5 tips to Avoid Strategic Partnership Mishaps

iStock_000009912341Small_LRThe make / buy /partner decision is one of the key decisions in growing your business.  Forming effective strategic partnerships or alliances can be the quickest way to grow your business and reduce risk. Unfortunately “not all that glitters is gold”

By their very nature strategic deals typically have significant upside if executed well and like wise catastrophic side effects if they fail. Some examples of strategic partnerships may be: outsourcing manufacturing, trading equity or market territory in lieu of cash payment or selling compatible products into the same end market.

Strategic Partner Success = Shared Vision + Shared Risk + Optimised Resource Deployment + Shared Rewards + Clear Agreements

5 mistakes to avoid:

  1. They should be a supplier/distributor not a strategic partner In the rush to grow the business you sign up a supplier or distributor as a strategic partner and in doing so agree terms that hinder your business in the long term.  Make sure you pick both the type of partner and actual partner with some fore thought keeping in mind the bigger picture, including your eventual acquirer. Make sure they are bringing competencies and assets to the table that are complementary and not core to your business. The business model canvas can help here.
  2. No written agreement / agreement with no teeth Take the time to document your relationship and commercial terms from the beginning, don’t assume anything. The mandatory first step is a simple Heads Of Agreement (HOA) – you can do this yourself. As the relationship progresses or the magnitude or risk increases, shift to a formal legal agreement.  Make sure you cover: what each partner wants from the relationship, intellectual property, who owns customers, what happens if the partnership is dissolved and of course commercial terms.  Make sure the signatory is the guy who writes the cheques, i.e has the authority to pay the bills.
  3. Missing shared vision – brand / values misaligned Fundamental to a synergistic relationship is that your visions and philosophies are aligned and compatible. Document key drivers for the partnership in the HOA.  Acknowledge power/risk differences as it’s rare it will be a 50/50 relationship.
  4. Partnership management – over dependence on single point of contact
    When dealing with large companies or non owner manager companies make sure you have at least 3 points of contact into their business and vice versa. People move on, personalities get in the way and it is great to ensure your relationship will out live a staff change or spat. Put in place a mechanism to escalate and deal with issues and regularly review the partnership agreement.
  5. No clear KPI’s or Exit path Document how success and failure is measured. Success maybe, profitability, market share, avoiding distraction of non value add services.
    The prenuptial part of your agreement is the most important part, including how you will terminate the agreement, the right to work with / appoint competing parties etc. Do not forget to include in your thinking what happens when you get acquired.

Risk Management  Successful partnerships are all about managing risk. Make sure you spend time to do a risk assessment before jumping in.  My no.1 piece of advise is consult a 3rd party to challenge your business logic before forming or signing anything.

Risk = (Likelihood of an event) x (Impact)

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If you would like a hand to review your strategic relationship plans give Growth Management Consulting (GMC) a call.

GMC also facilitate business planning/strategy sessions, prepare companies for investment and develop/coach business pitches

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12 Tips for effective customer workshops

Seminars / workshops are a great tool to show thought leadership, promote yourPostit note workshop BD LRx product/service and most importantly engage with potential and existing customers alike.

Here are 12 tips to help you maximise the customer engagement/learning opportunity:

  1. Facilitate don’t Lecture – effective presenters engage conversation and guide the learning process, rather than talk down to audiences. The participants are your best tool, acknowledge them by integrating them & their knowledge into your delivery.
  2. Ask the audience what they expect  – Everyone turns up with different expectations. Do a quick poll around the room as to what people are expecting to get from the day. Make sure you either cover that material or acknowledge up front you will not be covering it.  Write up key themes on a flip chart to ensure you do actually cover the topics requested. At the end go back to list and acknowledge each issue. Also get them to introduce themselves, it helps participants work out who to target and avoid during the breaks.
  3. Don’t over script – Have structure and flow to the content you deliver. Go with the flow of the participant questions and their hot topics. I will use a standard set of slides, but speak differently to them dependant on the audience, using my arsenal of stories/examples to illustrate points, dependant on the audience. You are the subject matter expert, so trust yourself to deliver the magic.
  4. Death by PowerPoint: Never, never read power point slides – your PowerPoint is a supporting actor, you are the main act.  Get a balance between text, diagrams and other graphics on your slides. The worst presentations/ seminars I have attended all either had text only slides or too many low quality images. Remember the power of the message is inversely proportional to the number of words and if a diagram or picture is worth a 1000 words. Use istock.com or the like to get some professional low cost royalty free images and take the time to create powerful diagrams. Also use a good projector and leave lights on and blinds open.
  5. Use attendee examples:  Get people to apply the knowledge on the spot and share back their thoughts  – people will observe flaws in other people well  before themselves. Using examples from the attendees will make it a more personalised & relevant experience.
  6. Use flip charts / white boards: Work out your key messages from the seminar and keep referencing them on a flip chart. Also when answer questions putting some key annotations on a white board will accelerate learning. The vast majority of people prefer visual learning/comprehension over verbal or kinaesthetic.
  7. Manage time: You own the flow and interaction. Shut down persistent know it all’s or major diversions. Likewise poll opinions from quiet participants. If you have multiple speakers use an Master of Ceremonies (MC), it may even pay to get a professional facilitator in. Don’t run overtime.
  8. Put additional reading in hand-out material to pass on to non attendees:  Add a few articles / white papers to the hand out material over and above the power point slides. Make it easy for a non attendee to get an idea of what your core messages are, if they are handed the material post event.
  9. Subtle Selling / stay true to your brand:  95% thought leadership, 5% direct sales. Be clear on what impression you want to leave behind, style, brand positioning etc. The best sales methodology is a subtle thought leadership approach. Do not forget to put your logo and contact details on material and mention what services you offer without over doing it.
  10. Make a stand: as an expert in your field the participants expect you to have an opinion. The events where I have expressed a strong opinion and opened the floor up to debate, have been the most engaging workshops I have run.
  11. Continually develop your material: Constantly tweak your material based on audience feedback and new information that comes to hand.
  12. Entertain & enjoy it:if you have fun so will the audience. Great business is not boring. If your subject matter expert is a boring speaker: coach him, give him a co presenter, don’t leave him on stage for too long

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Give us a call if you would like a hand with coaching your team on creating high impact workshop delivery.

Growth Management Consulting also runs in-house workshops on a range of topics including: Business Planning, Pitching, Investment Ready as well as facilitating board/management team off sites and other business events.

7 Tips – Maximise Your Linkedin Profile

Whether you want new customers, a new job, a promotion or just to be found; here are 7 tips to help you build a better profile for yourself using your linkedin profile.

In this digital age, if you cannot be found on the web I personally begin to wonder what you are hiding or do you not want to grow your business?  If you are still holding allegiance to the tribe of anonymity and you have a front line position in a company (sales, marketing or owner) then I would suggest seeking a new profession or shutting your business down. If  you have more customers, opportunities and wealth than you can handle – then by all means operate in stealth and ignore the tips below.

