Don’t make these two mistakes when doing competitive research


Learning and modelling off of your competitors is something everyone should be doing.

Whether you are new to a field or a long-time player, anyone can benefit from seeing what others are doing, if only to spur some new ideas.

(Note, modelling and learning is different than flat-out plagiarism.  There’s a fine line between “not reinventing the wheel” and copying word-for-word.  Don’t be afraid to use others as a model, but just bring your own creativity or persona to it.)

For purposes of this article, I’m going to assume the business is a digital marketer, but the lessons apply everywhere.

What most people do when they conduct competitive research is that they go through someone else’s funnel in the same way that they assume a “normal” buyer would.  They want to see what the buying experience is.  And so they go and buy the product or service.

Totally makes sense and is logical.  You’ll see some of the steps, see what types of offers they are making, and what the experience is of receiving the product or service.

But if that is all you are doing – essentially buying once from a competitor, the first time around – you’re missing out on additional valuable information.

In particular, here are 2 items to add:

  1. Don’t buy. 

At least not right away.

It sounds really simple, but go thru the sales process, but don’t actually buy anything.  In doing so, and this is assuming the marketer is at least halfway decent, you’ll start to see retargeting ads all over the web.  Pay attention to what they look like, where they appear, what types of messaging and offers they include.

Also, again assuming the marketer has some level of sophistication, they will have a different set of emails that they send to buyers vs. non-buyers.  And so by only buying, you miss out on all those non-buyer emails.  Given that 95% of people who hit your site won’t convert, your ability to remarket to them is crucial.  Most people only focus on banner / Facebook retargeting ads, but forget about email (on multiple levels).  So go thru a competitor’s funnel and make sure you submit an email address.  Then give it a week or two to see what you get hit with.

(Quick note, the easiest way to know which emails are for buyers and non-buyers is to use a feature in Gmail most people aren’t aware of.  By simply adding “+” and whatever words you want, you essentially have an infinite number of email addresses to use, all hitting your inbox.  For example, if your email is bob@gmail.com, then you can use bob+amazonbuyer@gmail.com and bob+amazonnonbuyer@gmail.com as your email addresses and those will all go to the same place.  Then just set up a custom filter and custom label.  The emails will end up with tags that will help you identify them quicker than seeing what the actual email address was as each email comes in).

By the way, this approach of not buying can easily be applied in the offline world.  See what a sales rep does after you say no.  How do they try to overcome objections?  When do they call you back? Do they send emails.  Clearly, there’s a lot more variability by sales rep in most companies, and it’s much costlier – both for you and for the other party – so much so that you may not want to do it. (Not to mention getting on someone’s list and receiving an email is much cheaper than having a sales rep call you back – I prefer not to do the latter, but you have to make your own decisions.)

My point is that research is research – it’s just the process and media that might be a bit different.

  1. Remember that the marketer might be testing something new.  

Good marketers know that they need to be testing all the time.  Unfortunately, you can’t know whether you’re in a test cell or in a control version of someone’s funnel.  As such, you may be in an experience that they are testing out – buyer or non-buyer – and so need to keep a healthy sense of paranoia as you’re doing competitive research. You might even need to go thru it a couple times (as a buyer and non-buyer, depending on how good you think they are).

The reality is that you shouldn’t accept and immediately implement anyone’s funnel.  You don’t know their business model inside and out.  They may be optimizing for revenues, for breakeven, or for a metric that means nothing to you.  Who knows?  So that paranoia should be in place even if you knew for certain you were in a control experience.  The point is to see some new things and then figure out how you might want to test for your business.

Neither one of these strategies is rocket science.  Behave like a buyer as well as a non-buyer.  You’re not looking for the info about a data set of 1.  You’re looking for what the 100s and 1,000s of visitors to your site do.  And then just be slightly paranoid because you be part of a test your competitor is running.  Be thoughtful and careful about trusting that what you experience is actually working.

Just as you read books from folks you admire, to learn from the experience and wisdom, so too should you do what you can to learn from those around you in the marketplace.

What mistakes have you made or have you seen others make? Leave a comment below.

