Welcome to the Influency Group blog.

Here we will take up various topics related to developing a valuable business from 360 degrees, oranges are spherical after all (see our opening post for more on this). I like 360 degrees. It’s something I try to apply to all aspects of my life, but most especially in business—it makes it sustainable, spheres don’t fall in.

As you can tell, we’re a little different. So if you’re tired of peeling back the same old onion and are ready to talk orange peels, give us a call. We are ready to provide a fresh perspective and help you take your business to the next level.

The Mediocre Death Sentence

January 28th, 2015

me·di·o·cre (mēdēˈōkər), adj, of only moderate quality; not very good.

Synonyms: Ordinary, average, middling, middle-of-the-road, uninspired, undistinguished, indifferent, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster, forgettable, amateur, ok, so-so.

Have you ever looked up mediocre in the dictionary? If not, I’ve saved you the trouble. Does any of that sound appealing? Like a recipe for success? I didn’t think so. No, I don’t think so at all, yet so many managers, entrepreneurs, and organizations in general find themselves exactly there. Why is that?

This indeed deserves exploring because mediocrity will kill a company without them even knowing it.

As a startup or a small company without a lot of resources, owners or managers are often desperate to attract resources. They probably don’t have the highest salary to offer nor the best benefits, if any. They may ask people to wear multiple hats and they most likely don’t have all the tools with bells and whistles so many people have come to expect, and almost can’t imagine how they could possibly be successful without them. They need help and find themselves either thrilled to have some interest, or having to settle for what they think they can afford. This is a mindset more easily understood because there may be underlying truth in the lesser tangibles offered and there is higher risk involved. Those who have been there understand greater reward too. What these companies really need to understand is how to sell their value proposition better. How to truly identify the talents they need and help strategizing how to acquire them. What they DON’T need is mediocre. Better to go without.

The situation for very large organizations (big red-tape organizations, as you’ve often heard me call them) is quite a bit different. They typically have the salaries and benefits, and the bells and whistles to do your job…sometimes too many of them so they turn into red tape and become more of a hindrance than helpful. These organizations have a collection of things going on.

Some of their management has been promoted based on length of service or perhaps individual contributions. These things are terrific and may very well spell out a valuable employee, but they don’t necessarily equate to effective management or leadership (two different things, but a topic for another day). They often lack in training or understanding of how to hire the best resources for their team, mentor and develop team members, or worse yet, they inherit…now what?

Sometimes it’s a matter of size. It can become pretty easy to “hide” within a company of 1000s of employees. It can also nearly require an act of congress to terminate an employee in this environment. The “solution” often becomes transferring resources (whether team members or managers) from team to team, or department to department. A little shuffling action. Or, they simply are not noticed at all and carry on. Surrounded by non-mediocre employees, these people may remain right where they are, however they are a sense of constant frustration and dissatisfaction for their team members, a waste of money, and negatively impact the bottom line.

And then there are those middle sized companies that are really in the best position. They’re big enough to have the attractions and small enough to still have some nimbleness. And if they don’t, my bet is you will uncover mediocrity before too long.

We all know the companies that just kind of “hang around.” They show up here and there, but certainly not everywhere they ought to be. You hear from their people from time to time. You might get an update on occasion. They are chugging along but certainly not going anywhere fast.

When you take a bit of a closer look, the similarities in these companies are predictable. Their website and materials are dated, perhaps even with errors that have gone unnoticed for some time. “News” might be from 3 or 6 months ago. Often they are competing more often on price than anything else and might even be heading toward commoditization or a smaller and smaller target audience.

Often these organizations are content to remain flat, or grow by 1 or 2% per year, or even dip a bit. They accept deals with less margin and much longer break even points. They aren’t coming up with anything new. When you encounter their people, it’s the same lackluster impression.

These organizations are mediocre. The organization is mediocre and the employees are typically exactly the same. Management is more about the day to day; they are often uninspired and there is no one to develop or focus on strategy. These organizations trudge along, but are overlooked in the common industry consolidations. These organizations struggle to grow their valuation and do not become targets in M&A activities.

Mediocre is such a difficult thing to overcome. As an early stage company, you MUST avoid mediocrity at all costs. If it does rear its ugly head, you must eradicate it immediately. Unfortunately this is not typically the case, it is far more often a very long, painful and damaging process. If it’s a mediocre employee, it’s tough to fire people. That task is never fun. Many people will go to great lengths to avoid it. Shift a person from role to role to see if it gets better. Try to manage and mentor them along. Change roles again. Cut extra slack. Justify that the level of effort provided is better than not having anyone at all…

If it’s other assets or resources such as marketing, presence, collateral, you must understand there’s a time and a place to save a dollar and not to. That doesn’t mean blowing the budget either, it means allocating and managing it appropriately. Your public, customer-facing resources, be they people or materials, is NOT the place to do so. Better to hire fewer, high quality team members that go the extra mile and deliver tremendous value to the organization and represent it well than to hire more resources who present a mediocre face to your company.

