Is your business bleeding?… Three back to basics triage steps to stop the bleeding


If your revenues are off as of late you are not alone. However knowing others are struggling does not help you know where to make adjustments to achieve your corporate objectives, or for smaller companies to help you make payroll. I call this looking for the real “why.” Once you determine the true “why(s)” you can make strategic corrections and adjustments to correct your business.So what should you do if your business is bleeding today? It may feel like death by a thousand cuts, but I can assure you it is always one of three ailments.

Over the years, when your business was booming you really did not need to be that good. I know that disturbs some people, but the tendency for some is to have taken a position of; “do I know where the business is coming from and why people buy from me? ..Why should I care as long as it keeps coming in?” (as described by one of my customers years ago.) Well, now is the time they are caring.

There are three back to basics business triage reviews I  always asses. If you are not achieving your revenue targets your business is bleeding in one, or a combination of the below;


1. Product


2. The market


3. Your team




Do you have a product problem? What problem does your product solve? How well does it solve this problem? What have your customers been saying lately? Is your product the perfect solution for an unresolved market problem?



Do you have a market problem? Do you have a market or solution for one customer? How pervasive is the problem you solve in your market? What new conditions has your market experienced? Has your market experienced any new market dynamics like new competitors, government regulations, environmental factors, technology changes? Does your market feel the problem you solve is urgent? Does your market have the ability to pay for your solution? ( a word of caution, too quickly leaders determine they are bleeding due to a market problem, be careful)


Your team

If your product is a perfect solution (determined by the market) and the market is urgently looking for someone to solve their problem with cash in hand, then your problem is your team. This is one of the most difficult areas to adjust. The quickest indicator I look for is how market driven your team is overall. How focused and passionate are they to serving the market? Does your team possess the skill set required for the market of today? As is often the case some team members provided tremendous value in the past, but now lack the experience or training to meet the market needs of today. In a Fortune article recently it discussed how market leading companies are always training their team members in good times and bad.

Here’s a shocker for some CEO’s …you are a part of the team too!

If you have a product that perfectly solves and unresolved market problem, and a market that desires to pay someone to solve the problem your product solves, and you have an amazing team….then the problem may be you. Ouch!..that hurts , how do you know if you are the problem? You need to ask yourself some tough questions;

How well does your experience and training match the needs of your team and your market?

What area do you feel is your strength?

What area is your weakness?

What skill does your business need today?

What steps have you taken, and or are you taking to offset your weakness and or the needs of your business?

leaders know their strengths and humbly admit their weaknesses. Top leaders are committed to continuously improving their abilities to better serve their internal and external customers. This is accomplished through growing our abilities and balancing our teams with leaders who compliment our weaknesses.

It’s time you go back to basics and perform honest triage if you find your business bleeding.


A backpacker’s advice when we feel lost in business…


I was sharing with a friend who is an avid backpacker that a number of clients feel lost in today’s economy. Today is unlike anything they have experienced before and they feel lost. The things that always “worked” before, do not seem to apply now. As we discussed this my friend Jim said “well you know what they teach backpackers? We teach backpackers when they are lost to; STOP.

 back sitting






As I drove home that night I thought how profound that advice is for business leaders and owners today. I see so many business owners thrashing around, busy with tasks (tactics) that they have always done and hope they will change their current circumstance. It is difficult to just stop. Yet the reality of thrashing around without focus only depletes our resources and exhausts us. Exhausted and afraid we are not able to make rational (strategic) decisions which results in our becoming even more lost, and increasing the potential danger. Like a tire stuck in the mud some of us keep pressing the accelerator only to sink deeper into trouble and making more of a mess.

When we STOP, we replace activity and busyness with stillness. We stop depleting resources aimlessly throwing everything at the wall in hopes it sticks and allowing us to conserve our energy for more strategic effort at a later time. In a quiet state we can recognize what resources we have, where we are, where we have been, and accurately assess and observe the reality of the moment. In this state you may choose to make camp and seemingly do nothing. Rescuers will tell you when lost; the best way to be found is to not move. You may notice a landmark you failed to see while thrashing deep in the brush. Once still new options become evident.

