We started our first round of skilling on select software products of IBM in April 2010. We first started with tele enablement and then followed it up with face to face enablement. In tele enablement the participation from partners was comparatively less, however during the face to face enablement the response was overwhelming. We carried out the training in 21 cities and around 300 persons from close to 200 partners attended these training sessions. The response from these training sessions was simply great and that helped us understand that we are moving in the right direction and we went ahead and organized the second round of training, which has started from 17th August 2010. I would like to share some of the things which we took into consideration which worked for us :
(1) Identify locations/cities : We identified the cities based on the potential of the cities to do business and the potential of buying/selling IBM Software. We identified 21 cities for the first round of training.
(2) Identification of the products: We took six products from a list of thousand odd products on which we wanted to focus. Four of these products were completely suitable for the market segment we were trying to address and the two other products were picked based on the future potential for these products.
(3) Tele training : We decided to start with tele training. We took two products per week and one product per day. It was a one hour session. The response was much less compared to what we got in the face to face training, but it definitely helped in building the momentum among the partner community and among the IBMers.
(4) Face to face training : This was a logistical challenge and secondly knowing that the type of partners who might come for the training will be a mix of partners who know about software and those who do not know much about software having the right training material was the biggest challenge. We reduced the usage of PPT during the training as much as possible. It worked and helped increase the knowledge and confidence level of the Business Partners. The feedback we got are getting incorporated in the second round of training which is happening now.
(5) Asking the right questions : In the current training session we are trying to see that the partners learn to ask the right questions to identify the pain points and help the customer understand the right solution. The feedback from the four cities we have covered so far is encouraging.
(6) Taking the fear away : Most IBM software products are enterprise class products hence many partners have a strong feeling that it will be very complex to work on the software. These trainings are helping them understand that there are many products which are simple to sell, simple to install and simple to use, like any other software product they are used to. We think these trainings have definitely helped in reducing the misconception many of the partners had.
(7) More Opportunities and more closures : We see a decent growth in the number of business partners who are able to identify potential opportunities and are able to map the right IBM software products. This is helping in doing more business. All partners who got trained did not succeed but a big percentage of the partners have started getting results and this is very encouraging for us and for the partner community.
(8) Creating awareness : The parallel activity of creating awareness about those products/solutions on which the training sessions are getting organized with the end user segment of all those cities is also helping. The end users are becoming more aware of the business problems and the solutions for those problems and this is helping in more business opportunities for IBM and for the partner community of IBM Software.
Mid Market Software Ecosystem
ManojitMajumdar 270001BWN5 Tags:  training software enablement market mid selling partners 1,080 Visits
So far in my professional career I have attempted thrice to run my own business and I have walked out of it midway, as I started getting a strange feeling that I am not moving in the right direction. At Labsoft in Delhi, we did placements, marketing consultancy and software development. We picked up what ever came our way and looked interesting. I forgot the basic rule that one should not open up too many battlefronts at one go. Secondly we tried to hire the best people we could get. They picked things well and picked them fast but did not stick with us for long. They used the experience and the knowledge to move to bigger and better organizations and our struggle continued as we never planned for this contingency. We actually made money for close to one year when Sushma Kalra ran the business as she concentrated only on HR placements in IT industry and stopped all other activities. She did a good job of managing the business. After running the business for close to 5 years we had to shut it down. At Hyderabad I funded a computer hardware training institute. The team was hardworking and trustworthy but they lacked the sense of discipline needed to make a business successful. They ran the business for close to two years and then decided to pull the shutters down.
Some of the reasons were common in all these cases and that has given me a feeling that many a time either human beings do not learn from experiences or refuse to accept that they need help and continue going down, till it is too late to do any thing to revive. So I have a decent learning on why small businesses fail and have few suggestions on what do you need to do to not just survive, but do well. However the first rule to make this work is that you need to read this with an open mind, without thinking ways of trashing it, and accept your drawbacks and failures or else things may never change.
In fact last week when I was in Pune, the discussion with Rahul Choudhary of Zensoft was also very interesting. He gave a lot of emphasis on cash flow management, and I could relate and understand why he was so much keen to control and improve the cash flow constantly and not get bothered about it only while going through tough times.
To run any business you need an idea, people to implement that idea and funding to help people implement it and a market place which will be receptive to it. So at the outset it looks pretty simple. Unfortunately unlike mathematics and physics your standard formulae may not always work and you may be at a loss to know the next steps to stop the inevitable. The aim of this blog is to act as a reference guide which you can go through when ever you have a problem or even better when ever you decide to plan for a way to counter the future problems which may arise without any warning or notice. The golden rule to know the current status is to sit back and watch from a distance for some time. Watch the activities at a micro level if you wish, but do not run it yourself. When you are involved in day to day activities you start justifying your acts hence you refuse to accept that any thing better can be done.
Finance : Financial acumen is one of the most important thing for the management of any organization. This does not mean cost cutting and running the organization in a miserable manner. This means spend where needed and when needed and ensure some regular savings for a rainy day. It also means that one needs to think twice before investing heavily into any new line of business. A conservative approach in the initial phase does help. Primarily there are three aspects of finance which you need to keep track of:
-Top Line and Bottom line : We tend to look at the top line and feel happy, without always trying to understand the bottom line one makes out of the transaction. You need to have a high turnover to show the market place that you are doing good business, however what is even more important is that you are actually running a financially healthy business, even if your turnover is less. Try and sell value as much as possible and use value instead of price cutting to get business. It is difficult but is doable hence aim and go for it.