 7 Linkedin Profile Tips   linkedin logo

  1. Add your photo
    Many people are poor at remembering names. Your face is the best form of recognition we still have. Make it visible to everyone. Don’t use logo’s or diagrams. Better still if you can clear cut it (edit the background out).
  2. Load your contact details – Phone, email and website
    If you want to be contacted then put your phone, skype an email address in and make them visible. Linkedin is better than the white or yellow page directories for getting up to date contact details. People who want to connect with other busy people (read successful or great potential clients) publish cell phone no’s.To access someones contact information, click the contact info envelope  at the top of their profile (highlighted below) and it will expand out to show their full contact information.
    MJR linkedin contact info
    The other day my wife and I found a wallet full of credit cards, office access keys and other personal stuff on the street. We then set off in a major social media stalking exercise to find and contact the owner – her hours of anxiety could have been reduced to minutes if she had put her cell phone no or email address in her linkedin profile.
  3. When sending a connection invite – add a relevant comment
    Don’t just send connection requests without at least a simple “this is why I want to connect with you” or “this is how I know you” line. This way you turn your cold call to a warm call.I meet lots of people in my business life, many from speaking gigs – when someone from the audience attempts to connect with me with a little note I generally connect. People with big networks will more than likely accept your request.
  4. Get some recommendations
    Linked in is a great way to build personal credibility – get personal recommendations from people you respect to build your credibility.  Because its in the public its more likely to be authentic.
  5. Put some history
    Make sure you list more than your current role on Linked in. As a general rule cover the last 10 years of your business history.
  6. Use your linked in network for marketing
    You can very easily export your linked in database to a csv file that you can use outside linked in eg starting an email newsletter list. Go to connections page – click settings – its in the panel listed as advance settings.
  7. Delete Duplicate profiles
    If you have duplicate profiles – delete all but one. If you have lost both password and the email account it is linked to contact linked in support. Linked in now have a service that will merge multiple accounts into one.

Simple Business Case Disciplines Can Save You From Yourself.

The “she’ll be right” era is gone; it is no longer good enough to make business decisions based on gut and napkin calculations.

Does your business use formal business cases to make major decisions?

“Just Do It” – Doesn’t cut it any more

In an economic environment of tight margins, rapid change and competition, there has never been a better time to put in place some improved business discipline and robust decision making. Many businesses are actively growing in this climate.

One of the easiest ways to de-risk your business and make better decisions is to business case out all major decisions. This does not have to mean bureaucracy overload. Give yourself the benefit of an independent review panel to critique and provide feedback before progressing on major investments. The process of writing a business case will in itself create a better investment choice.

Future stock market player

A project business case should stand up to robust debate, albeit from your board, bank manager or life partner before expending your time, passion and money.  Some major decisions that warrant a business case are: starting or purchasing a new business venture or product line and rationalising your product offering to improve focus or buying a major asset. Create a business case when failure of the project is going to hurt!

Too many business owners continue to fund projects without calculating true payback and considering long-term implications of their business.  Many of these become “the living dead”, “throwing good money after bad”.

 Ignore the value of money over time at your peril.

 Let’s take an example: your IT manager just approached you with a $100,000 project offering $20,000 savings each year over the next 7 years. Basic maths says YES, spend $100K to save $140K, so “let’s just go for it”. BUT what about the cost of that money over time?  If your opportunity cost of capital is over 13% you are actually going to make a loss on this project.

If you invested $100K for 7 years with compound interest you would expect more than $100K back including interest, so you should with your IT project, or business itself. Check the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) or net Present VALUE (NPV) functions in Excel Help. With a little bit of help, you can use these calculations to automatically calculate for you the “true cost”.

As a business owner, or custodian for the business (Managers), it is your responsibility to create shareholder wealth and protect the long-term sustainability of your business, identifying and eliminating risk to your best ability.

Pre-mortem Reviews

 Many businesses perform post-mortem reviews on projects, analysing what did and didn’t work in projects.  How about having one of these meetings before the project begins? By publishing your project budgets, plans, risks and assumptions in many cases you can actually improve the project by simply asking “what could go wrong?” Given the chance, people will help you avoid disaster before it happens.

Our very enthusiasm for an idea will drive us to success, but equally so unchallenged we can quickly be over consumed with that euphoria to our peril.  Do a basic investment test now.

4 Point investment test?

  1. What evidence (trends & market validation) do you have of the long-term need for your product /service? (Strategic Market Opportunity)
  2. Have you calculated what the “true” return for your investment will be, including the cost of capital (Financial Business Case) i.e. will you make money from it?
  3. Have you clearly communicated to your team what you do and do not do? (business /project plan) i.e.  will your team be able to stay focused on the task ahead?
  4. Do you have a clear and succinct message to engage customers and stakeholders (Your pitch) i.e. can you sell it?

