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Mr. Loadlink’s Library…

There’s a good reason why successful people read a lot, says Mr. Loadlink.

“I once heard someone say that if Thomas Edison had gone to business school we would all be reading by larger candles,” writes Mark McCormack in the preface to his book titled, ‘What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School’.

As the founder of the world’s first sports management company continues, “My main purpose in writing this book is to fill in many of the gaps—the gaps between a business school education and the street knowledge that comes from the day-to-day experience of running a business and managing people.”

Many light bulb moments come to nothing

Many light bulb moments come to nothing

And, having initially been encouraged to do so by Action Coach’s Gary Mullins, that’s really why I devour as many business-themed books as my schedule allows. In fact, I clear space in my diary to read them.

There are many gaps or spaces in everyone’s knowledge and reading is a great way to fill the voids. Getting an author’s perspectives on the challenges one is facing or might have to confront in future offers an insight into the mind of someone who has in most cases found a way to navigate a pathway to success.

It’s education of a different kind. The best business books are about thinking outside the box, which is at odds with the education much of us endured at school. Take McCormack’s point about business school: if Edison, the inventor of electric power generation, had followed the protocols and norms outlined in courseware, his light might have been dimmed. I’d never sneer at education per se—without it we wouldn’t be able to read—but a really wise person complements it with a full bookshelf.

Here are another five titles to add to your reading list—and Why:

1. The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber

The ‘E’, by the way, stands for ‘entrepreneur’. The tagline of the book, ‘Why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it’, addresses the grim reality that many light bulb moments, dreams, and ideas come to nothing. Perhaps there should be warning stickers on business degrees and courses that states as much. Even most successful entrepreneurs have a catalogue of failures behind them and many readily point to the 50 bad ideas that preceded the one good one for which they are known.

As Gerber writes in Chapter One: “Picture the typical entrepreneur and Herculean pictures come to mind: a man or woman standing alone, wind-blown against the elements, bravely defying insurmountable odds, climbing sheer faces of treacherous rock—all to realize the dream of creating a business of one’s own.” But, he continues, “…while there are such people, my experience tells me they are rare.” As Gerber says, most entrepreneurs are such only for a short period of time. Then they cling to the rock face, not scale it.

The chapter goes on to explore the concept of entrepreneurial seizures and the fatal assumptions. The latter, for example, is to believe that if you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work. “And the reason it’s fatal,” writes Gerber, “is that it just isn’t true. In fact, it’s the root cause of most small business failures!”

Gerber also looks at the beauty of an org chart, whereby the roles required one day to run a fully-fledged business are mapped out on its first day. If 47 positions are required, it’s a case of beginning with the start-up team then ticking them off as personnel are added until every spot is filled.

Success is about scaling the rock face, not hanging on for dear life

Success is about scaling the rock face, not hanging on for dear life

2. Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, by Verne Harnish

This book is also underscored by an overarching theme: ‘What you must do to increase the value of your growing firm’.

Having studied the life of oil industry business magnate John Rockefeller, the author identified three habits and decisions. The first habit is priorities, or key rules that the company and its employees adhere to. The second habit is data, or information about the relevant marketplace. The third habit is rhythm—the regular meetings and checkpoints that make sure everybody is aligned with the goals of the business.

The book has been something of a bible for my company, Straightpoint (SP), over the years. Every business should find its optimal cadence—the perfect rhythm at which it should trade. Look at a runner’s stride pattern even in a long race; it isn’t slow or laboured, but economical and full of bounce. Businesses should travel the same way. Momentum and pace have been keys to our success and Harnish talks about the importance of travelling at a healthy clip.

He also refers to the questions that shape decisions:

  • Do we have the right people?
  • Are we doing the right things?
  • Are we doing those things right?
  • Regularly put them to your business.
Find the optimal cadence

Find the optimal cadence

3. Fanatical Prospecting, by Jeb Blout

Another must-read, this book is the ultimate guide to opening sales conversations and filling the pipeline by leveraging social selling, telephone, email, text, and cold calling.

Here at SP we’re obsessed with filling our pipe. By that I mean we recognise that no business can survive without leads and orders, which are generated by prospecting. Blout writes about how, “Savvy sales professionals are super disciplined in qualifying prospects. They understand that time is money and it is a waste of time to work with prospects that are not going to buy. They know that qualified buyers are scarce, and a moment spent with a prospect who will never buy takes them away from their most important task—finding prospects that will buy.”

