The Business Buyer Manifesto

As our own business grows, I find myself more frequently in the role of a business buyer. It is a stark reminder of why we do what we do at Artesian.

CC Bloom Syndrome

A meeting with a potential supplier, only a few days ago, was a classic example of what will now be forever known to me as  CC Bloom Syndrome, a behavioural trait described by Forrester’s Scott Santucci in his blog post Closing the Divide Between Sellers and Executive Level Buyers: A Plea ! Three colleagues and I sat through a forty five minute demonstration peppered with questions and answers. Our time had been well spent and having done a great job, the pre-sales consultant handed back to the seller. At this point we were asked how we would now rank their product against others we had seen.

The preceding highly interactive session had revealed much about our specific needs. We’re an interesting company, in a growth space, tackling a new market, well funded and introducing new systems and processes around old ones that we are outgrowing.  I didn’t understand why he didn’t have more questions about, errr, us. Instead, like the character CC Bloom in the film Beaches, we were asked Anyway, that’s enough about us, over to you, what do you think about us?

The first five thesis of the Business Buyer Manifesto

Our seller hadn’t appreciated that the world has changed. He hadn’t figured out what our business, a business that has social selling at its core, would want from a seller. Irony upon irony.

In a world where the dynamic between buyers and sellers has changed dramatically there are at least five new imperatives to observe, to underpin each and every customer interaction. I make no apology that the tone is inspired by the Cluetrain Manifesto one of the most prescient pieces ever published on the future of business.

  1. It’s the Buyers Process. I am not part of your sales process, you are part of my buying decision. Like many B2B buyers according to research from the Corporate Executive Board, by the time I contact you I am 57pc of the way through my decision. That’s right, if it was  a sales process, then how did I get more than half way through it without you?
  2. Buyers Needs are increasingly Transparent. We are all busy but I will have done some research on you, your products and your competitors. Many of my needs as a business buyer are identifiable from news about my company, from my LinkedIN updates, my tweets and blogging. It is all out there so return the favour.
  3. Do the Right Thing. I don’t need an introduction to your existing customers, I can  find them, their views and what it is to work with you today because all of these things are on-line. I will not  take any single view, rating, recommendation at face value. Connected buyers are more sophisticated in their use of social media than that. We are looking for patterns. Ask yourself, have you been doing the right thing for your customers? I will be.
  4. Be Authentic. Like most B2B buyers, according to a Forrester survey, I  have read three pieces of content for each carefully created corporate marketing piece you offer me. And, as a connected buyer I place more trust on the views of my extended network anyway. Don’t position, posture or handle my objections with pat techniques or scripts. Instead, be open and honest. I am not looking for perfect, few of us are. But I demand authentic.
  5. Exercise Leadership. Much is said about power shifting from seller to buyer but the new reality is parity, not control. I understand that wherever there is change there is sales. Sellers that exercise leadership help us challenge the status quo, provide answers and offer direction. You should be good at this stuff, you have been on this journey before.

Social Sellers

The social seller then is not waiting for a key word in the conversation so that she can launch into a sales pitch. Instead she is looking to understand, to learn, to help and to lead. The social in social selling is less about the media, the tools and the platforms and more about recognising the 5 imperatives. To serve the buyer and proactively interpret their need as a result of being immersed in their customers world.  Understanding, openness and authenticity earns trust and builds reputation that gives social sellers the right to take a leadership role taking them and their customers to a place of mutual success.

For those that continue to ignore the changing dynamic between buyer and seller, the Cluetrain will keep stopping … perhaps they should take a delivery.

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Intending (not resolving) to Simplify my Life in the Cloud

Life in the Cloud

HNY14

I am not much of a resolutionist. I don’t judge those that  resolve to improve significantly annually on January 1st but permanent personal change, for me, comes from small but frequent adjustment.

Out of (minor) Disaster

The latest set of changes came about as a result of a determined thief ‘having it away’ with my Macbook Air whilst I was out with a customer one evening.  What followed was an acid test of how protected I was from such an event as a result of living the vida nube.

It was also an opportunity to review my personal productivity.

What worked and Not so Much

Surprisingly the only real painful experience was with my Time Machine. I abandoned a full restore to my new Air based on its own interminable estimates and the experiences of others who had suffered similar impossible waits only to be rewarded with a last-minute fail. All attempts at a selective restore have thus far eluded me. 

Other than that I had the comfort of being able to quickly remotely reset the stolen macbook and my lastpass session. I was then able to log on to another home machine and reset all my passwords. The number of cloud services that I use meant that this was not quick but once this was done I  got my payback.

