Good news! The U.S. Department of Labor has reported that the job market has finally recovered to pre-economic crisis levels. Still there are some lessons that should not be forgotten. With this recession, enterprises around the globe adjusted their policies on how they make buying decisions. Across the board, enterprises implemented a strict set of requirements to justify purchases of new products and services. They require that each purchase needs to show a clear definition of the expected total cost of ownership (TCO) and anticipated return on investment (ROI). This has created new challenges for sales teams.
In order to enable sales teams to achieve their goals, they need to adjust their sales process. They need to be able to demonstrate they clearly understand the business of their customers and articulate how the product or service they offer will enhance their business. With tighter controls on spending by the enterprise, the burden of proof is in the sales teams court. To accomplish this, they need to team up with their product managers and product marketers to define effective ROI/TCO modeling tools to show the benefits of their product or service.
Beware of Snake Oil
I have seen a variety of ROI/TCO modeling tools being used in the technology sector. Some of them definitely fall into the category of “snake oil” or “cure-all” elixirs. These are the models that typically require only a few inputs, such as “Quantity of licenses to purchase”, and result in an amazing too-good-to-be-true ROI. Often, these models don’t take into consideration all of the critical factors to estimate a realistic total cost of ownership and return on investment.
Effective ROI Tools
An effective ROI modeling tool to support the sales effort is going to take into consideration the viewpoint of the customer CFO. It should allow as input all the expected cost factors experienced by their operations and particularly those factors impacted by a purchase of the product. Some of the factors would include:
- Manpower costs
- Facilities costs
- IT and data center costs
- Administration and maintenance costs
- Infrastructure costs such as new servers to support a software purchase
- Costs of the product and/or service being sold
The output of the ROI modeling tool should also be able to show the expected benefits that would result from the purchase of the product or service. These benefits may include reduction in operational and fixed costs such as:
- Reduction of infrastructure
- Redeployment/re-purpose of manpower
Benefits may also include new efficiencies such as:
- Increases in speed to revenue
- Efficiencies in transaction processing and volume management
- Improvements in customer service
A good ROI modeling tool will also be able to clearly define “tipping points” such as whether or not it makes sense to utilize cloud-based services or purchase premise-based equipment. This is a topic for a future post.
Corner Office Wisdom:
Sales teams, product managers and product marketers need to have the ability to show the ROI/TCO benefits of their products or service in order to be successful. This will require a comprehensive set of tools and training in order to empower the sales teams to have such a discussion. If they cannot support such a discussion and the competition can, they will lose the opportunity.
Watching the English Premier League (EPL) this season has been fantastic. New records have been set and others soon to be broken. The exhibition of play and teamwork has been outstanding especially by the teams in the top four including Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. One record that may fall by the end of the season is the most goals scored in a single season. Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC has already scored 22 goals in just 16 appearances. The reason? He is well supported by his team with unselfish play and Luis can be counted on to play his position.
When a player is moving the ball down field, he may be challenged by a number of defenders at one time. To keep the ball in play, the player may need to blindly pass the ball to where his team mate is expected to be. This has happened time and again with the Liverpool club when players such as Steven Gerrard or Phillippe Coutinho are moving the ball forward. They can count on players like Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge to be in their position, blindly pass the ball to them, allowing them to take a shot on goal. Of course, the players receiving the ball need to be counted on to fulfill their role and they have done so exceedingly well. Hence, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are currently 2 of the top 3 scorers in the EPL.
Most organizations today are global. Complementary personnel needed to finish a critical deliverable may not be in the same office, but rather, in different locations across different time zones. There are instances when a blind pass is critical in order expedite the expected deliverables.
There was one instance when a sales person needed a data sheet on one of our products. The existing one was horribly outdated. The sales person was in Europe and the key subject matter experts were located in various regions with one in Asia, one in Europe, and other in the United States. In order to expedite getting the product data sheet completed in time for the presentation, it was going to require a tremendous amount teamwork including communication and cooperation.
I proposed that I create a new draft of the data sheet, have each of the SME’s review it and provide comments and feedback by following the sun. This is exactly what happened. I completed an initial draft and performed a “blind pass” to my colleague in Asia. They provided their comments and feedback and sent it to our colleague in Europe. They incorporated their feedback and sent it to the colleague in Chicago. By the time it got to me, it required some tuning but we were able to get it produced into a final format that day and over to the sales person in time for their presentation. The net result? The sales person had a successful meeting and was well positioned to submit a proposal to the customer.
