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If the Shoe Fits: How Mature Is Your Company

March 6th, 2015 by KG Charles-Harris

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

kg_charles-harrisHave you ever been taken aback by the dichotomy between a company’s excellent product and its amateurish website or product sheets?

If you have, you are face-to-fact with an immature company.

And while important for consumer sales, M&S maturity is absolutely critical when selling to business — no matter the size of the enterprise.

This immaturity has nothing to do with years in business and everything to do with an immature business process with regards to sales and marketing.

If a potential customer meets something that’s immature, i.e., incompetent, in M&S, they will jump to the conclusion that the company is also incompetent in other areas.  

That’s why look & feel are so important — we Americans, unlike most other countries, have grown up in a society where marketing is central, so in many ways looks are more important than substance.

Young companies are often immature; they hire sales people, but turn a blind eye to the need for doing the product marketing work first.

The shrug off lead generation/creation, lead nurturing, sales process, sales collateral that fit the process, key selling points against competitors, target user profile, target influencer profile, etc., and, worst of all, customer service.

These are the real underpinnings for success.

A lot to cover; a lot to do, but the payoff is significant.

After all, you don’t want your target customers to dismiss you because you look immature, do you?

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Entrepreneurs: Killing Sales

March 5th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


Over the years, certain posts I’ve written I seem to require reposting, because the subject keeps coming up; not investing management time in your self-starters is one of them.

Self-starter Does Not Mean Self-managed

When your company is new just how flat can the organization be? How well do “self-starters” manage themselves? These are crucial questions for startups and small businesses since how they are addressed can make or damage your company.

One of the first important outside hires made when a company is ready to grow is in sales. Today, founders are often technical with a biz type who handles sales and marketing. Unfortunately, technical people often have a tendency to think that non-tech jobs are no big deal, especially in sales and marketing.

They believe that hiring salespeople is no big deal—that as long as they have a good track record in their previous sales position and understand the product they can manage themselves.

If this sounds off base to you, you’re right, it’s not that simple. To use a real-life example, I had a client who thought that way.

Previous to hiring me this CEO hired a salesman, we’ll call him ‘Jack’, with a fantastic sales record selling to the same market.

The CEO personally taught Jack the product line and explained what the company was working to accomplish and then pretty much gave him free reign.

In the year Jack was with them he sold only two accounts, spent a good deal of his time on marketing and managed one large client.

In that year Jack’s commissions totaled only $15K.

When he left he went to work in a field completely unrelated to anything he’d sold before and in a market about which he knew nothing. In his first year at the new company he earned over 125K in commissions.

What was the difference? Management.

Based on his track record both the CEO and Jack assumed that he could manage himself. However, Jack didn’t have, and didn’t create for himself, the structure, accountability, etc., necessary to be successful.

When Jack left he admitted that although he had no knowledge or training in marketing, he spent substantially more time than he should have on it — but he had no choice.

After the CEO and I had fully analyzed what happened he concluded that the failure was 80-20, with the 80% his responsibility.

Hind sight is 20/20, and my client believes that if he had taken the time to do what was needed instead of expecting Jack to completely manage himself, that he would still be with the company and doing a spectacular job.

So remember when you hire that “self-starter” does not mean self-managed. Even the best will need direction, structure, and accountability in order to perform brilliantly.

Beyond that, tomorrow I’ll be sharing information Friday on the biggest sales error made by many startups and small companies.

Join me tomorrow to learn about the other major sales error made by many startups and small companies.

Image credit: iamwahid

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Ducks in a Row: They Are Not You

March 3rd, 2015 by Miki Saxon


Most of us crave acknowledgement when we do something well, I know I do.

Decades ago when I worked as a recruiter for MRI in San Francisco my boss, “Ray,” wasn’t big on that.

It’s not that he wouldn’t do it, he just never thought about it.

Acknowledgement wasn’t something Ray needed, so he was blind to its effect on others.

When he did give the kind of heady feedback that makes people hungry for more, you could see that he didn’t understand it.

Worse, more often than not, it came in response to what he was told — you literally had to walk into his office and say you closed the deal or got a new client to have it happen. 

But praise caught by fishing or out-and-out asking is not worth a whole lot when it comes to motivation.

Nor did he understand how to build a strong team; the kind that could put an ‘Office of the Year’ award on the wall.