Common mistakes made in businesses cases

 Check that you are not falling into common traps for business owners prior to making business decisions:

  • Not creating a business case or having a 3rd party review it
  • Overly optimistic projections: delivery times, customer acquisition times etc
  • Inadequate budget for sales and marketing – budget at  least 10% revenue
  • Not accounting for the value of money over time – use NPV and IRR calculations
  • No market research / validation to de-risk savings, or projected revenue.
  • Underestimating the impact of competitive response
  • Lack of stakeholder commitment or talent
  • Not dreaming big enough – what could you do with twice the investment?

Don’t think of business cases as just approval mechanism, but more so as a mechanism to reduce investment risk. Business Cases provide an opportunity to clarify thinking, get input and focus for the project delivery team around clear outcome.

New training workshops for 2013:  I am now also delivering workshops under the Auckland Chamber’s Vital Training programme.

If you would like to know more about tool’s and techniques to simplify business decision-making and gain greater clarity in your business, then you should attend my  Auckland Chamber Vital workshops: Business Planning, Business Cases and Pitching More information is on the Vital Training Website   The next Business case workshop is 4th April at the Auckland Chamber – register here

Your Business is Customer Centric – Yeah Right!

Ineffective websites – not talking the language of customers

Most businesses in NZ suck at marketing.  They under invest in sales activities and in many cases waste marketing spend creating campaigns, websites and newsletters that do not appeal to their target audience.

Too often the “just do it” drive and focus on “pretty” means businesses do not take the time to extract a powerful core message, “story” and purpose to drive their business and marketing campaigns. All this results in what I call “crap in – crap out” marketing and business planning. Evident by the number of company web sites that have weak selling messages and non- focused businesses selling to everyone.

What I am suggesting is slow down long enough to analyse your customers world and re-purpose your business on what’s important – your customer.

Most web design companies do not have the capability to extract your core marketing messages; they lack the breadth of business and market knowledge. Like any process the better the input  (the design brief) the better the output – you need to own the brief.

When asked – most if not all businesses will proclaim they are customer centric.  If you asked all of your staff “what does our business do?”, how many unprompted would mention the problem you solve for your customers vs how you solve it or what your core “craft” is.

An emphatic focus on the customer and solving their pain is crucial element of all business success.

Ask a business that creates software, what sort of business they are and they will invariably come back with “we are a software company”.  This is not surprising, given they spend most of their life thinking and creating software products.  The reality is their customers do not care at all about the software, they primarily care about what the software does for them (how they measure success).  No matter what your craft is whether it’s: software, science, baking cakes or fixing bicycles it is never about your craft for the purchaser.  Your customers are primarily interested in WIFM (what’s in it for me) and that will include how they measure success.
In the B2B environment more often than not customers want increased sales, productivity or cost reduction. In the B2C place in many cases it comes back to some form of “experience”. What pain or problem are you solving for your customer? What is your customer’s measure of success?

 Successful businesses base all their business activities around solving customer problems, continually reference and reinforce their key selling points and how their customers measure success.

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Make sure your web sites lead story is about solving the customer’s problem and the outcome they get, rather than how you solve it. Use the language of your customer not your internal how we do it language. Once you hook them with the what, then tell them how, not before.

Don’t forget the three most power tools for communicating customer success are: customer stories, contrast (with and without your product) and quantifying the outcome they get.

The better and more succinct the definition of your customer pain and your solutions outcome, the more powerful your marketing and other business activities will become.

Suffering “the curse of knowledge”, we are simply to close and pre-occupied with how we solve the problem, to articulate the new buyer trigger points. My suggestion is get a 3rd party who understands your craft to help unravel the customer need, to create a better creative briefs and core purpose to drive business activities.

This focus on customer equally works for your business planning and day to day operations. You can use the power of a succinct purpose to empower your staff to make better decisions on the fly.  Remember the Williams Formula One Team mantra – we make the car go faster. Any one on the team can make decisions on the spot: does this activity make the car go faster? Then lets do it!

 How does your business stack up?

