The Fundamental Change In Today’s Buying Process

Buying CommitteeThe way people buy and sell in today’s B2B market segment is significantly different than the way things were done 10+ years ago. Even though it has been that long, both buyers and sellers continue to struggle with the change… If you’ve been part of the process for longer than 10 years, then you remember the times when someone would commit to a signature, and later that day, a signature would show up on the fax machine. Setting the stage, ten years ago, budgets were assigned to business units and there really was no scrutinization on the way those funds were spent. Meaning, if a CIO wanted to authorize a purchase for new software or hardware, they had the authorization to make that purchase as long as it fit within the budget. Department heads also had their own budget that would fit within their own signature authority, typically requiring little to no oversight for their budget spend. This all translated to one-on-one relationships that could seamlessly conduct purchasing transactions in lightning fast timing… Buying and selling was literally easier back then.

Fast forward to today—the process is drastically different and slower… and the larger the business, the more complex and painful the process has become. No longer do business unit or department heads have the ability to sign off on their own budgets; there are now several new processes and approvals that have been put into place in order to execute a purchase. As an example, budget approval has now shifted from the head of a business unit or department, to the office of the CFO. This means that every purchase not only has to be approved by a business unit or department head, but someone within the office of the CFO must also approve that budget spend. However, the changes haven’t stopped there… Remembering back to times of yesteryear, when a business unit or department head wanted to sign a contract for a purchase, they were usually the ones reviewing agreements for possible legal ramifications. Not surprisingly, receiving redline edits was fairly rare, and in some cases, almost nonexistent back then. Again, fast forwarding to today, essentially 100% of all agreements must now be reviewed and approved by someone within the legal team before execution… Finally, executives that were never part of a decision-making process unless it was of significant size, are also now part of the overview review and decision-making process.

Adding to the new challenge of having multiple people as part of the decision-making process, there are two major issues that come into play: knowledge and timing… Typically, most people within the approval process know little to nothing about what is being purchased. Take for an example a purchase for new marketing software by a CMO within an organization. Now, the CMO knows exactly why they are buying this software and the impact to their business unit, but the reviewers with the CFO, legal, and executive oversight committees most likely no nothing about the software or impact to the business. In a way, they really do not care. The financial reviewer is trying to find out how this purchase fits within the overall budgeting plan for the organization, what the overall ROI /& TCO is, and whether they got the best competitive bid for the solution. Legal wants to understand what type of corporate liabilities live within the use of the software and agreement, and executive oversight is working to juggle this decision with the dozens of others that fall on their plate at any given time… and each one of these oversight committees needs their own time within the process review that can typically take “weeks” per reviewer…

Here is what a typical purchase process looks like today:

  • Manager / Director level initiates buy process
    • Timing: within a few days
  • Head of Line of Business, conditionally approves purchase
    • Timing: few days to a week
  • Finance department reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a week to two weeks
  • Legal then reviews / redlines agreement and eventually approves
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Executive sponsors reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Signatures
    • Timing: few days to weeks

It is easy to see how a process that once took hours, now has translated into weeks or months… Fundamentally, this is still not fully understood on both the buyer and seller side of the process, creating significant frustration in the buying process for both. Furthermore, each of the individual approvers can and will stop a buying process if they feel like there is a need. As an example, we had been working with an HCM organization that was selling a solution to a major grocer and a verbal agreement for $350,000+ had been made by the head of HR within this grocer. As the agreement made its way through the process, it finally made its way to the CFO… The CFO had no true understanding of this HCM Software, its capabilities and impact to the business, and all they truly wanted to understand was whether they received any competitive bids. In short, the answer was no, and the CFO demanded for additional vendors to be brought in on the process. They had no cares on the prior processes, relationships, and why the organization needed this solution and stopped the approval process dead in its tracks.

