How Do You Find Your Purpose?

If yours is like many organizations, you and your competitors are trying to serve a similar purpose to your respective clients. That is true if you look only at the surface. It is how you see the challenge of purpose that counts. Most times I find leaders trapped in a box. That box revolves around existing products and services and does not consider the problems and challenges of people they want to serve.

By finding your organization’s unique purpose, you can move with the changing needs of your customers and evolve your products and services. Too often business leaders are trying to force the external world to buy what they want to sell. What they fail to consider is whether what they want to sell is a real need, and whether there is already too much supply solving that need. If the need is already well served or over served, then pumping more supply into the market without identifying and addressing a new critical need for their buyers will surely result in a painful journey for them and their colleagues.

5 Lenses of Purpose

When working with leaders to assist in their strategic planning session, we work on defining purpose. A common challenge is to help the leadership team find and articulate their purpose. You may wonder how purpose is discovered. I believe you can find your purpose by looking through 5 lenses:

  1. Disrupt an Industry – Airbnb changed the lodging industry forever. They made a very cost-effective and easy way for anyone to list their space and to book unique accommodations anywhere in the world. By doing so they made traveling more affordable and accessible for many people.
  2. Uncommon Service – Provide service at a level that goes beyond your competition in a way that is essential to your target customer. The traditional companies I think of are Ritz-Carlton and Nordstrom. In a less traditional sense, think of Amazon, where you know you can go to their website and find almost anything, 24/7, at the lowest possible prices and have it delivered to your doorstep, in many cases the same day as you ordered it. And all of it done with a few keystrokes. Most vendors on their side will allow you send your purchase back for free if you are not satisfied. The challenge with service is that it is like an escalator that is always going down. Once you have delivered something considered extraordinary the first time, it becomes standard the next time. So you have to keep trying to improve your service levels every year to stay on top.
  3. Change the World – We have so many large societal and natural problems that you can address as a for-profit or not-for-profit. I am proud Board Member and Red Jacket Society Member at City Year, where we believe education has the power to help every child reach his or her potential. We recognize that children in high-poverty communities have external obstacles that can interfere with their ability to both get to school and be ready and able to learn. City Year helps with these challenges. On the for-profit side you have entrepreneurial mavericks like Elon Musk, who is trying to prove through Tesla Motors that electric cars could be better than gasoline-powered cars. The impact of such an innovation will have profound impact on issues like global warming and use of natural resources like fossil fuels.
  4. Excellence – There are always ways to change the features of products — increasing their speed, beauty, functionality, etc. No company is going to get it right with every product, but Apple, Samsung, Ikea, Dyson and 3M are companies that have produced products that have really stood out from their competitors in specific categories.
  5. Information and Communication – Technology has caused this category of purpose to explode over the last 10 years. Dominant in this conversation is Google, but you also have to consider Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, and the myriad of others that allow people to share information, find anything or anyone, share knowledge, discover and communicate.

I recommend that you look through these five lenses and determine which of the five you are really passionate about. Then ask “what purpose can we serve within that lens” within an industry or across industries that is not being served to the level that you believe it could or should be served. The key is to think big! Consider your purpose to be a pursuit rather than a destination. It will be a mantra that you and your organization will need to constantly improve and perfect.

Head over to our business coaching page or call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at 305.722.7213 to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

Are You Targeting the Right Market Segment?

The predictability and consistency of your revenue growth rate are important measures of the health of your business. A key to driving your growth is targeting the right market segment. Positioning your company in a growth industry, market segment, or sector is crucial to the continued success of your company. In order to have future growth, regardless of how you are doing this quarter or year, there must be a market out in front of you that your products/services are focused on and that is growing.

Why Should You Care Which Market Segment You Choose?

When you are in a growth market running the business is much easier in many ways. Here are a few reasons for you to want to be in a growth market:

  • Employees – It is easier to attract, keep and grow the right employees.
  • Customer Acquisition – It is easier to be a winner in a growing market than in one that is declining or stagnant. All boats rise with the tide.
  • Capital – It is easier to attract and lower your cost of capital.
  • Margins – There is a better chance of earning larger profit margins.
  • Operations – Predictable revenue allows you generate cash and to plan and invest properly in the support structure of your business to properly serve your.
  • Shareholders – Higher returns on investment for shareholders.
  • Valuation – Buyers pay more for businesses that are in growth markets.

How Do You Find Your Market Segment?

By focusing time on a specific customer segment you can become the dominant player in that segment. A segment is a group of customers with common characteristics that influence how they make decisions. In every industry you can group potential customers into many possible segments.

