The Problem Isn’t The Problem

Over the past couple years, I’ve gotten closer and closer to a cohesive methodology to help my clients that is based around what I’m calling the Entrepreneurial Executive Vision. I’ll post about several discussions I had in Thailand, but will make them anonymous as to protect the identity of those I coached on transforming from hustling entrepreneur to executive entrepreneur.

There are two lessons from this discussion: the first is your problem isn’t the problem, and the second is be product obsessed.

Lesson 1: Your Problem Isn’t The Problem

“The problem is never the problem. The problem is that you don’t even know how to think about the problem.” ~ Dan Sullivan

Right in the beginning of the conversation, Steve (not his real name) tells me he is having a problem with the feast-and-famine roller coaster of marketing and sales. He said that he puts on several clients, hitting his maximum he can handle and then has to turn people away. Inevitably he loses some of those clients over the course of several months. Now he doesn’t have enough clients to live comfortably. He told me he needed more leads throughout the year to solve this problem.

However, the problem (feast-and-famine marketing and sales) wasn’t his problem. He had an operations problem. By asking just a couple questions, I knew it was an operational issue. What percentage of people do you close when you have sales meetings with them? Nearly all was the answer. So, not a sales problem. How many leads do you get per year? A lot more than he can handle. So, not a marketing problem (scaling after fixing operations will cause a marketing problem, which I’ll cover some other time).

The next questions were about his team. Well, he hated management. Turns out he hated managing others because he made several hiring mistakes. He made the hiring mistakes because he just hired the first people that said they could do the job. He didn’t put in a system (or at least learn basic hiring practices) before adding to the team. He also didn’t manage the hires. He gave them assignments and expected they would deliver them. After a bit, they either quit or were let go.

If Steve had a team with a project manager in place, he would be able to take new clients regularly, he would be able to focus on retaining the ones he got, and he would have the time to focus on his vision for owning a company that earned him significantly more than he could get from a salary at an existing agency.

Steve also had a problem with churn (this has a lot to do with product obsession below) which is definitely an operations issue — his results could suck (not in this case), he could be communicating the results poorly (is the case) and he didn’t have a system for loving up his clients.

Another side to his operations issue was his definition of a large client. His definition was $2000 to $4000 a month, but I opened his eyes to what a large client in his discipline would be worth, which is about six figures a month. He didn’t have to go after them, but I wanted Steve to know that he was actually working with small clients. Knowing where you are in the realm of possibility will make room for the seed of ambition to sprout.

If Steve focuses on growing a solid, albeit small, team, not a patchwork of VAs, but a real team he could grow his company at least 3X in less than a year.

Lesson 2: Be Product Obsessed

In the book I’m writing (with the help of Jeff Pecaro) I have a section on obsession. To have a vivid executive vision, you need to be obsessed about several key areas and one of them is being obsessed about your product (or service).

Steve Jobs was famous for his product obsession. He took the Shaker concept that God was everywhere and could see the parts of things that weren’t visible to others. The Shakers would make the backs of their furniture as attractive as the front and the inside of their wooden boxes as beautiful as the outside.

Jobs knew that very few people would ever see the inside of his computers, but he expected them to be beautifully designed, not the standard slapped-together circuit boards in a box that engineers would create.

But his obsession was more than the way it looked. He cared deeply about the user experience even to the point of giving users very limited choices so that their experience was consistent. Android has taken a different approach by being highly configurable even to the point that a single user on a single device doesn’t have a consistent experience every time he or she uses the device.

When designing and delivering your product, or in the case of consultants like Steve, your service, you have to give your users a consistent, enjoyable experience from unboxing the product, buying more products and all the way to the end of their customer lifecycle.

So Steve, as a consultant, does most of his work (the product) outside the view of his clients so their user experience comes in the way of how he communicates with them. To have a great service you must have great design in all the places your service interfaces with your clients — this includes the design and medium of reports, meetings (scheduling, conduct & follow-up), gifts, and more.

Your clients experience should be internally consistent too. Phone calls should happen essentially the same way every time. If you mail reports, even the envelope needs to have the same design each time and arrive the same day each month or quarter.

There is so much room even in a service to be product obsessed because there are so many opportunities to improve the customer experience.

Take time to map your current product/service design and customer experience. Then find where you can make instant improvements while looking to see where redesigning may be required. A product/service overhaul will take a lot more time and you don’t want to completely disrupt your customer experience until you are fairly certain your overhaul is the right direction.

Feel free to ask questions about what you think your problems are in your business and/or how to be obsessive with your product/service.