Are KPIs really useful anymore?

I’ve always liked the concept of KPIs, the idea that every role or team can be focussed on the core levers which drive a business like some efficient well-oiled machine with everyone working on their key drivers.

But I’m not sure KPIs are fit for purpose anymore.

Whilst business leaders love KPIs, their teams are less enamoured to the extent that I believe that KPIs often cause lower performance. Teams see it as a trap, a way of catching them out. They see no benefit to them just more admin, reporting, pressure and hassle. Why is this and how can we fix it?

I suspect that part of the problem is that data availability is now so much easier – the number of KPIs was naturally limited by the sheer difficulty of getting the information, but now with personal dashboards and analytics tools you can drown in it without too much effort. So what are the issues:

No benefit to me – Once an individual sees no purpose in the report they are writing, or the measure they are submitting they are no longer engaged in activity to improve. Just like personal objectives, a KPI should be agreed between manager and team member together with a clear statement from the manager on how they will be supporting the team member in achieving the KPI.

Too time consuming – I spoke with a marketing manager in a global corporation recently who told me she spends 3 days a week reporting (and receives no feedback on the reports). A Key Performance Indicator has be quick and simple to generate – long detailed reports just don’t get read do they?

No Feedback – If your team are generating reports or your KPIs are automated into your personal dashboard – give them feedback. It is soul destroying to know that your manager has this information but does not bother to provide any response. Doesn’t take much to show that either you are happy with the performance or that you are there to help improve it.

Not understood – An MD complained to me recently, “He sends me all the stats, I’ve no idea what they all mean”. In this case the team member was achieving a high level of transparency but probably knew his MD wouldn’t understand. This sometimes also appears as “You’ve got a log in to the dashboard / analytics – you can create your own reports” which on the surface seems helpful! If either side doesn’t understand what the measure means then performance is unlikely to improve.

Data overload – We have today a vast level of data on activity and performance – be selective, not everything is a KPI

Command and control – Some MDs use KPIs as a way of exerting old school “command and control” management styles, the purpose of KPIs is to enable everyone to be trusted to focus on the key drivers of the business and prioritise their own work accordingly.

Self-managed teams – This is the dream – employ the right people and let them get on with it, setting their own performance measures. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Some business are now moving away from rigid KPIs to defining a broader but clear purpose and leaving people alone to get on with it. In response to this I have begun to explore how KPIs can be re-defined into different categories to form the basis of a rather more constructive approach to performance.

I’ll be sharing these ideas in a future post, but would be interested in your experience of KPIs as manager or team member.

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How big a sales team do you need?

My client was excitedly sharing his growth plans : 100% over 3 years. I love businesses with ambition and spend much of my time working with them to ensure that their ambition is achieved. This day was no exception. We discussed the resource impact – extra capacity in production, technical, development and a bit of admin all scaled up in line with the growth curve less a little (to allow for some improved efficiency due to scale).

So, what about sales and marketing?, I asked. “Oh, we’ll probably add in another sales person and keep marketing the same….” Suddenly we are into “hoping for a miracle” territory.

I checked that 100% growth was the goal, then asked “surely you should be increasing your sales team and marketing resource / budget by 100% also?”

Unless your product or service is so unique that there is unsatisfied demand for it, you are going to need to increase marketing spend to attract interest from new customers and increase sales resource to convert them to customers. Growth requires investment in the demand end of the process as well as supply. But what is the right level of resource to put into sales?

So thanks to the company research tools on LinkedIn I have checked to see what proportion of staff resource are in sales roles across a random sample of mid-sized companies … the answer seems to be in the range of 10 to 25% of employees are in sales.

Funnily enough those at the upper end (25%) seem to be growing faster – yes, the more time and resource you allocate to sales, the more you will sell!!

The challenge for most small or early stage businesses is that no one starts a new business because they love selling – so achieving growth outside of your existing network means forcing yourself to do something you may not enjoy. As a result sales activity can easily take a lower place in your priority list.

So just a reminder that if you aim to grow, you will need to ensure that you have sufficient effort, resource and budget for sales and marketing.

