Charge of Your Destiny
has been easy these past several years. Letís admit it. Thereís been
plenty of business. Sure, thereís lots of competition and customers are
more demanding than ever. And, no question about it, we had to work
harder. Still, the rewards are real.
will we fare in the year ahead? Will a change in the calendar make a
difference? Or will it be just more of the same? Will the good times
continue to roll?
experts seem to expect any disruptive economic changes in 2001. Even so,
there are disquieting factors: the housing market has slowed in certain
regions, consumer electronics sales have slipped, some once flush city
treasuries are feeling a pinch, more than a few consumer products stocks
are under performing, and several large retailers are consolidating and
closing marginal stores. Is all this merely transitional or is it a trend?
with all the indicators, the future is an enigma, of course. Whether the
economy remains strong or shows signs of weakening, there are steps to
take that can help ensure a successful year ahead.
are 10 practical guidelines:
out for unnecessary mistakes.
Thereís an irony of the
current economic engine. While there is more business, margins are also
getting thinner. Thatís why IBM took its PCs out of retail venues and
is selling them online. When business is good there is always the urge
to "take it to the next level." While the need for improvement
should never stop, there is always a tendency in business to look around
for the next mountain to climb. We are always looking for the next
challenge. Whatís happening now can be boring. The "new" and
"different" turn out to be excuses to rekindle excitement.
many "bricks" businesses have ventured off into far more
attractive "clicks" country only to discover they had made a
mistake. Such mistakes can close the doors. To its credit, Wal-Mart pulled
back from launching a major e-commerce operation until it had reconsidered
a close look at your company.
Are we sharp? Or, do we
just think we are? When we sit around the conference table and talk
about ourselves, we come away convinced that we are the best. It happens
every day. One e-commerce retailer, toysmart.com was actually hiring
dozens of new staffers the very day Disney pulled the money plug. It is
easy to get caught up in our own euphoria. Or to state it another way,
it is dangerous when we begin believing our own BS.
needs improvement? Where are we weak? What steps do we need to take to
become more efficient? What are our customers looking for that weíre
not providing? What traps should we be avoiding? These are the questions
for the coming year.
grass is often an illusion.
mining for new customers.
times can mask future problems. When thereís plenty of business, most
companies take a vacation from identifying and cultivating future
customers. "We have more customers than we can take care of now, why
should we be trying to get more?" This is an all-too-common question.
mergers, consolidations, and continued downsizing, customers disappear.
Many a company has been caught off-guard when 25% of sales went away
overnight. Unless a company is thinking two to five years ahead when it
comes to developing new business, it is far too short sighted. Why? Because
it is taking, longer and longer for prospects to make buying decisions.
Unless you prospect when you donít need new business, it wonít be
there when you do.
is the time to set up a new business plan that includes prospect
identification and long-term cultivation. Make sure you are providing a
stream of new customers two, three, and five years from now.
on what customers are thinking.
there are plenty of dangerous words in business today, these should be
close to the top of anyoneís list: "We know our customers."
While every company wants to think it understands its customers, the
assumption can be dangerous. For example, a Vermont-based bank was getting
ready to introduce a suite of products for small businesses. A marketing
consultant suggested a focus group of business owners and managers might
be helpful in shaping the product offering. To everyoneís surprise, the
customers were primarily interested in periodic meetings with bank
officers to discuss business issues.
the effort to understand what customers really want can enhance value.
for the missing customer.
into any store selling womenís clothing and the emphasis is on bodies
that are young and lithe. In jeanswear, in particular, the manufacturers
appeal to the young. But sometime around age 35, most women stop wearing
jeans. Why? Ask them and theyíll give you a simple answer: "They
donít fit." Jeanswear designer Donald Johannesson of Montreal
listened. His French Dressing line is based on fit and comfort, the two
qualities that women over 35 say are missing from jeans.
the young market may be appealing because of the numbers, the 35 plus
women are underserved when it comes to jeans. French Dressing found it.
for the niches others ignore and those that are misunderstood by others.
