Category Archives: Future Thinking

What politicians, small business and mice have in common

maze-2Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a legendary book titled, Who Moved My Cheese? It tells a story about four characters who ate only cheese.

Early in the story all four characters went to the same place in their world – a maze – to get cheese. The first two were not picky about their cheese or where they found it – it was just food. In fact, the current place in the maze where they found and ate cheese was literally just that. So when someone moved their cheese, they immediately started looking for the new place where cheese was being put.

For the second two characters in Johnson’s story, cheese represented more than food; they had allowed themselves to become defined by the specific cheese found in that specific place in the maze. To them, this cheese was more than nourishment, it also represented their esteem, success and happiness. You’ve heard of being hidebound. Well you might say these two were cheesebound (my term, not Johnson’s), which really wasn’t a problem until someone moved their cheese.

Twenty-five years ago, in his book (and film), Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker defined a paradigm as a set of rules that: 1) establishes/defines boundaries; and 2) tells you how to be successful within those boundaries. Barker says paradigms, both written and unwritten, can be useful until there’s a shift, which is what happened to the cheesebound characters in Johnson’s story. When someone moved their cheese, instead of looking for new cheese like their maze-mates, they whined and dithered so long in the old place – now devoid of cheese – that they put their survival in jeopardy.

Johnson’s cautionary tale – and the two sides of Barker’s paradigm coin – apply to all parts of life, especially politics and business.

For generations, the Democrat and Republican Parties each showed up at the same corner of their own political maze where they had always found the same cheese. Like the second characters in Johnson’s story, both parties had been nourished and defined by the cheese they found in that specific spot. But when someone moved their cheese, as the electorate is doing now, the cheesebound members whine and struggle to maintain their identity instead of taking action to find new cheese. In his book Johnson said: “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese.”

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are like the first two characters in Johnson’s story. Neither define themselves by the old cheese in the old location. They went looking for and, to the surprise of their party leadership, found new cheese. Johnson says, “Movement in a new direction helps you find the new cheese.”

Small business owners should watch the clinic that the Democrats and Republicans are putting on this year on the wages of being cheesebound. Like the electorate, customers are moving cheese and shifting paradigms all over the marketplace . You cannot afford to become cheesebound.

Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Law of Business Love: It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.

Leave the Age of the Seller behind for the Age of the Customer.

Your customers kn

Does your business use lights or gauges?

Trick question: If your business were a car, would the dashboard have warning lights or gauges? The correct answer is gauges because they provide incremental information, while a light is either on or off.

Business gauges are financial statements, numbers and ratios that anticipate attention; warning lights often don’t reveal a problem until it’s too late.

Let’s take a look at these two different dashboards addressing the same three issues:

Inventory warning light: Check Inventory!

This light flashes when you’re out of stock. Oh, you’ve got plenty of inventory, but it’s poorly distributed across lines and you don’t have what customers want now.

Inventory gauge:  This is your balance sheet, which helps you see inventory creeping up in any month so you can immediately check stocking levels to get them back in line.

Inventory is cash you can’t spend until a customer pays for it. Can your cash flow wait for a light to flash before you make inventory adjustments?

Payroll caution light: High payroll!

A payroll light only comes on when this expense is already too high. By then you may have made hiring and compensation commitments you can’t justify.

Payroll gauge:  The needle on the payroll gauge identifies the payroll-to-sales ratio including a breakdown of how much you should pay sales, management, production, etc.

Payroll is likely your largest operating expense. Do you want to wait for a light to flash or manage it with the incremental movement of a needle?

Growth danger light: Excessive speed!

This light blinks when your working capital engine has reached redline operating levels. By that time, either your internal systems are over extended, you will have grown yourself out of business, or both.

Growth gauge: Certain financial ratios and a cash flow projection are the growth gauges that indicate if you have the working capital to expand or if you should slow down until you’ve acquired the capital to grow successfully.

With sustainable success depending on sound growth decisions, you need the incremental immediacy of a gauge, not the vagueness of a blinking light.

Business gauges are the numbers on your financial statements and the ratios they produce. Like gauges on a car’s instrument panel, when displayed accurately and checked regularly, they move in small increments to show positive trends or alert you to a specific dangerous direction.

Astute business operators not only manage the movement of their operating gauges but also understand the cause-and-effect relationship each gauge has with another.

Write this on a rock …

Businesses that survive long-term have gauges on their dashboard, not warning lights.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

The best social media practices for the Age of the Customer

BLASINGAME'S LAW OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR-2

Should the Internet become a utility?

