If you don’t understand, then you won’t be in control.

Commercial managers are responsible for producing the flow of profitable income for their business. As such, they are responsible for managing all those various activities which collectively anticipate and satisfy customer demand profitably. In larger companies, many of these particular activities will be managed by specialists, while in smaller businesses, the commercial manager may have direct responsibility for some or all of these specific areas.
In principle, the core elements of customer related business, that is, marketing research, product development, advertising, promotion and product fulfilment, remain the same. However, the development of new technology, especially in relation to the application of IT to business operations, has and is changing rapidly. Nowhere are these changes and developments more apparent than in the areas of advertising and promotion, which have been revolutionised by the rapid emergence of social media and customer relationship management. The use of Twitter and Facebook have become major customer communication channels, and an essential part of customer related activity especially in consumer markets. Keeping up with these developments may be difficult but is essential if commercial managers are to be able to control their total responsibilities effectively.
Although commercial managers may be professionally qualified as accountants, engineers, or as marketers, and while many of them may also have MBAs , they also need to have at least a rudimentary working knowledge of all the activities for which they have overall responsibility, especially in these new areas of social media and on-line business. The responsibility for motivating and managing those subordinates who undertake such specialist activities, lies with the commercial manager, thus it is vital that they have at least a working knowledge of these areas in order to oversee them effectively. Where commercial managers are reliant on employees with superior expertise in specific fields, it is important that they do not try to micro manage those areas but allow subordinates to be free to carry out their responsibilities within the constraints of their job description and targets, while monitoring performance through regular reports and frequent dialogue,
However, problems arise when senior managers do not fully understand the activities for which they have overall responsibilities. A lack of necessary understanding can often discourage senior management from asking relevant and informed questions, either through over confidence in their sub-ordinate executives’ abilities, or through fear of revealing their own ignorance to better qualified employees.
To maintain satisfactory understanding of all aspects of their total responsibilities, commercial managers need to ensure that they;
* Educate themselves through reading or by attending courses to extend their knowledge of new technology and its practical applications, as well as any other business subject they think necessary.
* Ensure that responsibilities for specialist commercial activities are delegated to suitably qualified employees
* Question employees to get them to explain in plain language, new methods, processes and ideas in order to establish mutual understanding.
* Determine with specialist subordinates what inputs and outputs can be effectively measured to establish levels of performance.
* Ensure that all reports are written in plain language, without the use of “jargon” to ensure clarity and understanding.
* Maintain informed dialogue with subordinates responsible for specific activities. This will help to establish mutual trust and understanding between both parties.
While the principles of business remain the same, managers and commercial managers in particular need to keep up to date with rapidly changing and developing ideas especially with the application of technology. For this reason continual professional development is increasingly regarded as a general requirement for all executives in companies.
If commercial managers do not have the knowledge or sufficient understanding of all those activities for which they hold ultimate responsibility, they will not be in a position to ask relevant and purposeful questions. In the fast changing areas of social media, supply chain management, and CRM (customer relationship management), knowledge is power but a lack of knowledge shows a weakness, leaving the commercial manager vulnerable to the charge of not being fully in control of their responsibilities. If the commercial manger does not know about or understand an activity for which they hold responsibility, they have no excuse for not asking relevant questions.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 07 Jan 16

January 10, 2016   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance improvement, business performance indicators, business performance management, business performance measurement, marketing development, marketing management, marketing metrics, marketing performance measurement, marketing ROI, performance management, performance measurement indicators  Comments Closed

