Tuesday, October 18, 2011
If you don't think declines possible, look at Microsoft's history.
There was a time when the government and everybody else wanted to break up the big evil Redmond. Bill Gates and company were brilliant. They came up with this idea of having tollbooths on the places where we did most digital commerce. they owned the operating systems on the computers were used and we paid them for that. They owned office productivity software where did all our work and we paid them for that. The almost did it with web browser by wedding Internet Explorer with Windows operating system, but then came along Firefox and Google.
So you say that IBM is well, but there was a time when Big Blue was scheduled to be broken up into little parts just like the original AT&T. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the disassembly party, IBM got a new CEO who thought better of the idea. Yeah, they sell off some parts, like the PC division. But for the most part company still in tact, but with a higher reliance on high-margin products like services.
My point here is this, if you can't trust Big Blue or big evil to stay at the top of the who can you trust?
I'm not saying that Apple will inevitably go downhill. I hope not. We have three iPhones in my family and I love the iPad. And apple has always been a company that gave consumers what they wanted not what they asked for. But there are no sure bets in technology, so invest in Apple, but make sure you buy little Exxon-Mobile stock as well.
Monday, August 1, 2011
In an odd story that most consumers will bypass this morning comes the news that Apple, RIM and Microsoft recently bought a block of patents from the once Internet darling now defunct Nortel networks. Why should we worry? Well, many are concerned these companies will use the patents to thwart Google Androids attempt to take over the wireless market. Already, more smartphone run on the Android platform than any other smartphone technology.
Remember the company that held RIM hostage with a vague but eventually enforceable patent and the U.S. government had to step RIM from being shut down. Expect more patent suits rather less in wireless space. See here for more background on mobile patents and who is suing who.
I bring this up because we are headed for an era where patents are being used to protect turf in dubious ways that do not benefit the consumer. Usually consumers lose out in these battles as companies try to use patents to block the rise of technology not foster it.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
One thing consequence of moving music to the cloud, fewer of us will own music. That is a fundamental change in how anyone in their post-teen years looks music ownership.
Not too many years ago, though eons in the internet age, most people thought that when they bought an album (or collection of songs), they mostly could do what they pleased with the tunes. Listen to music, make tapes for their friends, lend the album so their friends could make tapes; I think you get the picture.
Then came Napster and digital music. Followed by the RIAA and of course the lawsuits.
There is no need to rehash that drama, except to say that it spawned iTunes and the iPod, which made Apple famously wealthy. For the sake of brevity, I have skipped a few steps, but that's the way it happened.
As a consequence of Napster and iTunes, we no longer needed to own the physical album. When consumers gave away that right, they gave away the right to own the music. So, you can listen to your music, but you can't give it away.
Moreover, it's going to cost more. Apple has already raised prices on its most popular tunes. As the current pre-teen crowd grows older, we will have a generation of kids who have always bought music online. Once they get locked into a service, price increases will follow. Look at Netflix most recent price increase. When you have a monopoly, you get to tell people how much they need to pay the piper.
You don't believe me. Check out this HBR blog: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/07/why_im_not_going_near_spotify.html
Thursday, July 14, 2011
If you want to know who has power, follow the money. According to a recent Gartner survey, CFOs now authorize 26% of IT investments. When you consider 70% of IT spending is of the keep the lights on variety, you realized that CIOs are becoming less and less responsible driving IT innovation.
Friday, June 10, 2011
The first thing you have to realize about "SPIN Selling" by Neil Rackham is that it's a book for selling to large accounts, written before anybody else was writing books about selling to large accounts. Yes Virginia, selling to large accounts is different than selling to smaller ones. To begin with, you cannot close the sale in one day; as a result, opening the discussion by trying to closing technique is counterproductive.
Besides, in major sales, the salespeople usually are not in the room when most of the important decisions are made. It's the salesperson's contact who needs to sell within her organization. It's the job of the salesperson to arm his contact with enough information to make her an effective influencer.
Like any good book on sales, Rackham has methodology, in this case a four step questioning process. In fact, the book gets its name from the four types of questions asked: Situational, Problem, Implication and Need Payoff. Rackham says the key to sales is understanding where you are in the sales cycle – he identifies The Preliminaries, Investigating, Demonstrating Capability and Obtaining Commitment – and only to asking the kinds of questions that get you to the next level because sales in large accounts follow a specific sequence over a long timeline.
SPIN Selling process
Situational questions set the context for asking Problem questions that reveal implied needs, like the desire for a more accurate billing system. Asking Implication questions about how many ways a more accurate would help the end-user's company lead to Need-Payoff questions, which help the buyer focus on solutions and benefits.
Speaking of benefits, Rackham notes that benefits come in two varieties: those that can help any customer and those that address your customer's express need. He differentiates the two types of "benefits" by calling the former an Advantage and the latter is a real Benefit. Advantages help close small sales, while Benefits, which address explicit buyers needs, help land big deals.
Yes, the book is dated. Written 1988, it doesn't take into account that your customers already know a fair amount about your product from the Web. At least somewhere in the questioning process, you have to determine how much your customer already knows about your product, if only to dispel mistaken assumptions. Additionally, while the book is very strong on tactics, it mistakenly assume you will only sell to someone lower in the company's organization. It does not provide tactics on how to use the SPIN method to move up the company's organizational ladder, trying to get closer to the person who decides what projects get funded.
All of that being said, nearly 25 years after the book was published it is still a foundational book on large account sales. While the information available to customers has changed, the process for moving a customer through the sales cycle has not.
When the book was released, readers found that its theories ran counter to conventional wisdom because it deemphasized closing techniques in large sales. At the time, most sales books focused on closing. Actually, most sales training focused on closing because, as Rackham points out, closing used to be the one place in the sales cycle that had an understandable and quantifiable result.
But Rackham's studies show that trying to close too early alienates professional buyers, the very person who is almost certainly on the other end of the sales call at a large account. Instead, the SPIN method relies on asking questions to tease out problems and help the client understand how the seller's solution can tip the value equation to the buy side of the ledger.
The foundation of the book is rests on research conducted by Huthwaite corporation's 12-year $1 million research project into sales effectiveness, not just one excellent salesperson's career experience This means the results of the book can be applied across a wide spectrum of businesses and industries, making a great starting point for learning about major account sales.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Enterprises deploy major technologies to address a pressing need. But studies show that a majority of change efforts fail, expensively. Salespeople lose long-term credibility when their proposed improvements do not take hold. As a technology seller, it's helpful to understand how leaders implement change. Additionally, sales account leaders will often be forced to change how their teams operate. Many of the principles behind change an enterprise processes and a small team's operations are the same.
John Kotter's "Leading Change" is one of the foundation books in the field of change management. First published in 1996, the book's eight stage process for leading change still forms the backbone of many change efforts. Kotter, a Forbes top 50 business guru, is one of the world's well-known experts in writing about leadership and driving change.
This book is about leading change, not managing it. There is a critical difference. Almost by the definition, IT managers are responsible for managing change. C-level executives, the people in an organization to whom top sales people want to become a trusted confident, lead change. The material in this book is directed at executives charged with leading change, especially executives in highly structured companies. Understanding Kotter's eight step change process with help salespeople understand the changes their c-level executives are facing as they attempt to deploy HP solutions.
In a well-structure book, Kotter lists the eight steps in the change process in the first chapter:
- Establish a sense of urgency
- Create a guiding coalition
- Develop a vision and strategy
- Communicate the change vision
- Empower employees for broad-based action
- Generate short term wins
- Consolidate gains and producing more change
- Anchor new approaches in the culture
Where Kotter shines is in the simplicity of how he lays out the process. Anyone leading change can easily understand what course of action needs to be followed and in what order. His book is meant to be a read as a field guide for leading change.
Throughout the book, Kotter lays out the steps need to make each stage of the process successful. The book is with filled with practical examples of how to complete each stage, and what not to do. Also, early in the book, he lists cautionary tales of what happens when a company does not successfully complete each stage. For example, when Kotter writes about communication the change vision, he mentions a rule of thumb, "Whenever you cannot describe the vision driving a change initiative in five minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are in for trouble." It's time to go back to the drawing board and get things right.
A testament to the processes outlined in this book is how well the concepts have held up over time. The book pre-dates the rise of the Internet, but is still a foundation book for leading change. In part, this is because Kotter anticipated that in the 21st century the business climate would change dramatically, moving from a period of calm and stability into our current era of rapid and volatile change. He understood that large enterprises have difficulty responding quickly to change and, accordingly, he wrote a future guidebook. "Leading Change" helps organizations adapt by giving them a means to go from identifying change targets to making the completed solution a permanent fixture in organization's corporate culture.
Others have amplified Kotter's positions. Specifically, Michael Beitler's excellent "Strategic Organizational Change" has a chapter that reviews Kotter's principles, but "Leading Change" is probably more relevant today than it was when was first written.
Although the book is meant to be read by executives leading change, the eight step process can be adapted by anyone leading change, including sales managers. In that way, the book has two benefits for sales managers:
- It helps sales managers understand the pressures c-level executives face in moving from announcing a change to institutionalizing it as part of a company's culture.
- It sets up a process the can be followed for managers leading change on their own teams.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
If you ask 10 people to recommend five books on leadership, one of John Maxwell's books will be on every list. Of those books, most people cite "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" as his best work. It's certainly his most well known. Concise, Maxwell dictates the 21 laws a leader must follow to get others to follow the leader. Using numerous examples drawn from a variety of people from Mother Teresa to the founders of McDonalds, Maxwell show how people have either used the laws successfully or ignored the laws and failed.
Most of the laws are obvious, for example number 14, The Law of Buy In, states that people buy into the leader and only then do they buy into the vision. That makes intuitive sense and has a practical application in the real world. Early stage technology investors often bet on the jockey, not the horse.
Some readers have dismissed the book because the laws are easy to understand. These critics miss two significant points about the power of the book:
- "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" codifies and reinforces our thinking. For example, Law Number 17, The Law of Priorities, cautions against equating activity with achievement. Maxwell points out that we must constantly review our priorities to make sure that we are steering the ship in the right direction ( Law 4, The Law of Navigation). Far beyond leaving it there and stating only the obvious, Maxwell adds that we must always evaluate our priorities with the 80/20 rule in mind. Focus 80 percent of your time on the 20 percent of your priorities that will provide the largest return. He notes that the rule is applies equally to developing strategic sales accounts as does it in developing people.
- "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" is a reminder that leadership is a daily commitment. As Maxwell notes in Law Number 3, leadership is a process that "develops daily, not in a day." Reading Maxwell's book reinforces what many of us already know about leadership and reminds us to put those theories into practice every day.
Many books on leadership are long on theory but don't help the reader understand how to put the theory into practice. Maxwell does not fall into that trap. At the end of every chapter, he lists three activities you can do to apply the law to your life. For example, after Law 13, The Law of the Picture (people do what people see), Maxwell asks his readers to:
- Make a list of their own core values and compare them to their actions over that past month, noting which activities clash with their core values.
- Ask a colleague to watch you over a period of time and evaluate where your actions have clashed with your words.
- Make a list of what you wish you people did better and grade yourself on those skills. With that self evaluation in hand, commit to improving your skills where your people are weakest and be a more visible role model in the areas where you are strongest.
Not every leader will have a proficiency in all 21 Laws. Maxwell admits that a few laws where he does not grade out perfectly.
In Appendix A, Maxwell presents a quick leadership test to help you understand your strengths and weakness as they relate to the laws. Completing the evaluation will help you understand:
- Skills that you can use to mentor of others,
- Areas you need to target for growth and
- Areas where you need to form strategic partnerships to achieve your goals.
Even you don't read the entire book, filling out the evaluation and understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you reach your potential as a leader and manager.
