Part 7 of What a Go-To Does Differently: Adapts

This is the seventh installment of a multi-part series to talk about what a Go-To does differently from the me-too pack:

Now what?

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A Go-To Constantly Adjusts and Adapts

The world is continuously changing, and a Go-To keeps an eye on the horizon to constantly adapt to market conditions, evolving customer needs, and other factors that impact a company, like the economy, politics, regulatory policy, technology and so on. It even reinvents itself, when necessary.

A Go-To maintains humility and a healthy paranoia. I remember being in meetings with the senior leadership at Accenture when it was flying high with record growth and profits, and you’d have thought from the conversation that the company was on the verge of going out of business. The executives in the room understood that Accenture’s fortunes, like those of any company, could turn on a dime. The team took the same earnest attitude toward its strategic planning activity as a struggling startup does.

A Go-To also understands that, regardless of how unique its current offerings are, it will face competition. The market will invariably begin to fill up with me-toos going for a slice of that pie, so the Go-To must watch its back and work to stay ahead of the pack.

Technology companies, in particular, can’t stand still for three seconds before a competitor pops up or market conditions change. Oracle started as the only relational database company, but of course competitors came along, followed by new technologies. Though Oracle, by far, still maintains a solid leadership position in that space with nearly 50% market share, it is no longer the same company. It has built on its strengths to broaden into many technology and software solution areas, including numerous specialty niches, such as inventory management for communications service providers.

As of this writing, Apple, Google and Microsoft are the world’s three most valuable brands according to Forbes, but you’d never know it from the healthy paranoia pulsing throughout the headquarters of all three. None look the same as they did in the early days, and they all know that their offerings could become obsolete at any moment. They are always working intently on their next innovations.

A Go-To understands this: Companies that don’t change or don’t change fast enough often perish. As Andy Grove put it in his book, Only the Paranoid Survive:

…the person who is the star of a previous era is often the last one to adapt to change, the last one to yield to logic of a strategic inflection point and tends to fall harder than most.”

In recent years, some stalwarts within their markets, like IBM, have suffered for not embracing the trend toward cloud computing quickly enough. Over the next decade, it will be companies that don’t embrace the Internet of Things trend.

To really bring this point home, consider the S&P 500 Index. According to an Innosight 2012 study summarized in the briefing, “Creative Destruction Whips Through Corporate America,” an S&P company is replaced every other week; and whereas companies in 1958 stayed on the index an average of 61 years, today the average tenure is just 18 years. In the decade leading up to the study, over half of the companies had been replaced.

What This Means for You

Whether you are part of a large company or a startup, be sure you are constantly monitoring market changes and trends on the horizon and then analyzing how they might impact you. Look at what you need to do to adapt. The “Creative Destruction” paper I referenced above offers some pointed advice applicable to any company and talks about how P&G is doing it successfully, and I’ll be sharing additional tips in forthcoming posts.

Subscribe to the blog and stay tuned for some tactical how-to guidance.

Part 6 of What a Go-To Does Differently: Results

This is the sixth installment of a multi-part series to talk about what a Go-To does differently from the me-too pack. Remember that a Go-To is the market leader – the first name to come to mind when folks in the market think about a particular business problem and who can fix it.

The next thing a Go-To does differently profoundly affects customers.

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A Go-To Sells and Delivers Results, Not Products or Services

When you are pitching your offerings, it’s not enough to talk about the problem and what should be done about it – a Go-To also actively solves the problem for customers and delivers a result.

  • A Go-To provides, not just a product or a service, but the complete solution required to give the customer a business outcome.
  • A Go-To leads the customer on a journey and measures success in terms of business results delivered.
  • A Go-To’s sales activity is not transactional and “lead” oriented – it’s long-term relationship and account oriented.
  • A Go-To seeks to be the customer’s trusted business partner and has the customer’s long-term interests at the center of what it does.
  • A Go-To approaches the market with a set of targets it sees itself as best suited to serve and cultivates a presence among those targets – it builds a community of believers in its point of view and approach to solving the problem.

If you in need of a meal, Target will sell you the pieces – food, plates, utensils, etc. – and send you on your way.  A fine restaurant will sell you a complete, satisfying dining experience. Taking that several steps further, the Go-To local restaurant will do this and be a gathering place for birds of a feather, know your name, know your food sensitivities, make a custom dish at your request and send you special offers.

The most important dimension of this is that a Go-To doesn’t market a laundry list of generic services or talk in terms of “capabilities” the way most service providers do. It doesn’t sell functions and features the way most product companies do. Instead, it sells impact. The best ones offer a very specific, and sometimes even quantified, value proposition. It talks in terms of specific business outcomes – e.g., how much more quickly, less expensively or more profitably you’ll achieve your business goals and at what cost. A Go-To already understands your business problem and walks in with a prescription for solving it. A Go-To doesn’t answer your question of “What do you do?” with “What do you need?”

If customer dissatisfaction is a problem, would you rather buy software (or software as a service) that will track customer dissatisfaction, or would you rather buy an offering that says, “We’ll increase the net promoter score of your unhappiest customers by __% within six months”?

