Friday, December 18, 2009

How to find a white blackbird. Business luck, sales lead management and hard work? Success starts with vision.

Have you ever seen a white blackbird? Of course not, you weren’t looking for one. It’s not going to fly in with a label like it flew out of the local natural history museum. So you gotta know what you are looking for first.

Do you know what your ideal customer is for your business? If you don’t know, you won’t find them. And technology, marketing charts, business accounting, and 75 social networks won’t help.

Know your customer

We attention deficit media overloaded people are waiting for the next best thing also called the bright shiny object (BSO). We should be asking ourselves if the bird that is in front of us is what we are really looking for without giving it our own label.  But in order to do that we have to know what that one bird will look like before we see it.

If we too narrowly define our scope by our optimism (one will fly by our house today, I know it) or our pessimism (they don’t really exist), we won’t see it. We have to be the realist as William Arthur Ward says in his famous quote “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

Are you willing to be lucky?

Entrepreneurs with the determination to know that one perfect customer persona bird will be rewarded after years of hard work when they finally cash in. And the public will be saying “How lucky they were to have finally caught up with that rare bird.” As Seth Godin recently said using a phrase originally from E. B. White, “How willing is your organization to be lucky? What about you in your career and your marketing efforts? Or in the people you meet or the places you go or the movies you see or the books you read?”

Seth also finds a similar stream of thought in another post that propelled Thomas Alva Edison into success.  The light bulb genius who said that genius is 99% perspiration (you know the rest) said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Seth rails against those people who are too lazy to make it happen for themselves by turning down opportunity in his post Different Kinds Of Work .

I believe luck is about knowing your target and then moving towards it relentlessly. The person that spends their life researching that white blackbird and really knowing every last detail about them will have the greatest potential to find one. But they will never find one except on the web if they never leave their computer. That’s why it’s so important for entrepreneurs or marketing people to get up from their Aerons and go meet their customer.

Don't limit yourself

Bill Rice recently posted a follow-up blog to his Don’t Buy Lead Management Software post about why small organizations don't need to use sales lead management systems called Why Sales Organizations Rarely Grow. Bill sells lead management systems so I appreciate his honesty in letting us know that he knows who his customer really is and not convincing people who aren't his customer that they are. His customer is a company who has not self-limited themselves. A typical small company, he says, is not going to be his customer. The symptoms of a self-limiting sales group are lack of faith, a rigid process, lack of knowledge and fear of the new.

It’s good to ask another why question at this point and see if you can dive deeper into the root causes of the symptoms of the self-limiting sales group. What allows those five problems to surface? For most of them, I think that’s it a lack of sales leadership. But you can still have a limited sales group if you don’t address the target market and put some elbow grease into it.

The think-out-of-the-box type of brainstorming works to generate new ideas. They can address the rigid process and fear of the new. People can get trained. But without some success they will always distrust a new process. That’s one good reason why it’s so important to not do a full roll out before you’ve tested a little bit in a target market.

Back to work

But even with all that inspiration, it still takes Edison’s perspiration to make it work. And the work has to be directed to a goal that is dead on with the payload of the reason for doing it. The white blackbird is just a very small niche market that may look like another useless bird to many of the larger companies who will ignore it. But knowing that it’s the one thing that will make your fortune is the very first step to your success.

First define your goal. Then, you work. The web makes for a great research tool but any successful entrepreneur will tell you that it’s the point at which you talk to your first venture capitalist or the understand the customer by asking them why you are important in their lives that will bring you closer to your mark.

Harvesting olives

I was amazed that a small company like Argentine MaqTec with no customers but a solid vision of what was necessary to harvest olives did. They built a half-million dollar olive harvester in the middle of nowhere with no customers and persisted until they got customers. They sold one in Argentina and then three more in Australia and now have a great business. But imagine you are in the middle of nowhere, say a small farm community in north-east Iowa. What would you do if no one bought your product? It took leadership, a vision and hard work to get that company profitable.

Picture your white blackbird. You might want to check in with people who have seem them before and make sure that’s what you want. Then get working and start planning your trip so you will get lucky.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Golden Ponies, the Peter Principle and AOL. Don’t let a successful blog lead to failure due to poor goal setting.