 Customer centric test:

  1. Does your website use your customer’s language (outcomes) or yours? (Features or benefits)
  2. Do you begin customer discussions with how you will solve, rather than the problem or outcome?
  3. Have you asked current customers, Particularly repeat customers, why they buy from you? Have you included their response in your messaging?
  4. Do you use the customer problem to help decide what you do and don’t do in your business?
  5. If any of your staff were asked what do you do – will they give a customer centric response?

Strategies for Growth

To get market traction – we need to choose ONE strategy and do it well…

Growth in a business comes from either selling more to our existing customers or getting more customers. Either way we need to gain a position of strength and differentiation to grow our business.

In the jungle economy, if we are not growing and taking some one else’s customers, they will take ours. Equally so we have finite resources, so must choose a small list of things to do and do them well.

How do you get to “own your customers” i.e be the supplier of choice?

Too many businesses attempt plans that are incompatible with their balance sheet, their personal circumstance or even reality or worst still a potpourri of every possible strategy. My recommendation is choose one.

 Strategy Primer Questions

Strategic planning is about exploring and debating options in an iterative loop.  Before working out how to win customer mindshare you need to define what is your target market. A key step in this iterative cycle is to decide where long-term opportunities exist.

  • What is your long-term market opportunity?  Have you explored what’s going on in your industry ecosystem? What facts do you have that support your market will exist in 2 or 5 years time?
  • What is you competitive advantage or point of difference?  Is it a truly sustainable competitive advantage?  Do you have the skills to deliver this?
  • What is your strategy to maximise your competitive advantage?

Next you need to work out how you will get to “own your customers mind”, i.e begin your growth – to create a change in the market place.

 Unfortunately in the real world, we do not have unlimited resources – so despite ambitious intentions, we do need to make some choices of what do we do first and what takes priority. Most SME’s can only afford to invest (people & money) in one strategy at a time.

Strategic Priorities & Restraints:

  • What is your key strength?   Product, operational excellence (process) or customer intimacy
  • What is your no.1 priority? –  Market Share or Profit or Revenue (Prioritise these options)
  • What market segments are you going to take on and in what order? (geography, demographic, etc)
  • Have you got the make / buy split correct? Where do you add most value to your clients & yourself (who will you partner with).  Are some of your business activities a major distraction and not make you any money?

WIN THE RACE to OWN YOUR CUSTOMER’S MIND: – Choose one  

Strategy guru Michael Porter was of the belief that you only have two options to gain strength in a market Cost leadership or Differentiation.   

Winning market reach & share quick

  • Freemium (give your product or a cut down product away for free)– do a land grab then start charging or kick in alternative revenue streams later eg trademe
  • Partner with large organization – preferably corporate challengers rather than the giant that already has the customer, as they can up sell something “additional” to them (your product or service). Note Giants are typically too arrogant and do not need you
  • Merge – with other small players to increase efficiency and customer reach

Win the technology/product innovation race

  • Create products that others do not have and your customers will lust after – that have amazing customer pull eg killer apps
  • You may need to use a strong IP strategy that can not be worked around (trade secret) and patents or simply just obsolete your own products with new ones so people can not copy  (eg Apple, Microsoft)
  • In the services space this race is often influenced  with “thought leadership”

Create / Find a new market

  • Legislation change
  • Disruptive technology – new product paradigm eg MP3 players – ipod
  • Use existing technologies in a new way

Win the cost race

  • Make your product cheaper than all others. Organisational and cost efficiencies.
  • Warning – making products cheaper does not mean start a price war. Price wars in most cases become a race on who can hold their breath the longest.

Win the heart – BRAND

  • Build a brand experience people fall in love with – this may include service paradigm

What is your strategy to capture the mind of your customers?  – Is it one of the ones listed above or do you have another? Please share.

If you want a hand generating your strategy, how about coming along to a Business Dominoes workshop? We have just started running 3 day workshops that take in a weekend day, so you can have some tools to take on summer holiday.

A Strategy or a Goal? (Good Strategy / Bad Strategy)

A strategy is not a financial goal or a motivational slogan, it is a plan that has been developed to surmount a challenge, based on a considered choice, created from a thorough understanding of the environment you exist in.