My interpretation of much of the guidance in Fanatical Prospecting is in the importance of a sales squad leveraging a marketing team but not relying upon it. Successful people generate their own leads; they delve deep into markets to find the prospects that perhaps didn’t surface as a result of a marketing campaign. These smart salespeople have a profile in mind of the ideal customer and know where to look for them. It’s not that the marketing team aren’t working to the same objective—they are—but sometimes it’s only at the coalface can some purchasers be found.

This book is particularly applicable to businesses that are prepared to work hard to generate results. It’s not about short cuts. And I like that.

There’s an art to prospecting

There’s an art to prospecting

4. They Ask, You Answer, by Marcus Sheridan

This is a very current text about taking a revolutionary approach to inbound sales, content marketing, and today’s digital consumer.

It acknowledges that customers now turn to the Internet for everything. “If I had a question, I went to Google and asked,” Sheridan writes. The power, therefore, must be in having the answers, he thought. So, all he had to do as a swimming pool salesman, was to become an expert on fibreglass pools.

He continues, “When an organisation embraces They Ask, You Answer, they believe it’s their duty to be the teacher, the go-to source within their particular industry. One that’s not afraid to answer any and every question the prospect or customer may have. For them, it’s a moral obligation to do this, regardless of whether the question is perceived as good, bad, or even ugly.”

The book points out a reality that most businesses only talk about themselves and don’t focus on what prospects and customers are thinking about. How ignorant.

At SP, we talk about the TAYA (They Ask, You Answer) questions after every trade show:

  • What was the marketplace asking for?
  • Are we seen to have the answers?
Smart businesses have the answers to their audience’s questions

Smart businesses have the answers to their audience’s questions

5. Start With Why, by Simon Sinek

This is an old favourite and one of the most popular business texts around.

As Sinek wrote at the time of going to print, “There are leaders and there are those who lead. With only six per cent market share in the U.S. and about three per cent worldwide, Apple is not a leading manufacturer of home computers. Yet the company leads the computer industry and is now a leader in other industries as well. Martin Luther King’s experiences were not unique, yet he inspired a nation to change. The Wright brothers were not the strongest contenders in the race to take the first manned, powered flight, but they led us into a new era of aviation and, in doing so, completely changed the world we live in.”

The Start With Why concept is based on the power of an audience believing in a purpose. Making money, Sinek says, is a consequence of being a business, not the Why it exists. It’s the Why that people buy into.

What’s your Why

What’s your Why?

To bookend my latest blog with quotes from Mark McCormack, I’ll close with another one, from a section of his text about three hard-to-say phrases:

1. I don’t know

2. I need help

3. I was wrong

“An ability to say ’I was wrong’ is essential to success because it’s cathartic,” he writes.

In other words, it’s purifying and makes us feel better. It’s remarkable therefore that it’s so rarely said.

Happy reading.
Mr. Loadlink

2017: Ticked all the Boxes…

In his final blog of the year, Mr. Loadlink starts by looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats presented by a SWOT analysis.

It’s a time of year when one might be asked to conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of their business, product, division, or something else.

“We need a big year, team, so let’s get a SWOT matrix done and hit Q1 hard,” a CEO might say. “Let’s spend the afternoon on it; we need to deliver 20% growth next year,” he or she continues, slamming the desk with a fist.

It’s this kind of talk that gives SWOTs, indeed all business planning, a bad name. It’s a safe bet that companies who plan like this probably cut and paste much of the text in each of the four boxes from the last time they completed the exercise.

I can imagine someone saying, “We already know how we match up against competition, have identified opportunities and know that a recession would be bad news; change the date and send it off to the boss. Do it at ten-to-five though, so he [or she] thinks we’ve given it plenty of thought.”

Clever, eh? Not really.

No wonder the results aren’t treated with any sincerity. A good SWOT investigation can’t be completed in an afternoon; it’s not a box-ticking exercise. Producing an effective document that actually equips a business for growth and protects it from negative influence takes contributions from an engaged workforce on a regular basis. Moreover, it must be constantly challenged, updated and reattached to the whiteboard. Look at it every quarter—at the latest.

