By: Tate Bengtson -VernonMorning Star
Adaptation is a buzzword in the business community because it grapples with the fact that the only thing predictable in life is change.
Adaptation turns upon a simple question: Can your business learn from external events?
A young business succeeds because of its ability to profit from a particular external environment. Energized by its early achievement, the young business is prone to repeat the same practice without regard for change. In short, the successful, young business stops learning as it ages. It risks becoming a victim of its own success.
The solution is to borrow a page from educators and foster systemic lifelong learning in your business. When your business becomes a lifelong learner, it capitalizes upon change. It does this by ensuring that every person in your business’ value network – that collection of customers, employees, suppliers and anybody else who interacts with your business – is a co-producer of value.
While an organizational overhaul requires considerable time and effort, below are two tips that will place your business on a path to lifelong learning.
First, are you resolving customer feedback constructively or productively? Most businesses take a constructive approach to customer feedback. Customer feedback is valued and concerns are resolved satisfactorily. This is good. However, the lifelong learning business goes one step further and focuses on productive solutions.
A productive solution means that customer service experiences are effectively communicated to product development and sales departments. Customer service is not simply a matter of product support to protect a reputation or to preserve customer loyalty. Customer service is a window into why and how your customers use your products. This information will suggest your business’ next innovation or sales pitch. In essence, your customers become co-producers of value.
Second, are your senior managers aligned with your business’ strategy, vision and values? A senior manager without strategic knowledge is not capable of making good decisions in a changing environment. A senior manager without knowledge of the organization’s vision and values lacks the most basic tools to take the right risk at the right time. It is that simple.
In an environment that can only be described as a strategic vacuum, silos evolve naturally; there is no broad interdepartmental co-operation – the production of value through synergy – because there is no sense of context. Your business will not anticipate change, let alone learn from it. Avoid silos by talking with your senior managers about how changes to the external environment affect what your organization is trying to achieve: the wheat of the matter.
At the individual level, lifelong learning requires a voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge over the course of one’s life. At the business level, lifelong learning needs an organizational structure that treats every node in your value network – including customers and senior managers – as co-producers of value.
By: Arnold Anderson
A company relies on the creativity and skill of the sales department to drive revenue. The sales manager works with his staff to develop effective solutions to customer issues and create ways to attract new clients. There are strategies that a proactive sales manager can use to utilize the talents and strengths of his sales team to increase overall performance.
Setting goals is used by sales managers to gauge a sales associates’ performance. But it can also be used to maximize team effectiveness. By utilizing a team bonus structure, the sales manager creates a situation where the group becomes responsible for its collective performance. The manager encourages teamwork within the group to help each person reach his maximum possible bonus level and ensures that the team has all of the resources it needs to succeed. Those resources include regular product trainings, a reference library and access to pertinent Internet websites.
Interaction between sales professionals in an atmosphere monitored by the sales manager can be a useful way to exchange ideas. A weekly sales meeting where members of the team are encouraged to discuss any issues they are having with customers, products or internal support problems can help build a sense of teamwork. It can also be used as a way for members of the sales group to encourage each other and offer suggestions to improve performance.
Sales professionals are expected to be creative in the pursuit of revenue, but even creative sales people need basic criteria to use as a baseline for performance. For example, if your sales staff engages in outbound calls each day to find new prospects, then you can set a baseline of 25 calls per representative per day. Your sales associates then have a minimum to use as a measuring stick, and you can achieve excellence when they exceed those minimums.
When you give your sales team an active role in determining its own success, you can help to increase awareness of the group’s performance. Delegating responsibility for activities such as monitoring credit issues with the accounting department and maintaining accurate inventory information from logistics to sales professionals will make the group more aware of the way in interacts with the rest of the company. It also helps the sales group to have a more direct influence on important customer issues, such as credit limits and product availability.
Last week I was working with client and his team putting the final touches on their 2011 strategic plan. As we were finishing up, my client asked if I could come in and do some work with his team on conflict resolution, as he felt they needed a lot of improvement in the areas of communication and working together. When I asked him what the major issues were, he said they have so many different personality styles that it can be a struggle at times.