Itís these markets that can offer opportunity. Just running with the
crowd can mean running into trouble.
to the core to grow.
companyís core products or services can seem boring. Just more of the
same. Itís then that they begin to look for greener pastures. This was
what Talbotís, the manufacturer of traditional womenís clothing, did
several years ago when it veered away from the Talbotís
"look." Loyal customers were confused and sales plummeted. It
only took one year for Talbotís to return to its core line and sales
the core business is, in effect, the "brand," the strategy
should be to look for new niches rather than just attempting to introduce
new products or services. There are often good reasons for introducing a
new product, such as Nissanís highly successful Xterra SUV that is aimed
at a young (pre-Pathfinder) market. Even so, satisfied Xterra customers
may very well be driving Pathfinders a few years down the road.
is on the same page when they think of Dell Computers: number one in
customer satisfaction and buying direct. The first makes the second
possible, of course. No confusion; no misunderstanding. The message is
crystal clear. Itís this branding that has fuelled Dellís nearly 20
years of success because the company had identified what the customer
wanted. In the case of a personal computer, it was getting the best price
(Dell cut out the middleman) and support (something customers werenít
getting from retailers). Itís this branding that will undoubtedly help
sustain its momentum as it transitions itself in the years ahead.
Pilot established itself as the clear leader in the PDA field. The company
spent time and money communicating the message that it was the PDA. Early
sales were driven by the techies and then came the crowds. Today, the word
"Palm" stands with "Kleenex" as a generic term. Other
PDAs look like "knock-offs" compared to Palm. Itís nothing
less than brilliant branding.
customers canít identify quickly and accurately why they should do
business with you, thereís trouble ahead.
track of the trends.
have always been a few who have been ahead of the curve, who have, more
accurately, created it. In the last 50 years, Sam Walton and Bill Gates
were certainly two of a small handful of true visionaries with the ability
to spot trends. Most of us are closer to the opposite end of the spectrum:
we look at the world through a rearview mirror. We see trends after they
is no acceptable excuse for allowing yourself to get behind the trend
known for what you know.
doing business in the second half of the last century was about who you
know, today itís about what you know. Tacoma-based Raleigh, Schwarz
& Powell, Inc., a large insurance consulting and brokerage firm with
clients throughout the Western states recognized the need to differentiate
themselves from other insurance brokers. The answer was not to be found in
some superficial public relations paint brush. Their longstanding strength
was as a knowledge-rich organization. They wanted to be known for what
they know, not just for what they sell. With a long history of setting the
highest internal standards of risk management excellence, they opened
their windows so others could see and appreciate this totally
firms are following the same path. Take Radio Shack, for example. Most of
us have long gone to Radio Shack when we couldnít find an electronics
part elsewhere. They had what we needed. CEO Leonard Roberts is
capitalizing on this concept. It isnít the component or the part
thatís important. The companyís tag line indicates the change of
emphasis: "You have questions. We have answers." In effect,
Radio Shack is saying, "Know us for what we know." Roberts says
that the companyís aim is to connect people with technology.
itís Raleigh, Schwarz & Powell or Radio Shack, the vision is clear:
if you want to capture customers, focus on what you know, not what you
covers of books are brighter and more intriguing than ever. Thereís a
host of publications that aim at creating excitement, including Revolution
and Fast Company, in the business field. In advertising, no company does
"the excitement thing" better than Sun Microsystems. The
companyís ad series make you think you are looking at a full-page
depiction of the latest motion picture for 12 year olds.
the same way, freeagent.comís advertising focuses on employees who want
to escape the corporate cubicles. One ad shows a hole in the floor of a
cubicle with a shovel beside it. The suggestion is clear: you can escape
the model is still Macintosh. The Imac colors continue as does the design.
The Ibookís handle makes computing easier and more fun. All you do is
open the clamshell. The new Macintosh Cube computers seem to add the
missing dimension of class to computing.
happens in the year ahead, there will be more, not fewer, challenges. And
there will also be more, not fewer, business opportunities. Overcoming the
obstacles and taking advantage of the opportunities will demand greater
insight, understanding, and decision-making acumen.
objective of these guidelines is to create a way to take charge of the
positive and negative situations that will inevitably occur in 2001.
* * * * * * * *
R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and
sales consulting firm. Mr. Graham is the author of The New Magnet
Marketing (Chandler House Press), the revised and updated version of his
Marketing, and 203 Ways
Be Supremely Successful In The New World Of Selling (Macmillan Spectrum).
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