COVID-19 Cash Flow Runway Plan & Forecasting: Strategic Planning Process – Shannon Susko 3HAG Way Author – EP38

“You cannot communicate enough as leaders of your business and you cannot over-communicate at this time”

What you’ll learn:

On today’s episode, we do a deep dive analysis on how CEOs and business leaders can reimagine their business plan template to adapt to the coronavirus outbreak. You will get everything from how to develop a detailed forecast of your daily cash flow statement to how you can recreate your marketing strategy with empathy. Remember to stay tuned for more COVID-19 related episodes as we continue to give you a coronavirus update from a business perspective.

About our guest:

Shannon has more than 20 years of experience building and leading high-growth technology companies in the financial services industry. Shannon founded her CEO coaching and worldwide speaking business in June 2011. She is the co-founder of Metronome Growth Systems (Jan 2016) which is a cloud-based business platform for best practice high growth businesses, their CEOs, leaders and Business Coaches. Shannon was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 and was awarded the Sarah Kirke Award for Canada’s Leading Women Entrepreneurs in 2006. Shannon was named Deal Maker of the Year in Vancouver in 2011 and was in the Top 3 Mid- Market Deals on Wall Street that year. In 2017 – Shannon was recognized as one of Canada’s 150 Women and in 2018 one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada – RBC Champion. Shannon has been recently named Top 25 Inspirational Women in Canada.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Key business strategic planning advice to guide your company through the pandemic—4:15
  • How long is your cash runway? How to forecast/map cash from the bottom up–5:45
  • How to cut cost without losing sight of long-term plans—11:28
  • The key to repositioning products for this pandemic—13:25
  • COVID case studies: success strategies from businesses thinking outside the box—16:00
  • 3HAG Way Book: easy grow a successful business with confidence, ease, and joy—20:08
  • How personally do you know your competitors? The most challenging roadblock business coaches see clients struggle with—27:18
  • Become the market leader: why you can never know enough about the market you play in—30:11
  • The difference between micromanaging and a detailed business strategy—34:43

Podcast Transcription

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Page One Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best-in-class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers, or what we call rCommerce.

Speaker 1: Now, here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on The Page One Podcast. I’m your host, Luke Peters of NewAir Appliances, and Retail Band Digital Strategy Agency. We’re now in a Coronavirus world, and I know it’s on everyone’s minds, so I’m going to adapt all of the interviews to ensure that you, the listeners, are getting the most out of this podcast, and so you can expect us to get right to the point and provide valuable insights in relation to our current times, you know, with a focus on COVID-19 impacts, and hopefully, give you some strategies on your own businesses.

Luke Peters: And before we get to that, quickly, I am offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy, if you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn, or email me at luke@retailband.com.

Luke Peters: In this episode, you’re going to hear from Shannon Susko on how to implement a strategic execution system into your business. So what does that mean? Many of you have heard of OKRs or Xmatrix ocean planning, which I’ve done both, maybe the Gazelles framework, or EOS, so her framework is similar to the previous two that I just mentioned, and I actually read her book called “Three …” Hold on, what’s the full title of your book is “Three Hag Way: Strategic Execution System That Ensures Your Strategy is Not a Wild Ass Guess”. I love that title, and welcome to the show Shannon.

Shannon: Yes, thanks so much, Luke, great to be here.

Luke Peters: Okay, quick … And a little bit about Shannon, for you the audience, she has an amazing resume here, 20 years of experience building and leading high growth technology companies in the financial services industry, co-founded, served as CEO, two companies, Subservio and Paradata, which I love those names. I believe … Yeah, sold both of them. Sold Subservio in 2011, Paradata in 2006. Founded her CEO coaching worldwide speaking business in 2011, and that business is called Metronome Growth Systems, and she is recognized as one of Canada’s top 40 under 40 and has a gazillion other awards.

Luke Peters: I know there’s probably a few things I’ve left out of here, Shannon, but anything else you’d want to add to your introduction?

Shannon: I think the only other thing is Metronome Growth Systems is the software platform that reports the system that we use, and Metronomeunited.com is the, you know, where you can find all the 70 coaches from around the world that all work within this framework and that are out there helping clients today, pretty much day in and day out these days.

Luke Peters: Great, so anyways, thrilled to interview Shannon. And she has … So two books, so “The Three Hag Way” and also “The Metronome Effect”, and I was at a conference called Etail West, which is in Palm Desert, couple months ago before … Just before everything got shut down …

Shannon: Yep.

Luke Peters: And a buddy of mine recommended that I read this book, so I just listened to it on Audible on the way home and loved it, and so this audience, we have a lot of business owners, a lot of them in the home, housewares, and hardware categories …

Shannon: Yep.

Luke Peters: And so this topic is perfect for them because, you know, obviously Shannon’s an author, but has also co-founded and sold two businesses, and why don’t we just get right to the start here on COVID19, how are you coaching your clients through this right now?