Would you rather buy from a public relations (PR) firm that charges a monthly retainer to execute a nebulous publicity program or one that says, “We’ll charge you $XX to achieve 100% aided awareness and 60% unaided awareness among your top __ prospects within the next year”?

If part of a large company, would you rather buy from a firm that says, “For a set fee of $__ thousand, we’ll review the bills you are receiving from your communications service provider and let you know if/when they are overcharging you,” OR would you rather buy from the company that says, “We are confident that your communications service provider is over billing you by at least __%, but don’t pay us a dime unless we find something. If we do, split the savings with us.”?

Side Benefit: Results Orientation Will Lower Your Costs

Because it is so focused, a Go-To is able to do all of this through efficient, behind-the-curtain operational excellence. It has a low cost of delivery relative to someone doing the same thing on a one-off basis through tools, processes and, technology. A Go-To hires and trains people focused on its area of expertise who can jump in and immediately add value. And it has a “trusted partner offering superior results” value system and culture.

Unlike retailers in the mid-1990s who jumped into the online channel as a side business, Amazon made the online channel its only business, initially focusing just on books. In fact, its operation was so efficient that, rather than create their own online channels, companies like Toys R Us, Target, Sears Canada, and Lacoste contracted with Amazon to run their retail websites. Another major key to Amazon’s success is its fulfillment operation, which reduces its shipping, inventory and other operating costs. Wired Magazine once called it, “the world’s most nimble infrastructure for the transfer of things….”

This fascinating video shows just how efficient their operation is, using robotics and analytics to fulfill an order with barely any human involvement.

 

What This Means for You

Use the above as a checklist. Where is your company currently falling short, and how can you redefine your offerings to be outcomes oriented rather than selling capabilities or mere products? Is there anything you can do to quantify your value proposition? Are you currently transactional, or do you take a longer-term view of your customers’ businesses and play a more ongoing, impactful role? And what can you do to create community among your customers – what can you do to build a following among them and between them?

If you’re struggling, there is more on this topic to come. Subscribe to the blog and stay tuned for some tactical how-to guidance.

Part 5 of What a Go-To Does Differently: Evangelizes

This is the fifth installment of a multi-part series to talk about what a Go-To does differently from the me-too pack.

What next?

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A Go-To Evangelizes a Prescriptive Point of View on the Problem and Builds a Following

Once it has declared ownership of the problem, a Go-To develops a prescriptive point of view on what companies need to be doing to solve that problem and widely evangelizes that point of view. Guy Kawasaki would describe it as a “cause.” This is not a sales pitch. The point of view is a genuine perspective on what needs to be done, with or without the Go-To’s help.

The Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), which is part of the Department of Management Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering at Stanford University has become the Go-To for technology entrepreneurship education, as evidenced by (among other things) the fact that the National Science Foundation chose it over numerous other institutions vying for a rare $10 million grant to help engineering students across the United States become more entrepreneurial and innovative. STVP firmly believes that all students can benefit from learning entrepreneurial leadership skills regardless of their major or intended career.

STVP faculty, staff and affiliates travel extensively and maintain close relationships with other leaders and influencers in technology entrepreneurship education and research. Almost everyone in entrepreneurship education around the globe knows or knows of STVP Professors Tom Byers, Kathy Eisenhardt and Tina Seelig, who are fervent evangelists of STVP’s point of view. They are so prolific in their “market,” that all of them have won numerous awards for their work and impact. Kathy Eisenhardt’s research is so influential that she was noted in 2008 as the most-cited research author in strategy and organization studies for the past 25 years, ahead of renowned Harvard management professor and author, Michael Porter.  Byers and Seelig won the prestigious Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for their influence in this area. Presented by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), then-president William Wulf said the NAE created the award as “essentially the ‘Nobel Prize’ for engineering educators.” All of them have written books regarding STVP practices and insights.

A Go-To understands the value and power of engaging audiences’ emotions with storytelling and drama. The problem provides dramatic tension as the villain, and the prescriptive point of view saves the day as hero.

In the early days of Salesforce.com, Marc Benioff clearly saw installed software as a villain. He firmly believed that software-as-a-service was the hero that could come to the rescue. Everywhere he went, he got up on his soapbox and delivered the same impassioned  message: Companies are better off with software-as-a-service instead of buying enterprise software packages that require dozens of people, millions of dollars and many months to install or even modify, once installed. This point of view was espoused in every facet of Salesforce.com’s activities and interactions with the market.

A Go-To understands the soft-sell power of thought leadership. 

When Frank Vain of private club industry consulting firm, McMahon Group, stands up in front of an audience of private club general managers, he doesn’t talk at all about McMahon Group. He educates the audience on the core problem facing the private club sector and McMahon’s research-based point of view on what club leadership teams can do to solve this problem. By the time he’s done openly and freely sharing his expertise, he’s essentially given a credentials presentation while keeping the audience hanging on his every word. It’s like standing outside a restaurant giving free samples of your most delicious dishes. Customers can’t help but want more.

