8 Pointed Questions to Reignite Sales Growth

crossroads 1Congratulations – you’re the new CEO of a business that is in the red and heading the wrong direction.

Every turnaround situation is unique and is a high risk and reward scenario with the jobs of many on the line.  And every turnaround has a common theme that the status quo was pushing the business in the wrong direction – the need to change was obvious.  Another common theme?  That the current situation is someone else’s fault; another department, the past leader, the dog who ate your homework…

The reality is it doesn’t matter.  Your task is to fix the business.  To do this you need to drop the politics and focus on the future.  You need people who you can trust, who have opinions, and can engage in constructive debates.

The best way to start the debate is with pointed questions

HonestAssign these eight questions to leaders in the business and then bring the group back together for a couple of days of offsite meetings.  The hard part is getting past the finger-pointing.  A new leader has everybody jockeying for position and transparency is hard to come by.

One solution that worded behind expectation was when we brought a key customer into the strategy session.  While it was risky, it was the catalyst that brought honesty out.  We happened to pick the absolute right person, who for three days dropped his own identity and joined the team.

You need to be intensely honest in this assessment

business-devolopmentThese are the eight questions we answered over three days and led to the reversal of a share loss.  Could your business answer these today?

  1. How do our products compare?
  2. How does our price compare?
  3. How does our cost compare?
  4. How does our service compare?
  5. How does our marketing compare?
  6. How effective is our sales force?
  7. How does our sales penetration vary by region?
  8. Where should we rate in two & five years vs. competition?

The goal is to come out of the session with a clear picture of who you are, what you want to be, and where you are going to focus first.

Here is a scorecard  that we used to illustrate our intentions.Graph

This is another post written with my colleague Doug Thompson, General Manager Rockwood Manufacturing at ASSA ABLOY.


Are You Using a 30-60-90 Day Marketing Plan?

Having a 30-60-90 day action plan means you've done your homework and plan on being successfulAre you joining a company with big problems? It may be too cliche, but it probably depends on if you see the glass half empty or half full.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hiring process and your ego can get in the way of asking the right questions. You may never uncover or, worse, miss the warning signs that would prove that you cannot gain the commitments you’d need to succeed – especially with those critical quick wins that will help you gain credibility and traction with a new employer’s organization.

If you see the opportunity, the alignment and the financial backing, then you should accept that new position but only if you have a plan for success. If any of those pieces of missing, there’s a good chance that you will fail.

I’ve recently updated this post with more specifics for your marketing action plan. Take a look at What Does A 30-60-90 Day Action Plan Look Like For A Marketing Leader?

Having a 30-60-90 day action plan will make you a better interviewer – and a better employee

To build your initial action plan, think in terms of the first 30, 60 and 90 days.

  • First 30 days – Learn
  • Days 31 to 60 – Document and Build
  • Days 61 to 90 – Present and Prioritize

This 30-60-90 day on-boarding plan is marketing focused and is based on experience and input from my colleague Doug Thompson, General Manager Rockwood Manufacturing at ASSA ABLOY.

First 30 days – Learn

30-60-90 Day Plans

The focus in the first 30 days is about developing rapport and teamwork.  Your main goal is to be a sponge and learn about the people, product, sales and marketing within the company.  We have built this plan with the idea that the role being filled is a senior marketer in the company.


  • Understand expectations of your role and the department
  • Meet with each functional head and other critical individuals
  • Introduce yourself to the current Marketing team and schedule 1 on 1 meetings


  • Review depth & breadth of product lines by brand including competition
  • Learn the manufacturing/assembly process & variations, site visits as necessary
  • Review category / brand / key account information and financials


  • Visit key accounts and discuss the current sales proposition and effectiveness
  • Discuss any perceived gaps in the marketing strategy or product line
  • Develop understanding of opposing brands in space and why chosen
  • Solicit ideas for product road map


  • Review current marketing strategy by brand, perceived effectiveness
  • Understand existing user research and related insights
  • Review budgets
  • Start preparation of annual marketing plan

Days 31 to 60 – Document and Build

30-60-90 Day RoadmapIn this 30 day block, you are moving from strictly learning into a phase that involves gaining insights that you can weave into the recommendations you’ll be making later.


  • Continue to build rapport with corporate leadership team
  • Site visits to key facilities
  • Team Building exercises
  • Determine strengths and capacity of marketing team


  • Review bills of material (BOMs) of high volume items
  • Spend time on the line building products
  • Brainstorming sessions held to generate innovative concepts
  • New Product Development process skeleton reviewed
  • Summarize wish list of new products


  • Benchmark competitors marketing messages
  • Develop key points of difference between firms (product & marketing)
  • Internal review of initial brand messaging and position statements
  • Analyze sales trends in light of promotion to determine effectiveness

Days 61 to 90 – Present and Prioritize

30-60-90 business planPrioritization becomes increasingly important as opportunities unveil themselves.  Based on both your learning and insights from the last 60 days, you’ll be able to make thoughtful decisions that will net you those critical short-term wins that will power your credibility despite being the “new guy.”


