The Sales Coach Blog presented over 200 articles in 2012 and it received close to 30,000 visitors in that period. April to June was when the blog hit the purple patch, it was an inflection point; readership regularly hit 100+ per day from that period onwards. In Dec 2012 there was a slowdown because I had not posted any article after Dec 8th – the next one only appeared on Jan 1, 2013; concomitantly there was a huge dip in readership, from almost 4000 in Nov 2012 it crashed to 1700 in Dec 2012. I have it all to do in 2013.
Based on number of readers these are the Top-5 articles:
No.1 spot is taken by the 2nd and concluding article of the Negotiation Case Study I presented in May, 2012.
Then came the one on qualification of Prospects – how to make realisitic Sales Forecasts:
What I had to say about letting go off the past and moving on struck a chord with a lot of my readers:
Most people don’t realise that one needs to be assertive to be successful in life – I made a strong case for it here:
And finally, the one that should be on top of the list; actually this article got the highest number of hits but the analytics on WordPress also tells me that a lot of people reached the article after having Googled for the photo, not the text!! So I hesitantly put it down at No.5
A special mention for this next article because it got the highest number of responses from my readers – there were 17 comments in response to this article and one even had a follow-up comment. The topic discussed was Courtesy and Manners and its a hotly debated one in recent times. Almost everyone has something to say about it and that’s reflected in the number of responses I got:
I look forward to your support, feedback and comments in 2013.
P.S: This was the article posted on the day the blog got its highest ever readership – the topic was Career Guidance for young professionals:
There were 201 visitors on that day – it was the 3rd time the Sales Coach Blog hit 200 in a single day – however the visitors were not here to read this article and hence it doesn’t feature in the Top-5.
Walking into the flagship store in town, of one of India’s leading coffee franchises, I witnessed this sight. Well, they said that a lot can happen over a cup of coffee, but I was not expecting this from a brand that took pride in taking coffee drinking experience to another level in this country.
I checked with the Service Team and was told that there is no storage space at the back of the store and while I was there they even walked up to boxes to extract material needed to prepare the items ordered. I wouldn’t be peturbed witnessing such a sight at a Dhaba, but it irked me to see it happening here.
I am sure the marketing team of this organisation took great pains to design each element that constituted the brand and the layout of every outlet would have been detailed to create maximum impact. But did they foresee this?
At the organisations I worked the constant message heard was that the brand is sacrosanct and can’t be tampered with. Young marketing team members incurred the wrath of the senior managers for not getting the colours and layout right in the promotional material. Colour settings, fonts and the relative sizes of the logo and brand name had to be just right – no latitude; and deviations were dealt with severely!
But the same Managers did not flip when they walked into a branded store of the company and found boxes containing promotional material stacked in an ugly pile where customers and other visitors could see it – sometimes right next to the door!
The upkeep of the customer reception area reflected the company’s ethos, its DNA and revealed the mood that prevailed among the team members. It had to be clean, easily accessible and pleasing on the eye.
If the glow-sign displayed outside the store was broken and unkempt and not lit at night customers didn’t need to be told that things are not all-right inside. No employee of the organisation should permit this to happen.
The least this coffee franchise could have done was to stack the boxes in a neat pile and cover it with a decent piece of cloth so that it did not present an ugly sight to the visitors. In fact this pile also caused some inconvenience to customers who wished to take the cosy corner seat next to the window. They had to step over a box to get there. What was the impression they were creating? This team had obviously forgotten the Moments of Truth concept.
I don’t wish to say it all; what thoughts do you wish to share on this subject?
One for the road – Black & Straight: Imagine taking the last sip from a cup of coffee you relished and the dregs flow into your mouth!
The clock has ticked over, past the midnight hour, to usher in another new year … for some it announces the beginning of a new business period and for others it is time to renew their resolve and put into practice the long-overdue plans and promises.
Last year on this date the blog presented Sales Resolutions – the article discussed the essentials of a game-plan for success in Sales. While I believe that Business Plans can & should have definite Start-Date and End-Date (for better focus) I don’t think personal resolutions need to be linked to a date unless there is a concrete reason for starting later. I am speaking in particular about resolutions that are set aside for commencement on January 1st, on one’s birthday or even on some other person’s birthday – it just does not make sense to me.
I made a business call today – although most private companies are closed (to permit the late night parting and revelry that their employees usually get involved in to usher in the New Year) there are many large organizations, particularly the ones in the Government Sector, that work on Jan 1st.
