I first saw Hawkind in 1978 at a gig that the local evening paper suitably described as “a weird evening”. Never mind that punk had happened – every hippy and assorted entity who lived under a stone had been drawn there as if by a tribal dog whistle.
The previous year they had written a song called micro-man, which has a key line which has only become more applicable over time:
It’s the age of the micro-man, who sees the detail and never the plan
Which is highly relevant to business development today. In this world of speciation and specialisation we are all admonished to be ever more detail focused and ever less plan focused – to drill into and live amongst the pixels. This, de facto, means less time attention and thought for the big picture.
Detail is fine and dandy – and essential in many professions, or even the arts – ever seen a ballet rehearsal?. However time and time again I see that it’s The Big Picture that makes the biggest difference. No amount of tactics will make up for strategic drift.
One Tao of BizDev strategic consultancy gig was advising a SME with outlets around Europe. I interviewed the Founder/CEO and COO for half a day and wrote up a one page action plan for discussion with the board and main investors. They liked it (which is always nice :-)).
It’s a clear example of how periodically one needs to rise up and look at the whole mosaic even if one spends most of the year on the pieces. It also shows that without a separate “set and setting” and an (experienced) “outsider” to see your wood from your trees it is nigh on impossible. Even if you are a dentist you can’t do your own dentistry…
This was a mature and successful business. Their presenting issue was that income was flat and the medium term outlook was negative. Economic conditions were tough and affecting their business which is a discretionary spending item. Competition had increased and their sharper offerings were slowly starting to eat into a loyal client-base (which was also an aging client-base).
So where would you start? A better marketing team? More salesmen??
Let’s go back to the conversation and a “boardroom” perspective. It became apparent that whilst the poor economy was a factor there was something more important going on. The business was aging. Furthermore focus had been lost due to projects aimed at more geographic spread (to offset the revenue issues). Now “aging” and “focus” are nice “tone” words, a right-brained feel, holistic, big-picture, strategic.
So what is the treatment? Rejuvenation. Literally in this case – the injection of younger blood – the necessity to start introducing a generational transition to move it on from “20thC thinking” whilst retaining its brand values. With this rejuvenation will come new focus. This is clearly a human conversation which has to be handled very sensitively – it’s one where experience pays – too much modern digital business is, well, just more used to dealing with computers than people 😉
Interestingly the business – which is very client-facing – had lost touch with the changing needs of its core customer base. They were operating on what they understood the client base’s needs to be – not what they were. A strategic priority was to – sensitively – get feedback from the clients. To me this is the root of all good business. Know people, know their pains, their hopes, their frustrations and build your product to serve them. It’s “20thC Dark Side BizDev” to think that BizDev is about clever marketing and sales – marketing and sales are always necessary but (for Light Side BizDev ) they are only ever a means to hooking up with clients who you serve well.
Along with this renewed client focus needed to come a sharpening of the product offering. As is typical with most products (software is a prime example) over time development makes them more feature-laden, less sharp, and less “cut-through”. A deeper understanding of the client base could additionally lead to a new product range which in turn will act to increase client interest as well as income and get back to a virtuous circle rather than a vicious circle. Sharper products will also help the competitive position.
Although the business had embraced digital channels for marketing and sales it had done so on an in-house basis. For me the litmus test of your “digital presence” is how much it acts to attract business to you – how many “incoming” enquiries do you get?
In-house development had been fine for some time but in a world of excess competition there is no alternative to being 110% professional around the whole value circle [product, marketing, sales, client]. If you aren’t fully professional your competition will be. I recommended they get some digital professionals to work with them. We are beyond the time when you can “do it all” yourself – there are not enough hours in the day to become a complete expert at web design, video, social media, marketing etc etc.
To finish with the “meta-Big Picture” in this Case Study – the Big Picture on the Big Picture 🙂 – perhaps one of the lessons from this case study is to increase the bandwidth of your business approach, the breadth between the picture and the pixels.
We all need “more strategic strategy” and “more tactical tactics”. Great differentiation. Returning to Taoist thinking, as my old Tai Chi teacher used to say (in his inimitable Glaswegian accent) “night and day, night and day”.
We need this 30,000 feet approach but we also need the 30 feet detail. My expertise is in plotting out the former and connecting it to the latter.
What have you taken away from this case study? Which elements resonate with your business situation?
Have you done a strategic BizDev audit recently? If not give me a call – there is immense benefit in having a fresh look at the Big Picture – it really will help you line up all those pixels 🙂