Strategy

Business Decision

Fields Medal, Open Problem, and Business Decisions

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Earlier, we discussed how analytics with statistics is valuable and beneficial in making business decisions and formulating strategies.

There appears an increasing level of interest among math scientists to work on topics, like machine learning, that are changing people’s lives through its application in business.


“A topic that is attracting more and more attention is mathematical aspects of machine learning. There are many directions; one that interests me is how I could use some of these exciting new tools in my own research. Another very ambitious and noble goal is to create a mathematical theory of machine learning. When does it fail, and when we can we hope for good results?”

— Maryna Viazovska, 2022 Fields Medal winner, in a Q&A with Nature

This Veracle is about how the mathematicians’ work is instrumental in pushing the boundaries of making data-driven decisions in business.

Let us begin with a little fun challenge: Take a look at the four knights on the cover picture. Can you exchange the positions of the black and white knights on the given chess board?

If you can, then you may have it in you to win the Fields medal.

What is Fields Medal and how is it relevant to business?

The Fields Medal is the most* prestigious award a mathematician can receive. The International Mathematical Union presents the medal to young math scientists for outstanding contributions in mathematics. The Fields Medal is only awarded every four years.

Business Decisions
The obverse and reverse of the Fields Medal

This year, four mathematicians are the winners of the Fields Medal. They received their awards earlier this month in Helsinki, Finland.

Business Decisions
2022 Fields Medal winners

They have earned this distinguished honour for solving or moving closer to solving longstanding “open problems.”

An open problem is a known stated problem which has not yet been solved. It is assumed to have an objective and verifiable solution.

The answers to open problems pave ways for innovative ideas and possibilities. In business context, these answers facilitate, among other things, making business decisions better and faster.

How is their work exciting and significant?

Business decision making has become too complex. Business executives must consider both qualitative and quantitative information to make decisions.

Qualitative information uses subjective judgements. This includes non-quantifiable data such as employee expertise, people attitude towards change, and company culture among other intangible aspects.

However, quantitative information uses data. Now, organisations have too much data available to them. They have data generated by operational transactions, market research, and external sources. Organisations must analyse this exponentially growing data to make decisions. Moreover, they must make many of these decisions in the runtime.

To that end, businesses need more advanced computational algorithms to sift through zettabytes of data to analyse and arrive at useful insights. The conventional techniques are highly time and cost intensive.

This is where work of the Fields Medallists becomes significant.

How does mathematics help business decisions?

This year’s Field Medallists’ works are centred on number theory, probabilistic theory, and combinatorics, among other more intricate topics.

Here are a few examples of business applications of the topics of their work.

Number theory deals with the properties and relationships of numbers.

It has helped in public key cryptography, such as RSA algorithm. This has enabled confidential communications, digital signatures, and secure online transactions for e-commerce companies.

Probability theory is the branch of math concerned with calculating the likelihood of an event. It has numerous applications in business.

From all kinds of risk assessment and modelling (like that for investment and insurance) to sales forecasting, most prediction algorithms use probability theory.

Combinatorics is the study of objects and connections between them. Simply speaking, it has applications wherever we need to arrange things using permutations and combinations.

One can see examples of combinatorics everywhere. It can help in optimising communication networks and logistics. Combinatorics had a crucial role in manufacturing. For example, modular toy manufacturing.

How does it matter to Veravizion?

At Veravizion, we help our clients thoroughly understand their customers. The objective is to devise and implement effective marketing strategies for their business growth.

This involves figuring out our customers’ real target customers, understanding their purchase motivations, performing causal analysis, optimising resource allocations, and in general solving their business problems.

In this process, we apply several techniques such as clustering, regression, optimisation, resource planning, and various other statistical analyses. These are based on pure math and statistical concepts like probability theory, combinatorics, and mathematical optimisation.

Are there any areas of business where you think we can consider using math and statistics?

How else does math help businesses?

* The Abel Prize is also regarded as a top award in mathematics. According to the annual Academic Excellence Survey by ARWU, the Fields Medal is consistently regarded as the top award in the field of mathematics worldwide, and in another survey conducted by IREG in 2013–14, the Fields Medal came closely after the Abel Prize as the second most prestigious international award in mathematics.

Cover Photo courtesy: https://en.chessbase.com

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What are isolated evidence and random variation

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We know that inferential statistics helps people to make intelligent and accurate conclusions about a greater population based on analysis results of a small sample. Simply put, we can make estimations about populations based on a small sample of people.

One example: if we met a small group of doctors and find that the cardiologists among them earned more than general physicians, we could infer that cardiologists, generally, earned more than physicians.

Another example: In exit polls, the pollsters ask a small group of people at polling stations about who they have voted. Based on their responses, the pollsters make a generalised estimation on who is likely to win from that constituency.

However, there can be two problems in here.

  1. Isolated evidence
  2. Random variation

Isolated evidence

The problem of isolated evidence happens when we draw inferences based on only a few cases. Such inferences might not be accurate.

Like the above example, if we happen to know only the top cardiologists who earn high salaries, we might be tempted to generalise that all cardiologists earn high salaries. This is because we personally know a few that earn high salaries. Here, we have isolated evidence of only a few known cardiologists that do not represent the entire population of cardiologists.

In case of isolated evidence, we generalise based on known cases. So, there is an element of cognitive bias. Since cognitive biases strongly influence our decisions, we tend to generalise based on these cognitive biases. It influences so much that we look at every evidence in the light of our cognitive biases.

This problem is more likely to occur in the context of personal experiences.

For example, if we do not have a good experience of a certain product (or a service or an institution), we will desist our friend from using it. Ours may be a case of isolated evidence of bad experience with that product (or service or person). Most other people might have had other experiences. In short, our isolated evidence is not enough to conclude whether something is good or bad.

Random variation

The problem of random variation happens when we have insufficient sample data which may not be representative of the population. Here, we are likely to make inaccurate predictions about the entire population based on inadequate data. In such cases, any observed trend is out of randomness.

Random variation is independent of the effects of cognitive and systematic biases. We must aim to collate sufficient data points to nullify the effect of random variation. In general, the larger the sample size, the smaller the effect of random variation on our estimation. As the sample size increases, the random variation decreases, and the estimation accuracy increases.

In the above polling example, the pollsters may survey only a few people from a tiny number of polling stations. The variation thus obtained is more likely to be random than indicative of the entire population.

Don’t they sound the same?

It is easy to confuse between isolated evidence and random variation.

We can even say that isolated evidence is a special case of random variation.

However, there is one key difference.

Isolated evidence is rooted in the form of personal bias. Whereas the random variation comes purely from inadequate sample data.

That is why isolated evidence is more prevalent in people’s personal experiences. So, a friend asking us not to purchase a product is a case of isolated evidence. The star rating of the product on an e-commerce platform is statistical evidence and solves this problem if the rating is given by thousands of unknown people.

So, the next time we are tempted to make a conclusion based on a small sample size, check whether it is statistical evidence, or a case of isolated evidence or random variation.

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make difficult decisions

How can we make difficult decisions?

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We make decisions all the time. Some decisions are easy while others are difficult.

Why are some decisions difficult to make?

It is because they involve a trade-off.

A trade-off is an exchange of something of value for another, usually as a compromise. Simply put, it is a situation that presents us with two or more desirable choices, but we can choose only one.

  1. Easy decisions – involve little or no trade-offs
  2. Difficult decisions – involve tough trade-offs

Naturally, there is a tension involved where you have to trade-off (or lose) something of value for another.

Consider these examples involving trade-offs.

In healthcare, a patient suffering from seizures is offered the choice of brain surgery or long-term medication. The brain surgery can cure the condition but has low probability of success and may impair some other function like speech or memory. Whereas the medication may or may not be highly effective and cause unintended side effects like excessive drowsiness.

It is a gut-wrenching trade-off.

In career, we want a high-paying job having future growth prospects. But it may require frequent travel to different time zones and odd working hours. The decision involves a trade-off between career and health. Moreover, the job comes with the pain of staying away from family.

Unfortunately, such situations are common in business.

In business, a CEO may need to choose between closing the loss-making plant (and firing hundreds of employees) and attempting a turnaround possibly incurring further losses (and risking the survival of the entire business).

Thus, a trade-off implies an opportunity cost, or a sacrifice, or a pain to gain something. And these things hurt. That is why, decisions involving a trade-off are painful and difficult.

A tough trade-off makes us freeze or flee in the face of tough decisions.

How do we resolve a trade-off?

There is an interesting aspect about how the human psychology works when forced to face a trade-off.

In deciding between two options, we like to choose the higher value option over a lower value alternative.

Likewise, we prefer picking the less risky option over the riskier one. This is because human brain equates uncertainty with danger and causes anxiety. So, it wants us to make such decisions quickly to minimize the anxiety and stress.

In short, both the rational brain (i.e., prefrontal cortex) and the emotional brain (i.e., limbic system) are in action.

In such a situation, the key is to listen to the rational brain.

When forced to face a trade-off, be fiercely rational.

This is easier said that done. Because it is extremely difficult to suppress the limbic brain. Only a well-defined process can help.

That is why, to make difficult decisions, we need a rational decision-making process that:

  • gives us the best value option (with higher probability of success),
  • is quick and efficient (saving the anxiety and pain), and
  • helps us achieve the organisation’s purpose and vision.

In business context, the need for such a methodical decision-making process is vital. The analytics based decision-making process fills this space.

Analytics based decision-making process

This process satisfies all the above criteria:

  • It gives us the best value option. Analytics uses tools like classification and decision trees. These tools evaluate a quantitative value for each decision option. We can compare these values to better assess the trade-offs. We can weigh cost and benefits of each decision. Overall, this process helps us choose the best value option.
  • It is quick and efficient (and saves from anxiety). Analytics employs proven techniques and frameworks applied on data. These techniques are time-tested and use data as factual inputs. This brings objectivity in the decision-making process. As a result, the process takes away the emotional anxiety and appears unbiased.
  • It helps achieve our long-term vision. Most importantly, analytics makes use of statistical algorithms based on probability. This entails assessing each decision with the likelihood of achieving organisational objectives.

Thus, analytics based decision-making process helps in achieving organisational objectives in a facts-based, timely, and efficient manner.

More benefits

There is an additional yet understated benefit in using analytics for decision making.

The approach helps in communicating and justifying the decision to all the stakeholders. The pyramid principle made popular by Barbara Minto uses analytical reasoning to communicate a decision. It enables managers to get buy-in from the shareholders and employees for successful implementation of decisions.

In sum, analytics helps make, communicate, and justify difficult decisions.

