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.)

But back to “eating your own dog food”, this phrase was popularized in Microsoft in the late 1980s and thereafter became a staple phrase for companies using their own products and services and advertising the fact to credential themselves with prospects. The actual origins of the phrase seem to be in some dispute – one internet source (and why would we question something posted on the Internet!) claims that a dog food company in Britain in the 50s actually had sales reps open a can of dog food in front of skeptical grocers and take a mouthful to prove how great it was and why they should stock it (this at a time when the concept of canned dog food was unheard of and so extreme measures were needed). It’s a neat story if not particularly believable – another explanation points to Alpo ads in the early 80s in which Lorne Greene talks about feeding the Alpo he was advertising to his own dogs – a much less interesting story.

So what’s my point you are probably wondering? Well it is simply this; in early 2010 we launched Huthwaite Dealmaker to the market to enable customers to leverage SPIN and other Huthwaite tools and strategies from within an intelligent sales force automation system that could be integrated within their CRM or used standalone. We have spent much of this year evangelizing this offering to the market and talking about how it can help to reinforce sales processes and skills and make them part of daily work practices, as well as providing tools and tactics embedded in their CRM, right at their fingertips, at the point of impact. We have shown line sales managers how to coach and mentor reps using the platform as their primary tool rather than constant emails and phone calls – showing them how to review opportunities and intervene when and where it can have the greatest impact based on the latest data rather than in an ad-hoc fashion so typical of many sales organizations. We have further demonstrated to executive management how forecast accuracy and pipeline velocity can be increased through Dealmaker and how intelligent business rules diminish subjectivity and educated guesswork.

What we have not done is to talk much about how we, yes wait for it, Eat Our Own Dog Food! When we brought Dealmaker to market we deployed it internally within our organization and integrated it with our CRM system. We have experienced firsthand the culture and process change it brings and how it has allowed us to institutionalize all of the best practices that we have long adopted through more traditional, manual means. For example our sales funnel is more balanced than before as we have systematically focused on early stage opportunities and examined them in detail, dissecting them to identify those where we and our customers are in alignment and where their business needs can be best served by our solutions. What this has meant is that we have not fallen prey to the “feel good funnel” syndrome where opportunities are loaded into the top of the funnel without proper qualification providing that false comfort that volume at the expense of quality can provide in the short-term until a high percentage of those opportunities evaporate in later stages. In other words less gets into our pipeline but a higher percentage closes and moves through the pipeline with a greater velocity.

Our sales managers now coach and mentor our sales people by reviewing the opportunities in detail without needing to bother the rep initially. Through the system they examine the history and progression of the opportunity and ensure that the proven success strategies have been adopted and followed, this means the sales manager can then have a higher value, more thoughtful and ultimately more productive conversation with the rep. The proverbial win/win for rep and manager is finally achieved.

I have saved the greatest benefit to last – this where that can of dog food tastes the best (if you can imagine such a thing!). Our sales people have long been our product. When they engage with a prospect they need to exemplify what consultative selling should look like. This is an area of great pride for Huthwaite and we work hard to achieve this and maintain these standards of excellence. We have the privilege of working with customers who also have this dedication to sales excellence and they inspire and push us to new heights as we witness how they implement our solutions and build their own sales cultures. By embedding Huthwaite’s sales skills, strategies, tactics and tools in the Dealmaker platform we have moved beyond applications that serve the purposes of others (database building for Marketing, reports for Management, financial information for Finance) and created one that empowers the sales rep and helps them navigate their way through the selling process in a more organized and systematic fashion. One that accentuates all the great things they already do. And the bonus is that all of those other constituencies still get what they need but it is more accurate and freely given.

When Huthwaite Dealmaker was introduced first at Huthwaite it promised to be a tool that provided for greater forecast accuracy and pipeline velocity and it is certainly has but the real strength of the system is that it helps sales people sell better. It augments, builds upon and enhances all of the skills we teach them. In short it enables excellence through technology.

So whether those reps chowing on dog food in Britain in the 50s or Mr Greene dishing out Alpo to his dogs in the 80s originated the phrase matters not, for us at Huthwaite we start our morning with big helping of it, snack on it throughout the day and often end with it featuring as the main meal and we love it!

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