The standout weakness and threat combined by a SWOT analysis itself is the lack of care that’s too often associated with its production. This is actually a serious task. Think about the value in truly understanding one’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Imagine the power in knowing when a threat looms and having a system in place to create fortifications. When the attack comes, or market dips, a company can be ready for it.

SWOTs are underrated

SWOTs are underrated

Much of the problem can be attributed to a lack of acceptance of how temporary a SWOT matrix really is; it evolves constantly. The greater the time a business spends on it, the faster that change becomes. In fact, it creates that change. A good company with a robust SWOT can turn weaknesses into strengths and threats into opportunities. Where it can’t, it builds defences so strong that even the worst-case scenario can’t penetrate them.

Snowball fight

Take two winter maintenance equipment manufacturers, for example. One company is called Winter Wheels Ltd. (WW) and the other Snow Scene Ltd. (SS).

They are both a year old, hit their revenue targets for the first 12 months and their kit seems to be performing well in the marketplace. The production lines, both in Germany, are working efficiently and are meeting demand for road gritters and snow ploughs across nine-hour shifts, five days a week. Occasional overtime is needed when a large order comes in but both manufacturing teams are willing to put in the extra hours so orders are fulfilled and customers are happy.

As the year-end approaches, the respective chief executives request a SWOT analysis be delivered to board meetings at the end of that week. The team at WW takes the task seriously while SS, which has the same personnel numbers, throws the document together in an hour or so. Despite the differing attitudes, remarkably, both pieces of paper look similar. There are not even any real differences to highlight:

  • Strengths: Our equipment is performing well in demanding conditions.
  • Weaknesses: Demand for equipment is seasonal, as customers renew their fleets.
  • Opportunities: We have greater capacity in production.
  • Threats: A similar business is producing an equally good product for the same marketplace.

The difference was, WW decided to revisit the task at the end of the next quarter, while management at SS put it in a drawer and hoped they wouldn’t be asked for it again. A year went by and, much to the SS team’s disappointment, the dreaded email came round and another annual SWOT had to be presented in the boardrooms at the end of the month. WW had been planning for this, but SS less so.

WW took the SWOT and put it at the forefront of its business plan. During year two, it looked at leveraging its strengths. How can we make use of our manufacturing capability and look at other equipment that might be broadly similar to road gritters and snowploughs? Is there an industry that perhaps requires equally robust chassis but uses them all year round? Can the snowplough attachment be adapted for earth moving? Is there a road sweeping trade show where we can demonstrate our new idea?

Where SS saw the limitations of its business—a winter-themed product range would always be dependent on seasons—WW saw the chance to diversify and moved the goalposts. Where SS remained worried about a competitor that presented an alternative to 100% of its product range, WW created a market environment where a previous threat now only competed on a portion of its offering. WW was on the way to creating a business that was no longer reliant upon one season a year but created a new positive kind of threat that they’d have to close the new production hall if they couldn’t retain demand for the new range of products. Marketing was on the case, however.

How can a snowplough be adapted to serve another industry, WW thought?

As hinted above, the same principles can be applied to all business planning. I’m biased because I’m a meticulous planner and having reviewed my company’s 2017 plans—looking at what worked, what didn’t, where threats became opportunities, etc.—I’m excited about putting Q1 2018 plans into action and looking back over them in early April. There will always be threats and weaknesses at a business, I’m not out to change that, but it’s enlightening when one realises the extent to which they can be manipulated.

How might your business be able to better harness the power of a SWOT analysis or business plan?

Every nook and cranny

Visitors to last month’s LiftEx show, which took place on 29-30 November in Telford, got the first look at a ‘trusted global brands’ concept, whereby we co-exhibited with fellow below-the-hook equipment manufacturer Modulift, which makes spreader beams. We also shared space with Crosby that was kind enough to kit out the space with some truss systems upon which we hung our wares. My counterpart at Modulift, Sarah Spivey, has commentated extensively on the collaboration so I’m not going to repeat what’s already been stated, but it’s worth elaborating on our intent.