I have been fortunate enough to mostly avoid mediocre companies. I experienced one or two mediocre employees in my early days as an entrepreneur, fell into the typical traps, and had to learn the lessons the hard way. Once you learn them, you never forget! While eliminating mediocrity is difficult, once you do, the sense of relief is immediate. You ask yourself why you didn’t do so long ago. You also now recognize mediocre and avoid it at all costs.

I also found myself with a client once that was all encompassing, mediocre. I know, you want to ask how? You thought I learned to recognize it. I did. To be clear, I inherited the client through an acquisition process. After continuing to work with them for several months, and much frustration I assure you, I extricated myself. What a relief! It was astounding to me, there was not a single person who worked for that company that I ever would have hired. Not one! It makes sense why they are where they are, and will never be anywhere else.

Of only moderate quality. Not very good. Middling. Uninspired. Undistinguished. Unexceptional. Forgettable. So-so.

Do those sound like great attributes to you? Do you want to do business with them? People buy from people they like.

Be alert for mediocrity. Expunge it.

Sales…Marketing/Marketing…Sales

December 16th, 2014

It’s an age old question, yet unbelievable how many people still get them confused, or don’t understand the value, or think they’re the same skill set, or just need to hire some decent sales people to get the job done….

So many red flags there, I’m not even sure where to begin.

If I had $100 for each time I’ve encountered this situation in the past month, my Christmas shopping would be free! Somehow this catches me by surprise, but it shouldn’t because it’s something I see and hear on a regular basis, even by seasoned business people. Sometimes I think every business executive ought to understand this, but they don’t.

I often hear clients express they “just need to hire some good sales people,” “how do they find them,” can I help them with that? Many times they have tried and it has not worked out, often there have been multiple hires (and exits) in a short amount of time….Step one, we need to have a conversation, and like it or not, I’ve got to broach the above subject. One everyone thinks they know the answer to, but clearly, many do not.

I like to approach it like this. I have rarely known a great salesperson to hit the door running at 5:00 with a hot new deal or one ready to close left hanging. In fact, you may still see them at midnight, or get the 3:00 a.m. email. Ask that same salesperson to stay late and make a few cold calls and you’ll get a different response. In fact, a few months from now, you may not see that salesperson at all. I let them ponder for a moment, then I ask them…“would you want to?”

The responses vary then, but most people end up tongue-tied. They go something like this…”no, well yes, well…somebody has to make cold calls, and it’s their job, right?” And they end up mostly confused in their own musings. I believe this is because they really KNOW the answer somewhere inside, but they THINK when you need to get some/more money coming in the door, you hire sales people, right?

My answer to the “would you want them to” question is not so squeamish. It is unequivocally, NO. I want my sales star closing deals. (Everyone agrees with this.) That is most definitely the number one priority for my sales people, and my #1 priority is to ensure the salespeople have everything they need to make that happen. And this begins with marketing. This means my sales star is only dealing with warm to hot leads. This means I’m accelerating the “sales” process somewhere. This means my sales star is not making cold calls.

Bringing in the right talent to solve this problem begins with marketing. It may not be a reinvention of the wheel in marketing, or analysis paralysis, or “oh my goodness, if I have to rehash the website or the messaging one more time, I’m going to die,” but it is going to begin with a 360 degree look at the go to market strategy. Sometimes this happens in just a few hours and we’re ready to roll, many times we uncover the source of having gone through multiple sales people in a short period of time and we have some fixes to make.

Let’s start with understanding the product or service, intended audience, and ensuring those are a match. Then let’s identify the brand persona and check that it is a match for the product and audience. For example, if an organization has a product targeted to high end financial markets and they want to come at it from a casual, tie dye, we got this approach, that’s probably not going to work out so well in a conservative, starched white shirt and suit type environment. The opposite is also true. The language, the tone, the colors, the taglines…these all need to match. Inevitably the question arises, “how critical are all those things?” Remember, first impression only comes once. If your fabulous sales people are pitching one thing, and all your materials say something else or a mixture of things, this is not supporting the sales efforts. In fact, it’s likely damaging them. People can only buy what they understand, and a confusing message does not achieve this.

Now let’s be sure we are showing not telling (more orange peels!). Making it very clear what VALUE your product or service delivers to your customer is critical. Most businesses are not making big investments to buy nice-to-haves. However, they are making significant investments in things that produce value for their business, that increase their revenues, reduce their costs, increase their customer satisfaction and therefore purchasing/renewal level. It’s that pesky ROI thing again, and the more often you show how you deliver it before even being asked, the better position you are in. Your go to market strategy should ensure that you demonstrate this value again and again.