What makes teams great is the ability of individuals to apply their own unique skill sets while fully supporting the other members of the team. In this case, there was an excellent combination of skills that included technical depth as well as the ability to define and articulate essential value propositions. The team members also showed great flexibility through a temporary adjustment of their priorities to support the needs of the business. With personnel scattered across different locations, it is essential for companies to leverage the “virtual” team.
Corner Office Wisdom:
As individuals face challenges in meeting customer demands, they should be able to count on the support of their team members and their expertise. Critical to that effort, each individual will need to be flexible to adjust their priorities in support of the overall goals of the organization.
(The following blog entry is a re-post of my article from www.successfulworkplace.org)
In the late 1990’s, early 2000’s, the book Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life was a popular motivational book by Spencer Johnson. It addressed the issue of experiencing change in one’s work and life and possible reactions to those changes. The premise of the book is that mice in a maze are rewarded for finding cheese. When the cheese moves, some go in search of it while others keep coming back to the same place, weaker each day.
Boom!! With the explosion of mobile devices, analytics, higher bandwidth and social media, it may be time to re-read a not-so-old classic. The frequency with which business paradigms are shifting is ever more rapid and compressed. We blink and discover the cheese just moved again. We need to be serial cheese-finders.
Corporate cheese finding
Companies are no different. For them, the cheese is found at the intersection of the customer’s preferences and loyalty. When things move rapidly, some companies will double down on finding the same cheese in the same place while others will see the change coming and begin to change tactics. Like the characters in Johnson’s book, businesses today have three paths to choose from…they can ignore change, worry without making a decision, or act and take advantage of the situation.
The biggest challenge to finding the new cheese is tradition, especially traditions (processes, techniques, skills, personalities) that have been most successful in the past. Traditional businesses will find their data in traditional sources, analyze using the same methods and execution will continue through the same channels. Look no further than Borders, who did not adjust when their cheese moved and their customers began buying books online and using tablets and e-readers. Border’s is now extinct and its stores are closed.
The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese
Businesses have an opportunity to “own” their customers by focusing on their preferences and making the offers more personalized. Everyone enjoys feeling important and special. There is a restaurant that my family and I frequent that serves a great set of curry dishes. The prices are comparable to a similar restaurant across the street. But at this particular restaurant, the chef/owner knows who I am, knows my voice on the phone for takeaway orders, and uses my name when he sees me. With that kind of personalized service along with the good food, it makes it me loyal to his restaurant.
More importantly, he stays close enough to me to know my changing tastes and preferences.
In contrast is another example of one of my local grocery stores. They have a great idea of providing coupons to you when you are checking out. The intent is to provide us with more incentive to come back. Unfortunately, they are not products that my family has purchased in the past, nor are they products we intend to buy in the future.
They don’t know me and probably never will. Their cheese will move and they’ll never see it coming.
When you move beyond your fear, you feel free
With paradigms shifting so quickly, many are having a difficult time changing. They are following the human tendency of sticking with what they know while their cheese disappears, revenues drop and customer-base deteriorates.
The businesses and marketers that take advantage of the new information sources, data management techniques and intelligence tools available and deeper insights into their markets will have a much greater chance of success. They can be my favorite restaurant, but with scale.
Move with the cheese and enjoy it
With change occurring with increasing frequency, the companies that are nimble, proactive and embrace change are the ones that will thrive with each shift of the market or customer. These will become “anti-fragile” because they are able to adjust and even capitalize on change. These companies are more likely to survive and thrive as the economy and the buying habits of customers change. Those that are reactive will always be behind the competition and the distance between them will grow. Those that do nothing will no longer be in the race.
Did you blink? The cheese just moved again.
When I was 11 years old, my father gave me the assignment of cutting the lawn once a week through the summer. The lawns in our neighborhood were about ¼ an acre so it took some effort – especially after a lot of rain. As part of the assignment, he wanted me to make sure the lawn was cut following straight lines, the cuttings were bagged for trash pick-up and the edges were trimmed. He wanted our lawn to represent the neighborhood well and he showed me how to make that happen by paying close attention to details and keeping a regular service schedule.
Our neighbor, however, was struggling to keep up with his lawn. If he let it grow for longer than a week without cutting it, it would look like a jungle compared to our lawn. I talked to my father for permission to use our lawnmower to cut the neighbor’s lawn for a fee. He agreed.
