Sunday, July 30, 2006

Standardization in Sales

Vinnie has a great post up on Reengineering the Sales Process.

"I would break the product discovery process into 3 steps each with varying levels of customer self-service and vendor sales involvement:

a) From the thousands of RFPs vendors have already responded to, they should have an A,B,C analysis of most requested/somewhat requested etc. features. Expose that on-line to users (in a password protected area to keep from prying competitor eyes) using a requirements traceability tool. Let prospects navigate and fill their own feature/function checklists, if need be. Then it would be ok for vendors to refuse to fill out requests for 400 page feature lists in RFPs – encourage users to do so on a self-serve basis. And I mean refuse. JetBlue decided it was only going to have instant ticketing business model - no reservations on hold for 24-48 hours. I am sure they lost a few customers but they stuck to the model and it is becoming industry standard.

b) For horizontal functionality – common across verticals, geographies - expose major process flows in on-line demos, architecture in well structured documentation etc. so customers can self-navigate through the look and feel, flow etc. Make reps available by on-line chat, telephone – remotely - to answer questions. Organize product marketing collateral on those lines. This functionality should not usually require demos at the client site.

c) For more unique vertical or client specific functionality, invest in on-premise, scenario based demos. Vendors should encourage buyers to define likely real-life business scenarios and then diligently walk them through how their solution delivers it. And tell the truth – what is available as a standard feature, what comes from partner functionality, work arounds etc. Too many vendors fight scripted scenarios. Or they will only do them grudgingly if a competitor is likely to invest in them. This is where the sales person should be focused, because this is likely where the differentiation will be most acute."

IMHO: Vinnie has hit the nail on the head, yet again. There is a need for standardization, of greater automation in the sales process. We, especially in the IT services sector, need to cut down on this needless expense by leveraging already existing (at most places) technology infrastructure. It would also help us showcase the effective use of the very technology that we are pitching, lending credibility to our claims. The biggest benefit would be a smaller, more productive, more responsive sales force, and an efficient, trustworthy brand image. We also need to learn to say no to unrealistic expectations, be honest with our claims, and deliver a consistent, high quality experience to our customers. Standardization helps cut down inconsistency and wildly fluctuating results from Sales and Delivery alike.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Industry Concerns-Attrition Part 3

This is the third part in the series on attrition. Part 1 and Part 2 dealt with teaming and recruitment, respectively. While I promised last time that I will spend some time on the role of HR, I will take it on at a later stage. Today, I will focus on something that has been a traditionally weak area for offshore services providers (some say a big gaping void)—Leadership.

From the outside, we see, hear and respect senior managers for Indian IT companies, icons like Narayana Murthy, Pai, Nilekani, Premji and their ilk. Great leaders all. They are a big reason that Indian IT industry is where it’s at. This post is not about them. It is about the leadership one level lower—the middle management. These are the realities:

This section of leadership is under intense pressure

  • They are the links for the downward flow of the vision of senior leaders
  • They are the future senior leaders
  • This section is the most fragile of all with Indian vendors
  • They are squarely responsible for high attrition rates at lower levels

Consider this cycle: Middle management is under tremendous pressure—to deliver, to get business, to groom AND to fulfill their own ambitions. Some of the cadre leave, and are replaced (as is the norm) by fresh MBAs or, worse, with fresh engg trainees. Hence, the remaining managers face increased pressure, and some of them leave and so on….Charming picture, isn’t it?

To tackle this a few cultural aspects have to be addressed:

  1. Rhetoric: Morale killer. Leaders espouse things which do not exist, or grossly exaggerate the few good things that are done. People are not dumb, and will not be fooled by empty promises or threats, or the doctored results of a survey. Just repeating things will not make them true. My advice, be restrained in proclamations, and when you do make one, make sure that it is true and remains true. Kill cynicism and distrust in the bud.
  2. Good News: In all my working life in the IT industry, I have never officially heard a piece of bad news. Good news abounds. Worse is the spin put on things which are wrong, making sure they will never be fixed. People picking up unsavory topics are discouraged. Only in a culture of transparency will an organization truly know where it is at, and can accurately plan for where it has got to go.
  3. Communication: Employees take their cue from their bosses. If the bosses are not committed to the organization vision, nobody will be. It breeds skepticism. Keep the middle management in the know and get their commitment. They may disagree, but allowing them to voice their opinions is a big step towards getting commitment.
  4. Compromise: Whatever be the short term stakes, do not compromise on quality of middle level managers, for the sake of long term health. Using unsure, not-so-confident, short-on-knowledge managers drives down everybody. It is like a steroid, it may allow getting benefits for the short term, but will return to haunt you.

Excellence in execution is predicated on having good quality, capable, happy managers. Remember too, that their confidence, capability and knowledge flows down and in turn creates more managers, unleashing a virtuous cycle. It is a fragile segment of resources, in high demand and under a lot of pressure. Let us admit that, acknowledge the importance of middle management and try to give them a positive atmosphere to work in. This will not only prevent them leaving, but also reduce attrition at lower levels. Easy to say, tough to do (ain’t they all???). It IS the most powerful way to arrest attrition up and down the chain. As more and more large deals get signed, the pressure will be on, and organizations will be caught wrong-footed. Then we will perforce have to take remedial measures too late in the day. Better fix problems while the going is good.

Next (and last) time, I will try and tackle the prickly issue of the role of HR. Don’t expect me to be gushing about the current HR practices or attitudes.



Monday, July 24, 2006

Oracle briefing for Investors

Oracle hosted a briefing for investors on July 18. Some thoughts:

  • Oracle reiterates its commitment to develop further all acquired product lines. They provide timelines for general availability and what can be expected of the releases.

  • There is no comment on Oracle’s foray into OnDemand and how it plans to attack the SMB space and take on and NetSuite.

  • Nothing new on Fusion applications, or how the development is progressing. But there is demonstrated movement on leveraging the capabilities of Fusion middleware with new application releases having close integration with BPEL, XML Publisher, Customer Data Hub and the like. IMHO, the whole application family is moving closer together and we may yet come to a situation where all modules will be hot-pluggable and inter-operable.

  • Some impressive numbers on Fusion vs NetWeaver, and the usual noises about how SAP is still proprietary and Oracle is moving to open-standards. They do deliver integrations with SAP products though.

  • SOA was a recurring theme as a growth driver. But demonstrated benefits through the use of SOA are still lacking, IMHO. In fact, I have not heard of a single large scale SOA deployment. SOA’s true potential can only be realized through large scale deployment and the network effect. I have written about this here.

The presentation is here. Notes on the event by James Woodrow also point out the Q&A that took place after the presentation. Vinnie has penned some questions here.


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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

SalesForce Update

Techcrunch has the news from

" will undergo its seasonal Summer ‘06 upgrade on Monday and has released information for the first time about a developers component at their annual users conference.

This year’s Dreamforce conference will include a sub-conference October 9-11th for Web 2.0 developers interested in moving out of the consumer sector and into bringing applications to market for business use.

The Summer ‘06 seasonal upgrade of Salesforce will see general enhancements and include the following highlights:

  • SAP integration, a means of connecting on-premises SAP databases with web based Salesforce.
  • Partnerforce, a system for managing resellers.
  • Scripting module, as in scripted dialogue not program scripts, for use in scripting customer interactions through a series of logical steps for categorization.
  • Service entitlements, a feature for managing service levels as appropriate for your customers of variable degrees of ritzyness.

The company is also announcing that it has now seen 10,000 customer installations of 280 applications through its AppExchange, a community for outside developers seeking to integrate with Salesforce."

IMHO: Well, well, well. Marc Benioff keeps upping the ante, doesn't he? Salesforce is once again making all the right noises. A big concern with SaaS so far has been the inabilityto integrate with on-premise solutions and extensibility. They are now trying to fix that. They are trying to involve the developer community, which is a great move coming after AppExchange for getting people talking about the technology (they already are, and it can only grow louder). Scripts and Service Entitlements, well, those are pretty standard feature of most SFA/ CRM solutions. But it demonstates that Salesforce is thinking about gaps and fixing them. Lets see how these are in action. The interesting question for me is: Will we see an on-premise version of salesforce? Any bets...?????


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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On acceptance of Mediocrity

Seth points to Andy Monfried’s post on lowering of standards. Great post, a must read, one to ponder on. Must warn you that the rest of this post bears no relation to what Andy says.

We live in a world which accepts mediocrity too easily. This is specially true for India, still feeling the after effects, after 60 years of independence, of British Raj and then the amazingly hare-brained Nehru Raj (Must say at this point that Nehru’s heirs have maintained the same “high” standards). We accept bomb blasts, corruption, poor infrastructure, poverty, impotent and stupid governance, and meaningless, inane rhetoric by the “rulers” as a matter of course. We condone the suppression of freedom of expression and right to equality, we keep restricting the growth of free enterprise and we keep electing the same nincompoops in government again & again. Sometimes I wonder if a democracy is geared towards mediocrity. Have the great western democracies prospered because of, or inspite of democracy? But, undoubtedly, it is the best system of governance available thus far, and more power to it. Enough ranting…the needless losses of life yesterday in Kashmir & Mumbai still rankles. It will go away soon; it always does, until the next time.

By the way, I bet that we won’t see any action to deter this from happening again, no getting at the root cause (I hope we know where the camps are) and effectively discouraging the abettors (read our friendly neighbor). What we will get, in plenty, is rhetoric, propaganda, hollow speeches, calls for calm and more security for our “rulers”. Well, we are not branded cheap just like that; life in India costs just the one local train ticket….


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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Google & Yahoo Discovery

Niel Robertson surmises in his characteristic articulate way that Yahoo is, for once, positioned well to fight Google:

"....Google wants to be the entry point for any discovery activity on the web. This would surely explain Google search, froogle, Google Scholar, Google SMS (assuming “web” is taken in a generic sense as “the cloud”), Google Maps, etc.. You could even posit that Google’s acquisitions hold up against this test. Consider Writely and Google Spreadsheets to be simply the input mechanisms to create document and spreadsheet content which is then discovered on Google. If you’re going to create a spreadsheet, it’s more likely you’ll put it somewhere that it can be shared and discovered if you do it on Google. Even something like their Dodgeball acquisition, which seems totally random at first blush, sort of fits this mold if you think of it as trying to “discover” the location of your friends. And of course, by mashing all this stuff up (maps, calendars, spreadsheets, payments, etc..) you simply add exponential utility around all the secondary and tertiary activities that come after discovery. First, search for a restaurant, then map it, and then go onto Dodgeball and tell everyone you’ll be there at 8:00pm. interesting question: what if the primary discovery mechanism people use today starts to shift away from Google?Keep in mind that almost all your discovery activities with Google are personal (and thus singular) experiences. You go to Google, enter a search term, get Google’s view of the results, then maybe you share. Well, what if it (and you) didn’t work that way. What if the first thing you did was interface with the web in a non-singular way?

And parenthetically, Yahoo has bought every single leading company in this space. What I’m talking about is discovery through tagging, which is a fundamentally community-centric activity (your context is what the community thinks the content is about) and not singular activities (what you think Google might think the content is about). To be less academic and cerebral about it, consider for yourself how often you now go to, flickr, or whatever tag-based system you like to search for something before you go to Google?

With that all said, I think there is a short window here where Yahoo is actually positioned well to fight against Google’s hegemony and to fundamentally shift the dominant discovery paradigm (sorry, I just had to say it) back in their direction. With their recent web2.0 tagging acquisition spree, Yahoo owns half of the equation (the tagging sites) but has yet to fulfill the other side (discovery)."

IMHO: Wonder whether Yahoo will (have they already??) wake up to this opportunity. Or whether Google will step up its social networking, community collaboration initiatives and open another channel for discovery. They have the Blogger platform, Orkut, and Picassa. And they are good at extending the utility of their basic platforms. Most importantly, they have the eyeballs.