I was instantly able to get to my company email (365)  personal email (Google) office applications (CloudOn) daybook notes (Evernote) music (iTunes and iTunes Match) pictures (1TB Flickr) and all my documents which live variously on Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive. Of course, all my social applications live in the cloud too. Other than a few minor exceptions I was up and running in surprisingly short order.

Digital Simplification

In addition to reaping the benefits of living in the cloud, the experience also caused me to look for a few improvements in the way I work. This was mostly around the proliferation of user interfaces. For example, depending on the circumstances, I was working with email in Mac Mail or Outlook in their rich client and browser varieties. I might also use the equivalent apps on my tablet and smart phone. In addition to this, I was sometimes accessing the web clients through mobile browser as well as using other mail applications such as Mailbox which I used solely for it’s ability to keep my inbox down. All in all, I might have used eight or nine subtly different user interfaces to work with  email even if I ignore the fact that I use three different  browsers and that many of these interfaces are updated four or more times a year.

A similar picture emerged for office and social applications. There are almost as many ways to tweet as the 140 characters we are limited to when doing so.

Simplicity and Choices

So I made some hard choices. One way of emailing, a single way of tweeting and I am reducing rather than increasing all the other apps that I use rather than allowing them to proliferate to benefit from what ultimately ended up being minor benefits. It has meant that I have had to learn a little more about my chosen applications to find ways of doing things that I would have swapped to do previously. This has sometimes meant that I just ‘do without’ functionality if was only of marginal utility.

Interestingly, this process of simplification, is similar to one way innovators disrupts incumbent technology companies. Established vendors continue to add features that are often ahead of customer need and almost always at extra cost. Meanwhile, innovators disrupt their market with simpler, agile, cheaper solutions that are ‘good enough’. More on this and the subject of simplicity here in this excellent post from Ben Thompson.

So here I am in the first few weeks of a fresh year hoping that simplifying my life in the cloud will result in similar but personal benefits. The plan is to be able to do all the things that I currently do in the cloud in a cleaner, simpler and more efficient way. It’s not a resolution though.

Smart Watch naysayers and the inevitable rise of Wearable Tech

A diversion into the world of wearable tech for my first post after a Summer recess.

The naysayers are already lining up to herald the failure of smart watches including a couple of post from ZDNet with The problems with the smart watch even Apple can’t solve and Wearable computing: Why there’s no room for watches like Galaxy Gear. There is also a much more direct post from Medium with Why Smart watches will fail.

The sum of these and other similar criticisms are that the screens are too small and that there is no practical way of data input given the size of the device relative to the average, never mind the fatter, finger.

What these reviewers, critics and bloggers are overlooking is that the smart watch is not intended to be a small version of the increasingly inaccurately named smart phone. To date, we have computed on computing terms. At a desk, perhaps on our laps using a keyboard and screen. Wearable technology is about computing on human terms. Wearable marks a profound change to our relationship with technology.

Smart phones like the Pebble along with devices like Google Glass,  the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and the San francisco based fitness tracking startup Fitbit fresh from raising another $43m  all owe a debt to the work of Mark Weiser a researcher at the Xerox Parc Alto Research Centre. More than thirty years ago, Weiser predicted that computing would go way beyond personal and would be ‘in the woodwork’ it would be everywhere; it would be ubiquitous.

Wearable computing is just the start of ubiquitous and situational computing that monitors and responds to our needs, our situation, in context. Wearable doesn’t need a screen or a keyboard, it need only do one thing well and be connected to the internet through equally ubiquitous connectivity.  In the old world a PC user selected the time, manner and duration of their interaction with a machine. In a world of ubiquitous and pervasive computing the thermostat at home is changed, journeys are redirected, sleep patterns detected, alternative arrangements for transit delays organised and medication regimes checked without a keyboard or screen, touch or otherwise.

In the interest of full disclosure the author is a functioning geek with a growing collection of wearables. For example, my Kickstarter edition pebble watch will track my running pace through Runkeepe and alert me to incoming calls, text messages and emails on a low-power e-ink screen. Contained within its (more geek than chic) case is a magnetometer, ambient light sensors and an accelerometer. It will also tell the time.

Living the vida nube

Ricky+Martin+r10A career in consultancy and services leadership has not really helped me develop a sense of rythm, a party spirit or noteworthy alcohol tolerance. It is fair to say that Ricky Martin’s crazy life passed me by. Mostly.

That being said, I am  living the vida nuba. There are less sequins certainly, but it has made me more efficient, more connected and more adaptable to the myriad ways in which a working day can pan out. Life in the cloud is really working for me.

