Removing tech from the discussion

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A recent customer situation which resulted in the renewal of an existing customer’s ERP contract, made me think about why customers come to us. We signed a huge tech deal with a client but we hardly spoke about technology. In short, it got me thinking about how we work with clients. We are a technology company, but people come to us for more than just tech.

Understanding our clients

The first thing that comes to my mind is that we understand our clients. We understand their business and how their supply chain works. To be able to provide the best service, it’s fundamental that we fully grasp their inner workings. From that understanding, we then build close relationships, so that they can be confident that we are there for them; to support them in every step of the journey.

Guide, help and advise our clients every step of the way

As specialist application hosting providers, at C24 we understand that implementing ERP systems correctly is critical within a business. We get that. The ERP system is often the pillar on which most organisations are built; it is fundamental to success and a business cannot run without it. It underpins everything.

When an ERP deployment goes wrong, it affects the business as a whole: supplier payments can’t be made on time or even made at all, invoices go to the wrong people, product manufacturing is affected by delays; and confusion and mistakes become the two main players. In short, all operations of a business can be compromised.

Getting an ERP project wrong can create huge issues for clients’ own customers and suppliers, ultimately leading to customer dissatisfaction. We get it and we know what it takes to make ERP implementations risk free and secure. We know how to make the process of migrating to a new ERP, or having an ERP platform installed for the first time, as painless as possible.

Our expertise in deploying ERP solutions is vast, and because of that we can help businesses to choose the right ERP solution for them. For example, not long ago, we created an ebook about Hybrid ERP (1) and developed a list of 9 things to know about Hybrid ERP, where we explored the ways in which cloud is disrupting the traditional approach to ERP deployment (2). We don’t just deploy ERP, we talk about it, we research it, we study and we write about it. At C24, we partner closely with ERP integrators to deliver the hosting and underpinning infrastructure most suitable to our clients’ existing IT environment and operations. When everything is set up and running, we don’t just disappear from the face of the Earth, we are always available and ready to guide, help and advise whenever needed. We could say we are a ‘partner for life’.

The key to it all

All of this thinking makes me realise once more how important relationships are. If businesses can’t build close relationships with their clients based firstly and foremost on trust, both parties lose. Without trust, and a commitment to truthfully understanding our clients’ needs, we won’t be able to keep that relationship going for very long. Good tech is in fact the bare minimum. Relationships are the key that take that technology to the next level.

Moreover, when you win a contract, it is you against a number of other suppliers. However, when you renew a contract, it is you against the world. You have to prove why you are still the best choice for your customer. Renewal is about the relationship you have built and continue building with your client; it is about understanding them, NOT the tech you provide. It is about strengthening that relationship time after time.

As I said at the beginning of this reminiscence piece, we recently signed a huge tech deal but we hardly spoke about technology. This tells you a lot about who we are and how we like to do business.

 

References:

Are you a non-conformist?

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Sometimes, going against the crowd or even just having a different way of thinking to your colleagues around you can lead you to become the “black sheep” of your business. In the past, being a black sheep had a negative connotation; it was perceived as something not to be proud of.

But today, could the term have lost its stigma? Has it actually become something positive? We’re all familiar with the idea of a maverick sales rep; someone who doesn’t follow company processes but nevertheless gets good results and is loved by their customers. This sales rep is, in effect, a black sheep – or in other words – a nonconformist. A nonconformist is someone who doesn’t conform to other people’s ideas of how things should be (1). Businesses are waking up to the idea that not conforming to the norm can actually be a source of business success; finding new and innovative ways to solve business challenges.

 

Can nonconformity benefit a business?

Challenging the status quo is the only way to drive businesses forward. When a business is successful or a leader in their market, it can feel difficult to make changes; fearing that something could go wrong to disrupt their position in that market.

This same thinking also applies to the structure of people working inside a business, depending on where you are in terms of hierarchy and seniority. As Adam Grant explains in his interview “In Praise of Dissenters and Non-Conformists” (2), when you are at the top of the ladder, you have already earned your reputation as a high achiever, therefore, you have “earned the right” to differ. In simple terms, you’ve earned the right to think differently. Conversely, when you have just started at a company, or you are at the bottom of the ladder, you have nothing to lose and therefore it can feel easier to take the risk and speak out.

However, when you are in the middle of the hierarchy, i.e. middle management, you are in a tough position; having worked really hard to get where you are, the fear of losing what you’ve won starts to kick in.  This can stop you from speaking out or proposing something different, in the worry that you may lose your credibility or even your position if your idea fails. As a consequence, you stop thinking of new ways to challenge the status quo and help the business to evolve and thrive. You become a conformist individual due to the fear of jeopardising your position. You close yourself down to new ideas.

Without fresh new ideas, evolution can’t take place and therefore progress stops. Businesses become less innovative, creativity disappears and new ideas are never explored. In the long term this can lead a business to failure and culminate in its disappearance as new players emerge. It follows the same idea as our article ‘How EBITDA killed innovation’ as companies become too scared to change for fear of impacting on their quarterly revenue targets.

Nonconformity is needed in a business to enable it to thrive and be successful in the market, but also to keep the business aiming for more; taking calculated risks and following to foster creativity within the wider industry sector. Employees should be encouraged to speak out and give ideas, because if not, opportunities are missed.

 

 

 

Integrating nonconformity into a business

Nonconformists are often not afraid to disagree with their managers and colleagues. They question their supervisors and challenge their ideas with some of their own, leading to new possibilities that can help the business as a whole.  They also take calculated risks, being able to grasp an opportunity before others and pursue it with energy and vigour. This can lead to new successes for the business, such as new partnerships or business deals.  Nonconformists tend to not follow the crowd and try new directions which is critical to improving existing product developments or creating a new service from scratch.

Nonconformists value opinions that are different from theirs, consider and understand others’ points of view and are able to recognise as well a good idea in others, even if it does not match with their own view.  This sparks creativity and healthy challenging – so how can you start to incorporate this environment of constructive challenging and creative practices into your organisation today?

People have ideas and suggestions, but these are usually never transmitted to the decision makers for fear of making a mistake or being punished for challenging the current system. Sometimes employees don’t bother to speak up because there is always the thought that no one will really care what about what they have to say.

 

Encouraging feedback and open collaboration

A great example of encouraging original ideas and constructive criticism is the one of Tom Gerrity (2).  He was running a software company called Index, and as CEO, he was worried that being at the top meant that no one would ever challenge him about what they really thought of him or how the business was going. One day, Gerrity arranged to be publicly criticised by an external consultant in front of the whole company. He took notes and said he would take on board those comments and improve in the aspects mentioned. After that, employees recognised that he was approachable and actively open to new ideas, suggestions and criticism and therefore – open to change. It also encouraged the rest of the company to follow his lead and practice the same thinking with their colleagues, giving and receiving constructive criticism and sharing ideas freely that could potentially help the business to move forward.

Another way to encourage nonconformity in a business is to organise feedback sessions once a month where managers and employees can exchange their views.  It’s also useful to think about how you could organise meetings between all levels of employees across the business with the CEO or executives to foster a culture of idea sharing and open collaboration between departments and management levels.

 

So, it doesn’t matter if a person is a nonconformist by default. If you have the right working environment that truly believes in progress and wants to challenge the status quo, nonconformity is encouraged and nourished. There are always different ways in which businesses can encourage nonconformity, and not all cases can be a replica of the Tom Gerrity one. But every manager and employee can help to foster an environment that nourishes original ideas, while promoting constructive feedback and suggestions. Without that, the status quo will never change and progress will always be stuck in reverse.

 

References

 

Persistence: Choosing our battles carefully

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It’s a familiar story that we’ve been told since childhood: to persist and we will achieve whatever we set out to do. No matter the difficulty, no matter the challenge – if we persist, then anything is possible.  But is persistence always the answer? Can it sometimes do more harm than good?

What happens when we persist against adversity, time after time, and still do not see our dreams come true? Instead of trying to grasp everything and potentially end up with nothing, should we in fact focus our resources and place our energy on a handful of important challenges that really matter to us?

In short, should we be more selective when it comes to persistence?

Can being too persistent stop you from uncovering other opportunities?

You sometimes reach a crossroads in life, where you have to make a choice and decide which path to follow. Every time we choose one direction, we are closing the door to other opportunities along the way.

Deciding to pursue a path and focusing on one direction entirely until you succeed in your objective may not always be the smartest move to make. Being completely focused on achieving a goal and dedicating all your energy and resources to it could result in losing perspective, and worst of all, losing awareness of what happens around you.

The world is constantly changing, so being aware of new opportunities may not be possible when you are focused on just one goal. Of course, we should pay attention and put our energy into what we want to achieve, but sometimes we need to work on finding the right balance so that we avoid losing awareness of the changes that are happening around us.

Markets change and evolve, while new ones are constantly appearing. For example, we could be so focused on developing a particular product to launch in a specific market, that we don’t pay attention to potential new markets that could benefit from our existing product portfolio. Or maybe it is the opposite: we are so insistent on trying to sell our products into a new sector, that we stop paying attention to the needs, differences and peculiarities of our core market, which may require more focus from us to improve our current product.

When a company is looking to land a big fish client, being too stubborn and thinking that the only way to succeed is to win that particular account, may mean losing the opportunity to sell to other small businesses who could be ideal target clients.  You then end up focusing entirely on trying to win the client instead of taking a step back and recognising other good opportunities along the way. Perhaps you find that working with a range of multiple smaller customers opens you up to new directions previously unexplored – this doesn’t mean forfeiting the large client; it just means building a foundation with other customers.

How to decide when to quit?

How do you know when it is the right moment to stop and move on to the next project? When we are so focused, it may be difficult to recognise the right time to press the STOP button and reassess.

If you persevere but obtain the same outcome each time, it could be that you are either doing something wrong or that it is not the right time to pursue this goal, after all, Einstein said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. It could also mean you are pursuing a dead end and that no matter what you do, it’s not the right opportunity for you, or that the world just isn’t ready.

Knowledge and past experiences are key when deciding which opportunity is worth the struggle and which is not. But, there will always be an element of chance, unpredictability and uncertainty involved. And sometimes you will already need to be on that path to be able to acknowledge when to stop. As you fail and win more, you will become attuned to the signs signalling when to quit. For every story that we hear about someone continually trying and eventually succeeding, there are many more stories that go unheard, detailing those who try all their lives and still never reach their goal.

Adding passion to the mix can help you to achieve your goal, but it can also delay the decision to leave one path and go to the next. People who succeed and run successful businesses know that it is a matter of getting the right combination of persistence, knowledge, experience and passion to achieve their goals.

 

 

Can persistence hinder self-improvement?

Being consumed with one particular objective can cause you to lose focus on yourself. Dedicating all your energy to one focus doesn’t give you the time needed to critically review yourself and your method. For instance, are you approaching things in the right way? Should you gain more knowledge on the topic before you continue?  Is your product the problem or is it a case of timing?

We are sometimes too focused on moving in a particular direction without thinking whether we could actually improve ourselves or adapt in a way that allows us to see things from a different perspective (through changes in insight, experience, attitude, etc.). Doing so could help us to achieve our goal or help us to realise that maybe we should be focusing on something else.

Taking a step back and critically assessing yourself and your position is a key part of the journey you are on, and will help you to improve your skills and increase your chances of success.

Should we pursue persistence at any cost?

Navy Seals are trained to cultivate their mental resilience against all odds. This works in a military environment but should be taken with a pinch of salt when applying it to the business world. Mental ‘toughness’ techniques from the Navy Seals (1) include recommendations on how to motivate yourself to persist in achieving a goal, however Navy Seals are trained for life or death situations where you need to make decisions quickly, sometimes with no time to think twice about it.

Military and sports motivational ideas are often translated into the business world, however an article featured in HBR (2) references how motivational sports ideas about “beating the competition” can be detrimental to success. A study compared the growth trajectories of 25 multinational businesses over their lifespans, and it was found that “smooth and steady expansion strategies gradually led to superior profitability. Firms that approached their growth as a race to be won, by expanding faster and further than others, eventually led themselves into dire straits” (2). This shows that a more collaborative and steady approach to success was best, instead of trying to force a quicker process. So, perhaps it is not about winning but getting there in the right way. Faced with relentless motivational quotes, people trying without succeeding can potentially feel like failures or lose focus as competition and comparison with others becomes something constant (and potentially poisonous) in their minds.

After looking at persistence and the role it plays in our lives, I can safely say that persistence cannot be classified as “good” or “bad”. Persistence, to the correct degree, can help us to follow our dreams and give us the energy to make them a reality. But, on its own, without past experiences, or the knowledge and time to reflect, persistence alone is not enough.

 

References:

http://marketmeditations.com/navy-seals-mental-resilience/

https://hbr.org/2016/06/stop-comparing-management-to-sports

Cybersecurity and Law Firms

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Handling activities with large associated financial values such as property sales, or mergers and acquisitions, is making targeting law firms a highly attractive target for cyber criminals. Once hacked, law firms lose their most prestigious asset: their reputation. Clients will switch firms even if they just sense there is the potential risk of having personal data leaked.   Data is money, and even power.  It has to be protected at all costs.

It’s been suggested that law firms are not taking cybersecurity seriously enough and are not putting appropriate measures in place to avoid attack. Firewalls and antivirus systems may not be enough to ensure protection; clients are sometimes now asking firms to prove their cyber-security capabilities by requesting that periodic security audits and ‘ethical hacking’ exercises be carried out regularly to expose any weaknesses.

Law firms are the new target

Hackers have already breached the security systems of at least one major international law firm, transforming a long-predicted cyber espionage scenario into reality. In the US, two magic circle firms were among the top 48 firms targeted in order to gain sensitive information on mergers and acquisitions, highlighting the sophistication of hackers and their more bespoke approach to targeting firms in specific sectors or following high-profile business deals.

Yet it can be difficult to implement new cyber-security procedures within firms if senior partners do not adhere to them. For example, while firms may have policies barring the use of online storage services such as DropBox, some partners continue to use them (2).

Hacking is a growing threat

In 2014, 173 UK firms were investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office in reference to a number of incidents that were suspected to have breached the Data Protection Act. A total of 187 incidents were recorded – 29% related to security and 26% related to the incorrect disclosure of data (5).

Victims of this rise in attacks are both big and small corporations; however, small businesses are becoming the easiest and preferred target due to a lack of security measures in place. In fact, half of last year’s cyber-attacks in the UK were directed at businesses employing fewer than 2,500 people (1).  With the majority of law firms falling within this bracket, cyber-security measures should be taken very seriously by everyone working in a law firm.

Particularly for law firms, many of the staff are decision makers, compared with other business sectors where only Managers or the Accounts department have access to important company information.  Conversely in a law firm, lawyers and partners have access to huge amounts of highly sensitive data about their clients.

Recommendations

The Metropolitan Police offers a variety of information on how to prevent firms from being hacked. The most relevant recommendations for law firms centre around protecting access to data, across: ensuring access control so that staff only have access to the files they need rather than granting company-wide access to shared folders.  Additionally, encrypting any information stored on removable media or portable devices and considering the use of systems that eliminate the need for any files to be stored on portable devices is important for controlling how and where data is stored.

In addition to this, firms should be making sure that any device connected to organisational systems, including remote working, is vetted for security. Data transmission within and beyond the firm should be secure at all ends and access rights for staff who have left the firm should be revoked immediately.  Predictably, it’s important as we know to conduct background checks on applicants, especially those who will have access to highly sensitive data – thinking about how employees could use or export data.  Are you making it too easy to quickly download all of your client information onto a hard drive?  Or are you providing adequate controls to employees who are using their own devices to record client information, such as tablets and mobiles?

Price Waterhouse Coopers also recommend to take other specific measures.  Firstly, some clients will have specific requirements around how their data is managed by the law firm.  IT Directors at law firms need to be mindful of how these requirements are adhered to over the long term so that standards remain high.

Secondly, a global law firm needs to be able to satisfy global clients on a global basis. So, sharing information across a global network in a secure way is critical, as is ensuring that data protection policies in each region are adhered to.

Finally, understanding what data you have, and where it is located is key.  With so many easily accessible cloud storage tools and USB products available, it can be a huge task to even figure out where information is stored.  Which applications have which data, who has used a USB stick to handle client data in the past year, and is anyone using DropBox or personal Microsoft and Google accounts to share information or send files?