“Talk to My Supervisor”


Those might be some of the most frustrating words you can hear.

Usually because whatever you’ve said to elicit that comment wasn’t a point of praise.  I can almost guarantee it was a criticism or a complaint.   Think about it – would someone ever tell you to talk to their supervisor if it was something positive? Of course not.

And whether it was those exact words, or something similar, it’s likely that everyone has heard those unbelievably frustrating words at some point.

They wreak of bureaucracy, of governmental inefficiency.  Honestly, they sound like something you’d hear at the DMV (note to the DMV: please don’t make me stand in an (even) longer line just for typing those words…even though they are likely true).

But what is it about those words that drives us crazy?

  1. Whether we are polite or rude, when we are unhappy about our situation, we want someone to take action. To say something to help. Heck, we just want someone to *pretend* like they care or are doing something.  “Talk to my supervisor” doesn’t even humor us for just how apathetic and inactive it shows us the other person is.
  2. Said supervisor is rarely around. They are usually “in the back over there” or dealing with another annoyed individual so you’ll have to wait your turn.  And even then, on the off chance you actually encounter the supervisor, you realize that the supervisor has no ability to do anything anyways.
  3. And that is where you realize that it’s not the individual, but rather the organization or system you are stuck in. That place has no accountability.  That role is reserved for the “they” – and no one really knows who “they” is (or is it “are”?).  The entities where these painful words are uttered are bastions of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and pain for the consumer.
  4. Most annoyingly, usually the person saying those words has spoken them countless times before. It’s almost like the words roll off their tongue.  As if they are so resigned to their lot, as if they just don’t want to hear it anymore.  As if I should be questioning why I even opened my mouth.

Here’s the kicker.  The attitude and culture of “talk to my supervisor” isn’t reserved for government offices.  It happens every day in companies, but just under a different expression:

“That’s what I was told was decided at the meeting a couple weeks ago.” (passive voice intentional)

“I got an email that said we shouldn’t be doing things outside the box.”

“What do you mean?” Followed by utter silence

And my all-time favorite:

“The CEO said to do it.”

It’s no wonder that the number one characteristic that top managers are hiring for is pro-activeness.  Because it doesn’t show up that often.  But also because of what it reflects:

-Someone actually thinking (I could just stop here, but I’ll go on)

-Not waiting to be told what to do

-Some semblance of leadership skill (note that is not the same thing as management skill)

-A desire to make a positive impact (assuming the idea is halfway reasonable)

-An action-orientation

-Presumably the right amount of impatience

Certainly there’s plenty of discussion to be had why the lack of initiative is so prevalent in companies.  This, despite that companies typically operate more efficiently than government entities.  People don’t like to stir the pot or draw attention to themselves, laziness, or politics.

And those cultural norms need to be addressed.

In particular, because this type of behavior is probably present in your organization, far beyond whatever level you think it exists today.  And I’d posit that it’s more costly than certain failed strategic initiatives because it lives each day in the organization and is impossible to be compartmentalized.

But it has to get rooted out if you want to have a great organization.  Which could include doing one or more of the following:

-Creating a culture of accountability – where single individuals hold accountability for key areas of a business (nothing is worse for getting something done than having 2 or more people supposedly assigned to it)

-Building a coalition, if you will, of people who will marshall the cause of change and proactivity

-Taking a stand for what you do and don’t accept.  And that often happens in the moment, when either because of time or even social etiquette, it is more difficult to take action.

-Making changes to staff when the desired behaviors aren’t displayed.

-Figuring out what your version “Undercover Boss” is. (By the way, I love that show because of how it gets regular employees to put their guard down, so you see who they really are, both negative and positive.)

So yes, we all go crazy when we hear those almost-insulting words of “Talk to my supervisor.”  But let’s also not be so delusional to think that that culture and thinking is confined to wherever you associate it.

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere.  And any organization that wants to be considered “great” has to take proactive steps (there’s that word again) to eliminate, or at least minimize the apathy, lack of leadership, and an overall sense of “it’s not my responsibility” in your organization.