I sought out one such, where I had been hoping to make a breakthrough for a while, and fixed an appointment. The idea was not to fulfill a resolution, but to be productive on the very first day of the year and to keep the trend going right through the year. It was a case of doing the necessary at the earliest – I also made sure that there was no late night partying on New Year’s Eve in order to be fresh and alert for the business visit. The call was a huge success and it gave me great satisfaction – I can afford to party now, but I won’t, because it isn’t a priority.
You may say that resolutions have their symbolism too; maybe so, but why link them to dates, essentially ones that cause inordinate postponement.
“I will stop smoking on my father’s birthday.”
“I intend to be nice to customers from next New Year’s day.”
“I promise to stop drinking from my Patron Saint’s birthday.”
And I fail to see the connection.
If you think it is important then the time to stop drinking and smoking and the time to be good to your customers is NOW / TODAY, not a date in the future!
We are not trying to make a symbolic gesture and such measures are usually not effective or worthwhile. If it is important then drop everything else and do the needful.
On Dec 8th my blog had started its 2nd year. I had posted 2 articles on that date – one by myself and another written by a close friend, who is a Guest Relations expert. Since then the blog has not seen any new additions.
What is the impact?
- The readership built up in the last one year has eroded; the blog is languishing. It is also possible that some of them would have lost interest or have gone elsewhere in search of reading material.
- The energy that went into the creation of articles is missing – the reasons for not writing were genuine, not excuses, but still it caused a dilution of interest and effort. It would seem to readers that this effort is of secondary importance.
- The dialogue, and the Connect, that had developed between the writer and the reader has been lost; the writer now needs to redouble his effort to return to the old level.
- Instead of reaching a new level at the commencement of the new period the engagement and the pace has been lost.
The lack of new articles had nothing to do with resolutions – I went through a hectic 10-period of work which called for focused effort and then I decided to take a break to spend time with the family; both caused a cessation in my writing efforts.
While the reasons mentioned above are legitimate and permissible I am just offering another thought:
- I could have written a few extra articles in the more relaxed period earlier and built up a buffer that would help me tide over the busy period. I could have kept the drafts of the articles ready and just posted one every alternate day to keep the readership alive.
- I could have included a few more Guest Articles, interspaced with my own work, and ensured new material for the readers.
These are just some ideas I wish to throw into your head about planning and resolving to get things done. While making resolutions one needs to check whether the postponement could cause more damage and call for a much larger effort than what would be required if one were to start immediately. Would the delay also lead to a drop in resolve and cause one to falter?
- What is the business impact of delays, postponements and drop in intensity of effort?
- How does one buffer for the period of one’s absence? Can some pre-work cover up for it?
- How does one keep the engagement with the customer at a high round the year?
It’s important that we think about these issues to keep business going onward … and ahead!
I used to read a lot – it was fiction most of the time and the love affair with tales had started early in life. My siblings and I were encouraged by our parents to read as much as possible. We read every book we could lay our hands on. I guess we were fortunate that the TV was a relatively unknown and expensive gadget those days – the ubiquitous radio belted out the latest songs and brought us news. Computers and the World Wide Web were things that we read about in Scientific Journals and Sci-fi books and the mobile phone as we know it today had not been invented yet. So other than fun and games with our friends and stories from our parents books were our permanent companions.
That liking for words has remained strong throughout and somewhere along the way came the desire to express myself in words. Though I usually wrote essays a few poems have escaped from my pen – I would be terribly embarrassed to show them to anyone today. And I was not very systematic or determined those days – so that desire to write remained on simmer most of the time. When I started working people discovered this ability and asked me to compose business letters and some of my dad’s friends asked me to help their kids write essays.
And then the skill went into cold storage for an extended period till four years ago when someone suggested that I start a blog to express my thoughts. Thus commenced my first attempt at blogging – the articles presented at the blog on Blogspot were interpretations of current news and things I observed. After a while the fire died and the blog went into a long slumber – it remains dormant even today.
The current productive spell got sparked when I was in Oman. A bit more than a year ago, over a coffee at Qurum City Centre, Muscat, I was discussing ways to get myself established as a Trainer / Consultant – across the table sat my new friend Shantanu Sengupta. We got connected on LinkedIn and decided to meet each other to discuss strategies to get entrenched in the Oman market – like me he was new there too. It was Shantanu who stuck a lit matchstick between my toes and jump-started this blog. No, he didn’t actually torture me to get this blog going but he fired my imagination by creating a wonderful picture of what the blog can do for my practice. Shantanu didn’t let it go at that – he made me set targets and list down topics that I would write on. He even helped to choose the blog design and fine-tuned the layout. No amount of thanks would be enough for the help he provided.