Apart from the previous recommendations, it is also important to consider practices such as ethical hacking exercises, which are carried out from the inside to detect a firm’s weaknesses to uncover potential opportunities for hacking. One firm which is already carrying out this practice is London media specialist practice, Schillings.  The firm has recently rebranded itself as a risk consulting and technology security practice, even promoting its services to other law firms to help with penetration testing and ethical hacking exercises to test system vulnerability (1).

C24 is holding a specialist cyber-security and social engineering course that is nationally accredited and delivered by UK specialists who train police forces in cyber security.  Each place normally costs upwards of £300 ex VAT per delegate, but C24 is offering ten IT Managers, Directors or CIOs the opportunity to attend the accredited half-day course for free.

Register your interest here.

 

 

References

(1) https://www.thelawyer.com/issues/28-october-2013/cyber-security-lawyers-are-the-weakest-link/

(2) https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/manda-hack-attack-on-48-elite-law-firms/5054524.article

(3) https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/stories/scams-against-solicitors-met-police-offer-advice-and-support-on-fraud-prevention/

(4) http://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/business-services/law-firms/insights/cyber-security-issues-facing-law-firms.html

(5) https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/ico-probes-173-law-firms-over-data-protection-breaches/5048260.article

 

Winning the deal but losing the customer

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I have a strong belief that the real selling starts after the sale.

But so many sales teams are incentivised to focus relentlessly on pre-sale activity, ignoring the fact that a customer becomes more valuable to you once a sale is completed.  The first sale is just the first step in the process – now you have to make sure the customer is committed to you, and remains committed to you, throughout their partnership with your organisation.

We all know the statistics about ratio of costs when it comes to acquiring a new customer versus retaining a customer.  I won’t go into that – but what I will say is that the simple things that would help you retain a customer, are often not being done.  Regular catch-ups, following up when you said you would, or inviting them to the days out that you normally only invite your new prospects to are ways to maintain a good relationship once the deal is done.  Sales reps often just focus on the next prospect instead of spending time with existing customers who actually spend money with you.  And the best thing of all about engaging with existing clients is that you know that your customer wants to be engaged with you, because they bought from you.  They have given you the green light to engage and be a good vendor.  Take the opportunity!

 

Familiarity breeds complacency

It’s easy to become complacent with your best customers – they pay on time, they don’t give you a hard time and they are always happy to see you.  It’s easy to take them for granted – but if you think about the Customer Lifetime Value rather than the value of the deal in front of you right now, then it might change how you think about the time and resources you dedicate to continually winning back your customer.

Most marketing and sales ROI calculations are based on net new business revenue or margin – but how do you calculate ROI on NOT losing your best customer?  Do you factor customer churn rates into your ROI calculations?

Sometimes all it needs is a period of review and reflect to think about your best customers, and look at what you can do to increase their experience after the sale.  We like to organise our annual Jon Palmer Race Days – there’s no selling going on, no talking about work – just a chance to share some time away from the office with our customers, and it is our little way of saying thank you for working with us.  It makes sense to do this with our existing customers to retain that valuable relationship, rather than ploughing all our marketing budget into finding new prospects who may never become customers.  Obviously you have to do new business prospecting but marketing budgets should always account for how to focus resources on existing clients.

Keeping in regular contact helps to maintain the bonds created between you and your customer – and is a fundamental part of ensuring high customer experience levels.  This relatively new trend of analysing customer experience forgets that it all comes down to a fundamental, and basic, activity: keeping your customer happy.  Maybe in this new digital world where it has never been easier to reach thousands of new prospects on a daily basis, marketing and sales activities have flipped to continually focus on the new, new, new.  But generations ago, the local cornershop with a loyal customer base knew the value of a good and consistent customer experience long before marketing experts coined the phrase.

A recent article by Tamara Schenk highlighted how marketing content should also be employed throughout the entire customer journey, both before and after you have joined your client for the ride.  She advocates creating the right kind of content during the “implementation, adoption and usage” phase.  These are the critical points where the customer starts to develop a view on what working with you is like.  Dedicating time and investing resources into making your solution fit as seamlessly as possible will pay off when the next refresh comes around.

After all, your customer of today will be your competitor’s new prospect tomorrow.

 

Do you like me? Will you buy?

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To win in sales, you need to get a great territory plan in place, then carefully research each individual customer, run your analytics to see which customers are best placed to buy at that time, then develop your value proposition, prospect your customers, get them knowledgeable about your product roadmap, ensure their heatmap is filled out and finally, boom! They purchase.

Or maybe not?

These elements are important, to an extent, for the appropriate customer.

But a huge part of selling comes down to likeability.  People often don’t like admitting that, because it can suggest that sales people are ‘born’.  What happens to Sales Trainers if sales is just about being likeable; a quality that is pretty difficult to learn?

An article in Harvard Business Review discussed how co-workers preferred likeable people – and that managers often hire likeable people.  That sounds incredibly obvious, but the suggestion is that we often make choices about people in a work environment, not on their skill or competence, but mainly on the level of their likeability.  You choose to work with the person on a project, you offer them the job, you promote them because they get on so well with the team.  That’s not to say that you can be completely useless and still get ahead (although that does happen from time to time) but it means that in a decision scenario, where all candidates rank the same on all other factors, is it not natural that the final decision comes down to likeability?

Within our own organisation, one of the factors that makes customers choose us is often a simple “We can work with these guys” statement.  If the trust and respect is there, then customers feel much happier working with a company they can work with easily, get along with and engage without friction – rather than a company who still has the same high levels of competency, but something just doesn’t ‘smell right’.  Of course, we believe we have high levels of competency in what we do, but we also focus on fostering a culture of likeability – personality and character are important traits that bond us as employees and also create bonds between our customers and partners.

As the HBR article puts it, a little extra likeability goes a longer way than a little extra competence.  This brings me to whether likeability is the biggest factor for buyers when making a purchasing decision.

 

Likeability in Sales

A Rain Selling post highlights how there are often underlying reasons at play, that we might not even recognise ourselves, when we make a purchasing decision.  In situations where every supplier at the table has the same level of competency and capability, which is often the case in highly competitive markets, the decision usually comes down to who the buyer likes best.

And ‘liking’ doesn’t just mean you’d be happy to go for a beer with them – it can be broader and mean that you respect their perspectives, or find them more credible; therefore more likeable.

Rain also conducted a survey about what separates winners in sales from ‘the rest’.  The main difference was ‘the seller and how they sell’ rather than an assessment of the company and its products.  Amongst many other factors, the buyers surveyed listed points such as, “being more collaborative, listening to me, helping avoid potential pitfalls, and connecting with me personally” as reasons contributing to choosing a particular seller.

Rain go on to share how the likeability factor has a big impact on the entire sales process, from making prospects more likely to share information during the needs discovery phase, through to buyers taking insights shared by the seller more seriously and the ease of obtaining meetings and referrals.  It’s obvious that you are not going to refer a company to a friend when you had a negative experience purchasing from them.

Think about in your own office.  When you hear your colleagues complaining about a particular supplier or stating that they will never work with XYZ company again, is it usually the product or the seller/sales experience?  In my experience, it tends to be the difficult sales experience or clash of characters that stops us working with a supplier again.  The products or services on offer are often available from someone else, somewhere in the world.  The difference is how YOU are going to deliver it.

 

‘I’m not bothered if you buy or not – here are the cakes’

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We have a Sales Rep working for us, whose preferred way of handling customer meetings is to take a batch of cakes in.  No super science sales skills, no clever tactics.  And honestly no hidden agenda.  Just cakes.  He usually eats most of them too, with a cup of tea (2 sugars) and a lengthy chat.

This is how he’s always done it.

Customers love him, and trust him.  I’m always fascinated by the idea of trust, especially as we have built our business based on years of continued trust, with repeat clients and longer contracts than usual.  It’s difficult to put your finger on where that unique trust comes from, or how you even build it.  We always thought it just happened.

But I came across an interesting graphic called the Trust Matrix.  It perfectly articulated something we had been carrying out for so long, but didn’t have the words to explain.

The Trust Matrix says that you need a unique combination of both character and competence to build trust.  You can go online and read all the case studies in the world about a potential new supplier, but if something just doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t right.  Character forms a huge part of what we do – it’s why our customers stay with us for the long term. But how do you define it? Or even more complicated, how do you replicate character?

But what is character?

Who knows?  It could be our strong Brummie accents, or our cheeky Dad jokes.  We’re not quite sure.  Our Sales Rep strongly believes it’s the cakes.  Or perhaps it’s the lunches at the Vine around the corner (curry/pub that’s well worth a visit if you’re in West Bromwich).

The Trust Matrix believes character is a mix of integrity, openness and authenticity.  In our world, we think being true to our roots and straightforward with customers is better than an overly polished slick presentation and a sales script.  When we first work with customers, we deliver our FACE presentation, sharing everything about how the company came about, our approach and culture and what working with us is like.  Our customers want to know that they are buying into something real, honest and reliable; that when they encounter an issue, someone is there to help.  Sales have long left the building by the time your customer really needs you.  Being there at the weekend, against all odds, is what makes the difference between character and a good sales patter.

The problem with many sales training programmes is that they focus on how to make cookie cutter sales reps – with everyone acting in the same way, saying the same things and delivering the same presentation.

We don’t think that works and each of our Sales Reps operates in a completely different way to the next.  That suits some customers, and doesn’t suit others – no problem, people are individuals after all.  But those differences and quirks in our personalities make us real – and customers get a good handle on who we are as a company pretty early on.

Combined with competence

So what sits on the other side of character in the Trust Matrix?  Competence is the other key element, apparently made up of the capability to deliver, alongside relevant skills and experience.  This is the part where customers need to see proof that you can deliver the services they need to a great level, regardless of whether they get on with you or not.  Organisations that focus too much on improving sales without looking at what happens once a customer is actively engaged with your business tend to suffer from a high rate of customer churn.  This is where the client has selected you to work with, but quickly realises that the skills aren’t there, or problems start to emerge – and they ultimately walk away from the contract.

Character alone won’t see you through serious competency issues.  A high degree of results-based competence, built on evidence of previous experience delivering the same services, alongside examples of where you have performed well for other organisations.

Balancing the two

A recent article in Director magazine from the Institute of Directors picked up on how companies now need to have an Emotional Selling Proposition – as people make choices based on their emotional engagement with a brand.

Maybe this is why we build such strong, and long, partnerships with our customers.  The customers become friends and we partner in different ways as the company changes and our clients’ own businesses morph and grow.

Even in the B2B world, we believe that every decision is an emotional decision, based on a unique mix of character and competence, balancing that ‘je ne sais quoi’ with experience and skill.

Why Sales Deserves a Seat on the Board

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A company’s sales team is crucial to its success. That’s because Marketing initiatives can whet an individual’s appetite for a product or service, but it’s the sales rep that makes sure the potential customer’s initial ‘want’ becomes that all-important ‘need.’ In doing so he or she manages to bridge that all-important gap between customer and company.

So, with such a crucial role to play, why does the Sales Manager frequently find her or himself relegated to a lower position in the company pecking order than say the Finance, Marketing, HR or Operations Director? Why doesn’t he or she get to sit in on important board room meetings and help make the decisions which will inevitably affect their team too? A recent study of 25 companies in a particular area in Georgia, USA, showed that of 25 companies, all had a Chief Finance Officer, 16 employed a Chief Marketing Officer yet only two had a Chief Sales Officer.

The reasons given for a distinct lack of sales presence in the boardroom are numerous, but are they particularly convincing – or even justified? See what you think…

Sales isn’t as important as other company functions

Many C-level executives would suggest that one of the reasons sales is regarded in such a lowly fashion in the company pecking order is because, unlike Accountancy or Marketing, there is very little formal education in the discipline. How many university or college courses specialising in solely Sales, for instance, have you spotted recently?

And it’s not just the lack of degrees and HNC qualifications that causes Sales to fall short in management’s eyes; neither is there any accredited qualifications to aim for – unlike in Marketing where the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Certificate is the holy grail of the profession, or a similar piece of paper from the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW) for their Finance colleagues.

Part of its ‘lowly’ standing and lack of respect in the company hierarchy then is perhaps due to the fact that Sales isn’t formally recognised in an academic sense. In some cases it’s even ‘tolerated’ and viewed by others in the company (including those in the upper echelons of management) as almost a necessary evil. This seems extremely unfair given the importance of Sales ‘bonding’ and the frontline function that sales delivers between customer and company.

Sales people think differently from colleagues in other sections

Many Sales staff haven’t been to university or other academic institutions simply because they went in to the sector straight from school and trained ‘on the job.’ In the world of Sales, experience and ability speaks far higher than academic achievement. But because of the lack of formal higher education, the individual leading the company’s Sales team may have missed out on the leadership and presentation skills taught to those with a more academic background.

There is also a general perception about salesmen and women that they were ‘born with the gift of the gab’ and that their charm and sales ability is somehow innate rather than gleaned through years of hard work and experience.

Then again, the company can often unwittingly encourage in the Sales team what directors from other sectors might regard as ‘bad behaviour.’ This is where sales reps are offered huge bonuses for the number of sales achieved rather than customer satisfaction.

Sales people sometimes don’t have a great reputation

Like journalists or lawyers, salespeople are sometimes described as sneaky, self-serving and lacking integrity. Sure, there are some Sales staff who would fit that description, just as there are individuals in other jobs, such as policemen and teachers who would also tick that box. But there are many salesmen and women who take a huge amount of pride in what they do, and bring high levels of professionalism to every situation.

Sales reps, however, must take some of the blame here too. Often the Sales culture in an organisation can prove to be rather maverick, encouraging ‘reckless’ behaviour and giving the department a ‘bad name.’

Then there is a self-esteem issue in that some Sales staff themselves don’t believe they deserve to be regarded as highly as their Finance or Marketing colleagues for some of the reasons mentioned above, such as the lack of academic qualifications and how they are currently regarded by the company, ie as ranking ‘lower’ than other departments.

And yet, Sales is just as important for a company’s bottom line as other sectors – and perhaps even more so. Just ask top decision-makers at IBM, HP and SAP who have all established focused Sales Academies, having recognised the pivotal role their Sales teams play in their own success. Undoubtedly other companies will shortly follow suit.

Conclusion

Increasingly in these post-Brexit days where uncertainty over the UK economy is having a dampening effect on consumer spending, improving company revenue and adding to sales figures is crucial in order for a business to survive. And Sales, with its important opportunity to bond with the customer, is absolutely central to this. They alone can build trust and loyalty, and in doing so, enhance a company’s reputation and ensure that customers don’t switch to a competitor.

After all, the Sales rep may be the only individual from a company that the customer will ever communicate directly with – whether face-to-face or via telephone. So, isn’t it worth ensuring this ‘company lifeline’ is guaranteed to work? You can today, by investing more in sales training and general business awareness skills. This will foster professionalism and ensure Sales finally gets that long-deserved seat in the company board room.

C24 wins European Cloud Above and Beyond Award 2016

C24 data centre hosting award

Birmingham based C24 Ltd announce their success in the European Cloud Above and Beyond Awards, held in Monaco.C24 data centre hosting award

C24 has been announced as the winners of the Cloud Above and Beyond Award at the Data Cloud Awards 2016, held in Monaco in June 2016.  In order to win the award, C24 had to demonstrate how they went above and beyond to deliver a cloud service that delivered tangible results for their customer.  The award was presented to C24 at an event in Monaco in June 2016.

C24’s entry was for a project delivered at the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, one of the top academy consortiums in the country comprised of eight schools.  The Arthur Terry Learning Partnership (ATLP) has worked with C24 for many years and describe them as a true technology partner for their academy trust.

Following the award winning project, C24 created a case study from which Microsoft followed up with a video case study, filmed on site at ATLP.

The case study highlights staff opinion on their experiences with C24 and working together with Microsoft in order to deliver a better learning experience for students. C24 and the IT team at ATLP worked together to deliver a Microsoft Office 365 solution across the schools, which will provide them with collaboration capabilities in order to better communicate between different schools and enable improved learning experiences.

C24 believes that the ATLP and Microsoft project is a great example of a way in which technology partners can work together to add value to their customers, above and beyond delivering core tech services.  By bringing in the support of key partners such as Microsoft and HP, it enables C24 to offer more value and expertise to their customers.  This latest award is another example of their commitment to delivering exceptional technology experiences.

David Ricketts, Head of Sales and Marketing at C24 Ltd, a Six Degrees Company, said, “We are delighted to have been chosen for this award – and we are really pleased that it has highlighted the great work that the IT team at Arthur Terry are doing to improve the learning experiences of many children across the Birmingham area.”