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Lessons for Marketers from the US Election

ElStephen Dann 2016ections give us a unique insight into the way audiences engage with organisations and how they adopt or reject the messages which are created and transmitted.

So without getting embroiled in any political debate, I think there are a few lessons for marketers from the US election:

1) Your brand doesn’t need to be beautiful

Brands exist in the minds of customers – they don’t necessarily want it to be perfect, they don’t need it to appeal to them in every dimension, they want to somehow connect with the brand, they want to believe and they want feel authenticity. It can be OK for brands to have rough edges.

 2) Your product doesn’t need to be perfect (or even finished)

There is a temptation to finesse a product, to over engineer, add in every feature possible and to ensure every touchpoint is consistent. But often customers want the product to do one thing really well, simply, easily and fast rather than claim to do lots of things.

3) Beware of new entrants

Markets are often changed by a new entrant. For established players their experience holds them back, they know all the problems, and all the reasons why it won’t work. The new entrant is unhindered – they know no fear, they don’t know what they don’t know, they have no history, nothing to lose and they can project simple clear messages with impunity.

4) Simple messages, repeated

In a noisy cluttered world with an overload of messages clamouring for our attention, it has never been more important to develop simple messaging – and repeat it.

5) Disruption comes from nowhere

Usually disruption comes from unexpected and unlikely places – you and your current competitors will have some kind of established status quo, so it takes an outsider to disrupt it. What would you do if you were the outsider?

6) Neglected customers turn into detractors

Neglected, poorly serviced customers probably start off reasonably neutral, indifferent and disengaged. But over time their sense of neglect grows in to frustration and anger turning them into outright detractors. Outright detractors have a mission to get their own back and they have the social media tools to do it. Customers do not like being taken for granted.

 7) Belief and passion and purpose

Just follow Simon Sinek (Start with Why) – “people buy why you do things, not what you do”.

8) Really know your audience

Customers are complex and they certainly don’t like to be taken for granted, but do you really know what makes them tick? Do you really understand their issues and the world they live in?

9) Don’t get fooled by your own publicity

Sometimes we get too drawn into our own rhetoric. We develop products and campaigns we think are awesome, we talk to lots of other people in the company or agency who agree. We talk to colleagues in the same industry, even our best customers and are convinced we have a winning product. Trouble is the wider market is thinking differently.

 10) False Assumptions

Plans are built on assumptions. Having made these assumptions market research is undertaken to provide clear data to support the plan. This can provide a false sense of credibility and authority for the plan – if the base assumptions change, the whole plan collapses. Assumptions are usually based on what happened in the past, but the past is rarely a good indicator of the future. So we need to always document the assumptions and challenge them hard before commissioning market research.

11) Plans B & C

Always have a plan B and a plan C in case it all goes amazing well.. or disastrously

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10 Key Barriers to Growth


Stephen Dann 2016

Stephen Dann


So what’s holding you back?

Yes, I know there’s all the practical aspects of your business like funding, customers, people and resources, but what about you ….?

Here are 10 areas which consistently stifle success:


1)      Not having a goal

“if you don’t know where you are going, all roads lead there”. It so easy to get drawn into the day to day issues of running a business and to assume that your sheer energy and drive will automatically create a good result. On the contrary, clearly defined goals, written down and shared (not in your head) are essential to ensure that your activity is aligned to where you want to get to.

2)      Expecting a smooth ride

Successful entrepreneurs understand that no plan ever happens as they envisage it, but its their resilience in the face of unforeseen factors and their ability to adapt whilst still staying focussed on their goal that enables them to succeed.

3)      The wrong people

It is essential to have the right people in and around your business. As businesses grow the skills, capabilities, attitudes and behaviours of the team will need to change also – not everyone is willing, suitable or capable of transitioning. Some people are really great in early stage start up environments but feel stifled as a business gets bigger and needs more “corporate style” process and procedure. So the team that helped you get started may not be the same team you need for the next stage. Same applies to customers too – the type of customer you can successfully and profitably serve will change over time.

