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!

What a Book in Gestation Looks Like

This is what a book in gestation looks like. 🙂

Book in Gestation - studio wall

All the walls of my writing studio look like this. What you don’t see is the massive expanse of tabletop space covered in research files and a stack of reference books.

After having to put it down for five years to tend to my kids, I’ve recently resumed work on my book. Thank goodness. Because every other day, I find myself wishing I could hand it to the person I’m speaking with and say, “Just read the book, and then come back if you still want help fixing your problem.”

Here’s the working title with a preliminary cover design:

Front cover design V4 Green cropped

 

Would love your feedback. Does this sound like a book you’d want to read? Why? Why not? Add your comments.

It is a how-to book that will explain the Apollo Method for Market Dominance, a strategic marketing framework for how you go about differentiating yourself as the sought-after leader in your field. A key piece is selling full-on solutions to problems, not just piecemeal products or services. But that’s only the beginning.

It’s mostly for B2B companies that have trouble differentiating, esp. if they sell intangibles, software as a service, professional services, technology solutions, etc. It can apply in a consumer setting as well.

I think I’ll start posting chapter material here at some point for comments and suggestions, so subscribe to the blog for alerts, if you’d like to get first dibs.

The “I’ll Be Damned!” Test

I was once the chief marketing officer for a company whose CEO who was both incredibly tough and incredibly brilliant. We were developing a type of technology offering that was very new in the market and in what the Lean Startup gang and my Stanford colleague and serial entrepreneur, Steve Blank, would call that sloppy, iterative “customer development phase” of evolution. This is that point at which there are lots of possible ways to position the offering in lots of possible markets, and you’re trying to figure out which will get you the most traction the most quickly.

The CEO told me, “I want our customers to hear about this and get so excited, they say to themselves, “Well, I’ll be damned! We have to have one of those!”

And I thought, “Yes!” That’s a brilliant acid test for whether you have something you’ll be able to sell, even before you get out there and start testing it with prospective customers. And certainly, once you do start taking it around, that’s the reaction you want or else you know you have more work to do. The closer you are to an “I’ll be damned!” reaction, the easier it’s going to be to make your numbers each quarter. More importantly, your margins will be higher, because business impact will matter more to the buyer than cost.

So ask yourself: What would it take to get my customers to react with a “Well, I’ll be damned!…”?

A Quick Brainteaser: Can You Tell the Difference? (Bonus Round: The Cupcake Challenge)

Let’s start with a picture of this child. Take a close look.

Differentiation Brainteaser 1We’ll be coming back to him in a moment. But first, we’re going to play a little game called the Cupcake Differentiation Challenge. Feast your eyes on these tempting cupcakes.

B2B Differentiation Brainteaser: Cupcake ChallengeThey are all red velvet cupcakes, but each is made from a different recipe containing different ingredients and flavors. The game is this: You must pick the most delicious tasting of the bunch. If you succeed, you win $100,000. If you don’t, you owe $50,000. You can’t sample them in advance. You have to pick based on just looking at them. How would you do it? (This is all hypothetical, of course. Don’t send an attorney to collect your winnings.)

What’s that, you say? They all look the same? You can’t know which is best without trying them first? Yes, it does feel like a high-stakes crapshoot. A little stressful, eh?

Gee, I wonder who else goes through this. Oh, that’s right…It’s your buyers every time they are choosing between you and the multitude of other offerings exactly like yours.

Now let’s go to a different shot of that little boy you saw above.

B2B Differentiation Brainteaser 2 Oops, that’s not the same little boy. It’s his identical twin. Without scrolling up and cheating, can you discern what makes this little boy different from the other one?

 (Jeopardy music playing in the background)

How long did it take? Or did you give it a try and quickly give up? Did you simply find it impossible? (If you’re still looking, scroll down for a side by side comparison.)

The differences in many identical twins are so subtle that you have to have intimate knowledge of them and be around them quite a bit in order to pick up on what makes one different from the other. In fact, often they, their parents and perhaps their closest friends are the only ones who can discern the differences.

