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  Special Feature

Your Business on the Back of an Envelope

Posted 07/1/2012

By Dick Cross

The scene: Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport … past midnight … waiting for the last plane out … you know the scene. In the dim light of Gate 33. Twisted torsos in sticky blue vinyl seats awaiting the ultimate horror: three hours in a middle seat, meant for cargo, not human beings.

But not me. I’m fully caffeinated. And I am wired! Over the next three hours I have to figure out whether the business I’ve paid handsomely to visit that week warrants investment. And I’m not too sure how to get that done.

Settling in under the glow of the yellow-ish overhead light, I start to sketch – instinctual from my undergraduate training in architecture. What appeared on my yellow pad that night was the back of a No. 10 envelope.

  • In the right triangle I wrote Customers. Not how we usually think about them … by demographics. How many live within a 12-mile radius, average income, kids, vehicles they drive, education, dogs, cats and the like. Rather, I started jotting down what I’d learned about how that business’s customers thought. In broad terms. What was important to them? Beyond what this company sold? What did they care about most in their lives? And what might make them feel best?
  • Across the envelope in the left triangle I wrote Needs. Which of the things that were most dear to its customers could the company do something about? To help them over a fear. Or to make them feel better about themselves? This line of thought led me way beyond the customary boundaries of the products of a business. Into things that were only slightly relevant to what that business actually sold. And even into others that were entirely unrelated. Except for the opportunity that might exist for the company I’d visited, by virtue of the touch of the transaction, to do something special for them.

At that moment I started to see patterns. For doing things, in addition to what the business always had done for its customers, that might help them with a fear, or make them feel better about themselves and build their loyalty. Turning them from average customers into zealots. Who might attract others.

  • Shifting to the triangle at the top, I hurriedly wrote Positioning. How would the company need to be seen by its customers and by its greater community to become their unarguable first choice? Could there be an adaptation of its current persona that would present the business as something more? More directly related to the things its customers cared about most?
  • Racing to the triangle at the bottom I completed the picture with the word Competencies. Did the business have the resources, and could it mobilize them to deliver on the idea hatched through the sequence of thinking differently about Customers, Needs and Positioning?

My first trip around the envelope didn’t make sense. Too grandiose a scheme for the realizable Competencies. But it was a solid step forward. By the fourth circuit through the logic I had something great. A way of looking at the business that was fresh, optimistic and that no one else had imagined.

I did great on Monday morning. The investor bought the business, executed my Back of the Envelope scheme and sold it three years later with an exceptional gain on sale, due to performance improvement, hatched late one night “on the Back of an Envelope.”

But most rewarding? The people running the business had turned into zealots too. They looked forward to getting to work every day. With my Back of the Envelope model in their heads. They gave their all. And they felt like their work was more than work. An enriching part of their lives. More of a service. And a calling.

You can do the same thing. With the same results. Starting on the Back of an Envelope!

Dick Cross

Dick Cross is the author of “Just Run It,” an Amazon best-seller. He is founder and managing principal of The Cross Partnership Ltd., and is a consultant and speaker. He may be reached at dickcross@crosspartnership.com. Follow Dick Cross on Twitter – @DickCross.

 

 

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