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Are you having success in your business because of social media? You may be riding a Golden Pony and your success may not last. You may scale up your usage and start to find out that your performance is faltering as you try to juggle all the types of tasks from your new focus on social media.

Business problems are not technology problems and can't be solved with the right algorithm. Business problems sometimes resist improvement. After a business problem is thought out in analysis, detailed out in design and then put to the test in implementation (or transition if you're an ITIL imam), the results may provide side effects and unintended results that mingle with the expected results.

The Golden Pony and the Peter Principle

Failure can find you in the midst of an IT project from the large to the small, after the initial success leads to increasing the scope of the project. This is dubbed The Golden Pony and attributed to Nelson P. Repenning of the MIT Sloan School of Management in the ITIL Service Strategy volume.

This is more than just a scope creep effect during the implementation of a project or a capacity planning issue. This is a management effect that removes the captain of the ship and replaces him with a robotic system as the need to carry more cargo increases. The one that knows the ship the best should be continuing to sail the ship. But instead of building a new ship with a new captain to carry the extra load, the Peter Principle is invoked once again only to see that the project, and not the manager as in the Principle, is the one to take on new responsibilities until it reaches the level of incompetency.

America Online case study

America Online (AOL) certainly qualifies as a project that increased in size until it became a walled garden within the web itself. In the 80’s and 90’s, AOL was an entertainment service with email games, D&D games, chat room games, chat environments, interactive fiction, and more. Steve Case set the course of a business goal as internet entertainment leader for the common folk since most web sites were by geeks about geek stuff. That goal paid off well.

Then in 2001, Case invoked the Peter Principle. He merged AOL with Time Warner and the focus changed as well as the value and subscribers. The business goals changed to be a content provider similar to the fading Yahoo! The focus on hooking up the common man to the internet was discarded. Subscribers peaked in 2002 at around 27 million and are currently diving down into the five million can’t-figure-out-how-to-unsubscribe zone. Price went up, competitive pricing forced free access to email, and operations took a massive cut.

Steve Case stayed on until 2003 as CEO after being a part of AOL since 1985 and several other CEOs have followed from the Time Warner pack. Was it the dot-com bust that did him in? In 2005 he remarked that AOL should not have merged with Time Warner. Steve didn’t know about his Golden Pony. Now AOL has gone public, created a new look, and so is again separate from Time Warner. Stock analysts for AOL are once again optimistic.

America Online rides off on a Golden Pony

In the Golden Pony scenario a project increases scope to keep innovations coming. Without a clear vision, the project starts to do things it wasn't designed to do and effectiveness declines. The more AOL tried to become the content rich web site for everyone, the more resources it took to manage. As these ponies grow, their visibility grows and the need grows for a more senior manager or VP to take charge of the project. The quality of the decision making starts to dwindle as the people become more and more removed from the original idea. The pony gets more stuff to carry weighing it down, the rider doesn't know where to go, and they both wander off until they die according to Repenning.

In AOL’s situation, management sold out to higher management. But in a smaller business, investment capital can be acquired to "go to the next level" which also means adding another layer of ownership/management on top in most cases. That is why many venture capitalists who really want a company to succeed want the startup to be operating on a shoestring budget. The Y Combinator software boot camp for startups led by Paul Graham have a geek culture around headache inducing work schedules and cheap family style dinners.  They train them to stay focused on profitability without too much interference.

You can find your own Golden Pony

You can scale down the Golden Pony effect to an individual level with you as the only employee or maybe including a marketing assistant/office manager or two. Your customers are the readers of your blog and are the consumers of your knowledge service. Because of an initial success, adding new tasks to your personal social media effort may mean such things as
  • writing that extra blog post a week
  • sending a few extra tweets every day by learning how to use your new iPhone
  • reading twenty or thirty new blogs or news feeds by RSS
  • staying on top of the latest viral videos
The results of your new management initiative due to an increase in scope can turn your business in the same direction as AOL especially if they aren’t focused on your initial goals of why you started blogging or being an entrepreneur of any kind in the first place. The symptoms of adding more activities with new goals can be:
  • You find yourself having less time for the things you used to have. Quality of your normal work falls. You lose more sleep.
  • Budget cuts pressure your extra efforts to gain social media ground. Less money means less demand for what you produce. Less demand means more budget cuts.
  • More demand means you have to hire someone else or even outsource. Poorly trained staff increases. Experienced staff stays the same. Less time is available to help mentor new staff, quality suffers, demand slows, morale tanks, ROI dives, and new staff is laid off bringing stasis back.

