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Aligning-for-growth

Aligning for Growth

June 12, 2017

Sometimes market conditions change, sometimes you have to change the market conditions.  Regardless of which form of market transformation you face, successful navigation through choppy waters requires alignment.  That’s a broad term, so what do I mean by ‘alignment.’

In one sense, alignment is a go-to-market term.  Alignment of tactics and message across all touch points.  Making sure your point-of-sale programs are aligned with your online efforts.  Making sure your email campaign syncs up with your Groupon programs.  Making sure price points and product assortments are optimized across all platforms.  Tactical alignment is critical, but that can fall apart if there is not alignment of mindset.

Mindset alignment means those developing the strategy and isolating the opportunity fully grasp the reality.  It also means those on the front line (sales) can accurately explain the needs of the market.  The more you align mindset, the better the chances for success.  Those that are truly aligned and share the same vision can adjust to unforeseen situations with near flawless clairvoyance.

In business, going against a large player with a traditional approach is a recipe for disaster.  You’re walking right into their trap as they are massive and built their success on size and scale.  That doesn’t mean they cannot be beat!  To win, you must commit to a changed approach and align to it.  

In our experience, smaller players have a real opportunity as their business model is not predicated on massive in-store traffic.  Buyers have not stopped buying.  On the contrary, they’re buying more than ever.  It’s just that they’ve changed their buying patterns to include a healthy dose of online.  The mega retailers are too committed to their historic approach to adjust.  Much like an aircraft carrier; it takes a long time to turn.

Speaking of naval history, the Battle of Trafalgar is a great example of aligning to a new strategy against a much larger opponent.  That battle pitted an outnumbered British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson against the combined French and Spanish armada.  Rather than line up and blast away at each other (where success always went to the larger fleet during this battle of attrition), Lord Nelson saw an opportunity to change market conditions.  He explained his plan to his supporting captains, who then implemented the tactics that forever changed naval warfare.  

Lord Nelson split his battle ships into two parallel lines and T-boned their opponents in two spots, breaking their ranks and leaving them open to their soft spots.  In the end, Lord Nelson sunk or captured 19 enemy ships and lost none and over 13,000 enemy sailors were killed or injured compared to 1,500 for the Royal Navy.  This battle forever sealed Britain’s naval superiority and protected the homeland from imminent invasion from Napoleon.

Sometimes conditions change.  Sometimes you have to change the conditions.  To win in either scenario, alignment of mindset is the first condition that must change.

Bob_Ogara
Bob O"Gara
CEO 
Highlands

advantagemat-anti-micro-floor-mat

Floortex: Success with dropship program


Upscale vendor finds success with dropship program.

Beginning in 2008, Highlands leveraged relationships with retail leaders to help build Floortex into a category leader. Now averaging multi-million dollar annual sales, this upscale office and home furniture accessories company is a Highlands success story.

The Client

Specializing in the office and home furniture accessory market, Floortex offers an unrivaled range of products to protect and extend the cleanliness and safety of surfaces. From floors to doorways and desktops, they have an extensive range of upscale polycarbonate and PVC and Eco-friendly mats to preserve every surface, both indoor and outdoor.

The Challenge

Looking to break through to other online retailers, Floortex was limited in its relationship with Staples.com. Dealing with them directly proved challenging, especially when trying to build and manage that relationship from Floortex’s overseas headquarters. 

Floortex contacted Highlands for help breaking through and leveraging their relationship with Staples.com, and to build new assortments in other divisions such as Quill and Staples Advantage. 

The Highlands Difference

Highlands stepped in and bridged the relationship between Floortex and Staples.com beginning early in 2008. By already having rapport established with the top retailers, the Highlands representative effortlessly reached out to the right merchants to partner with Floortex.

By tapping into the trusted reputation and solid foundation offered by Highlands’ key account executive for Staples, Floortex was able to add multiple SKUs on site and develop a best practice drop ship service resulting in repeated years of high double digit growth.

The Results

Floortex saw explosive results, and shot to a position as a category leader for quality, upscale chair mats and similar products. Top merchants now look to them for innovative ideas, styles and features that are unparalleled by other vendors.

Starting in 2008 and continuing through 2016, Highlands has continued to expand the offering multiple times per year until Floortex’s full product assortment was well-established as a direct drop ship program with Staples.com.

With help from the expert team at Highlands, Floortex has seen an average sales increase of 40% year over year and now enjoys catalog page visibility and a prominent presence on all Staples affiliated websites.

