Archive for July, 2011

More Heat Less Chill

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Although the weather’s changed a bit since my last post – Don’t Let The Summer Heat Cause A Winter Chill – we’re still in vacation season and it’s still hot.

But we’re also well into the third quarter of 2011 and heading for the annual business planning; budgeting; whatever you call it, process for 2012.

And I believe that process is the engine that drives your growth. So in the last post I talked about 2 things business owners should be thinking about now. Here are another 3……

1. The Opinion Trap.

The planning process has to be completed by a specific date. Often that’s set to enable Finance to use the output/numbers to produce projected financials for the upcoming year(s) while still completing their regular work. 

However vacations, short work weeks and long Holiday weekends and a more laid back, summer mind set can result in the focus being on doing the things that are urgent rather than the things that are important. 

So, even although the deadline is well known, the process is often started later than it need be. And that puts the value of the output at risk.

Why – because the logical thinking required to make the process effective declines in direct proportion to the increasing proximity of the deadline. It becomes more and more about getting it done on time and less and less about getting it done right.

When that happens the basis on which key assumptions are made is less likely to be well collected and considered data and more likely to be someone’s opinion. And by definition an opinion is a subjective belief, often the result of emotion.

2. Who’s Baby Is It Anyway?

The owner must take ownership of, and remain the champion of, the planning process. If the perception that anyone else is driving it is allowed to take hold, the motivation for doing it thoroughly will suffer.

If, for example, the accounting department are seen to be driving the process it will be seen only as a number crunching exercise. And people will treat it simply as something to be completed as quickly as possible and get off their desk.

The only way to get everyone involved, engaged and buying in is if the owner demonstrates the importance of the process by leading it personally.

3. Keep It Together.

I talked to an executive recently who was busy completing annual expense budgets. This at a time when many of the people who had the detailed knowledge required to complete the schedules thoroughly were on vacation.

They told me that budgeting had been separated from the creative, thinking part of the planning process so that the Finance department could meet their internal deadlines.

But I’ve also seen other variations of this in the past. A favourite with companies which have enjoyed a leadership position in their industry for some years, is to start by producing the numbers – revenue, bottom line etc. – and then develop action plans and programs to fit them.

That’s as bad as a company that completes the creative, thinking part of the process then becomes distracted by tactical issues, allowing a lengthy period of time to pass before completing the numbers. Valuable momentum is lost and the participants are left to wonder if anything is being done with their input.

4. Last Words.

It’s not enough just to have a planning process and to complete it.

Like any other engine, if you want to get maximum output from it the parts must work smoothly, without friction, and you must use a high energy, premium power source/fuel.

Otherwise it’s unlikely to carry you anywhere near to where you want to go.

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Don’t Let The Summer Heat Cause A Winter Chill

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

It’s almost the end of July, it’s hot and it’s vacation season. The heat saps your energy and getting ready for; switching off during; and scrambling to catch up after vacations takes most of your attention.

Together they make it easy for business owners to lose sight of fact that it’s the end of the second quarter and planning, budgeting, whatever you call it, for 2012 will be starting soon.

So what, you ask? Here’s what – your annual business planning/ budgeting/ whatever you call it process is the engine that drives your growth. If you don’t approach it with that in mind you’re setting yourself up to underachieve in 2012.

Based on mistakes we’ve seen made repeatedly in 10 years of strategy consulting there are several things you need to think about now. Here are a couple to get you started……

1. Don’t postpone the second quarter/mid-year review. Hold it ASAP.

Quarterly reviews are a reality check. What’s really happening in the industry, to our customers and with our competitors? How does that compare to our assumptions and how has it affected our forecasts? What can we do to leverage this reality in the next 2 quarters?

How many of the programs we planned have we actually put in place? Are they yielding the results we wanted? What has worked well that can be we build on? Which programs are behind time and how do we adjust for that?

The answers to these questions and others like them, asked in the quarterly review, will allow you to put form around what the situation will be at year end and give you a jumping off point for forecasting sales and bottom line in 2012 and beyond.

If you haven’t been doing quarterly reviews, or have let them slip, this is the time to start or re-start them.

Don’t let vacations be an excuse for postponing them.