-Capital or Owners money is not free : You are in business because you want to make money. You could have put that money in Fixed Deposit in a Bank or you could have put that money in Mutual Fund and could have got almost assured returns. You can then play Golf, watch TV , read books and spend time with your friends and family. If you have not done that, it means you want to make more money then what you could from these sources, so do calculate the interest cost which you are incurring while calculating your return on capital.
-Cash flow : I have seen organizations who make Book Profits but do not have any Cash Profit to run the business. The money with your customers look good in the accounts book but is not always an indicator of healthy business. Ensure that you do not get into business transactions which will help you with good Book Profits and poor Cash Profits even in near long term basis. It is advisable to do less business if needed, but do clean business and do what you can manage. Check your cash flow and even better your Balance Sheet every day.
Technical orientation: Some how it has been seen that the IT organizations are started by people with a technical bent of mind and many of them are hard core technical people. Hence the emphasis of the organization is usually more towards the technical resources and less for sales. The expectation is usually that if we do a good technical job the sale will happen. So the sales team is usually very small, bit neglected from resources perspective, bit lowly paid and are expected to do wonders. Kindly invest in your sales and pre sales team too as that will help you grow your business faster.
People : Even though the expense done in managing the team is written in the Liability side of your Balance Sheet, they are the real assets with feet. It is extremely important to have quality manpower from day one. Hire less people but hire good quality manpower. Good quality does not mean only good education, it means people who are hard working and sincere, people who are ethical and trustworthy and people who can have the same aspiration for the organization, which the founders of the company have. Also work on a contingency plan knowing that some of them will go to different organizations and you might have to re hire and re train. All attempts should be made to have a stable team.
We also at times tend to hire people when it is not really needed. Productivity per person needs to be defined from day one. Stop hiring the moment productivity per person drops. Re train or change people if needed to ensure a basic level per person productivity. Kindly try to be realistic in it.
Number of activities : Do not open too many battle fronts. Organizations tend to get into too many lines of business, hoping to make some extra bucks from these various activities. Many a time these new lines of business are opened because one looks at the immediate one time opportunity. One needs to understand that to start any line of activity we need to have a sustainable business model or else let that opportunity go.
At Labsoft we started with Placement and then had an opportunity to do marketing consultancy for two organizations, so we promptly started that activity too, as it was giving us immediate returns and then we came across the opportunity to do software development for pre paid SIM cards. We jumped into it by hiring a small two person team. All this did give us some instant revenue, but in the long run (9 months to 1 year I mean) we started losing focus and our main business of HR services started taking a back seat. We should have waited for the first line of business to come to a level of maturity and then we should have moved to the next area after having a plan to run that without effecting the current line of business. We did not do that, so we survived for five years added few big names also in our client list but did not make much money out of it.
Single Point of failure : If you have multiple lines of business , i.e. you have a team for selling software a separate team for selling hardware and a separate team for selling training programs, chances are that formally or informally you have different heads to manage that part of business. Usually the business is dependent on one person in a region or in the organization whom we call as Regional Manager. The moment that person leaves that business suffers. This is because we do not put any process in place to ensure that even if the main person leaves, the business should not take a major hit. It is important to spend time in creating these processes as they will ensure steady growth of your organization in good times and bad times.
Product development and emotional attachment : If you are in the IT industry you tend to get swayed by the fact that there are plenty of opportunities to create and sell a product and make huge money. We do not get into the other details of getting into a business of this kind and start doing our product development. Now that we have spend time, money and effort and have attached a dream with it, we cannot really kill it even if it is draining you off, your precious resources. Think at all possible aspects before you get into it and kindly note that the cost of selling the product and making money out of it will be more expensive then developing the product. Get into it only if you can manage such expenses.
Regular Business review : In all small and medium size organizations the owners of the firm are usually involved in most cases directly.The Directors think that they know about every thing hence no need to review the team members. Irrespective of the fact who all are involved in the case ensure that you do regular review of the business. A regular review of all aspects of business, including development, sales, pre sales, finance etc on a given set of defined matrix is a must to bring in the needed discipline and to ensure that the business grows.
Individual brilliance drives the business : In small business houses it is usually the individual brilliance of the team members which drives the business hence the business becomes too dependent on one or two persons. If they leave the organization, the business comes down like a pack of card. Hence put systems and processes in place from day one to reduce the impact of such exit. Similarly also have some marketing budget and do carry out certain marketing activities regularly (for details you can refer my blog on ISV's).
Training : Most small companies do not have any budgets for doing regular training of the team members. Some of the trainings can be carried out for free by your internal team members and in some cases you might need an external person to do the training. You might like to explore the possibility of doing the training outside the office premises. It helps in having a better concentrated training and also helps in team building, more so if it is an overnight training. Kindly add some fun to it so that it does not become a painful experience for the team members. It is some thing which they should enjoy and look forward to.
Visit this page once a month and work on the checklist and chances are you will see the benefit of learning from others experience.
Every year there are multiple software vendors who develop solution, which they sincerely believe has got good potential to generate revenue. In the last ten years or so I am sure more than few thousand such vendors would have come up with excellent solutions, however unfortunately most of them did not succeed in making any mark for themselves or for their solution in the market place.