Running icon

Setting ourselves up to fail

May 30, 2017

This week… Run to the Stop Sign.

Setting ourselves up to fail?


I went jogging with my daughter this weekend.  I use the term “jogging” lightly as it’s mostly walking with a few jogs in between.

Keep in mind, she is a very fit 21-year old, and I am a semi-fit fifty-something (we don’t need to get more specific on either front).  In my mind, I had already determined, I would lag behind and she would win.

Close to a mile in, she challenges me, “let’s run to the stop sign.”  Instinctively, I say, “I don’t like to make goals… it just sets me up to fail.”  Did that really come out of my mouth?  It was exactly what I was thinking.  If I don’t actually set the goal, then I won’t fail. 

How often do we do that in business - avoid making forecasts or setting milestone goals - out of fear of not being able to achieve it?  We won’t feel as bad in our failure if we didn’t set out to do it in the first place.  Yet, will we ever achieve greatness without goals?

She asks me, “why do you stop yourself?”  It’s not that I’m so tired I can’t keep going.  It’s probably because I normally only go this far in one jog, or maybe because I’m bored and just stop?  Is that parallel to my comfort zone?  Maybe I can go a little longer.  Just because she’s 30 years younger doesn’t mean I can’t keep up.

I decided to change my mindset.  “Let’s run to the big yellow sign ahead.”  Keep running… you don’t have to stop… just a few feet more… I can do it!  And, guess what, I did. 

It’s the same in your business and professional life.  What are your limiting beliefs that hold you back?  What more can we accomplish when we set lofty goals, and confidently push through our comfort zone? 

Other than 10,000 steps on my Fitbit, this morning’s jog taught me to:

1.       Set milestone goals

2.       Change to a winning mindset

3.       Push yourself

4.       Surround yourself with people better than you - smarter, faster, fitter

And, then as we neared the end of our jog, she admits her legs hurt.  Yay!  I win!

Janet Collins, a strategic advisor in the office products industry and a long-time collaborator with Highlands.  She works with business leaders to develop growth strategies and mobilize teams to take action and achieve results. She's a coach who's been in your shoes, most recently as President of GMi Companies (Ghent, VividBoard and Waddell). 


Contact Janet at [email protected] or visit www.linkedin/in/collinsjanet.


Janet_Collins



Do what is right image

The time is always right to do what is right

May 8, 2017


I think it was Tom Hopkins who said sales is “the easiest, lowest paid job in the world, or the hardest, highest paid job”. I’ve probably misquoted the great man but the essence of it is, in my opinion, completely true.


The reference, I believe, was towards hard work and having to deal with rejection.  We all know that high activity rates tend to generate more sales.  We also know that until you ask “the question” you’ll never get a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.  Many people are so scared of getting a ‘no’ they never ask “the question”.  Great salespeople will ask “the question” knowing full well they risk a ‘no’. And, rejection hurts…deep.


Because sales people are, of course, always looking for a ‘yes’ they tend to steer the sales process down the path that is most likely to get them an affirmative answer.  Even if it’s not necessarily the best thing for their customer.  I know; shock, horror!


This approach may, or may not, get you the sale. And, in the short term, everyone might be happy -  especially the salesperson.


However, we know that in the mid to long term this is not necessarily going to be right for either the salesperson’s company or their client.  Eventually something will go wrong, and then everyone dives into the contract detail and relationships fall apart.


I write this blog in the final stages of preparing for a big client pitch. The client wants to enter a new (to them), and highly competitive market with their existing brand proposition.  We’ve done extensive research on the client’s behalf and we think they need to make some fundamental changes.  One of those is to adopt a new brand for this market.  And, to complicate matters, they love their brand - of course they do.  We love their brand too, just not for this new market.


So, we have a dilemma.  Do we pitch for what we think is right, or do we pitch what we think they will say ‘yes’ to?


We really like the client and the people we work with, and would like to work with them for many years to come.


Easy then.  Pitch what we think is right.


Watch this space….

ThePromiseOfUpselling

The Promise of Upselling

April 19, 2017

For some time, the traditional OP industry has been bifurcating.  Non-traditional suppliers are enjoying incremental volume, reasonable profitability, and a new market with new customers.  Traditional main line OP suppliers, on the other hand, are finding it treacherous.  Too many competitors, customer RFQ’s, and apathy among dealers add up to an increasingly challenging channel. 
 
