Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” This statement is true for every effort we endeavor and reflective of the attitude we should have during the process. Over the past year I have seen a growing percentage of people, businesses, and organizations who fail to reach their maximum potential because of fear of failure.
What prompted this rare rant is the same fear ruining one of my favorite shows, Jeopardy. I have been watching Jeopardy for at least 30 years and not only enjoy the trivia aspect, but the gamesmanship of mastering the signal button and strategic wagering. For the past three days, the reigning champion has been defeated because they failed to bet aggressively enough to win. By that I mean if they had wagered all of the money available they would have won, but lose because they were wagering on getting the answer wrong and hoping their opponents did the same.
Back in the 90’s I decided to attend tryouts to become a Jeopardy contestant. The process is three rounds of competition where the large group is paired down to a hand full of contestants who are then invited to the studios in California for another round before making it to the show. The competition is very fast paced and we quickly moved from about 200-300 down to 20 or so before I was eliminated.
After the final group was selected, I was walking to my car and noticed a very collegial conversation going between a group of contestants. As I moved closer one congratulated me and asked if this was my first time trying out. When I told him “yes”, he told me that the average contestant on Jeopardy has tried out at least three times and some as many as five or six. This particular group had followed the tryouts to a few states and this time one of them made it to California.
That conversation gave me a whole new level of respect for Jeopardy contestants because they were not only knowledgeable, but tenacious in the pursuit of their ultimate goal. So you can understand my frustration when I see today’s contestants do all of the preparation to get on the show, only to doubt themselves at a pivotal moment.
As a business strategist, when I am working with nascent entrepreneurs I really try to talk them out of going into business for themselves. I remind them of the statistical improbabilities and how they can achieve many of their goals through increasing their skillset in their current vocation. The ones who look at me like I’m crazy and argue profusely are usually the ones I take on as clients. Winning has far more to do with “attitude than aptitude”, you have to want to win more than you want anything else and “good enough” is failure. Otherwise, how do you justify all of the time, money, and relationships you put on the line?
For the past few days I curiously went around and asked different businesses what their day to day problems were.
The answers varied, but a large bulk of them responded they needed more customers.
The majority of the businesses I visited were owned by Baby Boomers. Coincidence? No! Here’s what I came up with.
Baby Boomers grew up in the era of radio and the yellow pages. That's right! You put an ad on the radio or in the yellow pages and the customers came!
Build it and they will come, right?
Although I believe in the 'build it and the they will come' concept, now that we are knee deep into the Internet era (one I happened to have grew up in) having a method, a strategy, a playbook saves you time, essentially money!
Now, why am I telling you this?
Throughout the time I spent around numerous well-earned and revenue generating businesses and entrepreneurs (roughly 8 months), I've learned that the real secret to spiking your revenue and building your brand awareness is right in your homes and in your hands. The Internet! More specifically, Facebook.
I know. You already knew that because you’re on social media posting quotes and sharing pictures of the food you ate today and such. My question to you is, are you making any money doing that? I'm no psychic but I can guess that your answer is probably no.
Facebook likes and comments are nice. No, they really are! Interaction is everything, even if you have only a few followers. However, if you do not know how to convert that interaction (or traffic) into sales, you're pretty much wasting time. And time is money, right?
I'll wrap this up here. I've done the work to let you know that you're not alone. Everyone is having the same problem, even some business owners who are already generating over million dollars. How'd you think I got one of my first clients?
Therefore, now that you know there’s a problem or that you can do something better, hire someone to fix it. Outsource! The market is centered around social media and my advice to you is, don't try to beat the market or hunt for treasure without a map. It's the quickest way to waste a ton of time and eventually end up BROKE!
While I have never been one to use the latest buzzwords, “growth hacking” is a concept worth adopting and its implementation can be the difference between your company thriving or just surviving. If we look back in history, the closest concept to growth hacking would be “benchmarking”, which is the practice of analyzing your competitors to see if you can learn methods of improving your market position. According to businessdictionary.com, the objectives of benchmarking are (1) to determine what and where improvements are called for, (2) to analyze how other organizations achieve their high performance levels, and (3) to use this information to improve your company’s performance.