  • Continue to build rapport with corporate leadership team
  • Explore future organization structure for marketing & product management team


  • Review first pass of “current” product road map
  • New Product Development process checklist created
  • Define process / research needed to uncover next generation platforms


  • Start evaluation of marketing support firms
  • Review & benchmarking of websites
  • Social Media footprint analysis


  • Feedback on product road map
  • Visit key customers with sales leads
  • Determine needs for training and sales materials
  • Work with sales leadership on how direct sales could fit into landscape

Having a 30-60-90 day action plan means you’ve done your homework and plan on being successful

If you see the opportunity, the alignment and the financial backing, then you should accept that new position but only if you have a plan for success. Coming prepared with a 30-60-90 day on-boarding plan signals to your potential employer that you’ve done your homework. It also demonstrates how you will work to gain traction within the organization to help ensure your success.

But be clear in your own mind that the 30-60-90 day action plan is your process to use before being hired to uncover whether that proverbial glass is half full or one about to be completely drained.

Can This Business Be Saved? How To Create A Product Line Review Strategy For A Big Box Home Center

How to Sell Lowe's and Home DepotWhen a buyer calls a line review, it galvanizes the entire team.  And when you are the top supplier, you are always the target. The competition wants your business and the buyer wants more margin. One way or the another, it’s going to cost you.

Because the business world is filled with teamwork and collaboration, Doug Thompson and I are teaming up to share how we would each respond to specific sales and marketing situations.

We’ll take a challenge and independently approach how we’d solve it, blend the thinking (or debate the merits of each approach), and come up with an approach to keep the business

How can we hold our distribution as the dominate supplier at both big box retailers despite a product line review for our category?

IMG_0122Our challenge: what if a line review was called and our buyer wants something new and different from the other box. And to make it even more realistic, the buyer is also hinting that they are looking at going private label on a portion of the business. Best of all, we got the phone call to come in and pitch.

To give focus to our thinking, we have selected the ladder category since one major brand, Werner Ladder, appears to us to have the majority of the category at both big boxes.

Here’s our thinking “out loud” so you see the collaboration and teamwork behind our conclusions.

“If the buyer isn’t seeing growth, then it’s all about profit”

Greg: This request is really about the buyer wanting to differentiate from the other box. The private label hint suggests that Werner Ladder is not driving top line sales for the category.

If the buyer isn’t seeing growth, then it’s all about profit.  Either we as the incumbent brand drop our price or the business is going elsewhere.

“The buyer wants a concession but he is also looking for an advantage”

Doug: We know that both boxes are trying to increase the percentage of private label in their aisle.  In most businesses a few key SKU’s make up a majority of the sales, and finding a source for 3 items covering ~$200M is bound to get someone’s attention.

Yes, the buyer wants a concession but he is also looking for an advantage. I think you immediately look at two things.

  1. Creating an advantage.
  2. Determining how real the PL threat is.

“Creating an advantage starts with product differentiation”

Greg: Creating an advantage starts with differentiation.  There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Improving the set by shifting the mix to higher volume skus.
  • Value-added accessories to drive ticket (a ladder stabilizer, for example, on all extension ladders).
  • Improvement to the product that could drive a greater margin in addition to differentiation.
  • New price points.
  • Offering to create an OPP ladder that has fewer features or lower rating.

It may not be affordable, but adding an aggressive promotion plan designed to drive sales along with one or more of these ideas would clearly get the retailer’s attention.

“I think it is time to put together some brainstorming sessions to find out what innovations consumers wish they had on a ladder”

Doug: I am not sure that you want to push more volume into core SKU’s, that will only make it easier to private label in the future.

As ladders have a huge safety component, I think a de-featured ladder for $10 or $20 less might not sell if the story and accessories push the consumer to at least an MPP (mid price point) ladder. I am thinking the path may be to split the volume.

Add a feature onto the current product to make a premium version, and take something out to make a cheap one. Pros won’t touch a cheap ladder so you will probably shift them up. Consumers will probably go cheap unless you have a gadget that attracts them.

I think it is time to put together some brainstorming sessions to find out what gizmo consumers wish they had on a ladder.  I’ve got a couple of ideas already.

“Holding your space as the dominate brand requires you to be both nimble and smart”

Greg: Finding out what shoppers want is critical. Not only will it give us confidence that the innovation we offer will perform better on the shelf, but it will also allow us to be category experts.

Staying the dominate brand requires you to be both nimble and smart. Big box customers include both DIY and pro customers. By asking both groups what they want, we’ll be able to share what’s important and why to the retailer.

We can then build a bay that maximizing the sales potential based on that retailer’s core consumer, even customizing our mix and assortment based on common store clusters.

More importantly, we’ll learn from those consumers and pros how to best communicate on the packaging. It’s a critical step to improving bay navigation and helping consumers quickly and easily find the right ladder for them.

“Let’s go walk some stores and see what we insights and issues we can pick up from the guys who are talking to customers each and every day”


Doug: Agreed. Any kind of trademark and overarching packaging themes will help protect us from competitors.

The ability to help segment your offering by store helps keep the small players out as well. I’ve got qualitative research set up for next week for both consumers and professionals, let’s see what we get out of that.

I also have a friend at the testing lab, let me give him a call and see if he has seen any unusual activity from other companies looking to certify new products.

Let’s go walk some stores and see what we insights and issues we can pick up from the guys who are talking to customers each and every day.

That’s how we’ll dig up the facts that will help us tell our story — and create differentiation for each customer along the way!

Good Selling!

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