What approach do you take to make important decisions?

Cover Photo courtesy: Vladislav Babienko on unsplash

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What business are you in

What business are you really in?

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How do you define your business? Can you tell what business are you really in?

Seriously, do take a moment and complete the following sentence.

I am in the business of ___________________________________.

Why is it important to know what business we are in?

Because it helps us decide exactly what to sell, whom to sell to, and how to sell. Without this clarity, businesses struggle to continue to survive.

Most of us define it based on:

  1. What we do: we print books and brochures; we are in the printing business.
  2. What we own: we own factories and workshops; we are in the manufacturing business.
  3. What products we sell: we sell toys; we are in the toys business.

However, this seller-centric approach is not optimal. What if customers stop using what we do, or stop making stuff with what we own, or stop buying products we sell. We will soon be history.

Then how should we think about what business we are in?

Let us understand with an example.

What business is Amazon.com in?

Amazon.com does packaging and delivery of stuff. Of course, they are a logistics and supply chain company. But they do not earn revenues from trucking and shipping.

Amazon.com owns large fulfilment centres and warehouses to store stuff. Clearly, they are a storage and warehouse company. But they do not profit from rentals and leases.

Amazon.com sells around twelve million products. Sure, that makes them a retail company. Except, they do not make money off the products they sell.

Rather, they make money by earning commissions through sellers. That means they are in asset-light brokerage business, right? But then, they own tons of assets, both physical and digital?!

So, what business is Amazon.com really in?

Amazon.com defines themselves as a customer-centric technology company. They use technology to connect retail buyers and sellers on a unified platform. They use data analytics to understand more about their customers – both buyers and sellers. Amazon leverages these insights so that sellers get more buyers, and buyers get a wider range of selection for cheaper from multiple sellers.

How could Amazon.com have clarity about what business they are in when they do so many things?

Because they do not define their business by what they do, or what they own, or what products they sell.

Amazon defines their business based on what purpose they serve for their customers.

That is the key.

We must define our business by what purpose we serve for our customers.

It keeps us aligned with the customer needs all the time. Moreover, it allows us to pivot with changing customer needs and preferences. Most importantly, it helps us build sustainable competitive advantage and ensures business continuity.

A product does not define a business, the purpose it serves for its customers does.

If products defined businesses, then Sony Walkman cassette player, Ambassador car, Toys “R” Us, Apple Newton, Pontiac, Polaroid camera, Nintendo, Palm Pilot, and many such products would still be around.

Yet, several companies have failed for not developing this clarity.

Kodak helped people create lifetime memories. However, Kodak thought they were just selling photographic films. So, when an engineer (ironically from Kodak) invented a filmless digital camera to achieve the same purpose in a better way, Kodak ignored. Not thinking about what business they were really in, they focused on their product – films. They completely missed the purpose they served.

Blockbuster enabled people to enjoy movies at home. But they thought that they were in the business of video rentals. At the time, Netflix also rented out videos by mail. Yet, Netflix figured out that they were really in the entertainment business. This clarity helped them pivot from the mail-based video rentals to DVD rentals to subscription video on-demand (SVoD).

The clarity is essential

To reiterate, we must define our business by what purpose we serve for whom.

Once we build this clarity, it is easier to articulate it to our customers thereby attracting the right customers and propelling our sales forward.

If you are yet to start your business, then why not do so by answering this question: what purpose of which customer do you want to serve?

Cover Photo courtesy: Mark Fletcher Brown on Unsplash.com

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Startup Pitch in the Shark Tank India

Startup Pitch: Are You Ready for the Shark Tank?

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This article on startup pitch in the Shark Tank India by the author first appeared in the 6th March 2022 edition of the English daily ‘The Hitavada’, in the business insights section of the Newscape supplement.

If you are an entrepreneur, how do you present your pitch to the investors to actually get funded?

Easy-peasy.

Wear your cool company t-shirt, open your presentation with a little stunt involving your product, and use a lot of MBA jargon (in short-forms) to impress the investors.

Right?

Well, not sure if ‘The Sharks’ agree.

Shark Tank India

The show “Shark Tank India” took the nation by storm and managed to catch everyone’s attention. The show brought forth some incredible innovations, fantastic business ideas, and passionate entrepreneurs on screen, leaving audiences inspired and spellbound. The timing of the show couldn’t have been more perfect. Amidst India’s booming startup culture, the show offered an ideal platform for top pitches to make an appearance.

This is especially significant since it is very difficult to get an opportunity to actually present your pitch in-person to serious investors. Yet, it was bizarre to watch so many of them not make the most of this golden opportunity.

Specifically, one could observe two points in the startup pitch:

Firstly, many startups, despite having a terrific idea and a go-getter attitude, had to return empty-handed.

Secondly, while it was exciting to note that more than half of the startups secured some funding, a little analysis of such ventures revealed that many did so at markedly reduced valuations. Consider these insights:

  • the original valuations by the Founders were brought down in a staggering 95% of the startups.
  • the valuations of the startups that were funded, were lowered by an average 63%.
  • only three ventures could justify their valuations. But then, two of them were valued at just Rs. 5.00 and Rs. 101.00 (not missing any zeroes there). Ha!

If you are tempted to blame the sharks then please consider this. The sharks are doing their job alright. (They are called sharks for a reason – they are small, aggressive, and move quickly.)

So, why couldn’t the startups do better in the Shark Tank?

Apparently, the startups are not following a few basic principles of presenting investment proposals.

Here I suggest three actions to prepare a better pitch:

  1. Build deep clarity about your venture.
  2. Develop understanding about investor expectations.
  3. Be comfortable with numbers.

Let me elaborate.

1.    Build deep clarity about the business venture.

This sounds elementary yet it is most important. Founders must develop complete clarity on four aspects of their business: the market (or customers), the product (or service), the execution, and the team’s capabilities.

This clarity helps answer questions like:

  • What gap is the business trying to fill and for which customers?
  • What does the business offer on a pain-pleasure continuum? The business must either solve a painful problem faced by real people or offer a unique pleasure experience.
  • Does the business have capabilities to solve it exceptionally well?
  • How does your business make money?

When you have clarity of thought on the above, you are able to answer all the questions during startup pitch – whether asked directly or disguised in business jargon like B2B/B2C, burn rate, CAC, churn, gross margin model, MVP (Minimum Viable Product), PMF (Product Market Fit), revenue model, runway, traction, valuation, value prop, working capital model, and so many others.

Let me explain one here.

Take Product-Market Fit.

Many startups struggle with achieving the product-market fit because of lack of clarity about target customers and right product positioning. PMF is the evidence that your product perfectly addresses a genuine gap felt by many customers. Be it a consumable or a technology product, the question it answers is: is your product relevant to its customer base?

For example, a popular international doughnut brand could not sell doughnut as a breakfast item in India. Why? Because doughnuts were relished only on special occasions but not as a breakfast option. We Indians are too loyal to our pohas, parathas, and palappam.

Here is the key insight:

If YOU don’t have complete clarity about YOUR own venture, you will never be able to communicate it clearly to those who matter.

2.    Develop understanding about investor expectations

Most investors look for evidence of ROI in your business venture through these three questions:

  1. Is it profitable?
  2. Will you be able to scale it or pivot it, as required?
  3. What returns will they get and by when?

Accordingly, the sharks were asking questions intending to seek answers to the above questions.

Hence, it is important to develop this understanding before the startup pitch. It will help you focus your time and efforts on the right sharks that can offer not just money but also their expertise.

The last point is especially important. Many investors are impassionate to the venture; they are there primarily for the financial returns within their expected investment horizon (because they may be investing other people’s money too).

Therefore, be extremely genuine, upfront, and realistic with the investors. Acknowledge that they may understand ‘doing business’ better than you do.

3.    Be comfortable with numbers.

When you share information about your venture, why should the sharks believe you? More precisely, what will make them believe you?

The answer is ‘Show and Tell’.

Always supplement your statement with numbers and reliable data. To do that, you must be comfortable using numbers in your communication.

For example,

rather than saying, ‘we are showing phenomenal growth and high profits’,

Say, ‘we are growing 250% Qtr-on-Qtr’ or

Say ‘we sold 42K pieces for Rs. 72Lakhs in 3 months with a gross margin of 68%’.

On the show, the sharks appeared more receptive and responsive to the entrepreneurs explaining their venture with credible numbers.

When you do so, the investors will make the right deductions, and BELIEVE IN YOU.

As they say, nothing speaks like results.

Taking these actions will not only improve the odds to secure funding, but also help entrepreneurs to justify their valuations. You don’t need only banana chips* to do that.

Easier said than done?

Well, maybe! But it is not that difficult either.

Why not prepare your next pitch along these lines and see the difference yourself?

Right ‘O then! Time to put on your black turtleneck?! 😊

This article on startup pitch in the Shark Tank India by the author first appeared in the 6th March 2022 edition of the English daily ‘The Hitavada’, in the business insights section of the Newscape supplement.

* in reference to the ONLY venture on the show that could justify its valuation and got funded at that valuation.

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_Tank_India

Cover Photo courtesy: SET India

The image used is subject to copyright. Shark Tank India is a popular reality show by Sony Entertainment Network (SET). The article is not an advertisement of the show or its new Season 2 but an independent article by the author.

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customer-centric sales

Customer-centric Sales is the New Competitive Advantage

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This Veracle explains why customer-centric sales is the new competitive advantage.

Earlier, we recognised the need for a new frontier for sustainable competitive advantage.

We explored if product differentiation can be that frontier.

The car, coffee, and cosmetic examples illustrate that product differentiation is ephemeral. It has become transient. It is now more a hygiene factor than a source of sustainable competitive advantage.

So, if product differentiation is merely a hygiene factor, how to compete in the cut-throat marketplace?

To answer this question, let us go back to basics.

Consider our typical sales situation. Three entities are present here: the seller, the product (or service), and the buyer (or customer).

Here, many salespeople focus on the first two:

  • How they as seller are different
  • How their product is different

This is the seller-centric approach.

It focuses on sellers and their products.

It reminds me of a captivating scene in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. When Jordan Belfort (Leo DiCaprio) asks some conference attendees to “sell me this pen”, they take this same approach.

Sell me this pen” from the movie The Wolf of Wall Street

However, this seller-centric approach is suboptimal.

It may work in certain situations. But it isn’t ideal for building long-term customer relationships. Hence, it is not sustainable.

That brings us to the third entity present in the sales process – the customer.

Today, the customer has access to a lot more information at the touch of a screen. They can easily compare products and prices. If they don’t like something in a product, they switch just as easily. They know what is best for them.

