Potential: Revealed

Strategic Thinking, Innovative Ideas, Growth Marketing, and Revealing of Potential

Archive for potential

Predictive Analytics: How it Works (#2)

In the first post about predictive analtyics we learned about the essential building block of predictive analytics: the predictor. This is a value calculated for each entity (say, a customer) who’s actions or behaviors are to be predicted – for instance the recency, in months, since a customer’s last purchase.

Prediction power is enhanced if you use more than one predictor at a time. In doing so you are creating a model. Models are the heart of predictive analytics. In this post I’ll discuss how you can find the “best” predictive model. I put “best” in quotes because from a practical standpoint, unless you assume unlimited time and resources you may be best off finding a model that improves your results (e.g., reduction in customer churn) over previous experience. Today there is available very powerful modeling software and well-trained and talented statisticians, but the number of variables to consider in any predictive model (across demographics, transactions, behaviors) can be extremely large making determination of the “best” model cost prohibitive.

Fortunately, taking an incremental, continuous improvement approach can yield solid results for most any business and the promise that results will improve over time. A common tool is to develop a yield curve. For example, plotting the results of a predictive model for churn with amount of churn on the Y axis and percentage of customers contacted in a retention campaign on the X axis will show a curve the decreases to a point — i.e., up to a certain percentage of a universe of customers contacted, attrition rates will fall — but will bottom out and then move upward. Meaning that not all customers will respond to a retention campaign and you are best off contacting only those predicted to respond well. After that point, you are best leaving the balance of the universe of customers alone – either because they are not likely to churn anyway or because the predictive models say campaigns to retain them will be unsuccessful (and possibly other methods are needed – along with models that might predict how these approaches can be equally tuned to expend effort on just those predicted to be successful).

Now, although the model does not work perfectly, the socring and ranking of customers according to their likelihood to be retained provides clear guidance on how to invest in retention programs to yield the best results. It will prevent campaigns to retain customers that are too aggressive (trying to retain those that are not likely to respond positively, or wasting effort on those that are likely to stay).

There is a great deal more to predictive analytics than I’ve covered in the past two posts. But I hope one message is clear: you can gain practical improvements in marketing results or other customer touch points through the use of analytics that don’t need to be complex (at least to start) nor perfect. Commitment, willingness to experiment and continuous improvement are what’s really required.

Thanks for reading and I’ll look forward to comments.

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Practical Strategy

True to my intent, I have written somewhat eclectically about discovering potential, looking ahead, thinking critically and objectively and wanted to get back to a business-oriented mode for a few posts.

Many organizations (and individuals!) are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with our current, unique and challenging circumstances. But they are also trying to plan for the future (with optimism that “this too shall pass” and wanting to be ready for the next set of opportunities and challenges). I applaud any form of optimism! And so, I have a practical tool for use in getting some strategic thinking and planning done, which seems especially useful in these times as an overdone, over-wrought approach will be overkill when “directionally correct” might be all that is needed until some of the uncertainties and issues of the current time pass. I would argue though that even in more certain times, the approach I’ll write about in this and subsequent posts is useful and gets most any organization beyond being stuck in the present and looking ahead with a critical and purposeful eye.

The approach I advocate is squarely focused on getting a specific vision and strategy down on paper — and will serve as a very powerful tool to also use in successive iterations (a critical component of the strategy process as a one-time vision and strategy exercise might not even be worth the effort).

What I also like about this approach is that it uses language and key words that were not “strategy double-speak” and won’t put off the executives and other participants who often tune out of a strategy exercise because of preconceived notions about strategy, consultants, etc. (i.e., “too complicated”, “too high level”, “not executable”).  

The approach also ensures completeness without being overly complex and strenuous as a management team exercise. I often say when about to embark on this process that I want the team to “work out”, not “wear out”, their thinking capacity.

I call it Practical Strategy because of the definition of the word “practical”: \ˈprak-ti-kəl\, adj., useful and no-nonsense.

