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“Amazon”ian “Ass”umptions!

February 15, 2013 16 comments

No level in an organization is beyond screw-ups and there is no bar on the size of organizations that can mess things up real bad.

I am sure you have heard the story about a CEO who stood hesitantly in front of a shredder with some important documents in his hand wondering what to do next. A thoughtful subordinate who was passing by offered to help the big man – “Sir, let me do it for you!” Just as he fed the edge of the papers into the machine and hit the button the CEO said – “Can you make 2 copies, please!”

Well!

Yesterday, I attended a presentation on the fancied Cloud Computing services at an upmarket hotel in town – the organization making the pitch was none other than Amazon Web Services. I usually avoid naming organizations but am making an exception this time to prove that even the biggest can blunder.

The high voltage 3-hour pitch targeted CIOs, Developers and Solution Providers. The large hall was obviously set up with the help of local Event Managers; young girls and boys received the guests and ushered them in, there was a discotheque like atmosphere created instead with electronic music belted out from large speakers. The head of the room had a huge display announcing the name of the organizer and the event title. There were screens set up along the side of the hall to facilitate viewing. So far so good!

The program was to start at 2 p.m., but my friend and I arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule and took seats after registering – the hall was nearly full by the time the clock went past 2 and then this smartly dressed gentleman walks to the microphone and starts testing the audio system – he goes “Check! Check!” and asks people at the back to confirm audibility. After that in a polite tone he says “We will start the program at 2:30 p.m. because we are waiting for more participants to walk in. After a while I shall start with some program trivia and then get into the program actual.”

Hello! I thought Jeff Bezos believed in speed and smartness at work? Obviously, this young man hadn’t heard these quotes by his Boss.

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful. 

This article is word of mouth in action, isn’t it?

At 2:35 the same man, the smartly-dressed-in-a-suit guy, walks up to the mike and says he is a Manager with the organisation and would be leading the presentation; he started with a very bright “Good Afternoon!” and got a lame response from the audience. He gamely tried a second time, at a higher volume, and got a louder lame response.

He then gave us his name, an South Indian one, and added an Americanized abbreviation that we could use – Wow! He had us there! Mr. America is here to save the day. (Mr. Cheesy, we could do without that.)

What followed was a unmitigable disaster – death by PowerPoint!

He launched into a long rant about the company, its achievement, clients and success stories; add to that a boring diatribe on the product portfolio. The slides had a black background, to match the mood in the room. There were some graphic outlines in the form of clouds at the bottom of each page, but they definitely didn’t have a silver lining.

The presenter did ask the audience to raise hands to check how many were Developers, Solution Providers and so on, but did nothing afterwards to whet their interest. He was treating the audience as kids who didn’t know the subject – the pitch was low-key and basic. Even I, with no exposure to Cloud Computing other than articles read on internet, found the presentation childish. He promised to give demos but even after 90 minutes we got nothing beyond the dull drone of his voice – I had a tough time trying to keep myself awake.

At 4:15 my friend and I gave up, we settled down in a coffee shop across the road to assess the damage. As we made a hasty exit I checked the faces of our fellow-sufferers and felt the desperate looks saying “wish we could do that” – it was sheer politeness or maybe pressure from some higher authority that kept them there.

This young manager from a leading IT organization didn’t know the basics of Presentation Skills or the principles of adult learning.

–          Adults like to be respected: This guy was treating them like kids; he took them for granted. Basic stuff was being offered to a set of experienced people (that didn’t include me)

–          Adults are relevancy oriented: He was not able to show the audience how they could use the stuff to speed up or improve the way they did work – the example he gave were of some international organizations with home the audience had no connect

–          Adults like practical stuff: This was a boring tirade about the product – there was nothing in the form of demo or hands-on experience. He had lost the audience quiet early in the presentation

There is more, but for the moment I shall stay with just three. This dead horse has been flogged enough!

The slides had small-font text, hardly any graphics or pictures and there were no videos to improve levels of interest. I had mentioned earlier that the slides had a black background and the text was of a dull color too.

Let me add that he did try to involve the audience by asking questions, but they were the wrong kind – he just asked them to raise hands to confirm having heard about or used some of features mentioned. He would have got buy-in by getting the learned audience to respond with their own experiences.  He had either forgotten or wasn’t aware that it’s dangerous to make a dry presentation of this nature in the post-lunch session – in the training domain we call it the Trainer’s Graveyard!

