Are interruptions “transforming “your customers into shoppers again?

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I am a big fan of action movies and the more Sci-Fi the better. I really enjoyed the first Transformers movie and I was anxiously awaiting the second: Revenge of the Fallen…how will they top the first? New villains, maybe 3-D special effects, and so on? I was convinced, based on the first movie I would be captivated again. They helped me establish a brand for the Transformer experience from the cartoons I would watch with my son years ago to their recent special effects of their last release. They set an expectation of a story line that flowed. I expected a great deal of action and special effects and some humor to give me a chance to catch my breath.

However what I experienced was a painful interruption. Unlike the first movie, this one threw in characters that did not support the story line and were actually a painful interruption for me. Interruptions are those elements thrown in to cause a response that add no value other than shock. They create a momentary interruption to grab your attention like a bikini clad model in an ad for spark plugs. Yes, your attention is momentarily grabbed, but for the wrong reason. At one point when one of the transformers were “humping” Megan Fox’s leg they lost me. They lost me because they did not live up to the brand they so carefully established in their cartoons and the first movie when I became a customer, and a fan. They lost me when they tried to get too cute, too funny,” because they could and not because they should”. They lost me when they added adult humor in a movie theater full of young children holding their favorite transformer toys.

 

How about your company…has the desperation to make your numbers caused you to compromise who you are?

 

Can you think of other examples of companies that strayed and could make a comeback?…not made a comeback?

 

What brand broke its promise to you?

 

What are the best ways to find out if you are transforming your loyal customers now shopping for another partner?

 

If you find out your interruptions are transforming your customer base to shoppers, what can you do, if anything to bounce back?

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Five questions a radio preacher asks to see if your business is heading in the wrong direction

 

Each day I listen to a Christian radio station as I drive to lunch. It’s not unusual that a preacher is sharing and often I find myself parking my car and taking notes. Yesterday was no exception as Chuck Swindoll was sharing five questions to know if we as believers are headed in the wrong direction.

 

As I quickly grabbed some take out and returned to the office I thought how the wisdom he shared could help businesses who may be headed in the wrong direction. Below are his five questions shaped to apply to you and your business.

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1. Do you find yourself fighting greater battles within than without?

 

 

2. Is there more attention on one versus the team? (kingdom building)

 

 

 

3. Do you feel you don’t need the Lord’s help in your business?

 

 

4. Are criticisms of your leadership and your business quickly dismissed versus taken seriously and respected?

 

 

 

5. Are consequences of sin are no longer feared? ( as a reminder, the definition of sin is “missing the mark”)

 

 

For a preacher who jokingly said he has a “face for radio” I find myself feeling very thankful for his sharing the wisdom found in the Bible. I find the Bible is an amazing resource of wisdom that can be applied instantly to circumstances we face as leaders in our business.

 

So how did you answer the above the above?

 

How is your team reacting to the challenges of today? Do they need to just STOP or are they “blame-storming?”

 

Do you find team members (you?) worried about how an individual may look versus the performance of your team?

 

Are you your own God? Is your ego preventing you from asking for the lord to bless you, your business, and your customers? (After all, EGO does stand for: Edging God Out) Are you counting on your gut and intuition?

 

How well does your senior leaders accept criticism and new ideas? How about you? Do you need to hire a Heretic?

 

Are you allowing bad behaviors that are not consistent with your team’s values? Are you allowing an “end justify the means” mentality?

 

All of this free business advice from the Bible and radio preacher? You bet!

You may want to check out his web site at Insight for Living, …who knows you too may find yourself parked in your car and taking notes at lunch time.

“Blame-storming” … a sign you work for a market “loser” not a “leader”

 

Direct TV has launched a number of very creative TV ads that resonate with me. Over the weekend I saw a new commercial that caught my attention. The scene takes place around a board room table with what is perceived as a senior leadership team trying to figure out how to solve a business problem. Whoever led the creative for the development of this advertisement has spent time, as I have, serving in dysfunctional teams.

