CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The 5 F Factors in StreetSavvy℠ Leadership.

I attended a roundtable discussion sponsored by Susan Howington, CEO of Power Connections, the other day. Susan holds these meetings with senior executives regularly and we discuss topics of interest. The topic we discussed revolved around whether a strong leader is not afraid to change his/her mind and under what circumstances they should be flexible in changing course. It appears that many leaders, in order to look strong, set a course of action, and don’t want to change for fear of looking weak and flighty.

There were several people in the discussion today including Peter DeAngelis (CEO, TechCoastAngels), Ron Davis (CEO and GM), John Theron (former CEO and current software consultant), Patrick Flynn (PE CEO and former aerospace exec) and Cindi Mullane (CEO and operations executive in the fashion industry.) This was an excellent complement of people.

The initial discussion centered on the need for clearly setting goals and objectives, continuity of strategy, becoming agile in one’s thinking, recognizing challenges and preparing your team to meet the uncertainty of these challenges, and keeping options open, e.g. predesigning flexibility into your decisions.

Many years ago, I coined the term StreetSavvy℠ as applied to many executive functions. When I worked for founding CEO of US Cellular Don Nelson, Don and I coined the phrase fast, fluid and flexible as we were trying to grow in the young but growing wireless market. I have used that concept over the past many years of my career. This was the start of thinking about the characteristics of what StreetSavvy Leadership is about. Additionally, I have also talked about fast failure in getting products to market. More recently I wrote a blog and did a talk on managing a business. The two words are Focus and PODFU (plan, organize, delegate and follow-up). After participating in this discussion group, I found myself seeing how all these components now come together in what I call the 5F Factors in StreetSavvy Leadership. These are the five factors I believe that can make leaders stronger and their companies grow.

1.  Focus. Business executives are constantly bombarded with many different product opportunities, decisions, strategies and the like.  If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.  Therefore, the first characteristic for a StreetSavvy executive is to be laser focused.  Don’t try to do more than two or three major initiatives at the same time.  You have to have clear priorities because you need to have dedicated resources to be successful.  As Sun Tzu said: concentrate your resources at the competitors’ weakness at the point of attack.  This is the business correlate.

2.  Fast Afoot. Fast doesn’t mean reckless. Most executives believe they have to make a decision and do it with speed. Then once a decision is made you execute relentlessly. This is basically true. As executives we need to have information and facts upon which to base decisions. Unfortunately, in business, information and facts are never complete and there is a point at which more facts give you limited additional utility in making a decision. Because an executive never has complete information, decisions are always uncertain and it is a matter of how likely the decision will be correct and how potentially damaging uncertainty becomes.

3.  Fluid. Things change. Water conforms to the changing landscape to reach its destination. The destination or goal may still exist but there may be impediments along the way and obstacles to overcome. Fluidity means dealing with these changes, mostly tactically without changing the strategy or the end game. StreetSavvy Leaders continually scan the environment absorbing new facts and information. They figure out a way to maneuver through the changes that take place. Scanning the market through customer panels, tactics like mystery shopping or Undercover Boss, assigning people or teams to track a competitor – both direct and indirect – are critical to get new information and upon that new information to make informed decisions which might change the tactics of the strategy or to a lesser degree the strategy itself.

4.Flexible. Opportunity knocks and changes in tactics may occur. Tactics and strategies must be consistent with goals and objectives which are much longer term. Andy Grove, former Chairman and CEO of Intel wrote that only the paranoid survive. To me, paranoia in business is good in order not to be complacent. Executives have to look at opportunities as they arise and address them. Should an opportunity exist executives might need to change course. I recall working for one company which had negotiated a large contract with a supplier many years before. The technology shifted and over time that technology was neither as robust nor cost effective as a newer technology invented by an Israeli company. Our company chose to stay with the older technology and that was perhaps one reason why our company was not as successful as we could have been. It happens all the time. Culture has to be set to enable this flexibility as changes to a plan are not normally welcomed by the highest levels of leadership due to economic or political concerns.

5.  Fast Failure. Making a decision is one thing. Staying with a decision that becomes a losing one can cause irreparable harm to a company with potentially serious side effects like going out of business or having to lay off people. As one of the participants stated: bad new does not get better with age. I recall when I was at one of the Baby Bells and we were trying to grow our business by focusing on new product development. Unfortunately, one of the products on which we spent significant resources was not going to be a winner. The right decision was to terminate the project yet the project lead who worked for me did not want the stigma of failure on his shoulders. The culture was to “punish” failure. In this specific case it was a slow failure. In retrospect, the life support on this project should have been pulled years before. In this case with a little prompting, the project lead terminated the project and I gave him a reward for making the right decision. The culture had to be established for fast failure. Just think of Google and how many projects they have in the works at any one time. Or even 3M. They know that some projects will fail and executives are ok with that. Similar to stock trading you have to let your winners run and cut your losers quickly. How many of you are willing to do that?


How does the StreetSavvy Leader manage to implement these 5 F Factors? The primary need is to communicate and have an open dialog with your team and others lower in the chain of command. It is critical for the leader to walk the talk and become Pattonesque in their leadership style. Be on the front lines with your troops. Be visible and be communicative. Ask questions and listen and know that your obligation to your company is to new and even divergent information so you have the best chance of building a successful company.

