What Business Are You Really In ?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for several weeks — but had other distractions.

A friend dropped by the office for a catch-up and was venting about his very frustrating relationship with his Sat TV content provider (DIRECTV).  Assaulted by ads for great monthly package deals, his own calls to them to renegotiate his package were met with “Sorry – those deals are for new customers only”.  Feeling de-valued as a long term (heretofore loyal) customer he had spent the weekend shopping for an alternative.  DIRECTV’s website states they are  “committed to delivering the best TV experience for you everyday”.  Where does making a loyal customer feel good about paying them “fairly” fit into that experience?  At least for this customer – what business are they really in?

About the same time I read an interview with an HBO executive where the discussion centered around content unbundling, stand-alone content platforms, the difficulties of getting consumers to pay for content and concerns about digital piracy and logon credential sharing.  I’m paraphrasing here but the gist of his response was “we’re in the addiction business”.  In other words, the primary concern was to get consumers addicted to the content — how they accessed it and and how or who paid for it was secondary.  Necessary sure — but secondary.

The different way these two “stories” resonated — reminded me that how we articulate what business we’re really in — to our employees, our customers, even our competitors — can and likely does make a huge difference in the way our teams think, behave and respond.

I read about a class action lawsuit in California brought against Uber — seemingly in response to complaints by taxi cab companies (and regulators) of them engaging in unregulated/unfair competition.  Uber — again paraphrasing — essentially rebutted the complaint by saying they were not operating a competing taxi alternative but were instead a lead generation app that connects buyers and sellers.    They view their business entirely differently than I had viewed them before reading this article.  Kind of like eBay or Ticketmaster?  Again interesting.

Move forward a few weeks — and I was having a discussion with my favorite restaurant partners about what makes them successful.  Expecting comments about food quality, service excellence, menu uniqueness, etc — the quick response was “we’re in the delight the customer business”.  Smart lads these.

What business are you really in?  What would your employees or your customers say if I asked this question?

Cheers.  DC

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Do Simple Better

I love watching baseball – and my favorite is MLB TV and the MLB iPad app – where I catch any of a dozen teams I follow, including the Chicago Cubs.  I love the Cub’s Manager Joe Maddon — one of those really smart types that can break down the complicated and make it actionable.  In a post game media interview recently he wore a t-shirt with the motto “Do Simple Better” and went on to explain which of the 4 or 5 simple things that happened in tonight’s game made the difference for his team.

What a powerful thought though — Do Simple Better.

The next day — a restaurant owner told me a story about his team pondering how to reduce wasted coffee creamer – the winning solution?  Smaller containers.  Simple.

I think we should all get Do Simple Better t-shirts to remind us that the simplest solution is often the best one — but also often the hardest one to see.

Cheers.  DC

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“Smart People Drag Around More Baggage”

One of my many breakfast discussions with business friends and associates got onto the topic of hiring (or electing) the right people — and what criteria really matters.  Not just the simple stuff like verifying experience or credentials — but the visceral stuff like spontaneous insight, goodness of fit, malleability, transparency, self-throttling, alignment on definition of achievement.  You get it — the “yeah, yeah they’re all qualified” but can our team agree on what really matters most?

Out of this discussion came the statement “Smart People Drag Around More Baggage” (thanks Chuck!).  In a lot of ways this is really true.  In our discussion, “smart” meant really high talent, high intelligence or high achievement workers — these folks are never really plug & play. They are capable of delivering the extraordinary — but much has to be a great fit to see that happen.  Bringing them on demands a pretty astute corporate self-awareness as these folks often have non-linear career assignment and progress, making peer acceptance challenging — or work hour/style flexibilities, built around their own peak performance scheduling — or business allies and enemies from prior lives, so there’s now a band in the background.

You get the drift.

The person matters a lot.  But the baggage (good and bad) they drag with them matters a lot too.  Interesting visual.

Cheers.  DC

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Georgia SB63 Beer Jobs Bill Turned Into Sausage

Much has been written about the trail of tears SB63 — the GA “Beer Jobs Bill” — has had to travel to even get considered by the Georgia Legislature, in a state that stands out for its extraordinarily restrictive three tier alcoholic beverage distribution system.  Unfortunately, most miss the point, the new bill will do nothing for jobs and has become a protectionist piece of legislation that bear hugs the status quo and smacks free enterprise in the face.

Imagine a small start-up brewer in GA.  The start-up makes small batches of different craft beers and wants to build a following and a product base.  They don’t make enough product to rely on others to collect and distribute their product across any meaningful market so they touch their customers the old fashioned way — face-to-face.  Folks come in and visit the brewery or brewpub, buy a tour or a meal and sample the wares on-site.  But now what?  Aside from personally visiting the storefront there’s no way for a consumer to get more of their product — and there’s no crowd build or revenue build for the brewer because the business model has no headroom. You want our beer?  Come tour our brewery (again) or come eat at our brewpub (again).

