Archives for category: Strategy

Recently I wrote a short post about scale-ups and scaling a business. Now I’m going to start a short series that continues the theme of scaling.

If the trend watchers are to be believed, the start-up and dot com has had its day. Maybe that term is a little out of date these days, since the emerging start-ups of today all seem to be dot ai anyway. Apparently it’s all about becoming a larger sustained company now, while also avoiding being copied, outdone or annihilated by the likes of GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.

But if you want to catch the wave and forge something that lasts, what technology bandwagon should you be hitching a ride on? This piece from PWC explores in detail what they see as the eight essential emerging technologies.

The eight technologies are:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Augmented reality
  • Blockchains
  • Drones
  • Internet of Things
  • Robotics
  • Virtual reality
  • 3-D printing

The thing that makes this tricky for start-ups is that you need boat loads of cash to dominate them. They’re not a niche that you can easily protect.

The PWC article groups these eight technologies into five converging themes:

  • Embodied AI
  • Intelligent automation
  • Automating trust
  • Conversational interfaces
  • Extended reality

For information on which technology or theme you can embrace to harness your scale-up company ambitions, see the article.

Advertisements

Scaling a business is hard. Sometimes it must feel like you’re literally having to scale the business, in the sense of climbing up it, or order to scale it in the sense of growing it out, sustainably.

Scaling a business is perhaps the third stage in a company’s existence. At first you’re a solution to a problem, trying to get traction. In the second stage you’re a company with product market fit. People have a need for what you provide, and if you took what you provide away from them they would be in trouble.

Scaling the business is the third stage, where you’re building the business in a way that it can keep on building. Whereas you can see how a business moves from first to second stage, it’s less clear cut how the transition works from stages two to three. There might be a gaping chasm to cross, which calls to mind a very famous business book from two decades ago.

A scale up is defined as a company that grows by 20% or more for three consecutive years, starting from a base of at least ten employees. So, where a company can move quickly from stage one to stage two, getting to scale-up stage is a significantly longer investment, of time and money. Furthermore, by the time you’re getting close you may not have in place the right structure, the right foundation and the right people that got you from one to two, and almost to three.

I love a good heteronym, don’t you? A heteronym is two versions of the same spelled word that mean different things but are pronounced differently. In this blog post title, I’m referring to the word ‘live’ as in ‘we’re live in 10 seconds’, not as in ‘we live here’.

This post is not really about language, though, it’s about decision-making and about how mass communication has changed these days. I was talking to a neighbour of mine the other day. He’s a cameraman for a TV station here in Ireland. He was explaining how TV has gone. Many people now watch their drama in box sets or via piped, on demand television. The only currency in television nowadays, he said, was in live news and live sports. People still need to live in the moment and experience the present tense as it unfolds.

My neighbour is in the news business and was getting exasperated in a team meeting about a news item. A decision was not forthcoming and time was running out. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘either we go live, or go home.’ So succinct really. We’re in the live news business, we either get out there and film this thing or we’re done for the day, otherwise we miss the window, the moment has gone.

If you’re in the business of producing television, you either go live or you go home. Currency is the currency.

I took a leaf out of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment-writing book the other day. You may recall the famous – and almost certainly mythical – job ad from a century ago:

MEN WANTED

for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.

Simon Sinek used it as the perfect example in ‘Start With Why’ of how to get people with similar values to yours to follow you for the right reasons.

How does the Endurance expedition from the 20th century connect with my project in 2019? Well, I’ve written a book and I’ve sourced the imagery. It’s not a long book to read, but it is a book of many pages. You might say it’s a coffee table book. I know how I want the book to look. I need a designer to take on the ‘arduous’ task of designing and laying out the words and pictures of a publication which will stand or fall by how it looks. It’s not an easy task and I haven’t much money to bargain with. What I’m hoping for is to spark the interest of someone else who shares my desire to see other people succeed, since that’s what the book – and a lot of what I do in my job – is about.

I can’t offer them a job, but I do need a job doing, if you see the distinction. Hopefully they do too.

A while back I wrote a post called Are You Working In or Working On? Working in the business is a ‘head down, bottom up’ thing where you’re getting stuck into the everyday tactical stuff. Working on the business is the strategic, directional side of it.

I want to tweak that question slightly in this post, to this: are you working on something, or towards something? This to me is a pretty fundamental question. There’s no right or wrong answer. In fact, I think you have to do both.

Working on something means you’re in the moment, dealing with the present tense, getting it done. Working towards something means you’ve an eye to the future, or to a destination. It’s like the difference between the journey and destination. A means in itself, or a means to an end.

If we don’t know where we’re going with something it’s hard to shape what we’re doing right now. Conversely, if we don’t know where we’re going with something we can learn from the journey. After all, we can’t necessarily see the finish line but we can see the next few hundred yards and that’s enough to keep us on track.

Keeping an eye on what we’re working on sets us up for what we’re working towards. Keeping the other eye on what we’re working towards improves the quality of what we’re working on. Sounds like a pretty virtuous circle to me.

 

A picture tells a thousand words, as the well-worn phrase goes. Most of us would find it very easy to use up a thousand words describing a painting, picture or diagram, and a good picture kind of does all the work for us. People find it much easier to retain something visual, so as sales people, marketers and storytellers we rely on a picture to bring people along. I tend not to do it so much myself, but a lot of people at work tend to want to whiteboard what they’re explaining.