The basic step of making  personal and professional docs available in the cloud had the immediate benefit of making everything accessible from my home and/or office. However, the consequential benefits  have been unexpectedly pleasing too;

Unchained 

I am with Kivi Leroux Miller on this. In her blog she describes, how for many of us, work has become a state of mind, not a place.  It’s true. I cannot express enough how much freedom cloud gives me during a working week. I can write or work on trains, in coffee bars and, as I do from time to time, in the 7th floor bar of the Tate Modern. The views are an inspiration.

Sure wifi isn’t everywhere but it is mostlywhere and there really haven’t been enough exceptions to care. I have forgotten thumb drives more often.

Zen Computing

Once I started using cloud applications I quickly realised that I actually did not need all the features in ‘other’ bloated desktop tools. Last year, I wrote a book, a full twelve chapters plus bibliography, fore and after words without ever dropping into an unwieldy desktop word processor except for a few frustrating minutes before sending it to the publisher. Hey the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed.

All that space on my hard (SSD) drive and my head is replaced with tools and apps that make other parts of my life more productive. Just finding space for Evernote in my world has been a blessing and occasional lifesaver.

Everyware

When I made the  move to Mac a few years ago, there was no need to scour my C drive for old mail, spreadsheets and documents. They were all good to go. I have forgotten what Hot Syncing was (really, what was that all about?) and instead I have become device independent. Whichever bit of kit (phone, phablet, tablet or laptop) fits the task in hand is the one that gets picked up and used.

Moore is More

Sure, things go wrong from time to time and a broadband outage can make me disproportionately edgy. I am, overwhelmingly though, enjoying a law of increasing returns and keep finding new things that delight me. I  no longer have those panicky moments where I don’t know if it is on ‘this’ computer. It is. All of them. If someone makes a convincing book recommendation at a conference, I don’t make a note of it – I buy it. If a battery runs out on one device, I move to another. You get the picture.

The list goes on. Whilst it doesn’t give me swivel hips or a desire to go dancing in the rain, it does give me a heady sense of freedom, flexibility and control.

Diversity

Diversion into Diversity

Much of what we talk about here in DH is about the changing workplace largely as a result of living in the networked age. I hope, that some of these posts encourage us, as organisational leaders, to rethink the way we work, the way we organise and the style in which we lead and follow. This post is a diversion into diversity.

Social and Social Structures

In Decision Sourcing, Rooven Pakkiri and I assert that businesses are, like all social structures, organised around a common purpose – one of economic activity. In fact, it turns out that economic activity could even have been a critical part in human evolutionary development. Neanderthals, it turns out were every bit as smart as modern humans even if they were also hairy strong and tough. It turns out that hairy strong and tough was all the fashion for ice age conditions but it didn’t make them stupid. Nevertheless, in spite of the two hundred thousand year head start before Homo sapiens arrived. Ten thousand years later, all the Neanderthals were gone.

Essential Team Building

The prevailing theory is that modern man had sophisticated tools making them better at hunting and warring. However, research by Jason Shogren of the University of Wyoming suggests that, rather than toolmaking, it was  trade and specialisation behind Homo Sapien dominating previous members of the genus. Dr Shogren’s research reported in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, suggests that the early survival of humanity depended upon economic cooperation. The sapien edge came from collaboration, trading and specialisation of labour. Trading between craftsman and hunters allowed sapiens to get more meat, a finite resource, therefore driving up the fertility of sapiens and the decline of Neanderthals.

The Ultimate Performance Management System

Whilst this perfectly illustrates the importance of economics on our evolution (Shogren’s point is about bartering and trade) it also illustrates the importance of a need for diversity in communities. Neanderthal could not have been more perfectly motivated (hunt or die) but this was clearly not enough. The stick could not have been more final and the carrot more crucial and yet extrinsic motivation failed an entire species. Over at the Sapiens though, their system allowed bad hunters to put down their spears and make clothes and tools. Craftsmen created, hunters piled up meat and pelts and warriors fought. A system of trading was an implicit recognition that everyone had a role to play.  An acknowledgement of diversity through a system of exchange resulted in everyone getting better clothing, tools, weapons and a belly full of food. There would have been no group hugs or tolerance workshops. No badges or T shirts. Instead instinct and necessity lead them to a fundamental truth about diversity in tribes. In teams if you will.

Team Building or The Same … But More

Whilst it is a human tendency to be drawn to people like ourselves, it can lead to homogeneous hiring and more of the same. More of the same, it turns out, was a system that didn’t work out that well for those whom we first discovered in the German Neander valley.  How should our teams look in the future? It might be worth looking for some pointers in our evolutionary history.

