The final post.

Show’s over.

Yes, this is my final post.

I’ve started my blog on April 15, 2009 with the objective of learning a new tool and more importantly to provide an outlet for my ideas, passion and experience. I have learned a lot through it and I have enjoyed every moment of researching, writing, proofreading and interacting with readers and commenters.

But it’s now time to move on.

Over three years and one hundred and forty five posts later, it’s time for me to take a break and retire “Takes 2″.

I have a number of work and personal projects that will require my full attention for the next few months, and I don’t want to dilute my weekly postings to just a few occasional articles. I’ve always taken my blogging project very seriously, from the tools I use to the editorial calendar and the selection of topics I care about, so that would be the wrong thing to do.

If you happen to visit or stumble on “Takes 2″, please feel free to browse through the archive and comment or share your point of view.

Thanks all for your support through three wonderful years of blogging.

See you around.

Gianni


Contrarians wanted.

In a world that is becoming more and more unified and standardized, I truly believe that we need more contrarians.

 In business and in life at large, being “politically correct” has become a hiding technique.  For fear of saying something that might – just might – be interpreted in the wrong way, we prefer not to say anything at all.

It shows in political debates, in public discussions and of course in business situations too.

It’s in the small things. It’s about replying “that’s a great question” to anything anybody asks you, when what you really think is “that’s a dumb one”. It’s about agreeing with the big boss because he is, after all, the big boss and cannot be wrong.

And it’s in bigger things too, for example when a public policy decision not generally accepted needs to be made for the “good” of the community.

What really captures my attention is how, I guess, it’s easier for many to just swallow whatever a so-called qualified source tells them, across almost any topic or field, on TV shows, newspapers or online media. The rationale for this behavior is probably that by not exposing their real thoughts or beliefs, people think they are safe. Truth is, they are not.

I think that practicing disbelief should be encouraged at all levels. Pupils should not believe what they are told by teachers, watchers should beware of the news, governments should definitely never be believed (but I guess that’s an easy thing to do!). The point is not to ignore all those sources, but it’s rather about learning more on your own terms, and then take another look. Take a stand and fight if it can’t be helped.

Thanks to the internet and the WWW, it’s easier than ever to document yourself and craft your own point of view. Plenty or resources, mostly free. All it takes is a little bit of time and some healthy curiosity.

The effect that such a simple recipe can have is to turn us into more balanced, opinionated and fact grounded challengers. A step up from challengers, and we become contrarians.

Sure, contrarians can be seen as troublemakers. But they are also driven individuals.

They can become not very sociable. But they usually break the rules, and can more often than not become the precipitating effect that makes innovation happen.

Two of my favorite contrarians are the late author Michael Crichton and renowned skeptical environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg. The two got entangled a few years ago in an epic discussion with the so-called cognoscenti (led by a publicity hungry and shamelessly self promoting Al Gore) on the global warming dispute, and that in effect turned into an ideal platform to showcase contrarian attitude at its best.

That’s a very good example of why I believe that the world needs more contrarians. Have your say here.


Put the money where your mouth is.

This is a short open letter to all international corporations that are ignoring the harsh reality of global economy and keep applying the same “cures” to new maladies. Oddly, the very same applies to most European governments and political leaders.

Dear Corporation,

when you talk about investment but shut down production facilities instead,

when you talk about growth but cut thousands of  jobs,

when you talk about “the importance of people” but never reward them,

when you talk about “every dollar counts” but pay tens of million of dollars bonus to departing executives.

REMEMBER:

You should put the money when your mouth is. Only then we will believe you.

======================

I’m no economist. But like many of us, I’m fortunate to possess a skill that I find most valuable nowadays, and that unfortunately seems to be lacking in the majority of the CEOs, politicians or so called “leaders” around us. It’s called common sense.

It’s precisely this common sense that tells me that:

  • Companies cannot grow forever. The myth of continuous and accelerated year-on-year growth (or even quarter-on-quarter) is just that. A myth.
  • People who lose their job or cannot find work will never turn into consumers. They will simply have no money to spend on anything else than basic food and survival.
  • Accountants cannot run enterprises. Accountants cannot lead companies to growth. They cannot improve employee’s morale, effectiveness or performance. They cannot boost sales, improve client satisfaction or acquire market share. All they can do is squeeze blood from people. Sooner or later someone will squeeze them back.

