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How To Meet The Challenge of Changing Times: Twelve Actions



  1. Refocus on the nine “C’s[1]:

“C is for ‘customer”. Without a paying customer[2], your business will fail. C is for ‘cash’. Your must never run out of cash.  C is for ‘collection.’ Collect the cash. C is for ‘credit’. Credit becomes cash. C is for ‘costs’. Don’t waste money. Keep costs down. Cut unnecessary costs. C is for ‘closing’, as in closing orders or closing sales. C is for ‘confidence’. Everyone likes winners. C is for ‘calm’. No matter how bad it gets; no matter how traumatic; no matter the trouble, tell yourself, ’Be calm’, and you will. C is for ‘commitment.’. You started the business—never quit!”

  1. Reassess your “A, B, C, D” client mix and its targets of opportunity, attention or concern[3].

 “ ‘A” clients are clients you hope will develop into Key Clients that make referrals to others in you behalf, have strong potential for fee growth, are receptive to additional constructive service ideas, etc.; ‘B’ clients are your bread and butter clients, they pay their bills, don’t give you too much grief, but do not represent potential for good fee growth; ‘C’ clients seek discounts and additional free services and are frequently slow in paying your invoices; ‘D’ clients are the clients you wish you had never accepted in the fist place, who often operate on the margin of ethical performance and are not averse to pressuring you to compromise your personal and professional standards. “Targets of Opportunity are your Existing Mega clients—clients of such fee magnitude that you can’t afford to lose the relationship–, Key clients and ‘A’ clients; Targets of Attention are desirable clients with the potential of upgrading, unknown clients who need to be classified, and undesirable ‘C’ clients that can be upgraded by reducing discounts or speeding up payment of invoices; Targets of concern who are desirable clients with warning signals  or undesirable clients with warning signals.”

  1. Aggressively increase your “Rate of Return On Customer”.[4]

“To remain competitive, you must figure out how to keep customers longer, growth them into bigger customers, make them more profitable, and serve them more efficiently. And you want more of them. Unfortunately, the financial metrics you learned in business school are not easily adapted to account for the value companies generate from this scarce resource, with the right balance between current-period sales and customer lifetime value. But striking that balance is necessary if you want to know whether you’re better off investing in customer acquisition, or product development, or opening new stores, or plant efficiency, or better qualified personnel, or more service, or cost reduction.  While you may believe in your heart that a particular decision creates shareholder value, there’s no financial metric currently available to tell you how much shareholder value you actually created, or even whether you created any at all. Return on Customer is a break-through financial metric that can quantify the actual shareholder value you are creating (or, possibly, destroying) with your various business actions and initiatives.”

4. Remember, everyone has to obsessively work for the customer today, tomorrow is too late.

“The fact that every employee works for the customer is a simple notion, but surprisingly difficult for some people to completely grasp. There are some workers who believe they work for a union. Wrong! They belong to a union but work for the customer who is paying their company. Some public sector employees believe they work for the motor vehicle department, or for the police department, or for the government, or for the teacher’s federation. Wrong! These people work for the citizens whose taxes fund their paychecks. The citizens, the subway riders, the students, and the students’ parents are the paying customers. Some people believe they work for the marketing department, for XYZ, Inc., for the charismatic boss, for themselves, for a charity, for the church. But no customers, no money. No money, no mission. No money, no ministry. No money, no military. No money, no managers (no bosses).The customer is the real boss. And the dissatisfied customer fires employees every day.”[5]

5             Have customer conversations in a focused context.[6]

For an example of excellent commitment to customer conversations, see United Water at The Company stays in touch with its customers through a dynamic program that includes Customer Advisory Panels, an ongoing outreach and education program, a 24/7 call center, its interactive web site, and other programs. 

Having a customer conversation in a focused context is not always easy. “In the proverbial 10 words or less, here is the key to customer service: Ask customers what they want, and give it to them.” However, “If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted, it would have been a faster horse.” You have to ask the right questions in order to get something productive out of the conversation.[7]

6. Review your business model, value proposition and competitive strategy. Determine how you can create new value for your customers, perhaps through product or service innovations in “uncontested market space [8].

7. Use a laser beam like focus to Keep your eye on the fundamentals of entrepreneurial economics[9] and your quantitative diagnostic indicators [10].

8. Take advantage of change

Change can be a disguised opportunity, but you may need the perspective of someone else to see it, and you may need more than one perspective to go from seeing to visioning. Visioning is expressed and ends in one thing: performance.

A powerful image has the ability to capture our imaginations, inspire our spirits, and energize us to go beyond normal limitations. Simply put, such an image can be transformative. For example, in the film Men of Honor, Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), has his leg partially amputated, and wearing his prosthesis is faced with the challenge of having to take 12 steps wearing a diving suit weighing 290 pounds. Despite the impossible odds and the enormity of the challenge, Master Chief Petty Officer Brasher, with Master Diver Billy Sunday (Robert DeNiro) providing verbal support —“The Navy diver is not a fighting man. He is a salvage expert. If it’s lost underwater, he finds it. If it’s sunk, he brings it up; if it’s in the way, he moves it— pushes the principle of perseverance and practices the discipline of determination to complete the twelve steps, triumphantly salvaging his career. This is the type of vision you need in your business to meet the challenge of changing times.