Some thing must be wrong some where, because of which we have so many failures, but unfortunately we do not come to know about that, hence we do not know what precautionary steps we need to take to save ourselves from such disasters. Ideally speaking ISV solutions should have been the answer to all problems, which customers talk about when they buy a product, which cannot be customized for them for their specific requirement. In this case you have a product which can be modified and implemented based on the user requirement. It is like buying a customized villa compared to an apartment in a housing society. However for some reason this does not work for many of the software developers or for the customers who buy these solutions. In this blog we would like to discuss this topic and understand why do we need such solutions and what do we need to do to make them a success.
1. What is mass customization ? : Software solutions developed with the provision to do customization based on the individual request of the organizations who buys these solutions.
Software development companies, popularly known as ISV's (Independent Software Vendors) identify a given business area, say Financial Accounting, and develop the application for implementation in organizations, and customize the final 10% based on the individual requirement of the organizations. This way they get differentiated from a standard product and go more closer to the customers in solving their individual problems.
This takes less time compared to developing a solution from scratch, as the basic concepts of any such common solution remains same. It should be more satisfying to the customers compared to any standard product, as the final customization is done based on the individual requirement of the customer.
2. Assumptions on market opportunity : We make certain assumptions about the size of the market and the potential we have for the solution. They are usually based on commonly available statistical figures, reports from some agencies and our own gut feelings. However any data can be viewed from different angles and can give different view point on the same subject, hence it is advisable to have a devil's advocate in the team, to argue the potential problem areas.
For example one of the most common software which many people used to develop was to handle the "Payroll" of the organization. Usually solutions like this used to have other Human Resource related topics also, to make the software more attractive. Keeping in mind that there are plenty of "Accounting " software available in the market place and hardly any known "Payroll" software available, we tend to believe that we do not have any competition and the potential is huge. The assumption is that all organizations need to give salary to their employees and they need to keep track of it, hence they will go for a software like this.
The truth is that most small and medium size Indian companies do not believe in having a software to manage "Payroll" or "Human Resource" and hence they do not buy any software. This is a case of typical mindset which the customers have across the country, hence the biggest challenge for any organization with a "Payroll" software is to fight against this mind set, which will never be easy or economical. Some how most organizations who thought they will make a killing developing this product almost committed suicide by investing man, money and time in the development and realized the reality quite late. What they should have first thought is that, why we do not see any brand name for this solution, and why most small and medium size companies are not buying this product ? So the golden rule is that please spend some time in planning and do due diligence before you decide to take the plunge.
Secondly the market opportunity can be huge, you need to see your capability and capacity to address the market, hence one should look into the market opportunity figures based on their capacity to address that market and not based on some statistics, which even if is correct, may not be relevant for your organization.
3. Sticking to the plan : When we first go to the drawing board designing the product, we either do not do enough research or do not believe in it and hence do not give much importance to it. Secondly the Indian mind excels in improvising things on the fly hence even if we have done our homework properly due to this urge to change and improvise on the fly usually the features which we thought we will have, when we started the solution development, to what we ultimately get when we complete the development, there is usually a big list of changes.
It has been noticed that some how the developing houses are obsessed with the idea of adding new features which no one else is offering. This obsession with adding new features continues till the day of launch of the product in many cases. In the process the software becomes complex, overshoots the defined time line, and usually has got lot of bugs in it. The golden rule is kindly do not incorporate any changes on the fly. It is much better to have multiple versions and multiple releases and add those new features or suggestions in the subsequent versions. It will make the developers life simpler and will also help us get much better results.
4. Use tools if you can : Any solution development will mean multiple people working on it and change of programmers in many case leading to different style of coding, documentation and working, with in the team. This basically means that apart from the fact that the code may not be properly optimized in all cases, it also happens that the person who is doing the coding, when moves out of the project carries the IP of the coding part with him, in his mind. Now if you have to make changes or modifications, the new person will have unwanted challenge.
Change of people is one fact of life we need to live with, in these days of high manpower turnover, hence it makes lot of business sense to use tools to manage the complete life cycle of the software development. Starting from requirement gathering to development to testing to deployment. Make the complete process as less dependent on individual whims and fancies as possible. This might cost money up-front but will ensure that you have a much stable product and you have things under proper control at all point of time. We avoid doing this planned cost and ultimately land up spending equal amount if not more due to increased time line, uncontrolled list of bugs and not a very stable product. One of the users of Rational testing tool in Hyderabad told us that the testing activity which used to take around 12 hours when done manually can now be done in around 16 minutes with the help of the tool. This means faster testing, less embarrassment in front of the customer and more business.
5. Realistic time lines & realistic assumptions: Avoid pushing your team to give unrealistic time lines. It is almost a must that you take every one in the team into confidence, understand their point of view and then decide on the time lines. In 1999 when I was in USA working for Newgen, I used to look after the East Coast region. We were doing few projects in Citibank, NY . To my surprise most projects used to get executed in time. The team was the same which was working with us in India. In my entire sales career in India working in various software development companies I had never heard that software projects get executed in time. So I decided to have a brief chat with the team members to know how we make it happen here and why we were not able to do so earlier. I understood that it is a matter of setting realistic time lines and having realistic assumptions from individuals in the team instead of defining unrealistic time lines for them by their project leads. Every team member was consulted and was given a chance to prove how much time he/she will take in their respective part and why they will need that kind of time. Once they agree to the time lines and the assumptions, the project goes for execution. As every one is party to the decision making and every one had individually and mutually agreed on the time lines, hence they all make sure that the project gets executed in time and finally no surprise feature addition happens during execution.
