Innovate Like a Lean Startup

iStock_000009200146XSmallEnterprise organizations are taking a rigorous look at the principles used in the Lean Startup movement. They are carefully considering how they can incorporate the approach for building and launching new products faster to increase revenues and reduce costs.

Why? Speed of innovation and time-to-market can translate to millions in revenue gained or millions in lost opportunity costs for organizations of every size. One known fact for product-based businesses is that the typical time for market development can no longer take years for planning to launch. Competitive forces require organizations to be in cycles of continuous improvement and a constant state of innovation.

Some businesses acquire other businesses to gain momentum, others set up lean approaches within their product development and design centers. If enterprises want to compete with the “young and restless” entrepreneur community, they need to consider moving faster in definition, development and bringing new products to market.

The father of the lean movement is Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. The Lean Startup methodology promotes shorter product development cycles driven by experimentation and validated learning. Instead of waiting until the final product is “complete” before launch, the lean practice recommends to use iterative releases to confirm adoption and use cases for a minimum viable product.

The constant develop-release cycle provides for ongoing feedback to modify and pivot to meet buyer and user needs faster. The goal for this technique is to speed products to market, maximizing early product adoption cycles and capturing the most market opportunity. This all translates to revenue.

The risks associated to this approach are primarily related to creating products that seem to never be finished. Consumers must have a strong loyalty to stay committed to products that are always upgrading. Businesses have to evaluate the risk-rewards of being first to market with products that are viable and utilize the information gained in the customer feedback process during each release to keep customers happy.

The growing consideration of going lean for many business owners today is whether they do so through an M&A strategy or reorganization of the product development operation.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” – Eric Ries

By Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers@jglass8

This article appeared in the CKS Advisors CKS Updates May 2013 Newsletter. Visit www.cksadvisors.com for additional information.

Investing in Co-Selling Partnerships to Grow

iStock_000022899520_ExtraSmallSmall businesses and entrepreneurs can greatly benefit by selecting co-selling partners to drive revenues. Utilizing another company’s sales and marketing resources may be a great channel to aggressively extend reach and acquire new customers.

Co-selling partnerships with businesses selling complimentary products and services to your target customer can be smart business. These partnerships can cut existing sales costs and even accelerate growth in market share. The best sales partners create a synergy between respective offerings. There should be a “natural fit” of how the products and services add value for the customer. The buyer should inherently understand why you would partner, not question as to why you did or if there is any benefit in buying from a single vendor.

Co-selling partnerships can reduce sales costs. There is a required investment in sales and marketing to grow a business. The costs of a sales team can be crippling for a new venture or small business.The overhead expenses that enable a sales person to be trained, productive, and armed with the right marketing tools, technology and product support can be onerous in the earlier stages of an organization.  Lack of initial investment often produces lack luster results and can actually cost the business even more with unexpected turnover or lengthy sales cycles. Businesses need a specific budget and defined cost of sales to properly staff, train and equip a sales organization to get results.

Time-to-market and time-to-close can be reduced through co-selling partnerships. A new sales hire ramp-up time can be 3-12 months, depending on price of goods to be sold and anticipated sales cycles. Ramp-up requires an “blind faith” investment of time and resources. A business has to invest in sales with nothing more than the anticipation and belief that something is going to be sold. It is a huge price to pay and has great risk. Utilizing a trained and experienced sales team through a co-selling partnership can help you bring revenues in while you invest in building your own sales team.

Co-selling is not free. There are costs of co-selling partnerships. A strong partnership requires investment in training and account management resources to keep top-of-mind awareness with your co-oped sales team. You also need to provide sales and marketing tools to properly equip the team to sell your goods and services. You need to be available when they have questions and to support them throughout the entire sales process.

You also need to create an incentive as to why a sales person in another organization should throw your offering into the mix. Higher commissions, faster time-to-close and value-add to the customer, are all good reasons; however, remember — sales people need to be sold too. If you extend the deal time or complicate the sales process, it will never work. Make it easy and valuable for the sales team through your co-selling partnership.

Incentives matter in co-selling. If the paired companies benefit but not the people selling, the partnership will fail. You need to set up a partner agreement for commissions and shared revenues.  A typical commission in a co-selling relationship starts at 10% of net revenue on the deal for a qualified lead pass. This type of agreement puts the burden back on you to close the deal. You are basically paying for marketing and an introduction. If the partner does all the work, including closing the deal, you may provide an incentive of 20% or more just to get that customer on your books. The structure of the agreement and commission rates should be based on your financial projections and cost of goods and associated expenses in managing the customer post-sale. 