As Highlands was conceived in the traditional OP space, it’s painful to witness so much dysfunction.  While there are some shining examples of growth and success, the entire channel is under duress.  The most frustrating part is that everyone resorts to the same bag of tricks - dropping price and further lowering cost of goods.  That just takes everyone down. 

How did we get here?  Generally, large resellers have had the most influence on category health, and many have changed their SOPs with merchandising wielding a larger influence.  Couple that with a lack of product/brand differentiation and oversupply in many categories, and we find ourselves awash in mediocrity.  Unless we can sell more volume to offset the lower cost, this is a zero-sum gain.  Consolidation may create opportunity for the strongest to sell more into a declining market, but let’s be clear it’s a declining market especially if your product is dependent on paper.  To regain footing, we must dramatically change how we do business.  We have no choice.  

As I see it, the only way out is a focus on upselling.  If we can’t sell more units, we must make units sold more valuable.  To do that, we need to alter our story and how we target the consumer.  Identifying consumer needs, building a compelling value proposition against that need and then properly targeting that consumer must be at the heart of any program. 

At Highlands, we work across the leadership of our largest partners to push this message - and it’s working.  It’s requires us to be extremely proficient in back-end program structure because that’s where the value lies.  We also help refocus product lines to illustrate the benefit of bundled solutions and efficient product assortment.  We help them leverage data - theirs and the reseller’s - to show both what they’re missing.  We help them to embrace online solutions, not shy away.  We help grant access to field sales to create cross-selling and upselling opportunities.

It’s time to re-build profitability and influence.  The programs we’re implementing are doing just that.  Working the traditional market with new approaches, while encouraging the players to do things differently, will work.  We’re seeing it work.

Bob_Ogara

Bob O'Gara
CEO 





Nothing-Sells-Itself

Nothing Sells Itself

March 28, 2017

Low-involvement categories are best defined as “needed purchases” that rarely evoke passion.  Unlike iPhones, buyers are not waiting overnight to buy soap, salt, staples, or paper.  These products only get purchased when existing supplies run out, and a trip to the store (or online) is needed to replenish.  If no one explains the value of branded products in a compelling manner, it’s easy to understand how buyers can migrate to private labels.  

Compounding matters, resellers make money on either option - branded or private label.  Their objective is increased traffic. If buyers perceive value is the same, they will typically purchase the less-expensive option.  

This is the dynamic private labels hope for.

How do branded players in low-involvement categories combat this?  The key is NOT to rely on traditional product benefit sales techniques and personal relationships to push, but showing resellers business opportunities they’re missing.  Our proprietary process has been very effective in driving sales of higher-margin branded products.  Key to success is data, segmentation, customized marketing, and measurement.

While there are many aspects to our market test program, the key is customer engagement &mdash on all sides!

Resellers know the value of increased sales activity whether that’s driving traffic to their website or store, or creating interest amongst their business customers.  More shoppers mean more sales.  Selling more high-margin products increases profits.  Reseller confusion crops up when deciding which products to sell, at what price point, and what marketing programs to deploy that drive traffic to higher-margin SKUs.

Manufacturers need to look beyond their own product line(s) and be more reseller-centric.  Not all products matter, especially today as traditional business models (and supporting supplies) have forever changed. 

Understanding and analyzing data - from the reseller, manufacturer, categories, and from partners - is where value is created for both.  When done well, it isolates opportunity gaps.  In some cases, you reduce SKUs to sell more volume.  In others, audience segmentation reveals buying patterns that can be leveraged.

This approach helped one of our manufacturers better understand what sells to whom (end-users) and why (which promotion works best), and increased total sales by 143% during the test period.  Two-thirds of the incremental sales came from customers that previously were private label buyers!  Once new buyers are in your system, strong loyalty programs can keep them forever.  Best yet, the cost of this program was dwarfed by the value it provided and is now deployed throughout its geographical footprint.

This is where outside marketing partnerships can make all the difference.  These experts can help resellers make data-driven decisions, and then execute multi-faceted campaigns that deliver results.  Most manufacturers don’t have the capability or relationships to help resellers commit to such analysis.  

Nothing sells itself especially in low-involvement categories like office products.  Spit-balling promotions in a “one-size-fits-all” manner does not maximize ROI.  Smart market analysis enables dramatically improved sales and profit margins.  While this approach may not require Big Data Analytics or IBM’s Watsontm™, it does require sharing data and committing to do better.  


Jade-and-Mike

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