At the great (GREAT) risk of offending at least half of the people (or more) that read this blog, I came across this terrific example of how to take a complicated, convoluted issue and turn it into an entertaining and influencing story. The video below is about healthcare/insurance reform.
Please do not get lost in the politics of the video. The point here is not whether you agree disagree with the issue. The point is the producer of this video turned his viewpoint into a great story. My bet is that this little, inexpensive story will have greater actual influence than all the town halls combined. UPDATE: I’ve received some feedback and want to point out again that whether you agree with the producer’s viewpoint or disagree – it’s a terrific job of weaving a very complicated, nuanced idea into a simple, compelling story.
Now, take a moment and think about your business. How can you turn your viewpoint into a story like this?
Anyone who knows me knows that I love coaching my son’s baseball team. Fall season started yesterday, and I was working with one of the boys on hitting. This boy is very athletic, but he finished the summer season in a bit of a hitting slump. When he got up to hit, he had twisted his body in a way that I still can’t figure out and was very tense. As the pitch came, you could see every muscle in his body tense up as he tried to unleash his strength in an all-out effort to hit the ball hard. Needless to say, he missed 9 of the 10 pitches he faced. After his at-bat, I said to him, “Kevin (not his real name), you need to stop trying so hard to hit the ball, and instead let yourself hit it.”
When I headed home from practice I found myself thinking about those words and how they apply to virtually everything we do. We all have a tendency to get in our own way. What’s interesting is that often the more we want something, the more we get in our own way (read, The Inner Game of Tennis if you want to know why we do this). I know that the more I want a sale, the more I try to get it, and the more careful I need to be. As a matter of fact, I have an entire personal ritual that I go through before making a sales presentation to ensure that I don’t allow myself to get in my own way. How different and more effective would I be if, instead of thinking I need to try to make the sale, I though I need to let myself make the sale?
What would the impact be when working on a new skill, you thought “let” instead of “try?” How much more comfortable would you be? How much more would you play?
So, give it a try let yourself…
I’ve written a lot about change recently. I guest the reason for this is because of all the conversations I’ve been having with clients who seem to be reborn with excitement about creating a new future, now that it appears the “world is not ending.” One of the things I’ve noticed is that after an initial burst of energy a great idea emerges. The idea is then immediately watered down to the banal, trite and common.
Yesterday, I told one of my clients to “stop being ‘reasonable.’” Think about it. A definition of “reasonable” is “of sound judgment, fair and sensible.” How great can “fair and sensible” be. If you want a future with above average top line growth and way above average bottom line growth, “fair and sensible” isn’t going to cut it. You’ve got to be crazy. Creating something great is not an act of balance, precisely the opposite. Anything great, by definition, is an outlier.
The challenge with being an outlier is that you threaten the status quo – and the status quo doesn’t like to be threatened. As a result, the people who are being held back by the status quo will do whatever they can to bring you back to pack. One of the most effective means of doing that is ridiculing you. Experts will talk about how “silly you are,” “how you lack the facts,” or “how it can’t be done.” Friends will think you’ve gone nuts. Employees will think your crazy and will begin to hide from you (while deep down they’ll be hoping you don’t fall for this trap as they want to break free from the status quo as well but are afraid). Being ridiculed is tough. You’ll feel isolated. You’ll experience doubt and you won’t be allowed to show it to anyone.
But, if you allow yourself to be ridiculed and you stick to your vision (while of course making adjustments), you’ll begin to seem less crazy. People will begin to be inspired by what you’re doing. The market will show increasing curiosity about your “new” thing. And before you know it, they’ll be jumping on your bandwagon. As long you you implement solid business principles, what once seemed ridiculous will become genius, and you’ll experience the personal and financial gain that goes with it.
So, are you ready to be ridiculed? Go for it!
I was struck by an excerpt from a Don Hewitt speech he gave talking about the success formula for 60 Minutes. He said it was a formula that every six-year old understood – “Tell Me A Story.” While this concept is certainly not new to me (I’ve been evangelizing it for years), what struck me was its simplicity and how well 60 Minutes has delivered on that philosophy for more than 40 years.
I’ve become even more aware of just how rare businesses tell stories, and how little time they spend articulating their story. Today, I was discussing the issue with a CEO friend of mine. He tends to be more operationally-oriented than I am, and often, finds his company stuck between the investments he’s made in improving the company and the acceptance he’s getting from the market (as measured by revenue growth, margin growth and profit growth). My advice to him was, “The best operation doesn’t win – the best story does. So if it ever comes down to a choice between investing in making the story better or investing in making the operation better, make the story better.” This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to invest in improving your operations (YOU DO!), it just means that you should never let improving your operation get in the way of making your story better.
