Are you a non-conformist?


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

 

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Persistence: Choosing our battles carefully


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

Winning the deal but losing the customer


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.

 

Small innovations in big companies


Further to my recent post on how “EBITDA killed innovation”, I thought I would do a post on how small innovations can still occur in big companies – and sometimes that’s all it takes to make a big difference: a small innovation.

Companies are increasingly being encouraged to ‘think entrepreneurially’ – looking at how they can harness the entrepreneurial side of their workers to make a difference at the corporate level.  It’s sometimes called “intrapreneurship” – but it can be very difficult to effect change within a large, multinational organisation where each decision needs to be approved by ten tiers of management.  Big companies that span the globe, with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of employees struggle to act with the agility and speed that entrepreneurship requires.  An employee could have a fantastic idea, it could be supported by all of management, but bureaucracy and red tape get in the way – and the idea wilts eventually.

Some companies, such as Lockheed Martin, have tried to recreate the small team type entrepreneurial approach by having dedicated teams focused on developing revolutionary new ideas – and perhaps this separation between the bloated corporate company and the individual teams is what is needed – maybe entrepreneurship cannot be scaled across hundreds of thousands of employees.

The other issue with large companies is that in order to get large, they have probably been around a long time.  And if they have been around a long time, then they have spent many years doing things a certain way, or developing processes and procedures to manage each activity.  This is not an enabler when it comes to innovation – this is trying to build something new with old tools and old thinking.  It’s rarely possible.

An innovative way of thinking is being employed by larger companies, who are inevitably seeing the benefits that innovation brings to smaller, agile companies – PWC for instance runs competitions where staff compete to come up with innovative new ideas and products.  This relies on gamification to take the emphasis away from being ordered by a manager to create new products, and further towards a system where employees come together of their own accord to try and ‘win’ – and that win is a win for bother the employee and the company alike.

And maybe we have reached the reason why innovation fails in big companies.  Because in smaller companies, innovation is usually borne out of the enthusiasm of the staff who are self-motivated to come up with ideas and new solutions.  Maybe innovation cannot be summoned, ordered or demanded.

Forbes cites Tesla, Salesforce.com and Amazon.com in its top ten most innovative companies’ list.

Tesla is known as a disruptor – and its innovative approach is down to the fact that it has always operated in a different way to the rest of the industry.  Whilst its competitors were chasing cheaper manufacturing methods, Tesla focused on the high-end – outperforming other manufacturers and focusing on developing better power systems.  Its innovation was on where to focus, rather than purely developing new products.  The innovation spectrum is wide, and companies of all sizes are trying to introduce small innovations into their operations in a bid to stay relevant, fresh and, most importantly, in business.

Some corporations are now launching ‘entrepreneur in residence’ programs – hoping that the entrepreneur will advise them on new directions and provide much-needed inspiration amongst existing staff.  The bi-product of such programs is that they probably create more motivation for the staff – making it a more exciting and interesting place to work.

But we are now focusing on making the employees innovative.  What about those leading the company.  McKinsey reckons that aspirations are critical for a company, and have the power to be a “compelling catalyst” – so company leaders need to think about how they inspire their workforce, their clients and also the wider industry.  Innovative people go to work at Google, because Google put out messaging that they are a future-thinking, anything-is-possible organisation.  Innovation begets innovation.

So how can we start making those small innovations, whilst working for big companies?

Here are a few ideas I have had:

  • Use the right words: Make sure that your words, whether you are a company leader or a member of staff, are encouraging opportunity. Negative handling of employee ideas will unfortunately discourage others from coming forward with opportunities.
  • One eye on the future: Think about innovation as you would a sales pipeline – there are innovations to focus on now, innovations for the near future and grand ideas about the distant future. What’s around the corner, what’s coming in ten years’ time and how can you make steps now to put in place the foundations for innovation in the future?
  • Make an effort to be close to innovation: Partner with innovative companies, sell to innovative clients and get close to them, choose staff who have worked for innovative companies previously – get as close as you can to innovation. There are lots of ways – think about all of your business connections across your entire organisation.  Turn the innovation scale up by just 10%.
  • Don’t let targets get in the way: Like my EBITDA Innovation article, targets are important but if you’re not in business in five years’ time then those targets will have been in vain. Have a target for innovation – an idea today might be your revenue tomorrow.

 

Here is a Ted talk I’d recommend you watch about “Where good ideas come from” and how we can harness innovation in our daily lives, and also in business:

 

 

 

Image provided courtesy of Cristian Carrara

There’s room in the pond for the big fish and the small fish


Large corporates are increasingly looking to small businesses for partnerships to drive innovation and growth.

