What does great look like?

What does great look like? - team high fiving after some success

If you were asked this question today by someone regarding your management team, your business, your clients, your products or services… how would you answer?

I’ve heard this question asked time and time again over the last few years specifically in corporate IT environments where the discussion was centered around product development. I don’t know the origin of this question, whether it stems from the world of IT or from one of the many process methodologies we use today in our world, i.e. agile, lean, etc.

I do know that it is quite a useful question. In fact, its simplicity is what strikes me most. Considering all the questions we ask when trying to perform our work, run our projects, manage our people and strive for excellence; there are just some questions we forget to ask and take the time to ponder. This is one of those questions.

The value of this question is that it can applied to nearly every area of our work and professional development. We often hear about reverse engineering and how we need to understand what we are trying to get to and then backtrack into what it will take to get us there. While this is a very good way to engage on any given activity, it still doesn’t answer the question we are asking here; What does great look like?

Having a vision or perceived view of an outcome isn’t necessarily the same as knowing whether it is great or good enough. In other words, a finished project or product may not necessarily be exactly what the customer or company desired even thought it may be good, it simply may not be good enough or even great. While this is not a profound explanation, I’d like to suggest that asking this question with a slightly different mindset is something we need to consider.

Putting the effort into answering the question forces a level of detail that sometimes gets missed in translation. Let’s take business development as an example.

The traditional path to business development is to go through a number of planning exercises. These include developing a target account list which might be sorted by geography, industry segment, company size and so on. Other activities include forecasting revenue, maybe forecasting bookings, agreeing on pipeline criteria such as number of opportunities and their total revenue vs. given quota. There will be others, all meant for us to have something to measure against at a future point in time.

If we take business development and look at it through the lens of the question we’re asking then it will force us to consider more detail. It is in fact that extra level of detail that we are seeking in asking the question.

One of the Innovation Games used to help teams think more clearly of where they need to get to is called Remember the Future. The main point of this working session is to get people thinking about what they will have accomplished at some point in the future vs. what they will have done. So, for business development it would mean asking “What was done to get those results?” vs. “What must we do to get those results?”

The difference being that we typically work off of the mindset of what we need to do; prepare a target account list, develop a forecast, build a pipeline, etc. Looking at it from the perspective of what we would have accomplished if all had gone the way we wanted gets us to look at it as something that has already occurred. This now helps us to consider how we got there and what would have changed from our traditional approach.

We are not predicting the future by using this technique, we are simply getting ourselves to look at the situation differently. We want to better understand our thinking around the topic and it’s success and how we got there. Taking all this into consideration let’s try this once more.

EXAMPLE: Business Development: What does great look like?

Maybe our first answer is whether we are aiming for business development or business excellence – a play on words? Perhaps, but does it strike a different note and cause us to consider the difference?

Because we are now looking at this as what we would have done, let’s take this calendar year as our example and state what would have happened.

At the end of this calendar year, we reached the next stage of growth as an organization, this happened because we accomplished:

  • An overall revenue increase of 30% – 20% resulted from 6 target companies in the Healthcare industry; 4 in London, 2 in Frankfurt and 10% resulted from 3 target companies in the Utilities industry: 2 in Toronto, 1 in New Jersey

We did this through:

Active Business Development

  • We followed our timeline so that we understood how many meetings were required and when in order to reach the target goal by end of year
  • We paired on major opportunities and went solo on secondary opportunities to increase efficiency
  • We completed 6 sales calls and 2 customer workshop sessions per month

A well-defined pipeline

  • All major clients and the respective activities and data are accurate
  • We understood why we’ve won, lost and dropped opportunities
  • Pursuing the wrong opportunities was reduced by 75% by employing more rigor to our sales process

Specific events and campaigns

  • 1 email campaign monthly on a specific industry topic with thought leadership and commentary
  • 1 executive forum quarterly focused on 25 attendees across three specific roles with a peer speaker
  • 1 white paper quarterly published and distributed to a targeted list

We will continue into next year through:

Identifying opportunities in the existing customer base

  • We have identified 1 new opportunity in each existing customer to discuss in Q1
  • We have developed a pipeline of other possible opportunities in each customer

An accurate list of 50 Target Accounts

  • Representing the 4 main industry segments we’ve invested in targeting: domain knowledge, experience
  • We know the top three stakeholders in each company that we must meet
  • We have a communications plan completed and ready to launch to schedule Q1 meetings of the following year

While all of the above is hypothetical, it represents what a more detailed business development (excellence) could look like if we were to ask the question from the onset and approach it with the mindset described.