Rogue Activities Could Threaten Your Business

The news that Volkswagen (VW) has apparently engineered its diesel engine management software to give false emission readings, has created world-wide astonishment and anger. VW said that it will now recall at least 8 million vehicles which will need modifications, for which the company will have to pay. The financial cost to VW will be enormous, but the damage to the company and its reputation will not stop there. There are likely to be many legal cases brought against the company by governments for fraud and by individuals who find that their vehicle’s resale value to be nearly worthless.
This situation where a company is brought into serious difficulties or even total collapse through the rogue actions of individuals is rare but not unusual. In recent years such cases have usually been confined to the financial sector. In 1995 the actions of Nick Leeson, a futures trader in Singapore, lost $1.4bn in derivatives trading, which brought about the total demise of Barings Bank. Other financial institutions such as Allied Irish Bank, Japan’s Daiwa Bank, SociĂ©tĂ© GĂ©nĂ©rale of France, and UBS, the Swiss banking giant have all been seriously damaged by the unauthorised actions of individual employees. How did these situations arise? What are the lessons from which all businesses can take note and benefit?
It would seem that in most of the cases involved in the finance sector, rogue traders manipulated the system in order to increase their potential for earning high levels of commission by taking unauthorised risks. Thus their motivation was for personal financial gain. In the case of VW, it would seem unlikely that by manipulating the engine management software to give false emission readings, individuals would gain any financial benefit. It may be that the decision to engineer false emission readings was to cover up and avoid the embarrassment that VW engines did not meet the required Government emissions standards, which would have affected sales.
The commercial manager is responsible for producing and maintaining the levels of necessary profitable income for the continued development of the business. Therefore it should be their specific interest to ensure that all the workforce understand that individually and collectively, their actions affect customer perceptions and satisfaction, which ultimately effects the level of income on which they all depend. Instilling enthusiasm, motivation creativity and expertise is not simply a matter of communication, but of effective management and leadership. When effective leadership and management break down, opportunities arise for individuals to game the system to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of the business.
Whenever there are serious management problems the buck stops with the chief executive officer, but when it involves any relations with the customer, the responsibility ultimately rests with the commercial manager. To prevent rogue activities, it is important to recognise how such situations can arise, as there is no real excuse for not knowing. When rogue activities are uncovered, the commercial manger must immediately establish the extent of the problem, the damage caused, and implement the necessary remedial actions.
Problems arise when senior managers do not fully understand the activities for which they have overall responsibilities. Such situations discourage senior management from asking relevant informed questions, either through over confidence in their sub-ordinate executives’ abilities, or through fear of revealing their own ignorance to better qualified specialists.
Large organisations especially, can develop a “silo mentality” amongst their different departments, which can foster individuals gaming the system to their own advantage and the potential development of wayward activities.
The principle cause that allows rogue activities to occur, is bad management through:
* Lack of attention and supervision
* Lack of fore sight of the potential damage, and consequences of rogue activities
* Company organisation where a “silo” mentality prevails such that internal communications and cooperation are poor.
When detrimental rogue activities are uncovered it may already be too late to prevent their negative consequences. If such activities are shown to be illegal or damaging to customer relations, there are immediate actions which the commercial manager needs to take to try to mitigate their effects.
* Identify the business areas involved
* Establish if the activities involved deliberate actions to deceive, or to cover-up embarrassment.
* If possible, identify which individuals were responsible and deal with them according to their employment contract and employment law. If the actions were illegal or seriously damaging, – immediate suspension and dismissal may be necessary.
* Ensure that sufficient publicity is given to the uncovering of the problem and the subsequent actions to rectify it.
Prevention is always better than cure.
What should the commercial manager do to prevent rogue activities?
* Have a full understanding of all the processes for which the commercial manager has overall responsibility
* Ensure close supervision of all activities but avoid micro management.
* Develop an integrated team spirit so that all problems are discussed.
* Ensure that those earning commission cannot game the system to their own advantage
* Try to develop an atmosphere where mistakes and error may be identified and dealt without rancour.
* Ensure there is a regular reporting system that identifies all important activities, the relevant progress and highlights any problems.
The commercial manager is responsible for all those activities involved in producing profitable income by anticipating and satisfying customer requirements. When things go wrong through the actions of individuals, the commercial manage has the final responsibility of knowing how the business is being conducted at all times. For the commercial manager, there is no excuse for not knowing.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 19 Nov 15

November 30, 2015   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance improvement, business performance indicators, business performance management, business performance measurement, marketing development, marketing management, marketing metrics, marketing performance measurement, marketing ROI, performance management, performance measurement indicators  Comments Closed

Creating Income – and art or a science?

For many years the major supermarkets have enjoyed annual increases in turnover; like for like sales and overall profits. Now those same supermarkets are reporting falling sales and profits, while their managements are trying to understand why this has happened and what to do about it.

It is a mistake to assume that the upward trend in sales and profits will always continue, or to base planning on that assumption. Forecasting the future based on past performance is always a problem. Are the conditions the same, improving or worsening? Where is the evidence?

To be successful the commercial manager needs to remember that while income can go up as well as down, they also need to understand why. What are the underlying factors? Markets and demand are finite, customers’ requirements change, markets get saturated, and both products and services have a finite life.

Peter Drucker the world famous management consultant said “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”. While that statement remains true, the statement refers only to the management of resources, it does not refer to the generation of profitable income. However,
performance measurement remains an important tool for effective management of resources.

The objective of the commercial manager is to generate and maximize profitable income while minimizing the use of assets resources and investment. Performance measurement can show what has been achieved in a specific period and in some cases show the efficiency of producing profitable income in real time. As such, performance measurement can give an indication of what commercial actions have been successful in the past and even currently. But future commercial performance is not based on a straight extrapolation of a graphical line. The market place is in a constant dynamic motion that may be slow or rapid. Yesterday’s answers, and even those of today, may or may not be suitable for tomorrow’s market situation. Commercial mangers must bear in mind that customer’s requirements change, established products and services are superseded by new designs and technology changes, markets become saturated, and competitors become stronger or weaker.