And if you need any additional further motivation, just imagine if one of your employees said their version of “Talk to my supervisor” to your customers…

How to Add Value When You Know Nothing

If you’re struggling with how to add value at your company, then at every meeting you go to, be the person who takes notes and sends them out to everyone who was at the meeting.  Be sure to include what specific decisions were made, what the next steps are, and most importantly, who the single person who is accountable for any follow-up items.  And if you’re unclear about any of these, most likely someone (or everyone) else is as well. Don’t let the meeting end without asking (translation: demanding) for clarification.

And then here is the kicker, check back after the appropriate period of time to see if what was supposed to happen afterwards actually did happen.

There is are an immeasurable number of meetings that happen each day where the ball gets dropped because a) people weren’t clear about who was supposed to do what; and b) people just didn’t get done what they were supposed to do.

So there you go – you can know nothing about a business and can still add massive value.

By the way, if you don’t have someone in your org or in specific meetings who is assigned to do this (whether you, a project manager, note taker, assistant, intern, chief of staff, or your spouse), it might be one of the highest ROI roles you can fill.  And as you can tell, they don’t even know about your business to be effective in this role.

But watch out, they may start to learn your business and who gets stuff done – better than anyone else. You might even need to find a new role (gasp!) for them as you learn what more they can do.

Luckily, the next person you have to hire to replace them doesn’t need to know much about your business to be effective…


What’s Your “Unfair Advantage”?

What's Your "Unfair Advantage"?


A good friend who recently started a business is getting preferential treatment from her vendors.  They have given her low minimum order quantities and generous payment terms on her orders.  Both are typically reserved for customers with significant history and volume.

Frankly, it’s almost not fair that she gets these terms while others don’t.

To be clear, there is nothing happening that is remotely illegal.  At the end of the day, these types of decisions a vendor makes are business decisions.

But there’s more to the story…

My friend has been working in the same industry as her startup for the past 10 years.  Her business partner’s family business has even more years of experience in the industry.

They both have history. They both have relationships.  And good ones at that.

And because they are using the same vendors as her partner’s family business, the startup is essentially piggy-backing on the trust built over time.

These two entrepreneurs knew this going in.  And frankly, that’s a big part of why they decided to take the leap.

They knew that they had to manage their cash carefully.  These two also knew that they had an advantage many others don’t. They didn’t have to buy as much as everyone else (less upfront risk), and they didn’t have to pay as quickly for what they did purchase (favorable payment terms).

But I’ll be honest.

I was kind of annoyed when I first heard this.

Very quickly, that annoyance turned to admiration and respect.

“Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.”  Especially when not everyone has ‘em, right?

The reality is that anyone starting a new business should try to leverage their own unfair advantages as much as possible.

Some people know how to code.

Some know how to build websites.

Some have a ton of relationships.

Some are really good at sales.

Some are just really smart.

And some know they can outwork everyone else in their industry.

When you marry those unfair advantages with passion and competence, that’s when risk goes down and the chances of success dramatically increase.

In fact, risk management is a skill most entrepreneurs don’t get enough credit for.  Most people view entrepreneurs as risk-takers.  And certainly most entrepreneurs are more tolerant of risk than the average individual.

But very few people talk about how well entrepreneurs manage that risk.

Maybe they start small and build slowly.

Maybe their model has multiple ways of evolving such that if one path doesn’t work, there are other ways to go.

Maybe they start a business where they have a lot of history and relationships.  Which in turn leads to decreasing the financial constraints on their business.

And then for some, it’s not maybe.  It’s real.  They manage their risk by knowing they have what many people would term an unfair advantage.

When in reality it’s knowing what you got and being smart about using it.

This isn’t to say that people can’t and haven’t had success in entirely new industries or roles.

But if you could dramatically reduce your risk and increase your chances of success, why wouldn’t you?

So what’s your unfair advantage and are you leveraging it to its max?


Please leave a comment below because I’d like to hear what you think. 

You can also follow me on social media or connect with me directly by clicking the links to the left.  

Fear Not the Numbers: Learn from a Quant Guy How to Hire an Analyst

Fear Not the Numbers: Learn from a Quant Guy How to Hire an Analyst

The best interview question I’ve ever asked…

“How would you find a needle in a haystack?”

