Category Archives: Business

Better Decisions with Less Data

Maria, an executive in financial services, stared at another calendar invite in Outlook that would surely kill three hours of her day. Whenever a tough problem presented itself, her boss’s knee-jerk response was, “Collect more data!” Maria appreciated her boss’s analytical approach, but as the surveys, reports, and stats began to pile up, it was clear that the team was stuck in analysis paralysis. And despite the many meetings, task forces, brainstorming sessions, and workshops created to solve any given issue, the team tended to offer the same solutions — often ones that were recycled from prior problems.

As part of our research for our book, Stop Spending, Start Managing, we asked 83 executives how much they estimated that their companies wasted on relentless analytics on a daily basis. They reported a whopping $7,731 per day — $2,822,117 per year! Yet despite all of the data available, people often struggle to convert it into effective solutions to problems. Instead, they fall prey to what Jim March and his coauthors describe as “garbage can” decision making: a process whereby actors, problems, and possible solutions swirl about in a metaphorical garbage can and people end up agreeing on whatever solution rises to the top. The problem isn’t lack of data inside the garbage can; the vast amount of data means managers struggle to prioritize what’s important. In the end, they end up applying arbitrary data toward new problems, reaching a subpar solution.

To curb garbage-can decision making, managers and their teams should think more carefully about the information they need to solve a problem and think more strategically about how to apply it to their decision making and actions. We recommend the data DIET approach, which provides four steps of intentional thought to help convert data into knowledge and wisdom.

Step 1: Define

When teams and individuals think about a problem, they likely jump right into suggesting possible solutions. It’s the basis of many brainstorming sessions. But while the prospect of problem solving sounds positive, people tend to fixate on familiar approaches rather than stepping back to understand the contours of the problem.

Start with a problem-finding mindset, where you loosen the definitions around the problem and allow people to see it from different angles, thereby exposing hidden assumptions and revealing new questions before the hunt for data begins. With your team, think of critical questions about the problem in order to fully understand its complexity: How do you understand the problem? What are its causes? What assumptions does your team have? Alternately, write about the problem (without proposing solutions) from different perspectives — the customer, the supplier, and the competitor, for example — to see the situation in new ways.

Once you have a better view of the problem, you can move forward with a disciplined data search. Avoid decision-making delays by holding data requests accountable to if-then statements. Ask yourself a simple question: If I collect the data, then how would my decision change? If the data won’t change your decision, you don’t need to track down the additional information.

Step 2: Integrate

Once you’ve defined the problem and the data you need, you must use that information effectively. In the example above, Maria felt frustrated because as the team collected more and more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, they weren’t investing the same amount of time to see how the pieces fit together. Their subconscious beliefs or assumptions about problems guided their behavior, causing them to follow the same tired routine time and time again: collect data, hold meetings, create strategy moving forward. But this is garbage-can decision making. In order to keep the pieces from coming together in an arbitrary fashion, you need to look at the data differently.

Integration lets you analyze how your problem and data fit together, which then lets you break down your hidden assumptions. With your team, create a KJ diagram(named after author Kawakita Jiro) to sort facts into causal relationships. Write the facts on notecards and then sort them into piles based on observable relationships — for example, an increase in clients after a successful initiative, a drop in sales caused by a delayed project, or any other data points that may indicate correlated items or causal relationships. In doing this, you can create a visual model of the patterns that emerge and make connections in the data.

Help You Write a Winning Business Plan

Writing a business plan is one of the most important things an entrepreneur must do when starting a new business. However, writing a compelling business plan is easier said than done, particularly when time can be so precious. This article outlines the key resources available to UK entrepreneurs when preparing a business plan. Use them for assistance with the writing of the plan, as well as for understanding the implications of certain business decisions you make in the process, such as those regarding corporate structure, sources of funding, and more.

1. Business Plan Pro UK software

Business Plan Pro is the best-selling business plan software available for several reasons. It is easy to use, saves time, and has over 500 sample business plans to get you started. It also provides a structure whereby you can complete a plan in a methodical manner, while enabling you to benefit from a helping hand at every step.

Where: Business Plan Pro is available from www.paloalto.com/uk
Cost: RRP is only £79.99 for the Complete version and £129.99 for the Premier.

2. Business plan competitions

Numerous business planning competitions are taking place in the UK at any given time. These competitions test a wide range of skills that are often neglected by entrepreneurs. By producing a credible business plan and presenting your case persuasively, you will significantly enhance your ability to secure funding. These business plan competitions are an invaluable resource enabling you to road test your business plan in a safe environment before submitting the plan to potential investors.

The main advantages of submitting a business plan to a competition include:

  • Tap into Increased Support for Entrepreneurs in the UK
  • Obtain Critical Independent Analysis of Your Business Plan
  • Gain Access to Mentors and Networking Opportunities
  • Improve key Transferable Skills, e.g. Presentation Skills
  • Enhance Your Understanding of What Investors Want

Start with a Referral

Outbound B2B sales are becoming less and less effective. In fact, a recent survey found that connecting with a prospect now takes 18 or more phone calls, callback rates are below 1%, and only 24% of outbound sales emails are ever opened. Meanwhile, 84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.

Why are more and more buyers avoiding salespeople during the buying process? Sales reps, according to Forrester, tend to prioritize a sales agenda over solving a customer’s problem. If organizations don’t change their outdated thinking and create effective sales models for today’s digital era, Forrester warns that 1 million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020.

The answer to the shift away from reliance on outbound sales could reside in social selling, the strategy of adding social media to the sales professional’s toolbox. With social selling, salespeople use social media platforms to research, prospect, and network by sharing educational content and answering questions. As a result, they’re able to build relationships until prospects are ready to buy.

This is different than social media marketing, where a brand engages many, aiming to increase overall brand awareness or promote a specific product or service by producing content that users will share with their network. Social selling concentrates on producing focused content and providing one-to-one communication between the salesperson and the buyer. Both strategies create valuable content from the consumer’s perspective and use similar social networks and social software tools. But with social selling, the goal is for the rep to form a relationship with each prospect, providing suggestions and answering questions rather than building an affinity for the organization’s brand.

Social selling makes sense for achieving quota and revenue objectives for multiple reasons. First, three out of four B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions. In a recent B2B buyers survey, 53% of the respondents reported that social media plays a role in assessing tools and technologies, and when making a final selection.

In addition, more than three-quarters (82%) of the B2B buyers said the winning vendor’s social content had a significant impact on their buying decision. A LinkedInsurvey found that B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights about their business or industry. Another survey showed that 72% of the B2B salespeople who use social media report that they outperformed their sales peers, and more than half of them indicated they closed deals as a direct result of social media.

Social sales content also gets salespeople involved earlier in the sales cycle, which means they’re more likely to define the criteria for an ideal solution or the “buying vision,” and thus, more likely to win the sale.

It doesn’t take a significant amount of time to get started in social selling. B2B salespeople only need to invest 5% to 10% of their time to be successful with social. Salespeople should begin carving out a small percentage of their daily time for social media. Regular interaction with a prospect may not lead to a direct sale this week or quarter, but could result in a significant win within the year.

Salespeople should also collaborate with their social marketing counterparts to make the most of their social efforts. Marketing can train salespeople in social media systems, processes, and best practices. According to a survey, 75% of B2B salespeopleindicated they were trained in the effective use of social media. This training can encompass everything from working in specific social media channels to using corporate social media software, understanding the business’s social media guidelines, and orienting social media content around customer interests and needs, rather than on brand features, benefits, and prices.

What’s more, sales and marketing can collaborate on information to ensure that their efforts are aligned and to identify common goals and metrics that both teams can support. Since sales pride themselves on their one-on-one relationships with customers, they can discuss with marketing customer successes and concerns, changing customer needs, customer questions, and industry updates.

Integrating systems and encouraging transparency will also go a long way. Salesforce, for example, emphasizes the importance of improved communication between sales and marketing citing an App Data Room and Marketo study that found sales and marketing alignment can improve sales efforts at closing deals by 67% and help marketing generate 209% more value from their efforts.

One way to improve communication between sales and marketing is by creating a portal. BMC Software, a B2B IT solutions company, took this approach when they created BMC BeSocial, a secure portal where salespeople can find content created by marketing and other employees to share by posting immediately or scheduling for later. The portal also provides guidelines, tips, and frequently asked questions on how to use social media.

Winning business plan pitch

After a business plan has been written, the next stage often involves pitching the plan to prospective investors. This very fact means that the plan authors and management team should be one and the same and that ‘outsourcing’ the business plan writing process should not be considered. It is not just the content of the business plan that is being scrutinized. The capabilities of the management team are also on show and hence their ability to deliver a presentation in a clear, concise and convincing manner are vital to the overall objective – that of convincing an investor to invest in the business. These prospective investors are not investing in a physical document but in an idea and in those proposing to deliver the idea. The following is a list of tips to maximise your chances of success when pitching to investors.

1. Know your audience

All presenters are taught about the importance of knowing their audience and engaging with them on a personal level where possible. The Internet has enabled us to research more effectively than we were able to in previous years, so it is important to use this resource to our advantage. Investors have a range of asset classes to choose from as they decide on the composition of their investment portfolio. Hence it is necessary to understand the backgrounds of the prospective investors and their motivations prior to presenting. Once you have done extensive research on the investors it is then possible to tailor the pitch accordingly.

2. Tell a story

One of the most effective ways to pitch is to place the investment opportunity in the context of a story. Ideally, the story will focus on a problem encountered and the fact that the new idea being pitched solves this particular problem. If the investors can relate to the problem, they are more likely to invest in your business. After that they will be assessing how many people are affected by ‘the problem’ and whether the proposed idea satisfactorily resolves the problem. Finally, if they believe that the idea can solve the problem profitably and it is defensible (via patents, trade marks, etc.) it is likely they will be interested in investing.

3. Prepare to win

Pitching to an investor is not a last-minute afterthought – it is the culmination of weeks, if not months, of planning. All too often, entrepreneurs do not plan accordingly and then find that the preparation of their business pitch suffers. Preparation for the pitch should commence as soon as the business plan process commences. For many investors, the executive summary of the business plan is what opens the door for a presentation, and the full business plan may only be read after a successful presentation has been delivered.

4. Pay strict attention to the detail

Your typical investor will have a good eye for detail and hence the plan and its pitch need to be mutually reinforcing and containing no inherent contradictions. From the outset, there should be one owner of the process who can oversee all preparations and is ultimately responsible for the content. This is particularly important if a number of disparate contributors have worked on the plan and where the pitch consists of numerous participants.

5. Avoid death by PowerPoint®

While the average plan is produced in Microsoft® Word and Excel, PowerPoint tends to be the tool of choice for presentations. While it undoubtedly has advantages in terms of aesthetics, it can be misused when utilised at the pitch stage. The number of slides should be kept to the bare minimum, the content must be rigorously analysed to ensure relevance and clarity and time must be managed carefully. It is recommended each investor receives a slide deck, which contains more detail than the presentation itself (with Appendices used extensively). Finally, it is important to manage the subsequent Q&A process carefully as this is the stage where the investor gets to request information about details that they require to convince them that the proposal is indeed worthy of their investment.

Killing Your Ability to Focus

I used to wake up, stumble over to my phone, and immediately get lost in a stream of pointless notifications. This digital haze continued throughout the day, keeping me from accomplishing important tasks. I was distracted, anxious, and ineffective as a leader. I knew I had to change but could not seem to break free from the behaviors that kept me locked into the same cycle.

This problem is not unusual. Executives across the world stumble through each day in much the same way. Two major challenges are destroying our ability to focus.

First, we increasingly are overwhelmed with distractions flying at us from various connected devices. Smartphone and tablet use is spiking, and we now use digital media for an average of over 12 hours per day. This hyperconnected state does not allow us to process, recharge, and refocus.

Second, we rely excessively on meetings as the default form of interaction with other people at work. Studies indicate that we spend anywhere from 35%–55% of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings. If we want to stay focused on truly meaningful activity, something has to change.

You and your business will benefit greatly if you can address these issues. You and everyone on your team will enjoy yourselves more and accomplish more. The data echoes what our common sense tells us: We need to carve out more time for ourselves if we want to remain focused and effective at work. These five daily practices will help.

Practice mindfulness. The single biggest mistake most of us make is in how we start the day. Do you immediately roll over and start checking email on your phone? Bad idea, according to Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä, author of The Happiness Track. As she said in an email interview, “By constantly engaging our stress response [when we check our phones], we ironically are impairing the very cognitive abilities — like memory and attention — that we so desperately need.”

So what should you do? Start trying a simple mindfulness practice when you wake up, which can be anything from quietly taking a few deep breaths to meditating for 20 or 30 minutes. Dr. Seppälä explains why this is so important: “Meditation is a way to train your nervous system to calm despite the stress of our daily lives. When you are calmer, you are more emotionally intelligent and make better decisions.” Not a bad way to start the day.