This new approval process is the number one reason why a majority of contracts never receive final signature and die… How does one combat this new elongated process and get a purchase approved? First, there needs to be acceptance that the process has changed, and one must do their homework prior to submitting a purchase. Again, it is important to remember that each reviewer in the process has their own criteria they are looking to review. With this is in mind, it is essential to understand what the approval process is, who is part of it, and what criteria they will be reviewing to build a business case addressing each approver. A business case is essentially a collection of information that directly addresses specific criteria each department will be reviewing as part of their approval process. For example, a financial reviewer is going to want to understand things like whether there was a competitive bid, if the price is the lowest available, and what the ROI / TCO is. In short, there needs to be a clear business case that addresses questions such as:

  • Why is this solution needed?
  • What departments are affected by the purchase?
  • How much more efficient will these departments be?
  • What other vendors were considered?
  • What are the legal ramifications? (data ownership, insurance, etc)
  • Was is the total TCO / ROI?
  • With regards to ROI, is there an investment payback period?

Continuing with the major grocer example from above, neither the buyer nor seller had created a business case for the purchase, which ended up not giving the CFO the confidence to move forward and causing a stop of purchase… However, there was a clear business case for the solution, but it just had not been properly communicated up the approval chain. In this case, the buyer brought us into the opportunity as an independent nonbiased 3rd party to speak with the CFO… During our discussions, we were able to properly articulate the business case for the solution along with the overall organizational and financial impact to the business (relating directly to the CFO’s concerns)… Because we spoke the language of the CFO and gave a clear-cut understanding of the value in a language they knew, it allowed them to fully approve the purchase without a need for a competitive bid…

Organizations can continue to struggle through these new organizational approval processes, or they can accept these changes. A strong business case is now required in order for a purchase to move more swiftly through the process and to ensure someone in the approval process cannot kill it… Again, this important for both the buy and sell side, as both parties have something to gain by a smoother approval process.

On a side note, it is also important for sales leadership and executives to understand that the days of pushing for a signature are long gone. Still to this day, we see sales leadership pushing customers needlessly hard for approvals and signatures thinking it will move the ball forward, when in fact, they’re only pissing off both the employees and buyers. Instead, sales leadership should be focused more on helping their team understand this new purchasing process and how to build a proper business case ensuring there is a bulletproof plan in place… Doing this will not only show the professionalism of your organizations, but ensure your agreements move faster through the system and become more likely to get approved. For better for worse, there is a new buying process, and the more understanding of the process there is, the more likely you are to get approval.

 

My How Times Have Changed.. Or Have They Really – The Rebirth Of Small Businesses

Small town shippingSomething interesting has been happening over the past 10 years and it is reminiscent of the “good old days”…  The 80s, 90s, and early 2000s saw a shift from family owned small businesses and restaurants to big box retailers, chain restaurants, and malls across America. There was also the likes of Walmart moving into small towns and becoming the center of commerce, putting family owned general stores that stood for decades out of business almost overnight. Then there was Sears, a pioneer in catalog sales, shifting away from their core of catalogs and into malls. Those decades were profit years for these giants of industry as they dominated the consumer market. But then in the mid-2000s, something happened: huge revenue gains turned to single-digit growth, or worse—flat revenue.

Now in the world of small business, slight growth to even flat revenue numbers isn’t a bad thing; typically, that means the bills are still being paid, employees are receiving paychecks, and owners are still getting money in their back pockets. However, these giants of industry are public organizations with shareholders demanding for ever-increasing profits, not single-digit growth or flat revenue projections. So, what did they do? The only thing they really knew how to do at the time: they began to cut cost. At first, these cost cutting tactics were barely even noticeable to your everyday consumer; typically, it meant a few less employees on the store floor, slightly reduced inventory, and maintenance items that were overlooked… But these tactics were not enough and revenues continued to flatten out, and for some, even drop a bit. So the cycle continued. Management continued cost cutting metrics to protect profits. This led to even less employees on the store floor, even less inventory, and maintenance items that continued to take a hit. Overtime, consumers started to notice these changes… Stores that once had just about anything they ever needed ended up not having their sizes anymore, help was becoming a little more difficult to find, checkout lines were growing longer, and stores started to look dated and in disrepair. Sears is almost a classic case detailed in this great article. Sure, if there had been no competition for consumer dollars, these industry giants could have possibly held on to consumers a bit longer, but there was more competition.