I’ll come back to that in a second…

It’s no secret I’m a fan of making sure you have an analyst on your team.  I harp on it so much not simply because it’s my background and I’m biased.  The role provides real value to a business but seems to be one of the most overlooked ones.

One of the obstacles I’ve found from friends and clients is that they don’t know what exactly to look for.  “Analyst” is a broad term and just because someone says they can run reports or knows how to use Excel doesn’t make them the right person for your company.

“I don’t know what I’ll even do with the reports when we get them”

If you’re reading this, that means you have the desire to improve your business.  So trust me when I say that you and your team will quickly realize how much better you understand your business with reports (and I’m not even talking about hard-core analyses yet).

You’ll figure out how to use it.

I’ve built multiple high-performing analytics’ teams and have seen what works and what doesn’t.

To that end, below is a breakdown of what to look for and how to hire an analyst.

  1. Comp
  2. What Do I need in Place Before Hiring Somebody
  3. What to Screen For – Personality
  4. What to Screen For – Technical Skills
  5. What’s Not Required
  6. Red Flags
  7. What Additional Training to Provide
  8. What in particular to keep in mind with these roles
  9. Screening, Interview Questions and Assignments
  10. Sample Job Description

(Click on the links above to jump to that section)



Let’s get this out of the way first since those who haven’t hired an analyst before are worried about how much the role is going to cost them.  (This, despite my strong feeling that the role will ROI very quickly and will become one of those you ask yourself how you did without.)

As with everything, the range depends on experience and where you are.

Here in Los Angeles, I’ve hired folks straight out of college for $45K-$50K and seen more experienced folks at $150K.

There are several factors that play into how senior you hire, but you don’t have to go big right off the bat.  I’d say at $60K-$70K you should be able to get someone pretty decent, possibly a manager level.

What Do I Need in Place Before Hiring Somebody

Data integrity is the key to anything quantitative.  It sounds obvious, but the reality is that most people don’t spend nearly as much time as necessary making sure their data is good.  They think because they have an InfusionSoft integration or are using a high-end Oracle BI tool, that the data is good.

Or that they understand their data.  Meaning, they assume their definition of something, like “sales”, is what the report is spitting out.  When I was at Beachbody, I used to say that there were at least 5 different definitions of sales – Gross sales, shipped sales, net sales (after returns), wholesale, sales net of commissions – and so when someone described sales, we had to have a short conversation to make sure we were speaking the same language.

To that end, if you know your data is bad, plan on one of the first responsibilities for the analyst role to be to dig in to understand and work with IT to clean it up.

If you think your data is good, unless you’ve spent a ton of time cleaning it up, you probably are not aware of where the issues are.  And you’ll need some clean-up.  Just be prepared for some of this work to need to happen.

By the way, every organization has data integrity issues.  Perfect data doesn’t exist.  There is no company where you simply press a button and out comes a perfect report.  Annoying? Yes.  Relief to some who are frustrated with their issues? Sure.  A reason to throw your hands up and do nothing? Absolutely not.

What to Screen For – Personality

  • Intellectual Curiosity – one of the top 2 personal characteristics I think this role needs.  It’s intellectual curiosity that drives someone to question, to dig in, to be frustrated by not understanding something and digging in even further.  This role is all about curiosity.
  • Attitude – probably the single most factor for success in any role.  If this role is new to your organization, that means they are a guinea pig, so they need to know that.  They also need to be able to persevere through bad data.
  • Attention to detail – What the job is about.  Here’s how I screen for this trait.  At the beginning of the job description, write IN ALL CAPS to read the entire job description as it contains important info.  And then halfway down the job description, ask candidates to put a specific word in the subject line.  It’s the fastest way to filter out people, which is one of the biggest challenges in recruiting (just like knowing which hands to fold in poker).
  • Comfortable with unclear goals / targets – Most of the time, you and they don’t know what you’re looking for.  It might be, “Here’s a bunch of data. Tell me what you find.”  Which is why those annoying consulting questions actually have some value.  (My favorite question was, “How would you find a needle in a haystack.”  See the bottom of this post for some of the best responses I’ve heard.  You can answer for yourself before scrolling down.)