Because "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" is well written and well organized, it can be read in three ways:
- Cover to cover over a period of days. Like most well-written business books, it's short, and to the point.
- As the book is well organized and each chapter contains a complete thought, the book can be read over a long period of time with no loss of comprehension.
- Finally, if you just want to know the laws, you can skip to Appendix B to read each law and its one sentence explanation.
Books on leaderships are plentiful, often with competing visions because leadership is more of an art than a science. But Maxwell notes that as with any art, leadership skills can and should be improved through practice. Its evaluation guide in the appendix and chapter endings on applying the laws in your life will help you understand the state of your current skill set and help you plan for growth.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Justified, FX's brilliant show based on an Elmore Leonard short story, has only two rivals for best show of all time, The Sopranos and The Wire. Very good company tied together by a the common link—violence. Which, it's that surprising given that a recently, Harper's noted that eight of the ten most popular televisions shows feature corpses. Nothing fixates the human mind more than matters of life and death.
But while show violence in the three great shows, violence is ever present. Not only do the main characters live comfortably amongst the litter of spent shells, but they purposefully usher in the fear that accompanies violence. The shows' producers know that except for sex nothing engages a television audience more than fear and unlike their European counterparts Americans standards bodies are happy with bullets than breasts.
Tom Boswell, the great Washington Post sportswriter, once said there are two kinds of people, those who watch batting practice and those who don't. And the latter will never amount to anything, because if you don't pay attention to the little things in baseball, the game becomes a series of reactions to batted ball. Most people happily hours spend at baseball games, waiting for the reward of brief violence when bat strikes ball setting players in motion. They are missing the inner game.
Television is different than baseball. Its inner meaning sets the guidelines for the violence. Viewers, lured into a television show by the violence will not stay if the violence does not have a purpose, a greater meaning. Usually this gets played out in the cop procedure or detective shows, cops and robbers. In the days since the sets were in black and white, the good guy always won by the final credit. The hero cannot take the fall and gun fights only matter if you care who is left standing when the smoke clears.
But for good to exist, we need villains. Except for the flying nun, they don't set television shows in convents. Without the devil, God, or god, is a lonely and unnecessary creation. These days, sometimes it's the villains who are more interesting, more worthy of our attention.
Yes, Virginia we can love a villain, especially if we understand the why. In No Country for Old Men, Woody Harrelson says about the villain portrayed by Javier Bardem that he operates under his own code, one where lives are decided on a coin flip. Good bad guys are endlessly more fascinating than good good guys.
We loved Tony Soprano because we understood his fictional mobster code, and know that Tony understood it. The Sopranos worked as a show because it was always about the entire family's struggle to stay true to the duties that mobster code forced on them.
The Wire stopped being interesting to mass audiences when the villains became the nameless and faceless culture that gave rise to the drug lords, not the drug lords themselves. Woman openly wept when Idris Alba died. Evil needs a face we find.
On the face of it, Justified is driven by its lead character Marshall Raylan Givens, a good cop, fast on the draw and good with words. He once talked a convict into giving up a hostage in exchange for fried chicken and a shot of bourbon. Jim Beam is a big sponsor. But in truth, the show gets its direction from the supporting characters, who like Tony Soprano are family man and women, born into their lives, playing roles have been handed down through generations. There is very little room for improvising.
Families and cultures have their own gravity. In Justified, the pull of family is almost inescapable. Except for Raylan, the characters are defined by their birth rights.
Having gone to college and seen some of the world, or at least the U.S.A. before returning home to Harlan County, Kentucky, Raylan is at once an outsider and insider. He betrays a part of his heritage and disowns his father. That father is scheming and lawless scoundrel, aligned with Bo Crowder, the head of Harlan's biggest enterprise, manufacturing and distributing crystal meth. If that weren't enough for family entanglements, a young Raylan worked the coal mine with Bo's son Boyd, an explosives expert.
Towards the end, Rayland was willing to put a bullet in his father to prove to the world where he stood, though is father pulled first so Raylan was justified.
