Sunday, July 22, 2007

Strategic Planning - Eliminating Dead Weight Loss

What is dead weight loss? It's what happens when a customer wants something - and is willing to pay a given price for it - but settles for something that is either above or below his or her ideal price. In many markets, the price difference will correspond with real differences in value delivered to the customer.

A good example of this happens with airline tickets. There are times when a given route, because of intense competition, is priced very low. Let's say you would be willing to pay $200 for a ticket from New York to Miami, especially if you felt you would be getting good service. Because of competition on that route, you might find prices as low as $100. Now, in the long run, $100 is probably not a viable price for that route - because the average cost of flying the plane exceeds $100. But you buy the ticket anyway, since you want to go to Miami. The airline has suffered an dead weight loss of $100 when you buy the ticket for $100 less than you were willing to spend.

dead weight loss also occurs when you decide NOT to buy the ticket if the fare rises to $250. In that case, the dead weight loss is $200, because you did not spend any money with the airline. Airlines tend to use a process called yield management to fill as many seats as possible at a given price level with minimum dead weight loss, but it tends to be a losing battle. The main reason is that the main fare variations tend to happen in very predictable ways, and passengers understand those systems pretty well. But the basic concept does have some merits, because it enables airlines to offer multiple prices for the exact same seat, which reduces the dead weight loss. How can you do this in your business?

First, it's safe to assume that your current pricing doesn't represent the ideal price to most of your customers. In some cases, you lose customers because your price is too high, and in other cases, you are leaving money on the table because your price is too low. If customers were honest with us about the prices they are willing to pay, we could, theoretically, ask each customer and set the price for that customer. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in most real world cases, and in some cases it involves an illegal practice known as price discrimination. However, you can always offer customers a little more or a little less when you sell them anything. For example, when customers buy electronics at many chain stores, they are offered a service plan. Without going into the merits of the service plan or its real value, this is a good example of upselling customers who are willing to pay a little more for a better consumer experience.

How can you do this in your business? In my next post, I'll explore some of the ways this can be done, and after that, a process for identifying the possibilities in any business.

For those of you who are interested, our Fall Simplified Strategic Planning seminar schedule has been posted. I'll be teaching programs in Anaheim, San Francisco, Orlando and Troy, Michigan. The California programs will be the first time I've taught a public program outside of Orlando and Troy in years, so I hope my West coast readers will take advantage of it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Keeping the Excitement in Strategic Planning

The other day I was watching my son play a game on the internet. It's a tedious game, with lots of repetitive action, and I was puzzled by how much he likes this game. You see, my son gets bored pretty easily. Getting him to do his homework can be a real challenge. But there he was, clearly enjoying spending an hour on a task that looked suspiciously like work to me. Why?

People who have researched this kind of behavior point out that the key to my son's enjoyment of the game were the "levels" he was achieving. You see, playing the game properly (which isn't that hard) leads to gaining a "level". This game started out as a pretty easy one - my ten-year-old was able to gain ten levels in his first hour of play. After a while, though, it got harder...and he still kept going. He's proud of his levels. He talks about them with his friends. And it turns out they all play this game - a lot.

What can we learn from this behavior? I see three key points for keeping excitement going for anything in your business:

1. Measure, measure, measure. Everyone wants to keep score, and the things we measure help create a sense of accomplishment.

2. Give feedback. While some people are motivated by team scores, most individual effort seeks a personal score. The more immediate the feedback, the stronger the motivation. If it takes a quarter to get feedback, you won't get as much bang for your buck.

3. Allow comparison. People love to measure themselves against each other. It's the equivalent of little boys talking about what level they are in a game. Think about how to give your people useful feedback about their contributions to your efforts that make sense when compared with others.

Are there pitfalls in this approach? Absolutely. You can measure the wrong thing. Sometimes feelings will get hurt. And some measurements will make key people think they aren't contributing much - when, in fact, they are critical to your success. But a little thought can lead to great excitement about the things that really matter to you and your company.

If progress on your strategic planning seems to be slowing down, you may want to consider how to get your team to treat the process as more of a game. While some teams just don't have the spirit, a good team will always seek to win when they know there is a score.