3 Simple Steps to a Prosperous Business

I read a great post by Steve Woodruff about businesses that get lost in the crowd.  It’s tongue-in-cheek, funny and sadly accurate. Here is my response:

Steve, great points. I think you nailed it. But you and I both know that for the myriads of businesses that fall underneath this sad banner that you have so simply illustrated, it’s not that simple.  Why?

Why is it that even though we know we should practice “opposite day” to everything you’ve mentioned, we still fall short?  What’s missing?  What’s the secret sauce?  What do I need to know?  Tell me! Ahhhhh! (read screaming, fingers in hair and running away while wiggling the elbows).

Too many businesses set “money” as their number one goal, and since there are so many ways to make money, it’s not enough to provide clear direction for management, decision-making and especially branding.  They need to rethink the core of the organization.  For the majority of small businesses in the United States, that means the core character or identity of the individual business owner.  For large firms, it’s the “Holy We” management team that serves as the core group of the organization.

Organizations that have lost sight of “who they are” cannot articulate their unique contribution to the world, let alone the target market.  Branding becomes a logo, sales fall into the price/promotion cycle, any business is good business and before they know it, they are commoditized and done.  In standing for everything, they have stood for nothing and become what they stood for.

The fact is: Many organizations fail. Most businesses that start in the U.S. fail. Many other types of organizations eventually fall out of favor with their members and are thus disbanded.  How do we find and keep our identity while prospering as a business or other organization?  Here are three thoughts:

1. Don’t let your product or service become your purpose. All great organizations have a purpose (and making money isn’t it).  Since a brand is a reflection of who you are and the relationships you have with stakeholders, GET CLEAR ON WHO YOU ARE and then figure out the products and services necessary to sustain it.  Don’t let the products define the organization.

2. Make everyone a brand manager.  That “who you are” determines the direction of your organization’s brand. Hiring people who “don’t get what you’re about” only sets you up to have your products, and your brand, prostituted at the moment someone starts looking out for numero uno (themselves). Help people feel responsible for the brand and they will defend it from desperate decisions.

3. Don’t sell anything.  A “Man (person) convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”.  Chasing the ambulance and pushing product will get some sales, but it’s not going to build long-term, sustainable revenue generation.  In the information-rich and advocacy-intensive social networks that permeate today’s purchasing processes, the best thing you can do is build strong relationships. 

Do these three things and the relationships you build will reflect the brand you want and the products will sell themselves.

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The Essence of Brand

I used this video in a recent keynote address.  I think it may be a failsafe: It is such a moving piece that all you need to do is tack it on to the end of any talk, and you’re an instant success.

But in this case, I had a legitimate reason to use it.  I have been communicating the need for an intentional effort to consider brand in the restructuring of an internal organization; to consider whether or not behaviors, words, appearance and presentation are conveying the things we’d like to have conveyed. And of course this is nothing more than a reverse approach into the ultimate question at the core of any organization: Who are we and why do we exist?

But in the midst of organizational existentialism is still the social structure whose brand is defined in the nature of relationships it maintains with its stakeholders – specifically the customers (which can be loosely defined).

So the sustainable organization is one whose relationships give the ‘other’ party what they are looking for, and also what they need.  They connect on an emotional level and generate mutual benefit.

So, even though I am sure that you have seen this before, watch this video from this point of view: The audience are customers, the judges are outspoken and often deeply critical and demanding customers, and the individual on stage is the company putting forth its product into the market.

In this case, there is a resonant connection, even felt nearly 5 years later.  Learn a little about branding and business and connection from this humble, mobile phone salesman.

3 Golden Rules for Success in 2011

The Golden Rule

I’ve been thinking about what we can do in 2011 to make our organizations more resilient and more prolific when it comes to building smart social and economic ecosystems. When I started to write this post, I thought that I had found the answer in the “Golden Rule” – the maxim of doing to others what we’d want them to do to us if we were in their shoes.  But as I think about it now, the Golden Rule  just may be the line of thinking that is getting us into trouble.  Often, by building organizations according to what we want, we create systems, processes and relationships that actually stand in the way of our long-term success, rather than facilitating it.

Here are three ways to turn the Golden Rule on its head and produce sustainable, mutually beneficial results.

1. Forget about yourself. Think about this in terms of customer interaction, marketing campaigns and acquisition strategies:  How many are designed more for the marketers than for the customers? I’d like to see a number for that, because I have sat through more pitches and plans and messaging schemes whose major quality check was a “Do you like it?” or “Whaddaya think?” aimed at the management team.  No matter how much industry experience you have, no matter how long you’ve ‘led’ in your organization, the things that drive you in your work are not necessarily the same things that drive your customers to buy your product, service or your leadership. Basing your actions on the assumption that you are the same as your customers is naive, at best.