It was Shantanu who hit the Like button first when articles were presented and posted encouraging comments to keep me interested and motivated – he shared feedback and useful tips too.
A few months after the Sales Coach blog got going I left Oman to resettle in India and he moved to Delhi. But Shantanu kept checking on my progress and gave many more useful tips. The last few months he has got stuck into a new job and the responsibilities of parenting and I have not been hearing from him so often.
The push he provided a year back and the vision he created remain alive and exciting – I enjoy writing and remain committed to doing it regularly. I may not have written an article a day as initially planned nor did I write short articles as suggested, but write regularly I did. In the last 365 days I have presented 243 articles including this one.
Shantanu had made me me activate one more useful and important feature to promote the blog – A Page on Facebook. Thus started the Sales Coach Blog page on Facebook in Feb 2012, a little over 2 months after the blog was launched.
That Page became the main platform to promote the blog on Social Media and it has 173 subscriber now. I post links to the articles on Indiblogger, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ too, but its Facebook that helps to drive readership.
I must recognise a set of friends who are regular readers – Jamy Latheef, Raji Sumanth, Shoba Sriaiyer, Sajan Nair, Sourav Das, Uma Shankar Pandey, Jayashree Vats, Kailash Acharya, Sunil Menon, Catherine, Anatha, Raaj, Vasant, Prem, Jithin …. I can go on. Thank you, Friends!
I am aware of their unstinting support thanks to the comments posted after reading the articles. But then there are as many or more who regularly read but don’t leave a message in any form afterwards – but read they do. I am extremely thankful to them too, every one of them!
There are those who send a discreet note when a typo or a grammatical error is noticed – without their support this blog would be a mess!
Although the name suggests prevalence of articles pertaining to Sales Management and Selling Skills I have blended in articles on Managerial Excellence, Entrepreneurship, Career Guidance, Nature and Hobbies.
My articles try to tell a story – I use this method because people love hearing or reading a good story; stories have hooks that ensure that the messages remain fastened on the person receiving them. I have also tried to keep it simple – there is enough serious stuff available in books and on the Net; so I thought it made sense to deliver the message differently. Feedback coming in from readers tell me that its the right approach.
The most heady feedback received – “My friend reads your blog before attending an interview; he gets motivated by reading your articles!”
Its been an amazing journey so far and I have barely started. There is so much left to do.
I have been able to stay engaged, committed and focused – my blog completes one year today. It would have been great to present 365 articles by this day, but 243 is not bad …. don’t you think so?
The Sales Coach blog has been noticed by prospective clients too and hopefully business will follow – but in the first year the main purpose was not business development. Now that the targets have been achieved I have to recalibrate and push ahead.
The new year begins in a few moments and the journey starts all over again – I have to create persuasive messages and experiment with interesting new formats.
There are many new ideas to be explored … watch this space! I do hope that in the new year the readers will stay engaged and connected with the Sales Coach Blog …. it’s my job to keep them interested with my Sales Tales!
The next story is on its way … Read on!
The article I wrote two days, Fail …. The New Mantra, (Click on link to read), evoked strong emotions among readers. Those feelings were either tinged with hope, especially for parents who were preparing their kids to meet tomorrow’s challenges, and wistful, for people of my generation who think it is too late for them.
The former group now realises that some of the strictures passed on them by risk-averse parents were counter-productive and had stopped them from doing what they would have loved to do the most. Now, as parents they are talking about averting a painful repeat by providing their kids the freedom to experiment and to pursue the career of their choice.
The latter group (which also includes some of the parents mentioned earlier) carry a deep sense of loss – they feel that the missed opportunities and the inability to do what they most wished to do has left a painful gash in their heart that refuses to mend. They think that given the freedom to choose they would have been on a different trajectory today. But I think they can learn a think or two from the friend I wrote about in the first article.
Bindu, a parent, said this:
“Loved this one! I think it is a message we have to give our kids – “It is ok to fail provided you do your best”. That would really give them the confidence to try their best and if things go wrong, it is still ok. You just learn and try harder the next time, maybe on something else.”
Bindu will be appreciated and cherished by her kids for the huge opportunity she provided – it would be seen as her stamp of confidence / approval on their potential.
Kathy, who is from Kerala but now settled in Britain, had this to say:
Jay, when I was in school my mom used to tell me, ”Study well Dear. Only then can you get a Government job, which would give you a secure future till death”. It was instilled into all of us siblings. Failure was a word that was taboo. But the present generation has inspired everyone, including old timers, to take risks, to venture into unknown realms and recover from failures. I have seen a lot of friends here in the UK who are happy in spite of their failures; even in their jobless state they are willing to take risk because for them all failures are stepping stones to their betterment. Its something I learnt after coming here and I am happy for it. It has made me a better person. The example of your friend is true….i can relate to it very well….People who have got back to their feet in spite of failures are the true champions and not the people who have never tried and still lament about failing.”
There is nothing left for me to add – Kathy said it all.
Biju Raju, a doctor, put a different spin on the subject by saying this:
“Well written article, J! Taking about failure – I had faced a situation where failure was not an option.
I like the idea of just slowing down and analyzing about the process of failure. It was very motivating to read. Thanks you.”
I am thankful to the good doctor for giving the discussion a new twist – in domains such as Medicine and Aviation RISK is a bad word. Avoidance of risk at all costs is the motto of Surgeons, Dentists, Pilots, Engineers and Aviation Authorities. Zero Defect or Prevention is the philosophy espoused by them.
However, planes do crash and patients die while undergoing treatment causing unimaginable and irreparable loss. In such situations it is insensitive to say that it is Okay and we have to take it in our stride. But there is a possibility that the illness has reached such an advance stage that even the application of the most modern medicine and method is unable to quell the disease. Air-crashes can take place on account of bad weather. Such failures cannot be avoided or planned for; however, human error and negligence, which are the biggest causes of failure, can be averted and that is the crux of my argument.
Dr. Biju Raju saw merit in that stance and his input enriched our discussion.
I also thank Mr. Ponmelil Abraham who posted these kind words after reading the article:
“Jayadev, your presentation is great. God bless you for helping people recover from failure and be very successful in their life.”
Such words never fail to motivate me!
My message to the parents – Dare to let your children think differently. Permit them to mess with new ideas, and maybe fail too, within safe limits.
And to people of my generation – It is never too late to fall in love or to let your dreams soar!
I saw this quote from Paulo Coelho on my Facebook wall as I was putting the finishing touches to this article:
“Only one thing makes a dream impossible – the fear of failure!”
Summary of the case presented earlier this week:
Vikram starts his own Computer Hardware Service business after 20 years of employment. This business had been a long-cherished dream – but after 3 years he found himself at the crossroads:
- “Find a job or let me do one till your business stabilises.” said his wife.
- “Make a last-ditch effort to revive the business” he told himself.
- “Join my business as a partner!” said a friend, Ashok, who was in the same line.
Vikram’s head was in a whirl; he could not decide which way to go! I asked my readers to provide some answers.
Here is what they said:
Tijo Philip (an MBA student)
I bet doing a merger / acquisition with Vikram’s technically proficient organisation (Vs hiring Vikram) would help both Ashok’s need and Vikram’s dream stay true. After which it all melts down to ownership % and titles.
Tijo, a young MBA student who intends to be an entrepreneur, later went on to add this comment:
Brand name seems to be a sure concern. Maybe they can go a level higher and have a totally new brand name, satisfying both their egos, Ashok even though have an upper hand as you rightly said could agree to this if the new branding includes and caters to their newly added target market – Smart phones.
Estimating current value of both their brands may help to answer who gets what percentage and titles.
Ashok may be easily able to talk Vikram into giving him greater % and titles because of his brands obvious upper hand and also his superior negotiation skills.
Kutti Krishnan (Teaches at a B-School)
Three PLUS years is a good time to test yourself in a highly disruptive High tech industry. I think Vikram should go ahead with Ashok as this is a last mile chance for him to re-enter to his lost growth trajectory. He has a lot of bills to pay!! Bonus being that Ashok trusts Vikram’s execution capabilities having worked together.
Lesson is that entrepreneurship demands “simultaneous convergence of many different activities” to take off. Vikram might be technically competent, but he clearly shall get convinced about this fact.
Kailash Acharya (Worked as Project Head at a Telecom Company)
J, I believe he should have some overlap time while setting up business. He should have stayed working part-time like as a consultant or on freelancer. Then, he should have got into a partnership with a person with Sales / Marketing background and he co0lud have taken dealership of some IT products that would have added different flavour / track to his business.
Vishak (a young professional)
Everyone has a dream and to follow it, needs a lot of guts! Quitting a stable job, plunging into full time business was a risk that Vikram had to take to find out if he can do justice to his long cherished dream of running his own company. Now that he did and in the process found out what he lacked running his own company. I think with not much hope left, he should seriously consider Ashok’s offer, as it’s the best chance he would get to revive his career and life along with keeping a part of his dreams alive – by being an equity partner taking care of the technical side of the business.
Jamy Lateef (Service Head in the Hospitality Business / Regular Contributor)
Vikram should take up the offer to get the balance right between his family’s financial needs, but in order to pursue his dreams utilise the opportunity to have constructive and crucial discussions about how to capture the market, find some time to fine-tune his marketing and communication skills and then go after his long-cherished dream fully equipped. The wife would not complain because she would be secure and feel comfortable about the children’s future as well. He should have a short-term and a long-term plan and stick to his guns.
Umashankar Pandey (Banker and writer)
Looks like Vikram took a jump in the raging sea without much of a lifeguard to fall back on. I’d say Ashok’s offer is just the much needed saviour in the circumstances.
Sourav Das (A young management professional)
This is a brain teaser. A scenario I often faced in those interviews I have been into for the last month and a half.
Difficult answers to the question you had put up. If he wishes to go slow with his organisation for a while and accepts Ashok’s offer how will he able to maintain a sound operation of his own? Sticking to his own business for some more years would be the right way forward but then joining Ashok means he would be getting a lot more exposure in terms of contacts if nothing else. The biggest issue is that discontinuing would make the stakeholders vulnerable and insecure. He might be at a risk of not receiving adequate funds should he makes another attempt to start it in the future. So if then chooses to join Ashok he will have hardly any chance of reviving his own in the future. He should stick to his own project a little longer and think about a job if things don’t revive in that period.
Ronee Nath (A young professional)
Vikram should accept Ashok’s offer because networking is very important in the business world – without networking and communication skill ”a business will be a body without a soul”
Nommy Paul (A Business Manager)
If Vikram stick to the basics, he can make his venture successful. He should apply the ‘Ps’ & ‘Cs’ of marketing via consulting. He can always raise funds from Bank Loans or look out for Angel Investments.
Arvindh Shyam Sundar (A young professional)
He should work with Ashok in managing the unit and learn the marketing and networking techniques and then a few years down the line, start again.
While responding to readers who sent in suggestions and analyses I had mentioned that there is no right answer – to each his own way of expression and livelihood. But there are a few factors we need to take into account while offering a solution.
- What would truly make Vikram happy?
- How important is his dream and it success?
- Does Vikram’s have the confidence to go through with his project?
- What is his priority – his family’s well-being or his own vision?
The answer to these questions would tell us which way Vikram would sway?
If he believes in his dream and won’t be happy without seeing it through then its best for him to stick on; or else he would join Ashok, put in a less than 100% effort and damage that relationship. Many would say that such a decision may be foolhardy and they would well be right in thinking so given his track record, but then the world is not made of people with one mindset.
It also pays to remember that the so called foolish people were the ones who changed the world – they simply could not accept the status quo.
So I wish to say this – I would accept the decision to push ahead with his own project with a few conditions.
- It would make sense for Vikram to join his friend for a while and learn those aspects of business that he is currently not good at. He can create a time-bound program with his friend and even help to develop a replacement. He would offer his technical expertise and in return gain marketing and sales skills. Maybe in the meantime his organisation can run on simmer and service the existing set of clients.
- The other option would be for him to go for external help to create a game-plan. He can get a consultant to help him put the house in order. Since, his pockets are not deep he can offer the consultant a small upfront fee and then a profit-share from the fresh business brought in. He can consider searching for external funding and new partners when the business reaches stability.
If he willing to give up his dream with the intent of providing stability and security to his family the second option would make more sense. Accept Ashok’s offer and go for it 100%. He has a lot to offer as a Technical Expert and Ashok could pay him handsomely for the support. He just has to make sure that the terms are clearly inked to avoid hiccups and disappointments.
There is also the option of returning to a fulltime job.
There is one other thing, as suggested by one respondent (Kutti Krishnan) there is a huge need for Vikram to take a reality check – he needs to assess his own strengths and weaknesses, accept the gaps in his skill portfolio and find ways to plug them. It would be foolish to put on a brave face and soldier on – he will reach nowhere.
Which way he would go and whom he would serve strongly depends on his vision, sagacity, self-belief and risking-taking ability.
What do you think?
Note: There is one other aspect of this discussion that fascinated me – among the respondents there are those who gave safe options and some who recommended riskier options. I wish to analyse this in detail in another article.
Recently, I was forced to spend couple of hours in the departure lounge, at Mumbai Airport, while the airline decided whether to fly that day or not! First they blamed the Civil Aviation at some other airport for keeping their aircraft on the ground and later they said that it was the weather en route, or some such thing.
Instead of getting worked up I decided to hunker down and work on the next article for my blog – lost in thought, creating a mental picture of what I was going to put down on the page, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a voice said: “Hi, Stranger!”
Looking up I found the smiling face of a former colleague from my telecom days – while I had made an exit from that industry some 5 years back he had stayed on and was heading business in one of the Northern Circles.
As usual when former colleagues meet, after courtesies and routine questions regarding family and common friends, the talk drifts towards work and business.
I asked him how things were going in the telecom game and the weary expression that appeared on his face said it all.
Even the man on the street is aware of the troubles faced by this one-time dream business. Now, there is a phone in every hand but the balance-sheet of most companies is awash in red ink – as if that wasn’t enough there are a few scams tainting the reputations of the already tottering business owners.
I asked how it has been for him.
He was returning home after a business meeting – the Business Heads had been working through the weekend to recast numbers and to prepare some strategies for revenue growth.
As a Consultant, I was an interested outsider, and eager to grab any information on business – it was grist for my mill.
He said no business plan would make much sense if the basics were not in place. I egged him on in order to hear more.
He asked – “What are the chances of your game-plan succeeding when you don’t have people on the ground to run them?” No much, I said.
Due to the stagnation in the business the manpower losses were not being made-up – the workload was being shared among the team-members who remained in the system and fearing further dip in business more were leaving.
He said that while his two main competitors had 35-40 people each to cover the market, he was asked to make do with 17-18 – there was no budget to take on more people this year.
Channel Partners either stopped stocking the products or were disillusioned due to lack of support – there weren’t enough Captains around to rally all the foot soldiers. Eventually, many distributors stopped dealing with the operator and took on other agencies. Retailers had to turn customers away because there was no supply of material.
A tired horse won’t run faster even when its whipped and with two riders astride – it would just give up.
Your plans may be brilliant, they may have been the result of days of thinking and strategising – you probably called every member of the leadership team and picked their brains too. The estimates you made and the timelines drawn up could be realistic and do-able. Trust me, nothing will come off it if you don’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to run those schemes or plans.
Your infrastructure plan has to be a component of you planning document – it should say who should do what and how many people are needed to ensure successful rollout.
Imagine having a carefully thought out Channel Incentive Program and your channel appointment is way behind schedule – how do you expect to get the necessary business results if there is no one available to run the program?
The Operations of the airline I was using that day was clearly messed up and instead of facing the issue squarely, they palmed the blame off on the air-traffic controllers and Civil Aviation authorities. Blame others and making customers wait are easier than working on a corrective action program.
And then the airline decided to take us home – I wished my friend well and walked to the aircraft with this thought running in my head:
“I hope the telecom companies play it differently get their wires untangled real soon.”
Vikram has been running his new venture for the last 3 years – business has been up and down; he has not seen a single quarter in which the unit achieved operational break-even. He has been dipping into the savings that had been saved up for a rainy day when he quit a steady job to start this Computer Service business.
23 years back Vikram had completed a Diploma Course in Hardware Technology and added an Advanced Certification in Networking. He first two jobs were with small-time computer service centres, but within 2 years he had been appointed as Service Technician in a leading IT Service Unit with national footprint. He spent 5 years there and then became Manager in the IT Department of a leading organisation. Along the way he got trained in some of the modern methods in hardware service and networking. By the time he left the job with 20 years of rich experience, to launch his own venture, Vikram was Regional Head- IT and had built up a reputation in his chosen field.
Around 5 years before he quit Vikram had lost interest in the job because it was not adding any value to him professionally – work was just routine stuff and he seemed to have reached some sort of plateau. With Indians buying IT products like never before he knew there was a large market out there to be tapped – his idea was to start his own Service Unit. He had spoken to a few friends and they told him to take the plunge – they even promised to chip in with some investment. The other factors that would impact his decision were the following:
- His wife was not employed and so there was no second income to support the family
- Their two children were in high-school – that meant more years of education to fund
- They have a home loan that needed to be serviced for another 10 years
- Vikram was adequately insured and his savings that would see them through 2 years
Vikram felt it was a safe bet and had spoken with his wife about it; she agreed reluctantly because it was a long cherished dream of his.
