CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 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. Purportedly the largest business website, CNN Money provides information on business, markets, technology, media, luxury, personal finance and a section on small business. 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. 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.,, 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 Yahoo Finance provides one of the most complete sites for business, finance and stock market news including quotes on stocks, options, and portfolio management. 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. 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. 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. 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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 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. 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. 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,, which provide an excellent database on innovative companies, their funding, and the people behind them. 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 as well, as these two are nice complements to each other. 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. This is a platform and podcast for entrepreneurs and marketers. Founder, John Lee Dumas, interviews inspiring Entrepreneurs. Leaders and entrepreneurs in the tech industry share their information and answer questions from the reader base. 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. 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 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. 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. 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, provides specific information for the B2B marketer including news, advice, trends and technology. 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. Marketing Today is a combination marketing magazine and blog covering such topics as general marketing, digital marketing, social media, advertising and public relations. 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. Hubspot has a fantastic blog covering a range of sales and marketing topics, including A/B testing, content marketing and e-mail marketing. Econsultancy shares the latest digital marketing and ecommerce insight from a team of analysts and experts. The KISSmetrics blog aims to help you track, analyze and optimize your digital marketing.

Miscellaneous/ Specialty 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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  Brian's email is  

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 or call me on 949 4394503.