This same thinking can lead us to erroneously go about leading others at work, home or hobby.  Individuals that embark on leadership practices because they themselves feel good about the implementation of such are missing out on developing the needed characteristics required to accomplish repeated extra-ordinary results. Simply put, you may sit in your castle thinking that you’re loved, all the while the villagers are collecting torches and sharpening their pitch forks.  This is especially poignant in the family.

2. Find out who the real relationship should be with. The reason why the situation mentioned  above is so prevalent in every organization throughout the world is because most of us work in management systems and styles that drive us to focus on our individual customer (the person that is signing off on our performance evaluation and employment) rather than the organization’s customer (the one’s who evaluate our companies with their patronage).  I would venture that the positive momentum of potential in an all-too-many organizations is often critically reduced by the need for the majority of employees to serve “up the chain” in their jobs.  Energy directed up an organizational chart is most certainly lost on already understrength lateral connections with customers.

The reality of work is that our first priority is to keep our jobs, and the income they provide. The customers often get left in the dust, whether they be purchasers of goods or subordinates of a manager. With everyone supporting Adam Smith’s theories, we’re left to wonder who will look up and see the long-term need to sustain the greater organization.

“Determining who the ‘real’ relationship should be with” is more about keeping a conversation going on what’s most important to the organization, than it is about strategizing office politics (a.k.a. covering your rear end).  That said, if you have formal authority, be aware of your current management practices and their potential to subdue the relationships that pay the bills of the place that pays your bills. That will take some practice. Pay attention to what you do and how you do it and how it impacts the entire organizational system.

3. Do unto them what THEY want you to do unto them. This is the third spot where the Golden Rule can mess us up. We’ve all heard, read and probably even said that our customers don’t care about our business, just what we can do for them.  Well, if that’s true, then why are companies executing on sales programs designed to make themselves feel better rather than doing what their customers (and all of us, really) want: building strong relationships of respect by listening to understand (This is exactly what is at the heart of Alan Belniak’s recent post, when he mentions ’empathy’ as a tool to stand out from the competition).

Oh yeah, I know it sounds touchy-feely, but marketers must realize that our current financial crunch is reforming old spending habits, and now-tight budgets will evolve into prudent financial discipline.  The wild west of check-writing is gone. People actually want to know that where they are spending their time and money will pay off. Can you believe it?!

Be interested in your customers – the game is changing.  The future value-center of the organization will not be the catalog lists of merchandise or services, but the relationship-building practices it institutionalizes as part of its culture.  In a networked world, our expanding circle of connections and rekindled ‘friending’ will actually narrow our range of most-trusted relationships, through which we will source the majority of our needs.

What this means to you: You need to keep a job both now and in the future. That means effectively managing the needs of your customers and your organization’s customers. If your boss really wants you to deliver something that might not add value to, or resonate with the ultimate end-user, then find a way to have the conversation about which customers are the top priority and find a process to help you focus on them (and think about the outcomes of that conversation on your long-term work prospects).

What this means to your organization: Most of us are working somewhere where process is more historical than rational.  Sustainable organizations will examine and challenge their own processes and focus continually. Look for opportunities to go lean. Think ‘direct communication’. Set-up systems that prevent ‘boss-worship’ and reward the living of company values.  And, realize that constituents of leaders in organizations ARE your number one customers – if they don’t show up for work, the other customer needs will never get met.

Losing the King’s Wallet Actually MAKES Money!

Ever found one of the King’s Wallet’s?

Burger King and agency Legacy Marketing Partners dropped 14,000 plus wallets in Chicago, Orlando and Phoenix. Complete with the King’s driver’s license, a royal ID card, phone and email info, the wallet also contained gift cards and maps showing all the local restaurants.

That’s aligning to the performance that you desire. You create a pleasant find for someone, with money to use inside and a map to help them show up and spend it.  Why do we have to complicate things when it can be that simple?  Apparently the campaign cost around $500k, and drove quality social interaction, and of course, coupon redemption and revenue from food sales.

Not a bad day’s work for losing a wallet, even if you are a king.

Ingenious. I love it. I hope I find one.

