5 Steps to Creating a Unique Strategic Vision

tempToday, companies struggle to consistently increase sales and profits faster than the overall market.

In too many cases, these companies lack a unique strategic vision that would differentiate the company and its products and services from the competition.

Instead, their strategic vision is to do more – sell more products in more markets to more customers – and execute better than anyone else.

Strategy guru Michael Porter refers to this as the “Be the Best” Mindset.  This mindset generally leads to a zero sum competition where everybody is going after the same customers with the same undifferentiated products; but, at lower prices.  With this approach, everyone loses except the customer who now gets the same products and services at those lower prices.

To develop a true strategic vision, our companies must find a way to be unique.

  • How can we differentiate ourselves by meeting the different needs of our targeted customers in a way that is clearly superior to our competitors?

Below, I list five steps that all our companies should take to create that unique strategic vision.

 

  1. Look Inside

The first challenge is to determine what is unique in our companies, products and services around which we can build a successful and unique strategic vision.  Thus, we need to take a cold, hard look inside our companies to determine where we are currently differentiated.

  • Go where the growth is: with what products and services are we seeing above market growth and rising margins? Why?
  • In which market segments or customer bases are we seeing increasing share? Why?
  • What do we do as a company that is different from what all our competitors do? How can we realize more value from this activity?

 

  1. Put Ourselves in Our Customer’s Shoes

To better understand how our products and services are used, we need to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes to see our product, services, and company from their point of view.  It is usually best if we can “eat our own cooking” by buying and using our company’s products or services.

This gives invaluable insight into:

  • What real value our products and services bring to a customer
  • How we can differentiate ourselves with simplicity or service to make the purchasing and use experience easier
  • What other products or services we can sell to the customer when they buy our products
  • How we can make the repeat buy decision for our customers more automatic
  • What other customer needs are we not addressing that we could address

 

  1. Speak to Customers and Vendors

Next, we need to confirm these insights by having the marketing and the executive team get out and speak with our customers and vendors.

  • How are our products and we, as a company, perceived in the marketplace?
  • What additional value could we offer our customers?
  • What are the industry trends that both our customers and our vendors are seeing?
    • How might these relate to our business?
    • How might we capitalize on these trends?

We then must think hard about how we can use this customer insight and the broader industry trends to better position our company in the marketplace.

 

  1. Think About Data

We also need to think deeply about how we can use data to better serve and understand our customers.  To do this, we should brainstorm and consider the question:

  • If we had perfect data about all our current and potential customers and what value we can bring to them, how would we use that data to our advantage?

By reflecting on that question, we can:

  • Better understand the trends for the customer and their need for our products and services
  • Determine how to prompt the customer to buy or repeat buy from us
  • Satisfy the full customer experience with additional product and service sales
    • Sell additional products that the customer needs at the time that they buy our product
    • Prompt the customer to buy other related products or services (much as Amazon does with its recommendations and tracking of what others also buy and look at)
  • Deliver our product and service in a unique and less expensive way

 

  1. Consider Other Megatrends

Above, we spoke about the megatrend of data (digitization and data analytics).  We should also ask how we can capitalize on other megatrends in business:

  • Green / Natural – how can we make our products and our companies more appealing (especially to millennials) by being more green?
  • Ease – how can we make it easier for the customer to buy, use, service, and repeat buy our product?
  • Service Component – how can we move from selling a product to providing a service where the product is just one component of the service?
  • Subscription Economy – how can we move one step further by making the re-buy decision automatic and selling our product and services as a subscription?
  • Sharing Economy – what effect, if any, would the sharing economy have on our products and services and how they are purchased, used or consumed?

 

Conclusion

Much of the legwork can be done quickly.  But the thinking and insights will be hard work.  Yet, this strategic thinking is necessary and essential if we are to be excellent leaders driving our companies to success.

One cognitive ability distinguished star performers from average: pattern recognition, the ‘big picture’ thinking that allows leaders to pick out the meaningful trends from a welter of information around them and to think strategically far into the future.”  Daniel Goleman (Author and psychologist writing about a study of top executives at fifteen large companies)

By following these five steps and thinking critically about our companies, customers and marketplaces, we will be able to create a unique strategic vision that will drive our companies to grow faster than the overall market, increase sales and profits consistently, and win.

 

 

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Three ‘Cheats’ of the Ethical Leader

tempAn ethical leader is someone dedicated to always doing the right thing for the employees, the business, and all stakeholders.  Alas, this ideal for the selfless and driven leader clashes with the reality of who most of us really are.

So, how do we, as flawed human beings, become the near perfect ethical leaders that we need to be to drive our businesses to success?

The answer is simple… we cheat.

We create sneaky tips, tricks, reminders or work arounds that help us to live up to the ideal of the ethical leader.   By following each of the three “cheats” below, we can all become more effective and more ethical leaders for our teams and in our businesses.

