Why Should Prospects Choose Your Firm?

Do you REALLY have a Competitive Advantage? In March, our CEO groups were treated to an eye opening presentation. Jaynie Smith taught us that while WE think our companies have a Competitive Advantage (CA), that doesn’t mean prospects and customers do!

Leaders think their companies have a CA, because their teams try to produce the best possible products/services and market/sell it to their prospects. We forget that a CA is in the eye of the beholder: the customer. Prospects have lots of options (and with mobile search engines and e-commerce and related rating systems, it’s easier than ever to check out competitors). Similarly, if customers have not had an A+ experience from all perspectives, it’s easy to be picked off by a vendor with CA that outshines yours.

The solution is to understand what a real CA is!  As we went around the room, CEOs told us that their companies had products with superior quality, more efficient and effective, delivered on-time, had stronger customer relationships, had more expert staff; were more customer-responsive, etc. As Jaynie pointed out – we all use the same “blah.. blah” – without proving it.  that’s why prospects move on to someone else.

A true CA is something that simultaneously offers desired benefits (e.g., ROI, convenience, etc.) and also reduces risks. Using objective, measurable criteria, you need to quantify it for your target customer.

For instance:

  • TD Bank is “America’s Most Convenient Bank for small businesses who use branches because they are open 7 days a week and longer hours on week-days. But if you’re a “digital” banking customer, it’s not.
  • Vistage Worldwide’s has helped CEOs become more effective to grow their companies better for over 60 years; Dunn and Bradstreet evaluates its impact regularly and finds that companies who join, grow 2-3X faster than competitors. That’s a CA to leaders committed to growth; not to status-quo lovers.

It reminded me of a story about a company selling sunk pumps. The industry leader was selling a $30,000 unit. A new competitor entered the market and sold theirs for $25,000. As sales dropped, the sales people demanded that their company drop the price – which would have made sales unprofitable. A consultant was hired to compare the two units; they discovered that their competitors’ unit needed to be replaced every 3 years, which meant major disruptions to company operations on that day, and that service cost was $5000. The main company’s unit had to be serviced every 10 years at a cost of about $3000. With that, management changed its marketing and raised the price! The result: sales increased and surpassed initial levels!

You can learn more by reading her books Competitive Advantage and Relevant Selling.

When was the last time you really analyzed whether the CA you developed years ago is still working for the different client/prospect segments you serve?  How easy is it for a prospect who quickly scans competitors to see your CA?  Share with us your experiences and what you’re doing to develop a more effective CA.

Why You Need Succession Planning..At All Levels

Whether you build a company or form a government, the goal usually is to make it sustainable not just for the time you’re in office, but afterwards.  Most leaders focus on what all the strategic components of running a coompany – leadership, strategy, talent management, operations, finance, sales/marketing, etc. Succession planning at all levels – makign sure you have the right people in place with the leadership and technical skills to continue the process – often is often until someoone is ready to  leave or is not ready able to continue in the function – and that can undermine the future of the enterprise.

Three different situations drove home this key point.

  • Developing democracy in Myanmar has been very difficult. It’s taken decades, including many years when Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of democracy and current civilian leader was under house arrest by the miltiary leaders, for democratic practices to begin to be adopted. Making sure that a new generation of leaders would be available to continue the process should have been a priority. Yet the Wall Street Journal reports that the “graying leadership of the nation’s ruling party lacks new blood to inherit power”. When the 71 year old president resigned, a 66 year old Suu Kyi loyalist was picked to replace him. Two thirds of the ruluing Executive Committee is over the age of 66 – the male life expectancy is Myanmar. The government seems to be “recycling the same top leaders”. The author observes that the National League for Democracy “risks losing its struggle with the (military) institution if it fails to groom a new generation of leaders”.  Clearly, encouraging a new generation of democratic leaders in a country still run by the military leaders who took power in 1962 is not easy; but it should be a priority.
  • A CEO who made a decision recently to join Vistage, explained that his main reason was a desire to retire in a few years and build a solid management team that can take over the company. An analysis of the senior team revealed that many were there a long time and not very effective and had not considered devleoping people below to help take over should something happen to them. Turns out not all of the team members were as competent as he thought, and left. So now, the CEO has to postpone the effort to expand the business to make it more valuable to the next owners, and focus on identifying who can take over their divisions (from inside and/or outside) and tain them to be effective leaders. Further, there are some capable people within the company that have not been earmarked for future leadership roles and can be fast-tracked, with supervision, to see what they really can do. All this extra work is draining substantial energy. We now have a race to do a lot within the allotted time period.
  • Age Brilliantly advocates allowing talented people to continue working in companies as long as they want to do so and continue to be productive – regardless of age – either in their jobs or as SharExers where they “share their expertise and experiences” with others to groom new leaders and help innovate processes and products. Recently, a CEO, who runs a company that uses lots of specialty equipment, mentioned having a few employees over the age of 70 that are quite skilled; they haven’t initiated discussions about “retiring” for their jobs, and neither has he. Periodically, we discuss how they’re doing… and raise the question of who will take over when they want to, or need to, leave. It’s been flagged as an issue because no successor exists in the company and no outside search is being initiated. (“Ostrich, keep your head in the sand.”) Recently, the conversation changed…two are thinking of moving on. So now we’re scurring to find ways to “phase their retirement plans” for the good of the company and these valued employees. Stay tune for how the SharEx model gets adopted by this company!

Everyone benefits when we begin succession planning early on.  What are you doing in your company?  Share with us your experiences and solutions.

Do You Explore for Disruption?