Remembering What Marketing is All About

I hope, for most us, that we’ve known what marketing has really been about all these years.  I’ve thrown this Drucker quote around enough and still, I have found too many marketers (a general term, I know) in big corporations who are bent on the creative, promotional side, cutting off their real efforts at the launch of a campaign, like building a ship and simply pushing it out to sea, leaving it to the mercy of the wind and waves.  Marketing isn’t about design, creative, advertising, etc. Marketing IS the business, and the business must generate revenue.

Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” – Peter Drucker

It seems that small business marketers often get it better than big business marketers.  Let’s take the typical online marketer, for instance.  In the big corporation, the online marketer is optimizing pages, tagging code and doing site research.  They are tracking visitors and clicks and collecting all sorts of information.  The small business online marketer is tracking sales.  That’s the difference.  We’ve let marketing grow to be such a creative outlet, that creative activity has become the end, and its grown and grown, spiraling away from accountability and away from tracking what matters most: sales.

Technology is changing that.  Between marketing analytics programs like Omniture and Unica, we can now entertain ourselves with all sorts of metrics, etc. And with marketing automation systems like Silverpop B2B Engage, Marketo and Eloqua, we can track activities into the funnel.  We can now, more easily than ever, measure the results of a marketing activity from launch, all the way into the funnel and win/loss.

The chasm is closing between sales and marketing.  Technology is moving us marketers closer and closer back to direct accountability for revenue generation.  The only thing holding us back is ourselves, as “marketers”. I think we ought to change the term. I think we ought to call ourselves “Revenue Generators”.

I had a good talk with a friend about some of their marketing practices at their high-end management consulting firm.  I noticed that their site, approach and positioning had changed several times over the last year, and each time it became less clear and less open.  He told me that they had let their original marketing director go last year, and that’s why it changed. When I asked why they let him go, his answer was a simple, and striking, tell-tale of the landscape that we marketers venture today:

“He didn’t tie himself to sales, so the Principals couldn’t see how all the great things he was doing was impacting the business.”

And that, is that.

Seeing the Unseen in your Marketing Operations

Ever walk into the room when someone else was mad or had a serious argument with someone else in the room, and though you didn’t see or hear it, you knew something wasn’t right?  You could feel it.  The attitude was thick, like an invisible smoke, and it clung to everything in the room.  Well, that’s an example of part of what I call “Seeing the Unseen”.

When it comes to moving your marketing organization up a notch, it means moving the rest of your organization up a notch as well, because, well, the marketing function doesn’t exist in a box.  And if you think it does, then we need to get you some super X-ray vision glasses, because there is a lot that you aren’t seeing.X-Ray Glasses

To improve marketing, the first step is understanding what is actually going on, which means mapping your core processes.  What is a core process?  Its one of those macro, big, overall sorts of things, like making a widget.  Core processes may have many sub-processes in them, but overall, its what you do in order to do what you do.  Got it?

The problem you will run into, is that if you aren’t experienced with process analysis and mapping, then chances are that you will actually record what you want to have happen or project what you wish was being done vs. what is actually being done.  But if you get it right, and you can hang that on the wall, then you’ve just created the instrument that all improvement can be based on.

Think of it, with a process map, you begin to see the current state vs. your soon-to-be-defined desired state.  You can see places that are lean and mean or fat and filthy.  You can look at what’s being measured, what ought to be measured, and what you probably should stop wasting your time measuring (executive’s like metrics, but let me tell you – most of them are pure waste.  I’ll have to write on that later). And you add insight into communications and information sharing, decision-making, performance and talent, and all of a sudden you have the organization right there before your eyes to no longer subject you to its whims and fancies, to be subjected by you. At least in theory.

Can_factory_workers_stamping_out_end_discs,_published_1909The bottom line is this: Start today. You don’t need an exhaustive effort or even a Visio file to begin.  Simply take out a piece of scratch paper and determine the first, most overall thing that you do:  Draw a factory in the middle of the page (that’s the marketing department, or sales, or accounting, or HR or whatever).  Then draw an arrow coming out of the factory to the right and write down what it is that the factory produces.  Try not to make a list of things, but the one thing, overall, that it produces inside that sweat-shop of horrors.  Next draw an arrow going into the factory at the left, and write down what the input is into the factory – the raw materials that will magically be transformed inside by a group of hourly and salaried and sometimes volunteer workers pushing buttons and pulling levels and wiping their diaphoretic foreheads.

And now you have started.  You can begin to look inside the factory, and follow the inputs, as a fly on the wall or a speck on the raw materials, and trace them through their transformation into the big product that will come out the other end.  Along the way, note the places that the inputs change form into something completely different (like raw customer data into an ideal customer profile, or requirements into a campaign plan), just like a cake mix changes with the addition of eggs into a completely different substance.