This man from a big corporation had committed hara-kiri and he probably wasn’t aware of it!

We walked out without offering any feedback – the form provided feedback only asked questions that related to use and purchase of Amazon Services. How sensible!

It’s important for presenters to prepare the pitch based on the type of audience, the impact of the presentation needs to be tested constantly and he needs to think on his feet and change the pitch if things aren’t going right. Haven’t we seen professional speakers and stage actors using an adverse comment from the audience or even a wardrobe malfunction as opportunities to make a smart response?

The presentation needs to be benefit-focused and lively. It needs to prompt audience participation.

I have presented a negative sounding anecdote only to tell my readers that things can spiral out of control if one were to take too much for granted …. Your blunder can reach “amazonian” proportions!

When we assume too much we end up making an “ass” of “u” & “me” … No jokes!!

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Free Advice!

August 18, 2012 17 comments

Does giving advice without a fee pay off in the long-run? Should we help for free? Debatable, isn’t it?

As a professional who makes a living by giving advice I have often wondered whether it makes sense to throw away a money making opportunity?

In the 21st century, business is about being smart and being professional and it is said that free advice is not considered worth much; hence my query would seem redundant, or worse still, downright stupid.

I met a Project Management specialist at an industry forum; after “Hello!” and preliminary questions about what each of us were doing the talk veered towards moved to how we were faring as Consultants in the Kerala market.

He said something that struck a chord with me – “There are so many occasions when I conducted demo programs hoping to reap a bigger deal from the effort. But it’s only later I realized that this guy was using me to train his team for free. He painted a rosy picture of what I could gain and then used my service for free. The pitch usually goes – We have a team of 50 (or 100) people who need to be trained this year. Currently we are looking for a suitable trainer and as a first step they are being asked to conduct a demo session (which would be 1 to 4 hours long). I prepare the material and conduct a smart session and the man is all smiles. He thanks me profusely, but other than that I have not received anything – they did not even offer transportation to the venue and back. I called after a few days but the man was busy and did not say when we could discuss the matter further. I felt cheated. I guess it takes all kinds.”

I have had people speaking with me about their concerns – it could be an issue in the Sales Process or something to do with the Sales Personnel. They would tentatively offer a possible solution and then ask for my opinion about it. I would provide the necessary advice and then suggest a next level meeting at their office to study the process or to meet the team. The man would nod with a lot of enthusiasm and even suggest a date. And then he would drop off the edge of the world.

The market for Training & Development Consulting is fragmented and unstable – very few organizations have a proper learning and development program. The local units of some of the larger national organizations and a few of the locally headquartered ones have a structured talent development initiative. The rest did it in fits and starts.

In these difficult waters the unsuspecting Consultant would encounter sharks that could eat them up if they aren’t wary. There are many clever guys out there who can take an eager training provider for a merry ride by showing them a glorious vision of the possibilities.

A Consultant has to play his cards right. He cannot be reticent or rude, but at the same time there is need not to give away too much and to smartly inform the smart-alec that advice can be offered once all the information is known and mutually acceptable terms are decided upon.

Still there are times when you may have to give inputs without gaining an immediate monetary return for it.

Give inputs and advice if you are sure about the purpose and the consequence:

  1. Help the genuinely needy

There are students or start-ups or new folks out in the market who are cash strapped – totally new and in need of guidance but unable to pay for it. The support you provide to such people can be considered a service or a social obligation – your contribution to the society.

I am sure such people will remember you and probably pay you back somewhere along the way by putting in a good word for you or by sending a potential client to you. Even if this does not happen the effort is worthwhile.

But don’t continue offering free advice when they have achieved stability – make them pay for any additional support that is offered. Would they offer their product or service to you for free?

  1. Use it as an investment

There are accounts in the market that you wish to work for. Having them on your client list builds your credibility and brings you more business.  In such situations you can offer a demo or some free advice to create the right impression or to win some brownie points. It will keep you alive in their mind, build influence and credibility for you and probably bring you business subsequently.

But don’t give your best material away – offer a scaled down, but smart version. If there is any printing or purchase of material or travel involved you have to ask the client to pay for it. Just offer your advice or service for free – it is a trial run that can result in business.