SP has identified approx. 15 trade shows that are taking place in 2018, each of which represents an opportunity to engage a different marketplace. If a particular product is more relevant than another—our Clamp On Line Tensionmeter (or COLT) will be of particular interest to professionals who work with tower and stack guy wires—we will showcase it accordingly, rather than present our whole portfolio. At LiftEx, where a more generic audience assembles, a broader mix of equipment is the order of the day.

Trusted global brands, like SP, were a focal point for LiftEx visitors

At many (not all) of the events alluded to above we will co-exhibit under the ‘trusted global brands’ banner and the success of LiftEx suggests to me that other businesses should try to explore avenues of mutual opportunity, where appropriate. For example, do you make or supply a product that is used as a complementary item to another bit of equipment? It might not be viable to manufacture that product oneself (that would have been considered in the SWOT analysis) but, say, a bike frame company and a tyre firm want to exhibit at a show. Collaboration could be the way forward.

Making space

It’s not about cutting costs. Ok, sharing space with Modulift does make it more affordable to exhibit at a niche trade event that may otherwise not be allocated a big marketing budget, but it’s more about presenting the target audience, our customers, with a breadth of solutions.

“We’re looking for a spreader beam but what’s this? Can it measure the load at the same time as we lift?” That might be how the conversation will start. “I’m looking for a new bike frame but what tyres do I get with it? Oh, these guys must be well reputed if they’re on the A-Frame Ltd. exhibit.”

The Modulift-SP collaboration is also a conversation starter and, think about it, getting people talking is a primary goal for any exhibitor. One LiftEx visitor even asked if ‘trusted global brands’ was an official joint entity. We were happy to correct them and, guess what, we were automatically in dialogue about load cells, spreader beams, load testing and heavy lifting. It’s a powerful concept and one that we’re excited about taking around the world over the coming 12 months.

Be mindful, however, that success at a trade show involves more than what happens during its opening hours. This is especially true at a niche event where one’s product isn’t necessarily a household name among that industry’s buying decision makers. It’s a good idea to support involvement with marketing and connect with the audience in the weeks—months, even—that lead up to the show.

To stick with the COLT as an example, if we’re taking it to an event where plumb and tension professionals gather, what trade journals might they be reading beforehand? A series of advertisements with the stand number and image of the product in use in their sector should be budgeted for. “I’ve seen you guys in Cable Mag,” is a great icebreaker.

Let bygones be bygones

LEEA staged its AGM on the first morning of LiftEx where, as I hinted might be the case in my last blog, there were some lively exchanges between the board and certain members. It was the first annual meeting I’d attended so I don’t have anything to compare it to but my impression is that it was particularly well attended. That’s a good thing but for LEEA to meet its objectives and continue to serve members and the industry alike, everyone has now got to get on the same page and explore collective interests once again.

We should be grateful for LiftEx and the opportunities it provides

Credit where it’s due: LiftEx consistently delivers. It’s always going to be a show where quality outweighs quantity of visitors and that’s fine with me. It should be ok with other exhibitors too, but many have expectations way beyond reality.

Don’t judge a show by the amount of people in the aisles; assess it based on quality of conversations and resulting leads. Often, it’s not the sparseness of visitors that mean an exhibitor has a bad show, it’s the dearth of wisdom they demonstrate in connecting with the people that are there and a failure to effectively communicate their solution. And the opportunities it provides.

Over and out

It’s been another great year at SP and welcoming new people is always a highlight. Only last week we introduced Kyle Milne as technical sales engineer based in Aberdeen, Scotland. As I told trade media, upon hearing of Kyle’s availability I was keen to explore the possibility of him leading our endeavours to raise our profile, and market share, in the important Aberdeen marketplace. I have been a long-time admirer of his passion for his customers and this industry. It was apparent he had SP DNA coursing through his veins and I’m delighted he’s on board—and already generating enquiries.

It was an honour to welcome Kyle Milne as SP’s new technical sales engineer.

It was an honour to welcome Kyle Milne as SP’s new technical sales engineer.

In closing, I’d like to take an opportunity to express my gratitude to everyone that makes SP possible—staff, customers, distributors, end users, suppliers, authorities, and others. It might well be a product centric business, but when we sit down to do our next SWOT analysis (soon!), it’ll be the people behind it generating all the items in the strengths and opportunities boxes.

If you celebrate it, have a magical Christmas and all the very best for 2018.

Mr. Loadlink