All posts by Dave Haviland

Dave specializes in strategic consulting to leadership teams at Stage 2 businesses to help them clarify their business goals, improve how they market products and services, boost internal productivity and successfully leverage new business and employee opportunities. He serves on the board of directors or advisors at several companies. He also has been a featured blogger for Crain’s Detroit Business on matters related to business growth, speaks regularly to professional associations, is actively involved with the Saginaw Valley / Stevens Center for Family Business and Walsh College’s Leadership Institute, and is regularly quoted in publications including Inc. Magazine and the American Management Association’s newsletters. Dave's interests outside of strategic consulting include travel, playing hockey and many other sports, raising 3 young kids, and lying around on a warm beach whenever he can.

Giving Your SWOT More Swagger, Part 2

giving-your-SWOT-more-swaggerLast week, I talked about some of the challenges with SWOT assessments, and at its heart, the issue comes down to (a) being as specific as possible, and (b) finding useful insights about your company.

Let me give you some Before and After examples from recent SWOTs that I’ve done with clients to illustrate what a good SWOT looks like.

Before:  “Our people” (strength)

After:  “Our skills at designing administrative processes” (strength) and “Our lack of sales skills” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) use their administrative excellence as a differentiator in their marketing, and (b) identify the need for sales training.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margins by improving their marketing and sales.

Before:  “Our brand” (weakness)

After:  “Our deep understanding of our customers” (strength), “Our passion for solving engineering problems” (strength), “How we communicate the value we create for customers” (weakness), “Our marketing budget relative to our competitors” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) invest in a brand strategy, (b) increase their marketing budget, and (c) get the help they needed from the outside.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margin, increased their revenue, and lowered their customer acquisition costs, because they were clearer about their offerings and messaging with prospects.

So, when you’re doing your SWOT, the question to ask yourself is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”

The question to ask yourself about your SWOT is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it doesn’t, then here are some ideas for upgrading it.

  • Talk more.  Insights and specifics come from digging and sharing ideas, and that comes from talking.
  • Have each department do a SWOT.  Because departments often focus on internal issues, make sure that every department has 5-10 bullets that are focused on the external environment.  Also have the CEO do a SWOT separate from the others; this provides the broader and longer view.  Once you have all those SWOTs, roll them up into a single SWOT by having people vote on the top bullets from across all of them.
  • If you have a SWOT from a previous year, force your team to come up with at least 5 new bullets that have changed from the previous one.
  • Have people do SWOTs for other departments – have sales do the operations one, and have finance do the sales one.
  • Have your outside advisors give their input.
  • Get a strategy consultant to help – the more SWOTs you do, the better at it you become…so get the help of someone with more experience than you.

Any strategy process gets its value by digging deeper than usual, because that’s where new and unexpected insights come from.  A SWOT shouldn’t just capture what you think about the business; a good SWOT should change how you think about it.

Giving your SWOT more swagger, part 1

giving_your_SWOT_more_swaggerI like SWOT assessments (you know – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for getting people’s thinking out of the day-to-day and into a creative, strategic “space.”  Unfortunately, I often see SWOT assessments that are just marginally useful.

Here are some tips on how to get more value out of your SWOTs.

If you can take a bullet and put it on someone else’s SWOT without changing it, then you’re not specific enough.  One of the favorites to put under Strengths is “Our People”… which is also a good example of a bullet that is not specific enough to be useful in the planning process.  What is it about your people?  Their experience?  Their deep knowledge?  Their ability to be generalists?  Once I know what’s special about your people, then I can create some possibilities about how to leverage that into a better advantage.

Work hard to look at the future.  We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s hard to look ahead several years.  And that’s why it’s an advantage to do – because most people don’t.

Put “the hard stuff” on the list.  Every business has issues that it doesn’t like to talk about.  The problem customer.  The problem owner.  The problem staffer.  Without knowing the details, I can tell you that those issues consume a large amount of resources.  So they need to be on your SWOT – though it will probably take some diplomatic phrasing.  (For example:  “Some customers are easier to work with than others,” “Owners are not always aligned on decisions,” and “Spotty follow-through.”)