Set and follow clear business goals

What can you do to keep the Golden Pony from taking you on a ride? Step back from your activities and make sure they all map to business goals. This is what businesses do with process reengineering when they model their activities and clarify which ones support which corporate goals. Make clear decisions about what business goals you have and then make sure that the large activities that you take on support that business goal.

Since all of the social media activities are supported by an IT infrastructure of the web and other web sites, you can also say that you have to align your IT activities with your business. You are the CIO of your organization if you choose to start a Twitter account or if you choose to start an SAP environment. And it’s the CIO’s responsibility to take the power of technology to fully unleash the power of the business. You will find that ITIL will be a source of guidance for you and your knowledge service if you want to understand the relationship between you, IT, and your business.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Social media burdens your business short term. Stay the course to achieve Twitter success.

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Do you expect social media to improve your business results? It won’t. At least not right away according to the ITIL framework. If you are personally just trying out the new kids on the block like LinkedIn or Twitter, then the danger is that you might discard it thinking that it doesn’t work.

If you are trying social media in the business environment, the pressure from executives who expect immediate financial or sales results might scuttle the whole effort and tarnish your image. How do you keep that from happening?

Maybe you decided to improve the marketing effort with public relations automation through the use of Twitter. But it’s not doing much. Short term results in an improvement program are much different than long term results. Could the problem be not having the right quality processes in place? Could you be measuring the wrong metrics and ignoring the ones that would keep the system well tuned?

After trying to stall the decrease in work productivity because people started using social networking sites and did less work, you threw your best managerial tactic at it and they just got more frustrated causing a morale decline. All of a sudden, social media looks like a big, fat, frozen Thanksgiving turkey spitting grease and catching on fire in the deep fat fryer all around the organization because you always solved the turkey  problem by deep frying it. The holiday dinner turns from expecting a delicious juicy centerpiece to expecting a fast ambulance driver and fire department.

Business problems don’t always come in the same shape and sizes so you can throw your tried and true methods at it and expect the same result. If you’ve put together a quality improvement program such as a social wiki to help people discuss work issues and found that people just didn’t find it useful, it was probably because those people have already labeled it a bad idea for your company and decided to move on.

Quality programs don’t help you grow?

Why is it, according to business school professors Pinanelli and Csillag in São Paulo, that firms with a high effectiveness in the implementation of quality management principles and techniques don't do any more than just average in growth? The quality pioneers of Deming, Juran, Feigenbaum and Crosby all told us that our bottom line would be so much better if we just did a little Total Quality Management (TQM). Are these Brazilians a wet blanket on using Twitter to improve our customer reach?

The answer according to the Brazilian professors is that quality implementations and growth rate are not related by much. That means that there must be much more to growth than just a quality program.

Deliver improvements with better management

Elizabeth K. Keating and others published a journal article entitled "Overcoming the Improvement Paradox" which talks about the failures of TQM both in delivering improvements and in keeping themselves alive. The findings of that article were that it wasn't the program at fault. It was the ability to manage the program that led to the failure and demoralization of the employees.

ITIL can help you be a better manager. The ITIL framework is a business management guidebook. It’s like getting Peter Drucker’s full set of writings instead of the anthology of excerpts. And it’s focused on business using IT. Not only does it have the advice about how to structure your business but it will show you where you can improve your management and what’s really important today with so much technology improving traditional work processes.

Adding new tasks to increase your results

You may have experienced the improvement paradox in your personal use of social media. The scale is smaller but the principles for a large business are the same. You start out blogging and develop a sizable following. You find your voice and then get stalled out at a level which leads you to try to find an improvement in your process. A quality improvement plan can help your knowledge service move to the next level.