I’m a words guy rather than a picture guy, but that’s not to say I don’t appreciate a good picture. A good picture is simple, powerful and influential. Pulling against this force is the desire to put everything in, include all the thousand words so that nothing gets left out, or left to chance in the mind of the person we’re trying to communicate with. When we do this we risk the simple message being lost, so we’re back to square one.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped me trying, at every business I’ve been involved with, to draw picture of everything that goes on in the organisation, so we can show how it all fits togethers, all the elements and interdependencies. Every time it gets too complicated, too difficult, and I run out of space.

The other day I mapped all the sales, marketing and service functions for your typical organisation serving a customer through their entire lifecycle, from not-yet-a-prospect through to an active advocate customer. It came out as a multi-ringed circle diagram, and I quite like it. I might have cracked it. It helps me help companies see where the gaps are in their coverage and strategy, where the holes are in their 360-degree view of their customers. Of course, it’s not exhaustive, you’d probably need ten thousand words for that, and there’s not a powerpoint slide, poster or whiteboard that could do justice to that level of detail.

You have to stop somewhere, and I have. It’s my new shiny ten thousand word picture. Now I need to test on my market and see if they get the big picture.

Funnel and Hubspot Flywheen

Funnel and Hubspot Flywheel

For decades we’ve been talking about funnels – or hoppers – to talk about how we manage sales, especially in B2B circles. Marketing throws leads into the top of the funnel, perhaps helps leads advance down the funnel, and sales pushes them down through the bottom until they emerge out of the funnel as a customer, a sale. It’s also assumed that the funnel has holes in the sides, since leads and opportunities get qualified out or are lost during their journey, but that’s not really talked about and not what I’m talking about either.

Then there’s the flywheel. The flywheel analogy and image is a Hubspot creation, – at least I think they originated it – and aims to better integrate the customer, ideally the delighted customer, into the selling process from an advocacy point of view. After all, with the funnel, once the opportunity emerges as a customer there’s not a natural way for it to come back into the funnel as a repeat customer or as an influencer to a new customer.

I like the flywheel approach, although I prefer a wheel analogy myself, and I can see where they’re going with the idea that a flywheel increases in speed due to the rotational energy of delighted customers feeding fuel to the marketing and sales engine.

Hubspot acknowledges that you still need funnels in a business that measures its success, and argues that you can put funnels within the various stages of the flywheel. That doesn’t seem particularly elegant and they don’t even try to present it visually. But, viewing your customer’s buying journey as a circle rather than a straight line certainly helps you keep your focus on developing your existing business and leveraging customers to bring in new business.

I was researching a certain industry vertical the other day. I was trying to decide if I should start learning more about it, becoming more knowledgeable, and acquiring some domain knowledge so that I could target it and sell to it. There’s a lot of it where I live.

So I went onto the web to get the skinny on the sector. What’s it really like? What makes it tick? How does it really work? What are the drivers, the things that affect its shape, size and speed?

I couldn’t find anything useful on the web. Nothing that gives you the inside track on the sector. Not even wikipedia. Not necessarily how big the sector is and how many players are in it, but how does it really work? What’s it all about? Is it worth getting into?

I wondered why it’s so hard to find a couple hundred words that give you a steer on a sector you don’t know much about. Not an introduction to the industry that is a book in its own right, but something enlightening – a blog post perhaps – that takes 5 minutes to absorb. Is it too hard to do? Has no-one thought of it before? Can no-one be bothered to write it and make it easy to find?

In the end, I went the old fashioned route and asked someone from the sector to have a coffee with me, which will take a couple of weeks to schedule. If only I could have found the answer in a couple of minutes.

 

 

 

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.

I was back in the UK recently, where the mood was somewhat Brexit-fixated, as could be understood for the single greatest economic event in our lifetimes. There is a feeling of uncomfortable change and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, I was accompanying my mother to a funeral. It was a slightly convoluted travel arrangement, as the funeral was 2 hours away. My brother would drive us up there to attend with us, before heading somewhere else for work. We would take the train back. Mum wanted to avoid the Friday afternoon motorway traffic. So, it was two singles from Stafford to Bristol, about a 2-hour journey on the Crosscountry Trains service.

Mum insisted on paying for my ticket, a ludicrously expensive £60 for a single off-peak journey. The train was 10 minutes late picking us up. There were no seats available, the train was only 4 carriages long, an intercity train service running at 6pm on a Friday, what I would call peak travel time. I managed to find one seat for Mum and stood in the aisle. Two minutes later the food trolley wanted to come through – well, not the food trolley, a chirpy soul directing the food trolley. I had to walk the length of the carriage to let him past, and then come back again. I offered to lie on the luggage rack instead, but he said that would be too dangerous.

After 20 minutes, some seats freed up, so we were able to sit together for the rest of the journey. The train arrived, twenty minutes late. I’ve written before about how the UK rail system is so complex that it seems impossible to keep the trains on time, yet the Germans and Japanese manage it. Nobody seemed all that bothered by the crushed train and its lack of punctuality. Par for the course, they would probably say.

It has been a while since I took the train. No feeling of change and uncertainty there. Same as it ever was.