What doesn’t work? Relying on commission-only sales teams and partnerships that are by name only. There are business owners that believe they can get a motivated, committed sales person to work for free. The odds of making this type of relationship work are close to nil. The relationship between a company and it’s sales team, whether a direct hire or partner, is measured by the commitment from both sides. Small businesses may have to tier commission levels based on the ramp-up of sales or find ways to create early non-cash incentives; however, no one should be expected to go out and sell without a financial commitment. The words “you get what you pay for” should ring loudly if you are thinking about commission-only or finding people to sell for you because they like you.  Sales people that are really good at closing deals are expensive because they have a huge ROI.

Attributes of great co-selling partners to consider are the size of the partner’s sales team, market reach, relationships with your customer and available support the sales team receives in training for new products. The partner must have the means, connections and existing relationships to introduce your products to market. Co-selling means they will take an active role in selling. Again, partners by name only often produce little value.

If you choose to use co-selling partnerships, embrace the model and build support for the partnership. Show your loyalty through your commitment to make the partnership last and benefit everyone including the customer, the sales person and the partners. Create value by talking about the partnership and promoting the relationship. The results you get from this co-selling will be directly tied to the amount of time and resources invested in the partnership. You have to give to make it work and really pay off.

In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” – Anthony Robbins

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Related to a series of posts on partnering.  Also read: Sales Referral Partners Lead to New Customers

Prepare for a Happy Business New Year

There are only a few weeks left that will define how your business performed this year. Are you happy with the anticipated results?  If the answer is yes, are you prepared to deliver the same performance next year or go to the next level?  If the answer is no, are you prepared to deal with the obstacles and challenges that prevented you from achieving your goals this year?

There may be little time to change the results of 2012. There is plenty of time to prepare for changes in 2013, if you start now.  Pivoting from your current trajectory requires strong leadership and preparing a detailed plan to execute starting the first day of the new year.

Reviewing the past several months, is your business foundation strong enough to build the next phase of your expansion?  Your foundation needs to be durable, providing the necessary support to accelerate current business practices that will generate more revenues and improve overall performance.  A business that is built from repeatable practices for product development, sales, operations, marketing and service, is a business that is ready for sustainable growth.

In your evaluation of the past year, if you are not convinced your business is running at maximum capacity or operating efficiently, it is well advised to spend the final weeks of the year to identify the primary obstacles and demands your business require to get on track for better performance in the coming year.  In other words, now is the time to invest in your business to get it on track for growth.  Do you need to invest in people, products or infrastructure?  What will it require in time and finances to build a strong foundation for future growth?

One of the biggest challenges for small business owners is to look outside the day-to-day operations to see the threats and opportunities for growth.  If you do not have an advisor, seek help from peers who can give you an objective assessment.  You want to have a comprehensive plan with orientation toward your business goals and tactics that can be executed upon by your committed team members at the start of the year.  Your plan needs to be opportunistic and realistic.

Now is the time to plan for the coming year.  How much do you need to invest?  Will you need to pivot from plans that have not provided expected results in the prior months?  Your team is waiting for your definitive plan of action.  They want to know where they are headed so they can meet your expectations.  Take the steps necessary to get ready for the best possible outcomes in the coming new year.  The action you take today, will impact where you end up next year.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Be in Your Business Now

As a business leader, you have three options of where to put your focus. The Past. The Future. The Now. Being present in your business now, gives you better leverage to improve from your past with the valuable foresight to manage risks and opportunities in your future.

21st century businesses require real time accessibility and responsiveness to meet the changing tides of immediate customer demands.  Innovation is quickly driving businesses forward and leaving many behind. Being disciplined on the point of convergence of past and future, enables you to put 100% of your business efforts into the business now.

It is important to know who you are, where you are coming from and where you are going. The past provides insights that can help your business pivot and shorten learning curves.  As a leader, you depend on the knowledge gained through good and bad experiences to improve performance and business outcomes.  There is only one path to progress.  You have to move from the past to the future through your business now.

Living in your business past, with regret or admiration, does not give you the necessary focus to be centered in the now. “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

Leaders that spend time relishing in their great accomplishments may be ignoring the unknown threats or countless competitors looking for better, faster ways to knock you off your pedestal.  Put the plaque on the wall, file the kudos and at-a-boys and know that your business needs you to be working on what’s next – now.