There are two basic steps to the process, with the second working through and answering a series of questions. I’ll summarize the first step in this post, and then work through the second part and the questions in a couple of subsequent posts.  The first step is to articulate a long range vision for the business. This can sound too simple on the surface. A good vision is not just a statement that gets put onto posters, inside annual reports, or laminated on cards handed out to employees and customers. Getting it right is hard work but needn’t be a too-long effort. It must be clear, specific and define the place for the business to aspire reaching (but with no set time horizon). A test will be that a good vision statement can be decomposed and set the boundaries for and guide the answering of the subsequent questions in this exercise. If it fails this basic test, the vision is not practical and should be refined.

I’ll give an example. The practical vision for Domino’s Pizza: “Make and deliver a fresh, hot, high-quality pizza to the customer’s home within 30 minutes or less.” Several things:
– this makes clear what value is to be delivered – fresh, hot and high-quality. Any one of these may be sufficient, why choose all three? Knowing why make subsequent decisions about business model, operational strategies and so forth quite clear

– a key differentiator is articulated – 30 minutes or less (and in their advertising they backed this with a guarantee-or-free offer)

– a key operational characteristic is defined – to the customer’s home. If taken literally (which they did), this kept them focused on the home delivery model and away from building sit-down or walk-in or stores, and has clear direction for their location and logistics strategies. 

– even the omission of something can be useful — the vision only mentions pizza. No mention of other products or open-ended placeholders for other foods or items that could be thrown in. It is about pizza, plain and simple.

Not all businesses are as simple as Domino’s. Or is it that not all businesses go to trouble of defining their businesses in such clear and practical ways? I’m sure the answer is in the middle somewhere but I will argue it falls toward the latter.

As always I welcome your feedback and look for a post soon on the first of the questions that must be answered to complete the rest of the Practical Strategy process.

Adversity is an Opportunity

On a plane ride home recently I read a review of a family biography of Henry James, Sr. and his remarkable children. One son, Henry, Jr. was one of the great novelists of all time. Another, William was an intellectual powerhouse and author of the breakthrough work “The Fundamentals of Psychology”. The interesting thing was the odd and hardly idyllic – shall we say “difficult” – familial environment they endured. But it didn’t end there. It wasn’t enough to have an unusual father – one who traipsed around Europe with his family in tow, never putting down roots, subjecting his children to his unique “theories” on education, spirituality, and life and never giving them any chance for normalcy — it was an on-going family saga of unending and dramatic ups and downs which Henry Jr. and William endured throughout their own adult lives.

Why am I writing about these people? Before I say, let me take a tangent to another topic. Recently our adult Sunday school class watched a program about and discussed Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” . The story is famous enough that I’ll spare any details of it (although I cannot recommend it enough). What our class discussed, inspired by Randy’s lecture and life, and what we asked ourselves was: “what are the lessons you would like to leave behind for your children when you die?”

The one I offered was “to persevere”. I said the usual trite stuff we heard as kids about “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and that this would teach my kids to have stamina and courage – which have at various times in life served me well. I want my kids to learn that lesson too, I said. But reading about the James family gave me a different perspective and one that seems more insightful – and powerful. The James’ brothers (as well as Randy Pausch) didn’t endure and overcome as much as they used their life journeys instead to draw strength from, and lead them to, greatness. The challenges they faced turned out to be the “roadmap”, revealing the path to greatness. Why? Because they embraced their life and experiences, continually mixing all of them – the difficult and the tragic, with the good and the bland – until something worthy and satisfying emerged.

So, I’m changing my lesson for my children. While persevering is not a bad lesson to learn, it sounds too episodic to me now, like advising them to simply get over the hump, and just admonishing them to “leave your troubles behind you”. Revealing your potential for greatness is a process (like rocks being polished into gems, a beautiful pearl being developed by an oyster as protection against harmful bacteria), and an attitude that adversity is an opportunity to improve and add to your current greatness.

Cloudy Thinking

Here’s an interesting way to think about Latent Value. And feel free to tell me if you agree or not!

