High growth companies actively pursue “customer lock in” strategies

21/04/2015

Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelle companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.

High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time:

  • Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
  • Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
  • Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship were there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time effort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold.

A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.

 

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Great coaches – Business Expert or Samaritan?

15/01/2015

I am constantly being asked – what are the ingredients of a great SME coach? There are some very common characteristics that comprise of:

  • Business expertise
  • Market knowledge
  • Functional expertise – finance
  • Marketing strategy etc.

These are all very relevant but in my experience there is far more to coaching and mentoring that sits outside just business and management expertise. I have coached literally hundreds of business people over the years as well as running my own businesses – what this experience tells me is that there are human beings with emotions and fears that sit behind the business plan and very often, the façade of success.

Growing a business is a lonely place to be, in many instances the founder and the team have hidden anxieties that relate to mundane yet crucial components to an individuals overall well being. The pressures that come with, for example, personal guarantees required by the bank, small pension pot, lack of savings, big mortgage……many of these lay dormant in the business persons mind because running the business is all consuming and nothing else matters.

For many entrepreneurs achieving a sense of freedom is the very reason they set up and often this freedom ends up feeling like a prison sentence. The old cliché, working on the business rather than in the business is so true – this is what great coaches do. They help businessmen and women take a helicopter view of their organisation and look at the big picture.

Great coaches in my view are a fusion of business expert and Samaritan. They are able to address personal and emotional anxieties as well as the business ones. They have an ability to connect with these issues in a highly practical way. The starting point for any coach is to understand the individual – what makes them tick, what keeps them awake at night, intentions and aspirations. Once this is worked out then the business becomes the engine to fulfill the entrepreneur’s needs and goals. All too often the business runs the individual – best coaches turn this round, sort of a Samaritan.


From concept to revenue

19/03/2014

For the last few years I have been trying to create a simple model that allows individuals to assess the commercial viability of business opportunities and innovative ideas – irrespective of where this idea is created (university lab, industrial R&D department, current employer or our bedroom) I think there are three primary drivers that need to be assessed and considered when evaluating new ideas. Here are my thoughts:

Commercial drivers  (CD) –

who is going to buy the idea/service/product and how do you get it to market?

Human factors (HF) –

who is going to make it their job to get it out there – and is there a team that can make it happen?

Resource Issues (RI)

have we got the finance, IT, plant and equipment along within physical resources needed to make it happen?

I score each idea on a 1-10 scale in each area. (I have some more detailed sub questions to each area and I have over simplified the above).

I work on the basis of successful mind to market – creating a sustainable revenue stream is down to CD x HF x RI – top score is 1,000 (10 x 10 x 10). In a very crude way it gives me a feel for whether I want to pursue an idea or not. If any score is zero then its back to the drawing board.

So much emphasis is on CD……however, HF needs to be given the attention it deserves!!


Enterprise Rehearsal

21/08/2012

Why is it a large proportion of the workforce want to work for themselves but only a few actually go for it? My view is that fear holds so many back – the fear of not being able to pay the mortgage, have holidays or enjoy nights out at weekends. The key challenge to overcome is getting yourself conditioned to recognising there is no pay cheque going to land in your account at the end of the month. This can often be the biggest barrier to going forward.

Well there are other ways of thinking about being your own boss and indeed rehearsing before the big performance. Speaking from experience I have found that an interest or hobby can be turned into a small business. I remember some twenty odd year ago when taking the plunge was just not an option but it was a burning desire. A young family, and mortgage meant that rehearsal was the only way, and gosh did it pay dividends. Turning a passion for contemporary art into a small business taught me loads about suppliers, customers, doing the books, VAT returns, dealing with awkward people – the list goes on.

These experiences can help so much in the conditioning process and with very little outlay can unleash a profitable stream of revenue. There are opportunities that so many of us just overlook, here are some ways you can rehearse:

– Buying and selling on eBay

– Car boot sales

– Take a market stall at weekends

– Take a stall at an art/antiques fair

– Buy a small property do it up and sell it

– Explore the buy to let market

– Look for innovative products overseas, find an outlet in the UK

– Turn your hobby into a weekend service e.g photography

I feel that some of these tiny nudges can get us thinking more entrepreneurially. The markets in the UK are desperately trying to encourage more traders and we should not over look them as the training ground for the next generation of entrepreneurs – maybe feels a bit Del Boy and Rodney but from humble beginnings big things can result.