Interesting how the very same “ground level common sense” applies to public life:

  • Income tax is a cancer. The more you tax people’s income, the less is their incentive to make more money. It’s actually the reverse.
  • When a government applies too much tax pressure – income tax, added valued tax, custom duties – three things happen: you see more evasion, the best people leaves and sales figures severely drop.
  • Governments have no tools to deal with scores of criminalized citizens (the tax evaders).
  • Western Europe economy will never recover by trying to apply “old solutions” to “ new problems”. It’s time to move on and re-invent European businesses along three pillars: education, respect of common goods and the cultural integration of diversity.

Would love to hear your thoughts, please take a moment to comment.


Enough of marketing b.s.

I’ve had enough of marketing trash. I have spent eleven years in marketing. So I know ok?

I can easily detect when some company’s marketing department is trying to bullshit me.

Which is to say, pretty much every single leaflet, brochure or company sponsored piece of literature sucks.

  • Example #1: “Our company is the leader in such and such market…”. In what terms? Show me the numbers, facts, data points and maybe – just maybe – I will believe you. Oh and by the way, so what? Even if your company being a market leader is factually established, it doesn’t mean that your products are right for me or my company = yours is marketing B.S.
  • Example #2: “We position our firm as a a trusted advisor to our clients….”. Hello? I – the client – establish if you – the seller – are to be trusted. Not the other way around. Maybe I will trust you, maybe I won’t. My call, my timing, my judgment. Your company should start by delighting its customers over and over and over again. Your desire to position yourself? Funny, I’ve tried to position myself as Jennifer Aniston’s boyfriend for many years now, but she wouldn’t budge. A.k.a. Marketing B.S.

Tell me: why are marketers working on the assumption that I, as a consumer, prosumer or corporate buyer of products/services, want to know about how good you have been?

I don’t really care if you are servicing hundreds other clients, they are not me and they will likely never be. I don’t believe that your product have a technical edge, because I’m pretty sure nobody does anymore. This is the 21st century and I am your market of one.

Generally speaking, I couldn’t care less about you. I care about me. So either you come to see me and talk about me – my company, my challenges, my clients, my future – or don’t even bother.

I once had a manager who’s mantra to his sales reps was: “The client out there has got your salary in his pockets”.

Damn right.  But the way to get clients to spend their money with you is not by bombarding them with marketing nonsense. The right approach is to be honest, true, real, caring. Might sound strange to you, but I call those the real values clients look at before parting with their hard earned money.

At least I do.


The importance of velocity.

Is your company going nowhere fast? You are not alone.

You see, I think that in business moving with speed is not necessarily always good. What you actually need is velocity.

Unfortunately, a lot of enterprises consistently mistake speed for velocity, in the illusion that if you are fast enough you will take advantage of early adopters and new market trends. Truth is, you need to know where you are going before you accelerate to reach it. Quite relevant to your business drive, I would say.

In essence and in general terms, velocity is a much more meaningful indicator than speed. Let’s have a quick look at the definitions (courtesy of WIKIPEDIA).

“In physics, velocity is defined as speed in a given direction. Speed describes only how fast an object is moving, whereas velocity gives both the speed and direction of the object’s motion. Both magnitude and direction are therefore required to define velocity. “

So we have established that velocity means going somewhere at speed, possibly accelerating all the way but having first chosen a given direction where to go.

This is key for a business. Choosing a direction means:

  • Establishing your potential market
  • Estimating which/how many clients to reach
  • Defining the product or service your company will build and or sell
  • Choosing a pricing policy: for example, cheap but broad reach vs. Expensive but narrow
  • Deciding your geographical focus: I.e. global v. Local

Your business plan will have to articulate much more than this of course, but if you can start with clearing those questions marks then you are already on the way to a good solid start.

Your aim should be to be in a position to carefully pick your fights and give yourself and your company a better chance of winning.

A sound business plan should also enable your company to make the right investment decisions (tools, infrastructure, people, etc.) where it matters.

It should spell out your commitment (you should do what you say you will, when you said you would do it), and set the right expectations to your internal and external clients.

Finally, your plan should  identify ecosystem of players and the associated responsibilities, accountability span, metrics and measures.

Failure to clearly document and articulate all the above will enhance the risk for your business of going nowhere fast. Sometimes this can be acceptable, especially if you drive a company that is not afraid of failures for trying something really innovative, cutting edge and/or disrupting. If you embrace the risk of failing as a strategic element of what you do, then it’s ok to fail fast and restart just as fast.

