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Why Sloths Are No Deadly Sin

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Sloths used to be considered boring, useless animals who hang in trees all day. Being slothful was looked down upon—a "deadly" sin.

Now, the Wall Street Journal has become the latest media outlet to write about how sloths are exploding in popularity. They are one of the most popular animals in the zoo and, unfortunately, people are starting to want to keep them as pets (which isn't good, since some species are endangered).

Why are sloths so popular? Why are people having visceral actions, and crying while watching them (do nothing)?

I think it's a reaction to our times, which I called the "Attention Scarcity Age". We have left the Information Age. Now, we are drowning in information and big data. We tweet in sound bites and rush around, always on call.

Sloths thrive by doing less and appear to be in contemplation. People today are thirsty for ease, a slower pace, and less chaos.

This is one of the reasons that Strategic Simplicity℠ is so important for businesses today. Your customers, employees, and suppliers are all overworked and overwhelmed. You are fighting to attract their attention and loyalty.

One of the best ways is through incorporating simplicity throughout your business. I help my clients with 4 types of simplicity: market simplicity, decision simplicity, user simplicity, and operational simplicity.

Focused on Falafel: How Naf Naf Grill Simplified Before Expanding

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For Small Business Week, the 5/1/17 issue of Crain's Chicago Business had an article on lessons learned from some of the most successful small businesses in Chicago.

One of them was Naf Naf Grill, a Chicago-based chain of Middle Eastern fast-casual dining.

Their lesson was on the importance of simplicity and focus, especially before expansion. They got rid of 80% of their menu before scaling from 2 restaurants, up to the current 29 locations.

The Crain's article quoted co-founder David Sloan, "You think it's simple, but you need to work to make it even more so. Because if you're going to grow quickly, the more absolutely simple you make your operations, the better off you'll be."

LESSON: Once you reach the level where your business is adequately servicing your existing client base, and you are ready to scale up (eg. through franchising, expansion, partnerships, major ad campaign, etc.), it is vital to first simplify your business.

There are four areas of strategic simplicity that need attention: market simplicity (what exactly do we sell?), decision simplicity (how easy is it for potential customers to know us and trust us?), user simplicity (how easy and streamlined is the customer experience?), and operating simplicity (have we cleaned up and streamlined our internal processes?).

I work with my clients in all four of these strategic simplicity areas.

A Sign That It's Time To Discard Your Elegant, Sexy, but Wrong Business Strategy

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You're so proud and happy. You've just decided on an elegant, sexy strategy that's easy to explain.

But, what if it is wrong?

For example, Yahoo's strategy to automatically fire the bottom 10% of every department. It sounded good. Easy to explain, decisive and, didn't Jack Welsh practice this when he was at GE? Well, Jack Welsh has since stated that he was misunderstood. He never advocated the simplistic approach of summarily firing the bottom 10%.

In the case of Yahoo, there have been many articles written about how this was one of Marissa Mayer's biggest mistakes at Yahoo and the one that lead to a big loss of morale and a brain drain.

So when should you know to discard a strategy? When enough holes and serious problems emerge, and you are having to apply multiple bandaids to repair things.

At that point, you are like an elderly person who is forced to take new medications to counter-act the side-effects of your main medicines. Or a group of construction workers desperately trying to shore up a collapsing house–when they really need to tear down the foundation and start over.

In the case of Yahoo, the problems started to emerge when people stopped collaborating with each other, since they felt they were in competition to stay out of the bottom 10% and keep their jobs. People hoarded information. The smartest people in the building avoided collaborating with each other so they wouldn't be ranked against other smart people. Average people were penalized as being in the bottom 10% when they were teamed up with stars.

Yahoo tried bandaid approaches to boost morale and get people to collaborate, but they didn't see that the strategically simple, robust solution was to recognize that their strategy failed and needed to be replaced.

Bottom line: You must have so much self-confidence and belief in your worth that you can pull an idea or strategy that has proved itself a failure–without resistance or with a bruised ego. 

The Pandora Effect: How to Avoid Losing Customers

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A couple years ago my wife asked me for a Pandora bracelet for Christmas. I was able to easily find the bracelet at a local jewelry store, and bought it along with several charms. It seemed that my wife’s request was the norm that year as we also purchased a bracelet or charms for my mom, sister-in-law and several of my wife’s friends.

The following year I ensured that I made a quick stop by our local jewelry store once again to buy more charms. My ritual, however, came to an abrupt halt this past year when I stopped by the local jeweler only to learn that Pandora had removed their bracelets and charms from several hundred jewelry stores across Canada and the United States with the only options remaining for purchase being online or through a Pandora registered dealer, typically only located in large city centers.

