Action planning your way to results

One of my current roles is an exciting project helping mentor some of the most innovative young technology businesses in the UK on their next steps, which mostly revolve around proposition development, sales and marketing process and inevitably given the stage of business raising finance.

One key thing that appears lacking to most on a first meeting is an understanding of the importance of an action plan, and not necessarily for the reasons you might expect. Yes, a plan, detailing actions to take to commercialise the product might seem logical as a means of structuring your own thoughts and time, but what is lost on many I am meeting is the importance of a plan to also convince investors and potential team members you hope to recruit that this business can make it, in what, after all, is a tough market in which to succeed.

[And by action plan, I don’t mean business plan btw, I really do mean action plan. A logical set of positive actions, ordered by priority and timing, against which to hold the founder or team accountable for success]

To be fair, building such a plan is not hard work. It just requires you to be objective (and not put off those decisions that have to be made), decisive (what order do I REALLY need to make decisions in), and structured (have I covered all bases, do I really know what I am trying to sell and to which customer, and why would they buy from me?).

Easier said than done, but if you need any help then happy to provide some advice.

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Why do people buy CRM systems without working out what they need?

It seems that right now, my week rarely passes by without seeing yet another failed CRM implementation and an owner/manager frustrated by why their team can’t seem to make head nor tail of the data in front of them and the glaring sales opportunities that seem to be passing them by.

And it is usually pretty simple to see why – few, if any, focus on the simple things that a CRM can provide – alerts to drive activity, simple reporting to measure activity, quality data to populate the next marketing campaign to name but three. It never ceases to amaze how complex people make their CRM, seeking to capture every single nuance of customer desire (do they like watching cricket on a thursday in June…!) rather than thinking through its main purpose – building a company wide asset of useful customer data to help make sales generation more efficient and profitable.

Next time you find yourself drawn into the thought process of ‘I need a new CRM’ then consider these two simple steps first. Number one – don’t worry about the system to begin with, focus on the outputs you require. Capsule, Salesforce, Zoho, Nimble, Pipedrive – all of these systems, at their very different pricepoints can probably do more than you will ever require. Equally without a clear view on why and how you will use the output it probably won’t make much difference what you choose on day one, you’ll simply be wasting the money anyhow!

And number two – don’t get carried away with data collection. Indeed, I’ve often found it is the reverse. Focus first on what data you currently have (and what you absolutely, absolutely have to keep), ditch what you don’t need (usually that four year old file in Excel 2003 that Bob has in IT), clean it and then add some essential data (for example address data) in first before you start any new system work.

Faced with importing cleaner, more focused data into a cutdown, more business centric CRM system, you too might then have a shot at not becoming the next ‘failed CRM’ statistic.

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How digital is changing how we need to communicate

Some interesting Xmas reading – in, of all places, the ACCA magazine Accounting and Business. Who’d have thought…

Harry Mills, author of a new book (“Secret Sauce, presumably available on Amazon and all good high street stores), talking about how our messages need reinvention. Namely in the last two decades, driven by digital technology, consumers of information now skim rather than read, are conditioned to want everything faster and are becoming less and less tolerant of anything that requires patience. Which rings true to me, certainly, not least as someone with a language and literature degree who now finds completing a book something of an achievement (albeit consuming no doubt much much more content via articles, magazines and twitter than I ever did as a student).

Mills concludes with some helpful pointers on what to consider when putting marketing together, things i’ll be taking into the new year and working with I think since I like the trust of the argument. He notes that those who fail to deliver persuasive messages, fail for one of two reasons – unconvincing messages are rarely simple, or the core message hardly ever boils down to one central truth. In other words, fail to be authentic, fail to convince. And make sure what you say is simple. Interesting stuff.

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Getting to the point of GDPR

I can’t be alone, surely, in thinking that the frenzy driven by GDPR consultants right now borders that which marked the Millennium Bug and its impact (or rather non-impact in most cases…)

Like most business owners I know, every week I get sent articles, offers of demos, events and consulting thrust my way.  And I get why – data is increasingly a mess as far as the business world is concerned and something needed to be done.  That said, it does feel like an advisor feeding frenzy is underway.

