Why Good Businesses Fail and How You Can Avoid It

Over the last 15 years, I have had diverse roles such as consultant, product manager, account director, and executive; and through the lens of these roles, I have seen many businesses succeed and fail. The reasons for success vary and depend on a number of factors such as technology, timing, team, and just plain luck. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the reasons for business failure typically come down to a few common areas: market, product/service, sales, and technology.

Market

The first and most important element to business success is the market. Specifically, how large is the market and is it growing? If you happen to find a large market, add 1-point for the good guys. If you have a market that is growing, even better. If you are in a market that is growing, with minimal competition, you have potentially hit the jackpot. I say potentially because any lucrative and growing market will attract competitors like flies to dung. I don’t say this to discourage you. I say this to make sure that you are aware of both the market size and your competitors. Any time you speak with bankers, investors, or potential customers, you should know these items in detail:

  • What is the market?
  • How large is the market?
  • Is it growing or shrinking? If so, by how much per year?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the alternatives to your product or service?
  • How would you rank your product/service against your competitors and alternatives?
  • What advantages do you have over your competitors?

If you have straightforward, simple, and quantitative answers to these questions, you should be in good shape.

 

Product/Service

Every business can be simplified down to providing a product or service in exchange for a fee. For example:

  • Grocery Stores: groceries
  • Construction Firms: labor and expertise for new buildings or renovations
  • Consulting Firms: expertise and advice on a range of topics and industries
  • Software Development Firms: software engineering and labor
  • Creative Agencies: design and creative expertise

Each of these examples comes down to finding the right niche for your product or service, but most importantly, it requires the business managers to find the right product or service at a sufficient profit margin to sustain and grow the business. If you cannot sell your product with the right margins, your business will stagnate and eventually fail. If you cannot sell your product at all, maybe you should consider that no one wants what you are sell and there is no market. There are times when you are creating a new market and over time sales will come, however, the most likely outcome is a zombie business: there is still movement but no meaningful activity.

 

Sales

As I always tell my clients, sales are the lifeblood of a company. If you aren’t properly nurturing your leads, prospects, and sales, you will soon find yourself in a dying organization. Every day, you should be gathering new leads on the Internet, over the phone, by email, and/or in-person. These leads should be tracked in what is called a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. What you sell will determine how you qualify each lead to make a decision on whether to move forward to try and make the sale. Once you have made the decision to move forward, you will estimate the labor, price the product, or write a proposal (your industry will determine what is appropriate) and close the deal. This is a simplified overview of what needs to happen but gives you a good idea of what you should be doing to manage your sales effectively. I teach teams to review their sales pipeline each week to make sure that each lead and deal is moving along and nothing is stagnant. If you do find that a deal is not moving along, you will need to do some digging around with the salesperson, estimator, account manager, etc. to uncover the issue.

 

Technology

I group all of the systems, and tools that are needed to improve a business’ survival under the term “Technology.” First and most importantly is the company’s website. Not only should the site be visually appealing, it should be easy to navigate, find information, and clearly show the purpose of the business, products, and services. A key element that I see overlooked even in 2018, is a lack of focus on lead generation on many companies’ websites. As stated previously, lead generation is a key element in the sales process and needs appropriate attention at the most senior levels of the business. Another element to the website is to ensure that the site is secure using what is called SSL (the little green padlock in the browser address bar). Given that SSL can now be set up for free or very low cost, there is no longer a reason to have an insecure site.

Another element that is critical is the CRM as previously mentioned. The CRM is the central place for all of your customer, lead, and deal information. In other words, the CRM will contain all of the information about your customers leading up to you closing the deal. I have found and set up free and low-cost CRM options for my clients that have resulted in both in millions in new revenue and a detailed record of what led to the new revenue.

There are many other systems that are critical to a business but the website and CRM are the two that I find provide the largest ROI for every business that I have personally worked with in the past.


Daniel is a venture architect and advisor specializing in technology strategy, investment, and implementation. He has helped clients as diverse as the US government and automobile manufacturers manage their technical needs and endeavors. Formerly management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, he helped launch a $200+ million enterprise collaboration line of business. Daniel also doubled automotive vertical revenue to $25 million in less than 2 years. With B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science and Technology Management respectively, he has become an expert in vendor management and business development utilizing technology and strategy skills.

 

How to Differentiate You Product Using a Competitive Matrix

beat the competition

Every business that provides a product or service needs to differentiate themselves from their competitors or alternative solutions. For purposes of this article, I don’t really make a distinction between competitors and alternatives since both will keep customers from using your product or service. For example, Amazon Books technically competes with Barnes and Noble (B&N), but an alternative to Amazon and B&N would be your local library where books are free.

 

When developing your differentiation strategy, you should look at the problems that your target customers have and how your product or service solves those problems. List each problem in a table or spreadsheet down the first column as in Table 1:

Competitive Matrix
Table 1: Competitive Matrix

When scoring your product, try to be as objective as possible, not overvaluing your product and undervaluing competitive or alternative products that solve your customers’ problems. Also, prior to putting together this matrix, your should already have a firm grasp of the problem(s) you are solving and who are your target customers.