As you may remember, I’ve been reporting on the Net Neutrality issue for over a decade, including all the significant players in the debate.

email-584705_1280Most reasonable people agree that one of the reasons the Internet has been such a phenomenal success is because it has been so lightly regulated. However, as I reported recently, President Obama has taken executive steps to make the Internet a public utility, subject to all sorts of government oversight.

When we asked our small business audience what they thought about this plan, almost three-fourths reject the president’s idea, with only 2% who think his plan is good.

One reason for this overwhelming response against the president is because small business owners have benefited on many levels, directly and indirectly, from an unencumbered Internet. And since over half of the U.S. economy is produced by small businesses, the president should pay attention to what this sector thinks.

In case you missed them, here are links to three articles I’ve written about the president’s  behavior regarding the Internet.

Why you should care about the net neutrality debate

If you like your Internet, you may not be able to keep it

Obama’s Internet words don’t match his actions

 

Five Things to Do for a Successful Referral Strategy

For as long as businesses have tried to get customers to buy their stuff, a referral has been the holy grail of prospecting. Like the mythical chalice, a referral is golden.

To emphasize the power of referrals, allow me to introduce “Blasingame’s Prospect Entrée Spectrum” (BPES), which is a way of valuing the method used to get in front of a prospect.

CC Photo via Pixabay

CC Photo via Pixabay

The BPES is on a scale of 1-10, with a cold call being a 1, and the unqualified referral a 10. The difference between scoring a referral and making a cold call is, to borrow from Mark Twain, like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Let me put a sharper point on that: In the Age of the Customer, cold calling is a fool’s errand.

Asking for and getting an appointment is a 5. From 2 to 5 on the spectrum are varying degrees of quality of connection that you attempt without a referral, like networking. From 6 to 9 represents varying quality of referrals. For example, a 6 is a casual referral with one of two qualifications attached: either the referrer doesn’t know you well, or doesn’t know the prospect well. The goals is to demonstrate you’re worthy of a full-throated, unqualified referral — 10 — which is almost money in the bank. When you hear someone say they’re working smarter, not harder, it means they’re earning lots of referrals, including an increasing number of 10s.

Here are five things to do to sustain a successful referral strategy:

2. Help customers give you referrals by teaching them how to tell others about you and your business. Instructions must be short and sweet, like an elevator pitch.

3. Be worthy of a referral. Take good care of the referred prospect, even if you don’t make a sale.

4. Thank the referrer every time, in person if possible, regardless of the result of the referral. Remember, getting a referral is success.

5. If you want to get referrals, give them to others.

On that last point, in Ecclesiastes 11:1, King Solomon wrote, “Cast your bread upon the water and in time it will come back to you.” Three millennia later, Ivan Misner, my friend and founder of Business Network International (BNI) gave us a handier way to remember the law of reciprocity. Ivan simply says, “Givers gain.” Beautiful.

In the Age of the Customer if you’re not asking for and getting referrals, you’ll have to work much harder than is necessary just to survive.

Write this on a rock … Seek the holy grail and Perfect 10 of prospecting – the unqualified referral.

Seven ways to cut yourself some SLACC in 2015

People make New Year’s resolutions all the time. But do you know anyone who actually kept one?

OK — one person, but he’s the same guy who reminded the teacher that she’d forgotten to give out the homework.

Knowing how difficult, not to mention annoying, resolutions can be, there’s a different way to kick off the new year in your small business. I call it Strategic Look At Critical Components, or SLACC, for short. So instead of getting all bound up in resolutions, just cut yourself some SLACC. Here’s a list of seven key areas on which to focus your SLACC:

1. Financial
Give your company some SLACC by reviewing financial systems. If not already, create regular financial statements, especially a 12-month cash flow projection, and manage with them. And SLACC up on the difference between cash flow and accounting.

2. Human Resources
Take the necessary SLACC to find and keep the best people. Then cut your staff some SLACC by providing the best training you can afford, with emphasis on how their assignments continue to evolve in the 21st century.

3. Management
Business management is more complicated than ever. Use SLACC to identify your current best practices, then check your position against how 21st century ideas are impacting management fundamentals.

stress-391654_12804. Marketplace
The marketplace has always been a dynamic and evolving organism, but in The Age of the Customer, it’s being driven more by customer expectations than competition. Use SLACC to develop strategies that deliver relevance first, followed by classic competitive advantage. Remember, in The Age of the Customer, relevance trumps competitiveness.

5. Technology
More than ever before, how you use technology and new media are critical relevance expectations of prospects and customers. Cut yourself some SLACC by delivering the technology (especially mobile) and community-building media customers now expect from you.