For example, one of their more recent TV ads depicts a senior management meeting and the CEO says “what should we do?” And one team member quickly says “we should have a Blame-storming session…I blame Eileen …” blame

Market “Losers” choose to blame team members verse understanding the problem. Years ago I had a wise business coach and mentor named Bill Clarke who would say “focus on the problem not the person Mark,.. Very rarely do people choose not to perform well (particularly if poor performance adversely affects their income),… people are not broken, processes are…” Market losers and losing teams look quickly for a fall guy, someone to blame so that whatever was just discovered does not attach to them. If Market Losers spent as much time focusing on the real “why” behind the problems they discovered, verse “piling on team members when they have made a mistake”, they would become market leaders and grow profitably.

What makes this commercial connect is I have been in the meetings in which one team member finds a problem in another team members area, and as opposed to constructively trying to help, they “throw the other team member under the bus.” (trust me , I have plenty of tread marks on my back, and will probably have many more in the future)In truly dysfunctional teams other managers pile on. After all if we are playing the blame-storm game, if the focus is on one of my peers then the odds are people will not find nor focus on my shortcomings. (we all have them)

Market” Leaders” are excited when they find problems as they view them as an opportunity to improve. Every uncovered problem is an opportunity to better serve your market through creating a process that overcomes the issue(s) you have discovered. Market leaders have developed a culture deeply rooted in trust, common values, and aligned around a cross functional goal.

Market “Leaders” seek out roadblocks to success and they rally team members to build processes that help their other team members win in the future. Market leading teams have real discussions about topics that matter as they know they are safe to share mistakes and ask for help. Market losers quickly learn to hide mistakes and blame others.

The blame –storm game adds no value to the organization. Those who focus on someone to blame take the easy way out. It takes little skill to find problems in business today. Market losers want to pile on and lead a lynch mob do so in fear that their shortcomings will be discovered. They focus the beam of attention on others in hopes of building their credibility and importance to the organization by pushing others down. Leaders know we gain power by helping team members identify broken processes and creating new procedures that lifts struggling team members up.

 

What kind of organization do you serve? Market leader or market loser?

 

Have you been the victim of “blame-storming”? Did it help?

 

How do you deal with coworkers who try to gain power by pushing others down?

 

Does your culture condone “we eat our young” behavior? How’s that working for you?

Is “fleece throwing” the best way to launch your solution in the marketplace?

 

I was reading the Bible this morning, and in Judges 6:36-40 is the story of Gideon. A quick review of this story; God called Gideon to fight the Midianites. What we are supposed to do is obey and take action. However Gideon “tossed fleece.” What he did was a test of sorts, to make sure he would win before he went to battle. He said to God:

“If you will save Israel by my hand as you have said Lord, I will put a fleece on the floor overnight. If the dew is on the fleece only and it is dry on the ground, then I shall know you will save Israel by my hand as you have said”

This passage reminded me of product launches I have experienced over the years. When I wrote: Don’t let “FUD” cause you to “soft launch” your next product, I discussed how we let fear, uncertainty, and doubt prevent us from boldly launching our products and solutions into our markets. Gideon had a clear picture of his mission, he had all the power and wisdom of the universe behind him ,but he had doubt and uncertainty. ARCA0WGM1OCADC0AZOCAONZ7FWCA9CTXV2CA1587T4CAF2WA8RCA1QPY0CCAQYHW3GCATCNB8LCAW0TJCHCAAT12FWCACSX6MVCADSWY1DCA5N58OZCAV8C3QPCAEG7A94CATP9XXZCA6VA5HTCAIC0H9G

I have been following the blogs of Dave Daniels as his experience in launching products comes out in each post. What I enjoy most is his fresh “no smoke and mirrors” approach to launching products. I have yet to read how we are supposed to “put our toe into our market and make sure we will win” before we launch with everything we have.

I have lived through some product horrible launches and often I was to blame for poorly executed launches. The product came out of engineering late, sales was not properly trained, and our marketing failed to hit on time. So we soft launched and if the market embraced this new solution then we would do it the right way. Companies spend millions upon millions of dollars on; R&D, team member time (and the opportunity cost considerations of what they could have been doing), marketing campaigns are funded, sales people are trained and yet very few launches receive the attention they deserve. Dave is currently running a poll that I find very interesting that you can participate in at http://polls.linkedin.com/poll-results/43135/blzpm . He asks a very simple question, “Who is responsible for your launch?” I am very interested to see the results. My guess is the results will confirm this critical stage of the product lifecycle is left to chance, and because no one “technically” owns it, the results are predictable.