2. Waiting until the week before the annual business planning session to start thinking about next year isn’t nearly good enough.

You’re going to make as accurate a guess about what the future holds as possible. To do that you’re going to have to make assumptions which will underpin your financial forecasts, priorities and action plans.

On what information will you base the assumptions? Something you read in an economic outlook from a bank or industry association or in articles about your industry or competitors on the web?

Or are you going to get out and talk to your customers and suppliers about what is happening in their world and what that will mean for you? Why not put a simple but systematic process in place to ask the same, key questions from several sources?

But that will take time; it can’t be done in the week or two before the planning session. Who is going to see whom and ask them what has to be decided soon – using output from the second quarter review. And the meetings will have to be arranged – and everyone has a full, busy schedule.

If information is power – or at least confers power – why settle for anything less than the best information available? Decide what you need and how to get it now – then start collecting the information soon.

3. Quick tip.

Dealing with the summer heat and vacations, doing the things that are urgent, can take the focus off preparation for the thing – the annual business planning process – that is important. If that happens and business catches a chill next year, it will not be this summer’s heat that’s to blame.

More in future posts, but today is the hottest day so far this year – so I’m off to get a Frappuccino. Staying cool is hard work!

Features and Benefits Don’t Build Brands

Friday, July 15th, 2011

This is the second guest post from Jeremy Miller, President of Sticky Branding, a brand consultancy specializing in digital marketing and social media. Jeremy speaks, consults and writes on how companies build remarkable brands online.

Companies love to compare their products to the competition, and justify why they’re better. They’ve got the latest doohickey, fandangled, whatyamacallit feature, which of course makes them better than the competition.

RIM has embroiled itself in this classic feature-benefit positioning game with their Playbook tablet. The key selling features listed in their ads:

1. It plays Flash. “It runs flash. So unlike some tablets we can mention you get the best of the internet,  not just part of it.”
2. It’s smaller. “Small enough to take anywhere, powerful enough to take you everywhere.”
3. It runs multiple apps simultaneously. “It runs all this at the same time. Why can’t every tablet do that?”

RIM backs up these impressive features with its latest tagline, “Amateur Hour is Over. The world’s first professional-grade tablet.” Compared to what? The iPad? If that’s the case, this is a pretty precarious branding and positioning strategy.

Positioning on features and benefits is risky for 3 reasons:

1. Features are susceptible to innovation.

RIM’s positioning strategy is a classic one. It’s applied in almost every industry: automotive, consumer electronics, computers, building materials, you name it. Companies are constantly trying to up the ante, and offer their customers new features or choices.

The challenge is features can be displaced by innovation. Apple has been the 800 pound gorilla in the consumer electronics arena. The iPod made the Walkman and Discman obsolete. Why carry around a CD with 12 to 15 songs when you can carry 1,000 songs in your pocket?

Then there’s the iPhone, which sparked the app revolution for mobile devices. And now the iPad is changing the way we interact with the internet and consume digital content.

Apple is an unusual competitor. In less than a decade Apple it has created 3 new consumer electronic categories. They didn’t try to compete on features and benefits with existing options in the market. Instead they created devices and platforms that serve untapped markets.

RIM is entering Apple’s playing field, and employing a classic features and benefits positioning strategy is shortsighted.

2. Features aren’t always the deciding factor

People are wise to the feature-benefits positioning game. Eventually they get tired of the comparisons, and choose what they’re comfortable with.

The Playbook does some things really well, and the iPad does other things really well. At the end of the day, both Apple and RIM have released incredible pieces of technology. Really you can’t go wrong with either, and buyers know that.

3. People value intangible factors.

The Playbook may have impressive features and capabilities, but it’s not an iPad.

That may not be fair, but that’s how many people think. The iPad is a status symbol. The iPad has more apps. The iPad comes from Apple. The iPad looks cooler. Everyone else has an iPad, and I want one too.

Perceived value, perceived leadership and perceived quality all come together in the customers’ minds to influence their purchases. It may not be logical and may not even be accurate, but those perceived values are as important to customers as the actual features.

Brand beyond the features

Features and benefits come and go, but brands last much longer. People buy brands first, and features second.