Mediterranean Murder Mystery: Marketing Kills Product on idyllic Spanish Island

In the early 80’s I holidayed in a lovely fishing town on one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain. It was bliss. Quiet, peaceful days followed by a relaxed evening stroll around Town hunting for the perfect place to eat.  Choosing the restaurant was as much of the experience as actually dining.  Our rudimentary Spanish and what was, at the time, exotic sounding dishes made the whole thing a voyage of discovery. We would peruse menus, scrutinise the wine list, check out the existing clientele and finally make a selection based on all these things and our mood. After returning, we talked of it often. It was the perfect, as one of my colleagues refers to them, ‘fly and flop’ holiday.

Marketing Begins to Suffocate it’s own Product

We made the mistake of returning some years later. There was little room for building so it hadn’t fallen prey to over development. In fact the beach and the local walks were every bit as relaxing as we remembered. However, the Town had become a battle ground.

It was clear what had happened. One restaurateur, tired of waiting for customers to randomly walk into his establishment erected  a much larger menu board than anyone else. Other’s responded so the Town was awash with ugly over-sized signage. The heat of competition hadn’t stopped there though.  In a level playing field of deals, discounts and enormous menu’s the restaurateurs started sending their staff out each evening to huckster holidaymakers before they walked on elsewhere. As we strolled we were interrupted with information about chef’s specials and one night only deals. Coupons and mini menus were thrust into our hands as we walked. We were even  sometimes accompanied if the desperate seller didn’t feel that we had quite understood the quality of their food or the generosity of their deal. The dining experience had stopped being about the customer and was all about the restaurant. It had stopped being about a relaxing holiday experience (interaction) and was only about filling tables and cash registers (transaction).

In the Absence of Product, Nothing is left But Marketing and Marks

Add a few timeshare touts also in pursuit of their transactions and what was once idyllic was now annoying. What was once a joy of discovery became as irritating as a picnic near a wasps nest. We ended up hiring a car and eating out of Town but the collective opinion was that the quality of the food and service had taken a nose dive too.

A whole Town was behaving like the worst kind of modern marketers. They had forgotten that their value is in meeting the needs of their customers. Their customers, actually holidaymakers, wanted to make their own choice, in their own way largely without interruption. The ‘product’ was a set of interactions, driven by the desire to discover, to explore, to find local dishes. To uncover the best fish in Town or find a rare Rioja whilst promenading and people watching.

Instead a whole Town full of Restaurateurs forgot about good food, great service and reputation. Even in holiday Towns, you get to hear about the good and the bad very quickly. Instead, they fixated on what happened at the end of the meal, their bill, and worked back. We don’t get the transaction unless we remove that random element of discovery and exploration so we will slowly and persistently drive it out. They killed the very thing that their customer came into Town for.

In Memory of the Interaction

I hear that the Town is much quieter now, European holidaymakers favour long haul destinations or stay at home vacations. I am sure though that it is also because they tired of the huckstering. What used to be a warm, and fun experience, a rich set of human interactions became all about the transaction.

Picture: Katherine Le Grice: Mediterranean Village

EA: Why Being Worst Matter More than They Think?

It seems that beating the tobacco companies and those behind environmental negligence to the title of ‘Worst Company in America’ has not been an exercise in humility for Electronic Arts

 

In a statement to Gamer web site Kontaku, EA said “We’re sure that British Petroleum, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton are all relieved they weren’t nominated this year. We’re going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide.”

 

The statement was described as arrogant and dismissive by Paul Tassi, Forbes contributor. I would add short sighted too.

 

EA are pointing to their worldwide sales achievement to dismiss the vote as inconsequential. However, what they are forgetting in their hubris is that sales is the classic ‘lagging’ indicator. Sales are recorded monthly and publicly announced quarterly and annually in most businesses. Sentiment, on the other hand, is a leading indicator. A dip in employee engagement means that customers are about to become unhappy. A dip in customer sentiment means that your sales are about to be hit. Robert Kaplan and David Norton introduced the business world to this cause-and-effect chain decades ago. Customers drive revenues, your business produces value that your customers love or hate, your staff drive the business, your investment in your staff motivates or demotivates them. Simple but a point that the EA spokesman appears to be missing.

 

Now I don’t know the extent to which gamers are about to extract their ire but I do know when a company has spoken too soon. And EA have. EA should reflect on the feedback. Their customers are telling them that they don’t feel respected, that their culture is corporate over creativity, that they are emptying wallets but giving only the bare minimum back.

 

In the light of that sentiment, they should really not be sitting on laurels made of  last quarter’s or last year’s sales. They are gone. Sentiment like this can gather momentum, capture the imagination of a well connected community and have far reaching consequences down the line.  EA should have thought before they spoke. The impact of  the ignominy behind this award is yet to be felt.