Provide the tools, vision, structure, discipline and consistency to flawlessly execute your game plan.

It's been said that any football team in the NFL is capable of soundly thrashing any other team on any given Sunday. The aggregate physical talents of every team are that close to the others. The difference, then, is in the attention to detail in preparing and executing each week's game plan. The same holds true in business - especially sales-related businesses. Providing the tools, vision, structure, discipline and consistency required to flawlessly execute your game plan is management's primary responsibility in business today. The days when you could fake it until you make it are long gone! When your game plan is properly built and executed, adding value becomes a natural by-product. Moreover, your customers will see and benefit from the visible professionalism that comes from your having a plan and working it!

Taking the expedient way may be human nature. However, when your expedience doesn't add value in the customers' eyes, it automatically detracts from it!

In the past months, we've discussed adding value through objectively surveying your operation and knowing your threats. Common sense, maybe, but things change in the marketplace and you need an objective look, regularly. We've also looked at reviewing and reinforcing your value-adds with your staff, while making sure those value-adds are real differentiators. We suggested that you make sure that your internal controls and processes aren't visible irritants to customers, likening such irritants to a visit to your local DMV. We discussed making certain that your product offering was rationalized, assuring that it represents the best choice for your customers and you. Then, we discussed questioning tradition. Just because something has “always been done that way” doesn't mean it is still the best way for you or your customers. We explored the notion of adding value through offering specialized support, even if that support is partly or completely funded by the manufacturers you represent. And, we discussed differentiating your business through the use of technological advancements, like bar code scanning, to operate more efficiently, adding value by reducing costs. This and other value-adds like shipping products directly from the manufacturer to the buyer - saving both cost and delivery time - can be very visible value-adds to customers.

The point is that regardless of what value you decide to add for your customers, the fact that you assess your situation and make a conscious decision to differentiate yourself will begin to show immediate benefit.

Best Practices

This month's best practices deal with management of your distribution business.

13. Actively shop your competition.

Few of us would hesitate to say that we are the best at what we do. But, in reality, do you know that for sure? Do you know the size of the advantages you hold over your competition? Is that advantage, if it's really there, shrinking or growing? The power of positive thinking is one thing, but assuming you are the “best” without regular verification is like running a Nascar race with one eye closed.

Shop your competition. There are many ways to accomplish shopping. Have a friend, relative or unrecognized employee approach your competitors and attempt to do business with them. I'm not suggesting that you waste a lot of your time or theirs, or that this shopping process be very elaborate. But simply obtaining competitors' price sheets doesn't provide any insight into the way they do business or the specific value-adds they provide. Do you really know why some customers prefer your competition to you? Before you answer with a reflexive “YES,” please realize that my next questions will be “How do you know?” and “What if you're wrong?”

14. Demand excellence from yourself and those around you!

Throughout my days of working with Process Engineering, I've often wondered how much productivity is wasted annually by employees performing only to the minimum level required to remain employed. Those of you who are NFL fans, like me, will recognize the example of the 2003 Dallas Cowboys, who are performing at a much higher level this year, with essentially the same roster as last year. Their quarterback, who was simply dreadful in the past, is now one of the league's top performers. What happened? They brought in a new head coach, who absolutely demands excellence.

The greatest value-add you can offer your customers is to demand excellence from your entire staff. Nothing adds value like dealing with a competent, dedicated professional. It's certainly not the only value you should offer, but it should be the centerpiece.