What to Screen For – Technical Skills

  • Excel – an analyst who can’t navigate in Excel is essentially useless.  See below for my test I used to give interview candidates.  (One random question I’d also throw in would be to ask them what % zoom their Excel is in their current job – 100% is used by non-analysts, anyone doing anything meaningful is probably around 75%-85%.  Geeky but true.)
  • Microsoft Access – not a deal-killer for me.  I didn’t learn Access for years and only a select few on my teams used it.  A nice-to-have but if the individual knows Excel, they can figure out Access if necessary.
  • Critical and analytical thinking – again, the core of what the role is about.  In terms of resume screening, I look for something on the resume that indicates analytical ability – previous roles, engineering / math degrees, or perhaps a random but related hobby.  But there has to be some base level of analytical ability.  Training on the business versus training on the technical side are two completely different things.  Personally, I don’t really care much about where they went to school – good candidates come from everywhere.

What’s Not Required

  • Specific knowledge about your business or industry – clearly dependent on the role and your company, but if the individual is a smart analyst, they’ll figure out how to add value and dig in to your business pretty quickly.  Don’t ding someone because they haven’t worked in your industry before.
  • Management skills – analysts typically aren’t managers.  And your first one or two don’t even need to have management potential.  Focus on what they’ll be doing.  Not what you might have them do in 3 years.

Red Flags

  • The “Strategic” candidate – some candidates will say they are really interested in being strategic and want to help affect company strategy.  To the point where you get tired of hearing the word.  (Usually most prevalent in recent MBA grads – this from a Stanford guy so I’m mocking my own here…)  The issue is that these folks don’t want to roll up their sleeves and live in Excel for a while.  The bummer is they miss the point that everything is in the details.  And that the more in the weeds they are, the better they will understand the business. And thus, the more strategic they can and would be.
  • Complete inability to communicate – This role is admittedly a bit geeky.  Okay, a lot geeky.  Unlike some copywriters who can get away with being socially awkward introverts, analysts need to have decent communication skills.  Or you need someone on the team who can communicate with them effectively.  Copywriters at least have a communication style that works for them.  Finding an analyst who can’t communicate in any medium is a disaster you need to avoid.

What Additional Training to Provide

  • Technical – honestly, if you’ve screened correctly, there should be much technical training required initially.  Over time, they may want or need some advanced Excel training or even Access and SQL.
  • Communication – again, I would do this on day 1, but getting your analyst some communication and / or presentation training may not be a bad idea
  • Books to read – “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath.  One of my all-time favorite books.  It’s about how to get ideas to stick.  There are several sections that apply to people who go deep on something and then have to share their learnings – essentially what analysts have to do.

What in particular to keep in mind with these roles

  • Most analysts are cerebral types, and as I mentioned above, likely introverts.  As such, they may not always initiate issues and concerns.  So you have to be more proactive in making sure they are doing okay.
  • Take them to meetings – obvious to some, not so much to others.  Analysts want to be appreciated and know that their work is of value.  The best way is to be in a meeting where they are presenting their work or if they aren’t ready for prime-time, at least where their work is being discussed.
    • Note, to the extent people start making decisions based on the reports, you’ll want the analyst in there anyways to make sure conclusions are correct.  It’s also just smart to do so.
    • Get them the fastest computers in the company and really nice monitors.  Just do it.  They’ll feel special.  And it actually helps them be more efficient, especially the added processing power.
    • Typically these folks like a quieter environment but unless you have a super raucous environment, I think it’s better to have them in the middle of things – they’ll learn faster through osmosis and will start sharing things real-time.

Screening, Interview Questions and Assignments

I have found that 3 different visits in-person works the best – the first is an initial screen of 25 minutes, the second is more extensive, and the third is really to make sure both parties do in fact like each other and feel there is a fit.