Shannon: Yeah, so from a perspective of focus, obviously team first, everyone’s heard that a lot and team safety first, dependent on what your business is that’s front and center taking care of families and whatnot and your family, but when … And we’re doing that every day, but the other pieces are … And the big one that we did last week, which was well attended globally, was just a focus of mapping your cash from the bottom up and being able to extend your cash runway and forecast your cash runway as far as you can, and then doing that in the light of our new environment that we’re operating in and thinking about … A lot of people are saying, “Screw all these long term goals, you know, they’re not important right now.” Well, I tend to differ on that and we still go back to the core purpose doesn’t change, our 10 years goal hasn’t change because of what’s happening, our three year goal we’re going to have to adjust in how we’re going to get there, and maybe we’re even going to have to push it out, but that allows us then to focus on here and now and tie back together mapping our cash from the bottom up.

Shannon: The last thing in coaching our clients out there is you cannot communicate enough, if you think you’re communicating enough you’re probably not, and add in that extra thing that maybe makes you feel uncomfortable, like you’ve said it too many times and you’ve communicated too many times, you just can’t actually communicate enough as a leader of your businesses no matter what size.

Luke Peters: Oh, I think that last comment’s a great one. In my business, I was thinking about just that very point of making sure that I kind of get out and have a few more quick one on one’s with people that I may not be doing that now just because in the past I would see them around the office, so I think over communication is key and …

Shannon: Right.

Luke Peters: Talk about the first one, so you mentioned map cash from the bottom up, is that as simple as creating a better cashflow model or is that fine or is it even more than that?

Shannon: Well, interestingly enough in the first week after, so this really sort of came into play for my North American clients I found myself saying it a lot, “Go to the bottom …” you know, and when I say go to the bottom, go to the very bottom, understand how much cash you have in the bank, take that by what it costs per month to run your business, divide that by the amount of days, right? So you can get to days of cash that you have right now with nothing else, not another dollar came in, a lot of people go, “Oh, that’s awful.” I go, “It is awful, but the brutal part is you know how much money you haven’t spent and you know what your business costs are today, so let’s just get to the bottom.” And then from there, you know, what we want to do and most people don’t do it this way, I do it this way and we’ve always done it this way in my businesses because we’ve grown them up, right, started with nothing, started with a little cash and no revenue, so we had to always figure this out, but at this time it’s a good thing to understand, it actually calms people down, “Oh, look at the runway we have.” Right? “We have this many days.”

Shannon: And then it’s just saying, “What can we layer on top?” What government programs, what other sources, lines of credit could we, you know, are fact or not fact, right? Let’s add that in, let’s add a few more days, you know, let’s then go to our backlog that we have, if we deliver this, you know, our customers pay us, let’s prioritize that way, add a few more days, right? In our pipeline, let’s prioritize them. Let’s figure out, yes, these are all probable, what are still probable and who can pay and how fast can we deliver through the supply chain, and so we’re just trying to get a really good view on how long our runway is and help folks really get rid of the noise around it and get laser focused on what are the key things that matter right now to get us to the other side.

Shannon: And then a lot of … Then the discussion comes back to scenario planning, right? So our … What do we expect to have happen? No one’s, you know, no one’s got the crystal ball, but no one knows what exactly is going to happen here, but having that discussion would be key. Mapping out, you know, paint the picture of what a most likely case scenario could look like, put some numbers around that, then talk about if that case scenario, and then go for the worst case, what is the absolute minimum things that you think are going to happen. And a lot of people, actually, they don’t want to lose that time, but it doesn’t take very long and it’s probably one of the best discussions you’ll have with your team, whether it’s a one or two person team to all the way through a bigger team, so you’ll have in order to get everybody’s heads around some clarity over what you have to do.

Shannon: And then some other things, what comes out of that is how many team members do we need to deliver on that plan, “Well, we can see going forward as well as who do we prioritize to pay.” You know, “Who are we maybe not prioritize to pay.” That sounds terrible, that’s boiled down, “What are the absolute things we need to spend money on.” And then understanding who’s going to pay us, pay our bills, and how can we shorten that days to cash, and at the end of the day it’s forecasting … The forecast is cash based now it’s not an accounting forecast, and lots of organizations have a real based, accounting real based forecast, and you want to make it cash based like, “We expect this cash in this week, we’re going to put cash out next week, and our bank balance is going to be X, Y, Z at the end of the week.” Really getting that granular and detailed and sharing that with the whole team.

Luke Peters: That’s great, and I’ll tell … Mention to you and also tell the listeners, that’s one of the things that I really appreciate about your book “The Three Hag Ways”, you’re very granular and I like to think that way too, so setting up a marketing plan isn’t enough, you got to go out and say, “What customers are you going to touch?”