4)      Self-deception / discipline

One of the joys of running your own business, is the freedom to do whatever you like whenever you like with no one looking over your shoulder, but you’ll have to have the self-discipline to focus on priorities. Is what you are doing making money, spending it or wasting money? Being your own boss means just that – you have to be your own boss, setting your goals and reviewing your own performance.

5)      Perfectionism

Of course quality is important, perfect is not. It’s so easy to over engineer, adding in additional features, causing delay and excessive complexity because we want everyone to love it. Remember that the definition of “quality” is “fit for purpose”, not perfect. 80% perfect is good enough in 80% of situations.

6)      Procrastination

This often goes with perfectionism to create paralysis. Putting off difficult conversations, tough decisions or just doing other things we enjoy more – if it’s difficult the time to do it is now rather than having it hanging over you, swirling around in the back of your mind.

7)      Its delivery that matters

“Customers don’t measure you on how hard you tried, they measure you on what you deliver” Steve Jobs. The same applies inside a team, it’s not being busy that counts it what your activity achieves. It doesn’t matter how many phone calls you make, how many emails sent or tweets you post – it’s the effect of them that matters. It doesn’t matter how hard the chef tried, or even how good the food is, if its served too late.

8)      Urgent v important

We have President Eisenhower to thank for this one, he identified that we spend most of our time doing unimportant things which we think are urgent. So he identified the 4 options for all tasks: Do it now, Decide when to do it, Delegate it, or Delete it

The challenge of tackling important tasks is that tend to take longer, so if you don’t start them soon enough you will hold back progress – especially if you are bogged down fighting fires all the time. Don’ forget the 80:20 rule either. 80% of progress will come from 20% of your activity.

9)      Personal productivity

Bring your best self to work every day – fit, healthy, well rested, all the obvious well-being aspects. But also use whatever tools you can to help increase efficiency and minimise time wasting, tedious activity – use technology to help, but never let it get in the way or become a time waster. Switch off email, close down the browser, don’t check the news, leave Facebook alone, switch off the phone, go for a walk. Time only happens once, so make the most of it.

10)   Trying to do everything It’s so easy to become a jack of all trades, master of none. Many executives and entrepreneurs find that as the scale of their role gets bigger, they spend less and less time doing what they actually enjoy. Entrepreneurs usually found a business because. they have a specific skill or passion, but end spending all their time dealing with landlords, accountants, finance, lawyers, HR issues, policy, procedure which they have no experience or interest in. A marketing director recently told me she spends 3 days a week “reporting” and another told me she spends 10% of time doing marketing and 90% on “stuff”. Go back to your core – focus on what you are good at and enjoy, delegate or outsource the rest – there are other people who actually enjoy all that stuff and are much better at it than you!

Ultimately, it’s all down to you so, “If you want to know why your business is not growing – always look in the mirror first”!

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Lessons for marketers from the referendum?

Stephen Dann 2016

Stephen Dann

Stepping aside from the politics and fallout from the EU Referendum, it strikes me that there are some interesting lessons for marketers to reflect on in the way that customers and organisations behave:

Decisions are based on emotion.
When faced with a choice between 2 products, we somehow expect customers to logically and rationally weigh up the list of features and benefits before making a clear and decisive choice. The reality is different – we make decisions emotionally, based on what feels right, then assemble the rational justification afterwards to support the “gut feel”.

Brands are vital
We saw various personal brands portrayed during the campaign – these became short cuts which allowed voters to “buy in to the brand” rather than need to research and understand the detail. In a noisy and cluttered world where information is overloaded and time is scarce, brands have never been more important – if customers understand your brand’s values, what it stands for, what your purpose is and providing they relate to it, then they will consider buying.

Post purchase dissonance
The most common feeling after making a big purchase is not euphoric excitement but fear. Have I made the right decision? What if it goes wrong? What if the price goes down next week? What if a new model is released next week? This gets worse where there is a time delay between the purchase decision and delivery of the product or service eg a car or a holiday. This is why customers cancel when they’ve had “second thoughts”. So even though you’ve got the order, you still need to keep communicating to reassure the customer that they have made a great decision, that you are still there to help and support and that you really do care about them.

