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Forget the long-winded speeches and pointless anecdotes. Tom Searcy's advice for the new crop of graduating entrepreneurs is short and sweet. A Commencement Speech for Entrepreneurs in the Class of 2013.
Before making the decision to downsize, you need to evaluate your sales efforts. Your real problem might just be a lackluster sales strategy.
Do you ever look around your office and ask yourself, “What are all of these people doing?” You look at your sales and revenues and they are flat or below projections. Your payroll, however, is still disproportionately robust. You start to wonder…Do we really need all of these people?
Before you grab a pencil and start plotting how to “right-size” your business, ask yourself a few questions first:
1) How does seasonality and business cycle affect your staff needs?
2) What does the backlog show the demand to be in the near future?
3) What does the pipeline show for the possible demand in the near future?
One of my great mentors once said, “All business problems are really sales problems.” An overstatement perhaps, but it is still something worth considering. Once you have looked at the fluctuations in your staffing demands based upon the questions above, you need to focus on ramping up your sales efforts.
Let me start with a confession–I have made almost all of the staffing mistakes you can make, some of them more than once. I have held onto staff when I should have trimmed. I have trimmed when I should have kept. It took me a while, but eventually I learned the lesson to hire slow and part ways fast when it is clear the relationship isn’t a good fit. Assuming you have done the same, that means you have a really strong staff who are underused.
The business-to-business market is tougher than ever. Here are three different approaches to improve your sales efforts. Choose the one that works best for your business.
A big shift has happened in the way large companies make decisions. I described it in my blog on “Zombie Apocalypse“. Big companies have taken away the purchase power of middle- and higher-level executives in favor of either senior executives or purchasing/procurement buyers. In order to set your growth strategy for this reality, you need to consider the three approaches below and then choose which one to bet on most heavily. Most businesses will need to take a diversified approach in order to cover all their current customers as well as attract new ones, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put more emphasis on the approach that seems to be your best bet.
Here are your options
1. Get good at selling lots of small sales to many customers.
Companies such as Amazon and UPS have figured out the ratio between volume-and-efficiency necessary to produce customers and profits. For B2B companies, the challenge is shifting your culture to handle service and sales to an efficiency model without losing the high-touch. Some companies have changed focus from high-touch to high-visibility by using online portals for order placing, tracking, and customer-satisfaction feedback. Others have created relationships that are demand-based, so that there are fewer interactions between customers and providers. This drives down service costs and the amount of time employees spend on each order.
Here are four common assumptions that CEOs make, and how you can avoid them.
Having been in the CEO role a half-dozen times, I have made a wide variety of foibles, blunders, misguided assumptions, and bonehead choices. Most of the great CEOs I have the privilege to know and work with are self-effacing people who can recognize mistakes along the way.
Employees understand what customers’ value. Often in the transactional activity of day-to-day work, the waters become murky as to why one customer has chosen to work with your company. Ask your employees why your customer’s choose your company over a competitor. This will provide you the data that is at best incomplete and at worst completely wrong. Transaction data is about accuracy, speed and reliability, which are pure service values. The next level up is about quality, product, and availability. The real value for your biggest customers comes from what problem in their business revenue, supply, and cost chains that you solve.
Customers understand what your company does for them. When a customer chooses your company for a service, it is typically to solve a particular problem or supply a service or product. Over time, you become a vendor/supplier who is favored as much out of habit. Time and again, companies tell me that they meet with long-time customers and are asked to refer another company to help their customer with a problem that the company provides now. It drives owners crazy, obviously. Make sure your customer recognizes all the solutions you have to offer.
Insurance may not be sexy, but it is becoming a bigger expense for almost every business. Here are the five common insurance mistakes and how they affect the bottom line.
Recently I had an interesting conversation with a CEO about blind spots in business leadership. In particular, she was discussing the way businesses purchase and manage insurance. She said it was one of her blind spots which she eventually recognized the hard way. With that in mind, I called Dave Dias, a friend of mine from InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, and asked him what were the most common mistakes CEOs made regarding insurance. Below, he explains the five biggest mistakes:
If a CEO is disengaged at the time of policy placement or when a significant claim occurs, it will almost certainly cost the company money. Consider the example of one CEO who couldn’t have been more removed during a sensitive claim-settlement negotiation following a major fire loss. He wasn’t conversant on the issues and relied exclusively on his staff. By the time the CEO re-engaged and began asking pertinent questions, the most germane issues had already been negotiated and settled. The financial loss was in the tens of thousands of dollars. His absence was a big miss; the matter would have been mitigated more in his favor had the CEO been more engaged from day one.
Allowing Procedure To Trump Leadership
Overanalyzing an issue “by committee” delays critically-important decisions and costs the company money. One CEO was overly concerned about getting everyone’s buy-in for the implementation of a newly formed safety-compliance committee.
By strategically sizing up the competition, you can help take your business to the head of the pack.
“I want to take my company to the next level.”
I hear these words from CEOs all the time as they talk about their goals and dreams for their companies. When I push for the details, the conversation tends to get a little murky. It’s usually just a recap of how the company has been performing recently. The conversation always ends with a statement of aspiration, “I just know we are ready to really grow.”
Certainly, set your goals for the stars. Along the way, however, you need to pass the runner in front of you before you overtake the record-setter at the front of the pack. If you have ever raced, you know the importance of focusing on the racer right in front of you as you look for your opportunity to pass.
What to do:
1. Study the pack
Pick out the market leader. Now pick out the one-to-three competitors who are at the next level ahead of you. Take your ego out of the conversation as much as possible and put your analyst hat on. What separates the pack into their current positions? These layers in the market are often set by what the market values. The question should be, what criteria are being valued by the customers you want and the market-share you want to take? If you can determine those elements, you can plan your company’s stepping-stones for growth.