Glad to have other viewpoints.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

4 Tools for the StreeSavvy Business Executive to Manage Growth

As the third and final installment on tools that the StreetSavvy℠ Business executive can use, these four tools focus on ones that can help manage growth while ensuring the right resources are dedicated to the initiatives and risk impact is managed.

The tools that follow include: The Ansoff Matrix, Ishikawa Diagrams, Risk/Impact Analysis, and RACI.



Ansoff Matrix
The Ansoff Matrix is used to help companies determine which products are to be developed and which markets are to be pursued.   Some of the tools we shared in  a prior blog e.g. the analytical hierarchical process, can be used to set priorities relative to budget constraints.
We love the Ansoff matrix because it is a very easy model to understand the product portfolio. 




The diagram above is a modification of the Ansoff Matrix which was developed by H. Igor Ansoff and first published in the Harvard Business Review in 1957 (Harvard Business Review, 35 (5) 1957, pp.113-124), in an article entitled Strategy and Diversification.   It provides a great framework for considering paths to growth and the associated risks of attaining that growth.  
Yet, it is sometimes difficult to use because it required solid analysis and planning. The idea is that, each time you move into a new quadrant (horizontally or vertically), risk increases.  These are called adjacencies and moving to an adjacency is less risky than moving along a diagonal toward the “diversify” box. 
If one uses the Ansoff matrix, we would like to see companies use the following risk/impact model as a complement.
RACI
RACI is a cool tool that is also called a responsibility matrix.   It lays out a project or a task and shows the intersection of that project or task with those people and/or functions that have a part in the decision.   


R stands for responsible part and is the person who actually carries out the process or assignment.  There can be several R’s on a project.   
A stands for accountable and is the person who has the ultimate accountability and leadership of a task or project.  
C means that people or functions who are not directly involved with carrying out the task or project yet are consulted prior to the task being completed.  This person could be a subject matter expert or other stakeholder. 
I stands for those who are informed of the decision as they may have a part in receiving the output of the work.  For example, customer service may be informed of the decision on a new price or promotion that the marketing department conceives for a new product.

Ishikawa (Fishbone) diagram

Fishbone or Ishikawa diagrams enable an individual or preferably a group of individuals todetermine the cause and effect of a specific action.  

The goal is to ask questions several times in different ways to fill out the “fishbones” and come to a common root cause.  Therefore, if you say that revenues are low, you might want to fill out the “fish bones” by listing 3 main causes such as 1) Lack of Channel Partners, 2) Price too high, and 3) Product not correct fit.  Then for each main cause you delve deeper into the reasons why for each perception in order to determine that there is a root cause.  I recall doing this for one of my tech companies and the answer came out that the training for our sales reps and the channels was incorrect.  So after adjusting the training and requiring that the sales people became certified by their managers, revenues improved dramatically.

Risk/Impact Analysis
  
In many ways, risk impact analysis seems simple and something everyone should do.  But it isn’t performed on a regular basis.  At many companies risk impact analysis is performed on major projects and by so doing the analysis StreetSavvy business executives prevent surprises.

Here’s an example of the risk impact matrix on the left coded in terms of RED (high risk and impact), YELLOW (medium risk and impact) and GREEN (low risk and impact.   

On the right side of the figure, the executive and/or team specify the risk, the initial placement on the chart, and then plan to move it to less risk or less impact by a combination of strategies and tactics.   The information shown is an actual assessment for a client but is cloaked to protect the confidentiality of the work.

We would be glad to talk about how these tools can be used in your business.  Feel free to contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net to see if you qualify for a complementary one hour analysis.  




Tuesday, February 21, 2017

4 Strategic Tools for the StreetSavvy Business Executive


In my last blog we shared some power tools that StreetSavvy Business Executives can use to help find the path for profitable revenue growth. I used this information in a talk I gave at UCI Applied Innovation to 100 plus budding entrepreneurs and sitting executives.


Now, I want to provide 4 additional tools to help with the direction and management of strategic initiatives which will help StreetSavvy Business Executives find their true north and set the stage for executing their plans.

Scenario Planning and Visioning

Scenario planning and visioning is a tool that has less structure than some of the other tools in this compendium. Yet is a powerful tool to be used by executives, department heads, and teams to construct the vision of where that organization is heading and the outcomes to be achieved. I started using this tool in the 90s when I was heading marketing at a wireless company. Given the competition that was coming about due to changing regulations and changing technology and due to the increasing use of the internet, it was time to think about where we needed to be heading.

Our visioning exercise was used to determine not only where we wanted to go, but also to ensure there was alignment among the executives in carrying out the strategic and business plans.

To do this correctly, each executive or team member has to address different questions including some of the following questions. They do this by visualizing a future state as if they walked in the shoes of their customers, their board, or other constituents.

  1. What does the company look like in the next five or 10 years?
  2. What kind of products will it sell and how will they be sold?
  3. What will the customers look like?
  4. What competencies will you need to put in place?
  5. Who will the competition be?
  6. What messages would you want to get across to the board of directors, to an investment group and to your customers?

