Category Archives: Business Strategy

Applying innovative leadership strategies to the business of selling convergence.

VARmageddon

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Today it occurred to me, with all momentum we are seeing with the cloud the biggest change we are seeing is the demise of the VAR (Value Added Reseller.) VAR is a term that was cooked up in the techie acronym kitchen 20 or so years ago to differentiate solution centric resellers from box pushers. The only problem is, everyone calls themselves VARs. So like the little league team that gives everyone a trophy, nobody stands out.

The problem with describing yourself as a VAR is by definition, your starting point is selling stuff. From there, you add value around those products. This is where the cloud is changing things. The migration of services and applications into the cloud is creating a mindset where the customer is focused more than ever on business outcomes, not the building blocks that make those business outcomes happen.

My point isn’t that the cloud is making solution providers irrelevant – there’s going to be plenty of hardware and software being sold to keep us all afloat (and then some). True, the pendulum is swinging right, but it will swing left again (think centrex and mainframes). The big change is how IT decision makers are approaching decisions. If your value proposition is to sell technology and wrap value around it, you’re behind the 8-ball. If on the other hand your value proposition is to solve problems and create outcomes (that happen to employ technology), you’ve got an advantage over 99% of your competition. Ironically, you end up selling more hardware and software.

A quick survey of the fastest growing partners’ websites prove this point:  very little mention of technology or vendors, just business outcomes – what else matters?

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The Power of Testimonials

When you provide a proposal to a customer, or ask a decision maker to have that first meeting, do you leverage the power of testimonials? Everyone will tell a customer they can execute and fulfill all their hopes and dreams, but how does the customer know if you’ve got the goods? The best sales professionals have a plethora of testimonials on Linked In (if you don’t, you’d better catch up) — why not leverage those testimonials outside of Linked In to demonstrate your credibility? There’s no reason you can’t include a testimonial in a proposal or an email – why not make the most of these kind words. Take it a step further and include a “view my profile” button your customer can click on to see a real person’s profile on Linked In.  By doing a simple <print-screen> and a little cut and paste in microsoft paint (accessories), you can include a testimonial that looks like the below:

Note, it’s a good idea to give your testimonials a “heads up”, but my guess is they won’t mind since they’ve already provided the testimonial. One of the biggest components of converting a prospect to a customer is convincing them you can execute – these testimonials serve to that end.

Good Selling

Tom

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Sales Magnet

Here’s a trick, compliments of yours truly, to capture critical contacts with whom you can further your sales efforts.  Create a group on Linkedin out of thin air. I just created a group called “CIO Executive Assistants Network.” Before doing so, I went on to cooltext.com and slapped together the following logo in two minutes:

Next, I joined every Executive Admin/Assistant Group on Linkedin – some of which automatically accept me. The next step is to go onto these groups on Linkedin and promote my new group – targeted specifcally to EA’s that support CIO’s. This is a more specific niche than any other groups currently existing on Linkedin. Within hours, members have started to trickle in. I bet within a month I’ll have over 100 members.

Here’s the cool thing: Every time a member joins the group, it gets broadcasted to everyone in their network. Over time this creates a snowball like effect. I’ve executed this game plan successfully in the past with the NorVaya Linkedin BP Network (many who read this blog are a member).

Mind you, this isn’t a “trick”. In order to pull this off (and not betray the trust of these members) you’re going to have to use this group altruistically. This doesn’t mean you can’t also advance your cause by controlling the conversation and establishing yourself as a trusted figure.

So what’s the endgame? Access. As we all know, access to decision makers is half the battle. Using the above strategy, you can get very creative — sky’s the limit!

If you like ideas like this, follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/convergencesoup

Good Selling!

Tom

A “smart pill” for your business?

If you learned there was a pill that could improve your cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation,  and concentration — would you take it? In the movie Limitless, the character of Eddie Morra (played by Bradley Cooper) is confronted with precisely this dilemma when he runs into an old friend on the streets of New York. The friend claims to be working for a drug company about to bring such a pill to market. Eddie, a struggling author freshly dumped by his girlfriend and late on his rent, decides to take the magic pill called NZT-48 in a “what do I have to lose” moment.

As you may have guessed, the pill has profound effects on Eddie. He’s able to access virtually 100% of his brain allowing him to effortlessly write the first 90 pages of his book within hours to the amazement and awe of his editor. As he continues to take the drug, Eddie turns his life around overnight. With his newfound genius, Eddie can access and analyze diverse knowledge and data within his brain to write brilliant prose, speak foreign languages, play complex Chopin pieces, build a fortune by day-trading stocks and even woo beautiful women.