With a little time and some more scratch paper, you can develop a working model of the work process that flows through your organization, and the foundation is then laid for operational insight, measurement and management for organizational success.  If that doesn’t work, I have been known to donate a lot of hours to helping others out.  Feel free to reach out.

What does the CEO do, anyway?!

Sometimes we elevate our posts above the necessity for work.  CEOs in small companies need not try and emulate their peers, but focus on rolling up the sleeves as opposed to piling up the reports.

Sometimes we elevate our posts above the necessity for work. CEOs in small companies need not try and emulate their peers, but focus on rolling up the sleeves as opposed to piling up the reports.

What do CEOs do?  Honestly.  What do they do?  I see so many companies that are not big enough for a whole host of chief executives, VPs, Directors, etc., yet they have a “Chief” of all those executives, and I wonder as I watch them throughout the week, “What the heck is that CEO spending his/her time on?”  Ready to grow,  they often go hire a VP, Sales and a VP, Marketing and a VP, IT / CIO, VP / CFO and a COO and all those guys end up being 1/5th – /10th of the business, and if all the members of this team are taking care of the work, then what in the world is the CEO doing?  What they ought to be doing is working, but what they end up doing is sticking their nose in everyone’s business, making decisions that aren’t theirs to make and messing up the work.

Look CEOs, when you have layers of management stacked on top of a workforce, then the CEO has a full time job doing things like meeting with his reports, giving them the air-cover they need for their stewardships, checking alignment with vision and strategy and continuing to build the Sr. team.  But when you are in the 80 – 95% of the other companies out there, your job is to get business in the door, and too many of you are simply not doing it. Yes, I know you need to massage the board, manage key stakeholder relationships, etc., but what is happening is you have guys like CMOs that you keep kicking out every 18 months because frankly, you don’t know what the heck you are doing and you have abdicated your job over to them.

I know a CEO of a tech company that has vision, passion and knows how to close deals and build relationships in a multitude of channels.  So, what does he do?  He hires a VP of sales.  Now, when they have weekly sales meetings, the CEO is in there, asking all the questions, driving the meeting and essentially, being the VP of Sales.  What does the VP of Sales do?  Tells him to, “Let me do what you hired me to do and stay out of it”.  Good move VP, Sales, I’d tell him that to.  So the CEO now spends half his energy biting his tongue and the other half… elsewhere, out of the office – I don’t know what he’s doing.

Finally, after sales declined and management overhead went up, it came time to say, “Listen, you are the CEO, that means that you are in charge of sales, and quite frankly, you are the guy who should be leading sales.  This company isn’t big enough to have all this extra weight.  You should be selling and leading this organization with vision and passion.  Let a sales director do your training, etc.  But you go and close deals.  If you don’t want to lead sales, then get a territory and work under him for cryin’ out loud.”  And of course, nothing happened.  Layoffs came and went.  And came and went.  And came and went.

And just recently, they let go of their VP, Sales and now the CEO is leading it and selling it. Now I know what the CEO does every day; He doesn’t just worry about revenue, he helps bring it in the door.

Same with Marketing. I know another CEO that just let go of his VP, Marketing, and while I could go into all the reasons why, the truth is that the CEO ought to be the VP, Marketing and he did himself and the old VP a disservice by layering someone where they didn’t belong.  Now they are probably going to go after a new VP, Marketing, but what this CEO doesn’t know yet is that what he really wants are a couple of marketing directors reporting to him and giving him all the information that he wants.  But of course, this CEO came from a $500 million company, and now he’s running a $27 million company with only a couple of million in profits.  This isn’t the big corporation anymore – this is time to get off your rear end, out of meetings and start rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.

Look, this is just my opinion, but I think it comes down to this:  If you find your company needs more revenues, really needs them, and you are sitting around analyzing reports and talking to the board and trying to figure out how you are going to do it – then you may be the wrong person for the job.  Now is the time to pitch-in and bring revenue in, not manage the people who do.  When you have enough revenues that you don’t need to be in an urgent and panic state of operations, then you back up and pull out your Mont Blanc and figure out which documents need to be signed and where you’ll put your washroom with the golden key.  Until then, win business or drive revenue.

A great business man that once took me to the bank and the wood shed at the same time, taught me a valuable lesson:  Your first priority every day is creating revenue today.  Your second priority is creating revenue for tomorrow.  Your third priority is positioning the business for revenue creation beyond today and tomorrow.  The last priority is to make sure the necessary but non-value added things you need to keep your doors open get done.  Anything after that is a hobby.