Instead of pushing the features and benefits of your products and services, look to the intangible aspects of your brand. Why does your company exist? What does it value? What is it thriving to accomplish? What kind of relationship does it have with its customers?  These are the intangibles to build upon that can lead to a clearly differentiated brand.

You can reach Jeremy at Jeremy.Miller@StickyBranding.com or 416.479.4403, Ext. 22.

10 Tips to Improve your Public Speaking Body Language

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

This week’s guest blog post is provided by Mark Bowden, business presentation skills trainer and body language expert, President of TruthPlane, a communication and presentation training company used by Fortune 50 companies, CEOs, Celebrities and G8 leaders. His bestselling book, Winning Body Language, is out now.

As a leader, there is no getting around it: your job calls for presenting and public speaking under extreme pressure. What your listeners think of your ideas, plans, and your entire organization is affected by how they react to you as a leader when you communicate. Never underestimate the crucial role your presentation skills and style play in your success.

Studies show that close to four out of five leaders fail to present effectively because public speaking is a source of huge anxiety. How do you rise to the challenge and take the opportunity to speak with confidence? Do you project your leadership strengths and the strengths of your company to get the reactions you need?

Expert Mark Bowden offers ten tips on how to use body language to your advantage in public speaking

1. PUT YOUR BODY ON DISPLAY
When speaking, step away from the podium. If sitting, pull your chair back from the table — in short, display more of your body. Your audience’s instinctual ‘reptilian’ brain and emotional ‘limbic’ brain need to see your body to decide what they think your intentions and feelings are towards them. The less you show, the more they make those feelings and intentions up, and tend to default towards the negative.

2. SPEAK FROM YOUR BELLY
Place your hands in what is called the TruthPlane, the horizontal plane that extends 180 degrees out of your navel area, to display a sense that you can be trusted. Bringing the audience’s unconscious attention to this vulnerable area of your body makes them feel that you are very confident. By assuming this physicality, you will feel confident too.

3. SHOW YOUR HANDS
Show your palms open with nothing in your hands to let others know that you mean no harm and are speaking for their benefit. This is a universally recognised ‘friendly’ gesture.

4. INVITE THE AUDIENCE IN
When someone else is speaking, keep your hands in the TruthPlane to show you are open to what they say. By making small “inviting” gestures in towards you, you convey the feeling that you want to know more from them. This gesture makes presenter and audience alike feel good about what is being said, producing the stress-relieving chemical oxytocin in the brain.

5. RAISE THE BAR ON ENERGY
Show your audience you are excited by your subject matter by raising your hands to chest level, aka the PassionPlane. This sends your own heart rate up, and your audience will mirror this physical reaction by getting excited with you.

6. HANG OUT… CHECK OUT
Avoid dangling your hands by your side when giving important messages. When you are still, your brain gets messages to slow down breathing and heart rates, and your voice will take on a depressing or sleepy downward intonation. Again, your audience will mirror this action – and that’s how to put them to sleep!

7. ATTRACT THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Keep your gestures symmetrical. The brain understands symmetry in the body more easily than asymmetry, and we find it more attractive. In nature, symmetry is seen as an indicator of a healthy gene pool.

8. REVEAL, NOT CONCEAL

Avoid having your hands at mouth level when speaking, for example when sitting at a table with your chin in your hands. We lip read more than we think, and when the picture of the words is taken away it becomes harder to verify the language. The audience will perceive or create negative feelings about the speaker’s intentions — in the absence of information, we ‘make it up’ and always lean towards the negative to prepare for the worst.

9. MOVE COMPLEX TO CLEAR
When giving a complex message, avoid complex movement, so no fiddling with your pen! It is hard for the brain to decode complex verbal language when it is concentrating on complex nonverbal behaviour. Your audience will stop listening while they try to understand what you are doing and what it means.

10.  STOP READING AND START LEADING
Don’t try to read other people’s body language consciously. Generally, most of us stand little more than a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Instead, concentrate on influencing your audience to mirror your simple and positive nonverbal behaviour, and they will be extremely likely to trust and engage with you every time you communicate.

You can contact Mark for speaking engagements or consulting services at 416 880 9965 or mark@truthplane.com

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