I spoke to the neighbor about cutting the lawn once a week and we settled on the price of $10.00 each week. It wasn’t long until his lawn started to look good like ours. I decided to go through the neighborhood to see if there were others that needed their lawn regularly serviced. As a result, I found another neighbor willing to let me care for his lawn.
Then, one weekend in mid-summer, something interesting happened. Someone walking by while I was servicing one of the lawns asked if I would do his lawn as well. He had spoken to the homeowner of the lawn I was servicing and they were impressed by the:
- Regularity and reliability of the service
- Quality of the service and attention to detail
This happened more than once and by the next summer, I had accrued 10 different customers. By the time I was 13 years old, I was making over $100 per week. This wasn’t a result of me soliciting additional business, but it was a result of great customer references.
As a result of this early training by my father, I learned the value of providing a reliable service with high quality. By applying that training, I learned the additional lesson of the value of great customer references. Through great customer references, I was able to dramatically increase my income. I have carried these values with me throughout my career.
Corner Office Wisdom:
There is no substitute for a great customer reference. They will help you grow your business. To get great customer references, one needs to focus on high quality and reliability.
Aristotle is attributed with the expression “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” This is demonstrated every week in the sporting community. The best athletes in the world will tell you that they are always training in order to stay in top form.
This same thought is true for those that want to excel in the workplace. To achieve specific goals, each person needs to focus on their own personal development of the needed skills to be successful. How can this be accomplished? Here are some suggestions:
- Check the resources made available by your company. Many companies offer training courses to assist in employee development. Often, these courses are overlooked or even unknown.
- Outside resources may also be available through the company. Check with the HR department to understand the available options for tuition reimbursement.
- Express your interests to your management. Based on their experience, they may be able to recommend specific courses that can directly benefit you in achieving your goals.
Once you have a clear understanding of what is available to you, design a personal training plan that will take advantage of those resources and execute on that plan to enhance your skill-set.
I have always had excellent coaches and mentors that provided me sound advice, guidance and support. They have always allowed me to enroll in training courses that would improve my personal performance, enhance the team environment and increase my value as an asset to the company. Some of these training courses have covered topics such as:
- Continuous Improvement
- Leadership Effectiveness
- High performance teamwork
- Public speaking
Topics such as these have provided benefits to all of the various roles I have taken in my career as a manager and as an individual contributor. Before I could register for any courses, my management always wanted me to make sure there was enough room in the budget to cover the costs.
It should be noted, however, that most managers are focused on achieving quarterly goals and milestones. It is very possible that employee development may not be at the top of their priority list. In my own experience, while I knew my management continued to support me, I found that I needed to be willing to take the initiative in my own training. Thus, it is important that each individual proactively pursue their own personal development.
Corner Office Wisdom:
Be proactive in pursuing the development of your skills. Create a plan, review the resources available to fulfill that plan and execute on it to manage your personal development.
Last week, I posted Big Data: Mountain of Differentiation stating my observations on the potential differentiation and disruption available to Communication Service Providers (CSP’s) through Big Data.
Needless to say, I was pleased to read this week’s post entitled Big Data for Telco Begins to Unleash Systems of Engagement by Brian Hopkins of Forrester Research, a well-known, prestigious market research firm that focuses on IT and Telco trends.
In his post, he states “In our recently completed Q3 2013 Global State Of Enterprise Architecture Online Survey, big data for real-time analytics moved from the No. 3 most revolutionary technology to the No. 2 position, according to the 116 enterprise architects who participated. This reflects the importance firms now place on turning vast amounts of data into immediate insight. And this trend is extremely important to telecommunication industry communication service providers (CSPs), who are sitting on a gold mine of data about what subscribers are doing on their mobile devices.”
It is always enjoyable to see a firm like Forrester Research align on shared observations and viewpoints.
Big Data has become the generic term for the massive amounts of data businesses have accumulated during the course of their operations. There are ongoing discussions on how useful it might be and how it can be used. By applying the right analytics software to the data, most believe it can lead to new efficiencies, improved business processes, lower costs, higher profits, improved customer experiences, services and loyalties.
Communication Service Providers (CSP) have an absolute mountain of Big Data within their domain that is clearly untapped – or at the very least under-utilized. Is this a missed opportunity for differentiation? Let’s take a closer look at their current business model and assess if there are new possibilities.
Mobile CSP’s revenue streams are based on service usage and their major costs are subscriber churn, device subsidiaries and keeping their networks current. To differentiate themselves from their competitors, they focus on devices, price plans and network. The problem:
- They all have the same or similar devices and price plans.