I’ve covered a topic over the past few posts about innovation – and how large multinational companies are trying to act like entrepreneurial startups.  But what about the big companies who are starting to partner and align with small companies rather than following more traditional, in-house innovation strategies?

 

In the US, startups have become an essential part of the economy, with venture capitalist funded businesses leading the way for innovation in places like Silicon Valley. If Europe and the UK want to keep up, they need to take note and take steps to engage with startups on a better level.

 

How startups can help corporations

Startups have increasingly become an essential aspect of the business world, particularly in the tech industry. The freedom from the corporate structure allows for levels of innovation on a scale that is extremely difficult in larger companies, especially since many companies were forced to scale down their R&D departments in the wake of the Global recession of 2008 and cuts meants that innovation just wasn’t a priority for many larger businesses. Therefore startups are becoming one of the main sources for innovation. This phenomenon is becoming more widely recognized in the broader business landscape, as larger companies turn to startups as business partners in order to have access to the innovation they need to remain relevant.

 

The small scale of startups often allows them to be more “human”, engaging effectively with customers on social media platforms in a way that is difficult for larger “faceless” corporations. This can make startups extremely disruptive and interactive, responding directly to customer feedback and demands in innovative ways.  Larger companies are keen to capitalise on this and leverage the customer engagement model that startups enjoy with their customers.

 

How corporations can help startups

Innovation and creativity can only carry a startup so far. Scaling up can be difficult for startups, as they tend to be staffed by innovators and developers, but are lacking in business acumen. Corporate sponsorship can provide the managerial advice and resources needed for startups to grow. This can take many forms, such as providing equipment, investment capital or even direct mentorship.

 

The Nordic Standard

While much of Europe has been relatively slow in engaging with startups directly, corporations in Nordic countries are taking steps to fully integrate startups into the business landscape. Rather than being seen as threats to larger corporations, startups are seen as a hotbed for the innovation that simply isn’t feasible in larger corporate structure. Several large corporations run regular “hackathon” events, inviting startups to come in and present their ideas, with the potential to win capital investment, development equipment, or even business partnerships with larger companies. Furthermore there are several corporates who run acceleration programmes that provide startups with access to the resources they need to grow, which in turn fuels innovation in the larger enterprise.

 

When it comes to the actual partnerships, it is broadly understood that a middle ground must be reached in collaborations between startups and corporations. The corporate structures can be vastly different, while the speed of development and implementation is generally much faster for startups. A few Nordic corporations therefore take a more “hands off” approach to their startup acquisitions, acting more as mentors or resource providers, as they recognise that attempts to force startups to conform to a more rigid structure can stifle the energy and creativity that is the lifeblood of startup culture.

 

Friends, not foes

Despite the importance of startups to the business world, there are still corporations that see startups as threats. These concerns are valid to some extent, as the creativity of startups can achieve some things that a large corporation couldn’t even dream up. Furthermore there is an unfortunate majority of startups that have failed, making some companies unwilling to take the chance. However by seeing startups as an opportunity, larger corporations gain access to the creative work and innovation that is a driving force for industry, particularly tech. And the potential gains of a successful startup can be huge: it is a high risk, high reward game. Never forget that world dominating companies such as Facebook or Google started life as small startups.

 

Integrating startups

There are several acceleration programs in Europe, about 1/3 of which are corporate sponsored. These programs provide the resources that startups need to grow, while still retaining their creative control. Furthermore, hackathon events and competitions can be an extremely effective way for startups to get noticed, and can be great for corporations, as they can gain access to potentially hundreds of innovations in a single day or weekend, which could have taken years to develop in a corporate environment. The charity Nesta, part of the Europe Startup Partnership, provides these kind of events and resources for startups, particularly those with ethical considerations.

 

By supporting programmes, big businesses can ensure their access to the startup community’s creativity and innovation; guaranteeing themselves against stagnation or the risk of becoming obsolete.  Like it or not, startups are now a staple, and engaging with them is now an essential ingredient of success.

 

More Info

http://startups.co.uk/why-big-business-is-eyeing-the-prize-of-working-with-start-ups/

http://www.computerweekly.com/news/450284786/Nordic-corporations-open-their-doors-to-tech-startups

http://www.nesta.org.uk/about-us

 

 

 

 

The Wider Value of Marketing – Relationship Equity


Marketing, as we know, is a demand generation tool.  It’s an offshoot of the sales function, or it is bigger, wider and more important than sales – depending on which side of the fence you are on.C24 collaboration

Whilst marketing is often used to generate leads or acquire clients, what is mentioned less is the value that marketing can play as a relationship equity builder.