  1. It’s a Proof of Concept or Confidence Builder

Maybe you are a new player in the market and this client has not seen you in action before nor have they heard about your programs; or maybe you are offering a service or training program that is new and is not very popular.

In such situations you can offer a demo to show the client how the program works or how you can help them solve a problem. This time it is more time a Business Development activity.

  1. You know it is a freebie

Maybe the client who is asking for the service is an influential person or is a friend / relative. You know you can’t ask for money or probably don’t want to receive any. You are doing it just as a goodwill gesture – for reasons other than business. Maybe it could bring you some business later but you aren’t doing it with that objective.

Make sure that you tell them it is a one-off gesture and nothing is expected as fee the first time; but if they expect more it makes sense to charge for it.

The clever guys we countered earlier in the article can be discouraged from taking you for a ride by asking them to pay a fee for the Demo session – you can offer to reduce the amount from the sessions they would sign you up for subsequently.

Play it by the ear – get a sense of how it’s going, understand the prospective client’s intentions and analyze what kind of impact your pitch has made. Also consider what you stand to gain from offering the service or advice for free.

I have offered this advice for free – Did you found it useful? Make no mistake, I have been offering ideas these last few months to find new clients.

Here is that hoary old chestnut – There are no free lunches!

Go get it!

June 29, 2012 4 comments

Yesterday we put our emotions into overdrive while discussing legacies and impressions that last a lifetime; today let us take a practical look at planning incentive schemes that push Sales teams to higher levels of performance.

Incentives schemes that work!

A few years back the telecom company that I worked with ran an incentive scheme for the entire channel sales team.  They were given number targets for the entire year, with quarterly expectations clearly specified – seasonality in sales was taken into consideration while dividing the target across the year. Every Sales Executive was given a Record-book to note his Sales data and it had to be signed each month by his boss (usually the owner of the dealership) and a representative from our organization (the local Operations Head).

Cash prizes and gifts were on offer for people who met expectations. The prizes were given away by the Regional Business Head at a gala function – the program was a runaway success. Story over.

No!! I am not done yet. The gifts and cash prizes were not the highlights of the program! A year-long series of Sales Training programs were announced along with the scheme. In order to win the highest level of incentives the Executives had to attend all the training programs proposed in the series – which happened once every quarter. Participation and performance in the training program were also recorded in the Record-book. All those who got through the post-training assessments with good grades got certificates and at the end of the year all Sales Executives who had successfully completed the entire series of training, and achieved the Sales Targets, were given Credentials which stated that they are Certified Sales Professionals.

More than the cash, the medals and the material incentives the Certificates were valued by the achievers. I am sure even today they are displayed at the Executives’ homes with pride.

The idea is to hit upon winning formulae, like this one, to make your incentive programs effective.

What is the purpose of the program?

–          To achieve a number target (number or revenue)

–          To promote a specific product or service

–          To promote business in a targeted area

–          To promote business in a defined segment

Design:

The scheme needs to be exciting; it should stretch the players to the limit, and still be achievable. The program design should ensure that the desired goals are met by the organization.

The reward could be items of everyday use, scholarships, a vehicle, a holiday package or just cash (but it is best to avoid giving cash in such schemes – these schemes are over and above salaries and bonuses). The intent of such programs is to drive specific goals that need special focus.

The schemes can be created on themes too – one organization I worked with had an all-male sales team. So our incentive programs would have a shirt in one month, a tie the next month and another accessory like a trouser-belt in the 3rd month. Or there would be a portfolio bag one month, a high-quality pen-set and a mobile phone the month after that. There would also be Gold Coins and home appliances on offer at other times. The idea is to provide something useful, something that keeps the team interested.

Education, training and certificates were the big draw all the time.

Timing:

Incentive Programs can be of varying durations – the one I described earlier was a year-long program. But you can run shorter ones that could be anywhere from a day to a month long; it’s best to run the scheme when sales are hard to come by – the first week of the month or in a lean season. The scheme is run to prompt additional activity that would bring in business.

Process:

The requirements and the conditions are to be specified – what constitutes achievement needs to be clear to avoid disputes. The deadlines and the documentation need to be mentioned with great clarity. I have had to respond to angry team-members who thought they had met requirements and were being unfairly disqualified – the ambiguity in the terms drawn up for the scheme being the reason for their wrath.

