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Graphic of positioners, adapters and aligners Strategy formulation involves study.

This chapter suggests web sources to identify demand, economic and technology trends, competitive forces in distribution and supply channels, strategies of public and private companies, and Google search terms to help you focus on your industry.

As we mature into more responsible leadership positions, understanding the "big picture" is important, and the quality and effectiveness of strategic planning will improve as one better recognizes trends.

Sam Walton's made a lifetime commitment to investigate what everyone in the discount retail industry was doing and how it impacted his customers, a critical success factor in Wal-Mart's early growth.

 

In nothing else is studied, my advice is to spend time with your customers and visit your competitors often.

Gra[hic - visiting your customers

 




I picked up an idea from Robert Beachler with Altera. He recommends visiting your customers by making the rounds from "least" important first to "most" important last: to see how goes it, to read trends, to ask about the competition ...

Scenarios
Graphic - scenarios

The Scenario Approach involves identifying demand in the future, so you can adapt your business faster. There are three primary sources of data: demographics, technology development and geographic segmentation of customers (that's a fancy way of saying what are they doing in China, India, Europe or Japan, on the other coast, etc.).

There are associations that specialize in identifying future trends, for eample The Futurist.

Demographics

The best sources of demographic data are the national census websites, for the USA www.Census.gov. The Google keywords are: "census data worldwide"

Local governments and universities often have very good census data matched to maps using geographic information system software (GIS). Click to see an example of San Diego County California data. The Google keywords are: "census gis <add your location>"

Technology development

Complex technology requires that manufacturers and users establish interoperability standards. For example, for the internet, you can follow its evolution and anticipate future functionality at the W3C - The World Wide Web Consortium. Most industry groups have standards committees, which today summarize their discussions on the Web. If you are involved in developing scenarios, you should attend or join your industry standards group. The Google keywords are: "standards" and descriptive terms for your product or service. Click on "manufacturing standards" as an example.

International segmentation

After living in Japan for two years and Belgium for three years, I observed that great ideas for products and services for customers can be developed miles from home. It would be a dream job to be paid to travel around the world and observe what's new, simpler, or just plain better. To identify these opportunities from afar is hard. If you are part of a large, multinational corporation, you need to cultivate relationships with folks from other regions.

There are consulting firms that specialize in market research. They catalog and quantify extra-regional trends. In the food industry, an example is Technomic Inc., or for the information technology, Gartner. If you don't know who is watching worldwide developments, call your industry association and ask them.

 

Macro Trends That Will Impact A Firm

Under Scenarios, I suggested sources for demographic and technology data, where you will spot patterns. Once the trend becomes common knowledge, it will create demand.

The other macro-areas are environmental, societal, economic, government. Don't restrict folks who want to broaden the areas from six that follow. They are indicating their areas of concern.

The best database I've found is ABI/Inform, published by UMI (www.umi.com), which is available by subscription though services like LexisNexis or Proquest®, UMI's on-line service. Most larger corporations Marketing Departments have a LexisNexis subscription. You can often access ABI/Inform for free from the public terminals at university research libraries. The database provides abstracts from most periodicals and major newspapers and has a very easy to use search system. In ABI/Inform search for "trend" and "your industry".

Finally, most college students get free online access to ABI/Inform so keep your kids in college forever to use their account.

Environmental

The availability of raw materials, the effects of long term weather trends, development of key infrastructure, etc. The academic community and government are the best sources of data, usually free. I used air plane landings as an example earlier. I'd structure my search using two approaches: first, I searched the Federal Aviation Administration's website, then the Library of Congress website, where I can access many databases from the web. Finally, once I had a good idea of the keywords used to describe the environmental factor, I searched Google, for example, for the international travelers by air, using this link.

Societal

Cultural norms, attitudes, social classes, lifestyles, and history affect how people and businesses make decisions -- their buying behavior. ABI/Inform is the best source, where you would search by the group you are investigating or for "trends" reported in industry periodicals like Advertising Age, Brandweek, Target Marketing, SuperMarket Business, American Demographics. For industrial perspectives, there are industry periodical like Oil and Gas, AutoFacts.com. Search Google using keywords: "fill in your industry" industry periodicals

Economic

Income distributions, disposable income, an industry's capacity, and job growth and loss are the starting points. How economically healthy are my buyer and my industry. The US Bureau of Labor Standards and US Census Bureaus , particularly the Census's summary of economic indicators and the National Bureau of Economic Research's summary of Economic Indicators and News Releases, are the places to start. For an international perspective, go the Dept. of Commerce Trade Development Industries and Analyst search page. For the business cycle, Joseph H. Ellis's "Ahead of the Curve: A Commonsense Guide to Forecasting Business and Market Cycles" is superb.

new material added

In 2010, I have added a link to key economic data and my blog.

I follow the CalculatedRisk for insight on the US economy, which summarizes with superb graphical analyses the data. David Rosenberg also provides a daily update. He was Merrill Lynch's US Domestic Economist and now is the Chief Economist for Gluskin Sheff'. Both CalculatedRisk and Mr. Rosenberg point to other experts in their public articles.

I have developed a list of sources on financial market volatiltiy, housing and big picture analysis.