Scenario planning and visioning is a tool that has less structure than some of the other tools in this compendium. Yet is a powerful tool to be used by executives, department heads, and teams to construct the vision of where that organization is heading and the outcomes to be achieved. I started using this tool in the 90s when I was heading marketing at a wireless company. Given the competition that was coming about due to changing regulations and changing technology and due to the increasing use of the Internet, it was time to think about where we needed to be heading.

Our visioning exercise was used to determine not only where we wanted to go, but also to ensure there was alignment among the executives in carrying out the strategic and business plans.
To do this correctly, each executive or team member has to address different questions including some of the following questions. They do this by visualizing a future state as if they walked in the shoes of their customers, their board, or other constituents.
The best parts of this exercise are listening to the answers, debating the vision, and then coming to a singular purpose and vision.

Product Innovation Charter

A product innovation charter is a format used by companies to determine the company’s (or team’s) product management or development strategy. What risks and returns do they want to take? What type of innovation will they consider- a new-to-the-world product will have substantially more risk than a line extension. It is used for products, not processes and sets the charter, i.e. the conditions under which the company or team will operate in making decisions.
The format of the charter is straightforward and simple, yet the end result is very powerful.

                                              Product Innovation Charter

Background: What the reason for this charter? What problems are you trying to address?
Goals: What are the specific goals that can be met? SMART Goals: specific, measurable, actionable, responsible party, and time frame should be defined.
Objectives: What is the overall objective of the charter? Is it to increase dominance in one area or to play catchup? Is the goal to develop breakthrough products or provide a specified risk/return ratio?
Guidelines: How does this charter fit into the corporate strategy? How much money is funded by this charter? What are the decision making capabilities of the leaders of this charter?
Boundaries: What are the rules of implementing the charter? For example, is this an entirely internal team approach or should partners be considered? Are there certain companies that are off limits to partnerships? Is this for consumption in the US or the entire world?

Balanced Scorecard

The Balanced Scorecard can be construed as a complete management system as originally conceived by Kaplan and Norton in the mid 1990’s.   The original structure of the balanced scorecard pointed to four elements as shown in the following diagram where each of the elements supported the vision and strategy of the company. 



Over time, the balanced scorecard has evolved and in our interpretation it provides a structure for companies to use and modify according to the priorities and needs of the company. In some companies, there is less “learning” and more growth oriented actions. In other companies, especially in the Internet world, the focus may be on replicable processes, or maintaining a specialized workforce, or even implementing strategic initiatives to maintain an edge in the market.

Such thinking doesn’t detract from the structure and use of the tool, yet the tool can to be modified to accommodate different companies.

Analytic Hierarchical Process

The analytic hierarchy process (AHP) was developed by Thomas Saaty, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1970s at which time, as a mathematician and engineer I fell in love with the methodology and have adapted it to fit my needs in corporate America and in our consulting practice.
It is a structured technique for organizing and analyzing complex decisions such as funding different product development efforts, selecting a leader of a cross-functional team, or determining which investment or partnership makes the most sense. The “most sense” is based on a combination of mathematics and beliefs – some supported by data – of different people and teams evaluating several options. What I like about it is the fact that by expressing answers in mathematical terms, you almost take out the emotion of decisions and can better evaluate disparate options. For example, you can use it for the classic guns v. butter decisions.
The strength of the process is that it helps decision makers find solutions that best suit their goal and their understanding of the problem. It provides a rational framework for structuring a decision problem, for representing and quantifying its elements, for relating those elements to overall goals, and for evaluating alternative solutions.
The users of the AHP first decide on the elements upon which decisions are based and the comparative weights of those elements. That would be a one-tier hierarchy. But the power of the system extends when each of the primary elements has a subordinate structure. Let’s say financials was one criteria and that weight was 25% as shown below. A second level hierarchy could be developed based on cash flow, capital and margin.
To us, the important part of the exercise is to give the different team members or decision makers the opportunity to debate and determine the correct elements, the hierarchy and the weights. Then, once complete, each case can be analyzed and an ordinal ranking can be determined based on a score. It still enables flexibility by the team to make final adjustments. What it prevents, though, is one dominant player swaying the votes of the others. Sometimes, in organizations, that is easier said than done.
Here’s what a two level system looks like for a company that was analyzing different product development opportunities. It can be applied in any business or industry or functional area.

With these tools, the executive can determine the direction of the company, ensure the executive team is in alignment, determine priorities and execute the plan. Of course, we at C-Level Partners are glad to help. Call me at 949 4394503 or write to me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net to see if you qualify for a complementary one hour discussion of your business issues.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

5 tools for the StreetSavvy Business Executive to Grow a Business.


I just read an article in CBInsights regarding a post mortem of more than 200 companies that failed.  It made me think if there is a way to prevent failure or provide insight into potential failures and errors that could be prevented and corrected a priori. 