In short, customers want to be in control of their buying process.

The problem is, the seller-centric sales does not do that.

A working strategy is ‘CUSTOMER-CENTRIC SALES.’

What is customer-centric sales?

Customer-centric sales is the approach that puts the customer’s needs and purchase motivations at the centre of the sales conversation.

In customer-centric sales, you don’t try to get people to buy your stuff they don’t need, by dwelling on seller or product differentiation.

Instead, you focus on knowing customers better. Make it data-driven. We call it developing customer intelligence. You strive to understand customers at a much deeper level.

Generally, salespeople know which customers buy their products?

But many times, they do not know ‘WHY do those customers buy their products.’ Unfortunately, this is more common than we think.

The key is to know the real reason and motive behind the purchase.

But, why is THE WHY important?

Because, customer’s reason to buy your product is likely to be different from your reason to sell it.

And guess what?

Your reasons to sell do not matter; while customers’ reasons to buy do.

This may sound harsh. But it is true.

You may be selling dog food because it is so good in quality that you can also eat. Whereas, the customer may be buying it because it is cheap and convenient.

You may be selling expensive maple wood furniture because the wood is durable and sourced from hardwood forests of North America. The customer may be buying it simply because it is lighter.

You may be selling homemade food as you have fresh organic homegrown ingredients. But the customer may be buying your homemade food because they can get it customised.

The point is this.

Customers buy anything for THEIR own reasons, not yours.

Businesses that get this insight embrace customer-centric sales approach and thrive.

Others that fixate on their own seller-centric differentiation without concern to customers’ reasons struggle.

Consider examples of a few companies where a seller-centric sales approach failed them.

Example 1: A video rental company closed because of not knowing their customer’s why.

You guessed it right.

Blockbuster was in the business of ‘renting out DVDs’. Their competitor Netflix also started ‘renting out DVDs’ in 1997.

Blockbuster’s model was seller-centric. It focused heavily on high street retail sales. Apart from other things, they maximised revenues by charging late returns (of DVDs). Blockbuster made 16% of their revenues in late fees.

On the contrary, Netflix pursued customer-centric sales strategy and studied customers. They enabled consumers to watch videos for a flat monthly fee without worrying about returns.

Blockbuster’s seller-centric model frustrated customers. Netflix’s customer-centric approach eased customers about returns.

Blockbuster vs Netflix

Meanwhile, faster internet allowed online streaming. It enabled customers to watch videos online. Ergo, customer buying preferences changed. They stopped going to stores altogether.

As a result, blockbusters seller-centric model collapsed. Whereas, Netflix re-aligned with customer’s watching preferences by offering videos online on-demand.

Eventually, Blockbuster ended up bankrupt. And Netflix emerged as one of the top ‘over-the-top content platforms.’

customer-centric sales
Source credit: Strategyjourney.com

According to the UK CMO of blockbuster Bryn Owen, Blockbuster’s sales-driven model did them in.

Example 2: “Share memories, Share life.” A Kodak moment (in 2012) that saddened everyone.

George Eastman, Kodak’s founder, invented roll film in 1888.

Kodak was primarily in the photographic film business. They prided on their silver-halide film technology.

Listening to customer demand, Fujifilm started selling film in 1934.

Meanwhile, the digital revolution started in the 1960s.

Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer, developed the first digital camera in 1975.
Source credit: James Rajotte for The New York Times

By the late 1990s, the demand for photographic films dropped in line with the growing popularity of digital cameras.

Source: PMA, Business 2 community

The rapid spread of digital technology disrupted the photographic equipment industry.

Fujifilm invested in knowing customer’s changing preferences. They adapted to this shift by switching to digital lines of business.

Despite that, Kodak focused on film.

Not just that.

Kodak had acquired a photo-sharing site called Ofoto in 2001. If they were customer-centric, they would have been the pioneer of something like present-day Instagram.

Instead, Kodak used Ofoto to try to get more people to print digital images.

In the end, Kodak filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in January-2012.

customer-centric sales
Kodak and Fujifilm stock performance comparison with key events.

Don Strickland, a former vice-president of Kodak, said: “We developed the world’s first consumer digital camera but we could not get approval to launch or sell it because of fear of the effects on the film market.”

Once the world’s biggest film company, Kodak became a posterchild for failure due to not being customer-centric.

Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated examples of companies stuck with seller-centric sales approach. GM, Nokia, Xerox, JCPenney, Palm, Sony are but to name a few.

Building a new competitive advantage with customer-centric sales

Building a true competitive advantage requires implementing customer-centric sales strategy. This strategy has these three benefits:

  1. You give customers, control in their buying process
  2. Customers get what they want
  3. It is sustainable

Most internet-age companies that are growing rapidly are customer-centric.

Amazon obsesses over customers as they want to be known as Earth’s most customer-centric company. Everyone knows about customer-centricity of Google, Nordstrom, and Southwest.

Companies like Lululemon, John Lewis, and Target have invested in developing customer intelligence to be customer-centric.

So, how are these successful businesses pursuing this deliberate strategy of customer-centric sales?

We will discuss in the next Veracle.

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Product Differentiation

Product Differentiation: Why it isn’t enough anymore

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What is Product Differentiation?

Product differentiation is a strategy employed by businesses to achieve a competitive advantage by differentiating their products from those of their competitors.

Product Differentiation – why?

Generally, salespeople highlight their differentiation advantage to customers in two ways:

  • Our company is unique and special. Buy from our company.
    • This is seller differentiation.
  • Our product is unique and special. Buy our product.
    • This is product differentiation.

We will analyse seller differentiation later.

In product differentiation, special typically means high quality. The source of uniqueness and high quality in a product could be varied. Some of them are rare raw materials, advanced technology, distinctive design, superior personnel, or unusual methods. These become the sources of product differentiation. Customers perceive such products as high performance or exclusive. So, they are willing to pay a higher price for them.

Up until now, product differentiation helped businesses sell, and charge premium to their customers.

However, this is changing.

In a recent conversation with the CEO of a cosmetics company in Europe, he gave a thought-provoking perspective in the context of their product differentiation.

The CEO: “[First] it was ‘natural’. Then we introduced ‘natural fruit-based’. Then it became ‘natural fruit-based paraben-free allergen-free’. And it went on like that… Whenever I try to differentiate my product further, I feel I am narrowing my customer base. It is a big problem because my loyal customer base keeps shifting…

Evidently, his concern is not misplaced.

In an online survey in Europe, 900 women aged 25-65 years buying cosmetics and being interested in organic and natural cosmetics associated different characteristics and qualities with organic and natural cosmetics (see EXHIBIT 1).

Source: Statista 2021, Veravizion analysis

To be honest, this finding isn’t surprising.

There are so many ways to differentiate a product within a category. They may not appear truly differentiated at all.

It appears, product differentiation as a source of competitive advantage is losing its sheen. It may not be enough going forward to compete.

Wonder why it is so?

To find out, we analysed the sources of product differentiation. Our analysis yielded these insights.

In our increasingly global and digital world, the sources of product differentiation have become pervasive.

  • Global supply chains make it easy to procure raw materials from any place on the Earth. That too fairly quickly.
  • A free market economy facilitates the effortless movement of goods and expert personnel.
  • The Internet makes it simple to share information and technology.

Basically, it has become easy to procure stuff and change. This helps your rivals achieve parity with your products in no time.

Let’s see how.

Consider examples from three diverse product categories: cosmetics, coffee, and car. Notice how a product that once appeared differentiated from their competitors’ doesn’t seem so anymore.

Example 1: The Body Shop – the first natural and organic cosmetic brand?

The Body Shop is perhaps the first global company to popularise the use of ‘natural ingredients’ in cosmetics. Anita Roddick, an activist, founded it to also promote ethical consumerism. The business’s original vision was to sell products with ethically-sourced, cruelty-free, and natural ingredients. The company was one of the first to prohibit the use of ingredients tested on animals. The Body Shop truly differentiated itself at the time. And it thrived. This was in the eighties and early nineties.

Product Differentiation
Source: The Body Shop

However, competitors followed suit soon after. Every cosmetic company wanted to show natural ingredients in their product. So much so that, it might be difficult to find a cosmetic company that does not seek to differentiate itself as natural or organic. Looks like, Natural is a hygiene factor in cosmetics now.

Example 2: Kopi Luwak – world’s most expensive coffee

Product Differentiation
Source: Pinterest

Civet coffee, also called Luwark coffee (or Kopi Luwak), is advertised as the world’s most expensive coffee. It is expensive because of an uncommon method of producing it. Civet coffee is produced from the coffee beans digested by civet cat. The faeces of this cat are collected, processed, and sold. A unique process indeed!

Civet coffee is originally from Indonesia. But, it is now produced across many countries in South East Asia. It is available in India too. It may only be a matter of time before we see this coffee in our favourite coffee shops. Moreover, there are other coffee brands such as Black Ivory, Finca El Injerto, Hacienda La Esmeralda, Saint Helena, and Jamaican Blue Mountain that are touted as the world’s most expensive coffee. Apparently, Kopi Luwak seems to have lost its flavour as world’s most expensive coffee.

Example 3: Exotic and handmade Phantom – an epitome of luxury

Product Differentiation
Source: Caranddriver.com

Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé gained fame as your own bespoke exotic car handmade by expert craftsmen. Rolls-Royce claims that no two Phantoms in the world are exactly the same.

Finally, a true differentiator? We thought so too.

Only, there are at least ten other cars which take pride in calling themselves most exotic and handmade. Lamborghini, Bugatti, Pagani trump the track where Aston Martin is not even in the top-3.

Therefore, that forces us to ask.

Product Differentiation: is it a competitive advantage or a hygiene factor?

The point from the above examples is this.

The Body Shop might be natural and organic; Kopi Luwak might be a billionaire’s brew; Rolls-Royce Phantom might be exotic and handmade.

But they are not the only ones doing it in their industry. Rather, they join the crowd by competing on product differentiation.

Ironic, isn’t it!

The truth is this. The more you pursue product differentiation, the more you risk looking like the scores of your competitors doing the same.

It makes one wonder whether ‘our product is high quality’ has become a hygiene factor. It will not guarantee you sales, let alone premium prices. But not having it will definitely hurt sales.

But wait!

Apple pursues a product differentiation strategy. And Apple continues selling huge numbers of iPhones and iOS devices. In fact, iOS had more than 50% of the market share in the US as of May-2020 (see EXHIBIT 2).

Source: Statista

How do we explain this?

Clearly, something is at play here.

Is product differentiation a source of competitive advantage? Or has it merely become a hygiene factor?