As I stood in our local jewelry store looking for something to substitute this year’s purchase, I witnessed employees in the store tell not one but five different patrons that they no longer sold Pandora during a span of fifteen minutes. In every situation the patron left the store in a huff. When I asked the employees how often this was happening, they said at least several dozen times each day for the past few weeks.

Think of the impact this has had on Pandora sales.

Now there’s no doubt that Pandora made these changes in support of improving or advancing their business model. Possibly they wanted better control over distribution or over their profitability, but at what cost?

My wife, for example, did attempt a purchase online (she shops a little earlier then I do!) and told me that a purchase she made online didn’t end up looking like she had thought it would. She will only purchase in store in the future, and there are no local retailers offering the product…

In addition, the jeweler I visited explained how upset they were with Pandora after they abruptly pulled their product from the retailer.

Here’s my point.

My guess is that you’ve got a corporate strategy set with several key objectives, all in favor of growing your revenue and market share while increasing the control over your operational costs. If so, how have you validated the direct and indirect influences these changes will have on your employees, customers, dealers, agents, or contractors?

The following questions are those that I typically include when helping organizations formulate action plans in support of their strategy, to ensure direct and indirect influences are completely understood and managed appropriately:

1. What are the direct and indirect influences of this objective? Consider your employees, existing and prospective customers, and existing brand and reputation.

2. Which of these influences are the positive versus negative? Sort into appropriately labeled columns.

3. For each positive influence, how can you capitalize? For each negative influence, how can you mitigate or avoid the risk of any negative outcome?

Obviously I’m not an employee or agent of Pandora, and nor is my intention to suggest that they didn’t make the best decision for their business at the time. I’m sure that any improvements they may have achieved as part of this business model change will see rapid decline as a result of the direct and indirect influences of their customers during this past Christmas season.

© Shawn Casemore 2017. All rights reserved.

Avoid Going Snow Blind in 2017

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I was returning from a client meeting the other evening when I came upon a sudden snow blizzard. That may sound like an odd statement, but at this time of year in Canada it’s not uncommon to drive into and out of snowstorms.

If you aren’t sure what I mean, check out the photo below which I took while parked in the middle of the road.

When you come across a sudden blizzard there are three simple rules:

1. Don’t panic. Stay calm and slow down while avoiding hitting the brakes.
2. Don’t attempt to look too far ahead as the snow will create confusion. Instead, focus on the roadway directly in front of your car.
3. Use landmarks on either side of the road, such as street signs or telephone poles, to ensure you remain on the road.

These may sound overly simplistic, but trust me when entering a whiteout at speed your initial reaction is often to do the opposite.

  • Panic and immediately hit the brakes
  • Try to peer too far ahead into the blinding snow
  • Stare directly at the snow banks on either side of the car (and we all know what happens when you stare at something while driving)

After navigating through the blizzard it struck me that these simple rules, although they often seem counter intuitive, are the same rules that help an organization survive during turbulent times.

Think about that for a moment.

What I’m suggesting is that when facing challenges in business there are three simple rules that the entire organization needs to respond with:

1. Don’t panic and hit the brakes. Keep doing what you know you are good at.
2. Rather than attempting to predict the future, consider instead the opportunities and challenges currently in font of you and focus your energy here.
3. Don’t attempt to make any sudden moves. Focus instead on the path before you and move forward slowly.

Like a snowstorm, turbulent times in business can be unpredictable and scary, particularly when you are amidst them. Keep these three simple rules in mind and focus your energy on helping your team to follow them and you’ll always come out the other side unscathed and refocused.

© Shawn Casemore 2016. All rights reserved.

AVOID A SHIPWRECK WITH CLEAR VISION

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I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the past couple years while assisting clients in formulating their strategy… There is an increasing desire to avoid “touching” the Vision and Mission statement during a strategy session, in favor of focusing on key objectives to move the business forward.

When I’ve asked why, the answer I receive typically falls into the “time and money” category. You know the one. “We don’t have the time or money to invest in re-formulating our vision.”

That’s fine (well, actually it’s not), but we should remember something. Our vision, for ourselves or our business, is what we define as a desirable future state. It’s where we want to be in the next twenty-four to forty-eight months. It’s something that reignites our passion and drive for our business.

Sure it takes time to come up with a vision that is worth getting out of bed for, and time is money. But who in the world wants to pursue a vision, the same vision in fact, for over a decade? 

Hasn’t the world (and most things in it) changed? 

Don’t customers expect something different than they did just a decade ago?

 Aren’t employees becoming more distracted and needing something that fuels their passion?