Make sure you have bullets that cover the whole breadth of the areas you’re involved in.  Often, leadership teams focus more on certain areas, and that bias comes through on the SWOT.  But the non-focus areas are often the places where there is the most opportunity, especially for companies that are developing from the lean-and-mean start-up to a more complete and sustainable enterprise.

So, here’s the question to ask about your SWOT to see if you’re getting the value out of it:  “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it gives you that, then you’re getting the value you should.  If it doesn’t, then you should take steps to upgrade it – which I’ll cover in my post next week.

When Should I Hire a Salesperson – Part 2

sales_street_signI gave a lot of general advice about hiring a new salesperson in a previous post, so let’s tackle the same question with more specifics.

If you’re comfortable hiring the salesperson before your sales team is overwhelmed (hiring “ahead of the curve,” as I called it in the other post), then there’s one step that I use to determine when you should hire…

You should write the “sales plan” that the new hire will follow for the first 6 months they’re on board.

In the sales plan, I’d put:

  •  Additional opportunities or relationships you’d like to develop with existing customers
  • Specific relationships that you already have that you’d like to develop more
  • New customers that you know you want to target but are not

Once you lay those possibilities out, then you should put them into a month-by-month schedule.

Finally, figure out the amount of money you’re going to pay the new salesperson over the first 6 months.

Now step back from the plan you’ve made, and look at the money you’re going to spend, and ask yourself if the ROI passes the “hurdle” for being worthwhile.

If it does, start recruiting.  If it doesn’t, circle the best 3-5 possibilities in your sales plan, and then see if you can find time within your current team to go after those.

Even if you don’t end up hiring a new salesperson, you’ve clarified your best opportunities to go after in the meantime.

For insight into what it takes to be successful in sales in today’s world, check out the book Achieve Sales Excellence.

-by Dave Haviland

Relevance is the New Proximity

woman_holding_business_cardA guy walked into my office yesterday with a business card…

Is that the start of a joke?

No, it’s the start of a true story about how the rules of marketing have changed.

A guy walked into my office yesterday with a business card, to tell me that his services are available if I should need help in any of a half-dozen areas.

I could see why this approach would have worked 20 years ago – without the internet, you had to rely on local relationships and networks to access resources that could help you.  In short, proximity was a driving factor in how people made buying decisions.  So, from a marketing perspective, participating in local networks – the chamber, the country club, school… even visiting offices – was a solid way to find buyers.

But when this guy walked into my office yesterday, question after question fired off in my head…

  • What experience does he have?
  • What’s his style?
  • What can he teach me to make me better?
  • How does he compare to alternatives?

His ability to visit my office in person was far down my list.  Instead, the questions I was asking were all about how relevant his service would be for me.

And it’s noteworthy that although these questions went off in my head, I didn’t want to stop what I was doing and take time to ask him right then.  I wanted a web address to go to if I found a need for his services, and I wanted him to ask me for my email address so he could send me his newsletter and I could start to learn who he is and whether he has anything relevant to say to me.

This situation did not end well.  No web site on his card.  No request for an email address.  I may call him when he can help me, but I think I’m more likely to forget his visit in a few months and start with a search on the web.

Proximity is not dead.  The world, in reality, is not flat – in fact, it’s really big and complicated and local, so there are lots of small communities where people can succeed by serving those around them.  But proximity is not worth what it used to be.

Relevance is the new proximity.  Be relevant first, and if you can also be nearby, you have a leg up on all those others who are relevant and farther away.

[box type=”download”] For more about using relevance in marketing today, check out this post on using relevant keywords in your SEO from Hubspot, and this article on what B2B buyers really want from Act-On.[/box]

When Should I Add My Next Salesperson?

sales_street_signThis is an interesting question.  It’s actually a subset of a broader question, “How do I know if I should make an investment?”

Unfortunately, investment decisions are usually uncertain, but there are a few things you can do to clarify the answer.

For hiring a salesperson, I’d ask…

  • What is the current capacity of the team, and could you get more out of the team by “training them up” or restructuring how they’re supported?
  • How hard will it be to find the right person for the job?  (“Finding a salesperson is easy,” a client told me once.  “Finding the right salesperson is what’s hard.”)
  • Being really honest, how good are you at hiring in general, and at hiring/selecting salespeople in particular?  How often do you find and select the right person?
  • Since you probably won’t be able to hire the person right at the point your sales team is maxed out, would you rather live with the risk of paying someone who is not fully utilized, or having your staff stretched and possibly having some errors?

