Posts on Feb 2020

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week Eight :: Value Creation :: Vendors

Vendors can be a critical path component in your value creation chain or they can be a completely undifferentiated source for something as mundane trash can liners. Regardless of where they fall on that spectrum, they’re going to get some attention in this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge.

The vendors you use for commodity purchases probably don’t significantly impact your ability to build sustained competitive advantage. However, even these vendors can cause some grief if they’re late with orders, have inexplicable pricing or returns policies or are chronically terrible at resolving screw-ups. With the wide variety of vendors available for these commodity purchases, spend a little time finding one who anticipates well, is conscientious and is easy to do business with. Enough said.

On the other end of the spectrum are those vendors who are deeply ingrained in your value creation chain. These vendors are partners in every sense of the word. We often call this special vendor relationship outsourcing. At the outset, outsourcing was typically something that large businesses did to save money. Call centers were moved halfway around the world to take advantage of a skilled workforce that provided services for a fraction of what a domestic workforce was paid. Factory workers building TVs, shoes and hundreds of other items allowed manufacturers to keep costs low, pass along savings to customers and boost profits. But since the beginning, outsourcing has changed dramatically. Now, businesses, large and small, look to outsource vendors to –

  • obtain specialized services they don’t possess in-house
  • get services that the outsource provider does better than they to do it in-house
  • easily scale up and down to meet fluctuating demand
  • focus their attention on core value creation activities while outsource providers take care of tasks that don’t add value to products or services
  • resell additional products or services that they do not produce in-house
  • provide services more economically than they can in-house

 

So, let’s jump into this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge.

For what disciplines in your organization might outsourcing make sense?

Early discussions on outsourcing targets focused on core vs context activities –

  • Core being those activities where the company was creating value for customers – the activities that made the company unique.
  • Context being those activities that provided the company no additional brownie points with customers even if they are done perfectly.

The conventional wisdom was to outsource context and keep core in-house. Current thinking is a bit different. Skilled outsource providers now deliver services that empower employees to do better work and enable the company to deliver better products and services to their customers.

Here are some options for outsourced services. Some might be on your radar now and some you might not have explored yet. Read through the list and see if any of these might improve company operations, improve customer experience, mitigate risk or boost the bottom line.

  • Payroll – Managing payroll related documents, collecting hours worked, calculating paychecks, cutting checks, making direct deposits, providing year-end tax documents, providing management reporting and providing an online payroll portal for employee self-service. Beyond these core services many providers deliver extra unique services like 401Ks.
  • Human Resources – Providing training, consulting and resources for hiring, development and termination. Providing templates for important documents like non-compete agreements and non-disclosure agreements. Providing insight on the broad variety of pre- and post-employment assessments available. Ensuring client compliance with ever-changing federal and state employment laws.
  • Bookkeeping – Entry of financial data, accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger and invoicing. Providing management reporting and filing.
  • Accounting – Providing management reporting, advice on cash management, use of debt and equity financing, tax preparation and minimization of tax liability, collections, shareholder relations, business growth, business valuation and more.
  • IT Infrastructure – Building and maintaining wired and wireless internal networks, internet access, deployment and maintenance of desktop, portable and mobile hardware, data security, backup and disaster recovery, email, desktop productivity software, collaboration software, integration with third-party software providers (CRM, ERP, SCM)
  • Big Data/Analytics – Using data from transactional systems (CRM, Accounting, ERP, etc) and sometimes supplementing with data from external sources, performing analysis and providing actionable insights on trends, patterns and associations previously undetected.
  • Outbound Logistics – Managing all facets of storage and distribution after goods are produced. The provider often picks up items directly from the end of the assembly process and, with information from the client’s order entry system, either warehouses, forwards to another location for additional processing or ships the item leveraging a larger and often times more sophisticated distribution system.
  • Marketing – Help with branding, identifying target markets, messaging and choice of mediums. Some firms provide advertising design and procurement, website design and development, SEO, paid search, social media management and advertising, print collateral, email marketing and CRM systems.
  • Lead Generation – Identification of prospective clients, initial contact, lead development and appointment setting. Firms employ a range of methodologies including email marketing, telemarketing and LinkedIn prospecting.
  • Consultants – With a broad range of disciplines available, consultants provide short-term, mid-term or long-term engagements in areas like strategic planning, execution, operations, customer experience, process improvement, leadership, management development, technology, marketing or project management. Utilizing a consultant allows an organization to “rent” expertise not present in the company or to extend the reach of expertise already present in the company by adding additional resources.