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: What timeframe are you going to touch those customers.

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: And what’s your month by month rolling sales goals for three years, and swim lane, so you guys-

Shannon: Right.

Luke Peters: Will have to read the book to get all of this, but I really like the fact that you get granular, I think you’re more granular than a lot of the other books that I’ve read, and I what I took away here on the cash side was turn that into days, that’s awesome, because like right now we have a 13 week cashflow model …

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: But I think great KPI might say that something that says, “Hey, you have 75 days or 175 days.” And just having that as a weekly KPI and seeing where it’s moving and trending, I can see that being really powerful and kind of being more tangible, actually, so that-

Shannon: Right.

Luke Peters: That’s a great one, I like that.

Shannon: Yeah, and even in “Three Hag Way”, Luke, when we talk about that getting detailed around that 36 month rolling forecast, that’s a leadership forecast that’s cash based, so this rolls right into that and that’s actually where it came from, going from days to weeks to months. It’s a good tie in.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and it makes a lot of sense. And then to your point, you know, pushing back payables and one thing I would add to that is just companies that are product based and importing product is really look at … You’re going to affect your cashflow more by looking at cost of good and making sure that you’re not building inventory at this time than probably anything else, I mean, that’s going to be higher dollar value than even probably your expenses, unless you’re a software company, so that’s definitely another area for listeners to look.

Luke Peters: And so Shannon, with … You know, obviously, companies are cutting costs everywhere, they’re even cutting advertising …

Shannon: Yep.

Luke Peters: The thing is then they can lose sight of longterm planning, but they have to save themselves now, so it’s a little bit of a paradox. How are you kind of coaching clients through that?

Shannon: Yeah, so I … That’s … It’s sort of the next step after we get sort of comfortable with what we just talked about is looking out and just checking in, “Did our core purpose change?” No, “Did our 10 plus year goal change?” “No.” “Did our three year?” And I said, you know, “Possibly it could have.” Most haven’t, most other it’s the same, but we’re going to get there differently, or it’s the same, but we’re going to push it out, you know, maybe they’re two and a half years away or, you know, depending on where they’re at in the fiscal year.

Shannon: And I think the big thing what … You know, I’ve heard myself saying and I captured it quite a few times, I kept writing it down, the number one thing based upon the new environment we’re working with and there’s two great tools that we talk about, you know, we sort of made up in putting this whole growth system in place in “The Three Hag Way” is one is our keep process flow map is how we make money and it’s our internal analysis on how we make money, and then externally we have this market map and we always recommend everybody create a market map, just everyone who plays in your arena, right? Whether you interact with them or not, they’re in your arena, they’re moving around you, and right now if you have one of those, right, great, please update it, like this is the time to update it. I’m sure most people have.

Shannon: If you don’t have one, there’s no time like right now to create that market map, and it’s very simple, it’s … There’s lots of documentation out there on my site and within the book to create that, but why I want companies to do that in the next step is I want to validate with my clients and the companies out there that who their core customer was or is that we validate that their number one need, their number one need, you know, is there or it’s the same or it’s not their number one need anymore, something else is the number one need because of the new environment we’re in, and if we can understand the need of our customer it makes it much easier to position what we do, how we do it, we might reframe it, rephrase it, understand that what we do now actually serves that. Some people are pivoting towards something like that, but it allows us to actually get in there and get our messaging correct for the time we’re in to serve the absolute … We want to serve our customers to serve those needs.

Shannon: And I would say, you know, I was chatting with an organization this morning and they … One of the best things they’re doing right now is they’re just calling all their customers, right, previous, now, past, post, ones up the pipeline, and they’re doing nothing more than checking to see if they’re okay, and they … You know, part of it is that is the number one goal, but the number two goal is just understanding what they need right now and Canada … And the organization that they are helps serve that need, right, and that’s a huge … It’s such a simple thing to do and it’s … You’re going to do good by reaching out to your customers, but you’re also going to hear what they’re going through and what we can do to help, right, with that number one need.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and that makes sense, and talking to customers is … Is usually the most important thing to do for most … Or one of the most important things, at least as a sales activity and … But that’s a good, the differentiation there, as you said, calling because a lot of times there’s a lot of email going on, which it’s a lot easier to push a button …

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: And getting on the phone and speaking, especially if you don’t … If you’ve only got say 10 key customers, you know, that makes a lot of sense.

Shannon: And Luke, I was just going to say one more thing on that is the big thing about calling is great because it’s live, but it doesn’t mean it’s prioritizing who you’re calling, right, it’s that 80/20 rule, and so you’re not going to call them all, you probably just can’t, but you’re going to call your top ones.

Luke Peters: Absolutely.

Shannon: Right, it’s obvious, but it’s just there’s a lot going on right now, so I’m leaving nothing to be in the assumed category.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and I’ve got some friends that run more … So my business for NewAir we’re a mixed, like we do a lot of direct consumer, but then a lot of working with large brands, but-

Shannon: Right.

