Thursday, March 27, 2014

When the media affects your livelihood.

Most of the time the 'media' is a useful tool for sales professionals, that can be used to keep up on recent trends and activities in your industry, keep track of your competitors or research new prospects.

Sometimes however, the media can have a negative impact on your ability to make a living.  From general bad economic news to specific bad news about your company, it all can be used by prospects to justify a delay or a complete cancellation of their planned purchase with you.  If you're looking for work, a negative news item in your industry can reduce headcount or delay, if not cancel entirely, a planned new hire or your company's entry into a complete new line of business.  

In short, bad press is bad for business.

Historically, the best a sales professional could do, to counter bad press, would be to collect a bigger pile of favorable press pieces or customer references.   But that was then, and this is now.  Thanks to social media, most press pieces and opinion columns also include areas for comments or feedback.

Leverage the opportunity to post an opposing viewpoint.  Failing that, you could always leverage your blog, facebook page or LinkedIn account to express a contrary position to the offending piece.  Keep it short, keep it professional and keep it cordial.   Never make it personal or stoop to question the author's credibility or abilities as a writer.  No matter how different your opinion, don't forget that these folks are people too.  A professional writer is just as likely to have an off, or even a bad day every once in a while like anyone else. 

Recently I ran across an article that I completely disagree with, written by a high tech author I've been reading since the eighties, John C Dvorak.  The article's title?  'Big Data Is Just a Scam.'  John's original article can be read here: 

For simplicity's sake, I'll include my response below.  Curious if you think my response was polite, professional and yet pointed enough?    

Bottom line?   If you want to engage with your customers through social media, you may need to engage with those framing the discussion and conceptual frameworks of your industry online.  

Good luck.



I've been an avid reader of yours for decades now, and I would have to say this is the first time I'd ever have to disagree you.

Yes, Big Data has big PR problems when it comes to personal privacy. But to focus on just one small portion of the big picture isn't doing anyone any justice. Big Data isn't living up to the hype in targeted advertising? I would agree with you that right now it would appear that way; but I would also have to challenge you that perhaps the experiences you site in your article do not have Big Data implemented correctly, if implemented at all.

The media, in general, seems to have developed quite the negative myopic perspective lately when it comes to Big Data. It seems to be the cat that everyone loves to kick when they come home at night after another sluggish day in the technology industry. Which is quite comical, when in reality, the media itself could be blamed for setting unrealistic expectations for big data in the minds of the general public to begin with.

In business, big data itself is just a pile of data that you so correctly pointed out. But when analytics are properly applied, outliers, or results outside the ordinary, in performance, can be readily identified.

Why are outliers important?

Simple really. Negative outliers, could represent branch offices, retail outlets, product lines, hospitals, or even doctors that are performing below standards. Corrective measures or investigations can occur that can bring these results into line with historical norms or expectations.

Positive outliers, I would even argue, are more important for business. They represent levels of performance which are possible, yet not expected. Identify precisely what differs between the positive outlier and the norm, and you can replicate that formula at other retail locations, branch offices or hospitals for better results across the entire organization.

When these same outlier concepts are applied to, rather than by, big government, the results can be even more spectacular. Fraudulent health claims, financial transactions or suspicious or repetitive border crossings can be tracked, traced, investigated and eliminated to ensure the legitimacy and improve the accuracy of government programs. Government infrastructure projects, thanks to further analysis provided by Big Data, can also be validated, optimized and prioritized before any tax dollars are wasted on pork barrel or white elephant projects.

And I'm just getting started. For those of you who are skeptical or bitterly negative towards Big Data, I would simply ask that you go to the library or even buy a copy of Rick Smolan's book, "The Human Face of Big Data." You'll get a much better idea of how the proper implementation of Big Data (plus analytics) can lead to a more promising future for everyone.

Yes, there are Big Data scams out there, but remember there were also snake oil salesman present when the United States developed and explored the Western Frontier years ago. It would be a great tragedy if the United States failed to fully explore the vast economic potential and societal benefits of the Big Data frontier, just because they ran into a few snake oil salesmen along the way.

I hope you reconsider your position John. You are a very influential guru within the high tech industry. 

