I’ve been an admirer of Hank Blank ever since I heard him speak about networking. I even wrote a blog post about that presentation in September 2009.

When The Problem is Lack of Focus

I just re-read his recent posts about problems he’s encountered at advertising agencies that don’t market themselves as well as they market their clients. While we can admire their focus on satisfying their customers, we should question their long-term prospects if they fail to apply strategy to their own self definition and self-marketing efforts.

As Mr. Blank points out, one of the symptoms of a company without strategic focus is opportunism. They chase whichever “deal” presents itself, missing most of them because they haven’t developed the product set for that client because they were too busy addressing the previous “must have” deal. With a strategy, product development positions you for the market you’re approaching, with branding, relationship-building and focused communications bringing the opportunities that are a true “fit” for your organization.

Opportunistic misdirection? I’ve been there – with Electronic Clearing House, Inc. (ECHO) in its early days. As a small credit card processor competing against the likes of First Data Corp and other out-sized payment technology firms, we struggled to be all things to all people. We chased business by developing special technology to obtain one business, without regard to whether this set of features would be of benefit to a sizable segment of even one vertical industry.

Making Choices – And Sticking With Them
ECHO, like companies that survive their opportunistic early days, survived by learning to focus.

My former colleague at Intuit, Scott Blum, described a strategic focus as, among other things, “deciding what not to do.” This means evaluating many opportunities and choosing only those that have the most potential for growth and the most alignment with core competencies. Such an approach led ECHO to focus more specifically on market segments that fit our credit card and echeck expertise.

Applying this Lesson to Sales

I’ve noticed something being part of a sales team. What companies do over months and even years of strategic development, sales people do on a daily basis in spending their valuable time on lists of leads. Who do you call? Which emails do you spend the most time on for follow-up? Choosing means deciding among a variety of alternatives:

  • Call the CEO who showed interest in your product, but stressed the need for a feature you don’t have.
  • Call the businesses who use a service that you can implement quickly for a quick hit, or call the businesses who use a product that takes more set-up time but offers more long-term profit?
  • If this company isn’t calling you back, is it because I wasn’t “on” the first time I called, or is it simply a product they truly have no need for?
  • Does the theory that X service “would be good” for a Y vertical make sense?  Gee, wouldn’t some more research be good on this topic? Is it worth it for the sales person to prove a hyposthesis, or should this be handed off to a research effort?
  • What’s the answer? A salesman makes decisions based upon his own instincts as well as the direction provided by management. However, a company can’t afford for instinct to drive strategy.

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