Editorial: Start With the Basics - A Better Approach

By Len Monheit

The phrase ‘Getting Back to Basics’ is often used when a company or individual comes up against an unexpected obstacle or situation and needs to rethink strategy. The term itself can imply regression, and is often associated with a defeat. A much more positive approach is to consider building from fundamentals or first principles, leading to the expression ‘Starting with the Basics’, a concept that frequently eludes many otherwise brilliant and forward thinking professionals.

In sales, representatives are encouraged to baseline forecast, to start from a blank page instead of assuming a fixed percentage of year-over-year growth. The advantage from the manager’s perspective is that it can force the territory manager to think and project the sales activity with clear vision—when done correctly and from a clean slate, this sometimes leads to higher sales projections. Often though, preconceptions get in the way and the result ends up looking strangely like an overall five to ten percent increase over previous year results.

This same temptation to build on previous situations and a historical perspective only is common in many processes and planning exercises in business. I’m not saying that this operation doesn’t have a place and a role, and in fact it does force ‘retro’ analysis. I would like to suggest, however, that it’s only a piece of the puzzle, an over the thumb calculation that needs to mesh with the clean page approach.

We see examples in day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year activities. Examples include everything from how we approach our day’s objectives to how we distribute marketing promotion dollars. It often includes the approach to technology including websites and internal communications and very frequently incorporates project management, promotional materials, event participation and other activities and relationships. You’ve heard me speak before about challenging the status quo. (Jay do you know when this may have been?)

The business environment we presently face and the tools at our disposal have never been exactly as they are today. Why then, should our operations and activities be based on yesterday’s environment? The ability to think outside of the box has been prized by leading corporations and leads to innovation and leaps in productivity and capability, yet many organizations don’t encourage this approach in areas where significant benefit can be realized.

As time constraints make it ever more difficult to just keep up with the daily grind and expectations, there is frequently even less opportunity to be creative in approach to situations. There is no excuse though, for failing to focus on the basics and challenge preconceptions that may not really exist anymore. Some examples would include:

  • Examination of your quoting process to eliminate redundancy

In many cases, a cumbersome process has evolved and efficiency could be gained as well as better data management.

  • Examining both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ strategies for communication.

Traditionally, internal and external communications were both push type communications. You blasted your message to the recipients. Now, with advancing technology capability, as well as the Internet and Intranet environments, companies have the ability to provide recipients that opportunity to selectively pull information from them. Examples of this approach in action are companies that notify a distribution list that a new press release has been added, or that a report has been posted and can be downloaded or accessed. The entire nature of the interaction and relationship has changed.

  • Starting with the basics and your target audience and their behaviors as your prepare your marketing plan

Although I’m obviously biased and in favor of using the Internet as a strategic communications vehicle, the proper strategy involves a combination approach and needs to consider the best means to reach your particular audience. There are still a number of people who maintain that the Internet is ineffective for business and maintain a print-only strategy when statistics prove that clients use the Internet to seek and gather information, and that the Internet influences buying decisions.

  • Reconsider your events and tradeshows starting with the basics

As industry sectors converge, the number of relevant events has increased dramatically. Costs are rising and decisions need to be made regarding tradeshow and event participation, including the level. These choices are difficult, and frequently not all monetarily driven as participation in some events may be more for political consideration rather than business opportunity. At the very least, the decision maker must acknowledge this last fact if this is the rationale for participation.

Where is your target audience and client base likely to be? Are the right people going to be there? Is there growth and new business opportunity if this is your strategy? Are your existing clients attending in good numbers where your booth is an excellent home base for dialog? If I was a new company, where would I need to be and why?

These and other questions need to be asked as you plan for 2003. The most successful organizations incorporate the questions and answers into their planning process and make decisions based not only on historical information but on an examination of as many influences and opportunities as they can possibly consider. These organizations start with the basics and finish with success.

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