If the latter, then how can you compete in the fiercely competitive marketplace?

What are your thoughts on this?

Let us analyse this aspect in the next Veracle.

Cover Photo courtesy: Vix.com

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Competitive Advantage

Competitive Advantage: you have one? Is it sustainable?

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In a sales situation, a salesperson looks to convince a customer to buy their (product or service) offering. To do that, they must showcase how their offering creates value for the customer. They are aware that the customer would be comparing their offering with those of their competitors. This is where the competitive advantage comes into the picture.

Competitive advantage renders you an edge over your rivals. A company’s competitive advantage makes their (product or service) offering more desirable to customers than those of their competitors.

According to Investopedia, competitive advantage refers to factors that allow a company to produce goods or services better or more cheaply than its rivals.

The factors could be price, product quality, delivery speed, customer service, location, and so on.

Among these, the price factor is different from the other factors.

Let’s see how.

Competitive Advantage: the ‘Price factor’

When a business competes on price, they price their products lower than their competitors’ prices. Therefore, they must produce the product at a low cost to sell it at a profit.

Source: Walmart.com

For example, Walmart competes on price. Their slogan is “everyday low prices”. They must produce or procure products at a very low cost to sell at a profit.

Competitive Advantage: the ‘Other factors’

When a business competes on factors other than price, they must ensure high differentiation from the competitors on that factor. Their slogan would be the best quality, higher speed, better customer service, and so on. However, it takes additional resources, and thus higher costs, to create differentiation. Hence, they must price the product at a premium to sell it at a profit.

Competitive Advantage
Source: Christies.com

For example, dubbed as the world’s most coveted handbags, Hermès Birkin bags are super-expensive. Each bag is handmade by a single artisan craftsman using premium materials like calf skin, alligator skin, and even ostrich skin. And there is a waiting list for the top ones like the one shown here.

This low cost and high differentiation form the basis of business strategy for firms.

Porter defined these two ways in which an organization can achieve a competitive advantage over its rivals as cost advantage and differentiation advantage.

Cost advantage & differentiation advantage served us well.

Thus far.

However, competitive advantage must be sustainable. It should help us sell in today’s fiercely competitive markets and tomorrows. In the absence of sustainable competitive advantage, your product may not continue to sell for long.

This is where the challenge is.

Both these sources of competitive advantage are seller-centric. They talk about seller’s cost advantage and seller’s differentiation advantage.

The thing is, competitive advantage for a business is the factor (or reason) for which the business wants customers to buy their products.

And the truth is, customers buy anything for THEIR own reasons, not yours.

Please do let the above two insights sink-in before you read ahead.

Therefore, it follows that, the factor for which a business wants customers to buy their products should be customer-centric.

That is, the source of competitive advantage for a business should be customer-centric (and not seller-centric).

This is like the movement of scientific theory from the Ptolemaic system (the earth at the centre of the universe) to the Copernican system (the sun at the centre of the universe).

It is a paradigm shift.

When that happens, a business will always be aligned with customer-needs. As and when the customer buying preference changes, a business will be able to respond to the change by correspondingly aligning their source of competitive advantage.

Savvy?! But wait.

What is the significance of this finding?

This signifies that the existing ways of building competitive advantage – cost and differentiation advantage – alone may not suffice.

The evidence is in the huge number of businesses shutting down, like Arcadia group, Chuck E. Cheese, Debenhams, J. Crew, JC Penny, Mamas & Papas, Mothercare, Neiman Marcus, and Wallis to name a few. Some of them are (sorry, were) iconic retailers. The list is long. Many of them are permanently closing most of their stores. Don’t we know that all of them had built competitive advantage the traditional way?

In short, we need to build the next frontier for developing sustainable competitive advantage.

And how do we do that?

Can we do it through product differentiation?

We do it by putting in place a mechanism to understand your customers like never before.

This doesn’t sound anything new, right?

Except, the ways of understanding a customer have undergone a sea-change. There is a lot more we can learn about a customer to help them.

Let us summarise the whole thing.

In the internet age, when brick-and-mortar businesses are finding it difficult to compete and are closing down, companies cannot rely only on the traditional meaning and sources of competitive advantage.

There is a need to build new frontier.

Developing your customer intelligence is the first step in that direction. That entails understanding many more things than we have ever known until now. This new frontier of competitive advantage helps you build a solid platform to grow further and beyond.

Besides, who has ever gone wrong knowing more about their customers?

Cover Photo courtesy: Rob Wingate on Unsplash

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customer shopping behaviour in e-retail

Know customer shopping behaviour KPIs in e-retail?

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Customer shopping behaviour is an important concept in retail.

This is why.

How do you grow your retail business? You sell what customers want. How do you know what customers want? Well, you observe how they buy.

When customers buy a product or service, they do certain things. First, they search for the product online or in stores. Next, they try to seek more information and compare prices. Then, they check product ratings and seek feedback from friends. Over time, they engage with brands through social media.

All the actions mentioned above describe customer shopping behaviour.

Customer shopping behaviour in e-retail refers to how customers interact with your website. It involves understanding the actions a customer performs between landing on your website and leaving.

So, how exactly do we “observe customers”?

We do this using the various Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs help us get a sense of real-situation quantitatively.

Previously, we saw that e-retail and physical retail have different KPIs.

Now, we can measure the customer shopping behaviour in e-retail using the following KPIs:

  • Total visits
  • Bounce rate
  • Shopping cart abandonment rate
  • Shopping cart conversion rate
  • Sales conversion rate
  • Average duration on page

The flowchart in the figure below illustrates these actions. The little boxes on the right of each process show the corresponding KPI.

customer shopping behaviour flowchart
Flowchart depicting customer shopping behaviour in e-retail

Customer Shopping Behaviour KPIs in e-retail

Here is a brief explanation of each KPI.

Total Customer Visits

Total visits KPI is the total number of visitor landings on a website.

According to Google, 63% of all shopping begins online. That makes ‘Total Visits’ the vital first KPI for an e-retail sale. E-retailers try to increase this KPI to increase sales.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the proportion of visitors landing on your website and leaving without taking any action.

If the website is engaging for customers, they interact with it. More the interaction, lower is the bounce rate, and better are the prospects of making a sale.

There are various reasons for a high bounce rate. Moreover, a high bounce rate doesn’t tell the entire story. Also, there are ways to improve it.

Shopping cart abandonment rate

This KPI means a customer added products in their e-retail shopping cart but later abandoned the order.

According to Statista, 63% carts were abandoned because shipping cost was too high. While these customers have not yet purchased, they are most easy to convert to a sale.

Shopping cart conversion rate

Similarly, this metric helps e-retailers measure the number of completed orders compared to the total number of shopping carts initiated by potential customers.

It is calculated as a ratio of number of visitors who placed an order, to the total number of visitors who started a shopping cart. It is expressed as a percentage.

Sales conversion rate

Google defines sales conversion rate as the ratio of transactions to sessions, expressed as a percentage.

The recent Adobe Digital Index 2020 report pegs average global conversion rate in retail at 3% of the total visits. The sales conversion rate varies across various retail categories. Conversion of consumer electronics is only half at 1.4%. Gifts, and Health & Pharmacy generate the highest conversion rates at around 4.9%.

Average duration per page

One e-retail KPI to measure is the time spent on each webpage. This is tracked as ‘average duration per page’.

This KPIs is based on similar one in traditional retail. In physical retail store, more the time a customer spends inside a shop, higher are the chances of purchase.

So, what do you think? Do you track these metrics? If yes, which ones do you think are the most important for your business?

Author: Sumit Patil

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E-Retail KPIs

How E-Retail KPIs different from traditional Retail KPIs?

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How are E-Retail KPIs different from traditional Retail KPIs?

What is E-Retail KPI?

E-retail is the online website of a retail store. KPI means Key Performance Indicators. So, the key performance indicators for an online website of a retail store are e-retail KPIs.

Traditional retail is a physical brick-and-mortar retail store. Let’s call their KPIs, traditional retail KPIs.

E-retail and traditional retail by their nature are different. The difference exists from two perspectives: the customer perspective and the retailer perspective.

Let us see the customer’s perspective first.

The customer perspective drives their shopping preferences and buying behaviour. For instance, customers who value convenience, price comparison, time-saving, and the ability to shop 24×7 prefer to shop online. Whereas, customers who want to touch, feel, and try the product first tend to shop in physical stores.

Increasingly, customers are buying in an Omnichannel environment. Omnichannel means all channels work seamlessly as one. That is, they discover a product in one channel, check it out in another one, and buy through a third. Such as shown in the figure below.

E-Retail KPIs
Omnichannel shopping is becoming the norm

Now, the retailer perspective.

The retailer’s perspective influences their business operating behaviour. Traditional retailers focus on maximizing the in-store experience for their customers while optimizing store space. While e-retailers focus on the online shopping experience and user personalization.

These two perspectives influence their KPIs.

How E-Retail KPIs Differ?

Many e-retail KPIs are common with traditional KPIs. Some of these are the various financial ratios, customer retention, and conversion rate. However, e-retail KPIs are different from traditional retail KPIs in two major areas:

  1. Customer Acquisition Channels
  2. Customer Shopping Behaviour

Let us see how.

Customer Acquisition Channels

This is the source of customer traffic to your business. Understanding where your customers are coming from is extremely important for business growth.

E-retail channels are primarily organic search, direct search, referral, e-mails, and social media. These channels actually lead customers to e-retail stores (i.e. the website). So, e-retailers can easily measure the percent of customers acquired from these channels. They can then devise their deliberate strategy around these insights.

For example, Facebook generates 13.9% of e-retail website traffic, but actual sale happens in only 4.7% of cases. This is a critical piece of information in two ways: First, it allows you to allocate resources efficiently. Also, it improves ROI.

Traditional retail channels are different.

They are mainly word of mouth or advertisements in print, television, radio, and social media. For traditional retailers, it is nearly impossible to accurately calculate the percent of customers acquired from these different channels. This is because these channels do not ‘redirect’ them to the store.

For example, a customer actually visiting a store may have seen an ad or may have been referred by word of mouth. But, they may not even remember this information when they visit the store.

Customer Shopping Behaviour

Customer behaviour varies a lot between in-store purchases and online purchases. Understanding customer behaviour is central to acquiring more customers.

In e-retail, KPIs like Shopping Cart Abandonment (SCA) and Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) are important and helpful. The analysis of the shopping cart abandonment rate and the list of discarded items can help improve our understanding of the purchase intent of customers. Similarly, understanding a customer’s lifetime value helps in targeting profitable customers more effectively.