Imagine Business Development operates on the front lines of change. Everyday, we work with small and mid-sized businesses that are embarking on a journey of transformation. They’re looking to accelerate growth, raise profits, and move away from the traditional demand fulfillment business world to becoming a Demand Creator. Despite the challenges, I love the work, and it is the mission that aligns everyone at my company. We wake up knowing that we will confront issues that we’ve never seen before, and that we will guide organizations to a new, bigger, better and brighter future.
Change, as we all know, is difficult. Every time someone shares with me their goals, I always tell them: “It’s not a question of what do you want; it’s a question of what are you willing to do and not do to get it.” I share with them my favorite quote of all-time, from Joe Louis: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” While the act of change is among the most difficult things anyone (or organization) will ever do, the idea of change is quite enticing. I hear it all the time. “We’re creating a “Blue Ocean” offering,” or “We’re going LEAN,” or “We’re going to transform the industry.” I love hearing those things, but I always wonder if the people who are making these bold statements really understand what they mean – and most often they don’t. Simply saying your a Blue Ocean does not make you one – and the actual act of building one will require you to change everything about your organization – even you.
I was talking about this with a friend and fellow blogger, Bob Corlett, when he was sharing with me the story of a company he had met with that felt they were poised to double in the next one to two years. The only problem was that the company had been around for 27 years and had never experienced growth like that at all, nor did they have a clear plan in place to achieve it. Just yesterday I was talking with an extremely bright CEO of a mid-size business who has plans to introduce a highly disruptive offering and quintupling the size of his company in less than three years. He’s aware of several challenges, but I fear that he is drastically underestimating how much he will need to change to make the journey successful.
A common goal of my clients is to double (or more) their revenue over the next three to five years, so I’m quite familiar with the challenges associated with this type of growth (this is the reason the name of the blog is The Fast Growth Blog). I’ve written many times about how the key to fast growth is becoming comfortable with being wrong. Success in business (or anything for that matter) is not about being right – it’s about being progressively less wrong; faster than your competition.
Most senior executives, however, think their job is to be right. They place their self worth on “being right,” or “being the one that knows the most.” The challenge with this thinking is that you can only be “right” about things that happened in the past. When the concern is about “being right,” the focus becomes the status quo the very change you are championing gets poisened. It’s difficult letting go of what you know in exchange for grabbing what you don’t. It’s down right scary. The option, however, is far worse.
So bring on the big goals. Disrupt and transform your industry – it needs it. And remember, the first step to getting the future that you want for yourself and your business is to be the manifest of the very change you seek.
- An unsustainable business model
- The willingness to admit that the model is unsustainable and agree that transformation is necessary
- The lack of guts/stomach/commitment to truly engage in transformation
The newspaper industry admits that its model is dead, and they willingly engage in discussions about transformation, and then … they increment. They make modest improvements, they put their proverbial toe in the water and they increment their way to oblivion.
Why are they so afraid? Well, it’s natural to be scared. It’s normal to hold off of letting go of what’s worked for you when it’s so uncertain of what will work for you in the future. Besides, you’ve made a lot of money doing what you’ve done. Sure, if newspapers had embraced the Internet and online distribution when they should have (say, 5 – 10 years ago), they would have killed their cash cows – and who wants to kill a cash cow?
Your yet to emerge competitors do – that’s who!! If you’re afraid of killing your business, you can rest assured that some upstart individual or company would like nothing more than to kill you business. IBM killed its business model when they embraced a service model instead of a product sales model. That’s what The Dave Matthews Band did when they gave their music away – and found a way to make money through concerts and merchandise. So don’t wait, take the initiative and be the one to kill your business model.
The failure to do so means that you’re in “A Newspaper Business.”
As more and more data supports the diminishing return of traditional advertising, businesses (especially small and mid-size B2B businesses) are left wondering what to do. I’ve written many times this year about the importance of a content development strategy, and how do utilize content to support the sales process.
I’m in the middle of conducting a full review of how one of our clients is approaching this issue (a process we call The Packaging Audit). The vast majority of their promotional efforts are focused on traditional advertising in the form of direct mail, trade magazines and trade shows. The fundamental problem with this approach is that it creates no equity value whatsoever. In order to continue getting results (and diminishing ones at that) one must continue to do at least what they did before.