Boyd, on the other hand, returned to the house and eventually the bed of his dead brother's wife. The wife killed the brother by the way, and Boyd had always coveted his brother's wife. Yes, it's complicated, in that small town kind of way. It's actually complicated in a family way, but this isn't time to talk about the Givens generations old feud with the Bennetts, criminal rivals of the Crowders.
The show may be about Raylan, but Boyd drives the action. Boyd, a former white supremacist, tries the straight life, but no one quite believes his conversion to God or the pure life. In Season Two, Boyd does try to make an honest life, going back to the mines to work an honest day for honest pay, but nobody believes him, again. No matter how hard he tries, there is no path for redemption for Boyd. Resurrection perhaps.
Raylan shot and killed Bo in the original pilot episode. But fortunately, the reports of Boyd death were premature. Bo tested well with television audiences and the bullet to the heart didn't find any vital organs.
In a commentary on the same pilot episode, the producers claim that they show is driven by Raylan's anger, but I don't buy. It's driven by Raylan's sense of justice or duty to uphold the law, Boyd's attempt to escape from the bonds of the Crowder family and interplay between the two men. Boyd's scenes with Raylan during his redemption period are magical as both man verbally thrust and parry, like poker players skillfully slowplaying very good hands.
Philosophers and psychologist may debate if people can change over time. In the eyes of the writers of Justified, the answer is no. No matter how far we travel, when we come home we shed our clothes and play our roles. Raylan is an exception, but few of us can escape the pull of family.
What does it say about Leonard's writing that the network could create a whole series from one short story? It says that if you create compelling characters and put them in interesting situations, you have appointment television.
Monday, April 18, 2011
• Why executive involvement starts early in the selling cycle
• How to identify the right executive who is driving the project
• How to gain access to that executive
• How to work that executive and her subordinates
• Why most purchasing decisions are made in response to a business need
• Why most purchasing decisions are made before the RFP is created
Unlike most sales books that are based anecdotal evidence from salespeople, “Selling to the C-Suite” is based on conversations with c-level executives. In 1995 when HP was trying to create a new national sales organization, the company worked with Nicholas Read and Stephen Bistritz to interview c-level executives in North America and at the HP Business School in China. They wanted to understand the executives’ perspective the sales relationship. Bistritz and Read supplemented that research with other interviews, ultimately interviewing over 500 executives.
Their exhaustive research means is used to substantiate the claims they make in the book. For example, when Bistritz and Read write “salespeople who want to build executive-level relationships must enter the picture early in the buying process,” we know it’s because when 80% of executives get involved in major purchase decisions. Once the decision to buy has been made and the selection criteria has been established, senior executives step back.
Major technology purchases are made to solve a particular business problems. The technology purchase only comes into play once the scope of the business problem has been determined. When an executive wants to improve customer loyalty, she doesn’t enter “CRM systems” into the search, instead she types “improving customer loyalty” or asks experts what other companies have done.
Bistritz and Read argue that a salesperson’s goal is to be an expert or a “Trusted Advisor,” someone who can bring value by delivering what the customer’s organization cannot. A salesperson who is a Trusted Advisor is an expert who helps set the search parameters and writes the RFPs.
Trusted advisor status is gained and maintained over time. Bistritz and Read argue that it’s maintained by continuously reporting back on the value that you deliver. In fact, many salespeople miss this final step. They assume that executives know the vendor’s solutions are meeting expectations, but in many cases the executive does not the value the solution delivered. It’s the salesperson’s job to close the loop and report back on the results, establishing that he can deliver on his promises.
The book’s structure makes for an easy read. Seven distinct chapters cover:
Chapter 1 - When do executives get involved in the decision process?
Chapter 2 - A brave new world for sales and marketing.
Chapter 3 - Understanding what executives want.
Chapter 4 - How to gain access to the executive level.
Chapter 5 - How to establish credibility at the executive level.
Chapter 6 - How to create value at the executive level.
Chapter 7 - Cultivating loyalty at the C-suite.