Luke Peters: Or large retailers, so it’s, you know, yeah, you have a handful that are really really really important. They’re all important, but I think on the direct to consumer some of the … Something that the listeners can think about is I’ve got friends that are running webinars, they’re even doing things like it could be health related webinars because their products have a health slant to it, so … And they’re getting a lot of engagement because people are at home and if you have a strong email list and a strong community that could be another place if you’re on a … You know, if you’re direct to consumer and you can’t touch everybody individually that’s a way you can get them on a webinar because-

Shannon: Yeah, absolutely.

Luke Peters: That’s the trend right now.

Luke Peters: So Shannon, there’s … Right now, a lot of companies are struggling, some of them especially when they’re brick and mortar focused are really struggling, and an obvious trend is online, is there anything else that you’ve seen has been helping your clients be successful in this time?

Shannon: Well, I think the last thing is … This is an obvious one, but I’m going to say it anyway is thinking out of the box, and so I was on with a client yesterday and predominantly face to face, physical, delivery of hard goods, technical good, to their customers that are located around the world, that’s pretty much shut down and it’s going to be shut down for a while, so what we’re … What the goal was was we talked about why and what the outcomes were in delivering the way they have been delivering and we’re sort of reimagining how could we create the same experience, and this isn’t a one and done, this isn’t overnight, “We’ll just do it virtually.” This is creating a whole step by step how are we going to not only deliver, but then train on something very complicated, machine that’s very complicated, and still get the same outcome.

Shannon: I mean, that’s what we’re trying for, so one thing I can say for anyone listening in is you have to reimagine, right? You still want the same outcome in our businesses, we might get even … Or better outcome, but we have to sort of reimagine the how, and a lot of people right now have to get a handle, that’s why I talked about mapping your cash in the beginning, the map your cash in the beginning just creates some urgency around what is our runway to use so we can take some time and reimagine how we’re going to do it.

Shannon: In some cases, businesses absolutely cannot deliver what they do virtually in any way, shape, or form, and so what are we … I’ve had people listening and going, “What are we going to do? We can’t do that.” So I’ve had people get really creative and starting to think about other things they can do, whether it’s four dollars for profit, you know, they’re actually going to charge for it or not, and I think that’s the time that … This is the time we have to do that and we have to get really clear on why we have been successful, what’s the outcome we expect, and can we recreate it another way with everything on the table, no idea’s too small or big, and then if the answer … I’ve done a session like this and the answer, it was, “You know what, we couldn’t figure out another way.” Like, “Honestly, we couldn’t … We went through the process, we took a step back and we said well …” at the end of it, it was, “What else could we do?” And we had a brainstorm around that, right?

Shannon: We got to realize that everybody’s in a different state of cash in the bank and that’s why I continuously go back to what is your cash runway, if you can actually last, evolve, pivot to it’s time to do or invest in to get to the other side of this, and I … From the beginning, I kept saying threading the needle, Luke, and now I say, you know, you got to see your way through the tunnel. See your way through the tunnel, and we have to actually reimagine how we do business and/or find a way through with the cash we have and what do we have to do for our team and our business and our family.

Luke Peters: Super helpful. And the key thing there is you said urgency in the problems, a lot of people are filled with fear and they don’t actually do things, so …

Shannon: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luke Peters: Urgency is the … And we have to get that through our whole team, but … And also … And I know everybody knows this, but I just want to repeat is that every AP can be pushed out, and it’s not being a bad business person, but …

Shannon: No.

Luke Peters: And you got to work on that and it takes phone calls, and I think sometimes people are too, I don’t know what the right word is, but I’ve found people I’m working with have been very honest and open about that conversation-

Shannon: Yep.

Luke Peters: And everybody understands what’s going on now, so you just got to get on the phone and back to what Shannon was saying on days of cash, you know, that’s … You can increase and change your days of cash there.

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: But that’s a great message, it’s a great message. Why don’t we just dive into more about your topics you’re experiencing in your books, and I actually want to start with this question, which is a lot of folks know … They understand a business planning system, most do I think, and … But maybe not in detail and others do in detail, and how would … How does “Three HAG” in your mind differ to commonly used frameworks?

Shannon: Yeah, so we grew up, you know, we grew up … I always say that, we grew up with a zest and everything we wrote about, talked about, continue to work with companies that are all from experience that we’ve had trying to find our way through this, and in … When I say through this is growing up the company, and we wanted to make it, you know, do it with ease, we wanted to do it with speed, and we want to do it with confidence and feel good about it and not only reach the goals we set out in business, but we wanted to have a life too.

