Michael Cymbrowsky / Consultative Sales Enablement
A company culture where curiosity is embraced and norms are challenged will help a business succeed. To build and sustain such a culture, a leader with an inquisitive mind is essential. A person who inquires about weaknesses and disruptive forces. An individual who validates instincts and re-examines accepted practices. A professional who digs deeper and always wants to learn more. And most importantly, someone who has the confidence to ask questions. These types of characteristics will allow a leader to stay ahead of the competition.
To enable a healthy dose of curiosity, there are six critical questions a business leader can ask.
1) Is The Plan Fully-Baked?
A plan usually involves five activities: One, setting goals; two, developing strategies; three, aligning resources; four, assigning responsibilities; and five, executing tactics.
Sustained growth is probably the biggest challenge for a business leader, and at some point he or she will need to create a plan to transform a company for it to remain viable. Whether moving from manufacturing to consulting services, provisioned to cloud based software, or brick and mortar stores to e-commerce sites, a metamorphosis will be required.
How a transformation is executed can be the Achilles heel of a plan. This was the case when a toy company, in its strategy to expand from traditional playthings to interactive games, overpaid for an acquisition due to poor due-diligence. It also happened when a wireless carrier merged with a competitor before it fully understood the ramifications associated to network and cultural differences.
A curious leader will ask how a plan is supported and then listen very carefully to decide where there are weak links.
2) Is There An 800 Pound Gorilla Nearby?
It could be a competitor with an iconic brand, an account with a loyal and energized customer base, or a new technology that shifts power from one distribution channel to another. Whatever it may be, there is usually some type of significant force, which, if not addressed, could threaten the existence of an organization. This is why it’s important that leaders not let their pride, loyalty, or optimism obscure the business landscape.
An unwillingness to recognize changing market dynamics is a recipe for disaster. So keep your eyes open and be prepared because it is not a matter of if, but when an 800 pound gorilla will enter the room.
3) Can My Intuition Be Validated?
Leaders have strong beliefs and tend to drive quicker decisions based on instinct. While gut decisions can be a necessary impetus for a company, they must be validated.
When a recently hired CEO made a gut decision to transform a low-end department store to a stylish retailer, research and analysis should have been conducted before he acted on his gut. Because, if tests were conducted and trends analyzed, it would have shown that his decision was terribly wrong. Unfortunately, the CEO proceeded and as a result thousands of loyal customers stopped buying, a precipitous decline in sales ensued, and hundreds of employees were laid-off. As one investor said, “One of the big mistakes was perhaps too much change too quickly without adequate testing on what the impact would be”.
Overall, it is imperative to use analytics and customer insights to validate intuition and guard against personal biases that could be very costly.
4) Is It Strategy Or Justification?
There have been many times when business leaders have inherited strategies that were not supported by data. And compounding the problem is when an unsound strategy has been repeated so often it becomes a de-facto corporate mantra making it difficult to refute. Or perhaps a strategy morphed to justify a prior mistake.
This occurred when an industrial conglomerate that manufactured telecommunications switching equipment decided to enter the consumer wireless handset business. The mantra to justify the investment, “an integrated solution”, however, provided no meaningful benefits for wireless carriers. After years of losing billions of dollars, the handset business was eventually liquidated at a significant loss.
By asking precise questions to colleagues, supervisors, and direct reports, a leader can begin the process of dismantling a poor strategy. It may take time and effort, but eventually logic and facts prevail.
5) Is The Policy Obsolete?
Frequently, sales policies tend to outlast their intended purpose. Commission and territory policies that were once designed to accommodate a launch can stay in place years after a roll-out. Such as when commissions that should be based on revenue and profit continue to be paid on contract signings. Or territories that should be designed around products, industries or geographies remain open.
On a periodic basis, leaders need to question whether a policy remains relevant and is accomplishing a desired outcome.
6) Is Distribution Being Underestimated?
Advertising to end-users, whether digital or traditional, tends to be sexier than channel promotions. And with many marketers believing their raison d’etre is to build strong brand awareness among consumers, there tends to be a bias for “pull” marketing campaigns.
While there is always a time for “pull” and “push” marketing efforts, the effectiveness of the former tends to be overstated while the latter is understated. Therefore, a leader must ask whether marketing funds expended on distribution will yield a better return-on-investment than advertising to the end-user.
By asking relevant questions, a leader will steer an organization in the right direction. Transformations will succeed, potential disruptions will be addressed, intuitive decisions will be validated, strategies will be effective, policies will drive desired behavior, and resources will be efficiently allocated. So leaders, stay curious as it will help you to achieve your goals.