And remember. “A leader always has to be looking beyond the next horizon. He or she has to be aware of the old Chinese proverb, Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. He or she has to be asking, constantly, ‘what happens if, against all these long odds, I succeed? While there is nothing that builds confidence more than winning against the odds, believe it or not, losing against great odds builds it as well.”[11]

And remember this as well. “Most great companies love people who take big swings even if they have to walk back to the dugout on occasion and sit down. Seek out the businesses, the technical challenges, the government projects, that others are afraid to touch. The world will soon get to know you and more important, you will get to know yourself”.[12]

9. Learn everything you can, from every source you can, at the lowest cost you can You never know when that so called esoteric or arcane bit of knowledge will be transformative, leading you to ask an “I wonder”, or “Why not” type question and to see a way “how to”.

In the same vein but in a very different venue, Arthur ‘Dooley’ Wilson, otherwise known as the piano playing singer “Sam” in the 1942 film “Casablanca” had it right, the fundamental things do apply as time goes by. Sam’s singing observation that the fundamental things apply could also be translated into the way Stephen Covey expressed the idea in First Things First: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” In real life, Wilson was a drummer and a singer who led his own band in London and Paris in the 1920’s. In the film Wilson pretends to play the piano which was actually played by an off-screen African-American pianist whose hand movements Wilson imitated on-screen. This exemplifies another lesson: learn from anywhere and anyone you can in order to produce the required performance.

Here are some examples in the vein of transformative thoughts, leading from “I wonder” or “why not” to “how to”.

 “Using the phone as a way of getting paid suggests a radical remake of the phone’s functionality. The phone is the best micropayment device that exists today. Phone companies have developed systems that are very well suited to tracking and billing penny-level transactions. Why not use the cell phone as the primary payment device? At the end of a meal, the restaurant would give you a number to call. You’d type the number, confirm the amount, input your code, and transfer the money from your account to the restaurant’s. This concept is being test-marketed with vending machines—dial 888-THIRSTY for a soda. The phone company has taken too narrow a view of its business. It could well be the preferred financial payment option.”[13]

 “You really have to open your eyes to see existing solutions in a new light. Take the telephone keypad, for example. Can you think of some new applications? David Pogue, Mac maven and gadget guru, has a startlingly simple proposal. ‘PUNCH-IT-UP ALARM CLOCK: The modern clock radio can play CDs, wake up two people at different times, and even beam the current time onto the ceiling. So why do we have to set the time using the same controls cavemen used in the Stone Age? You still have to hold down slow, imprecise buttons that on most models go only forward in time…Haven’t those companies ever heard of a phone-style number keypad? We should be able to set the alarm for 8:45 just by tapping the 8, 4, and 5 keys in sequence. You’d save to minutes a night which you could use for any number of activities, like sleeping.”[14]

 “[W]e may end up spending just as much on pharmaceuticals as we do on doctors. These medicines do not have to be pills or injections…They could be part of the food you eat every day, your soap or cosmetics…Perhaps you will inhale them or simply put various patches on your skin. This is why Proctor & Gamble is thinking of merging with a pharmaceutical company, why L’Oreal is hiring molecular biologists, and why Campbell’s is selling soups designed for hospital patients with specific diseases.”[15]

10. Don’t try to solve everything by yourself; even superheroes have sidekicks.

As Michael Jordan observed, “There is no “I” in team but there is in win” So “we” should find the best practical solution to “our” challenge.

The Boston Consulting Group stated this proposition this way: “You’re not alone as a leader. As much as possible, bring in your broader leadership group to understand the challenges, participate in the planning, and cascade changes throughout the organization. There is power in numbers. The members of a broader team will provide complementary skills and multiply the manpower and brainpower available to tackle critical issues.”[16]

11. Stay accountable

 “Accountable individuals… make solid agreements and take 100% responsibility for their experiences and commitments. They look inside themselves, wondering about their contribution to problems, rather than making them somebody else’s fault. They communicate frequently with updates, they’re reliable on tight deadlines, and they rarely drop the ball. If they must change an agreement, they let those who will be affected know and renegotiate that agreement.”[17]

One way to stay accountable is to demonstrate leadership in conserving cash, reducing costs and expenses, preserving assets, by not making it another project but rather making it an ongoing heroes or heroines primary quest to meet the challenge of changing times.


12. Face fear of failure and have the courage to step out of your business boat onto the deeper waters, even fail faster if necessary, but never forget what it takes to be a water-walker.

