Category Archives: Tech

Free sales intelligence 101 – Part 1

Salespeople are fortunate to have access to more information on their prospects and customers than ever before. The challenge is to navigate this ocean of content without drowning or becoming distracted.

For those who aren’t using sales intelligence, here are some of the reasons why you should.

4 REASONS YOU NEED SALES & SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE:

1.  Situational awareness drives lead conversion. Understanding the business and personal environment in which a person lives is critical to effective selling. How can you help? What challenges is their business facing? How do they spend their spare time? What are their passions? The answers to questions like these allow you to tailor your message and find rapport-building shared experiences and connections. Understanding = authentic relationship-building  + trust + helping = selling.

2. They expect preparation!  Demonstrate to the prospect or customer that you have done your homework and care enough to understand them. Today’s customers and prospects spend less time in sales meetings, do web research before meeting with vendors and expect that you’ve done the same.  Failing to meet their expectations by arriving/calling unprepared or “wasting time on a fishing expedition”, as one sourcing professional said to me, sets the stage for failure.

3.  Your customers are talking to you through social media. Are you listening? Individuals and companies are broadcasting their priorities, interests, activities and trigger points via social media. Ignoring social intelligence = ignoring the customer.

4.  Speak their language.  Information gathered from sales & social intelligence sources provides insight into personality and individual communication styles. Communication 101 tells us that people generally fall into several “types” based on personal preferences and age. For example, people born after 1979 (Gen Y) prefer to communicate through technology channels like email and social networks much more than via telephone . If their profiles  shows a tendency towards “introversion and thinking”, you’d want to adjust your communication style accordingly ( e.g.  plan to explain every feature of your proposal, respect personal-professional life separation, avoid humour in serious situations).

(If you’re interested in reading more about personal styles, I posted on the subject previously and shared some links at http://funnelblog.com/2012/04/05/personality-testing/).

Great paid solutions that aggregate information from hundreds of sources and automate sales intelligence gathering are only a Google search away. But you don’t need to pay-to-play.  There are plenty of free sales intelligence tools that will up your sales game, so don’t let money stand between you and increased sales productivity!

Here are some free sales & social intelligence tools that I recommend (and use):

  1. Google Alerts
  2. Social Alerts
  3. RSS, blog and news search and subscriptions
  4. Job change alerts (www.jobchangealerts.com)
  5. Bloomberg/BusinessWeek Business Profiles
  6. LinkedIn

In my next post “Free sales intelligence 101 – Part 2”, I’ll discuss these tools in greater detail and describe how they’re used to drive sales productivity.

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“Lean decision-making” lessons learned

Take one look at tech blogs, start-up news or content shared on LinkedIn and you’ll find plenty of the business equivalent of “self-help”. This is not surprising. Tech leaders work in conditions of constant change, and rarely have the luxury of wearing just one functional “hat”.  We need digestible content to help us manage the complexity of our daily lives.

Fortunately, we have easy access to the largest pool of information in history.  Thanks to tablets, e-readers and smartphones, this content is accessible anywhere, anytime. However, there’s risk hidden in this mountain of content – it often contains BAD advice. In fact, some of it’s downright dangerous to your business.

Chances are you’ve seen bad business decisions made based on hope or fear, what others are doing, the latest business trend or what senior industry leaders did or said in the past. In other words, on everything but hard facts. It happens all too often. It unfortunately also happened to me.

Remember the matrix management fad? In a nutshell, matrix management pooled people with similar skills under a functional manager (e.g. head of engineering). They were then assigned work on projects under other managers. In my case, engineers had to report to several managers to get their work done. The matrix was supposed to leverage the skills of our team across multiple projects, making the company nimbler and more effective. In reality, this was a recipe for needless complexity, endless turf wars, competition for talent and many many meetings.

After a couple of wasted months, I untangled this mess by putting one person in charge again. This was a real boneheaded move, but at least I wasn’t alone. Many organizations have tried and failed to implement matrix organizations, often with the help of expensive management consultants. Had I done my homework, I’d have found precious little factual support for this management fad.

The only way to separate success-driving practices from their ineffective (or even harmful) brethren is through evidence-based management.  Eric Reis’s Lean Startup Method^ is an excellent example of evidenced-based management for start-ups. He’s a proponent of making decisions based only on hard facts generated through experimentation and data collection. These quotes from his book say it all:

Test assumptions you’ve made about your business, its customers and how you’re serving them.”

“… productivity is not just making more stuff, but systematically figuring out the right things to build.

“The three A’s of metrics: actionable, accessible and auditable.”

Looking at the facts is not easy, not even for leaders of Fortune 500 companies. Just look at their love affair with M&A. Think AOL-Time Warner or HP-Compaq. Study after study shows that most mergers benefit only investment bankers and lawyers – some estimates are that 70% or more fail to deliver shareholder value (Of course, don’t forget the Pixar-Disney successes either)*.

Of 200,000 mergers reviewed in 93 peer-reviewed studies, analysis shows that the negative effects of a merger generally become clear in less than one month and continue thereafter! So what separates the 70% from the 30%? Facts and strong processes. This is consistent with my personal experience as a lawyer turned-corporate development wonk. The majority of deals I’ve seen ultimately value destroying for a variety of reasons, including culture clashes and lack of investment in integration.*

Companies like Cisco prospered through M&A by identifying success factors, such as merger size (small is better), integration practices and culture compatibility. In fact, Cisco averaged about one merger per quarter last decade, most of which were successful. They experimented to find what works and beat the odds, following a very similar philosophy to the lean start-up method.*

Good decisions, effective business practices and successful businesses are built on metrics, measurements, testing and validation. They are also built on avoiding poor decision-making practice and recognizing biases.

To increase your odds of business success, avoid these 4 big mistakes:

1.  Doing what (seems to have) worked in the past.  Suppose a doctor wanted to do an appendectomy on you. When you asked why, he answered, “because I did one on my last patient and he got better.” You’re going to run from his office, right? Don’t confuse success in spite of from success because of. In addition, your business environment, model or market just might be different enough that the past solution won’t work for you.*

2.  Casual benchmarking.  It’s ok to learn from others – it’s an important source of ideas and practices – but make sure you benchmark based on facts and data. Do your homework, ask the basic question of WHY something works and understand if the practices of others really make sense for your business model using both logic and real data.

3.  Following deeply held yet unexamined ideologies. Many people treat first-mover advantage like dogma. What may surprise some is that this pervasive belief is not supported by the facts. At best, the empirical evidence is unclear. Beliefs that are rooted in ideology are “sticky” and contrary evidence is often ignored. Watch out for this bias, because the biggest risk comes from a failure to question one’s personal beliefs.*

4. Listening to experts too much. Management experts and consultants can leverage their experience across organizations to help their clients learn from the successes and failures of others. Just be careful. Experts are paid to have all the answers, and it is tempting to lean too hard are their advice. It is the job of the leader to logically assess, challenge and adapt expert advice to the needs of their unique business and market.

If you’re interested in learning more about evidenced-based management, I highly recommend the Lean Startup by Eric Reis and Hard facts, Dangerous Half-truths  & Total Nonsense by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton.

* J. Pfeffer & R. Sutton, Hard facts, Dangerous Half-truths  & Total Nonsense, Boston: Harvard Business School Press (2006).
^ Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Crown Business (2011)
 

Corporate tablet adoption growing, naysayers ignore tablets at their peril

2011 was the year of the tablet. Surprisingly, it was also the year of the business tablet.

At the outset of the year, the tablet hype was still focused almost entirely on the consumer. The iPad’s smartphone-like fun and form factors made it pretty easy to ignore potential business applications for the device. Like many, I initially purchased an iPad to satisfy a gadget addiction, only to find it incredibly useful for applications other than Angry Birds and Netflix.

In hindsight, the rise of the corporate tablet wasn’t surprising. Just watch a 1-on-1 customer presentation become a customer conversation and you’ll understand its power. Many of us didn’t realize we had laptop problems that needed solving.

What’s interesting, however, is that many execs still aren’t taking notice. They continue to ask why tablets matter for the enterprise?

Over 40% of tablets were already being used for business applications in mid-2011, according to a survey conducted by FunnelBoard.  That’s a large slice of a rapidly expanding pie.

Gartner forecasted worldwide tablet sales of 63.6 million units for the past year – a 261.4% increase from 17.6 million units in 2010.  Tablet sales are expected to reach 326.3 million units by the end of 2015.  Furthermore, the combined sales of smartphones and tablets will exceed PC sales by 44% in 2011, with the installed base of mobile computing devices surpassing total installed base of all PC systems in 2014.

Here are the 5 biggest reasons why tablets matter:

  1. Productivity. Tablets drive productivity, as demonstrated by the 28% efficiency increase in field service efficacy (see Venture Beat).
  2. Accessibility. Tablets make intelligence, reports, knowledge sharing and collaboration tools universally accessible.  Applications that suffered by being chained to laptops, became truly useful when the lug-around-open-boot-load-wait-use paradigm shattered.
  3. Mobility. 75% of workers have some mobility associated with their jobs. They need information that travels with them (see Venture Beat).
  4. Adoption trends. Over 70% percent of corporate sales forces will be using tablets by the end of 2012, according to a FunnelBoard survey. There is a reason for this – they help close deals.
  5. Consumerization of enterprise technology. Tablet adoption is already at 11% of consumers in the United States and growing quickly. Following the general trend towards the consumerization of enterprise technology, expect your employees to demand them in the near future. If your employees are knowledge workers or in technology-related businesses, they’re probably making noise already (see Online Marketing).

At the office, tablets are being used to access data, collaborate and automate processes. But this technology is not just for office workers (remember when Blackberrys were just for executives?). Tablets are showing up in front-line applications like retail sales, equipment maintenance, meter reading, proof of service, inventory management and telematics. Just this week, I met with a company developing a promising solution that would put tablets in the hands of automotive mechanics on a massive scale.

In a recent report, the Gartner group identified the following as the top 10 business applications for tablets for 2011:

  1. Sales automation system, sales presentations, and ordering systems
  2. Business intelligence: analytical and performance applications
  3. Collaboration applications for meetings
  4. File utilities for sharing
  5. Document distribution
  6. General corporate/government enterprise applications
  7. Medical support system
  8. Hosted virtual desktop agents
  9. Social networking applications with intelligent business insight
  10. Board books

How do you see tablets being used in 2012? Are you considering a tablet roll-out for your business? While tablets won’t make sense for everyone, understanding the impact of tablet  is a must for every executive.

Let me know what you think.

 

Sources and further reading:
http://www.androidauthority.com/tablets-potential-corporate-use-sales-326-million-2016-33928/
http://blog.onlinemarketingconnect.com/hubspot/2011/10/30-new-tablet-usage-stats-marketers-should-know-infographic/
http://venturebeat.com/2011/10/21/how-the-enterprise-is-adopting-tablets-infographic/
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