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Apr 12 20

Moving From Helpless To Helpful

by David Brock

There’s a certain feeling of helplessness we each feel as we look at the current global health crisis, things happening in our companies, in our communities, even with our families.

We are all facing things few of us, individually or organizationally, have ever faced. We each are struggling to find answers and to make sense of what’s happening. We are trying to figure out how to move forward.

This is actually a fascinating time, it’s tragic that it takes something like this to capture our attention, but there is so much we are/can be learning from this.

  1. We can’t figure this out by ourselves, we can’t develop the answers in isolation. The only way we can develop answers and approaches to deal with what we face is by working with each other. Whether it’s working with our people, with our customers, our suppliers, our families, or our communities.
  2. Working to achieve our shared goals or common purpose is the most effective way to achieve our own goals/purpose. If we focus on our selfish interests, we won’t be successful. But through collaboration and working together we each achieve more.
  3. We each have to do our part, fulfilling our commitments. Those that don’t weaken or even destroy our ability to achieve our goals.
  4. We have to be agile and adaptable. As with anything truly complex, there is no right answer, but there are the answers that work in some contexts and for a period of time. And as things change, we have to adapt to those changes.
  5. Empathy, compassion, listening, engaging, shared respect, and collaboration are the skills critical to learning, finding solutions, and moving forward.
  6. Data is critical–the right data and really understanding what it means and how we most effectively leverage it in assessing solutions is the way we make progress.
  7. Measuring and data to assess progress and whether what we have chosen to do is important. These feedback loops are critical to success and figuring things out.

Underlying these things is a mindset of being helpful. Ironically, the only way we address our individual and organizational feeling of being helpless is by being helpful.

What are you doing to be helpful today? To your people/colleagues, with your customers, with your suppliers, with your family, in your community?

Afterword: These are not new principles, they have always applied, even in “normal” times. Sadly, it’s taken a global health and economic crisis for us to rediscover these. We would lose so much of we don’t retain what we’ve learned as we move forward over the next 6 months, year, years.

Afterword: Thanks to Shari Levitin and Jill Konrath. I listened to a great webcast between them, they inspired this post.

Apr 10 20

Thinking About “Conversational Intelligence”

by David Brock

Conversational intelligence is increasingly a hot topic, yet too often, it seems it’s more of an oxymoron.

Just to be clear, for the purposes of this post, I’m talking about the application of AI/ML tools to analyze sales conversations, providing guidance to improve the quality of those conversations.

We are in the early days of using conversational intelligence tools and understanding how to leverage them. Sadly, I think many of the suppliers of these tools are the one’s that most misunderstand the power and potential of these tools. As a result, they tend to provide guidance that’s not useful.

We get insights about, “the power of swearing in a conversation,” “don’t ask more then 4 questions in any sales call,” and on and on. If I were to follow this advice, a conversation might look like:

“How the hell are you?

“What the f**k are you guys doing to address this problem?”

“You’ve got to be shitting me, why do you have those impressions of our product?”

“Damn it, what does it take to earn your business?”

Apparently, if I do these things and keep the call less than 10 minutes, I have a high probability of winning, at least according to this company’s analysis of millions of minutes of sales conversations.

But somehow, it seems conversational intelligence can and should be much more than this.

To much of the focus of conversational intelligence is on a single conversation. What words to I use (apparently swear words if your customer swears), what’s the talk/listen ration, what’s the tempo, and so forth.

I suppose the focus on the single conversation is appropriate if you are engaged in a highly transactional buying/selling process. requiring a small number of calls to close.

But when we look at complex buying/selling processes, they are characterized by many conversations with many people, usually over a long period of time. Those conversations tend to wander over time (Refer to Gartner’s Spaghetti Chart).

Somehow, it seems optimizing a single conversation at a single point in time misses the larger opportunity for conversational intelligence and helping the customer in their buying process. It would seem to me, if we could analyze all of the conversations we are having with each customer involved in the buying team, making recommendations, we could create greater value for our customer, and improve our ability to win.