Shannon: A lot of people go, “Oh, that’s a fallacy, that can’t happen.” Well, what we were looking for was a repeatable system, and so “The Three HAG”, you know, three year Highly Achievable Goals, that’s what it stands for, is the ultimate glue, right? It’s the ultimate glue and I heard myself saying this when I was coaching others, and honestly my first book “The Metronome Effect” I didn’t even write about the three HAGs, I just thought everybody did this and I was the one last to the party and I didn’t do this and … You know, why didn’t I do this, but what I learned in coaching is that not … I don’t think I really ran into anybody doing it and coaches started asking me for the framework so I just gave it to them, and as they were having the same success we had, which was being able to grow our company up with … I think of ourselves first being balanced, doing this with some fun and some ease and confidence and our strategy, and realizing that as well on the sales of those companies, yeah, that’s a nice story, but nobody wants to hear about that, everyone wants to go Shannon, I’m in the fire, I’m in the war right now, how do I get out of this?

Shannon: And so the three HAG was a way to actually just step out and put out in front of everyone, “Here is the glue.” And why this comes down to everybody can execute and there’s lots of great execution systems out there, and if you’re using EOS or scaling up execution system or great game or EXR or whatever you’re doing, but you’ve been executing your business for a while so let’s keep that going. Are there things we could tweak it? Absolutely, of course we can, but the thing that always came back, I learned as I was coaching others, and other coaches kept going, “Well, I’m having a really hard time lining that up to the most valuable position we could get into.” And that’s what our strategy enables us to do, and we learned strategy in business school and I read about strategy, but it’s still this really abstract thing.

Shannon: And so what we wanted to do was give back to everybody is this step by step how do you as a high growth, busy, like just say … You don’t even have to be high growth, busy business owner leader, how am I going to do that too? And so we wanted to give an easy step by step, “Here’s what you got to do and it’s good for your business anyway.” You know, stepping from the key process flow map is talking about how your business makes money, the environment you play in, the market map, I already mentioned those, to your core customer, we talked about that, to then creating and developing the strategy with your team and being able to articulate it easily, right? Show a picture, show it simply, because strategy’s most people can’t even articulate a strategy in less than a 200 page document or a, you know, five minute long description, you need to make it clear and simple. Take something very complex that usually the leaders believe, but they’re not quite saying all the same things, but we want to get them all saying the same thing and this is a step by step process.

Shannon: It’s been like sort of grab hold of by coaches around the world and anyone who knows the execution system and growing their business because it’s just I wanted to ensure, we wanted to ensure, when we drew this up that here are the best thought leaders out there on strategy, here’s your glue, here’s your sort of like … And it’s insurance, right? If we can see where the white space in the market is and we see who’s going to buy some because those are all nice things said at a high level, but how do we actually build something up to that? And this was a way to build your strategies from the bottom up, and then align it to your execution, align it, and so those two things go together looking out to our 10 year goals, our three year goals, our one year goals, and then our 90 day.

Shannon: You know what, Luke, the key thing at how we ended up here was in my first business we struggled. We kept putting out this five year … We had our 10 year goal, 10, 30 year, our big goal and then we kept putting out this five year goals, and now I call it the five year super wild ass guess, might as well been 10 years or whatever. We had no idea how to get there, but once we coded in then we said if we bring this goal closer to us we’ll create urgency, we’ll create focus, it’ll get the whole team built towards it we will align ourselves up so we’ll execute, and so it’s not doing it all at once. It’s not a one and done, I got the three HAGs, we’re done, it’s a step by step process that ebbs and flows with what’s happening externally and what’s happening internally.

Shannon: Everyone out there who has a three year highly achievable goal today is looking at it and, like I said earlier, adjusting a bit, maybe how they thought they were going to drive towards it they’re going to take a few other turns first, they’re going to find another way, but they’re still going to get there, right? And it’s a ways out, but they’re still going to get there.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and it’s a very readable book and, you know, I know we got a bunch of bookworms out there and I’ve read … I love reading books. One thing I found is it is extremely detailed, it’s detail … You’re very detail oriented, which I love, because it is really … It becomes step by step, but also it’s not easy, just like anything in life’s not going to be … Anything good’s not going to be easy.

Luke Peters: I wanted to ask, I mean, you have a bunch of different … The chapters kind of go through the different segments of the book and you talk about like the core customer and the differentiating actions and the swim lanes and all that, I thought the marketing part would be a hard exercise for most companies because you had to really … There’s probably going to be a lot of market research if that company’s may not already be doing and then you really have to understand, you know, what you’re positioning and who you’re going after and who the competition is because you go into detail about all that stuff, and then positioning the companies that you have a really unique proposition, and I’m just curious from your point of view what ends up being … Just on the planning side, so you have different … You can break down on the different segments, I guess, of coming … Following the whole three HAG way strategy, what ends up being the most challenging for most clients?