Enter ecommerce and Amazon… While big box retail was focused on cutting cost; smaller dot.com businesses were focusing on customer needs. Consumers were beginning to find that instead of dealing with long lines, increasingly clueless employees, and struggling to find exactly what they were looking for, they could now find exactly what they need and have it shipped to their front door in days, all from the comfort of their own homes. We also saw the rebirth of locally owned boutique shops that boasted quality and customized products with great customer service and experiences.

Restaurants were no different. When the major chains moved into new locations, they offered great food, settings, and bargain prices. Just like the boom of retail, consumers flocked to these new eateries. Business was booming and thousands of chain restaurants were popping up in clusters across the country almost overnight. What these chain restaurants didn’t realize at the time, is that this rapid opening of locations was the very thing that was going to kill them… Certain geographic regions typically only have so much disposable revenue that goes into the economy. However, at the time, that did not factor into these organizations’ business plans. Essentially, where competition was making revenue, others would follow suit. Shortly in each geographic hotspot, instead of having one or two major restaurants, there was an explosion of chains fighting for the same consumer dollar. It didn’t take long for this heavy competition to take its toll on these chains, and revenues began to slow or flatten out. Similar to big box retail, these major chains had shareholders to keep happy… As a result, this led to cost cutting metrics similar to what was happening to retail. Establishments had reduced staff, food quality took a hit, and certain locations started to look dated and in disrepair and consumers started to notice… Again, similar to retail, had there been no competition, these chain restaurants might have held on a little longer—but there was. Just as major chains were struggling, locally owned craft restaurants began to pop up. These craft restaurants offered tailored menus to the community, high quality food, and drinks with an atmosphere to match. Slowly but surely, consumers began finding these new craft eateries and abandoning once-popular chains.

Fast-forward to today’s market… Big box retailers and chain restaurants are failing left and right. Sears, JC Penny, Macy’s, Staples and others are closing hundreds of locations monthly, and restaurants like Applebee’s, Chili’s, Outback, and Bertucci’s are struggling to stay open. The likes of Walmart that once took over small towns shuttering locally owned general stores, are shutting down themselves. Once-flooded malls are closing their doors or struggling to stay open as attendance continues to wane… All of these changes are giving rebirth to the locally owned small businesses across the country. Once-struggling cities and towns are now being built as hubs around these locally owned boutique shops and craft restaurants. Consumers have grown tired of cost cutting metrics that lead to lower quality products and experiences that big box retailers and chain restaurants continue to offer. What we’re beginning to see is almost reminiscent of times before big box retail and chain restaurants took over the country! Now, let’s be real for a minute. The concept is not lost on us that major retailers and big box stores will always be around. Organizations such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Best Buy have seen some real turnarounds as of late. However, a focus on cost cutting and the lack of innovation within these industries are going to continue to take a toll in the long run. Only when these once-giants of industry focus on true innovation and focus more on the customer, will they overcome the huge challenge that lies ahead of them.

One last thought: in a way, we can point back to times being similar to the early 1900s. In the early 1900s, Sears launched their Catalog, and at the time, it was a true game-changer for retail.  If you’ve never looked at one, take a look (1918 Catalog) at the similarities to the Amazon of today; they had essentially anything you could imagine and delivered directly to your front door. Sears was extremely innovative for its time! Then in 1993, they closed the doors to the catalog due to rising cost, and they never looked back. Interesting to think that in July of 1994, Amazon was created; they became an online catalog of virtually anything you could want, delivered right to your door. If only all the manpower and knowledge of Sears’s executive team had focused on ways to innovate vs. cut cost, their history could have been written very differently…. While things may change, in a way they still stay the same… The Sears catalog and Amazon are essentially the same business model 100 years apart.

There’s A Problem, Stop What You Are Doing!

http://blog.toyota.co.uk/toyota-manufacturing-25-objects-andon-cordThere is a fundamental problem in businesses today that is absolutely crippling organizations of all shapes and sizes. What is that problem, you ask? It is simply the failure to address critical business problems in a timely and strategic fashion. Most either continue on as if the problem isn’t there, or as we call it “whistling past the graveyard”, or make snap decisions without truly understanding the issue at hand. Sure, it is an over-generalized statement, but it is not far off from the truth of what is happening daily in business. Just look at the retail and restaurant industries, for example. Businesses that have been around for decades, once pillars of industry, are crumbling around us daily. But why? They blame Amazon or millennials, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that these organizations are ignoring critical issues at hand and continuing with their own agendas with the belief they know what is best.

