Archive for the 'Management Fundamentals' 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.

Why success in business favors the neurotic

Among the people I admire are those who have the courage to make bold statements based on their beliefs and experiences. Early in his book, The Road Less Traveled, the late M. Scott Peck endeared himself to me when he declared that the people he saw in his counseling practice essentially fell into two categories: neurotics and those with character disorders.

Peck wrote, “Neurotics are easy to work with in psychotherapy, because they assume responsibility.” He went on to say, “Those with character disorders are difficult, if not impossible, to work with, because they never see themselves as any part of the problem.” Thus missing the invaluable opportunity for self-examination.

Contemplating Dr. Peck’s declaration was a true watershed moment, helping me better understand why people-including me-behave as we do. Both types of Peck’s patients sought his help because they were experiencing difficulties in life. But if we’re honest, we don’t have to be dysfunctional to realize that each of us falls on one side or the other of this behavior coin. It’s an either/or default circumstance, where we’re either more likely to take responsibility for what happens in our life, or we aren’t.

How you would respond to these business scenarios.

Challenge: Amazon and Google are becoming more aggressive on Main Street; meanwhile, a new Big Box company just opened.

Character Disorder reaction: “I hate those companies. How can I compete with their prices and free delivery? Why does the city allow them to come in here and destroy my business?”

Neurotic reaction: “Well, it’s on me to survive or not. No one made me open this business, and those Big Boxes and Amazon can’t take my business from me unless I roll over and give it to them.”

Challenge: Sales are off, profits are down, and cash is tight.

Character Disorder reaction: “How can I be expected to succeed in this economy? My expenses are going through the roof. The bank won’t give me a working capital loan. Why is everything against me?”

Neurotic reaction: “Being a business owner is harder than I thought it was going to be. Obviously, there’s something I’m not doing right. I have to find what that is and fix it myself, because no one else will.”

If you’re on the neurotic side of the coin, the challenge is to focus on taking responsibility in a constructive, solutions-oriented way. Take responsibility without beating yourself up. If you’re on the character disorder side, resist spending precious time and resources focusing on how the world has let you down. Instead, reverse your outward focus - no one else is going to solve your problems. And the world isn’t even listening.

Personal self-analysis may be the most valuable skill we can employ to become a better person and CEO. In a small business, organizational self-analysis - and acceptance of what we find - is essential to sustained success in the marketplace. To demonstrate that I practice what I preach, here’s my bold statement that recommend you claim for yourself - especially any time you find yourself planning a pity party.

Blasingame’s Small Business Success Attitude
I accept that my small business will face challenges every day. As I begin my day, I will assume the attitude that, regardless of the number of challenges, the degree of difficulty, or who caused them, if my business is to survive, I must face each one. Therefore, I know that the only thing in question today is how well I will respond to challenges, and the future of my business may well depend on the answer to that question.

Remember these three important keys to success in business and in life: Take responsibility, practice self-analysis, and seek excellence, not perfection.

Write this on a rock … Remember what Scott Peck said: Neurotics can be fixed, but those with character disorders, not so much.

Managing the three clocks of small business

“Time Is On My Side,” is the title of one of the classic rock ’n’ roll songs performed by Mick Jagger and the legendary English band, The Rolling Stones.

This bold statement works in a song, but for small businesses – not so much. The reason is because of the complicated dynamic between our most limited resource, time, and three of our most important business factors, expenses, sales and cash.

In the marketplace, there are actually three different clocks at work that every business uses: one for operating expenses, one for sales and one for cash. Let’s take a look at how these three clocks impact your small business.

Operating Expense Clock
Every month like clockwork, regardless of sales volume, cash collections or profitability, payroll must be met, rent must be paid, taxes must be remitted, plus phone, utilities, insurance bills, etc., must also be paid. The Operating Expense Clock is hardwired to Greenwich, England for accuracy within a nanosecond per millennium, and nothing stops it short of a global, thermonuclear holocaust coinciding with a direct hit from Haley’s comet.

The only way to influence this clock is through operating efficiencies – you won’t be billed for what you don’t buy.

Sales Clock
This clock is powered by the prospect and customer relationships you’ve created so sales result each month. You project when each sale will occur by qualifying prospects and attributing a clock to each potential transaction so that you can budget future sales volume, which delivers gross profit to pay expenses.

How the Sales Clock operates is completely logical and intuitive, but it only works in your favor when meet all of the expectations and requirements of customers.

Cash Clock
What is not logical or intuitive is the Cash Clock and its relationship with the other two. Think of it like this: Cash is to sales as snow is to cold. You can have cold weather without snow, but you can’t have snow without cold weather. You can have sales without receiving cash, but you can’t receive cash without making sales. And expenses are like weather: you get some every day.

But what hits small business owners hard is that for every glitch in the mainspring of the Sales Clock, there are 1,000 potential sprocket failures that slow or stop the Cash Clock. Consequently, the Cash Clock requires constant maintenance.

Surely, Murphy was a small business owner, because his law lives inside the Cash and Sales Clocks. But the Operating Expense Clock is immune to this insidious law and keeps on rockin’, just like The Rolling Stones.

Write this on a rock … Your success requires a full understanding of the three clocks of small business.