To that end, we have developed a series of 20 tools that can be used by the StreetSavvy Business Executive that can help diagnose problems and provide data upon which better decisions can be made.   Over the next several weeks, I will share 5 tools per week for our readers’ use. 
Let me reiterate the definition of a StreetSavvy Business Executive.  It is a person in charge, normally in the executive suite, that has responsibility for a program or function or department, and who doesn’t follow the crowd.  Their goal is to find opportunities- call them blue ocean or impulse events- which prevent their business entity from regressing to the mean of mediocrity.  Following the crowd is not in their DNA.  They want to create their own path to success and by so doing, distance themselves from the crowd.


There are many tools, constructs, and paradigms we, at C-Level Partners, use to find solutions to complex problems.  We are glad to share those with our readers in our blogs, seminars and other media.  To that end, we put together this collection of tools and a brief description that we use to help companies.  Here are the first five tools. Feel free to provide comments and “like” them and share with whomever you believe can use them.  And feel free to contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net or call at 949 439-4503.

PRASE℠     

This is C-Level Partners basic way we analyze problems. It is like a super gap and it is a very disciplined approach to solving complex problems. This methodology is applicable in any situation where value creation is inhibited.


Problem definition (description of) the current state and why it is insufficient
Root cause identification (what is causing the problem or constraint to achieving the goal)
Analysis of the desired future state (what it will look like when a problem is fixed or constraint lifted)
Steps needed to develop specific prescriptions and priorities to get from “here” to “there” (people, process, technology and governance)
Engage in an action plan based on priorities, organization, delegation, and follow up to achieve your goal state)  

Side-by-Side Matrix. 

Market research comes in many forms, shapes and sizes.  There is one tool that can be utilized more in market research and that is the side by side matrix.  This enables the business executive to collect data on two or more dimensions to get a broader view of attributes important to a constituent.  Not all survey vehicles offer this type of system yet Survey Monkey to a degree and QuestionPro offer very good templates and tools for use in conducting this research.   When coupled with the Quad Maps (because they visually depict answers in two dimensions, the results can be very powerful.  From Question Pro (www.questionpro.com ) here’s the construct of the side-by-side matrix.



While these questions may be easy to frame, think about categorizing questions.  For example, we categorized questions as customer service and support, retail experience, web experience, product breadth, sales reps, and other categories.  Within each category we subdivided the questions to get some more granularity.  
Using this tool and plotting it on a “quad map” is ideal to visual what you can leverage and what strategic initiatives need to be put into place.
For one wireless company using this research, the company was able to realign its strategy and marketing budget.  The results showed the company what was important and for those activities that they performed well, the marketing plan was able to leverage those positive attributes.  For other activities that the customer deemed not important, the company reduced expenditures.  And for those activities that the customers said were important but where the company fell short, initiatives and corrective actions were put in place.   The system worked well and the implementation of the results helped put the company on a new path to growth and propel the company to market leader position. 

Quad Mapping

A quad map is a simple tool to determine what to leverage, where to focus, what to watch and what to ignore or spend fewer dollars on.  We normally couple the Quad Maps with information attained through the side-by-side market research.

Business executives can break down questions into functional areas such as customer service, product breadth, store design, pricing and other categories.  Customers, suppliers and even company employees can answer the questions of importance and performance using the side-by-side matrix mentioned above.  

Those areas that are important and for which performance is poor can be thought of as potential strategic imperatives that the company or entity needs to undertake to correct.  Those attributes that are important and for which the entity performs well should be leveraged and emphasized.  Those items that are not important for which companies perform well.



Spider Diagram

Another simple yet powerful tool for use in positioning and competitive analysis is called the Spider diagram, because when you look at the graphical plot it looks like a spider web.
Attributes are indicated on the spokes and the length of the spoke reflects the scale e.g. from 0-10 (highest)  
A critical assessment of your brand, in this case, vs. the competitive brands can provide information on where to focus because your brand is better and where you might need improvement.
It was interesting to see this system used in the 2016 NFL draft as positional players were compared by using spider diagrams.   

SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a tool that can be used to help the business person make better strategic decisions and develop plans that will be effective against the competition.  It can be used as a complement to Spider Diagrams.

Normally Strengths and Weaknesses focus on internal attributes of the company e.g. competencies, resources, reputation, brand, customer service and similar items.  Opportunities and Threats normally focus on the external world although many companies can conceivably find both threats and opportunities internally.  Threats include competition, regulation, and social changes, changing workforces, governmental policies and similar items.  Opportunities are noted where the company can make inroads e.g. a new market, or where new competencies, alliances and technologies can be obtained to provide an advantage in the current markets, expand product lines or increase sales. 

Most SWOT analyses are broken down into a two-by-two matrix, with one box for each of the four components but can be extended to include a SWOT comparison for multiple competitors. 

Here are two templates that can be used.  This first one is for the company itself and the second one is for a company relative to its competition. 
Note that competition should be considered as existing competition i.e. direct competitors as well as indirect competitors and potential competitors.  




We hope these five tools are good additions to your toolkit and will help you get data upon which to make decisions and to make the complex problems a little easier to dissect and address.




