Searching for normalcy

I often run across the term “new normal” in conversations with peers. It’s a phrase that describes what we are all searching for to help define our respective businesses as we emerge from this recession and try to find our stride going forward. As lead strategy officers of our organizations, we need to pull ourselves and our key reports away from the day-to-day minutiae. We need to re-evaluate the business playing field and how we competitively fit into that landscape.

Here are a few suggestions.

Listen to the voice of the customer. A great place to start the strategic process is to reach out to customers — active, inactive and prospective. There are many forms of gathering customer feedback. How you get it is less important than obtaining it and doing something with the feedback you’ve received. Effective customer feedback will provide input on needs, impressions of your business, how your company performs against expectations, what matters most to customers in the selection process and other important information. Listening to our customers can result in tremendous strategic opportunities.

Engage the team in a strategic discussion. More than just a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, business leaders need to look deeper to identify how business, industry and consumer norms have shifted. How will those changes positively or negatively impact the business? Some business leaders may be comfortable leading these discussions with their teams. Others may find it beneficial to hire a professional facilitator to lead the team through this process. The best results involve the key players in your business — sales, marketing, operations, production, human resources, corporate finance, engineering, etc.

Define your core competencies. What does it take to be a “good” player in your niche? How well do you measure up against that mark? List your company’s unique experiences or skill sets and discuss how they benefit the customer. Talk about your sales and service delivery processes and identify opportunity gaps. Incorporate important findings from the customer feedback into your discussions.

Evaluate the external marketplace. Define your customer, the markets you serve, your share and growth potential of those markets. If there were new opportunities for products or services that came out of your customer feedback, explore the potential of those opportunities and identify any barriers — operational or market — to adding them to your offerings. It is not as important to know the answers as it is to capture what you do know so that you can find the answers to what you don’t know.

Also identify current and future trends — market, political, economic, social and technological — and analyze their impact on your company’s mission and goals. Identify and analyze your top competition and, in doing so, make note of each competitor’s strengths, weaknesses and mindshare of prospects.

Define your goals. In defining the company’s goals, break it down until everyone in the room realizes how the goal can be achieved. Will the company’s growth be organic, or will an acquisition strategy come into play? Identify the percentage of business that will come from current customers versus new customers and how that goal breaks down by product line, market, geographic location, etc. Define your company’s goals for the next three years and talk about how you need to change what you are doing today to achieve those goals. Also talk about how these changes will impact company operations, facilities, personnel, delivery, marketing and sales structure.

Leading your team through strategic exercises such as these will keep your business focused and relevant today and in the future.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST, a 20-year-old brand development and strategic marketing firm. She serves on several local advisory boards and has been honored with a NAWBO Visionary Award and SBA Ohio Women in Business Champion of the Year award. Reach her at (614) 885-7921,“>