The next step in this process is to do a quick calculation comparing your product against the average score of your competition’s ability to solve your customers’ problems. The process involves pretty simple math:

  • Take the average of your competitors/alternatives for each problem line (ex for line 1: (1.00+1.00+3.00+2.00+3.00)/5 = 2.00)
  • Subtract the average for each line from your product’s score for that line (ex: for line 1: 4 – 2.00 = 2.00)
  • Take the average of the difference for each line.

Table 2 below shows how this fictional “Fancy Problem Solver” stacks up against the competition with an overall score of 1.53.

Competitive Score
Table 2: Competitive Score

In my experience, anything less that a 1.5 has some serious competitive problems. Also, anytime you have this many competitors and alternatives, you should consider solving a different problem or creating a new category that doesn’t exist. This does not mean that you are making up a BS category to avoid the hard work of competing. What it means is that you create a new category in the minds of customers so that they no longer associate your product or the problems you solve with any other alternatives.

I have personally helped may clients define their product, competitive landscape, and how to position their solution in the minds of their customers. For example, I have a client that provides a luxury, high-end service. They were have trouble defining the services and attracting customers on a recurring basis. In looking at what they offered, I first determined that they were defining their services in the sports therapy category, when they should be defined in the luxury therapy category. Once we had a new category definition, we then reached out to multiple luxury car dealerships in the area (this is a very posh, well-to-do community in Southern CA) to offer memberships to the dealerships’ customers. All they need to do is show up with their key fob and they were treated like royalty. This has translated into an increase in foot traffic and most importantly, an increase in sales and profit margins.

If you would like to discuss how I can help with your product or service strategy, feel free to contact me via the comments or LinkedIn.

Problem Solving: 5 Reasons Staff Augmentation Sucks and What to Do About It

In my role selling professional consulting services and IT solutions to Fortune 500 customers, I see a variety of support models ranging from simple staff augmentation to large-scale managed services contracts. Although best practices across multiple industries over the last 10 years has seen a gradual migration away from staff augmentation towards managed services, I still see push back for various logical (and illogical) reasons.

What if there was a intermediate step between staff-aug and managed services? Fortunately, there is such a step called “Managed Capacity.” This support model combines many of the perceived benefits of staff augmentation (flexibility, onboarding consultants quickly) with the benefits of managed services (vendor takes on responsibilities for deliverables, outcomes, and management of resources). We still recommend that clients start on the path to managed services, but we have seen the best outcomes when customers start with managed capacity to get accustomed to an outcome-based support model, then move to managed services with all of the enterprise advantages that it brings. Here are the 5 signs you are ready and should move from staff augmentation to managed capacity.

  1. Reason #1: You are seeing budget constraints from unplanned staffing or project costs.
    Every organization experiences unplanned costs due to staffing, projects, or changes in direction / strategy. Unfortunately, the easiest (and costliest) way to deal with this is to throw more bodies at the issue through staffing. In my experience, we have helped clients work through these issues via managed capacity where we take on the burden of managing deliverables, outcomes, and time/cost tracking.
  2. Reason #2: You aren’t seeing the project outcomes / progress that you expect from your vendors.
    No enterprise project portfolio is perfect and issues / failures do happen. However, if you are seeing a pattern of delays, quality issues, and/or project failures, then maybe the delivery model needs to be adjusted. One question I get from customers is “How would managed capacity help with project delays/failures?” One way in which managed capacity helps is the focus on delivery of required skills to get the project done and not just a “butt in a seat.” Secondly, customers get predictable and cost-effective outcomes. Third and most importantly, customers get active knowledge management that is retained and shared across the customer and project teams, reducing the risk of valuable IC leaving the if there is staff turnover.
  3. Reason #3: You constantly need to ramp teams up and down quickly for new projects or initiatives.
    Projects are one of the core elements of an enterprise and ideally, you would only work on planned projects on a carefully crafted roadmap. However, anyone that spent any time on a medium-to-large organization call attest that this is not always possible due to competing priorities, internal politics, and sometime just dumb luck. This is where managed capacity can help manage the shock of fluctuating project needs by outsourcing the overhead and maintenance of staff capacity to an external vendor with the experience and track record of outcome-based delivery.
  4. Reason #4: You are working on new, complex projects requiring specialized skills.
    Many projects that enterprises undertake are pretty routine and straightforward (maintenance, enhancements, etc.). However, in order to stay competitive, organizations must innovate with complex projects requiring specialized skills such as new application development, data migration, cloud migration, or new strategy development. Managed Capacity allows us to support a range of skills with minimal risk to the customer. We take on the staffing, deliverable, and outcome risks of complex projects where there many “unknown unknowns.”
  5. Reason #5: You are facing new threats (internal and external) and need your project teams to be more efficient and effective.
    There are always new threats to your organization (both internal and external) that you need to address and overcome on a daily basis. How you take on these threats can affect your success or failure in the short-, medium-, and long-term. If you go with a pure staffing model, you will get the ramp up in bodies, but what is the guarantee that you will have the staff you need in the right place at the right time? With new pressures from large enterprises, SMBs and startups, the ability to deliver better outcomes at a lower overall cost could be the key to your organization keeping into advantages and the key to your individual success as a manager or executive.

If you are interested in learning more about managed capacity or managed services, feel free to contact me in the comments or on LinkedIn.