 

Evaluating Existing Vendors

For vendors already in the fold, use these criteria –

  • Do they communicate regularly, clearly and completely about the status of new initiatives, ongoing projects and problems?
  • Do they provide clear, concise and easy to consume information about their performance?
    Are problems resolved quickly and completely?
  • Do you have easy access to key personnel in the vendor organization so that you can get questions answered and quickly ramp up new initiatives as needed?
  • Does the vendor organization regularly contribute new ideas or suggest new services that will increase revenue, improve customer experience, streamline operations, strengthen technical expertise, improve marketing reach or develop employees in the client organization?
  • Does the vendor provide special product or service knowledge that stops the client organization from deploying their product incorrectly or enables the client organization to use their product in new or different ways to better service the client’s customers?
  • Does the vendor suggest better or alternate products or methodologies that solve a problem more effectively for the client’s customers and feel free to intervene in suggesting the alternate products?
  • Does the vendor willingly forego business (i.e. not sell a product) if it’s in the best interest of the client or the client’s customers?

 

Evaluating New Vendors

Technical Competency – I’d suggest developing a list of questions by vendor type that you submit to every prospective vendor so that you can compare apples to apples when you get the written responses back. There’s not time here to do a list for every type of vendor but let me illustrate with the beginning of a list for an IT services vendor.

  • What levels of services are available and what are the response times for each level?
  • What percentage of time do you meet the required response times?
  • Tell me about the technical qualifications of the staff at each support level – certifications, experience?
  • Do you have preferred vendors for each product type? What type of compensation do you get from that vendor for using their products? How can I be assured that I’m getting in best-in-class solutions if you use only products from vendors who commission you to use their product?

 

Company Fit – Not all of these fit in every circumstance, but these are some of the questions I use when evaluating a new outsource vendor regardless of the service I’m seeking.

  • How long has your company been around?
  • What is the staff size?
  • What is the experience of the staff? (in years, professional background)
  • What is the turnover rate for employees? (I want to know if employees are happy working there)
  • How much time do employees spend in training every year? (I want to know if the company has a learning orientation)
  • Is any part of your operation outsourced? (I want to know what level of control they have over the people who will be servicing my account)
  • What is the financial condition of the company? (I want to know if they’ll be around next year)
  • Where is your company located? (time zones can be a challenge)
  • Who runs your company and what are their credentials and experience?
  • Have you worked in this industry before? (I never let this disqualify someone. It just tells me if there are certain industry-specific things I’ll need to educate them on)
  • How much have you spent on R&D in the last 12 months? (I want to know if the company is growing and innovating)
  • Are you insured?
  • How do you deal with ongoing regulatory compliance issues?
  • Can I get a list of references? (Call them)
  • How soon can we get started?
  • Can I see an onboarding packet or something equivalent?
  • Do you have other clients our size?
  • Who is your toughest competitor?

Run through these lists to identify new outsourcing opportunities, evaluate existing outsource relationships and be better prepared for entering into new relationships.

Vendors and outsource partners can be powerful allies in building value. Choosing and managing them can quickly improve customer experience, operations and profitability.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week Seven :: Growth :: Reframing

This week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge makes us look at our organization through a different lens.

Many of you have probably seen this. Connect the four dots with two straight lines. The lines must touch but not cross.

If you’re stuck, it’s because you tried to keep the straight lines inside the box. That wasn’t one of the requirements.

When we ponder growing our organization, we typically plan incremental growth that we could handle within the framework we already employ – if we grew x% we could ask the office staff to work some overtime or we could hire another technician. I’m all in favor of incremental growth and that type of growth is always welcome. However, for this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, I want you to think differently. I want you to ask the question, “What would it take for us to do 10X the business we are doing now?” The genesis for this week’s exercise (but not the exercise itself) comes from Larry Page at Google who asks his team to look for 10X opportunities.

