roof, but in the end they should proceed as they have always done in businesses and team settings since time immemorial.

Just get together in-person with your team members, and let the magic happen. 

Yes, it really is that simple, get on Slack, or a group messaging platform of our choice, make as many of our calls with video as possible, and meet in person perhaps less frequently but with a positive and innovative spirit always.

And let that very limiting side hustle mentality be just a thing of our business past.

What about your company? Are your employees and contractors working as well together as they should be? Do you need help in getting everyone on the same page to attack a key new business initiative?  

If so, send me an email to [email protected]

In your email, tell me about a key new initiative that if you execute upon it properly can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.


Spirit of America - 2017 Edition!


On this great day when we celebrate America, its freedoms and way of life, please enjoy this list of forty of why America is such a special place:

#40. Dow 21,000. NASDAQ 6,100. Markets up 300% since March of '09. Bull markets - run here. 

#39. This Land is Your Land. Pink Houses. American Oxygen. Born in the U.S.A. America's music - sung here.

#38. Wikipedia. The Wayback Machine. Google It. ALL the information - at your mouse click here.

#37. Instagram. SNAP.  Pictures - worth billions of words here.

#36. The press. Religion. Speech.  So blessedly free here.

#35. Apple. Google. Facebook. $1.38 Trillion in market value - capitalized here. 

#34. YPO. Vistage. FoundersCard. Entrepreneurial Leaders - networking here.

#33. Junior Achievement. Venture Lab. Young Entrepreneurs Academy. The next generation - mentored here.

#32. Uber. AirBnB. WeWork. The New Economy - a reality here.

#31. Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach (Los Angeles), Silicon Alley (Manhattan), Silicon Hills (Austin). Technology - leading the world here.

#30. Gettysburg. Guadalcanal. Bunker Hill. Heroes lived here.

#29. Contract Rights. Judges. Juries of One’s Peers. Redress for grievances - practiced here.

#28. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. Yellowstone. Natural Wonders - in abundance here.

#27. The Interstates. State Highways. County Parkways. The Open Road - Great to be on it here.

#26. Uber. AirBnB. Lending Club. The Economy – Shared Here.

#25. Lexington. Concord. Saratoga. Yorktown – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Fought for here.

#24. The Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court. The Rule of Law. Justice served here.

#23. The Stock Market. Home Ownership. Low Inflation. Assets built here.

#22. Driverless Cars (and Electric too!). Wearable Devices. The Internet of Things. Tomorrow’s Technologies – Imagined Here.

#21. Diamandis. Kurzweil. Saffo. The future - abundant here.

#20. Hollywood. Disney. Broadway. Entertainment happens here.

#19. The World Series, The Super Bowl, The Masters. Sports are spectacle here.

#18. Jesus. Moses. Mohammed. The Buddha. Religion gets along here.

#17. Gates. Jobs. Page. Zuckerberg. BIG stuff - invented here.

#16. Murphy. Martin. Seinfeld. Rock. Life is a laugh here.

#15. Madonna. Mariah. Whitney. Elvis. Michael. Frank. Songs are sung here.

. Faulkner. Hemmingway. Roth. Franzen. Stories are told here.

#13. Kaiser. Pfizer. Genentech. Merck. Healing happens here.

#12. Boeing. Caterpiillar. Deere. UPS. FedEx. Stuff gets built here and gets there.

#11. Amazon. eBay. Ecommerce - transacted here.

#10. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Networks - connected here.

#9. Google. Yahoo. Bing. Information - organized and accessible here.

#8. Kleiner. Sequoia. Mayfield. Ideas - backed here.

#7. The Inc. 500. The Fast Company 50. Entrepreneurs - inspired here.

#6. Alaska. Montana. Wyoming. Space - open here.

#5. Chicago. Boston. San Francisco. NYC. Cities pulse here.

#4. Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt walked the Earth here.

#3. The first guy in charge here voluntarily gave up power, when he could easily have been named ruler for life. Character stands here.

