Build, Buy or Rent?

Whenever you look at making a change in a business environment, you have to consider three things:

  1. What do you want to change?
  2. Why do you want to change it?
  3. How are you going to change it?

The first two – what and why – are the areas where most people focus a majority of their effort. This is the strategy and should have a good amount of consideration. The issue arises when all of your effort is focused on these areas and not on the how. Unless you can translate your concepts into action, what you want to do and why you want to do it are useless.

So what is the best way to turn strategy into action? Break down the how into three paths:  build, buy, or rent.

  1. Build?
    • Approval – Very low, could even be “under the radar” until a key milestone is hit. The financial cost is minimal since it mostly human capital.
    • Getting it off the ground – Quick. Since approval is low you just need to focus on convincing people to work with you on the project.
    • Efficiency – Unfortunately, this is generally low. Resources are usually generalists, requirements are usually not completely thought out, and often other priorities within the team trump the project the longer it lasts.
    • Effectiveness – Generally the results of a build are low. More often than not, you end up with a finished product that looks very different from the original strategy. However, this is 100% dependent on the team. If you have rockstars, then you are one of the lucky ones.
  2. Buy?
    • Approval – Very high, because you are spending actual money. More money, more people involved.
    • Getting it off the ground – Very slow. This is completely dependent on your ability to sell internally. You need to sell people on scoping the requirements and sell people on the money it will take to meet those requirements.
    • Efficiency – Medium. This is dependent on your ability to know what you really want and finding the right vendor / solution to do it for you. Project management skills are a must here.
    • Effectiveness – Medium. You will find yourself bending your requirements to fit the abilities of the solution, not the other way around. However, if you pick a best-in-class solution it actually might help you identify requirements you never even considered.
  3. Rent?
    • Approval – Medium, because you are spending actual money (not as much as buy) and you are probably getting multiple people involved as well.
    • Getting it off the ground – Very fast. Payments in this category are generally spread out over months, quarters, or years. SaaS has really pushed the speed limits here and opt-out clauses are becoming more and more acceptable to execs.
    • Efficiency – High. Rent options are generally based on best practices and designed for quick(er) implementation. You probably get 80% of what you need “out of the box” and the other 20% is up to you and your team.
    • Effectiveness – Medium. Similar to the buy option, you will find yourself bending your requirements to fit the abilities of the solution, not the other way around.

So what does all of this mean? It means there is no one right answer. Consider the break down above for approvals, getting it off the ground, efficiency, and effectiveness. Figuring out what is the priority is much more likely to help move your strategy into action.



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The “Dial Tone” – A Perspective No Marketer Can Miss

What is a dial tone? In the literal sense, it is the sound you hear either before or after you make a phone call. Now think beyond the literal sense of it and get a little deeper. A dial tone is the space surrounding intention to make a connection. And what does every marketer dream of? Finding a way to tap into that sense of intention.

Let’s start with the viewpoint of the consumer. As a consumer, I express my intention in a variety of ways but there are three that surface the most: I search online, I talk to my friends, or I go into a store.

  • Searching Online: I am looking to a 3rd party that will help me match my thoughts to a solution. I have the opportunity to ask any question I want without worry of being seen as ignorant. Plus I can get closer to the actual definition of the problem I am trying to solve. Often that is the hardest part to figure out as a consumer.
  • Talk to Friends: I am looking for a person to give me a recommendation. I am hoping to find someone who had the same problem as me and either found the right solution to refer to me or found the wrong one and will warn me about it.
  • Go Into A Store: I am looking for a brand to direct me toward a solution. Maybe it is a common problem that many face and this brand has the solution sitting right in front of me.

All of these paths show my intention. Going from anonymous to very visible, I am willing to try a variety of tactics to get help in solving my problem. What I have found as a consumer, many companies are getting lazy when it comes to marketing to my intention. What are they doing? Advertising. Is it working? Think about the last time you actually noticed an ad, clicked on it, and bought the item… enough said.

Placing ads everywhere does not fully capitalize on intention. It is a good tactic for some things, however Marketers generally default to this as the main strategy in a large variety of circumstances. Why? It is easy, it is known, and it is predictable. Doing something different requires research, explanation, business cases, permission, approvals, meetings, meetings, meetings…

So what do we do as Marketers? We need to look at what we can control, what we can influence, and what we can foster. The largest areas of improvement surround intention with engagement on the consumers terms, not ours. Give their friends good experiences and a way to spread the word (discounts, coupons, special status). Give them a place online they can find others with similar questions (create or connect them to a community). Make the experience in the store about the consumer, not the brand (text in to learn more, listen on social, put information and products together). Keep in touch after the connection to see what else you can do (send receipts via email, call to follow up, send a thank you).