Shannon: Yeah, so the most … That’s an excellent question, the most challenging thing that we run … We run into it all the time, sometimes I stop the session if I’m working with the client and say, “We need to go do this.” And what that is, is we as leaders in our business need to be experts in our market, and what I have found right or wrong is that most of the companies think they’re experts in their market until they get to step four in “The Three HAG Way” which is looking at and coming up with the attributes of the market, picking out the competitors, everybody can do that, but then rating their competitors on how good they serve certain characteristics of the market, certain attributes, this isn’t products, this is like companies, right? And knowing your competitors, and I hear lots of people say to me, “Shannon, I don’t need to know my competitors, they’re nowhere in my rear view mirror.” You know, everything, but I was like that too and I too believed that, I’m not going to compete head to head, we don’t … Competing in the marketplace is not competing on the same dimension with another company, competing in a marketplace is we’re competing to be unique.

Shannon: We’re competing to get onto our own dimension, and so if we’re going to be on our own dimension and our own white space we have to know where everybody else is and we need to validate the white space. A lot of companies don’t know enough about the others playing in their marketplace, particularly their competitor, all the way through, you know, everything about their competitors. What we … What I’ve also found is … So that will stall out that part, and if we do stall out there what we do is we say, “Okay, we’ve got five competitors. Who wants to take competitor number one and go learn everything you can about them and please bring it back so you can share it.” “Let’s do competitor two.” “Let’s do competitor three, four.” However many we’re doing, and we need to bring it back because we as a leadership team one of the top three barriers for holding back a company is understanding market dynamics and leaders need to be the experts at understanding their market, not just the CEO or not just the president of the company or not just them and the sales person or the marketing person, this is everybody on the leadership team.

Shannon: It doesn’t matter what size your leadership team is, there’s only two of you you got to be the experts, and there’s 10 of you I find that’s where you find … You definitely find less people know as much about the market as say a two person team, so that’s where we’ll stall out, not knowing enough, and that’s the biggest theme I see there is the company’s not looking out enough into the market and understanding who’s out there, who’s playing, and how they’re currently positioned in the market.

Luke Peters: Wow, and so walk us through that a little bit in more detail say with one competitor, does that mean that you need to know say their positioning, maybe a little bit about their marketing and marketing strategy, who they sell to, are those the key areas or is there … Did I maybe leave out a big one there?

Shannon: Yeah, so it’s, you know, I like to go deep and you said I’m detail oriented, I definitely am, but I sort of had to lose that along the way as I … Drawing up as a CEO you have to let other people take on the details, but one of the things as a leadership team we need to understand … And there becomes different levels of this. The first time through most teams go, “Okay, this is the company, these are the products, this is their size, this is what they’re known for, you know, here’s what they’re good at, here’s what they’re not good at.” So that’s usually round one, but we’re not going to just do this one round, right? We’re going to keep coming back and get to know them more and more, and we’re going to get to know them probably personally more and more, but the better we get to know who’s all playing around us in our arena the better chance we have to come up with the best strategy to position ourself, right? Which is away from the others, right?

Shannon: If we’re on the same dimension it’s usually a race for the bottom and we’re usually going to differentiate on pricing, which is why it’s a race to the bottom, and we do want to get, you know, round one get as much as you need to do to get a picture of who’s in the arena and who is playing all around you and who they’re serving. Then you’re going to come back to this, like I have teams that have done this and worked with them maybe three or four years, we’ve done and re-upped what’s called an attribution map, and we’ve re-upped an attribution map and sometimes we’ve done it four or five times in the first year because they’re just trying to learn because we haven’t done anything.

Shannon: If we have a good idea of our market we can create a really good picture, and this picture helps us decide, strategy is about deciding what to do and what not to do, and it really helps us decide with confidence what we should be doing, you know, to actually move the company forward and into a more valuable position so we’re not competing head to head with any competitor. We usually know them well, we know their products well, so it is at a detailed level, and it’s one of these things where I said you can’t over communicated, but you can’t know enough about the marketplace your client’s in.

Luke Peters: I love that. So our goal … It’s funny because I … It’s a long book, but audiobook for the biography “Tighten” on John D. Rockefeller, and his whole thing was to never have to compete, he would just …

Shannon: Right.

Luke Peters: He would put people out of business, yeah. He never wanted to compete and he spoke about that openly.

Shannon: No, that’s right.

Luke Peters: It’s so funny.

Shannon: And Micheal Porter, Luke …

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Shannon: Micheal Porter is what got my attention on this back in the day at my first company was, you know, his thing was what do you think about competition, are you competing to be the best? Well, in sports and in school and in everything we learned we are ingrained to compete to be the best, but actually when we create a valuable company we are competing to be unique, and that has stayed with me, that picture stayed with me, and so everything that we learned in the steps on this, this is a key step to understand how to we become unique and give … It gets back to Rockefeller going, “I don’t want to compete with anybody else, of course not.” And we have that space to ourselves.