While this “clear pill” is a product of Hollywood fiction, it may interest you to know there is in fact an evolving genre of drugs and nutraceuticals referred to as nootropics or smart drugs. These drugs are thought to work by (a) altering the brain’s supply of neurochemicals; (b) improving the brain’s oxygen supply; and (c) stimulating nerve growth. According to NZT-48’s fictional (yet hilariously realistic) website, the “clear pill” elevates receptivity and synaptic sharing between the hippocampus, the amygdala and the striatum.

While the current or future efficacy of such a smart pill is debatable, I’d like to pose a different question. What if a “smart pill” existed for your business? What if your business was like Eddie Mora with many of the same problems: struggling to go to market with a new product, being dumped by customers, and struggling with cash flow?

It seems to me, there’s a lot of consilience between a brain and a business. Using the components that NZT-48 targets, we have the following divisions of the brain.

The hippocampus is responsible for forming, sorting and storing memories. Not only does it file and store memories, it connects related memories together to give them meaning. If we imagine your business is a brain, the hippocampus represents the information that is vital to your business.

The amygdala, located deep within the medial temporal lobes, is the engine that manages social interaction enabling integration and cooperation with others.. Interestingly, the size of the amygdala directly correlates to size and complexity of a person’s social networks.  Continuing the assumption that your business is a brain, the amygdala represents your interaction with associates, clients and vendors.

The striatum, the largest part of the basal ganglia, is largely responsible for automatic movements we make without thinking. In the context of a business, the striatum represents business processes.

If we set out to reverse engineer a smart pill for your business, we would have to unlock the maximum potential of all of your capital and assets (human and otherwise) by more effectively sharing information and resources.  In order to do this, your smart pill would have to do the following:

• Increase access to internal and external information
• Speed the delivery of this information so better decisions can be made in real time
• Allow fewer people to do more work by removing internal friction.
• Integrate business processes with lightening fast communication..

Of course, this magical pill doesn’t exist –yet another invention of Hollywood fiction. Or is it? As if I myself have just ingested the controversial transparent apothecary, I’m suddenly able to access obscure information deep inside my brain. In fact, it occurs to me that there is indeed a business-grade smart pill and it’s called Unified Communications.

If UC is a smart pill for enterprises and not all smart pills are created equal, then Avaya Unified Communications is the equivalent of NZT-48. Avaya’s Aura architecture speeds information delivery by allowing users to instantly lock into the quickest mode of communication for every situation via presence based, multi-mode communications. As a result, vital information travels through the business like electrical charges traveling at the speed of light through Eddie’s brain. With all of the right information accessed at the right time, line of business managers are able to make quick decisions in real time while mortal competition flounders with human latency and inefficiency.

Referring to the three divisions of the brain which NZT-48 targets, UC facilitates the rapid flow of vital information through social networks to enable better, faster decisions. But what about the striatum of your company: business processes? This is where Avaya Aura separates itself from garden variety nootropics.

If there was an easy way to integrate the flow of information not only through social networks, but also with business processes.. well, then we just might have the holy grail of smart drugs. If we had the ability to “plug in” communication actions to business processes, we could further take human latency out of the business by not letting people “get in the way” of what needs to be done based on real time changes in the business. It seems that this would require a sort of synapse that would transmit a signal resulting from information (events), directly to a business process flow which could choose the best mode of communication given the information at hand.

I know you won’t be surprised to learn that Avaya, through intense R&D, offers exactly this type of synapse, or rather an SDK (software developer kit) to rapidly integrate business applications with communication. This SDK is called ACE and it stands for Agile Communications Environment. It is the secret ingredient the boys in the kitchen baked into this NZT-48 and it can take your business to a level no other UC platform can.
By ingesting this technology, might not your business make better, faster decisions? Would it not unlock the full potential of all of your people, assets and information? Would you not be able to bring better products and services to market faster than your competition? Respond to changes in the market faster? Avert supply chain issues by instantly taking corrective action? In business as in life, what else is there?

“I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I have a recipe for grandeur.” – Eddie Morra

Unlike NZT-48, Avaya Aura UC can be purchased through an Avaya Business Partner near you. What you do with it is limitless.

-Tom Walker

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Know Thy Offense..

A lot of VAR leaders I speak with admit that they don’t  have the caliber of sales force that they want.  Or even more common, 20% of their reps are generating 80% of their revenue. Let’s face it when it comes to selling virtualized architectures, communication enabled business processes, business continuity solutions, multi-media collaboration, and all of the other intricate solutions you offer — how many sales people can consistently navigate these complex scenarios?

Most partners are telling me sales professionals are becoming more scarce who can find a net/new opportunity, discover customer needs, develop a solution strategy, gain consensus and close the deal.  What I’d like to suggest is that perhaps the problem isn’t your sales people– perhaps you have unrealistic expectations of what your sales people should be doing to grow your business.