Organizations need to learn how to stop turning blind eyes to these fundamental business model problems while resisting the urge to make snap decisions. Instead, when a critical failure is identified, we suggest something that that is drastically different: stopping everything dead in its tracks. Stopping the process is not an entirely new concept as large manufacturers have emergency production line stops at every station. This allows anyone in the production line (not just management) that spots an issue to immediately stop the production line in its tracks. This then allows the manufacturer to properly analyze an issue and take critical actions preventing large amounts of products to be discarded due to defect, or worse, a defective product making its way to customers. It costs time and money to shut down large production lines, but some manufacturers recognize that quality products and happy customers are more important than the minimal amount of money lost to the down time.

In business, we need to have very similar approaches. Instead of ignoring issues or making snap decisions without analyzing the situation, allow anyone to bring up critical issues and “stop” the process if the situation permits. Then take the real needed time to truly understand the issue at hand and create a strategic approach to a solution. As an example, we look back to one organization we worked with that happened to have quarter over quarter growth, until they didn’t. Quarter over quarter success was met with declining numbers that were starting to add up to significant losses.  At this point in time where most organizations would have put increased pressure on the sales and marketing team to increase their numbers, we did the opposite. We stopped business completely for a few days to understand what the real root cause of the problem was, and we worked to identify solutions. It was found that just before the change in growth direction, this organization had made a number of key leadership new-hires that happened to make seemingly small changes within their teams—changes that had drastic downstream effects. The effect was so significant downstream that it was throwing off the rhythm of production and other organization items. Once we identified the issues at hand, it was easier to create a new strategy for success moving forward and leading to a faster increase of revenue and production once again. Stopping the business at that time was a difficult decision to make, and some disagreed with the decision. However, it allowed the organization to spot the issue and pivot quickly with a new strategy. Ultimately they could have struggled along, pushing harder on sales and marketing for more activity; this could have possibly increased sales slightly, but they would have never addressed the real issue and continued to struggle long-term,

When something is going wrong, think of your business like a manufacturing plant that is continuously churning out bad product. The longer it takes to address an issue, the longer your plant will continue to churn out bad product which will lead to disappointed customers and loss of business money. Stopping a business or a process in its tracks to make adjustments is a very difficult decision to make, but thinking of how much bad product a company is producing should help put into perspective on how stopping process is actually beneficial to the business. History has proven that making snap decisions or turning blind eyes to issues almost never works out—just look at what is happening to the retail and restaurant industries.

 

Top 10 Tips To Run Your Business Like The Patriots to Win

Bill Belichick "Do Your Jo

If you live in New England, you’re most likely a Patriots fan. And if you live outside of New England, most likely you’re not. Whether you’re a Patriots fan or not, the Patriots’ ability to constantly win and execute almost flawless comebacks has essentially been unseen in football, or any other professional sport for that matter. They’ve triumphed over injuries, player trades and suspensions—and somehow over the past 18 years, they continue to win. Much of this winning tradition is founded off of some key principals of Bill Belichick with support from Tom Brady, Robert Kraft and others. What I find more interesting is that the same key principals can be applied to business to create a winning tradition as well. In this article we will cover the top 10 key principals the Patriots use to be successful that can also be applied in a business setting:

  • Attention to Detail – The Patriots have a strong eye for attention to detail. Whether it’s on the field, training, or during press conferences, the Patriots pay attention to every little detail. Why is this important? In sports or business, the competition is constantly training and strategizing to find ways of winning in the field of competition just as hard as you. The small details are what will give your team a winning edge over the others, much like the Patriots.
  • The Playbook – Every professional sports team has a playbook. However, the way the Patriots train and execute against it is at times almost flawless. What is a playbook? It’s essentially a set of plays based on foreseen scenarios on the playing field, typically put together based on past experiences. Much like in sports, business can benefit from a playbook as well—especially where most scenarios in business are not completely new. Creating and training your team to execute against a playbook will allow them to be more nimble and execute faster to achieve better results.
  • Continuous Improvement – The Patriots may have a playbook, but it is not the be-all and end-all of their strategy. Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are always finding ways to improve upon their playbooks which allows them to continuously improve on their situations. As an example, the Patriots have an impeccable record coming into the second half of a game to overcome extreme deficits. How have they been able to do this? As the gameplay goes on, they do not focus on what went well; instead, they look at what went wrong, and during half-time, they strategize on improvements. Both coaching staff and team are attuned to this and able to pivot allowing them to come back to the field with a better strategy than they left. Business needs to have the same type of mentality. As your team progresses through a strategy or develops a business plan, they should always be looking to find faults and for ways of continuous improvement. Then the most important part: execution.
  • Every Little Bit Counts – The Patriots are always working on ways to gain a few extra yards, and these extra yards, although small in nature, add up when the game is all said and done. Business is the same. Many organizations are always going for the long ball, when short gains will do. As an example, a $100,000 contract is a decent size, but how much effort can go into winning $100k? Now reflect upon how much easier it is to win $15,000 or $20,000. Start winning some of those $20,000 deals, and by year’s end, you find that you’ve earned yourself an additional $150k – $200k.
  • Never Give Up – The Patriots, especially over the past year (or so), have found themselves seriously behind in games. Most famous of these situations was last year’s super bowl when they came back from a 25-point deficit to win with seconds to spare. Where most teams shut down, the Patriots persevere; through following the playbook and continuously improving, they never stop. They know that with a few small changes in their game, there is always a chance to move the ball forward. In business, your team needs to have the same mentality to always find ways to win. As an example, I’ve seen organizations behind in their Q4 numbers absolutely fall apart. However, I’ve also seen some come together, strategize, and push as a team to meet and exceed their numbers.
  • Team – Quite simply, the team is everything when it comes to the Patriots. They have set up the organization in a way that there isn’t any one single point of fault and everyone works together. Since Bill Belichick has taken over the Patriots, with the exception of Tom Brady, he has seen his fair share of “star” players come and go from the organization, but he always somehow figures out a way to win. This is because he ensures that when he comes up with his playbook, everyone has a part and everyone knows it. This also means that anyone is replaceable at any time. In business, you need to have the same mentality; too many organizations have a single point of failure. When that person goes on vacation, gets sick, or leaves your organization, there is a huge hole left in their wake. When setting up your organization and playbook, ensure you have a team effort in place with no existing single points of failure (including yourself). It’s a harsh term, but make it so that “everyone is replaceable”.
  • Keep Your Cards to Yourself – Bill Belichick has been famous at press conferences for his stone-faced emotions and dry nonspecific answers. This is not because he hates press conferences (well maybe he does), but it is a key part of his strategy. When a player is hurt for example, he doesn’t outright share that the player is hurt during these conferences. He typically waits until the last minute to release this information. Why? It’s because he wants to keep the competition on their toes regarding what scenarios they should be planning for as they move into the next game. Businesses need to think the same way in order to keep a strategic competitive advantage. As an example in today’s market, “time to market” has significantly decreased, and companies can launch new services and/or products in days instead of years or months. Keeping new releases closer to your chest until launch allows for a greater amount of time between when your competition finds out and when they can launch a competitive service.
  • Dedication – There has been no question of Tom Brady’s dedication to the team and sport. He is typically known to be one of the first players to show up for practices and even more well known for his eating and training habits. This is how number 199 of the draft pick has made himself one of the best sports players of all time as a 40-year old. As individuals, if you want to be top of your games, there needs to be dedication to your craft beyond the hours of 8 – 5. Always find ways to educate and keep yourself mentally sharp, and always hire someone with the same attitude. I’ll personally take someone with heart and dedication over someone with raw talent any day of the week.
  • Zero Tolerance – Bill Belichick has been known for his zero tolerance attitude. Miss practice, and you’re benched for the next game. Speak negatively towards the team, and you’re benched for the next game. Too many organizations tolerate employees with harshly negative attitudes and poor work performance for too long of a time. Negativity breeds more negativity.
  • Block Out the Noise – Almost at every turn through the season, there is a new article bubbling up in the news about something controversial with the Patriots. However, they do an impeccable job in blocking that noise out to focus on their jobs. As an example, the Patriots are infamous for their press conferences for frustrating the media by refusing to address or answer questions as it relates to the current issue at hand. Business can learn from these lessons of cutting out outside noise to focus on the task at hand. There are only so many cycles in a day to complete what needs to be done, so why focus on something you have no control over?

