Author Archives: David Gingell

Does Brexit need a rebrand?

pic: global government forum

pic: global government forum

What do Johnson & Johnson, Perrier and Burberry all have in common?

All three were brands which had become toxic on some level in the last thirty years.  J&J’s Tylenol was found to be linked to several deaths in the 1980s, Perrier suffered after it’s major brand promise of purity was seriously found wanting in the early 90s, and in the 2000s Burberry became associated with thuggish behaviour when their brand had become a status symbol amongst an underclass of young males in the UK.

More recently Volkswagen has been at the centre of scandal by cheating on their emissions tests. What is also in common with the first three is that they handled their respective ‘crises’ with aplomb, and as current trading will tell us, their brands not only survived but returned to growth. The jury is out on whether that happens to the German car maker. All four though went through substantive crisis communications and then focused on rebranding and rebuilding the trust they had lost from their consumers.

Branding is somewhat of an art form, although elements of it can be scientifically measured. Net Promoter Score, brand value, goodwill and brand equity can all be measured and religiously tracked and pored over by the C-Suite. It is an inexact science but a base understanding of the levels of your brand’s awareness and an approximate figure for how the brand is driving shareholder value ought to help inform corporate strategy. Brands can be consciously created, invested in and measured, but also they can emerge when enough people discuss them and they get a “buzzword” label.

It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that a ‘brand’ that emerged into the common consciousness in early 2016 was Brexit,  a term referring to a position taken by those wishing Britain to leave the EU. The term had been coined in 2012 but only gained momentum during the latter part of 2015 as the opposing campaigns for staying and for leaving gathered pace. Is Brexit really a brand? Here’s a common definition of “a brand”:

“A brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service. While many people refer to a brand as a logo, tag line or audio jingle, a brand is actually much larger. A brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced”.

‘Brexit’ as a term then does represent a set of perceptions and images and is the essence of what will be delivered or experienced, namely the exit of Britain from the European Union. So loosely speaking, it is a brand. And, based on the coverage that Brexit has been subjected to since the vote back in June, it is a brand in need of help. Whichever way you voted (assuming you were eligible to and turned up at the voting station to cast it) it is no longer relevant since it is clear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, as we are often reminded by the Prime Minister. Britain will leave the EU sooner or later. The Government has been widely criticised for seemingly not having a plan, and all manner of ills that Britain has experienced in the last 6 months have been laid at the door of Brexit. ‘Brexit’ as a brand has become tarnished. So does it needs a rebrand, and it is too Herculean a task to achieve?

Although usually associated with a specific product or service, rebranding could be adapted to rebranding as big a concept as this.

Firstly the Government needs to step up and define exactly what the brand promises should be. This is easier said than done obviously, as the negotiations haven’t even started in earnest. However in the absence of black and white, a definable shade of grey would be helpful. The Government needs to be as transparent as it can be about what the promise is that Brexit will match up to.

Secondly feedback needs to be collated and really understood. Some target audiences are clearly negative and that forms a downward spiral and tarnishes the brand. The negativity which is prevalent in the mainstream press and big business, needs to be deeply understood and taken on board and strategies developed to counteract and deflect in a positive way.

Thirdly the Government needs to develop a more holistic story, one in which the majority British people can get behind and that talks to the opportunities that Brexit offers. The fact is, there is no turning back so the Government needs to get the Remainers and those Brexiters who have experienced substantial cognitive dissonance since June, to drop their negative outlook and be positive. Few will succumb to ‘blind optimism’, yet a well argued positive story will begin to turn the tide.

Then the Government and its agencies need to up their game when it comes to communications. This includes just not owned media assets such as Government websites but also the mobilisation of all social media vehicles. I am not sure we want to see Theresa May conducting her business and discoursing on Twitter in the way that Donald Trump does, but a higher profile would be a good start.

Finally, support for Brexit needs to be built into all communication. Given some of the prognostications that are suggesting the UK civil service could well be tied up with Brexit for the next ten years, then getting support through all communication vehicles for it would appear to be rather expedient.

The Government needs to look at the brand of Brexit and invest in it, as much as they are arguing amongst themselves about article 50. Investing in a powerful brand will help it be a success.

Disclosure: I am a “remainer” and have been deeply troubled by the decision to leave the EU. However that is not going to change anything now and for the sake of the country we all need to make the best of it!

