Books: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs I walked to the window, opened it and looked to the street two stories below before pushing my IBM Selectric out and watching it shatter on the sidewalk into a million pieces. I calmly closed the window and walked down the hallway to one of my college roommates rooms to borrow his newly acquired Apple Macintosh. I knew that the Mac would give me more time and creative flexibility to finish that important assignment than ever before. For a procrastinator like me this was not just a good thing, it was college survival. I was a student at Drexel University. The year was 1984 and our lives had just changed forever.

For anyone who lived through this incredible period where the personal computer and Apple devices have become a necessary component of our everyday lives, reading “Steve Jobs” is not just a compelling history of this period but a fascinating look at the intensity, focus, and uncompromising confidence that was Steve Jobs.

Walter Isaacson provides an honest and uncensored biography of Steve Jobs that also reads like a “how to” book for the both developer and marketer of technology products. Through the interviews of former colleagues, industry execs, and business competitors, Isaacson chronicles Jobs’ role in the creation of Apple, extricating it from its early struggles, and guiding Apple to become one of the most influential and valuable companies in the world.

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Why Alexander Graham Bell Never Used E-mail

Watson Come Here!

“Mr. Watson come here!…”  That famous phrase ushered in the beginning of remote two-way communication.  (Some may argue that is the smoke signal, the drum, or the swiss alphorn but that is a different discussion. Just try to stay with me on this.)

Email followed a mere 100 or so years later,  and soon after the emoticon.  Which brings me to my point.  Alexander Graham Bell would never have used email to summon Watson to the laboratory as neither email nor the emoticon would have accurately conveyed his urgency or meaning.  If there was email at the time, Watson probably would have responded “What do you want?” or “Ask me politely and I will”.   What may have followed was a protracted discussion over the email wire concerning the reason to drop what was currently happening in order to comply, or perhaps a discussion on better planning skills, or some other goal diverting topic.

Did he really say that?

As a manager, I have been copied on hundreds of “Watson come here emails” over the last few years or have been asked to intervene on many that led to the protracted and unproductive follow-on email discussions.  Most were escalated to me when one or both parties independently complained to me about the abruptness, rudeness, or abusiveness of the other party.  Follow by comments such as “I can’t work with that individual any more” or “you need to take immediate personnel action”.  You can probably recall one or two such conversations yourself.

In most cases, I was familiar with both sending and recieving parties and was pretty sure that they did not need personnel action nor removal from the jobsite, but simply were poor indirect communicators or didn’t have the courage or interest in addressing whatever issue that existed that spurred them to craft the offensive email.  Which is exactly the point of this discussion.  Thanks for staying with me, so far.

My response to one or both parties always starts with (and depending on the location of the other party), why don’t you walk down the hall or pick up the phone and ask the other party what they need or are asking.  If the email discussion had already created a chasm too great to cross, I would summon them both to my office and review the issues together.

Not surprising, the issue rarely persisted as the problem was not one of taking care of the request and response but one of delivery of the request and interpretation and response.  But yes, there are more than a few email bullies who find incredible strength while hiding behind the keyboard but are reduced to cowards when faced with delivering the message directly, too.  But in most cases, the former is more typical.

Lost In Translation

Two-way indirect communication is frought with potential issues, just look at the telecommunications industry and the myriad protocols  and error checking developed to send electronic messages.  And those sending and recieving devices rarely have emotions.  Replace the devices with human sender and recievers using different communication protocols that cannot detect mood, emotion, and circumstance and you may be amazed there are not more fisticuffs and wrestling matches in he halls of corporate America every day.  And no, the emoticons of the smiley face, winky face, frowning face, open mouthed surprised face, or declaration of laughing out loud do not suddenly make the message suddenly clear and explicitly inoffensive.

Don’t Fuel the Fire

I also get my fair share of emails that annoy, offend, or disappoint me.  Often they are opinions or generic commentary on something that is going on in the office that has inspired the sender to comment.  Unless there is specific action requested, I rarely respond but instead make a note to pop my head in the sender’s office when I am in the area or raise the topic on the next phone call that we have.

If it does require a more immediate response or action, I ask myself, can I respond without starting an unproductive email chain?  If I can’t, I pick up the phone to get clarification or simply provide the feedback required without succombing to the temptation to fire back a response that will fuel the fire.  I have found that this method rarely sets off or sustains an unproductive cycle, and normally reveals that the sender had no ill intent at all but was simply too quick or careless with their missive.  It also provides an opportunity to provide some feedback to the sender in a way that can help correct the process.