In the digital age, growth hacking does share some of the same attributes of benchmarking, but on a much deeper level. Growth hacking concentrates more on gaining market traction through application of data driven strategies that are tested, retested, and duplicated across as many platforms as possible.
For example, if you have a target audience of 11-17 female, you can use software to examine marketing techniques of a famous artist like Taylor Swift to get a glimpse into how her marketing department best reaches that audience. Using this type of software gives your company insight into an average number of hits on Taylor Swift’s website, where the hits originated, key words used in SEO efforts, and samples of ads run over several campaigns.
Armed with this information, your company should A/B test versions of your website pages, splash pages, and information downloads in order to determine which iteration lead to the desired conversion rate. Be sure to chart the results of each change, but be careful in the number of changes you make per iteration. Try not to change more than two elements per session and have the test page be 40% of exposure to ensure you are not losing conversions as a result of trying something new.
The final stage of growing hacking is increasing your company’s voice as a thought leader in your discipline. Write a book, preferably in collaboration with a well-known influencer, send articles and blogs to local, regional, and national publications; build relationships with bloggers, who reach your consumer with different products or topics and offer to provide content, and add your company’s names to the lists of experts for local television and radio shows. All of these methods will help drive traffic to your new and improved website, significantly improve your SEO rankings, and increase conversions and profitability.
In summary, benchmarking has been a very effective tools for companies to increase market share, but growth hacking represents the next era of competitive analysis and growth through incorporating proven methods and strategies from many industries globally.
I recently read a study conducted by St. Gallen University discussing business model innovation and how to tell when it is time to re-think your current business model. So what is a business model? In the study, a business model is defined as, “a unit of analysis to describe how the business of a firm works”. In simpler terms, your business model is a list of all of the various parts that make up your “secret sauce” and how that is transferred to customers as an item of value.
As a business strategist, my profession is to perform deep analysis on symptoms of errant business strategies, determine their origin, and rebuild strategies to get companies back on track. While we have been successful in accomplishing these goals, most solutions are built around concepts that were unknown or under-developed in our clients’ current core strategies, not business model innovation. This realization caused me to examine the difference between building better solutions and re-thinking business models to determine if my firm needed to re-think our business model.
Building Better Solutions
Building better solutions typically results when a current business measure has shown a trajectory other than what the business owners desires. This can includes employee turnover, slowing sales, loses in productivity and/or profitability, or team conflict, to name a few. In these scenarios, my team functions like forensic scientists, where they look at every possible cause of the trajectory change and systematically track its origin.
For example, we had a client whose sales were not meeting company expectation. While the natural assumption would be a problem in marketing and advertising, our team found that the problem was with the relationship between the sales manager and the sales team. After coaching sessions with the sales team alone, management alone, and one session with everyone, sales improved 15% in the next quarter. After reading the St. Gall study, I have to wonder if the improvements would have been greater if our solutions were used to help the business owner re-think his/her business model.
Business Model Innovation
While building better solutions usually results in changes in processes and practices, it does not require changes to the overall business model. Business model innovation (BMI) occurs when a business owners examines their target audience, value proposition, delivering the value, and the revenue model to capture customers seeking that value, and making changes to two of the four sections. As the study describes, BMI does not have to be an industry changing breakthroughs, it can start as simple as adopting proven strategies from corporations that have achieved the level of success the company desires.
For example, in the tire industry it is common to see sales that offers “buy three, get one free”. What if a retail company used the same method, but modified to fit their industry? Imagine the response if a retail store offered, “Spend $200 in one department, get a $50 gift card for any another department”? By making this change to the value proposition section of the business model, the business could expand their market reach within existing customers, increase sales in departments that are under performing, retarget customers if the $50 gift card is not redeemed the same day, and introduce an enticing concept to new customers.