To ensure you are getting the most from your marketing, think about the dial tone moment for your consumers. We all show intent, just not everyone works to leverage it.

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The Secret Formula to GSD

Many people know it in different ways, but for the purposes of this write up I am defining GSD as Getting Stuff Done. So how do you get stuff done today when there is a process, regulation, approval, etc, for everything? Over and over I have found one common formula that allows you to GSD while still working within some boundaries: Data + Pilots + Speaking Up About Being Wrong.

The first two items are no brainers. From start up to a Fortune 500 company, you need data to support your ideas and a pilot to prove that they work. These are the two things that most people spend their time working on with a focus of proving their theory right. We all want to be the one that thinks up the program or product that makes millions. What many do not realize is it doesn’t usually happen on the first try.

The bigger the stuff you want to accomplish, the more you need to focus on the third part of the equation – speaking up about being wrong. Why? Because it is unlikely you will get it on the first try, so letting others know that you are focused on getting the “right” stuff done is very important. It is rare to hear from people about things that do not work, so when you do hear it, people take note – especially when it is something they are in charge of completing.

If someone knows they can count on you to do the right thing, regardless of the amount of work it causes you, then you have shown them a sense of accountability. It is interesting to see how many people become interested when you involve them in understanding the failure vs just highlighting the success. Because you have shown you are accountable, people become open to adding ideas, providing support, and ultimately becoming an ally. As you get closer to getting the “right” stuff done, your allies become more invested and more supportive. This snowballs into more people working with you to GSD and who wouldn’t want that?

So what should you take from this? Know that those people who get data and try things are easy to come by. Those that experiment and are vocal about failures are the ones that are hard to find. They are resilient and know that being wrong is part of the job. Although we all strive to GSD, those who are truly successful ensure it is the right stuff and bring others along for the ride.

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Become More Memorable With 2 Extra Words and a 5 Foot Radius

Recently I learned a very valuable business tool at a moment when I least expected to and from a person that I would never have considered an advisor. When was this moment? When I was completely “unplugged” from my business mentality during vacation and headed to the pool. Who is this unexpected advisor? My 4 year old daughter. What was this business tool? Well, that requires a short story to fully understand.

My daughter and I were walking back to our hotel room from the pool when I noticed something interesting. We must have walked past 20 people between leaving the pool area, taking the elevator to our floor, and going from the elevator to our room. My daughter was recognized by almost everyone we passed with a wave or a greeting and she smiled back with a comment of some sort. Normally I am so used to this that it doesn’t phase me, but for some reason it caught my attention more than usual.

I am a proud father and truly believe my daughter is a unique person whom none should forget. But this is not so much about my daughter and more about what I finally realized she is doing that makes her so memorable. Once we got back to the room I asked her “Who were all of those people you talked to on our way back to the room?” She responded “Oh, just some friends I made this week. I don’t remember all of their names, but they are really nice.”

I decided to watch her on the way back to the pool to see if I could figure this mystery out or if I was reading too much into it. As soon as we left the room and got to the elevator I saw it. Two other people were waiting for the elevator and once she got close enough she said “Hello. Are you going down to the pool?” They responded “Yes we are” and smiled. If it were me (or most other people I know), this is where the small talk ends and the silence generally sets in. But my daughter said two more words that changed the conversation from small talk to getting to know one another. She said “I’m Hannah” and smiled.

In society, it is a norm to reciprocate. When someone smiles at you, you feel obligated to smile back. When someone reaches out their hand, you extend yours as well for a handshake. Well, when someone tells you their name, what do you feel obligated to do? That’s right, tell them your name. That is exactly what happened. The two individuals smiled and said “My name is Tim and this is my wife Jennifer”. Although you can’t remember everyone’s name, you will remember those that took the effort to tell you what their name is. Why? Because not many people do it.

The next thing I noticed is Hannah didn’t do this to everyone, just people within a normal talking distance. What is that distance? Approximately 5 ft – that’s right, the size of an elevator. We got on the elevator and she did it again to the kids who were already on it when the doors opened. They gave her their name as well and continued talking to her as we got off the elevator and went to the pool.

Throughout the rest of the week, she would recognize people and vice versa. Sometimes it turned into a longer conversation and sometimes it just turned into an additional wave or smile. Regardless, she was making an impact with those individuals long after the small talk. With a scientific background, I had to ensure there wasn’t a variable (such as being a cute little 4 year old) that artificially caused this situation to occur. So I decided to try this as well and the results were the same. Although I met the same number of people that I normally would, the conversations that happened after the introduction of my name lead to more meaningful conversations and one lead to a friendship being formed beyond the vacation.

Overall, it is a simple step that doesn’t take much more than 2 extra words within a 5 foot radius. But the impact of being remembered is exponential. Imagine the possibilities both personally and professionally when this is applied.

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2Up – The Power Of Thinking Like the Boss’ Boss

When you are considering how to position a business idea, who do you imagine is the audience? The normal reaction is your boss. This is both right and wrong. Confusing I know, but let me explain why.

Consider what your boss will do after you pitch your idea. Most likely, he or she will have to consider the impact to their areas of responsibility and then the impact to the broader organization. If the idea could be visible to others or possibly impact something outside of their jurisdiction, they will need to let someone know. Guess who that someone is? Their boss. This should not dissuade you from pitching ideas. To make any change you must have ideas that cause people to think. What it should do is just be a consideration you know going into any meeting. Always think about the 2Up – i.e. the pitch you give to your boss (1Up from you) to give to their boss (2Up from you).

Example of a 1Up pitch to your boss – I want to get $1ooK to change our packaging for product line A. It is a small change and reduce our costs by $0.4o per box. I have already looked at the changes and know there is bandwidth on the design team to make this happen in the next quarter. I would just need to meet with a couple of people on distribution to make sure everything is ok first.

Example of a 2Up pitch to your boss’ boss – By investing $1ooK into a packaging redesign on product line A, we envision a 4% reduction in packaging cost resulting in a $150K savings per year. In addition, we envision other product lines being able to benefit from similar changes producing similar cost savings per year. A conservative estimate for all product lines could put us in range of saving approximately $5ooK per year. Prior to making those changes we would want to ensure product line A revisions are smooth, quality is maintained, and cost reduction is actually realized.

There is a significant difference. The 1Up is very focused on tasks, people, and limited scope. In all actuality, is sounds complicated and doesn’t look like a lot of return to the company. The 2Up is all numbers and the vision of what could be. Focused on what you need to put in, what you think you can get out, and how much more you think you can push it.

Now consider you go to your boss and make the 2Up pitch. What you are looking for is challenging on your assumptions and numbers. Get a dialogue going about the bigger picture and not the smaller details. Instead of it sounding like a lot of work, it sounds like a lot of opportunity and is usually followed by “how soon can we start”.

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What Can Improve Margin?

We have all heard the mantra ” do more with less” and we get it. Scaling, leverage, efficiency… put whatever term you want on it, all of these terms denote the need to increase your margin. There are all different definitions of margin, so let’s start out this discussion with a quick outline of how I am defining margin. Simply put, margin is the difference between what you put in and what you get out.

What are the options with margin? Overall, your goal is to increase the spread between input and output, so you have essentially two angles to play:

1) Decrease what you put in – focus on value
Most individuals consider this part of the equation easy. Just look at your inputs (people, money, time) and try find something similar that is cheaper, right? This is where you find outsourcing (people), discount vendors/parts (money), or process improvements (time). All of these strategies could work, however most are not as effective as people anticipate. Why? The trick with decreasing what you put into something is you must stay focused on value.

Focusing on value makes your considerations of changing input(s) much different.

  • Does your change just include cheaper products? If so, do your cheaper products still hold up and provide the quality experience you are used to getting?
  • Does your new process just make it easier to cut corners? If so, what is now being missed that will catch up with you later?
  • Do your new people just have less experience? Less experience is not always bad. However, if you find they are spending more time to figure out how to do something right vs knowing how to, then what are you really saving?

If you fail to consider what impacts value, then making the changes to decrease cost of input is only going to decrease what you get out. Thus, not increasing your spread between the two (i.e. margin).

2) Increase what you get out – focus on leverage
When looking at the output, the first thing to consider is what are you getting out of everything now? Often, we think we have done a great job by getting something complete and moving on to the next project, but we do not realize the additional potential of leverage.