We agreed that we wanted to cut by at least 50% their expenditure on their legacy approach, and begin building promotional efforts that built equity value (meaning they increase in the value and impact without increasing effort or costs). Additionally, we agreed that any new budget items would have to clearly support The New Marketing Funnel. While they’ve certainly cut (especially on tradeshows), their concern was how would they continue to drive results if they cut across the board – even though they were not convinced there was any real ROI on these activities (a very common SME issue).
The value of a content strategy is that it focuses on creating value – rather than interupting the customer. If one takes the same approach to their advertising – looking to go beyond advertising and promotion to real influence – then the results can be equally compelling. Making this transformation, however, means that you must completely rethink all (and I mean ALL) of your advertising and corporate colatoral. This includes (but is not limited to) your website, your ads, your brochures, your product data sheets, your sales tools, etc. Here are the five key points to making this transformation:
Do your own audit – take a look at every piece of sales, advertising or promotional communication and ask yourself if you are applying these five points.
I pride myself on being an optimist. A long time ago I had a coach who told me that he could describe the current business environment at the time and forever in the future. “Opportunity mixed with difficulty,” he said. He added, “And what’s more – the greater the difficult, the greater the opportunity.”
I also pride myself on being a realist. And I have to admit that I’m getting a bit concerned about the buzz I’m hearing in business circles. While I certainly think the increased optimism and focus on growth on the part of business executives is much healthier than the “we’re all doing to die” feelings of a few months ago, I’m concerned that many may be deceiving themselves.
Today, in my twitter stream I’ve seen a number of headlines, such as:
- 6 Ways to Prepare for the Coming Upswing
- Dow, S&P Hit New ’09 High
- Pace of Job Losses Sets Stage for Quick Labor-Market Rebound
- When recessions end, stocks win
What concerns me is not the optimism, but the messages beneath the headlines. I’m worried that executives are viewing the “economic recovery” as a certainty and typical of previous recoveries. Now, just a few months ago, executives were convinced that we were never going to emerge from recession, today it appears as though the champagne has been put on ice.
As my opening paragraph indicates, I fully believe that the next 12 – 18 months represents TREMENDOUS opportunity – FOR THOSE BUSINESSES WHO MAKE THE CRITICAL, PAINFUL, AND NECESSARY CHANGES TO THEIR BUSINESSES.
• If you think for a second that the price concession your buyers have grabbed from you in the past 12 months are going to be given back without significant oppositions, you’re in for a rude awakening.
• If you think discretionary spending (both in corporate markets or consumer markets) is going to come back to previous levels, be prepared to be shocked.
• If you think your traditional, non-value creative sales approaches are going to work like they did in the past, be prepared to watch your margins disappear.
Here’s the point: Just because the environment feels less painful, don’t reduce the time you spend thinking about your business and its direction. Don’t slow down any actions you planned because, “things aren’t so bad.” While you should certainly be preparing to for a recovery, you should be asking yourself: how have you fundamentally changed your business approach and maybe, even, your business model. If you haven’t, there’s a good chance you won’t notice the recovery – whenever it does happen.
The last three weeks have brought a tide change in the economic outlook. CEOs are looking at growth initiatives more than they have in two years. Despite the increase in optimism, there are still several challenges your selling team faces:
- Discretionary budgets remain virtually non-existent at most companies.
- Record layoffs have fundamentally changed the playing field at your buyer’s organizations.
- The purchasing function has seized more control than ever in buying organizations – leading to even more acute commoditization.
So, the question you must be able to answer is:
How are we going to make it rain – regardless of the weather?
Where: Anywhere you have an Internet connection
How Long: 55 minutes
I am going to be keeping the number of participants on this call to less than 25 to ensure that it is interactive – allowing you to ask questions and maximize the application of the ideas I am going to discuss – rather than making it the typical “talking head” presentation. While your questions will clearly impact what is covered on this call, I can promise we will address the issues:
- The 3 Critical Actions You Must Take to Drive Growth In High-Margin Areas
- How to create your own “Business Oasis”
- How to shorten the sales cycle – in any industry
- Monetizing the sales process by creating Cash Flow Farms
- The single most important focus to ensure you business thrives in any market condition
Why I am doing this for free, you may be asking? Is this just a sales pitch in disguise? The reason:
With increased talk and focus on the possibility of recovery, we realized that many businesses are positioning themselves to make the very same mistakes they made that got them into this mess. We want to start a new conversation and provide small and mid-sized businesses a newer, clearer direction that leads to more profitable business growth.
