Part 1 of What a Go-To Does Differently: Maniacal Focus

This is the beginning of a multi-part series to talk about what a Go-To does differently from the me-too pack. Firms that achieve Go-To status in their chosen markets follow a particular set of strategies that me-toos typically don’t. Let’s look at the first thing a Go-To does differently and how entities like Intel, Lego and the Apollo Space Program put it into action.

A Go-To Has Maniacal Focus

A Go-To focuses on a specific market that is large enough to provide opportunity but specific enough to allow the company to concentrate its finite resources in order to capitalize on synergies. Focus is not “a” way to gain market traction but “the” way.  Andy Grove, the longtime Intel CEO who transformed the company from a me-too chip manufacturer into an innovative Go-To for microprocessors, had this to say in his book, Only the Paranoid Survive:

A question that often comes up at times of strategic transformation is, should you pursue a highly focused approach, betting everything on one strategic goal, or should you hedge?…I tend to believe Mark Twain hit it on the head when he said, ‘Put all of your eggs in one basket and WATCH THAT BASKET.’  It’s harder to be the best of class in several fields than in just one…Hedging is expensive and dilutes commitment. Without exquisite focus, the resources and energy of the organization will be spread a mile wide—and they will be an inch deep.

— Andy Grove

How Focus Won the Cold-War Space Race Against the Russians

Having the honor of sitting next to Apollo astronaut Dick Gordon at a business dinner some years ago, I asked him for the most significant lesson learned from the Apollo Space Program. “The power of focus,” he said. “Anything is possible when you have a very clear desired outcome shared by everyone and around which all action revolves. In our case, it was the moon.”

apollo-program-cost-go-to-moonHe explained that prior to Apollo, the United States (representing the free world at that time) was losing the space race to its Cold War opponent, the former Soviet Union. U.S. space exploration consisted of a hodge-podge of initiatives, none of which worked together. There were numerous independent projects in progress, spread among multiple government agencies and contractors, involving thousands of people and investments of billions of dollars per year.

“The only driving theme was speed, to be the first at something, anything,” Gordon said. “All of that time and money was being expended while the Soviets kicked our butts with one historical achievement after another.”

In his bid to win the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s, John F. Kennedy didn’t go broader, he went narrower. He said, “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” With those four words, “man on the moon,” he instantly focused the resources of all involved in the space program on one specific goal, one specific domain.

He didn’t do it quietly either. He launched it with a grand gesture in the most public way possible. He made a historic speech to Congress on May 25, 1961 that the entire world heard. He put a stake in the ground with a proud declaration of a singular goal. No one knew at the time how to do it; but if achieved, this feat clearly would establish the U.S. and the rest of the free world as the dominant force in space.

Sun Rays Vs. Laser Beams

img_3155The book, Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends On It, by legendary marketer, Al Ries, is now considered a marketing classic and makes a strong case for focus. It landed on my radar screen while reading an article years ago in Inc. Magazine about Bill Gross, the famed serial entrepreneur and founder of startup incubator, IdeaLab, in which he was extolling the virtues of focus, raving about how the book had changed his mind on the topic and also his fortunes. Here is an excerpt from the book’s introduction that sums it up:

The sun is a powerful source of energy. Every hour the sun washes the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy. Yet with a hat and some sunscreen you can bathe in the light of the sun for hours at a time with few ill effects.

A laser is a weak source of energy. A laser takes a few watts of energy and focuses them in a coherent stream of light. But with a laser you can drill a hole in a diamond or wipe out a cancer.

When you focus a company, you create the same effect. You create a powerful, laser-like ability to dominate a market. That’s what focusing is all about.

When a company becomes unfocused, it loses its power. It becomes a sun that dissipates its energy over too many products and too many markets.

— Al Ries

How Going “Back to the Brick” Saved Lego

In 2003-2004, Lego was in a state of crisis, with falling revenues following a long period of thinkstockphotos-178473803stagnation.  When new CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp came in, he declared Lego would go “back to the brick” by concentrating on core products and core customers. As detailed in the book, Brick by Brick, the company cut back on many of its brand extensions, cut the number of brick designs by 46%, and re-narrowed its market focus to kids ages five to nine. The next year, sales increased 12% and LEGO had come back from a $292 million loss in 2004 to a pre-tax profit of $117 million in 2005.

Recap: The Power of Concentration

Focus lets you concentrate your resources. It lets you concentrate your message, so that it speaks directly to your targets’ pain points and needs in their own language. It helps unqualified prospects self-select out, before they waste your precious selling energies. It tells employees what you don’t do, so they stay focused on the right priorities.

