Originally created 05/02/04

Focus is key attribute of successful companies



There are several books on the market that list the successful attributes of certain types of people. These books suggest that if you know why a group of people is successful at something, it will help you to become successful. I have always thought this is a logical approach.

Some years ago, I was asked to put together a presentation for one of our larger clients in the transportation industry to present at its annual management meeting. Its chairman wanted his leaders to focus on the things that successful companies did around the world to help them build a better organization. It was a great assignment for me, and the beginning of a great growth period for my client.

The final list totaled five key attributes that are shared by businesses across all industries. I would like to share the top attribute in my survey with you in this week's column.

The ability to focus was the one attribute shared by all the companies we viewed as successful. It also was the "key" attribute in their own view of what made them successful. Conversely, the inability to focus is one of the major problems shared by under-performing businesses in all industries.

Our case history comes from the company that commissioned the study. This company was one of the biggest transportation manufacturers in the world. The group we were working with was in the commercial segment with an average per-unit sale price of more than $300,000. It had been in the North American market for six years and still had not gotten above 19 percent of the total market share. It had a product that was arguably the best engineered and best styled, but they couldn't seem to find their niche.

When we began working with their marketing organization, we found that it had a sales plan for all five of the major customer groups that purchased this type of product. None of the individual plans was successful; in fact, they were "me too"-type programs, at best.

The problem was the company was trying to be everything to everybody and couldn't make a case why it was better than the competition in any of the markets.

Our proposal was for it to focus on one of the markets and develop a special program that would suit the needs of that group better than any other manufacturer. The market we chose was the high-end customer. It was smaller but also was more consistent with annual purchases and less driven by current economic trends.

We were five months away from the annual convention and spent that time putting together a plan custom tailored to this group.

Though there was much resistance to the idea from the sales force, we moved toward the show with great speed and focus. The convention was a success, and in the first six months of the year, our client went from 17 percent of the market to 26 percent. It went from less than 10 percent of this targeted group's sales to almost 90 percent.

The reason for the success was apparent when we talked to the customers. It was the first time anyone had really listened to them and focused on their needs. They felt an immediate loyalty to our client and demonstrated that loyalty with orders.

If being everything to everybody in your market has not gotten you where you want to be, take a look at narrowing your focus to one or two key groups. The closer your focus, the easier it is to position your products.

CONTACT Dale Bunce, the founder of consulting firm International Market Development and former president of Honeywell-Sharecom and the Chubb Cos., at dale@openmarkets.com or (803) 642-5544.