That’s where the brilliant Beer Jobs Bill came in.  Allow consumers to take home small quantities of beer direct from the brewery or brewpub and, over time, this will build new fans, slowly grow revenues to match slowly growing demand, create new jobs, and provide expansion capital — so eventually the production volumes and consumer demand will rise enough to fit GA’s alcoholic beverage control system.  And its far from radical — 45 other states have already passed similar legislation.

Sounds simple right?  Visit a brewery and you can buy up to 12 beers to take home. Twelve beers too many? OK – how about six?

Nope — can’t happen in GA — because these struggling Nano breweries conceptually threaten the exclusive chokehold Wholesalers/Distributors have on our markets here. (Any wonder Georgia ranks 47th among breweries per capita – 2013 stats brewersassociation.org)?

So after the sausage gets made what you end up with is (a) from a brewpub a single container of no more than 64 ounces to go — BUT only if you opened it at the brewpub and drank some of it first before getting it re-closed (which introduces oxygen effectively shortening the shelf life of the bottle) or (b) from a brewery one “souvenir container” not to exceed 64 ounces purchased only as a part of a tour.

Folks this is now window dressing and creates no new jobs.  Is it better than nothing? — yes but just barely.

The shame here is that a Beer Jobs Bill got turned into a Status Quo Protection Bill ensuring brewing start-ups in GA remain small and struggle for growth while the big Wholesalers and Distributors (not to mention the giant Brewers) aren’t threatened by these pesky start-ups.

Meanwhile Georgia legislatures’ seem content to celebrate this great deed and pretend to support free enterprise.

What a disappointment.  Sausage anyone?

Cheers.  DC

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What Type of Customer Are They ?

Great breakfast conversation with a friend this morning — CFO of a company having difficulty forecasting monthly revenues.

We’ll ignore in this post the obvious difference between difficulty in PRODUCING revenues and the difficulty in FORECASTING them (but that’s fodder for another blog post as lots of time what’s labelled as a forecasting problem isn’t really a problem with reporting its instead a problem with production).

In this case let’s just focus on thermal layering customers (and their associated revenues) into reporting/forecasting segments.  These are the ones I like to use for subscription based customer/product sets:

New Customers – exactly what you think they are.  Set some definitional parameters on when a “New” customer matures out of this category (e.g., 6 months or 1 year).  New customers are valuable for growth.

Recurring Customers – this is the default category that a New Customer matures into.  In most cases these are also your most valuable customers — make sure your recognitions, rewards and sales compensation plans reflect this (often NOT the case as companies chasing growth frequently bestow higher rewards on securing new customers than on retaining and nurturing existing ones — generally a flawed practice).

Recurring/Non-Recurring Customers – these are customers that we’ve seen before – and will likely see again – but for seasonal, product or competitive reasons seem to buy from us on some rhythm but not continuously.  This is a critical category to track — and a category where customers are frequently lost in the weeds during down periods only to be reclassified as New Customers when they reappear again.

Lost Customers – again exactly what they seem.  Just as with New Customers, set some definitional parameters on when a customer becomes “Lost”  (e.g., no orders in the last 12 months).

Transient Customers – what’s left — usually those folks that are one-timers or only occasional subscribers.

Sales strategies, compensation plans and financial modeling should vary for each category.

Happy Forecasting.  Cheers.  Doug C.

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The Kiss of Death

I get a lot of phone calls asking me for references and referrals — some from the Principals and some from interested 3rd parties.  Most of them ramble around all kinds of background, education, work experience, problem solving and leadership style topics.  Usually the inquirer is minimally informed and only casually interested – going through the motions as a safety check to make sure they cover their bases.  As a result, in most cases, if I don’t have anything nice to say I don’t take the call.

Recently I was asked what trait I disliked most in leaders.  Good question!  Here’s my answer.

“Very Political.  Not a Team Player.  Unreliable Internal Ally”.

I don’t care what the task or what the team — being labeled an “unreliable internal ally” is the equivalent of a leadership Kiss of Death.

Cheers.  DC

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I’m Back…

I’m a little late for Festivus and the annual airing of grievances but after a rough 2014 I’m finally back in the saddle.

Before I start posting on pent-up business topics I want to thank everyone who helped me recover from my knee/leg injury (ruptured left quad and detached tendon).  Big time injury.  Surgery, 2 months in casts, 2 more months in braces, 36 physical therapy sessions, lots of time in my own gym and 9 months later I’m back at 85%+ mostly pain free.  That’s right — 9 months.

None of that would be possible without the help of some great medical attention — starting with North Fulton Hospital (www.nfultonhospital.com), surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Albert and the folks at Resurgens Orthopaedics (www.resurgens.com), PT Caroline Rice and the super nice folks at the Roswell location of Physiotherapy Associates (www.physiocorp.com) — and of course my family who put up with a guy who doesn’t idle well for the better part of 2014.

I grew a deep appreciation for those that dedicate their lives to helping others get better. Despite all our collective griping about the US healthcare system — my health insurance worked (everyone should have health insurance), I had access to extraordinarily dedicated care givers, in well outfitted facilities and  I’m grateful that I can walk again.

Happy New Year 2015 — It’s great being back in the saddle.

