Friday, December 3, 2010

Rad eCommerce Experience

I always like to use this blog to highlight a positive experience that demonstrates particular sales and service excellence, so today I would like to talk about Blackhole Boards. But first some context: recently my 6 yr old son took up skateboarding and shows some real aptitude for it. His first board has been put through the wringer and it is time (already!) for a new one.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eating Our Own Dog Food and Loving It!

Working in Silicon Valley in the 90s meant being subjected constantly to a barrage of hip, dot-com buzzwords and phrases of which “eating our own dog food” was prominent. There were many others of course which gave rise to a game that was played at meetings called “buzzword bingo” where you could tick-off buzzwords used during that meeting for your own entertainment. Of course conference calls lent themselves perfectly to this activity (apparently, not that I’d know – although I will admit in our office there was once a pool on how many times the word “conceptually” would be used by Marketing during a call and the final score exceed the highest bet by some margin! – of course I am sure they had their own pool on the buzzwords we used too.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Impacting the Recovery

It has been a very busy time of late due to my being given a unique opportunity to run not one but two companies simultaneously. In addition to my role at Huthwaite, I am now also running Omega Performance, a sister company in the Informa family of Performance Improvement businesses.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Let's Be Honest: Excellence Takes Hard Work

Following on from my post on the Short Cut Culture some of you have emailed me to ask about whether I believe there is a broader context to this and indeed I do. We have begun to celebrate and tolerate mediocrity in all its forms as a way of avoiding standards that take hard work to attain and to hide behind it as some kind of great equalizer. Either way it has made the quest for excellence the path of increasing resistance.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Shortcut Culture

I have just returned from a short vacation in Los Angeles and while I was there it struck me how what I call the "Shortcut Culture" has pervaded the home of the entertainment industry. Once upon a time young hopefuls would get off the Greyhound in LA, find a job busing tables, save their tips to pay for acting lessons and endlessly trudge from one audition to another driven by the belief that their hard work and commitment just might make them a star.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

E.I. is O.K.

If there is one thing that most frequent business travelers fear is that dreaded delay on the tarmac especially when the actual flight is a short commuter one. Well this evening it happened at Dulles Airport in DC, we boarded the CJR 700 commuter plane, seating for about 60 people, on time only to be informed that thunder storms in Charlotte had shut the airport there. And so we began that open-ended wait for us to get the go-ahead or head back to the gate. In the end we spent 2.5 hours sitting on the hot tarmac (it was still in the 80s outside) in the small confined space of the full CJR 700 an experience that had the potential to be an extremely uncomfortable and frustrating one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Insight & Foresight

I recently launched a series of conversations with business leaders from across multiple verticals called "The Business Insights Series" and as I reviewed the first five interviews I tried to see if there are some consistent themes emerging. What I found is that although there is great diversity in terms of business focus, there is great consistency when it comes to outlooks and observations.

Some of the key insights provided by these business leades include:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Are you ready to cross the Delaware?

As we head into the Independence Day celebrations it is worth noting how in the winter of 1776 it seemed highly unlikely there would ever be any independence to celebrate. George Washington and his continental army had suffered defeat after defeat and had been forced to retreat through New Jersey into Pennsylvania. Morale was low, desertion high and the prospects for reenlistment remote. But rather than succumb to what seemed the inevitable, Washington decided that winning a victory, any victory and soon was critical to turning things around. To this end he carefully re-examined his options and found a target in the wintering Hessians at Trenton. If he could rally the continental army and get them to Trenton he was confident that surprise and superior numbers would carry the day. So he set off on that famous crossing of the Delaware and the rest as they say is history.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who Dares Wins...

I arrived for a meeting in Toronto which is gearing up for the G20 Summit later this week and when I got to my hotel I was surprised to find the lobby thronging with people and a noise level that would rival most sporting events. No I hadn't come upon the Anti-Globalization crowd getting ready for whatever it is they will be protesting against this time, rather to my surprise it was the "G20 Young Entrepreneurs" who have a side meeting at the summit. If their enthusiasm and high spirits are any indication of their entrepreneurial talents then it is likely I maneuvered my way through some future innovators who will join the likes of Google and Facebook in the pantheon of the truly disruptive.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Whether it is the World Cup or your Sales Organization - Coaches Matter Hugely!

The world's greatest sporting event (certainly in terms of numbers watching and participating before anyone starts emailing me about the Olympics or even the Super Bowl - perhaps I should say biggest because obviously greatest is in the eye of the beholder) begins this Friday in South Africa. 32 nations have made it through a two-year+ qualifying process in order to compete for the ultimate prize in international football (or soccer depending on where you are reading this post from!).

 Naturally the bulk of the attention is focused on the array of playing talent that will grace this global stage in the coming weeks and the predictions are flying in households across the world about which player will be the ultimate star. Will it be Argentina’s Messi or England's Rooney or Brazil's Kaka or Spain's...well pick any of their midfield or forward line and fill in the blank such is their depth of talent. There is another major factor, however, in who will ultimately lift the 18 carat solid gold trophy and that is the coach!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Finding the Pulse

It never ceases to amaze me how much time we spend on standard operating procedures, process mapping, documentation, flow charts and customer data entry only to find ourselves constantly supplementing it with human intervention to “fill-in the gaps” or to tell the “real story”. Now don’t get me wrong standardization and documentation is important (as long as it leads to greater efficiencies and greater quality control), rather it is the haphazard human intervention that I am pointing to as the problem.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I’m Not Into You Being That Into Me

Guest Blog from Bruce Wedderburn, Vice President, Global Channel Sales at Huthwaite.

Recently I had a call with a sales person, let’s call him Fred, who wanted to discuss how a partnership with his firm could be beneficial for Huthwaite. He was referred to me by a colleague and I was very open to speaking with him. In the first few minutes of our discussion he dropped into the conversation the names of two colleagues from my college drama class, the name of the high school that I attended in Australia and that he, like me, also admired the artwork from another friend of mine who happens to promote her exhibits through social media.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Demanding Customers! Aren't we all?

Henry Ford once said that "a business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large" and many books and case studies have been written on how exceptional service has been a competitive differentiator for a whole host of businesses over the years. The "Nordstrom Way", for example, is one that immediately springs to mind.

Given that nobody will argue with the power of customer service and follow-up in building customer satisfaction and loyalty, I recently asked a gathering of sales professionals what was the one major change they were seeing in buyer behavior and their unanimous answer (and this was a gathering of about 30 individuals) was that the demand for instantaneous support and service had increased dramatically.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There is no future in the past

Yesterday I was in Dublin, Ireland at a meeting of the Dealmaker Partner Network (DPN) along with the leadership of the TAS Group and Infomentis. This was my first visit to my native land since last year and gave me an opportunity to talk to people and assess the full impact of the recession on this former tiger economy. The prognosis is, unfortunately, not good for the short to medium term future as the country rebuilds (unfortunate choice of words I know) after the bursting of a property bubble that rivaled anything seen in the US or elsewhere.

The papers and the TV stations are full of backward looking introspective pieces on what happened to the economy and why and who is to blame, all valid questions and while I agree with Churchill's assertion that those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it there is a greater urgency and I would argue time better spent figuring out where to go from here. Thankfully some efforts are afoot, including a Government sponsored think tank of leading Irish business people and academics who are charged with identifying how to foster and support innovation in Ireland and what industries or market segments Ireland is best placed to service in the future. I am happy to add that my brother-in-law who is CEO of Merrion Pharma, an Irish bio-tech success story that continues to excel, is a member of this think tank.

 There are many parallels at the individual business level to what is happening at the national level in countries large and small as they grapple with an uncertain future after the certainties of the recent past turned out to not be certain at all. Businesses need to quickly move from the initial reactive mode that is essential to survival during the first wave of a recession to a more future focused mode that repositions the business for success as a recovery (however slow that recovery may be) begins to take root. There is always a temptation to stay in reactive mode for too long or to forlornly wait for the return of the norm which of course never comes because business is a dynamic organism than evolves and changes, eventually settling into a new norm that marks a new cycle.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Noise Annoys

I have not posted anything this week as I have been away and now as I break that silence I am somewhat conflicted by thought that at least for a few days I added to the silence and not the noise.