Monday, January 30, 2017

The Nifty 50 Websites and Resources for StreetSavvy Business Executives

My business partner, Brian Newton, and I were talking about resource for business executives.  Since I host a segment of a business cable TV Show called EYE on Business (Time Warner/Spectrum) and my section focuses on StreetSavvy Business (from my days growing up on the streets of New York, hence the image to the left), we decided to develop a "Nifty 50" list of those sites and resources that would be ideal for the StreetSavvy Business Executive.   StreetSavvy Business is aimed at finding solutions to complex business problems and by so doing executives are leading their companies in new thoughts, directions, and opportunities.   StreetSavvy Business is a way to prevent companies from regressing to the mean - and worse, mediocrity.

There more than 750 million URLs for websites in the US and around 200 million that are “active.” There are certain sites because of their breadth, content or unique perspective that can help entrepreneurs and executives alike in understanding the business environment, changing behaviors of different segments of the population, the economic environment, and the political environment. C-Level Partners put together a selection of sites that they have found to be useful to business leaders of all kinds.

We divided these sites into categories but clearly there is overlap among the websites. Based on the collective wisdom of C-Level Partners and its advisory group of more than 60 C-Level Executives, these are the sites that are used time after time by those queried.
Much of the information is free while there are premium services or subscription services. Even if there is a fee for premium services, signing up for the blogs or free newsletters will help the executive get and stay ahead. A word of caution: A website is only as good as the information that it provides for an intended purpose.

General Business
www.businessweek.com Originally called Businessweek and now called Bloomberg Businessweek, this magazine provides information and opinions on what is happening in the business world. It focuses on issues shaping markets, technology and politics, and provides options on developments which affect the business world.
www.ceo.com CEO.com is a resource for executives seeking out the latest in business news and leadership strategy. Our editors probe the web and handpick the most relevant content for the site that will help you become a more effective business leader.
www.cfo.com Targeting corporate financial executives this site offers information on Accounting & Tax, Banking & Capital Markets, Risk & Compliance, Strategy and Technology. Their content includes articles on current topics, white papers and links to other relevant content.
www.cio.com For this site’s content the “i” means “Information” so much of the content is related to technology topics. When visiting the site in January 2017 I noticed a piece on European privacy regulation which, having lived in London for 14 years, can be a minefield. Given the current state of flux in these regulations, a firm with activities linked to Europe would be well-served to remain compliant. Of course, there were many technology related items on this site which has extensive content.
www.forbes.com Published bi-weekly, Forbes features original articles on finance, industry, investing and marketing topics. Forbes also reports on related subjects such as technology, communications, science and law.
www.fortune.com Fortune Magazine competes with Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek in the national business magazine category and distinguishes itself with long, in-depth feature articles.[2]  The magazine is best known for the Fortune 500, a ranking of companies by revenue that it has published annually since 1955.

Economic/Financial/Political/Technical
www.ft.com The Financial Times is the cornerstone of international business news, analysis, market data and company information. It provides perspective on global business issues and provides clarity in a complex business world. Also, as it is UK based, the points of view presented are less US-centric than many other publications in this list. 
www.money.cnn.com Purportedly the largest business website, CNN Money provides information on business, markets, technology, media, luxury, personal finance and a section on small business.
www.theeconomist.com The commentary makes it a requisite for any business professional. You need to stay up to date on all news to cultivate partnerships and understand the new realities of both the political and economic climate to be successful whether you are an entrepreneur or a corporate executive. Like the FT mentioned above, The Economist is UK-based and the point of view is less US-centric and thus useful for US executives to better understand communications with overseas partners or customers.
www.reuters.com Reuters.com brings you the latest news from around the world, covering breaking news in business, politics, entertainment, technology, video and pictures.
www.research.stlouisfed.orgThe St Louis Fed offers an outstanding range of publications and data on economic, financial and policy issues. Their FRED service is the data service and they make available an Excel Add-in that allows you to download historical data including thousands of series covering the entire world.
www.gartner.com, www.forrester.com, www.idc.com We lump all these together and you can add others as well. These sites provide market research, analysis and advisory services on a range of technology and Information Technology that is critical for the Chief Information Officer, Marketer and even other executives to understand.

Investment/New Technology
www.yahoofinance.com Yahoo Finance provides one of the most complete sites for business, finance and stock market news including quotes on stocks, options, and portfolio management.
www.investors.com One of my favorite sites with news and information that moves the markets and a complete tool for analyzing stocks and financial markets. It has a new America section which focuses on technology trends and companies that will change the economy.
www.motleyfool.com This is Dave and Tom Gardner’s site which became famous for its investment insight, and analysis of stocks. You can also find out which stocks and industries will make the most changes to our economy during the coming years.
www.marketwatch.com MarketWatch operates a financial information website that provides business news, analysis, and stock market data. It is a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Company, a property of News Corp.
www.seekingalpha.com Seeking Alpha is a crowd-sourced content service for financial markets. Articles and research cover a broad range of stocks, asset classes, ETFs and investment strategies.

