Be a Lateral Thinker

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When we are buried in the details of our work, it’s hard to look around and see connections to worlds outside ourselves. We can be talking to the same people within our crowd, read the same blogs, and look at the world through a myopic lens.

Some of the big ideas of today such as taking software platforms, connectivity, mobile and cars can produce inventions like Lyft.

A company like Stripe took their expertise in coding and made connections into financial tech and banking. It was daunting, but rewarding as they brought their lateral thinking to the problem of making online payments easier.

If you straddle different worlds, know the culture and nuances of different segments, you can powerfully introduce solutions that connect the dots that might escape a specialist’s trained mind. Lateral thinking is value add in this increasingly complex and polarized world. There’s extreme efficiency and speed occurring on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, there’s high complexity which requires creative, consultative solutions.

Bringing outside, fresh perspectives can change the way a problem is solved.  If you are a lateral thinker, you can open up the conversation to new possibilities.

You can notice and exercise a few approaches in your work and interactions:

  • Be sure to play in different worlds deeply rather than invest fully into one area of work day in and day out.
  • Meet new and interesting people that think about their fields intensely. Ask great questions and learn.
  • Keep great notes and think of how new perspectives create new solutions for your problems. Test them out and see what comes of trying different approaches. Then share them to help others.

If you can connect the dots you become valuable to others that are conventional in their practice. Your contribution increases.

Think about your domains you invest in. How can they merge or collide in a way to create even more value?

The world is getting more efficient on the whole. But, the creativity and lateral thinking opportunity is there to be applied to multiply those efficiencies.

Pick Two Types of Service

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The temptation for businesses, especially after they have success, is to overreach. You have the choice of price, quality and service as your focal points in the marketplace. But you can only have two. We are tempted to be all three. But we live in a world of natural trade-offs.

Part of being in business is knowing what you are committed to and will deliver to your customers. You can go broke fast when you muddy the water with perfectionism.

If you are good and fast, but not cheap, then expect to turn away prospective customers that are not a match. It’s not a fit for what you are about. You can wait patiently for the people that will come your way that want what you are offering.

If you are in the business of being fast and cheap, keep that habit, message and approach day in and day out. There are plenty of people that are looking for your offering and can live without good. It’s good enough.

I know restaurant owners that own two types of restaurants. One is fast and cheap. They have a steady flow of traffic. It’s a volume game.

The other restaurant looks nothing like the first. It is fast and good.

They don’t comingle the two concepts. They are different businesses with different patrons.

Perhaps you want to get bigger after you see successes. How about focusing on leaning in further to your success and be better instead. Deeper focus and commitment to the two service items that make you who you are will go a long way towards growing your business.

What two are you? How can you get clearer and more committed?

The Problem with Infrequency

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How do you know the price of something?

Ultimately, it’s an agreement between the seller and buyer. You don’t have to pay the price. You could go elsewhere and get what you want cheaper. Or you could forego what you want if it’s not a need.

Buyers are at a disadvantage on infrequent items. If you only buy a home every seven years, are you calibrated to the pricing and all the fees along the way? Something you do once every seven years compared to sellers along the way that do dozens or hundreds of deals a month makes them an expert and you an amateur.

The same goes for the infrequency of buying a car, college tuition, health care, and a number of items that we run across in life’s journey and demands.

On frequent items like gas, cell phone service and eggs, it’s easy to dial into the price. You see it, touch it and interact with the pricing so much that there is less of a debate between the buyer and the seller.

It’s interesting to watch people get more excited about a 20 cent raise in gas prices and miss the upswing of university rates. We pay attention to things we frequent more easily.

Perhaps being scarce in attention can help you lever up as a seller. Your service could morph or integrate with other offerings. Or you could work in an innovative, infrequent purchase area to have more pull on pricing.

You could also be a price-focused hustler lowering your operational and delivery costs so that the language of price becomes collaborative with your buyers while you move the cost needle down.

Infrequency has its rewards for sellers and finding a game where you can assign pricing based on that value and advantage might be worth exploring in this vast, hyper-competitive marketplace.

If You Are Not the Winner Do This

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Someone has to be the the winner.

Someone has to be Facebook. Or Uber. Or Google.

In our connected economy, we have a winner-take-all dynamic. It’s easier to consolidate and see a clear winner arise from leveraging a business system.

However, what we see and are aware of is based on a success bias. We don’t see who is second or has lost along the way. I’m not sure studying the outright, asymmetrical winners is helpful to everyone else. A 1/99 ratio where 1% takes 99% of the winnings doesn’t leave room for replication.

If everyone can participate like the winners then there’s much to learn. We can simply persevere through the same business roadmap laid out by the winners.

But, that is far from the case in the trenches of business today. You can’t simply copy what a forerunner or market leader has done. Their barrier to entry comes from a consolidated position over time from efficiency, especially after they won the lion’s share of the votes early.

So, you have two choices:

  1. Be first
  2. Be different

Being first has its own risks with great rewards. If you innovate too far ahead of the market you may only be setting up the success of the second mover who learns from your mistakes and capitalizes en masse.

Being different can work well for premium products and services especially well where price sensitivity and comparison become difficult for the buyer. Your differences create unique positioning that keep you from commoditization traps. I prefer to design around being different as a strategy. It works well in a world of too many options and scarce attention.

Design Around Differentiation

If you are being compared as an option, then you are not different enough in your proposition.

Sure, you can insist on being better, and this favors buyers. Comparison becomes an opportunity to move the conversation away from value and towards price. That’s what’s left if there is not clear differentiation, simply price. That’s that natural place for a buyer to focus when they can’t see what is special about you or your offerings.

That signal, price comparison, can be your motivation and trigger to work harder at designing a different product and positioning it accordingly.

Here are some strategies to implement towards the hard work of differentiating:

  • Value. What is the output, the result? Can you integrate the experience, product and service in such a way that the value is what becomes the primary focal point, not the rudimentary parts?
  • Positioning. Are you able to affect the perception of how you are seen, especially in comparison to your competition? What word do you want people to think in their minds when they think of you? Make that the essence of how you communicate, frame and connect with buyers.
  • Price. Can you price higher and be worth 10x the amount? Instead of asking how much you can squeeze out, ask how you can be at the top of the pricing ceiling and make your customer so happy they are eager to pay you. They feel they got the deal.

Differentiating has its own work and you have to care enough and focus on driving the experience so high that price becomes a secondary issue.

Imagine the impact if you did the hard work of design and delighting people.

Everything is an Experiment

 

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Here’s the simple strategy for keeping you from getting washed away in the tides of innovation all around you:

  1. Observe what’s happening around you in your world and see what people are buying.
  2. Come up with 3 ideas that get people to buy.
  3. Build a solution and sell it to one customer.
  4. Observe their reactions carefully.
  5. Iterate and tweak the customer experience with your offering.
  6. Keep experimenting with new ideas and repeat.

If you are a person that needs the sure thing, go into working for the government or accounting. The marketplace is not the place for you.

With the ease of creating what we want, connecting with the world and trying out our ideas, your ideas will obsolesce at a rapid rate.

But, it’s an exciting and low risk time for entrepreneurs. The tools are there. We just need to see your ideas play out and you have to be committed to the process of idea generation and experimentation.

Some of those ideas will materialize into enterprise plays and exit strategies. Very few will, however.

Most of the ideas you experiment with may materialize into microbusinesses that cash flow and build an audience. From there, you can segue your offering by experimenting further and watching your tribe carefully to meet more desires.

The strategy is not hard to implement. Having the vision and focus to see your ideas through is the hard part. That’s the catch with innovation and uncertainty. While everyone else is waiting for something to happen, you can get the lion’s share reward by making something happen. Then invite those along that are waiting to be part of it.

What idea can you experiment with today? How can you put forth a low risk approach and see what people do with your idea?

Repackaging

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How can you reposition or repackage your brand?

You don’t have to do business the way you are set up currently. You could take the same core value you sell and repackage how you present your wares and skills to the market. The position you are in was a choice. Maybe it was practical. Early on someone asked for a price. You named it and that set you on a trajectory.

Your current position became tradition. And our habits and choices are hard to change once established unless there’s a need to change the form factor.

What if you doubled or tripled your price? Have you tried this exercise?

You may have to reposition your offering to enhance the value perception. Or your product may need more features and benefits.

The hard thinking to explore your option are only limited by your imagination and willingness.

Repackaging your offering can allow you to have more revenue for less effort. And that is good for the market. You can focus more on value than on paying your bills. You have less to manage in headcount, systems or clients. You can focus more.

Furthermore, you are forcing yourself to innovate by disrupting business as usual. You have to have vision and conviction that you can bring more and you are worth it.

Nothing sits still. The world is always changing and forces are acting on you and your business. If you are sitting on your laurels, you will become commoditized over time.

If you are asking how to bring more value, then you are innovating. This is the research and development we must all do continually to remain relevant. It’s good for you and for your customers. Seek to repackage continually and demand more of yourself so you can be worth more to others.

How can you repackage to be worth more?

Think Big But Work Small

There’s no shortage of opportunities today. In fact, it’s cheaper and more convenient than ever to envision and put an idea you may have into play.

Imagine trying to make your idea happen in the 1960’s. It would be both extremely expensive and difficult to get it out for others to even take notice.

That’s not the problem anymore. You can get your idea started and put out into the world. However, it’s that easy for everyone else these days as well. You are inevitably playing in a crowded field. The hard part is getting enough attention to even matter. Everyone is a producer and everyone is a brand.

The dichotomy we face is how to go big in our ideas and keep that ever before us while we test in small steps. All of your assumptions have to be tested. You might assume a certain group will like your idea. If they react with little enthusiasm, it’s time to reevaluate immediately. And you can know this by putting a small test out there that represents the big idea. You can keep the idea big with small steps in the implementation to gauge how things will work in reality.

When you see positive feedback, you can enhance your idea and invest more time, money and energy.

The hard part is getting creative to solicit the reaction you are looking for before going big.

The temptation to go big early may come from our love for the idea vs. something that actually works to make people happy. That becomes more about you rather than those that will benefit.

We live in a crowded world. And people have access at their fingertips to whatever might appeal to their curiosities, pleasures or productivity.

Thinking big and working small is a strategy that can help you avoid risks out of the gate with good intentions.

How can you simplify and test your assumptions?

Focusing on Probability Rather Than Certainty

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If you haven’t read Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, make that your next read. Pink aptly describes the changing dynamic of the information economy and how disoriented old school salespeople and managers are using old tricks. Buyers have more information than sellers. This changes everything from home buying to car leasing.

The old approaches where sellers had control of information allowed a control over process and approaches to getting new business. Advertising could be sold based on a narrow channel and limited spots for buyers to choose from. The same went for education, entertainment and a host of other services and products we enjoy.

Information is at our fingertips as buyers and this changes the dynamics. When sellers had control of information, there was more certainty. Sales processes built on formulas and what to say could work because the seller had the power of information control.

Today, with the ease of searching and using our iPhones, it would be foolish to pressure a buyer or use an algorithm. You are no longer the only choice nor the one that knows everything.

You can’t make anyone want what you have or manipulate their buying choices. That may have once created a feeling of certainty by applying more of a structured approach that produced an output.

But today, it is more of a probability game within a structure that will afford you opportunities. You can increase or decrease your probabilities for connection and sales if you:

  • are personal and likable
  • can articulate the customers’ pain specifically and acutely
  • tell the story of your solution in terms of the buyer’s problem
  • touch people often and in many ways
  • are organized so you can keep pace

If you think you can build your business with a formula such as put in these 5 people and everyone does these 5 steps, then we make money, you will find frustration.

With infinite choice, the world works a lot around free choice and you can only position yourself to increase the probabilities you can make a connection. Your pipeline becomes less predictable but can flow from being there with the right customer facing invitation with relevance and timing based on the approach you tune.

How is your business structured to increase the probabilities around connection with your customer?

What Matters When It Comes to Making Money

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I have written about how you have to think clearly about what kind of business you want – popularity or substance – when it comes to revenue. If you are not clear on what you are after, then you get a random hodge podge of results in building your business.

I also realize that most people are:

… not patient

… not strategic

… thinking small

… wanting something for nothing

And this is not reality. I always say,

“If there was a magic door to make money, someone would have found it. Then everyone would go through it.”

It’s wishful thinking based on the avoidance of dealing with the pain and rigor of building a business right-side up. The reality is that there is a lot of hard work trying to figure out the nuances and micro-steps that get people interested and wanting to pay you money.

So, if you find yourself chasing down every new marketing or sales gimmick, then you’re just playing the lottery hoping to get lucky.

And think about the waste. You would have posted content on someone else’s platform over hundreds of hours. It’s not your content. It’s theirs – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. They own it and you created value for those platforms.

But you get to play in their sandbox and connect. That’s the trade-off.

So, you may have realized that the marketing game is overwhelming, saturated and confusing. I have helped many people get deals and make money and there are varying strategies based on your audience, products and market. But here are some things you have to have in place that matter. If you did nothing else but commit and be consistent with these things, then you will make money because you will make deals.

  1. A ZeroInbox. Read my book, ZeroInbox. Who cares if you spread your message wide if you’re not even organized to be responsive or ready for anything. If you have a cluttered inbox, you have a cluttered head. And you need your head to make deals to make money.
  2. Your own site. There needs to be a place to put your content, have it indexed by Google and repurpose it for ongoing usage. It should be a platform that is optimized, easy to get in and out of and valuable to people.
  3. An email list. Your list is your life. Monitor it, care for it and feed it with valuable information. You have to get organized, grow it and be consistent with email newsletters that matter. That’s the closest relationship you can have in this busy world.
  4. Organized contacts. There’s a trade-off between being organized and being open. Being organized allows you to execute but it narrows your focus. However, being open allows you to see opportunity. You have to strike that right balance by managing an accessible and easy contacts list that you can act on in the busyness of a workweek without missing a beat.

These are assets that allow you to make money in today’s economy. And anything else you add to the mix – Pinterest, Instagram, podcasts, etc. – have to be managed. Being half in on any of those platforms makes you irrelevant. You don’t get noticed because it’s so crowded. So pick platforms where your audience naturally lives and forget the rest. Commitment in a deep and engaging way goes a lot further for your hours than spreading yourself thin on everything.

Where are the gaps for you?

The Information Exchange Between Marketers And Buyers

Tune in and know what the behaviors of your buyer mean to translate them into meaningful sales steps.

It used to be simpler when the job of a marketer was to merely be popular. Much of the job of a marketer was one-sided focused on broadcasting the merits of a brand and positioning a bigger than life view of their company. However, since buyers can simply tune out or click over to a competitor in seconds, such vanity attempts can raise suspicion rather than build trust.

Most buyers are engaged in information gathering to build their own understanding and comfort level. While they are doing this, they are not even close to making a decision. However, they are giving off signals of their readiness along the way. The marketer who can tune into the movements and actions of buyers while deciphering their interest levels is engaged in an intelligent exchange of information.

The hard work is not only deciphering but providing something desirable and valuable in the path of the buyer each step of the way towards their readiness to engage. We like to call it a “breadcrumb trail” at AscendWorks. They are picking up breadcrumbs on a trail to gain confidence and understanding. It is both an education process and a way to get familiar with your brand.

As each breadcrumb is being picked up, the marketer must be able to use this information to guide the buyer with compelling and inviting steps towards a sales discussion. Introduce the salesperson too early and your sales funnel can leak prematurely. The engagement is both out of order and awkward.

Consider the buying signals that matter and the psychology of what prospective customers are experiencing. The system which can both quantify and qualify this information creates a ready pipeline for your sales team. The hard work is to know what information is valuable and putting it into a context for both marketing and sales to take appropriate and timely action.

How is your information exchange system set up?