The Latent Value of a business opportunity can be expressed as a function (think mathematics). Simply stated, Latent Value can be expressed as a function of the total Potential Value, the Cost to Unlock the Value, and the Divisibility of the Value. The latter two are related but I see them as distinct. If the potential value is high then a high cost can possibly be tolerated if the ROI comes out favorably enough. But often companies, being nothing if not pragmatic and conservative, will decide that if the potential value cannot also be unlocked in discrete, “bite-sized” chunks then a high ROI is still insufficient to proceed. Think of it as simply risk aversion to a seemingly all or nothing bet.

Recently, I was doing some research on “cloud computing” and found a particular piece on why some companies are not jumping on this bandwagon. There is a line in the piece that says on fear stems from the “downsides of depending upon SEI (Somebody Else’s Infrastructure)”. When I read these sorts of sentiments I get concerned though (note: these are not the author of the article’s sentiments). The potential of cloud computing is quite compelling as it directly impacts the Divisibility factor of my Latent Value function above.

Consider as an example, taking advantage of business intelligence (BI) solutions offered in a “software as a service” (SaaS) model (a very mainstream version of cloud computing ).

Using existing, non-SaaS BI solutions the challenge for any organization, but particular the tens of millions of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), to get at the Latent Value available from mining and analyzing their internal data (e.g., sales history, order patterns and mixes, etc.) and improving future sales or marketing decisions is that the Cost to Unlock is steep. But more importantly, the cost to get the first increment of Potential Value is relatively high. In other words, traditional approaches to BI have a low Divisibility factor.

In comes BI offered in the “cloud” and the overall cost potentially comes down but more importantly due to the typical low entry cost and pay-as-you-grow  business model most vendors offer, there is much improved ability to achieve initially meaningful ROI.  This significantly raises the Divisibility factor.

So while SEI should be a factor, it should be weighed carefully and considered against the trade-off: without SaaS a company may not be able to get at any of the Latent Value. SaaS has potential well worth checking out and continuing to monitor as it evolves and becomes more and more applicable to more businesses of all sizes.

Trust, Integrity, Accountability

Recently I was working with a client on preparations for an important meeting. The exact details of the meeting and the content are unimportant. What my client sponsor was wrestling with was concern that his peers would not act on the recommendations we were making. As I asked him more probingly about the root of his concerns he blurted out something about “our leadership team often agrees in a meeting but follow through is poor.”

Through further discussions I came up with a framework for the meeting that he seemed to like and gave him confidence that his concern about follow through could be overcome. I described the framework like this:

– ultimately establishing clear Accountability for decisions and actions is required in order for follow-through to be ensured. I said we should start off with asserting this to the meeting attendees (all of them S and E level VPs, along with the GM of the overall business unit) and giving a definition of accountability that everyone could agree to: “a willingness to be held to account for one’s promises and actions“.

– next we would say that accountability requires two foundations, first is Trust. Trust can be simply defined as “a relationship of reliance“. The team of executives, we would say, would see in a few moments that our recommendations revealed the clear interdependencies between each of their respective areas of the business. They were reliant upon each other and their teams to achieve success. While this may go without saying, we would invite them to openly discuss any areas where they felt they could not indeed “rely” upon each other or where weaknesses existed between business area linkages. Those areas would be addressed in the meeting and cleared up or an action plan would be devised to address them as output from the meeting.

– the second foundation element for accountability was “Integrity. Integrity can be defined as an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting“. We would say that often accountability is desired and trust exists yet ultimately accountability falters because what someone or some group is held accountable to lacks integrity. Sometimes this is personal integrity but more often it is the integrity of — or the lack of a factual, fact base for — what is recommended and decided to be implemented. So our final activity before dealing with the recommendations was to spend more-than-usual time on the facts behind the business problem and opportunity we were dealing with. We said grounding all the participants equally and giving all a chance to develop a solid “fact base” was critical for them to hold one another accountable for follow through. If during our discussion, we said, the facts did not hold up, additional facts were needed or more clarity was required, it was better that we postponed final decisions and reconvened with the missing data ready to present.