 

1.    Act As If

We need to act as if we are the positive, ethical coach and leader all the time.

  • On a daily basis, when we have had a really bad morning or are just annoyed or ticked off, we still must walk head held high into the office, put on a smile, greet all the team and tell everyone that we are doing great
  • When a difficult situation or major problem happens right before we are to leave for the day, we must drop everything, step up, take charge, and act as a leader.
  • When the business is struggling and morale is sinking, we must remain calm, collected and unflinchingly positive no matter how we may feel.

In many situations, we may not feel like being the ethical leader.  But, we must always act as if we are that ethical leader.

 

2.   Take Notes to Remember…and Impress

As leaders, we need to learn from great politicians and remember details about our teams to connect with them.  Unfortunately, we may not have the memory to remember all this information.  Instead, we take notes and write down relevant business and personal details about the members of our team, our customers and suppliers after we meet them.  Then, before we meet for the next time, we review the notes and make sure to ask a question that shows that we have remembered some of their personal details (birthday, wife or husband’s names, what their children are doing, favorite hobbies, etc.).  As much as anything else, this shows our team that we care for them as individuals.

 

3.   Pause

As leaders, we are always on stage.  As such, we need to be thoughtful and avoid any kind of outburst or negativity.  We can never react to what has happened or what someone else has done or said.  To avoid reacting, we need to pause before responding.  We need to pause, count silently to five in our heads, and then quietly address the problem or issue while always trying to determine the way forward without pointing fingers at whoever may be responsible.

The silent count to five makes such a positive response possible:

  1. It allows the quiet burst of anger welling inside of us to subside preventing us from doing anything rash that we may later regret
  2. It lets us think through our response
  3. It gives good example by showing our clear-headedness and thoughtfulness (even in adversity) to the other members of our team

 

What other “cheats” might you use?  I welcome your thoughts and insights.

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We Need to Create Time For Our Teams

tempMany of us aspire to personally be as productive and effective as possible.  We read articles and blogs (including some of mine – How to Be 10X More Effective…) and take classes to learn how to get more done in less time.

Unfortunately, as leaders, this goal of personal productivity is the wrong goal to pursue.  Our goal needs to be:

How Can Our Overall Team Be More Productive and More Effective?

In helping make our teams more effective, we need to give them more time to do their jobs.  This means eliminating as much as possible all the distractions, noise, irrelevancies, and trivialities that cloud the mind and waste the time of our team members.

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The Power of Active Follow Up

triggersTo make change happen effectively (for our companies and for ourselves) requires daily attention and regular follow up.

People don’t get better without follow up.  So let’s get better at following up with our people.

 The quote above is from Marshall Goldsmith in his excellent book, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be.

In the book, which I encourage you to read, Goldsmith offers insight into how we can be more effective and consistent in changing behaviors.

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5 Daily Behaviors for 2017

tempThe calendar says 2017.  Unfortunately, far too many of our leaders are leading as if it is 5, 10, 20, even 30 years ago.

Old-fashioned leadership and work styles and out dated, time consuming, and all but useless leadership behaviors are preventing many of our companies from moving forward to be competitive in today’s day and age.

To assist those of us still living in the past and to remind the rest of us, I offer up a list of five behaviors that leaders (and everyone else) can do to be more effective at getting things done and driving our teams and businesses to success.

I welcome your additions to this list.

 

  • Go Completely Paperless

    • With smartphones, I Pads, laptops, E-Mail, texting, and eDocument Signing, we should banish paper completely from our business.  The advantage is that now everything is stored, backed up, searchable, and accessible wherever we are.

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The One Thing

The One Thing - PictureIn their book, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan suggest that a laser-like focus on the most important is essential to realizing success.

Since the book dovetails so closely to my views of simplify…eliminate…prioritize…focus, I recommend it highly.  Below, I give some quick notes on the key points found in the book.  But, I do encourage you to pick it up, read it, and follow its ideas.

  • We need to avoid the productivity myths and achievement lies so common today:
    • Everything matters equally
    • We can be good at multitasking
    • All it takes is self-discipline and willpower

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The ‘Crack Cocaine’ of Leadership

Ego cartoon 1Crack Cocaine has three distinguishing features:

  • It gives the user a short – lived, intense high
  • It is highly addictive
  • It inevitably leads to the user’s downfall

These exact three characteristics are found when business leaders feed their egos.

Let’s be honest, we all stroke our egos.

  • The anecdote or story we tell about how competently we did something or how wonderful we are
  • Those little extra comments we add to a conversation so that everyone knows that we are all wise and all knowing
  • The statements, pictures, and stories that we share with others that draws attention to ourselves as someone special…and better

As leaders, we get hooked on feeding our egos in order to enjoy the ego-boosting high that comes from thinking that we are great.

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