Your leadership team must examine the marketplace and cluster people and organizations into groups, separating them based on common needs, behaviors, or other attributes so that they can be better served. Once you have isolated different groupings, you can look for ways they may be underserved today in terms of products and/or services. You do this by asking questions such as:

  • Do they deserve a distinct offering? How well do the current offerings meet their distinct desires and needs?
  • Are they reached through different channels? How well do the current channels work for this grouping?
  • Does this unique set of people or organizations require different types of relationships?
  • How does profitability differ, and could it differ for each grouping? What would need to change to change the game?
  • How much would each grouping be willing to pay for different aspects of the offer?

How Do You Know You’re In A Growth Market?

Failure to identify segments destroys time allocation in your business. I find that this is more obvious when your company is small and time constraints are more serious. In most cases, we consider whether or not a prospect can afford to do business with us, rather than the likelihood of their doing business with us.

However, you know you are in growth market when the following signals are apparent:

  • You can consistently grow at least 20% per year. More would be preferable.
  • Acquiring new customers seems to be easy, and your current quarter compared to the same quarter in the previous year is either the same or growing. Any quarter that shows a dip is a warning sign that an adjustment may be needed.
  • Profit margins appear to be holding steady with volume increase. There are obvious exceptions to this rule as you hit different steps in expansion.
  • You are finding more and more competition in your space. This is why you have to move swiftly and grow quickly when you find a hot market.
  • You can find news media, analysts, and industry experts talking about the trends you are taking advantage of. Follow them for signs in trend shifts.

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at 305.722.7213 to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

Is There a Difference Between Innovation and Disruption?

The Technology Leader Awards Committee of the Greater Miami Chamber, of which I am the recurring chair, met the other night. We were establishing the categories for this year’s awards when a great question arose. Is there a difference between innovation and disruption? It stimulated a spirited discussion among the committee members, and I realized that it’s a very important discussion to have when considering the strategy for your business. While we used the terms disruption and innovation in the context of technology, they can be looked at in broader constructs such as your business model. While one could argue that there is a difference between the two, my position is that disruption is a higher form of innovation. The reason is that all disruptors are innovations, but not all innovations are disruptors. The more disruptive the innovation, the higher the stakes and the value you can create in your business.

What Is Innovation?

In simple terms, innovation is just finding a new way of doing something. If you are running a business, it is developing ways to provide a product or service better, faster or cheaper. It is about improving every process with fewer defects, requiring less labor, increasing throughput, etc. It is about changing the usefulness of a product or service. From an even more important standpoint, it is about creating new demand and fulfilling a need that no one else is currently fulfilling. For example, our phones now go everywhere, serve as computers, calendars, watches, and many other things. It is about changing your online experience so that now you can order many products and get them delivered same day. Innovation is about seeing possibilities that others cannot see and making them happen.

Sustaining Innovation versus Disruptive Innovation

When we were discussing categories in my committee, we should not have been asking if there is a difference between innovation or disruption. The real question is “what is the difference between sustaining technologies and disruptive technologies?” While both are innovative, there is a huge difference and advantage to having both.

Sustaining technology improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically changing designs to address different consumer sets or by allowing a lowering of prices in more mature markets. A disruptive innovation helps create a new market or value chain and eventually disrupts an existing market. Disruption is much more substantial than sustaining innovation because it changes how we think, behave, do business, learn, and go about our day-to-day. Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru, Clayton Christensen, says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative.

Not All Disruption is Created Equal

The innovators’ dilemma is that not all innovation is created equal. There has been much innovation that has turned out to be worthless. In 2010, Time Magazine published a list of The 50 Worst Inventions Of All Time, here are few of my favorites:

  • The Segway – Give inventor Dean Kamen this: he’s a master of buzz. A closely guarded secret that was supposed to change the world upon its release in 2001, the Segway never brought about its promised revolution in transportation. Though the technology is pretty cool — very expensive gyroscopes make the thing nearly impossible to tip over (though George W. Bush found a way) — the Segway’s sales far underperformed vs. Kamen’s predictions. It lives on as the vehicle of choice for mall cops and lazy tourists, but the Segway’s best contribution might be as the vehicle of choice for failed.
  • New Coke – Marketers should have known — don’t mess with consumers’ sentimental attachment to a product. Especially when it’s 99-year-old Coca-Cola. The “newer, sweeter” version, introduced April 23, 1985, succeeded in blind taste tests but flopped in the real world. Phone calls, letters and rants from Coke die-hards flooded in and just three months after its debut, New Coke was removed, and the word Classic was added to all Coke cans and bottles to assure consumers they were getting their first love.
  • Airbnb – When disruption goes your way it can be enormous, such as the Airbnb.com story. Airbnb.com has changed the landscape for people that need a place to stay around the world. Airbnb is a website for people to list, find, and rent lodging. It has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. Founded in August 2008 and headquartered in San Francisco, California, the company is privately owned and operated and booked more rooms than Hilton last year.
    Airbnb figured out how to enter the vacation rental marketplace without owning any rooms. Unlike traditional hotels, Airbnb scales up not by scaling inventory but by increasing the hosts and travelers and matching them with each other. It has no need for all of those employees and is not held accountable for the customer service problems you find in hotels, such as waiting in long lines for check-in. Its model runs on a marketplace platform where it enables transactions between hosts and travelers, all online. This is definitely an innovation you can categorize as disruption.