So make it your mantra: Focus, focus, focus.

Infographic: Anatomy of Content Marketing

B2B marketers have always relied heavily on “content marketing” going back decades now, mostly in the form of thought leadership. Because the concept is relatively new to consumer marketers and is buoyed by social media, it gets a lot of hype these days and generates infographics like this one. Nonetheless, I like this infographic for the useful statistics. It may help as ammunition for B2B marketers who need to justify their thought leadership programs and budgets. This is focused on the online, but there are many offline opportunities as well (e.g., conference presentations).

In planning your programs, be sure to take a strategic approach to the thought leadership you put out into the market place – it should revolve around the unique positioning you are after as a Go-To in your target market. Keep the content focused. Make sure the messaging differentiates you.

I wrote recently about the McMahon Group and their Go-To status in the private club sector. Every bit of content McMahon puts out into the market is aimed at educating private clubs on strategic planning, operations and member experience. It never deviates. And all of the information McMahon provides is useful and actionable.

Do an audit of the content you’ve produced over the last 6 months. Lay it all out – does it hang together? Does it revolve around a singular theme? Does it support the positioning you’re after? Does it distinguish you? And what can you do to improve going forward?

 

anatomy-of-content-marketing

Market Dominance Case Study: Owning a (Large) Consulting Niche

mcmahon-good180I’ve talked a lot recently about the advantages of being the Go-To in your chosen market and have offered up a couple of high-profile examples. But there are plenty of examples in specialty markets the average person isn’t exposed to. An example is McMahon Group in St. Louis, the Go-To for private club strategic planning and consulting, and I experienced the power of their Go-To status while playing the role of buyer.

thinkstockphotos-628711134I was once helping a premiere private club that was falling prey to the same tough trends impacting all private clubs across the U.S., if not the world – an aging membership, flat membership numbers that would decline if the club didn’t change, and less-than-optimal utilization of club facilities and programs – despite this being a club that was highly respected. I was on the long-term planning committee tasked with addressing this problem. One of our first steps was to seek out a firm that could help us conduct a member survey and determine a plan of action based on the results. In this situation, you can imagine how price sensitive the club was. However, results were more important. We could have sought out a generic market research firm. Afterall, how hard is it to put together a bunch of questions about how and why members use club facilities and what they felt was missing from the member experience? Heck, we could have done it with a free online survey tool.

We weren’t just after a survey, though. We were after a long-term plan that would improve the club’s future. We needed expertise. As it happens, there is an entire sub-specialty of private club market researchers and consultants we could turn to. Who knew? The club leadership agreed that it made perfect sense to hire a firm that understands the unique issues and trends impacting private clubs, even if it was going to cost a little more. We knew that member feedback and input was just one piece of what the club ultimately needed, and we wanted a firm that could help us ask the right questions, interpret the feedback appropriately and guide us toward best actions.

thinkstockphotos-512814378Then it became a matter of selecting the firm. The private club sector, like most industries, is a tight community at the upper leadership levels. Just like any industry, club managers all belong to one leading professional association, see each other at meetings, read the same publications, network with each other, and progress from club to club as they climb their career ladders. As a result, the general manager already knew of the top three consultants in the business, telling us that one, in particular, was the Go-To; so we interviewed all three. Two were impressive – they had great credentials, stellar reputations, and “trusted partner” status with their clients; had done many similar projects; obviously had deep expertise in this specific area; and offered strong teams. The cost of their services was also extremely reasonable and competitive. We knew they could each do a great job.

thinkstockphotos-77739477The third firm, McMahon Group, was all of that and much more.  In addition to the above, it was the thought leader in the field. McMahon didn’t just serve the industry; it led the industry by proactively investing in, conducting and sharing private club trends research, not just on where the industry had been and where it currently was, but also on where it was going. When we had lunch to interview the company’s president, Frank Vain, he humored us by listening to our litany of the club’s challenges and problems; but he could have told them to us himself, because they were no different from what he saw at every club McMahon Group works with.  He was finishing our sentences. And further, he laid out the trajectory we were on. Most of all, he prescribed the solutions right then and there – told us exactly what we needed to do.

In talking to Frank, it was clear that McMahon Group lived, ate, and breathed private club trends and operational excellence best practices. This is all it does. It knows everything going on in the industry. It knows all of the key players.  At its own expense, it studies and watches the trends on everyone’s behalf and warns the industry of what’s coming on the horizon. McMahon has taken spiritual “ownership” for understanding and solving the industry’s most pressing problems. And when you hear it talk about the industry, you can tell this company cares.

