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STOP SELLING VANILLA ICE CREAMThe Scoop on Increasing Profit by Differentiating Your Company Through Strategy and Talent
By Steve Van Remortel
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2012 Steve Van Remortel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHY YOU MUST STOP SELLING VANILLA ICE CREAM
Are you selling vanilla ice cream?
Consider for a moment the features of this familiar product. It's a safe bet you've had it alongside your favorite dessert, beneath a mouth-watering dollop of chocolate syrup, or accompanying a bowl of fresh fruit. Vanilla is the perfect accompanying flavor, because it will never overpower the main attraction.
However, if everyone were content to eat vanilla ice cream, Baskin-Robbins never would have created its 31 Flavors marketing concept, offering a different flavor for every day of the month. Do you think that iconic retailer would have grown to boast almost 6,000 stores around the world today if all it sold was vanilla ice cream? Of course not.
Interestingly, vanilla remains Baskin-Robbins's top-selling flavor, but the company has gone on to create more than one thousand ice cream flavors since World War II, according to the company's website (www. baskin-robbins.com). Founders Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins realized early on they couldn't just sell vanilla ice cream and hope to enjoy long-term success. They quickly saw the fantastic impact that a constant flow of innovative flavors would have on attracting customers to their stores—not just once, but over and over again. This variety became the differentiating factor that set Baskin-Robbins apart in the ice cream market.
Chances are, you're not in the ice cream business, but your industry has its own version of vanilla. What is that basic product or service offered by every one of your competitors? What is the feature that has become almost a commodity item, forcing you to compete on price and affording you minimal profit margins?
You can't completely stop selling your industry's version of vanilla ice cream. After all, there are certain basic, indispensable products and services that every industry has, and everyone in that industry is going to have to offer them if they expect to stay in business. Even Baskin-Robbins still sells vanilla, right? But even when an ice cream company does sell vanilla, more than 90 percent of the time something is put on it, in it, or underneath it. The same should be true of your services and products.
You must differentiate yourself from competitors. In order to thrive in good times and bad, you must go beyond the regular, expected offerings that everybody else in your business has. Like Baskin-Robbins, you had better be selling something more interesting, more valuable, and enticing—something that sets you apart. Otherwise, you'll find limited success in your market. Indeed, if you find that you are consistently negotiating on price, there's a good chance that you're selling only vanilla ice cream. If your clients or customers don't see any difference between what you're offering and what your competitors are offering, why wouldn't they go where they can get the best price? We do it as consumers every day. We choose to go to certain stores or restaurants because they provide something we want and cannot get anywhere else. So if we do that as consumers every day, why would we not turn that same mind-set toward our own businesses?
THE STOP SELLING VANILLA ICE CREAM PROCESS
As president and chief strategist of SM Advisors, a strategy and talent management company, I've been able to observe the best practices of hundreds of companies interested not only in earning their customers' business but also in retaining and meriting a premium for it. The experience I have gained in leading more than one thousand planning sessions for companies in over three hundred different industries has helped me focus on the best of the best. I've developed a lean yet robust process that I've distilled and refined into proprietary tools and processes that generate the greatest probability of success. These actionable, practical methods make up the Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream process. With this book, you are literally holding in your hands the fruits of decades of personal, hands-on experience, multiplied by the hundreds of companies I've assisted in realizing more of their potential for higher earnings and greater industry impact.
This book is for and about the entrepreneur in each of us. No matter where you are in your career or where your company is situated within your industry, you'll learn some things by reading this book that you can incorporate into your business today.
However, I'm not offering a quick fix with little staying power. Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream isn't the latest feel-good-quick read for business travelers in a hurry. On the contrary, this process is built upon some of the latest research and incorporates the most powerful strategic planning methodologies and behavioral assessments in the marketplace. Whether you are a manufacturer trying to break into new markets, a service company trying to differentiate itself, or a nonprofit trying to deliver your mission, this book can help you create custom-built solutions for your unique challenges and leverage them for long-term, measurable success.
The most successful organizations offer something special that sets them apart. For me and my associates at SM Advisors, that differentiating factor is the Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream process; it enables us to provide something to our clients that they can get in only one place, and for which they are willing to pay extra. Want to know why they're willing? Here's the answer: More than 90 percent of the companies SM Advisors works with experience an increase in profitability and/or sales in their first year.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream process gets results because it focuses on two key fundamentals of every successful organization: strategy and talent.
After working with so many organizations to help them build strategies, teams, and execution plans to improve profitability, I've learned that no two situations are alike. But one thing shared by every company—indeed, every organization of any size—is the central importance of strategy and talent. Think about it: What problem could you possibly face in your business that couldn't be overcome by a combination of a focused strategy and the right talent in the right positions?
In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say it this way: There is no difficulty any viable enterprise can confront that cannot be surmounted by
Once I realized this truth, I began designing a process to build high-performance teams that execute differentiated strategies. That process is the foundation of this book, and you can find additional tools, templates, and assessments to help you implement it at www.stopsellingvanillaicecream.com.
Creating the perfect marriage between strategy and talent liberates your company to soar, to set itself apart from competitors and begin creating what Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles term "raving fans." In the language of the process described in this book, this dual focus allows you to start selling mint chocolate chip ice cream (or fill in your own personal favorite flavor—as long as it's not vanilla!), radically differentiating your company's product or service from the vanilla served by your competitors.
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF STRATEGY AND TALENT
There are five fundamentals of the process that help define the organization's route from square one—where you are today—to greater prosperity and effectiveness:
1. Differentiation. Deliver a competence that creates a clear differentiation for your organization. Don't sell vanilla ice cream. Instead, sell mint chocolate chip, and make it tastier and creamier than your competitors'. Make your differentiation so clear that your customers consistently choose you over your competition and are willing to give you more business and pay you more for your products or services.
