Archives for category: Strategy

Mothercare store front

I was at my mother’s house in England the other day, casting an eye over all the toys we had as kids, which she has saved of course, and which her grandkids now enjoy.

I came across the edge of a toy package from Mothercare. This company has been around for ages and is clearly a highly respected name in anything to do with children. I love the identity – which I think the company has now moved away from – with the little child image literally under the protection of the m of mother.

What struck me for the first time that I can remember was how outdated the name was; the actual words mother and care put together to make a new name, as many company and product brands do. Back when Mothercare came into being, parenthood was possibly the almost exclusive preserve of the female parent, and that’s simply not the case any more.

The funny thing is, and I feel this about many household names and brands, we never question the name. We see the word mothercare and we equate it with a parenting brand for children. This is what a brand does to us. We rarely take the name out of context, deconstruct it, before realising that it’s perhaps not as appropriate as it used to be.

I think there are lots of examples of this, brands that we take for granted because they’re much more than the sum of their words. Lots of them, hiding in plain sight.


In this ultra-PC world we live in, as I’ve noted previously, communication is never far away.

I was travelling on a train in the UK the other day and the automated announcer reminded everyone that they needed a ticket to travel and couldn’t get one on the train. This message came from the ‘Revenue Protection’ department.

That’s the fraud protection department, right, since travelling without a ticket is fraud? I’m left wondering what message they’re going for, what impression they’re trying to project, with the term revenue protection.

Isn’t that a little like calling a short person like me vertically challenged? Perhaps they don’t want to antagonise the fare-dodger.

If someone travels without a ticket, and they’re not entitled to free travel, then they’re damaging the profitability of the transport company. As a consequence, all of us fee-paying passengers are indirectly punished when the company has to raise fares, or reduce services, or go for more government subsidy – which is of course a function of the taxes you and I pay – and we end up paying more.

So why not call it what it is? Fraud prevention is better, methinks.

The Win/loss analysis is a really important part of business. That said, when people think about win/loss analysis, they generally mean loss analysis.

Calling up the customer, asking how did we lose out, what could we have done better, who got ahead of us. This is all valuable information for introducing back into the mix so that we can improve.

Not many companies actually do win/loss analysis, which is a glaring omission in strategy and sales process. The funny thing is, and this even worse, people hardly ever do the win analysis call or meeting. Why did we win? Why did you give us the business? Where could we have improved? These are vitally important questions, and the answers to them are even more important.

I did a short, 20-minute win analysis call with a customer the other day. He said, ‘I’ve been doing this job 9 years, and I handle around 30 tenders a year. This is only the 3rd time someone’s done a win analysis debrief with me.’ So that’s 1 win analysis call every 90 tenders, a fraction over 1%.

The win analysis call is the simplest, most obvious sales call that no-one hardly ever does. I’m in a generous mood, here’s another one: going back to a recent new customer and asking them for 1 to 3 more non-competing sales leads.

This is obvious, right?

I wonder what hotel energy bills are like. They must be astronomically high. All those airy, high-ceilinged communal rooms…

I’ve been staying in hotels in Dublin recently. When I check in evening-time the room is always toasty warm. I don’t know if it’s been on all day, since the last person checked out, or maybe the cleaner put it on when they finished preparing the room.

When I leave in the morning, to return later that day, the room is warm. It’s probably warm all day, unless the cleaner turns it off when they come in to clean, since it would be too hot to do all that work, before turning it back on as they leave. Or, perhaps, as you often see as you check out, the cleaner has the hotel room door open of the room they’re cleaning, to allow then to easily go to and from their supplies trolley, with the heat from the room seeping out into the corridor.

Presumably more modern or larger hotels take a more automated approach to central heating. But I wonder if they could automate it further. Perhaps they could ask guests their estimated check-in time when they book, or their estimated return time, and this could be programmed into a system which automatically activated the heating in their room 30 minutes before they were due in?

Either way, there must be huge scope to reduce energy bills without giving the guest the feeling that you’re scrimping on the finer things you expect from a room, like warmth and cosiness.

