Factor Three: Business Clarity
(from the 14 Factors that Could Prevent You from Growing Your Service Business)
According to our research, hardly anyone wants to face this one. It’s been said that when you don’t know who you are, what you want and where you are going, any road will do. 61% of companies surveyed, said business clarity is a big challenge in growing the business.
When the business environment was more stable and predictable it was easier to run a service business. When your customer’s world wasn’t spinning so much, when social media and technology and the resulting social trends wasn’t dominating change, when marketing and selling didn’t need to be re-thought, when employees were more success-oriented and engaged, when specialization wasn’t so important, when off-shore companies and subscription web tools were not causing price pressure and client retention issues, then any service business could ride their offering, just hire the best educated employees, fill holes and manage costs. Our research says that is over.
Determining Your Business Strategy and Clarity
Today, you’d better answer the following questions to determine who you are as a business, who you need to be and what your strategy is to get there.
- What is going on with your clients?
- What are their needs now and in the future?
- How are you presently helping your clients grow their business?
- What should your offering contextually and specifically be in order to support your client’s growth?
- Who should be your profiled, targeted client sector?
- What kind of team do you need to support your offering?
- What kind of skills, knowledge and character is needed by your team beyond a good education to fulfill your offering?
- How do you coach, train and mentor your team?
- What is a compelling, relevant story to the market that convinces your present and new prospects that you “get” them… so they get you?
- Once the re-think is done and you see what needs to be refurbished, how do you build a client project experience that shows your clients you mean what you market?
An innovative client experience that matches up to their business needs is the difference-maker in the marketplace. You don’t have to show you’re unique but you do have to show you’re attractive.
As we read in last week’s report on client retention, clients don’t see the difference in suppliers and only 38% make quality, responsiveness and timeliness their number one want. So, finding out what they want/need through seeing trends, is the beginning of a new business strategy.
I have said over the years that management or partner teams would rather take out the garbage than invest time on a re-think. Why is that 61% say it’s critical to growth?
Try these on:
– The fuzziness that’s involved in listening to clients. Technical people usually are not sure what to do with so called indirect, non-technical data and much of the listening is about wants and feelings.
– Usually professionals are hired for their technical knowledge and every firm sells it, so as one senior partner said, “It’s like herding cats” when you ask for a re-think of anything as a group. They act on their own and do their own thing daily.
– With the tremendous changes in the way client engagements are performed. For example, less team members on-site, virtual, more milestones and outcomes measured and built in, a more sophisticated buyer who demands to be engaged and not told what to do. Clients want the work faster, quicker, less expensive and more valuable to what they need to do to grow. What do you do with that? Everyone wants an attractive, innovative offering so they can charge more and sell it on Main Street. But on Main Street you are seen as a commodity with low cost demands.
So many priorities. Are we about cutting costs or building value? Are we about our new business strategy or grabbing money for right now, an way we can, from anyone? Are we about just believing old relationships are the only key or do we actually trend, learn, listen and match up to a changing customer? What we learned is when priorities compete they neutralize each other and highly tuned-in, selected good hires don’t believe what you say matters in the absence of a clear business strategy and they disengage, settle in, lower expectations and some actually retire mentally and work for the weekends. Smart executives settle in too, see the whole process as difficult and don’t take the responsibility for their own success and the change required. One respondent said, “I can’t get a business strategy out of my CEO”.
Of course, you add the spice of infighting, politics, fighting over who will be the next boss and the overall lack of change leadership that’s required and you see why the re-think is avoided. Day to day operational thinking and management prevails. Most good management teams are in love with their products and services. They listen and act from a blind, product pedlar mindset. They think tweaking is all they need, not a learned, new view. It’s invisible to them.
Fear – yes, fear. Usually no one admits it, but fear prevails – fear of the unknown, the fear of being uncomfortable with the truth, the fear of doing client work differently, all prohibits the creation of the clarity required to compete and grow. A business strategy is usually created for the future and execution is about the present. The present is usually about daily billings and that’s only what matters. “What if we mess that up?” The present automatically, mindlessly wins. Operations becomes their world, not the marketplace.
The re-think will usually cause transitions to a client-centric firm, increases in operating and accounting changes, new project management and human capital management. Who wants all of this work? “For heavens sake I didn’t go to school to become a change agent, to lead and be a team contributor. I want instant gratification for my knowledge and experience, not more work,” said one respondent to our research. Did they mean that? Are they kidding?
As a result of all these barriers, it usually takes a service firm about two years to decide on having a re-think and at least a year to implement anything. About 13% do it all in one year. Most dilly dally.
So despite all of this, and you probably don’t think you need to; here is what can be done.
- Say out loud, “I am delusional believing the market will grow.”
- Simply begin by asking the questions at the beginning of this report with a team. I have found few firms who can do this on their own. They aren’t wired to really listen, don’t have a view of reality, let alone the future, and already have their minds made up from past experiences and are uncomfortable thinking through a future. Get an outside business coach. Create the business strategy. Decide who your target sector is, what you offer, how you get to market with a relevant compelling story. Etc. Prioritize your strategies and actions so you can create momentum. When you narrow your focus you will learn how to reach and please a client who fits your renewed offering.
- Organize the business to support it. Make the list of actions and systems required and then get the teams at it. Put 2% of non-billable time into it and see what happens. Organizations are either pulled to a direction or they’re pulled away from something and constantly oscillate back and forth to the flavour of the month strategy.
- Determine your talent management strategy. What kind of culture you want, what kind of talent you hire, how you’re going to coach, mentor, and train to bring out the productivity and to walk the talk of the strategy. (Great education gets people hired but don’t count on our education system for being responsible for the development of your talent. That’s your job.)
Alex Anthopolous the magician General Manager behind the Toronto Blue Jays success said last week, “I finally get what kind of team (substitute business) we want, and what kind of player fits our Blue Jay way.” Choose the culture, choose the talent fit. It matters. There’s hope for all of us. Strategy is first, execution and talent management second and third. Usually that is not how most firms act. Don’t let it be yours.
As another possible action, we have prepared for you an old-fashioned, face-to-face dialogue on how to Become a Trusted Advisor. Come on out and bring a team. Engage them in the business strategy conversation. It’s being offered on November 17th in Toronto and November 19th in Mississauga. Take Action and Register Now.
How serious are you?
Have a great week!
Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
(905) 826-7300 / 1-800-361-2032
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