How Are You Filling Your Idea Pipeline?

I’ve just been reading a terrific new book called High-Profit Prospecting by my friend and colleague Mark Hunter. Mark is a consummate sales professional, and his book is about how to keep your sales pipeline full so that you never run out of valuable prospects.

I’m not a sales professional, but I am an idea professional. And, just like I think it’s vital for people in the sales business to keep their sales pipelines full, I think it’s equally vital for people in the idea business to keep their idea pipelines full.

By the way, as a leader, you are in the idea business.

In his book, Mark talks about the importance of not leaving prospecting to chance, not just waiting (and hoping) for prospects to fall into the pipeline. He says that a true sales professional should have weekly (preferably daily) dedicated prospecting time scheduled on the calendar. Because keeping the pipeline full is that important.

Likewise, leaders should schedule time weekly (preferably daily) to fill their idea pipeline. Because it’s that important.

So, how do you do this? Through four primary sources.

1. What you read.

There’s a reason why Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk read voraciously. They understand the value of keeping their mental pipeline full of new ideas.

“But I’m too busy to read, Bill.”

Really? Busier than Bill Gates? Because he’s pretty busy. And pretty rich. And he reads 50 books a year. I don’t think these are unrelated. So, I’m sorry-what’s your excuse again?

Schedule time to read. Every day, if possible. (And it is possible.) I’m not talking about Grisham and Patterson. They’re fine for the beach. Read about ideas. Read about things you don’t already know.

2. What you listen to.

To those of you who have horrendous commutes, congratulations! You’ve got a great opportunity to fill your idea pipeline! Instead of listening to the news (depressing), or the generic pop music station (mindless), why not try out one of the literally hundreds of great podcasts available? My guess is that there are at least a few podcasts out there for your particular field. Or, try one of my favorites, the TED Radio Hour podcast.

3. What you watch.

Although this probably won’t help you with your commute, there’s plenty to watch online-and some of it doesn’t involve kittens. For example, in addition to listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast, you can watch actual TED Talks Or, if you want something more in-depth and academic, Stanford University (among others) puts many of their courses online, absolutely free.

4. Who you meet.

I’ve saved the best for last. There are actual people out there, freely roaming the earth, who have knowledge, experiences, and ideas that you don’t have. They can be found in your town, in your workplace, sitting next to you on the plane or train. But here’s the caveat: if you only hang out with the same people you always hang out with, you’ll never meet these others. And that’s to your detriment, as a leader, and as a human being.

So fill your pipeline! Feed your brain continuously with new ideas. It’s the highest profit prospecting you can do.

15 Ways To Find The Next Winning Business Idea

In the last post I talked about what makes a great, profitable idea: for you. Now let’s talk about how to actually find that idea. I’ll also follow this up with how to get inspiration for your ideas. Even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, that’s fine-read on.

1. Take an existing business model and introduce it in a new location or industry. Instead of coming up with a brand new idea, why not take something that already works and implement it somewhere else? One American entrepreneur I talked to recently introduced the “agency” method of finding and managing professional baseball players to Japan. Before him, a large barrier separated talented players and professional ball clubs. Without inventing anything new, he took a successful business model and implemented it in Japan.

2. Take an existing idea to a related market. Likewise, you can take something that works in one market and introduce it to another.

3. Make an improvement to an existing product. You’re a consumer and have the opportunity to try all sorts of new products. See if you can make them better for yourself or others. Often a good resource for this is looking at customer reviews on such sites as Amazon.com. A useful tip: often times, simply making a better product is not the answer-try to see if you can make a cheaper product with less features to satisfy demand from a customer base that isn’t willing to spend as much and doesn’t need a top quality product (big companies often overlook this area). Read The Innovator’s Dilemma for more detail on this topic.

4. Create a brand new solution to a pain point in an industry. People love to complain. Go to forum boards in your business area of interest, read blog comments, and peruse Amazon.com product reviews. Listen to what people hate and develop a solution to their problems.

5. Pay attention to new trends. Don’t try to create something really cool that no one cares about. Go to where the buzz is and you’ll likely land more customers and investors. “Green technology,” “social networking,” “cloud computing…”- these are the areas that are growing the fastest and the companies within these industries need new solutions to their problems as they grow- just pay attention.

6. Figure out what the government is throwing money at. Governments (at least in the U.S. and Europe) are notorious for throwing away money at concepts they deem important but have no clue about (“climate change mitigation, anyone?”). All it takes is reading the newspaper to find out what kind of hot issues are prevailing so that you can find your niche.

7. Take something existing and put your own spin on it. What does Southwest Airlines do that U.S. Airways can’t? Nothing. If it weren’t for slight differences in service, airlines would be as similar and commoditized as coal. But Southwest chose to brand themselves as an airline that cared about customers, could make their lives less stressful by targeting less congested airports, and allowed them to choose their own seats. If they didn’t do this, they would be competing on price alone, and as a small entrant, they would get smashed by the big airlines.

8. Find out how to do something cheaper. If you can convince a CEO that her company’s spending $X thousand per month on a certain service but you can do the same thing for 50% of that with the same level of quality or better, you’ve got a business.