Whereas for traditional retail, understanding shopping behaviour for every customer is tricky and costly. We can only perform market basket analysis. This will only analyze the products added together in the cart. But there is no definite way to measure discarded items from carts in the physical stores. Moreover, physical space-oriented KPIs like sales per square foot are not relevant to e-retail.  

In a nutshell, it is essential for retailers to rethink the right KPIs while taking the retail business online. This is especially true since omnichannel shopping is becoming the norm.

Author: Sumit Patil

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Growth-oriented

Are you survival-oriented or a growth-oriented executive?

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Are you a survival-oriented or a growth-oriented executive?

Top executives at any organisation are responsible for growth of the business. Their professional careers grow (only) if their business grows.

The responsibility lies squarely on the chief executive officer. They are in charge to set the strategic direction and align everyone to it to achieve their goals.

However, the chief executive officer role is a complex one to shoulder.

Over the years, the top executive failure rate has varied from 30% to as high as 60% leading to CEO turnover. Significant proportion of this attrition is involuntary. According to The Conference Board, a staggering 30.5 percent CEOs were sacked by their boards in 2019. PwC’s Strategy and CEO Success study puts the lost market value due to this forced attrition at an estimated $112 billion annually.

One reason for this high CEO turnover is failure to deliver desired results in line with stated strategic goals.

These CEOs often have best ivy-league-education and rich execution experience. They have consistently delivered high performance in their previous roles. Yet, they fail in meeting the objectives as CEO.

While there are various reasons behind it, there is one that is less obvious.

The reason has come to the fore more prominently in the current China-virus pandemic.

It is CEOs’ inherent attitude to managing business strategy.

CEOs fall in two categories based on their mindset towards business strategy.

  1. Survival-oriented CEOs
  2. Growth-oriented CEOs

Survival-oriented CEOs are cost-focused. They believe in maintaining profitability by driving the expenses down. They do not think of investing in growth stimulating actions.

During times of crisis, survival-oriented CEOs follow survive-today-grow-tomorrow principle. They shift focus to short-term. As part of that, they cut costs and downsize operations. These actions help them show good short-term results. But long-term growth prospects of the organisation fall in jeopardy.

Their focus, tactical rather than strategic, can be hope strategy at best.

Being a survival-oriented CEO is justified in some exceptionally challenging situations. This is especially true if the actions are temporary taken just to tide over the crisis.

But this is where it gets counter-intuitive.

A CEO is successful when they achieve long-term results despite the challenges, whatsoever.

On the contrary, Growth-oriented CEOs are revenue-focused. They stay committed to achieving their long-term goals despite the challenges.

The growth-oriented CEOs usually follow a very deliberate strategy to grow. They employ innovation and data-driven strategy for future growth. Most importantly, they commit resources to achieve the business goals while adapting to any changes the challenges may present.

Even during crisis, the growth-oriented CEOs do not lose sight of the strategic goals. They fervently keep long-term outlook. The short-term results may suffer in their tenure, but they are more likely to show good results in the longer term.

Such CEOs spend their time and efforts towards planning and pursuing a working business strategy.

Mr. Bezos is one such CEO. Data science and innovation are hallmarks of his growth strategy. In his words:

We can’t be in Survival mode. We have to be in Growth mode.

You can find out your attitude as a chief executive. Take the CEO Genome quiz.

So, have you noticed a survival-oriented or a growth-oriented behaviour recently? What actions did they take that made you think so?

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management consultants making decisions

Why do Businesses hire Management Consultants?

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To succeed in business and to achieve your professional goals, you need to be able to do two things:

  1. Make the right decisions
  2. To be able to justify the right decisions to stakeholders to take them forward

Making the right decisions helps because it saves time and money. Besides, it helps you avoid heartburn caused by the consequences of making wrong decisions. This is especially true when there is a lot at stake in that decision.

Nonetheless, making the right decisions is not enough.

It is equally important to be able to justify the right decisions to get buy-in.

Why?

It doesn’t matter if a decision is right if you cannot get buy-in to implement it.

Do all situations require decision-making?

No, not all.

There is no decision to make in a TINA (“There is no alternative”) situation.

However, the decision-making process kicks in when you have two or more options.

Businesses routinely have to make decisions like Buy-Build, Invest-Hold-Divest, or Strategic Transformation-Operational Excellence.

It becomes hard, complex, and stressful, if the options are similar to one another.

Some examples:

  • Introduce a new product line or stretch the existing product line.
  • Whether your company should invest in improving existing technical capabilities or hiring technical talent from outside.
  • Consulting firms in online retail having to decide whether to advise a client to invest more in technology or in physical stores.

Decision-Making

In essence, the decision making process involves the following five aspects – Objectives, Options, Process, Timelines, and Stakeholders:

  • Why do you need to make a decision – the objective(s)?
    • Are your objectives clear? Do your objectives align with those of your colleagues or do they contradict?
  • What different choices do you have – the options?
    • Have you considered all possible available options for evaluation? Are these options very similar to one another?
  • How do you make the decision – the process?
    • Is it opinion-based (aka gut-feel based) or facts-based (aka data-driven)?
  • When do you need to make the decision – the timeline?
    • Is your decision-making quick enough or is it time-consuming?
  • Who do you need to get the buy-in from – the stakeholders?
    • Can you justify your decision to the stakeholders to get their approval for implementation?

Ideally, businesses must make decisions that are organisation-objective-oriented, facts-based, quick and efficient, and unbiased. Such decisions are invariably optimal for the business.

However, in real-life business situations, decision-making can be tricky:

The objectives of people involved in decision-making may not always align. Thus, they may not arrive at a decision at all.

Personal biases may interfere with business objectives, so the end decision may be unfairly influenced.

The time taken to make a decision may be so long that the particular business situation itself might change in the course of taking the decision, rendering the decision irrelevant.

The subjective process – basing decisions on people’s opinions rather than data – is difficult to justify to get buy-in.

Thus, in reality, businesses tend to make decisions that are subjective, opinion-based, time-consuming, and biased.

Such decisions tend to be highly sub-optimal. They do not invoke the confidence required to invest time, money, and resources to take them forward for implementation.

A decision made in this manner is full of risk and uncertainty.

Guess what?

Risk and Uncertainty are the two things business executives do not like, and want to minimize.

That is why businesses and other organisations look to external management consultants for help in making decisions.

It helps them manage the risk and uncertainty involved in the decision-making process and in the aftermath.

How management consultants help in decision-making?

Management consultants are extremely objective-oriented. They are adept at working with specific details keeping the big-picture in mind, and leaving out extraneous details.

They are highly analytical. It is their job to ensure completeness and correctness of analysis. They apply specialised skills, tools, and techniques designed to analyze different options. Moreover, they leverage their cross-domain expertise acquired from executing similar engagements from the past.

They bring an external, objective perspective. They trust data and facts more than people opinions. Relying on data removes any personal (emotional) bias.

They are particularly sensitive to the urgency of making a decision. They acknowledge that a timely decision is more important than a perfect one*.

Very importantly, management consultants arrive at a decision in an analytical and logical manner. Moreover, they help in explaining and justifying the decision to stakeholders with the help of facts and data.

A decision made in this manner raises the confidence level to commit organizational resources towards its implementation.

This is why businesses and other organizations hire consultants in their decision-making.

How do you make decisions in your business or professional world?

*One important side-note here:

In this aspect, American decision-making differs from German decision-making. In the American business context, external forces like customer request or market need often guide decision-making. So, they think that it is better to make a suboptimal decision quickly, rather than make a better or optimal decision too slow or too late.

On the contrary, Germans believe that the time allotted to a decision should be determined by the nature of the decision. They believe that it is not dictated by external pressures such as customer request or market need or competitor actions. [Source: commentator John Otto Magee on differences in American and German decision-making process]

Author: Sumit Patil

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Two Finals, Two Ties and a common winner

Two Finals, Two Ties, and the Common Winner

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“Fed-ex is doing great; is gonna win the finals this time [sic],” said M.

“If the match goes beyond 4 sets, then Djoko will surely lift the Wimbledon trophy,” bet I.

M, a die-hard Federer fan with whom I am having almost fortnightly consulting sessions these days, and I were discussing about the possible Wimbledon-2019 winner. We had an unusual start of the day this week, playing the ‘let’s predict the Federer-Djokovic finals winner’ game, after India crashed out of CWC-19.

Suddenly, the Federer-Djokovic finals seemed more entertaining to watch.

In the end, both of us were right.

Fed-ex indeed did do great coming close to winning the title on two occasions. Djoko indeed lifted the trophy with Federer’s massive mis-hit in the end.

There he squats down to follow his winner’s routine of nibbling on a few blades of Wimbledon grass – the sweet taste of success!

. The Championships 2019. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. \{year4}{month0}{day0}\. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

No, I do not intend to write this post telling how predictive analytics has helped predict Djoko to be the winner against Federer in today’s match.

Except, that is what this might turn out to be!

For the starters, a Federer-Djokovic match has gone beyond the realm of simple analytics.

Why?

Till date, Federer is the only gentleman (ahem… Wimbledon effect, you see!) to have beaten Djokovic in all four Grand Slam tournaments.

Similarly, Djokovic is the only man to have beaten Federer in all the four majors.

Federer has an all-time high number of 20 Grand Slam titles under his belt, while Djokovic, with today’s win, is not too far behind with 16.

Federer has held the world No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for a record total of 310 weeks, while Djokovic continues to do so for over 250 weeks now.

The playing surface hasn’t been a decider either; both of them have beaten each-other on all surfaces.

Federer is marginally better on 1st serve win % (which is usually > 70%), while Djokovic only slightly trumps on 2nd serve win % (hovering around 60%).

And both gentlemen have achieved a career Grand Slam, two of only eight people to have done so, ever.

With such complex statistics behind the two greats, how do we conclusively analyse, and say that Djoko has a better chance at winning 2019?

Let’s consider these facts:

Federer and Djokovic have faced head-to-head 48 times, with Djoko winning 54% of the times (or 26 games) overall.

Federer dominated Djoko in 13 matches out of 19 (with a win % of 68.5) until 2010.

Since 2011, Djoko has beaten Federer 20 out of 29 times (with a win % of 68.9).

Isn’t this amazing?

Roger ruled the Wimbledon centre court until 2010, winning it 6 times.

Djokovic dominated (well, almost) the Wimbledon since 2011, winning it 5 times.

What comes next is even more amusing.

I had written in this 2015 Veracle on Lessons from Wimbledon Centre Court, how Federer’s winning points came off 5 rallies or less. And the more rallies he played (against Djokovic), the more likely he stood to lose.