6. Listen to objections and grievances if any: We are usually poor listeners. Many of us take it as an offense if we have a junior in the team who shares his view point which may be against the view point of the senior persons in the organization. It is important to listen to all as there might be a probable solution to your problem.
Similarly do listen to the objections raised by your customers, document them if you can and try to incorporate them in your solution over a defined period of time. It is advisable to have one person who interacts with the customer during the implementation and after the installation too, to ensure that all customer grievances are addressed and all unreasonable expectations are being sorted out by having a formal meeting with the customer and the ISV team members. It is important that we help the customer understand, even against their wishes at times that it is important to stick to the project implementation outline which was agreed upon and why ad-hoc changes cannot be incorporated. This will ensure more successful project implementations.
7. Product stability is important : It is more important to have a stable product then having a product with lot of features. Features are important but not at the cost of the product stability hence ensure that we have a product/solution which can be sold and which will work even with out the presence of the manpower from the organization which developed the solution. This makes your sales team more confident in positioning the product, this can help you get more reference customers and this is a must if you wish to grow big and want to set up a channel network to sell and implement your solution.
8. Customer expectations : This is one real tricky part in this part of the world. The expectations keep changing and when it comes to getting a solution implemented, it usually keeps increasing. Partly it is because we the developers of the solutions tend to over commit as we fear that we might lose the customer or may not get the payment if we do not comply with the new demands and expectations. In the process instead of selling what we have we tend to sell what the customer wants or the customer thinks he wants. All these leads to poor implementation, un satisfied customer and payment collection problem. In the end we land up having every one involved in the transaction to be un happy and dissatisfied.
9. Sales team to sell : To have a sales team is as important as it is to have a development team to develop. However my experience is that usually we do not build a good sales team and we expect that if the product is good it will sell on its own. Nothing, almost nothing sells on its own hence it is extremely important that we hire a sales team from day one and provide them with the necessary tools to help them sell. You also need to have a plan in place and review the progress made every week. Kindly review even if you think you know every thing. It is also a matter of creating a system and getting into a routine which will be needed to grow your business and manage your sales team.
10. Marketing plan : It is not surprising to see many of the ISV vendors not having any marketing plan at all. The reasons could be many and I am sure they all are realistic and practical, but the truth is that if you want to make it out there in the battlefield, you need artillery and Air support for your Infantry to succeed. Only having a sales person is not enough. Some of the basic things which you can do at a very low cost are as follows :
- A website with the product details and contact details. Ensure that the site is search engine friendly. Put the following things on the site for the visitors:
- If you are using the tool of a big known brand name, leverage that and talk about that tool and the usage to create a feel good factor.
11. Support for the solution : Ensure that your customers have a help line to call or send a mail and ask for help as and when they need. You can always ask for a fee to provide this support on annual basis, but ensure that they know about it and are making use of it. It will be also good to maintain a statistics of all the help the customer has received from you, which you can share with the customer annually.
Building a brand takes time, effort and money, but it is worth building the brand. One needs to plan this out from day one, and monitor the progress made on regular basis. Some of the ISV's are doing a reasonably good job in selling their solutions, however they are not doing much to build the brand name. They believe their installation base is their brand name and that is enough to sell and grow. This may be correct up to certain extent but is not enough. One has to make noise about their achievements on regular basis and get noticed.
Acquiring new set of customers is important, it is even more important to hold on to the existing customer base. Acquiring new customers is always more difficult and more expensive. In a war, the attacking army needs to be three times more stronger then the one holding the fort. Hence dig in and hold on to your customer base and slowly keep acquiring new customers. Usually customers will move to a new vendor when they are not getting the desired support which they expect from their current vendor or they see much better options from the proposed new vendor. Price does play an important role, however excellent relationship and support can help create that needed impact where price will become secondary in nature. Hence depending on the type of customer base you have it makes lot of business sense to work out a strategy to hold on to your existing customer base and nurture them to sell more. Many customers do suffer in silence and move to a new vendor when they find it difficult to take it any more, hence as a sales organization it is our responsibility to understand and help them solve their business problems as much as possible without they asking for help if possible. In this blog let us try to discuss and see how can one hold on to the existing customer base and grow.
In 1992 when I was working for Softek Pvt Ltd, Delhi office, when I was asked to move to Mumbai office to handle a situation. I was asked to manage the branch office for some time to come. It was a small team of around seven persons.We had a wonderful office at Babulnath, near Chowpatty. The Regional Manager and the person next to him had left on a long leave leading to chaos in the branch office. The morale of the existing team was extremely low and we were struggling with very basic level administrative issues leading to a sudden slow down in the sales. Once I took charge of the branch office, I started meeting customers along with Sheikh Jilani, who lives in Dubai now, and other team members. The first six months we struggled, working late hours, spending sleepless nights visiting as many customers as possilbe with the sole aim of bringing the business back to where it was, before we start growing it. In this journey of 3 and half years I had learnt few very valuable lessons. This was also the first time I was managing a team and I did a real bad job in the first six months as far as man management is concerned. Sales numbers were also not moving. We will discuss some of the learnings which are valid even today and is some thing which can be followed by almost any small organization more so from the perspective of holding and nurturing their existing accounts irrespective of the fact, that many of them may not still give any business in the near future.