2. Tangible Value. Don't just say you're the best—prove it. Your organization must consistently reinforce the tangible value, in dollars, that your competence delivers to current and prospective customers.
3. Talent Management. Implement a talent management system that enables your organization to identify, select, develop, and retain the talent and skill sets necessary to execute and deliver your competence and plan. Optimizing talent to build a high-performing team is critical to improving communication, improving company-wide decision making, and increasing profitability.
4. Tactical/Department Plans. Develop and execute action plans that work "on" the business in each department of your organization rather than simply working "in" the business with regular daily duties. The action plans created in the strategic planning process are distributed to the appropriate department plans. As each department completes its action plans, the success of the organization accelerates.
5. Plan Execution. Implement a plan execution program to ensure an organizational culture of discipline that focuses on accountability. The journey doesn't end with the completion of a plan; it's only the beginning! Execution is the hard part, but that's what results in sustained top-line and bottom-line growth.
It's important to understand at the outset that strategy is an evolution, not a revolution. It takes time and perseverance to achieve your vision. In my experience, companies that try to get everything done all at once often end up getting very little accomplished. In the early stages of the process you will identify the top five to seven strategic challenges you want to resolve as a result of the plan. Based on our results, all companies that follow the process resolve their identified strategic challenges. The most successful companies, however, keep sharpening the tip of the pencil, building momentum year after year as they make step-change success and continuous improvement part of the organizational culture. Those who understand the need to follow a process and distinguish themselves from the crowd will master the markets in which they compete, while those who don't will fade. The phrase "Those Who Plan — PROFIT!®" is the battle cry for our team at SM Advisors and characterizes the ultimate result for our clients and those who implement the process.
If strategy is the map that shows you where you want to go, then talent is the transportation that gets you there. In the work we do with our clients, one of our chief objectives is to help them implement a talent management system that focuses on identifying, selecting, hiring, developing, and retaining the talent required to deliver their competence and strategy.
You'll learn how to develop and manage your talent to "Build the team to achieve your dream™" by using state-of-the-art behavioral assessments and talent management processes. We have found, time and again, that the trust, accountability, and improved communication among team members that results from this part of our process create an incredible breakthrough for the organization. In this book, I'll show you how to implement a Talent Management System into your company that will get your organization on the path toward financial success and greater industry impact.
CHANGING THE BUSINESS LANDSCAPE
The worldwide recession that began in 2007 ended forever the days when businesses could prosper despite offering little more than middle-of-the-pack products and services. While nobody likes a recession, it's also true that economic hard times create opportunities for companies that are dedicated to rising above the crowd. Organizations that differentiate themselves from their competition thrive regardless of the economy, while those who remain content with the status quo struggle to survive. The fact is that your customers' buying criteria have evolved to the point where average just isn't good enough anymore and never will be again. Indeed, you've probably noticed that shift in your own purchasing decisions. During the latest business downturn, the most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders understood they needed a new approach. They survived the recession by realizing there had to be a better way—a more effective way—to outplan and outperform the competition. That's what I will share with you.
By this point, you may have concluded that your business is in the same position that most companies find themselves in: You're stuck in a flat, leveling, or even declining sales pattern. It's also possible that, like many of the companies I work with, you find yourself working harder, even expanding your client or customer base, and still not making any money. You lack balance in your life because you are putting in so many hours—but for what? Or it may be that you've realized there are roadblocks to progress within your company—sacred cows—that are limiting your ability to grow and prosper.
If one or more of these situations describes your organization, you're far from being alone. Perhaps a big part of the reason so many companies struggle is that an estimated 70 percent of organizations do not invest the time and effort necessary to develop and execute an annual business plan. Many business leaders put more effort into planning a successful long weekend or their retirement than for the vehicle they rely on to fund those plans—their business.
Even more surprising is the fact that fewer than 10 percent of the companies that do develop an annual business plan are able to define clearly how they're going to differentiate themselves from their competition. In other words, they fail to determine the single most important reason a customer would choose to do business with them rather than their competition.
Also, fewer than 10 percent of all businesses develop and execute departmental (tactical) plans. This is even harder to understand once you realize that these plans are where strategy blossoms into action.
Does your experience follow these trends? Let me ask you a few questions:
This challenge is not a condemnation of you, me, or the other gifted entrepreneurs and business leaders who successfully drive our economy; rather, these questions point out the reality that most people simply don't know exactly how to develop and execute a business plan. Many of us struggle to get our "in the business" work done every week, much less put time aside to work on the business.
Now, by using the common-sense principles and guidance in this book, you can help your organization move to the head of the class: you can be among those few visionary leaders who not only know where they want to go but have a solid, workable plan for getting there and putting the team in place to make it happen.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
In Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream, I've provided you with what is essentially a field guide for organizational success. In these pages and on the companion website at www.stopsellingvanillaicecream.com, you'll find easy-to-use templates, forms, questionnaires, behavioral assessments, and action plans that take strategic planning out of the realm of theory and into the practical, no-nonsense arena of making your enterprise the one that stands out against the competition.
Most organizations don't have plans for differentiating themselves from the competition because they simply don't know how to do it. The straightforward, effective process outlined in this book changes all that. Using the principles and procedures outlined here, you and your leadership team or departmental associates can now craft and execute a strategic plan and also ensure that you have the right people in the right places to make it work. In other words, the question becomes not "Can we do it?" but rather "When do we get started?"
Excerpted from STOP SELLING VANILLA ICE CREAM by Steve Van Remortel Copyright © 2012 by Steve Van Remortel. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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