In 1971, Jack Lengyel accepted a job as head coach of the Marshall University’s decimated football team. The previous year, 75 players and coaches died in a tragic plane crash leaving the school with essentially no football program whatsoever. Coach Lengyel, against sharp criticism, recruited a rag-tag group of young players with little experience and managed to cobble together a team.

After a few practices, it became readily apparent to Coach Lengyel that he wouldn’t be able to employ his beloved Power-I offense he had used with great success when he coached at Wooster. Despite all of the success he had in the past with this offense, he took a realistic assessment of what his offense was capable of. He realized, his players just didn’t have the athleticism or experience to run the Power-I.

Lengyel realized if he was going to field a viable team,  he had to simplify his playbook — dramatically.  That’s when he decided to adopt  “The Veer” offense.  The Veer allowed his under-sized players to employ double teams and angles to block defenders. You see, the Veer is a triple option offense that allows the Quarterback to make a last minute read on the defense to select one of three actions. The simplicity is derived from the fact that everyone on the offense does the same thing on every play allowing them to focus on precision and execution.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that the Thundering Heard won their first home game of the season against Xavier. Given the inexperience of their team, this was nothing short of a miracle.  My points in all of this are the following:

1. Partners that have a structured sales process always outperform competitors who do not.

2. You need to assess the skills of your sales people to develop a realistic sales process.

3. Once you have done this, where there are gaps — you need to provide expert resources as an overlay to your players.

4. Sales reps that consistently deliver precision move the ball forward with predictable results – this only comes from repetition.

So my challenge to you, the VAR, is to take an honest assessment of your sales team.  Do you have a consistent sales process and does it fit the abilities of your sales team?

Tom

Follow me on twitter: www.twitter.com/convergencesoup

Benjamin Franklin, Virtualization, UC, and the Fate of the United States

Before I wrote this post, I asked my mom to draw the above picture.  I described the message I was trying to convey, what I envisioned, and 24 hours later,  I was ecstatic to see how amazingly well she captured the essence of what I was trying to explain.

There’s only one problem: I forgot to tell her whether the ship was coming or going.  I intended for the ship to be going away but if you look at the picture above, you really can’t tell. The smoke clouds seem to be trailing the ship;  however, we appear to be looking at the bow. Maybe the ship is coming along with the wind? Or maybe my mom found a picture of a real steamer that was in fact pointed in the stern and simply captured that feature?

Smash cut to 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin, upon gazing at the back of George Washington’s chair marveled at a carving of a half sun.  “I have often looked at that picture behind the President without being able to tell whether it is a rising or a setting sun, “ Franklin proclaimed. “Now at length, I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

As the carving was open to interpretation and experience, so too may be the picture above. If you are a VAR with a virtualization practice, are you leaving Unified Communications behind? If you are a UC VAR, has your ship finally come in — a way to implement UC, Call Center, Messaging and Collaboration on a single server?

One thing is for sure, almost every enterprise is making a concerted effort to virtualize as much as they can in their data center. Are you in synch with this trend? If you are not talking about UC in the context of virtualization (and vice-versa), you may be, well.. missing the boat (which reminds me of a previous post).  When you look at this drawing in 12 months, what will you see?

-Tom

A New Spin on Teleworker ROI

Looking for a new way to justify the value of teleworking solutions that you sell (Avaya One-X, VPN Phones, Juniper VPN Gateways, Sipera UC Sec,  Aruba VBN, Call Accounting, etc)? This recent post on Lifehacker explains how each mile not traveled to work puts $795 per year back in an employee’s pocket. By helping your clients develop a secure, managed and measured teleworking program, you allow them to give their best employees a nice pay boost so they can keep them from fleeing to greener pasteurs. Will employees agree with this math? Probably not.. but you need to have a way to put a number on the value of teleworking to an employee and this is a good start.

Of course, there’s plenty of studies that have debunked the myth that at home workers are less productive — in fact most studies show increased productivity. Often, time not spent commuting is spent working on your behalf. Given the option, most employees do whats in the best interest of their employer.

Happy Selling,

Tom

What can Rommel teach us?

Rommel observing the Atlantic Wall near Ouistreham, Normandy, France, late May 1944

 
What can the Desert Fox teach us about competing as a VAR today? Plenty. Early in 1944, Field Marshall Rommel was asked to inspect the entire French coastline to assess its effectiveness in thwarting the inevitable invasion by allied forces. Contrary to propaganda, Rommel reported the coastal fortifications to be grossly inadequate.
 
As a result of Rommel’s assessment and instructions, the Germans spent the next several months adding pillboxes, guns, mines, obstacles, and anything else he thought could stop the allies from breaching the Atlantic Wall. Rommel felt certain that the ONLY way to thwart an invasion was to stop the Allies on the beach. If this was not accomplished, defeat could only be postponed, but not avoided.  Thankfully, Rommel’s efforts were too little, too late.
 