Luke Peters: I love that, compete to be unique, that’s such an easy way to explain it, and a challenging way, but you actually talk about that later on in competing or creating that … I think you describe it differently, but it’s a guarantee, you call it like an irresistible guarantee, I think, which is-

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: Spot on.

Shannon: Grand promises guaranty, yeah, which is the key to knowing that we are in the white space, we do have a strong strategy, and people seek us out because of that.

Luke Peters: Okay, and now, Shannon, what I want to ask you about here is this is a people question because this can be a difficult one, you know, companies are hiring in executives and experts from other companies and they may have a great resume and have found success doing things their way and, you know, generally when people have been through a couple companies they can be a little more set in their ways, let’s say, because they’ve had success in those ways and that’s what they’re comfortable with, but then in your methods they are very granular down to the detail, which again I love, but have you ever found any resistance or have the teams you’ve coached ever found resistance say in their leadership because maybe their leadership sees this as micromanaging instead of just what it really is is creating a very clear plan?

Shannon: Right. So the answer is yes, absolutely, one of the … One of the phrases that we’re known for and there’s a reason why we say it, but it may not be as obvious to everyone is we always say you’ve got to commit to growth, right? You need to commit. And even if you’re going to put in a whole growth system like this, the three HAGs of glue that holds the whole growth system together, you’ve got to commit, and it starts with the leader of the organization, the CEO, the owner, the founder, whoever’s driving, right? They commit, and once that person commits, right, they need their leaders, they need at least half of those leaders to say, “Yeah, this is a good idea too.” And there are others that will not commit to it and, you know, this will sound harsh, but it’s direct, those leaders are usually not at the next meeting.

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Shannon: If the CEO and leader has committed to this, those leaders and … If they don’t commit they’re not buying in, they’re not going to play along with this, they are usually not going to be a part of that and they will find an environment in another organization that, you know, skewed culturally what they want to do and where they want to go.

Shannon: I’m saying that because when we get into commit to a growth system, right, there’s different levels, but yeah, there are some very key steps on this and the cool thing is we have the data not only from my own experience, my company that I coach experience, but now other coaches, right, coaching around the world, those companies are getting the same results as we’re getting, so it’s a matter of how much and how bad does the leadership team want to reach their goals and will they commit. Most say, “Yes, I want that.” But the teams who commit are the ones … And those leaders are the ones that remain and drive this through and work together and … It’s not perfect, it’s not … It’s a system, right, it’s a framework, so you can morph it into what you need, but if everybody doesn’t commit they … It’s not going to work, number one. Number two, if some leaders don’t commit to it they usually don’t remain on the team.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and thanks for being so open and clear about that, but that’s how, you know, teams got to all be in sync and kind of all move in the same direction, and I definitely could see that happening, but then I could see the people that buy into it and creating a really amazing culture as well. That’s probably the results and-

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: Yeah, so getting onto that, just wanted to finish up with this is, is talk about the results. Would love to hear what type of results you’re seeing or any examples you’re able to give.

Shannon: Yeah, so if I think of when I set out in my first company to, you know, knock it out of the park, you know, and it’s like this is like ’95, ’96, right? So, and it’s on the edge of the dot com bubble, right? And so we could imagine some home runs, you know, and we’re in, we’ve hit the ball for a home run, and we get four years in and like we’re no where near the home run we want to see and pretty desperate for success, I made every mistake and more, it was a mess. Oh my gosh, so many. We were just desperate for the win and this is what led us down this path, and so the better we got at the system the better our results are, and we see on average now companies and leaders, teams, that commit to the system, commit to their goals, not only are they achieving them … If we think of a three HAG, we’re seeing them on average get there at least a year and a half before … So a year in a three year goal, right, they’re getting there in a year and a half to what they write down to two years.

Shannon: They’re also, the ones that are most active, right? They’re living this every day, it’s not part of what they do, we’re seeing in three years’ time they’ve tripled, tripled their top line. Some people go, “Big deal.” But the big deal is why I go back to cash, they’ve doubled their cashflow, right? Cash is king, map it out, reserve cash, right, and grow the company with, you know, your cash board chest so you can weather any storm that comes at us, and so those are the consistent results we’re seeing, not only did we see in my organizations we … One was on that line and one was far beyond, right?

Shannon: We overachieved that, and I didn’t know that was a thing until I started seeing those results in my own companies I was coaching, I was thinking, “Is that because I’m coaching them?” And you know, people started grabbing the framework and now we have 70 coaches around the world who work the framework, so they’re getting the same results, that was the validation. They’re getting the same results, and so I always say if you have a goal and you want to commit to it, you know, the framework, that’s number one, it will help. No doubt will give you a full perspective on purpose, Luke, because I was so frustrated with the business books that were out there, there were really nice fuzzy stuff, but I wanted to know how the hell do I do this, so that’s why we wrote our book that way.