Switch to 2019, Djokovic’s winning points came from 8 rallies or more; the more rallies he forced on Federer, the more unforced errors Federer rallied.

In 2015, Federer had 35 unforced errors against Djokovic’s 16.

Also, in 2015, Federer ran 5 meters more than Djokovic, for every point scored.

Later in 2019, Federer rallied 62 unforced errors, 10 more than Djoko.

In 2019, Federer covered 7 meters more distance than Djokovic, for every point scored.

The Two Finals

Then, there is an uncanny resemblance in the match stats between 2015-final and 2019-final.

And I found it fascinating to compare the score-lines from the Wimbledon finals of 2009 and 2019.

2009 Wimbledon gentlemen’s final score-line:

Federer d. Roddick 5–7, 7–6(8–6), 7–6(7–5), 3–6, 16–14

2019 Wimbledon gentlemen’s final score-line:

Djokovic d. Federer 7–6(7–5), 1–6, 7–6(7–4), 4–6, 13–12(7–3)

See the only slight twist in the two score-lines? Just flip the scores of first two sets.

So much for the analytics…

Having said that, what a final it was! The longest one in Wimbledon history – and probably one of the most entertaining ones too?!

In the other tie, England defeated New Zealand with a margin as wide as a thin blade of grass.

In sum, when it comes to such close calls, nerves win. And DATA!

Just saying…

You can also subscribe to our blog – Veracles – to receive interesting articles and insights in email. We would love to read your perspectives and comments on that.

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Cover photo credit: Wimbledon.com

How Deliberate Strategy can be your working strategy

How Deliberate Strategy Can Be the Working Strategy!

Veravizion 2 comments

The article “Does your business have a working strategy” mentioned three types of strategies that organizations employ to grow and prosper. The subsequent Veracles discussed the first two – Nope and Hope – strategies.

In this post, we discuss the third type. It is called Deliberate Strategy. It focuses on developing a working strategy for your organization. Here we discuss “How deliberate strategy can be the working strategy for your business.”

What is Deliberate Strategy?

Deliberate Strategy is employed in an organization where business executives are:

  • growth-oriented and are looking for new areas of growth, and
  • have the risk propensity to commit resources to new approach

In this approach, businesses invest resources to develop a bespoke strategy tailored specifically to their business context.

In other words, businesses take deliberate steps within the context of their business situation to increase the likelihood of achieving long-term goals.

In short, the business outcome is not left to chance. Every aspect of operating and growing the business is deliberately and meticulously planned.

As a matter of fact, it is like a journey one undertakes to reach a destination.

Let us explain the analogy.

A journey has four parts: a starting point, a destination to reach, the route that takes from the starting point to the destination, and the resources required to undertake and complete the journey under any eventuality.

Likewise, developing a deliberate strategy requires an organization to take the following four actions:

  1. Understand the current business context.
  2. Define business goals.
  3. Develop plan to achieve the business goals from the current business situation.
  4. Commit resources to achieve the business goals while adapting to any changes.

Let us look at these four steps in more detail.

1. Understand the current business context.

This is the first step. The business executives developing a deliberate strategy need to first develop a complete understanding of the current business context with respect to the external business environment.

Initially, this involves obtaining customer intelligence, acknowledging operational capabilities, understanding product portfolio, acquiring competitor insights, and baselining financial metrics. This step will help you get a sense of your core ideology, financial and operational resources, organization strengths, weaknesses, and problem areas.

Why is understanding the business context important?

Because an organization has to first clearly define a business objective in order to achieve the objective. Here, the business context provides a frame of reference to define appropriate business objectives. For example, a firm with annual sales of $10million grappling with scale-up challenges cannot directly aim to become a $1billion organization.

Moreover, the business context serves as the baseline against which the firm can measure and compare the progress.

2. Define business goals.

Now, organizational purpose and vision are the guiding light for business executives defining business goals. The organizational vision will not be achieved if the goals are unclear. Therefore, it is necessary that business goals are clearly defined. Doing so helps the executives to communicate them unambiguously to all layers of the organization.

A well-defined business goal adheres to the QTR [read: Quarter] principle:

  • Quantitative – firstly, it has to be measurable
  • Timebound – secondly, it has to have a definite time frame within which to achieve it
  • Reasonable – and it should realistic, even if difficult, to achieve in the given time frame

To illustrate, here are some examples of some meaningful business goals (set by real-life firms):

  • Grow annual revenues to $865 million at a CAGR of 20% within three years
  • Conquer 5% more market share in our target market by the end of the year
  • Reduce operational costs to realize 15% profitability YoY within two years

At this point, a QTR-based business goal establishes the destination for a business to reach within a stipulated time.

3. Develop plan to acheive the business goals.

This is the third important step. Once the business goal is defined, the CEO and the top management need to put together a route to that end. Here, a customer-centric plan acts as the route.

This step is especially crucial to developing a deliberate strategy. In fact, this is where a Deliberate Strategy differs from a Hope strategy (or any other best practices strategy).

A Hope strategy is forward-designed and forward-implemented.

Whereas, a Deliberate Strategy is backward-designed but forward-implemented.

Let me explain.

A Hope strategy involves employing strategies and best practices that have worked for other businesses. Naturally, these strategies are picked up by an organization and customized for their use and implemented to reach the business goals. Thus, it follows a forward path.

On the contrary, a Deliberate Strategy starts from the end-point, i.e. the business goals. Mainly, it involves figuring out what is required to reach that state and then coming backward by designing a slew of bespoke actions to reach that state. This is how it is backward-designed.

This is the key difference between the two.

4. Commit resources to achieve the business goals while adapting to any changes.

This is the final step. Once the plan is defined and the business strategy is rolled out, the organization commits to the implementation journey along the strategic route.

As we know, a business strategy for an organization exists within the context of its current business situation. However, the business situation is part of the larger business environment. It generally includes the market (which buys) and the industry (which sells) among other stakeholders, like suppliers, regulators, government, and technology.

Meanwhile, the business environment is constantly changing.

Buyers (or customers), sellers (or competitors) and suppliers keep entering and leaving the business environment, like new passengers en route your journey.

Like you, your competitors are also persistently working on their own strategies to grow and capture market share.

Additionally, governments keep looking for newer ways to tax businesses. Also, the regulators are bringing new regulations to safeguard fair competition. Similarly, technological advancements are disrupting the way of doing business.

On the whole, the business environment is continually changing.

Therefore, it is imperative to keep looking for any changes that risk the execution of your bespoke strategy. Accordingly, the business needs to keep collecting data points and reviewing its strategy at regular intervals to ensure that the journey is on the right track.

To sum up, these are the actions that make for a working strategy.

How Veravizion implements Deliberate Strategy?

At Veravizion, we have developed our own framework that we call contextual problem solving with deliberate strategy. This framework facilitates the development of deliberate strategy using a Context-Drivers-Solution-Impact cycle. Also, it applies to any business across industries.

There are many companies that have employed Deliberate Strategies in the past to grow predictably. In particular, 3M, Amazon, Apple, Boeing, Google, Nike, Nordstrom, Procter & Gamble, are a few examples.

While reading the names of these well-known companies, it is easy to think that deliberate strategy works only for the big ones.

However, it is not so.

In reality, most of these companies were virtually a nobody BEFORE implementing deliberate strategies.

Deliberate Strategy

3M were miners. Their earlier venture, started in 1902, to mine corundum failed. In the past, 3M also tried their hands at other things like making sandpaper. They failed less, yet did not succeed like success.

Later, they chose to embrace “innovation and collaboration” as their Deliberate strategy. Today, 3M is known as the world’s most innovative company.

More Examples of Deliberate Strategy…

Here is an interesting example from “Built to Last”, the bestselling book by Jim Collin and Jerry Porras.

Boeing, until 1952, had been building aircraft primarily for the military. They had virtually no presence in the commercial aircraft market. Moreover, Boeing relied heavily on orders from their only major client – the U.S. Air Force – to survive. In short, nobody knew Boeing. Back then, their competitors Douglas Aircraft dominated and ruled the commercial market with their propeller-driven planes. While Boeing wanted to enter the commercial market with a big, fast, advanced, and better-performing aircraft.

If Boeing had followed the Nope strategy, we would never have known of them.

If Boeing had followed Hope strategy, they would have probably leveraged the competitor strategies of the time and would have built a better propeller plane at best.

Instead, Boeing embraced a Deliberate Strategy.

Boeing’s purpose and vision were to be on the leading edge of aeronautics pioneering aviation. Taking inspiration from there, Boeing announced their goal to make a jet plane for the commercial market. No other aircraft company had done that before them. Moreover, such a project was going to cost them about three times their average annual after-tax profit – roughly a quarter of their entire corporate net worth – to develop a prototype for the jet. But Boeing committed to it. Later, the strategy resulted in such fine planes as 707, 727, 737, 747, and 777. Douglas aircraft could never quite catch up to Boeing. Douglas struggled to survive by merging with McDonnell aircraft in 1967. Eventually, Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas in 1997.

Apple is a more recent example of a business that became successful by devising and implementing a Deliberate Strategy. Apple believes in “breaking the status-quo”.

The strategy helped them differentiate in the crowded smartphone market and create an enviable position for them. As a result, Apple was the most valuable brand in the world for eight straight years.

To sum it up with key insights…

Deliberate Strategy helps an organization achieve its business objectives in a decisive and predictable manner.

The predictability comes only by acting deliberately.

The whole process is highly intentional, methodical, and purposeful.

And Deliberate Strategy is universal. The above framework would still work if you replace an organization with an individual or an institution.

There are many examples of successful implementation of deliberate strategy in all spheres of life.

Deliberate strategy is the difference between many successes and failures.

An organization’s strategy is its source of sustainable competitive advantage. Should one squander it away by following someone else’s strategy? What do you think?

You can also subscribe to our blog – Veracles – to receive interesting articles and insights in email. We would love to read your perspectives and comments on that.

Do follow Veravizion on LinkedInTwitter or Facebook to receive easy updates.

Cover photo credit: Brad Wetzler

Other photos: 3M.com, Boeing.com, Apple.com

Can Hope be a Real Business Strategy?

Can Hope be a Real Business Strategy?

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The last Veracle was third of the six on business strategy. It tried to answer whether a business can still win with no strategy. While there are businesses that do not employ any strategy, one can witness more businesses following hope as a strategy. The hope strategy looks like this – let us take these actions that similar businesses take, and hopefully, we will achieve our objectives. So, the perplexing question here is – Can HOPE be a real business strategy?

