Monday, November 25, 2013

Test Your Marketing IQ

Today we have a guest blog from Andrew Ballard

Webster’s definition of marketing is “An aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.” That definition encompasses a very broad set of operations. Marketing, and the process of growing your business, is multi-faceted. Within this complex process, are you aware of your knowledge gaps?

This short test will help you assess your marketing intelligence quotient. Objectively rating your company, from zero to 10, on each of the eight questions (0 is low, 10 is high). After you have rated all eight questions add up your total score.

1.     Northstar: Have you developed and published a mission statement that guides your business and helps your team stay on course?

2.     Business Analysis: Do you review your business’ strengths and weaknesses (internally) and opportunities and threats (externally) at least once a year?

3.     Customer Research: Do you regularly survey customers to understand their preferences and perceptions regarding their experience with your organization?

4.     Competitor Comparison: Do you study your key competitors to understand their strengths, weakness and market position relative to your own?

5.     Market Niche: Have you developed a customer profile to better understand and target your most responsive and profitable market segment?

6.     Market Position: Have you developed a competitive distinction that your target market segment values as a means of differentiating your brand?

7.     Promotional Alignment: Do you have a marketing communications plan that aligns your promotional activities with your market position?

8.     Optimal Results: Do you have and maintain a tracking system to evaluate the results of your marketing activities so you can make informed adjustments?

If your total score is over 70 (a perfect score is 80), you should stop reading this Blog post and start teaching a class. If your total score is below 40, take heart, you are among the majority of business leaders. The good news is that you have plenty of opportunities to improve the results of your marketing investments.

More important than your total score are the individual ratings for each question. Reviewing your individual ratings will help identify your best opportunities to improve. Focus on the areas you scored yourself four or less. You’ve heard the adage: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link…that same premise holds true for a business.

  • What is your company’s greatest strength, and what can you do to leverage that asset?
  •  Based on your score, what are your company’s most significant weak points?
  • Based on your customers’ experiences, which weaknesses should you focus your improvements? 

You don’t have to be a “marketing genius” to grow your business; you just need to take stock of your current business situation, and then take action to strengthen your weak links. 


Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a Seattle area agency that developsresearch-based growth strategies for small to midsize businesses.  He has over 30 years experience specializing in marketing research, strategic planning, brand development and revenue generation.  Ballard has helped hundreds of organizations (from startups through Fortune 500 companies) realize significant growth.

Andrew is a graduate of the Ford Marketing Institute and Certified in Six Sigma.  He is also a respected author and educator.  His articles on marketing strategy have been published in business journals through all 50 States.  His first book, entitled Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter, recently released to rave reviews in both corporate and academic circles.  In addition, he is adjunct faculty at the University of Washington.

 He can be reached at 425-337-1100 or

Monday, November 18, 2013

Meaning does not lie in the work. Meaning lies in us and we must bring it to our work!

If you are doing something at work, it should have a purpose and the purpose ought to be pretty important.  I often times show up at a client’s office for a consultation and because I am a “ten minute early guy”, I chat for a few minutes with the receptionist or whoever else crosses my path. 

Most of the time, I ask a litmus set of questions.  At one company, I found myself in front of the receptionist and asked her what were the three most important goals the company had for that year.  Some of you may be smiling…., “Oh she’s just the receptionist!”  When she did not know, I asked the next two people who came out to the reception area (one was a senior partner) and they could not tell me. 

My client had a rather rough consultation that day.  The next time I showed up for a consultation at that company, the receptionist recited for me the top three goals for that company.  I then asked her what she was doing and which of those goals she was furthering by her actions. 

Over a six month period, I experienced a growing awareness, focus and direction by those working in this company.  That is a good thing. 

What I next raised, as an issue, was meaning.  The meaning we bring to our work can be a powerful leadership tool or an extraordinary gap between us and our work.  Many people love their work.  Enjoying what you do is different than understanding that your work has meaning (is important) to you. 

Meaning is a fundamental issue for companies that want to grow and sustainably prosper.  There are corporate examples of those who brought meaning to their work.  Steve Jobs stamped his mission of meaning in to every concept, product and practice that Apple developed.  At one point, Bill Gates did the same.  It is powerful to see what happens when vision (one form of meaning) is gone. 

What I would like you to consider is that even your smallest actions should have meaning.  Your company is filled with people who are either doing their work with a sense of meaning/purpose or they are getting a paycheck.  Which do you want in your company? 

If you want zealots and advocates, don’t try and copy what has worked for other companies on a visionary level.  Start with your own sense of meaning.  Then communicate your meaning to others and help them find theirs.  Notice, I did not suggest you have them adopt yours. 

It is not realistic to think that everyone will get jazzed by the same thing you do.  Figure out how you can unearth what they are, or could be jazzed about, and then support them in brining that to work. 

