Archive for the 'Future thinking' Category

As CEO, you’re the futurist of your business

Every small business owner should display in a prominent place this John F. Kennedy quote: “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

As the CEO, you’re the futurist of your business, and the product of a futurist’s work is foresight.

Professional futurists are neither inspired by God, clairvoyant, nor have ESP. But they do look at the world differently than the average person. They typically see things before others do, largely because their focus is influenced by the following factors:

Extreme curiosity: This isn’t first by accident. Curiosity is to foresight what oxygen is to life.

Orders of implication: Futurists imagine the impact of multiple possibilities from a single scenario that hasn’t happened yet.

Collaboration: Futurists study the work of other futurists, work together, and welcome peer reviews.

Foresight tools: Some resources are sophisticated, some not so much.

As you can see, there’s nothing supernatural about these. Nothing you don’t already have or can’t acquire, at least at the level of CEO futurist. Let me lower the intimidation factor and make foresight easier with CEO foresight tools. You’ll recognize the first two:

Curiosity: The only person who’s more curious than a futurist is an entrepreneur. Curiosity is your most powerful tool-unleash it.

Watch for implications: When you see something new - a thing, idea or a development - unfocus your eyes and imagine the short and long-term implications. Play the “what if” game with your team.

Read: Professional futurists call it scanning. Read everything you can get your hands on about your universe and your customers’ universes. Start connecting dots.

Pay attention: This is the first cousin of curiosity. You pay attention to your business every day. Now add what’s outside your four walls to your scan.

Experience: Never underestimate the foresight value of past successes and failures, especially to the implications element.

Peer relationships: This includes CEO roundtables, whether formal or informal, but also attending industry events to listen to and compare notes with other CEO futurists.

Intuition: This is the love child of experience and curiosity. You have intuition, plus experts say you can grow it. Intuition is educated by experience and employed by curiosity.

These CEO foresight tools will help you track trends for opportunities and disruptions in areas such as: demographics, customer behavior, society, production/supply, politics, technology, and global events impacting large customers.

With tomorrow, next year and the next decade in mind, use questions like these to include your stakeholders in the foresight process: What will my industry look like? What will my market look like? What will happen to my existing customers? What will my new customer profile look like? What will be their expectations? What kinds of products and services should we sell?  How will we capitalize growth? What kind of technology will I need? What will be the greatest opportunities? What will be the greatest disruptions?

Use the tools, ask the questions, uncover and prepare for the possibilities that will allow you to take advantage of opportunities and minimize disruptions. Leading change as the CEO means applying the foresight tools of a futurist in order to avoid surprises. All surprises.

Even if a surprise turns out okay, you still shouldn’t celebrate. In fact, you should be just as frightened as if it turned out badly. Because it got through your foresight filters unnoticed until it manifested in front of you. That means a bad surprise could do the same thing.

Remember Blasingame’s Law of Surprises: Surprises are for birthdays — this is business.

Write this on a rock … “The future doesn’t fit in the container of the past.” Rishad Tobaccolwala

Do you know how to load your Sales Pipelines?

Here’s an ancient marketplace maxim: Selling is a numbers game.

A maxim is a generally accepted truth and this is one because of two realities:

1.  There are hundreds – if not thousands – of things that can cause a fully qualified prospect to not complete a transaction, at least not on your time parameters.

2.  Regardless of how many bumps you encounter on the path to a signed contract, it’s still your job to produce enough gross profit from sales revenue to stay in business.

Enter the sales pipeline: a planning concept that helps managers and salespeople forecast sales for any given period – week, month, quarter or year. Think of your sales pipeline as overhead plumbing with faucets positioned at the time intervals your operation requires. And from these faucets you draw the mother’s milk of any business – sales revenue.

But there’s one pesky thing about sales pipeline faucets: they all come with screens that only allow sales from qualified prospects pass through, while poorly developed prospects are blocked. So if you’re counting on revenue pouring out of a faucet when you turn the handle on the day you need sales, you must load only qualified prospects into your pipeline to begin with.

A qualified prospect has answered enough questions – directly or through research – to allow you to determine that they will likely purchase what you sell from someone in the forecastable future. Before you place a qualified prospect in the pipeline, you must know at a minimum:

· What’s left to do for them – demonstration, trial, proposal, final close, etc.;

· Anything else that has to be done to move them to customer status.

Your appraisal of all of this information will help you forecast which faucet you should expect a particular sale to pour out of this Friday, next week, next month, next quarter. Once in the pipeline, a prospect is either on track to become a sale, a lost sale, or a forecasting mistake to be removed.

Alas, in the absence of professional sales management, poorly trained salespeople will try to forecast low-quality prospects. And any company that counts on such practices is headed for a cash flow crisis and ultimate business failure. Not because the product wasn’t good, or the price was too high, or because of Amazon. But because the sales team didn’t load the sales pipeline with enough qualified prospects.

At this point, let’s refer to The Bard. In Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, arguably Shakespeare’s most important work, Polonius famously says to his son, Laertes, “This above all, to thine own self be true.” If your sales team is honest with each other and management about a prospect’s qualified progress to faucet-conformity, you’re setting yourself up for success. If not, well, you know.

Sales has been and always will be a numbers game. But in the Age of the Customer, it’s increasingly becoming more of a quality prospecting game. Consequently, how much revenue you draw from your sales pipeline depends on the two elements of the 21st century sales success calculus: quantity x QUALITY = your ultimate sales performance.

Here’s Blasingame’s Law of Sales Pipeline Success: Load the pipeline with enough (quantity) qualified prospects (quality) to flow through the faucets of your sales pipeline whenever you need them (success).

Write this on a rock … Load your sales pipeline with quantity and quality, and to thine own self be true.

The velocity of change and new customer expectations

And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on, to carry on.
– “And When I Die,” by Laura Nyro, performed by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

As we know, change has been the one constant of existence on planet Earth. Each generation gives way to the next, so that over time fire became electricity and the wheel morphed into a computer.

For most of the history of the marketplace, change progressed at a pace slow enough to allow the creator of a model - a product, strategy, skill, etc. — to make a living with it for a lifetime, possibly even passing that model on to his children. But within the past century this paradigm began to shift.

During the second half of the 20th century, the life expectancy of a typical model generation was compressed into a calendar year. So while you were delivering the current year’s model to customers, you had to simultaneously create and prepare next year’s model to be ready to launch January 1.

That was a nice trip down memory lane, wasn’t it? Buckle up.

Since 1993 (the year the Internet became available to the public), an unprecedented confluence of innovations has further compressed the time between model generations. This compression produced high anxiety and frustration for any business that was in love with its model. Indeed, the life expectancy of a model that not so long ago would have been a calendar year was now measured in terms of an Internet year, which is 90 days — or less.

The headwaters of this increased velocity of marketplace change is innovations that are driving new customer expectations. And these innovations have become so seductively elegant and seamless in our lives that customers often don’t even realize their expectations are changing at all, let alone how fast.

But what about your business’s anxiety and frustration? Well, even if customers know, they don’t care. Because they worship at the throne of WIIFM. What’s In It For Me?

I have good news! You can avoid anxiety, frustration — and failure — if you know what your customers’ evolving expectations are, which you can determine by asking them these five questions - every day:

1. What do you want?
2. How do you want me to tell you about it?
3. When do you want it?
4. How will you use it?
5. How do you want it delivered?

Comparing the answer to these questions with what customers told you yesterday will provide all the information you need about current and future products, service and technology, including — especially — your social media and mobile strategy.

Let me put all of this in one sentence: If you want to know what your business should be doing tomorrow, next month and next year, ask your customers. They already know. And if you do what they tell you, you’ll be able to sing these new lyrics without any blood, sweat or tears:

“And when our model dies, and when it’s gone, we’ll produce a new model in this world to carry on, to carry on.”

Write this on a rock … Customers will tell you about their changing expectations - let them.

Blasingame’s Three Laws of Aggregation (or Two reasons your small business is like Sakrete)

Sakrete is one of the handiest products ever developed. It’s basically a bag of rocks and sand, but to a weekend warrior with a honey-do list, it can be a magic dust.

Packaged in small bags almost anyone can carry, Sakrete is an aggregation of Portland cement, sand and different size gravel. Just stir in water, apply it to your small construction project, wait a little while and, badabing badaboom, you’ve got real concrete supporting your project.

So, what does a small business have to do with a sack of rocks? Two things.

1. Chemistry.

When the components of Sakrete come in contact with water, a productive reaction occurs that, in a short time, manifests as a handy and enduring result. In the marketplace, productive chemistry between people and organizations is has long been known to be critical for sustaining successful performance. Whether Sakrete or your small business, the right chemistry is critical.

2. Aggregation.

Sakrete doesn’t just aggregate the correct combination of stuff, but also different sizes of masonry material. The larger pieces provide critical mass and structure, while the smaller ones bind everything together and nimbly fill in the gaps to eliminate weak spots. But unlike chemistry, aggregation is not as much of a natural law and requires more maintenance. Which is why there are no Blasingame Laws of Chemistry, but three Blasingame Laws of Aggregation.

Blasingame’s 1st Law of Aggregation

Find your success in aggregating the success of employees.

Simply put, this is servant leadership, a term Robert Greenleaf coined in his book titled, you guessed it: Servant Leadership. But the concept goes back thousands of years to the ancient Chinese wisdom of I Ching, “The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.” And in his gospel, Mark quotes Jesus, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”

Leaders who sustain success, year after year, are those who subordinate their ego by helping their people to be successful professionals, and then aggregate those success stories for the benefit of the company. They celebrate others first.

Blasingame’s 2nd Law of Aggregation

Aggregation prevents aggravation.

In business, aggregation is also known as strategic alliances, which small businesses must build with other organizations, especially larger ones.

It’s aggravating at least, and dangerous at worst, to manage threats and take advantage of opportunities without strategic resources. Compare the merits of forming a strategic alliance with an organization that already has what you need before you risk the expense and possible delay of capitalizing the ownership of that resource. And if you prefer, you can call it strategic aggregation.

Blasingame’s 3rd Law of Aggregation

Associate your brands with those that are more established.

I also call this the “Forrest Gump Strategy.” As you develop strategic alliances, look for partners with brands and influence that have a higher recognition factor than yours, and arrange for the relationship to include your brand being presented in the marketplace alongside theirs. Brand association is smart aggregation, but you have to step up your game to earn the right to that level of aggregation.

Write this on a rock … If you’re not having the level of success you want, perhaps you should take some lessons from Sakrete.

The power of building customer communities

Incredibly, in 2017, here’s a question many small business owners ask: “We have a website, do we need a social media strategy, too?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address even though you have a phone.  It’s not either/or, but rather both/and. Because as outstanding and handy as your website may be, there’s one increasingly important capability you need that most websites aren’t good at: community building.

Once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of yours will be of decreasing interest to them. It’s not that your new stuff - products, how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. - is no longer of interest to customers. It’s just that they don’t want to have to come back to your website to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I like what you offer, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home with the new stuff?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them offers and helpful information by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website. Even when they return to buy something on your e-commerce platform, they expect to enter your website through the offer page you sent them, not from your homepage.

Building online customer communities - and getting permission to follow customers home - is how a small business transcends being competitive and achieves the pinnacle position: relevance. As you may know, I define a business social media strategy as building customer communities. But by my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the online platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your customer community strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve those communities, including: email marketing, customer loyalty programs, the new social media activity, and, of course, the original social media: face-to-face.

In the old days - way back in 2003 - your customer list was just names on an accounts receivable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community, which also includes prospects who’re just becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old - and visitors to your website - this community is functioning and dynamic, with fast-evolving expectations you have to meet or they’ll defect to another community.

Another important component of building customer communities is allowing prospects and customers to see your corporate values. Increasingly, prospects will turn into customers, and customers will become loyal, because they’re attracted to what your company stands for, which is evident in the values you demonstrate, including online. For example:

1. Are your brand elements - brand promise and image - all about you and your stuff, or do they sound like something that would benefit your customer community?

2. When delivering information, is it all about you, or does it contribute to the community?

3. What’s the tone of your marketing message? “Tone” is how brand messages are incorporated as you serve the community, from crassly commercial to almost subliminal. You should strike a tone balance between serving the community and making a sale.

Notice all of these demonstrate values that favor relationships more and transactions less.

In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value - product, price, service - is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Value is easy to find these days. But when community members are attracted to your values, they keep coming back and bring their friends.

Write this on a rock … Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media strategy that demonstrates your values.

Welcome to Amazonia – third rock from the sun

Eeep—Eeep—Eeep —Eee

“Uh! Yes, Echo. I’m awake.” Walter’s answer stopped the noise and prompted this message from inside his pillow:

“Good morning, Walter. It’s 6:30am in Amazone 3, Monday, March 8, 2087.  Current temperature is a crisp 11 degrees Ama-Cius. Have a nice day.”

Walter Wallace had received the same wake-up notice every morning of his life since 2060, the year he turned eight. That was the year planet Earth, third rock from the sun, became Amazonia, wholly owned by

By the middle of the 21st century, the world economy became dominated by Amazon and a few other online retailers and tech giants, like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. For decades the megalomaniacs of those firms pursued shared goals of influence over sectors such as the global consumer goods supply chain, the content origination and curation universe, the global 24/7 news cycle, big data mining/consumer manipulation, etc. Ultimately, planetary control was complete as their long-held geo-economic dominance coalesced with their nascent global political influence.

In 2053, Amazon moved its headquarters from Seattle to occupy the entire lower third of the island formerly known as Manhattan — now called New Bezos, after the company’s late founder. By then, most Earthlings received whatever they needed in life – including employment – from some combination of the tech giants. By 2057, a final merger resulted in absorption of the other tech behemoths by the ultimate powerhouse, as Amazon controlled every function of society, commerce and governance.

Walking to his job as an Amazonia community planner, Walter no longer noticed the constant buzzing of the Amadrones, the iconic device for how the company gained global control, as they delivered goods. The internal nomenclature was “unmanned delivery and surveillance platform,” or UDASP, because they doubled as aerial spies. Everybody knew that. But Amazonians had long since suspended any expectation of personal privacy or self-determination.

Walter’s parents had told him stories about a diverse marketplace that included something called small businesses. But the same year the planet became Amazonia, the last one closed in what was once Lake Station, Indiana, now part of Amazone 4. Louis Lukedic, Jr. finally gave up the fight against the UDASPs and closed Louie’s Dry Cleaning, the 60-year business his father founded as the new millennia dawned. Besides, Louie Jr.’s children had all been assimilated by Amazon.

Walking to work in what was once Cincinnati, Ohio, all around Walter were Amazon branded buildings, including commercial structures for doing the corporation’s business, and high rises, to house Amazonians. Just last year, Walter, his wife and two children moved into one of the newest buildings. His parent’s generation were the last to experience home-ownership.

Every morning Walter stopped at an AmaMac SDD (sustenance delivery device) to procure a green breakfast wafer that tasted better than it looked, and coffee-flavored liquid. As a holographic scan confirmed whose personal Amaccount to debit, a strange noise came out of the SDD.

Eeep—Eeep—Ee —

“Wazzat?”  Walter grunted loudly, as he slapped the snooze button. “Where am I?”

“Honey, are you okay?” Walter’s wife, Wilma asked. “I think you had a nightmare.”

“Boy, I’ll say,” Walter exclaimed, wiping the sweat from the back of his neck.  “I dreamed Amazon had taken over the world. I tell you, Wilma, it was awful — they owned everything. There were no small businesses anywhere. All the people had blank stares on their faces as they went about their lives. Even me.”

Opening the morning paper at breakfast, Walter felt a chill as he read this very real headline, “Retail Ice Age advances as Amazon and other e-tail giants transform Main Street.”

In his small business later that day, Walter thought about his nightmare, the newspaper headline and another dream of his — the one about passing his business on to his children. In a meeting that morning, Walter vowed to fight back harder than ever as he encouraged his staff.

“We must stay focused on what customers expect from us,” Walter continued, “which is our special sauce of combining a certain level of high tech AND the high touch only we can deliver. We’ll combine both to achieve higher margins with what customers want – customization, and leave the commodities – what customers need – to Amazon.”

“And here’s Breaking News: Amazon is 100% digital, but customers are 100% analog. Amazon may deliver dozens of different back scratchers, but it can’t scratch one back. Only a Main Street business like ours can reach that analog itch that’s unique for every customer. Amazon can’t beat us if we keep customers focused on that advantage.”

Write this on a rock … Deliver the small business special sauce and you’ll have nothing to fear from Amazon.

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