As mentioned above, one of the keys to the recruiting process is filtering out as many unqualified and frankly lazy applicants as quickly and efficiently as possible.  That’s why, in the section above on “attention to detail”, I suggest having applicants put a specific word in the subject line of the email.  Immediately, 30%-50% of the applicants will be filtered out.  And using a rule in your mail provider, voila…

Next, I typically do an Excel test in a 2nd round interview (see link below), but you can do part or all of this remotely and have them email you the results.  I wouldn’t worry about “cheating” because again, you’re looking to filter people out if they aren’t willing to make the effort.  And then I would do an in-person test as well if you want.

The in-person interview questions really aren’t rocket science – it’s about trying to get a feel for the person, do they display a history of intellectual curiosity, do they have a good attitude, are they a cultural fit, etc.  The Excel test is a big tool for filtering on real skill, plus it gives a candidate a sense of the type of work they’ll be doing.

In terms of questions, etc., here is a list of what I work through:

  • The first question I ask every candidate in any role is what they like doing and want to be doing professionally.  (If you don’t add “professionally”, you can set yourself up for legal issues – but professionally is fine.)
    • I like broad questions initially because how someone answers tell you a lot about themselves.
    • Obviously if they are straight out of college, I’d go with a “tell me about your favorite class or activity”
    • This question can surprise many candidates because they are in “why I want this job” or “how do I impress this interviewer mode”
    • The intent is actually to put people at ease so they can talk about themselves in a broader way
  • What about what you’ve read or heard about this role is exciting to you?
    • This is both to see what research they’ve done and to get a continued sense of their communication style.  Plus, they better be talking about their desire to dig in to data to find stuff.
  • Why do you think you would be good in this role?
  • What kind of things do you read? Tell me about a book, article, etc. that you read recently that you really liked.
    • These go to intellectual curiosity
  • I’ll also throw in one of the consulting-type questions
    • How would you find a needle in a haystack?
    • Can you talk me through how you would go about estimating the number of gas stations in LA
    • Note – I know many people find these annoying.  But afterwards I’ll explain to candidates that the reason I ask them is because they are indicative of the work they’ll be doing.  Sometimes it feels like you are actually trying to find a needle in a haystack.  Sometimes you don’t have clear direction and so how they approach solving these questions gives a glimpse into how they think on their feet.
  • How do you think about the next 12-18 months of your career
    • I never liked 5 years out because who knows.  But 12-18 months is manageable for most people.
  • What other opportunities are you considering
    • Somewhat obvious, but I like to know that people are looking at roughly similar roles elsewhere

Sample Job Description

Strategy Analyst (Note, I like adding Strategy in the title because it usually draws in a broader group, but if you know exactly what you’re looking for – a web analyst, marketing analyst, etc., use what you feel is best)


This individual will be responsible for building reports and creating models and analyses to support the day-to-day decisions of the company.

The ideal candidate will not simply be a “number cruncher” but one who both wants to gain operational exposure and can think strategically beyond the basic work that needs to get done.   Intellectual curiosity, analytical thinking, and a great attitude are keys to success in this role.

This individual in this unique position will learn about the inner workings of the Company and will become a provider of crucial information to help guide the company.

Primary Responsibilities

  • Provide quantitative analysis to support the Company’s operating efforts
  • Design reports to track financial metrics as well as operational metrics
  • Create analyses using disparate data sources and large volumes of detailed data, often starting from scratch
  • Translate the results of an analysis into easily understood presentation quality materials
  • Provide input through business modeling and pro forma analyses to support strategic decision-making in day-to-day operations and new programs
  • Proactively identify and evaluate strategic and operational opportunities and provide recommendations for potential solutions
  • Provide regular reporting and analysis on key sales and marketing metrics, including sales force analytics, trends, etc.
  • Perform exploratory data analyses that helps the company better understand the customer and present findings to both technical and non-technical audiences


  • 4-year degree in a related field
  • Minimum of 2-3 years as an analyst in a finance environment / investment banking role
  • MBA preferred but not required
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Inquisitive mind with superior intellectual and quantitative analysis capabilities
  • Strong proficiency with Excel
  • Knowledge of Microsoft Access and SQL are a huge plus
  • Ability to thrive in a new and unstructured position
  • Ability to balance multiple projects at once
  • Flexible team player who is looking to thrive in a fast-growing and often-times uncertain environment
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Self-starter with a willingness to take a hands-on approach to data analysis


Link to View and Download Interview File

Click Here to Get the File


My Favorite Answers to the Question:

“How would you find a needle in a haystack?”