What is Hope Strategy?

Hope strategy is one where businesses do a lot of the same activities in the hope that it will help them grow.

Hope strategy is most frequently observed in businesses where:

  • business executives are keen for the positive growth outcome,
  • but are not inclined to commit resources required for it.

Now, this seems counter-intuitive.

When a business executive is keen to grow a business, they would naturally want to invest resources to grow, right?! Not quite.

Ideally, business executives have two options to grow their business:

  1. Invest resources to develop a bespoke strategy tailored to their business context and implement it meticulously.
  2. Employ ideas, strategies, and best practices implemented before them by similar businesses in their industry.

The first option mentioned above is to develop a bespoke strategy. That is, this is Deliberate Strategy for your business. This option may appear costlier, at least in the short term, as it involves investing resources in designing a new strategy from scratch. But it isn’t. We will discuss this option later in the next Veracle.

The second option, which involves employing ideas, strategies, and best practices of similar businesses, appears to provide a proven path to progress in the short term.

Ironically, many businesses tend to take the second option out of the misplaced belief that the strategies that have worked for other businesses will work for theirs too. It is far too common to hear, “it has worked for them, why won’t it work for us?”

This belief is the basis for the hope strategy.

However, the problem is that the second option does not sound wrong.

Let us recall “the ship’s voyage” metaphor (cited in the previous Veracle) where we had likened a business to a ship sailing on a voyage to its destination.

The second option is akin to setting the course of a ship by looking at the lights of passing ships. In ship lore, this is a terrible blunder.

Likewise, setting the strategic direction of a business by looking at the strategies employed by similar businesses is a huge mistake.

That is why the second option is deceptive.

In short, what may have worked for other businesses, may not work for yours. This is because the business contexts are very different.

This is the key insight.

How to recognize Hope Strategy?

Businesses following a hope strategy exhibit three symptoms:

  1. Lack of clarity about self-identity
  2. Frequent change in the strategic direction. Taking actions on whims.
  3. Business running in a perpetual reactive fire-fighting mode

When a business has not developed a bespoke strategy of their own, they tend to adopt the strategies and best practices from the leading companies in their industry. In the worse cases, they adopt spur-of-the-moment ideas as strategies.

As a result, there is stress on doing a lot of those things and doing them right. There are too many initiatives and employees are working on too many pursuits simultaneously (without conviction).

Eventually, this approach causes them to lose their core identity over time.

While the business itself might be operating successfully, pursuing too many things causes frequent changes in direction.

Such a business might continue operating until the time it is able to innovate and satiate customer demands. However, the lack of a strategic direction coupled with any external challenges triggers the inevitable declining spiral.

Sony and Yahoo, are two of the many examples of businesses following hope strategy and declining.

Sony, with its miniaturization strategy, was at the top of the music industry before the digital era began. Digitalization happened in the early 2000s and there was a new trend of (illegally) downloading music online. Despite having the technology to launch a product for digital music, Sony did not invest in it. Sony only hoped that the trend would go away, eventually letting their music products business getting doomed.

Let us discuss Yahoo! in more detail.

Yahoo! is another case of how a pioneering business floundered in just hoping that some strategy would emerge.

InitiallYahoo! started in 1994 as a one stop shop web portal where it brought together news and other online services helping users navigate the internet. So, in a way, it was a gateway to the internet for most users of the time.

Exhibit 1 shows Yahoo homepage of 1994 when it was launched.

Can Hope be a Real Business Strategy?

During late 1990s (and early 2000s), it was an undisputed leader of the web with its email, online search and news. The company not only survived the dot com crash of 2000, its sales climbed multi-fold between 2001 and 2008 (as shown by the share price rise in Exhibit 2).

Can Hope be a Real Business Strategy?

In early 2008, Microsoft intended to acquire Yahoo for $44.6 billion, an offer Yahoo formally rejected citing shareholder’s interest. Eventually, Verizon acquired Yahoo, once worth almost $125 billion, for $4.8 billion, underscoring the company’s fall.

So, what went wrong? How does a good company like Yahoo fail so miserably?

Numerous reasons have been put forth to explain Yahoo’s failure. Here are some of the prominent ones:

  • Yahoo was jack of all trades, master of none. They tried to do many things – Yahoo Search, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo News, and Yahoo Sports among others – but didn’t focus on being best in one.
  • Yahoo remained the same portal it was a decade ago and did not innovate.
  • Yahoo was late to mobile, according to a senior editor at Harvard business review
  • They did not focus on hiring the right talent; Yahoo apparently short-changed engineering, and media people were viewed more important, according to an EECS professor at Michigan.
  • Yahoo failed as Marissa Mayer could not perform the turnaround.

All these reasons seem right. And, it is easy to blame Marissa Mayer, who was at the helm from 2012 to 2017, for the ultimate decline.

But the real reason goes much deeper, and much earlier than that.

A close observation of the above five points reveal that these are symptoms of one common underlying cause: While doing so many things, Yahoo kept praying that something will work, some strategy will emerge, and they will survive.

The above conclusion may sound too simplistic, almost frivolous.

However, lack of a clear explicit strategy explains all the above symptoms.

Issue with Self-Identity

Yahoo started as a web portal and generated most of its revenue from selling advertising on the different service platforms it created. The key Yahoo services became so popular at one time that they started treating themselves as a media company, rather than a technology company.

There was a lack of clarity about self-identity.

So, the focus of hiring and talent retention philosophy kept shifting from engineering to media. As a result, Yahoo failed to innovate and remained the same portal even after a decade. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook hired top engineers (doing core programming) and leapfrogged Yahoo with better sleeker products. Gmail beat Yahoo Mail, Google Search outperformed Yahoo Search, and WhatsApp surpassed Yahoo Messenger impacting Yahoo sales.

As a company strategy, Yahoo started taking mobile seriously only after 2012, whereas other competing businesses already had an operational mobile strategy by then. Google’s Eric Schmidt mentioned mobile as one of their strategic areas in as early as 2006.

What about Strategic Direction?

The lack of strategic direction is evident considering Yahoo saw 8 CEOs in 20 years, and 6 CEOs within just 4 years. Founder and CEO Jerry Yang stepped down in December 2008 citing conflict of opinion in terms of strategic direction. His successor, Carol Bartz, openly admitted that she also grappled with the question of what Yahoo is, when she took over in 2009.

The acutest confirmation of lack of explicit strategy came during Marissa Mayer tenure when she spent over $2 billion binge acquiring 53 mobile-based companies, none of them really successful. Check out Exhibit-3 to see if you can identify some of them.

Can Hope be a Real Business Strategy?

In summary, it can be said that Yahoo! grappled with a clear explicit strategy for a very long time. Over the years, the CEOs just pursued what seemed right at the time hoping that some strategy would emerge. In the end, the hope strategy did them in.

Having said thus, it is appropriate to add here that it is very convenient to retrospectively dissect businesses and tell what went wrong. Wouldn’t it be more useful (for you and your business) if you knew the right way to define strategy, and more importantly, be able to tell whether it is going well? The next two Veracles attempt to do just that.

You can also subscribe to our blog – Veracles – to receive interesting articles and insights in email. We would love to read your perspectives and comments on that.

Do follow Veravizion on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook to receive easy updates.

Cover photo credit: hbu.edu

Can a business still win with a Nope Strategy

Can a business still win with a Nope Strategy?

Veravizion 2 comments

The Nope Strategy is first of the three types discussed in the previous Veracle titled “Does your business have a working strategy”. It raises a pertinent question, “Can a business still win with a Nope Strategy?”

To give you a quick recap, we read that a business suffers with Nope Strategy when its business-executives:

  • do not want to lose the status quo, so they just want to protect their turf rather than look for new areas of predictable growth, and
  • do not commit any resources for new growth strategy

What happens at a business that has no growth strategy?

Three things ensue –

When a business has no clear strategy, it does not have a specific direction to pursue nor a plan to communicate to its employees.

In such a scenario, the employees do not feel connected by any common long-term objective (even if there is one). Employees tend to work in a silo and perform their tasks on a tactical day-to-day level.

Gradually, the organisation loses track of what customers want. As the business lacks any formal strategy, it is not able to cope when there is an external change (in the micro- or macro-economic environment) like change in customer buying preferences or a change in technology.

When that happens at a company having Nope Strategy, the change triggers the downfall and eventual close-down of the business.

Let me explain this situation with “the ship’s voyage” metaphor.

When a ship sets sail on a voyage, its port of destination is known. And, the captain must work out and navigate the right route to reach the port of destination.

Similarly, a business operates with an aim to achieve certain objective. And, the business executives must design and implement the right strategy to achieve the objective.

A ship must keep sailing along the planned route to reach its port of destination. A ship without a planned route slowly strays eventually losing steam, stalls, and sinks.

Likewise, a business must keep operating with the right strategy to achieve its objectives. A business without a strategy eventually runs out of resources, falters, and fails.

Unfortunately, there are many examples of once brilliant businesses failing and going bankrupt because of having no credible strategy.

Some Examples

that’s cute – but don’t tell anyone about it.

That was the Kodak management’s reaction when their engineer invented the first digital camera. Yes, Kodak invented the first digital camera. However, it was predominantly a film-based business. The management did not see the need for any growth strategy nor did they invest any resources in it. They were insistent on protecting their film-based business. Even when customers started dumping film for digital cameras, Kodak refused to have any strategy to tackle the change, and eventually went bankrupt in 2012.

Similarly, Hitachi, and Macy’s had no credible digital strategy, so when the digital revolution happened, these once immensely popular brands lost their way.

Sears was a huge success running its chain of general departmental stores. However, when Walmart and Kmart made the large retail stores popular, Sears had no strategy to adapt to the change, and faltered.

How Nokia killed Nokia?

Let us take a deeper look into an example of a well-known business that hardly had a strategy when faced with a market change.

In October 1998, Nokia became the best-selling mobile phone brand on the planet. As shown in Exhibit 1, Nokia’s operating profits steadily rose (along with its share price) from 1995 to 2000. During the early years of the millennium, early smartphones started crowding the mobile market, which somewhat hit the Nokia share price. Nevertheless, the share price kept rising with the popularity of Symbian-OS.

Until 2007, Nokia’s Symbian-OS was the undisputed market leader with 60% smartphone market share (see Exhibit 2).

What happened after that is interesting!

On June 29th, 2007, Apple launched iPhone, and in mid-2008, Google partnered with other smartphone manufacturers to capture the smartphones market via Android-OS.

This was the start of the steady decline for Nokia smartphones.