For what it is worth, I like the main emphasis of GDPR, the related e-privacy regulation and what both are setting out to do.  It makes sense as a consumer.  And it also makes sense as a business owner (why would I want to annoy my consumers, whether in B2C or B2B for that matter?!).  I also can’t help thinking that its enforcement will help business gain some much needed trust from the general public again (sorely overdue).

Amongst the chaos though there are some decent pieces of advice out there though.  One that I saw this week was a seminar given by Alexandra Leonidou (https://www.footanstey.com/people-search/3226-leonidou-alexandra) at the Chartered Institute of Marketing Digital Summit.  Whilst her slides sadly aren’t available on line, I’m sure Alexandra would be happy to provide if asked.

One of her best pieces of advice was that in a complex B2C environment (or for that matter any customer facing website), why not use the compelling power of video to describe your data policies – in other words instead of a textual piece describing your policies, procedures and what you were asking the customer to assent to, why not use the directness of video content to show them more directly.  Not for all I recognise, but I thought an interesting piece of advice.

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Crowdfunding or Viral marketing?

In recent weeks I have been talking with a couple of entrepreneurial teams in the early stages of seeking finance.  And inevitably the subject of crowdfunding has come up.

Unlike some in the financial world, I am convinced by the argument that these platforms are here for the long run albeit I do see some disasters ahead as the platforms mature.  And not just whilst the high street bank remains out of reach for many in the start-up world (or at least until bank balance sheets recover yet further and they are prepared to lend for risk).

Equally, one of the things my work has reaffirmed is that there are definitely types of businesses that will potentially ‘fly’ by appealing to the crowd for funding. These, in most part, are those that also want to use the fundraising experience as part of their own marketing, and hence tend to be consumer-orientated (where budgets need to pushed beyond what a start-up can afford) or charitable/cause related (again the same profile issue, albeit ‘with a heart’). Crowdsourcing done well therefore isn’t just about the speed or the money, it is a marketing event in itself.

Nor am I knocking this by the way, since raising money from others is never easy after all.

Given the secrecy over raising funds afforded by some entrepreneurs I met in previous roles (some after all were reluctant to even announce a deal had taken place, let alone who had funded it), crowdsourcing has to be treated by the entrepreneur as one of many options for raising capital, and not as the new great white hope of the funding world.

It is already interesting to see how the better known platforms (Crowdcube and Seedrs for example) are starting to diverge more aggressively in the way they go to market.  Hopefully this continues since there is no doubt that the option remains a very viable one for a new entrepreneur intent on market penetration.

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Elected to ICAEW Council!

As a short postscript to my last news item, I am pleased to say that I received enough votes to win the contested election to join the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales as its new member for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Needless to say I’m delighted (thanks to those I know who voted for me as well as any that I don’t know!) and I look forward now to my first meetings in early June 2017.

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Why I am standing for ICAEW Council

This week I put myself forward for the West Midlands constituency election of a representative for the Council of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (or ICAEW for short!).  The Council is ICAEW’s supreme governing body, responsible for oversight of its activities. Council agrees ICAEW’s strategy and budget, delegating day to day operation to committees and staff.

I’ve been a proud member of the ICAEW for over 20 years after completing my training at KPMG Birmingham.  I would be delighted to represent the constituency if elected.  Here is my nomination statement – please feel free to vote for me if you are eligible to do so, I would welcome your vote!  Equally I face a very strong candidate opposing me so am taking nothing for granted and I am sure that he will do an excellent job if I am unsuccessful.  Here is my pitch though for what it is worth:

“Dear Member

I seek your nomination to Council as a representative of Birmingham and the West Midlands because:

  • The ICAEW needs proactive people helping to shape its future.  I too look at that renewal fee each year and reflect on the value it brings me before I press pay.  I am keen to ensure we uphold and further our reputation across the world and continue to make that decision an easy one.
  • I feel that I am a good candidate to work on your behalf because in my working life to date I have been part of many ways in which chartered accountants operate, including:
    • Working in professional practice assisting clients
    • Working in corporate finance for a growing boutique helping entrepreneurs and corporates grow and re-shape their ambitions
    • Working in industry, both in the UK and overseas in line management roles and internal audit roles
    • As a trustee of several local charities and interest groups, including currently as Chair of Finance for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
    • Running an SME (as I am now), creating and retaining jobs in the West Midlands economy
    • Helping mentor and develop the next generation, including a role as an Entrepreneur in Residence at a leading Midlands science park.
  • I have had some prior experience of working within the ICAEW and its structures, not least as President of Coventry and Warwickshire branch many years ago.  I enjoyed that experience, but feel that I have more to offer the Institute and its members hence this application.  With my broad range of experience above I also feel that I can represent your views, as members, more widely as a result.