A Go-To also understands the power of building a following, so that others in the market place start doing your selling for you.

In a prior post, I referenced my involvement in selecting the McMahon Group for a private club member research project. While meeting with us, Frank Vain didn’t sell us on buying services from McMahon Group, our own general manager did! Another example is Apple, which has an entire army of rabid fans who spread the Apple gospel on its behalf. Mozilla, proud provider of Internet browser, Firefox, actually engages its users in helping to maintain and improve the product through the Mozilla Project – they work for free, because they believe in the cause: choice and control online.

STVP has created a “community of believers” throughout academia, who also share its passion and belief in STVP’s philosophy. For many years, STVP led a series of annual conferences in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the U.S. to bring together entrepreneurship educators from across these regions to advance entrepreneurship education. STVP would share its approach and encourage others to to the same.  Professors around the globe have tremendous respect for STVP’s approaches and its role as a thought leader in this field. More importantly, there is incredible bonding that took place among the participants. There was a deep sense of camaraderie and mutual support. STVP provided these events as a service to their peers, but the events paid immeasurable dividends back to STVP in terms of what it learned, brand building, and other opportunities the events created for STVP.

Now, to you.

What does your company stand for? What do you believe your market needs to be doing differently? And how might you build your following?

[If you’re stumped, subscribe to the blog – I’ll be posting a how-to series on this later.]

Why People Find Gwyneth Paltrow Annoying: A Marketer’s Perspective

You may have more in common with Gwyneth Paltrow than you think. And not in a good way.

gwyneth-paltrow from CNN dot comYes, oops, she did it again. Headlines like CNN’s “Gwyneth Paltrow Makes People Mad — Again” are blaring, and even a Green Beret vet has entered the fray with a scathing reprimand. He and others are offended by a recent interview during which people perceive she was comparing online insults aimed at her to the ravages of war. The was an uproar over this, even though business people and many others use war analogies every day. Before that people were annoyed, because they perceived she was saying her career as a movie star is more arduous than a regular “office job.” She again attracted a rash of criticism for the way she went about announcing her pending divorce from Chris Martin. Meanwhile, she is genuinely perplexed and frustrated by all of the hoopla. And her faux pas seem relatively harmless compared to the tangible damage done by some celebrities. Why do people find her so annoying? Why was she recently voted most hated celebrity?

Looking at this through a marketer’s lense, “perception” is the pivotal word. Apparently, the very people she markets to perceive that she is out of touch. They see her as pretentious and oblivious to what life in the real world is like for the average woman. She may be completely tuned into what they go through, but perception is reality through the eyes of the market. Via her lifestyle blog and site, Goop, her goal is to “help her readers save time, simplify and feel inspired.” Rather than feel inspired, many of these readers, judging from online commentary, merely roll their eyes at the $185 faded cutoff denim shorts, $163 t-shirts, and recipes calling for sea urchin tongues and Maldon sea salt, and tune out. Wearing their best discounted TJ Maxx attire, they feel lucky if they get from work to the day care center before closing time. A successful dinner is mac and cheese from a box and maybe a canned vegetable.

President George Bush, Sr. can relate to Gwyneth’s plight. In the midst of a recession and his reelection campaign in early 1992, he toured exhibits at the National Grocers Association convention, and his enthusiastic reaction to bar code scanners became a symbol for how seemingly out of touch he was with life for the average American. It didn’t matter whether the incident was fact or fiction. The story resonated with the public and became a defining moment in his reelection bid and ultimate loss to Bill Clinton, who campaigned on “It’s the Economy, stupid.”

Are you guilty of being out of touch with life in the real world of your clients?

Like the Gwyneth “haters” and 1992 electorate, company executives often express their own flavor of open disdain — it’s aimed at the likes of management consultants, enterprise software companies, and other service and technology providers for how out of touch they are, and it’s no wonder. I remember being a young consultant at a large provider with a reputation for arrogance, only to see it was rooted in reality when I heard my colleagues mock the illogical and inefficient processes at client companies. It would have taken just one day in their client’s shoes to realize how those byzantine processes had evolved to where they were and why it was difficult to change them. The attitude in some places is that “clients are stupid, and we’re here to save them. We’re so smart.”

How often have you been guilty of this, even just a little? Check yourself. It’s a slippery slope. And clients hate it. This is one reason I’ve periodically gone to the other side – joined a company either outright or as a virtual CMO – to get a good strong dose of hard reality. It’s incredibly humbling. There is a huge difference between being on the outside and spouting advice and wisdom vs. being on the inside trying to do your regular job, navigate politics and deal with the myriad other tasks and responsibilities that get thrown your way. And of course, reality is never as clean as theory. A technology, process, strategy or marketing approach (including the Apollo Method) can sound so clean and easy on paper. But trying to implement these in the midst of the unpredictable, ever-changing chaos that your clients live every day is quite another task.

If you find your company being bashed in the press or receiving what you feel is undue criticism from clients; if, like Gwyneth, you or the company often feel misunderstood, maybe it’s time for a reality check.

Remember: Stay in touch.