  • Best example of stopping to ask questions before you go on a goose chase: How big is the needle and how big is the haystack?
  • 2nd best example of asking questions:  What tools and resources do I have available to me to find the needle?
  • Thinking unlike how most people think:  I would send an email to the company or my team asking if anyone has solved this problem before (most people think they have to solve the problem entirely by themselves)
  • Best example of a pyromaniac:  I’d burn all the hay and then look thru what’s left to find the needle
  • From a CEO:  I would delegate to the CFO (exactly what the CEO is supposed to do)
  • From my sister:  How important is that specific needle, because if it’s not that important, I would just go to the store or amazon to get one

Please leave a comment below because I’d like to hear what you think. 

You can also follow me on social media or connect with me directly by clicking the links to the left.  

2 Areas that can Most Impact Your Business

2 Areas That Can Most Impact Your Business

“What are the 1 or 2 key levers that can move my business?” I’ve gotten this question several times this week.  My process of working with folks to know the key levers in their particular business is a bit more involved than a simple answer.  And I’ll be posting that process soon.

But in the interests of simplifying it down to 2 buckets, I’d say that it comes down to focusing in on these two areas:

  1. Customer Success
  2. Cash

There are nuances to each of these.  They can be at odds with one another at times.

But at the end of the day, are you doing everything you can to increase the chances of success for your customers?  What about the magnitude of that success?

And are you following the cash?  Are you maximizing revenues, cutting down expenses, and managing cash effectively (see my post here).


Customer Success

Some businesses call them customers. Some call them clients.  Others, unfortunately, have bad names for them.  (For simplicity sake, I’m going to refer to them as customers and will speak in the context of a product, even though it could also be a service.) But there is a reason these people have paid you money, bought your product, signed up for your list, come to see you speak, etc.  Or maybe they have expressed interest and they haven’t converted.

There is a problem they want you to help them solve.  So take a look at what you’re doing and ask yourself, “Are we doing everything we can to support success for our customers?”

Whatever your brand promise, does your product do what you say it’s going to do? When you talk with customers and solicit feedback from them (you do talk with your customers, right?), what do they like most about what you provide and what are their pain points? These are very easy places to start.

Then look a layer deeper to how customers experience your product:

  • Do you make it difficult / painful to order?
  • What is the emotion after ordering (hopefully slightly better than when people get their driver’s license renewed at the DMV)?
  • How long does it take from the time they order to the time they receive your product or gain access to it?
  • Do customers have access to information about the status if there is a lag? (Ever been to a restaurant and wondered if they had to go find a chicken to lay an egg to make your omelet?)
  • If it’s a SaaS product, what is the onboarding experience like (here is a great breakdown of various products – https://www.useronboard.com/onboarding-teardowns/ )


You’ll notice that none of these have to do with the customer actually using the product or service.  But they are experiencing your business. And if you are making the process before they get to the product or service miserable, you are affecting their mindset which is going to affect their experience.  If you screw up the ordering and the wait, you are messing up the product.  A product has to be off-the-charts amazing to make up for a crap experience prior to getting it.  (Going back to the restaurant analogy, ever waited so long for a drink to arrive, that when it does you say, “I don’t even want it anymore?”)

Once a customer begins using the product:

  • Are the instructions clear? (My son just got a Gorilla Gym –  looks super cool.  Except the written instructions are atrocious. I need to watch a video but didn’t have a computer next to me, which means it’s been sitting on a table for 3 days.)
  • If a customer has questions, is it clear where they should go? Is it clear how long it takes to get a response? Is that promise met?
  • If something breaks, how miserable do you make the experience to fix or replace it?
  • What else does a customer need to use your product? (“Batteries not included?” Grrrrrrr.  Or, ever bought something with a triple-prong for the outlet but your extension cord only has 2 prongs? Friggin’ drives me crazy.  And I still don’t know why some products need 3 vs. 2.  And frankly, I don’t care. I just want to be able to plug it in.)
  • If I want to return your product or cancel the service, do you make it difficult? Or worse yet, do you offer me a better deal than I already had? (Mobile carriers and cable companies do this all the time – why does it take me saying I’m leaving for you to give me a better deal?)