When we STOP thrashing around in busyness and we can make our plan. Planning after thinking and being intentional about your future movements or non movement coupled with a thorough understanding of what is reality prepare us to make the most effective and efficient plans.

Plans give us focus, purpose, and an objective to rally behind. When we plan we naturally review a variety of scenarios so we create alternative plans that we may engage as we gather new information or encounter new challenges. The old saying “when we fail to plan we plan to fail “affirms this advice.

How about you? Have you taken the time to STOP over the last six months? If not, how’s that working for you?

Deciding to STOP could be the most valuable exercise you can do for your business and yourself.

Branding with Intension or by default? …Four questions to ask your brand manager

One of the most important items every company must address is its brand.

Some of the questions that come up when I meet with future clients include:

What do we want to be known for…what problems do w1brande solve for our customers?

Who are we today, and where do we want to be tomorrow in relation to the needs of the market?

What does your brand represent to your market?

What is the promise of our brand? 

Those questions get the conversation moving, but to talk about branding alone is not enough. Companies must brand with intention. Branding with intention means consciously deciding who you are, what you represent in the space you choose to play in, and most importantly clearly defining your value proposition. How do you want others (potential buyers and the communities they interact with) to know you? When I wrote my book Branding Backwards my goal was to help the business owner understand this concept of branding with intention or by default.

The market will determine your brand, and basically brand you by default if you do not intentionally brand your business.

You must clearly state the problems you solve better than anyone else and reinforce them in everything you do.

Ask your market what they feel your brand represents.

Do you find your brand promise is clearly stated in the voice of your customers or fuzzy and unclear?

When you ask clients and prospects what they feel your brand represents do you find their answers are consistent with your intention?

How much thought do you give to the promise of your brand?

Your “gut” and “intuition” are not enough…today

When I wrote my first post titled “ Do you know what you don’t know” I was brought back to a time when I was in my mid twenties serving a rapidly growing small company. I was a young manager and full of “piss and vinegar” eager to kick ass and take names. Our entire team was the same age give or take 5 years of age. We were growing rapidly and then hit a plateau . None of us had experienced this before so we hired a coach. One of the coaches’ reconditions was to bring in someone with more experience and a few gray hairs to balance the leadership team. At the time we hired Larry we were making decisions like we always did, but they were not working,and not having the desired impact. We hired Larry with his over 25 years experience and immediately we could feel his experience balance our decisions and quickly we were back on our rapid growth path.

I was so impressed with his calm and knowledgeable approach that I took him to lunch to figure out his secret. So over a great lunch discussing his past business experiences I asked the question burning inside me; “ Larry, how can I get what you have? This ability to see situations, analyze potential strategies in this different way?” I will never forget his answer ; “ Mark, you don’t know what you don’t know, and time and experience is the only way to get what you are looking for.” At that time I was frustrated by that answer. Now that I am the guy in my late forty’s with graying hair I finally understand what Larry was teaching me. Their is no better teacher than time. The danger comes in when all we rely on is our training and experience.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book Blink he talks about what Larry had back then. Was it a gut instinct, business intuition, or something else? In the book blink as one of the comments from my first post points out , over time , subconsciously we acquire information and this the author points out helps us make good decisions. Like other strengths however I believe relying on this alone can be a detrimental weakness. What Larry taught us was to take current market information and use the intuition to write strategies that result in explosive sales growth.

Intuition, “gut instinctcolumn-murketing2LG_0” if you will , is but one component of making good decisions.Your instinct and intuition are a culmination of your life experiences, training and education which ultimately helps you know what you know.It  also acts as a filter for what you see and experience in the future.

The problem occurs when you allow this inner voice to be your only decision making tool. Why? The biggest issue is your information is dated. The moment you experience something, it becomes the past. The unique set of circumstances that you experienced will never be exactly the same again. So how can we rely so much on what got us through the last challenge will get us through this one? The big risk is , if taken too far your team will no longer believe in you as the leader and label your leadership as “clueless” in their minds. Once this occurs you are destined for a downward EBITDA spiral . So how do we know if we are sounding clueless to our team? Guy Kawasaki wrote a brilliant blog titled How to tell if your CEO is clueless that  I recommend everyone read.