1. Create the database : The first thing which we did was creating the database of all existing users of our customers. We soon realised that we either do not have the correct contact numbers or do not know much on what they are doing with the software which they bought some time back. Me and Sheikh started collating all the information which we could lay our hands on. A. Sriram, who was our technical head then, and leaves in USA now, was also of great help in collating customer information. Me and Sheikh Jilani actually spend few nights sleeping in Babulnath Office on the office tables to finish this work.
2. Start Meeting them for a face to face interaction : We hired two new technical persons in the team apart from two sales persons. Organized basic level training to the technical team so that they can start calling on customers. We started calling up the existing users where we had the data and asked the technical team members to visit them and understand their problems or issues if any and help them where ever we could. In many cases we visited the customer without informing them as we did not had the relevant information. Most customers were very happy with this and found this to be a welcome change. In few cases we did land up inviting unwanted trouble too, however over all it was the game changer for us. The pre sales team managed to do what our sales team was not able to do so far. They were opening doors for us, they were reviving our old relationship with customers. This also helped us in having the corrected database with all the relevant information about the customers.
The technical team learnt many a good things about the product which they could not have learnt in any class room session.
3. List out the features they use and where they struggle : These visits helped us compile a list of common features which actually most users were using and found very useful compared to competing solutions and we made that as part of our sales pitch. Similarly there were many features which the customer did not know how to use effectively, even though we thought that they are quite simple to use. This gave us the understanding that always what we presume about our customer, may not be completely true. It is only when you meet the customer and discuss his issues and concerns you find out many such concerns which can ultimately lead to loss of potential business from that customer. We came out with a monthly bulletin of four pages addressing these user issues month on month.
4. Training sessions to improve customer bonding: We started with free training of existing users at their office premises. LIC, BPCL, BPT were some of them where we managed to get real big orders, as per 1992 standards, and did manage to change the negative perception where ever we had any. Some of the customers were quite happy with this approach and did buy other products from us seeing the excellent service provided by us.
5. Mapping the organization : We used every possible opportunity to reach out to more number of decision makers or influencers in the organization. This helped us understand their individual department or Line Of Business based issues better and we were in a better position to offer them the right solution for their respective problems. This also helped us un earth more business opportunities, leading to more business from many of these organizations. So the learning was that try to meet the users where ever you can and try to understand their problem area as many a tim e it is difficult for an end user to map his problem with your organizations solutions, it is in our own interest to go ahead and discover them.
6. If you are in software solution development use customer feedback to add new features : Many of us who are in software development do start the product or solution development based on our understanding of the industry or by making few changes in a solution which we developed for a given organization. I am not sure why I have not met too many organizations who have actually taken every customer feedback seriously and tried to modify the solution based on the feedback and not based on their very own understanding. May be this is one of the reason why we do not have more then few software solution companies in India who could establish a brand name worth talking about. It would be good if people can share their ideas and views on this.
In the year 1993-94 we not only grew by 100% we also had managed to build a successful and happy team. LIC, who was the biggest user of COBOL in those days and were buying the compiler from multiple Indian vendors before that for last few years had almost standardized on Softek Cobol. All the vendors supplying hardware to LIC started buying Softek Cobol and started supplying the same along with their solutions. As none of these vendors were Mumbai based so as a branch office we got no sales credit and I did not had that kind of business maturity then, to leverage this achievement for my own career growth . Any ways I did get suitably rewarded and I did learn many important lessons. Every one in the team fired from all cylinders.For me from being an officer on special duty to manage the branch office for 3 & 1/2 years , was a wonderful journey I will cherish for my life.
(The first person whose name I have forgotten (is in USA now) Balaji(now in Microsoft), Manojit(now in IBM), Manish(now in Microsoft Singapore), Navin(now Project Manager in a Software Development firm, Sriram(now in AT & T , USA) & Shekar in front of Babulnath, Mumbai office in 1993)
There is a saying in the army " Its not the gun which is important, its the man behind the gun which is important". Applying the adage in sales, its the sales person of the software product/ solution who plays a more vital role than the offering itself. Perhaps, this is reason why the product with maximum features or lowest in cost is not always the best selling product. There are so many other things which defines success.
In 1989, I used to work for an organization by the name "Softek Pvt ltd" , based out of Delhi. They had a product line which used to compete with top of the line international products available in the market place. We were better feature- wise and were atleast 50% low in cost too. Softek was among one of the top ten Indian software companies at that point of time, winning awards for excellent product line year after year. The company also got coverage in one of the leading international IT magazines for the excellent work they were doing in India in the product business. Unfortunately the company could not become the number one in the world market. I worked for Softek for five years where I learned software product selling and ran the Mumbai branch office for close to three years, and left for another organization and returned after one year with a different perspective on selling products. Incidentally, by this time the product development had slowed down, there was no work done on some of the products for more than a year or so. With my new learning and as a national sales head for the organization I could drive 100% more sales in that year before I left and started my own consulting business. Only if we could have done this when we were doing an excellent job in product development, things could have been different today.
This experience taught me that it is not always the product or the pricing, there is more to it. Many a times sales people are lost and have no clue on how to move forward. Let us try to understand how we can manage such a situation as and when it happens with us in our career. The first and the most important rule of the game is do not wait for the worst to happen, plan for that day and prepare yourself better.
1. Shut Up, Listen and Follow : India is primarily a country of consultants. It is quite common to see the new joinees coming out with suggestions on the way the organization needs to function even before they complete one week in the organization. When they do not find people listening to them or not following their suggestions, many of them feel dejected and start their career with frustration and unhappiness. Here is my one line suggestion to all those who are trying to make a career in the field of selling, kindly listen to your manager and follow the instructions given to you or else kindly get out of the organization and start your own business, but kindly do not start by complaining and cribbing as it does not help and it only makes your journey more difficult.
2. Managing your Manager : Usually people join organizations and leave their managers, hence it is extremely important that you spend some quality time in understanding your manager and align with him and his vision for the organization. Start with the basics like wishing him every day in the morning when you come to office and let him/her know when you are leaving the office. Give him a regular update of the current status of business without the manager asking for it. Involve him in all difficult situations until and unless he tells you not to. The idea is very simple. If he knows about your challenges and if he is involved in them, he will usually not blame you for the failure, even though for all practical purposes you still own the problem. In India we are brought up in a manner that we usually adhere to hierarchy and do not like our juniors to go and talk to his managers manager for any issue or concern, hence avoid doing any such kind of thing as much as possible.
3. Team Work: This is a simple thing to follow but many of us do a miserable job when it comes to be a team player and work as a team. Just look around and you will notice that we do well in individual events but usually do not do very well in team activities. Sports, Music or any thing else we have brilliant individual performers all around, but as a team "Cricket" is the only exception I can think of. Every day in the evening when you go home just spend two minutes thinking and reviewing what activity did you do to involve the team and help your team members. Kindly avoid justifying your activities and justifying the reasons why you did not involve them.
4. Find a reason to make things happen : Every day in your work life you will have reasons for not doing a given job. You will have all the logical reasons to blame your team members, your managers and your juniors and at times even your customers for things not working out the way it should happen. With out a second thought I can tell you that most of them will be correct. Unfortunately all these justifications do not help you in life and life has to go on, hence kick the reasons and find a good reason why you should make things happen and then go after it. You can be sure one of these days you will start enjoying it and things will change in your favour.
5. Understanding of the product/solution or service you want to sell : Until and unless you are in the demand fulfilment job, where the customer know what he wants and why he wants and asks you to deliver and bill, you need to spend time and learn the product well. One it helps you do a better job second it gets you into a habit that even if you get into a difficult sales situation tomorrow, you will be in a better situation to handle it. You will also have more happy customers as you have not made blanket statements like the product does every thing and then find out that it does not do many of the things. Many a time it is the fear of losing a deal backed by poor knowledge of the product which forces us to make all wrong commitments. In the end after years of working, you land up having so many dissatisfied customers that you have no other option other then to quit the job and find a new job for yourself.
6. Short term plan and long term plan : As a sales person you need to have two kinds of cases, the one which will close in the next 30 to 60 days and should be part of your short term plan. and the one which will close in 6 to 9 months and should be part of your long term plan. 80% of your cases should be in the short term plan and 20% of your cases should be in the long term plan. The aim is that you need to work for today and at the same time build a pipe for the future. Monitor the cases on your own and practice a habit to ensure that you meet your own defined timelines of business closure. Try meeting few new customers every week.
7. Glance through your top accounts every day : It is important to write down all the cases in one sheet which you can glance through every day in the morning. This usually helps to ensure that you do not miss out on any opportunity because you got busy in some other important things. Usually you should also define a timeline for the given set of activities for each such case and keep self checking if you are making progress accordingly.
8. Fulfilment versus Positioning : One can broadly categorise IT selling into two sections. The first one is fulfilment cases where the customer knows what product and from which organization he wants and he only needs a better price to decide. A big section of Business Partners work in this line of business. The key to success in this is your reach, logistic management and your capacity to roll out quick proposals. One usually operates at a low margin in this business and in most cases sales people do not put in much effort to learn about the product or the solution, this does effect their career in the long run as they do not learn how to position and sell in a new market and how to position a new product. Hence even if you operate in the fulfilment business, try learning about the product and solution and add value to yourself. This does help in differentiating yourself from competition and this can be the game changer for you and your organization.
The second category of selling is "Positioning" of the solution to your customer. Here you try to understand the business problem of the customer and in few cases you give him examples of different business problems and help the customer identify themselves with those problems. Once he has identified with the set of problems and feels that their is a need for a solution to that problem, you talk of the product. This process is usually bit difficult and needs lot of preparation and understanding of the product, its application to solve business problems and the industry segments where it fits in more easily. Once you have got a success story, you need to be quick in replicating that with similar kind of organizations. The more customers you meet the more you improve your understanding of business problem and more refined you become in positioning the solution.
8. Stop complaining, instead adjust and adapt : Life is not fair hence do not expect things to happen as per your expectations always. You need to raise your concern to the people concerned but do not get stuck to it. I have read in many books that it is the crying baby who gets the attention of the mother hence "Cry and Complain" is what they suggest, but some how 21 plus years in IT industry has taught me that it can be counter productive in most cases. Try to understand the situation and adapt yourself to the environment around you. There will be time when this will be difficult, but push yourself to see the good thing in it, see how you can contribute and move ahead. Situations like time keeps changing and if you have the talent and the ability to execute, you will rise and shine, hence keep motivating yourself and stop being a crying baby for every thing.
9. Dress and address is the index of a man: Usually we form an opinion about a person in the first 30 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds. Chances are that by this time you have not even opened your mouth and the person sitting across the table has formed an opinion about you. To help him make a positive opinion about yourself you can primarily do three things - (1) flash a visiting card with a logo which will impress him/her (2) Dress up in a manner which will help him think good about you (3) your gestures - smile occasionally, reply with enthusiasm and note down the points of discussion
Unlike physics, chemistry or Maths where a given formula will always work, human beings are much more complex and there are too many variable components hence no given formula will work every where every time. The aim of this chapter was to help understand some of the best practices which usually will work.
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In the previous blog, we talked about the vitality of preparation prior to enter the market, Now that your team is "Battle Ready" , we need to start working on the execution. You may think that your team is far too small to spend time on this bit, however, the size of the team hardly matters when it comes to execution discipline! Hence it is relevant to all organizations to follow the defined guidelines. Even if you are a sales person going through this blog and your organization may not be interested in following the guidelines, in the interest of your own career you should try to follow it and you can be assured you will see success!
1. Minimum number of customer calls : It is important that we identify the minimum number of customers the sales person needs to touch base every day. Keep a number which is mutually agreeable and do not force a high number in the beginning. Five calls and two effective calls can be a good way to start. We could define a sales call as effective when the sales person has met the right person and has had a productive discussion. The others can be cold calls meant to identify the right people and to get the basic information on the organization. The success rate in such calls as we all know is usually very low but its a necessary way to start.
2. Tracker to check weekly performance : Start monitoring the weekly performance. Revenue is not necessarily the only criteria which determines success or failure. The kind of product/solution and the volumes, number of proposals given, number of valid interactions with the client, progression of a lead from one stage to another etc can be part of the tracker. The aim is to help the sales team , which include the sales and pre sales persons, to determine the progress they are making and the areas where they need to work to improve effectiveness.
3. Regular training sessions: In the initial phases it is extremely important that you have a brief, 30 minutes a day, enablement session every day to discuss features, solutions, success stories, each others experience to help the team integrate and learn more and learn faster. This helps in making them more focussed and more positive leading to better results. The technical support person when not in field, should utilize his/her time practicing and perfecting the product/solution demonstration part. They can create sample data with small story lines meant for different customer scenarios which can be used while talking to the actual customers. The same can be even used to improve the knowledge-base of the sales person of the organization.
4. Try identifying the potential areas :With regular interaction with customers, and an open mind will be highly advantageous in helping decipher the pain points of the customer. For e.g; In the last 3 weeks, I realized that most customers have a problem in managing the .pst file of their mail messaging solution. They want to archive the data so that they can get near online usage of the data instead of taking a back-up, where as restore can be irritating for many users. Most of them learn to live with the problem as they are not aware that there can be a possible solution to this problem which is better then what they are doing as of now.
I have listed a set of common business problems and their probable solutions from IBM Software Stack in the "Message Board" , kindly do check it out to know more on this.
5. Other factors which can help sell : In 1989, I used to work for a Computer hardware sales organization and we were having a tough time achieving our numbers. We found to our surprise that instead of the features of the Personal Computer, the customer got more interested when we talk of Section 32 AB of the then Income Tax Act ,which allowed an organization to claim depreciation upto 20% of the profits if invested in IT. Thats it! we hit the jackpot! In the last three months of the financial year we sold many Personal Computers to the trading community based on this income tax act. The lesson her is to pay attention to customer s voice. This will help identify potential pain areas.
6. Ensure the teams morale is high: It is important that the teams morale is high and they enjoy doing what they are doing. This will ensure that they go beyond the call of duty to make things happen. Instead of looking for reasons why some thing cannot be done, they will start finding ways and means of getting it done.
7. Marketing to support sales : It is a good practice not to entirely depend on the sales and pre sales person to make the sale happen. Few marketing activities based on the budget of the organization is always helpful. If not any thing else kindly put up a website and get it registered with search engines to start with. I have seen so many new partners of IBM but I have not seen many having a home page which talks about this, hence they are not really able to leverage the tie up they have.
8. Look for extended team members : Organizations whose activities you can complement by your activities can be your potential extended team members. In these days of cut throat competition and specialization, one needs to learn to work with other organizations and leverage each others strength to their advantage. for eg: if you are strong technically to sell TSM Fastback, tie up with other partners who have sales skills but do not have support skills and agree on revenue sharing. Make it a win win deal for all. You may earn less money in the initial phase but it will help you to earn money and keep your expenses under control till the time you are not big enough to do every thing on your own.
9. Review mutual status every month : The complete team should sit down together and review the current status versus where we were in the beginning of the month. Start with a Brain Storming session encouraging every one to participate. All suggestions should be treated as valid suggestion and all suggestions should be discussed and debated before you pick on the one's which the team needs to work on going forward. Include the principal company also if possible and take their input and leverage.
10. Celebrate every month : Irrespective of winning or losing one should celebrate at least once a month. It helps in team building and helps in keeping the morale high. Kindly do not have any agenda for this session.
In the first ten years of my career many of the organizations including Business Partner community or Principal organizations with whom I worked do not exist any more. Some of them were doing very well, or at least that is what we all thought, but they are not there with us today. Many of them tried to move real fast and forgot the basic ground rules. In the end one needs to realize that your manpower is the biggest asset you have, hence hold on to them.
Once you have decided to take a given product/solution to the market in order to acquire new customers, basic preparation before your interaction is vital to the success of the engagement. In my experience, I don't believe we do this very well. "The more you sweat in peace time, the less you bleed in war time" , hence prepare well! I want to focus this section on that Cēterīs paribus, how do we prepare from a sales perspective.