Disruption in Logistics

logisticsOver the past few weeks I have been doing some research into the field of third party logistics (3PL). It is not a market I know well but one I think is ripe for some significant disruption and transformation over the next few years. It is clearly an asset intensive business – transportation and property (principally warehousing) being the main constituents along with people. Planes, trucks, trains, ships – are all massive capital investments and maximising loads and capacity leads to higher yields and efficiency. Most 3PLs are concerned with this and getting operationally efficient as possible is a principal goal of most of the leading providers – as it should be. However I would argue that there is really is a fourth dimension that is become increasingly significant and will in time potentially become the most important of all – that of technology. This will come in the form of advanced automation, the  use of big data and the influence of the Internet of Things on the supply chain.

Data plays a very significant role in supply chains already – and optimising routes and capacities is the name of the game. Technology is beginning to have a significant influence on the market. last year UPS purchased Coyote, a technology driven, non-asset based truckload freight brokerage business. By all accounts this was to gain access to Coyote’s advanced freight scheduling software which has been a catalyst for their rapid growth. Last mile deliverers like DPD and Yodel have differentiated on their technology platforms which allow detailed tracking and advanced scheduling, often for the benefit of the end consumer.

New startups like Convoy and Roadie  are trying to “uber-ize” the shipping business. If you have a package you want shipping to the other side of the country, they will match you with a shipper going that way. And it is all very ‘uber-like” – a great mobile experience on an advanced technology platform. These are however small scale compared to Amazon. When Amazon gets interested in a market then the incumbents should be very wary. In the beginning Amazon relied exclusively on 3PLs like UPS and DHL/Fedex to distribute the goods we all order on their site. However increasingly Amazon is creating its own distribution business with its own fleets of vehicles, and that’s aside from their foray into drone delivery. This ought to have their traditional partners looking over their shoulders. It is also rumoured that Amazon have “hundreds” of PhD mathematicians working on network logistics. I rather doubt the traditional 3PLs have anywhere near that number. What are these guys and gals doing? Well, clearly they are focused on making the sourcing of product, storage in warehousing, picking and then delivery to end consumer as fluid and swift as possible. Amazon Prime (Next Day, One Day and Now) is only possible with state-of-the-art supply chain logistics being co-ordinated through big data analytics. Ultimately this is about delighting the customer by near real-time delivery of goods.

In other news, driverless trucks are on the horizon. Otto, a startup in the space recently trialled a self-driving truck which carried a commercial delivery of beer through the Rockies from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs – a 120 mile journey. Whilst the truck only drove itself on the Interstate, it will not be long before it is able to navigate urban areas on its own. Otto was bought this summer by Uber – a move which again, should have the incumbent third party logistics companies take note and at the very least start investigating where this market is going.

Disruption comes to many markets and is usually driven by technology advancements. What Uber has done to the taxi market and what Air B&B is doing to the hotel market are just a couple of examples of disruption within very traditional, and somewhat prosaic industries. Logistics is ripe for change and it is technology that will be driving that change.

Is Growth Hacking relevant for B2B Marketers

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaddaaaajdy5nthinzezltuznjgtndc4ys1imjvllwjimwu0mwvhodk3yqFirstly, what is growth hacking? It is a trend that is starting to permeate the consciousness of digital marketers the world over but has not yet gained any significant level of awareness outside that. Wikipedia states that “growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business”.

So, growth hacking is about experimentation at low-to-no cost, a swift analysis of outcomes and subsequent iteration to optimise the marketing initiative. The term ‘growth hacker’ could be seen pejoratively as something underhand or nefarious because of the word ‘hacking’, as in the security sense. Here however the idea is that using pretty sophisticated technical skills, a marketer can drive growth in the funnel much more quickly than previous generations of marketer. This might mean for example using in-product promotions or links and driving A/B testing to understand the optimal lead generation, or utilising a whole plethora of digital marketing techniques which have only become common place in the last 10 years such as content marketing, SEO optimisation and retargeting.

Traditional marketers might get a bit ‘hacked off’ (if you will excuse the pun) with the inference that this new breed of marketer is now focused on growth and that in the past marketers have not been. I think that is wrong, marketers have generally been targeted in adding to the top of the funnel and driving lead generation programs. However, clearly identifying the marketing function as a growth driver is I think a good thing. I have always believed that marketing should be a strategic lever to the business, and it is only going to be that if it focuses on what matters, driving profitable growth. So let’s accept the ‘growth’ term – it helps anchor the marketing function clearly to the business strategy.