Netlfix is a darling. Their customers love them, and so does Wall Street. In the last five years, their stock has more than doubled, while the S&P 500 has gone nowhere. But let’s face it – Netflix should not have succeeded – Blockbuster should have. Blockbuster had every advantage – they had the relationships, the cash and the marketing budget. However, while Netflix has doubled, Blockbuster stock is worth less than 1/10th of what it was worth just 5 years ago.
How did Netflix win. After reviewing the presentation below, I’m more convinced than ever that Netflix won because of the culture they have built on purpose. The presentation below has 128 pages to it, but every one is worth reviewing.
Innovation is important. Strategy is critical. Tactics matter. But give me the culture that allows great people to be great and expels people who aren’t – and I have no worries.
It’s easy to look at successful companies and explain away their success. It happened to me today at a speech. I was sharing how Apple has been able to create demand, own markets, and receive disproportionate rewards compared to their competition.
Then it was said, “But, I’m not Apple.”
On my flight home, I couldn’t help but think back to the statement. I wondered where Apple would be if it’s executives had said, “But we’re not Apple.”
It’s easy to forget that Apple began making their move when they were written off for dead. They were irrelevant and they were going broke. They had every reason to act as though they had no options, but they didn’t.
They acted as the company they wanted to be, long before they became the company that they are.
So, the next time you find yourself saying, “But,” stop and act as if you could.
I admit it. I’ve used military analogies from time to time to explain both strategies and tactics. War analogies are easy to use, easy to understand - and easy to misapply. For years, I’ve written about the various myths of selling, but the one that just gets my goat is this one – Selling Is War.
Recently I came across a sales oriented blog that finished their message on selling strategies with this paragraph:
If you are in sales, you are perpetually in a state of war. All salespeople are warriors who must fight the relentless march of time and enemies who are trying to defeat them daily. Sales is an intense hand-to-hand battle fought between two people or two groups of people who are each trying to win over the customer. The victor outsmarts, outmaneuvers, and overwhelms his enemies. In sales, just as in war, there can be only one winner, and today’s conqueror can quickly become tomorrow’s vanquished. The deciding difference is strategy.
If I searched the world for one paragraph that was at the focal point of what is wrong with selling, I could not find one better than this. What scares me about this, and why I’m pointing it out in this post, is that I think a lot of executives and salespeople believe this philosophy.
After reading the paragraph a couple of times, I admit that I’m not sure whether the author is saying that the customer is the enemy, the competitor is the enemy or both. What I do know, is that author is clearly communicating that sales – at it’s core – is a win/lose proposition. And this belief is at the core of why businesses are being so relentlessly commoditized.
Let’s be clear – SELLING IS NOT WAR; and any allusions to selling as war make your job as a fast growth executive or salesperson more difficult. Is it any wonder that top performers and brilliant salespeople bristle at the idea of “selling.”
War is rarely, if ever, any of these (and the war referred to above is clearly none of these). So, let’s drop the silly war analogies, and get back to creating value for our prospects, customer and clients. When you do that, your competition (the enemy) becomes irrelevant.
My son just got back from Cal Ripken Jr.’s baseball camp. The camp is run by Cal and Bill Ripken‘s company. Cal is a fascinating person to watch. As “The Iron Man,” he can basically do whatever he wants; and he’s dedicated his post-professional career to making youth baseball better. My son had a great time and learned a lot in the process.
The Ripken Academy (which put on the camp) follows four simple principles in their instruction – what they call The Ripken Way. As my son was talking about The Ripken Way, I realized it’s application beyond youth baseball – to, well, everything. I spend a lot of time on this blog trying to share important ideas and examples that will enable small and medium sized businesses (SME’s) to accelerate their growth and create demand. My company, Imagine Business Development, works with SMEs and salespeople to help them improve their results. Without knowing The Ripken Way consciously, I realize that these are four principles that I always try to follow. Now that I know them, I’m going to ingrain in my company and our efforts. I want to share them with you, so you may do the same in your company. (The italics are my take on each principle.)
The Ripken Way is based on the following principles:
- Keep It Simple – it’s easy to make a solution complicated; the power of all great solutions lies in their simplicity.
- Make It Fun – if it’s not fun, it’s a) not worth doing, and b) people won’t stick to it.
- Explain Why- success in the future is all about judgment; if people don’t understand why they’re doing something – they’ll never be able to apply lessons to real life.
- Celebrate The Individual - everybody is special and uniquely talented; allow them to be themselves and they’ll do great things.
How can you apply these principles to your leadership?