Your first step is to add other applications and interact with other web sites besides what's been giving you the good results over the last year. You may decide to start tracking some of your activity to see where if you are improving or not and exactly what’s making the difference. But you devote valuable time to the plan and have less time to blog. Less time to blog or tweet now equates to less satisfied people who were used to your frequency that now is lagging.

The new tracking that you are doing shows that the extra time spent going to new sites and tracking is slowing down your publishing schedule and affecting your rankings. Your family sees less and less of you, the dog seems unhappy, and the pressure to get things back on track will push you to abandon the extra monitoring and visits to new sites. This is the short term effect of a quality program.

Plant a garden

Or maybe you’ve implemented a new social media plan for yourself by learning Twitter, LinkedIn, and a little about RSS feeds. But you noticed that it takes quite a bit of your daily time to administer those accounts and you had to delay the plan some. You may start justifying the return back to the old ways saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and that these time wasters can slowly become an addiction which won’t deliver results.

That's not really wasting time as much as they are getting planted and starting to grow. Impatient people rarely plant gardens and like to visit grocery stores much more. The hunters of the old sales 1.0 world don't see the benefits of the initial decline of the benefits curve. That decline signals that time is being invested for a much better future return.

It does take time to get the results that an improvement plan will eventually deliver. DuPont, according to Keating, had to develop a training plan that discussed the worse-before-better tradeoff so people weren't disappointed at the initial poor results to get ahead of the curve and achieve better future results. For some people, that might mean that you initially replace that old laptop of yours and get not only the current model but finally get the real software that makes a difference instead of hobbling by with some free or cheap substitutes.

Push (bad) vs. pull (good)

You know the difference between a person who beats you over the head with a message and someone who tells you just enough to pull you to the edge of your seat. One is pushing as hard as they can to get you to listen and the other knows how to instill the behavior of listening. The division that is commonly contrasted between Sales 1.0 and Sales 2.0 is really just a shift in business from a pushed message to a pulled message.

Keating said that pushing the right thing to your employees is not going to drive your ROI up. On a personal level where you hand out advice over a social channel, a common push technique looks like “Amazing new secret social techniques to become a millionaire discovered in Mayan tombs.” Or it could be the current social media author promoting their ten-point plan for SEO success with an inspirational speech about the importance of any of their detailed processes and tools suspiciously only available from them.

Instead, people should pull from you when they realize the benefits of your improvement and commit to doing what really works despite all the four-hour work week ads they see. The pull from employees that you want to see is the influence that Dale Carnegie recommends in How To Win Friends And Influence People. In social media, the readers pull from each other through a soft humanized side of marketing that Chris Brogan and Julien Smith describe in Trust Agents.

Unachievable sales goals

The idea of setting unachievable sales goals is behind the fact that managerial push is always going lose effectiveness over time with people. In my opinion, management does not favor pull style sales programs because it seems like the wrong type of sales culture. These Big Hairy Aggressive Goals (BHAGs) or "stretch objectives" do help people get further along than if they were using realistic goals though.

But people's commitment rises in relationship to the amount of success a worker achieves towards their expectations. The bigger the BHAG, the more likely a better motivation turns to disappointment. Even W. Edwards Deming, a pull-style innovator, saw this and tried to eliminate the carriers of the push disease in his 14 points. He wanted to eliminate slogans, exhortations, work quotas, management by numbers, and zero level targets entirely.

Expect long term growth

Goals must be set realistically so that staff and resources are used wisely. Employees can be included in the planning process to keep it real but a real commitment  comes from a desire to do better instead of a numeric goal. With enough pull from the employees, the need for managerial push is almost eliminated.

A social media program should be implemented with a long-term goal in mind. The staff must know that it will mean extra work for a little while. But after a year of effort, the results can be measured and seen as a successful venture. Expectations have to be set for short-term loss and long-term gain. Set your business goals with the knowledge that the social networking “fad” will strengthen future business relationships and the wise will make that adaptation while the foolish will not think it’s worth it.

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