My question to you, the VAR, is where are your beaches and how strong is your wall? If you are selling Unified Communications but not strong in networking or security – can you afford to let your competitors on the data network beach? As they gain ground on your customer, can you really defend the voice infrastructure or are you living on borrowed time as Germany was?
 
If you are a networking partner who has no voice practice, can you really afford to let your competition transform your client’s business processes through collaboration and unified communications? Once they are on that beach, can you continue to defend your sacred network?
 
This is the reality we live in. The network and voice platform are becoming increasingly symbiotic.  The VARs that are growing the fastest have strong UC and Networking practices which proves the point. If you can’t excel in both markets, how long can you maintain account control?
 
Listen to Erwin. Stop your enemies at the beach.

Innovative Cloud Angle

It occurred to me early on in the explosion of cloud services , that there could be  a real synergy for economic development agencies and commercial developers. Both are trying to attract businesses to locate in their communities in the face of cutt-throat competition. By partnering with economic development agencies and developers, you can help them brand their own cloud infrastructure which they can offer to prospective companies that are weighing where to relocate or expand their business.

The value to the corporation is that they acquire technology and services they need as a digestable opex instead of a massive capex. More than that, because the city or developer has greater economies of scale than any one company, the prospective company can get those services cheaper than if they were to acquire these services on their own (at least that’s the spin.)

The best part about this is you are finding opportunities at a much earlier stage in the CFO’s decision process. Instead of the CFO making geographic location and technology decisions independently, he’s exposed to a superior holistic value proposition that nobody else is offering — a value proposition that gives the economic development agency, developer and cloud provider (or private cloud builder) an unfair advantage.

Recently, I had an opportunity to pitch this idea to a friend of mine who is an economic development consultant (he works with cities and communities to attract new businesses) and so far, this has been received extremely well by the clients he’s suggested this to.  One particular opportunity is in the works with a very large developer to attract call centers.

This could go a lot of different directions, but the net/net is the cloud (whether private or public) gives enterprises access to economies of scale they can’t build independently. By cities and developers offering their own cloud services (through a partnership with you), they are able to change the conversation and make other cities and developers irrelevant.  It also gives them the opportunty to target specific clusters (vertical markets) that need the same type of foundations (services) to drive critical mass and referenceable success.

Want to kick this around more? Shoot holes in my strategy?  tom.walker@catalysttelecom.com

The Enterprise Exchange Carrier

If you want to differentiate yourself in the enterprise converged infrastructure space, I recommend adding this to your vernacular. Gosh, you might even try to trademark the term “EXC” or “Enterprise Exchange Carrier”.  I think these three simple words crystallize where technology is pushing your customers. As you know, a Local Exchange Carrier is what we refer to generically as the telephone company or service provider, whether it’s AT&T, Verizon, Windstream, CenturyLink, etc..

The value proposition that I am proposing innovative solution providers adopt is that of an elite solution architect who helps enterprises build a carrier-grade network. Why carrier grade you ask? First of all, you are focusing on the segment of the market that is willing to (and needs to) pay a premium for higher performance and resiliency. But the most important reason for a carrier-grade network is this: Whether your customers like it or not, recent explosive trends in the market and technology landscape are requiring them to assume the role and burden of a carrier.  For instance:

  • Consumer devices like iPhones, Android Phones, Tablets, not to mention laptops multiplying at exponential rates. Employees, Clients and Partners are bringing these devices into the enterprise and not only expect them to work, are more efficient and productive if they do work.
  • Service Providers are already capping, throttling back, or limiting consumer bandwidth consumption. Unlimited data plans are like ponzi schemes waiting to unravel. There just isn’t enough 3G and 4G bandwidth to go around.  This leaves device owners only one place to go, especially when they’re in the enterprise.
  • Enterprises hence become the defacto service provider (aka carrier) and can do so more efficiently via 802.11, BUT they have to be smart and secure in the way they do it.  This requirement penetrates almost the entirety of the network architecture and requires expertise beyond what a typical point-solution VAR offers.
  • Enterprises are needing to provide the lightening fast, ubiquitous  wired and wireless transport with QoS and security to support applications that increase efficiency and productivity. This trend is seeded with consumer apps like Skype and Facetime which users will expect to “just work.”
  • Increasingly, enterprises will face competitive pressure to scale access of the network while at the same time be burdened with necessity for control and security.  Downtime in almost any industry is not an option.
In the telephony world over the years, we’ve had a question that identifies whether a company has a call center: “Do you have people that call your company?” BAM! You have a call center! (even if you didn’t know it).  I think a similar question exists in the context of being an EXC.  “Do you have employees, patients, clients, partners who need to communicate while on your campus or in your enterprise?” Congratulations customer! You’ve just joined the exciting world of being an Enterprise Exchange Carrier! Now let’s turn this responsibility into an opportunity, not a threat to your organization.