1. Identify the market segment: Identify the market segment where you want to sell. This should include the prospect customer base you want to address and the territory you would like to target. Keep in mind possible pre - sales and post sales issues.The outcome of subsequent activities that follow in this section will depend on how we do market segment identification. Market segments can be derived based on specific customer need/ pain points that the offering is indented to address; buying behavior (State Government, Public Sectors, Corporates, Educational Institutions etc all have different way of buying the products/solutions) and the buying capacity of the customers in that segment.
2. Identify ten features of the product : It is extremely important to make a favorable impression in your first pitch to the customer. If the customer starts feeling the need for your offering, then its game point for you. You should identify and articulate the top ten benefits of your offerings, Review the impact of the pitch every week in the first few months to improvise and fine tune the pitch.
3. Practice presenting the product : Usually sales people avoid practicing the pitch as they believe they can manage it in-front of the customer. This can actually prove counter productive, as its critical to repeat the presentation multiple times to get familiar with the content. Even Amitabh Bacchan and Shahrakh Khan need to rehearse before the a shot is canned.
4. Avoid trashing competition : When faced with a competitive selling situation, many sales people tend to trash the competition in order to gain one- upmanship of your own product. However, if you built a positive climate about your product and addressed the need, you may come across as a mature player. you do not want to end up creating unwanted curiosity in the mind of the customer and in some cases , I have witnessed that the customer develops a soft corner for the competing product which is getting trashed. This makes the sale even more difficult. Under all normal circumstances avoid mentioning the name of the competition unless you are forced to, as you will not like any discussion where you land up discussing competition more then your product and...you do not get paid to talk about competition.
5. Learn to demonstrate these ten features: The technical person should practice to show the ten features in a given sequence. The sales and technical person should follow the same sequence along with a story line. One should practice the quick demo, where he covers the top 5 features in 15 minutes or so. The aim is to generate interest for next round of discussion and at the same time demonstrate the strength of the product. This is for senior people at the customer end as well as for those customers who do not want to devote much time for the demo. One also needs to practice a full demo of the product where they should cover all the ten features and any thing else the customer may like to know. The golden rule in any demo is show features what are relevant to the projected customer need and now what we know. However as you want the customer to see the important features first hence do tell him what features you want to show him first, but kindly do not avoid answering his direct questions because they are not part of the sequence, and this happens to be a common problem with many a pre sales technical representative. If you do not know some thing, kindly admit and get back to the customer after you have learnt about that.
6. Keep a first follow up draft mail ready: Once you come from the meeting, kindly be prompt in writing to the customer and summarizing the discussion and the features of the product. Part of the mail can be common for all hence kindly keep a draft mail ready to make your job simpler, however you must customize each mail for every customer based on the discussion you had.
7. Create visibility :You need to create a basic visibility about your organization and the product that you are trying to promote. There are multiple things one can do to create visibility and one of the easiest thing to do is to add a home page on the new product in the company website. You can create EDM's and send it to your customer base, you can do round table discussions with select customers at a given premises or can have a tele caller to call up and talk to the would be customers. The methods can be many. but ensure that you take necessary steps to create the visibility.
8. Prepare the pitch : In any sales conversation you need to create the basic background before you start the actual product pitch. Whether it is a telephonic discussion or a face to face discussion, the pitch is important. It build a perception in the mind of the customer that you cannot change easily, Hence, prepare adequately. Kindly spend some time and prepare the pitch which your respective teams will use.
9. Organization is bigger than individuals : In many organizations I have noticed that the sale happens more based on the strength of the individual sales representative and less because of the organization he/she represents. In the long run this trend does not help the organization grow secondly when every thing is equal between you and the competing product, the thing which can differentiate is the Organization one works for. It is the image of the organization which can be the differentiating factor as usually the organization remains constant, even though the people working there can change. Some of the basic things which the organization can do is ensure that the customer gets due attention even if the sales or pre sales or the person at the reception changes. Ensure that no desperate false commitments are made to the customer to make a sale happen, and do not make the customer run around once the sale is done and the money is realized.
In the business of selling software, adding net-new customer names to your client list has always been most challenging. More so, if the company you represent is not a known brand in the market. You would need to first, build the company's credibility, show its value proposition and whats in it for the prospect to participate in the sales call.
Over the past 21 years that I have been associated with the IT industry, I have traveled far and wide across the country and abroad primarily selling software. This has taught me to understand the market before entering with my wares. The first impressions viz., first call, demo, presentation, sale and the first payment collection in any new territory or a new organization is always a source of great joy. All of this has helped me understand that there is a method in the madness when one follows process and a given system, which can cut across geographies and organizations in most cases.
In this blog, we will try to discuss and debate some of those best practices which can help us all achieve more in our sales, make more money and build more relationship with customers.
In the recent past, there has been a paradigm shift in the way business functions; market has become extremely competitive and customers more demanding. Every time you bat an eye lid, you would have lost one opportunity, every day a new competing product or an organization would have come into existence making your job all the more difficult. To make the situation, worse you will hear about things like "Recession", "Stock Market Crashing", "Poor Rain Fall" etc etc leading to slower decision making and faster heart beat.
Hence, my friends, its imperative that we understand the rules of the game and engage accordingly... with adequate preparation and knowledge, we can make it a party, instead of a funeral. Let us discuss and debate as to what will make selling software simpler and enjoyable.
Welcome to the party !!!