I still remember his effort to create the same esprit de corps as “Jeff,” another MRI manager and good friend of his enjoyed.

The effort failed, probably because Ray considered Jeff’s approach rah-rah stuff — the kind of stuff he was known to disparage.

Ray’s problem was similar to many managers I’ve worked with over the years, i.e., he assumed others wanted to be managed in the same way he liked to be managed.

When Ray did try doing it differently it felt like a con.

Which it was, because he didn’t really believe in what he was doing.

Image credit: Jim Hammer

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How Do People Know Their Salary Is Fair?

March 2nd, 2015 by Miki Saxon


What exactly do people mean when they say they want to be paid fairly?

Generally speaking, people define “fair” relative to themselves and those around them.

Developers working in a small company don’t compare their salaries to the developers at Google or even to their bosses.

The comparison they do typically has two steps.

  • First, they compare themselves to their peers, i.e., similar job, background, title, company, industry and location.
  • Second, they compare their salary with the salaries of those they see as peers.

The comparison is possible because, no matter what company policy says, compensation is never really secret.

As long as salary differences are based on factual points, as opposed to charm, politics, or managerial whim, people will believe they’re being treated fairly.

Because they are.

Flickr image credit: Rennett Stowe

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If the Shoe Fits: Visualize Your Culture

February 27th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYesterday we talked about open communications and how powerful it is when part of cultural DNA.

Visual communication was recommended, with the caveat, “processes and information that can not be represented visually are probably too convoluted and bureaucratic.”

XPLANE’s Dave Gray seems to agree.

Every company has a culture, but it can take time to learn, and the stated culture can often differ significantly from what people actually experience.

At XPLANE we have created a visual map of our culture, to guide our teams in daily decision making and help them make choices that are consistent with what we stand for and who we want to be.

Smart; very smart.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/355002597What does your culture look like?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: The Power of Open Communications

February 26th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


Remember Sun Microsystems? In 1998 they had a great ad that should bed on the wall of every startup and the goal of every manager, especially founders. It said, “Information shall circulate as freely as office gossip.”

Open communications is the basis of an enlightened workforce and enables world-class performance, unleashing creativity, and promoting a good working environment.

Great leaders/managers start with three basic assumptions:

  1. People are intelligent, motivated, and want to help their company succeed.
  2. People are required to act with initiative.
  3. People’s performance is directly impacted by the quality and quantity of the information they receive.

Open communications means

  • managers providing employees with all the information they need to do their job
  • sharing knowledge between employees. The double goal being to encourage employee growth and substantially reduce the time they spend reinventing the wheel.
  • eliminating one of the two pillars of political power.
  • documenting. Good documentation plays a role in every part and process of a company. Without the knowledge of what has been done in the past, it is difficult to fulfill the demands of the present, let alone make viable decisions for the company’s future. Documenting is as much attitude as action, so it is critical to continually develop the mindset among employees that no project is finished until it is documented.
  • making sure that people can easily understand information. Visuals, from a manager’s quick sketch, to the detailed drawings used by engineering to describe a product to manufacturing, are the fastest and easiest way to present information to busy people. Processes and information that can not be represented visually are probably too convoluted and bureaucratic.

Make open communications one of the core values on which you base your company’s culture.

Image credit: Communications Network

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Staying Relevant

February 25th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


Staying relevant is crucial for every functional group in today’s business landscape.

Relevance has nothing to do with being outsourced and everything to do with being necessary to the operations of the enterprise.

Customer service is often outsourced, but no one questions whether it’s relevant to the company’s success.

IT has been outsourced, but now its very relevance is under attack.

This fight is different.

It’s called devops (a contraction of development and operations)

It’s the hardest kind of fight to win, because winning means a major change to both IT process and its cultural DNA; a totally different way of thinking that is based on what has always been anathema to traditional IT — breaking the system.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst explains.

“It’s not a market. It’s a culture and process, in the same way Kaizen or lean manufacturing is process. The problem is that vendors are making it into a market by saying ‘Here’s my devops product.’ But there are no devops products,” Whitehurst says. (…) “If you make a lot of changes, you’ll have to accept a few failures along the way. Throw out planning. Try little things and if they work, do more of them and if not, do less of them.”

So, no devops products, no new markets for vendors to exploit and no definitely no outside experts to do the heavy lifting — although there will be plenty claiming to de devops gurus.