#2. Since its founding, America has been a beacon of hope for immigrants from around the globe seeking opportunity and a better life. Hope and possibility abound here.

#1. The Greatest Generation was born here, fought and won there. And then they came home, put their heads down, and built a new America. Civil rights, cities, suburbs, highways, schools, and more.

So on this day especially, we say thank you!

Happy 4th to You and Yours!


The Greatest Sales Job of All Time


Can great salesmanship enable athletes to perform at a higher level?

Can it get businesspeople to do the same?

Readers of this column know well my great love of sports, and of the many powerful and usable business analogies I find from it.

My sports heroes are many, but as a born and bred New England boy they certainly include iconic Boston greats like Ted WilliamsLarry BirdTom Brady, and Bill Bellichick.

My 9 and 11 year old sons now share my sports passion, and over the past few years I have been blessed with the very rich life experience of coaching their competitive level little league baseball teams, and thus have been tasked and challenged with teaching eager but unevenly talented young ballplayers on the nuances of a notoriously difficult but beautiful game.

Some of the business wisdoms and mindsets I have learned from my fandom and my coaching are obvious in theory, but sometimes require the inspiration of sports to apply in practice.

Like the importance of teamwork, of resiliency in the face of adversity, and the importance of leaders in embodying these attributes to their teams.

Then there is the sports wisdom of the "whole life" approach to success.

As I discussed in my recap article on the Rio Olympics, in our hyper-competitive modern world success in both business and sports requires a "24/7/365" commitment - where what we do away from the workplace and playing field is as critical to our success as is our time “in the arena.”

Yes, to be the best these days our “down time” must include lots and lots of clean living - sleep, exercise, nutrition, no or moderate consumption of alcohol and drugs, and an ongoing intellectual and spiritual immersion into quality literature and thought leadership as to peak performance, both in general and specific to our chosen fields and professions.

All of this is the ‘it is a marathon and not a sprint” view on high achievement, and sports teaches us the truth of it more viscerally than perhaps any other form of human endeavor.

But what about when we just don’t have time to train for and run a marathon?

What do we do when we just need to win today, this game, this deal?

Well, I had this exact circumstance arise when my coaching my son’s all star baseball team this past weekend.

As background, anyone who has watched or played baseball appreciates and respects the very high challenge of hitting a baseball.

I don't mean just getting the bat to make contact with the ball, but to do as they say in the baseball vernacular - to “rake” - to hit the ball hard and do so consistently against good pitching.

Ted Williams famously called it the most difficult thing to do in sports, so on a much smaller level trying to teach little leaguers to hit can be frustrating beyond belief.

Now, in Southern California by late June most little leaguers have been playing and practicing baseball for more than five months.

This means many dozens of practices, and literally thousands of fielding, throwing, running, and hitting drills and repetitions.

For my players, in every baseball skill other than hitting, their skill levels have increased dramatically...

But so frustratingly they are just not better hitters today than they were at the start of the season!

Baseball coaches the world over wrestle with this dilemma, with usually the default response being to just practice more and hope the additional reps will turn things around.

Alas and sadly, I have discovered for little leaguers hitting a baseball it just doesn't work that way.

The additional reps help sometimes, but when on the eve of a big game as was the case this past weekend there is neither time for more reps nor confidence that if the hundreds of hours of reps over dozens of practices haven't worked yet...

...then anymore practice before the big game would be unlikely to make a difference.

So I decided to...just go all “sunshine.”

I told our players over and over and with great enthusiasm what great hitters they were, how beautiful their swings were, how good they looked up at the plate, and at batting practice how hard and far they were hitting the ball.

Now, I always believe in positive coaching, but for this game I went over the top in my exhortations and my enthusiasm!

As I was doing it, my fellow coaches looked at me a bit funny, and at the start of it I could see the skepticism in our players eyes too, some of whom hadn't gotten a hit in over two months!

But as I stuck with it, I noticed a slow building change.