In the end, we hired McMahon, even though it was about twice as expensive as the other options. The reason is that we felt the club would get great value and an accelerated
path to results – we knew McMahon would not just execute a survey to tell us what the members wanted but would help the club quickly take the optimal actions as a result. We weren’t buying market research services – we were buying a treasure trove of expertise, experience and wisdom. It would help the club solve the problem – and fast.

That’s exactly what happened. We did the survey. It told us precisely what Frank had told us it would at lunch that day (yes, we could have saved a lot of money by letting him just give us the answers…but we needed to hear it from the members). The action plan ended up being exactly what he had prescribed during that same conversation. As a result, membership growth and club utilization have soared. The Club has since been thriving and doing better than ever, even through the “Great Recession,” when many clubs suffered badly.

The private club sector might sound like a small, limited market for a company like McMahon Group to target, but it’s about a $26 billion market consisting of 14,000 clubs in the U.S. alone.  McMahon doesn’t have to capture much of that market to have a great business. And by capturing the top end of that market and charging a premium price for premium value, McMahon has built quite a profitable business with a reputation that precedes it. It is, indeed, the Go-To in its space.

Give some thought as to what your company can do to establish this kind of reputation and make this kind of contribution to individual customers and your industry as a whole.

More on the Advantages of Being the Go-To

I recently posted twelve reasons it’s better to be the Go-To than a me-too and then four examples of Go-To brands. Here’s just a bit more on they advantages of being the differentiated Go-To.

The greatest advantage is that you compete less on price, if at all.  In fact, you can usually command much higher prices than the competition, because you offer a unique approach and can promise stellar results. The buyer considers the benefits you offer to far outweigh your cost.

Another big advantage is that you are no longer part of the pack – you stand out. You are the first name that comes to mind when the buyer has a particular problem. And that buyer often will proactively seek you out, particularly when time is of the essence (as in the case of C. C. Myers when the freeway melted).

Often selling costs for a Go-To are much lower, because you’re not starting from ground zero in a sales situation. Your reputation precedes you, so you don’t have to work as hard as a lesser-known competitor to establish your credibility. You don’t have to prove yourself as much. You can cut right to the customer’s situation at hand and how you can help.

As the Go-To in a particular field, you wield great power and influence in the marketplace. You aren’t just part of the fabric of the industry, you sit at the top of the pyramid. You help set the direction of the industry. You have a vision others want to follow. As the Go-To, you are in a position to fundamentally alter the direction of the market.

Doesn’t all of this sound much better than scraping for business as a me-too and being pushed to cut your price?

Strategic Marketing Infographic: 12 Reasons It’s Better to Be the Go-To Than a Me-Too

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Market dominance simply means becoming the Go-To brand for a particular market need and being so superior at solving that market problem that you are able to command premium prices, work with premium customers, and hire premium people. Any company, no matter its size, can pursue it.  Your goal is to get people to seek you out and have them so firmly believe in your ability to make a unique contribution that they will pay you whatever it takes.

The alternative is to be a me-too that has to scrape for business and compete on price.

There are at least twelve reasons it’s better to be the Go-To, and I’m sure you can think of even more. Enjoy the infographic and pass it along…

mktg-infographic-why-be-go-to-lina-group

Is This a Book You Would Read?

I’ve written the introduction to my book and wonder if some of you could read it (see below) and let me know whether it makes you want to read the book. Please also share why or why not (assuming the topic is applicable to you, of course). Would love your feedback in the comments section. Thanks!

Front cover design V4 Green croppedHow In the World Is That Person Making $30,000 a Day?

This is the question that started it all.

About six years into my consulting business, one of my colleagues told me about her close friend who had less hands-on client experience than either of us and was commanding $30,000 a day to provide expertise to top executives. The consultant’s name was Martha Rogers of Peppers and Rogers, the firm famous for One-to-One Marketing, which revolutionized direct marketing and spawned digital marketing. I was at once terribly envious and incredibly inspired. (You’ll hear Martha explain it later in the book.)

This conversation occurred while I was in the midst of a reevaluation of my firm’s strategy, because we, on the other hand, were being forced to lower our prices. Somewhere along the way, our consulting services had come to be viewed as commodities, even by loyal clients who knew our capabilities well, understood how deep our expertise was and had been engaging us for years. They were starting to put pressure on us to lower our fees and talk about replacing us with less expensive, less experienced consultants as though we were interchangeable parts. We were also getting pushed further down into the organization, with less and less influence.