Likewise, if you are spending your business now redefining vision statements, missions and the company’s next BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), you may be missing the bumps and obstacles that threaten you from achieving important milestones in your daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly journey.  Your revenues depend on you to zero in on the now.

One way to keep you in the now is to have a mission statement that puts you squarely in the present moment.  Starbucks puts its’ employee, partner and customer focus in their business now with their simple mission statement.  It says, “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

There is no arguing that you need business goals, strategies and plans.  The only way to work in the business now is to know where you are headed.  Every business needs short and long term goals.  There is a big difference in working in the future or working on the future — now.  You can be working on inventions that will change the world.  If you focus on how the world will be versus your invention, you will lose your edge in getting the invention to market.  A daydreamer trap for the creative mind.

Have you ever met an entrepreneur that has hundreds of ideas.  When you talk to them, they focus on all the ways they can improve on an idea, open new markets and make millions and billions — in the future.  They have 20 solutions for every problem.  Yet, there is always one thing that is missing in their enthusiasm for what’s ahead, their business now.

How is your business today?  What is holding you back this week?  What challenges are stopping you from being that billionaire NOW?  When you are steadfast on living in future, you are probably not paying attention to the work required to get you there.  If your employees always see you so far ahead of them, they often lack accountability to what they need to do to make the business a success today.

There is a fragile difference between a vision and an illusion.  Apple is a perfect example of a company dedicated to the business now.  We often look at each new product as ahead of it’s time.  Some will remark, how visionary!  Apple looks at their new products as another completed project. The next Apple inventions we will be enamored with are already in production.  Apple is constantly improving products ahead of their time by working in the business now.  They do so with an eye to the future, short term and long term goals; however, they produce and service in the now.  Innovation is part of their work culture.  We, their consumer, are focused on their future. That does not deter them from meeting our demands now, it only keeps us loyal.

Use your past to better predict your future.  It is good business intelligence.  Being present for your customers, employees, partners today is what has the greatest impact on revenues now.  Investing in your future, is working on your business now!  Don’t ignore what’s right in front of you.  What you uncover by working on the business now could define you and your company evermore.  

“Forever is composed of nows.” ~Emily Dickinson

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Leaders are Superior Deciders

Leaders are DecidersBusiness leaders and entrepreneurs are faced with endless decisions. The effect of every decision can impact the forward motion of the organization, address critical business needs or simply keep operations steadfast.  Decisions are part of the bosses daily to do list.  How decisions are made reflects your effectiveness and judgement.

As a leader, you have the role as crowning decider. Confidence in your ability to make decisions impacts how others recognize you inside and outside your organization. Employees, partners, customers, vendors, investors and your market industry all evaluate your strength as a leader based on your decision making skills.

Being resolute and determined assures others you are unmistakably in the right position to guide the company. Responsibility and accountability rest on your shoulders, always.  Whether you delegate the actual decision making process to someone in your business or not, you own the outcome.

How leaders make decisions sets the pace of how the business operates and often to what degree it succeeds.

  • Fast Decision Makers:  High growth, innovative businesses require a leader adept to making rapid decisions, trusting intuition and using a high threshold for exposure to risk.  Failure is an option for this type of decision maker, as the decider is likely a pro at pivoting.
  • Moderate Decision Makers: Leaders that use managed growth strategies require a steady hand. They are assessors and consumers of strategic evaluations and advice to help mitigate risk.  Roadmaps, KPIs and measured milestones often guide this type of leader in their timing of decisions.
  • Slow Decision Makers:  Risk adverse companies who have a very low tolerance for failure, perhaps because of the financial structure, need a decider who will go beyond assessment.  They use defined research, analytic and data resources, detailed reports and experts to evaluate their decisions.  These type of deciders are patient and often are primarily focused on long-term goals and objectives.

Of all types of deciders, the biggest failure of any business leader is NOT making a decision.  CEOs and business owners are often surrounded by advisors and have multiple inputs into their decision making processes.  It can complicate the final call.  Talk is not cheap. Too many inputs can slow down decisions and increase risk.

Businesses fail in absence of making decisions.  New technologies can sweep them out of the market.  Hindered by bad personnel, companies can be drained of momentum and energy.  Capital issues can delay key projects and impact future revenue.  Making a decision, can negate these types of risks.