What was interesting was that A) everyone seemed to appreciate the open recognition of the accountability issue. It had clearly become a sort of “elephant in the room” problem, which led to B) a reasonably candid discussion of some real, but solvable trust and integrity questions and challenges, and resulted in C) a preliminary acceptance of the facts and recommendations but request for the postponment of final decisions until a few important additional facts and factors could be brought to the table for consideration at a subsequent meeting. That follow up meeting was, I’m told, one of the most productive they’d had in quite some time which they attributed to the framework my client presented and used faithfully throughout the discussions.

As most of us have learned, often it is not just what we say but how  we say it that can ultimately matter. Revealing and capturing the true potential of an idea or recommendation, in this case, depended upon it.

Creative friction

Recently I posted about an interesting research article on “The Contradictions That Drive Toyota’s Success“.

In summary the authors describe three “forces of expansion” (defined as those that lead the company to instigate change and improvement) and three “forces of integration” (defined as those that stabilize the company’s expansion and transformation). The countervailing nature of these forces allow Toyota to be widely and sometimes wildly innovative, creative, and constantly renewing itself, without undue chaos or losing its very clear and constant cultural identity. In the previous post I focused on the Expansion forces. Now a thought about Integration forces.

The Integration forces are listed as Values from the founders, Up-and-in people management, and Open communcation. Each are interesting but a part of the description of Open Communication was of most interest to me. A specific aspect of open communication was “give people freedom to voice contrary opinions”. It struck me as contraditory — ah, the authors’ title for the article was starting to make sense! — that being contrary with one another would serve to integrate the culture.

Then it reminded me of the economist Joseph Schumpeter’s thoughts about creative destruction. Schumpeter asserted that the process of innovation and growth in a capitalist economy was a strong mixture of both descruction and creation occuring simultaneously. And bringing these contradictory forces together results in a stronger, more vibrant and growth-oriented economy.

In fact in the Toyota example there are several examples cited of how allowing contrary opinions had positive impact. One I particularly enjoyed was of the new head of U.S. sales ignoring “everything those top executives told me” about what should be done to succeed in the U.S. market. It had to be clear to his bosses in Japan that the U.S. sales executive was contradicting their orders long before the results of his decisions played out, yet they allowed him to make his case and then go with his own ideas. He could have been wrong, but then if he was following some of the principles from the “Forces for Expansion” (discussed in the previous post), particularly to have an experimental attitude and approach, he would have a built-in mechanism to manage the risk of failure and to continually adjust or abandon his ideas if needed.

Most organizations and leaders will say they want to “hear” contrary opinions. Few in my experience want to “allow” those contrary opinions to be freely acted upon. And in Toyota’s case it is apparently beyond allow, but to “encourage” their people to act on their contrary opinions and ideas.

Latent value, by definition, has to be revealed. Reveal is a verb and connotes action. Toyota is a great example of an organizational approach and culture that personifies, through their actions, continually discovering and “revealing potential”.

Do you agree? Are there other ingredients that lead to unlocking latent value?

Car nostalgia

The definition of nostalgia is “a fond longing for the past”. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently there was an article named Cars We Love To Hate. Now, the words “fond” and “longing” as part of the definition for nostalgia might be a stretch but I did feel quite nostalgic when reading this article.

Perhaps because of the seven cars featured, I drove three of them as a teenager and as a college student: the Chevy Vega, the Chevy Corvair, and the AMC Pacer.

Notwithstanding that the first car my Dad let me drive was made infamous by Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” screed, these cars did exactly what was needed: get me from point A to B, cheaply and with pretty decent reliability. The fact that I became a bondo “artist” with all of these cars (partly due to Michigan weather and road salt, partly due to cheap nature of these cars) also doesn’t ruin my recollection. I probably see these cars (plus my mom’s lovely AMC Hornet, my sisters’ AMC Rambler and Ford Fairlane — a great car!) as part of my character and shapers of my life philosophy:

Be happy with what you have (for others have worse or nothing at all), take care of that which you’ve been given, and if want something better then work hard, save and persevere until you reach your goals.

Did I say these things to my mom and dad back in the late 1970 and early 1980’s when I drove these jalopies? Doubtful. But through the lens of time — and the fact that my youth was “celebrated” in the AJC article, certainly served to improve my memories.

How about you? Any stories to share?