I recommend to all my clients that their vision statement is re-visited in its entirety at least every 24 months, using the following questions: 

  1. Why are we here? Who do we serve? What’s the value we offer?
  1. Where do we need to be in the next twenty-four to forty-eight months to remain relevant to our market and why?
  1. What do customers (new and existing) need from us in the next forty-eight months to support their growth?
  1. What purpose is so compelling it would make our employees jump out of bed in the morning?
  1. What new products or services will define our business within the next five years?

With the compiled responses from these questions, you will have the necessary ingredients to create a compelling vision… Just a little polish to make it memorable, and you’ll be set.

Don’t let your vision of your desired future become blurry. Your vision is more important than any other aspect of your strategy, as it is the beacon that shines to guide you and the organization to the future you so desire.

If that’s not compelling enough, then you can continue to beat objectives to death. If it were me, however, I’d want to make sure I was focusing my team’s time and effort on the right objectives, which ties directly back to having a relevant and powerful vision.

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STOP WORRYING ABOUT TODAY AND FOCUS ON TOMORROW

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If you’ve been following recent statistics on millennials in the workplace, you’ll know that as of today there are more millennials working across North America than there are Baby Boomers. In fact, by 2020 it is predicted that nearly 40% of the North American workforce will be millennials.

What does this mean to you?

Well, of course the impact (or lack thereof) will depend on the composition of generations across your organization today. But regardless, an exit of baby boomers from the workforce will have long reaching impacts.

  • A loss of talent and experience that will be hard to capture.
  • Changing demands on the structure and means of communication organizationally.
  • More demand for introducing technology to support efficiency.
  • Less demand for structured work hours.

My guess is you are already dealing with, or at least thinking about, the influences of these changes on your business – if you aren’t, now is the time to start.

But what about the other impacts this shift will have?

  • What is the changing demographic of your key customer accounts?
  • How will your seemingly younger customers or clients prefer to buy?
  • How will your sales team connect with customers using new communication technology?
  • How will you educate employees to deal with multiple generations outside your business?

Let me give you an example of how this might play out, at the simplest of levels.

Over the past few months I’ve been asking CEOs what policies they have around the use of texting in their workplace. The responses have ranged from, “no texting allowed,” to embracing texting on a customer-by-customer basis.

The answers are typically internally focused (what do we want our employees to do), versus externally focused (what do our customers prefer and future employee candidates prefer); Considerate of today (what market are we in) versus tomorrow (what market do we want to be in).

There’s no doubt that the next decade will see some of the most dramatic shifts in workplace structure and culture. The way to ensure you are prepared to take advantage of this shift is to create a compelling vision and strong actions in support of its attainment.

If you are looking for help in making this happen, grab a copy of my strategic action planner.

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WHAT YOU FAILED TO CONSIDER...

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It’s summer here, at least in the northern part of the hemisphere where I live. For a handful of months each year we get to enjoy warmth, sunshine, and all of the things that are great about summer – let’s go Blue Jays! (Lol)

I find that as a result of summer holidays, extended weekends, and a desire for most executives and business owners to take more time away from the office, that the initiatives, projects, and corporate strategy all tend to slow down or get shelved for a number of months.

Is this happening in your organization?

It was only two weeks ago when I met with a CEO and asked her how her team was progressing against their strategic objectives, that she confided that they had put the strategy on hold for the summer months.

Wait… Did I hear that correctly?

If a strategy is meant to be the plan to achieve your desired future for the organization, how can you decide in good conscience to put the strategy on hold? That’s like saying that my car has a flat tire, but because we are doing a lot of driving in the coming weeks I don’t have time to fix the tire. It simply doesn’t make sense.

I’d even go so far as to suggest you reduce the level of service to customers (i.e. fewer hours staffing a retail outlet or telephone center) before you ever put the strategy on hold – and I’m sure you know that I would rarely ever suggest you reduce the level of service to customers.

It strikes me that those CEOs and executives that have decided to set their strategy aside for a few months have failed to consider that what they are doing is not only delaying momentum and progress, but they are sending a message, often inadvertently, to everyone across the organization that the strategy is not nearly as important as other more tactical daily priorities.

Is this the message you want to send? My guess is not.

So consider these ideas, a few of which I shared with the CEO I referenced above, in order to ensure you sustain momentum behind the pursuit of your strategic objectives during the lazy days of summer.

  1. Set small rewards that combine enjoying the outdoors with achieving actions set out in the strategic plan. For example, those who complete their actions for the month get to participate in a company barbecue or possibly some lawn bowling… Although I’ve never lawn bowled personally, I hear it’s an interesting sport.
  1. Hold strategy meetings outdoors, allowing employees to enjoy the warmth and sunshine, while bringing new energy to placing momentum behind their action plans. After all, Vitamin D is known to increase our energy and general demeanor.
  1. Take a field trip to visit a friendly competitor or complimentary business who is highly successful in achieving their strategic objectives, or who has actually achieved some of the objectives you are striving to achieve (if you’d like some contacts, send me an email at shawn@casemoreandco.com).

