Old Axioms for New Entrepreneurs?

The Wall Street Journal this week cited answers provided by a group call the “Young Entrepreneur Council” to the following question: “What tips can you offer for creating a solid brand?”

The answers were geared toward younger entrepreneurs, so it would not come as a surprise that the first of several answers to the question focused squarely on “tapping social media.” (I would encourage one to read through the strategies for tapping social media that the YEC offers.) The remaining answers, though, looked as if they could have come from an entrepreneurship primer from an earlier decade. “Understand your customers.” “Make it about the problem you solve.”

Not exactly revolutionary stuff. How could these seemingly “old school” recommendations be of any value to young entrepreneurs in 2011?

It’s simple, really. Generations of business owners have underestimated just how hard it is to really understand one’s customers and to make one’s brand message about the problems one’s organization can solve. Young entrepreneurs have only just begun to experience how hard those things are to achieve.

One of the biggest obstacles to the success of America’s next wave of businesses is going to be the lack of highly-capable salespeople and marketers who really know how to achieve understanding and to fully flesh out and develop customer needs. We hope that those young entrepreneurs who will read the YEC’s recommendation will take them seriously and act upon them sooner rather than later.

Listening to Neil Rackham

I had the opportunity this week to spend some time with noted author and creator of the “SPIN Selling” model, Neil Rackham.  Neil is perhaps best known as the author of not only SPIN Selling but a few other, terrific business books, Major Account Sales Strategy, and Rethinking the Sales Force.  Neil is also the founder of Huthwaite, the company that I worked for before I founded United Sales Resources.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am fortunate now to have Huthwaite as a client, and I have a great deal of respect for that organization and for the people who work there.  If I appear in this blog to have a bias toward Huthwaite’s approach to consultative or value-based selling, it’s only because I do.)

Neil was speaking with a group of sales and organizational development leaders about issues that are significantly impacting the growth and the profitability of businesses today.  These “silent killers” as Neil and Huthwaite describe them, are all generally within a sales organization’s control to a degree, but they can be really tricky and, at times, painful to address.  One example of the “killers” was the “Feel-Good Funnel.”  (Look for Huthwaite’s white paper at www.huthwaite.com on this topic soon.)  As I was listening to Neil, my thoughts turned from the large companies that were represented in the room to the small to mid-sized businesses with whom USR typically engages.  I thought, ‘If the large companies represented in this room have overly optimistic views of their own sales pipelines, then smaller companies must suffer from the same overly optimistic feeling about theirs.’  They have no more analytical capability or more data to work with than larger companies.

In fact, small to mid-size companies often have very little or no data to support what is in their sales forecast…if they have a sales forecast at all.  As a small business owner myself, I understand how difficult it can be to make investment decisions when the future is even the tiniest bit uncertain.  Not knowing when you have a problem in your business pipeline is certainly worse than knowing.  And so… sipping my coffee this morning, I resolved that my staff and I will not only do everything in our power to help our clients capture their next, big opportunity, but we will do everything we can to help them see the future more clearly.  We owe them that.