What do you think works to find out a persons meaning?  How do you help your employees bring meaning in to their every action?  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Curiosity is Key to Innovation

Today we have a guest blog from Earl Bell:

To win in the game of business, begin by asking the right questions while replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity and a desire to innovate.  The value of an insatiable intellectual curiosity is immeasurable if you want to stay ahead of competitors.  

To get you started on creating game-changing activity at work, begin by asking questions like these during the annual strategic planning and budgeting process:

  • What changes can be made to increase the value provided to customers?  What investments in people, process or equipment are required to achieve this goal?
  • What is currently being done that needs to stop?  Why not stop immediately?
  • Applying the 80/20 rule, which 20% of customers, products, or services produce 80% of profits?   Why not sell more of the profitable stuff and less of the non-profitable stuff? 
  • What strategic investments in training, coaching or consulting will be made next year to increase leadership and management capacity, employee retention, or product/service innovation?
  • What can be done to increase effective two-way communication so that employees are more aligned with mission and vision while leaders are quickly made aware of problems that can stop a company in its tracks?
  • What is the “pink elephant” in the room that no one wants to talk about?  What is the cost of doing nothing about it?

Key principles to remember are that: (1) there is huge value in asking the right questions, (2) not asking the right questions is akin to business negligence and (3) knowing what to focus on greatly increases probability of success.

By the way, listed above is only a partial compilation of what I believe are essential questions that must be asked each year.  What else would you recommend be included on this list?  Will you commit to ensuring that your leaders, managers and other employees will be given opportunity to ask the right questions during the annual strategic planning and budgeting process?  If not, what’s holding you back?


EARL BELL is the author of, Winning in Baseball and Business, Transforming Little League Principles into Major League Profits for Your Company, which provides a roadmap to success for leaders that desire to build thriving companies in a very competitive 21stcentury business environment.  Earl believes that “everything you need to know about business, leadership and team building can be learned from Little League baseball.”

Earl conducts workshops, coaches and consults with owners, business leaders and their teams, teaching them how to dramatically reduce the time it takes to improve profitability, customer experience, employee engagement and company value, while simultaneously increasing discretionary time and reducing both stress/employee burnout.  He believes the secret to winning in baseball, business and life can be summarized in a simple formula:  Winning = Service + Humility. His motto is that Winning in Business is a Team Sport!

Earl has served in the Chief Financial Officer role for numerous companies throughout North America. His personal passion is youth sports and he has coached 28 teams since 2002.  Earl is a CPA, graduated from SU (Seattle University) with a BA in Accounting and from the MILL (Mercer Island Little League) with a Master’s in Youth Baseball.

Earl Bell can be reached at and 206-420-5946

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Blind Spot

Today we have a guest blog from Dave Weedin:

Many of the newer cars out on the market today have blind spot detectors. These are preventative devices that help keep you as a driver more aware and prepared for your surroundings.  The problem is that just because you check your blind spots every once and a while, doesn't meet some unexpected danger won’t come out of nowhere. You are still required to be a masterful driver with keen senses and lacking distractions.

Your business has blind spots and all too often CEOs and CFOs think that their “blind spot detectors” are adequate to catch most all crises. On top of that, they believe they are really good “drivers” and can get out of any situation through cunning, experience, and a can-do attitude.

While this may be mostly true, getting out of that crisis situation is best done when thoroughly ready and prepared. The end results are hundreds of thousands of dollars saved of revenue, time, lost opportunity, productivity, and employee moral. This month is National Preparedness Month, which is a great reminder for assessing your current situation to determine if you’re as resilient as you think you are.

Here is my 5-step process that you can quickly implement:

  1.  Allocate time to strategize and identify potential perils and hazards that could stop your business dead in its tracks; severely impede its operations; or damage your reputation.
  2. Determine your tolerance for risk and triage the perils that have the highest frequency and severity concerns.
  3.  Set up both preventive and contingent activities. Example for a fire: Contingent is a sprinkler system. Preventive is a visit from the fire marshal. Most business owners are light on preventive.
  4.  Buy insurance and make sure it is programmed correctly. The key is a strong and knowledgeable broker or agent. Insurance should never be a price issue.
  5. Monitor your plan with regular audits and planned practices (e.g. fire and evacuation drills).

Bottom line – the biggest enemies of readiness and preparedness are apathy (“That’s why I buy insurance”), complacency (“It’s never happened to me yet”), and arrogance (“I can deal with anything that happens”). If you’re not taking the time to commit to a sound prevention plan, then you are suffering from one of these maladies. But if you dedicate your time, resources, and finances to investing in crisis planning, you will end up saving yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars that never had to be used because the crisis never occurred.

Dan Weedin:

Dan Weedin helps turn his clients business risk into rewards. He is able to take the abstract concepts of risk and crisis management to help business owners prepare and respond more effectively and with less time and cost to crisis. Since he doesn’t work for an insurance company or agency, he is able to act as an unbiased advocate for his clients. You can lear ore about Dan and how he can help your business on his web site at