My point is simple…

That is unless achieving your desired future isn’t that important to you or your team?

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TIME IS NOT ON YOUR SIDE

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There’s a reason why most CEOs only develop a new corporate strategy every three to five years.

Do you know why that is?

Well, my guess is that it’s not what you might think.

Corporate strategies just seem to be so darn difficult to achieve that many of the CEOs I’ve met actually believe that by adding time into the equation (e.g. a longer duration to achieve the strategy), they increase their team’s chances of actually achieving the strategy.

This makes sense of course, and might work in some strange new world where time stands still, but as of this writing, I’ve yet to learn about such a fictitious land.

In reality…

Think of it like baking cookies. If you screw up the ingredients (which I’ve been known to do a few times!), it really doesn’t matter how long you bake the cookie dough. The result will be horrible.

Watch this week’s short, three minute video to learn what ingredients are crucial to building a strategy that both defines your future and can be achieved in under three years. 

And hey, if you don’t have three minutes now, just deduct it off the completion timeline of your next strategic plan…

click here to watch video

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Five Key Points to Know About Prospecting

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One of the cold, hard facts about the sales profession is that you can't sell to everyone. Any successful sales person knows there will always be somebody who, for whatever reason, either cannot or will not buy. That's why prospecting is absolutely vital. In fact, it's the number one activity you need to do daily — and do well — to achieve long-term success as a sales professional.

Prospecting outranks every other skill and every other business habit, simply because you can’t sell unless you have people to sell to. That's a fact that remains true no matter how successful you become and no matter how many sales records you break. And yet prospecting remains one of the most misunderstood aspects of selling. That's why I’m sharing five key points to know about this must-have business habit:

1. It’s a daily part of the job.

One of the biggest mistakes about prospecting? Focusing on it only when business is slow. If you're in sales, prospecting is not something you do on a part-time basis. Prospecting isyour business. Just as new sales targets are a certainty in your organization, you need to continuously find more people to sell to. That's not something you can do on an occasional basis. You have to treat prospecting as an activity that’s as vital to you as getting paid. Because without it (and in less time than you think), that pay might stop. It's that simple. The stakes are that high.

2. It’s an investment towards your future.

Another common issue is prospecting aggressively only when you need an extra boost in your sales performance figures during a particular quarter. The real truth about prospecting is right there in the word itself; it's borrowed from the Latin word prospectus or "distant view." Prospecting is an activity that serves far more than short-term goals. Think of it as an investment that helps you shape your future and pays dividends not just in the next sales quarter, but in years ahead as well. By constantly finding and developing new leads, you ensure that you’ll always have an audience for your product or service — no matter what kind of market you're faced with.

3. It requires persistence and dedication.

There are plenty of skilled sales professionals out there who know how to close, to navigate past objections, are adept negotiators, and are great at networking. And sadly, all of those skills will never be applied fully unless those same sales people each possess the discipline to get to their desk every day and make those prospecting calls. It's not enough to just be good at prospecting; you have to be good at being persistentabout it, too.

4. Aim high.

During the sales-training and coaching sessions I conduct, I'm often asked how much prospecting is needed to maintain a healthy pace that meets sales targets. A lot of people are surprised by my answer: take your sales target and triple it. You read that right. Your prospecting activities need to exceed by three times the sales you are expected to produce. If that sounds like it entails a lot of work, well, that's because it does. And there's no getting around it. Sales professionals, on average, close one in three qualified leads that are available to them. This means that if your target for next year is $100,000 in sales, you need to find a way to manage a funnel of potential sales of at least $300,000 in value. Any prospecting sum smaller than that and you will more than likely be the victim of a very sobering statistic: the rate of missed sales quotas. The best way to avoid winding up on the wrong end of that statistic is to make sure your sales funnel is big enough. In this case, size definitely matters. For the exact formulas you need to succeed, check out Chapter 3 — Math and Madness — in my book, Non-Stop Sales Boom.

5. Use your time wisely.

Prospecting is a daily commitment. But how much time should you devote to it? It's a point of contention among a lot of sales experts. It really depends on whether you track your closing ratio on your calls. If you don't measure this, plan to be on the phone prospecting every day for at least two hours. That will yield between 25 to 40 calls, out of which you should be able to secure one qualified appointment per day. If, on the other hand, you do measure your closing ratio, make as many calls as you need to so you hit your sales targets. Keep in mind that three qualified leads will yield you one sale.

Prospecting might often feel like a chore. However, the more you invest in the key points above, the more success you’ll see in return. And, the more motivation you’ll have to make this vital business habit a part of your everyday to-do list.   

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