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Archive for June, 2015

Planning to fail…

I attended a Proformative.com presentation recently by Patrick Stroh, President of Mercury Business Advisors entitled: Business Strategy & Leadership: Plan, Execute, Win!  (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jh2qQeXaXMg).  I was intrigued by the executive role at companies today called the Chief Strategy Officer.

The most intriguing part of Patrick’s presentation was his review of the planning tool and process known as FMEA: Failure Mode Effect Analysis.  Hmmm planning to fail?  Tell me more.

Patrick Stroh offered that FMEA originated in the 1940’s during World War Two, in battle planning mode.  Then FMEA morphed to NASA and the space program.  And today exists (or at least, should exist) in the business community.

My summary understanding of the topic is the need to plan in advance for all of the possible bad things that can (and likely will) happen during an initiative because once the initiative commences, there is no time to start the planning process on how to react to the failure points if they arise.

This makes obvious sense when we think about the space probes we build and program on earth and then hurtle millions of miles into space.  Once launched, our only control is through (delayed) communications.  Once in space, NASA can only transmit software commands to address issues.  They don’t have any ability to retrofit physical repairs or replace things that wear out or are damaged in flight.  If they didn’t think about these possible failure points in advance, the entire mission (and tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars) would be lost.

This type of advanced planning with a failure-avoidance orientation makes me think about my profession – selling software.

Weinberg’s Law:

If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization. 

Gerald M. Weinberg

Throughout my career I continue to be amazed at how customers (and sales reps) focus more on negotiating a purchase price vs. going through all of the little implementation and upgrade intricacies that can (and usually do) fail.  We prefer to pay big bucks to our attorneys for contract negotiations just in case the project fails vs. entering into focused project planning in the sales cycle.   I suppose if the project fails at least the attorneys’ fees are covered.

I believe in the marketplace today the customer values a sales rep’s project planning skills more than the rep’s selling skills.  But that’s just me I guess.

When implementing or upgrading business systems it’s almost a surprise if a project goes well, isn’t it?  Does this sound at all familiar?

The stages of Systems Development: 

1. Wild enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Total confusion

4. Search for the guilty

5. Punishment of the innocent

6. Promotion of the non-participants

Arthur Black

Nope – no FMEA done here.

I get it – implementing new systems is complicated.  Getting our people to adopt new processes takes a huge effort.  The thing is; many of the pot holes projects run over are the same pot holes the same projects have been running over for as long as I can remember.  Maybe a little FMEA vs. attorney time would offer a better ROI, true?

Blunderware    

Hello, thank you for calling Application Consolidation Services.  We’re sorry for the problem s you’re having.  We know you’re sorry for buying the software in the first place.  We feel your pain.  But that’s life.  Please hold. 

CIO Magazine 5/15/1997

Selling software successfully doesn’t have to be rocket science; but FMEA shows we can learn a little from the space program.

GAP

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We used to…

I was thinking the other day about all of the things “we used to do”.  Remember “back in the day”?

I used to balance my check book each month.  I’d receive my paper bank statement in the mail; sit down with a calculator, my check book; and balance.  Ever since my wife took over as Chief Household Officer, things have changed.  With online banking and mobile phone apps, she manages our checking account balance near-real-time; electronically.

Think of all of the things in 2015 that in 50 years we will look back on and say, “We used to do that”.  Of course, “I” won’t be part of the “we” 50 years from now – I’ll be long gone by then.

We used to write letters with pen and paper.  In fact, much of the history about the Civil War we learned from the letters written by the lowliest soldiers all the way up to Abraham Lincoln and the country’s leaders.  As we all know, pen and paper have long since been replaced by electronic devices many of which we can simply speak to and the device converts our words into electronic text.  Writing letters with pen and paper?  Long gone.

Speaking of electronic communications, we used to interact with people face-to-face; have team meetings at work; conduct on-site sales calls; host bridge parties at home.  Remember playing card games with playing cards?  Today, many of these face-to-face business and social interactions have been replaced by instant messaging; webcasts; Instagram; and phone apps; true?

You know you’re living in 2004 when: 

1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven’t played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You email the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. When you make phone calls from home, you accidentally dial 9 to get an outside line.