- They all claim the fastest 4G/LTE network.
Within their domains, they have available both real-time and “static” or near real-time data. A small subset of available real-time data includes:
- Currently active identity and device(s)
- Current location, presence, availability
- Active content
- Charging preferences, prepaid balance
- Minutes and data usage
A small subset of “static” or near real-time data includes:
- Real Name and Billing address
- Number of devices
- Web-sites accessed, searches made
- Friends and Family, Business associates
- Defined preferences
- Content and genre purchased and downloaded
For CSP’s that also offer wireline, broadband and video services, this list can grow to include number of devices in the home, devices active, channels watched, time of day, days of the week and many more data items.
Each service provider also has multiple third-party partners that augment their services. These partners are also going to have more information about subscribers relevant to what, how and when services and content are accessed and utilized.
With 10, 20 or even 100 million plus subscribers initiating a combined millions of transactions each day, all of which gets distilled into data records, that is a massive amount of data that can be used to establish insights and intelligence about subscribers and understand their preferences.
Identity and Master Data
All of the above data items are tied together by the mobile number/account number which acts as the common Identity or primary key of the subscriber. By using master data management techniques such as centralization, virtualization and federation, CSP’s can establish a single, universal view of the individual subscribers.
With ongoing advances in analytics software, CSP’s have at their finger-tips the means to truly understand how their services are used and by whom. They can also define, redefine and fine-tune market segments, demographics and buying characteristics. As a result, it doesn’t take much imagination to brainstorm a list of ideas for service providers to:
- Personalize the service experience
- Develop enhanced loyalty management programs
- Enable targeted advertising specific to the individual’s preferences
Are there opportunities for service providers to differentiate themselves beyond just price plans and devices? Absolutely. There is a mountain of Big Data available to make it happen. With just a subset of the available data, there is much more that a service provider can do to enhance the experience of their subscribers. The category of personalization alone can create a whole new set of ideas and innovation.
Corner Office Wisdom:
In order to think outside the box when it comes to finding new opportunities and enhancing your business, sometimes you just need to look inside the box.
Everyone in business has multiple demands on their time. Everyone has a high-priority issue that needs to be resolved immediately and cannot wait any longer. Jim Rohn, a successful entrepreneur, had the expression: “Either you run the day or the day runs you.”
As a person who has been involved in multiple complex projects, prioritization of these demands is essential. For example, in my role as product manager, there were many departments, groups and individuals that I needed to communicate, coach and collaborate with on the direction of the product strategy. Groups that were associated with the product release process included:
• The Executive Team
• Sales/Sales Support
• Systems Engineering
• Product Development/Engineering
• Program Management
• Professional Services
• Customer Service
As the “CEO” of the product, it is easy to see how these groups would want your time and attention. Therefore, a critical skill to be successful is being able to organize your work tasks and prioritize them so that ongoing efforts to product GA are completed.
Everyone has different ways to organize their day but one of my coaches early in my career told me his method and it as has worked well. It was his TTD, or “Things-To-Do” list. It sounds simple but it works. The key was his ability to prioritize his list by asking key questions about each task and ranking the tasks accordingly. Some of the questions included:
1. Is the task directly tied to revenue?
2. When is the item due?
3. Who is it for?
4. What is the level of importance?
5. What is the estimated effort?
The list of questions above is certainly not a complete list. To use this method effectively, each person will need to make their own set of questions to assess their TTD list. Once the questions are completed and the list is prioritized, it is recommended to review the list each morning and/or at the end of each day. This is because there may be new information to influence the order of ranking, or more likely, there are new items to add and prioritize.
The reason this method works for me is that it gives me a clear focus on the highest priority items that need to be accomplished.
Corner Office Wisdom:
Each person is different and needs to determine what methods will work to make them successful. Using a TTD list has been a simple and effective tool that has aided my success.
Watching the World Cup qualifying tournaments has been really enjoyable. It is always great to see individual talents performing at the highest levels. But what was even more enjoyable was seeing the teamwork demonstrated by the players. The teams that gelled the best were the ones that were the least selfish and supported their team mates.
There are many times in the momentum of play that the player with the ball has an opportunity to take the ball down field. As he does so, he will need to temporarily “switch” positions with another player. For example, if the player is a defender or a mid-fielder moving the ball down field, he might suddenly occupy the space of a different player, perhaps a winger. The winger will need to switch positions and pull back to cover for the midfielder. To do this successfully requires great communication, cooperation and common skills between players. If the winger does not fall back, the result will be too many players bunched up in an area of the field. This will leave gaping holes in the defense should the momentum of play shift and go the opposite way.