Leadership/Management
www.bain.com Bain is a top management consulting firm that advises companies on strategy, marketing, organization, operations, IT and just about every aspect of business. They have a tab called Insights which is their blog that can help executives find new ideas that generate results.
www.mckinsey.com In the same vein as Bain, McKinsey and Company is a global management consulting firm that serves leading businesses, governments, non-government organizations and non-profits and helps them realize their performance goals. Their blog provides stories about people and research which might be useful to find and implement new ideas.
www.strategy-business.com Business strategy news articles for CEOs, corporate executives, and decision makers who influence international business management.  Their prime focus is to highlight the complex choices that leaders face — in strategy, marketing, operations, human capital, governance and other domains — and the impact of their decisions.
www.enpinstitute.com Executive Next Practices Institute is a research, collaboration, and thought leader forum composed of several thousand C-Level executives from Fortune 5000 companies, including those from C-Level Partners. Their focus is on first look innovations, beyond the current best practices.
www.cebglobal.com CEB (formerly known as the Corporate Executive Board) is a best practice insight company with several subspecialties in HR, IT/Operations, Marketing and other functional areas. It develops its programs in partnership with leading organizations around the globe and shares solutions to drive corporate performance and to effectively manage talent, customers and operations.
www.hbr.org Harvard Business Review is one of the cornerstone magazines for new ideas and classic advice on strategy, innovation, leadership, technology and marketing from the world’s best management and business thinkers.
www.linkedin.com Everyone should be on LinkedIn, the largest professional database. You can find people, new opportunities, and through groups engage in dialogs on trends, technology, marketing, business, economics and almost everything else. By participating in posting articles or sharing information you will also encourage others to find you and that can lead to business deals. Everyone likely knows that Microsoft bought LinkedIn in 2016.
www.edgar-online.com EDGAR Online is a leader in helping professionals uncover intelligence from financial disclosures. EDGAR Online offers distribution of company data and public filings for equities, mutual funds and other publicly traded assets. Check out the 10k filings of publicly traded companies to get a good understanding of the business climate and insight into their business strategy.
www.marshallgoldsmith.com Marshall Goldsmith is a leadership coach with some of the key corporate, public and non-profit leaders of the world. His books include What Got You Here Won’t Get Your There are insightful and offer many useful suggestions for motivating and energizing your teams. Also, his subscription service provides weekly 3- to 5-minute videos which offer useful suggestions for better handling challenging, or even very obvious, situations.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship
www.cbinsights.com This venture and start-up website contains a private company financing and angel investment database. It also provides excellent infographics on technology trends and shares eco-systems of market categories.
www.slideshare.net Authors, writers, and companies share their information through presentations, infographics, and documents. Owned by LinkedIn, you can now link your presentations to your LinkedIn account.
www.techcrunch.com. TechCrunch is a leading technology media property, dedicated obsessively to profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products, and breaking tech news. Check out its companion site, www.crunchbase.com, which provide an excellent database on innovative companies, their funding, and the people behind them.
www.ted.com TED Talks are inspiring and revealing. While the site talks about new ideas and trends, it is more than a site for entrepreneurs as it has a strong community. Information from these talks is beneficial to both entrepreneurs and successful corporate business people. Check out www.mashable.com as well, as these two are nice complements to each other.
www.fastcompany.com Fast Company provides a breath of fresh air as it inspires new innovative and creative thought leaders who are inventing the future of business. While aimed at the younger generation and start-ups, Fast Company provides good information on leadership and management that is applicable to the corporate executive as well giving them an edge in business.
http://www.eofire.com This is a platform and podcast for entrepreneurs and marketers. Founder, John Lee Dumas, interviews inspiring Entrepreneurs.
www.quora.com Leaders and entrepreneurs in the tech industry share their information and answer questions from the reader base.
www.entrepreneur.com This site provides the latest in news and advice for the startup entrepreneur. And the information is also useful for those in the corporate world who delve into innovation.
www.inc.com Find out the latest in tips, news, management, leadership and other resources for entrepreneurs from one of the most reputable magazines in the industry.

Marketing
www.chiefmarketer.com Chief Marketer serves marketing professionals at consumer and business-to-business brands, as well as their agencies, with rich, detailed information on measurable marketing strategies, tactics and techniques. Marketing executives discuss marketing and technology challenges, how to understand the relationships, and how to determine which tools are most effective, and the role of data and content.
www.hoovers.com Hoovers has one of the largest databases for use by business people, sales people, marketers and others and which provides in-depth information on more than 85 million companies. You can use this for targeted mailing lists and depending on the subscription you choose, you can get industry information and competitive information as well.
www.advertisingage.com Advertising Age has been around for a very long time and this website helps marketers understand advertising as part of the overall marketing mix. Many marketers still are behind in digital marketing knowledge and this site can help by sharing ideas on what others are doing. As part of Advertising Age, www.btobonline.com provides specific information for the B2B marketer including news, advice, trends and technology.
www.avention.com Avention is the new name for OneSource, a database of companies that marketers can use to find information on companies in their industry, competitors and even use it as a lead source for direct marketing campaigns.
www.marketingtoday.com Marketing Today is a combination marketing magazine and blog covering such topics as general marketing, digital marketing, social media, advertising and public relations.
www.marketo.com Marketo is basically a marketing automation site and a good one at that. It provides through its webinars, events and blogs a host of useful information that marketers can use to generate sales and partners.
www.hubspot.com Hubspot has a fantastic blog covering a range of sales and marketing topics, including A/B testing, content marketing and e-mail marketing.
www.econsultancy.com Econsultancy shares the latest digital marketing and ecommerce insight from a team of analysts and experts.
www.kissmetrics.com The KISSmetrics blog aims to help you track, analyze and optimize your digital marketing.