The more vocal and with more conviction I shouted my cries of encouragement, the more I could feel and see our players really start to believe they could do it.

The result: I am quite happy to report that this past Saturday was my team’s best hitting game of the season - with three of our players getting their best hits ever in the biggest game of their lives.

Nothing changed in their physical or technical abilities, only in their belief and confidence in themselves, surely boosted by their coach's over the top exhortations and praise.

Two key thoughts come to mind from this experience.

First of all, does it matter if I really believed it?

That my players were in actuality good hitters, or just some happy-go-lucky, marginally athletic kids out to enjoy running around on a warm summer day?

Now there are some people that are naturally believe in the potential of all those around them.

I am sadly not one of these people. I have to remind myself often to be enthusiastic and to praise.

But I don't think it matters all that much if you are or are not "natural" and "authentic" in your enthusiastic praise. Pretending is plenty good enough.

Then, can "Sales Jobs" like this actually work to overcome vexing business challenges?

Like making more sales?

Or launching a new product on time?

Or building and sustaining an awesome company culture?

Of course it can.

Our best evidence is the the personality types of so many of the greatest entrepreneurs of our age - the Steve Jobs, the Elon Musks, the Mark Zuckerbergs - who ooze and express vast confidence and belief in their intellectual, marketing, product, and business plans and visions.

And are not shy in the slightest in sharing that belief all day, every day.

In fact, it is incredibly easy to gain competitive advantage in business with just a little hype and mojo because so few of us do it!

Way too many businesspeople are "Eeyore” types - forever waiting for the other shoe to drop and just looking for an opening to share their tales of woe to all who cross their paths.

Instead, let’s lighten up and give sunshine a chance.

Yes, our colleagues may not recognize us at first, and some may mock us, but as we stick with it...

...almost in spite of themselves, they will start to believe more and perform better.

And you will too.

Because in business, the greatest sales job you can ever do is the one on yourself. :)

What about your company? Do your employees and contractors need a "reset" as to how big the opportunity with your company is?  Do you need help in getting everyone on the same page to attack a key new business initiative?  

If so, send me an email to [email protected]

In your email, tell me about a key opportunity that if you pursue it properly can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.


Making Better Business Decisions


There are only 3 things to know to make dramatically better decisions:

1) How we’ve done in the past.

2) What our competition is doing now.

3) What our customers will want in the future.

1. How We’ve Done in the Past. At this point in the Big Data and SaaS revolutions at our fingertips should always be dead accurate data on mission critical processes like customer acquisition costs by marketing and sales channel, profitability by client type / employee role, and really anything else that moves and trends on a regular basis, and upon which the performance of our business depends.

Truly understanding and accepting our company’s historical performance - good and bad - is the mature approach to better business decision-making.

It is mature in that it accepts that while huge business breakthroughs are always possible (and we should always be highly optimistic and innocent in our quest for them, incremental business improvement, with just a little more focus on the numbers, is always highly probable.

And the most important step in getting that incremental improvement is to “get real” with ourselves and our track records and then find the 1% improvement here, the 2% gain there, that over time compound into significantly better results.

2. What the Competition is Doing Now. Could one possibly imagine a great coach - a Bill Belichick, a Nick Saban, a Mike Krzyzewski - not investing gobs and of time and resources into knowing everything about their next opponent?

Business is no different. Conjuring up and executing upon great business strategy is not possible without knowing everything about our best competitors - how they market, how they sell, how they fulfill, and their costs and margins in so doing.

Now a cool thing is that that thing that we all waste lots of business time on every day- i.e. the Internet - is also the first and best place to find out everything we ever wanted to know about what our competitors are doing and more.

For sure, the most juicy and valuable competitive intell. can't be found from a simple web search, but through that search we can certainly connect with the people and firms who can go out and get it for us (write me if you would like to learn more about how to do this!).

3. What Our Customers Will Want. Since business time immemorial predicting the needs and wants of our customers has been seen as an intuitive and dark art - truly understood only by genius marketers and sales savants.