So, here’s this week’s exercise.

Identify the changes to your lead generation activities that would be required to generate 10X the number of leads you have now – would it require entering new markets? A larger sales staff? Additional advertising platforms?

To get to 10X sales, what would it take to increase your closing rate? If you close 10% of all sales presentations, what would it take to close 20%? What additional information would the customer need? A more meaningful connection to your company’s message – your why? Access to existing client testimonials? A better understanding of your company’s value proposition?

To increase velocity of service delivery after a closed sale, what changes would you need to make to customer onboarding activities? Do you need to replace your paper-based order system with an automated system? Do you need to ramp up your after-sale communication so that customer expectations are clear and they know exactly how and when product or service delivery will begin and how it will look?

To handle 10X the business, how will your production infrastructure need to change? Will the existing process bear the weight of 10X the amount of business or does a new production infrastructure need to be built – one that is built from the ground-up with the ability to scale? Do you have suppliers that can deliver 10X raw materials on time and with the required quality or do you need to add suppliers or seek a new supplier? Do you need to find subcontractors that can supplement in-house production? Can they do it with the same quality and meet your time constraints? Can you invoice and collect from 10X the number of customers or do you need to provide new billing or financing options that will keep your 10X cash flow healthy?

To follow up with 10X customers, do you need a more robust CRM system that can manage increased customer communication, customize communication and deliver valuable information after the sale? Can the system deliver on-going useful information that will position your organization for more sales in the future?

Clearly this brief exercise can’t touch on every element that you might need to 10X your business, but that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to help you think differently about business growth. Most of the time, we approach business growth like riding a bicycle. To increase velocity, we intensify existing activity. We do the same thing we’ve always been doing – just more of it – i.e., we pedal faster and longer. This will work for a while, but at some point, we max out the load-carrying capacity and speed of the bicycle. To make our business grow, we need to swap the bicycle for a motorcycle or a delivery van – more speed, more capacity. We must change platforms.

The value of this week’s exercise will come when you identify the pieces of your organization that won’t scale. When you find irreparable platform deficiencies where no amount of “pedaling” will fix them and they must be replaced. When you find people-constrained activities that must be replaced with repeatable processes.

All of us would like 10X growth, but doing this exercise will position your organization for 2X, 4X or 5X growth on the way there and you’ll be building an organization that is more platform-driven, process-driven and policy-driven – and that’s good for everyone in the organization.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week Six :: People :: Cognitive Diversity

Diversity has been in our corporate lexicon for about 35 years.

“In 1987, the Secretary of Labor, William Brock commissioned a study of economic and demographic trends by the Hudson Institute. This study resulted in the text titled, Workforce 2000- Work and Workers in the Twenty First Century. Workforce 2000 highlighted demographic factors that would impact the labor market in the United States. In a nutshell- the book argued that the U.S would only continue to grow increasingly diverse and suggested that diversifying the workforce was an economic imperative if companies wanted to stay competitive and attract talented employees.” – Shakti Diversity and Equity Training

Clearly the authors of the study were on to something – the workforce is now more diverse than it was then and is getting more diverse every year. Social scientists project that there will be no majority ethnicity in the US by 2045 (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/03/14/the-us-will-become-minority-white-in-2045-census-projects/). And, there’s certainly been no shortage of corporate diversity programs in the ensuing years.

So, with this influx of diverse workers and the, most likely, millions of hours of diversity training, are we successfully leveraging the cultural and intellectual horsepower of today’s diverse workforce?

That brings us to this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. We’ve done some things right in our diversity initiatives – we’ve clearly recognized the changing face of our workforce, we’ve been proactive in recruiting and we’ve sounded the trumpet for inclusivity, but I’m not convinced that we’ve unleashed the most important superpower of a diverse workforce – cognitive diversity – that is, the value of those who think differently. Silicon Valley has an incredible concentration of engineers and rightly so. But now the companies that employ those engineers are hiring art, music and philosophy majors. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-02-25-dear-liberal-arts-major-stem-companies-need-your-skills-to-grow Why? Because they think differently.