Miscellaneous/ Specialty
www.apple.com/education/itunes-u The iTunes U app gives you access to complete courses from leading universities and other schools — plus the world's largest digital catalog of free education content — right on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.
www.businessinsider.com This site has spent the past few years providing free articles and reports on a wide range of business, technology and policy issues. Quite recently they have begun to charge fees for many of their reports, which are, in fact, well researched. However, whether they’ll be considered value-for-money has yet to be determined.
www.instantcheckmate.com This is a relatively new yet interesting site which claims to have the ability to find out background information on most people. You can use it to verify people you want to hire or partner with.
www.lynda.com This site contains over 2,000 video courses on a wide range of topics which are led by industry recognized instructors. For an introduction to a new area of interest, or to dig deeper on a topic than you already are, this site likely has courses to meet your needs. This is available for a small registration fee and offers a 12-week free trial so you can assess whether this is right for you.
www.mashable.com Mashable is a global, multi-platform media and entertainment company with a focus on the intersection of technology and culture. Check out its YouTube channel as well.

www.wired.com Wired probably needs no explanation. Everyone is connected in some way to something or someone. The content is current, often leading edge material that typically is reliable. If you are unfamiliar with it, check it out. Likely you’ll be impressed and use it going forward.

If you are interested in becoming a StreetSavvy Business Executive, call me or Brian to find out how you can qualify for a complimentary 45 minute appraisal.   My telephone is 949 4394503 and email is dfriedman@clevelpartners.net.  Brian's email is bnewton@clevelpartners.net.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

6 Steps to Beat the Competition: Analysis and Discipline Pay Off


It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
                                    Sun Tzu- The Art of War

I am a believer in the Art of War, especially applied to business and marketing. When I talk to groups on business and marketing subjects I use this quote and it has guided me in the way I approach building businesses and helping companies grow. I have listened to numerous investment pitches at TechCoastAngels screenings (a real Shark Tank) and have heard too many times that the entrepreneur believes there is NO competition. There is always competition, i.e. another way to solve a problem or provide a service. Even when a company realizes that there is some semblance of competition, many executives believe they have more attributes, a better business model, and a stronger brand than reality leads them to accept.

Sadly, this problem extends way beyond the start up world. In 2008, Jim Keyes, CEO of Blockbuster said: “Neither Redbox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” While Redbox had its glory days and has now faded, Netflix continues to soar as they are able to take advantage of streaming media and they have evolved their business model. Blockbuster and its ubiquitous blue and yellow stores have faded into oblivion after ceasing operations in 2013. When I was at RCA (when it existed as a standalone company) one of the execs in the tube division beat his plan but unfortunately failed to recognize competition from semiconductors. He was fired. And let’s not forget other companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang, Motorola and Nokia in the tech field. Not only did they fail to understand the competition, their business strategies did not evolve. We are now seeing consumer companies such as Macy’s and Kohl’s which failed to recognize the competitive environment fast enough (can you say Amazon and online shopping) and are now closing many of their stores.

There is hope though, for most companies as they consider their competition, the environment and the competencies they need to put in place to execute a new business strategy. To that end, here are the six steps companies must take to gain and/or retain a competitive edge.
1. The first step to beat the competition is to recognize that there is competition! Competition comes from direct competitors, i.e. those offering the same type of product or service; indirect competitors; and even the do-it-yourselfers. Even if a competitor is small today, should technology or macroeconomic trends change, a small new company can become dominant. That is what happened to Blockbuster. Competition doesn’t have to come from the same players in the industry. Who would have thought Google and Apple, both, would be developing an autonomous car or at one time a smart phone. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, there was a time when dominant companies in the market such as Nokia and Motorola did not consider Apple a threat and frankly, they did not believe companies like LG and Samsung were threats either. Both Nokia and Motorola have lost their luster.

Keep alert and be paranoid. Use user panels talk to “lead users” who are early innovators of new products, set up Google Alerts on companies that are current competitors as well as those which have the right competencies to become competitors. Your product might be better and that message needs to be conveyed to your target audience. You can recognize the competition through the use of user panels, discussions with “lead users’ and even setting up Google Alerts.

2. The second step is to know the competition. A couple of months ago, I was watching a classic war movie called Patton. Patton was reading the works and biography of Rommel, his nemesis, competition and enemy. Rommel in turn was trying to learn through books and other sources, how Patton thinks and how he would fight. It’s classic Sun Tzu! Even without teams of analysts and staff there are a few tips in understanding and knowing your competition.