In one of my roles, I was leading a software development team. It consisted of a Sr. Engineer under contract, a tester, a student-intern, and me, also a Sr. Engineer. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to get our delivery completed. Each of us had individual roles and assignments. After working an extensive amount of overtime, we completed the delivery. Then my group was combined with a second group. It also included a mix of Sr. engineers, testers, as well as a person who handled the massive amount of process paperwork required by the customer.
In our first meeting together as a team, we compared notes and realized the new group had worked even more overtime than my original group. They were really tired and on the verge of burn-out. Looking at the dark circles around everyone’s eyes, we determined there had to be a better way.
We decided to review the process used to get things done. We determined that there were a number of bottlenecks in the way each task was accomplished. The biggest issue was that people were so focused on their own role and assignment that they did not know what the others persons did. We discussed how we can tear down some of the walls between roles in the team and focus on how we can work together better. The results included:
1. Cross-training and developing skills among some of the team members to expand their abilities.
2. Allow them to grow and take on additional, more expanded roles.
As a result, we were able to “switch” individuals between roles and directly assist one another when needed. With the combined adjustments of increasing the skills of the team, increasing communication and cooperation, we met our deadlines with very high-quality, high-morale and minimal overtime.
Corner Office Wisdom:
There are times when process improvement also requires skills improvement including cross-training of individuals in the organization. By improving the skills of the team as a whole and encouraging cooperation, the team will operate with greater efficiency and higher quality in completing their deliverables.
A colleague of mine thinks they are the ultimate multitasker. Because of their well-honed skills at multitasking, they also believe they are extremely productive. One day, I walked into their office and I saw it in action. My colleague had:
1. A webinar going on their laptop about a new set of use cases for telecommunications.
2. At least two different email reply’s open and “in progress”.
3. Four different instant messaging panels open and blinking waiting for the response from my colleague.
4. A speaker phone dialed in to a conference call. The phone was on mute.
5. A mobile phone with an ear-bud stuck in their ear while responding to a call.
Were they really at the peak of productivity? Or were they deceptively sacrificing quality for quantity?
Since the 1990’s, experimental psychologists have examined the idea of human multitasking to identify our capabilities and impacts. In summary, what has been determined is that our brain’s working memory capacity does not allow us to multitask successfully – in spite of the confidence we have in our own abilities.
Because the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking, people take longer to actually complete a given task and they are more error-prone. The impact to business? Employees are less efficient and quality suffers. Overall productivity is diminished.
Here are some interesting studies highlighting some results:
• A study by the American Psychological Association indicates that we lose as much as 40% productivity when we attempt to multitask.
• A study by the University of Utah in 2013 showed that people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities – and tend to be less capable of doing it.
• A 2008 study by the University of Utah showed that drivers talking on the cellphone missed their exits and turns more often that those talking with a passenger.
• A different study by Stanford University found that even trying to talk on the phone, send an instant message and read email can impair your cognitive control.
• A 2012 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago indicates that multitasking works against the processes that generate the “a-ha” moments of creativity and limits problem-solving.
With so many available channels of communication, we have an over-developed expectation of immediate response. We feel the need to immediately respond to others and we expect an immediate response from them. The result is we respond to the volume of communication but sacrifice value. Our brains are maxed out and we diminish our ability to solve problems and lose creativity.
And my colleague? Were they really successful in multitasking? Not very well!
1. The webinar was recorded so they could listen to the replay later. They likely didn’t get anything out of it the first time.
2. Having been the recipient of a few responses, the email replies were likely sparse and incomplete. The instant message responses were unintelligible and some of the replies were directed to the wrong person.
3. When they heard their name on the conference call, they had to unmute the phone and ask for the question to be repeated. It was later they heard about any action items.
4. The mobile phone call was the only real task that was completed with success.
The idea of multitasking is a great one. We just need to be more serial about it and focus on task-switching. By task-switching, we are able to get the task that needs to be done completed with high-quality, efficiency and minimal rework. This will make us more productive and more successful.
Corner Office Wisdom:
To do a task and do it well needs focus and concentration. Take just a few seconds to get your mind centered on what needs to be done. You will find you get more accomplished in a shorter period of time with higher quality. Quality is more important than quantity with errors.