Not planning for success
Its easy to get so caught up focusing on getting a campaign live, designing a new website, staging an event or a product launch that Marketers can sometimes neglect planning for what happens next. Especially if success is greater than you could have expected. The new website may look fantastic, but it will have zero impact if no one knows its there!

Not having a plan B
Every marketing initiative carries the risk of failure – what if it goes wrong? Campaigns, messages, offers and promotions work for a while, then response rate dips – it is prudent to always have alternative approaches already thought through, tested and ready to go. After all, the effort of testing different options alongside successful campaigns is minimal.

Taking customers for granted
Customers expect to be valued and treated with respect – they expect the brands they espouse to follow though on their promises and adhere to the values they believe in. They are unforgiving if let down. Customers are getting more demanding, more vociferous and have the social media tools to communicate with.

Tribes cross conventional boundaries
Traditional neat segmentation is no longer sufficient, customers who share a specific interest, passion or opinion may have nothing else in common with each other – which makes the task of defining messaging, communication & media routes very tricky.


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What’s my hourly rate? What’s yours?

Chris Croft's Personal Blog

The Real cost of Doing Business

I would charge £1200 to come to you in Manchester for a day and run a training course.  Is that an excessive hourly rate?  For an 8 hour day it’s £150/hour: blimey!

But apart from the supply and demandargument (not many people are prepared to risk being self employed,  do all the travel, and do the selling and the doing, when they could get a well paid job running a factory or whatever)

…..and also the value-to-you argument: that day or training might save you £1million a year in better negotiating or better-run projects, and if the ten people on the course each get 1% more effective then the £120 each you’ve spent on them has been worth it,

…. But apart from these, let’s look at the REAL hourly rate.  And this is important to you as well, because you’ll…

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200 days to go

Stephen Dann

Stephen Dann

So its the start of another New Year – lots of resolutions made, very few will be kept but good intentions all the same.

Business resolutions are sometimes harder to define but easier to keep especially if they are well defined (SMART).

At the start of a year you have about 200 working days ahead of you – the question is “what are you going to do with them?”

Your calendar for 2016 will be mostly blank.

So right now you have total freedom and can choose to define how you will use that time – or you can sit back and let events take over!

200 working days = 1600 hours.

How much time on New business & Sales? Marketing? Operations? HR? Personal development? Customers? Finance?

Write down your time split and then check that you stick to it!



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Back to the future – the view from 2017

Stephen Dann

Stephen Dann


Here’s a really powerful way to understand the business challenges ahead for 2016:

Just imagine that it is actually January 2017 ………

Now write your review of 2016.

  • What will you have achieved in 2016,
  • What will have happened?
  • What will have gone well or been completed?
  • What will have gone badly, or failed?
  • Strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures?
  • Which objectives met and which missed?

Now is the time to think ahead of your plan and spot the flaws rather than finding them when it is too late!

Best wishes for a fantastic 2016

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Where the time goes …


Stephen Dann

Stephen Dann

Here’s the challenge – you have too much to do (yes, you and everyone else!), how can you get all the essential things done so you can move forward. Try some of these:

1) 3D rule
Do it, Dump it or Delegate it – for every item on your to do list, commit to doing it, decide it doesn’t need to be done at all or get someone else to do it.

2) No internal meetings
Big time wasters – few internal business meeting have a defined purpose, set time limit and specific actions. Most are used to “share, update and inform” on the assumption that this will somehow convert into activity. Most also start late – try starting on time and tell anyone who’s late to go away! Best of all ban internal meetings for a month and use the time for effectively

3) No new ideas
Entrepreneurs are the worst – they keep on having new ideas with no ability to self edit! “We could do this, we could target this market, what if we did …….” The disruption to the team is huge, too many plates are spinning with inevitable consequences. Have an ideas board (or a notebook), write them down so they are not lost but don’t talk about them. Once a month check the board and see which few ideas still seem like a good idea and consider what resource level is available and can be reallocated to develop them.

4) Goal Focus
Focus on clear priorities only. If it doesn’t move you towards your goal or your best market opportunity, don’t do it.

