Business mishaps. Know your proposition and know your audience!

Excellent Client Engagement

As a small business I was recently involuntarily contacted (cold called) by a local Hotel’s telemarketer who pleasantly introduced herself and the venue to see if I was aware that they had services that I could use. A very busy market space with many vendors, but I was in inquisitive mood so listened and joined in. As a central city location and I knew exactly the location, I posed a context and a question straightaway. “ I don’t have an immediate need, but if I wanted to have a room for half a day for 4 people, how much would it cost?” I explained that as an SME I have a need to use ‘space’ occasionally to meet Clients. “When do you want it?” I was asked. After reiterating a few times, that SME’s are increasingly using external space and I don’t have an immediate need an estimate would be fine. She took my details and went away. Fairly promptly, I was sent an email to say thanks for the conversation and explained “…follow up regarding your needs and requirements for meeting and event spaces within our properties…” and provided a host of general attachments about the hotel, but none answered my question.

A few weeks later a follow-up call to ask if I had dates and wanted to go ahead with a booking.

I then went into Marketing Consultant mode and suggested that I needed to know what the proposition and offer was to consider it and they were unable to do this. “But, I don’t know the prices for these, I am not authorised to talk about prices! I can pass you to my Sales Manager?” I politely ended the call.

So, what’s my point? In a crowded market you have to have a proposition. You need to understand the profile of your target audience and you also need to have a process to complete what you start. It is fine to ‘qualify out’ rather than ‘in’, but know your product. The world has become increasingly knowledgeable, so if you have a gap in the facts about a product, your product, especially in a competitive market, you will be ignored. It affects brand and reputation, so it is very important.

We all need to try harder at getting the basics right, but we may also sometimes need a little help to identify a weakness in the way we do business, because we become too familiar with it.

And the photo? The atrium of a Hotel in Singapore where I stayed which had excellent and memorable Client engagement.

Big Data, Small Attention


The challenges of collecting and managing vast amounts of data have been discussed in great detail and everyone is in agreement that it will happen. We don’t know how companies and their partners will do it, but they will do it. However, are we overlooking a key facet of using data for marketing and governance purposes that is quite literally staring us in the face?

Let’s take a scenario of big data in a Corporate looking after business customers, B2B for simplicity sake. Now let’s consider that we know the human side of the equation really well. We have the customers profile, associations, historical patterns, opinions, shoe size, favourite colour and an array of metadata that says “we know you better than you know yourself”. So, we get to work on the Human to Human communication and are prepared for the psychographic discussion that allows us to provide the ‘answer’. Social Media will play its role in getting the message to the DNA, sorry the Client, and we are in married bliss in a Client Relationship, ding-dong, ding-dong!

Big Data will also bring even more communicators and innovation will bring us more applications, so the use of human-to-human (H2H) data will proliferate. This is where we get to the challenge…how will the Human absorb volumes of data? Email, Tweets, IM’s, App bulletins and every other ping-type announcement that will flash before the user with more data and more links than ever before. Will we have to take the retrospective step to simple browser search queries for the Human to be able to cope?

My thoughts are that we need to focus on the day in the life of a Human, a modern Human, to assess how they meet their social and work needs using data and how we make it easy for them. If the Human solution is too difficult, we will not have advanced Big Data other than proving that we can collect, store and correlate massive points or data. If we succeed the step forward could be as dramatic as the use of steam in industry.

Growing pains – when success meets complexity

There is an amazing feeling for the entrepreneur and the onlooker of a start-up business blossoming and growing. We all like to hear of them starting ‘off the back of a cart’ and how they progressed to an established player in their sector. Maybe smaller than the rest, but seen as an ‘industry shaker’. A broad portfolio, employees hired for specific professional roles and ready to take on the world.

Does this resonate with your company?

The Revenue line pointing skyward, healthy forecast and a profit profile matching the upward trend, then something unexpected happens; The growth engine starts to stall, cash flows less predictably and customers drift away. Nimbleness lost.

This is the phase that I term as the ‘complexity point’.

What started as a personal business with a proprietor with focus, common sense and ultimate control, finds itself with a wide product set, creaking processes and an organisation which although taken on as human capital is looking more like a liability.

I’ve tried to reason with when we can anticipate the complexity point starting to kick in, but I have arrived at a summary conclusion that it may be different for each business, but with common attributes to what leads to the hiatus.

It is not a privilege to SMEs, complexity will exist in most of the mid to large corporates too.  And, across the sectors, there are different angles to the complexity, from capital-intensive businesses where the focus may be on the ‘plant’ right through to Professional Services organisations, but common signals will be present for each one.

There are ways of tackling the complexity challenge that requires a retrospective step in order to move forward, but my guidance at this stage is that it is not a one-off event and it happens in cycles. The important role of the Executive is to keep pace with it, anticipate that it will happen and be proactive.

Marketing Communications and the Future (a view)

For readers, the following thought has been drafted to help with a discussion on the Marketing Communications of the future

I tried to break this down into the simple components of the Marketing Communications function. Essentially the Message encode-decode bit and then overlaid what has been happening in the enabler world and the customer world.

To set a scene let’s go to a future +25 years out from now and I will give my personal predictions of things that may come through as scenario’s. Who knows what technology will be available and prevalent, but we might be able to picture the day-in-the-life of the Marketer and the Consumer, as well as everyone else involved in the loop.

25 years ago, which was only 1989, I was using a portable Apricot computer on a dial up modem, with a corporate email service and limited applications such as Wordperfect and Lotus 123 spreadsheets. I had a Mobile Phone, but the engagement with Clients was minimal at a technology level. It was very much a ‘print and post’. The process of communication was well known and used and target marketing understood, even though it was heavily dependent upon Inbound and Outbound telephone marketing, all sorts of mail shots and the usual Customer events. B2B and B2C Marketing Comms was developing at that stage to understand what the Customer wanted and evolving the alternative routes for them to create the relationship that we wanted. Above-the-line advertising was in its prime but mainly for B2C and seldom B2B unless you were a very big player.

Today, we have more targeting around the profile of the Customer, with the complexity of re-distributable material that can enhance your access to the base, but with an added challenge that you need to control messages which can be virally uncontrollable. So, the ‘today’ take out for me is that we haven’t yet learned how to master the tools that we have in use and the Consumer is getting more savvy than they were. We are data rich on both sides of the Seller-Buyer equation. However, in relative terms we are still information poor…but aspiring.

So, 25 years on, which will feel like 50 years of advancement, we have an opportunity and a challenge. I am comfortable with technology and especially the impact it will make on consumers, but I am also a pragmatist. I think that advances in the coordinated application of technology features will allow Marketers to open up new forms of communication with the ‘market’ than ever before. Marketers should be prepared for change.

Social Media has to settle into a pattern with the Consumer but the options available for interfacing with them will multiply, merge, then multiply again. Hopefully, with more Open platforms, using multiple tools will allow you to see the Consumer and Market dynamics, but the Consumer will be able to see the options too. Open platforms will also calm the big player-one method approach and inspire innovation and collaboration. Technology will create the Marketing Communications toolkit.

Here are some of the traits that I believe (just my thoughts!) you will see in the Consumer, Markets and Suppliers with which you will have to grapple.

  • Small Screen versus Big Screen versus Screen on demand (The latter being my bet for handling the new complex consumer). Mobility will still have its part, but don’t just think of Mobility being small device.
  • Pinpoint narrowcast profiling versus Viral broadcast
  • Knowledgeable Consumers
  • Immediacy of transactions and how the Profile wants to transact
  • Increased Collaboration to live your life and high levels of independence
  • Decentralisation of where people live and more reliance on Screen-based technologies.
  • Consumers creating their own marketing opportunities
  • Consumers as Advertisers of their own content
  • 3D printing conceptual information and holography
  • Consumers will want to ‘Find’ an answer on demand, not ‘Search’, but we should expect this to be automated
  • Consumers lives will be more chaotic, so will need convenience providers to help them trade ‘time’ for money or favours
  • Applications will be more Consumer-centric rather than Consumers being driven to SM alters. Consumer will want to have ‘My Life’ on a screen which will help them coordinate their lives.
  • Big Data will be transparent, but Big Information will be the focus for Consumers.
  • Be prepared to pay-per-view the Consumer directly to listen to your Marketing Communications as a shared model with the Tool provider. A new ecosystem will evolve.
  • Attention span will be less, but there will be a rapid Judge and Execution
  • Consumers own Video’s will be routes/channels for your Marketing Communications and tools will become available to make that happen
  • Consumer profiles will be Real-time, but only if they want you to see it (intense Privacy laws)
  • Consumers will use SaaS to build their life style tools.
  • Consumers will demand/expect very high Content quality and highly intuitive.

To sum up, as Marketing Principles go, it’s a Consumer or a Customer and you will have a Product and a Message. Your opportunities will increase to create and maintain a buying relationship, but be prepared to be part of the Customers life cycle, one by one.

Growth by Acquisition…doing the math



As your company works out its growth strategy and assesses the options for inorganic growth through acquisition, the headline expectation of benefit may not be as assured as the simple math that you may see. Let’s take a simplistic view of an Acquisition or a Merger and try to answer the question chalked in the panel.

Talk of acquisition creates a special atmosphere in the buying company, sometimes both companies. Initially through the Executive Management team close to the deal, word spreads to Middle Managers and Employees.  It’s not always a good thing for Employees as you start to look towards synergies, but for now let’s take a pure and positive corporate view of this.

Whether you are going for Horizontal acquisition (Market Share) or Vertical acquisition (Value Chain), there is always due diligence, there are always lots of advisors, but the target Company should add something to your alchemy. What Executives are looking for in most cases is a simple Venn diagram for (a) the overlap, (b) the differentiated access to revenue and profit and (c) the cross selling opportunities of the non-overlapping areas.

So an expectation is set, established and the business case agreed. Sale! (Gavel banged, deal!). The expectation?…look towards the simple sum… ’1+1 = ?

The optimist may add up all the benefits and get to an answer of ‘2 + x‘. Value Add thinking. This is how we should be thinking, especially when trying to get out of a recession.

The pragmatist may say that it’s a simple investment, so ‘what have we bought?’ The answer is ‘2‘.  They have a model, we have a model, we are both continuing to looking after our own customers and the Value will be that we are a bigger player in the market and we may have more control of the value chain.

Then there is a pessimistic view. Your overlap causes confusion in your portfolios, customer dissent and you end up with a compete operating model with complexity. It will cost you revenue, profit, market share and your Talent will leave you. Therefore the answer in this case, simply stated is ‘2 – x‘.

In each case x can represent the integration benefit (+) or risk (-)

So what is the real difference between optimism and pessimism in the Acquisition world? Here are my thoughts on what can happen even though everyone is trying to maximize a result.

As the scouting is conducted, there are ‘Plays’ that are considered of the value of acquiring another company. The Plays get valued on a set of assumptions. The assumptions are tested again in the due diligence. The results give the Executive Team and Shareholders the confidence that this is the ‘strategic fit’ for the investment. We can ignore Acquisitions that are made for turnaround purposes at this stage, as they would not necessarily be looking at long-term growth, but pure investor value. However the principles that follows may still apply to these cases.

The purchase is made, the champagne is opened, the PR announcements are broadcast and the expectation is set by the CEO to the employees that this is a “critical investment for our future” and we will be in a “period of transition” to merge the companies activities.

If both Companies have done their homework, the first week after the purchase should see Post-Acquisition Integration teams, fuelled with your best Talent (not necessarily Senior, but empowered people who understand how both Companies work) starting a series of planned activities. They should be looking to work out how you bring capability together, what you keep apart and what programmes are required to drive the synergies. Each functional area should have a Play for what is the optimum solution to meet the investment and corporate strategic aims. Nepotism and Stovepipes should be highlighted and removed and a series of Integration Metrics agreed quickly of what ‘Good’ looks like. So on a route like this…1+1 = 2 + x is a possibility.