While commercial managers must strive for efficiency in the use of assets and investment as indicated in performance measurements, they must also concentrate on how to maintain and increase the level of sustained profitable income. The perpetual problem for the commercial manager, is how to maintain and increase profitable income while managing resources effectively? Income comes from customers who collectively comprise the market in which the business operates. Therefore it is essential that commercial managers should be continually aware of the development of individual customer requirements and the changes to existing and potential market opportunities and threats. Understanding this information is fundamental to the preparation of future business planning, as is creativity and imagination.

How can the commercial manager maintain or increase profitable income?
There are no simple answers to this question that guarantee success, but there are principles which if applied can provide profitable outcomes.

* Businesses need to strive for continual growth in order to replace the natural wastage of customers.
* Understanding customers’ changing needs, requirements and motivations.
* Use direct export and the internet to expanding into bigger geographical areas.
* Diversify into new areas especially if the market is saturated or declining.
* Develop new products to compliment an existing product range or replace obsolete ones.
* Develop customer and market communications through social media and the internet to complement established media advertising and public relations.
* Consider expansion by takeover. (While take overs can bring income, new customers and increased market share, they can also bring short term inherent risks and costs.)
* Apply lateral thinking to threats and opportunities, to find new solutions.
* Encourage creativity and imagination amongst the workforce to develop new ideas and opportunities.

Commercial managers are paid to manage assets which are measured in financial and numerical value to produce income efficiently. How such assets are used effectively is dependent on the knowledgebase and proficiency of the staff employed. The effective management, direction and motivation of professional experienced staff that have entrepreneurial thinking, imagination, and flare especially in communications and business development, is therefore essential

While performance measurements show how resources are being used efficiently, and sales trends give a guide to changes in demand, only good customer relations can indicate future developments and opportunities, which performance measurements cannot do.

Efficient and effective management is essential for building and maintaining a continuous flow of profitable income, but successful business also requires the art of being able to see and foresee potential opportunities and to be able to exploit them quickly.

Finding and exploiting opportunities to create income is largely an art, but making that income profitable requires efficient and effective commercial management,

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 20 Oct 15

October 23, 2015   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance improvement, business performance indicators, business performance management, business performance measurement, marketing development, marketing management, marketing metrics, marketing performance measurement, marketing ROI, performance management, performance measurement indicators  Comments Closed

Successful Business is not just a numbers game.

For many years the major supermarkets have enjoyed annual increases in turnover, like for like sales and overall profits. Now those same supermarkets are reporting falling sales and profits which they attempt to counter with competitive pricing, but is this enough?

The objective of the commercial manager is to generate and maximize profitable income while minimizing the use of assets resources and investment. Peter Drucker, the world famous management consultant said “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”. While that statement remains true, it is only relevant to the management of resources, it does not refer to the generation of profitable income.

To be successful, the commercial manager needs to remember that while income can go up as well as down, they also need to understand why. What are the underlying factors? Markets and demand are finite, customers’ requirements change, markets get saturated, and both products and services have a finite life. It is a mistake to assume that the upward trend in sales and profits will always continue, or to base planning on that assumption. Forecasting the future based on past performance is always a problem. Are the conditions the same, improving or worsening? Where is the evidence?

Measuring performance is important in order that the commercial manager may understand
and manage effectively all those activities which collectively produce the necessary income.
Performance measurement can show what has been achieved in a specific period and in some cases show the efficiency of producing profitable income in real time. As such, performance measurements give an indication of what commercial actions have been successful in the past and even currently. But future commercial performance is not based on a straight extrapolation of a graphical line. The market place is in constant dynamic motion that may be slow or rapid. Yesterday’s and even today’s answers may or may not be suitable for tomorrow’s market situation. Commercial mangers must bear in mind that customer’s requirements change, established products and services are superseded by new designs and technology changes, markets become saturated, and competitors become stronger or weaker.

For the commercial manager, the continuing problem is how to maintain and increase
the flow of income while managing resources efficiently to ensure that the income is profitable. Income comes from customers who collectively comprise the market in which the business operates. Therefore it is essential that commercial managers should be continually aware of the development of individual customer requirements and the changes to existing and potential market opportunities and threats. Understanding this information is fundamental to the preparation of future business planning.

How can the commercial manager maintain or increase profitable income?
There are no simple answers to this question that guarantee success, but there are principles which if applied can provide profitable outcomes.