And finally, now that we’ve covered the product/audience match, the brand persona, the value message…what are we doing with it? How are we taking this to market? What is the strategy? Many organizations believe if we build it, they will come. So a website and some social media outlets, and we’re good, right? That is akin to sitting in your office and waiting for the phone to ring with someone wanting to buy on the other end. You must go out to seek and meet the audience where they are. If you’ve completed your task above with identifying the audience, part of building that profile should be identifying where the audience is and how to find them. So you develop your value content, not a sales pitch, and engage in the conversation of your target audience, where they are located, always with the invitation to come see you, where you are. And now that your website and all your messaging match and show the value proposition, you have accelerated your sales process. Done well and done right, and with consistent and appropriate frequency, your sales people are not making cold calls, they’re closing deals!

Getting the right marketing talent at the right time is a critical step in your success.

How Small Business is like Football

December 4th, 2014

After a long hiatus, I’m back. And with a post that couldn’t be more appropriate. Small business is like football in so many ways, for one, some seasons are better or worse for any particular team. That said, every game is a new game and can go either way. And at the end of the day, one game or one season does not a team make. You must have a vision that extends across multiple seasons. You must balance the short and long term and you must lead for success in the marathon, not the sprint.

I gave a presentation a couple weeks ago and the next day came across the article I share with you below. I immediately tore it out and set it aside to add to my next presentation. What a great way to frame small business and an analogy so many can relate to.

Oh, tore it out you ask? Yes, tore it out. I still very much enjoy my morning coffee with the newspaper or some other hard copy publication. I purposely subscribe to the newspaper Wednesday through Sunday and keep Monday and Tuesday to catch up on other pubs. Yes, I sometimes run months behind, nature of the beast, but I keep my favorites in a stack and get through them. This article is from The Costco Connection, November 2014 (http://www.costcoconnection.com/connection/201411?pg=18&search_term=small%20business%20football&doc_id=-1&search_term=small%20business%20football#pg18).

How small business is like Football

“FOOTBALL COACHES AND small-business owners have a lot in common,” says former SBA.gov contributor Paul Lester, who, as a football fan, former high school athlete and spouse of a business owner, makes these observations at a time when football occupies much of the national consciousness. “Both professions require leadership, dedication, commitment and a strong work ethic in order to succeed. Just like football coaches, a small-business owner must take on many roles to ensure everybody is working together as a team to achieve important goals and [make sure that] operations run smoothly.”

Influency Group followers will immediately ask, “What are the orange peels here?” or better yet, will tell me what they are. Having presented the day before on the career of an entrepreneur, the major focal point of that presentation was there are many components to running a business and the sum is greater than the parts. It is the entrepreneur’s role to provide the leadership to ensure the different areas come together as an “on the same page entity.”

Here are other ways Lester shows that coaches and small-business owners play a similar game.

Pre-game

To prepare, coaches research opponents, develop game plans and determine the best lineup of players who will help the team win. Similarly, when starting a small business, entrepreneurs conduct market research to understand the competition, key economic conditions and indicators, and build a business plan, which sets the strategic framework for the organization. In addition, small-business owners find top talent who will help them execute the plan and beat the competition.

So many orange peels here. Find your thinking place to be sure you are always prepared and don’t get caught with your pants down. Understanding the competitive landscape, taking the “tried and true, apply something new” route, and ensuring the right seats on the bus all come to mind. Also, remembering the disruptors of an industry (and the ones who make it biggest) most often come from outside the industry and were never on major players’ radar. Isn’t this true with football…most teams get beat by an underdog at least once per season. Whether it’s failing to recognize the other team may be a valid opponent, getting too big for your britches and too cocky, or not keeping your head in the game…all are dangerous to the team and the small business owner.

During the game

Head coaches make adjustments regularly, shifting tactics to put their team in position to score and win. They consult with assistant coaches to get advice on what plays they should run. Entrepreneurs also make strategic moves to adjust to constantly changing market forces and customer demands.

Oh yes, remember, it’s a process! Envision, Act, Innovate!, Nurture, Assess. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Halftime

Coaches typically deliver inspiring halftime speeches that motivate players to give their all and function as a team. You motivate your employees by providing benefit programs and encouraging their career growth through training that will help strengthen their skills. Small-business owners also foster teamwork by clearly communicating the importance of each employee’s role in reaching a shared objective.

Successful entrepreneurs are amazing leaders. Yes, they motivate, they encourage, they instill confidence, they listen. And most of all, they remind the team it’s a marathon not a sprint. You have to play a full four quarters, and from half way through the third to half way through the fourth are always the hardest, but they are most often where the game is won or lost. Effective leaders understand this. They prepare their teams well, recognize when they are there, and rally the team to rise to success!

Post-game

Following a game, coaches review footage to analyze which plays and strategies did or did not work and what improvements the team can make. At the end of each day or period of performance, entrepreneurs crunch numbers to determine how well the business performed and identify ways to boost profits, cut costs and improve customer service. In coaching, the job doesn’t end after one game or one season. The same can be said for entrepreneurs who work hard every day to pursue their dream of starting, managing and growing a small business.

How true it is, and I revisit Envision, Act, Innovate!, Nurture, Assess. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And what I end most presentations with, “If you like where you are and the results you are getting, keep doing what you’re doing. If you don’t like where you are or your results, do something different!”