6. Public Policy
Every small business is influenced by politics. Use SLACC to identify when to be personally involved in local, state and federal issues, like taxes, healthcare, and regulations and when to contribute to professional organizations that can deliver a greater impact on your behalf.

7. Personal
Cut yourself some SLACC by remembering the greatest small business truth: Success must be defined by more than just money and stuff.

Write this on a rock … To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, the longest journey begins with the first SLACC.

Value is the threshold of your relationship with Customers; values are the foundation.

tranquility-3

Why you should care about the net neutrality debate

As policy battle lines are being drawn in Washington, there’s one important issue being debated that might not stay on your radar like Obamacare and immigration.

It’s called “net neutrality,” and I’m concerned it might not get the attention it deserves, even though it could have significant long-term implications. My goal here is to simplify net neutrality so you understand how it can impact your business and how to join the debate.

The term is pretty intuitive. Net neutrality means all Internet traffic gets treated the same, which is what we’ve had for over 20 years; there’s essentially no government regulation of the Internet and no Internet taxes. Also, there’s no preference for, or discrimination against any sender or receiver of email, web pages, music or movies, regardless of bandwidth used via fixed or mobile networks.

Photo credit to SavetheInternet.com

Photo credit to SavetheInternet.com

Three groups have a stake in net neutrality: carriers, content producers and a regulator.

Carriers fill two roles: 1) Local Internet service providers (ISP) connect you to the Internet; 2) national networks, like AT&T and Sprint, own the “backbone,” the physical infrastructure – fiber – that hauls digital traffic between ISPs. Carriers want to charge different rates based on content quantity and speed, which is contrary to net neutrality. Without targeted revenue for their finite bandwidth inventory, they argue, innovation and investment will stall.

Content producers include Google, NetFlix, Facebook and virtually every small business. If you have a website, sell a product online, conduct email marketing or have an instructional video on YouTube, you’re a content producer. Content producers love net neutrality because turning the Internet into a toll road increases business costs and could make small businesses less competitive.

The regulator is the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), led by Chairman Tom Wheeler. Some content producers have asked the FCC to defend net neutrality. But here’s what that request looks like to a politician: President Obama wants the FCC to reclassify and regulate broadband Internet connection as a utility, which is not the definition of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is complicated because it’s easy to appreciate both business arguments. Plus, some even have a stake in both sides of the issue, like a cable company that owns TV stations and movie studios. But inviting the government to referee this marketplace debate is a Faustian bargain because what government regulates it also taxes, and once started, won’t stop.

Write this on a rock … A regulated and taxed Internet is not net neutrality.

Small business brand value is more than the Q factor

Have you noticed that every new on-air person hired by a TV network looks like a soap opera actor? They’re all young and pretty. We’re left to think that non-beautiful people need not apply. That is, unless you’re familiar with a certain marketing measurement.

Marketing Evaluations Inc. is the proprietor of a marketing metric used extensively to hire on-air talent.  It’s called the Q Score, and it’s as rude as it is simple.

A prospective anchor is presented to an audience who is asked to give one of two answers: I like or I don’t like. Responses are graded based on the numeric Q Score.  Above 19 means you’ve “got Q.”

Never mind credentials, if you can read a teleprompter and have Q, you’re hired.  Below 19—fuggedaboutit.

Could the Q factor be involved in perpetuating the marketplace myth that owning a brand is the exclusive domain of big business?  After all, if only the young and beautiful possess the best TV journalism credentials, why wouldn’t we believe you can only have a brand if you have a sexy national television campaign?

Since most of us would be guilty of giving an “I like” score to a pretty face, it follows that we would also be foreclosed from thinking a dowdy small business could actually own a real brand.  But here’s the truth about branding, and it’s good news for small business: Owning a brand is more than having Q.

Most experts will testify that a brand is established when a product delivers a desirable feeling.  Pleasure, happiness, security and yes, even pretty are examples of how a brand might make us feel. A brand’s value and power are established when it consistently delivers on our feelings and, increasingly in the Age of the Customer, on our expectations.

If people were influenced only by things that have Q, churchgoers would only attend big, beautiful churches, and yet tiny churches abound. Like religion, brand loyalty is also a very personal thing, which is more good news for small business. Getting close enough to customers to discover their individual expectations is one of the many things small businesses do better than big businesses.

So it’s resolved: Owning a brand is not the exclusive domain of big business. And when it comes to actually building brand value, small businesses have the edge.

Big businesses may be good at brand Q, but small businesses are better at what really counts: building brand value. Our challenge is in believing this truth about ourselves.

Write this on a rock… Your small business’s Q is measured in brand value as defined by customer expectations.