To make the BMI complete, the business owners would also change the revenue model to one that makes the $200 purchase be in a department where profitability is high (i.e. clothing) and require all customers to register to receive the $50 gift card, to fortify the sales funnel. Further, using digital marketing and social media customers could be re-targeted based on the purchases in both departments and offered incentives for referring friends and family.
After my analysis I have concluded building better solutions is “a pound of cure” and business model innovation is “an ounce of prevention”. Our clients and business owners in general would be better served by looking at the totality of their business model in response to unwanted trending. Definitely make changes to processes and practices to get the business back on track, but use those strategies as a measure of the effectiveness of the related business model section. During the re-thinking process if changes are made, the business owner must also examine the effect of those changes on the other three sections and adjust accordingly.
Click here for a video summary of the study.
Click here for our BMI notes.
Whether you voted for the president elect or not, we have to recognize the unique opportunities that may be afforded us by having a President who is an owner of a multi-billion dollar, multinational corporation. If President Trump were to use the same principles in governing the United States as he would evaluate a corporation he just purchased, we could experience a significant positive impact as entrepreneurs and business owners.
In this scenario, the federal government would be the parent company of USA Inc. The 50 states would be franchisees, run by individual CEOs (governors), and Congress would be the board of directors. The citizens of the USA would be the primary stock holders and would receive quarterly statements on productivity, profitability, and overall fitness of their investment. There would be quarterly meeting between the CEOs and President Trump, where each would give a state of the state and President Trump would give a state of the union report to Congress annually.
Once this core system is in place President Trump would then look at the current fiscal budget to determine the causes of the mounting deficits. He would remove redundant and unnecessary departments including the IRS, Department of Education, Health & Human Services, and the Department of Transportation. Additionally, the government would remove subsidies and special tax breaks for companies with sales above $100 million, which would total annual savings of $250 billion. The government would still provide oversight on those services by appointing a few executive vice-presidents who will oversee up 18 states each and have a staff of no more than three in this effort.
The money saved would be given to the states to scale up for increased responsibilities, building better systems for service implementation, and fulfilling the requirements of implementing a consumption tax that replaces the income tax system.
Further, each entity of USA Inc. (TANF, Medicaid, Medicare, etc.) that provides services to the American people would be audited to determine if current strategies maximize productivity while reducing costs; for example, using a competitive bid system for Medicare/Medicaid providers including doctors, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and equipment companies. In this scenario, service providers would receive competitive rates, but will be held to strict standards of quality service and brand experience. Potential savings could easily top $50 billion dollars.
The result of these activities would be an annual operating budget of $2.8 trillion dollars and more than $200 billion dollars a year being paid on the national debt, through increased revenue from the consumption tax and savings from eliminating pork-laden bureaucracies.
In terms of raising the standard of living for USA Inc.’s shareholders, by lowering the top corporate tax rate to 25% for companies with sales above $100 million dollars and 15% for all others, it will be easy to move the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Moreover, corporations would be given tax incentives to contribute to employee housing, childcare, and health insurance to offset the increases caused by the consumption taxes. The lowering of corporate taxes would also remove the incentive for corporations to outsource services, thereby bringing jobs back to USA Inc., which will revitalize smaller states, provide funding for education, and raise the economic strength of individual communities.
With the core functionality of USA Inc. under control, President Trump and Congress would turn their attention to our global economic engine and apply the same level of scrutiny, cost cutting, process improvement, and accountability. All supply chain partners will be held to the same standards of USA Inc. or will risk removal from the supply chain. New partnerships will be forged in emerging markets that have products/services that not only fit our needs, but the prospective partner has shown a willingness to raise their standards to that of USA Inc.
I know this is a short snippet in a much larger conversation, but we need to start this conversation with our local politicians to make the best of a once in a lifetime situation and truly make America great for everyone!!