When I have experienced teams fleece tossing is when they lack confidence in their product or solutions’ benefit to their customer or they have not treated the launch process with the same urgency and discipline they did in writing the business plan, gaining funding, and or development.

The good news for Gideon is the Lord did give him a sign he would be victorious, and what did he do? He tossed another fleece just to be sure….

How about your team, are you boldly launching products or are you tossing fleece with soft launches?

What causes you team not to give launch the same attention the product received in development?

Does someone own your launch?

“Wet your sales team’s shields”… before they go into battle in your marketplace

 

Back in the days of the Roman Empire the warriors would prepare to go to battle by placing on their armor, gathering their weapons, and most importantly carry their shields. Their shields were obviously a tool to protect them in hand-to-hand combat, but also for  arrows shot from far distances where they often did not see the opponent who fired them.

Shields originally were made of wood wrapped tightly with animal hides. Some enemies however understood that shooting flaming arrows into opponents troupes long before hand-to-hand combat was a strong tactic as the outcome was often the destruction of the opponent’s shields. Without a shield the warrior was at a significant disadvantage in combat, and more likely to fall to random arrows fired from afar.

Experienced warriors would wet their shields prior to battle in anticipation of the flaming arrows. In today’s economy, salespeople are now receiving a number of flaming arrows that were not a part of the sales process in prior years.

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· Longer sales cycles

 

· More people involved in the buying decision

 

· Need to have a stronger ROI to support the purchase

 

· Higher level executives within the customer’s team now must approve purchases

 

· Headcount reductions , so buyers are busier and more difficult to reach

 

· The internet, buyers now Google for solutions instead of calling their sales rep

 

 

My challenge is what are you doing to help your sales warriors go to battle in this marketplace? Have you created new sales tools to help them “wet their shields” before battle? Some of your competitors may even be equipping their teams with metal shields that not only defend against flaming arrows but also are much more efficient in the day to day hand-to –hand engagements.

 

The reality of today is just hoping the flaming arrows do not connect is not a strategy for success.

 

What new tools has your team created to help your salespeople win?

 

Have you identified the flaming arrows being shot at your sales team today?

 

Do you plan to use this time to move to more efficient tools and processes?

$84 million Greeting Card new product idea for Father’s day? …not so fast

Picture fathers day

Father’s day is approaching and what do you get the guy who seems to have everything? For my dad it’s pretty easy, although he lives 2,000 miles away we still talk each week and a couple of ideas quickly come to mind. He’s a big fan of the television show 24, and he likes to golf so I went to the store and I quickly found episode three of 24, a golf shirt, and a card that connected to a memory of when he would say” I’m not sleeping, I am just resting my eyes”.

My wife however struggles each year with  father’s day as her parents were divorced when she was very young and she has little if any communication with her dad. Each year she gets frustrated while shopping for a card as they all say things like; “to the best dad in the world”, or “for someone who was always there”. So I offered to find a card for her to send to her dad this year. (How hard could it be?Just go to Target and buy one right?)

I started looking at funny cards, yet they referenced time together. I looked at serious cards; however they expressed a deep message that did not seem appropriate. (Why did I volunteer for this mission?) This was becoming very difficult to find a card that basically says ; “Happy father’s day, although you choose not to be a part of my life I love you unconditionally and I am thinking of you this day, and although you forgot my last birthday, I want to thank you for helping to bring me into this world and it’s never too late to build a relationship”.

Having launched a number of new products over the years, my mind started racing…this is an unresolved market problem: Cards for children who wish to connect with their parents who are absent from their lives. ( I am reminded of the scene from the movie Night Shift when the actor gets out his tape recorder and says…I’m an idea man, for example; stop the garbage problem by having edible paper..yes, I have a tape recorder too)

Then that familiar little voice in my head said; I should start a company to fix this problem…..

Not so fast… does it pass the 3 step acid test discussed in the book Tuned In? Is the problem; urgent, pervasive, and are people willing to pay to have it solved?

Is this an Urgent problem? I would say yes every father’s day, Mother’s day, birthday, and holiday.