Cheers.  DC

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Ungoverned Spaces

The world at the moment seems a mess.  Lot’s of despair and difficulty — and the news is laden with diplomatic and military discussions of Ungoverned Spaces — and the dissatisfaction and dissent that flourishes in them.

That got me thinking about Ungoverned Spaces in business — both on a personal level where interactions take place without established rules and rulers — and in the businesses we work with each week in our investment or our consulting firm.

What are the things that people do that really bug me —  and — have I ever spoken out to establish a different set of rules or behaviors — or have instead left this ungoverned?

What of the problems we’re seeing are the result of a workforce or work process that’s ungoverned — no man’s lands, or processes that we never looked at as chained together that way?

Is there a way to re-organize work, duties or reporting relationships to strengthen governance and brighten up the grey spaces of leadership?

Ungoverned is different from poorly governed.  One implies a void whereas the other implies a weak hand or effort.

If dissent and dissatisfaction really do fester and flourish in ungoverned spaces — what are the ungoverned spaces in your business and what can you do to minimize their geography?

Cheers.  DC

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Managing Daily Madness

A friend wrote this week exasperated from feeling so tired all the time — with clients constantly pushing deadlines and boundaries — and owning a never ending roster of emergencies.

Its easy to feel this way — we all have way too much input, allow way too many folks intimate and/or immediate contact, and can quickly find ourselves trapped in overflow — and overwhelm — all day long.

Like most everything — fixing this will be a process not an instant thing but there’s lots you can do turn this madness around — starting next week.  Here’s some practical advice:

o  Start with a firm list of things to just say “NO” to.  Its OK to turn stuff, work, people down.  This is critical because in a world of unlimited incoming, opportunity and communication — saying “NO” to stuff is the only way to ever really have any time for the stuff you want to say “YES” to

o  Check your general incoming emails and phone calls only 3-4 times a day.  Sure, lookout for incoming answers you’ve been waiting for — but “the world” only gets incoming on a schedule — at say 9:30 am, 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm each day.

o  Develop a habit of responding to “incoming” on a schedule too — say sometime before 10:00 am and sometime after 3:00 pm.  I keep a running list of who to call but do not respond “on-demand” to non-urgent (my definition not theirs) stuff off schedule.  Its OK to let your VM get it — and to let email age in your inbox until you can find an hour to devote to all of them and power through the backlog.

o  Block off, in advance, 1/2 day early in the week, a 1/2 day in the middle of the week and a 1/2 day late in the week to “schedule out” or “schedule focus time” — blocks of the week where you “Act” not be “Acted Upon”.

o  Make written ToDo List(s) and use them every day.  I suggest at least 3 broad categories:

–  Urgent & Important (I label this ToDo),

–  Important But Not Urgent (I label this one Next), and

–  Other Stuff (I label this one “Waiting For Columbus” — I’ll deal with this stuff when    Christopher Columbus finds this folder).

o  Get the ToDo list done — hardest items first — each day/week.  Forget the stuff in the other lists for the day/week.  Two further tips here — recreate these lists everyday (so you start each day with something to accomplish rather than a list of what you’ve already done) — and — stuff on the lists NEVER become urgent just because they’ve been on your list a while.   In fact, aging but never requiring you to deal with it is often a sign that you’re starting to master using this system.

o  Keep a tally each month of every (more than say 5 or 10 minute) phone call and in-person interaction — and how many times you spoke with each person during the month.  Use this list to slow down the frequency of contact with exceptionally needy people.  My list is the classic name with chalkboard tally strikes.

o  Develop a “I’m talking and I can’t shutup list” and slowly move these folks to email and less frequent calling.  All of us know someone who “always wants to talk but never has anything to say”.

I use a pocket size moleskine (www.shop.moleskine.com) for all of the above.  It works fine.

PS:  I assume everyone I regularly interact with uses this exact system.  You should too — it will help you feel better about using it and speed your path to getting control of your schedule again.

Cheers and Happy Scheduling.  DC

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Ask A Better “Data” Question

As a day job I still spend a lot of time each week — thinking about and consulting with others on “data”.

A typical discussion focuses on:

  • what data the company has…
  • who they provide or sell it to (or through)…
  • to which market…
  • for what purpose (or to address what problem)?

These questions can (and do) drive fascinating discussions.

Often though, the better “data” discussions are around other, somewhat broader, questions:

  • what data does the customer share when they ask you for your data (inquiry data)…
  • what data files do you “own” where key data element fill rates are less than 95% and why does/doesn’t that matter…
  • in the space your data inhabits (NOT the space you inhabit) – what characteristics/similarities does the data you don’t have share (the missing pieces)…
  • what would could you/should you learn about the missing pieces…
  • what data would make your file “better” even though you can’t (yet) identify a customer that would immediately buy it?

Data is expensive to compile and time consuming to digest. And, data gathered from one type of source — used to solve one type of market problem — is inherently difficult to repurpose because of striking differences by market in the value of granularity. Nuance matters when it comes to data.

We’ve long used a saying “Ask a better question – get a better answer”. When talking about data let’s agree to ask each other better questions.

Cheers. DC

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