Generally speaking the idea around the “hacking” part of the moniker refers to a more technical level of marketer than has been traditionally found in mature tech marketing functions. This is probably why we have seen growth hacking take off as a discipline in startups. Few startups have a dedicated marketing function in their early years and still fewer have dedicated budgets for marketing. It tends to be a discipline that is covered to begin with by the founders. Obviously they are smart folk and usually have a technical bias. They also drive the product development process and can see how to build marketing mechanisms into the product (eg hooks in the software on which to attach promotions – which could drive leads). They are continually looking to drive demand using low-to-no cost marketing methods.

So is growth hacking relevant for marketing functions within mature B2B tech organisations? Certainly there are some techniques that can be applied, but not all. B2B tends to be narrative driven, longer sales cycles, less easy to drive to free trial, lower volume of CTR in which to perform variant and A/B testing, and less open to promos or offers (which are often good ‘hacks’ in a B2C context). However any ‘hacks’ which are centred around engaging a conversation, low-to-no cost free stuff like ROI calculators, advocate schemes etc are going to be worth looking at. Usually established marketing organisations have a formal structure, budget for core marketing activities (like PR, Digital spend, promos etc) and professionals who have not grown up in startup environments. This is not particularly conducive then to embrace growth hacking as a concept.

The role of the growth hacker is increasingly significant in startups across the world and as their companies grow to become mature and successful, the growth hacker will keep those techniques as part of their DNA. Thus even large tech marketing organisations with need to pay attention to growth hacking. It would therefore be sensible for B2B tech marketing organisations to think about experimenting with growth hacking before their competitors do. Hiring the right calibre of individual is not going to be easy, a true growth hacker is a blend of marketer, data analyst and developer. There are a number of online growth hacking courses emerging and it would be a good idea for the CMO to encourage a couple of members of their staff to get some training and become acquainted with what could be applied to their marketing efforts.

Note: first published on LinkedIn

Shimon Peres – A titan of the 20th century

Thanks to the hyper-connected Vice Chairman of NetApp, Tom Mendoza, I was honoured to have the opportunity to meet Shimon Peres two years ago in Jerusalem. Today is a sad day to hear of his passing, even if reaching the ripe old age of 93 is a magnificent innings. I have not met many famous people and certainly none of Shimon Peres stature. It is an aphorism that you should never meet your heroes, as they invariably disappoint. Before June 2014 I couldn’t honestly say that Peres was a hero of mine – in fact I was rather ignorant of Israel’s history. Since then however I have studied it relatively deeply and, am now firmly aware of what puts him in the category of a hero to me now. Certainly the sharpest 91 year old I have ever met.  I have written before on that particular meeting so I will not riff deeply on it again but I wanted to acknowledge what a great life he lived and what a massive contribution he made to Middle East politics and society. When his first question to use was “so what do you think about the power of nanotechnology to affect healthcare across the Middle East?” we realised he wasn’t your archetypal nonagenarian. Sure he polarised opinion. Some of the obituaries have not been 100% eulogistic (eg Daily Telegraph) whilst others have been very balanced and acknowledged his genius – as Bill Clinton said today. However no-one can doubt his place in history and his enduring influence in Israeli society and politics.

RIP Mr Peres.

us-with-peres

The UK is open for business

Brexit

How’s your last week been? Hopefully better than mine and probably better than most of the 48% of the UK voters who voted ‘remain’ in the referendum. Of course what with buyer’s remorse and what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’, that figure is likely to be way higher by now. Churchill famously said that ‘the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter’. The fallout from the Brexit result certainly seems to support his tongue-in-cheek comment. However, in this case it shouldn’t be limited to the ‘average voter’, as even sophisticated and highly intelligent people were unable to really understand the complexity of the decision ahead of the UK electorate. Misinformation, speculation and scaremongering abounded in the ten weeks of the campaign, and no-one has come out of the process covered in glory.