Take on the law of numbers with grit and fundamentals

A rabbit was being chased by a hungry fox. Running for his life, he hopped over a turtle as he made haste across a small stream. Tucking himself safely inside his shell — not wanting to become collateral damage in the rabbit’s emergency — the turtle inquired about his anxious neighbor’s prospects, “Hey, Mr. Rabbit. You gonna make it?” To which Mr. Rabbit replied over his shoulder, “I GOTTA make it.”

When small business owners wake up in the morning, they often feel like Mr. Rabbit. But why are so many operating so close to the edge of survival? Why is every challenge or opportunity so momentous? Why are their circumstances so much more dramatic than for their Big Business cousins? The answer is found in the law of numbers. Let’s look at just three key examples:

Big businesses have lots of customers, so losing one is usually not a big percentage of their customer universe. A small business’s customer universe looks more like a list, on which each name represents a much larger percentage of the total. Losing a sale or customer takes a bigger mathematical bite out of the future viability of any small business.

When an employee leaves a big business, there are probably three replacements ready to be promoted off the bench to that single assignment. But even if there is a bench on a small business team, it isn’t deep. And since there are more jobs to do in a small business than people to do them, every employee is a key employee who’s difficult to replace.

Big businesses are blessed with multiple capital options, including the equity and debt (bonds) markets. A small business is the stepchild of the capital markets – sometimes more like an orphan. Other than bank loans and whatever retained earnings that can be held onto after taxes, the best way to describe other capital acquisition options is found in the names of the twin brothers of desperation, Slim and None. And even when outside capital is found, it often comes at a prohibitive premium.

With the law of numbers and perilous percentages against them, translating into limited options, small business owners survive by calling on a special kind of “I GOTTA make it” resolve. But, alas, resolve alone isn’t enough. To overcome the reality of their numbers and operate with less desperation they have to combine their grit with a focus on operating fundamentals that address the exposures. For instance:

  • Customers: Know what each expects from you and deliver that within an inch of their lives. This is part of your special sauce and one of your advantages over a big business.
  • Employees: Hire only those who could one day be promotable off of your bench.
  • Capital: Build and maintain good relationships with at least two banks, and retain earnings like your business’ life depends on it. It does.

During The Second Punic War (218 BC), Hannibal crossed the Alps with 35,000 men and a squadron of elephants. When snow blocked their progress, scouts reported the way forward was impossible. Sensing disaster in the eyes of his men, and realizing that this was a test of his leadership, the great Carthaginian general is said to have uttered those words that small business owners say to themselves, and their people, every day: “We must either find a way – or make one.”

Write this on a rock … Like rabbits and generals, small business owners GOTTA make it with a combination of grit and fundamentals.

Four new marketplace truths every small business must know

What is our value proposition?

For 10,000 years, during a period I call the Age of the Seller, answering this question was the focus of every business as it went to market. Indeed, customers refined their search for products and services down to the semi-finalist sellers based almost entirely on components of the classic competitive value proposition: price, product, availability, service, etc.

But then something happened.

The Age of the Seller was subducted by The Age of the Customer. In this new era, where value is now presumed, the prime differentiator is no longer competitiveness, but rather relevance. Today the question every business must focus on when they go to market is: What is our relevance proposition?

So does this mean sellers no longer have to be competitive? Not at all—no one will pay you more than they should. But consider four new marketplace truths:

  1. With value now presumed, customers expect to find what they want, at a price they’re willing to pay, from dozens of sellers.
  2. They don’t care if they do business on Main Street or cyber-street.
  3. Prospects are self-qualifying themselves and pre-qualifying a business based on relevance to them before a competitive position has even been established.
  4. Prospects are doing all of this before you even know they exist.

That last point is perhaps the most breathtakingly disruptive development in the shift to the new Age. As this shift plays out, two types of sellers—Hidebound and Visionary—currently exist in parallel universes, but not for long. Which one are you?

Hidebound Sellers
These companies are so invested and entrenched in the old order of control that they deny the reality in front of them. They can be identified by the following markers:

Misplaced frustration: As performance goals get harder to accomplish, frustration makes those who deny the new realities think their pain is caused by a failure to execute.

• Bad strategies: It’s said that armies prepare for the next war by training for the last one. So it is with Hidebound Sellers. While Age of the Customer pressure makes them think they’re being attacked, they persist in using Age of the Seller countermeasures.

• Destructive pressure: Convinced of execution failure, pressure brought to bear by management results in an employee casualty list and a shrinking customer list.

• Equity erosion: Defiance in the face of overwhelming evidence sustains the deniers until they run out of Customers with old expectations, and their equity and access to credit are depleted.

Visionary Sellers
These sellers are adjusting their plans to conform to the new reality of customers having more control. Visionary Sellers are identified by these markers:

• Acceptance: They accept that customers have new expectations about control and make adjustments to this reality.

• Modern sales force: They hire and train their sales force to serve increasingly informed and empowered customers.

• Technology adoption: They offer technology options that allow customers to find, connect, and do business using their expectations and preferences.

• Relevance over competitiveness: They recognize that while being competitive is still important, it’s been replaced in customer priority by the new coin of the realm: relevance.

• Special sauce: They combine and deliver high touch customization with high tech capability.

In The Age of the Customer, Hidebound Sellers are dinosaurs waiting for extinction. Visionary Sellers are finding success by orienting operations and strategies around a more informed and empowered customer seeking relevance first.

Write this on a rock … What’s the verdict? Are you Hidebound or Visionary?

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