* Businesses need to strive for continual growth in order to replace the natural wastage of customers.
* Understand customers’ changing needs and supplying their requirements.
* Expand into bigger geographical areas through direct export and the internet.
* Diversify into new areas especially if the market is saturated or declining.
* Develop new products to compliment an existing product range or replace obsolete ones.
* Develop customer and market communications through social media and the internet to complement established media advertising and public relations.
* Consider expansion by takeover. (While take overs can bring income, new customers and increased market share, they can also bring short term inherent risks and costs.)

A commercial manager’s success is based on the amount of profitable income that they generate and the efficiency with which it is produced. Maintaining income and developing new business depends on the knowledgebase and proficiency of the staff employed. Thus
the effective management, direction and motivation of professional experienced staff that have entrepreneurial thinking, imagination, and flare, especially in communications, business development, and customer relations is therefore essential

Being able to recognise, foresee and exploit potential income opportunities quickly is an art which requires entrepreneurial thinking, imagination, and flare. Producing income still requires initial capital and the use of other assets so that while creating gross income may be largely an art, making that income profitable requires the good commercial management of all assets and resources.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 08 Jul 15

July 10, 2015   Posted in: Uncategorized  Comments Closed

The majority’s opinion is not always right

The outcome of the recent British general election was a surprise to every one including the public, the media and the politicians. For months previously, it was accepted by all, that the election would result in a “hung Parliament” with another coalition Government. There was a degree of shock and disbelief when the first exit polls indicated not only a win for the Conservative party, but also one with an overall majority. It was only after the last counted results were declared that the fact was accepted that what the pollsters, politicians and media had assumed as a forgone conclusion, was totally wrong.

A post-election analysis of the poll results by the pollsters themselves, showed that all the polls were in agreement of a hung parliament result, with the exception of one. That one poll was uncannily accurate to the actual result. However, because it was only one poll amongst so many that agreed, it was disregarded. Why? The answer lies in a phenomena, generally known as “Groupthink”. So how did this situation come about and why is it important for every business organisation, especially their commercial managers, to understand its implications.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Groupthink” as “The practice of thinking or making decisions as group, resulting typically in unchallenged poor-quality decision-making”. Another and more descriptive definition of “Groupthink” is the tendency of members of a group to yield to the desire for consensus or unanimity at the cost of considering alternative courses of action. “Groupthink” is said to be the reason why intelligent and knowledgeable people make disastrous decisions.

For the commercial manager responsible for producing profitable income for a business, important decision making is based on overall assessments resulting from assumptions, research, and interpretation of fact. If any of these decision making factors is unreliable, then the overall assessment is questionable.

As with any senior management, commercial mangers rely on their staff and engaged outside agencies to provide information on which their assessments and decisions are to be made. However, when confronted by “evidence” from reliable sources that point to a strong consensus of opinion, that opinion is often accepted with little or no question. One of the characteristics of “Groupthink” is the inability to consider that the Group assessment might be wrong or that alternative “rogue” opinion might be right and ought to be dispassionately investigated and considered. In some cases, even daring to question the consensus opinion of experts is to invite criticism or ostracism. Questioning the “expert opinion,” especially if it is that of the managing director or chairman can lead to the career damaging accusation of being a trouble maker and not a team player. Any individual or different opinion from that of the general consensus tends to be ignored.

There are many reasons why people subscribe to the “Groupthink” opinions; sometimes it is laziness, in that it is easier to agree with others rather than make an independent assessment, sometimes it is deference to another, or simply a desire to conform and not be seen as the only dissenting voice. The pernicious attitude of political correctness may also prevent people from voicing dissent and alternative opinions.

How does “Groupthink” manifest itself in the commercial environment? One of the most obvious places is through market research reports. Another prime area is through Business plans where basic assumptions go unchallenged. Experts are not infallible and should be required to give evidence for their opinions

For the commercial manager, responsible for producing the necessary profitable income for the continuance of their business, it is essential that commercial decisions are made from reliable assessments based as far as possible on verifiable facts. To this end, commercial managers should always question consensus opinions and maintain a healthy scepticism of them, because it is possible that the consensus or majority opinion is wrong and the odd-man out might just be right, – but how do you know?

When it comes to evaluating market research, there are a number of things that the commercial manager can do to verify the reliability of any Business plan or marketing research report.
Here are some factors for consideration.

* Who made the report, how reliable are the authors,
* How was the report compiled, – what sources were used, how were they selected, and when.
* Were the right questions asked
* Was the information qualitative , quantitative and verifiable
* What assumptions were used, – why were they made and on what evidence.
* Were the consequences of action or inaction considered
* Are there possibly alternative conflicting conclusions – what are they, have they been tested?

The sole purpose of every business is to make money, for which the commercial manager is a principle decision maker. Being aware of the possibility of “Groupthink” when evaluation reports or making decisions is therefore vital if correct decisions and the best results obtained. Experts are not always right, neither are majority opinions always reliable and the lone dissenting voice is not always wrong, but might be the only one that is right.