Luckily, the behavioral science literature as what really drives customer decision-making has exploded over the years, with the most profitable firms in the world investing significant resources into studying and learning from and all of us should too.

Easy shortcuts to do so including online quizzing technology, with the key insight being gamification - i.e. making it fun for customers to tell us more about them,

 And pattern recognition software - where we enter in a cohort of our customer and then have a comparison run against public data sets to find the “non-obvious” correlations between the psychographics and purchase patterns of our current customers and future best prospects.

Now, a final word as to how to best intake these data sets and use them to regularly and reliably output better business decisions and action plans.

You just gotta meet and talk about it!!

But not in the typical lazy way that most business strategy meetings are run.

Instead, first assemble all of the data above into as organized and simple to digest formats as possible. 

Then “pre-read” it all before the meeting. This “pre-read” preparation time is critical to let the insights from the data sink in and to allow the meeting time to be focused on the key business decisions that flow from the data versus just data “digestion”

Then and only then get the key team members together, (and these need to be longer meetings - 90 minutes to 2 hours at a minimum) and let the “Eureka” moments flow!

None of the above is complicated. 

Just diligently collect and review those three big buckets of data, meet to talk about it, and watch both the better business decisions and $$ flow!

What about your company? Do you need better information and / or a solid sounding board for some of your key business decisions? If so, send me an email to [email protected] 

In your email, tell me about a key decision that if you execute upon it properly can propel your company forward in a new and powerful way. And then I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.


4 Well-Known Companies to Emulate


recently wrote that, when it comes to customer relationships, most businesses should NOT emulate Amazon, since Amazon's margins are so thin.

 Many of you replied with "then who SHOULD we emulate?"

So, I did a bit of thinking and came up with 4 well-known companies to model. They are:

  1. For margin, Warby Parker.
  2. For recurring revenue, Uber.
  3. For profitable reselling, Grainger.
  4. And for lifetime customer value, McDonalds.

Warby Parker. Warby Parker is an online store for prescription sunglasses and eyeglasses that since their founding in 2010 has taken the Lenscrafter “eye doctor in a mall” concept and fully “Internet-ized” it. 

Trailing twelve month revenues for the company is over $100 million and the company was valued at over $1.2 billion in its last round of funding.

As they have grown, they have also had amazing success with a hybrid “bricks and clicks” model where customers can try on frames in one of their 50+ retail locations and then order them online, right in the store.

Very impressively, for a mid-priced player in the eyeglasses space, Warby’s gross margins are estimated at a healthy 60%+

Warby manages this killer combination of moderate prices and solid margins through supply chain efficiencies on the back end and on the front end picture perfect web branding and “white glove” customer service. 

How to emulate this great business? Well, first do a quick status check on the perceived value and differentiation of your offerings via running the “what would happen if I doubled my prices?" thought experiment.

If the answer comes back that sales would plummet as customers would leave for lower priced competitors, then the needed places where our offerings lack intrinsic and perceived value - because of operational inefficiencies and / or branding ineffectiveness - should become readily obvious.

And then get to work to fix those places!

For recurring revenue, Uber.

Because of their well-publicized internal troubles and management dysfunction, Uber these days is everyone's favorite business punching bag.

But of course the company is incredibly deserving of heavy admiration and emulation for how, in just a few short years, they've re-engineered and become the default offering for a massive business category.

And in so doing they created a powerful recurring revenue business model based as much on their organizational design as on their marketing and technology prowess.

Uber, perhaps like no other company in history, has through its business model empowered the people that work in it to create and drive its recurring model.

These now over more than 1 million Uber drivers around the world that every day leave their homes (for no base pay!) to canvas 300+ of the world’s biggest cities and thus make it so easy for Uber customers to buy transportation from the company.

Again and again and again.

Our challenge is to similarly “crack the code” of empowering the people connected to our business - employees, contractors, partners, even vendors and customers - to "sell for us" in a way that benefits all.