Resist the tempatation

So next time you feel compelled to send off that faceless email or are on the recieving end of such an email, take a cue from Alexader Graham Bell.  If he were here today, I am pretty sure he would have done exactly what he did on that fateful day by picking up the phone and telling Watson the good news directly.

Send me an email with your thoughts on this topic….or better yet, give me a call or stop by my office to let me know.

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Books: The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It

The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed ItForgotten how the three major market meltdowns of the last 20 years occurred?

The Quants” provides an in-depth history and analysis of the birth and evolution of quantitative market trading systems and the people who developed them. Quant trading systems propelled the market to stratospheric levels creating trillions in wealth and trillions in leveraged risks through systems that few mortals can comprehend. Read this book and better understand the path to the recent downfall of our major mortgage lending, insurance and banking institutions.

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Treat Your Service Offerings Like Products

Wondering how to move your service offerings forward faster and get your clients to come to you, instead of you trying to find them at that instant that they are ready to buy? Try thinking about how you can better market your services in the same manner that you would market new products.

Service offerings can appear to your customers to be bland, unexciting, or “me too” offerings if they are simply introduced or offered in a reactive manner.

Proactively marketing those offerings, as you would a product, put the services and their value in your client’s minds in advance, so that you can control the message and perception.

Try these basics with your offerings to get ahead of your client requests.

1) What is your go-to-market message and strategy for your services?

2) What is your positioning strategy? Are you the low-cost provider? A niche specialist? Focused on a specific market segment with expertise? The “First-to-Market” with you services?

3) What is your unique selling proposition or value statement? How will you stand out among all of the competitive providers?

Armed with these marketing strategy basics, introduce your services to your target audience as you would a product.

–  Focus the message to the target audience by clearly understanding their business and needs before you create the service solution.

–  Generate demand by providing the solutions offering announcement in advance of their request.

–  Remove the commodity service perception by clearly describing the value of the service and how it will satisfy the client’s stated needs.

–  Differentiate from competitive offerings by being in front of the client before the competitors.

–  Create the product excitement by showing your audience that you have taken the time to develop that solution far in advance of their needs and that is it clearly targeted to solve their unique challenges.

Taking the time to plan you service offering and introducing it to your target market will certainly take more time and effort than waiting for the request for a proposal from your market but the return on your efforts will be rewarded in better positioning in the client’s mind, more opportunities to affect the decision outcome, and a greater chance to win the business at an acceptable profit margin.

When you start thinking about and treating your services as products, your customers will too and you will distinguish yourself from your competitors.

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Books: The Smartest Guys in Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron Classic story of the excesses and wild, wild west business attitudes that prevailed in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. ENRON wasn’t the only corporation to play by rules that they created on the fly but were possibly the most public and damaging. Through the actions of the ENRON’s and WorldCom’s of the business world came changes in financial reporting, recognition of revenue, and corporate executive accountability. The numerous ENRON executives played by rules that they made with jaw-dropping audacity and ultimately led to the collapse of a major corporation and the public accounting firm that allowed the rules to be broken.

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Maximize Your Return on Sales Effort through Customer Focus

Maximizing your time in front of the right customers

Your time is one of your most valuable assets and more importantly one that is finite.  Whether you are selling to a national market or a more defined and limited geographic market, your challenges are the same and you must effectively plan where and how you allocate your time in the market place.  Effectively allocating your time among your customers and prospects will allow you to maximize your revenue and responsiveness to your most important customers.  Conversely, poor planning on how you spend your time or allowing your customers and prospects to determine how your time is spent can exhaust your valuable time resources and set precedents that will be hard to reverse.

Time and territory math

There are many books and courses on Time and Territory Management and most of them are essential for all sales folks to read and understand at some point in their careers.  But ultimately it comes down to this…..the adage “Time is Money” remains true. Time offers revenue realization and charges opportunity cost.

So what does this mean to you?

Ask yourself these questions:

What is the value of my time?  Let’s look at it from both the cost and revenue opportunity perspectives through a couple of examples.

Cost. Let’s keep the math simple and assume your annual income (just salary cost, add another 15% -20% for fringe) is $120,000.  That’s $10,000 per month, $500 per working day, and $62.50 per hour.

So what’s the cost of a sales call or customer visit?  At $62.50 per hour your face time is easy to value, but don’t forget planning, preparation, travel, and waiting time.  And include the buffer time before and after the call to ensure that you treat your client with respect by not showing up late or having to rush out of his office for your next appointment.  You get two meaningful calls into a typical day and you probably have done well.

Revenue. Based on your particular business, your annual sales revenue may vary greatly but the relationship between amount of customer time and sales transaction value will probably increase proportionally.  For illustration purposes and to probably track closely with the cost example above, let’s assume that your annual sales revenue is $2,400,000.  That means that you will need to produce $200,000 in revenue each month, $10,000 each day, and $1,250 per hour.

Maybe your cost is not that important to you, you’re probably not paying it, but every wasted hour or day of revenue opportunity doesn’t go away but instead gets added to tomorrow’s total.  Waste one day each week, and you will need to increase the numbers above by 20%.

Can this client or clients deliver x$ on an annual basis?  We have a process established to determine your cost and sales revenue needs.  We can now apply it to your market place.  In the simplest terms and based on the revenue example above,  you have to select a group of clients that can collectively provide $10,000 in revenue each month.  Some may be greater, some may be less, but in order to reach your revenue goal, they have to add up to $10,000 each month.  You can front load, back load, or allocate the number any way you wish but the underlying math will not change.  If the numbers don’t add up to the desired goal, you have a problem and you will need to make adjustments to your customer/ prospect portfolio.

Can I afford to give this client x% of my time?  If you have a customer portfolio that delivers the revenue that you need, good for you.  You are set for today.  Tomorrow, you will likely need to reassess you situation and plan for the inevitable request from sales management for you to grow your revenue base.

If your customer portfolio does not deliver the revenue you need, you will need to reevaluate that portfolio, today.  Now, it is easy to say that if your portfolio is short on revenue you can simply add a customer/prospect or two.  But we have already established that your time is finite.  Whether you have exhausted your sales cycles or have additional cycles available, you need to look at each customer and determine whether or not their revenue return justifies the percentage of time you give them each week.

If we assume that you currently have five customers (this number is not random and will be discussed below) and each provides an equal revenue base, we can hope that each also takes an equal amount of time and ideally you have some left over to do new customer pursuits.  But we know that all customers do not take the same amount of your time and it varies for many reasons including: maturity, current needs, and relationships / expectations.  The real problem presents itself when a customer or customers consumes a disproportionate amount of your time for the revenue or opportunity that they return.

Most experienced sales folks can actively manage roughly five active customers at any given time. Certainly there are exceptions to this estimate.  You can adjust based on your specific situation and capabilities, but again the goal is to maximize the return from each of your customers by giving them the appropriate amount of your valuable time and getting the greatest amount of business opportunity and return from your time spent.  Too many customers and you will be stretched too thinly.  Not enough customers and you could be famous for you attentiveness but never achieve your revenue numbers.

Maximize you returns – Plan and allocate your time with a focus strategy

If you are in the valued added business or said another way not looking for transaction volume but transaction quality, you are most certainly interested in providing the greatest possible service and value  to each of your clients.  Your value to your customers will be often be measured by the time and effort that you spend helping them solve their problems through your products and services.  The effort can be time-consuming and can easily eat up much of you productive sales time.

Recognizing that you cannot serve your entire territory equally,

1) Construct a list of your Active Clients, Developing Prospects, and Desired (but undeveloped) Targets in your market or territory.

2) Rank all active clients that are currently producing revenue or are expected to produce revenue in the near-term by current or expected (realistic) run-rate for the next two quarters (or a year if your business cycle is longer).  Calculate each client’s revenue as a percentage of your total revenue for the same period.

3) Estimate the percentage of you time you spend with the clients identified in #2 and compare this with their percentage of revenue contribution.  Note any gross mismatches in time and revenue and any unusual circumstances.  You will need to eventually evaluate Active Clients whose demand for you time far outweighs their return.  Addressing this difficult issue with clients is always challenging but most understand that if you cannot deliver the service and remain in business (or employed), the issue will inevitably need to be addressed.

3) Rank your top 10 to 15 developing prospects, in a similar fashion as #2.  These developing prospects are currently only getting that portion of your time that you have alloted to new prospect development and are waiting in the wings for their business cases or interest to be compelling enough to bump your lower ranking active clients down or to move up when one of your active client’s business declines.  These are the potential customers where you would be spending you time, if you had unlimited time.

4) Construct a desired target list that encompasses the rest of your market or territory who could buy your products and services but have yet to be developed.  These are the companies that you will keep your eye on, gather market intelligence, foster relationships for the future but spend little time on, as they have minimal chance to impact revenue in the coming periods.  The desired target list will move to the developing prospect list as their business needs change or develop and your relationship with the key stakeholders develops.

This simple stratification of your territory by sales potential and return on sales investment will allow you to focus your efforts on a rolling and periodic basis using a logical and easy-to-maintain process.  You’ll probably sleep better at night, too, knowing that you are spending your time most effectively and not trying to serve more customers than your time permits.

Revisit your plan periodically

Once each month or quarter (or more frequently if needed), review your tiered list of active clients, developing prospects, and desired targets.  Demote those active customers whose business has waned or is taking proportionally too much time, promote those developing customers who have the potential to consume more of your products and services, and increase your attention to members of the desired target list as their business needs or relationship with you grow, or your offerings better match their needs.

Over time, you will find that you are better serving your most important customers, more efficiently growing your customer portfolio, and most importantly maximizing the return on your sales efforts.

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Bootcamp – Sales Territory Planning (Part 1 – The Framework)

(This two-part discussion examines the high-level process for entering and developing a new sales territory.)

I was recently asked to assess and then plan the development of a new geographic territory that was previously not served by the ACME Services Company (name changed to protect the competitive advantage).  The task was to first determine what opportunities and potential existed in the territory and then to put together a lightweight plan that would allow for quick and efficient entry into that territory.

The request is quite common for companies growing in the marketplace who are trying to effectively plan where to go next and how to approach it, as well as, setting rough revenue, cost, and growth projections.  And like many similar situations out there, I didn’t have a lot of time to execute the assessment and knew that I would need to accomplish this myself with the basic resources that I had at my disposal.  (It should be noted that this process does not replace the need for more thorough strategic and business planning that could include this territory but does allow for an efficient go/no-go assessment and rapid start-up in the territory.)

So where should I start?

I decided to return to the tried and true strategic planning framework that has served me so well when developing larger business strategies but planned to take only the pieces that were required for the scope and level of this analysis. 

All of the the traditional strategic framework elements are important in any planning process.  However, in this situation, the goal is not to create or modify the company’s strategic plan but instead to use the plan as a guide for entering a territory.  Therefore, some of the elements become fixed inputs that will steer or regulate the process while others will become data inputs from which decisions will need to be made.  The elements are marked in the list below for clarity.

Abbreviated Planning Framework Elements

1.  Understanding ACME’s company Vision and Mission. (Fixed Input)  Corporate Vision and Mission are set and are the guiding principles by which all business is undertaken. 

2.  Measuring ACME’s internal strengths and weaknesses and the external market’s opportunities and threats.  (Data Input) The SWOT analysis becomes the most dynamic part of the assessment aligning the capabilities of ACME with the market opportunities.  Most of the work in the assessment and planning will be done in this element and will include:

a. Identifying the target market in the territory- geographic prospect groups, industry vertical groups, size-ranked groups

b. Determining alignment of ACME’s capabilities to the market needs,

c. Approximating the demand in the market that ACME can satisfy,

d. Assessing openness to new providers in the territory and existing and potential competitive threats.

3. Determination of Viability and Options (Fixed and Data Inputs) The SWOT analysis provides a relatively thorough and objective measure of the subject marketplace and the opportunities.  The data gathered needs to provide sufficient information to determine if the market opportunities match the goals and capabilities of ACME.  If the territory opportunities align with existing corporate mission and capabilities, those opportunities should be detailed to a level that is sufficient to create tactical plans for execution.  When assessing viability, it should be remembered that this level of assessment is normally not intended to identify new strategic opportunities.  Regardless of however valuable they may be, if entry into the market requires new strategic initiatives, the viability would need to be questioned.

4. Recommendations and Penetration Strategy (Data Input) With the data in hand and the potential opportunities identified, analysis of the choices needs to be made, a prioritization determined, and a concise tactical plan constructed for each.

5. Revenue/Cost Projections (Data Input) During the Determination of Viability step, some assessment of the market value of these services from a dollar value perspective has been made and has been determined to meet the minimum return required before investing in the effort to enter the territory.  More robust budgeting and planning should be done on a monthly or quarterly basis for at least a year to estimate likely revenue from the target prospects and the direct costs to deliver the services and support the growth of the territory.  These calculations are often challenging as you enter a new territory but are necessary for company budget planning and measurement of progress towards goals and assessed opportunities.  Using prior  comparable territory development activities as a guideline can help the estimation process with more realistic numbers for ACME’s business and served markets.

As mentioned in the introduction, this plan is intended to be an efficient and lightweight assessment of the target territory and needed to be completed in 2-3 days.  This is not your typical strategic planning exercise that can take months and lose timeliness and value before it is finished (although it should not be inferred that thorough strategic planning is not an important part of any business).  

Completing these five elements from the traditional strategic planning framework will get any territory planning exercise going in the right direction with the proper structure and level of detail. 

(In Bootcamp – Sales Territory Planning -Part 2 , we will drill down into more detail of the five elements and address the components more thoroughly.)

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