So what do I mean when I say relationship equity builder?  Building equity into a client relationship is all about making the relationship stronger by putting in place good partnership foundations and growing trust and reliability as a supplier.

Account management can be harnessed for so much more than just generating new sales and managing the sales process with the customer.  Many companies, in a bid to generate more and more sales, have lost sight of the fact that account management’s primary function is to build collaborative customer relationships.

I wanted to focus in more detail about how a marketing activity, such as a case study in this instance, can have a wider beneficial impact on the vendor and buyer than purely ‘generating new business leads’.

When approaching a marketing activity, we like to think about how much value we can extract for both us as the vendor, and also for the client.  So we ask ourselves questions like, ‘What will make it matter for the customer?’ and ‘How could we make this activity of more direct value to the customer by tweaking or changing what we are doing?’

We believe that if we can work on a marketing activity collaboratively with a customer, in a way that benefits them as much if not more than us, then we are building a stronger relationship with the client in the process.  The marketing activity in itself helps to foster a better relationship between us and the client, and we are also able in some way to add more value to the client’s business, over and above the product or service we are already supplying.

This mentality can seem quite ‘twee’ and cliché but actually in practice, it works and makes sense.  Rather than a case study being an area of negotiation (“I’ll reduce my price if you sign up to a case study” etc), it is instead an added extra benefit to the service we are providing.

On the customer’s side, they receive the benefit of a marketing machine that they don’t have to pay for – which is the vendor’s marketing efforts in creating, promoting and sharing their case study.  This is free publicity for the customer – and in a world where organisations are paying small fortunes to improve their SEO ranking or brand awareness, then can good quality, favourable publicity ever be anything other than positive?

Providing the vendor is either of a scale or position of expertise to put the client in a good light if any case study is published, collaborating on the marketing activity is almost as beneficial to the client as the vendor.

Beyond marketing – value for client

A case study gives vendors the opportunity to exhibit their best work, and written in the right way, provides recognition for the customer at both a personal job role level and at an organisational level.  It is a way of demonstrating that they, the customer, are a company that is growing, investing and actively engaging with best of breed vendors to deliver better services.  They are working with a supplier to improve what they currently do – they want to continue flexing and transforming to be more successful.  This is a great message for the client – who doesn’t want to be seen as a successful company with big ambitions?

A case study enables organisations to differentiate themselves from those competitors who are standing still, who aren’t making changes and who are not promoting their business to the media in a meaningful and interesting way that attracts readers and new prospects.

The case study also provides the customer with free content that they can use for their own marketing efforts, whether that’s PR or content for blog posts and articles.

Additionally, a detailed case study can generate peer recognition from other organisations who are facing similar issues but unsure about which direction to take.

Perhaps most importantly, the act of researching, interviewing for and writing a case study makes the customer feel valued, as the vendor has invested time and money into creating a case study and marketing it effectively.  The process encourages collaboration and allows the vendor the opportunity to find out just how the customer feels about the service that they currently provide.  The client is also more likely to work with the vendor again in the future; after all, they have nailed their colours to the mast of sorts, and so obviously value the relationship strongly enough to be public in their approval of the vendor’s service.

Vendor benefits

For the vendor, the benefits are more obvious.  Of course, it is great PR and the content can be used across all of their campaigns and marketing vehicles; from newsletters, e-shots and blogs through to events, video and thought leadership activities.

Case studies enable vendors to develop a reputation for delivering services into a certain sector, and creating the case study hopefully allows the vendor to become deeply knowledgeable about the impact of the sold solution on a client’s business, both the direct and indirect impact which probably weren’t clear pre-installation.

 

This type of mutually beneficial marketing can apply to other areas – such as the creation of whitepapers which can become a collaborative exercise between your most valued clients, and your blog posts which can be peppered with insights from customers.

Maybe in the future we will see more marketing efforts where the customer and vendor jointly engage on marketing activities; not just to promote the vendor’s product or showcase their product in use, but to drive the customer’s marketing and business generation activities; which in turn aids the vendor and invests more relationship equity into the partnership.

 

Image provided courtesy of Infusionsoft.

New Year’s Resolutions for Complex Selling


Fireworks

2015 has gone by so quickly and there has been lots of change here.  We have grown the C24 business, made great new headway into delivering analytics solutions and have merged with Six Degrees Group – all in one year.

We have continued to grow in a challenging economic climate and have expanded our range and breadth of customers.

So how do I recommend sales teams in companies such as ourselves (in the technology industry) approach 2016?

 

Year of simplicity

Firstly, I believe 2016 will be the year of simplicity.  As technology solutions at a business and consumer level become evermore complex and interconnected, IT purchasers will be looking for help through the confusion.  Sales people should be looking at how they can radically simplify their propositions and also the challenges facing customers.  Don’t try to overcomplicate an already complicated situation.

As Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”.

In any sales scenario, the situation is pretty straightforward.  The customer has an issue, need or desire.  Or usually all three – they have a business issue, so they need a solution and desire a successful outcome.

You have something that can appeal to one of those three motivators.  If you don’t, then you had probably best move on.

Getting in touch with the customer, explaining how your solution could make their life better/easier/more profitable is a way of you helping the customer – they should want to hear from you.  If you get that message correct, then the selling has already been done for you.

When customers are struggling to see the value of a solution, it’s usually because you haven’t done a good enough job of first understanding why they want it.  Take one of our solutions as an example.  We sell a business analytics solution to help people make sense of their data.  But until we speak to customers and truly understand their business processes and objectives, they don’t understand that what they need is in fact a business analytics solution.  It’s your job to link up the dots to build a picture for your customer.  They might be struggling to formulate a marketing strategy.  That has nothing to do with IT.  Or does it?  In fact, business analytics is a great tool for building marketing strategies, setting targets and measuring results.  But as the sales person, you should do that for the customer – not the other way around.

 

Get the basics in place, then think about the rest

Secondly, I still regularly meet with sales people who are failing to do the basics.  It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day admin that stops you evaluating your activities.  But there’s no point looking for fancy software or solutions to problems if you aren’t doing the sales basics.  The fundamentals of selling often revolve around data; collecting data to identify target customers, collating information about your customers to define strategy, taking down data points from customers in meetings, plugging that data back into CRM systems to aid future marketing activities and analysing activities to form data trends and insights about your selling processes.

Data collection in sales can be seen as a fairly new trend only in place over the past 10 – 20 years with the advent of slick CRM systems.  But data, or customer information, has been the backbone of selling forever.  If you don’t understand your customers and the basics about their industry, then how can you credibly hold a conversation with a client?

If you’re working in the IT sector and selling complex solutions to multiple contacts across a business then you can’t afford to not know about the industry, market challenges, specific line of business departmental challenges and competitor products being sold into that customer.

 

Keep trying, keep selling

This brings me nicely onto my third point. Tenacity.  I have been lucky enough to be working with a number of new business startups and the story is the same across established sales teams and startups.  Tenacity is often lacking when it comes to the sales process.  In the product development side, people spend years refining a product and making it function.  On the admin side, people hire the right people to help them with accounting or their orders to make it work.  But on the sales side, a knock back often results in giving up.

People speak to one person in an organisation and then give up if the answer isn’t positive.   But a relationship can take years to develop and multiple contacts across the organisation are often required to get a decision in place.

I have recently been called a number of times by a sales person for a particular marketing product.  The sales person has kept in touch and regularly phoned to check in on where my thoughts are at in terms of a sale and if the situation has changed.  They have displayed tenacity without hassling.  If they had given up after the first call then I would have forgotten about them by now.  But because they have made the effort to regularly touch base in a polite and respectful manner then I remember them and will probably look to make a decision in the New Year.

Your solution might not fit that person’s priorities on one particular day.  But it might fit tomorrow or the day after.  That’s not to say you should hassle them every day, but you should work on building an initial relationship and seeing the process as a long play with ups and downs.  If you believe the client has a genuine need for your type of solution then it’s your job to stay in the running.

 

Tell a story, build a picture

Finally, in 2016 we will continue to be big on stories.  We make sure our sales people are well versed in real-life, relevant stories that help them to paint a picture about the solutions they sell, where they fit and how customers can be supported on their IT journeys.

Customers’ expectations of sales people are higher – they don’t want to do the work themselves to make a solution fit their own story, they want the sales person to do that for them.  Sales people should look at how to personalise stories before visiting clients, with use cases and industry relevant perspectives readily available to draw on.

For instance, if I were going to visit a bank to talk about C24’s business analytics product, I wouldn’t go in and talk about how well it can visualise data or pull in multiple feeds.  I would look at the financial market and find out a few insights about what is going on in the industry.  So a few examples might be that banks are delivering more services online, customers want to view their info on the go within mobile apps and data security requirements are higher than ever.

