Archive for August, 2014

Strategy And The Sales Force

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

“It’s as plain as the nose on your face!”Funny glasses

One of my aunts used to say that when one of us kids overlooked something by not looking at a situation in a complete way. We saw the obvious – but missed the subtle message.

I was reminded of that yesterday.

I was reading about how, in the mid-1990s, Xerox missed an underlying technological change taking place in their industry.

The sales force was focused on maintaining market share in the face of lower cost competitors like Canon.

But, even though they were visiting companies every day, they missed the fact that people were beginning to use PCs and printers to produce copies.

How did this happen? How could something, so evident in retrospect, have been missed?

One answer is that sales and strategy are separate worlds, often disconnected from each other.

No doubt that’s true. But it’s not just a process or functional issue.

Before becoming a CEO, I spent time in sales and then managed sales forces.

I also worked in companies which had entrenched positions in their industries and which failed to respond to structural shifts.

So here’s my question. Even if the sale force had spotted the change, would anyone have listened to them?

Market dominance can breed a culture in which owners and management develop the belief that they can do no wrong. Their attitude is…….

We’re doing what we’ve always done and that’s resulted in success for many years now. If growth slows or sales actually decrease, that must be because the sales force have stopped being effective.

Instead of complaining about products not having enough features or prices being too high, the sales people need to focus on making calls. What’s needed is a sales training program. And if that doesn’t work, then we’ll replace a few of them.

If things still don’t turn around, we’ll have a look at our marketing programs.

By which they really mean the promotional programs, if any, because they’ve forgotten that marketing also includes pricing and product strategies.

I was on the receiving end of attitudes like these when I worked in corporations.

And, in the last 13 years, we’ve worked with many privately owned companies after sales training and marketing programs failed to restart growth.

So, before reaching for the process or functional solutions, take a moment to check the culture and attitudes. However improbable, that might lead to the answer.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Is Crushing the Competition a Strategy?

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Jim StewartJim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

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Stick to Your Knitting or Reinvent Yourself? What’s the Right Answer?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Don't knowIf you focus on what you do best, you’ll prosper. Look at Coca-Cola or Southwest Airlines or Disney.

So, understand your core competencies and stick to your knitting.

Good advice, correct?

But what about companies like Kodak and Nokia? They stayed focused on what they did best. And it really didn’t work so well for them.

So, perhaps it’s not such good advice after all.

My Dad used to say “rules are for the guidance of wise men – and the blind obedience of fools.”

Just because we drop that magic word ‘strategy’ – as in strategic consistency – into a rule, that doesn’t make it an exception to be followed blindly.

Kodak, Nokia, and a host of others like them, did understand their core competencies. But they either didn’t see, couldn’t understand – or simply ignored – a reality.

Something else started going on in their industry that made those core competencies obsolete or insufficient. In Kodak’s case, it was digital photography; in Nokia’s, the advent of the smartphone.

Perhaps a better rule for business owners is to stick to the knitting, but keep looking outside of the company in case something fundamental begins to change.

And as soon as that change becomes evident, begin reinventing – around the capabilities that brought success to the company in the first place.

That’s what Lou Gerstner did at IBM and Andy Grove did at Intel. (Much as I dislike using only large corporate entities for examples in my blog posts, they are usually well enough known for everyone to be aware of them.)

So the reinvention comes from adding new capabilities to the ones that brought success in the first place.

Ken Favaro, who wrote the article, that inspired this post and for whom I have the greatest respect, says that if you do this, you can manage the tension between strategic consistency and reinvention.

Perhaps I’m over simplifying but I see it as using common sense to deal with the changes that have, and always will occur in an industry.

But, as Stephen Covey pointed out, common sense is not that common. And it’s particularly difficult to hang on to it in the face of never ending pressure to make deadlines, maintain quality, fight off competitors, keep staff motivated – and, of course, make the payroll.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy Working? Then Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Strategy And The Evil ‘Gang Of 5’

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Ken Favaro calls them the “Gang of 5”.the evil 'gang of 5' adversely affects strategy

He talks about them with reference to large, public companies.

But every business owner we’ve dealt with over the last 13 years would recognize them.

That’s because entrepreneurs are only too familiar with the challenge of making this year’s top and bottom line, while simultaneously investing in the future.

The Gang of 5 draws its strength from the:

  • Resulting competition between the needs of short and long-term priorities and,
  • The belief that this trade off has to exist.

Let me introduce them and you’ll see what I mean.

Let’s begin with the 2 members that cause too little investment in the future.

1.  Financial engineering – or working the numbers by cutting costs to make the current year’s bottom line or continually postponing expenditure on, for example, training, hiring or replacing aging equipment, from one year to another.

2.  Price leadership – or price-cutting. This is worse, because it’s a very public tactic. Once you’ve lowered prices, how easy is it to put them back up again? It’s not.

Then there’s the 3 members who show up when a company does spend – but unwisely or excessively.

3.  Innovation leadership – gone wrong. Symptoms of a misguided approach to innovation are, for example, not launching a product until it is “perfect”; expecting customers to buy a service developed without their input; cost overruns and products launched way behind schedule.

4.  Cross selling – can be a good thing but not if it leads to the development of products which are “bundled” for sale at reduced margins to a few “key” accounts. Double jeopardy occurs when the customers’ business changes or key decision-makers leave.

5.  Market leadership – or “we have to be the biggest” comes from the misguided belief that to make maximum profits, a company has to be the market leader. We’ve worked with many companies that quietly carve themselves a specialized niche in a market and make superb margins as a result.

The reality is that a business has to find a way to make a profit and invest in the future every year.

How do you, as a business owner, do that?

One way is to have a clear picture of where you want your company, not just your sales, to be in 3 years’ time. Then, before making key decisions, asking how the outcome will help get you there.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 2 Things That Cause Bad Strategy

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Family Businesses Outperform – Until Disputes Occur

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

“Once families turn to lawyers and courts, it is very difficult to restore trust in a family”.rebuilding trust in the family business after disputes occur

Now there’s an understatement.

Did you know that family businesses account for two-thirds of all businesses in the world and about half of the largest companies in the United States?

I didn’t.

I did know that studies done in a number of countries indicate that both public and private family companies:

  • Perform, on average, significantly better than non-family businesses.
  • Are stronger financially, have higher stakeholder loyalty, live longer, and are more trusted by the public.

All of that said, do a Google search on Market Basket.

That, and an excellent article by John A. Davis, will tell you everything you need to know about the ‘dark’ side of family business.

When things go wrong they often go spectacularly wrong, to the extent that an otherwise healthy business is broken or collapses.

Here’s the rub – it usually has nothing to do with their business strategy – and everything to do with people and human nature.

Here are some highlights of the Market Basket situation:

  • A shareholder agreement that didn’t have a clear-cut buy-sell process or a mandate to manage disputes privately.
  • Some family members taking a stewardship approach (growth for future generations, take only affordable dividends).
  • Others taking an investor approach (good dividends and increasing stock valuations).
  • Ongoing bitterness about the outcome of a 4-year court battle – which finished in 1994.

Who is losing out in this situation and others like it?

Everyone involved – customers, employees, suppliers and, of course, the family members themselves. Disputes like this destroy wealth.

I’m glad to say that we haven’t seen too many situations like Market Basket in the past 13 years. But where we have, they’ve been most memorable for the depth of antagonism between the family members.

Can anything be salvaged from these situations? Yes, but in our experience, everyone involved loses something, often a great deal.

Can trust be rebuilt in the family? Apparently it is possible.

Davis goes on to describe some of the things the family Board chairman did to rebuild unity and family commitment at Clark’s shoes, a venerable, old British company.

That, and my suspicion that the number of family companies that become involved in disputes that are as intense as the one at Market Basket is relatively small, gives me hope.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why Conflict In A Family Business Is Bad For Strategy

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

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