Shannon: The second thing is is that the Metronome Growth Systems is a software platform to create a playing field that drives the behavior, the accountable behavior, we need, which is seeing one another play together and what we committed to and keeping ourselves aligned and communicating and all those thing, so that’s why that platform. And that was selfishly for me as a coach to save me time, you know, working with clients and to save my clients time, but it’s grown into hundreds of coaches around the world, thousands of coaches around the world, and tens of thousands of users, so that’s been just a nice thing that’s happening.

Shannon: And then the third thing that really, you know, and this will sound self serving, but it’s not, I can’t take on another client if I tried, this is not even saying this, I grew up with a coach. I had a coach in every one of my businesses. I spent over a million dollars in coaching fees for me and my team and some people are going, “Million dollars, are you nuts?” But why I say that is that coaching married up with a process and this team accountability allowed us to drive our … You know, keep our commitment to ourself and drive it forward and save us, you know, in the first company is may not have really saved us, but in our second company really save us from making the same mistake over and over, and you heard me say in the first four years of my first business we made a lot of mistakes, oh my gosh, I never want to do that.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well, I think that goes for everybody when they started a business, but wow, that’s amazing that you’ve had … You’ve … We’ve all hopefully had coaches from one level to another, but you’ve been very committed, it sounds like all the way through, and really investing in coaching and … Wow, that’s cool, and now you’re a coach now, so you’ve moved on.

Shannon: Yeah, that’s my give back, that’s my retirement, right?

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Shannon: I always joke, I’m retired, right, and everyone goes, “Haha, you’re not retired.” And I say, “Well, I’m re-priored.” And my re-priorment is I just don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through to build up a company, everyone thinks it’s just a part of building a company, it’s not. That’s a very traditional way, you know, slogging it out, getting a bit of growth each year, let’s not do that. Let’s figure out how we create this repeatable system so it becomes easier, you know, with ease we grow our company, with ease we grow our company and with confidence.

Luke Peters: Well, we’ll put links in the show notes, I’m going to definitely look at it as well. I know we did OKRs a while back, but the thing OKRs, they’re great for like creating goals, but … And they’re kind of trendy in Silicon Valley, but there’s not … There’s some accountability, but not enough, and there’s not enough structure, so definitely going to look into this and see if it can get the whole team together, and again, we’ll put it in the show notes.

Luke Peters: And before I let you go, though, I did want to ask one more question and that is just you have have so much experience, you’ve done a lot yourself, and then of course you’re interfacing with a lot of clients, what are the … Usually I’ll ask what practical bits of advice, but here I kind of wanted to ask is there something that stands out, like mistakes, that you commonly see businesses making, maybe one or two types of common mistakes you see?

Shannon: Yeah, and this is going to sound soft because people think this way, but the number one thing I see is the CEO, the leader, not investing and making culture, and culture can be squishy and there’s … You can have a whole nother conversation about culture, but not making that their number one thing. And we think of people in three things, the cultural system, the cohesive system, and the human system, and if we can have those in such a good place, like those are firing, those are three systems in the overall growth system firing, oh my gosh, it will make it so much easier to grow up the company. And unfortunately, we don’t learn enough about that, we think HR is responsible for that, and nope, that is … Talk to any CEO who’s got a really strong organization that can make us through thick, thin, and times like this, it’s all about your culture.

Luke Peters: Great advice, and it’s needed now and that’s good, that’s a good reminder for me and all the other business owners listening, even if we’re not cheerleaders we’ve got to find a way to really invest in culture-

Shannon: Yeah.

Luke Peters: So great tip, and kind of back to the beginning when you were talking about communication, so we got to over communicate.

Shannon: Yes.

Luke Peters: Very good advice.

Shannon: Yep.

Luke Peters: Well listen, it’s been a pleasure having you on, Shannon, I learned a lot, took a ton of notes, and I hope the listeners got a lot out of this. And before I let you go, how can listeners contact you, learn about your coaching? LinkedIn or you want to give your website, or what’s the best way for them to find you?

Shannon: Yeah, I think the best way to find us is Metronomeunited.com. It’s got all … Any kind of resources you need, ways to find out more about what we do, and it’s got great resources, so lots of learning webinars, things to map your cash. Right now, a link, a big ugly link on the homepage because I just said, “Put it up there, I want people to go and learn as much as they can about how to refocus on cash.” So metronomeunited.com.

Luke Peters: Great. Hope everybody goes and checks it out, and again, I just want to thank everybody for listening to this episode of the Page One Podcast sponsored by Retail Band, hope you enjoyed the interview today. Really, really appreciate your reviews on iTunes, stay safe, and hope you guys join next time, thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Page One Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce? Check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers.

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Episode References: 3HAG Way + Metronome United + Titan International, Inc.

Contact Shannon Susko: LinkedIn

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.comLinkedIn 

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