Franchising is a great “old school” way of accomplishing this and Uber the ultimate 21st century technological way to do so.

Most organization designs will fall somewhere in between, but there is powerful insight to be had in reflecting on how the very structure of our business either motivates or hinders customers to “passively” transact with us, over and over again.

For profitable reselling, Grainger.

Very many companies have as their business model distributing / reselling, - i.e taking products and/or services made by someone else and then inventorying, marketing and selling them.

These kinds of businesses are under severe “disintermediation” threat, as technology allows buyers and sellers to connect directly with each other, and thus bypass “middlemen” like Grainger.

Grainger's awesome re-selling trick - even though they sell mostly to just businesses in construction, manufacturing, and building maintenance environments - is to personalize the purchase experience in such a way that they, and not the actual maker of the products, get selling credit for the products’ “emotional” aspects - i.e. stress reduction, status enhancement, etc.

The end result is gross margins of 40%+, well above competitors in its category, and a stock up more than 300% in the past 10 years (50%+ above the S&P for this same period).

For companies that sell B2B, learning from Grainger is easy - just talk to customers not as faceless representatives but rather as living, breathing, and feeling human beings.

The Grainger Everyday Heroes video series show us exactly how to do this.

Finally, there is McDonalds for lifetime customer value.

Through its play places and its Happy Meal toy-based marketing, McDonalds establishes brand loyalty and joyful associations for customers at the youngest of ages and then continue for a lifetime.

This mindset - that we will market to and serve our customers for 50 - 60 years and more - creates a whole different conversation around our customer relationships.

Warby Parker, Uber, Grainger, McDonald's. 

Learn from them and both your customer and your bottom line will thank you.

What about You? Do you need help marketing your products or services so they attract more customers and boost your bottom line?

Was your last new product or service launch a huge success? If so, great!

If not, send me an email to [email protected] In the email, please give me a brief overview of your situation, and I'll email you back my thoughts.


5 Keys to Launching New Initiatives


The world’s best run businesses efficiently and effectively decide upon, launch, manage and optimize new business projects and initiatives.

In contrast, poorly run businesses struggle mightily to do so on all fronts.

They struggle deciding where to invest scarce project time and resources.

Once they do decide, they then struggle to get those new projects launched.

And if they do manage to get them launched, sadly far more often than those projects just don’t work out, are abandoned, and things are frustratingly returned to business as usual.

How can your business avoid this sorry fate?

Well, here are Five Keys that separate companies and organizations that successfully launch and execute new business initiatives from those that don’t:

#5. They Choose Wisely. For existing businesses serving existing clients (i.e. not startups), it is almost always better to take on only 1 - 2 “change” projects at a time.

Whether it is a web site redesign and relaunch, a development of a new product, implementation of new sales software, rewriting of job position roles and responsibilities, the pursuit of an outside financing, or really anything else that is not “business as usual,” finding the needed proactive and "reflective" energy to focus on more than just a couple of these initiatives at a time is unrealistic.

Far better is to invest more upfront time to determine which initiatives are most mission critical / have the highest ROI, and to then work to execute on them sequentially versus in parallel.

#4. They Know Their People. Conjuring up and doing “new” things is a talent that the significant majority of business people simply do not possess.

This is especially true in smaller, founder-led companies where the main guy or gal is a high creative, high ambition individual who then tends to fill out their organization with more process driven folks to execute upon all of his or her great ideas.

However, this “I dream, you do” dynamic can lead to a lot of frustration as the entrepreneur/founder can often feel that their team just doesn’t “get it” and big communication gaps open up such that key company-building projects get off track often as soon as they get started.

Instead of getting frustrated the founder / entrepreneur needs to identify (the Gallup Strengths Test is one of my favorite tools to do so) those in their organization NOT designed to take on new things and then...don’t give them any new things to take on!

 #3. They Get Outside Help. The natural corollary to the above is to "let in" the deep and wide world of outside consultants and service providers of every stripe, from all around the globe, and just hire them to drive the needed new stuff forward for you.

