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Archive for 2015

Sandbox “Hunters” Game Plan: “First I Look At The Purse” (Motown’s The Contours)

December 28th, 2015 // Dan Doescher //
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Dan Doescher photo & Sandbox Partners logo

A nickname I’ve earned from long, hard nights in places only the brave would dare to trod is Disco Danny. I admit it; I love all kinds of music, even disco. At the risk of even further dating — or, worse yet, downright outdating myself — I’m reminded of a song by The Contours, of Motown Records: “First I Look At The Purse.” We all know it; we’ve all done it. You get the proposal, and where’s the first place you turn? To the page where you can check the price. Given its importance, the last subject of this blog series is pricing — an area where much thought is required. Some of the following guidelines just might be priceless.

Have you ever thought about why pricing is so important? Whether you’re maximizing profits as a business, or services provided as a nonprofit, there are competing forces for the same dollar. Generally, that type of competition results in a win-lose situation. While that’s not necessarily bad, focusing instead on win-win possibilities is a worthy endeavor. Consider what might happen:

  1. New customers/clients, including owners and users, think their need is met — or, better yet, exceeded — for a fair price.
  2. You build trust with new relationships that may bring additional opportunities with them.
  3. A win-win situation creates a potential booster — and perhaps referrals.
  4. You — including owners and those involved in or impacted by the sale — think the price is fair.

The pitfalls of not having guidelines can cause irreparable harm, which often leads to lose-lose results. Try to avoid frustrating the following players:

  1. Your “hunters,” due to lack of clarity in the pricing process — including failing to specify their particular role, or lack thereof, as appropriate.
  2. Those who have pricing responsibility, by interjecting 20-20 hindsight criticisms.
  3. Yourself, by agreeing to take on work that has no profit — or, worse yet, work that has no marginal cash contribution.

Guidelines are like plans. They are essential and need to be viewed as subject to change if and when new information is compelling enough to warrant a change. Once you have your pricing guidelines, hold them with an open hand, rather than a clenched fist. Establish a process for pricing outside the boundaries — who has the authority, and under what circumstances? The reasons will vary, but may include:

  1. Underpricing when trying to enter a new market.
  2. Underpricing to fill capacity.
  3. Underpricing to establish a new relationship.
  4. Overpricing because you either think you must put in a proposal for other than profit motives, but you don’t really want the work, or you’re at capacity and would need outsourcing help if you were successful in obtaining the bid.

Whenever you’re not successful, it’s always helpful to try to understand why. Learning provides useful market data that may help you with future proposals.

Do you — and, equally important, your team — have guidelines for pricing your new business opportunities? Singing from the same song sheet may produce just the tune you want to hear.

By the way, just for the “record,” the 1962 release of “First I Look At The Purse” came many years before my disco days of the ’70s.

Thanks for following the series. It’s been a privilege and blast to do!

Tom’s editorial comment: If, while reading this series, you believe Dan could be helpful to your company, please contact him directly at dan.doescher@sandboxpartnersint.com, or 248-701-8787.

Sandbox “Hunters” Game Plan: Goldilocks Was On to Something

December 21st, 2015 // Dan Doescher //
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Dan Doescher photo & Sandbox Partners logo

You’re confident you’ll know your “10” — that perfect potential new customer/client —when you see it, because you’ve taken the time to define your target. The real test, however, is figuring out where you can find your 10 —or even the 7s, 8s or 9s. Given the many ways to hunt, consider experimenting until you determine the most effective and efficient approach for your business and your team.

Brainstorming with team members who are in any way involved in the hunting process, including the inside administrative members, can be extremely useful. With your ideal target profile in clear view, consider:

What companies, both generically and as far as specific names, best meet your criteria? Aspects to consider include:

  1. Specific industries and/or professions — this may include those where you currently have or where you plan to have specialization.
  2. Their location, if you’re trying to expand geographically.
  3. Their size. While they can’t all be “10s,” Goldilocks had the right idea: she tested the porridge, chairs and beds until she found the one that was “just right.”

Where do you find your target? This can be daunting, so break it down:

  1. Generally, the narrower the field, the more difficult it is to connect.  Experiment with a mix of both broad and narrow efforts.
  2. Associations, community service organizations and clubs can provide networking opportunities.

Who are the likely influencers and/or decision-makers?

  • Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman, in The New Strategic Selling, identify four potential influencers:
    1. Economic influencers — they have the final say.
    2. Users — they can kill a deal, but not close it.
    3. Technical influencers — they can keep a deal from getting to the Users, but they can’t close it.
    4. Coaches — they want you to close the deal, and they can provide some leverage.
  • Current “loyal” customers/clients — with the emphasis on “loyal.” These individuals aren’t likely to refer you if they’re not completely delighted. Following up to ensure they’re pleased is a great way to entrench your existing relationships.
  • Referral sources — don’t overlook some unsuspecting places! There’s more there than you may think:
    1. All your staff
    2. Current suppliers and service providers
    3. Family and friends

If you want new customers/clients, the key is for people — all of the people you know, or at least most of the people you know — to understand you’re “open for new business.” Equally important is something my dad taught me. I heard it hundreds of times, and it’s had a distinct and profound impact on my life: “Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no.”

Next post: “First, I Look at the Purse,” Motown’s The Contours

Tom’s editorial comment: If, while reading this series, you believe Dan could be helpful to your company, please contact him directly at dan.doescher@sandboxpartnersint.com, or 248-701-8787.

Sandbox “Hunters” Game Plan: Do You Know Your “10” When You See It?

December 14th, 2015 // Dan Doescher //
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Dan Doescher photo & Sandbox Partners logo

OK, let’s get to the point: They can’t all be “10s.” However, beware of chasing whatever comes along. Defining your perfect target isn’t meant to restrict you; rather, it creates a guideline for determining where to proactively invest your time and resources for hunting, and it acts as a filter for deciding whether you should respond to opportunities that come to you.

Some of the target criteria you’ll want to consider includes:

  1. Determine the product or service providers you already have, or with whom you intend to develop a specialized capability in serving.
  2. What is your potential new customer/client size?
    • Number of employees
    • Number of locations and where they are located
    • Revenue
  3. Think about their culture — the way they do business.
  4. Do you have recurring and/or single-project work?
  5. What work may lead to other opportunities?
  6. Remember that clients of your potential new customer/client may be new opportunities for you.

Part of defining your perfect target includes determining the least desirable target. Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman’s book, The New Strategic Selling, suggests making a list of the following, in the order noted:

  1. Current and past:
    • Best customers/clients
    • Worst customers/clients
  2. Characteristics of the above clients:
    • Best characteristics
    • Worst characteristics
  3. Now define your ideal customer/client from these four lists.

Before you pursue new clients, a next step — and one also recommended by Miller and Heiman — is to review your current customer/client list against your ideal profile. The purpose is to consider whether you should continue these existing relationships. This is a healthy process that you should go through periodically, perhaps every year or so. There may be some clients you should dismiss, and others that you’ll keep after making certain changes to the relationship. Regardless, it helps you focus your limited resources.

With your perfect target defined, a refreshed list of current customers/clients and renewed commitment to serving them, you’re now well-positioned to effectively and efficiently begin hunting for new ones.

Choose your analogy — shotgun or rifle, hurricane or tornado — the more you narrow your definition, the more likely you’ll find your “10.”

Next post: Goldilocks Was On to Something

Tom’s editorial comment: If, while reading this series, you believe Dan could be helpful to your company, please contact him directly at dan.doescher@sandboxpartnersint.com, or 248-701-8787.

Sandbox “Hunters” Game Plan: But We’re Different

December 7th, 2015 // Dan Doescher //
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Dan Doescher photo & Sandbox Partners logo

Many years ago I asked my wife, Jan, if she thought I was competitive. The look on her face said it all. I got it. I’m as competitive as most.

Admit it — you think your business is different from everyone else. That’s great; it’s an important mindset. Equally significant, however, is how you respond to competition.

Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman’s book, The New Strategic Selling, acknowledges the need for being aware of the competition, but warns of the danger of sending an unintended “reactive/me-too” message to a potential new customer/client (we’ll call them the “target”), rather than the preferred “better than” position. The authors note the potential negative repercussions of too much focus on competition:

  1. It allows the competition to write the rules of the game.
  2. It advertises your weaknesses, not your strengths.
  3. It invites price-slashing.
  4. It makes you look unimaginative or uncreative.
  5. It deflects attention from the target’s concerns.