Here’s the thing about these types of issues – some of them are zero cost and some of them will require investment.  And I’m not saying that you should literally do everything that someone can dream up to support a customer.  Much of this stems from your brand promise.  If you’re a personal trainer, I’m not saying you should get in the food delivery business.  But it might not be crazy for you to partner with a food delivery company, HealthyOut for example, to suggest to your clients?

And remember, the question was about originally about identifying key levers in your business.  This is more about the fact that if you focus on your customer’s success, you’ll likely find some key levers.



Sounds like an obvious area.  But sometimes it’s about realizing that you don’t need to make things more complicated than they need to be.

What generates cash?  What costs you cash?  What are you doing to manage cash?

And yes, I’m aware that the above section on Customer Success may cost you cash.  Or it may cost you cash, in the short term.  But you make it up with lower returns, stronger brand loyalty and word of mouth in the longer term.

Focusing on cash isn’t necessarily the yin to the Customer Success yang.  But rather it’s another lens through which to look at your business.

  • How much are you generating from customers? Have you maximized revenues?  (Note, you might maximize revenues at the expense of customer experience – I’m not saying one is right or wrong.  Just be aware.)
  • Many times, your customer would actually like to give you more money.  Russell Brunson did a great podcast on this recently – http://goo.gl/G886vh.  He gave one example of wishing his pool cleaning company would’ve picked up on his question about replacing his pool filter by offering to do it for him.
    • Or perhaps you sell a 30-day supply of a protein powder.  Do you actually email the customer on day 27, or ever for that matter, reminding them that they are likely running low on the powder.  And if they just click the button below, they can re-order? By the way, this nicely falls under the Customer Success bucket as well.  Always nice when it fits under both.
    • While offering installment plans may actually lead to some bad debt, do you generate more customers by doing so? The answer is likely yes.
    • Do your sales reps – whether on the phone or in a physical store – know enough to suggest a complementary item to what a customer is already purchasing?  Suggesting a really cool belt to go with the shoes I just bought doesn’t have to be an intrusion.  In fact, many people would appreciate the guidance.   And voila, you’ve increased cash.  And increased Customer Success.

What about expenses:

  • If you’re a growing company, when was the last time you revisited pricing from your vendors?
  •  Is there a vendor that is now available to you with your increased scale that wasn’t available to you previously?  It’s all relative.  Whether you do $1,000, $100K or $10MM per month, you should have someone accountable for reviewing expenses and pricing every quarter, especially when you’re growing.  One of the biggest challenges growing companies face is behaving like a bigger and grown-up company.  Too often expenses and vendor pricing are the big areas overlooked.
  • Take a look at your company credit card (or your personal one for that matter).  I’m guessing there are a host of services with recurring billing that you don’t use anymore.  Take the 15 minutes and cancel them.
  • UberX vs. Uber Black Car – there’s being penny-wise and pound foolish.  And then there’s just no need to spend more.  Both options are clean and will get you where you want to go.

There’s also simply cash management:

  • If you prepaid your vendors, or had tighter terms, would they give you a discount? Maybe that $35 wire is worth incurring.  Or maybe you just need to bring a bit more cash into that bank account to get the wire fees waived?
  • Have you asked for terms from your vendors? Sure, the 0.2% interest you get on your cash may not seem like much, but it’s always nice to have more cash in the bank longer.  And I’ve found that when you start paying attention to these little things, more little things catch your eye.  And those lotta littles start adding up.


At the end of the day, a business should serve customers and generate cash. (I’ll ignore both Amazon which has a heavy reinvestment strategy and venture-backed companies which have a different philosophy for the moment.  These are by far the exceptions rather than the rule on how most businesses operate.)

Make sure you are helping your customers succeed.

Follow the cash.

You’ll likely find plenty of gaps and opportunities.

And you should hopefully build a better business in doing so.


Please leave a comment below because I’d like to hear what you think. 

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