What is particularly great here is that it is usually far easier to drive hard and demand results from outside contractors or consultants, than it is from one’s own employees!

#2. They Hire a Change Champion. When budgets are there, hiring a person to be a company’s “Change Champion” is a great best practice.

This person should report directly to the CEO and be empowered to "run roughshod" on and over any bureaucratic bottleneck, excuses, and less-than-stellar effort from team members charged with leading and making happen the key change initiatives.

The most successful Change Champions have the emotional makeups of successful sports coaches - they find the balance between "tough love" accountability and positive motivation and just the very act of having a person like them in the organization is a powerful signal that a company's leadership is truly willing to “walk” the change and innovation “talk.”

#1. Toughen Up. The world's best run businesses recognize the magnitude of the “change challenge” and commit themselves as a team to the additional work and highly resilient attitudes to get it done.

These change leaders do not tolerate weaknesses or excuses - in themselves nor in their co-workers, not from a place of “jerky” blame but rather from a one of inspiring themselves and all in their orbits to be their best and most aspirational professional selves.

And every day as their organizations build more of this “change muscle,” they are able to complete their best change and growth initiatives more efficiently and profitably.

Be like them.

What about YOUR organization? How well does your organization launch new initiatives? Was your last new product or service launch a huge success? Have you successfully built systems to streamline operations and increase sales and profits like clockwork? If so, great! If not, send me an email to [email protected]. In your email, tell me about an initiative that absolutely must be a success for you. And then I'll email you back my thoughts to help you.


Why Amazon is Wrong


One of Jeff Bezos’ hallmarks in meetings is leaving an empty chair to represent the needs, wants, opinions, whims, and moods of the customer.

But while that strategy might work for a behemoth like Amazon, for the vast majority of “normal” businesses, it is exactly the WRONG strategy

Because somewhere in all of the customer catering and adjusting and customizing and personalizing done by Amazon and the other big online retailers...

Somewhere in the management canon where it reads that the "customer is always right...”

Somewhere in that so firmly held modern sense that customers are entitled to everything...

Somewhere in all this what has been lost is the consideration for the other side of the deal.

For the seller. For the operating business.

Because focusing too much on what customers think and feel can be a sad road to ruin for very many businesses.


Well, first of it all it can have us attempt the very unpleasant undertaking of morphing who we are and what we do to fit too wide a spectrum of customer types, budgetary capacity, and scope of need.

And it can tempt us to promise solutions and benefits that in our heart of hearts we know are impossible to deliver upon.

It can also cause us to dangerously reduce our prices.

While doing so might work for companies like Amazon with virtually unlimited financial resources and the ability / willingness to make almost zero margin on individual sales, the vast majority of normally sized businesses will almost always be harmed (sometimes severely) by "race to the bottom" price cutting.

And perhaps most profoundly, too much accommodating to customers makes business owners and executives feel bad.

About the value they bring and about the value they feel they deserve.

Now this word “deserve” is a loaded one because no one in modern business deserves anything

So this feeling of “deserving it,” if not channeled properly, can easily result in a lot of very unproductive emotional anguish.

But with just a little re-framing, this feeling can be channeled into powerful fuel and motivation to “solve the riddle” of persuading customers to happily give us what we as entrepreneurs and executives feel we deserve.

Solving the riddle might involve marketing and sales and branding and pricing tricks, techniques, and "hacks."

And solving it certainly will involve providing our customers with SO MUCH fundamental and intrinsic value that they are thrilled to pay for it at a price where we earn a healthy profit.

Of course this is hard to do.

Customers, as is natural, will always try to get the best deal they possibly can so the burden will always be on us to get to true win-win.

Winning via deeply pleasing and serving customers with the value we provide.

And winning via having those same customers be thrilled to pay for and consume that value at the price and on the terms we request.

So enjoy Amazon as well all do as customers.

But don't try to be like them as a business.

Syndicate content

Get a Free Consultation
with a Growthink Expert

Click Here