In many ways, an education is a framework for solving problems. When you hire an engineer and especially a herd of engineers from the same school, you get people who solve problems the same way – like an engineer. So, no matter how many of them you have, they bring a similar approach to tackling a problem – an engineer’s approach. Aim a musician at the same problem and you’re likely to see a much different approach.

Many times, our diversity initiatives have focused on observable differences – gender, ethnicity, age – but have neglected a big difference that makes our organization better – a different way of thinking. If a company who hired only white, male Harvard MBAs tried to become more diverse by hiring a black female Harvard MBA, an Asian male Harvard MBA and an Indian female Harvard MBA, they’ve shortchanged themselves. I’m not discounting the innate differences in each of us nor the differences that come from different upbringings, different cultures or different life experiences, but if we want a big upgrade to the intellectual horsepower of our organization, we need people who think differently. We cheat the organization when we solve for only half of the equation.

One more observation before the steps for this week’s challenge. Almost without exception, when I work with a business owner – especially a newer owner, the first few hires are clones of the owner. It’s no wonder, we like people who are like us. And, if we’re going to trust our business to them, we want someone we trust implicitly and someone like us seems like a safe choice. I get it, but we’re missing out on the benefit of cognitive diversity in our newly formed business.

So, what do we do to leverage cognitive diversity in our business?

  1. If you’ve never defined a set of core values start here. We absolutely want people who think differently in our organization, but those people must share a common set of core values. Whenever I’m doing this exercise with a client, I never allow them to choose values like honesty, integrity or hard-working – no business is out there looking for employees who are dishonest, lack ethical moorings and are lazy. Honesty, integrity and hard-working are price of admission values. You don’t even get to play in the game without them. Instead, discover those things that are integral to the way you do business. Maybe it’s a love for small business owners. Maybe it’s love for a craft (woodworking, car mechanics, logistics). Maybe it’s an unswerving devotion to customer service. Maybe it’s a commitment to lifelong learning. Find those things to which you would be committed even if your business evaporated into thin air.

 

  1. Identify barriers to cognitive diversity in existing operations
    • Is dissenting opinion welcome in the organization? Is it possible that you once had cognitive diversity, but drove it away by shaming or discounting dissenters?
    • Are you hiring over and over from the same talent pool (education, experience)?
    • Are you hiring only those people who are clones of owners or other employees?
    • Is engaging in acceptable risk encouraged? Are failures OK assuming the project sponsor mitigated foreseeable pitfalls?
    • Are employees encouraged to weigh in on parts of the business that are not strictly in their purview?
    • Does your organization exhibit characteristics of groupthink?
      • Do you ever question your own decision-making process or do you believe your process is bulletproof?
      • Do you ignore facts that don’t fit in your “box”?
      • Is there pressure for unanimity instead of desire for vigorous discussion?

 

  1. Build cognitive diversity through engagement with existing employees and through new hires
    • In problem-solving meetings, after you’ve reached a conclusion. Ask one or two people to argue against the conclusion you just reached.
    • In problem-solving meetings, break the attendees into two groups and ask each group to take 15 minutes and create a solution. Let both groups present their solutions and argue the merits. Adopt one, create a mashup of both or go back to the drawing board.
    • Assign a small group of employees to an existing company initiative and identify why the company is doing it all wrong (to be an assigned devil’s advocate).
    • Allow employees to work on a project of their own choosing (this is how Google got gmail and 3M got Post-It Notes).
    • In recruiting, identify positions where you could hire for alignment with core values, introduce cognitive diversity and train for the specific job – can you teach a willing art major how to analyze shipping data or train new call center reps?
    • Identify cognitive biases that keep you from hiring a perfect candidate for a job because they are not “like you”.