Is it pervasive, do a number of people have this problem? Again, I quickly say “yes” as this is a problem for my wife.( and therefore becomes a problem for me) I need to be sure however before I take funds from my home equity it will work. Very quickly I start extrapolating( justifying why I should do this); the divorce rate in the US is around 50%, so this problem could touch ½ the US population. So I remember reading somewhere the US population is around 290 million so ½ would be a potential market size of 145 million, sounds good so far. Not all parents that are divorced are absent from their children’s lives. However I do hear quite a bit in the news about deadbeat dads…so let’s assume 10% of divorced parents are absent from their child’s lives…so the market size is now around 14 million per occurrence, and there are at least three occurrences per year per person

Are people willing to pay to solve this problem? I would say yes again. After all I would pay more than the average cost of a card if it perfectly solved this problem, and I would not have to search so hard for the right card.

So we have an unresolved market problem, as far as I can tell. We have children of absentee parents who wish to communicate with them on special days and holidays. So let’s try to size this opportunity ;(three times per year kids need cards ) X(my market size of 14 million) X (retail price of the card, say $3.00). This would be a nice $84 million business right? Well no, my guess is the gross profit margin Target realizes on greeting cards is around 50%, so now the opportunity is $42 million.I need to write a business plan, go get funding and launch this puppy before anyone else thinks of it….again,maybe.

The above scenario happens to me mentally each day, many times per day as I find unresolved problems. The problems feel urgent, pervasive, and I am willing to pay to solve them…and that’s where most people blow it, because like me you assume and guess without market data.You may very well be willing to pay to solve this problem with a perfect solution designed just for this specific niche, however at this point you really do not know if others would be willing to pay to solve this problem. You really do not know if others feel this problem is as urgent to them, and therefore it may not be nearly as pervasive as you once thought. It may very well be an awesome idea and because we know this problem intimately we would be the perfect person to solve it.

I have helped a number of startups who saw unresolved market problems that were so crystal clear they felt they would be a fool not to launch a solution to solve this problem before someone else did. About 6-8 months into missing their positive cash flow projections they hire me to “fix it”. Sometimes they find problems in markets they know very well. Most of the new companies launched today were started by someone who was working for someone else at the time they discovered a problem. However some entrepreneurs fall into a trap; I’m a pretty smart guy, I have done ——-, and ——-, and I believe I can turn this into a nice business quickly that I can then sell to a market leader for millions, buy matching Bentley’s and never have a care in the world again…right? Again, Maybe…

I did a little research not long ago and found that at any given time 6 out of 10 US adults are thinking about starting their own business. The disturbing statistic was the majority, between 80-90% who do launch a new business fail within 18 months. Why? They launch without a thorough understanding of the market, they lack a business plan, and grossly underestimate the cash needed to build and grow the business.Of those that fail, 50% declare bankruptcy.

There are a number of great on line tools for how to write a business plan. You can Google “how to write a business plan” and you will find sites like; My own Business, and many others. Before anyone takes equity out of their home, or borrows from their 401K or loved ones I highly recommend you do research and write a business plan. When you write a plan, you will be forced to answer hard questions, and you will need to go into the market and do research and not just rely on your gut and mental extrapolations of market size. Based on my experience,when you estimate the cost to start your business pad it by +25%, and when you estimate your timeframe to positive cash flow add 8 months to your forecast. You still in the game?

You may vary well have the next great new product, and when you complete market research and build a business plan you may validate that opportunity. Once the plan is written show it to at least 5 trusted advisors and ask their opinion of the opportunity. Ask them if they would loan you the money to start this business and listen to what they say.(many will say it’s a great idea as to not hurt your feelings, however the true test is would they back it with their checkbook?) If these advisors say you have a winner, meet with a number of people who would be representative of your buyer persona and ask their opinion of your solution. What you must determine is ;does your solution perfectly solve their problem? In addition, you will be asked to create a SWOT analysis for your plan. In doing so make sure and review competitors in the space, as well as competitors adjacent to the space you wish to participate in. In this case I would be up against American Greeting and Hallmark to name a few. Far too often entrepreneurs launch great solutions to unresolved market problems but they underestimate competitors already in the space, or adjacent to the space.

If you find an unresolved market problem, and you find the problem to be pervasive and buyers are willing to pay to solve it, do yourself a favor and do some additional research and write a business plan.

Oh, and as for my hunt that became a three hour quest to find a father’s day card for my father in law…the card pictured worked just fine. Was it a perfect solution…no, but it will do.