Executives can become the equivalent of Undercover Boss. When I was the top marketing executive for US Cellular, I personally visited both my stores and those of my competitors. It’s easy to do even in a business to business environment. Other tools that can be used include Customer Advisory Boards, user panels, cross-functional teams that meet regularly to discuss competition and the environment. At ATX Group (now Sirius Connected Car), every other Friday morning I hosted a cross functional group of executives to discuss new technology and competition. Certain execs were tasked with following specific competitors and sharing that information in Microsoft Exchange folders for our sales, marketing and technologists to use. Other tools include Spider diagrams, focus groups and market research including subscribing to the industry analysts that cover your industry. In the tech field those industry analysts include Gartner, Forrester, IDC and Ovum among others. If a public company is a competitor, read their 10-Ks; it’s amazing how much information is available in that document.

3. The third step is to know yourself. Some of the same tools used to understand the competition can be used to understand your own company. Spider diagrams, side by side market research matrices that can highlight those attributes that are important to your customers and for which you perform well or poorly can help set your company’s strategic imperatives. I am a huge fan of developing a SWOT analysis which covers strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. To do SWOT well companies should seek out key thought leaders in their company, regardless of level and even use newly recruited employees who have a different perspective because of their recent outside experience. Doing mystery shopping even in a business to business company is also relatively easy. At a telecom company in New Jersey, one of my marketing managers set up a false company called The Fred Racciopi Cement Shoe Company of Central New Jersey (obviously we set this up tongue and cheek) and became a customer of each competitor and well as our own company. It’s amazing what we learned and through those learnings we adjusted our training program, branding, positioning and marketing material.

4. The fourth step is to develop and explain the factors that make you different. Customers buy from companies that provide a unique value for their needs. If the value is significant, relevant to the customer, sustainable and credible, the company will have a differentiable advantage. This enables executives to create a “moat” around their company and its products, protecting the company from competitive incursions. The strength of your differentiation is akin to the size of the moat. Even commodities have moats. Think about salt or rice, two very basic commodities. Do you believe that Morton’s salt is better than other salt and worth a 15% price premium? Or how about Mahatma rice vs Kroger-branded rice? What about chicken? What company said: It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken?” (The answer is Purdue Chicken.)
If you can differentiate these commodities, you can differentiate any company and its products. There are several ways upon which to differentiate. Intellectual property (IP) or Patents is an obvious one. Even IP may not be sustainable or even relevant to your target market. Other ways to differentiate are based on what Adrian Slywotsky, author of Profit Zone, calls strategic control points which are defined as some type of unique advantage for a company based on competency or partner relationship. All companies can find at least one. These could include their brand, their business partners, distribution partners, unique processes, innovation, low cost of manufacture, unique customer knowledge, access to certain resources be they commodities or people and similar items. A company has to find those strategic control points that are relevant to their markets and be consistent and credible in delivering on those elements.

5. The fifth step is to develop plans: Developing and executing a plan is critical to success. A written plan should include specific elements. By target market, a goal needs to be defined, a strategy clearly enunciated, and tactics developed with specific milestones, costs, and a person responsible for delivering the tactics. Our opinion is that a plan should have one specific leader who is accountable for the entire result. Individuals who report to this leader need to be designated for each tactic and milestone. C-Level Partners also believes that these plans need not be long winded and in fact the best plans have focus and clarity and might even be codified on one or two pages at maximum. I personally am in favor of one page plans with specific deliverables. I like using a method called RACI (responsible, accountable, consultative and informed) to ensure that the right people in a company are involved in the development and execution of the plan.
6. The sixth and final step is to monitor, measure, modify.  Each plan developed in step 6 should have a complementary set of metrics to track the success of the plan. Metrics vary depending on the plan and some of the metrics can include: average revenue per sale, total sales, return on investment, market share, win/loss ratio of business, aided and unaided awareness, average order quantity, SEO, the timeliness of performing the tactic, and other operational, business or product criteria. Each month these metrics should be added to a scorecard – preferably balanced – and reviewed with the operational or executive team. If a metric is not on target, then the executive responsible for the metric has to provide a corrective action plan. If the metric is very critical to the business strategy or to the overall goals of the plan, then a separate deep dive should be performed where the elements of the plan can be discussed in detail.

As an executive it is sometimes hard to see the competitor when you are mired in the day to day operations. You can always look to outsource part of these six steps or recruit internally some of the best and brightest less tenured people in the company. Successful companies couple strategy with competitive analysis to create and maintain an advantage. When I first converted from an engineer to a marketer, I cut my teeth on competitive analysis. It was the perfect start to figure out how to gain an advantage for the new products I was developing for my customers. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to help drive the strategic vision of my company at the same time. That integration is, in my opinion, critical to a company’s success.

Once you gain a competitive advantage, you have to stay ahead of the competition. That is a subject for a future blog, yet we at C-Level Partners believe that maintaining a competitive edge means companies have to continue to innovate, with technology, with their people, and through their processes. They must maintain contact with customers and open their ears and even seek out criticism. And they must strive for not only incremental improvements but also stretch for what we call the “art of the possible.”

As a technologist and business executive, I always keep in mind the title from Andy Grove’s book, “Only the Paranoid Survive.” Yet with discipline and a plan as outlined in these six steps we believe that companies will be able to develop a competitive edge and flourish in this hyper competitive environment.  


If you have comments or would like to see if you qualify for a complementary appraisal contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net or call me on 949 4394503.