Archives for category: Planning

A good while ago I wrote about how strategy and execution are joined at the hip, but that one tends to attract a higher consulting rate than the other. It’s hard to have one without the other. If you have little or no strategy and you execute like mad, you will have some success, but not as much as you might have hoped. If you don’t execute on a good strategy, you don’t really have anything.

I was reminded of this in a recent post by Tom Tunguz on the importance of execution. He referred to an HBR article from over three decades ago about ‘hustle’ – or the concept of getting it done – as the strategy. The central premise was – and still is – that it’s really hard to get competitive advantage, let alone sustain it, so you’re better off executing your plan better than everyone else.

I think a lot of people who work in areas where it’s hard to genuinely differentiate will identify with this approach. You still need to plan well, hire well and measure well, however.

Execution is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the growing companies from the struggling companies. It’s about following through, staying the course and closing the loop. You need to just do it, repeatedly.

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I’ve spent the last 14 months or so working in the food sector. Not exclusively, but a few days a month, enough for it to form a sizeable chunk of my workload and recent experiences.

So here’s what I’ve learned about food. Not food itself – after all I’ve been a consumer of it for the wrong side of half a century – but the food business. I’ve listed 6 things I think are important, at least for new or small players in the industry. The FMCG business is a whole different ball of wax, I imagine

  1. Location, location, location. Not where your store is, we all know that one, but where in the store your product resides. The easier it is to spot or find, the more you’ll sell. You need to bolster a poor location with something eye-catching if possible
  2. Taste. Taste is the number 1 driver for consumers. If the food doesn’t taste good, it’s really hard to shift. Even superfoods struggle to move if they taste less than appealing
  3. COGS. Control over your Cost of Goods Sold – or COGSĀ  for short – gives you options. The lower your COGS, the greater your gross margin. If you can’t lower your COGS any further, your back’s against the wall
  4. Distribution. Distribution is key. You need to get your product onto shelves, but then you’ve got to get it off the shelves and into shopping bags. A good distribution partner is a key element of this, and the key to scaling. A bad one will just wait for the orders to come in, leaving you to work hard with the retailer while all the time giving your wholesaler margin that haven’t really earned. The more the players in the distribution chain, the more margin you have to give away, which feeds into point 3
  5. Badges. You need the badges for premium products. The organic, sustainable and vegan check marks and accolades are important credibility nudges, and prestigious awards help a lot too
  6. Graft. It’s a lot of graft building and sustaining a product line. Almost everyone, especially lean model companies, has to do the graft and sell it themselves to start

The role of marketing is to generate demand for a product or service, and positively influence the chances of a sale or a satisfactory exchange. The role of production or operations is to have it ready so that when a sale happens you can deliver.

Stand and deliver, as the highwaymen and a certain 80’s pop band used to say.

This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s helpful to know your sales cycle, the length of time between when you start creating the demand and the customer wants to buy. Sometimes the sales cycle is miniscule, like in ecommerce, so you need to be ready to deliver on the upsurge in demand. Otherwise, goodwill wanes proportionally to the amount of time you have to wait after you’ve placed your order.

Last year I ordered a rather nice brand-name top from a website I’ve used for a couple of years. They used to send me a daily email with their offers. They complete on value and totally wing the service and delivery side. I ordered the top the 3rd week of February and it arrived the second week of May. I don’t know why it took so long; the possible reasons are many. Once I got the top I unsubscribed and they get no more business from me.

In the business to business world, it’s also helpful to know how long it will take you to build your product or service, and also how long it will take for your people to be able to deliver and support the product or service. If you’re lucky, you can do some of these two things in parallel and save a bit of go to market time.

 

Chains are an interesting way of explaining business or biological processes that connect players in a particular ecosystem.

The supply chain and value chain are handy ways to explain what happens either side of the manufacturing and creative process. The food chain is not so much a chain as a loop from contributors to consumers who in turn become contributors to start the cycle again.

The use chain – I don’t know if that exists as a term, but if it doesn’t I’m coining it now – is an interesting one. At some point somebody acquires something, uses it and passes it onto someone else to use, or else re-uses it themselves – re-consumes it if you like. The product or service doesn’t change materially between one user and the next, or one use and the next. There is no additional value or additional commercial benefit built in to the second or more use. Re-using something is the enemy of commerce, but friend to the consumer and the environment. In a responsible and societally aware culture, if we can’t re-use something then we can recycle it, or reduce it to minimise the impact of its having ceased to be useful or consumable to us.

If we could figure out a way of enabling a win-win for the use chain, the planet might have half a chance.

Consider these 4 statements:

  1. As I write this I’m on the top of a mountain
  2. As you read this I’m on the beach
  3. As you read this I don’t know where I’ll be
  4. As you read this you could be anywhere

I once read a book by Stephen King on how to write a book. He put forward the idea that writers are in the business of thought transference. He described a specific situation very clearly and argued that he had achieved thought transference since the reader had a clear picture what he was thinking about and describing. He put it better than I have, which perhaps illustrates our different places in the writing world.

I know where I am when I write a blog post, and if I like I can describe it to you. When the blog post is published, and you read it, I might be somewhere completely different. And then, in the future, when you chance upon the post, I will be somewhere else again. I might even be pushing up the daisies, who knows.

Of course, you’d be entitled to ask ‘why are you telling me this,’ and ‘who cares?’ and you’d be right in both cases. The thought transference has to be worth it for you.

What’s not important is where I am when you read what I’ve written, unless it engages you. What’s almost always important is where you are when you read what I’ve written and whether or not you’re into it. That’s your unique perspective – on everything.

 

In my last post my 3 big things with workshops grouped conveniently – if a little artificially – into an ABC aide memoire. No such luck this time?