At the end of the day, it’s important to have strategy in order to be successful in sports and business. The Patriots have one of the most well-rounded strategies we’ve ever seen: a strategy that can easily be translated to business. As a word of caution, many of the items above seem easy at their base, but they take discipline and time for them to truly help you be successful. However, if you put in the effort and focus on the small details, your team will see success. And remember—if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

The Marketing Magic of Beats by Dre

Dr. Dre and Jimmy IovineBeats by Dre is arguably one of the most successful marketing stories in recent history. Sure, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are very successful businessmen and music producers, but what really made the sale to Apple was their success in how they marketed the headphone company to the consumer market.

At the end of the day, Beats by Dre are nothing more than an estimated $16.89 pair of weighted headphones that Apple paid an estimated $3 Billion to acquire. How Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine made it to this point was nothing more than marketing genius. Founded in 2006, Beats became a household brand in a matter of months as a result of a marketing plan pushed by the duo. As Beats were just hitting the market, both Dre and Iovine worked closely with well-known music artists to ensure they were seen with the headphones by public eyes as detailed in their latest biography, The Defiant Ones. In short order, Beats made their way into music videos, artist social media accounts, and photo shoots, amongst other places. The pair then set their targets on professional athletes within the NFL, NBA, and other professional sports; this made Beats visible to a whole new market with major sports athletes now wearing Beats daily on national TV for tens of millions to see. The widespread use of Beats within the music and sports industries quickly skyrocketed the little-known venture into the national spotlight, and in 2012 Beats made their way into the global spotlight with Olympic athletes. The visibility with music artists and athletes alike made Beats a household name and at the top of every teenager’s wish list.

However, the marketing genius of Beats didn’t stop with celebrity endorsements. The design of the headphones themselves were straight out of a “how to” marketing playbook, starting with the iconic “b” logo on the side of each headphone. This simple but unique logo made Beats stand out, not only when celebrities would wear them, but when your everyday consumer would wear them as well. When someone was wearing Beats, there was no missing it. With brand recognition as a major influencer in today’s consumer market, the simple little “b” was integral to getting the brand the visibly it has today.

Beyond the logo, the headphones themselves were all about the design as opposed to one of their main competitors, Bose. When sitting a pair of Beats headphones next to a pair of Bose headphones, the differences were clear. Bose’s simple matte black finish with a chrome logo contrasted with Beats’ multitudinous array of glossy colors that not only stuck out in a crowd, but allowed individuals to personalize by picking their favorite color. As Steve Jobs did with the induction of the iMac, the duo did the same with Beats; personalization was a game changer for the high-end headphone market and everyone wanted it.

Finally, the pair didn’t stop at celebrity endorsements, a simple yet clever logo, and a look that everyone wanted, they also made a product that “felt” like quality. Part of the design included heavy metal components (that some say equates to about one-third of the total weight) giving the product a heavier and more expensive look and feel. With most consumer products, lighter tends to have a cheaper feel, whereas something heavier tends to lead to thoughts of higher quality. As an example, car companies spend millions of dollars to get the feel and sound of a closing door right because consumers want a product that feels quality.

Overall, the quality of the sound has been considered “decent,” not great, when compared to other competitors, but that’s not why Apple paid $3 Billion for the brand. The partnership between Dre and Iovine led to a brand that quickly became a household name with a significant fan base and sales numbers to back it up showing no signs of slowing down. The key to the story of Beats by Dre is that marketing should play a significant role in product design and everyday product strategy. In the social day and age that we live in today, having a great product is just not enough anymore—it needs to look and feel the part.