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“Go to the ball.”

How to Create Opportunities
During the Most Ordinary Days

By
Dan Coughlin

My son, Ben, is six years old. I’ve coached his soccer teams for the past two years. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that going to the ball is a foreign idea for most young children. The most frequent comment from the coaches is, “Go to the ball.” Rather than waiting for the ball to come right to their feet, the players need to learn that they need to go to the ball and kick it before anything positive is going to happen.

The same is true in business. In order to take your career to the next level, you need to always be going to the ball, which is the opportunity to add value to your customers and help your organization become more successful.

There is Always More Than One Opportunity to Add Value

Fortunately, it is much easier to go to the ball in business than it is in a soccer game. In a soccer game, there is only one ball and there are between 14 and 22 players trying to kick it. In business, there are countless opportunities to add value for every employee every day.

The key to being seen as a “player” in business is to consistently create value for your organization and customers when it is not at all obvious as to where the opportunities to add value are at.

Creating Value-Added Opportunities

Take out a sheet of paper. On the front side, write down the three most important outcomes that your organization wants to improve this year. Space these three outcomes out so you have plenty of room to write after each one. On the back side, write down the three most important outcomes for your customers that you can help them to improve. Space out those customer outcomes so you have plenty of room to write.

On the front side after each desired outcome, write down bullet-point ideas on what you can do to help move that outcome forward toward a better result. And then do the same for each of the desired customer outcomes on the back.

Examples of Creating Value Where Opportunities Seem Hidden

Here is what the front side might look like:

Increase sales with current customers.

    • Talk to ten customers this week. Ask, “What value do you feel you received from your purchase?” 
    •  Look for common denominators in the answers. Then brainstorm for other products and services that can reinforce that value. 
    • Ask three other people to join in the brainstorming session, particularly people from product development, marketing, and operations. 
    • Give credit for any new product ideas to other people. 
    • Volunteer to oversee a team committed to creating a new prototype product that can add increased value to current customers.

Generate sales with new customers.

    • Write a white paper for internal purposes on leveraging the lessons learned from current customers called, “Leveraging Customer Insights: How Happy Customers are the Eyes to New Customers.”
    • Volunteer to market our company’s products to a small number of people in a new demographic.

Reduce operating costs for current customers.

    • Look at the entire flow of creating and selling a specific product to a given customer, and identify the cost to the company at each point in the process.
    • Look for overlap in the process for various products.
    • Identify where costs are being repeated that could be reduced by timing the overlap of the activities for different products to coincide at the same time.

Here is what the back side might look like:

Close the gap between a customer’s expected time of receiving a product and the actual time of delivery.

    • Ask ten customers when they expected to receive a specific product and when they actually received it.
    • Let the sales department and the operations department know about the gap from expected delivery to actual delivery.
    • Ask for ways to reduce this gap. Offer the suggestion of adding 15% more time to any estimate so as to reduce customer expectations and keep them realistic.

Reduce the overall cost of the buying experience for the customer.

    • Follow one entire sales process from the time a customer thought about buying a certain type of product to the time they actually bought and used the product. Keep track of both dollars and hours invested by the customer in this process. Do this for ten customers.
    • Share your research with members of the marketing, sales, and operations teams. Facilitate a discussion on how the process could become less expensive and less time-consuming for the customer.
    • Volunteer to test new ideas for a handful of customers to see what the real-life experience of the new process would be like for them.

Have customers appreciate the marketing they receive from our organization.

    • Ask ten customers what they appreciated and what they did not appreciate about the marketing they received on a specific product.
    • Ask customers for specific examples of marketing they have received from other companies that they have enjoyed the most.
    • Share these customer insights with members of the marketing team. Ask for their input on what could be done to improve the customer experience with the marketing they received.

Finding Hidden Value is Like Digging for Gold

Just as with the successful gold diggers in the 1890’s, digging for hidden value requires perseverance, courage, creativity, and effective human relations. It takes courage to do something off the beaten path like having conversations with customers and presenting insights to other members of your organization. It takes skillful communications to get other people involved in meaningful conversations without them feeling that you are acting inappropriately. It takes genuine sincerity for other people to feel that you are looking out for the best interests of the organization, and not for your own best interests.

Having said all of that, it is far easier to find “gold” in the form of opportunities to create value for your organization and your customers than it was for people to find real gold back in the days of sifting through sand.

“Go to the ball.”

Don’t wait for your boss or another employee to show you how to add more value to your organization and your customers. Step back, clarify the outcomes your organization and your customers want improved, identify ways to add value, and then go after those opportunities. And then please meet with my six-year-old soccer players to help them “go to the ball.”


Dan Coughlin About Dan Coughlin
Visit Dan at www.thecoughlincompany.com. Dan Coughlin is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, and author of Accelerate: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum. He has been quoted in USA Today, the New York Times, and Investor’s Business Daily. Dan’s clients include Coca-Cola, Toyota, Boeing, Marriott, McDonald’s, AT&T, American Bar Association, and the St. Louis Cardinals. He speaks on entrepreneurial habits, quality, leadership, branding, sales, and innovation.


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