Stated differently, rather than analyzing individual conversations with each customer, what if we analyzed interrelated conversations across many customers involved in the same buying process? Could we leverage that for higher impact, guiding them through their buying process and designing the highest impact next steps, calls, meetings and who should be involved.

In this scenario, we would focus less on the words we say and when we say them in the call, but we would focus on conversations. We could design conversations that address the issues most important to the buying team and helping them navigate the buying process. As we plan the next call or meeting, we could use this analysis to structure the agenda and the conversation so we and the customer could accomplish more in the meeting.

We could leverage the power of this tool to analyze the buying journeys and conversations with buying teams to optimize our ability to work with others customers considering the same issues.

We can also leverage these conversations to think about our content. We could begin to think about, what content should the sales people be using at what point and with who. We could look at microsites focused on the customer and their helping them self educate on their buying journey. We would be able to provide more relevant insight based not just on what they consume (pages they hit on, white papers they download, etc), but we could analyze what they are talking about the questions they are asking and what might be more relevant to them as they move forward.

We can use these collective analyses of customers navigating their buying process to shape not only our sales and marketing strategies, but perhaps also the supporting business processes or even our product and solution strategies.

Related to the previous point, too much of conversational intelligence seems isolated, it’s simply about conversations. But what if we integrated the intelligence we gather from conversations, with other customer intelligence, for example propensity to buy analytics? We could, possibly, have much richer conversations, as well as more of the right conversations with the right people, at the right time?

Let’s go back to those simple, transactional conversations. Too many of the vendors focus on a conversations and getting the sales person to say the right words (I’m waiting for this one vendor to provide an analysis on the use of f**k versus shit), the cadence, the listening talking mix, and so forth. But they don’t seem to provide advice on, are you asking the right questions, are you having the right conversation, are you having the right conversation with the right people, are you giving the most relevant responses to the questions the customer is asking.

Too much of the current conversational intelligence seems to focus on the structure of the conversation and not the content of the conversation (from both the customer and the sales person perspective). I suspect this is the next giant step forward in conversational intelligence.

Finally, as I look at the application of conversational intelligence to these transactional sales conversations, the biggest challenge is, “do the sales people pay attention and actually implement the recommendations into their conversation?” The sales person is the biggest variable in getting value from conversational intelligence. Regardless the recommendations you provide, if they don’t execute on these recommendations, then the analyses are irrelevant. (This is why I like those suppliers that focus on getting sales managers involved in proactively coaching.)

But as we look at the ability to the sales person to execute based on the recommendations of the conversational intelligence tools, what if we thought, “How do we eliminate this weakest link?”

This is actually pretty easy to envision, and, I think, is something that can be resolved in the next couple of years. Voice-bot technologies are getting very good and very difficult to detect. Substituting voice bot technologies for these transactional sales calls could mean 100% compliance, 100% of the time. In fact, if I were the CEO of one of these companies, I would use the millions minutes of calls involving real people to train voice bots to take over. Then, they, ultimately, can displace the jobs of all the sales people they are trying to help. Hmmmm….

What do you think? How can we better leverage conversational intelligence? What can we do beyond swearing with the customer?

Apr 9 20

Stop Wasting Money

by David Brock

In these difficult times, there is the very real need to reduce discretionary spending as much as possible. Every dollar we save in discretionary spending can be diverted to saving jobs.

I’ve discovered a solution–a huge source of discretionary spending, that is virtually wasted. If we stop spending in this area, millions can be saved and much of that can be diverted to retaining jobs.

Here’s the solution. Look at your technology stack for sales and marketing. Cancel your contracts for virtually 100% of the tools you are paying for. Divert that money into spending that has a higher impact.

Don’t get me wrong. These tools are very important, they can help dramatically improve productivity, performance, and your ability to reach the right customers with the right messages at the right time.

The problem is, we aren’t exploiting the tools in the way they produce the results. Stated differently, we are paying for capability we aren’t using—so we are just throwing money away.