Sure enough after doing some personality testing of his entire team, and graphing the team’s style chart, we discovered he was right. We had a team of 12 executive leaders who have very different approaches to accomplishing tasks, communicating and achieving goals. This was a strong team with a broad range of talents, skills, experience and backgrounds. But rather than see that as a negative, I suggested we view this as an asset, and congratulated him on his brilliant approach to hiring and recruiting top talent. With a little work, a little different set of expectations, we could turn his workplace conflict into his strategic asset.
So often we see conflict as uncomfortable and do what we can to avoid it at all costs. When conflict can actually be just what we need to move our company forward. Healthy conflict ensures we see our blind spots, discover new solutions, execute more effectively and experience more financial success.
Some of the strongest relationships we have in life are at work. We certainly spend more time with many of these people than we do with our own families, so just like with any relationship conflict is natural. It is only when we avoid conflict that it becomes a negative. If we want to make workplace conflict a strategic asset we must create a culture where we embrace it and encourage it. There is real value in diverse opinions, ideas and little healthy argument.
How do you create positive workplace conflict?
1. Give your team the tools and information they need to be self aware, to understand their strengths and weaknesses and their communication style (personality tests such as DISC, Myers Briggs, or more involved testing)
2. Encourage them to learn and understand the communication styles of their team members, their clients and their peers. Hold them accountable to adjust their styles to better communicate with others
3. Set ground rules for healthy communication
4. As the leader, encourage differences of opinion and make time for needed discussion
5. Acknowledge to everyone the unique value that each member brings to the team. Set an expectation for conflict by letting your team know with the diversity of talents, experience and opinions you are counting on respectful conflict and look forward to the debate
6. Always make people feel valued for sharing their opinion
What is the return on investment of workplace conflict?
1. Innovation – with open communication from a diverse group of leaders you have more access to more innovative and creative ideas to solve challenges and discover solutions
2. Financial Success – in a culture where conflict is encouraged, team members feel more open to discuss potential problems or concerns before projects are implemented or before they become too costly to fix
3. Talent Development – cultures where opinions are valued attract and retain a higher rate of quality leaders
4. Execution – people support what they help create – and cultures that embrace open discussion from everyone involved gain greater support and buy-in during execution
Conflict is natural and when it is something we embrace rather than avoid, we can easily turn it from something that drains our culture to something that enhances it. We can turn workplace conflict into our strategic asset.
By: David Ronick
Thinking about leaving your job to start a business? Before you take the plunge into entrepreneurship, consider these tips I gleaned from coaching over 100 founders over the past three years.
1. Stay close to shore. Today, you and your company are “known”. When a prospective customer or partner gets a call or email from you – “John Smith, VP of Sales at big company X”, they’re likely to respond. But once you start a business, prospects getting the same call will ask “Who? From where?” The closer you stay to your area of expertise, the stronger your network and reputation will remain. That will make it easier for you to land customers, partners, distributors, suppliers, press and investors.
2. Pack light. When you envision your product or service, you probably get excited about all the bells and whistles you’ll eventually offer. Stop it! Instead, start by developing a “minimum viable product” – the most basic version of your offering that will let you address the needs of your core customers. That will let you move faster, spend less, and get your product into the hands of customers, so you can start getting feedback.
3. Roll up your sleeves. Startups tend to have flat organizations with limited resources, so you probably won’t be able to delegate as much as you used to. At first, it’s a drag to be the one fetching coffee and assembling desks. But you’ll quickly learn how every important task needs to get done. That will make it easier for you to hire the right employees, and give them the training, guidance and tools they need.
4. Swim with the fish. Just because this is your first startup doesn’t mean you have to be the only first-timer involved. Instead, find partners, employees and advisors who have built successful companies before. You’ll balance each other out, and move faster.
5. Dive in. At a big company, you’ve got to plan extensively. After all, you’ve got brands to protect, money to spend, and years of historical data to help you predict the future. But startups are more fluid, and less predictable. Instead of spending months trying to anticipate what’s about to happen, take a few weeks to plan just enough to avoid making big mistakes. Then dive in, and get started. You’ll learn things once you’re in the water that you wouldn’t see from the deck.
