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Executive Consulting

November 05, 2010

Boot Camp and Cheerleaders

At some point or another you have heard someone make the claim that sports are a metaphor for war. It is a frequently made observation that cities, states, universities, and high schools that compete with each other on the playing field are really at battle with each other just like in ancient times when cities waged actual war on each other. Today, inside the modern day sports arena, what is at stake is economical dominance rather than a matter of life or death.

American football is the most obvious of the metaphors and was very nicely characterized in a fantastic comedy piece performed by the late, great George Carlin. His humor focused on the brutal nature of the grid iron. However, the sheer physicality of the sport does not require us to stretch far to see the nature of battle in our favorite American Sunday afternoon pastime. But, you can make the case for most sports – there is an element of battle, waging the best warrior from each city to overtake the others in their path. Heck, even chess, such a cerebral sport, is based on characters of war, pitting one kingdom against the other until conquest is complete.

Then there are the sports that practice elements of war. Wrestling, track & field, archery, the skiing biathlon, boxing and all the martial arts, all pit individuals against each other in typical situations required within actual combat or battle. So, I probably don’t need to keep making the case. We continuously fight each other with a ball now. It is more pleasant than the real thing.

I like the fact that we have turned much of our natural human aggression into sport. Having toured many medieval castles that were ruined during wars hundreds of years ago, I think it is better to be resoundingly beaten on the court or pitch, with present day warriors licking their proverbial wounds on the plane ride home, rather than having artillery hurled through the walls of our town offices. We still have things at stake, but it seems more sustainable with a tennis ball over a cannon ball.

Bowl Battle

What if we were to operate this way within our non-sports enterprises? Every once in a while I hear a reference to a company waging war on another, but it is not all that common. But, if we were to adopt the sports version of the metaphor, there are some interesting possibilities. Our customer-facing functions do well serving their customers, but what if they also split some of their focus on battling competitors?

First and foremost what is required to operate within this metaphor is the focus on winning. Winning is binary. You either get a W or an L in the win/loss column. The focus on the W is an amazing motivator. But for most businesses the focus is on a number instead of an opponent. Beating last year’s revenue by 4% does not seem as real to me as beating another company located in another city, and who wears a different logo on their helmets and uniforms. More focus on an opponent, and especially more focus on beating that opponent, would go a long way toward the mobilization of corporate energy.

Another element of the sports-as-war metaphor that I think would benefit other businesses is the concept of practicing. If you are a sports team you practice in between games. If you are a military unit you train and conduct military exercises. If you are a business you hire people with a degree and maybe experience and then turn them loose on the real world. If more companies conducted more team practice, performance would go up, just like in the world of sports. Nobody makes it to the Olympics though on-the-job training.

And then there are the plays kept secretly in the playbook. Why don’t we have playbooks within the business world? There are some. Following your deals within the stages of a sales methodology begins to look like the plays your coach might call when it is second down and five to go. But, I think we could do more of that – define scenarios that call for synchronized actions outlined for the different players within the team. This, by the way, will have a big implication for your CRM system.

One of the best aspects of well organized sports, especially at the collegiate and professional, level is the way it can galvanize an entire community behind the team. The soccer World Cup and the Super Bowl are significant examples of this. Just think what it would be like if your company had an entire city behind it while it waged battle with the opponent from another corporation located in another city. I think it would be great to see a crowd of people waiting for me at the airport when I come back from a successful business trip. Is this too far fetched? If we did more in our companies to be a part of the communities where we reside, sharing our challenges and successes, we might eventually see the community rallying behind the business enterprise – it is possible.

And then there is the idea of cheerleaders. Wouldn’t that be something? Or maybe it is more like a MASH unit following me around as I wage battle (perhaps that is what the executive lounge at the airport is accomplishing already). The comparisons can keep going, but I’ll stop while I am ahead. Ultimately, the point is that maybe we could get more mileage if we didn’t manage our companies just from a spread sheet, but also from the metaphorical perspective the sports world benefits from when it wages its wars.

So, go find an opponent and declare war; suit up for a battle and return victorious with the booty. Just don’t kill any of your customers along the way.

October 15, 2010

Analyze This

You might recall seeing a television advertisement a number of years back that involved a few folks talking about a business problem and how they were going to solve it because they had hired a consulting firm who was going to conduct an assessment. The scene was very satirical and when they spoke the word assessment there was an exaggeration in the inflection that made it appear that the word itself was evil incarnate. We were intended to deduce from this 30 second spot that any company that would pay for a consulting firm to conduct an assessment were fools and that any consulting firms that would perform this pathetic service were incompetent.

Perhaps the more subtle, if not lost message in this nicely produced piece of marketing was that problems can only be solved with action and that endless investigation would just delay a resolution. The branding was intending to show that this firm was one of action.

Action is good. It is a fully necessary component of business problem resolution. Working with service providers who enact results is also a smart decision and one that I fully encourage. But, I would like to go on record as stating that assessments are not a bad thing as this commercial would imply. Another necessary component of business problem resolution is problem definition. Before you implement a solution, you really want to make sure you’re directing it toward the right problem. We can call this activity by an abundance of different titles but they are all assessment-like in nature.

We have found that our current market encourages services that move quickly into solutions. The rapid implementation of fixes is a growing portion of the services industry and very tied to the software-as-a-service explosion. Low cost solutions require short cuts. Guess what the popular thing to cut is today? Bingo – we see the lowly assessment process commonly omitted. Customers want to move straight to the answer, assuming they have a completely sufficient handle on the question. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It is bad because businesses are implementing things that don’t solve their problems, albeit they are doing it quickly and cheaply. The problems remain and they still have to take action and expend resources to solve them.

That is where the good thing comes in, because it gives the more comprehensive (and maybe more upright) service providers a great pipeline of new business. But this does not have to be the case. Adequately defining the problem prior to action is essential and even a modest exercise to correctly position the solution development can avoid wasted efforts from challenged projects. Assessments are actually a really good idea it turns out.

I know for a fact that the company who utilized the advertising campaign described above does actually conduct assessments. You can bet a large sum that they refer to these with a euphemistic title, but believe me; they assess needs and issues prior to delivering recommendations. Yet, the assessment process does have an evil side. There can be firms who only perform this kind of service. They will tell you what your problems are, but they don’t actually solve them. This can be problematic when the expertise of the firm is restricted to problem identification. The risk is that their recommendations are forged without any experience with solution execution. This gives the whole assessment thing a very bad name and was the genesis of the advertisement’s message.

Dam Bridge 2

Going back to the business problem solving process and examining the three major stages of the process can shed some light on an answer to this whole assessment thing. The three basic components are: problem definition, solution development, and solution execution. An assessment will include the first, and it often will include the second. As a business, you might choose to break up the steps. It is not uncommon to conduct an exercise just to define the problem. This can help the organization determine whether it is to be a priority for the set of initiatives to be tackled in the next period such as fiscal year. This enables you to scope the situation prior to committing to any action.

Performing the first two steps, problem definition and solution development, enables the organization to also budget for the execution stage, which might require significant steps just to secure funding. So, there can be delays between conducting the assessment and the execution of the recommendations. The challenge is to keep the three stages connected. Otherwise, you will tend to repeat steps and delay the achievement of the intended outcomes. Performing actions that are not sufficiently connected to a well aligned solution just leads to disaster. To keep these stages sufficiently connected you need to have one or both of the following conditions met. First, you need to have an internal owner of the process drive the three stages with continuity, even if there are gaps in time. Second, you might choose to utilize a service provider to manage the three stages to ensure this continuity. Ideally both are best, but you must have one or the other in place to have a chance at success.

I cannot count the number of times I have entered into a client organization during the middle of this sequence. Work has been performed previously to reach conclusions for action and we are expected to execute on that. However, the findings from the problem definition and the recommendations from the solution development have been handed from group to group, owner to owner. An external firm has long been dismissed and internal responsibilities have been switched around. I ask questions about the previous findings and recommendations and nobody has answers. Ultimately we have to back track and perform steps over losing time and requiring the expenditure of redundant resources. Coming into this process mid-stage with no solid connection between the stages sub-optimizes everything.

So, I guess it all boils down to continuity. The assessment is not the problem, it is the disconnected nature of this sequence of business problem solving stages that leads to the loss of effectiveness and that ultimately tarnishes the image of this maligned consulting service. This puts the burden of effective business problem solving squarely on the individual or team chartered to oversee it – even if using external services. Assuring this continuity is the key to success, either through internal continuity of oversight or the utilization of a single vendor for the entire process. If you don’t have the ability to manage this continuity, you have to set your expectations that some of the steps will have to be repeated to ensure effectiveness.

Good luck with your next assessment and keep your head held high; it is a worthy and noble exercise.

Dam Bridge 1

October 08, 2010

Magic

A long, long time ago I found a cartoon in a magazine that I have never forgotten that goes something like the following. Two scientists in white lab coats are standing beside a room-sized chalk board that is completely filled with a mind bogglingly complex scientific equation. It appears from the posture of the two scientists that they are focused on a small part of the equation located in one of the lower corners of the board that is surrounded by a box, but has arrows moving in and out. It appears that the arrows coming out of the box lead to the culmination of the equation. Within that box, the apparent focus of the scientists’ attention, are the words:

Magic Happens
Here!

Perhaps to you this does not seem to be that memorable of a cartoon. I, however, reference it all the time when I am working with groups. Here is why.

I think the performance of a group of folks, when organized by a set of objectives to produce an important outcome, can be represented by that equation in the cartoon. It is typically big and complex and takes up the whole room. Plus, it typically requires a bit of magic in the middle of things in order to be successful.

Yes, I know, it does not appear to be a prudent proposition to rely on magic when facilitating a group that needs to produce important outcomes. Yet, I fully expect for it to happen in most of the group sessions that I manage. First, permit me to make sure we are talking about the same magic. I am not referring to sleight of hand or hucksterism – not intending to imply that deception is needed for groups to be successful. I mean, more specifically, that when you really need to get a group to produce, you need to create an environment where something magical occurs.

Allow me to go a bit further and say that I also believe there is a bit of science behind the magic. Going back to the cartoon, I always interpret the meaning of the box of magic to represent something that the scientists can’t explain. They do all the right things with the rest of the equation – mix all the ingredients for success. Yet something takes place in the middle of it all that they know happens but don’t have complete control over. And I really believe that getting groups to perform does include this little box of magic in the middle of it all, but surrounded by some key elements for success.

The magic happens when you put the right ingredients together – it is not an accident. I think the right factors include some key elements that you can control. First, you have to have a good process for taking the group through a set of steps that you know will produce the intended outcomes. Second, you need to bring together the right folks, people with experience and knowledge. You need to mix that with building an environment where the experience and knowledge get infused with some structured creativity. It does not hurt that you have a competent facilitator who is familiar with stirring up this pot of ingredients.

Magic Brew

I have found that this all works and it is a little bit of magic. You might not always feel you are in complete control of it, but it does produce the results if you believe in the process. It is a bit like baking a cake. If you mix the flour and sugar with some eggs and baking powder you create some goopy and unappealing batter (although my son finds it appealing). But, with the right conditions and allowing the process to complete its course, you can pull a delectable cake out of the oven. I don’t know why the introduction of heat in the process transforms the goop into cake, but it works.

Sometimes I vary the recipe, mixing together new things that I have not completely experienced in the past. I still trust that the magic in the oven will create a positive outcome. Working with groups is the same. There are many times when I have to mix in ingredients that are uncertain – new people, new objectives, and new circumstances. I trust the process and count on the magic.

Magic does take some practice. Just because you are performing magic does not mean you can walk into the room, snap your fingers or wiggle your nose, and expect that the group produces. You do need to learn to harness it and determine what differing combinations of the ingredients work best. The ingredients that I utilize vary from situation to situation, but I can say I rely heavily on making sure the right people are in the room and utilizing a structure that harnesses their knowledge and creativity.

Good luck to all you magicians out there.

September 10, 2010

Executive Readiness

The next celebration of the anniversary of my wedding day will take on a silvery hue. And, if there is anything that I have learned in this quarter century of marital bliss is that some actions are just not possible without having my spouse completely on board with things totally up front. Moving down a path without that buy-in tends to result in tire spinning and road rage. It may have taken me a while to get this all figured out, but after 25 years I completely get it now.

You don’t have to take this long to apply this same understanding to a CRM program, but a very similar dynamic exists with executive buy-in and the pursuit of your CRM roadmap. Some of the biggest CRM disasters I have had the pleasure to witness (always from a relatively safe distance) are due to the lack of gaining adequate consensus from senior stakeholders. Attempting to drive forward the types of changes required of CRM is just not possible when those at the top of the organization chart are not on board with the plan. Even little programs need executive buy-in otherwise you end up with the same disasters, just on a smaller scale.

One organization I have come to know well wasted somewhere between 12 and 20 million USD (different team members used different accounting methods to reach the range of totals) on their first attempt at CRM. The first consensus I was able to facilitate with that team was with regard to the history of the first CRM go round. The story goes that the SVP of Sales did not really agree with the program approach, checked out of the process early on, and the program implementation was declared dead on arrival. Everybody agreed it was due to the SVP of Sales, including his boss. But, he was not blamed – the program went forward without his agreement. Culpability was spread around.

The moral of the story is that you can’t drive CRM into the organization without sufficient executive agreement. When key stakeholders are not ready to consent, pushing past them can lead to tire spinning at the least and a complete train wreck at the worst. I have seen everything in between as well.

Genius Dragon

So, the practical question to ask at this point is what do you do if you don’t have all the key exec stakeholders on board? The good news is that you have options. The foundational step is to have evidence. Many people are CRM skeptics. They have heard too many horror stories and they don’t want to be the next victim. Some of these good folks can be won over with evidence. Help them see how CRM will help their part of the business, help them see that others have been successful getting there, and also show them what they will miss or lose by not taking the CRM path. However, if you present all this to someone who is not ready to hear it, you probably can’t move until they are ready.

There are still options. It may be that your evidence is not strong enough. It may be possible to continue with gathering CRM requirements, especially learning what the business pain points and benefits for moving forward are for each function. You may be able to gain momentum from the bottom up and let others do your selling. A groundswell of organic evidence and momentum can sometimes convert the skeptics. I have seen this work.

On the other hand, sometimes you have to wait. There will be times when the environment has to change, not the logic. I have had many client organizations require a strong competitive threat to emerge before the whole team gets behind the CRM thing. I have seen this many times as well – you have to wait to strike when the proverbial iron is hot. This works when you have patience and good timing.

There is also the option of not attempting to push CRM with the whole organization. Sometimes it is best to find that part of the organization that is ready, led by an executive who is ready to take on the sponsorship of the program. I like this option best for many reasons. First, you are working with those who get it and want to go forward and will do what it takes to be successful. Second, you are biting off the right amount of the elephant, what you can chew and what you can swallow. This drives success and success attracts company. I have started many CRM programs with just the sales function. They have wanted to move forward while marketing hasn’t been ready. However, it is amazing to see how interested the marketing function gets when it realizes all the golden data sitting inside the sales SFA repository. This can work with an interested function or it can work with an interested geography. The challenge is in finding the interested group that wants to move forward.

No matter which option you find yourself best to pursue, one common denominator between them all is the need for sponsorship. You cannot take many steps forward with a CRM program without it. If you enlist one sponsor you can get started. If you enlist multiple sponsors you can make more progress, but you have to have full executive sponsorship if you want to push the whole organization forward.

Otherwise it is like planning a vacation or boat purchase without your spouse on board. Without the buy-in it is likely that all your scheming will be for naught. Trust me; I am approaching 25 years of experience with this.

February 05, 2010

Still Harvesting Stories

I had dinner with a battle scarred sales veteran last week. It was an introduction set up by a colleague and I did not really know what to expect from the engagement. This gentleman, as it turns out, had been around the block a few times, carrying the bag to literally all corners of the globe and back. If he couldn’t sell his products in some location or country, he established someone who could and he made them successful in the process. The stories flowed all night, along with a lot of wine, and the more I listened the more I saw a pattern, or more specifically, I detected a pattern and a theme.

The pattern within his stories was all about integrity selling. Building relationships with trust and doing what it takes to satisfy the customers’ needs – nothing was fast, nothing was manipulative. The customer never lost in the end or was a conquest. This was about being successful by being in for the long haul and as a true partner.

At no time did I detect that he was trying to make a point to me with his lore – he was just sharing his experiences and they got more interesting as the bottles got emptier. His success was measured in interesting ways too, like the time one of his distribution partners named his new yacht after the old man. I can only hope somebody names a dinghy after me some day.

This was all quite captivating and I wished for the dinner and the evening to just go on. I was in the presence of a master and truly wanted to absorb from this unique exchange, although the second bottle of wine was starting to catch up with me. Perhaps I was absorbing too much.

On the drive back to my hotel I reflected on what I had heard. Yes, the pattern was about selling through integrity, but the theme of the evening was that there was always yet another story. We did not talk about things that happened back in the olden days. Rather, these anecdotes mostly included events that had just taken place. This spry old salt did not simply have a few successes decades back and then slump into a coast, repeating stories over and over from yesteryear. He kept going! He went after new opportunities and expanded into new ventures, gaining the ability to tell more stories.

It occurred to me that this practice was also a component of integrity selling. It is not just being honest and trustful, it is also being fresh. To be really successful you have to adapt, be flexible, expand, whatever. You don’t just do things the way you did it in the past just because you had some success. You have to keep having the ability to tell new stories.

Yes, in case you were wondering, this has a connection to CRM – two actually.

First, I truly believe that CRM and the technology that enables the benefits of CRM can assist with selling in a way that is moral and ethical. Gaining trust requires being authentic, which software cannot mimic. However, gaining trust can be more steadfastly earned when you can keep up on all the details of the relationships you form. It can help you identify the connections in your network. It can remind you when you need to take an action to maintain confidence. It can alert you when an expected result is due and might require attention on your behalf. And as you become more senior in your tenure, it can help to prop up the memory that might not always be reliable when counting on grey matter alone.

On the other hand, I have to disclose that I am not enthralled with the integrity of the selling that happens within my own industry. It seems, in contrast, that selling software requires one to exclude honesty and authenticity from the selling process. Unnecessary pressuring for a signed contract before the end of a quarter, deceptively exaggerating the capabilities of the functionality, throwing the services partners under the bus to salvage a deal, the atrocities are endless and I prefer not to elaborate. Sorry if I offend anyone, but I don’t feel I work within an industry that exudes integrity selling; this is a travesty because many of the client industries we support hold this as a seriously high ideal.

Assblower

When I operate within the role of sales person, it makes my job significantly harder because I have to overcome high barriers that have been erected due mostly from all the duplicity conducted before my arrival.

Getting back to my recent dinner partner, in conclusion, I sincerely wish more of my colleagues could listen to someone who can achieve honest-to-God success without stooping to tactics that ultimately degrade our value. And that brings up a thought. There is a special organization founded back in the 60’s, VISTA, initially a volunteer corps of those who have been successful in their careers turned to service those who need help to rise out of poverty. I wish we could establish a corollary organization that matches volunteers, who have been successful with their professional morals, together with those who need help to rise out of the poverty of their professional souls.

October 09, 2009

Using What You Got

You manage through a tough crossing of the Atlantic. Your motor, a bunch of torn canvas draped from pine spars barely clinging to three creaky masts, is seriously battered from storms. You are out of supplies, including water, and you really need to sight land soon.

And, then from the crow’s nest comes a shout – “land ho!” You crawl up to a cluster of islands that are not on your charts. But, they are green and warm and, you hope, friendly. On shore you find a few plants that will suffice for salad, including some onions, but no animal makes a sound or leaves a track. And, much to your bewilderment, there is not a drop of water. You hope for rain.

This cluster of islands eventually becomes a pretty strategic location for others plying these waters, especially boats flying the skull and bones. But, best not to arrive here thirsty unless you are looking for rum.

Bermuda is no longer the stomping ground of pirates but it remains a place to have a glass of rum and enjoy the beautiful aquatic surroundings. Those surroundings are however pretty much the only natural resources there. And even today, there is no water. How did a place with so little become such a popular pirate and tourist destination? There is a lot to say for making do with what you got.

The volcanic cliffs and abundance of coral reefs made the island very defensible back in the days of clipper ships. And, because the location was so good, the folks that eventually became locals (Bermuda was uninhabited when discovered by the first Europeans) figured out how to make do with what the island cluster had to offer. It did not have water – there are no rivers, lakes, or springs – but it does have weather. The consistent rainfall could provide to those who were willing to make an effort at collection.

Water Collector

I think every CRM program manager should view themselves as in Bermuda (there are worse places to be). If you are willing to put some effort into collection, you will have all the resources you need to be successful, and in this I am referring to data. You perform certain activity that leads to success. There are also activities that don’t, and for both there correlations that can be found. However, if you don’t catch the activity when it happens, it becomes lost just like rainfall running off the rocky shoreline into the emerald water.

I recently had a client ask me to recommend what they need to do in order to keep their customers after they make initial purchases. He did not like my reply, which was to use their sales data to find out the answer. He wanted me to offer up a best practice based on what happens elsewhere. Why do you want to find out what is working for somebody else when you have data that will tell you what is working for you?

To be honest, his displeasure with my answer was based on their abhorrence to capture sales activity. In this case, marketing wanted to capture more information from sales calls, but sales leadership was reluctant to ask their sales professionals to put in the effort. After all, spending time capturing information on a laptop is time not spent selling. Unfortunately, this conclusion is a mistake. The information captured following a sales call is just as valuable as rain on an island without water – it is life giving. By comparing key sales actions against sales results we are able to determine what works best. When we uncover this we can then drive more focus into sales planning and maximize sales effectiveness. Yes, in fact, capturing sales activity is part of the selling process – not just “admin crap” as it is usually defiled.

This is a tough argument to win, until you deliver the water to the thirsty. In this case it is a matter of doing whatever it takes to gather some data and create a small correlation study. Use a popular sales program to get your data, even if only from one geography. When you show the stats and identify the behavior that leads to sales you will be in a position to ask for more capture. But, you have to keep providing the water because the thirst never ends.

The solution is not just steady and reliable activity capture, but also the development of the right intelligence is necessary. Just when you determine what behavior drives sales, the market will change – you have to keep the measurement in motion. If you think you have captured enough rain water and you lay off because your barrels are getting full – that is just the time to expect a drought.

Good luck with collecting the water, and don’t forget to enjoy the scenery (it might be edible).

Purple Parrot

April 24, 2009

Snow Boots and Bad Driving

I grew up with hand-me-downs. The winter boots were the worst of all. I had no problem with learning to play on my brother’s old trumpet. I was quite pleased to accept another brother’s old wet suit. But, sledding all day with winter boots that did not fit and were not all that insulated brought me close to frostbite on more than one occasion. I should have complained, but using things that were handed down from an older sibling was just the way things worked when you were the youngest of seven.

When you are running a global CRM program there are going to be countries that become the oldest sibling and there will be countries that become the youngest sibling. The countries in the middle might get less attention, as can also happen in a large family.

The biggest risk of this birth order situation in the world of CRM is that sometimes the hand-me-downs don’t fit very well. This usually works something like this. A CRM program starts with a larger well-funded country and the design is a bit too centered on the needs of that dominating geography. For example, the system is built to fit the U.S. postal code system and cannot accommodate other postal code structures. This situation can result in a couple of problems – either the later implemented smaller country has to use a workaround or extra resources have to be expended to get the postal code field correct. When this happens to a hundred small things the situation also leads to bitterness and resentment of the CRM colonialism.

Rectifying this situation is both easy and hard. It is easy to build your CRM program to begin with a global design approach. It can be hard to satisfy everyone during design. Ultimately it boils down to regional differences. Some differences are real, like postal codes, and need to be taken into account. Some differences are not so real. I have seen many situations where there was a strong perception that things were very different between countries. However, on closer, objective examination – primarily focused at the process level – it has been shown that differences are negligible and can be easily worked out.

Sometimes differences are based on maturity of the business. Some countries have been at it longer than others and have developed further. I think that it is best to build the CRM approach to fit the most mature businesses and let the developing regions grow into it – much like the hand-me-down thing. I have also seen that some geographies have different personalities. Some prefer structure and discipline and some prefer to keep things pretty flexible. It can be a simple solution to build the system to enable the discipline and then allow the rules to be broken in those regions that take it a bit looser. Having just spent a week of driving the Amalfi coastline in Italy I have a good handle on this dynamic. The EU has agreed on many driving and traffic rules, but they get fairly ignored in this region.

Latin Curves

On the other hand, sometimes differences are substantial. There are regulations or market size restrictions forcing business models to differ. Some geographies sell directly and some sell through distribution partners. These circumstances demand that the processes and system be designed to accommodate. And, this can be harder.

On the less hard on of the continuum is the approach of satisfying differences by using the power of the technology to enable different access or different views. This requires more resources to accomplish, but has been a successful solution for many businesses working across borders. A more extreme approach, but one growing in popularity is to build the primary CRM system to satisfy the larger portions of the business and utilize hosted systems to accommodate the special needs of the minority. Sometimes one-size-fits-all is a bad approach. This hybrid CRM model can be more complex, but it ultimately has the best chance of satisfying the business in a global enterprise.

So, in conclusion, don’t force everyone where the same pair of snow boots. And, don’t go over the speed limit in Switzerland, but in Italy don’t expect to go below it.

April 10, 2009

Get the Message?

When was the last time you listened to an emergency briefing aboard a plane? The airlines try to get you to pay attention, but they don’t try hard enough. Reports I have read from the water landing incident on the Hudson River earlier this year would indicate that folks on board were not paying attention to theirs, as some passengers flagrantly violated some of the safety rules. The incident ultimately had a happy ending but a few variables could have easily led to some passengers going down with the ship.

There are many occasions that I am the deliverer of messaging, similar to those on board safety briefings, for the CRM programs that I help to lead. However, recently the tables were turned and I was the recipient of messaging for a change within my own company. I was required to attend a communication session that provided information on how to use a new business system. It was both interesting and educational – not the messaging in the session, rather, getting a chance to observe things from the other side.

A number of things did not work well:
- The timing of sessions never fit my availability
- The content did not fit my situation
- Information was presented that was important to the presenter, but not to the recipient
- Because I got bored I started multi-tasking and probably missed something important
All in all, I felt it was a total waste of my time, but more importantly, it re-sensitized me to be more aware of my audiences when I am the deliverer of similar mandatory messaging. I wonder how many times I have caused people to feel just like I did? I much prefer a better outcome for my audiences.

So, I spent a bit of time thinking about this and have some suggestions. Chances are you will need to deliver a communication to a captive audience and you too may fall into the same trap. Here are just a few ideas:

Zone Out Factors – Test your messaging to identify what content is going to cause your audience to quit listening. Make a change to your delivery either by changing the content to be more relevant or the approach to be more interesting.

Audience Centrism – You need to provide this information to improve the success of your program, but is it useful to your audience? Find a way to make it useful by evaluating the content from their perspective.

Enticing Media – I was at a meeting yesterday where the shortest presentation before I came onto the agenda was 138 slides. This is death by PowerPoint. Don’t kill your audience with your media. Use it to capture them.

Reward Attention – Can you do something to reward those who actually listen to you? Yes, and it can be pretty simple to do. Try handing out candy to those who answer a quiz question correctly and watch others perk up.

You can get many ideas on better communication from the gazillion books on effective presentations that line the virtual shelves at amazon.com, so I won’t go into more suggestions here. I think the important thing is to evaluate your messaging and make sure that you are not just handing out mandatory content and checking people off the list. This will increase your chances of having the communication serve less than positive value. Do a test run with someone outside of your program team and get straight feedback. You will improve the value of your communication efforts.

And remember, in the unlikely event of a water landing, your seat cushion can serve as a flotation device.

Wet Landing

February 13, 2009

Two is Better Than One

Who invented the airline-size booze bottle and did they really think it was a good idea

This is a mystery to me, but if it was considered an improvement or innovation at the time, it has certainly outlived its usefulness. Recently I was on a plane where the flight attendant actually poured me a glass of wine from a real bottle into a real glass – in coach! I think this is a combination of both better service as well as a more cost effective approach to dispensing large volumes of liquids. Of course there are some flights – the shuttle from D.C. to Boston for example – that really need to plop down a tiny bottle and plastic cup on your tray and move on to the next seat quickly.

More importantly, this new development in the airline industry (not to mention USAir finally going back to free coffee and soft drinks) is a great thing. We have a situation where providing better service is actually more cost effective (plus it is a much greener use of packaging). Could this actually become a trend? The airline industry sure could use a positive trend right now.

Previously I believed there were three types of business outcomes that could be gained from making investments in CRM or other customer-facing initiatives. You could improve revenue growth, you could increase operational efficiency, or you could increase the value of the customer experience. And while I understood these three types of results had relationships with each other, I tended to treat them as distinct targets. Moreover, I encouraged my clients to pick a primary outcome as the source of a business case for their investments. Go after growth, efficiency or customer experience, but don’t try to go after them all. One should be the primary focus and anything else would be a secondary benefit or icing on the cake.

Lately it has been getting more complicated, but in a good way – like the better service at less cost by making me a gin and tonic that is poured from a liter size bottle of Tanqueray instead of something the size of my thumb.

T&T

What has started happening is that my clients are no longer satisfied with going after a single outcome. Now they want both the savings from efficiency and to use that to fuel growth. How audacious! Some want to grow the business in a way that builds loyalty through better service quality. Outrageous! Others even want to improve customer service by removing inefficiencies in the overall service process and gain both higher satisfaction and lower cost. This is going too far!

Now instead of three outcome types there are six – growth, efficiency, experience, growth/efficiency, efficiency/experience, and experience/growth. I just can’t keep up. Although, to be honest, the combo outcomes are the popular ones now, so maybe we are really back down to having three. And if you can have icing on your cake and eat it too, why not go for it?

The great thing about these new compound outcomes is that they help make the business case for CRM investment stronger. One of my clients is in significant growth mode, but needs to add some discipline and standardization to their processes. The process streamlining not only reduces waste, but will help facilitate growth as their market inevitably tightens up. So, it makes sense – let’s get two outcomes for the price of one. Hey we are in a recession and we can use all the help we can get

Meanwhile, I’ll take a refill on that lowered-cost gin and tonic.

February 06, 2009

RecessoStratoMatic

Easily the most popular topic coming across my inbox these days is advice on how to conduct business effectively during the biggest recession anyone in the current workforce has ever witnessed. Every newsletter, every e-magazine, every spam (even the virility offers) have a connection to weathering the economy. Isn’t this a great world we live in where even when we are in the financial crapper we can make money off of it?

Therefore, I think it would be irresponsible of me if I did not contribute to this important topic and offer you my advice on navigating the turbulence. But I am going to up the ante and not just give one idea for how to be successful, but offer four different strategies for you to choose from. It is a veritable cornucopia of strategic advice.

To make it easy, I am going to offer up a single name for each strategy to make it easier to decide which one will fit best for your organization. They are: Trim, Sell, Love, & Change.

Trim

Without question the most common strategy, and the knee-jerk reaction to a troubled economy is to figure out ways to cut costs to match the projected loss in revenue in order to remain cash positive or at least minimize the red ink. If you own an auto manufacturing company, you are probably thinking along these lines right now and I would probably agree that it is a good idea. But this strategy does not have to follow a slash and burn policy. Trimming can include the concept of using a tough time as a sound reason for driving out some bad things.

The founder of one of my past employers, Ken Olson of Digital, was often quoted as saying that success hides a lot of sins. When things are going well you can get away with dumb things. Well, this is your chance to drive out the dumb. Chances are high that you will cut out some stuff that wastes money. I have been working with a client that had two different groups doing the same thing. They not only were redundant, but also often in conflict. The cost was high, but when times were good and everybody was busy, they got away with it. That ended about a month ago and the consolidation did not cause a layoff, rather it liberated some folks to do more productive work for the company.

Sell

When I started out my career decades ago at IBM I was given a small book that offered a bit of an overview of the company history. I read it out of obligation, but one passage has stayed with me for a quarter of a century. IBM, at the time selling nothing more sophisticated than typewriters, faced down the Great Depression with a different strategy than the rest of their industry. They doubled their sales force. You can question the strategy, but you cannot question their results.

I believe that it is possible to sell yourself out of a recession. Adding feet on the street is one approach, but an expensive one. You can also add feet on the phone, which is a lot less expensive. You can expand your geography or market segment, which is a bold one. Or you can move up a product release, which is even bolder. Using muscle to get through the recession is a riskier proposition, but if you have the confidence it could put you way past the competition when the cycle turns. And the cycle will turn.

Snow Job

Love

One of the lines of advice that have been consistently coming across my inbox the last few months is all about showing the customer more love. When it is 1:45 AM and last call, love related behavior can be that of desperation. Love does not have to come in this form, but one version of cozying up to the customer is offering up deals. Give a two-fer or circulate some coupons. Sweeten the deal to entice activity. I don’t think that this is a true form of love, just a fast path to poor margin. On the other hand, if you are swimming in excess inventory, maybe it is for the better. The downside is that it cheapens the relationship. If you do it too much you train your customers to expect it.

A better form of love is attention - better service, a renewed focus on relationship quality, extra visits, proactive focus on needs, perhaps even some new extra-loving services. Show your customers that you care and reward their loyalty with your affection. This seems dopey even to me as I type the words, but the reality is that I know it is effective. Even just the act of calling your customers and asking them what would help them out right now is a great act of love. Hey Valentines Day is coming – maybe you still have time to crank out a campaign…..

Change

For those of you who know me it may not come as a surprise to hear that this is my favorite of the four strategies. You have all heard the saying, “when the going gets rough, the tough soil themselves and have to change”. Well, now is the opportunity for a new outfit.

One of the things that I know about the dynamics of organizational change is that there are certain conditions that enable making significant changes easier. A crisis is the most extreme of those conditions. But if the world offers you lemons, I say make lemon daiquiris.

This strategy takes elements of the other three approaches and pushes the envelope. Use the opportunity provided by the downturn to change a part of the organization that has become a proverbial millstone. Use the volatility in the marketplace to test out an expansion into a new service line. Offer your best customers an opportunity for a new level of intimacy based on their specific needs. Whatever. But, if you have an idea that you have wanted to try out, but were hesitant, this is absolutely the time – your employees, your customers, your board, everybody is primed for change right now.

Good luck with whichever strategy you choose, but be aware of one thing. Of the four strategies offered above please note that there is one specifically not proposed. Doing nothing as a strategy seems like a really bad idea to me right now.

November 21, 2008

IT vs The Biz

It is a miracle that I am making this posting today. On Tuesday my hard drive went into meltdown. Somehow I was fortunate enough to get the image cloned and over to my external drive in time before the meltdown was complete. As a card carrying technophobe you might be surprised to hear that I know what an external hard drive is, not to mention that I am capable enough to capture and restore the image of my entire C drive. That is a big part of the miracle.

There would be no external hard drive at my house if I trusted my IT department. I would have otherwise relied on them to make sure that I was covered. But, I took matters into my own hands and as a result I recovered from the crash with only a couple of days of productivity loss.

Sorry to be airing the dirty laundry, but the cat is now out of the proverbial bag. However, this certainly can’t be any surprise to see such a thing in print here. I have been reading posting after posting of the same topic – strain between IT and the business.

This is really a shame – it doesn’t have to be this way. Back in the 80’s it seemed like the finance department was the function wearing the black hat. Then, in the 90’s it seemed like HR was the subject of everyone’s fury. Now I guess it is IT’s turn for heat. Is the heat warranted?

What is most in the press recently is the power struggle between those who represent business needs, such as the BA role, and those in IT that are charged with satisfying those needs. As a consultant focused on technology solutions, I get to see both sides of this struggle and can attest to the fact that it is real. And, with a perspective into both sides of the issue, I do take a side.

Too many of the IT functions that I serve have a mindset that their work is at the center of the organization – they have lost their perspective. IT is a support function; there to support the business. Their job is to provide the automation needed to achieve business goals. They are not to decide which business goals are a priority or whether the business goals are the right goals. They are to do what ever it takes to support the achievement of the goals.

This is not to say that IT does not need to play a leadership role or be involved in identifying the path to strategy execution. But once we are all on that path, their role is to enable. Too much of the time they disable with dysfunction. One report recently published cited that 50% of the BA role was taken up with work that should have otherwise been performed by IT, but the struggle got in the way.

Yes, these are strong words, but this has to be put on the table and addressed. Which ever side of the fence you sit on, you need to reach across to the other side and work this through. If you need some help, go find somebody in HR (since they are out of the dog house now) and ask them to facilitate the problem resolution. The acrimony is causing too much waste, which we can ill afford in the economy we are now facing.

Oh, before you send along that hate mail to me, just remember, I have friends and family in IT – this is meant as an act of tough love, not a bull fight.


El Toro and You

September 05, 2008

Not Good To Be King

My first professional, wear-a-suit-and-tie job was for the world’s largest computer company. At the time it had 360,000 employees across all continents – not bad for a company that got its fame by manufacturing and selling typewriters.

As a young buck I had an early opportunity to speak with a high ranking official of this venerable company, a division president I recall, but it was a long time ago. Something he said to me at the time made me wary of the conversation, but it stuck with me, even though I was not sure at the time how to really assimilate its meaning. I was working within a function that provided leadership training to managers in the division, so the conversation was focused on leader qualities.

This extremely powerful, sickeningly high paid, navy suit and wing tips Ivy Leaguer told me that he was frustrated with the fact that, by climbing to the position he was now occupying, he had lost any real control over the organization that he was in charge of. At the age of 22, and a student of organizational psychology, I was dumbfounded. I was still getting a grip on the concept of power and this did not fit with what I was learning.

Flash forward the better part of three decades and check out a study recently published by a large audit and consulting firm. In the report outlining the interesting results of this executive survey is a bar chart listing the factors executives believe are the biggest barriers to their ability to affect change. The longest bars in the chart place the problem squarely at the feet of other senior level and middle mangers in their organizations. In other words, senior executives believe they have lost control and the rest of management is in their way of actually having an impact on things.

So, I am a little embarrassed to disclose that I remain dumbfounded. I didn’t buy it then, and I still don’t buy it now. Is it possible that you lose your ability for influence just by virtue of your rank at the top of the organization chart? No, I think not. Business leaders do have plenty of control but some may be at the helm of a ship where the controls are challenged.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my boat. Shifting into forward can involve a moment of delay. Turning while in reverse can lead to a position I had not intended. A bit of wind and current can easily thwart attempts at docking with dignity. In tight maneuvering spots, such as in a marina surrounded by expensive boats tied up in their slips, sloppy controls, especially in compromising conditions, can lead me to believe that my boat is in control of me, rather than the skipper being in charge. Improving the controls or improving the navigational skills of the skipper are the solution.

So, what does this have to do with executives believing their mid-mangers are the problem? I question whether the skippers have the right controls in their hands or whether they are trying to steer with loose rudders. Good leaders will fix the controls. Leaders that blame their mid-managers are trying to steer the ship and may not even realize their controls are compromised.

When it comes to CRM, solid steering requires a clear customer direction and metrics to determine how well objectives are being achieved. If the plan is in place and measurement systems working, then it will be clear if parts of the ship are causing drag. Those parts need to be corrected. The skipper is responsible for making sure the corrections happen. If not, the skipper is accountable.

On the other hand if the plan and measurements are not in place, the ship is going to be hard to steer, but it is not mid-management’s fault. The skipper is responsible for making sure the ship is properly outfitted. If not, the skipper is still accountable. Under neither of these circumstances are mid-managers the problem.

I think the blame is incorrectly assigned. My bet is on the rudder being loose. If the controls get tightened up, it will be clear where boat isn’t performing. Then the skipper can take action.

Ahoy

Fireboat Tall Salute

July 25, 2008

The Page

You know what CRM is. I am certain of it. Therefore, I don’t need to share with you what I think it is.

Our company works with strategic partners in collaboration to bring the benefits of CRM to our mutual clients. At a recent even where I was leading a session on the topic of selling CRM we were discussing this exact subject. We all know what CRM is.

More over, so do our clients. All the folks I talk to are quite certain that they understand what CRM means, thank you. So, it is certainly a waste of time to talk about the definition of this three letter acronym.

Funny thing is, ask somebody to put this in writing, and then it gets interesting. With 10 people in the room, you will get 11 answers. There are a lot of different interpretations of what we think is obvious, and, in my opinion, there are misconceptions too.

Differences of opinions make the world go round. That is fine. But when we use a term and assume that everyone follows the same interpretation, we can get caught short. I think it makes sense for us to be clear with our versions and don’t let assumptions get in the way of serving our customers who rely on our expertise.

I have some strong convictions on what this definition is and what it should mean to our customers. You are welcome to adopt what I offer below or use this as a foundation for developing your own working definition.

1) CRM does not equate to technology. This is the biggest misconception and not talking about this hurts our customers. Many are still misled by this belief. The greatest risk is that it sucks people into believing that a technical solution can solve difficult organizational problems.
2) CRM helps to manage all customer touchpoints. CRM is not just for the sales process. Rather it is a strategy for managing all interactions, plus secondary activity that supports touchpoints. Is order management an ERP function or CRM? My definition of CRM encompasses order management.
3) Further, CRM is intending to derive synergy across functions, not just touchpoints on their own. Successful CRM connects Sales with Marketing, not just between these functions and their customers.
4) At the core of CRM is the dynamic of people, process and technology. CRM brings these three elements together as effectively as possible. Good CRM focuses on all three.
5) Ultimately, CRM must be in place to achieve business results. What ever the investment, what ever the effort, CRM must be focused on outcomes.

So, this is my perspective. I would be delighted to hear what others would add or modify. Ultimately, the objective is to make sure when we discuss the pursuit of CRM with our customers that we are all singing from the same page.

Fins to the Left

July 11, 2008

The Perimeter of Demise

There is a project underway in my basement. It involves plastering, wiring, finish carpentry, and, eventually, painting. The project has been underway for years. However, this weekend somebody needs to actually sleep down there, so the project pace has picked up a bit. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful deadlines can be.

The term deadline has a pretty powerful meaning, when you look at the words within it and the history of the term. Apparently the term comes from the physical or virtual line surrounding a prison along which a prisoner can expect to be shot if crossed. That is a pretty powerful metaphor, even though we don’t think about it consciously when we use the term in our regular dialogue. Metaphors in our regular language have a pretty interesting way of influencing us. Listen to a recording of the late great George Carlin as he describes the metaphor differences between terms from football and baseball. But, I digress.

Perimeter of Demise

We set time boundaries for ourselves driving our action to be completed within that dead line, or otherwise we are toast. With the exception of those with pathological procrastination disorder, setting deadlines is a very, very effective tool for managing our time. And, this serves as a particularly effective tool within our business projects, including CRM.

Many of the deadlines we work within make a lot of sense. Projects need to be completed within a budget cycle. They need to be completed in time for supporting an event. They need to be finished quickly to resolve a problem that is causing losses.

There are also deadlines that don’t make sense. They are set for the purpose of completion, but their inappropriate targeting may result in dysfunction for the project. I have seen project teams work 16 hour days, week after week, just because there is a random deadline. This kind of project death march causes burnout and unnecessary turnover of important project resources. Poorly set deadlines can also cause scope-related expenses to soar, driving the overall project budget to be worse than if conducted along a more reasonable timeline.

Deadlines can also be set too far out and serve no value in driving to completion. Within these circumstances, project behaviors form a culture of under-motivated activity. There will always be time tomorrow, so why do it today?

Ultimately, I think we take the deadline thing for granted. They really work, but need to be wielded like a sharp tool, such as the metaphorical double-edged sword. Let’s give the right attention to this one element of the project so we don’t inadvertently cross that perimeter of demise.

And, yes, thank you for asking, the basement looks pretty good. Come on by if you need a place to stay or want to play some ping pong or foosball.

May 30, 2008

Confidence

I finally got the boat in this week, early enough in the weekend to actually enjoy it for a few hours. It is truly amazing how many variables have to work out each boating season in order to have the vessel afloat rather than in dry dock.

There is the mooring that has to be inspected and then placed on the shore at low tide. Then there are the eleven dock sections that have to go onto the flatbed one at a time, in order, hauled to the launch, and motored into place – God willing and the tide is right. Next, the dinghy and its motor have to be put in working order, which was quite a to do this spring. Of course there is the boat itself – unwrapping the winter cover, chasing out the squirrels, getting things cleaned up. And up to this point we have not even started up the engine to see if it is going to cooperate one more year.

One of these items chooses not to cooperate and it becomes a set back that will ruin the goal of being out on the water for a sunny Sunday afternoon. It takes a lot of perseverance and faith that everything is going to fall into place and the plans one has made for guests out on the boat will be realized. But, to pull it off you have to go forward with confidence otherwise that sunny Sunday afternoon is going to happen without you. Each portion of the plan has to be attended to with the expectation and confidence that all the other elements will also pull through.

Snow Boat

Managing a CRM program requires this same confidence. You have to believe once your plan is in place and your gears are in motion that each of the elements will come together. You have to trust your process and you have to trust your team. You have to move everything forward.

He who hesitates is lost.

Being overly cautious to avoid a risk and causing a delay may prove more costly than moving forward with confidence and making an error, especially when consistently over cautious. Needing to get the messaging just right can make you miss a milestone. Getting absolutely everyone’s input can lead to a watered down product. Attempting to boil the ocean by including each and every requirement may lead to nothing accomplished.

Set out with a goal. Build your plan. Trust your process. Adjust with the feedback. Keep moving forward, the rewards are wonderful.

March 21, 2008

Tear Down The Silicon Wall

On a fairly regular basis I get asked to work with organizations that are unhappy with their CRM programs. They want to know why they cannot achieve what they were led to believe was going to be possible. So, we go in and conduct an examination of a number of factors, many of which are common culprits. The things we typically find that get in the way are mostly involving the lack of a sound CRM strategy, insufficient management consensus on what the program should achieve, varying usability issues that drive poor adoption, and then there is the IT function.

If you take a look at the research reports provided by the industry analysts you will see different studies that show a common set of factors that continuously compromise CRM programs. We also repeatedly find the same set of factors, with one exception, that being the last item on the list above. I have never seen the IT function listed in these reports because it is politically incorrect. The analyst firms are completely underwritten by IT subscribers and the technology companies that they are analyzing. You can’t bite the hands that feed you.

But I ask the question, is your IT department playing a gatekeeper role with regard to your CRM system? Is there a shroud of mystique veiling what your system can and cannot do? Are you limited by a silicon curtain?

Please don’t send hate mail. I am not on a personal crusade against the IT function. I have family and friends that reside there. However, it is very important for this strategic business function to be fully aware of when they are serving as a source or the source of limitations to the efficacy of a very critical business solution. In other words, if IT is causing some of the problems, they need to own up to it. I do see this situation arising on a more common frequency than you might believe.

How does this come about? I have seen multiple reasons. Most commonly this is the result of insufficient skill and resources. The folks in IT are asked to do more than they are capable of and they have simply given up on saying no. A worse variation of this is the under resourced team that won’t admit that they can’t handle the task. Many times the IT function is asked to run the CRM program and they run it as a technology project, not recognizing the heavy business and organizational requirements involved. Implementing CRM is not like implementing Outlook - it requires an immense amount of business context.

Some IT functions want to keep the CRM system from getting too hard to manage and support, so the philosophy is to contain it. Supporting the business takes a back seat to managing the application. There are also functions that waste cycles in turf wars with the business or the implementation vendor. Politics get in the way of producing a good solution. These last two scenarios are not as common as the former situations, but when we run into them they can be the most devastating to the effectiveness of the program and hardest to correct.

Once again, this set of observations is meant to be constructive. I have never met a CIO or Director of Applications that was intent on sabotaging the success of a CRM program. But, while this may not be driven willfully, the effects are still the same – CRM investments are compromised. IT has a tough challenge with the mission to both support the business and also serve as the steward of the company’s technology assets. Optimizing the assets can sometimes appear to get in the way of serving and maintaining the correct balance is performed on the edge of a razor. Awareness is the important thing. Keeping the dialogue going with the business is the key. Don’t let that tough project status meeting you just returned from become another brick in the wall.

Pigeon Wall

November 16, 2007

Too Much

I had the pleasure of some down time for reading. It was one of those cross country flights from bean town to fog city. Once a year we converge as Larry takes over Howard Street and 40 thousand members of the world’s best IT organizations fill the Moscone.

After getting through a copy of Ski Magazine I switched genres and dove into a techie editorial on EIM. While it was a difficult switch to make from a compelling photo journalistic essay of Sun Valley, I somehow became interested in Enterprise Information Management. Yes, I understand that those of you out there who know me don’t believe that could be true, but it is true, just not for the correct reasons.

OOW07

But it gets worse. Not only do I read on the plane all about the virtues of bringing together every possible source of data a company could ever hope to generate all into one spot, but then, the opening keynote address the next day at Open World lauds the same exact virtues.

This is really starting to bug me by this point.

So you are all thinking, what is the problem with all of this? The tech industry is finally making some progress to help companies manage their businesses better. Why should I be having difficulty with it all?

I’ll tell you what my problem is. I think ideas like EIM are going to crush my clients who are already struggling with mountains of data that they can’t handle. These businesses have too much information at their fingertips now. This overwhelming amount of data has already reached the point of becoming very loud noise. EIM is going to be a sonic boom.

The problem is that we probably don’t have a choice. This is all coming as progress that we can’t prevent. So, I guess if you can’t beat them, join them. But we are going to join on our own terms.

We need to make sure that all this data does not drown the business – we need to make sure that it nurtures the business instead. This can only be done by turning that data into something that provides both meaning and relevance, filtering out the noise.

Stay tuned for more on achieving meaning and relevance.

September 21, 2007

Who is the Rogue?

You may recall a recent posting where I raised the issue of business functions breaking away from corporate IT in order to obtain their own business applications, most notably a CRM platform that fits their requirements over the standardized system designed to fit a broader range of needs.

Since putting up that posting I ran across a blog site that has also elaborated on the situation, showing both sides of this thorny predicament. However, the author of that site has taken one step in the direction of IT that I cannot support. Stated directly is the recommendation that, although the business needs to have its requirements met, IT must have the final say. On this point I cannot disagree more.

Giving IT the final say on what application a business will use is the equivalent of giving HR the final say on the next recruit to be hired into that same business function. That would be preposterous. Wouldn’t it? Yes, absolutely. IT and HR are in place to serve the needs of the business, not the other way around. Everybody repeat that out loud a few times until it sinks in.

However, this can result in a battle waged in the name of control that can waste a lot of time and other resources. Very recently I advised a client smack dab in the middle of this conundrum to work with IT in a way that enabled them to believe that they had the final say. Was this manipulative? I prefer to think it was collaborative. And I would advise the IT people the same. Work this out in such a way as to get the IT standards met, but do it also in a way that lets the business believe they have the final say.

Chaotic

When the business has to go around IT and get its own CRM system, I do not think we should view this as rogue behavior. I believe we should look closely at what is going on in the IT organization and encourage some soul searching.

July 19, 2007

I Don't Trust My IT Department

It’s hard. You have a lot at stake. The competition is tough. Your customers have high expectations. You have to rely on your team. When somebody lets you down, you have a long memory. Some times when things go wrong, there has to be blame.

Blue House

The IT function takes it on the chin often - sometimes rightly so – sometimes not. Staff functions are easily made into scapegoats, but technology and the high expectations that go along with business technology solutions put IT at the center of the cross hairs, very often. Too often the blame is unjust.

On the other hand, I believe my grandmother was often heard saying something like, “if you can’t stand the heat, don’t stand in the kitchen.” If you are going to cook, you have to operate by the fire in the stove. If you are going to preside over technology, you better be prepared to live or die by the technical solutions you provide, and some of them pack some heat.

I have a client right now with a well functioning IT department that has decided on a set of standards for the corporation, which is a good idea generally speaking. Allowing each of the different businesses to do its own thing can be a problem. However, it seems to have gotten into trouble by standardizing on a CRM platform that literally nobody wants. Different groups are slowly committing mutiny, one group at a time, abandoning the standard and adopting their own platform. It is kind of a mess.

How does something like this possibly happen? In my opinion, it is a situation that plain and simply cannot be tolerated. If the IT function adopts a technology that the business rejects, then it is a necessity to find a technology that the business will accept. IT is a support function after all, not a police state. It is there strictly to support the requirements of the business, not dictate how the business will function.

Brother and sister CIO’s I implore you, please don’t declare a software package as a corporate standard until you have done an honest due diligence, and you have the business on board and involved in an educated decision. This is serious stuff, not to be decided based on politics, cronyism or technological purism. Nobody wins unless the technology supports the needs of the business as a first priority.

Selecting software to best fit the needs of the business can be a tricky exercise, especially with all the different options available. Look for an upcoming entry focused specifically on the process of evaluating and selecting CRM software to best satisfy the requirements of the business.

July 13, 2007

ADD or LDA?

I have been finding that it is quite in vogue for my clients to refer to themselves or to one of their functions as suffering from corporate ADD. While this affliction is not something to joke about for those who suffer its effects, I do find it commonly referenced in only partially teasing fashion within many of the organizations that I visit. No function within the enterprise is pointed to more commonly than sales.

You may think your sales function has Attention Deficit Disorder, but it is more likely Limited Discretionary Attention (LDA), the insufficient ability to give the requisite amount of attention to all the different issues that demand it. ADD implies the inability to stay focused due to incapability, but I think this is an unfair characterization for many of the sales functions that I advise.

These people are not incapable - to the contrary - they are often amazingly capable, but they have too much on their proverbial plates. It may appear that they can’t stay focused on the topic that you want to be the center of their attention. The problem is that you are competing with a bevy of other just as important topics, and they all require attending to now.

If you want to work successfully with functions encountering LDA, you have to learn how to work within this environment – it is not a disorder, it is a reality. I learned this lesson most potently when working with a global media company a while back. All of the executives had an array of video screens in their offices, monitoring most of the cable news stations. My time with these high-powered individuals was spent sharing their attention with news anchors across the channels. To be stopped mid-sentence was continuous. To have an exec bolt from the room shouting orders at handlers in the adjoining cubes just as I was about to get to the point was commonplace.

Kookie

This was their work environment, and I needed to adapt if I were to be effective. There are methods for making this work. Some suggestions you might consider to work effectively with your LDA function follow:

- Sound bites on steroids – if you want to get a point across, be brutally succinct, cut to the chase first, give detail second, don’t blather

- Solutions, not just problems – while this is important in a lot of places, the last thing you want to do is to point out a problem without a solution in your pocket (otherwise, you are the problem)

- Relevance, to the right person – raising something to somebody with LDA when the topic is important to you but not to them is the first step toward becoming noise

- Avoid becoming noise – you have a finite number of times to raise things, if you always sound the same and don’t vary your tune, you are officially noise

- Don’t take it personally – perhaps the hardest lesson to assimilate, but being ignored is not a sign of rudeness or your status, it is an indication of another priority getting attention instead of yours

April 13, 2007

The Bridges of CRM County

Would you like to get more from your consulting vendors? Don’t burn their bridges! So, what the heck does that mean? Let me offer a case for illustration.

I have a client where it is literally easier for me to get a meeting with the President of the North American business operations than it is for IT VPs to get on his calendar. And that upsets those hard working IT execs to no end. They have even resorted to attempting to block those meetings unless they are invited.

Gherkin Bridge

Well, let’s look into this a bit. When you hire a consulting firm to assist with initiatives such as CRM they will come in to the organization with a need to understand both business issues and technology solutions. These types of firms span both management and technology consulting expertise. As a result, they tend to develop connections to both sides of the organization, no matter which side brought them in.

Unfortunately, this ability to establish relationships with the business can be threatening to members of the IT staff. But this need not be the case. Good consultants serve as bridges between the business and IT. They bring in objectivity to a situation that can often be riddled with emotion. Many of my executive-level clients have become jaundiced toward the IT function, in some cases with good reason, and in some cases not. Either way, consultants can serve to bridge the chasm and, if permitted, assist with bridge building internally.

When IT execs feel threatened by their consultants the bridges are either prevented, blocked, or are attempted to be torn down. This is tragically counter productive. Most consulting firms are very sensitive to this difficult situation. They recognize they have multiple constituencies to satisfy and will find ways to assist all stakeholders to be successful. The best way to leverage consultants is to allow the bridges to be built and then build upon them further. This will enable IT to be in the best position to work as a partner to help achieve business objectives.

Use your consultants to your best advantage.

February 23, 2007

Triage

When I was in college my program was pre-med studies and as a result I constantly compare things to the field of medicine. It got so bad that I even wrote my master’s thesis using the metaphor of the organization as an organism. I can get out of control easily. It should not come as too big of a surprise that I often consider my business clients as ailing and in need of some type of organizational medicine.

Everyone has watched enough episodes of MASH or ER to have a firm grasp of the concept of the triage unit. These are the folks that determine which direction the injured go – quickly into emergency treatment, wait in line for the more critical to be attended, or passed along to clergy of one denomination or another for some version of the last rites. Seldom, but once in a while, a patient argues with the medical staff over the decision to be moved in one direction or another. I recently encountered one of those clients.

WTC Nightmare 1

In this particular case the recently implemented hosted CRM just wasn’t working. Nobody was using it the way that sales management had expected. It did not perform well. Accounts were often assigned to the wrong sales rep. And, nobody really acted like they cared if the system was utilized or not utilized. One sales agent stated during an interview that he stopped using it and nothing ever happened.

The client wanted emergency treatment - get this thing working better as quickly as possible to get user adoption up high. But when we asked what benefit high utilization would gain the company, the answer was, “Because we need utilization to be high to justify the investment!” With a bit more digging we discovered that we had a basic disconnect between the use of CRM and a business purpose for CRM to serve. It was a mystery to the users for sure. This lack of alignment between CRM and the business was just a symptom of other areas also lacking alignment.

The prescription for improvement was to get consensus among the management team to determine what purpose CRM was to serve for the business, how it will benefit the company and the user. Once this was clear and agreed the next step would be to set out a plan for accomplishing the goals, which would include some short term initiatives to address the usability problems. The treatment plan was calling for a comprehensive path to recovery – one that would take some effort on behalf of the patient to get better.

Unfortunately the treatment plan was rejected by the patient who only had tolerance for a quick bandage in order to get back out to the action. “We will make people use the system to give us a forecast – they will benefit from not having to do forecasting manually – that will drive utilization up fine without any of this other unnecessary planning. Just fix the usability and we will be fine.” This was the answer we got in return.

I don’t have any more of the case study to report since this all just transpired, but I don’t think the prognosis can be all that good. We have not attended to the factors that are causing the symptoms. I am hoping to get another chance to write out another prescription when the symptoms get worse

October 20, 2006

The Third Profession

When I get asked what I do for work during social encounters, and I am in a whimsical mood, I will often reply that I am in The Third Profession. Normally this invokes raised eyebrows. So, we all know the first profession, and the second is, without question, the legal profession. Much like hookers and lawyers, consultants are at the top of the list when it comes to making jokes about one’s profession – making consulting the third. I am accustomed to it, in fact, I just heard, for the thousandth time, someone tell the one about asking a consultant what time it is. What shocked me was that the individual repeating this joke acted like he was telling it for the first time and laughed hard as if it were really funny.

What is much worse about the jokes is that I have had many encounters with clients and prospective clients that act as if consultants are evil, as if I actually would steal their watch. Is this a deserved perception? Maybe – I have heard some horror stories, and I have cleaned up plenty of messes made by others. But I need to go on record saying that I know a monstrous number of consultants and nearly all are extremely decent and hard working people. I am happy to live with the jokes, but I think the attitude toward consultants hurts the clients more than the consultants. Consultants can and do provide critical value to companies in need of the right help.

Why do you need a consultant? I think there are three general circumstances that pretty much represent the wide array of reasons.
- Pair of hands – this is when you need help because you don’t have the time to address the issue – managing process change is an example
- Subject matter expert – this is when you don’t have the knowledge for addressing the issue – technology selection is a good example
- Change agent – this is when you need an objective outsider to help guide you through a change process – facilitating strategy development is a common example
- Combination – many situations warrant one or more of the three in combination – introducing a full SFA or CRM program is a great example

Under any of the above circumstances, utilizing an external consultant is likely going to have great pay back, helping you achieve your business objectives for a reasonable investment. In fact the ROI for the utilization of consultants is often highest compared to the use of other external professional resources because you are often causing an impact to your ability to grow, save costs, or improve your customer experience.

So how can you choose a consultant wisely? Having been on both sides of the table many times, I have some experience that leads to the following suggestions:
- Chemistry is huge – don’t ignore your feelings when you interview a consultant or a firm. If you don’t feel comfortable it means something. You are inviting people into your castle; don’t let them be barbarians.
- Date first – if you need help with a long engagement, find a way to start with a smaller, limited engagement to make sure the relationship is good. This will minimize your risk.
- References count – and examples are really good too. Ask for explanations of how they encountered similar problems as yours with past clients and ask them to describe the solution and outcomes. A consultant that can give multiple examples of problems, solutions, and outcomes has most likely got the right stuff.
- Bigger is not better – larger consulting firms do have a broader range of skills, and may have more flexibility in resourcing. However, they can have a tendency of filling your project team with junior people in order to learn at your expense. Smaller companies cannot afford unhappy clients and they tend to do everything they can to leave you satisfied.
- Cheaper is cheaper – be aware of the low cost provider because you do get what you pay for. Good consulting firms demand a premium because they are, well, good.

Consultants should not be confused with those who sell their services for pleasures of the flesh. It is OK to make the jokes, but when you hire a good consultant you are going to get a return on your investment, and it won’t need to be treated with antibiotics.

October 06, 2006

My Favorite Customers

During a recent initial meeting with a prospect I was asked, what are the typical characteristics of my favorite customers. I really love this question because it allows me to expound on a topic that I don’t usually have the license to discuss very often. Some people might say that they like well funded customers, and some prefer attractive or funny customers. I have even heard some consultants say that they prefer less experienced customers because it gives them more opportunity to mold their thinking. Not me – I prefer very experienced customers - the more scar tissue the better.

First, I should probably offer a short explanation of what I do for a living, which will provide some insight into the type of customers with whom I work. I am a management consultant, focused on business transformation, and I work with companies who are trying to improve the business outcomes they achieve from working with their customers. The company where I currently belong, Innoveer Solutions, is a CRM Consultancy. We help our clients work more effectively with their customers. I personally get involved with making recommendations to my clients regarding their CRM programs – how to best plan them, how to best implement them, how to best optimize them after implementation.

So, my definition of a good customer is one who heeds the advice I am being paid to provide, and, one who actually acts upon it. Please don’t think that I state this with unnecessary bravado or hubris – my job is to provide advisory services after all, and I do stick to topics I am experienced within. I don’t, for example, advise people how to invest company profit or how to avoid paying taxes.

What I have learned is that those customers who listen best and are most likely to act on my advice are those that already have had some experience with the nature of the advice, and their experience did not go as originally expected. These customers have learned that things can go wrong. They tend to be realistic. As a business transformation consultant, I am typically advising my clients how to complete an organizational change and the content of that advice is often focused on how to reduce risks. Experienced customers have seen that those risks are real and are more likely to listen to suggestions for their mitigation. Less experienced clients don’t always believe that the risks require the level of effort recommended and want to find ways to cut corners (which typically translates into cutting effort and costs).

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to offend anyone with overgeneralizations. I have worked with many good folks who were going through their first CRM journey and through establishing a good level of trust they have been very good at carefully following advice. However, overall, I do think that those with scars have a tendency to listen best. Having said all that, I will also add briefly that I do enjoy working with nice people, too.