But if there is anything to be learned from companies like Microsoft it’s that cultural change doesn’t come from the outside nor is it changed by edict.

“You start with small, iterative improvements. You release [changes] early and you release them often. That’s what devops is about. It’s a cultural shift. You recognize that big change is hard but little changes are easy. But a whole lot of little changes add up to bigger changes.”

Change is hard, but in this case, change equals survival.

Image credit: N@ncy N@nce

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Ducks in a Row: Rich Waidmann’s No jerks Allowed

February 24th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


(see the full Infographic at Business Insider)

I’m in love — with a man I never met, never spoke to, never followed or chatted with online.

His name is Rich Waidmann and he’s founder and CEO of Connectria Hosting.

I love him because when he started his company he consciously set out to make it a great place to work.

That means it’s a job requirement at his company that every employee treat everyone else with courtesy and respect as well as “going the extra mile” to take care of people in the community who are less fortunate

Then his company did a survey and found that

More than half (55%) of 250 IT professionals in the US. surveyed said they had been bullied by a co-worker. And 65% have said they dreaded going to work because of bad behavior of a co-worker.

Waidmann believes it shouldn’t be that way so he’s starting a No Jerks Allowed movement in an effort to encourage better cultures.

Way back in 2007 Stanford’s Bob Sutton wrote The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, but looking at the stats I’m not sure how much good it actually did.

And considering the fact that companies are shoehorning more people into less space something needs to change.

The Talmud says, “We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” Moreover, it’s often as we are that particular day, or even minute, and even as we change, minute to minute, so do others.

Jerks are known to lower productivity and kill innovation, so a lot of good information on identifying and dealing with jerks has been developed since Sutton’s book came out.

Contributing to that effort, here are my four favorite MAP attitudes for dealing with jerks.

  • Life happens, people react and act out, but that doesn’t mean you have to let their act in.
  • Consider the source of the comment before considering the comment, then let its effect on you be in direct proportion to your respect for that source.
  • Use mental imagery to defuse someone’s effect on you. This is especially useful against bullying and intimidation. Do it by having your mental image of the person be one that strips power symbols and adds amusement. (Give me a call if you want my favorite, it’s a bit rude, but has worked well for many people.)

And, finally, the one I try to keep uppermost in my mind at all times

  • At least some of “them” some of the time consider me a jerk—and some of the time they are probably correct.

Image credit: Connectria

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A Response to Remember

February 23rd, 2015 by Miki Saxon


Like most of you, I get a lot of email.

Maybe because I write not only this blog, but also creatively for clients, I tend to care about my responses.

The result is that every now and then I write something worth sharing beyond that email.

That’s what happened today.

A friend sent me an article.

My response was especially apropos considering the upcoming presidential election, which means months of being bombarded by candidates, talking heads, pundits, gurus, etc., on all forms of media.

That said, here is my self-described brilliant take on it.

Years ago there was one talking horse named Mr. Ed on TV. These days there are dozens of talking asses on all kinds of media.

Feel free to use it, although attribution is appreciated.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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If the Shoe Fits: the Duplicitous Founder

February 20th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf anything has changed in the 21st Century it’s the recognition that culture is everything — the true “make or break” for any company.

Knowing that, founders, of all people, should know better than to do anything that undermines their culture.

And yet they do it all the time.

One of the worst is also one of the commonest — having two teams

  • the one to which they pay lip-service and talk about in public; and
  • the one that has their ear, takes priority and stays front and center in all decisions.

Founders constantly refer to their “team” and it’s taken to mean all the company’s employees.

But, for those the shoe fits, it actually refers to their stars, their pets and all (most?) of their direct reports.

This was a common attitude in larger companies, but at least it was honest; bosses were ‘us’, workers were ‘them’ and everybody knew where they stood.

The changes started when Volvo focused the world on the power of teams, research showed that productivity increased when people were more invested and engaged in their work and terminology was introduced that is inclusive and empowering.

Fast forward to now and that language is in common use, but, as with most things, it can be distorted and perverted.

Founders, like other bosses, fall in two categories.

  • Those who buy it, own it, use it and mean it;
  • and those who use it to keep everyone in line who’s not on the ‘real’ team.

Which are you?

And before you claim the first bullet take a good look at your past actions.

In fact, get some feedback from someone you know will tell you the truth, as opposed to what you already “know” or want to hear.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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