It’is 21 years since Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was published. While Covey’s book was not the most spell-binding I have ever read (I felt it needed more sex and violence) it is one which has stood the test of time and launched a huge range of spinoffs whose titles include a number, two adjectives and two nouns. Because it’ has earned a place in our literary consciousness, I thought this week’s column should draw inspiration from the book, with a spin for resellers.
Habit 1: Be reactive
If there’s one thing that will condemn your organisation to being viewed as an “order taker” or “margin maker” it is eschewing proactive engagement with your customers and opting instead to wait for them to contact you. By doing so, you will ensure that you are not included in any high-value business or technical discussions and your place will eventually be taken by a competitor who engages earlier and therefore has an opportunity to help shape requests for proposals.
Fear not though, your willingness to operate on razor-thin margins just to stay alive will help you secure their toner cartridge business. Maybe…
Habit 2: Begin with no end in mind
Having a business plan and keeping it up-to-date as the market, technology and your people change is seriously overrated. So is attempting to differentiate by identifying and exploiting niche opportunities. Better to be viewed as plain vanilla and attempt to be all things to all customers because everybody likes vanilla. In fact, consumer testing has shown that the vanilla smell is strongly associated with cleanliness.
An alternative approach is to develop a business plan but ensure that your staff don’t know of it, weren’t involved in helping draft it or, even better, don’t believe it’s relevant or achievable.
Nothing makes for more fascinating director meetings than those “I can’t understand why our brilliant business plan isn’t working” conversations.
Habit 3: Put first things first and last and somewhere in-between
Hey, we all know it is a busy and demanding world out there, so rather than wasting valuable time prioritising and planning to find out the best way to invest your precious time, why not adapt an approach based on chaos theory? The benefits of this are obvious and immediate. You’ll get to spend less time with friends and family, your ability to juggle things will diminish as the number of objects being juggled increases and you’ll be top-of-mind with customers because of your endearing trait of being somewhat random.
Habit 4: Think thin/thin
Margins that is. One of the best ways to do this is to work on the pseudo industry-standard “cost plus” model. By doing this, customers will be able to play your proposal off against those of your competitors, thereby ensuring your exercise regime consists primarily of pencil-sharpening.
Try to avoid the above-mentioned niche / specialisation approach as this will mean that customers see your expertise and insight as considerably valuable. This will move the conversation from getting the cheapest product pricing to getting the best solution and implementation.
Habit 5: Understanding is overrated
Make sure you go to great lengths to avoid understanding your customer’s business, the environment they operate in, the competitive and other pressures they face and their goals and aspirations.
The last thing you need is to have your thinking clouded by lateral thinking and proposing ideas and proactively initiating interesting, business-focused conversations with them. This could cause them to view you as a true partner rather than a commodity supplier which, in turn, is going to screw up Habit 4.
I can think of a number of New Zealand-based resellers who have foolishly avoided following the above habits and who have, as a direct result, found themselves in the embarrassing position of running successful, sustainable businesses and being viewed by their customers as valuable and insightful business partners whose success comes as a result of their success and their customers’ success.
I suspect you know exactly who I am talking about, so I would recommend you take careful note of the mistakes they’ve made and, if you ever get the opportunity, I would be grateful if you could take a moment to tell them about my Five Habits above. I know they’ll thank you for following my advice.
Brett Roberts is a partner at business strategy consultancy Business IQ and Microsoft New
Zealand’s former CTO. He can be contacted at brett.roberts@businessIQ.co.nz