Value of Disruption

In today’s fast-paced world, disruption seems to be short-lived. It is critical that you do not go bankrupt trying to create your innovative idea and that you have plenty of capital behind you to take advantage of your position once you have the opportunity. Speed is also essential. Take the Airbnb example. Given that that the primary key to their success was a website to match hosts and travelers, scaling up quickly to have the largest inventory on a global basis with a lot of traveler traffic to their website was essential. Moving early and fast allowed them to build their brand and presence with no marketing budget. They built their entire empire through social media. The value of their innovation and how they approached is the exception and is what all disruptors should seek to accomplish.

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at 305.722.7213 to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

Are You Ignoring a Bad Business Strategy?

Are you ignoring a bad business strategy? Your business strategy is a determining factor in whether your sales “will” or “will not” grow faster than your competition’s. Does your business have an “unusual offering” that is critical in the buying decision of your target customer or not? Most businesses either have an “unusual offering” that their prospects don’t know about, or they don’t have one and are not facing it. Key components to a successful business strategy and your ability to grow sales are how well you understand your core customer, that you have an unusual offer for this customer, and that your strategy focuses on being best in the world at delivering that offer.

Great Sales People Cannot Erase a Bad Strategy

Are you evaluating how to grow your sales in the right way? When sales are not growing, it is usually the result of a bad business strategy. Most companies fail to recognize and address inadequate sales growth as a strategy issue. First sales management and the salespeople are blamed. This can go on for years. Salespeople come and go with no change in result! Next someone will decide it is a marketing problem. “We just need to do a better job of getting our name out there, learn to better leverage the internet to get leads, and everything will turn around.” When that fails, the economy becomes the culprit —too much competition, and so on. In most situations, the real dilemma is that leaders continue to ignore the fact that what they are offering the market is inadequate, and the marketplace has spoken.

Is a Bad Strategy Causing High Turnover?

Are you experiencing constant turnover in your sales force, followed by leadership complaining about how the salespeople keep failing? A bad business strategy results in sending good salespeople out to get slaughtered. In my experience, when you have a good strategy, even a bad salesperson can sell your product or service. When you have a good strategy salespeople line up at your door to work for you. Too often leaders are hoping and praying that hiring great salespeople will magically make a bad strategy disappear. So the real question is “what is the ‘unusual offering’ that the sales force can offer that will attract the customer segment you’ve defined as your prime target?” What is that offering that will get prospects to recognize you and say, “It is about time someone understands my needs. What forms of payment do you accept?”

What is an “Unusual Offering”?

“Unusual offering” is most commonly referred to as a “unique value proposition” — how you differentiate your product and services from those offered by your competition. I’ve chosen the word “unusual” instead of “unique” for a reason. While the difference between “unusual” and “unique” is subtle, I find the standard for “unusual” is much more achievable for most businesses. Unique offerings are very difficult to create and almost impossible to sustain for very long. However, the best businesses have mastered consistency in unusual offerings. For example, everyone in the fast food industry knows they are supposed to deliver consistent quality in food, fast, and yet they don’t. McDonald’s has a better track record in terms of moving customers through lines than other fast food restaurants. When it comes to customer service Nordstrom has been able to set themselves apart from competitors who claim high-quality service as their differentiator.

Why Your “Unusual Offering” Needs to Change

It is important to understand that your unusual offering needs to change over time with the market. For example, FedEx used to focus its business differentiator on when you “positively have to have it tomorrow at 10:00.” This is no longer a business differentiator because all of the competition caught up, and now customers expect that level of service. Even the post office can consistently deliver on that promise.

In my next article I will discuss how to develop your unusual offering. If you want help with fixing a bad business, strategy please contact us for a free consultation to learn how Business Coaching can help your organization, or check out the testimonials page for stories from other leaders we have coached.