As shown in Exhibit-3, Android (in rising blue line) was grabbing the smartphones market so far dominated by Nokia (in declining yellow line). Over the next few years, Nokia witnessed one of the most painful declines in business history. While this was happening, Nokia hardly had any strategy to stem the fall (even considering the launch of Nokia N97, dubbed the iPhone killer).

Nokia just appears to be at a loss about its strategy.

The downfall and eventual demise of Nokia’s smartphone business (in 2013) lies in the fact that they did not have any strategy to counter the onslaught of newer smartphones.

This observation is echoed by Dr. Yves Doz, INSEAD Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, in his book Ringtone: Exploring the Rise and Fall of Nokia in Mobile Phones. The reasons mentioned in the book allude to an absence of a unified growth strategy and deterioration of strategic thinking within Nokia management.

According to Dr. Doz, Nokia was in strategic stasis that was visible in symptoms such as dysfunctional organisational structure, growing bureaucracy, and management infighting.

This implies that a business cannot survive for long without a strategy.

Does this mean, then, that a business is likely to do well, as long as it is able to “keep sailing the ship in some direction?”. This will be discussed in the next Veracle on “Hope Strategy”.

You can also subscribe to our blog – Veracles – to receive interesting articles and insights in email. We would love to read your perspectives and comments on that.

Do follow Veravizion on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook to receive easy updates.

Cover photo credit: tracy morgan on Unsplash

Does your business have a working strategy

Does Your Business Have a Working Strategy?

Veravizion 4 comments

The previous Veracle discussed whether strategy is really indispensable for businesses. It ends with a few reflective questions for business people.

One of the questions relates to the types of strategies adopted by businesses. No, it does not refer to the cost-based, differentiation-based stuff. It refers to types of strategies at a more fundamental, and practical, level.

The question asks whether your business has a working strategy.

What is a working strategy?

We know that a strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve long-term goals.

A working strategy is a plan of action that incorporates the components essential to achieve the goals.

Before we discuss components of a working strategy, let us first understand the strategies businesses typically employ.

A close observation of businesses reveals interesting insights about the strategies they use to operate and grow.

Such strategies classify into three types.

  1. Nope Strategy
  2. Hope Strategy
  3. Deliberate Strategy

The names given to these strategies might sound ludicrous, but the underlying phenomena are visible all around us.

The first two approaches in the list above are examples of what not to do. Yet, this is what many businesses still do.

The third approach focuses on developing a working strategy. This is the strategy successful businesses implement.

The three types of strategies are different based on the attitudes of executives running the businesses. The difference comes from two factors. First, “the need for predictability of positive outcome”, and second, “the risk propensity to commit resources to grow”.

The need for predictability of positive outcomes

The need for predictability of positive outcomes means whether the executives are keen to consciously make the growth happen, rather than leaving it to uncertainty in the face of a constantly changing business environment.

In simple words, executives’ need for predictability of positive outcomes is high when they are growth-oriented and cannot tolerate uncertainty for long. And executives’ need for predictability of positive outcomes is low when they are cost-saving oriented and are afraid to lose what they currently have.

For instance, Kodak is an example where the top management was cost-saving oriented. They were afraid to lose their film business and so, were reluctant to look beyond film for future growth areas.

The risk propensity to commit resources

The risk propensity to commit resources for growth means the willingness of business executives to expend resources – energy, money, and efforts – to consciously make the growth happen.

To illustrate, Xerox and Sony help us explain this phenomenon.

Xerox was actually the first company to invent the PC. Surprised? But, it is true.

Yet, they did not commit resources to its advancement thereby losing the market share to Apple. Smith and Alexander even wrote a book about Xerox called: “Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, then Ignored, the First Personal Computer.”

On similar lines, Sony actually had the technology to launch a product even better than the iPod. But the executives were too afraid to commit resources to test out something new, eventually losing to – guess who? Apple again.

So, how do these two factors influence Nope, Hope, and Deliberate Strategies?

Nope strategy” is one where business executives have an operational business but have no real working strategy to grow the business. The business executives are oriented towards protecting what they already have, rather than creating new areas of strategic growth.

Nokia and Kodak are two prominent examples of companies failing to Nope Strategy.

Nokia is discussed at length in the next Veracle.

In the “Hope strategy” approach, business executives are keen on the positive growth outcome but are not inclined to commit the resources required for it. The executives operate the business by doing a lot of the same things. The business has some inexplicit approach that is rooted in the belief that if a business follows the industry best practices and adopts the prevalent marketing trends, it should grow.

On probing them, one hears an implicit hope that a working strategy will somehow emerge from the many best practices followed.

Hope strategy is a bit tricky because it does not sound wrong. Here, the business outcome is unpredictable because it varies based on many environmental factors.

What about Deliberate Strategy?

Deliberate strategy, on the other hand, is interesting. Here, an organization devises a plan of action that includes the components of a working strategy. This is to make it work in the context of its environment. It includes defining a specific business objective that is both measurable and achievable. Thereafter, the business develops a deliberate plan that serves as a working strategy to achieve that business objective.

Apple’s growth over the last decade is evidence of how deliberate strategy succeeds. Amazon is another example of a firm growing in this manner.

At Veravizion, we believe in employing a deliberate strategy to help our clients define and achieve their business objectives. Businesses have too many resources at stake to not employ a strategy that truly works.

Circling back to working strategy…

A working strategy, then, is one that assists an organization to achieve its business objectives in a predictable manner.

Predictability is the key.

That is why deliberate strategy is important!

In the next three Veracles, we will dig deeper to understand the attributes of each type of the strategies. We will discuss these with examples to find out the strategy that works.

You can also subscribe to our blog – Veracles – to receive interesting articles and insights in email. We would love to read your perspectives and comments on that.

Do follow Veravizion on LinkedInTwitter or Facebook to receive easy updates.

Cover photo credit: photo by ricardo frantz on Unsplash

Is business strategy really indispensable?

Is business strategy really indispensable?

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Why do I need a business strategy?

Recently, the chief executive of a retail business asked me this question. Let us first understand what strategy is!

In simple words, strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve long-term goals.

People apply strategy in many different contexts. For instance, military, sports, and business are some areas where strategy is necessary to win.

In the military, strategy is essential to win a war. It allows armed forces to plan military operations – offensive and defensive – in order to gain battlefield advantage over enemies, and achieve goals of national (and global) security.

In sports, strategy is essential to win a game. It allows sportspersons to devise a game-plan in order to gain an on-field advantage over rival teams, and win a match.

In business, strategy is essential to be profitable and grow over the long term. It allows organizations to develop business models and design operational processes in order to gain a competitive advantage, and achieve goals of financial security.

Coming back to the question then, is business strategy really indispensable?

For a moment, let us hypothesize about situations when strategy may not be important.

What if you are the general of an army having limitless troops and tanks? Or, the coach of a sports team having boundless talent and practice hours? Or, the CEO of a business having unlimited resources?

These situations might tempt us into thinking that one can easily trump the opponent without needing a strategy if one has unlimited resources.

In reality, organizations always have limited resources.

Even if organizations have resources in huge numbers, they are always finite in quantity.

Military organizations have a finite number of soldiers, shooting weapons, and shells.

Sports teams have a finite number of players, play paraphernalia, and practice periods.

Business firms have a finite number of competencies, capacities, and capital.

So, when you have something in a limited amount, what do you do? You find ways and mechanisms to use it judiciously such that you achieve your objective before expending the resources entirely.

Strategy is that mechanism!

In short, Strategy is important because resources are always finite!

To clarify, here is an interesting way to look at it.

The right strategy assists you in allocating your finite resources in such a way that you can build a competitive advantage against your rivals of any size, and can still win.

There is a gem of insight in that last sentence in case you missed it.

Strategy is the concept that helps you use your resources wisely and effectively. It allows you to prudently allocate your resources where they can deliver the maximum possible returns.

Some Examples

There are numerous examples in the military, sports, and business where a smaller team has implemented the right strategy to beat a disproportionately larger opponent.

History books are replete with instances of battles where a very small army has defeated a large one by employing strategic maneuvers. The battle of Longewala, the battle at Rezang La, Napolean’s 1812 invasion of Russia, and the 1775 battle of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts are few such examples.

Sports archives are awash with games won by employing a tangible strategy; such games were called the biggest upsets of the time as a strategy was a late entrant in the world of sports as compared to some of the other fields. Here are three examples:

In the final of 1950 world cup football, Uruguay beat Brazil by keeping the game simple, focused, and warlike. Brazil was the hot favourites to win the game. Uruguay team was under no pressure and their captain asked the team to play a no-holds-barred natural attacking game, which they did.

In the final of the 1983 ICC world cup, the underdogs India beat consecutive three-time finalists (and two-time champions) West Indies by playing to the team’s strength of disciplined bowling.

One of the best examples of strategy winning a sports match is the “Miracle on Ice” game during the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. In this medal-round game, the United States team consisting exclusively of amateur players (but following military-style discipline) beat the four-time defending gold medallists the Soviet Union that consisted primarily of professional players.

Examples from Business World

The business world is full of case studies of businesses devising deliberate strategies, developing sustainable competitive advantage, and capturing significant market share on their road to business growth. Here are two examples of businesses winning on strategy:

Blockbuster was founded in 1985 as a video (VHS) rental company. Within 15 years, it had 6,500 video rental stores around the US and revenues upwards of $5 billion. Netflix began operations in 1999 and led its strategy based on people’s video-watching preferences. Netflix devised a highly customer-centric strategy that included subscription-based charges and no late fees, among other things. As a result, customers could watch a video for as long as they wanted or return it and get a new one. By end of 2010, blockbuster was bankrupt while Netflix, on the back of its deliberate customer-centric strategy, is worth more than $150 billion today.

In the late 1980s, the sales of carbonated soft drinks were at a high. It would be foolish to introduce yet another drink in the fiercely competitive market. Yet, Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz partnered with a Thai businessman Chaleo Yoovidhya to introduce a new drink named Red Bull. Predictably, sales were (s)low during the initial years. That’s when the co-founder defined a strategy sharply focused on a chosen market segment. To that effect, Red Bull was positioned as an energy drink for students and adventure enthusiasts. The strategy would eventually help the business increase annual sales to 6.79 billion cans in 2018. As a result, Mateschitz became the 31st richest person in the world.

These and many such examples signify that strategy is extremely important because organizations are invariably resource-constrained.

So what?

On this note, some meaningful follow-up questions to ask would be: Is any strategy good enough? Does your business have a working strategy? Are you able to explain it clearly?

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Cover photo credit: photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

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