One Person’s Trinkets and Trash….

If you ask most owners/entrepreneurs, they’ll tell you that promotional items — often referred to as “trinkets and trash” — can be a “black hole”. That is, they can be an ever increasing expense that shows questionable or no return. But, what if you took a disciplined approach to promotional items? An approach that would see you engaging your customers cost-effectively by bringing them the right promotional items at the right time.

Well, it was with that prospect in mind that Robert and I recently sat down with Catherine Graham, Managing Director at the Toronto-based promotional items supplier, Right Sleeve.

In BusinessCast #270 , Catherine talks about trends in the promotional industry and provides insights about how to get the most from your investment in promotional items.

Getting Innovative Products to Market….Fast!

All successful leaders know that innovation is one of the key foundations of business growth. However, as companies grow, their structures and processes very often evolve in ways that actually impede innovation.

That’s why Simon Brightman, Director, Product Management at the highly-regarded loyalty leader, is so very passionate about implementing practices that nurture fast, accurate and game-changing innovation.

In BusinessCast episode #209 , Simon answers the four questions that leaders of companies, at all stages of development, struggle to answer:

  • What makes a really innovative product?
  • What makes companies successful at creating innovative and timely products?
  • What do innovative companies do that is truly unique?
  • How can companies structure themselves to enable innovation?

In addition to providing some very practical advice, Simon talks about how LinkedIn and ING DIRECT have consistently been able to develop exciting, timely products that are enthusiastically embraced by their target markets.

Listen to our discussion with Simon and get the inside scoop on a process that will help ensure that your business is structured for innovation and on-going success.

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Succeeding at Succession

If you’re like most business leaders, the topic of succession stirs up mixed emotions. On the one hand, succession provides great new opportunities. On the other hand, the thoughts that run through your mind about succession processes are anything but positive.

Because making successful succession transitions has an impact on so many North American businesses and so many stakeholders within a business, Robert and I have interviewed several key experts — getting the answers to the most important, most frequently asked and most painful succession questions.

Recently, for BusinessCast #198 , we sat down with Sean Graham who shares key legal insights to help you avoid succession train wrecks. We’ve also gathered critical lessons from succession thought-leaders that span all industries and disciplines, including:

Together, these four BusinessCast episodes help you better plan for , go through and successfully emerge from business successions regardless of your role in the process.

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Finding the Silver Lining in Cloud Computing

(Note: The following story was first published on the Financial Post — April 27, 2011 )

Every year, businesses are spending more resources on information technology to ensure their companies run smoothly. Industry analysts forecast that hardware and software spending will continue to grow annually at a rate of 10% to 20% over the next several years. While these fixed expenses are critical to establish and maintain a strong infrastructure, they take resources away from what businesses should be doing: developing innovative products and finding compelling ways to get them quickly to market.

The good news is that business leaders can now sustain a robust information technology without having to sacrifice innovations that help them stay competitive. The solution that businesses across North America are turning to is “cloud computing” — which is a way for businesses to take advantage of storage and virtual services, saving money on infrastructure and support. Cloud computing combines three distinct elements: it is delivered via the Internet, it is pay-per-use and it is self-service. The recognition that cloud computing is a valuable solution to business leaders can be seen in a new study. In March of this year, Microsoft found that 40% of Canadian businesses, with up to 250 employees, will invest in cloud computing over the next three years.

The considerable business advantages of being able to shift fixed costs to variable costs, which is a core aspect of cloud computing, is felt even more strongly in larger companies. According to Gus Harsfai, President of Ceryx ( ), one of Canada’s most recognized leaders in providing cloud control for large enterprises, ” Companies can realize the financial and operational benefits of leveraging the cloud very quickly. ” He recommends that to do so, ” Start with a ‘Cloud Coach’. That is, use a trusted and impartial hardware or software advisor that truly understands your business, how it is going to evolve over the next three to five years and relevant cloud service options .”

Cloud computing provides such strong financial and business benefits that companies are quickly overcoming the confusion that occurs when new technologies enter the market. As a result, cloud computing has emerged as the cornerstone of smart computing.

To help Canadian business leaders harness the power of cloud computing, Brian Shepard, founder and CEO of Tenzing Managed I.T. Services, recently sat down with the hosts of the the BusinessCast. Mr. Shepard shared the story behind the growth of Tenzing which provides cloud hosting services to help businesses achieve their goals.

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Leveraging Customer Input

Robert and I have interviewed hundreds of wildly successful business leaders. In so doing, we have identified many wonderful stories and some surprising ironies. Case in point: using customer input. The truth is that every successful business leader has, during phases of rapid growth, effectively tapped into the mindset of their key customers and turned that knowledge into well-targeted, relevant and innovative products/services.

But, — and here is the irony — once companies get to a certain size, age or complexity— that customer insight, which was at the very core of the business success, isn’t actively pursued anymore. The result of being disconnected from customers isn’t too surprising: less innovation, longer sales cycles and eroding customer service. And, of course, the business consequences quickly follow including: higher customer acquisition costs, loss of ground to competitors and the loss of the most important employees.

That’s why for BusinessCast #180 , we sat down with Fuse Marketing Group’s Director of Digital Strategy, Jeff Pontes. Jeff and his team help companies map out practical ways of harnessing customer input to ensure on-going product/service (and process) innovation. Jeff helps work through thorny issues such as:

  • What kind of products/services lend themselves to integrating customer input
  • Where in the product/service development cycle customer input should be used
  • What aspect of product/service development should use customer input

Jeff also shares key insights about how to leverage social media tools to target, gather and integrate customer input.

Listen to BusinessCast #180 and you’ll get tips to help you stay connected with the true source of your on-going business success: your customers.

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