While this may seem an odd question, let me first say that "remarkable" in this context isn't about your products being extraordinary, amazing, or astonishing (although that doesn't hurt), what I am referring to is "worthy of attention and discussion". With more than 30,000 consumer goods being introduced in the United States each year, creating products/services that are remarkable is not only essential, but vital to your company's longevity.
As business owners we are well aware of the influence of social media and review websites, but do we give enough consideration to the quality of our marketing content, customer engagement, and relationship management? The constant onslaught of marketing and advertising has caused our customers and prospective customers to become experts in ignoring irrelevant stimuli and to seek the opinions of friends, family, and general consensus when trying new products.
More specifically, social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr) should be viewed as an introduction to you, what your values are, why you do what you do, and various aspects of your personality. Remember, people don't buy from people they don't like or trust, so if all they know about you is which widget you sell, then chances are your social marketing is not very successful. Use social media as a way to create enough interest in you that they visit your website, which is where they can learn all about your company and your products.
Your website should be rich with information regarding current trends in your industry, interesting facts regarding how your products is used, and listicles. Don't be afraid to address controversial issues regarding your product or industry because it will be viewed as genuine and very credible. Use surveys and consumer driven product conversations to gain a better idea of what you customers are really looking for and under which circumstances they will make a purchase. Respond to every review or comment left about your company and/or products and always thank the person for taking the time to leave a comment (good or bad).
Take care of your customers!! Remove policies that make it difficult to do business with you. I recently had fraudulent activity in my checking account, when I called my insurance company to give them the new account number and payment, they told me they were not allowed to take payment over the phone. Two weeks later I noticed the payment had not been drafted from my account and when I called they told me the policy lapsed for lack of payment. Needless to say, I have another insurer, but the point is they made it very difficult to remain their customer.
What makes a company "remarkable" is the total experience customers have with your business. Whether sharing a post of a sunset you posted while on vacation or telling friends about your exceptional customer service, failure to continually be relevant and excellent in the eyes of your customers and prospective customers will result in you becoming another thing to be ignored.
For years I bowled in leagues and tournaments. In one particular league my team was in first place at the end of the year and we were bowling against the second place team for the trophy and prize money. Our team was one game ahead of the second place team and we were bowling three games to decide the champion.
Our team lost the first game and was losing the second game when I rallied my team and asked what was wrong. "We are the better team, they have not beat us all year, what is the problem", I asked. They began muttering excuses and so I turned and began walking away. I walked to the vending machine and purchase a bag of Skittles and returned to our table. I slammed the Skittles down on the table and said "here they are!" "Here what is"asked one of my teammates, "I just see a bag of Skittles". "Not just Skittles, Magic Skittles!! I replied."
Of course everyone looked at me as if I had two heads and I said, "Just eat the damn Skittles". They all laughed and began eating the Skittles and low and behold they began bowling better. Soon we caught the other team and won the game in the last frame. The third game was an absolute blowout and we took our trophy and prize money home as champions.
The point of this post is to remind you that even high performing teams need refocusing. You cannot rely on past performance as a guarantee of future success. Take the time to refresh the vision, strategies, and implementation. Hold each team member accountable and don't be afraid to address drops in productivity, even from your superstars.
On a side note, the following year we were the second place team trying to take the championship from the first place team. We were down one game and one of my teammates jumped and started to walk away when it was his turn to bowl. "Where are you going", I asked. "To get some Magic Skittles" he replied with a smile.
As business strategists, a large part of the foundational structure of building and maintaining a successful business is digital marketing. However, digital marketing has undergone a significant change thanks to social media platforms and reviews.
As often as I am able, I read industry and trade articles to keep up with the latest trends in digital marketing and social media and have come to realize small business owners don’t stand a chance in trying to keep up with all of the social delivery systems used by our customers. Just as we get our heads around one platform, our target audience has moved to the newest platform.
One of my staffers was telling me about Snapchat a few months ago and I was totally in the dark. As I researched, I found out more than 300 million photos and videos are shared on Snapchat per day!!