I would be grateful of your vote and thank you in advance for considering my nomination.”

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Bawden to contribute to Tech City UK summit

Clive Bawden, Director of Look After Business, a venture which helps energise sales and marketing results for fast growth businesses, has been confirmed as a panel speaker at a forthcoming Tech City UK roadshow.

Hosted by the CEO of Tech City UK, Gerard Grech, the event to be held at Innovation Birmingham on Thursday 30th April 2017 will discuss the findings from Tech Nation 2017: the most comprehensive report of the UK digital sector to date. The event will celebrate the growth of digital tech across the UK over the past 12 months and will delve into themes uncovered by the report with a panel on which Bawden will contribute.

“I am delighted to have been asked to join this elite panel session.” said Bawden. “Through my role with fast growing digital healthcare scale-up Breaking Free Group and my other roles at Innovation Birmingham and elsewhere, I am lucky to be involved with a great deal of entrepreneurial development within the Tech scene right now. I look forward to meeting the rest of the panel and well-known industry figure Gerard Grech and discussing the opportunities currently available in the Midlands area.” For more see www.innovationbham.com or for a copy of the report see http://technation.techcityuk.com/

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To focus on finding customers or funders? No contest actually!

Whether to focus on finding customers or finding an investor – a conundrum that seems to be an issue for many of the businesses that I am involved with currently, not least those involved in the technology space.

For me though, it isn’t a difficult problem to solve. Let me explain why…

If you don’t have potential customers, willing to pay hard earned cash for the solution that you provide to their problem, then you don’t have a business worth investing in to begin with I would suggest. Worry all you like about valuation, but ultimately you should always see external funding as a part of the journey towards building a sustainable business and not the end goal no matter how tight funds might be right now. Sure enough, you may want to build a team, develop a product or market your incredible breakthrough and think you need cash to do so (and you may well be right), but think about this for one minute.

An investor isn’t really taking a view on the technology or product you are building – they are actually taking a view on your ability to sell and market your product, and hence your ability to earn them a return on their money, preferably in a short a time period as is possible, particularly where institutional investors are concerned.

One of the most interesting things I learnt on my recent market information visit to Silicon Valley was that many VCs there now insist on prospective investee companies interviewing as many companies as they can before an investment will be made or even considered (some asking for in excess of 100 customer interviews). Not to be sadistic or to see if the management can pitch – no, first of all simply to test market demand and find out if it exists, and secondly to force management to refine and develop their product (in Silicon Valley speak = pivot their product) to ensure it adapts to the market at which they are pointed.

I think this is a tactic worth bearing in mind for any team, regardless of scale, seeking to find investment right now in a risk averse market. In reality there still remains a lot of capital waiting for a home in the UK – if you can prove your product sells, and it really does meet demand, then surely the power is on your side when it comes to finding and closing an investment, as well as finding it on your terms? Go and find those customers who will buy your product!

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Bawden to judge leading professional services awards

Clive Bawden, Director of Look After Business, a venture which helps energise sales and marketing results for fast growth businesses, has been confirmed as a judge for the 2016 Birmingham Young Professional of the Year awards (BYPY).

Birmingham Young Professional of the Year, or BYPY as it is affectionately known, is a highly prestigious awards ceremony that recognises and rewards the most talented individuals within Birmingham’s business community. BYPY is now in its 16th year of celebrating the best professional talent in the city and is Birmingham Future’s flagship event.

Bawden will be one of eight judges, led by Greater Birmingham LEP Member for Innovation Tracey Westall alongside a number of other leading city professionals.

“I am delighted to have been asked to join this elite group of judges.” said Bawden. “BYPY is quite simply the most prestigious competition of its nature within the West Midlands region and I look forward to meeting and adjudicating on the next generation of talent.” BYPY 2016 will be held at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham on Thursday 12th May 2016.

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