Of all the awkward moments to arrive....
Above a pretty stream in a Utah canyon, I found a small restaurant that local business contacts had enthusiastically insisted that I try. Ad copywriters would call the place “cozy and intimate.” The hostess seated me at a two-person table, right beside another where two women — late forties, early fifties maybe — seemed deep in conversation. Seconds after the hostess had left, one of the women began sobbing.
At just three feet away, I’d unwittingly invaded a private moment in a public space. A quick glance indicated that no open table offered greater distance. If I ducked out to the restroom, it might allow the lady a little time. As I rose from my chair, the second woman asked her tearful companion, “He’s how old, now, eighteen?”
“Well then, things are going to get better soon, sweetie. Kids don’t stay this stupid forever.”
Wait It Out?
Sometimes the thorniest problems do run their course, self-resolving with the passage of time. Left alone, of course, many other issues worsen that could have been nipped in the bud. And the time windows for new opportunities may close quickly.
When to wait and when to act? That’s a decision that executives face again and again.
Before choosing to wait a situation out, I generally want two things to be true:
• Taking action appears unlikely to be effective, or comes with unacceptable costs and risks, and
• I’m able to point to ― and believe in ― a mechanism that, while out of my control, will drive the expected improvement.
Absent a reason to believe that we should wait it out, it’s usually better to take action. If concerned that we’re not positioned to achieve our sales and profit goals, most of us would rightly err on the side of being proactive instead of waiting for our concern to self-resolve. Then the question becomes whether we are doing enough this quarter to put building blocks in place for future growth.
Mini-Initiatives for Growth
I’ve worked with and for executives who successfully focused on just a few major initiatives at a time. That usually works well ― Focused outperforms Unfocused. One exec, however, had an extra trick in his bag: Keeping several mini-initiatives defined and ready. In the course of the year, there were usually opportunities to slip in one or more of these quick, low-resource projects. By so doing, we accomplished more than we otherwise would have.
In that spirit, here are ideas for quick projects that address three very common impediments to profitable growth in businesses large and small.
Issue #1: The broader your offering, the likelier it is that some important customers aren’t aware of all the services or products your firm offers. That lack of conscious awareness could be costing you profitable sales.
Action: Get some fresh outside eyes to help you assess the content of your marketing and sales communications. Do your products and services tie together explicitly to define a solution that’s highly relevant and beneficial for customers? Do your marketing and sales messages convey this solution and its benefits simply, clearly, and memorably? If the answer to either question is “No,” your business could be doing better.
A company that does it well is Perma-Seal, which offers eight distinct services for homeowners. Perma-Seal applies a customized mix of those services to promise and deliver an outcome every homeowner wants: a consistently dry basement. In their advertising and website, the company communicates how its services all contribute to the objective of turning a leaky basement into dry, livable space. That’s much more powerful than listing eight services without communicating a powerful unifying theme.
Issue #2: The Brand Experience for prospects hasn’t received much attention. Even if you offer a great Brand Experience at all touch points for customers experienced in doing business with you, how good is the experience for new prospects? The needs of prospects at the Awareness and Consideration stage of the buying process are different for first-time purchasers than for repeat customers. How might you provide for those different needs?
Action: Research the needs of inexperienced buyers, and identify improvements in your commercial processes that would improve their Brand Experience. In many cases, adding a few relevant and informative pages to your website will make a meaningful difference.
After 117 successful years in business, Lincoln Electric could easily fall into the trap of providing a fine experience to repeat customers ― while ignoring the needs of new prospects. Instead, this manufacturer of welding equipment and consumables gives newcomers comprehensive online guides to welding techniques and specs, as well as online product selection guides. A good experience for prospects during their investigation and buying process fosters winning orders on worth rather than low price. When prospects feel they are in exceptionally good hands, they’re less likely to risk the hidden costs of bargain brands and providers.
Issue #3: If you haven’t recently tested the assumptions and beliefs underlying your pricing decisions, then your business may be self-inflicting pricing injuries. Execs often assume that all their prices are right on the bleeding edge of price-volume tradeoffs. But that’s often far from true. There’s usually room to successfully push for more favorable prices and terms for some products or services, to some customers, in some geographies, under some circumstances.
Charles Peters, the senior executive responsible for pricing improvement at Emerson, said in a speech I attended that even where his company provided demonstrable value to customers, managers’ (unfounded) beliefs about price sensitivity often got in the way of collecting for that value. Changing this cultural mindset, along with ongoing changes in pricing operations and strategic marketing, has produced $1B of annual earnings improvement in the $24B company. Peters calls pricing improvement “The gift that keeps on giving.”
Action: Turn your data into information that changes poorly-founded mindsets. Generate visual reports that show variation and trends in transactional pricing to highlight upside opportunities. These opportunities can be addressed with focused pilot tests of new prices, program allowances, and terms of sale. The results can be tracked, evaluated, tweaked and rolled out more broadly.