In the early years of my marriage, I felt it was my manly obligation to handle all home repairs. There was no project too big for me and my favorite tools: a hammer, pliers, and power drill.
Fortunately, my marriage survived those early years, and I learned some important lessons.
- A power drill is not appropriate for all home fixes.
- Real men can read the instructions.
- Planning saves time, reduces frustration, and improves quality.
- Sometimes you have to hire an expert, then get out of the way.
Among business leaders, there is the same sort of bravado that challenged my early years of home repair. When it comes to problems impacting the bottom line, we are often tempted to call on some favorite tools such as advertising or news releases.
This temptation is arrived at honestly. Boards and shareholders often prefer to see quick, tactical action to address problems rather than giving corporate leadership the extra minutes it may take to develop a strategic solution.
A flotilla of artsy, creative billboards and television commercials can offer the harried executive a high-profile method to demonstrate take-charge action regarding a faltering product. But when the magic doesn’t work, everyone looks bad.
A firm for which I consulted some years ago faced just such temptations. A reliable, cash-generating product that had been a market leader for years experienced a dramatic loss of sales volume in the face of growing competition. Under pressure from the board, the CEO ordered a tactical advertising campaign touting product features.
Months later, the product was continuing a downhill slide that would have to be explained to a board of directors. That’s when the CEO brought me in to lead a strategic approach founded on solid market and product research.
We had to work fast, but strategically. Our research-based assessment was not limited to public relations or marketing tactics. We took a comprehensive look at all aspects of the product and the market. We talked to line staff, and we learned from consumers. We crunched numbers and mapped processes.
The result was a strategic approach that included some favorite tools (marketing and public relations), and several product and process improvements. With a better product and more effective promotion, this company was able to:
- Turn a 25 percent market loss into a four percent gain.
- Generate $8 in revenue for every marketing dollar expended.
- Create a 16 percent increase in customers.
- Produce a 21 percent increase in revenue.
Does every strategic approach generate spectacular results? No. But, a strategic method is far more likely to help a product or company achieve its potential. And, strategic research can identify and quantify a genuinely hopeless situation before significant sums are spent attempting to revive a brain-dead product.
So, what do you need to know to implement a strategic fix for your biggest headache?
Research: Forget the quick fix. Focus on clearly identifying the problem and its root cause. Learn everything you can about the market. Identify an overall strategy with realistic objectives.
Plan: Based on your research and objectives, outline step-by-step tactics, timelines, budgets and responsible persons. This probably will not include your favorite power drill or band saw.
Do: Initiate your tactical plan, step-by-step, on time and within budget.
Check: Continuously monitor and evaluate the results as you implement the plan.
Act: Are the results what you expected? Have new opportunities developed? Minor course corrections are likely. Major adjustments may indicate your strategy was unrealistic, or your research was incomplete or not accurate.
Most importantly, don’t forget to ask for help. And, when seeking outside help, know the difference between the gifted tactical advisor, and the experienced strategy expert who can research and plan a realistic approach for your firm, using the right tools, not just the fun ones.
The original version of this article was published in 2004 by Inside Indiana Business.