After all you only need to look at the Sunday Times Rich list and I know for a fact a number of them built their fortune starting from a market stall.

Big Goals – Small Nudges Will Get You There

16/08/2012

Many individuals have big goals but only few put in the energy and effort to attain them. Why is this? Actions speak louder than words and to be grounded for a second, big goals can sometimes feel like an awesome undertaking. That’s when the goal just remains a dream.

Breaking the £1m revenue target, implementing a new quality system, opening up that new export market or whatever it means to you needs careful planning and iteration.

Patience, routine, trial and error and action are important contributors to passing across the finishing line – you just can’t leap to the end point, that’s why so many just give up.

So what tools can we use to assist us get what we want? I was inspired by the story of what made GB Cycling world class and the envy of other nations . Their coach referred to the “aggregation of marginal gains” as being central to their success. In other words small improvements that all add up to a magnificent performance.

My interpretation of this is:

1. Be clear about what it is you are looking to achieve and and nail a measure and timescale to it

2. Put in place the plan of the milestones and improvements that need to be reached and by when

3. Train like crazy and put in the activity needed to get there – KpI’s (that awful term –  but paramount to monitoring where you are – be clear on what they are as well)

The GB Cycling philosophy of marginal gains can be of massive use to us in business. The key lesson is that small nudges in the right direction delivers a winning result. Get on your bike and pedal  – if you fall off, get back on and pedal faster!


Entrepreneurship in the public sector

19/07/2012

This morning I experienced a great example of public sector entrepreneurship. We recently moved to Salford Quays next to Media City (new location of the BBC) – one of the key attractions was to be close to the digital expertise located in the area and indeed the Media department of Salford University. Why? can any business overlook the benefits this new digital age will bring?

All well and good, however business growth only takes place when conversations and personal relationships gather momentum, trust is built and mutual respect results. Critical non essentials such as courtesy, humility and just caring are so often overlooked in the teaching in business schools and the books they encourage us to read.

Back to the point, having been in our new office for only 1 week a call came into us from Salford City Council – Matthew Lynn, one of the Economic Development Officers. Can I come in and talk to you about how we can help? Firstly, I was astounded that they knew we were coming and secondly, today a meeting with Matthew clearly demonstrated:

– Customer focus

– An interest in what we do

– An explanation of what services the Council can offer

– The introductions they can make to partners

– Details of networking opportunities

– Opportunities to work together (win-win)

I was left with an overwhelming sense of entrepreneurial flair and what I call living in the “Customers World”. Top stuff, I was inspired to see that both an individual and the Council had a genuine interest in us. The start of a great relationship (I hope) – who said the public sector is not entrepreneurial!

 

 


Entrepreneurial Learning

29/06/2012

I spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference earlier this week. The theme was entrepreneurial learning in organisations. It was an extremely thought provoking session, that brought together fantastic academic minds on the theme of entrepreneurship.

As a keen observer of entrepreneurial learning and improvement, my view is that the UK economy will grow faster if more effective leaders are created and nurtured. Enterprise policy makers must recognise the importance of bigger thinking and greater ambition – a key component of leadership. Academic enterprise research needs to investigate in greater depth the emotional needs of entrepreneurs – the spirit and mindset. Setting up and growing a business can be extremely demanding. For entrepreneurial leaders balancing personal and commercial risk can be a debilitating experience – we must look at developing practical coping strategies to help leaders overcome the fear often associated with the stages of growth.

From my discussions with participants I was encouraged to hear that softer issues do appear to be attracting more academic interest. Topics such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, coping, resilience, mental toughness, personal branding and faith must get on the agenda. These are all essential ingredients for leadership success. Practical tools to help entrepreneurs address these areas would be well received within the community – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Entrepreneurs are courageous individuals who cope well with the lonely rollercoaster existence, helping them to live with high pressure moments would be a well-received antidote for those wanting to make a difference. I am extremely excited about the work ISBE is undertaking.