Jeff Baker | Crain's Tampa Bay

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeff Baker

Background:  

Noble is a patient-centric product development company for the world's leading pharmaceutical brands that works closely with commercialization, brand, and device teams to develop educational and training solutions focused on improving the onboarding experience. Noble’s focus is to bring value to clients by driving innovation in onboarding and device training.

The Mistake:

Lacking a solid business plan and strategy.

I started Noble 23 years ago as a part-time business. When I went full-time, I had a one-page plan for different markets and things like that. So when I hired my first new employees and I had that single page plan, even though I documented the goals and objectives, I just assumed that my employees understood clearly what I was saying. But not all employees will seek true clarity when you make a statement.

What I found in really analyzing the market was that poor planning just led to a ton of inefficiencies. It led to a lot of confusion, which was very detrimental to how well we executed on opportunities in the market. And I also realized that, as the leader of the business, I was making a lot of assumptions without proper research to validate the assumptions that I was making.  

For instance, when Noble first started its growth into the pharmaceutical segment of our business, around 1999 or 2000, I made some assumptions on how we needed to differentiate ourselves going into the market. And I had about 70 percent of it wrong, which probably cost us about two or three years in market penetration. [I was] assuming that one customer’s needs are the same as all the other potential customers’ needs in that market.

I found myself creating products and services for one customer and tried to sell essentially the same types of products and services to other customers in the same segment, [then] realized that only maybe 30 percent of that offering had commonality.

Starting in early 2000, I started building a more comprehensive business plan. You go through this process of identifying what you want to be, where you want to be as a company, but it doesn’t tell you how to get there. So there’s an [inherent] falsehood in a business plan versus a functioning strategy.

So I made this transition about five years ago from having this really cool business plan that was really great for our bankers to see and potential investors to [one that] prioritizes the importance of strategy. And what that forced me to do as a leader is carve out more time to work on the business than working in it.

If I hadn’t made that decision, I wouldn’t spend as much time now working on the business. And as a true leader of the company, that’s probably where you should be spending most of your time.

So now we have a strategy where everybody logs into the system and they can see what everybody’s else’s tactics are and how the tactics are tied to certain departmental goals, and how the goals support the corporate objectives. It helps tie everything together.

Our team has more clarity about what they should be doing than they’ve ever had.

The Lesson:

If I’d deployed and utilized the resources and the functionality of how we manage our strategy platform – for communications, research, marketing, product development – our position in the market would be substantially higher. And compared to five years ago, our team has more clarity about what they should be doing and where we’re going than they’ve ever had.

Even though it’s Business 101, I meet with a lot of business owners and very few have a documented business plan that’s current. And the utilization of a business plan is almost nonexistent even with the ones that have it.

[Like them] I just didn’t know, and that’s my fault. I didn’t give credit to proper planning in creating a culture that’s as fully aligned as possible – in all aspects of who we are as a team and what’s our vision. And more importantly, that clarity that each team member at any level now has [about] what they can do and feel empowered to do – that’s the positive impact on the company.

Follow Noble on Twitter at @NoblePharma.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Baker

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