Business Strategy Based on Knowledge Instead of Belief

Is your business strategy based on knowledge instead of belief? If you are like most entrepreneurs, you are not collecting enough external data when making your business decisions – and it will cost you millions over your lifetime. It may even cost you your business.

“Why?” you might ask. The answer is that too often we make decisions based on “belief” instead of “knowledge.” There is a very important distinction between knowledge vs. belief.

Knowledge vs. Belief

Knowledge is indisputable “fact”. Belief is your opinion about what result any given course of action will produce, and much of what you believe about your business many times is wrong.

Are you acting on facts that are no longer valid, or on beliefs that you have held for a long period of time despite contrary evidence all around? In my experience as a business coach, you probably are. Worse, when people present you with facts, you may be doing everything you can to hold onto your erroneous beliefs by finding any random inconclusive data to support them.

Communicating With External Sources

I spend more than 100 days per year conducting planning sessions. I watch leaders make decisions without collecting data from customers, prospects, or past customers. Even when they have collected data, they are not looking at and analyzing that data. Many times they are looking only for data that supports their existing opinions. Often the data they collect does not help them with their decisions because there isn’t enough, or what they have is anecdotal or too generic.

Are you collecting information on a weekly basis about people that have chosen not to do business with you, people that are customers, and people that you want to have as customers to really analyze why you lost customers? You will notice I chose “people” and not businesses, clients, customers, or any other word. You do business with people. They have needs, wants, problems, concerns, opinions, challenges, biases, etc.

The world is constantly changing, so these factors are always shifting, thus causing the need to continually collect the information to keep your offering competitive and relevant. Failure to do so results in business strategy based on “belief” instead of “knowledge.”

Start Improving Your Business Strategy With Customers

The obvious place to start is with your customers. You are probably thinking, “I know my customers” because you do business with them every day. It is a common mistake to confuse a system for collecting information with daily exchanges. Without a systematic process you will fail!

In your daily exchanges, you are concerned with delivering your product or service, and the customer is focused on receiving it. At best, you get anecdotal information and only focus on problems and challenges. During daily exchanges, your front-line staff is not thinking about the company’s business strategy or worrying about what data you need for making future business decisions. In many cases, a staff member who receives what could be useful information may filter it or not report it at all.

Collecting Unfiltered Information From Your Customers

Collecting unfiltered information from your customers should be a priority for every company. This is usually easier than you think, and the only reason it has not happened is that you have not made it a key priority. Benefits you can expect:

  1. Identify reasons to charge existing customers more for existing products and services.
  2. Identify new products and services to offer.
  3. Increase retention of customers that you did not know were at risk.
  4. Turn existing customers into a referral engine.
  5. Strategize based on knowledge instead of belief.

Customer Feedback

A great historical example of how this can work for you is when IBM had its top 200 managers talk to 5 customers and employees every week and review the information every Friday. This was an incredibly simple way to collect live market data weekly and then share it with key leaders in IBM. It helped increase sales, overcome customer roadblocks, and also added energy to the teams.

Questions to Ask Customers

We recommend you and each leader on the leadership team have at least one conversation each week with a key customer. We have found these four questions will provide you will a wealth of information:

  1. How are you doing?
  2. What’s going on in your industry?
  3. What do you hear about our competition?
  4. How are we doing?
  5. (Bonus Question… when appropriate) Do you know of anyone else that would like to be as happy as you are?

Need help improving your business strategy?

We can maximize your team’s business strategy. Contact us for a FREE consultation to learn how Business Coaching can help your organization.

Customer Service Points You Have to Get Right

A few weeks ago, JD Power released its list of 2012 Customer Service Champions. I found it interesting that there were three airlines on the list. You don’t usually think of the airline industry as customer-focused. Yet three airline companies managed to impress JD Power with their fanatical attention to customer service—so much so that they made it onto this list of just 50 companies that are “champions” of service.

I am not surprised that the three companies are Southwest, Virgin America and JetBlue. These airlines have used customer service as differentiators for some time, each in their own unique way. Their customer service is finely honed and crafted especially for their core customer, which is why they all have such impressive brand loyalty.

The important thing to note is that great customer service is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. The customer service experience is drastically different between all three airlines, and that is by design. The loyal Southwest customer is drastically different from the loyal Virgin America customer. These customers expect different things and demand different experiences, and you could never interchange them. In all likelihood, a loyal Virgin customer would hate the experience of flying with Southwest.

Think like these customer service champions and design your customer service experience around the preferences and demands of your core customer.

