Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Next Great Generation?

Running the risk of being viewed as single threaded in my posts I have decided to take this generational issue one more step. Our future lies not with “The Greatest Generation” or the “Baby Boomers”. It can be argued that they have done their part from an economic standpoint. It could also be argued that they fell short when it comes to real social change. The inventions, achievements and discoveries are extraordinary. Just to name a few:

  • Quantum Physics
  • Proliferation of modern computing power
  • Transistors and nano-engineering
  • DNA mapping for science and crime fighting
  • Commercialized Nuclear Reaction
  • Space Travel (manned space flight, Mars landing)
  • Lasers (light wave transmission and fiber optics)
  • Massive Government entitlement programs (from farmers to urban dwellers)

So what about the future? Who will carry the flag into the next battle? The Millennials as they call themselves? Now Neil Howe and William Strauss would have you believe that they’re the ones. I for one hope it’s true. In their book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation“ Howe and Strauss would have us believe Millennials are part of the generational cycle of four. That means that they will, according to the authors, as part of their rebellion, emphasize manners, modesty and old fashion courtesies. They will bring trust to politics, rebel against individualism and social ennui. Fundamentally right almost every wrong.

I don’t know that I would go that far. What I do believe is that in every generation there are those who stand out. My parents thought that long hair and rock and roll was going to end civilization, as they knew it. To some extent it did. But out of that rock and roll era came great minds and leaders. I expect that the Millennials will have the same impact. Some will rise to the top while most will continue along their chosen path without really giving much thought to the future, other than their own. I am just as concerned about this generation as my parents were concerned about mine. I was as outspoken about my parents as the Millennials are about theirs. Sure they irritate me at times, I irritated my elders. The key to their fame is in their passion. What are they passionate about?

American Millennials face a growing challenge to their greatness with competition from Asian and Indian Millennials. Overseas they are studying Physics, Math and Engineering in greater numbers. We are not. I have heard it said that their schools are not as good as ours. They will be. In the mean time they will just go to ours. Think about this, every year, China produces more university graduates than the US and 60 percent of them cannot find a job. The massive growth in their capitalistic societies will mirror the Golden Era of Capitalization in America during the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Every year since 2004 China has been building enough power plants to supply a major European country. They will gobble up every natural resource they can consume. Suppliers will be looking east for trade not the west. Currently the United States annually imports $200M worth goods more then it exports to China.

China has a population of about 1.3B. India has a population of around 1.1B. The combined population of Europe, Canada and the United States is only 1.1B. There is already a 350 million English-speaking, educated Indian workers. In China, an estimated 200 million people are learning English. There are only 250 million English-speaking Americans.

Millennials can meet this challenge. They must start to take control of their future. They will need the help of all of us. We need to nurture this generation into greatness. I don’t see a “rebellion to the light”. I see the natural evolution of a generation.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. - Anne Frank

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Web 2.0’s affect on Marketing

Web 2.0 was coined my O’Reilly Media in 2003 and has become many things to many people. Some would even say that it doesn’t really mean anything at all. Most would agree it is just the natural inflection point of the DOTCOM phase (Net 1.0) and what comes after it (Web 2.0). Over time is has come to mean a change in the direction of information on the web. The underpinnings are elements like social networking sites, wikis and folksomoies. In the past (Web 1.0) someone (supplier) would produce content, they would publish the content on a website and push the information out to the users (consumers). Web 2.0 is an attempt to formalize a symbiotic relationship between suppliers and consumers of information. (Great video tutorial on Web 2.0 ) Consumers can now become directly involved with content on the Internet. It is a two-way conversation with the original content provider. Blogs are perfect examples. Someone can post content and anyone who reads it can post a comment correcting or adding to anything that was originally posted. These comments bring clarity to the original content. Many times the comments have a stronger impact on readership and creditability, then the original post. Companies like ViTrue have launched a user-created advertising platform that allows companies to use a Web 2.0 approach for collaborative promotion development. The company (supplier) creates a marketing program around a subject. The consumer creates the content and posts it to ViTrue’s site. The supplier then uses, by virtue of user voting, the best of the user-supplied content in their promotional package. An interesting aspect is the extent that users propagate the content across the network without direct involvement by the originating company (viral marketing). ViTrue provides a vetting process that helps weed out undesirable content, which is a big distinction with sites like YouTube that have less control over user interaction.

Times Magazines “Person of the Year” is the consumer. And the consumer will continue to become more ingrained in the promotional process. Marketing is being driven toward the “Have it your way” approach to promotions. Many of us have Kroger or CVS cards that track what we buy. The card also allows the retailer to customize his or her promotions sent to each cardholder. For years major magazines have had regional publications to maximize advertising dollars within each market. This isn’t new stuff it is just more sophisticated. Self-serve gasoline has been around since the 1970’s. Self-server check out counters started being installed few years ago, we are now entering the self-server advertising era. We all thought that self-serve check out was a way of saving on employees, not providing better service (and it was for the most part). But now self-serve is part of our culture. Many people now prefer self-service to live cashiers.

Some day a cottage industry will sprout up of innovative aspiring producers that can have their creations aired by submitting them through a Web 2.0 portal. If their stuff gets voted to the top, they become the star. Marketing’s role this process will be to determine the direction of the ideation. They will also provide the vetting process to assure company standards are met. Traditional marketing will always have a place in the promotional mix. Web 2.0 may just give them more original material to work with.

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. -Mark Twain

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Greatest Generation

This Memorial Day I want to take a minute to recognize “The Greatest Generation”. My parents (Marian and Eugene Stevenson) are part of the greatest generation. My father served in the Navy during World War II. I’ll write more about him in a minute. Tom Brokaw labeled them The Greatest Generation in his book by that title. It generally refers to the generation born in the United States between 1911 and 1924. My parents were born toward the end of this span. They are also referred to as the GI Generation because of their involvement in World War II and the again in the Korean War. They were raised as post depression babies. Many lived through World War I, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, the Cold War, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and The Civil Right Movement. To them the War in Iraq is a cakewalk. Not that any war is to be minimized in its impact on the lives of the participants, both military and civilian. War is the last resort of civilized men. (I’m a-political so don’t rant at me.)

What made them “The Greatest Generation” was their commitment and self-sacrifice. They gave us the greatest economic boom the United States has seen in recent times (1950 – 1973). This has been noted as the Golden Era of Capitalism. They did it because they knew what it was like to be on the bottom fighting your way up. They knew the impact of dictatorships like Hitler and Mussolini and socialism in Russia and China. They put their early trust in government and community. They were the consummate team players. They rebuilt their vanquished foes after WWII. These good deeds would eventual come back to haunt them as Germany and Japan became industrial super powers taking many US jobs overseas. Through all of this they were the loyal backbone of this nation.

My Dad is a good example of this. He dropped out of high school to serve in the United States Navy during WWII. Much of his duty time was spend in the Japanese occupied Philippine Islands in a balsa minesweeper picking up fallen airman. As the Air Force flew raids on the Japanese, some would be shot down into the Pacific Ocean. The job of my dad’s crew was to hang out in the Philippine Island, pick up the fallen airman, and transport them to a waiting submarine. He talked about hiding out during the day in an inlet. Listening to the Japanese soldiers all around them. The Japanese were known for their cruel treatment of prisoners of war. At night they would head out to sea to pick up survivors. The amazing part of this story is that he did this in his teenage years, felt it was his duty, and has never felt the need to be repaid for the sacrifice. He didn’t feel it was a sacrifice. It was what Americans do for each other.

Living with this attitude of commitment and self-sacrifice, it is no wonder that his generation went on to such great heights. If our childhood was getting over the Great Depression and our adolescence was literally fighting for our life in enemy territory, what would be the risk in the business world? My father went on to earn a college degree in engineering without ever having finished high school. He was almost 80 when he first cashed in on the GI Bill. Up until then he didn’t feel the country owed him anything for his military service. Finally the cost of medication forced him to fill his prescription through the VA.

We are arguably the greatest nation on this globe. To wake up in the morning and know that today we don’t have to worry about the very basic elements like food, clothing, or shelter. Our standards are very high. My wife and I just watched “Blood Diamonds” which takes place in Sierra Leone. We both have problems realizing that others live their entire lives in this sort of a bloody and violent environment. There will always be people in need here and abroad. We should always be compassionate and help these people when possible. Because all in all we have it good. We owe all of this to the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

I can’t help but add this note: All that is left for Americans is the top two layers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; esteem and self-actualization. Because we have not had to suffer as other generations have, to gain and protect our freedoms we don’t fully appreciate what it is like to be without. We sit and whine rather than get up and do….

I would like to take this Memorial Day to thank “The Greatest Generation” and especially my parents. We owe what we have to their sacrifice and determination.

Thank you Mom and Dad

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sales Innovation

Life is accelerating. Product life cycles are shrinking. Corporations must re-invent themselves every 3.5 years. Innovation is not a nice-to-have but a must-have. Historically new product development has been driven by marketing or engineering. There are several levels of innovation within new product development; brand new earth shattering products, major improvements of existing products, re-positioning existing products and cost refinement. At any given point most of these should be in play within your product portfolio. All of them have a price tag.

What I want to talk about is sales innovation. Whatever your sales force is selling today will be obsolete in just a couple of years. How they are selling will become obsolete just as fast. This isn’t a marketing problem or an engineering problem. It’s a sales problem. Sales need to apply the same methodology to sales innovation that marketing and engineering apply to product innovation. Here are the key steps:

Ideation (brainstorming)

The Product Development organization will spend anywhere from hours to days just brainstorming ideas. Sales organizations need to think the same way. Either as an individuals or as a group during sales meeting you need to take time to talk about new approaches to sales, underutilized markets, or sales strategies that need tweaking. The idea is not to filter these ideas but put them all on the table. The more the merrier. Later you can group them into subject areas. Now be responsible for following through.

Concept Development

This phase is a weed out phase. Collect as much third party information you can on the viability of the idea groups. Use the Internet, publications, friends or any other easy to access source. The goal is to identify the next BHAG by eliminating the dogs. There are a number of selection criteria such as consistency with corporate vision, greatest net new revenue volume, highest potential Gross Margin, length of sales cycle, shortest time-to-market, etc. You have to know your priorities. From a sales innovation standpoint you are not looking for R&D dollars and a long product ramp. You are looking at an evolutionary process, incremental improvement to the way you sell.


So you have found a couple of ideas that seem to have merit. You are still in the weed out phase. Do you have creditable primary research (ie. Customer testimonials, steering committees notes, marketing feedback from research) that supports the need to move forward? Do you have the core competencies to execute? Is there time, budget, and resources to be successful? Whereas concept development may rely on some subjective information, validation should be much more objective. Do the numbers make sense? Do I know the details of what I have to accomplish. If it were an R&D project you would have to have detailed specifications of requirements. Think in terms of that philosophy.


This is peddle-to-the-metal time. The best projects spend 80% of their effort putting together the specifications of what needs to be accomplished so that only 20% of the effort is used for actual development. If this breakdown of effort is reversed there is every chance that development will require re-work, re-work cost time and money, and you will miss your market window for execution.


They key to this phase is preparation, preparation, preparation. Are all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted? Is there a specific plan for go-to-market? Are you providing all the tools required to be successful?

I great place to learn more about this is through Ken Westra’s New Product Development trainings found at

Keep in mind this is sales innovation, not new product development. What is within your control? Your goal is to move your sales organization toward the next natural position in their evolution. What are innovations to look for?

New Geography

Are there pockets within your existing territories that are not being exploited? Are there territories that are not covered? Is there a way to effectively expand to these areas?

New Client Profile

Can you go up market or down market? Is there an approach that will provide a valid value proposition to larger prospect or smaller prospects? Can you go deeper and wider within existing accounts?

New Industry

Are there industry specific solutions that can be emphasized? Can you put together a capture team targeted toward specific job titles or work processes with an industry?

New Product Approach

Can you re-position an existing product with a new pricing model? Do your customers talk of unexpected benefits of owning your product? Is that an opportunity? Can you target ancillary products in the market that will benefit from your product? Can you build relationships with those vendors?

The key is that the outcome must first of all have a positive impact on results and second be repeatable. One-off initiatives, unless they have long lasting benefits, are expensive and send mixed signals to the sales force. One-offs have a tendency to detract from success not add to it. You may see a short term bump to results, but long term it just might be a distraction.

Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship... the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. - Peter Drucker

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sales Good to Great

The role of a consultative sales person has three distinct attributes. First of all they have to be a business consultant, second they have to be a strategic partner and finally an ally. Let’s look at these three roles. In the role of a business consultant the sales person has to be more concerned about the business health of the client then making a sale. Those who practice true consultative selling know this. Most product sales people think consultative selling is trapping the customer into buying by using their own words against them. During the interview process it is easy to weed these people out of the hiring process. Just ask them to explain the methodology they used to uncover the value of the business problem they used their product to address. They can’t do it. The client did all this before the sales person got there. I believe the best way to be a true consultative sales person is to throw your product knowledge away for the first sales call. Don’t worry about the solution until you understand the problem. Literally put yourself in the shoes of the client and try to find out what you would need to know to understand the magnitude of the problem if it was your problem.

Once you know the nature of the problem and the value of the problem you can begin to address it. If you have a commodity product and you are trying to take a consultative approach, what you are selling is service(s). You can’t differentiate the product. Generally speaking if you have a product that is in the later stages of the product life cycle, the client isn’t going to give you the time to engage in consultative selling. They know what they want; they generally have already applied the benefits to the organization. They are just looking for a price. You’ve got to find an angle to rise above this. It can only be done with service (s). Don’t be afraid to walk away from something that is not in your sweet spot. You will save your client, your company and yourself time and money. But take this opportunity to recommend another product or company that might more closely fit their needs. It will pay dividends in the long run.

The role of strategic partner is tricky. Being a strategic partner is not negotiating a volume discount. You really have to take the time to know their business and position yourself as a trusted advisor. There are no short cuts to this. If you are the type of sales person who does not call on a client unless you are looking for a sale, you will never be seen as a strategic partner. Not going to happen. You have to take the time to read their 10K’s and news releases. Use your network to help them fill positions. Understand what they see in other vendors they do business with. Understand which vendors they see as strategic and why. Seek their input on new product initiatives. You know you are getting to this level of trust when you spend a great deal of time talking about corporate initiatives and next years budget in stead of status of purchase orders and pricing.

The third role is easy for most good sales people. That is the role of ally or customer advocate. The tricky part is to understand what battles are worth fighting. You are an employee of the company, but you also have the responsibility to be the customer advocate. Where do you draw the line? The best way to help solve this dilemma is to understand the product roadmap of your company and the capabilities of internal resources. Capabilities does not mean what they can accomplish if time and money were not an issue. It means based on known workload and priorities what can reasonably be expected. If you advocate a position for your client that is a losing position, or will require undue stress to accomplish, you have tarnished your client's perception of your ability to get things done. You may win the battle but lose the war.

So how do you start down this path? It starts with the first impression. Always dress one-step above what you think is required. Psychologically this gives you an advantage. Plus it is better to error on the side of too much than too little. If you think your client will be put off by a tie then one of two things are true; the industry (construction, farming, etc.) is tie adverse and the one-step above rule still applies (sport coat, no tie) or the person you are talking with is not a player. If the later is true, move up the food chain. So you’ve made it through the door, you’ve read their 10K and their news releases, now what? Ask smart questions and take the time to actively listen to the answers. Ask questions that make the client think and draw conclusions. If you ask your client questions you could have answered simply by going to their Web site, how intelligent or hard working does that make you look? Now a phenomenon is going to happen. You will ask a question and not get a very quick monosyllable answer. You will be met with silence. Don’t help the client by suggesting answers. Let’s not make it multiple-choice. Give them time to think over the question and construct a meaningful answer. Silence is a good thing. Also listen closely to the answer, don’t use the time to construct your next question. This isn’t speed dating. If you need another head on the call to pull this off, bring one.

The skill to pull this off is not spontaneously acquired. It is developed over time and through preparation. If you are a shoot from the hip type of sales person you may earn a very good living, but nothing close to your potential. Collins stated in the book “Good to Great”, the enemy of Great is Good. If you start to believe you are good, you may never be great. Achieving nirvana as a sales person is a journey not a destination.

Consciousness is a phase of mental life, which arises in connection with the formation of new habits. When habit is formed, consciousness only interferes to spoil our performance. - W. R. Inge

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Winning is the Science of being Prepared

I thought I would give credit where credit is due. I picked this quote up as my tag line about a decade ago. The actual quote is “Winning is the Science of being Totally Prepared” said by George Herbert Allen, NFL coach. I stress George HERBERT Allen because there are a number of George Allen’s. George Herbert’s son was George Felix Allen, senator from Virginia. George Felix got into some controversy during his failed re-election attempt in 2006. So please do not think I have a political agenda in this. I don’t.

Back to the main point: why this quote? There were several things I could relate to. First it is short and catchy. This makes it easy to remember. Nothing could be worse then forgetting your own tag line. Second of all, I believe it. I have never been much for embracing the victim mentality that pervades society. I truly believe there are victims in the world and plenty of them. But I feel their plight is diluted by large groups of people who feel that they are victims when actually they are just seeing the natural results of their actions. This group desensitizes society toward the real victims. The upper echelon victimologist have learned to chose antagonist outside of their control like the weather, economy, government, or heredity. All of these can have a negative impact on the direction of your life. Back to the quote: if we are prudent we can take action to mitigate the risk of any of these and other forces on our lives. That is not to say we can have a serene life void of conflict and stress. We just don’t have to be a victim of our circumstances anymore.

Here is one of many examples; you work for a company that is not performing up to industry expectation. You’re an individual contributor and can’t directly affect the path of the company. You have no real reason to believe the company will downsize anytime soon. If you are the normal person in the workforce you just keep working. You believe if you perform at or above expectations all will go well, for you anyway. It’s only fair, right. Life is seldom fair. Quite frankly if most of us got what we deserved we would be worse off for it. So BANG one day the hammer falls; lay-offs, downsizing, right sizing, repositioning, re-inventing, you name your poison. And guess what, your name is called. They decide to cut back in your department or your location, nothing to do with performance. If your skills are germane only to your specific job at your company and you have let your personal network grow stale, you might start to feel like a victim. But, had you started to protect yourself by upgrading your skills and maintaining your network of contacts, the impact would be much less. In the process you might have found yourself protected by the company as a more valuable asset. You might have gotten another job before the hammer fell. At a minimum you would have greatly reduced the pain involved with transition. This strategy applies even if your company is doing well but the industry as a whole is going through a transition or even the economy of your geographic area.

As examples go losing your job is a big one, what about a smaller example. You’re going to see a potential new client. You’ve got no idea of the potential lifecycle value of the prospect if they become a client. One of the big pitfalls most sales people get into at one time or another is giving the client a great solution just to be under bid by a competitor. Generally, this happen when the solution precedes the relationship. People buy from people they trust. No relationship, no trust. So if you are aware of all of these things what are you going to do about it? Great sales people, and I mean the top 1%, would not only analyze the prospect’s business before they got there, they would analyze the competition. Is there a competitor already engaged with the prospect? Can you find out the competitive salesperson's name and their relationship with the prospect? You know that you can’t just charge in and save the day. It doesn’t work that way. You need to establish a new relationship before you can replace an existing relationship. Two other cardinal rules apply. First, to replace an incumbent you need to have a three to one benefit advantage. Second when trying to overcome a competitor you first must establish that you are every bit as good as them before you present your advantages. Otherwise the prospect smells a bait-and-switch coming on.

Now you know the rules. You did your homework. You understood and prepared for the potential outcomes. If the prospect loves you from the start and never looks back, great. If competition moves in on your deal, you won’t be the victim.

I wish I knew where I got this, but I don’t so we will call it an urban legend. If you spend 30 minutes a day learning something new you will be a subject matter expert in that subject in less than five years. Be prepared, don’t be a victim of your circumstances.

“Winning is the Science of being Totally Prepared” - George Herbert Allen, NFL coach

Monday, May 21, 2007

Most-Praised Generation

There was a good article in the Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey Zaslow concerning the attitudes of the 20-somethings. The article in itself was well written, although I thought it painted with a broad brush. Probably one of the most interesting aspects was the large number of comments. This Blog site does not support TrackBack, so I will just add my comments separate from the original post.

Last time I looked there was over 100 comments posted. They ranged from 20-somethings that felt the 50-ish were not pulling their weight and still getting the big bucks to the non-20-somethings that felt the 20-somethings were a bunch of whiners (lazy and narcissistic in nature). There seemed to be a lot of unhappiness. There also seemed to be an undercurrent that all CEO’s were overpaid and should be jailed for theft. The majority opinion was that the up bringing of this particular generation lead them to want and need more positive reinforcement then previous generations. As they grew up, they got pats on the heads for just showing up and don’t understand why it doesn’t continue. My belief is that generalizations tend to not hold water over time.

Most 20-somethings of any generation don’t know what they don’t know. Most fresh-outs don’t even know what a manager does. They don’t appreciate that the manager most likely made the decision to hire them either directly or indirectly by approving the hiring plan. If it weren’t for the management growing the company they would not have a job to complain about.

I also think that it is valid that the entry level positions don’t get recognized for their contribution as much as more senior employees. This is due in part to their newness. The new employees aren’t politically connected because they haven’t established value. Once they start to prove themselves, their stock goes up and they have more value. People start to take notice.

What about this perception that all CEO’s are overpaid? This seemed to be a rally point for both sides. What about the value of non-business people? The minimum income required to make the Top 50 List in sports in 1994 was $5M. In 2004, just ten years later it was $15M. (Celebrities) That’s a 300% increase in 10 years. Payton Manning made $45M at age 28. Shaquille O'Neal made a paltry $32M. Tom Cruise made $45M. The Olsen twins made $28M. Now none of these people contributed to the employment for anyone other then themselves. You might be able to argue that they all have supporting casts, but that is a stretch. The Owners or Producers create those opportunities. None of these celebrities set strategy or budgets, or managed organizational P&L’s. They are individual contributors. All of them are talented, but $45M to play football for one year? No one seems to get to upset over the compensation paid celebrities.

Compare this to the likes of Steven Jobs who made $646M, (the highest paid CEO) but that was all in the capital appreciation from 500M shares of Apple Computer (that’s about $1.30 per share). (CEO) He took no salary. Michael Dell made $154M, with almost $150M coming from his 5,367M shares of Dell Computer. Without the stock appreciation he only got paid $3.7M. The medium income for the top 500 CEO’s in the United States was $5.6M including all incentives. These people are responsible for hiring ten’s of thousands if not hundred’s of thousands of people. They bring wealth to stockholders. Now they may not bring wealth to every stockholder every time, but over time the DOW has continued to rise.

CEO’s are responsible for the employment growth in the United States. They set the pace for their companies. They are held responsible for the stock appreciation that helps not only individual investors but also all of our 401K’s. In most cases they represent products that we can elect not to buy if we feel so inclined. We don’t have to contribute to what we may feel is their disgraceful income. The top 500 CEO earn a medium income less than the top 500 Celebrities.

Are there issues, sure there are. 20-somethings need a break and they need to give one too. None of us needs to paint with that wide brush we so often see in the media. Some CEO’s are doing a great job in very difficult situations. Others are not. Some 50-ish’s are not carrying their weight and need to be replaced. But most employees are trying to live up to expectations. Most do not get as much positive reinforcement as they desire. That goes for managers too.

We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess. – Mark Twain

ROI (Return on Influence)

There is nothing new here folks. Actually as time goes by I find fewer and fewer original ideas. This is particularly true for technology. Names change, underlying physics stays the same. The reason it is on my mind is not because it is a new concept that I can exploit for my personal gain, it’s because it is a very old concept undergoing a technology upgrade. Interestingly enough, like most technology upgrades, it makes networking faster, more convenient, easier to do and more impersonal. The later really bothers me in this case.

For the first 100 years social networking was constantly on the rise. We were joining and contributing to more and more organizations and groups. Over the last 25 to 30 years this trend has reversed. Look at this proof; Organizational membership is on the rise, but attendance at meetings has dropped 58%, having dinner as a family has dropped 33%, having friends over has dropped 45%. Working from home is on the rise. And we are unhappier for it. Clinical depression has grown ten fold over the last thirty years to what many consider is at an epidemic level. Younger people are unhappier than older people. This too is a reversal in historic trends. (Bowling Alone, Robert Putman)

As a sales person using an index card file as their Rolodex, it required effort. The sales person made an investment in every person they entered. I’ve actually never done this; when I learned excel the investment dropped to my level. The next phase was to get more impersonal by scanning a business card, no typing required, but the sales person normally still had to make physical contact to get the business card. Better yet, now the sales person can invite another person to their LinkedIn connections and let them enter the information no physical contact required. David Nour of Relationship Economics, The Des Moines Register, Self Magazine and many other publications have all trumpeted the value of LinkedIn for networking. LinkedIn reached 10 Million users in April of this year. We can have hundreds of connections without actually getting directly connected with anyone. Now there’s a concept.

At work, IM (instant messenger) has even taken the place of the quick walk down the hall or fast phone call. I am always interested when employees IM each other two cubes away. I have been on IM exchanges when I finally had to tell the person “we should meet over this”. We send e-mail to blackberries or laptop computers to have instant access. We are better connected with our peers and counterparts then ever before. We know the names of more people, from more places than our parents would have even dreamed of knowing. "Rob Cross and Andrew Parker, in The Hidden Power of Social Networks, researched the factors that contribute to the effectiveness of the most successful executives, and discovered a consistent trait: successful executives not only had very large networks, which we might have supposed was a given, but more importantly, those networks were extremely diverse, involving people in many disciplines."

But we seem to have fewer real relationships. Many of us live in an urban environment where we don’t know much about our neighbors. We change jobs every few years. When we leave, we leave most of the relationships we built over our tenure there. When someone quits our employer or move away from the neighborhood we lose touch. We’ve got all the names and contact information. We just don’t make contact.

My parents were concerned about my social skills because I grew up in front of a television. The good news was that I needed to interact with other kids if I wanted to play team games (baseball, football, tag). Today many kids play games over the Internet. Home schooling and online education is growing. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against any of this. I’m just curious. Humans are social animals. We seem to be evolving into less social animals.

At what point do we lose our desire, and hence our ability, to relate to each other has human beings. This is not an altruistic concern. People buy from people. People buy from people they trust. At what point do I start to lose the value proposition that is “me”? When does “me” become a commodity? Over a lifetime the ability to create and nurture meaningful relationships has a real ROI (Return on Influence). It is tangible and valuable. It is not manipulative.

Pick up the phone and call someone…

Intimate relationships cannot substitute for a life plan. But to have any meaning or viability at all, a life plan must include intimate relationships. - Harriet Lerner

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Do we start with an exit strategy in mind?

I am an incredible advocate of personal responsibility. I was driven this way early in my career. I had made the Presidents Club at AT&T and was subsequently promoted to Sales Manager… Another Blog for another day… Since I thought I was so good, I assumed that I had all the answers. If one of my Account Executive was having a problem, I told them what to do and made sure they did it. If my plan didn’t work, they came back into my office and sat there until I came up with the next move. I was working 25 hours a day and losing ground. My group was under-performing. I was responsible because it was my plan.

John McAllister, my mentor at the time and a great man, helped me to let go of my control issues. The performance of the group went up and I got to go home once in a while. The real point is that there seems to be a growing movement to avoid accountability. More and More people are willingly giving up the right to determine their future. We are a victim-based society in which our employer, or the government, or the economy, or our socio-economic heritage is keeping us from living our dreams. The reality is we are keeping ourselves from living our dreams. We don’t take the time to think about the next step and what we need to do to prepare for it. If someone is willing to make decisions for us, we sit in their office and wait for the next move.

Do we start with an exit strategy in mind?

The great serial-entrepreneurs do. Many times they have a target market for the sale of their company before they even start. They court these prospects throughout the life cycle. They make their company attractive to these entities before the entity thinks it has a need. No matter what your vocation, you are a company of one. Companies re-invent themselves every 3.5 years on average. You should also. What is your exit strategy for the job you are currently in? Maybe it’s a promotion or a lateral move to another department. What skills do you need for the next phase? If you are unexpectedly laid-off, downsized, fired, or replaced, are you prepared? Do you have a network in place consisting of caring business relationships or do you just have a list of names? Have you joined the right associations that will get you connected to the right opportunities? Have you identified what those opportunities look like? Are your skills current and can you prove it?

We all are a company of one. Unlike our parents, we will change jobs often, sometimes because we chose, sometime because the choice was made for us. In either case it can be a god-sent. Rusty Gordon, CEO of Knowlegant, described his approach toward termination as “giving the employee an opportunity to find a job they will excel at.” I think that is true. But if you have a victim mentality, this is just one more set back. But if you have already started executing your exit strategy, then this might be just the incentive you need to step it up to the next level.

“If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.” - Philip Crosby, Reflections on Quality

Winning is the Science of being Prepared

Televisions Unite

WOW look out future…I had the privilege of going on a tour of Turner Broadcasting Systems R&D facilities. The Technology Association of Georgia arranged this for a small group of members. If you live in Georgia, work in the field of technology, and don’t belong to TAG, shame on you. Our host was Dan Darling the CIO and Alastir Hamilton, Corporate Senior Vice President, Head, Platform Research & Development. A great big thank you for all the effort Turner put into this. It was great.

Now I am sworn by a double secret handshake not to reveal what Turner is up to but it will blow your socks off. Maxwell Smart, your shoes won’t be the coolest anymore. What I can discuss is the general trends in media and the perceived impact it will have on my life. I can’t be more specific then that. First of all about two years ago I started the move to HDTV. I have a 50” Samsung DLP that I love. I use an outside antenna to pick up all of the local channels in high resolution HDTV. It’s wonderful. By the way I live about 30 miles outside of Atlanta and I still get great reception. I am struggling with the cost and infrastructure issues of propagating this technology throughout the house. With attenuation of the antenna signal for long runs I don’t think I can use over-the-air. So I may be stuck with a larger satellite bill or worse yet cable. I use Direct TV today and am happy with the NSTC digitized picture.

3D movies have been around for some time. Most of us have seen them either at the theater or an amusement park like Disney World. Typically we are asked to don 3D glasses to make the effects stand out. If you have been to the Disney World Haunted House you have seen projected 3D. During the ride you can see the ghosts in what would appear to be three dimensions. On March 30, 2007, Disney released the first truly wide release of an animation film in digital 3D. Quietly in 2002, Japan started the 3D monitor movement with the introduction of production grade 3D monitors. A little over a year ago the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) demonstrated that they can create a three dimensional image in air using optoelectronics.

The short-term market for 3d technology seems to be CAD, Healthcare and gaming. The benefits of three-dimensional viewing in these fields are enormous. These market will eventual drive down cost and make three-dimensional TV a reality. Hollywood is already recording in 3D and has been for some time. Content is being made available. Reuters ran an article on March 29, 2007 stating that Hollywood was willing to bet on 3D making them money.

So here is the real question for us consumers…. How long will my investment in HDTV last? The first commercial telecast of a color television program was in 1951. That is the last time we as consumers had to concern ourselves with broadcast technology until High-Definition. Three-Dimensional Television will not wait 50 years. My guess is that there are commercial market drivers that will get it here in less than 15. I have TV’s older than that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Personal Sales Plan

Here is an interesting question: “Do you have a personal sales plan for the year?” The reason I ask is this, I have been managing sales people for almost two decades and in that time I have encounter very few sales executives that take the time to develop a personal sales plan. What does almost everyone do? They take the quota given them by the company they work for, they read the compensation plan developed by the company for the benefit of the company and they figure out how to make a living. This seems counter intuitive to me. As the Buddhist monk reportedly stated, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

The best sales people know when accelerators kick in and maximize their effort to make over target income. These people many times completely ignore the myriad of advice they have been given concerning a balanced personal and business life. They feel money will buy happiness. It doesn’t buy happiness it just eliminates some unhappiness.

I start out every year having my sales people write a Personal Sales Plan. It starts backwards…what do you want to earn this year? According to the Compensation Plan how much do you have to sell and of what? What’s the average value of a sale? How many sales do you have to make to meet your goal? What’s your specific close ratio? How many proposals do you have to write to close the right number of sales? And so on down to the specific lead generation active you need to engage in to have qualified prospect for proposals.

Of course this means that you have to do something sales people, right up to the executive level, hate to do, a little book keeping. Keep a simple Excel worksheet of exactly what you are doing. Compare it with your plan. Are your ratios correct, are your averages high or low, is the activity level where it needs to be? Make adjustments on a monthly basis. Make sure you can measure each tracking element. If you don’t have access to the information, you can’t validate your performance. The whole plan becomes meaningless.

It is easier to manage your personal life if you understand where your business life is heading. If you know you want to go to the cape during the summer, you look at your Personal Sales Plan, accelerate some activities, and go on vacation knowing it’s all taken care of.

“Good plans shape good decisions. That's why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true” - Lester R. Bittel, The Nine Master Keys of Management
Winning is the Science of being Prepared