Government

Governments change overtime, as the electorate makes adjustments. Any good newspaper with both a national and international section will keep you up to date. I subscribe to and use the Wall Street Journal's electronic version. In the US, the Library of Congress's Thomas database will give you status on proposed legislation and point you to State resources.

 

Competitive Forces in the Supply and Buyers Channels

Graphic - Porter's forces

The Macro Trends should focus the study of your industry. Next, what specifically is happening in the key supply and distribution (or buyer) channels.

Supplier and Buyer Channels

If you are in a regulated industry, call the government statistic keepers and ask them what patterns they are seeing. They will not give you specifics on a competitor, but will give you the big picture. For example: for the food industry, the USDA Economic Research Service, or for the Insurance Industry, your states Insurance Commissioner. You can also ask the "statistics keeper" for you industry association. Try variations of these Google keywords: <fill in your industry> regulator state federal

Rivalry - your direct competitors

Ask your customers what the competition is doing?

New Entrants, who begin to sell at a substantially better price point

Ask your customers who the new, low cost competitor is?

Substitutes - products that replace your product with a new technology

Your R&D folks or business development should keep an eye on new patents at the US Patents Office and follow the links from there.

 

Complementors

Graphic - Brandenburgers and Nalebuff's Value Net

Complementors do not compete directly with you, but do sell to your customers or buy from your suppliers.

They will significantly influence your business's success - think of Intel and Microsoft. You want these relationships will create demand for your product or service, and the academic community best studies these relationships.

Identifying these relationships can be a subtle task.

Ask your customers and ask your customers' customers what product or service you do not sell influenced their decision to buy your offering.

To look for similar groupings of complementors, try variations of these Google keywords: <fill in your industry> "chamber of commerce" or association

 

Value Chain

Graphic - map of a value chainThere has been exceptional energy dedicated to understanding the value of an organization processes and the value created or lost by those processes.

Fully mapping all the activities of an organization, determining each activities contribution, determining its cost in salary or time, finding the non-value added activities to element. It is a huge effort. Business with activity based management detail in their information system can extract excellent information, often real time. Supply chain management or customer relationship management systems will get better and better at providing detail for analysis.

That being said, in 2002, some of the best IS hardware manufacturers had no idea how much idle inventory was in their distribution chain. People dread implementing SAP or Oracle business suites. It is a huge commitment of time and often a major restructuring of how you do business.

To me, this type of work is an output of a fundamental strategic decision about business design. The inputs are: how do you compare to the best companies in your industry. Who gets the work done in the least amount of time and at the lowest cost.

Your research should focus on understanding your performance vs your industry. Start looking for benchmark data through your industry association, then through benchmarking organizations. Define your measure and review industry data through the American Productivity and Quality Center, particularly its List of Measures, or the European Foundation of Quality Management, both membership organizations.

Try Google keywords: "fill in your industry or product name" quality performance measurement benchmark

 

Customers

Graphic - importance/performance matrixThe best source is to ask your customers.

Usually, phone interviews with 20 - 25 customers will provide the information you need to understand how you are perceived. For larger, retail firms customer surveys or focus group are used.

Critical data

Critical data are: how are we doing? our competitors? how many customers buy a second time? how many customers have we lost?

Other sources are from market research firms, industry associations, customer associations or advisory groups, and the press.

More detail

What routes lead to new customer segments? You need to be able to describe and track their:

  • Geographic - regional groupings
  • Demographics - age, income, education, family life-cycle, status, occupation, religion, or ethnicity
  • Psychographics - patterns of behavior and beliefs, which can be linked to buyer groups
  • Benefits desired - price sensitivity, advertising sensitivity, or product quality
  • Volume - patterns and quantity of consumption
  • Marketing-factor - advertising effectiveness
  • Brand preferences - compare existing brands to each other and to an ideal brand

Earlier, I described how to use an Importance/Performance Matrix to track customers' buying decision.

 

Employees

Graphic - employeesLike your customers, the best source to find out about your employees is to ask them about their morale and how much they feel ownership for their role in your business. You may wish to have a third party conduct interviews or a survey, as long as the results will be discussed with your folks and you are prepared to take action on their recommendations.

A good source for big picture data about employee mobility and hiring patterns is www.bls.gov.

 

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Financials

The most studied business data are financials.

Pubic Companies

For publicly owned companies, there are many quality sources. Start with the Security and Exchange Commissions Edgar database. Here are reams of information, particularly the Form 10-K, the Annual Reports, and the Form 10-Qs, the Quarterly Reports. Then go to a good web service like Yahoo Financials.

Graphic - working the  financial numbersNext are the subscription services. The best academic database is the Profit Impact of Market Strategy (PIMS) database developed by The Strategy Planning Institute.

For industry analyses, Ibbotson Associates or Value Line have the information for sale.

A free source, free if you have a brokerage account, are analyst reports. Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, Baron's, Forbes, and the Economists have good analytical work, with archives available to subscribers.

 

Private Companies

For privately owned firms, competitive data is more closely held. A good valuation firm can estimate benchmarks for these companies. Some information is available through the Institute of Business Appraisers or the American Society of Appraisers. You can get some basic detail from Hoovers or through Dunn and Bradstreet or the rating company your firm works through to qualify companies for account receivable.

 

 



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