A smartly designed scheme run at the right time can help the organization achieve its goal and keep the Sales Team motivated. Excellence all around!

I thought Big Blue would present Smarter!

March 9, 2012 11 comments

An event planned to generate visibility and revenue can fall on its face if its conducted inefficiently.

A friend and I attended a business presentation by IBM’s Office Applications Group – there were presentations by Business Managers who represented Lotus Notes, Symphony, Cognos and Tivoli.

The venue was a Conference Hall in a 5-star, the Registration Process was smooth and we were offered refreshments before being asked to settle down for a 10 a.m. start.

At 9:55 a.m. one IBM-er stood in front of the laptop placed on the stage and appeared to be busy, working on it; soon he hailed a colleague and the two were seen discussing something in hushed tones.

When the huddle grew to 3 I told my friend – “I am sure it’s the usual! They are not able achieve the handshake between the laptop and the multimedia projector. Presto! One more Big Blue man appeared waving a Netpad about and suggesting a switch of machines.

It was 10:15 a.m. by the time they managed to get the first slick AV on Solutions for a Smarter Planet going.

That done a presenter, obviously from a local Event Management company, introduced the first speaker with a lot of gusto.

He switched on a video on 100 years of IBM and it stopped running after 30 seconds; he bravely made one more attempt and it stopped again.

After apologizing for the hiccup he made of presentation on the first product – the audience were taken through all features of the product – examples relating the features to real examples were not demonstrated, he just mentioned a few in passing. In fact none of the products were demonstrated.

All three presenters read from the slides as if the audience was illiterate and very little attempt was made to check clarity on the points presented.

As a trainer and someone who has been making presentations for more than 20 years here are some things I have learned:

–          Be at the venue well in advance and check all equipment

–          Have a dry run and check whether all presentations and videos are in order

–          If many people are presenting ask everyone to transfer their presentations to one machine

–          Prepare sufficient examples to highlight the features – sell benefits

–          Don’t read what written on the slide – explain it in your own words

The presentations had high quality graphics but there was nothing to back the information given there, the video looked slick but it did not run, the speakers did not generate interest – it seemed like a half-hearted effort.

Leaving the hall after the presentations the thoughts running through my mind were:

–          This must be one of their Year-End Sales promotion galas

–          They squeezed out some budget from marketing saying it would generate additional revenue

Why would a company like IBM risk losing face with such an effort?

They can contact me for solutions to make Smarter Presentations!

Categories: Ideas Tags:

Cutting through the Social Media Clutter!

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

The market is abuzz with chatter about the use of Social Media (SM) for business promotion! 

“Do you have an email ID” is passé! You don’t even ask that question or do it at the risk of being classified as an outcast. Having a mail ID and a Facebook ID are de rigueur – the conversation begins beyond that!

– How many hits are you getting at your website?

– What is your blog ID? And what’s it about?

– Who does your SEO work?

– Have you made an infographic with your findings?

– How many Followers do you have on Twitter?

– Responses at LinkedIn Answers improves visibility!

All in a day’s work!

When everyone is playing the SM game and busy jockeying for positions it may seem futile to think of an entry into that realm. But how many of the players have got their game organized – is there a method to the madness?

1. Define and fine–tune your message: It does not help to spray and pray; one hit is all it takes and do you have the weapon to land that blow? Use the right words and forcefully deliver a message which has to be built using the techniques I described yesterday.

2. Define your audience and chase them relentlessly. Don’t run after every person you can connect with on the SM Platforms. Define the customer or target segment and work on building a network consisting of such profiles. It will give you better returns.

3. Are you present where the customer is? Today there are multiple avenues for delivering your message – computers, smart devices, in-shop interactive devices. So choose your medium based on the impact that can be created by using it.

4. Get your timing right? I have noticed that the number of hits I get at my blog does not go up dramatically if I post the link to my daily article earlier in the day. There is a time slot in which people are available and if I post the link then I get maximum impact.

5. Provoke a response: Your message must get them to initiate a conversation with you; which then can be developed into something useful. Your message has to instigate action or it’s a waste.

It’s nice to have a presence on the Internet, but it’s great to have a play that generates business results. Is your Social Media effort lost in the clutter or is it standing tall?