(849)© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 31 May 15

June 3, 2015   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance improvement, business performance indicators, business performance management, business performance measurement, marketing management  Comments Closed

If anything can go wrong, – it will

If anything can go wrong, – it will

There is what may be called a “natural law”, known by various names such as “Murphy’s or “Sod’s” law which states a simple observation that if anything can go wrong – it will. For the Commercial Manager, responsible for producing the profitable income on which every business depends, it is especially important.

While many people might consider this “law” to be a pessimistic statement, it is in reality often seen to be true. The reasons why this “law” often appears to be true can lie in a number of areas such as communication failures, wrong assumptions, the unexpected event, misunderstandings and probably many others. However, when things go wrong for the commercial manager, the result can be expensive and may have long-term repercussions.

It is not possible to guard against every eventuality. To attempt so to do might well be futile and may lead to micro-management, which is generally counter- productive. The effective commercial manager is one who includes contingency actions in normal business planning, to be enacted when some part of the plan fails to materialise as envisaged. However, when something that is considered obvious or unquestionably reliable, on occasions is found to be the exact opposite, the observation of “Murphy’s or “Sod’s” law tends to be apparent.

There are many examples of how this may come about; perhaps a verbal instruction that was either not clearly given or not understood. Badly drafted orders that were clear to the writer, but on examination would be far from clear to the reader. For example, at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, the written order given to the Light Brigade, was badly drafted. While its intentions were clear to the writer, the wording was ambiguous and easily misunderstood, which sent the Light Cavalry Brigade to its destruction.

Quite often many of those things that go wrong result from misunderstandings and wrong assumptions. Generally it is the little things that go wrong that create larger problems. There may be many underlying reasons why there are wrong assumptions or misunderstandings, but often the reason lies in an individual’s lethargy; the attitude that “it will be alright – no need to bother”.

For the Commercial Manager, responsible for producing profitable income for the organisation, satisfying customer requirements profitably is paramount. The success of every customer transaction depends on a series of activities, ensuring that the product or service meets the customer’s requirements and expectations, with many opportunities for things to go wrong if not carefully managed.

Advertising and promotion are ripe areas for “Murphy’s Law” to wreak havoc. What may seem a clever advertising slogan may be open to deliberate misinterpretation or potential ridicule. Some product names do not translate well in other languages, e.g. the Vauxhall Nova car, when no va in Spanish means no go!

What should the Commercial Manager do to minimize the effect of Murphy’s Law?
* Look at every process and break it down to its constituent parts.
* Identify the crucial actions on which all the other actions depend.
* Identify the weak spots – these might appear insignificant, such as sending a confirmatory e-mail, or ensuring that there is more than one key available to access some vital equipment or facility.
* Check that the words of all communications, including advertising and promotional material convey the intended meaning and understanding of the sender to the recipient. It is not what we say, but what is understood that is important.
* Where resources are critical to a successful outcome, ensure that there are spare or backup resources available if needed.
* Encourage staff to review processes to identify from their perspective, those crucial weak points, however apparently insignificant, which could have a significant effect on the outcome of the process.
* Encourage and foster the attitude with the staff that only the best performance in customer related processes is good enough.
* Encourage staff to confirm their understanding of instructions.

The results of Murphy’s Law cannot be entirely eliminated. If anything can go wrong – it will, but it is for the Commercial Manager together with the workforce, to take positive steps, wherever possible, in order to minimise the opportunities for this to happen, especially when dealing with customers.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 23 Apr 15

April 24, 2015   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, business performance improvement, business performance indicators, business performance management, business performance measurement, marketing management, Uncategorized  Comments Closed

Do you really know what you think you know?

Decisions in business should be made on the basis of firm knowledge and information. In practise it is more often the case that business decisions are made on assumptions rather that verifiable knowledge. Anticipating and satisfying customer requirements not only requires knowledge of the customer, the market and the competition , but also the “know-how” that comes from experience which is not easy to replicate. But how can the extent of an organisation’s corporate knowledge and “know-how” be assessed?

It comes as a surprise to many organizations, that the greater part of their corporate knowledge which is necessary for the continued success of their business, is not readily accessible. While many organisations may have an archive of important data on their customers, their market and other subjects, the fact is that much of the important knowledge on which the organisation relies for its successful operation, resides in the experience and personal knowledge of its workforce.. Such information is rarely written down or recorded, and while businesses may have specific procedures for employees to follow, situations and experience often results in their modification on application. Problems arise through the natural turnover of staff, when important and experienced employees leave or retire, so that
vital knowledge is lost. In recent years, many organisations have been run on minimal staffing, and this is especially the case in small businesses. While minimal manning makes sense in terms of efficiency and controlling staffing costs, it has inherent dangers, when individual employees become crucial to the running of the business because of their unique knowledge and experience. When individuals are away on holiday or sick leave, organisations often struggle to manage because a particular individual has specific knowledge and experience which is essential for the efficient running of its operation. Using experienced and qualified interim executives may help to ameliorate the problem when individuals are absent, but they do not have that specific experience and knowledge on which the organisation relies. Business organisations need to recognise that nobody is irreplaceable, but while the replacement may be qualified, they will not have the accumulated experience specific to the particular organisation.

For the commercial manager, responsible for all those business operations that support and satisfy customer requirements, maintaining and retaining the necessary corporate knowledge and experience is of great importance, although one which frequently is given a low priority.
In terms of an organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, the extent of corporate knowledge and experience can be an intangible but very important strength. Conversely, if much of that knowledge and experience resides with only a few individuals, it should be regarded as a distinct weakness, if any of those individuals should leave the organisation.
Unless the commercial manager, takes steps to ensure that such knowledge and understanding of the business, the market, its customers and the commercial environment in which it operates, is up to date, wrong assumptions will be made and poor decision making ensue. While experience will always reside with individuals, corporate knowledge should be maintained and accessible within the organisation. Corporate managers need to establish as far as possible the nature, extent and location of the organisation’s corporate knowledge, as well as what is known and unknown. The effectiveness of business decision making is firmly based in the depth of the commercial function’s knowledge of its market, competition and its own procedures.

In order to keep the corporate knowledge base accessible and up to date, commercial managers should undertake on a regular basis, a detailed “Commercial Audit”, or “Marketing Audit” as it was more frequently known. The purpose of such an audit is to establish the depth of knowledge that the organisation has and to highlight those areas where its knowledge is limited or nonexistent, so that decisions may be based on confirmed information rather that assumptions or guesswork. A Marketing Audit is a “self administered” method for identifying and realizing under-utilized marketing resources, comprising the analysis of the market, the business, the organizations own strengths and weaknesses , the economic environment, the marketing environment and the competition. The process should include questions on the marketing strategy and the planning process, the product/service range, company performance (in terms of strengths weaknesses) the market size and structure the buying process and the competitive climate as well as many other areas where knowledge is essential or desirable for informed decision making.

While the commercial manager may not be able to secure the corporate experience held by individual employees, they do have the ability to maintain and develop the necessary corporate knowledge and “know-how”, through the regular application of a Marketing Audit.

N.B. For all the questions that you are ever likely to need for an effective marketing audit, the best source to refer to “The Marketing Audit Handbook” Aubrey Wilson, published by Kogan Page 2002

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 13 Mar 15

March 16, 2015   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance improvement, business performance management, business performance measurement, marketing management, Uncategorized  Comments Closed

When disaster strikes- what do you do?

However good business or marketing plans may be, they can sometimes go awry because of unexpected events. For the commercial manager, responsible for producing profitable income for the business, any failure to achieve the planned business results and income could be a serious situation for the business, which might bring into question the commercial manager’s position. How a commercial manager deals with such a situation when things go wrong will mark them out as either an effective manager or as someone who according to the Peter Principle, has reached the level of their own incompetence,.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been both a financial and public relations disaster for British Petroleum. Marine oil spills are an expected although rare event in the oil extraction industry. No doubt BP had contingency plans to deal with such a problem, but results suggest that they were inadequate. The engineering solution to cap the leaking well, proved more difficult and protracted than expected, and the company lost control of the media story, which seriously damaged public relations. Given the nature and extent of the accident, could the situation have been better handled? In hindsight, probably yes. Better risk assessment and contingency planning, including the having necessary resources readily available might have saved time and reduced the environmental damage. Perhaps a more considered approach regarding how the public might view the company and its actions could have guided BP’s press relations, and thus blunted to some extent the negative perceptions and reactions of the media and public.

When things go wrong in business, they can either happen quickly or slowly. Events that develop slowly are those which should more easily be managed. Provided the procedural processes are in place, progressive changes in the business and market environment should be expected, observed and effectively managed. However, it is the rapid and unexpected development, either externally or internally, which usually compromise business and marketing plans and potentially form a serious crisis for the company. Being able to deal with the unexpected change of circumstance as they arise, is therefore an important attribute for every commercial manager,

Changing situations and unexpected event may provide opportunities as well as threats to business operations and both may require quick decision making and action if opportunities are not to be missed or threats become dangerous. It should therefore, be a normal part of the planning process to identify potential threats and opportunities and specifically, to prepare contingency plans and resources to deal with them should they be required. It should never assumed that all will go as planned; customers may provide new opportunities or may fail to complete on expected orders; sales may not reach targets; promotional programmes may yield unexpected demand that creates production problems or alternatively, fail to produce the expected result for the investment made. These are the sorts of events that should be anticipated as potential problems which would require a rapid and planned response to ameliorate the potentially damaging results. But what about other unexpected or unplanned events? A full planning process should incorporate both a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats) and a PEST (political economic social and technological) analysis but these tend to be restricted to the immediate business and its environment. However, there may be scope for widening the opportunities and threat into a business risk assessment to identify the nature and breadth of vulnerability to potential risk, while considering the potential and nature of unexpected opportunities.

Every business should have a publicity plan to deal effectively with both positive and negative media coverage. By using media specialists, a commercial manger is better placed to deal with any potentially damaging media stories in an effective manner. Alternatively maximising the use of positive media stories, such as new products and developments can develop a positive perception of the company in the business environment.

Umpteen problems can arise quite suddenly and create enormous difficulties. For example, a mistake with a customer, a product failure, or a negative media story could create damaging publicity which can spread quickly and widely, especially through the internet and social media. But not all unforeseen events produce potential dangers; some if acted upon quickly, can provide profitable opportunities; for example, a competitor ceases trading or withdraws support for its customers, the arrival of new technology, or access to new markets.

While specific events may not be foreseen, potential types of events and risks can be identified. Then an assessment of the potential risks may be made and contingency plans in outline and detail prepared accordingly.

The commercial manager should always plan for the best, but be prepared for the worst events.

* One cannot plan for every possible eventuality, but by using risk assessment it is possible to identify the sorts of unexpected events and assess the probability of their fruition.
* Consider the events that have greater risk of occurrence and make contingency action plans including identifying the necessary resources required to deal with the situation quickly.
* Be aware that most “unexpected events” come from external sources, such as economic, legal, and therefore are more generally predictable rather than unexpected. Unexpected events might be accidental, e.g. a major supplier is destroyed by fire, or freak weather disrupts transport.
* Ensure that media specialists are kept informed of all developments at all times, so that they can manage the company’s business news to best effect.

Most commercial events are predictable to a greater or lesser extent, thus the commercial manager should always have prepared contingency plans that can immediately be enacted. Ultimately, when things go wrong, it is the responsibility of the commercial manager to reduce the negative effects and to exploit and maximize any opportunities that unexpectedly arise. Unexpected events may not be the fault of the commercial manager, but their management actions are fundamental to making matters better or worse. Having a prepared action plan for the “what if” situation, is an essential requirement for the commercial manager and for all senior managers.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 31 Jan 15

February 2, 2015   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance management, marketing management  Comments Closed

Satisfied Customers Make Long-Term Profits

There is nothing new in the principles of business, the sole purpose of which is to make money in the form of profit. This basic process of business can still be seen in the markets of the Middle East and North Africa where buyers and sellers haggle over the price of goods until agreement, a deal is struck and both buyer and seller are satisfied with the result. Over time and especially over the past hundred years, the process of making business transactions has become very much more complicated, although the underlying principles remain the same.

Customers provide income on the completion of the sale of goods or services that satisfy their requirements. While getting the sale is the ultimate act which provides the income, the sale itself is not synonymous with customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is the primary necessity as it encourages repeat sales, and customer retention.

When purchasers initially decide they want something, they then seek to find their requirement from a shop or web-site, or in the case of business to business actions, from a supplier. As potential purchasers, they have made a decision to buy, provided that they find a suitable product or service that fulfils their requirements. Satisfying the customer and completing the sale satisfactorily depends on the suitability of the product package and the manner in which it is presented to them as the solution of their problem.

When making a purchase through a web-site, the purchaser has already made a decision to buy a product that meets their requirements. If the web-site is easy to navigate, and the process of purchase easy to effect, then the sale usually completes without difficultly. If, on the other hand the web-site proves difficult for the customer to navigate, so that the order process is complicated and protracted, the customer may easily be lost and the order taken elsewhere. It is important therefore that web-sites should provide sufficient information to the would-be buyer, to enable them to decide to order the product, and then to make ordering a quick and easy process to their satisfaction.

Similarly, in most cases, when potential customers enter a shop, they do so with the intension of looking for something that they require or desire, so they already have the inclination to purchase. Many shops are now self-service, but in those shops that rely on personal service, it is the sales staffs that help the customer find and select the solution to their requirement and then close the sale. Frequently, it is the way that the sales personal act with customers that influences customer satisfaction to complete the transaction, and the opportunity of repeat sales.