David Cameron ultimately bears the responsibility for calling the referendum in the first place in order to keep UKIP at bay several years ago. For an intelligent man he failed to learn from his optimistic stance over the Scottish referendum, which he thought would never go against him and then had to rally all and sundry and essentially beg the Scottish people to stay. But this is not about one man and his career – as if it is going to really hurt Cameron that much. He has his wealth, his conference speeches, his books to write and so on, all while he waits for his ennoblement or knighthood in the future (more or less every British prime minister up until Blair has been ennobled or knighted). No, the people it is going to hurt most are the very people who by and large voted for it: the disenfranchised of the North, the depressed of South Wales and the angry farmers of the South West. This was never how it was supposed to be. I have heard a few times now Brexiters* saying they voted the way they did as a protest but that they always assumed we’d vote ‘remain’ as a country. These are sentiments that should have been kept for a UK general election and not the basis for a vote to remove the UK from the EU. It is a decision that is proving seismic.

I feared the worst as soon as Rupert Murdoch came out in favour of Brexit, the week before the vote, and The Sun newspaper got behind that decision. Whilst daily papers have been under pressure for many years now with the digital revolution, the Sun and the Mirror remain as key to the working man as his packed lunch. As a student I worked as a labourer re-bricking furnaces in the industrial two week shutdown. Up in Widnes in the industrial North I went into the newsagents at 7am with another labourer and a bricklayer. I picked up The (London) Times and was unceremoniously, and in the plainest language imaginable, asked to reconsider my decision. So, I bought the Daily Star. They bought the Daily Mirror and The Sun. At the 3 break times, no-one spoke, we just read the papers, swapping each break. So I know the power of the red tops to sway public opinion, especially the working class readership. Murdoch rarely calls it wrong. He got behind Blair when New Labour emerged – a bold decision when the Sun is traditionally more right wing than left. He got behind Cameron when it wasn’t clear he would win (albeit with a coalition). Either he has some very good pollsters who have the pulse of public, or it is cause and effect. Either way – I am betting with Murdoch next time.

Like the majority of business people whom I know, I was a firm ‘Bremainer’. I have long considered myself a European. So the shock I received at 5am on that Friday morning when I woke up, was akin to a bereavement. Something had died – and what’s worse, it had been self-inflicted. Britain’s role in the world I fear has shifted from respect and veered towards derision. Following the classic stages of any major trauma or grief, I think many of the electorate have gone through denial, anger, bargaining and depression. We haven’t reached the acceptance stage just yet. but it will have to come. One addition to this grief cycle which is not usually experienced is the feeling of embarrassment, which I know some people have felt these past ten days. This is not the UK I recognise or live in.

The UK is a tolerant, inclusive and welcoming country. Without immigration, Britain could scarcely claim the appellation of ‘Great’ these days. The infrastructure of the country owes its relative smooth running to immigration. The health service, the railways, the building trade – just a few sectors which would fail without positive immigration. The danger is that the outside may now look at Britain as a country that is insular, non-inclusive and anti-immigration. That saddens me. We have let the British people wrestle with a complex decision on the basis of too little information and too few facts and it should never have been reduced to a binary IN or OUT. Democracy has to be a central tenet of a civilised and fair country but asking the people to vote on a matter where the outcomes are neither clear nor well explained is undemocratic as well.

Britain needs to find its way now in its relationship with the EU for sure and that is the huge task facing Cameron’s successor.  But almost as importantly, politicians need to find a way to connect with the electorate. It is hard not to see most politicians as self-serving and self-aggrandising. For some of the electorate it was an anti-establishment vote – politicians on all sides must take note.

And to all my non-Brit friends and colleagues around the world – please don’t forget that nearly half the country wanted to remain in the EU and we haven’t all suddenly become little Englanders. Many of those who voted leave are not either. Britain remains open for business and continues to be a tolerant and inclusive country. In every crisis there are ways to profit – the currency fluctuations can offer some excellent opportunities both professionally and personally. With sterling at its lowest level for years, come visit and take advantage of a country which Napoleon Bonaparte famously called ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ (although I doubt he meant it as a compliment).  We could do with the tourist boost….

*Note: The term ‘Brexit”, whilst pithy, is of course inaccurate as Britain is the sum of England, Wales and Scotland. The UK is those three countries plus Northern Ireland. “Ukexit” is the accurate if more unwieldy term. One might have been tempted to put an ‘f’ in front of it – maybe that’s why it didn’t take off.

For Monkigras read 'Nordigras'

IMG_0648For the last three years the boys at RedMonk (the AR firm devoted to the developer community) have been successfully running their annual developer conference, Monkigras in London in January.

Presumably the name is a play on the world famous Mardigras festival which is most widely known in Brazil and the US. However it is more than just a play on words or a clever marketing ploy. Just like that street carnival,  the conference has a high quotient of the wacky, the fun, the insightful, the different and sometimes the plain bizarre. This Thursday and Friday around 150 people packed into one of the Shoreditch Studios in London to attend the 2015 edition. It appeared to be a sell-out and I am sure they could have sold many more tickets – especially at the very reasonable fees that delegates were charged.

As this was my first Monkigras I was rather apprehensive about it, not being a developer or software engineer, and with marketing being my metier I may have been seen as coming from the dark side. But I shouldn’t have worried. Although there were a few slides with code on them, the theming of the event helped keep it at an understandable level for a non-techie.

governor

James Governor

 James Governor, the co-founder of RedMonk is the slightly eccentric “curator” of the event. Essentially he is the force behind Monkigras and he runs the event in a seemingly blase and a somewhat rambling professorial manner. But it really works. Especially with this crowd of relatively young and mostly open-source developers and software engineers. As a major influencer in the developer community he commands a lot of respect and therefore is able to attract an eclectic and influential roster of speakers. This year was no exception. Luminaries like the CEO of MariaDB and the creators of the Swedish typeface showed up to talk.

James focused Monkifest 15 on the Nordic tech ecosystem. That might seem somewhat niche and possibly a bit unusual for a London based conference, but as with a lot of things RedMonk, there was method in their madness. The Nordic region has become synonymous with the open source movement ever since a young Linus Torvalds decided that rather than buy the Solaris OS for his Sun server back in 2001 he’d write his own. Appreciating that then, you can maybe understand why a focus on the Nordic startup culture and their success in open source would be relevant to a wider audience. Take the well-known open source stack for example, LAMP,  3 of the 4 technologies come from the Nordic region. Linux, MySQL and PHP all originated there. Indeed one of the key messages from Day 1 was – not every major innovation in open source comes from Silicon Valley. Speaker after speaker emphasized just how successful the region has been in boxing above its weight class. Why? Well seemingly it is the Nordic values and culture that is the secret sauce in their software success.

Presentations from Swedes, Finns and Norwegians all served to reinforce some of the stereotypes that we tend to have about the Nordic people – somewhat anti-authority, resourceful, humble and innovative. All these came out loud and clear. Another common theme was the playfulness in which they gave their Norse neighbours back-handed compliments and made jokes at their expense. But it was all done in a light-heartened and genuinely respectful way. The Norwegians calling Sweden their historic ‘overlords’ and Finns describing the Swedes as ‘stubborn a**holes’ were just two of the many tongue-in-cheek asides. It was high on entertainment value, with every speaker seemingly picked as much for their ability to make the audience laugh as to deliver insightful content – at which they excelled just as well.

Most of Day 1 was focused on culture and code and the tight link between the two. Per Buer, the CTO of , Janne Kalliola CEO & Founder of , Joonas Lehtinen, Founder of the Vaadin Project and the aforementioned CEO of MariaDB, Patrik Sallner all gave great accounts of themselves, of their open source offerings and of their countries. Swedish representatives from more well-known companies like Amazon Web Services added to the rich dialogue.

emil-eifrem-300x336

Emil Eifrem

For a slightly different perspective James had attracted the CEO of Neo Technology, Emil Eifrem to fly over from Silicon Valley to discuss how he is taking the cultural values from his native Sweden and inculcating them into his US start-up (which focuses on graphical databases). “An American company with a Swedish soul” is the way he describes it. Given his hiring cadence, he is certainly seeing success. Since he started it in 2007 he claimed has never lost a single engineer from his 30 or so team to another competitor and that is despite being in the hottest place on earth for cool start-ups. Quite remarkable. He puts that down to the culture – driving ‘good’ consensus, promoting a meritocratic approach and a keen focus on the quality of ideas rather than their origination. It is mandated that as an employee you challenge every other employee, especially the exec management. That way the quality of the ideas are thoroughly tested and made road worthy.

Finally Niklas Gustavsson from Spotify reinforced those cultural norms when discussing how his company has grown from  a small Swedish start-up into a global brand and a multinational company. Their way of dealing with hard problems by creating ‘squads’ and ideating through them was an interesting approach.

The sessions are delivered in a single track format in a darkened room and are predominantly PowerPoint based. That’s a recipe that on paper sounds disastrous. One session followed by another after another, after another. But somehow it works. Sessions are limited to 18 mins long (had to be I suppose, not 15 mins or 20 mins) and some of the best Swedish coffee on-tap maybe have had something to do with it as well. Additionally most sessions were laced with humour and unpredictability. For example, who’d have thought a talk on Icelandic knitting would have been so fascinating – and indeed relevant – with analogies to code development being spun (sorry) throughout?

The penultimate session was on a fascinating talk on the history of the Nordic drinking culture – context setting for the evening activity. Nothing like reinforcing stereotypes! Who knew how much of their history was plagued by prohibition. I guess they’ve been making up for it ever since.

mikkeller-glass

Self-explanatory

Finally we had a short talk on Mikkeller, a so-called “gypsy” beer company from Denmark which has expanded significantly over the last 7 years. What’s cool about them is their business model which basically means that they create the recipes and outsource the actual brewing to other companies around the world. It explains why they have so many varieties of beer and such unusual recipes. Unsurprisingly, these were the beers on offer in the evening – how fitting to have the liquid refreshments from a supplier with a different business model – just like many of the participating companies – and of course like RedMonk.

Day one then – definitely a high ROI both in terms of time and cost.

Day two offered up more of the same. A really wacky presentation from Eucalyptus ought to have come with a TV style warning for anyone with epilepsy.  But they are yet another Scandi company doing great things with cloud scaling models. So much so that HP picked them up and added them to their software stable. There was certainly some interesting content if confusingly delivered – but maybe that was just me – the conference had started to get technical.

Other highlights from then included the presentation from the CEO of Adapteva who has been building his start-up in the US from his Israeli-Swedish roots for the past 7 years and is touting his open source hardware chipset/processors, Parallella. Talk about David v Goliath! A company less than 20 persons going up against Intel. Bravery personified. But, as he said, Swedish entrepreneurs are stubborn – and he remains positive about his prospects despite showing us an alarming graph that showed the burn rate of his VC funding. It was a picture which only accountants with nerves of steel could look at sanguinely. His talk on the attributes required to build a start-up were a reality check for anyone starting out with a great idea and thinking of turning it into the next Spotify or Skype.

summala-4

Ilja Summala

The CTO of NordCloud Ilja Summala stated that Finland leads the EU in cloud adoption. He made the rather interesting assertion that this could well be a result of the need of the Finns to resolve the housing crisis after WWII when 11% of population needed housing. In order to build houses at record speed an open “house design” was made available so that anyone could more or less build a basic house out of timber with marginal construction skills. An early example of open sourcing a design. But something that helped accelerate that was the existence of ‘talkoot‘, which describes how friends and family all collaborate to hep each other, seemingly a concept common to all the Nordic countries. So the construction of these houses effectively became a collective task.  Impossible to prove of course but it is nice to believe that the relatively high adoption rate of cloud services in the Nordics is due to those traits exemplified 70 years ago.

There were plenty of other talks on day 2 and the full agenda and speakers can be found here.

And so there we have it. My respect for the Nordic region is undiminished. It’s a fascinating place to visit and clearly a place with the right conditions to grow technology businesses for Nordic people.

I look forward to seeing Mr Governor’s concept for 2016. One thing for sure is that the basic tenets of Monkigras won’t deviate much and if you are in anyway interested in open source, distributed development, Devops or any cool programming concepts ensure you book your skiing holiday next year in February.

Challenge your sales reps and your customers!

ceb-challenger-sale-book-cropIf you are involved in selling products into enterprise B2B customers you probably know that engaging with your clients purely around product features and benefits has been delivering diminishing returns for a long time now. Without anchoring the conversation around some sort of value proposition (eg helping your client save money, make money or avoid losing money) the race to the bottom is accelerated, and discounts and tough negotiations on price become the norm.

Over the last twenty years the concept of solution selling has been heavily implemented in professional sales organizations, with the bundling of products and services into solutions to help drive the conversation around business value. But that is no longer enough.

Today customers are smarter than ever and have access to information about vendors and their propositions which they never had historically.

It is a truism that 60% of the sales cycle starts before the vendor is even invited in to discuss their offerings. So much data is available on the web, whether through “owned media” (like the vendors web site) or through “earned media” (in the press, discussion threads, review sites and so on), that a lot of “due dilligence” can be done by the client themselves, and they may well know more about the vendors offering than the rep themselves.

What are the implications of this?

Well firstly, if 60% of the sales cycle starts before the rep can actually engage, the onus is on the marketing function to get the value proposition into the places that their target audiences go to get information. They also have a responsibility to drive the air cover for the sales reps so when they do show up, they are not spending the first 10 minutes explaining what their company actually does. So Marketing is getting more critical than ever.

Secondly it means that a rep that shows up with a product pitch or a company overview is wasting the client’s time. Chances are that the client is one step ahead and is already working out how to drive down the price. CEB, the member-based advisory company has shown the ineffectiveness of the pure product sale today, and even the more solution-oriented approach.

In a methodology that is beginning to sweep through professional B2B sale organizations, CEB focuses on the pre-eminence of what they call “customer insight“. It is the delivery of this insight that sets the most successful sales people apart from the others – a group they call the ‘challenger sales reps’. These are high achieving reps who tell their customers something they don’t know. They bring insight to their clients, something that the client would have not considered or known (or could have not found easily by trawling the web). These insights, if acted upon, can lead to saving money or making money out of all proportion to the investment required. They are essentially “challenging” their clients to think differently, and consider discontinuous paths.

In their research CEB show that it is precisely the delivery of insight that customers value the most. The key is to earn credibility early in the sales cycle with some disruptive insight and lead the conversation through various phases until it ends with a discussion on the vendor’s products and services. Unsurprisingly the vendor’s offerings should be the only ones that can uniquely deliver on the insight. They call this “leading to” rather than “leading with” a vendor’s products and services.

Whole sales forces are being re-skilled to suit the Challenger Sales model and are being encouraged to base their sales strategies on delivering the right levels of insight. In the way that Solution Selling became the received approach in the first decade of this century, I am sure that Challenger selling will be the dominant B2B sales approach in the latter part of the second decade. If you are not familiar with it, I suggest you become so in short order.

Does it work? I can answer that with a strong affirmative. I have seen it first hand. Customers at an Executive Briefing Center of a major hardware technology company actually giving a standing ovation to a consultant who had put 2 and 2 together and made 5. He had delivered a level of insight on their business that had taken their breath away. It was not the approach they had expected from a vendor and they expressed their surprise. They followed up that surprise with a multi-million dollar order.

The issue I see with the approach at the moment is it’s scalability. Producing the insights down to a specific customer account and making them very impactful is very resource intensive. We need to find a way to automate the insight creation to a specific level. When that has been done (by utilizing disparate data sources with big data analysis) and it can be delivered “just-in-time”, and delivered fluently by sales reps then I really think we are on to something really special.

 

 

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas-Shrugged-Art-2In my two preceding posts I highlighted a book in each that I think are as relevant to today’s business world as they were when written: Lou Gerstner’s ‘Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance’ which tells the story of IBM’s reinvention (something many companies are having to consider as we move to the Third Platform and  Cloud ubiquity), and Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm which focuses on marketing segmentation and the technology adoption life-cycle.

The final influential book I have chosen isn’t a business tome at all but a novel, however I think it speaks to entrepreneurs and business leaders alike and has some important messages contained therein.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is a tour-de-force that is pretty familiar to American baby boomers, many of whom had to study it at school. It didn’t really make it across the Atlantic and isn’t well known in Europe, but the messages are as applicable in my opinion.  So, it isn’t a business book per se, but it is about industry and the complex relationship between the creators of wealth and the consumers in society.  This book can be read either as a relatively simplistic tale of unwarranted greed from untalented bureaucrats on the make, who are milking the producers of wealth through taxes and legislation (whilst wrapped up with a romance between high powered industrialists), or as complex analysis of a dystopian society in which America collapses as the men of ideas and the leaders of production withdraw their labor and brains from society in order to show the world that the grabbers and shysters cannot survive without them. The latter level involves a hefty slug of economics, philosophy and governance.  Rand was a republican and had trenchant views on man’s role on earth to produce, and that from ideas flow products which make society richer and more fulfilled. Therefore to tax and curb those who have the ideas, those who invent, those who build great companies, is destructive for society as a whole. Whether you subscribe to this viewpoint or not, this treatise will continue to be seen as important in the future for promulgating the role of innovation – something we in the tech industry are acutely aware of.

No doubt you have your own list of entirely different business books that you see as seminal and I’d be curious to know what those are and why they will shape business into the future. For me, a business case study, a marketing theory and a dramatic novel cover the bases!

Crossing the proverbial chasm

First published on LinkedIn

chasmLast week I wrote the first in a series of three posts on influential books from the last century that I contend are still relevant to today’s changing IT world. The subject of the first was Louis Gerstner’s “Who says elephants can’t dance?” about IBM’s reinvention in the 1990s. A manual for today perhaps? Well, with what I can only claim as coincidence rather than prescience, I seem to have called it right. HP announced their intended split earlier this week which I reckon shows that the elephants will indeed dance again. Gerstner’s book could well be required re-reading for Meg Whitman and her board(s). The IT discussion threads are now all a-chatter about other IT behemoths following suit, so if you want to see more Dumbos in tutus you may not have long to wait.

But if that seminal work was focused on a saving an historic IT business, today’s choice is more about how to create the business in the first place and what business, nay marketing strategies might be employed to ensure the successful transition from fledgling IT vendor to an established and respected leader.

Of all the business books that have shaped the way I think about marketing, Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is the daddy. Moore, a management consultant and marketer has dedicated his professional life to understanding how the technology adoption life cycle works and how companies can profit from understanding it and market appropriately throughout its various stages.

The ‘chasm’ referred to in the title is the gap between the visionaries who adopt technology on the basis of its discontinuous innovation and uniqueness and the early pragmatists who, as their name implies, bring a pragmatic view to the adoption – requiring evidence of successful implementation and a solution-based approach before willing to invest.Moore identifies further groupings – the late majority and the laggards and discusses how approaches to marketing to these groups need to be equally different and nuanced.

Whilst Moore went on to write a number of other best sellers, riffing off the theme, such as Inside the Tornado and The Gorilla Game, it is Crossing The Chasm that is the Art of War for technology marketers.

If you are just starting out on your IT marketing career or are an old hand who “knows it all”, if you haven’t read this book you are missing out on a key part of your business education.

What book transcends the test of time for you? What lesson did you apply? Come back next week to read about my final pick for an evergreen manual for today’s business leader.

Will the elephants dance again?

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**First published on LinkedIn**

David Amerland wrote a thought-provoking piece last week on the influence that 3 books have had on business during the 20th and 21st centuries (Forbes Brand Voice: “Huh? 3 Business books we just don’t understand”). Although the 3 are not business books but medieval treaties on war and feudal domination, many young buck sales execs and business leaders have sought to use the metaphors contained within them (like “flanking movements” or “frontal attacks”) to plan their sales campaigns.

As Amerland points out though, business is not war and overuse of such metaphors can be dangerous. These are books that were written in a different era and within different societal norms. But they are still relevant and he points out why.

His perspective inspired me to take a slightly different angle on the value of historical metaphors. My thinking looks at the books that have stood the test of time.

There are literally thousands of business books published each year, so labeling one as ‘seminal’ is pretty risky and of course a personal opinion. But taking that risk on the chin, here is one more modern tome which may well prove to be seminal and in my view will stand that test of time. The wisdom it imparts will transcend and will remain relevant long after the last paperback book has been purchased and digital is the only format available.

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? By Louis Gerstner. IBM was at the brink of Chapter 11 and facing disaster in the early 1990s. The oldest and most iconic computer brand in the world at that time had failed to anticipate fully the rise of unix-based open systems and the shift from monolithic mainframes to lower cost mini computers and networked pc-based systems. Facing a gradual and slow death, they brought in Gerstner to manage its probable divestment into multiple parts.

Gerstner, an executive from outside the industry had other ideas. He actually presided over one of the most dramatic business transformations ever seen. The shift to a solutions and services based approach was revolutionary at such a scale. It was bloody, risky and painful for many, but it proved highly successful and IBM was saved from ignominy and went on to thrive.

So why is this story from the 1990s relevant today? Well the transformation that IBM went through was essentially the shift from what IDC calls the First Platform (Mainframes) to the Second Platform (Client/Server). IT companies like IBM had to adapt or die. Today we are experiencing the next significant transformation from that Second Platform to the Third Platform (Cloud, Social, Mobile, Data). Many established companies will need to transform – they will need to adapt or face an uncertain future. There will be several current elephants that may have to learn some new dance moves if they are going to survive and thrive.

Gerstner’s book can prove a guide to executives who fear taking the bold action needed to embrace this Third Platform.

What book transcends the test of time for you? What lesson did you apply?

Come back next week to read about my next book pick for the month.

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