Just when you thought Ryanair were getting better and becoming a little more customer intimate – not too much mind you, because that would cost money, ask the pilots – Ryanair pulls what it probably considers to be a master stroke, and what passengers will feel is a low blow they can’t do much about.

We booked a family holiday a few months ago, towards the end of last year, paying for 2 check-in bags and planning to carry a cabin bag each, and a small bag to fit under the seat in front of us. There was no mention that I saw that the regulations were about to change.

A couple of weeks ago we started to get emails about a change in cabin bags, effective shortly and before we actually take our holiday. From this date, unless you have priority booking you can only bring on one bag that fits under the seat in front; you can’t use the overhead storage at all.

WTF! I went back and checked my original confirmation email and there’s no mention of a new cabin bag restriction. Ryanair has gone back to its policy of only one cabin bag, except that now it has to be smaller than before. Clearly pesky customers have been using all the overhead storage and that will not do.

As always, what’s at stake here is the principle. I’ve written before about how Ryanair competes primarily on operational excellence – and this is about operationally squeezing the last cent out of passengers, making them pack even lighter and still avoiding baggage check-in, thereby guaranteeing Ryanair comfortable flight turnarounds – rather than product leadership or customer intimacy. Presumably they’re allowed to hide behind small print that says ‘we can change the terms any time we like’, but to enforce it from the date of travel, rather than the date of booking, when they’ve got pre-booked passengers over the proverbial barrel, is petty, inconsiderate and will probably net them an extra few hundred grand.

Why do they do it? Because they can. For now.

In this post I want to talk about the other IoT. Not the Internet of Things, but the Interconnectedness of Things. Almost the same thing, but actually quite different as well.

Recently I participated in a 10K run. It was the latest version of the run I serialised 12 months ago. I warmed up the week before with a 10K run, and did something to my right Achilles tendon which made it very sore. No harm, I’d got the distance ‘in the bank’ so I focused for the next week on stretches to fix the pesky tendon in time for the race.

3K into the actual race, after a very careful and studious warm-up on the big day, my historically troublesome right calf muscle started aching. After 4K it was properly pulled and I had to stop and hobble back to the car. I limped around for about 4 days and then felt my back go, a muscular groan between my shoulder blades. Two days later, my lower back twanged, and so I had to put up with more periods of extreme soreness where I was in too much discomfort to start rehab. Bending down to pick something up off the floor was agony, and soon my right knee started complaining.

This for me illustrates the interconnectedness of the body’s moving parts, all stemming from the spine and the core. The Achilles, affecting the calf, impacting the spine (which is probably the root cause), which then refers pain down the legs. A good strong core and spine, and all the stuff that hangs off them tends to be pretty good too.

This is what I mean by the interconnectedness of things.It’s also a handy parallel for business, work and life. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, as Mr Newton said. Everything’s connected…

I have found, perhaps more by luck than judgement, hence my anecdotal phrasing of this sentence, that when you do the prep, things tend to go fine. When you don’t, they don’t.

When you wing a call or a meeting, choosing not to think about the questions you might get, or the outcomes you want from an encounter, it can often unravel and put you behind where you started. When you think about your call or meeting, plan for it, do the work required, try and anticipate the questions, have answers for them, and have an outcome in mind, it tends to go well.

Things are rarely as bad or difficult as you thought they’d be before you started the prep.

I think this has to do with the self-fulfilling prophecy, and peace of mind. The self-fulfilling prophecy, as I’ve talked about here, here and here, dictates that something will probably turn out the way you expected it to, and that by extension you should go into any situation with a positive outcome in mind. When you’ve done the prep, you’re comfortable with the impending call or meeting. You have peace of mind, which relaxes you and sets you up much better to shape the meeting to how you want it to go.

In a situation that’s much more complex than a call or meeting, like war, or business, our strike rate is nothing like as high. There are too many more variables, with too many more possible outcomes. All plans turn to dust in the heat of battle, inevitably. The prep, though, and the act of prepping, is still a very important and worthwhile exercise.