Meanwhile, and quite ironically, we were finding it increasingly difficult to convince our clients that they didn’t look, sound or act any different from the competition; that it wasn’t clear as to who they were trying to serve; and that they didn’t have a clear message that resonated with prospects. Even software companies were beginning to face the same challenges, as competitors started matching them on functions, features and price.

These experiences were in stark contrast to my earlier experience in helping to launch and grow what was then called the Telecom Industry Group (TIG) at Accenture. Starting from ground zero and operating much like a venture-backed start-up, we had lots of market forces working against us and still managed organic growth to over $250 million in five years…in the midst of a recession. This despite the fact that, at the time, if you weren’t a telephone company, you had no credibility in that industry; no one knew who we were or what we did; there was no existing market for what we were selling; the industry was already dominated by a few gigantic, well-entrenched providers; and in many ways, we didn’t know what we were doing. Nonetheless, we managed huge and very profitable year-over-year revenue growth, became the dominant player in our target markets, and laid the groundwork for what is today a multi-billion dollar business unit.

What did Martha Rogers and TIG do right? What did my firm and most business services and software companies need to do to achieve this kind of sustainable differentiation in order to ensure ongoing margin and revenue growth? Somehow, certain companies were each succeeding at becoming the dominant Go-To player, actively sought out by customers and able to command huge prices relative to the competition, while everyone else languished as Me-Too providers competing on price. I became obsessed with figuring out the recipe, embarking on an intensive research and analysis effort.

One day, on a plane to Chicago to meet with clients, I sketched out a strategy for my company. With so many years of Accenture’s methodology and project management training ingrained in me, naturally it was a step-by-step framework in the form of a flow diagram. I looked at it for a few minutes and said to myself, “This is what all of our clients need to be doing! This is how companies dominate a market space and become the Go-To.” It was the basis for what has become known as the Apollo Method for Market Dominance.™

That was 1998. Since then I have been seeking out the method’s weaknesses. I’ve gone inside companies as a full-time strategy and marketing executive to find out what’s hard about implementing it in practice. I’ve looked for better alternatives. I’ve continued to research it. I’ve lived through the “dot-com bust” of the 1990s and the Great Recession circa 2008-11. And I’ve watched hundreds of companies go out of business, because they didn’t implement one or more of the key elements.

Through all this, it became clear that the approach works, especially now that enterprise customers are starting to demand solutions to their problems and not just generic products or services, a key underpinning of the Apollo Method.

My research and experiences have resulted in some fascinating stories, examples and analogies, which I share in this book. You will learn market dominance strategy and marketing lessons from the Apollo Space Program, which declared its “Moonshot” goal and set out to dominate outer space against all odds. You’ll learn how to build momentum in the market place around your point of view and solutions the way successful companies have done it; the way campaigns build awareness and support for their candidates; the way Al Gore raised awareness of Global Warming; and the way rock bands build a following. You’ll also learn why clients with specific problems will be just as likely to seek you out over me-too alternatives as heart patients are to seek out cardiac surgeons over general practitioners. You will read inspirational stories about how companies like Google, Oracle, Cisco, and many others each became the Go-To in a relatively specific area of focus and then built from there. And you will find out about spectacular failures and lessons learned, including some of my own.

Who This Book Is For

This book is for you if your company operates in a highly competitive market full of me-toos. It’s for you, if your company is having trouble differentiating from the competition and is competing on price. It’s especially for you, if your company sells some kind of intangible product or service to businesses – the kind of product or service that is difficult for customers to hold in their hands, evaluate or compare to others until they have bought and are using it. This includes IT services and technology service providers, software and software-as-a-service (cloud) companies, some product companies, computing and telecommunications providers, management consulting firms and other service providers. It also includes industries with similar business fundamentals and competitive challenges include architecture and engineering, law, environmental consulting, and other professional and business services. Regardless of the sector, you will find that many, if not all, of these principles apply and can improve your margins and prospects for growth.

What role do you play in your company? This book is for you if your work has a direct or indirect bearing on revenue and/or margins. This includes direct or support roles in business unit operations and management; sales, business development, and partner relationships; marketing; product, service, and/or solution development and maintenance; client delivery and support activity; human resources and training; infrastructure and information systems; and financial management.