He started small; he hired 2 technicians and did the marketing on his own. He developed a small website to make himself available to the consumers who searched online for service providers and used his own circle of friends who worked with various organisations in the city. Over a period of time they developed some walk-in clientele too and there were few customers who were unhappy with the work done.
Business came in trickles – Vikram got just enough to pay the staff and for the office expenses. He rarely found enough money in the bank to draw for his own use.
Vikram did not have a grip on marketing – he had never done so in 20 years of employment, not even to market himself to potential employers. During the years he was employed many plum assignments were lost due his lack of influencing and communication skills.
The friends who promised to help with funds and projects went missing when he called for help; a few offered friendly advice on how things can be done. He wanted to appoint a Business Development Executive but had not funds to do so.
There was already a running battle at home because Vikram’s wife had been pushing him to consider returning to a steady job; she even offered to find a job to keep the family going while his business got established. Vikram strongly rejected both suggestions saying that the pain would pass in a few more months.
He strongly believed that his technical skill would see them through. What he did not realise was that the clients had no clue about it because no one spoke with them about his achievements.
Vikram had been in regular touch with Ashok, who was his counterpart at Mumbai in the last organisation he had worked for. This man had quit couple of years before he did and had started a Service Unit there. Ashok worked in a much larger market and was able to achieve stability in 3 years and was now making decent profits too. Recently, Vikram had executed a contract on Ashok’s behalf at Bangalore.
Ashok called him after that project and made an offer. He asked Vikram to move to Bangalore and manage the new unit he was opening there to cater to clients in the South. In the last 5 years he had acquired many large clients who had offices all over India and they felt safe giving the service business to a known entity. Ashok had a good track record as a service provider – he was not as good as Vikram technically but had built a large circle of friends and associates through his networking skills. He had employed employees with good technical skills and they ensured that the work done was of acceptable quality. Ashok paid them well and kept them happy and hence the team was quite stable.
Ashok wanted to take his own dreams to the next level – he wanted to build an organisation that would be known nationally in the IT Service field. With smartphone usage exploding he wanted to tap that market too, but in order to do that he needed someone to take charge of a significant portion of the job he was currently doing.
Hence the proposal to Vikram – he wanted the former colleague to handle the technical aspects and service delivery while he focused on Business Development and new business forays. He knew that Vikram was reliable and competent too.
Vikram was in a quandary – this offer sounded just right. He did not have to make any investment, but would be offered sweat equity for his participation and in addition a monthly salary too was offered for his services. But he would have to end his own dream of growing an organisation- he would have to operate under Vikram brand-name.
- What do you think are the avenues open to Vikram?
- Can Vikram keep his own dream while accepting Ashok’s offer?
Sam was awarded a contract by a large service-sector organisation to conduct four Managerial Excellence Training Programs. The company intended to train 75-80 middle-level managers and a few chosen junior managers who were due for promotions. The 3-day program would prepare the team on various Managerial and Leadership Skills. Sam took up the job and assigned it to another resource for execution, because he was booked to do other programs on the proposed dates. The client agreed because Sam had signed up someone with adequate experience in delivering such training programs.
Akash was Sam’s colleague at the last organisation he worked for before launching his own consultancy. Akash had the necessary experience and skills to handle this assignment and was regularly conducting similar programs for other clients. He had accepted this assignment at a fee lower than his usual rate because he was free on the dates indicated. His logic was that Sam had already sold the program and created the content; he was only expected to prepare some examples and deliver the sessions.
Akash had indicated to Sam before the program that some portions of the program needed strengthening because the content provided didn’t seem to meet the requirement for such an audience. Sam told him to add whatever he thought was necessary.
On the day of the program Akash was informed that Day-1 will happen at a good hotel, but for the next two days the venue would be the conference room at the client’s office. That was going to be a huge challenge because the participants would feel disappointed by the change in facilities and since the training would be held at their workplace many of the participants would keep getting called to help sort out issues.
As if that wasn’t enough there was another bogie element to be taken into consideration. One member of the organisation’s training team was present throughout the program, ostensibly to learn from the trainer, but was really there to see how things were going. Sam had received information through his contacts that this person wanted to conduct this program and had made a serious pitch to stop it from going to an external agency. But the Training Head did not like the idea and had called Sam’s consultancy to execute the job. It was pretty obvious that not much good feedback would go to the decision-makers from this source.
Sam did not make himself present in the room at any time during the three day program because he felt Akash would do what is required. But he took feedback during the day and afterwards. The program went well on Day-1 because it was at a venue far from work, but on the next two days there were many disruptions and delays thanks to the disappearance of participants – many of them did not return for long durations after each break. That caused inconveniences to the trainer because the topics could not be covered as planned and many of the activities either got postponed or were not done in an effective way.