Reduce, reuse or recycle: so goes the environmentally-aware aphorism to keep us on the straight and narrow with the earth’s resources. We should reuse what we have if at all possible. If we can’t reuse it, we should recycle it. If we can’t recycle it, then we should reduce it, so that it occupies a smaller space in the places where we borrow but can’t pay back, namely landfill.

It turns out that this guide applies equally well for the food we buy and consume. I derive an odd sense of pleasure from being able to use up all the frozen food from the freezer, or combine left-over perishables into a meal that wouldn’t exist if I threw out the separate items.

It’s that thrill of maximum utility – getting the most use out of what we’ve paid for.

It also turns out that it’s a handy approach to adopt in our work, especially marketing. Content, especially good content, takes painstaking time to create. But it can also be the gift that keeps on giving, since you can use it again, or recycle it into other formats, or reduce it into smaller parts that can form a series. Beautiful.

Any why not other areas of work as well? Whatever processes, resources and technology you can reduce, reuse or recycle, you should, as long as you achieve the goal of greater productivity.

When you’re in marketing and sales, you’ve got to mind the gap, otherwise you may never emerge from it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up launching a new business, a business launching a new product, or a company planning its sales targets for the next 4 quarters, there’s always a gap for marketing and a gap for sales.

By this I mean that there is a lag effect. The marketing lag is from the time you start thinking about marketing to people, actually marketing to them with your finished content, to someone putting their hand up and saying ‘Talk to me, I’m interested.’ The sales lag is from the time someone puts their hand up, through the period of qualifying whether they’re a good fit for your business, through to them signing the deal. Add the marketing lag and the sales lag, otherwise known as the sales cycle, and you’ve got a pretty big gap before you’re turning your stuff into cash.

So, if you’re a start-up and your product’s not ready yet, you need to start marketing right now: blogging, tweeting, emailing. Building up a head of steam so that you can have real conversations once your product is ready takes at least 6 months. That’s half a year, which sounds much worse than 6 months.

Same if you’re an existing business about to launch a new product. You have to mind the gap, similar rules apply. And if you’re building your 2019 financial year’s sales figures, you need the marketing to kick in in 2018. Companies selling complex products and services with a 3-month sales cycle will not see any marketing activities from one quarter converted to sales in the same quarter. It might not be the quarter after that either, when you factor in the sequential lag time of the marketing and sales gaps.

How many companies who do a business plan for year Y plan the marketing effort for year X? Not many. And certainly not the ones who finish their year Y plan at the very end of year X, or even the start of year Y. Those companies can write off any help at all from marketing, probably for the first half of the year.

Taking a new product to market, whether it’s the sole product of a start-up, or it’s a new product or offshoot from an established business, is a fascinating area, and one which I’ve been involved in and advised on for a while.

There are typically three phases that a company goes through in its go-to-market journey towards a repeatable, scalable business: problem-solution fit; product-market fit; scale. All of them are customer-verifiable.

1) Problem-solution fit

In this phases of the new product go-to-market journey, you have a solution that a customer acknowledges – by parting with money – solves a problem for them. Hardly rocket science. It might just be one customer, and that one customer might be helping finance your development of a product that you hope you can sell to others. The trade-off is between customising the solution to the customer’s requirements and developing a solution that will still do the job for your target segment.

2) Product-market fit

In this phase, you have developed and sold your product to the point where there is a fit between your product and the market. Again, we’re not splitting the atom here. Your customers acknowledge that they need your product and they would be in trouble if for some reason your product was unavailable to them.No-one buys a nice to have, they buy what they must have, and you’ve demonstrated that a good number of customers need what you have.

3) Scale

The third phase of new product go-to-market is when you’re adding sales at an acceptable rate and at an acceptable cost of acquisition. There are various different ways of doing this, such as using channel partners, optimising internal resources, getting better at implementing and servicing the business, and so on. As the business is growing it is achieving greater economies of scale. It is multiplying revenues at a progressively smaller incremental cost. It is scaling the business.

Plenty of companies are perfectly happy providing solutions to problems for a very small number of customers, perhaps for ever. A smaller number graduates to a product which has product-market fit. A smaller number still manages to genuinely scale the business.