5) Set Time limits
Be brutal. The human brain is a very lazy muscle. Give it 10 hours to think and It’ll take it, give it 10 minutes (use a timer) and you’ll get the same answer. Similarly meetings don’t need to be timed in hours – try odd time lengths like 25 minutes, stick to the limit.

6) Move, Move, Schedule
This old time management rule is good discipline. You get to the end of the day and there’s still a few items left on your to do list, so you move them to the next day – this can go on forever. So the rule is that you can only move an item twice, then you have to schedule a fixed time in your diary for it (and commit to doing it)

7) Switch off email
Interruptions can be phone, people, email and need to be managed. It’s really hard to resist the ping of a new email or scan the pop up message – but every time it removes some of brain power away from what you are trying to focus on. So switch it off – mobile in the draw, email closed down. So companies now have whole mornings with no email.

8) Work away from the office
Sometimes just the background noise, people, customers become distracting without you realising it – get up early spend a couple of hours on high priority work at home first or find somewhere else you can work without distraction. Many people now use their office for meetings but actually work best remotely.

Some of these should become habits, others you may use at particular pressure points. Time only comes once, let’s use it well.

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Digital Strategy Tips

Stephen Dann

Stephen Dann

Digital is now everywhere – few businesses can now operate without technology but success continues to be elusive for many – here are 4 key areas to consider:

1. Have a reason
It’s crucial to have a clear purpose or objective before embarking on any digital initiative. Think through just what do you want to achieve? There is something of a digital treadmill and it’s easy to fall into the trap of using technology for technology’s sake. Many businesses don’t really know why they are setting up a Facebook page or developing an app – they just feel they should have one. Its only by defining a clear set of requirements that you can decide on the best approach to reach those goals. So have a long term focus – build digital tools and content over a long period, ongoing and steadily, and think long and hard about how your content can be the best, the most watched, the most read. Most blogs and tweets are read by no one for a very simple reason!

2. Think about your customers
Digital strategy is fundamentally about management and marketing process, not technology – who do you want to reach? How do they behave? What value do we offer them? How well do they know us? How can we reach and engage with them? More than ever, it’s vital for any business to engage with customers in a way they want to engage with you. People’s digital behaviour is non-linear, inconsistent, illogical and contextual – in other words there is no set pattern on how we engage with digital content. At different times of day we use different devices, we expect different levels of detail for different devices and the actual content consumed will change. We all take the standards we see in retail, where there is a seamless blend between the on and offline experience, and we expect the same standards in business. And that’s the challenge – ensuring a digital strategy gives the customer the same quality of experience, irrespective of how they interact with you. User interfaces need to be frictionless and flexible.

3. Measure it
It’s essential to measure your strategy’s performance and analyse its impact, constantly figuring out what the data is telling you and then experimenting to improve performance. Analytics should be easy but very few are using analytics fully to inform and drive their actions. For example if you are a PPC campaign, what impact is that really having? Are those clicks converting into business? Are they the “right quality” of clicks? One client went through their analytics to find that  the pay-per-click (PPC) campaign was also the source of their smallest and most problematic customers and a different route was therefore needed to find higher quality customers. That logic, which is so key to developing digital strategies, only comes from continuous measurement and analysis, and is so often missing from a business’ strategy.

4. Marketing Automation – the ‘next big thing’
Marketing Automation is a huge growth area because it provides an opportunity to make all the challenges associated with a digital strategy manageable and effective. It tracks how people interact with you digitally and sends them prompts and reminders relevant to them. With all the information available to us online now, customers can self-educate and don’t commit to a firm interest in a business until much later in the customer journey. For example when buying a TV, it’s likely that a customer will now walk into the shop knowing which model they want and how much it costs, giving the retailer less opportunity to add value and engage them. Marketing automation starts to deal with that issue, engaging people throughout the buying process based on a visitor’s engagement with the business. The level of data and analytics requires intelligent treatment to define next steps and enable the system to learn and evolve – and you need to keep on top of new developments and features too – but it can reap huge benefits.

Ultimately the same old common sense marketing disciplines continue to apply, but we still get distracted by shiny new (tactical) toys!


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