 

Clearly, this can be a bit more squishy than some of the other exercises in The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge and, I apologize because this will take longer than 30 minutes, but it can generate some very powerful problem-solving horsepower in your organization.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week Five :: Marketing :: Claiming Listings

In 2010, one of my new consulting clients was agonizing over some negative online reviews. He wanted to know how to delete them. I explained that deleting them was precisely the wrong thing to do. I went on to add that the best thing we could do is respond to them in the same online forum and explain, in public – in front of that customer and everybody else, how we were going to address that customer’s grievance. To say that the client wasn’t on board with my recommendation would be a gross understatement. My engagement was terminated shortly after that conversation.

It’s too bad, because the client missed out on the benefit of the Service Recovery Paradox (SRP). The SRP states that customers can often be more loyal to an organization after they have experienced a service failure followed by a positive resolution than if the failure had never occurred in the first place. The research is mixed on SRP, but in a world where almost every shopping experience starts online, the ability to demonstrate authenticity – “Yes, our company is staffed by humans who make mistakes, but when we do, we make every effort to make it right” – is a powerful way to start the conversation with potential new customers.

A 2018 study from Salesforce and Publicis.Sapient found that 87% of B2C shoppers begin product searches on digital channels, up from 71% the previous year. In two different studies, Blue Corona found that 71% of B2B researchers begin their research with a generic Google search and Google found that 89% of B2B researchers use the internet during the B2B research process.

That bit of truth brings us to the topic of this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge – Claiming Online Listings. There’s a good chance that your business has a listing on Google, Bing and Facebook even if you never created one. If I google my business (ClearVision Consulting), here’s what the search results look like. Notice my website and LinkedIn page are on the left, in the search results list and the Google Business listing is on the right.

This week’s challenge is to encourage all of you to claim all your online listings (if you haven’t already) so you’re in complete control of what people find when they begin to interact with you online.

The mechanics might be slightly different from platform to platform, but I’ll be illustrating with a Google Business listing.

This is my business listing. You can tell it has been claimed by me because I have the option “Edit your business information”. Google knows that I’m logged in to the Google account that manages the listing.

For an example, I’ve pulled the listing of a local business that has been claimed by the owner. My option at the bottom is to “Suggest an edit” to the page owner.

The last example is from an out of state business that has not been claimed by the owner. Notice the two options at the bottom – “Suggest an edit” and “Own this business?”. “Own this business?” indicates that the Google Business is unclaimed. Any information on the page has been gleaned from other sources or from customers or others who have provided it.

To claim this listing, a responsible party (owner or manager) must click on the “Own this business?” link and complete a series of steps to verify that they are authorized to administer the listing. After those steps are complete, they can then build out the listing with the firm name, contact information, address, website, services provided, hours, pictures and more. Most importantly, they can then respond to those who have left reviews.

I’ve provided links below to sites where you are likely to have a listing or might want to create a one. You’ll have to survey the landscape and decide if your organization should be there. Some are industry agnostic. Three or four sites in the list are used frequently by people in trades (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc). Others are popular for food and services (restaurants, bars, salons, spas). Click on the links, search for your business, claim your listing (if it already exists) or create a listing. Make your listings consistent across all platforms – standardize name, address, contact info, website, hours, services, logos, pictures.

Google My Business

https://www.google.com/business/

Facebook Business

https://www.facebook.com/help/257661877677443/

Yelp

https://biz.yelp.com/business_name_and_location

Yellow Pages

https://accounts.yellowpages.com/register

Yahoo

https://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/local

Bing

https://www.bingplaces.com/

Foursquare

https://foursquare.com/venue/claim

Home Advisor

https://www.homeadvisor.com/spa/zip

Angie’s List

https://office.angieslist.com/app/join

Thumbtack

https://www.thumbtack.com/pro

Other than listing Facebook, we’ve not discussed social networking. That’s another topic for another day. This challenge is all about being accurately represented in search. The more relevant and accurate listings there are for your organization, the more likely you are to be found. When those listings accurately represent who you are, the more likely people who want your product or service are likely to engage with you.

For those of you who are now super-intrigued by this exercise, here’s a list from HubSpot of the 50 best local business directories.

https://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/10322/the-ultimate-list-50-local-business-directories.aspx

Happy claiming.