I’ve mentored staff in my marketing and sales teams, and I’ve also mentored early stage companies, which can often be a one-person company, over the last handful of years in a consulting capacity. Here’s what I’ve found to be best for those being mentored, again helpfully arranged in an A-B-C format.

Ask questions. As a mentor you’re a sounding board for the person being mentored. It’s a chance for them to talk through their rationale and approach with an experienced other party who is detached, impartial and objective. Probing with questions can allow you to drill into the detail and challenge, play devil’s advocate and ultimately help validate what they’re doing.

Build structure and process. The job of a mentor I think is to help the person being mentored see the next few steps towards their desired destination. Structure and process combine to give them some direction long after the mentor session finishes. Structure provides the framework to hang the various elements and process gives them an order for doing things.

Coach. I think our job is to coach, providing suggestions and approaches that we’ve seen work well before, rather than to tell them what to do. That seems to be the best way for them – and their businesses – to improve over time, as they grow in confidence and independence.

I’ve done a few workshops over the years, and, as they say, I’m learning all the time. Each workshop is different and requires a unique preparation and approach, but when you’re repeating the same workshop content to a different group of attendees then you definitely improve as you go. Some things work well, and others less so.

Here’s my ABC of things that work well in workshops.

Advertise collaboration. OK, so the A is a bit forced, but ABC brings the post together nicely. The day is much more productive for attendees, and goes more quickly for everyone, when there’s plenty of interaction and discussion, so I always ask for it and encourage it. Otherwise it turns into a one-directional classroom arrangement which is tedious and no-one learns anything. We learn by doing and getting feedback from our peers as well as the workshop leader.

Build in Breaks. Secondly, make sure the day is punctuated by breaks, because attendees often have urgent things to attend to with their day job and also they get invaluable benefit from being able to network with other attendees. As long as you’re punctual with the punctuations, regular breaks work really well.

Behaviours. Here a bonus B. Workshops are often mini-change management exercises, and are simply a nicer word for training. If you’re looking to establish new behaviours, then you need to treat the workshop as one step in a process. I like to give pre-work to be done before the workshop, to get people to start thinking about what I want to cover, and I like to follow up after the workshop (anything from a week to 6 weeks after) to see how the new behaviours are bedding in and offer some corrections if required.

Challenge. It tends to be a benefit to the attendees if their assumptions, assertions or approach are challenged by the workshop leader or other attendees – constructively. If their approach is found to be robust enough to withstand criticism or questions, then great, that’s good validation. If not, then it will improve as a result of the additional viewpoints, input and recommendations.

 

 

 

Back in 2002 I was in England working for a software company, in a sales and marketing capacity. I was in a meeting with the MD and we were discussing go to market strategy for a new product we were launching.

‘OK,’ he said, ‘let’s do a drains up on the product and we can prioritise next steps.’ I’d never heard the phrase before, but it seemed so apt. When you’re having kick-off meetings you need to get everything out on the table, warts and all, good and bad, so that everyone in the group is in possession of the same information and viewpoints.

Imagine lifting up the drains of a building to see what you’ve got. People aren’t shy about getting the good news stories out there for all to see, but they’re a bit more hesitant about revealing the sludge, muck and general detritus from things that haven’t gone as well.

Once you really know what you’re dealing with, and everyone sees the universe of good and bad, then you can list it all out and put the priorities in rank order. It gives you focus and the right order of things to tackle.

You hardly ever hear the term drains up in Ireland, and I don’t know if they use it in the US. You may prefer ‘brain dump’, ‘information transfer’, or ‘download’, but I like drains up. You know to know what you’re dealing with, eliciting both good and bad, and ‘drains up’ encourages that process and desired outcome.

I’ve more or less banished paper from my work practices. I rarely keep information sheets that people give me in meetings, and take all my meeting notes in a notepad or text editor and arrange them in company or customer folders.

It’s a more organised way of carrying on I think, especially if your job is very mobile. No files or folders to remember to put in your bag, just your laptop and a power cable – happy days.

With one exception though. When I’m working in the home office I make to do lists as I go or as the thought comes to me: things I need to do, buy or ask. Once they’re done there’s no need to revisit the list or save it for digital posterity. And it’s great to take the scribbled list and shove it in your back pocket so you don’t forget any of the half dozen items or errands you need to complete while you’re in motion.

I have a tower of different coloured paper notes on my desk. They sit in a Jenga-like plastic dispenser, so there’s no need to buy ones with adhesive which either sticks them to a spine or to the sheet below and then to the laptop or wall once you’ve removed them from the block.

There’s also something cathartic about crossing stuff off a scribbled list and then recycling the paper note, that you don’t quite get by deleting an item off your digital TDL – that’s one of my most used TLAs – for ‘to do list’.

I saw the headline of an article the other day, and clicked on it, because it looked of interest. Except I had clicked on for the wrong reason, or at least my analysis was wrong.

The headline was: When is a Sale a Sale? I thought it was a cool article about defining when you have successfully closed a sale; some new insight on sales methodology. What we would call closing a deal in B2B. Is it a sale because the customer commits to the order verbally? Is it the receipt of the PO or the contract? Or is it the payment of the invoice or the handover of the cash?

In fact it was nothing of the sort. The article was a consumer-focused piece about what constitutes a selling event, the other kind of sale. It was about the retail industry trending towards a state of permanent sales and how difficult it is now to differentiate a true sales event and a retail status that is claiming ‘special’ sales status when it really isn’t.

Not to mention how difficult it is for retailers to get out of that sales spiral and protect their margins.

So, two different kinds of sale, and I clicked through under false pretences, but an interesting skim-read nonetheless.