Empowering others to make decisions is important in any business.  Provide others the capability of being creative and strategic in their role by decision making authority.  You want thinkers and doers in your business.  If they are only allowed to do, based on your decisions, you can stifle cooperation and confidence.

You may need to set limitations on decision making capabilities by your empowered team based on the business risk tolerance.  Budgeting is one way to put in business controls, along with road maps.  Define what has the most critical impact on the business and put in place the sign-off authority for those decisions.  For example, if a product development change can delay meeting a critical release date of a product or service, put in place authorizations to manage expectations with all stakeholders.

Whether a decision relates to products, markets, finances, technologies or personnel, a business can easily become paralyzed without a strong leader that makes decisions.  The final decision is the responsibility of the leader. Inputs need to be managed.  Assign a deadline and know when a final decision must be made, without exception.

As the decider, you have the ultimate power.  How you use your power is a reflection of your leadership.  Whether you choose to make rapid decisions or methodical, deliberate decisions, the action matters most.  Don’t let decisions, small or large, slow you or your business down.  Procrastination is deadly.  Lead by deciding.  Decide how you will lead. Decide now.

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Capitalize on the Dog Days of Summer

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Dog Days of Summer

There is a constant drum beat in business circles that summers are difficult for getting anything done. There are a variety of excuses that justify this belief, including, “everyone is on vacation“, “people don’t work when kids are out of school“, “buyers are not engaged“, and of course “decision makers are unreachable“.

The hard reality is these excuses are self-fulling prophecies.  We are more wired, more connected, more engaged today.  Business is not done during the hottest months of the year because we assume we will get a no before we ask for the yes.

The facts prove people are working all summer.  Monthly average work week data shows that we work the same amount in the summer as we do all year round.  Decision makers average 49 hours per week.  We are more productive than ever.  So, why are you not capitalizing on the hottest months of the year?

The Dog Days of Summer are the best time of the year to build up prospects, qualify leads, refresh your marketing strategies and compete for mind share.  While everyone else falls into the excuse trap, you have an opportunity to make noise and get noticed.

Laying back until September to heat it up your marketing and selling efforts only pushes you into the most distracting time of the year.  Right after Labor Day, decision makers are budgeting for 2013 and events are abundant.  Daily sales calls peak and we are all flooded with competitors emails and advertisements trying to capture top of mind awareness.  Simply, your odds are much better to get noticed during the summer months.

Here are some suggestions on how to capitalize on the final dog days of summer:

1.  Reach out to current customers.  Estimates are that it is 7x less expensive to get business from a current customer than a new customer.  Update your current customers on your latest business activities and see if they are ready to buy more.

2.  Prospect for opportunities.  Run reports from your contact database to see who has not been reached in the past six months.  Put them on your priority contact list and create a campaign to heat up some buying interest.  Activity creates action.

3.  Build sales plans for key accounts.  Spend time to craft detailed sales plans for your top prospects.  Identify decision makers, buying cycles, budgets and key influencers at your top target companies.  Read up on their latest news and research their business to identify critical needs.  Use your sales plan to carefully craft the value proposition for doing business with you and then set the appointment to make the pitch.

4.  Promote, promote, promote.  As others hold back until after Labor Day, you have the opportunity to use public relations and social media campaigns to gain attention.  Take advantage of the slower news cycles and go for the headline.  Do whatever you can to get the attention of those seeking your products and services.

5.  Summer close out sales. There is a very strategic reason why Christmas in July sales dominate the dog days of summers.  Retail outlets and online storefronts are looking to clear out inventories.  The other reason is June, July and August sales are the time people will typically start shopping for school and holidays.  Consumers expect a deal.

6.  Refresh your sales and marketing strategies.  Review your strategic plans. What has worked, what is not working and what market opportunities exist for the business in the next 18 months. Tactics follow strategy.  If you are only doing the work and not evaluating the impact on your strategy, you could be heading in the wrong direction.

7.  Pivot now.  Review your key performance indicators and adjust if you are are going to miss your mark.  Making a change now can benefit you in the last quarter of the year.  Don’t wait, start executing your changes and new strategies to achieve your business goals this year.

It is time to heat it up!  You have fewer people competing for attention and business right now.  Take advantage of it.  People receive fewer emails, fewer calls, so use this as an opportunity to make a direct connection today and set the wheels in motion to capitalize this year.

Jamie Glass, Outsourced CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a strategic sales and marketing consulting company and Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors