Buy Your Way In and Accelerate Your Business

July 26, 2013

Strategy Concepts

Buying to accelerate your strategy

I’m chronically dissatisfied. It’s not an unhealthy level of frustration.  I am just always looking for ways to be better and, most often, faster.

This need for better and faster shot to the forefront when I was reviewing a new project with my team and it makes for an interesting case.

The case highlights a common leader’s trap that, if we can avoid it, will help us move faster executing our strategy.

A Strategic Move

In the middle of an economic crisis, we were under pressure to drive some new growth in our business. An opportunity that looked good, and became part of our strategy, was to expand into a new customer segment.   Now this was, let’s say, an off-shoot of our current business – something we knew little about, but an area where we were not strong.  These customers didn’t know us. We had few relationships in this segment.

But, we believed the market was going to grow in this segment and we needed to establish ourselves there.  When we got to that agreement, if felt great.  It was a breakthrough.

As soon as there was that clarity of purpose, the team really took off.  The team, to their credit, really started to move and design a plan to drive into that new channel.

It was when talking through the final proposed plan that something struck me – there was a lot of hard work that was going to take a lot of time.

The Trap

A few things were going to be hard work for us:

  1. building the team to service this new group of customers.  We couldn’t sacrifice too much of our current business so that meant our current team was untouchable.  We had to find, hire, train and move into position a whole new team.
  2. training in new skills to work with this new customer.   We didn’t know the customers well.  What we did know was that the skills for servicing these retail customers were a lot different than our classic, professional customers.  We didn’t have the experience on our team to negotiate with these new customers.  We had to train some of our current staff in new skills.
  3. creating access to that channel, to those customers.  Because we didn’t have historic relationships, we couldn’t get “in”.  So, even with a new team, we were going to be a full-time cold-calling team until we could break into these accounts.  We needed access.

Minimally, we would hire a team, train that team in new skills, and then spin our wheels to get access to the decision-makers who would choose us as a partner and spend some money.

That felt like a heavy, laborious plan.  And it felt slow.

I wanted to move much faster.  We needed to move much faster.  The opportunity wouldn’t stand for ever and this plan was going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of other resources.

Doing it ourselves wasn’t going to work.

There’s Another Way

So I challenged the team to figure out how to buy it.  How to buy our way in instead of trying to skill-build our way in.

We dug into the plan and scrubbed the details.  We identified the things we had to build ourselves and made a short-list of what we could could buy.

And we turned the tables on our plan and threw away the thoughts to build everything ourselves. We decided we’d build internally only one of those three – the business skills of our team.  For the other two challenges, we were going to find a partner.

We decided that “getting in the door” and the team to do it were two things we could buy. (and we guessed that if we bought a team with good access to these customers, we might find they already had the core skills!).  We wanted an organization that could work this customer channel and knew how to succeed there.  They needed to know how to market, how to build brands and how to position products and offerings within this channel.

Our ideal partner would:

  • enhance our products through collaboration – ‘one plus one would equal three’
  • have similar, but not competitive products
  • have good contact and relationships with top customers
  • be focused on growth through good customer service

Then we went off hunting

And within two weeks, we had three potential partners lined up.  What would have taken us months to do (hire a team, train a team, build customer relationships) with average results, had been shortened to weeks with expected excellent results.

Now, the “buy” comes in when I have to pay this company for their service . . . but it’s faster than going it on our own.

And so I ask:

“Are you trapped?”

Look at your strategy or your action plan.  Is it made up mostly of actions that require you to make or build internally?

My challenge to you today is to identify your ‘go-to’ assumption – Is it a build assumption? Are you often struggling to answer questions like “Where am I going to get the money to do this?” or “How can my team take on all this new responsibility?”

If so, take some time to scrub that plan.  Look for pieces of your plan that you can buy to speed things up.  You are looking to get things done faster and/or cheaper and/or better than you could by building it yourself.

Some ideas: access to new customers, distribution, training services, sales force, incentive programs, social media support, customer service, finance support.

Figure out what is really important that you create inside your business versus what you could purchase because it’s not ‘mission critical’ for you.

Pick just one good ‘buy’ item from the list today and start hunting.

Leave a comment here with your thoughts on “build vs. buy”.  What can you buy that will help you accelerate your strategic plan?

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