By: Glenn Engler
The CMO has a hard job. We know the reality. She has to deal with more pressure than ever before from the executive team to drive results. The CMO role has also expanded to require integration with finance, procurement, legal, customer service, IT and corporate communications, to name a few. And the CMO needs to establish her presence and “brand” in the marketplace to attract partners, media properties and talent. And finally, the CMO also controls the creative agencies, usually either a single lead agency or a group of agencies defined more for some specialization. Adding to the pressure? I believe the latest surveys show that the average tenure of a CMO is something around 20 months.
Given the pace of change in every industry, you would expect CMOs to constantly experiment, adapt, innovate and implement. But my experience is just the opposite — too many CMOs are caught in the middle. Short-term pressures to drive this quarter’s numbers result in a go-to-market plan that is familiar, tried-and-true and cautious. Take 10% of your budget and try something new, and you run the risk of missing a number, and getting chastised for being careless. Pull ahead some spending to make a bigger impact, and you run the risk of not having enough impact and then facing a lower level the next quarter — and questions from your boss. Don’t get approval for deviating from the safe plan and run the risk of getting creamed afterwards.
So what defines risk? I worked with a major automotive manufacturer for years and during a planning effort with the strategy board it became apparent that building a $2 billion plant was deemed low risk, because it was familiar; but allocating $50 million to launch a web-based marketing initiative was deemed high risk, because they had never done it before. So it was killed. As were several other “different” initiatives. Chief financial officers demand an ROI, procurement looks at costs through a common lens, chief operating officers want to know the path to risk mitigation, and corporate communications wants to brace for negative backlash. The CMO, despite a brief moment of courage, gets beaten down and ultimately falls into the trap of incremental changes.
Now CMOs are faced with “risk” questions around social media. Does it drive leads and sales right now? What is the ROI? How does it translate to brand metrics right now? How does it compare to money spent on our TV spots, or a radio promotion? These are important questions to address, and efforts in social media need to be measured and, ultimately, linked to business results. Otherwise it will always be a small channel on the periphery to too many organizations. My agency focuses aggressively on measuring social media around three dimensions: social pulse (metrics like engagement, activity, sharing, etc.); purchase funnel metrics (awareness, consideration, preference, etc); and business results (leads, trial, sales, loyalty, etc.).
But if you step back, the best CMOs are powered by innovative and forward-thinking CEOs. And if you believe that there are more individuals shaping your brand outside of your four walls than in it; and if you believe that social search is going to transform the search model; and if you believe the reports that show that consumers trust friends and family the most, perfect strangers second, and brands third; and if you believe that understanding the ecosystem around your customers and potential customers (the individual, their influencers, the brands they love, how and where they spend their time, what their passions are) is paramount to creating a successful marketing machine — then the innovative CMO will embrace the social space as a “gotta have” core component.
So what do you do?
Listen: Follow your customer. How does she spend her time? If your target is a Mom, make sure you know how some of the 4 million mommy bloggers are influencing purchase decisions. If your target is a doctor, make sure you understand how the mobile web is changing the dynamics of information gathering, research and consultation. Look at how Pampers engaged with Moms, or American Express added value to small business with Open.
Fast Pilot: Get started. Try something. Don’t mortgage your third-quarter numbers, but place a solid bet on a product or service, or a customer segment, or a geography. If your customer is heavily engaged in the space, you have to be. Delta piloted ticket sales in distributed places like Facebook and small business hubs. Sony engaged book group bloggers for its e-reader products.
Learn: Be clear whether the program is focused on driving brand perception or leads. Make sure your metrics and measurement efforts are aligned accordingly. Nothing will kill a pilot faster than setting up the initiative to test for pre- and post-brand perception while telling the C-Suite that it will drive sampling and near-term sales.
Keep Innovating: Put the next program in market. Measure the impact. Roll it out, adapt it or kill it, but keep innovating. Ford is a master at trying different ways to connect with its core audience, placing bets and learning from them.
The organizational immune system may kick in to blanket your effort as “risky.” But as a marketer, I would suggest that not engaging where the customer is spending her time; not adding value to the discussions; not identifying and partnering with their key influencers — now that is the true definition of “risk.”