My conflict comes from the sheer deluge of information that is flowing through the LCDs of our devices, coming at us from all angles with commentary added at each stop on each digital journey - useful, valuable insights spinning into a vortex along with the midly interesting and the downright inane. The end result of course being noise and when a thousand voices chatter nobody is really heard. And naturally we need to hear that which is worthwhile and could potentially help and enrich us. All of the media and channels of communications now available to us are gifts that we should cherish and use discriminately because if we don't we risk diminishing the importance of the messages they may carry.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is it time to raise your head above the parapet?

The National Bureau of Economic Research, the non-profit group of economists that decides on the official start and end date of recessions, still hasn’t reached agreement on whether it is ready to pronounce the current recession at an end. Naturally the significance of such a non-pronouncement is greater for those with a more academic interest in market cycles than to those with a more business focus who measure the end of a recession by whether their pipelines are showing signs of meaningful growth and deals are actually getting inked.

That is not to say that it wouldn’t be nice if recessions did have neat start and end dates so that you could plan accordingly. The reality is, of course, that those who are quickest to see signs of a downturn and then make the necessary business adjustments early (cost cutting being paramount among them) fare better during that downturn. Likewise those who are first to see signs of recovery and start to refocus on top-line growth early can gain real market advantage in an upturn.

The stronger than expected retail sales results that I talked about in an earlier post are obviously providing the NBER with some real recovery-supporting data, however, the more interesting story is how that sector itself is interpreting the trends.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Death of a Salesman 2.0

I came across some interesting questions that are contained in a Teacher’s Guide to the Penguin Edition of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman - that timeless portrayal of the common man as a tragic figure. The questions that the teachers are encouraged to ask of their students before they begin studying the play are:
  • What is your definition of salesman?
  • How is a salesman different from someone in another occupation?
  • What attitudes do you think a salesman should have to be successful?
  • What attitudes would hinder him?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Puttin' on the Ritz

When the monster in Young Frankenstein began tap dancing and singing "Puttin' on the Ritz" it was the absurd contrast that made the humor. The big hulking monster trying to be Fred Astaire was a riot. Now another former behemoth is trying to put on the ritz too in the effort to turn around its fortunes.

GM has just announced that it is sending some of it Cadillac dealers to sales and customer service training at the Ritz in order to learn from the luxury hotel chain how to capture and delight high end consumers. Don Butler, Cadillac’s newly appointed marketing manager, was quoted in as saying “Think about their (Ritz Carlton's) slogan, ‘Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,’” Butler says. “So we are working with them, having them help us talk to our dealer partners and emphasize the importance of how you treat your customer.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Retail Therapy

Given that we have almost become conditioned to bad economic news on an almost daily basis, the headlines today trumpeting the strong March results for the retail sector were a welcome departure. The Wall Street Journal reported that with about half of the retail companies on the Dow reporting earnings so far, all but one had beaten Wall Street projections. So considering that consumer spending accounts for nearly two thirds of the US economy perhaps we are seeing the first signs of the general public's inner shopper being released after nearly two years of incarceration.

This all bodes well for a resurgence of B2B spending, right? Well not so fast. The unfortunate reality remains that businesses do not return to discretionary spending as quickly as consumers do. After spending two or more painful years of downsizing, budget cutting and austerity measures in general, most organizations are reluctant to add back cost for two primary reasons. Firstly they want to see more obvious and sustained evidence of an economic turn-around and secondly they want to see how long they can maintain a greatly reduced cost base in order to maximize any profits the recovery may offer them.

Monday, April 5, 2010

In Vino Veritas

In the coming weeks wine buyers and speculators will start buying the 2009 vintage from Bordeaux but will not actually take possession of the final bottled wine for another two years. While this futures market is generally interesting only to a niche audience of wine enthusiasts and investors, there is a tradition that will be worth watching how it plays out this year. Once they set their price for their particular wine, the Bordeaux wine growers never drop the price regardless of the reaction - they will increase it if the demand is great but will never cut the price even when the demand is not there.