I also like their definition of the “competition”:

  1. They buy from someone else.
  2. They use internal resources.
  3. They use their budget for something else.
  4. They do nothing.

This provides a broader view of the potential barriers you may need to address.

In sports, playing offense is essential to winning. Proactively focusing on leveraging your differences is critical. Ultimately, you want your target to see that you know what differentiates you from all other options.

In my previous blog (see November 30, 2015, What We Do and How We Do It), I suggested doing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT) analysis. Focusing on your strengths is how you begin developing what really sets you apart from your competitors.

Begin by listing the features of what you do and how you do it that you think makes you stand out/differentiates you from all others. Then succinctly describe how your differences have created benefits to existing customers/clients. Documenting actual cases where customers/clients have benefited from these factors can be potentially powerful information that you’ll want to share with targets.

As always, it’s beneficial to have your key team members involved in developing this type of information. More importantly, it’s critical that your team is fully aware of these differences, embraces them, and easily communicates them to current customers/clients as well as targets.

Incidentally, if you don’t think you’re different, or you haven’t given it much thought, it’s time to consider the possibilities and related implications.

Next post: Do You Know Your “10” When You See It?

Tom’s editorial comment: If, while you’re reading this series, you believe Dan could be helpful to your company, please contact him directly at dan.doescher@sandboxpartnersint.com, or 248-701-8787.

Sandbox “Hunters” Game Plan: What We Do and How We Do It

November 30th, 2015 // Dan Doescher //
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Dan Doescher photo & Sandbox Partners logo

For years, my big brother Tom and I have been intrigued by businesses we’ve encountered whose leadership is convinced their company is unique in certain ways — and then, upon further research, we find the contrary to be true.

Successfully attracting new customers/clients requires a clear understanding of what you do and how you do it. That seems simple enough, right? But is your mission, your purpose, in writing? Does your team understand it enough to explain it? Even more importantly, do they embrace it?

Some call the process of aligning these aspects of your business strategic planning. Others consider it SWOT analysis documentation:

  • Strengths: aspects of your business that provide advantage over others.
  • Weaknesses: aspects of your business that put you at a disadvantage compared to others.
  • Opportunities: aspects of your business that could be leveraged for further advantage.
  • Threats: aspects outside your business that could cause you difficulty.

Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a necessary process. Engage your team in such an effort.

Be careful, however, because this is a process that can take on a not-so-helpful life of its own and backfire unless you’ve given it plenty of thought and preparation. Here are a few things worth considering:

  1. Include the appropriate people – the approvers and/or those who will be responsible for implementing plans.
  2. Don’t include so many people that you stifle input and candor.
  3. Plan the timing for the entire process, from beginning to end. Include lock-down dates, and get a firm commitment from participants.
  4. An offsite meeting location is advisable, to avoid daily distractions. Perhaps one of your company advisers can provide a conference room in their offices.
  5. An outside facilitator can sometimes be useful.
  6. Warn participants that “homework” before and/or between sessions may be necessary.
  7. Commitment by all, backed up by accountability, is key to getting this task accomplished.

Ultimately, you’re trying to come out of this process with action plans – to-do lists – that focus your team’s efforts on bringing in more new customers/clients.

Some practical, useful outcomes might include:

  1. Can your potential customers/clients clearly understand who you are and what you do?
  2. How can features of what you do create benefits?
  3. Remember that relatable success stories are powerful.
  4. Describe how you serve customers/clients — including who, their roles, communication lines and where “the buck stops.”
  5. Demonstrate any synergies within your company that will benefit customers/clients.

Once you’ve engaged in this process, you will be:

  1. Encouraged by an increased confidence and recommitment to leveraging your strengths to seize untapped opportunities.
  2. Aware of areas to either shore up or avoid altogether.
  3. More informed about your competition and the related implications (which we’ll talk about next time).

Is what you do and how you do it really different?

Next post: But We’re Different

Tom’s editorial comment: If, while you’re reading this series, you believe Dan could be helpful to your company, please contact him directly at dan.doescher@sandboxpartnersint.com, or 248-701-8787.

The Advisor’s Corner

Tom DoescherYou’ll find stories from the trenches, business lessons, and pertinent questions to help you find inspiration, professional growth, and leadership savvy.

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