In a world where competitors, strategic partners and customers are focused on innovation and how it will improve their lives, it makes sense for leaders to do the same thing in our companies. However, we need to recognize the differences between different types of innovation – and commit not just to the low hanging fruit but also the transformative changes.

Generally, innovation focuses on people, products/services and/or processes. Today’s car-sharing services (e.g., Uber Lyft, etc.) affects all three customers order differently and the drivers operate differently (i.e., their own businesses). The process is involves using an app to have transportation come to you rather than you go out to where cabs travel. The product differs in the quality of the transportation experience, including knowing how much it costs before entering the vehicle. Innovation come in two styles: incremental and disruptive (transformative); ask any yellow-cab owner, and you’ll hear that car-sharing services are transformative.

What’s important to understand is that innovation creates an inevitable tension for company leaders. They are responsible for building and executing a strategy.  Execution means cascading the goals from one level down to the next and creating a supportive culture to enable each member/team to achieve their objectives, especially when the inevitable speed bumps and road blocks get in the way.  If at the same time they want to be innovative, they can’t be disruptive, because that would disrupt the elements that make for success. So leaders resolve to focus on incremental innovations – and put their energies in helping creative an innovative, incremental culture. People’s skills ae upgraded, products improved, processes made efficient and/or effective.

But transformations require disruptive thinking. Henry Ford realized that people wanted faster transportation than was available with existing horse and carriages. Incremental innovations would take the form of lighter carriages, faster wheels, superior horses; a disruptive “horseless” carriage meant an automobile.  The key to such disruptive thought is for leaders to be curious and explore options outside the current frame-of-reference. They know that these innovators cannot be concerned with executing the current business strategy.

Leaders need to be self-aware of the conflict between growing through innovation while maintaining the status quo. It takes a commitment to explore for disruption and develop a structure where they are separated from the day-to-day activities and supervised by someone who nurtures and protect their efforts (often referred to as the “skunk-works” project.)

Are you committed to exploring all your opportunities?  Share how you launch disruptive technologies.

Follow Steve Jobs’ Example to Achieve More

Looking for ways to increase your productivity (and that of your colleagues)? Tom Koulopoulos recently shared a habit used by Steve Jobs, that is easy to use.

To put it into perspective, “being busy” does not mean you’re “productive”.  Ask people what they did on an average day, and you’ll get answers like “A lot, it was a busy day; non-stop action, meetings, phone calls, the usual!”  It tells you nothing about what was actually achieved – which is the real reason we work.  (A sales management expert said that most sales people spend less than 25% of their time actually “selling to customers”.)

Today, distraction is running rampant. The “tyranny of now”, things we think we should do – from meetings-without-agendas to emails and social media distract us from focusing on what we are paid for: to achieve a strategic company objective.

Steve Jobs understood that there is one question that will instantly address productivity: “What did you achieve today?” And if the answer isn’t consistent with your purpose of working, then you need to change how you spend time. And your accountability partner can help you do it.

Here’s a simple process to follow to improve productivity.

  • Before going home, identify what you want to achieve tomorrow – write it down and leave on your desk, so it’s the first thing you see. (In a prior blog, we shared a double-entry time management system you can use to accomplish ongoing goals.)
  • When you come in the morning, it takes only seconds to sharply focus on what you want to accomplish by reviewing the list and making any edits based on what’s urgent/important.
  • Monitor the time it takes to do each project; make adjustments as needed so priorities are met. Note how much time is being spent on distractions and build systems to reduce their interference with achievement. Many tactics are available for reducing distractions; find the one that works best for those that interfere with your work.
  • At the end of the day, (1) write out the achievements and time management plan for the next day and (2) list your achievements for the day and take pride in them!

If your achievement rate isn’t high enough, accountability partner/coach to help you see where you can do better.

Ready to give it a try? After two weeks, share with us how these ideas are helping you achieve more and feel greater satisfaction for doing so.

It’s Your 168 Hours: Use Them Better

How am I going to find time for that?

When I speak to CEOs who want more success for themselves, their companies and employees about Vistage Worldwide’s ecosystem of leader development services*, they inevitably get the value of leader development learning, but wonder how can they afford the time?

At that point, we discuss reality: all of us have the same 168 hours per week. the issue is how we use it. The difference between Richard Branson, who runs dozens of companies under the Virgin Brand, Elon Musk who runs countless different companies (Tesla, Solar City, SpaceX, the Boring Company, DeepMind, etc.) and all the other leaders of Conglomerates, is that they’re mastering effectiveness leadership. Instead of being the “Chief Problem Solver” for all companies, they manage their time by hiring the right people, delegating responsibilities, avoiding mistakes and capitalizing on opportunities by listening to other people, and managing their time.

That’s why the first thing we do at Vistage is focus on time management: where is your time best used and how can we build an effective team and strategy to use others’ time well also. Indeed, Vistage has great ROI: you invest 7% of your month in learning how to be more effective – and you can grow your company, as other CEOs do – 2-3X faster than competitors!

Indeed, Maura Thomas, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, noted that the key is attention management: “the practice of controlling distractions, being present in the moment, finding flow, and maximizing focus, so that you can unleash your genius. It’s about being intentional instead of reactive… Rather than allowing distractions to derail you, you choose where to direct your attention at any given moment, based on an understanding of priorities and goals.”

In other words, instead of being the full-time “fire-fighter” – solving problems that could have been avoided and/or resolved by others – you should be mastering how to improve company performance, by mentoring and coaching your team to constantly improve company strategic performance and increase satisfaction at work.

It’s time to build your “time management muscle”. If you want to learn more about Vistage, call me at 646-290-7664.

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