If your offerings and/or company aren’t clearly and obviously unique at a glance, your customer will see you and your competition as identical twins. Even if there are differences, your prospect has neither the time nor the inclination to do a detailed exam and comparison to discover them.  The prospect is going to take a quick look, decide that you are identical to one another, and buy based on price. They are not going to invest the effort to actively seek out the differences. Or they will find irrelevant, arbitrary differences that influence them – your competitor shares the buyer’s favorite hobby or alma mater, or some other arcane factor. Your odds of winning business become a game of price and random chance – not a good basis for achieving sustainable growth.  Not a basis at all for growing margins. You are merely another face in the crowd, another me-too.

On the other hand, if you pop out – if you’re truly unique in your ability to solve a particular and pressing customer problem — you will get the buyer’s attention. More importantly, you will get the broader market’s attention, and buyers will start seeking you out. In a crowded market, this is an important first step toward sustainable growth and margins.

I’ll talk more about how to clearly differentiate yourself in upcoming posts.

B2B Differentiation Brainteaser side by side

Is this what your prospect sees when looking at you and your competitor?

Where Are You on the Commodity Curve?

One quick way to gauge the health of your long-term prospects as a business is to determine where you sit on the Commodity Curve.  This is a little model I developed over a decade ago to illustrate what happens when you fail to adequately differentiate in an increasingly competitive market. It’s not rocket science – Econ 101 and business strategy courses cover this in depth. But after watching clients and other companies conveniently forget this basic tenet, I developed an illustration specific to the situation.  Consider this just a little reminder.

It’s very simple: If competition is increasing and you don’t adequately differentiate yourself, margins drop.  The red line below is the typical scenario when there are a lot of look-alikes in the market.  The blue line is the company that stands apart from the competition by offering something unique that’s in high demand.  By being unique, there is little or no direct competition. The company can name its prices and actually increase margins while others are lowering their prices.

How unique are you? Your margins will give you the answer.

Commodity Curve for blog post

It Stinks to Compete on Price

Falling Prices AheadThe implication of the trends discussed in my last post, Hey Stop Copying Me! is that many business-to-business products and services are struggling against commoditization and must, by default, compete on price. When you boil down all the problems and challenges affecting the health of these companies past, present and future, it comes down to commoditization. That is the fundamental threat.  And it becomes even more dire in the face of a sudden drop in overall market demand, such as in a recession.

Don’t just take it from me, though. Hear it from your peers.

I’ve formally and informally interviewed thousands of senior executives in the sectors I listed in Who’s at Risk.  I’ve asked for one sentence or phrase that sums up their biggest business problem. The refrain has not changed in twenty years. Here is what they say:

  • “How to escape commoditization — It’s become very difficult to differentiate ourselves from the competition.”
  • “How to protect our margins —   We have to be competitive, and clients are pressuring us to reduce our prices.”
  • “How to establish awareness in the marketplace — We are a well-kept secret, but it’s been hard to stand out from the crowd.”
  • “How to improve our business model to do ‘repeatable projects,’ so we can leverage our experience and reduce delivery costs.”
  • “How to attract and retain the right people.”
  • “We are completely skill constrained, because we’re competing with so many companies that need exactly the same skills.”
  • “We have a lot of business…it’s just not necessarily the right business — it won’t build our future.”

Commoditization is a gigantic issue that plagues executives everywhere, and almost no one worldwide is immune in today’s global economy. For example, the United States has seen thousands upon thousands of even high-skill jobs move to India, because labor is so much less expensive. But in a dramatic twist of fate, even India is feeling the squeeze.  According to Quantum Information Services, “Increasing competition, pressure on billing rates and increasing commoditization of lower-end application development and maintenance services are among the key reasons forcing the Indian software industry to make a fast move up the software value chain.”  In other words, for the types of businesses we’re talking about in this blog, someone will always find a way to look like you or be cheaper.

Find out why in the next post: Where Are You on the Commodity Curve?

Service providers: I’m interested to hear from you. Can you relate?  What’s your biggest business problem?