This isn’t, a result of the pandemic. It’s something we’ve always done, but perhaps more visible in these confusing times. Somehow, the pandemic means I receive more meaningless emails, texts, or calls from more irrelevant suppliers, more frequently.

You probably experience the same thing. Every morning you open your email. You spend 15 minutes clearing dozens, if not hundreds of emails out of your inbox. These aren’t normal junk mails from Nigerian princes, people selling you a miracle cure for COVID 19, or any other scam. These are emails from well established companies, with powerful brands, and great solutions.

Somehow, I’m on their distribution list–whether it’s email or a SDR calling me. I’m not sure how I got onto the list. I’ve not visited their web site, I’ve not downloaded a white paper, I’ve not commented on anything their people may have written. Sometimes, I can guess how I got on their list.

But, the tools and technologies they are using are have so much more capability. They can segment the mailing/contact lists by any number of dimensions–title/position, industry, function, location, company size, propensity to buy, and any number of dimensions. These tools provide the capability to focus your message and target the right people with the right message at the right time.

The problem is, while the tools have these capabilities to improve our relevance and ability to connect with our target customer; we aren’t using those capabilities.

As an example, as I write this post, I quickly looked at my inbox. I have just received 4 of the same emails from one of the largest sales, marketing, analytics automation suppliers (a very large San Francisco based company). We are a current customer, so they have my business email, my profile, my company profile, and deep analytics on our history with them and utlization. But I’ve also gotten the same email on 3 other emails I use, a personal email, and two other emails I use for various purposes.

Clearly they have bought lists. But they haven’t used their own tools to scrub the lists or even segment them. Even if I look at the profile they have from my customer relationship with them, they would see the email they sent me is totally irrelevant to me, my interests, my business, or any simple analytics of what my company does with them and others. And their analytic solutions, if they used them, would show these 4 emails probably do more to piss me off then stimulate a response.

So rather than sending something that could be helpful and relevant to me, they’ve wasted my time, not just once, but 4 times, and they’ve caused me to question, “If they aren’t using the tools they sell to improve their ability to connect with customers, why should we be using them?”

This is just one of dozens of examples we each see every day. We have tools that enable us to sharpen our ability to connect with our prospects and customers in highly impactful ways. But we aren’t using them!

Sadly, it’s laziness and sloppiness on our parts. We have the capability, presumably we bought the tools to make us more productive and effective, but we aren’t doing the work to exploit the capability.

The vendors regale us with data about how these tools improve our productivity, impact, and effectiveness. We buy them, supposedly to do those things, yet we fail in how we utilize these tools.

If we aren’t committed to doing the things that we know produce results, then why spend the money on those things? Particularly, at a time when the need to manage costs and reduce discretionary spending is so important.

Stated crassly, “Fools with tools are still fools!”

Apr 8 20

Working From Home

by David Brock

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had friends, colleagues, clients calling and to talk about the trials and tribulations of working from home. We’ve shared funny stories, frustrations, and swapped hints and tricks.

Some people have been asking me for hints/tricks about working from home, knowing that I have had a home office for the past 20+ years. I hardly feel qualified, since typically on Monday mornings I jump on an airplane to go to a client location. Prior to the “Shelter In Place” rules in California (supplemented by common sense and good judgment), I normally work from my home office 3-5 days a month. Now, like everyone else, my home office is my full time office–at least for some time.