Watch the Microsoft and C24 case study video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb2Vi_wNPUo

 

 

5 Stories of Innovation and 5 Stories of Dis-integration

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It’s a widely covered topic, but innovation truly is the lifeblood of any business. Stagnation can lead to disaster: while a company could appear strong on the surface, as a dominant force within a particular sector, it might crumble in a few years if they are unable to adapt to changing markets, let alone lead the market in innovation.

To put this in perspective, we’ve identified some of the greatest innovators of recent times and given a brief analysis of what has allowed them to be so successful. As a comparison, there also some companies that were once market leaders, but their failure to adapt and innovate has led to significant drops in value and status.

Domination through Innovation

It’s no coincidence that some of the biggest companies in the world are also the biggest innovators. Below are some companies that not only adapted to changing markets, but have in fact led the charge in innovating and transforming our lives.

Google

We’ve discussed previously how innovative Google can be, but it’s worth another look at this famously dynamic company. The search engine and its fantastically adaptive algorithms have helped define the way the vast majority of the world uses the internet. However, the true innovations for Google often happen behind closed doors, as the company constantly refines and optimises processes many users take for granted. This innovation is frequently in the form of developing and adapting machine learning programs, encapsulated under the name “Google Brain”. For example, in the past the process of transcribing addresses captured by Google’s street cameras to be usable in Google Maps was done by human engineers, who would spend hours pouring over countless images and deciding whether what was captured was an address or not. A team of google engineers were able to train their machines to handle this duty. The process has been streamlined to an almost ridiculous degree: all of the addresses captured in France could be transcribed in about one hour. Google Brain and machine learning has become the lynchpin for many of the company’s innovations beyond the realm of search engines: autonomous cars, advertising, voice recognition (in fact Google reports that machine learning reduced the error rate of their voice recognition software by 25% in only a year), and Google Translate, to name but a few. All of it is built around discovering innovative applications for their machine learning software. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Google are taking their seemingly simple tools and applying them in exciting new ways. By freeing up their staff from menial tasks, Google is allowing employees more freedom to develop exciting and innovative ideas.

Tesla

It would be almost impossible to discuss innovative companies without discussing Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk.  Tesla and Musk have become bywords for innovation in recent years due to their revolutionary and innovative contributions to a broad range of fields. The results speak for themselves: the Tesla Model S car is widely considered one of the best cars currently available and has been for 2 years in a row according to Consumer Reports. Tesla currently operates at a loss (although they are poised to instantly become market leaders as the auto-industry shifts towards electric), and yet investors continue to sink increasingly large sums into the business, which is a testament to the faith that people have in the innovative capability and vision of both Tesla and Musk. As we’ve discussed previously, focussing purely on profits can be one of the biggest counters to innovation in a company, and it’s amazing to see Musk and Tesla defy this philosophy.

So what makes Tesla successful?  Innovation is built into the DNA of Tesla. Hiring policies are based on prospective employees’ ability to adapt and problem solve, rather than experience in relevant fields. Promotions and bonuses are innovation driven, with top-end category bonuses only available as a result of employee innovation at every level. Musk’s vision extends beyond cars. With his SpaceX project and developments into efficient public transport, Musk, and by extension Tesla, are poised to become some of the defining innovators of the 21st century.

Apple

Apple is known for being an innovator, and yet oddly enough the company has rarely been a true pioneer. The MacBook wasn’t the first laptop, the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, the iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone.  And yet their products have become market leaders and dominated their respective industries.

Their key innovations come from the features of their products. Take, for example, the Apple iPod. When it launched in 2001, it faced stiff competition from established brands, such as the Sony Walkman. But the innovative features the iPod offered gave it the boost it needed to become the symbol of the digital revolution: the ability to create playlists, shuffle songs and the integrated iTunes software were all revolutionary at the time and have now become staples of any kind of MP3 compatible device. The successes of the innovative services offered by Apple are key to the “halo effect” (a good product makes consumers more likely to trust other products from the same company) that has pushed customers to utilize Apple products across a broad range of devices: it’s not uncommon for a customer to utilize Apple devices for every electronic device they use.

You can pretty much create a timeline for this halo effect business model the progression:

Apple’s iMac created consumer trust for Apple devices > iPod created consumer trust for Apple’s portable devices > iPhone created the trust for Apple’s hand held computer and communication devices > the iPad launches and pretty much kick-starts the tablet market.

Once again, for most of these products, Apple was by no means the pioneering force. However through innovative solutions and applications, Apple continues to be a market leader and a force to be reckoned with.

IBM

IBM has been a giant in tech and computing since the industry’s infancy.  A key factor in IBM’s longevity has been its ability to adapt and evolve over time, a process that embraces innovation and abhors stagnation. Its current focus is Watson, its famous quiz show winning adaptive intelligence program. We’ve covered some of the innovative applications for Watson in the past, but the applications for the program are limited only by imagination. IBM shows how the development of an innovative and adaptive product can kick-start innovation for other companies, across a broad range of sectors.

Amazon

Once a humble online bookseller, Amazon has grown to become a dominant force in the tech industry, offering services that are revolutionizing almost every aspect of our lives. This can be seemingly little things: 1-Click and next-day delivery have transformed consumer expectations for online retail. It can be big things: getting in on the ground floor for commercially available cloud services has allowed Amazon to become one of the market leaders in the cloud industry. In a similar way to Apple, Amazon frequently relies on the halo effect to expand its influence across various sectors. The trust built up by the efficiency of its online retail platform has granted its licence to be adventurous and ground-breaking in its projects. Any other company that promised drone-deliverywould likely get laughed out of the building, but Amazon’s status and reputation as a cutting edge innovator grant it a unique position to drive and transform entire industries.