6. You’ve sat at the same desk for four years and worked for three different companies.

7. Your boss doesn’t have the ability to do your job.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t have the first 20 or 30 (or 50) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it. 

Unknown Sage

And that’s 2004; imagine 2054, or 2065!

Even the concept of “interactions” being bi-directional has long since been replaced with the propensity of a one-directional approach (aka “spewing”).  Email in the business world; posts in the social media world; tweeting; texting.  We used to bi-directionally converse; now we spew.

I wonder if 50 years from now we will say we used to drive cars.  Of course, we drive cars today but it seems the folks at Google are deciding that the value of a driver behind the wheel of a vehicle is over-rated.  Are they engineering out the driver and replacing us with global positioning systems and computer chips?

Speaking of computer chips and engineering, I wonder if 50 years from now we will say, “We used to think?”  Will computers do the thinking for us then?

Will we reflect, “You know we used to write; we used to think; we used drive cars; we used to play bridge…?”  If this and more comes to fruition 50 years from now, I wonder what will be left for us to do

Of course, it won’t be “us” – “I” will be long gone by then.

GAP

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New hire ramp-up…

Recently, I’ve fielded many questions about ramping-up new sales reps.  My answers aren’t liked.   The “ratios”; the effort; the structured oversight; sounds like work, I guess.

The conversations start the same way, “Gary, do you know any really good sales reps we can hire?”  Or, they ask if a machine-based, on-boarding system is the way to go so their sales managers can do, “more important things”?

“More important things”?  What’s more important than ramping-up new sale reps – hitting the number?  My bad – I thought that hitting the number was the sales reps’ job.  If the sales manager is focused on “hitting the number”; then what are the sales reps focused on?

These new hire, ramp-up questions are typically framed in time-based units of measure; preferring to minimize the time.  “Can’t automation shorten the ramp time (and the work)”?  “If we hire an experienced sales rep, they won’t need any ramp-up, right?”

Reminds me of my sons.  They chose professions other than sales.  (No following in the old man’s footsteps for them, LoL!)

My younger son is a commercial driver.  When he chose his profession, he had two ramp-up options:

  • He could have taken a Do-It-Yourself; Internet-machine-based-learning; take the CDL test cold; multiple times if necessary; and hope for the best
  • Or, graduate from a Professional Driving School

The former offered a slim chance of being licensed and a slimmer chance of being hired.  The latter involved classroom lectures; tests; twenty hours on the “backing pad” learning three backing maneuvers; 30 hours of supervised driving time on the road; a DOT physical; and then passing the CDL test.  The work was worth it.

My older son is a commercial electrician.  When he chose his profession, he also had two ramp-up options:

  • He could have found a contractor  using an On-The-Job approach for their new employees, not caring if they are licensed or not
  • Or, chose to start as an apprentice; log 8,000 documented job hours; then pass the State Journeyman’s Examination; to become licensed

Practicing on the “backing pad”?  Supervised time in the role?  8,000 hours of documented experience?  Licensed?  Sounds like work.  I enjoy the comparison.

In the “blue collar” world of professional drivers and professional electricians, ramp-up plans involve structured, supervised processes to insure effectiveness.  What about the “white collar” world of sales professionals?

Reminds me of the strength and conditioning work athletes put in; the ratios of workouts needed to excel in the “game”.  For distance runners, its miles logged not weeks on the calendar that count.  For professional golfers, the ratio of practice balls hit dwarfs the number hit in tournaments.

Sales?

Cold calling is a numbers game (or, to be more precise, a ratios game). 

Stephen Schiffman

Here’s how I apply Stephen’s ratios for ramping-up a new sales rep:

How many calls will the new sale rep have to make,

before they schedule their 1st appointment?

How many 1st appointments will they have to complete,

before they identify their 1st qualified prospect?

How many qualified prospects will they have to complete discovery meetings with,

before they deliver a solution/demo?

How many demos,

before they deliver a proposal?

How many proposals,

before they close their 1st deal?

How many deals,

to get to their assigned quota run-rate?

Elapsed time; even machine-based elapsed time?  IMHO – wrong unit of measure.

I believe the effort needed for successfully ramping-up a new sales rep is based on ratios of supervised effort.  And yes, that is called work.

GAP

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