But, I have learned some things. Here are some things I’ve learned and am learning, I’m interested in your ideas:

  1. Establish a routine. Somehow, people feel that working from home is different than working in the office. But, as you think about it, we have routines in the office, we need to establish routines working from home. Current circumstances are making things different, but it’s important to have routines that help us stay focused and productive. For me, my work at home routine has always been starting my day very early. I work the global time zones in working with my clients and prospecting. I’ve learned I’m most productive getting up about 4:30am, doing 15 minutes of light exercises, 5 minutes of meditation, taking a shower and shaving. Usually, I’m sitting in my office at about 5:15-5:30. I block my time. Certain time for email, time for prospecting, research/client work and so forth. Very importantly, I schedule breaks through the day.
  2. Be attentive to “distractions.” It’s so easy to be distracted when you work from home and aren’t used to it. Many of us have children and spouses who are learning to do the same thing. There are things around the house that might distract us. Particularly, in these times, it’s so easy to get distracted. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in working from home is that when I am in my “office” I’m at work and I do work. When I am in a different space, I’m not “at work.” Whatever your “office” space is, when you are in your office your focus should be only about work. If it’s a separate room, a closet a corner of the living room, turn off non work distractions when you are in the “office.”
  3. Know when to turn “work” off. Working from an office, it’s easy to turn work off when we leave the offices (though in the past 10 years, people are increasingly doing email from home and scheduling conference calls in the evening. These past few weeks, when I talk to people, they are tempted to always be working, since their work place is also where they live. They are getting exhausted and worn out. It’s critical to turn work off, to exercise, spend time with your family, call friends, read, even watch TV. We, each, need time to refresh and re-energize ourselves. Related to the previous point, if you have a place at home that you call your “office,” when you are in the office, work, when you leave the office, stop working and do something else.
  4. Related to the previous point, don’t eat at your desk. To be honest, I have trouble complying with this. When I am in client offices, I often grab a sandwich and eat at my desk, I notice others doing the same. I sometimes transfer that to my home office. Somehow, I think I’m more productive. Some years ago, I owned a software startup in Paris. In my first week working with the team, I did my normal habit of eating lunch at my desk. My CFO gently told me that wasn’t the way things were done. I learned the entire team took a lunch break together. We would go into the conference room, have lunch, talk, share stories. It was a huge opportunity to connect with others, to refresh. And when we went back to our desks, we were more focused and productive. When you take time for lunch, go to your kitchen or dining room, have lunch. Perhaps call a colleague and talk to her. Maybe get your colleagues together to share lunch and stories over a Zoom call.
  5. Get your sleep. Related to the previous points, it’s so easy to forget to take care of ourselves–eating well, exercising, and getting sleep. Also, make sure you are getting exercise, whether it’s a few pushups, lunges, squats, a bike ride, or a run. I have a set of kettlebells in my office. Every 90 minutes, I take 5 minutes to do something with them.
  6. Stay professional. In our offices, we behave professionally. Perhaps, how we dress, how we speak, how we work–respecting those around us, and doing the things we know produce results. Many people, working from home, forget that they need to be just as professional as they are in the office. Things as simple as dressing the same way, engaging people the same way (though perhaps by phone or video calls) help shape your mindset and keep you focused on being productive. Your colleagues and customers expect you to be as professional from home as you are in the offices.
  7. Learn how to use the technology. Technology has always been important to my effectiveness, both working from a home office and as I travel. Over the past few weeks, I can’t believe how much time has been wasted by bad video conferencing connections or not knowing how to use the tools. Technology helps you become enormously productive and impactful, both from the home and office, but we have to use it effectively.
  8. Stay connected! By this, I don’t mean through the technology or social networking, but stay connected with your people, your colleagues, and customers. The biggest problem people who are new to working from home face, is the feeling and reality of being isolated, separated, and alone. When we are in an office, we feel more connected. There’s so much informal communication that happens, whether at lunch, coffee breaks or just throughout the day. That disappears when we work from home. So we have to consciously look for the surrogates for that informal communication and engagement. Managers should reach out and talk to their people every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. There’s great value in work-group conference/video calls to keep connected with our colleagues. And each of these calls don’t have to be just about business, there should be time for social exchange. For example, I sat in a call with a team the other day. The manager asked each person to share something funny that happened to them in the past week. Each person shared a brief story, we all laughed and had fun.
  9. Don’t forget the good habits you develop working from home when you go back to the real office.

What are you learning about working from home? What works, what doesn’t?