How many sellers of any product or service out there can claim to do the same? Given the fall in worldwide demand for wine last year due to the recession the growers will likely be especially careful in setting initial prices this year. Still, even if they end up setting them too high, in accordance with tradition, they will tough it out and hold the price. That takes some metal given that they have nurtured their product through all the variables that Mother Nature can throw at them all year.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sales & Marketing Alignment?

Every time the subject of sales and marketing alignment comes up it seems like everyone is in violent agreement (regardless of which of the two disciplines they come from) that this needs to be a priority and the time has come once and for all to get everyone on the same page if not the same team. And yet, this rarely seems to actually happen and so year after year sales and marketing alignment continues to be a conversation topic rather than a strategic imperative. (Of course there are companies who have executed this quite brilliantly but they remain exceptions).

Why is it so hard to accomplish this alignment? It must be hard after all if everyone agrees it should happen but very few attempt it, right? But this is where I struggle because I don’t believe it is that difficult at all. There seems to be a level of deliberate inaction. The reluctance seems to be born out of a fear of role dilution and the steady erosion of traditional lines of demarcation resulting in the blurring of skill-sets and expertise.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Time to Rethink your Sales Force?

In the ever increasing world of disintermediation where buyers can source information on products or services directly and bypass much of the traditional buyer/seller relationship the need to structure your sales force according to these buying patterns becomes even more crucial.

Neil Rackham and John De Vincentis explored this concept in their prescient book “Rethinking the Sales Force” which was published in 1999 but speaks even more directly to the challenges facing organizations today. One of the central arguments is that you need to segment your sales force according to whether it is a transactional or a consultative sale. This may seem on the surface to be a statement of the obvious but stop for a moment and think about how many sales organizations straddle both and how many sales people will grab transactional business to offset the longer sales cycles of a consultative sale. During the 1990s in sales organizations it was still common to have a percentage of sales people focused exclusively on transactional selling, another percentage focused on consultative selling and then a large chunk in the middle who did both. What has happened, however, over the past number of years is that the middle has started to get squeezed as the percentage of transactional buyers has increased due to all of the factors I listed in a previous blog entry (consumer buying habits infiltrating B2B buying and the ever increasing ease of purchasing driven by technology advances). Equally the consultative side of this equation has also expanded as buyers become more sophisticated at the higher end and look for greater value creation from vendors. They don’t just want to know how your product can help them but they want your insights on their business, the industry and they want you to become the illusive “trusted advisor”. Taken together this puts greater demands on the caliber of your consultative seller and greater strains on your support organization.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oscar Wilde in the Twitter Age

I read this article today about how GM is employing people to scour Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media venues in order to be proactive in their outreach to solving customer issues. The idea is to change poor opinions to good ones and good opinions to great ones by going out on the internet and engaging the customer on their turf- whether that is Facebook, Twitter, automotive discussion sites etc. This raises an interesting issue and puts a new spin on the famous Oscar Wilde quote “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” – in our new social media world there could be something worse and that is being talked about but not being aware of it!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The 21st Century Sales Rep Challenge

As a follow-up to my previous post, someone asked me what I thought the main challenge would be for the 21st Century sales rep as we head into the second decade. I see a number of challenges all related to the core issue of the torrents of information that are flowing through our lives on a nanosecond by nanosecond basis. Consider the fact that our consumer buying habits are beginning to inform our B2B buying habits – we comparison shop online, we use our professional and social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.) to get third-party opinions and reviews of the vendors we are considering. We are informed, we know almost everything there is to know about the vendor and their offering before we ever engage directly with them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sales 2.0 Conference Debrief

While attending the Sales 2.0 conference in San Francisco last week a thought struck me. Here we all were gathered to hear about the latest technologies and automation of processes that are revolutionizing how sales & marketing is executed; It is all cloud-based, crowd-sourced, social-media enabled, driven by online tribal knowledge sharing and yet we were all gathered in a very traditional physical conference setting to listen, question, understand and network.