How are small business owners who do not have the funds to hire a social media management company supposed to keep up?
Instead of focusing on having a presence on the latest social media platform, focus on creating a brand experience that makes your company the subject of conversation no matter what the platform. Dedicate time, effort, and resources in your people, products, and processes and you will find more of the “snaps”, “tweets”, and “posts” will be about your company and the exceptional experience customers have had in your establishment.
From a customer point of view, social media provides an honest narrative of how they have engaged your product/service. Companies that provide a high brand experience are reward with loyalty and those who have challenges are held accountable in public. Remember your product/service is no longer what you tell customers they are, it’s what the customers tell each other it is.
Focus on one or two social media platforms frequented by your customers and use superior content to keep them interested in who you are and what your stand for. Deliver high brand experience and it will not only benefit your company in peer-to-peer recommendations, but with consumers like me who uses reviews exclusively for products and services that I have no experience with. Therefore, treat every customer as if they are your only customer and the social media will take care of itself (for a while).
As residents of arguably the greatest nation for business opportunities, it is easy to believe “if you build it they will come”. However, there are several problems with that axiom; most notably, all of the activities that come with building a sustainable business. While there are many factors in the development and day-to-day operation of your business, the three most critical are marketing, social media management, and business development.
If you built it and are waiting for them to come, you are already in trouble. Before you opened your doors you should have had a very clear picture of your target audience, their values and preferences, and how you were going to change their current habits into those that involve purchasing your products/services. Having this information would have made your marketing more effective and lowered the overall expense of customer acquisition.
I know you’re going to say that your product/service can be purchased by anyone, right?
By not having a clear understanding of who is most likely to purchase your product/service you run the risk of making mistakes in packaging, messaging, and delivery systems. Not to mention whether there is a large enough market to achieve your revenue goals. The purpose of marketing is to let potential customers know you have the solution to their problem, but if you don’t know who they are and what their problems are how effective will your marketing be?
Social Media Management
Social conversation has forever changed how consumers find, purchase, and build loyalty to brands. A superior product/service with a bad reputation will have a very difficult time sustaining growth and increasing market share. More than 50% of your growth, or lack thereof, can occur through social conversations on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), opinion pages (Trip Advisor, Yelp, Angie’s List), or blogs (Reddit, Diggit Blogspot, etc.). If you or a member of your team is not constantly monitoring social conversation concerning your company, products/services, and customer service, then it is time to get with the program. Let me give you an example of how I search for a product to fulfill a need.
If it is a product/service that I have never used before or have not developed a brand opinion about, I will search on Google with generic terms like “best widget in Central Florida”. Once I have the list I read reviews to see if there is a general consensus on who delivers the highest quality service. After that is determined, I do another Google search with the words “Company A sucks”. This is so I can see if there are rants, BBB complaints, legal actions, or product deficiencies. Once that question has been answered I do another search using the product/service identifier, to get the best price out there and contact Company A to negotiate a purchase. In my example, you can easily see how companies are eliminated and how Company A having a satisfactory social identity is crucial in them getting my business.
Business development is an all-inclusive term that refers to all of the practices and processes that take your company from startup through the rest of your business cycle. Processes such as developing your core competencies, strategic planning, product/service evaluation, inventory management, human resources, and customer retention strategies are the foundation on which your company’s future success is built. The executive team should be well versed in adaptive leadership and change management as trends emerge, competitors enter your space, or changes in consumer values and preferences occur.
I’m a one man/woman show so these things don’t apply to me!
Believe it or not for micro businesses (under 10 employees) these factors are more critical. With limited resources and/or personnel, you have to make sure your efforts are effective because you can’t get back the time it took to execute and if your strategy missed it mark, you have to compensate for the resources spent.
In closing I want to emphasize that running a successful because requires you to be a visionary, innovator, manager, operations director, marketing guru, social media maven, and business development leader. Sound impossible? Well, it is by yourself!
The purpose of this conversation is to convince you of the fact you need help, whether a mentor who has reached the level of success you aspire to, a partner with skills that fill in the gaps in your knowledge, organizations such as the SBA, SBDC, Chamber of Commerce, or SCORE, or dare I say a business strategist (hint, hint). Don’t wait until you hit the wall to seek guidance, be proactive and become one of the success stories I teach my students about in the future.
From the inception of my company I have always helped entrepreneurs gain a better understanding of what makes a business successful and how to implement proven strategies for growth and profitability. However, the days of simply offering a better product at a fair price are over. Social conversation and digital marketing in general, have brought in dynamics that are not only intangible, but can have a lasting effect on your business without your knowledge. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine what a proper digital marketing strategy should include and to help business owners make sense of all of the changes in how customers consume information.
As part of the Baby Boomer generation I am traditional in my purchasing habits with many brand loyalties and product traditions that I have passed on to my children. That being said, the Internet has given me the ability to make better purchasing decisions on those items that I do not buy on a regular basis. My usual strategy is to Google the company name to see if there are complaints or legal actions pending, I visit websites such as CNET and You Tube to see product comparisons, and then visit the social media community for opinions from current and previous users.
What we as business owners have to realize is if we aren’t a part of the strategy I just described, we are losing out on potential sales without even being aware. Below is an illustration of what a proper digital marketing strategy would be comprised of and we will cover the “must haves” shortly. I know my esteemed colleagues who are digital marketing specialists will say I am only scratching the surface in this analysis, but I believe in having strategies that are understandable and actionable.
As small business owners our greatest challenge is leveraging resources to accomplish our goals. We understand the importance of digital marketing, but have not had the time (too busy peddling the bike) to research how it’s done well. What I’d like to offer is the perspectives of one who is also “peddling the bike” but has found implementing certain strategies have lowered the amount of hills in the journey.
#1 – Website – Although the various social media platforms provide us with avenues to get to know our customers, they cannot replace a website. Your company website is where you set the foundation for the relationship between you, your customers, and prospective customers. It should explain who you are, your company’s core beliefs, how your products and services add value to your customers’ lives, and how they may obtain your products and services. Your website should also be the central point of your digital footprint (blogs, social media, articles, and reviews). Customers should be able to access your presence in all forms and that access should be easy to find. Finally, keep you website fresh, add pictures, testimonials, videos, and press releases to maintain relevance and make sure your website is formatted for viewing on mobile devices.
#2 – Social Media – I am still amazed at the number of businesses that do not use social media. While it is true that most of the reluctance is among Baby Boomers, I have seen some Gen Xers who were weaned on the traditional business model and have not embraced the new reality. Working with these companies, I have noticed most do not use social media because the fail to see the relevance in driving sales; so I have posted a graphical representation that I hope will create an “aha” moment.
What social media is best used for is driving data. The success of your efforts can be measured by the amount of traffic that is directed to your website by the various social media platforms. You may use videos and specials to drive engagement, but it is the analytics of who responded that you are looking for. The better you are at determining which platform energized which segment of your target audience, the easier it will be to create products and services that are more relevant to those segments, which will hopefully lead to increased sales.
Social media is also of great value in gauging your brand experience; what are customers saying about your products and services and how can that information be used to increase brand loyalty? Finally, if you are in a highly competitive industry or market, social media can be used to find opportunities among the customers of your competitors. If there are shortcomings within your competitors’ strategies, your company can gain market share by simply offering those desired services and using social media to get the word out.
By no means am I down playing the significance of mobile marketing and content marketing (blogs, articles, etc.). I recently ran a campaign for a client and 83% of the response was on mobile. My company is in the final stages of developing a mobile app that will provide entrepreneurs with a mobile knowledge base. Instead my purpose was to give small business owners who are overwhelmed by the daily machinations of running a business, a perspective that may lighten the load and drive a few more dollars.
I look forward to your thoughts