I often talk to my clients about hiring “ahead of the curve” (before the business is there) or “behind the curve” (after the business is there).  The important thing to realize is that it’s unlikely that you’ll actually hire “on the curve.”  So, you just have to decide what kind of risk you want to manage.  You could make the investment before you know if you’ll have the business to support it – and be positioned for growth sooner.  Or you could overtax the organization with more work than it can handle – and keep your expenses down.

The “right” option for you depends on your situation (e.g., “We’ve got tons of opportunity we just need feet on the street to get”), your business strategy (e.g., “We have to grow”), and the level and type of risk you are comfortable with (e.g., “I don’t like to make an investment until the odds look pretty darn good.”)

With salespeople, there sometimes is a way to have your cake and eat it too – by paying someone mostly on commission.  The benefit of this approach is that you’re adding the bandwidth without the cost.  The danger of this approach is along the lines of “You get what you pay for.”  If you have proven that commission-driven salespeople can sell your product, and you can characterize the opportunity you have to offer, then you have a good chance of this working.  If you’re still figuring out how to sell your product, or your other salespeople are not commission-based, then it would probably be a waste of time to look for someone using that compensation model – it’s just not good odds that you’ll find theright salesperson with that risky compensation.

If you don’t want to hire a salesperson now, there are alternatives that can get your more “throughput” from your sales team:

  • “Training up” your current salespeople so they are more effective
  • Improving processes or systems to make them more productive
  • Having your admin staff (who are easier to hire than salespeople) handle more sales support activities for the sales team.

Lastly, there are a few things to keep in mind for hiring effectively.  It’s generally a tough hiring market, so start looking early, because it’s likely to take you longer than you expect to find the right person.  Also, plan to spend as much time on-boarding the new hire as you took to hire them.  I’ve seen many salespeople flounder at the start because the company didn’t help them get into the business.

If you want to learn more about what kinds of salespeople there are, and what kind you might need, an excellent book and enjoyable read is Selling the Wheel.

-by Dave Haviland

Crucial Conversations – A Lesson in Improving Business Communication

iStock_000010198641XSmall

Editors note: Welcome to our Guest Blogger, Dave Haviland of Phimation!

I made a comment to several company leaders last week that gave us a good laugh – and a good insight.

My wife and I got into a fight a few weeks ago over …[wait for it]… whether or not we have effective communication.  (Yes, that brought huge laughs…)  As is often the case, we were both right, and there’s a lesson in our argument for business owners.

My wife thinks we have effective communication because 90-95% of the time it works.  She’s right, and we should feel good that we’ve created that.

I think we don’t have effective communication yet because the 5-10% of the time that it doesn’t work are the most important and challenging issues.  We cover the basics well, but the really hard stuff is where a lot of the value is.

The reality is that those are 2 very different types of communication.  For the basics, the point is to handle things quickly and efficiently – “minimize the administrative overhead,” which is why standard processes and tools are helpful, and why my wife and I can do this well after 20 years together.  For the hard stuff, the point is to take the time to build a mutual understanding of the situation, create several possible solutions, clarify what’s important, and have a deliberate decision process – which is why having 20-year patterns in our marriage can work against us when new issues inevitably show up, and why it is helpful to keep trying new things and listening to experts when we take on new issues.

The lesson for business leaders is this:  most of the time, it just takes some effort to make your business perform.  If you put in place some relatively simple management tools and processes, you’ll take care of 90-95% of what’s happening.  That’s good.

But 5-10% of the time, it’s going to be hard and complicated.  If you just focus on the 90-95% that’s being handled well, you’ll feel good on the surface, but you’ll be limiting yourself and hurting your business in the long run.  Because there’s a lot of long-term value in those few items that are complicated.

The key is to make most of your business simple, so that you then have the time, money, and energy to deal with the hard issues.

Handling the simple stuff with simplicity, and the complicated stuff with sophistication, is how you get great performance from your business.  (…and satisfaction in your marriage…)

If you’d like to improve communication in your business, check out the book Crucial Conversations.