Business Strategy

To Learn Something New...It Pays To Look At The Old!

With all the advances in technology, it still amazes me how many people are forgetting the basics when it comes down to understanding key principles of human interaction.

When I started my first job in territory sales with NCR, we had no email or Blackberry or cellphones. I made my quotas the old-fashioned way - I spoke to people! I knocked on doors, took the time to understand my customer's needs - and sold lots of stuff!

NCR trained us through their office in Dayton, Ohio. They had a great sales program, and we all graduated thinking that if we followed a few basic and proven principles, we would come out on top of the sales echelon. They emphasized old-fashioned principles such as hard work, persistence, honesty, follow up and planning. They told us to have faith and confidence in ourselves in that if we made a solid plan and stuck to it, the sales would come. And they did - in spades. I made the Century Points Club every year with NCR, and continued to set records in business development in future sales jobs.

In a fast-paced and often unforgiving world, it's not always the fastest and flashiest who win. It's often the person who shows the human touch who is able to break through the clutter and stand out as someone who truly cares. So next time, instead of text messaging - try the human approach. Drop in and see how someone is doing - or give them a call. The benefits might just last a lifetime.

What "old fashioned" values do you still believe in? Is it possible to succeed in today's fast paced world and still believe in these values?

NOTE: When I Googled NCR, the company description came up as "NCR is a global technology company leading how the world connects, interacts and transacts with business." Connection - interaction and transaction...the technology may have changed, but the principles sure haven't.

Nostalgic Over Heinz

Heinz is one of the world’s most iconic and memorable brands. To this day, I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz ketchup. The topic of brand loyalty has long intrigued both manufacturers as well as advertisers and academics. What makes a brand so good – that consumers will go out of their way to buy it every time – regardless of price or the wide array of other options on the grocery shelf?

Iconic global brands have several qualities, but perhaps the most dominant is their ability to invoke some sort of emotional connection in the consumer. By consuming a product represented by a global brand, we are often transported to a different place and time. A time when things were simpler and less rushed. A time when we were perhaps surrounded by family gathered around the television set watching the Flintstones or Walt Disney.

Take Heinz spaghetti. To some, it might be just another option to soup on a cold winter’s day. But to me, the idea of eating Heinz spaghetti has a far deeper connection and meaning. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I remember us all eating Heinz spaghetti on (usually wobbly) TV trays  watching our old black and white TV on those long and cold winter days. On some days we might have come home for a quick lunch from school. My grandmother would open up a couple of cans, then serve them to us sprinkled with Kraft grated parmesan cheese.  I still remember shaking those large green containers with the red lids. I also remember watching the spaghetti boil as the odour of tomato sauce filled our house.

We loved Heinz spaghetti, and I still eat it today when I want to feel nostalgic. That’s one reason comfort foods exist. When it comes to brands, it’s not so much what they ARE – but what they DO to us that represents their true quality and value. A brand is a promise of quality, and I know that whether it’s today or 10 years from now, Heinz will still offer me the same quality product I experienced when I was 10.

Perhaps most importantly, it will offer me the same brand STORY I experienced when I was 10. Brands offer context, and whenever I eat Heinz spaghetti I’m transported back to childhood. It represents comfort food and reminds me of a time when we were all together as a family.

To me, it’s not just another can of convenience food. It’s a promise that what I experience when I eat it will contain good memories and will make me feel good about the purchase. That’s what iconic brands do – and will always continue to do. It’s what makes them unique.

Are there any other brands you can think of that offer you a similar story? Are all brand decisions based on price, or do you sometimes buy something just because it reminds you of another place and time?




What Happened To The Real Risk-Takers?


This weekend we went to see Who Do You Love at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is director Jerry Zaks riveting rendition of the story of Leonard Chess, the founder of Chicago based Chess records that helped catapult legendary musicians Etta James, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley to fame and fortune.

Leonard Chess, a Jewish man running a junkyard in the forties, teamed up with his brother Phil and opened a nightclub that catered to blues musicians. What's interesting about the movie goes far beyond the classic "immigrant works hard to reach the American Dream story."

What makes the story so real and inspiring is how Leonard Chess reached the top with absolutely no background in music - nor any connection to the music industry. He and his brother ran a junkyard, yet Chess was able to sense something great in the music of the time that ended up having universal appeal with the American public. He had a vision and a sense that he was onto something - and he took risks that many in his shoes would not have taken.

Leonard Chess could have gone on in life leading the comfortable life of a working-class Dad, yet he followed his instinct and his drive and passion led him to a place beyond his wildest dreams. He followed his gut, without knowing anything about the business and made up his own rules along the way. Mistakes were made, but he went on and somehow worked everything out. While he had an incredible business sense and thrived on the art of the deal, Chess also possessed an almost child-like quality in his dealings. To him, there were no obstacles because he didn't know enough about the business to know what he was getting into. Without that knowledge, he operated on pure gut instinct and a keen marketing sense on what the American public needed and wanted.

In the corporate world where conformity is still rewarded and often revered, what we need are more people like Leonard Chess. People who operate by gut instinct, people who are willing to take a chance on the new guy. It doesn't matter if you never had a hit record - what mattered was your potential as an artist and how that potential could strike a very deep chord within the target audience. Every single artist who signed on with Chess records got there because someone saw their talent - and believed in them. Without that, they would have been nothing - or at least their careers would have waited until someone else figured out their talent and value as artists.

So, if you took the time to sit down and envision the kind of future you'd like to live..."Who (or what) do you love?"