So are leaders clueless or just arrogant, both? The definition of arrogance is : an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions. Executives who rely on their gut instinct, their personal intuition alone are arrogant in today’s economy.

Today we face conditions unlike any we have ever experienced. Today is not like the great depression, the dot com bust, or the last time the oil fields were burning in Iraq. Today we see a toxic economic cocktail of ;housing declines and foreclosures, financial institutions in peril, oil prices climbing, a new President, economic advisors ( experts) grasping at straws, unemployment reaching 15 year lows…all shaken not stirred by access to  instant information causing huge swings in the stock market and ultimately consumer confidence.So I thought it would be interesting to ask CEO’s how they solve problems today.

When I surveyed CEO’s recently I asked a simple question; “where do you turn when faced with a problem in your business?” At first the answers were all over the board. However three answers bubbled to the top;

1. my network (I phone a friend)

2. my board, my business advisors

3. I get my team together and we figure it out

My concern with all of theses answers implies those you are turning to are closer to the conditions of the market of today than you are ( or have a bigger or smarter “gut”). I have to admit when I was faced with a challenge with a company I was helping in 2002 the first thing I did was reach out to my network, and that alone was wrong. Today requires critical thinking that includes a strong deep connection and understanding of to your  market, it’s needs, and it’s buyers coupled with instinct and experience to weather this storm. So what should we do , as we lead our organizations ?

Below are six steps I recommend;

1. quantify “what is” (without judgments attached)

2. build an intimate knowledge of your market and particularly its problems

3 understand your team, strengths, weaknesses, and insure you have a team with skills to solve the market problems you discover

4. look for what is working (and find out why)

5. humble yourself ( yes you heard me right) authentically  admit what you do not know, and seek information

6. as Steven Covey said “sharpen the saw” we must invest in self improvement,the book  what got you here won’t get you there does a great job of explaining this


Today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will not be like today. As leaders we must constantly balance our intuition with new market data and critical problem solving skills to be more agile to come out ahead in today’s market.

Where do you turn when you face a business challenge?

How’s that working for you today?

Image from Fast Company article; Going for the gut

Do you know what you don’t know?

When working with another executive inside or outside your organization, where do they fall on the Knowledge Matrix? The answer to this question will quickly guide you on how to work with them on a go forward basis.knowledge matrix


Quadrant 1 – Know what they know


Quadrant 2 – Know what they don’t know


Quadrant 3 – Don’t know what they know


Quadrant 4– Don’t know what they don’t know {most dangerous}


Of all the types of individuals above the Quadrant 4 executive is the most dangerous as they do not know what they do not know. Why? This individual lacks the emotional intelligence to admit what they do not know and as a result they make bad decisions over and over again. A sign of this type of leadership is a negative trending EBITDA .

As opposed to asking for help or seeking additional research, they guess, they assume, and they make key decisions based on their “gut”. The information they use for key decisions is often dated, and or skewed by an ego that outweighs their desire to win and time in the market many years prior.

For example, how many executives do you know that make decisions based on market research? In a recent survey, marketers admitted that 70% of the decisions are made for new products and or decisions for existing products without market data. Therefore, it should not surprise anyone the high frequency of new business failures and that 2/3 of new products are removed from the market within 18 months.

Far too many executives in leadership roles are “winging it” today when it comes to making decisions to drive their business. I promise you your market , your buyers and the buyer’s process for purchasing have changed over the past six months. We must get back to basics and make decisions with hard data as our budgets lack the wiggle room for poor decision making.


What Quadrant do you find most of your buyers in today?

Plot your leadership team, in what Quadrant do most of your organization’s leaders fall?

Where do you fall?

How can we insure we too do not become the executive in a leadership role who doesn’t know what they don’t know?