The end of each chapter summarizes that chapter’s two or three major takeaways, reinforcing the lessons learned.
An afterword provides an excellent section on customer research, associations worth following and joining, and recommended readings. We have read many of the books on the recommended reading list and agree with the choices, a few of which may be the subject of future book reviews.
“Selling to the C-Suite” has one failing. While book explains how and when to get in front of the right executive, it’s short on telling salespeople what to say. It preaches providing value to executives, but provides less than one page on how to discuss value in the language of business, the language executives want to hear and what the HP Client Team learns in the License to Practice course.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Smart candidates will make their peace with the current and foreseeable reality. Employers, hire with caution but do not avoid overqualified candidates.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
There is nothing wrong with PowerPoint, except the way people use it. PowerPoint is a visual media but presenters insist using PowerPoint as a text document. It's not.
Think about the best presentation that you have ever seen. It was image rich and text light.
Most PowerPoints fail for three reasons:
1) Presenters fail to deliver a compelling narrative
2) We can read almost twice as fast as a person can talk
3) Presenters don't understand how the brain processes information
Notice that I did not mention too many words on a slide. I think we all know that's a common trait of bad presentations. Just because you have a lot of words on the slide doesn't mean anyone is reading them. A little more on this bit later.
Similarly, I left out a few other obvious remedies to improve PowerPoint presentations, like remember the audience and rehearse the heck out of it, because, well because they are obvious.
Here's a quick, but by no means definitive set of ideas to improve your PowerPoint presentations. It's a mix of science and common sense.
One note, the suggestions that follow are meant to help people delivering live presentations. If you will not be on hand to deliver the audio track for your presentation, this isn't for you.
Like a movie, you'd what to know if you are going to see romantic comedy or Transformers sequel. Telling the audience what to expect helps them make connections with information they already possess, easing the burden on working memory.
Develop a narrative
If you go into a bookstore, you'll notice the shelves are stocked with novels, biographies, and history. What do they have in common, they tell a narrative story. Human beings love stories. Use that to your advantage. Give your presentation life by creating a story line.
Start writing the presentation in outline form
Remember when you first learned how to write an essay. The teacher insisted that you write an outline first. There was a reason for it. It created structure and helped you tell a better story. For PowerPoint, the outline is slide sorter view. Begin you presentation not by diving into the normal view but lay out the outline of the presentation by writing in the titles in the slide sorter view.
Write titles in headlines form
Studies show that writing titles in headline form increases retention. A well-written headline sets expectations in the reader. Before you start talking about the image or text on the slide, the reader knows the theme for the slide. Your audience will get used to seeing the main thought the headline and be ready for you to explain it. This reduces the strain on working memory.
Use one main thought slide
People don't hate lots of slides in a presentation. They hate slow presentations with lots of slides and there is a big difference. Your slide should communicate one idea, one concept. Use the slide images and words to reinforce that idea.
People can read 400 words per minute
Speakers talk about 200 words a minute. This means the audience has read the entire slide before the speaker has gotten half way through the slide, which really means your audience is bored before you get through slide one.
People process words as little pictures
Text heavy slides impose a double burden on the audience. They have to spend a lot of mental energy process the little pictures and not listening to you. Wouldn't it be better to give them one picture and explain what it means? By the way, marrying a relevant image with a verbal track increases retention.
Human beings get bored every ten minutes
Nobody knows why. But it's true. This means that every ten minutes you need to give them a compelling reason to listen to you. One of the best ways to do this is change your teaching style every ten minutes. If you have been lecturing for ten minutes solid, introduce an anecdote, use a role play, poll the audience. It also helps if you introduce new topics every ten minutes.
Be consistent handling text and graphics
Do not make the viewer work to understand each slide's structure. Most companies have corporate slide templates used for handling graphics and text. Rather than viewing the templates as confining, look at them as liberating. You no longer have worry about where to place the picture and your audience doesn't have to think about why the text is larger on some slides than other.
Read the experts
Like anything, if you want to get better do your homework. In this case, I suggest the following books: