Archives for category: Technology

I’ve just renewed a contract with my mobile telecoms provider. Along with the 2-year deal came a free upgrade to a better smartphone.

Not the latest smartphone, you understand, because I don’t need the latest smartphone. I’ve eased from an iPhone 6S to a 7. An improvement, I think. I got more data too, which is nice.

One of the ‘improvements’ of the 7 is that it does away with the circular port for the headphones. You get headphones with a firewire thingy that goes into the firewire charging port.

This means two changes in behaviour for me, none of them good. Firstly, it means I can’t charge my iPhone 7 and use it with the headphones at the same time, which I used to do a lot. Secondly, it means I need one set of headphones for my laptop (standard earphone port) and one set for my iPhone (firewire). I travel quite a bit, and now I need to pack two sets of headphones for any trip. Harrumph

Of course, I could spend more money on bluetooth earphones that will pair with both laptop and phones. Double harrumph…

The lack of time and thought invested in accessories compared to the base product is something I’ve blogged about before.

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Ask any business leader what their primary business challenge is and you’ll often hear words like ‘demand’, ‘pipeline’ or ‘more, better leads’. There are very few businesses that can rely on a never-ending stream of inbound enquiries from prospects or customers looking to buy.

Generating demand is generally the domain of the marketing department, although in business-to-business environments it’s not uncommon for the sales people to be expected to find or develop about half of the demand themselves. Many businesses therefore take a well resourced, scientific and automated approach to being in the right places with the right content to engage those people looking to fix a problem or exploit an opportunity.

Despite what you might have read from the minority of practitioners who’ve written or published ‘how to’ books, blogs or videos on the subject, while the principles are straightforward the practice is hard, especially when the business has a relentless demand for high quantity, high quality expressions of interest to keep its costs of acquisition at manageable levels. What often happens is that instead of demand generation you get demand degeneration, by which I mean a lack or shortfall of pipeline for your products and services.

What are the reasons for this? As you might expect, they’re many and varied. Incorrect market sizing, poor segmentation, a lack of understanding of the customer, inferior or inappropriate content, and insufficient or manually dependent activities are some of the common reasons. There’s also a requirement to stay current with trends and technologies in demand generation, since ways of engaging with customers have a natural lifecycle that means they won’t always be productive and will be replaced by new ways.

It takes a relentless drive and relentless inquisitiveness to engender relentless interest in something. That’s a pretty tall order to avoid demand degeneration, and the good business will recognise this and have in place parallel activities like customer advocacy to keep the pump primed.

The goal of underlying sales and marketing technology is that it is the slave, not the master, to your organisation. Automating your processes will enable you to embed and reinforce best practices throughout your organisation. The collection and inputting of good data and managing interactions for the complete customer journey will ensure you have visibility into your organisation, give you the insights to do accurate business planning and allow you to demonstrate your compliance.

Customer Relationship Management (‘CRM’) systems fulfil these responsibilities for your organisation. They are the machine to power your business, but are limited by the fuel you give them – in this case the quality and accuracy of information you import, enter and store. You can customise many CRM systems to suit your own business processes. You can also enhance them by integrating additional specialist software from third party organisations.

The CRM industry is extremely cluttered and competitive. There is a vast array of CRM systems, which vary appreciably in cost, functionality, reporting, flexibility, ease of use and size of their third party software ecosystem. It’s important to select the system which offers the best fit to your requirements and the long term vision you have for your organisation.

These 8 aspects will give you a solid structure to define your technology requirements, before shortlisting the alternative providers:

  • Your objectives for the technology
  • The functions within your organisation
  • The tasks you want to automate
  • The information you want to record
  • The metrics you want to measure
  • The users you want to enable
  • Their requirements
  • Your budget to accomplish these things

Think about your requirements as deeply as you can before you take the plunge. Companies often find that once they start using an implemented system there are additional things they didn’t think about that would have further influenced either their choice of system or how they customised and implemented it.

In this last post in the series on scaling a business, we look at the checklist of ’10 Rockefeller habits’. Once more I borrow from the Growth Institute in this fascinating piece on how the 10 habits of the fabled businessman are the only framework you need to scale your business.

Working from the principle that success comes from the combination of goals and discipline, and you must have both, rather like strategy and execution, the article provides a detailed description of the 10-item Rockefeller habits checklist, which I summarise here:

  1. The executive team is healthy and aligned
  2. Everyone is aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward
  3. Communication rhythm is established and information moves through the organisation quickly
  4. Every facet of the organisation has a person assigned with accountability for ensuring goals are met
  5. Ongoing employee input is collected to identify obstacles and opportunities
  6. Reporting and analysis of customer feedback data is as frequent and accurate as financial data
  7. Core values and purpose are “alive” in the organisation
  8. Employees can articulate the key components of the company’s strategy accurately
  9. All employees can answer quantitatively whether they had a good day or week
  10. The company’s plans and performance are visible to everyone

These habits only truly come alive when you read the narrative and case studies that amplify them, so refer to here for the valuable detail. You’ll get the how to implement and who should implement that will send you on your way to scaling a business successfully.

 

This post continues the series on scaling a business, this time defining the exponential organisation. An exponential organisation is a company that scales rather than grows. In other words it grows at an exponential rate – d’oh!

Jacob Morgan covers how to create an exponential organisation and why you would want to in this excellent piece. He leans heavily on the work of the innovator Samil Ismail, one of those lucky souls who can find his first name in his last name…

Ismail’s research into exponential organisations leads him to identify ten commonalities in companies successfully hitting the stratosphere.  Five factors are external, and five are internal.

The five external factors equal the word SCALE:

  • S, staff on demand
  • C, community and crowd
  • A, algorithms
  • L, leased assets
  • E, engagement

The five internal factors spell the word IDEAS:

  • I, interfaces
  • D, dashboard
  • E, experimentation
  • A, autonomy
  • S, social

To find out more about each factor, and what combination of them would suit your ambitions, have a deeper look at the article.

 

In this second in the series of posts exploring scaling the business, let’s look the differences between growing the business versus scaling the business. What better source of authoritative information than this piece from the Growth Institute.

There are some fantastic insights in this piece. Here are just three of them:

  • Companies that scale successfully don’t set out to grow their business, they build it for scale from the outset
  • A scaling company grows at twice the industry average but its expenses are roughly the same
  • When I was at business school, a company’s growth was a series of steps, where you go through a plateau period before you slingshot up the next level. Nowadays the scaling curve is a series of ‘valleys of death’ through which each company must pass in order to dominate its industry

The Growth Institute identifies four scaling stages:

The percentages of companies that make it through each of these stages are horrifically small, so if you’ve got scale-up ambitions it’s important to go in eyes wide open, and also read the Growth Institute piece, and the ‘how to navigate’ guide, in more detail.

Recently I wrote a short post about scale-ups and scaling a business. Now I’m going to start a short series that continues the theme of scaling.

If the trend watchers are to be believed, the start-up and dot com has had its day. Maybe that term is a little out of date these days, since the emerging start-ups of today all seem to be dot ai anyway. Apparently it’s all about becoming a larger sustained company now, while also avoiding being copied, outdone or annihilated by the likes of GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.

But if you want to catch the wave and forge something that lasts, what technology bandwagon should you be hitching a ride on? This piece from PWC explores in detail what they see as the eight essential emerging technologies.

The eight technologies are:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Augmented reality
  • Blockchains
  • Drones
  • Internet of Things
  • Robotics
  • Virtual reality
  • 3-D printing

The thing that makes this tricky for start-ups is that you need boat loads of cash to dominate them. They’re not a niche that you can easily protect.

The PWC article groups these eight technologies into five converging themes:

  • Embodied AI
  • Intelligent automation
  • Automating trust
  • Conversational interfaces
  • Extended reality

For information on which technology or theme you can embrace to harness your scale-up company ambitions, see the article.

A former boss and mentor of mine recently referred me to an article on self-publishing. It was written by someone who had been published before, using the traditional publishing routes and methods, and now was publishing his own books. The full post is here. It’s a fascinating read, especially so if you are thinking off putting stuff out there.

This post, however, is not so much an advert for self-publishing as it is a comment or two on how technology has changed how we write, and how we consume what’s been written.

Books are changing. They’re not books any more, much of the time at least. Sometimes they’re ebooks, existing on screen but not existing physically. Sometimes they’re printed on demand, one at a time, Sometimes they’re very short, like a pamphlet. Sometimes they’re simply a blog post, like this one.

Publishing something used to be this mammoth, self-contained, one-off project that ending up with something spitting out off the presses. Now we can publish something very short, very quickly, even charge for it too, and get almost instant feedback on what readers thought of it. Web 2.0 baby, what a wonderful thing.

This same technology has also changed the way we read, our reading behaviours. We have an unending wealth of information and diversion at our fingertips. We now skim read, and have a shorter attention span, so unless what we’re reading is a compelling page turner – digitally or physically – shorter is better.

So maybe this is a misleading post title. Maybe books have already changed.

 

Remote working, teleconferences, videoconferences, skype calls: they are the new norm, with many companies now embracing the idea of some of their staff working from home or satellite offices some of the time.

It’s very efficient too, for both parties, cutting down on overheads, time and travel, and reducing the effects of poor weather on schedules. You have to work harder to overcome the communication and confusion issues that can arise when you’re not in the same physical room as someone, but that’s OK.

However, to get the best out of working relationships, the absolute best, nothing beats face-to-face. You’ve got body language, facial expressions and the sheer presence of someone next to you on your side. If you want to sort out a disagreement, or clear a misunderstanding, get people together. When it comes to sales and marketing of products and services that carry a decent value, and a decent trust element, nothing beats seeing the whites of each other’s eyes.

It doesn’t have to be face-to-face all the time, simply once in a while will do it. Last month I caught up with 2 groups of people I’d been meaning to catch up with for a long time. Now we’ve met, we’re more front of mind for each other, the priorities have risen up the stack and we’re moving projects forward.

Like I say, even when or if we become used to hologram drop-ins and clone stand-ins, nothing will beat face-to-face.

Down for maintenance

The other day I was in a hurry to check the status of a flight I was taking later that week. I needed to know if I could fit in an appointment before leaving for the airport. When I went onto the website this is what I got.

For a company of this stature, and for a company that transacts online at this kind of scale, I find this flabbergasting. Such a website shouldn’t ever be down, certainly not at peak hours. This was 17:00 on a week day.

When I worked in the cyber-security business, the standard service level agreement for a cloud-based service was what they call ‘five nines’, or 99.999% availability. In some quarters, four nines wasn’t seen as sufficient for an enterprise’s mission-critical systems. To put this in perspective, five nines availability allows for total unscheduled downtime – assuming uptime is calculated on a 24/7/365 basis – of just six minutes, for the entire year, if my calculations are correct.

Which leads me to conclude either that this is one of those moments of unforeseen torture for a company that sets itself the highest standards of transactional availability, or that the company is in fact a bit sloppy or laissez faire with its customers’ goodwill.

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, I checked back on the site and it was back up, so perhaps we can give Ryanair the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.