Failure has a value if you can learn a lesson from it and if it reinforces an unshakeable determination to succeed the next time. When failure is not an option, make it a transforming opportunity. But if you must fail, then, as Maximus (Russell Crow) in the movie “Gladiator” might advise, do so with “strength and honor”, meaning with dignity and character meeting the highest ethical standards.

Reflect on these words of an Inc. Magazine 500 company CEO when asked to name his biggest mistake in business: “Not being ethical. I paid a very high price for it and will never make that mistake again. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal the details due to an out of court settlement.”

“At first, your rarely succeed. Hence you need to…fail, fail again. Consider my mantra: No failures…no successes. No fast failures…no fast successes. No big failures…no big successes. No big, fast failures…no big, fast successes.”

“Water-walkers must master fear management. Walking on water means facing your fears and choosing not to let fear have the last word”.[18]

 “When Winston Churchill was asked if he had failed a year in grade school, Churchill replied “I never failed anything in my life. I was given a second opportunity to get it right“.[19]

“In losing streaks, it seems as though talent has disappeared and decline is inevitable —or else why would the workers, the managers, the politicians, the players let the situation continue to deteriorate? The opposite appears to be at work in winning streaks—that individuals can perform miracles, that they do indeed walk on water. But every water walker needs the stones to make it possible to move across the water. Knowing that what’s underneath will hold you up and help you rise to victory is the essence of confidence.”[20]

“Even athletes, whose height, and talents can make them seem like giants, are standing on the shoulders of others—the team that surrounds them, the organization that guides the team, the leaders who define the context, and the extraordinary network of all those other people who cheer them one, invest in their success, and indeed make the game itself possible. We can applaud remarkable achievements of individuals, while remembering that they are not succeeding, or fumbling, alone.”[21]

 “Mosquitoes are flying hypodermic needles. They can infect you with malaria, dengue, and other awful things. They do so by transferring a little bit of genetic code through their saliva… Into your bloodstream…Which then reprograms part of the way your cells operate…Bu changing your genetic code ever so slightly…In ways that can make you very sick. So why not engineer mosquito genes so that they have the opposite effect? If mosquito saliva contained antibodies…Or if you made it hard for malaria to mutate inside a mosquito body…You could immunize people and animals…By making sure they were bitten.”[22]

[1] Dick Connor, Increasing Revenue From Your Clients at 119-120

[2] “Businesses succeed by getting, keeping, and growing customers. Customers are the only reason you build factories, hire employees, schedule meetings, lay fiber-optic lines, dispatch service trucks, stock inventory, file for patents, operate call centers, negotiate contracts, write software, or engage in any other kind of business activity whatsoever. Without customers, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby.” Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Return on Customer: A Revolutionary Way to Measure and Strengthen Your Business


[3] Dick Connor, Increasing Revenue From Your Clients at 31 and at 36

[4] Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Return on Customer: A Revolutionary Way To Measure and Strengthen Your Business, at page 2 and at 7. (Rate of Return on Customer “equals a firm’s current-period cash flow from its customers plus any changes in the underlying customer equity, divided by the total customer equity at the beginning of the period.”)

[5] Jeffrey J. Fox, How To Become A Great Boss

[6] Compare the view in Fast Company, The Rules of Business, Rule #11 (“In the proverbial 10 words or less, here is the key to customer service: Ask customers what they want, and give it to them) with the view of Judy Estron (“If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted, it would have been a faster horse”) The McKinsey Quarterly, January 2009, A Conversation With Judy Estron.

[7] But see also Luke Hohmann’s blog on Innovation, Software, and Customer Understanding for some further insights. (“Innovation occurs from a deep understanding of your customers — their problems, their needs, expressed or unexpressed. Suppose that Henry had asked a customer “What do you want” and the customer has answered “I want a faster horse”. I’m willing to bet that Henry, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, would have explored this a bit further, perhaps using the 5-Why’s approach to root cause analysis. Henry: “Why do you want a faster horse?” Customer: “So I can get to the store in less time.”Henry: “Why do you want to get to the store faster?”Customer: “So I can get more work done at the farm.”)

[8] See Blue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant and

[9] A. Selling price must be higher than your cost.

1.   Do you know what your costs are?

2.   How do you set your prices?

3.   Do you monitor your “gross profit margin”?

B. Funds coming in must exceed funds going out.

1.   How do you know what your funds position is? When do you know?

2.   Do you confuse “profit” with cash?

3.   Do you manage cash?

C. Have enough funds to see you through.

1. How do you know how much you need?

2. Can you “afford to grow”?


[11] What It Takes To Be #1: Vince Lombardi on Leadership


[13] Why Not?: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small by Barry Nafebuff and Ian Ayres.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Boston Consulting Group, Leading Change In Turbulent Times,

[17] Becoming A Changing Force In Your Healthcare System ©2010, Healthcare Medical Insurance

[18] Peter Swims With The Fishes,


[20] Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End.


[21] Id.

[22] As The Future Catches You  by Juan Enriquez

April 8, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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