What You’ll Get From This Book

One of my frustrations as a practitioner is that I’ve yet to find a book or even a piece of paper that lays out a step-by-step rationale and approach for executing a particular strategy or marketing program. I myself have written or created generic strategic planning and marketing methodologies, but they are templates – they don’t explain how to achieve a particular business outcome. There are plenty of methodologies for systems development, project management, process improvement, and even generic marketing plan development. But the weakness with most marketing plans is that there is a terrific analysis of the situation, the market, the competition, the strategy, etc. and then one big giant bucket of tactics you may as well call “Stuff.”

I’ve never found anything that tells you, step by step, how to win in your market. Neither have I seen anything that shows a methodology for deciding which strategy or marketing tactics to choose and how to best implement them. Shockingly, no leadership executive or board member I’ve ever worked with has asked for one. In presenting a plan, I’ve always expected questions like, “Of the thousands of options to choose from, how did you decide on those specific tactics? How do the pieces fit together and build on one another? How are these going to develop the market? How will they lead us to market dominance and attract clients? What’s the long-term roadmap – how do these build on each other over the next few years to build our brand and entrench us? How do these investments tie to business outcomes and how are you going to measure them?”

This book will give you answers. Chapter 1 talks about your commoditization challenge and why that is a serious a problem for your business. Chapter 2 makes the case for aiming to become the Go-To, as opposed to a Me-Too commodity competing on price and scratching for business. Chapters 3-7 take you through the Apollo Method for Market Dominance, step by step. In addition to a conceptual overview, you’ll get practical advice on how to execute key components. You’ll also see examples of how other companies have successfully implemented them. Chapter 8 gets you started by helping you develop a simple but profoundly powerful one-page plan to get you started. You’ll walk away with a game plan that you can start implementing immediately and refine as you go.

There is no reason why any business should have to languish as a thin-margin, Me-Too player when there is the option to become a Go-To. The key is figuring out how to deliver such superior business impact that your clients will not fixate on price but rather on the value you deliver. This book will show you how to do that.

The Book for your input…in pieces…

Being a marketer through and through, I’m always interested in market feedback and input. So I’m going to start publishing pieces of my book on the blog for your comments and input. Below are a draft synopsis and table of contents. The bullseye audience for the book is executives responsible for the profitable growth of certain types of companies – those that are prone to commoditization, because customers can’t easily see, touch or experience the offering’s points of differentiation prior to the sale. These include B2B professional or technology services, technology-based products, innovative offerings, or intangible offerings rooted in expertise (e.g., professional services, educational services). Technology entrepreneurs will find it very useful. There are lots of other audience categories the book applies to – if you aren’t the prime target but are trying to stand out in a crowded field and avoid competing on price, read on in case you can relate and benefit from the insights.

Draft Synopsis

Why are seemingly excellent products or services forced to compete on price as me-too commodities, while other offerings have strong brand equity, command premium prices, and stand out as the Go-To in their markets – the first name that comes to mind for customers as the superior option? They leverage the four pillars of differentiation to uniquely brand themselves and delivery superior value. Through extensive research and 25 years of personal experience working with both Go-Tos and Me-Toos as a practitioner and consultant, the author has noticed a pattern of what the Go-Tos do differently, particularly when a company’s offerings are rooted in technology, innovation, or intellectual expertise. She lays out these four pillars as a step-by-step strategic marketing framework called the Apollo Method for Market Dominance, named for the Apollo Space Program, the ultimate against-all-odds success story under circumstances paralleling those of competitive markets.  Sharing numerous examples and practical how-to tips, the author says that nearly every company can use the four pillars of differentiation to call its own “moon shot” and dominate its chosen markets for huge profits and sustainable growth.

Did it grab you at all? Did it make you want to read more? Why? Why not? What would make it better?

Table of Contents

Part I: Why You Have a Problem

Introduction: How In the World is that Person Making $30,000 a Day?

        Chapter 1: Commoditization is Enemy #1

Part II: What to Do About It

Chapter 2: Be the Go-To for the Solution to a Business Problem

Part III: How to Do It: The Apollo Method for Market Dominance

Chapter 3: Overview

Chapter 4: Launch Phase

Chapter 5: Ignite Phase

Chapter 6: Navigate Phase

Chapter 7: Accelerate Phase

Part IV: Getting Started

Chapter 8: Your One-Page Plan

I realize it’s hard to comment without seeing more, but at a glance, does the table of contents look enticing and logical? (Note: Yes, Ignite comes after Launch. You’ll see why when we get to that.)

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!