The customer’s desire must be serviced by the development and production of products which are priced at a level that the customer is prepared to pay. Social media, advertising and publicity all assist in creating awareness, interest and possibly desire for a product with a potential buyer, but only the action of closing the sale actually brings in the money, However, until the product or service has been delivered to the customer to their satisfaction the transaction is not complete. Getting the sale and the payment may be a straight forward process, which secures immediate income for the short term, but if customers are not satisfied with the delivery, specification, payment process, product support and general attitude of the supplier, a hard won customer may be lost to future repeat sales. A satisfied customer is a good ambassador for any supplier, but an unsatisfied customer is not only lost, but their communicated experience can damage a supplier’s reputation and image.

The commercial manager responsible for getting and maintaining profitable income, needs to ensure that the relationship between a supplier and its customers is the principle influencer of the customer’s satisfaction, loyalty and repeat business. While obtaining sales income is a prime objective of the sales team, customer satisfaction should be at the centre of all those other activities that support the customer, such as production, service support, distribution, payment and credit control. This requires the effective management of all those activities which directly and indirectly effect customer relations.

A sale is not synonymous with customer satisfaction. Concentration on achieving sales can bring short term benefits of income, but only concentration on customer service and satisfaction can bring long term benefits of customer retention and profitable income for the future,

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 11 Dec 14

December 17, 2014   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance improvement, business performance management, business performance measurement, marketing management  Comments Closed

Do You Hear Your Customers?

Producing profitable income, requires the effective management by the commercial manager of all those resources that collectively identify, anticipate and satisfy customer requirements. Part of the commercial manager’s responsibility is the effective communication with the market, as well as existing and potential customers.

Observation of the business and marketing press suggests that organisations spend a lot of time and money on what are generally called “marketing communications”, in order to send their message to potential and existing customers. Such communications may be through the traditional media of advertising and public relations, but now increasingly involve social media, the internet and customer relationship management activities.

While organisations may be very effective in the outward communication of their message, there is often reason to question is how good are they in receiving communications from their customers? Customer’s interests should be at the heart of every business, as it is they who provide the income which makes profit for the owners, income for the employees, and on which the long term future of the business depends. Yet increasingly from anecdotal reports, it would seem that the last thing many organisations wish to have, is uninvited communication from their existing and potential customers. The evidence for this situation lies in many areas.

While it may not be a deliberate organisational policy to limit effective communication from existing and potential customers, it is frequently an organization’s management processes that can make it difficult. For many existing and potential customers, the problem of effective communication with an organisation, starts in finding their address, and identifying responsible individuals within to whom they can address their concern and questions.

Business web-sites generally give lots of information about respective organisations, what they do, and frequently how to make an order or request standard information. However, when it is necessary to contact the organisation and identify a responsible individual, there may be difficulties. Contact information on web-sites can often be hidden away so that it is difficult to find. Customers may be invited to contact a customer service centre via e-mail or telephone which may in fact be out sourced to a different organisation entirely, rather than be part of the company’s own office structure. In such a case, the customer will have great difficulty in finding and accessing the responsible individual that they seek.

When customers telephone business organisations, they are frequently answered by call management systems, rather than a person. While call management systems are often installed by organisations on the grounds of efficiency and cost effectiveness, they frequently create irritation with the customer, especially when they are subjected to multiple menus which create confusion and frustration. When callers are able to facilitate a connection to a specific individual, it seems that they are frequently connected to a voice mail system, regardless of whether the individual is present or not. Worse still, is when the customer is confronted with a company policy that refuses to identify responsible individuals on the grounds of its “security policy”.

For the commercial manager, responsible for producing profitable income, anticipating and satisfying customer demand is essential. Thus while managing the organisation’s effective communications regarding its image and its offer to its market is of prime importance, it is even more important to maintain and improve the channels of communication from the customers and potential customers to the organisation. Most organisations if asked, will state that they have good two way communications with their market, but the question is, “how do you know?” For the commercial manager, it would be wise to assume that the channels of communication from the market are probably not as good as may be thought, and probably need improvement.

There are a number of things that a Commercial manager should do;

* Have the organisation’s web site independently evaluated for clarity, coherence, ease of access and contact information.
* Ensure that all company brochures contain full contact details.
* Ensure that all communications from existing and potential customers are answered promptly.
* Use secret callers to establish the ease of access via telephone and to evaluate the response, as well as the response to e-mail and letters.
* Use the information from secret callers, and website evaluation to formulate a clear company policy for receiving outside contact to improve customer perceptions and channels of communication.

The way that a company responds to communication from its existing or potential customers indicates the level of importance that they give them. If customers consider that they are regarded as of little or no importance, from the response or lack of it that they receive, they can quickly go elsewhere and take their money with them.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 02 Nov 14

November 5, 2014   Posted in: business development, business efficiency, Business Marketing, business performance improvement, business performance management, marketing management  Comments Closed