What is the “rationale that says your business will be successful in the long term”  and “how will you exploit your competitive advantage”? 

 Your understanding of the environment that you exist in, to the point where you can attempt to predict the future, so you can see long term positions of strength will enable you to create effective strategy. Without undertaking this exercise you are operating without a key piece of “intel” you will stumble from one short term opportunity to another, missing out on long term profitable markets.

Wikipedia defines Strategy as:

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal. Strategy is all about gaining (or being prepared to gain) a position of advantage over adversaries or best exploiting emerging possibilities. As there is always an element of uncertainty about the future, strategy is more about a set of options (“strategic choices”) than a fixed plan.

The problem with most entrepreneurs is their unwillingness to stop and analyse the market or the eco-system they exist in long enough to create multiple options to create an informed strategy.   A crucial step in creating good strategy is that you present multiple options and that you are forced to debate and create stronger arguments to support them.  To often we either go with the first option or just operate in committee mode and merge the options together. Powerful strategy often involves hurt – some one not getting their way and stopping pet projects.

Our impatience and desire to “just do it” – makes us jump directly to creating a plan, missing out on the great power of “true strategy”

There are two orders of power when looking at strategic planning.

  1.  Business Planning:- Operational Excellence: Gaining clarity in what you do and are good , deciding what to do and not.  BHAG (Big hairy audacious  goals), purpose, defining immediate goals and tactics to achieve those goals., basic competitor analysis.This business planning by itself does produce improved performance, but will not de risk the business in the long term.
  2. Strategic Market Analysis:  This higher order activity involves deeper understanding of what is going on in the market, where long term opportunities lie, maximising gains over industry trends and predicting trends.   Although this activity requires in depth market research and evaluation of multiple paths it will result in a simple statement.

In Richard Rumflet’s book  “Good Strategy Bad Strategy – the difference and why it matters” he makes a strong case for taking the time to do what I refer to as Strategic Market Analysis before business planning. He make brutal comments about what he calls bad strategy. He has brought a new clarity to me around business strategy or more importantly non strategy that will help me in my work. Below are few excerpts – learning’s from his book (available on kindle) …

  • Good strategy almost always looks this simple and obvious and does not take a thick deck of PowerPoint slides to explain. It does not pop out of some “strategic management” tool, matrix, chart, triangle, or fill-in-the-blanks scheme.
  • Unlike a stand-alone decision or a goal, a strategy is a coherent set of analyses, concepts, policies, arguments, and actions that respond to a high-stakes challenge.
  • The core of strategy work is always the same: discovering the critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating and focusing actions to deal with those factors
  • If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles and opportunities, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have a stretched goal, a budget, or a list of things you wish would happen.
  • The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action that respond to a high-stake challenge.
  1. Diagnosing the specific structure of the challenge or change rather than simply naming performance goals.
  2. Choosing an overall guiding policy for dealing with the situation that builds on or creates some type of leverage or advantage.
  3. The design of a configuration of actions and resource allocations that implement the chosen guiding policy.
  • Good strategy is not just “what” you are trying to do. It is also “why” and “how” you are doing it. Combining all three elements mentioned above.

Even after working out what needs to be done “Good Strategy” is explicit in how you will do it.  Steve Jobs’s guiding policy  is legendary: (1) imagine a product that is “insanely great,” (2) assemble a small team of the very best engineers and designers in the world, (3) make the product visually stunning and easy to use, pouring innovation into the user interface, (4) tell the world how cool and trendy the product is with innovative advertising.

My observation is that we are all jumping over step one in Richard’s process or simply restricting it to a basic SWOT and competitor analysis.  Explore more on this topic in another post called  finding new strategic opportunities or come along to one of our business dominoes strategy workshops

Take the time and watch Richard’s three minute video.

At very least challenge your strategy : is it a slogan or a goal or does it have some decent market intelligence behind it?
And more importantly have you had it challenged?