Why is it that in business, some people take risks - and others don't? If the stakes are high - would you take a risk to make your dream come true? If so, why? If not, why not? Is it true that the bigger the risk - the greater the potential gain? Do you ever feel that if someone would just give you a chance, you could use your talent in a way that would help catapult you (and the person who believed in you) to the world stage?

Why Can't Sales and Marketing Learn To Get Along?

In all my years working in marketing and communications departments (both large and small), it still continues to baffle me as to why sales and marketing teams don't seem to get along. Yes, there is mutual respect to some degree. After all, everyone is interested in the same thing - how to craft a creative and persuasive message that will attract people's attention and prompt them to action leading to increased revenues.

The difference between sales and marketing isn't always obvious, but one could say that:

  • Marketing is the process of defining and/or creating a market niche(s) in which to "sell" a product or service. To do this requires a fairly structured and managed process that involves input from numerous stakeholders and a plan in which to "attack" the market.
  • Sales is the tail end of the process and is focused on getting the order.

Considering that they both share the same end goal, why is it that sales and marketing departments don't get along?

Here's my theory (gained from years of experience working on both sides of the fence):

1) Sales departments often don't have a keen understanding of the dynamics and thought process behind the creation of effective marketing strategy

2) Marketing departments are often seen as "dumping grounds" for marketing and communications materials versus places where strategic thought is originated

3) Marketing professionals often play on the stereotype that salespeople are 'pushy' people with no other goal in mind than chasing the almight dollar - the image of a "slick" salesperson comes to mind

In the midst of all this misunderstanding, one thing remains true. For a company to make profits, both departments need each other. Without the preparation needed to bring a product or service to market, sales teams would be wasting valuable time in the field chasing prospects with absolutely no potential. Without an effective sales team, product wouldn't be sold, and this would have tremendous impact on the bottom-line.

So, before you resort to that corporate practice of game playing and start "passing the buck" to other divisions...remember that it's in a company's best interest to learn to get along. Without sales and marketing, there would be no product and no sales. And, as we were all taught in business school, nothing happens without a sale.

What experiences have you had working in sales and/or marketing departments? Did you sense tension between the two areas? What, if anything, were you able to do about it?

CEO's Shine at 2007 Canadian Business Leadership Forum


I was downtown yesterday attending the 2007 Canadian Business Leadership Forum. The forum featured insights from some of Canada's top business leaders, as well as a panel discussion of the 2007 All-Star Execs hosted by the editor of Canadian Business Magazine - Joe Chidley.

The general theme was "Creating Competitive Advantage", and each speaker gave us tips on how they are helping their companies stay on top of their competitive game.

Here is a quick summary of the highlights of each speech:

1) Martin Parker - Managing Director, Waterstone Human Capital - "How Corporate Culture Impacts Competitive Advantage"

  • The definition of corporate culture is "It's how things are done around here"
  • "We're in a war for talent - there's a growing scarcity of human capital in Canada"
  • Companies have to create an employer brand based on an employee value proposition
  • When companies hire, they are looking for "fit" (ie. which behaviours will work in our organization?)
  • Companies should get out of behavioural interviewing (often they are merely a performance) and get into business planning style interviews to give employers an idea as to how potential candidates THINK

2) Louie Mele - President, McDonald's Canada - "Keeping the Golden Arches Shining"

  • One reason that McDonald's failed in some cases with new product introduction is that we "took our eyes off our fries"
  • Three of the key elements of competitive advantage are: principles, business models and innovations
  • We build our business model on the principle of the 3 legged stool (Ray Kroc)...customers, suppliers and franchisors. If one leg fails, the whole stool falls down
  • "We operate a global brand in a local way"
  • Our brand mission is to be "our customers favourite place and way to eat"

3) W. Brett Wilson - Managing Director and Chairman, FirstEnergy Capital Corp. - "Partnerships, Priorities and Prairie Ethics: A Survival Guide For Success in Business and in Life"

  • "We partner with people, not assets"
  • You could describe our company as somewhat maverick with a lot of attitude
  • "We all ride for the brand"
  • Giving back and creating a legacy are very important (on the subject of charity work)
  • "Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to make changes in your life"

4) Kevin Dougherty - President, Sun Life Financial Canada - "Competitive Advantage in Financial Services"

  • "Competition for resources and glory can kill an idea in a large corporation"
  • You have to "shift the path of competition in your favour"
  • Business strategies should be cross-competitive

5) Doug Cooper - Country Manager, Intel Canada - "Leading in the Knowledge Economy"

  • On the subject of corporate blogs..."sometimes you just have to let the conversation happen"
  • "Engagement goes up dramatically when you allow your customers to talk to you"
  • "There's a shift from Assets to Values" (ie. from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0)
  • Web 2.0 is a commitment to participate - it encourages conversation across silos in an organization

6) Bill Buxton - Principal Researcher, Microsoft Corp. (author of "Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design") - "Great Ideas Are A Dime a Dozen. It's What You Do With Them That Counts."

  • A recent Conference Board of Canada report gave Canada a "D" in the area of innovation
  • We don't know how to communicate good ideas
  • We are taking all the play and creativity out of kids and then wonder why they're not entrepreneurs
  • "Safe and reliable" is the most dangerous thing you can do - it leads to certain death
  • Design is choice, and creativity can be brought to alternatives and to the heuristics of choice
  • Quote from Alan Kay - "It takes almost as much creativity to understand a good idea as it does to have it in the first place"
  • Innovation is an extreme sport, and involves the right: skills, tools, fitness and partners (just like in mountain climbing)
  • The stuff that will make a difference in the future is already 10 years old

How do you create competitive advantage in your company? How do you foster and encourage innovation and creativity?