9. Talk to professors and read academic research on hot topics. Academics are infamous for coming up with brilliant ideas without recognizing or having the time to implement them into practical solutions. Visit some labs and interview some experts on an area of interest to you. Universities are often more than happy to supply you with the people you need to make the business happen (lawyers, VCs, experts).

10. Hobbies and passions. Need I say more? If you enjoy something enough, you probably know exactly what fellow hobbyists want.

11. Buy a business in an area of your expertise/passions. If you want to be in business but can’t come up with an idea, why not acquire an existing business in your area of expertise? You would presumably invest in something that is already proven and generating a cash flow. This offers a few benefits: it teaches you quickly how to operate one (although I would recommend having an industry mentor along the way) and it’s easier to finance because lending banks feel secure that it’s already proven.

12. Find untapped distribution networks. Distribution networks are ways for a company to get its products to its customers. A restaurant, for example, is a way for a wine company to distribute its bottles to paying customers. If you find distribution networks that may be good avenues for a product, however the product isn’t there, you may have found an opportunity to distribute a similar product, especially if demand is high.

13. Identify lazy incumbents. Incumbents are large companies that have sustaining, rather than accelerated growth in a market. Although they seem to set up insurmountable barriers to entry, their large size makes them inflexible and often lazy. They may forgo many new technologies, ignore customers, sacrifice quality, or be slow to capture social and fashion trends. If you can catch on faster and satisfy your customers’ hunger, you win.

14. Identify an existing idea/business that could use better branding, content, or service. It’s a sad thing that many great ideas die because people don’t like them or simply don’t get the opportunity to see them. If your talent is in branding products and making them more attractive, undervalued opportunities abound.

15. Add value to a process. A furniture manufacturer could use the help of a sawmill to take the chopped wood from lumberjacks and turn it into chairs and tables. Sure it could grow and cut its own trees and save money, but they may be better off paying a slight premium for the wood from the sawmill so that it can focus on what it does best-making furniture. Think about ways that you can add value in an industry’s value chain.

Inspiration for your idea

So these are some initial types of ideas, but you may want to brainstorm and drill down to what’s right for you. For that you’re going to need to be in the right state-one that gets you inspired and feeling creative. When are you at your most creative state? I want you to think about what type of setting you need to be in to have positive thought. Is it having water run down your back in a shower? Or are you like me and need the rumbling white-noise in a transatlantic flight to free your mind? Here are some more things/environments that may motivate you and allow the free flow of ideas: reading business books or autobiographies of successful entrepreneurs, brainstorming with other MBAs or entrepreneurs, attending conferences/seminars, taking baths, skiing, driving, free writing, drawing…and the list goes on. Good luck and get inspired!

Marketing Tips – Small Business Pricing

Pricing is a key determinant in the decision making process customers use to purchase your product or service as well as a key element in determining the profitability of your business. Setting a price for your product or service that appeals to your target market and encourages them to buy is therefore an essential part of your business and marketing strategy.

Before determining your pricing strategy for your business it is important to consider the following:

Your Customer

An effective marketing strategy begins and ends with your customer. It is therefore important to establish how much your customers are willing to pay for your product or service, how sensitive your customers are to changes in price and how price discounting will affect the level of demand and profitability of your business.

Your Product or Service’s Features and Benefits

Unless you have a product or service that offers a unique or additional benefit, and you can communicate this benefit adequately to your target market, if your price is too high you may price yourself out of the market. Look at the features and benefits your product or service offers and how they compare to your competitors. Remember the benefits you provide can either be physical, emotional or both. For example, some customers may see a high price as equalling high quality and are therefore willing to pay a premium.

The Cost of Doing Business

Before setting your price you need to determine what your small business must charge for its product or service in order for you to make and sustain a profit. Look at what the cost and expenses are of doing business and what price you will need to sell at to ensure these expenses are covered. Unless you have a sustainable cost advantage, if your price is too low, your sales volume may not generate enough revenue to cover the costs associated with your business.

The Market and Your Competitors

Your competitors play an important role when setting your pricing strategy. For example, there may be competitors nearby where customers can compare prices so you may need to price match. If it is hard for your customers to compare prices you may be able to charge a premium.

Distribution Channels

Some customers may expect to pay a different price for a product or service depending on which distribution channel they use. For example, if a customer purchases a product over the internet or by mail they may expect to pay a lower price due to the elimination of the middle person i.e. the retailer.

Life Cycle of Your Product or Service

At different stages of your product or service life cycle you may change your pricing strategy to suite your business needs. For example, when you are launching a new product or service you may adopt a low price strategy to encourage trial and repurchase of your product/service on a regular basis. Alternatively if your product or service has a unique point of difference or high cost of production you may charge a premium over your competitors. As your product or service grows in customer awareness and credibility you may be able to sustain a price increase. Alternatively as sales increase, your production costs may be reduced and you may be able to pass on some of these savings in a price reduction or regular promotional offers.

(c) Marketing for Business Success Pty Ltd 2008