January 2017

Avoid Problems By Preventing Them

2017-03-01T11:44:15+00:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, TWAW|Tags: , , |

An excellent way to solve problems is by not letting them happen in the first place, through prevention.

Prevention is why we bring our cars in for maintenance, visit our doctor for an annual exam, and have a mid-year check-in with our boss.

We want to avoid surprises and discover potential issues while they’re forming to prevent bigger problems in the future. We examine something, monitoring it comparing now to the past looking for any changes.

How would you like to be ahead of your colleagues in knowing what’s happening in your industry with your products, and among your competition? Oh… and for free without the investment of a research marketing firm?

Your Secret Tool: Google Alerts

A great free tool to let you monitor your business is Google Alerts.

Just enter your search terms, your email, and frequency of delivery and Google searches the internet for this information. When it finds a match, it will send you an email with links to relevant content. It is free and only takes a moment to set-up.

A great way to track your company, your competition, and your industry.

Sample searches include:

  • your company name,
  • your product(s) name,
  • your industry, or
  • your competition.

Combine those words with other keywords such as:

  • your company name + “trends,”
  • your product category + “developments,”
  • your industry name + “legislation,” or
  • your product category + “innovation.”

Before you read another email or visit another website, right now, create a few Google alerts for yourself. Here’s the link: Google Alerts.

These alerts are an effective and efficient way to stay informed and get the latest information and trends. I promise you very few of your co-workers have these set-up. Get ready to impress your co-workers!

September 2013

What Is Your Competition Doing?

2017-08-21T16:01:25+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , |

Do you know how well your business compares to your competition? More specifically, when it comes to how well you deliver Customer Service and Product & Service Offerings; how comparatively innovative you are?

Also, beyond your competition, how do you compare with others in your industry? Or, how well do you compare in these categories to any business?

I know… these are big questions.

If you do know these things, how do you know? First-hand knowledge? Or, are you relying on a hunch? What you’ve heard? Assumptions?

In this scoop of “Sand for Your Inbox,” we provide the ideas and tools to help your team gain that first-hand knowledge!

Gaining Competitive Insight

Bucket o' Sand IconThe best way to know the answers to any of these questions is to visit and experience for yourself. Be a secret shopper of your competition, and of your industry.

We recommend not only touring your direct competition, but also those who compete in the same category. For example, if you are a bookstore, your competition naturally includes other bookstores in your area. But, you also compete with any retailer who sells books. Don’t just compare your pizza place to other pizza places… Your competition includes all dining-out options.

Go beyond product offering to see how you compare with any other business customer service, in-store policies, signage, speed of service, consumer promotions, etc.

The Process

You and your team visit area locations or locations in a different market to “secret shop” the competition. Divide into small groups, take notes, and share findings with the rest of the team. Here is more detail:


  • Determine what topics/categories you want to explore. Service? Pricing? Product Offerings? Merchandising? In-Store Experience?
  • Create a list of locations that excel in a category.
  • Plot – on a map – a logical path for visiting these locations.
  • Use our suggestions (below) to create your own questions “What To Look For” when you conduct the visits.

Tour Day:

  • Depending on group size, assign topics and visit locations / take notes.
  • Teams return to your meeting point and spend time discussing findings. Prepare 5 to 10-minute presentation to share back to the entire group.
  • Regroup post-tour and discuss finding.

A Few Additional Tips:

  • When visiting, be respectful of the operators.
  • We don’t recommend going in large groups – it becomes too obvious you’re “shopping” their locations.
  • Be careful if you plan to take photos – many businesses get upset when people start using cameras in-store.
  • Make your notes outside and away from the location. Think of how you’d feel if someone was in your location with a clipboard and pen writing things down.
  • If you can afford it – expand the search to a region where you live… or anywhere in the country. Or, if you don’t want to limit your research and have the budget open up the world for this type of benchmarking.

What To Look For

Here are some starter questions and things to look for.

At Location Entrance:

  • Is the entry area clean and inviting?
  • What do you notice even before you enter?

First Impressions:

  • How’s the lighting?
  • Is there music playing?
  • Does the store feel welcoming?
  • Does someone greet you as you enter? Does it feel sincere? Welcoming?


  • What is the overall feel of the location?
  • Is it a place you would feel comfortable to linger – shop leisurely? Or do you get the feeling you’re being whisked through?

Product Quality:

  • Do the products look high quality?
  • If possible, buy and try – especially if it is food or drink related. From what you tried, was it as good as you hoped it would be?


  • How is the product – food, clothing, etc. presented? Does it look fresh?
  • High-end fixtures?Unique fixtures?


  • What do they use to indicate everyday offerings?
  • Pricing?
  • Are their menus slick printed, or handwritten?
  • Does the menu match the brand?
  • Are there specials? Limited time offerings? If so, how did they let you know?

Point of Service/Register:

  • What is the experiencing as you are served and pay for your product?
  • Was the person on the register friendly, nice, courteous?
  • Is the POS area clean or cluttered?

Social Media:

  • Can you tell if they use Twitter, Facebook, etc.? If so, how do you know? Check their social media sites? How many likes and followers?

Lasting Impression:

  • Would you bring a friend from out of town to this concept?
  • Is it a destination?
  • Was visiting this location a memorable experience?

We’ve attached a Store Tour guide we created and used with a client in Washington DC. It features specific locations in the Georgetown area.

The “best” practices you collect allow you to catch up with the competition is doing.  This is the “bar” your customers are using as rate good versus bad. When you catch up to the competition, you should create “next” practices. Next practices – raising that bar – will help make you the leader.

[Download Store Tour Example PDF, 2.2MB]

So, if you want to know how you compare to your competition there is no need for an assumption, check them out firsthand.

September 2011

Decision Making, Like A Fighter Pilot

2015-01-02T16:40:30+00:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , |

When operating a company, to stay innovative requires constant observation of your industry, competition, and your own company.

When you’re a fighter pilot, to stay alive requires constant observation of what is happening around you as well as with your own aircraft.

With that said… Let me ask you… If there was a decision-making framework that allowed a fighter pilot to make smart choices, while flying at near supersonic speeds, and while being shot at, wouldn’t you want to put that to work for your business?

I can see you nodding your head “Yes!” as you read this…

There is a decision making tool fighter pilots use called the OODA Loop.

It is also known as the John Boyd OODA Loop after its inventor who was a United States Air Force fighter pilot from 1951 thru 1975 and a military strategist.

OODA stands for:

  • Observation – collecting data with your senses
  • Orientation – analyzing and synthesizing the information to form a perspective
  • Decision – choosing a course of action based on that perspective, and
  • Action – taking action on that decision.

It is a repeating cycle, thus ‘loop’ in the name. You observe, gain orientation, decide on your plan, and act. Then, you start observing again, &c,.

A key to victory – whether fighting in the air, or innovation within your company on the ground – is to create situations where you can anticipate, adapt, and make the right decisions. The OODA Loop helps accomplish this.

You can read more about the OODA Loop and Jack Boyd on Wikipedia.

The illustration I’ve rendered here is a slightly simplified version of the diagram created by John Boyd.