If I were visiting that customer, I would now be much better placed to look at how my analytics product can deliver against each of those trends, and I can make it into a compelling story – providing a view of what the future could look like and how it would be delivered.  Then you can build in the potential outcomes and results for the bank and its customers.

So to recap, my 4 ‘resolutions’ for sales people in the New Year are:

  • Simplicity: making the complex incredibly simple
  • Basics: ensuring the basic skills are in place and the fundamental sales activities are being completed
  • Tenacity: making sure we don’t stop at the first no and looking for other ways to help the customer
  • Stories: ensure that every customer conversation we have is tied into a relevant, compelling story

 

 

Image courtesy of Bayasaa.

Why Partnering Makes Sense


How can software vendors and integrators grow their business and revenues through partnerships.

C24 hosting partnering

There are so many different cloud models available to software vendors today.  Whether that’s public cloud (Azure, AWS, etc) or private cloud in your own datacentre – plus a world in between.

In a bid to offer a software-as-a-service solution to clients, many software vendors rush to market with an ill-fitting cloud service that doesn’t work for the long term.  It can be tempting to look at public cloud services to deliver the solution, however how does that model work when you want to add new functionality or change how users consume your service (maybe you want to sell through an app store to some customers, directly for others, and offer on premise integration for other clients)?

Public cloud makes sense for certain apps, but for many legacy software solutions that have been developed for on-premise IT, it can be a painful process to get ‘cloud ready’.

The complexity of cloud models often pushes developers to look at how they can build their own cloud, but this is costly and the security requirements are radically different when developing on premise to in the cloud.

But, the reason most of our ISVs choose to work with C24 to deliver their underlying hosting and as-a-service solution is rarely anything to do with discussions about the most suitable cloud or infrastructure.

It’s usually to do with partnering.

Everyone talks about partnering.  But we actually do it.

That’s in part down to some of the fantastic Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that we work with, however the main differentiator that makes the partnership work are the peripheral business services that are jointly wrapped around each solution sale:

  • We work hard to understand what it is our partners do and their business models. Then we look at how we can translate that into mutual success for both parties.
  • We do the hard word upfront and work on developing a go-to-market proposition between both companies that works, rather than waiting for the first customer to come along before we engage.
  • We combine marketing and lead generation resources – so there is double the sales activity, double the marketing activity and double the enthusiasm for new customers.
  • We collectively meet to drive incremental new business that pushes both companies forward for increased client satisfaction and business success.

The main factor we find when partnering is that the timescales are long.  Nothing is quick when it comes to partnering, and rightly so.  Neither us, nor our partners, want to engage and work together on a new client immediately with no background or time spent together developing relationships – only to find the partnership doesn’t ‘fit’ in the middle of a project.

Instead, we take our time to build trust and credibility with our partners – as it is a hugely impactful activity to move your on-premise traditional licenced software product to a software-as-a-service solution.

If you are an ISV or software integrator who is looking at different ways to expand your cloud –as-a-service portfolio out to clients, or to even launch your on-premise solution to the cloud, then have a read of our whitepaper on “How an effective channel hosting strategy can increase your software sales” or visit the Partner section of our site.

 

 

Image courtesy of Drew Leavy.

Four questions I always ask sales candidates in interviews


Being a sales and marketing manager of a busy technology company, I do my fair share of interviews for new sales candidates.  Some interviews go very well, some go very badly, but the majority tend to go ok, but just lack that spark that makes me think that the person sitting in front of me has what it takes to survive in a competitive sales environment.  And the reason for that is rarely down to expertise and experience, it’s down to mindset and how the candidate perceives what sales means to them.  All of which can be learnt and picked up quickly.

To share a little insight from what I’ve learnt up over multiple interviews, I’ve shared four key questions I ask in sales interviews that give me a better understanding of the candidate.

Working

1. Tell me about a customer. In detail.

Many sales reps forget the most important thing.  The customer.  When I ask them to talk to me about one of their customers, they usually find this very difficult.  They might tell me about the turnover and industry the customer operates in, but little more.  To be a great sales person you need to understand your customer and be able to talk articulately about the customer, their challenges and objectives to sales management.

If a candidate can effectively explain a customer’s challenges and goals, alongside a backdrop of industry awareness about the commercial climate that customer is operating in, then I know they are well on their way to being able to align our products to those needs.

 

2. What have you read about selling?

I’m a great believer in self-improvement, and just because sales might not be recognised as a professional function in the same way that Marketing or Finance is with industry-recognised exams and accreditations, it doesn’t mean that sales people should rest on their laurels.  There is more quality content and research available than ever for sales people to share and consume and I am always interested in what sales and marketing books candidates have read recently to keep their skills sharp.

Books that I have found particularly influential in their field of selling include Rainmaking Conversations by Mike Shultz and John E. Doerr, Spin Selling by Neil Rackham and The New Strategic Selling by Miller and Heiman.

Showing that you have taken the time to regularly read key selling publications and books demonstrates that you view sales as a craft, rather than just a job.  It shows you are motivated, a self-starter and keen to improve.

 

3. What does failure mean to you?

We all know that selling involves a degree of failures, whether it be failing to get through a gate-keeper to a decision maker or losing a big deal at the last minute.

How you cope with that failure is what differentiates a good sales person from a great sales person.

Being able to bounce back quickly and move on to the next customer with a positive, proactive mindset reduces any time lost deliberating the sales loss.

Additionally, being able to critically assess your role in the deal loss and what you could have done better next time shows you can take accountability and recognise the areas that need to be improved on next time.  A failure to understand your own limitations is much worse than making a mistake in the first place.

 

4. What role did you actually play in your last sales success?

When sales people come in to see me from large, corporate organisations, it’s often difficult to understand what role the person actually played in their cited sales successes and won deals.

As C24 is an SMB company where sales people have to wear many hats and deliver all parts of the sales process end to end, it’s important to understand early on the roles that potential sales candidates have played in previous sales.

Larger companies give sales people the opportunity to work in large teams on deals, and some reps may only have responsibility for part of the process.  When they come to a smaller organisation, they struggle to deliver the entire sales function as they may have only been previously responsible for quoting, or telemarketing for instance.

Not having end to end sales experience is not a deal breaker, but having a candidate who can be upfront and straightforward about the role and responsibilities they previously had makes it easier to identify potential training requirements and see where they could fit within our sales organisation.

Sales reps will inevitably ‘big themselves up’ but hiring sales managers will appreciate your direct and honest approach early on before they hire you and quickly run into issues.  It’s better for both the candidate and manager in the long run.

 

 

I hope that’s given a little insight into how I approach sales interviews with prospective candidates and some of the things that sales managers are looking out for when interviewing reps.  I hear of some interviews where candidates are asked to “sell me a pen” but it’s not something I have experienced myself.  What’s the strangest thing you have been asked in a sales interview?

 

 

 

 

Image provided courtesy of Reyner Media (https://www.flickr.com/photos/89228431@N06/)

Data Insights through Social Selling


IBM recently reported that 76% of B2B companies now have an account on social media as “getting closer to the customer” is becoming a top priority for CEOs, who are presumably looking for ways to be more competitive and connected with their customers.  Read our full report on Information and the Customer Experience for more detailed info.

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There are a number of companies and software products on the market today focused on helping companies sell better by deriving insights from social media, commonly called social selling software.

From tracking what people are saying about your business on social media platforms, to analysing trends based on what certain demographics are sharing, right through to gaining contact specific data about a prospect you are due to meet; many companies are now leveraging social media as a data-producing tool that can support their go-to-market strategies.

This information is then helping businesses to define target demographics – and most importantly, better understand what those target demographics think, want and buy.

Better awareness of what the customer is sharing publicly about your brand also allows you to act quickly in the event of an issue.  Bains and Co. reported that a 5% increase in customer retention rates can increase an organisation’s profitability by as much as 75% so businesses are now looking for ways to increase customer loyalty and avoid losing clients rather than focusing solely on customer acquisition.  Businesses are therefore recognising that data is central to the process of understanding how they can improve the entire client experience.

Once data is being collected and processed repeatedly, companies are then in a better position to perform trend analyses based on historic information.  Did one marketing campaign resonate better with the target demographic?  Did a certain type of complaint on social media get more shares than another type of complaint?  What are the most common issues being linked to our company on social media that we need to focus on first?

These are all questions that data can help to answer, which in turn helps to improve the wider customer experience.  As your company’s data analysis practice matures, you can start to review trends and patterns that lead up to certain outcomes, before the incident occurs.

The next step is to then automate actions based on data coming into your business, such as automating responses to common support questions to reduce response times.

For more information on how data can help you to improve your customer experience program, download the full whitepaper from C24.

 

Image courtesy of Jason Howle.