Back when the United States' Western frontier was developing and being explored and before the law caught up with it, local sheriffs were required to maintain order. Today with Big Data, as both society and our legal systems struggle to come to terms with its potential, technically savvy pundits are required to properly frame the discussion and eventual adoption of these new technologies into mainstream America. 

To that end John, I'd ask that you holster your 'scam' hyperbole. We still need you out there on main street battling those hucksters and charlatans who would lead the path of Big Data adoption astray. John, when it comes to Big Data, we need you as a positive, rather than a negative outlier.

James Gingerich

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Marching Orders.

So, the third month of the first quarter is already underway.  Just nineteen selling days left in Q1.

How are you doing?

How are you doing against your quota?   How healthy is your funnel for the rest of the year?  Tired of winter?   Tired of digging out from all that snow?  Wish you could go on vacation and just get away from it all?  Or have you just got back from vacation and just can't get back into all this cold, grey weather again?

I've got news for you.   The clock is still ticking.

For those of you involved in enterprise software sales, where the average sales cycle can be as long as eighteen months, you've already talked with the prospects that will be buying from you before the end of 2014.  So, if you have any hopes of making it to President's Club this year, you've probably got some work to do.

Here are some helpful hints, or marching orders, to help you get back on track if your sales so far this year, are not on pace to get to your quota.

First, review your sales funnel.   Cut out the dead wood now.   The placeholders, the hail Marys, and the perpetual tire-kickers, should all be pruned from your tree of opportunity.   This allows you to focus more time on just those opportunities that have a real chance of bearing fruit within your shortened growing season.

Still falling short?

Chances are your sales manager will tell you to make more calls!   Set up more appointments!   Always be closing!!!    Yeah right.   This is where reality kicks in.   Remember your average sales cycle.  If it usually takes more than 12 months, and now that we are in March, just more than 10 months, to take a prospect from the point of first contact to contract; you are not going to close that prospect before the end of the year.  Sure, you have to prospect and follow up on new leads, but it's a loser's bet if you spend all your time there.  

To beat the house, and get to quota before the end of the year, when you've started Q1 badly and your funnel is weak, you've got to go back to your base and re-engage your current customers.   Customers who have already invested serious money in your firm's technology, represent low hanging fruit.  Whether you are selling them upgrades, additional seats, or new products entirely, the sales cycle will often be shorter.  Because they have already had a good experience with your firm, pilot projects may not be needed, and full deployment sales can be negotiated right away.

While the marketing department is where to go if you want to generate new leads for next year's funnel, you will need to go to the accounting, finance, or product management department to secure the information you'll need to blaze an old trail this year.    Tell them that you simply want to pull a list of the top customers in your territory for the last 5 years.

Why five years?

To execute a proper back fill funnel strategy, you will need at least three years of historic customer sales data, but preferably five, to give you a high enough volume of potential business, to turn the odds of success in your favor.   The rule of thumb for desired funnel going forward in the software business is generally a three to one ratio.  Which means for every dollar of quota you need to sell in a given period, you will need approximately three dollars in opportunities to cover it.     If back filling from a customer base, you will need at least five dollars worth of historic business to generate one dollar of business in the current calendar year.   When you get your list, simply rank them in order of sales revenue, start at the top and work your way down.   If you run into dissatisfied customers, that's great!   More often than not, they represent a great opportunity for a services sale and an upgrade sale if they want to try and recover any value from their original technology investment.

When calling into historic accounts keep three areas of potential additional business in mind.  One, acquisition business.  Has your customer acquired additional employees through an acquisition, that may require licenses of your firm's software?  Second, transition business.  Would your customer be interested in transitioning from on premise to cloud for example?   Would they like to see any of their desktop applications made available on mobile devices?   Third, scale.  Has your customer outgrown older software or hardware that can no longer handle the increased volume of data the business now generates?

Targeted seminars to showcase new versions or new products to existing customers are ideal.   In this environment if you can get just a few in the room enthused about upgrading to the latest features or new technology, their word of mouth during breaks or intermissions can work wonders on others in the crowd.   Always remember to use leverage to work for you instead of against you.

Last, don't get stuck in the doldrums of winter.  It's time to spring into action.