To determine how to get the most out of leverage, you have to experiment. Here are a couple areas to consider when looking for leverage points:

  • New channels – Keeping everything else the same, is there  a new distribution method for your product or service?
  • New uses – Who else could use your product or service that isn’t on your original target market?
  • New packages – Could you offer your product or service in a new way to serve another group? Could you combine it with another product or service to create a completely different offer?
  • Follow Up – This is the most under utilized area of any program. Have you considered what would happen if you just followed up with customers once or twice after a product or service is completed? It has to be a genuine interest on your part, but trust me, it goes a long way to have a proactive touch point from a company.

Now that you have considered what is already available, you should also consider what you should do that is different. This is where you need to step back and look at all of your input (people, money, time) to determine what else could be done. Here are areas of focus for using leverage to think differently:

  • Completely new products or services – How you could harness all of the input for something completely different. This is tough to pull off, but building a business case is the best route to sell the concept.
  • Change your mix – How much of your revenue comes from product? How much comes from service? If you are 100% product or 100% service, there is opportunity to change that. Consider how to move the mix of product and service to still complement each other for existing customers but also drive new opportunities for market growth.
  • Find new partners – Are you completely working alone or have you enlisted the help of a partner network. Often there are companies that are experts in a niche that is a great complement to yours. If you have not considered who else is out there that plays in the same space, look around. You could put their marketing and sales resources to work for your (for the right price).

Value + Leverage = Increased Margin

By thinking about your input and output in terms of value and leverage, you should be able to change things to create more opportunities. If you are looking to make big changes, plan on a couple offsite days with a cross functional group to evaluate. If you are looking to make smaller incremental changes, then you can probably get good traction by taking an hour or two a day for a week or so.

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The Value of Knowing Your Plus Role

We no longer live in a world where making a big impact can be done by only focusing on what your job description entails. Competition is at an all time high and top tier performance is now a baseline expectation for most employers. So if being great at what you are supposed to do isn’t enough, what is the best way to drive change? Welcome to the world of the “plus role”.

What is a plus role?
Official ownership of function that spans beyond your original role.
Example: My job is Director of Outbound Marketing. I am responsible for driving revenue through Marketing programs from multiple perspectives – regions, verticals, segments, and products. My plus role is liaison with Sales. My responsibility is to channel information to Sales from Marketing and from Sales to Marketing.

How does a plus role apply to the real world?
Note there is an emphasis on this being official or formal, which is the big difference between a plus role and the normal misc tasks that creep into each job. It means there is a consensus that you are the go-to person for this situaton, regardless of business area, product, etc. It is not easy to complete the job you are supposed to do while formally taking on additional responsibility for a function where there is a gap. This is a double-edged sword, but trust me, it really makes an impact when implemented correctly.

How is a plus role different than what I already do in my job?
Just my estimate, but 30-40% of work that is done is not actually the primary focus of your role. Think about all of the status updates or business reviews you have put together where you realized a lot of what you were working on had nothing to do with your primary objectives. If you are good, you have still been able to hit your objectives while taking on the additional initiatives. So what happens then? You make your report, show how you hit your goals, and move on without giving it much thought.

What would happen if you took time to think about the “other” stuff? We all get pulled into various tasks not directly related to our job. We usually jump in, tackle the problem with a short term solution, and move on. Here is the problem with that mentality – there is probably someone else doing the exact same thing as you for the exact same problem. The knowledge becomes siloed and is not used again to make things better for everyone. Now you have multiple people doing something to get around a problem instead of one person owning the solution. Being pulled in multiple directions is normal, what a plus role allows is a chance to harness the 30-40% that we are all not using effectively.

What are the benefits of a plus role?
There are two perspectives to answering this question:

  • Company’s perspective – Having a single person allows for an expertise to be built up by knowing all of the facets of the problem. You will gain more efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately someone who is going to work to solve the problem (or at least make it better).
  • Individual’s perspective – If you are doing well at your primary job, a plus role gives you perspective across a whole new dimension of the business. You get to tackle new obstacles in new areas, gain a better working knowledge of the business, and overall increase your value back to the organization.

What is my first step to defining my plus role?
Look for opportunities in the work you are already doing. This takes 5 minutes, but it is an exercise that will open your eyes to the gaps that exist in your current business. Open your calendar up and look at the past 3 months. Only look at the titles of the meetings. If you can find a meeting that occurs more than twice (staff meetings do not count), then you might have a potential winner. I can almost guarantee you will find a function or initiative that could use solid leadership by doing this. The other part of the equation is to decide whether or not you will be passionate about taking on this additional responsibility. If it matches up, then you have something to work with and the fun begins.

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