 

Honorary Mentions

  • Netflix
  • Facebook
  • Uber

 

The mighty have fallen 

It’s a fact of business that just as there are victors, there must be losers. Below are some of the largest falls-from-grace as a result of a lack adaptation and innovation.

Blockbuster

Although we didn’t go into detail on Netflix’s innovations, the implications of the company are quite clear:  from humble origins as a DVD-by-mail subscription service to the most popular TV network in America. But this rise has left many of its competitors in the dust, most notably Blockbuster. Once a byword for video-rental and a standard part of an average family’s routine, Blockbuster’s failure to change its business model, relying solely on its established brand name, led to its downfall. Customers expect ease of access from the comfort of their own home, something that Netflix quite famously offers, without the peril of Blockbuster’s infamous late fees. To add insult to injury, Blockbuster passed on the opportunity to acquire Netflix for a mere $50 million in 2000.

Blackberry

Once the device of choice for professionals, Blackberry failed to adapt to a changing market and customer demands. Actively rejecting the touch-screen popularized by smartphones such as the iPhone, Blackberry was left behind. As consumers enjoyed the freedom and ease-of-use offered by touch-screen in their personal lives, a shift in workplace policy arose and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) became standard. In a similar manner to Blockbuster, Blackberry failed to address shifts in consumer demands which allowed them to be overtaken by their rivals and left playing catch-up.

Polaroid & Kodak

Both companies were once giants of the photography industry. Kodak dominated the affordable camera industry, while Polaroid was a household name for its near-instant available photographs. However, the rise of digital photography in the 90s left them reeling. The initial cost of the technology meant that Kodak was unwilling to invest (also, much of their profits came from the photograph film, rather than the camera devices), meaning that by the time digital cameras became more ubiquitous as cheaper models appeared, there were already established and trusted digital camera brands in the market which Kodak simply couldn’t compete with. Polaroid’s unique selling point of quickly viewable photographs was eclipsed by digital’s even faster ability, a feature enhanced by producing higher quality images than Polaroid could.  As the 2000s rolled around, both companies were in dire straits with Polaroid filing for bankruptcy in 2001, while Kodak kept going until 2012.

To add more salt to their wounds, it was actually Kodak researchers who developed the technology for digital cameras back in the 1970s, but the board decided against moving forward with a commercial model. Kodak did make billions from the technology patent, but that ran out in 2007 (which perhaps explains why they were able to hold on so much longer than Polaroid).

Yahoo

Yahoo’s glory days have long faded. In the early 00s, they were the kings of the internet, commanding roughly 20% of online advertising. Now they struggle to keep up with the top competitors such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. The reasons for this are quite extensive, but the most obvious one was their inability to rapidly invest in innovation. A quick glance at some of their missed opportunities can create an almost audible groan of frustration:

  • In 2002, Yahoo had the opportunity to acquire Google for $5 billion. Yahoo’s board balked at the sum (which in retrospect is an absolute steal) and rejected them. As of 2016, Google is worth over $500 billion.
  • In the late 90s and early 00s Doubleclick were the dominant force in internet display ads. In 2007 they were acquired by Google for $3.1 billion, an acquisition that has supported Google’s ascension to the undisputed champions of internet advertising. Yahoo missed its chance to acquire Doubleclick, and as such it has fallen well behind Google in terms of advertising.
  • In 2006, Mark Zuckerburg turned down a $1 billion acquisition offer for Facebook from Yahoo. Rumour has that if they’d offered slightly more, Zuckerburg would have been forced to acquiesce, and Yahoo would now own a company that, as of 2016, is valued at $328 billion.

It’s not to bold a claim to state that if these deals had gone through, Yahoo could be a very different beast entirely. Perhaps I would have been yahooing examples for this article.

(Dis)Honourable Mentions

  • Borders Group
  • Nokia

 

What we can learn

The examples I’ve given above are all from big companies, but we can draw some advice from them that can be integrated into any level of business.

DO let your imagination off the reins. Both IBM and Google have shown that creative applications of simple tools can lead to enormous success and innovation.

DON’T be overconfident in your current strengths. All of the examples of failing businesses we gave can be traced back to one root cause: overconfidence that their services or products will always be in demand.

DO branch out. In contrast to the above, all of the successful businesses have used their strong core business as a platform to expand into a large variety of different fields.

DON’T ignore the competition. Failing to pay attention to competitors and how consumers are responding to their products can lead to disaster. If a competitor is offering something that you do not, and there is a positive response to it, it might be worth investigating adapting something similar into your own business. As Apple shows, it’s not necessarily about being a pioneer, it’s about doing it better than anyone else.

DO encourage innovation in the workplace. Tesla and Google both invest resources directly into encouraging their employees’ innovation. Remember, just because you can’t see a way to improve something, doesn’t mean other people can’t.

DON’T be overly cautious over costs. When it comes right down to it, innovation can be risky, and an expensive risk at that. However being too timid can lead to massive missed opportunities, as with Kodak and Yahoo, while being willing to take the plunge has left Tesla poised to dominate the auto-industry in forthcoming years.

Image attribution

Image provided courtesy of Boegh

Further Reading

eWeek: 10 ways Amazon keeps pushing the innovation envelope

Fast Company: The Most Innovative Companies of 2016

Forbes: The World’s Most Innovative Companies

Investopedia: Companies that went bankrupt from innovation lag

Telegraph: Apple’s greatest innovations in pictures

Vocoli: 10 Companies that failed to innovate and what happened to them.