Define Customer Service “Moments of Truths”

When I work with a company as a strategic planning consultant, one of the most important company functions we examine is customer service. When we evaluate their service processes, we identify their “Moments of Truths”. These are essentially their most crucial customer touch points—the times and places in their new business acquisition, servicing and retention processes that are so impactful to the customer that if they don’t get them all right, it could cost them that piece of business.

Every company and industry has three to five service “Moments of Truth.” How you touch your customer at these points defines your service experience. Let’s look at the restaurant industry as an example. Every restaurant must meet a certain standard in four key areas: Service, Price, Food Quality and Cleanliness. These are the four Moments of Truths for a 5-star restaurant or a fast food joint. However, how these two very different businesses deliver on these touch points is highly important for their core customers.

The 5-star restaurant customer expects extremely attentive and formal service, gourmet food and impeccable cleanliness, and for that they are willing to pay a premium price. The fast food customer still expects cleanliness, but service should be quick and casual at a low price. Both restaurants can be customer service superstars, but they must understand their core customers and design the service experience around them.

What are the Moments of Truth in your customer service experience? Define them and define the ways that you will use them to differentiate your company in the marketplace.

Howard Shore is a strategic planning consultant and business coach who works with companies that need customer service strategy and coaching. Based in Miami, Florida, Howard’s firm, Activate Group, Inc. provides strategic planning and management coaching to businesses across the country. To learn more about strategic planning consulting through AGI, please visit activategroupinc.com, contact Howard at (305) 722-7216 or email him.

9 Questions Every Business Model Should Answer

One of the most important strategic planning tools every company must have is a well-written business plan with a winning operational model. Well-constructed operational models answer nine key questions with a resounding ‘yes.’ Some small companies mistakenly think that only large companies need to address these operational questions. The companies that decide to put this off until they become bigger are among the 50 percent that fail within the first five years.

Questions That Determine If Your Company is Under-Performing

If you can’t answer these questions with a strong ‘yes’, your organization is probably under-performing in the areas of sales growth, customer service, employee satisfaction, innovation and profitability:

  • Does your management team willingly participating in the annual planning processes?
  • Does your organization regularly achieve all or most of the financial and non-financial goals in your plans?
  • Does everyone in your organization know the plan goals and how they will contribute to them?
  • Do the actions in your organization regularly resemble the plans?
  • Do you receive regular input from all levels of the company and use it to develop your plans?
  • Do you get regular input from your customers (not just complaints) and use it to develop your plans?
  • Do you know what trends are going on in your industry? Who your competitors are, what your competitors are doing, and what your opportunities and threats are? (SWOT analysis)
  • Have you identified specific market segments to focus on?
  • Do you know what capabilities, management systems, people, and other resources you must have in place now and for the future, and by when?

If your answers to these questions are a definitive ‘yes’, you have a successful business plan. If not, you know exactly where to start improving your model and planning process.

Howard Shore is an executive leadership coach who works with companies that need leadership development and business management coaching. Based in Miami, Florida, Howard’s firm, Activate Group, Inc. provides strategic planning tools and management coaching to businesses across the country. To learn more about business strategy development through AGI, please visit activategroupinc.com, contact Howard at (305) 722-7216 or email him.

How do you find your “Blue Ocean”?

More importantly, what is a Blue Ocean? That is the main focus of our upcoming strategic planning workshop called Keys to Forming an Awesome Strategy Workshop on Feb. 2. In it, we examine some of the principles from the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. In order to teach students how to build a business strategy that works, we look at how to dissect the various differentiating aspects of a service or product and create a refreshed strategic model around it.

Think about the different dimensions of your business. What decisions can you make about your product or service that will help you break boundaries? What choices do you have in terms of positioning your company in the marketplace?

This workshop gives you the model you need to reposition and strategize for exponential growth and success using some of the tactics of Blue Ocean Strategy, Good to Great (by Jim Collins), and our years of business strategy consultation experience.

This strategic planning workshop will help you answer:

  • What is the purpose of your business in one word?
  • What is your one-sentence strategy?
  • What is your brand promise?
  • What is your one main target audience?
  • What is your “big hairy audacious goal?”
  • What can you be great at?
  • What is your “X Factor?”
  • What is your ‘Profit per X’?
  • How does culture affect your business strategy and success?
  • How do you attract and hire the best talent?

Hurry! Spots are for our strategic planning working are limited so REGISTER TODAY.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential. To learn more about how an executive coach, management consultant, leadership training, or business coach can help your team, please visit his website at activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216 or email him.