Categories: Ideas Tags: ,

Does anyone read Email these days?

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

There is nothing more frustrating than hearing a prospect tell you – “Can you send that proposal again? I think the last one ended up in the Spam folder.”

She probably has not read it but won’t say so! There goes 3 hours worth of good work; the frustration for the Sales Pro does not end there, the entire Sales process gets delayed and his sales plan goes for a toss.

Mailers get the same treatment  – you send a nicely worded (You think so!) message to a 1000 prospects and hope for a 8 – 10 % response, but end up receiving 18-20 replies.

What is the reason for such behaviour?

–  It partly because people are getting too many emails; there just isn’t time to go through each one.

–  The other reason being the Sender, or more specifically, the quality of his work ; the message didn’t evoke any interest.

Today email has almost completely eliminated snail-mail as the primary medium of written communication. People use emails to communicate even within the office; emails are sent to people sitting across the room on subjects that can be discussed face-to-face or by phone. Add to that the overdose of marketing messages from various sources (most of it can be classified as SPAM).

Aren’t we ignoring another huge dump of messages? Social Media! It’s hardly surprising that people are rejecting all but the really important or urgent messages!

–          Important: Messages from clients and superiors

–          Urgent: Mails from co-workers that are followed up with a phone call by the Sender!

You won’t be faulted for believing that a reply will be sent only for messages that come with the following subject line – Respond to this message in a minute or your computer will Self–destruct!

Or is there another way?

How can the client be induced to read the messages – create the hook / the elements of interest that force them to act.

  1. People just don’t have time to read lengthy messages filled with small text – make it crisp (content) and large (font). Say it in a few bold words.
  2. If pictorial or chart based content is included the message becomes more interesting. A smartly captioned picture or an easy to interpret graph can add to readability. The idea is to make the message visually appealing.
  3. Add an Executive Summary that gives the reader a snapshot – they would go into the details if the snapshot is interesting. So create a compact overview that forces the client to read the rest of the material.
  4. Include Call to Action statements that force the client to do something in response – make it deadlines oriented, use action verbs and limit the number of actions they need to take. Again use colours and pictures to improve appeal.

Your new look proposal won’t get a re-send response; it would be a call for further action or a Purchase Order instead! Remember to thank me when the responses come pouring in!

Categories: Ideas Tags: ,

Fair n Lovely for some …. not necessarily for you too!

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Today I wish to address start-ups and small businesses with some ideas on business promotions – many of you may be marveling at huge budgets some multinationals have earmarked even for promotion of mindless products like Fairness Cream and Baldness Cures. – the outlay could even exceed the annual turnover of your small venture.

But it would be stupid and strategically flawed for a beauty product maker in a remote corner of the country to consider TV as the primary medium to promote her range of beauty products, based on the success of a Lakme or a L’Oreal – the smart route for her would be to reach the potential customers using a see, touch and use methodology where the potential buyer experiences or understands the benefits first-hand.

Unlike the international companies who have products that have been in the market for many years hers is an untested product and she an unknown entity, even though her products could in reality be better than the ones the bigger players are offering.

The money earmarked for marketing can be spent in the following manner:

–         Give free treatment / samples to a group of influencers – this group can in turn bring you the next set of customers. Develop brand ambassador(s) from this segment based on the success achieved – Seeing is believing.

–         Put a small business development team / promoters in place who would visit locations where the target group can be found in suitable numbers and conduct a demo cum sale campaign – use the brand ambassadors to provide Success Stories. Nothing like the assuring words of a happy user from the local community.

–         Create a demo video of your treatment or product application and upload it on Youtube; promote the video among your existing / potential clients; have an action item included in the video, such as getting people to call or to visit for a trial.

Remember, the money spent by the big players may not be translating into big returns; and many of these products are running way beyond the maturity stage in their life-cycle – don’t get conned into copying such ideas – that may not be the route best suited for your product.

We can discuss other products too – beauty products was only an example used to illustrate my point.

Use the direct approach and engage the customer in a conversation – you get to show them your product, hear their responses without dilution – such inputs could provide valuable insights that you can then use to fine-tune and improve your product and services.

This twice before you throw good money after bad promo schemes!

Categories: Ideas Tags: ,
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