From Trends to Business Opportunities

WHETHER YOU CALL it product development, strategic planning or sales forecasting, in the end, it comes down to the same thing: to be successful over time, businesses need people who can see the future. They don’t have to be geniuses or visionaries in the mould of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford or Bill Gates. And they certainly don’t need to come up with vacuous “vision statements” about having a passion to serve customers and be the best. What every business does need, and always will, is individuals who can see what’s coming next. On one level that may amount to little more than functional foresight. For example, right around the holidays, planes will be overbooked, shopping will be intense, and any production services needed will be slower than usual. Base any plans around any of those factors and you won’t go far wrong. At other levels, though, the decisions required become less operational and more strategic. Managers must foresee not just what’s around the corner, but also what lies ahead to keep the company moving in the right direction and at the appropriate speed. That means predicting where markets will grow, which services will sell, what technology will change and how money is to be made. While hindsight is an exact science, foresight unfortunately far from it. Therefore, companies in every field will continue to launch products that fall flat, pay over the odds for acquisitions, and underfund research projects that could have led to the next big breakthrough. However, such missteps can be kept to a minimum, and successes correspondingly multiplied, if executives are trained to see the future. There...

Building your Value Proposition

WHAT IS A value proposition? It seems like a straightforward question. However, ask any number of sales and marketing executives to define their product’s value proposition and often they have a hard time coming up with a clear, concise and compelling message. Sure, they have a number of colourful and dynamic PowerPoint presentations that explain the unique selling point, how the product is different from the competition and the benefit the customer will receive, but this is only part of a value proposition equation. Put simply, a value proposition is the promise that a product makes to a customer that outweighs its total cost. “That outweighs its total cost” is the part of the value proposition that most people overlook. This is important, because many products offer great value, but value is relative to the cost, risk and effort required to make a product useful. One of the easiest ways of explaining a value proposition is by associating it with a see-saw where the left side represents the “promise” of your product or service, the right side represents the “costs”, and the fulcrum in the centre is the “customer”. How the two sides balance out will determine whether your product or service has a good or poor value proposition. The success of your business requires that the value proposition of your product is positive in the eyes of your customers. To do this, take a two-pronged approach. Define your value proposition as it is today, then identify ways to improve it.   Step 1: define your value proposition The left side of the see-saw answers three key questions your...

Emotional Self-Management

A LEADING COMPANY held its annual conference to review performance and map out future strategy. During a breakout session on the second day, groups drawn from different departments were given time to brainstorm about an assigned topic, after which they were to give a short presentation summarising their ideas and conclusions. Each group consisted of people of varying levels of seniority in the hope of sparking creativity and stimulating the participants to come up with new perspectives and not just recycle the same old thinking. In one room, the topic under discussion was how to improve sales productivity. Logically, the most senior person present chaired the session – in this case, the finance director – and the group also included the company’s sales manager and a graduate trainee, who had recently started a job rotation in the sales department. Encouraged, in the spirit of the session, to suggest “anything and everything”, this young graduate was ready to speak up. In three short minutes, she explained how the whole department should be restructured, that senior sales staff were clearly resting on their laurels, and that a new incentive scheme should be introduced as soon as possible. Hearing these views and taking them as a barely veiled personal attack, the sales manager looked like thunder. He also felt obliged to launch into a point-by-point rebuttal, explaining in detail to the rest of the group why the trainee’s comments were either naive, ill-informed or financially inadvisable. To the casual observer, this performance seemed unnecessarily emotional and bordered on displaying a lack of self-control. Not surprisingly, the overall mood of the session swung...

Developing a Vision

AN EFFECTIVE LEADER has the ability to present a vision with which team players can connect emotionally. Such a vision is not a business strategy or a five-year plan, but a broader concept that has the power to unite people and rally them around a common cause. Such a vision can be used to define the future, influence interactions between colleagues and inspire employees to higher levels of achievement. Experienced leaders realise that operational practices and corporate goals will always be subject to change, but long-term success comes from communicating an overarching vision of how things can be. Many companies claim to have a vision but, on closer examination, it is often nothing more than a bland mission statement or a list of obvious goals. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to become “the leading provider of xyz”, something important is missing. The goals are anchored in the present and often represent little more than a continuation of what is already happening. In the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Building your company vision”, James Collins and Jerry Porras offer a framework that any organisation can use to create a vision. The key elements are a core ideology and an envisioned future. Core ideology This comes from having core values that define what the company stands for, or the guiding principles and beliefs. In the case of Apple Computer under Steve Jobs, the core values obviously include innovation. From the MacBook to the ubiquitous iPhone, the company has succeeded in turning entire industries upside down with its products and services. Although it may not specify core values in its...

Promoting Your Company

ASK ANY OF your clients why they appointed you. Chances are you will hear words like understanding, trust, compatibility, rapport. The words you probably will not hear are the ones related to your marketing efforts – advertising, website, public relations, press release, newsletters, or seminars. In professional services, clients buy individuals. People buy people. This doesn’t mean that marketing is not important. Quite the contrary, it has a very important role. But this role needs to be clearly defined. Marketing is not about selling your service; it’s about motivating the clients to want to meet with you. Once you are able to meet with the client, then you can start gathering information about their needs and wants – the first step in the selling process. In the Promoting stage of the pipeline there are two types of prospects that you should be targeting: those that you have not had the opportunity to sit down with and those that you have met but where an opportunity doesn’t exist – the need isn’t there, they’re satisfied with their existing vendors, the budget hasn’t been finalised, etc… Your goal for the former is to get the first meeting. For the latter, it’s to make sure they are thinking about you when a change or need occurs. In professional services, marketing can take a number of forms. At the bottom of the ‘nearness to client’ pyramid, is corporate marketing. These activities build the image of your firm and create a general awareness. Advertising, public relations, sponsorships… These activities are passive. They may be seen by a decision maker, you may even get a...