Remember though that there is a cost associated to this behavior, and that it requires a lean and mean company to be able to learn from failures and quickly pivot to a different product, service or market approach (aka “a change of course”).

So next time you look at your business plan, consider what velocity might mean to you and don’t fall prey to the speed demon.


Free for enterprises.

FREE is good for consumers. Is it also good for enterprises?

In the IT outsourcing business, a popular technique for service providers is to approach clients and prospects through so called “consultancy services”.  These usually have the format of short one day fairly free-flowing brainstorming sessions, where supposed subject matter experts take the prospect through a number of topics, usually in relation to IT transformation (infrastructure, application, service management) or, nowadays, envisioning a move to the cloud.

These sessions require a solid preparation on both sides, and are usually quite expensive, on average in the range of $10k to $20k.

Sales teams typically try to charge the client, maybe agreeing to detract the amount if future business is granted. Often times, the sales team picks up the bill and it ends up as a sales cost.

Of course, giving consultancy days away for free is frowned upon by most sales managers, right? The consensus here is that something “free” does not have a perceived value attached to it.

On the other hand, what happens if you charge them as discrete products, run a full day assessment for example, and then the client takes the outcome to one of your competitors for implementing a corrective solution?

It is one of the many “chicken or the egg” or catch-22 situations that business presents at every other turn.

Let me be clear: I’m a big fan of free stuff. If you’ve paid attention to the consumer world lately, the last few years have seen a major growth of free goodies, in the form of e-books, white papers, complimentary event tickets, and the sorts.

As Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired magazine, has expertly articulated in his book “Free: the future of a radical price” (NOT for free unfortunately!), there is a definite rise of new pricing models that give products and services to customers for free, with the intent to make them “touch” and experience before buying. I can see no reason why this trend should be restricted to consumers only.

If we go back to the example, and in light of the free/not free discussion, how should consultancy services be sold then? Fundamentally, you as a service provider should enter the session with a well formed (and informed) point of view. Gone are the “white sheet” days, when sales reps were there to note down the clients’ requests.

The degree and thoroughness of your homework will enable you to actively drive the discussion and make the client pay attention. Your objective is for every word you say to resonate loud and clear.

So if that’s the case, I would argue that what you need is a bold approach. I believe that most enterprise clients know what they want, but don’t necessarily know what their business needs are. It’s your duty to make them understand what it is that they need, and then convince them that your company is the best positioned to deliver it. In other words, modern clients want to be taught.

Let’s look at a simple example, and take the fashionable cloud proposition. Here’s an approach I favor:

“Dear client, based on my understanding of your business model, your IT core capabilities and your industry trends, I think you simply cannot ignore the cloud proposition. This is going to happen if you do:

  • Your aging apps will degrade in performance, seriously impact your productivity, and cause your operations to stop altogether
  • costly maintenance of your current IT environment will limit your ability to invest into new technologies
  • aging technology will open your information platform to security threats and costly liabilities
  • You will keep paying for resources that your company does not use
  • You will be unable to drive your company’s growth and business expansion
Now, do you want to have a look at how my company can help you avoid all of that?

Let’s be honest: how many account managers do you know who are able to do just that?

The trick is, it’s actually much easier to be bold and use an approach as the one sketched above if your company does not charge the client for the consultancy day. It’s almost like you have no real vested interest whether the client is finding the thing valuable – hence agrees to be charged for it – or not. You are there because you care about that potential client. And if you care, you don’t charge upfront.

Finally let’s touch briefly on how sales can be incentivized to take this route.

I think financial incentives are dangerous. Yet they are still broadly used and they account as the first resort for most managers. Reality is, the perfect carrot does not exist. Sales managers and leaders should foster a culture where sales reps understand that not everything they do is subject to incentives. They are not lawyers. Once the overall sales compensation plan has been defined and agreed, at the beginning of the fiscal year, it should be left alone. Additional incentives, even if devised with the best intentions, will only generate confusion, anxiety, and ultimately actually defocus the sales effort.

FREE IS GOOD.

In conclusion, I think the time is ripe for a radical change in the way we sell products and services to enterprise-class clients. Be bold. Give something away for free. Show you care. Teach clients.

So you’d better be prepared, because if you and your company don’t do it now, someone else will.

Too radical? Share your opinions here.


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