Let’s take a look now at what can also happen to get a reduced return.

We start with post-Acquisition Integration. You agree the merger principles, but leave the room without a plan and an end state. No plan means that you have limited ownership and you may not have executive sponsorship. The two companies continue to perform to the expectations of what they are today, with probably a little more load to Middle Management day jobs. At best you get to 1+1 = 2

The worst scenario is that you have a low intensity and low immediacy in your integration plans and the organisations start to compete. Employees and Managers get caught in the battle for delivering their own objectives and invariably, some of these Managers will fail. The lengthening process of Integration creates a noise for Managers and the finger of blame is used to defend shortfall. This is the CEO’s worst position. Unless you have an agreed play to rationalise the two organisations to a smaller but sustainable model, the payback to the Shareholder has been diluted.

What started as a Honeymoon Period could end in ‘Acrimony’. What you need is for the relationship to end in ‘Alchemy’.

So how do we keep the investment to the original strategic intent and how do we Make It Happen…Do the detail!  If you would like to know how Dugdale Consulting could help you with acquisition integration contact us.

In summary, the original ‘Sum’ was a multiple-choice question, but the real answer is in your choice for the plan you effect to determine the desired outcome.

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Competitive Differentiation…lost in definition

This post has been prompted by an article that I saw in the Harvard Business Review (excellent insight and part of my daily reading!) yesterday where the author was putting a ‘limited value’ perspective on Competitive Differentiation in the modern market. The positioning was that with today’s ultra-competitive markets that there is limited differentiation opportunity and therefore more things come into play to allow the consumer to make their choice i.e. Brand and social decision making.

I was compelled to respond with a contribution to HBR and I would like to share these thoughts with you as a way of us taking the idea of Competitive Differentiation forward in the future.

Early thought-leaders such as Michael Porter brought us an angle and insight on being competitive through being ‘Differentiated’. That spawned a basket full of activities from eager disciples seeking to practice what was quite clearly a profound piece of strategic thinking.

The article suggested that in a lot of Business Sector’s differentiation is no longer possible as all the players make and sell things similar to each other in look, feel and functionality. Which is predominantly true.

However, what we need to consider is that Differentiation is what discerns us as consumers or buyers to think about one product or service versus a rival. Opinions on ‘the best’, ‘the valued’ and ‘ranking’ shape conversation between us and will influence our social recommendations of one product/company against another.

So, if products are all the same what conversation could Opinion Formers possibly have?

Let’s use a current topical industry as an example, the Energy Suppliers. Gas is Gas and Electricity is Electricity. You can price and tariff, but Consumers are starting to understand that over a period of time the Suppliers price very similarly, often based on forces outside their control. However, what should not be taken for granted is the Differentiation of delivering the ‘Me Too’ services that make up each Company’s offering. These are the things that are promised in the slogans and banner headlines when pushing the product and the emotion by which influences Consumer thinking.

So, as a Supplier (and this applies to any industry) if you offer clear and accurate billing, focus on delivering this 100%. If you say that you have a Helpdesk that is available 24/7, then make sure it can deliver when the Customer needs you most, etc. All companies provide these base services, but the Differentiation comes from satisfactory completion of your own marketing claims in the eye of the Consumer.

But let’s look to the real mechanics. When your Marketing Department builds an offer, is it 100% backed-off into the Organisation that will make it happen? It may not be seen as differentiating to pick up a phone 100 times a day to a Customer Service Rep as it is just their day job, but to the Consumer it is the ‘1’ call they are making. This then leads on to a very important Business Planning aspect. Is the Organisation’s budgets balanced to deliver the promise and is there an investment to performance analysis made throughout the year?  Differentiation is an investment.

In summary,

  • Competitive Differentiation is still a key strategy for all Private, Public and Non Profit organisations.
  • It can be based on the most fundamental of deliverables from your Company.
  • To succeed, and to be differentiated, you will need to ensure that your Strategy and Plan supports the ‘Me Too’ things that you are expected to deliver.

If you think this is useful to other colleagues or business friends, please feel free to share.

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