In the cohort of 20 there were 8 participants who had no experience in leading a team and hence many of the leadership and managerial skills discussed did not seem to be of interest to them – Akash found it tough to convince them to stay focused on the topics saying they would need the skills when they are promoted. It didn’t work and hence while one set of participants found the program extremely useful and relevant a significant number could not find relevance in participating.
Akash was disappointed that the program did not go the expected way and he told Sam that it had been not been a happy experience.
This is how things panned out post the program:
- One set of participants said the program was good and useful
- But there were many whose feedback said that the program was not very effective
- The training department’s representative’s feedback wouldn’t have been favourable
The Training Head told Sam that Akash had not met their expectation and added that they were planning to conduct the remaining three sessions internally. Sam made no effort to defend his position and opted out of the program. Akash felt cheated because he thought the program had failed on account of other factors and not due to bad work on his part.
- What went wrong?
- Should Akash have taken up this program as proposed?
- Should Sam have done anything differently?
- If you were in Akash’s position what would you do to avoid such a disaster?
I watched a Business Owner in action earlier today – the owner of a small business does not have the privilege of appointing Heads for various functions and has to take on multiple roles; in the situation I witnessed he was playing the role of Sales Head. He owns an IT Solutions Consultancy which studies needs, recommends solutions, supplies the necessary boxes and accessories and helps in the implementation of the solutions – all customized to the client’s needs. The business has a huge post-sale support component. In fact after-sales support formed a significant portion of their income.
Bulk of their business came from a few large customers – in fact 3/4 th of their revenue is recurring business from these accounts. While on the one hand this could be considered a plus and an indicator of high standard of support provided by his team, the Business Owner was a bit worried too because any slip would mean a huge drop in income – they were hugely dependent on this set of accounts and these large accounts used the quantum of business provided as a bargaining chip – margins were thin. It was a twin-edged sword and my friend did not like it.
His focus during the review meeting was on the following:
- Maintain service – standards so that customers have nothing complain about
- Constantly be on the lookout for more business from these accounts
- Renew all Annual Maintenance contracts
- Seek new customers – to reduce dependence on a small set of accounts
- Close Maintenance Contracts from accounts they have not serviced so far
The meeting was conducted in two phases – he first had the entire team in the room and gave them the priorities for the year, the Sales Targets and incentive plans – so the team was clear about the Business Objectives and knew what they could gain by achieving the numbers.
Then he called each team member separately for a one-on-one – in this round the focus was on the performance of this individual and what was expected off him in the months ahead.
The first man called into the room was the senior-most member – someone the Chief Executive trusted a lot. He was asked to report on the performance of the 3 new recruits, who have been in the system for 1 to 3 months, and the fourth person who had been there for over a year. The new players were still diffident to meet customers; they were spending time at the office under the pretext of preparation or infrequently going out in pairs. The more senior guy was focusing only on service and didn’t bring in any new business. So it was apparent to the owner that business was happening more by enquiries from prospective buyers than by Sales push.
He then delivered the ultimatum to the Senior Pro – “You are the Project Manager here – that is not a decoration. It is to be proven through operational excellence. Drive the business and bring me the results expected off you. If you see guys in the office chase them out. I don’t have time to get into the frontline action. That is your role. But, I would like to see you do that and get the guys to deliver results.”
The date by which the changes were expected was also conveyed.
The next guy in was the experienced hand. He was told to stop playing safe and asked to look for new business. The incentive program was tilted in favour of new business acquisition and so he could expect a growth in income only by pushing for that.
The 3 new guys were quizzed on product knowledge and comfort level on dealing with clients. Only one man seemed uncertain and he was detailed to work with the senior guy for 2 weeks, after which he would be out on his own. The other two were told to work as a team for the first 2 weeks and then they too would work alone.
All three were given a 2 week deadline to get set for action and then a month’s time after that to bring their first order. All three had been in the system for at least a month and had previous experience before joining this organisation. Hence, it was fair to expect them to deliver results within three months.
The Chief Executive is aware of the longer lifestyle required in this business and hence expected order either by way of new business, repeat business or maintenance contract. It was a fair deal. All team-members were also told that the organisation cannot carry passengers for too long – they have to deliver business in the short-term.
There is lot more that can be done to get this team working in peak form, but this is a good first step. There was clarity in target, expectation and the benefits available to them for good performance.
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