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Thursday, March 30, 2006

I was reminded the other day just how important strong qualification is in the sales process.

A bumped into a contact that I had met some 9 months previously. When we last met they were launching their business and were considering our services. At the time, they had already engaged a "lead generation" company to help find opportunities for them and wondered how we could help. In the end, because the other company was delivering a steady stream of "leads", they decided to run with them. I wished them good luck.

However, this time around it was a different story. Sure, they got lots of leads which, of course, meant lots of meetings, and then more meetings, and then more meetings...

9 months later they hadn't landed a single deal and had basically run out of cash. Part of their problem was the ongoing (and escalating) cost of sale.

In my book, when it comes to building a strong sales pipeline that will deliver results, the key is in qualification. Understanding which deals to pursue, and which ones to keep on the back-burner (or drop) is essential.

As my old Sales Manager told me many years ago when he handed me a wad of leads from a trade-show "your job is to make these go away".

As if to underline this point, on The Apprentice last night, the teams were set a task to sell second-hand cars. When their Sales Manager gave them the some training what did they emphasize again, and again? "Qualification". Once the selling day started it became obvious why.

Poor qualification = time wasted with the wrong punters = lost selling opportunities.

Set a strong qualification criteria and only pursue those where you have a high probability of success. And the scary thing is, when you do this you'll find the ones that would have wasted your time, will start to get much more serious.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Risk is something any new venture faces.

As our services help mitigate some of the risk of launching new ventures, whether it be a startup or corporate-backed, it's something we understand and manage every day.

In The Venture Imperative, authors Heidi Mason & Tim Rohner neatly sum up the different attitudes to risk of startups and corporates.

"Because startups change course often and swiftly, they view uncertainty as a normal managed risk. Many critical elements of the business model for a new enterprise can be determined only through active competition in the marketplace, not via analysis based on historical data."

Contrast that with:

"When corporate strategists and other corporate leaders cast their eyes on a proposed new venture, they're often looking for a work of analytical perfection that quantifies every element of the business plan and eliminates all risks."

Our services can certainly help bridge the gap for corporate ventures and new market or product launches; I mentioned this in a previous post on the concept of "Live R&D"

Because we help shape value propositions at that crucial early-phase of the venture, our clients can manage their exposure to risk by testing the market without diverting internal resources.

As the authors of The Venture Imperative ask: "When do you stop analyzing and start executing?"

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I've just started a new blog to cover my musings on online networking in general.

I'll still post on Maine Blog with any aspects of online networking which I think are of particular interest, but the core focus of this blog remains sales outsourcing and business development.


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Monday, March 27, 2006

Just to add to my post this morning about the global reach of online networking platforms such as openBC, LinkedIn and Ecademy; here's a snapshot of my network on LinkedIn:

LinkedIn provides some interesting statistics on your network. On LinkedIn, your network is anyone that you can contact directly or reached through a friend and one of their friends (three degrees away)

As of right now, my network on LinkedIn has 3,082,900+ people. I say "right now" as it's just grown by 7,046 new people since March 25, and that was over the weekend ;-)

As you can see from this snap-shot, in the last couple of days 636 people in the UK have come within "reach" in my network. That means I can now find them, and vice versa. That's some growth-rate.

Does that mean that I know who they all are? Of course not, these are the weak ties that online platforms such as LinkedIn turn into potential relationship capital for business development.


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openBC have just published their 2nd international openBC survey "Communication & Networking on the Internet".

Amongst it's findings is the fact that "beyond establishing business contacts (55%), almost one in six are now reporting business deals with openBC contact partners."

China tops the global league of openBC users with 22% having already generated new business and sales via openBC. This is followed by South America (18.7%), Europe (16.4%) and USA with 11.9%.

For me this is very interesting as it demonstrates that openBC really does have a global reach. Seeing China at the top of generating business online makes sense and, for me, illustrates how successful the platform is for finding (or being found by) new business contacts; a point I made in my previous post LinkedIn or openBC...or both!

Another even more interesting fact is that networking on the Internet is now seen as more important than at events.

The report shows that "Communication on the Internet is standard business practice. Apart from email, messenging and blogging, networking platforms for maintaining contacts with business associates and friends have developed into a convenient application. ItÂ’s interesting to note that networking on the Internet is currently more important for openBC users than maintaining contacts at events. Cultural differences play hardly any role in this."

I can certainly agree with this statement. For me, online networking platforms are a daily part of my business. Over half of my clients find me through either openBC, LinkedIn or Ecademy. Plus, when I am working on consulting or sales outsourcing projects for clients, I am able to use my network to help shape a client's value proposition and identify the most appropriate contacts within organisations.

Plus, openBC has been a great way of meeting new people to understand specific markets and sectors, as well as find associates to collaborate on projects.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

A recent post on the Small Business Trends blog caught my attention with a great quote. It's from a US News article:

'If all you know about starting a business came from reading the financial pages during the 1990s, you might think the process works like this: Think up a killer idea, write a business plan, raise money from venture capitalists, launch the business. "Then you pitch the money on a bonfire and hope there's a company there before you run out," jokes Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies, a business software company he founded in 1997.'

The Small Business Trends blog points out that, for the majority of small businesses, bootstrapping (ie, funding your business from customer revenues) is the right, and often only, option. In fact, studies from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor say that only 38 out of 10,000 businesses receive venture funding.

From our perspective, most of our startup and small business clients are "bootstrapping" their businesses and our services are a low-cost and low-risk option for them.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mike Southon's Sales on a Beermat is an excellent, down-to-earth and pragmatic book on selling for entrepreneurs and SME's.

I met Mike recently at a networking event in Barcelona; he's a great guy.

At the end of the book Mike makes some interesting points about sales people and entrepreneurs.

Mike says, "Entrepreneurs, and no doubt some bosses of SME's, senior partners, etc think they can sell. They ususally can't". That's not to say they don't have some of the attributes of great sales people, such as charisma, but that they often lack many of the traits which really count.

A couple of key distinctions that Mike makes are that salespeople are very good listeners, where as entrpreneurs are usually too focused on their own ideas and projects.

Another is that Entrepreneurs are often impatient (they need to be to get things done), whereas sales people have to be patient and remain focused over long sales cycles.

These differences, as well as others, are why Mike advocates that every startup and SME has a sales cornerstone in the business: someone who can compliment the CEO's own skills with those necessary to winning business.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Investor Fair is held in London every Spring and Autumn, the next one being held on Tuesday 9th May 2006.

This prestigious event has recently drawn nearly 200 active investors to meet with clients on the day. Investors are likely to be syndicate members, VCT's, small institutions and some wealthy High Net Worth individuals.

Last Autumn's Investor Fair was filmed by BBC TV for the Working Lunch business programme. One client at that fair received two offers of investment, and that was before the company was subsequently featured on BBC TV's Trouble at the Top. Fair clients have also appeared on BBC2's Dragon's Den.

The Investor Fair can be a stand-alone method of reaching potential investors or, even better, used as part of the full Business Angel service which gives you access to nearly 1500 angel syndicates, VCT's, small institutions and HNW individuals in the largest Angel network in Europe.

Spaces are limited to 30 clients, who can be from any sector and at any stage of development, on a first come-first-served basis.

If you're interested in attending, contact me and I will introduce you to our associates.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

I use online networks a lot in my work, and am often asked by my connections about which platforms I use.

To me, there are three clear leaders in online business networking sites. They are LinkedIn, openBC and Ecademy.

In many respects, openBC and Ecademy are similar platforms so, to keep things simple, I'll concentrate on LinkedIn and openBC (openBC has about double the membership of Ecademy at 1 million).

So what's the real difference?

In my mind, LinkedIn is focused on the connections and relationships you already have outside of LinkedIn, whereas openBC is a platform that enables you to make new connections and develop your relationships online.

LinkedIn has a culture of barriers to direct contact with people you don't know. Contacting someone on LinkedIn (on the whole) has to go through your network of relationships. Your contact, to their contact, etc. Despite their being upgrades such as "OpenLink" or "InMail" designed for direct contact, this is not used by the vast majority on LinkedIn.

Is this a bad thing?

No, because it has allowed LinkedIn to attract very senior people who value their privacy and don't want to be approached by just anyone. I suspect that if LinkedIn ran a different model then a lot of people would simply not join. LinkedIn explains the concept best here.

Because LinkedIn has over 5 million members, it should be something that everyone uses for their professional success.

However, if you want to find new people and develop relationships online, there are other places with a different approach. LinkedIn isn't really an "open networking" platform (which is why everyone who wants to network joins Yahoo! groups such as MyLinkedinPowerForum)

With openBC, everything is much more...well, open.

Firstly, you can search for anyone on the network (regardless of how closely they are connected to you). You can send direct private messages to people even if they don't know you (they have a very strong anti-spam policy - your email address is always private), and you can participate in forums with people who share the same business interests.

So if you're looking to meet with new people and develop a relationship online (or take it offline by phone or face-to-face meetings) then openBC is a very good platform to use.

It's worth knowing that openBC has a large European membership, so if you're only looking to connect to people in North America you may find the overall numbers are smaller than on LinkedIn.

So, personally, I can see advantages for using both; it all depends on your own objectives.


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Sunday, March 19, 2006

An associate gave me a great phrase the other day. We were talking about how some people in business development seem to spend their time having meetings without getting any real results.

"Oh, I call them Cappuccino Meetings", my associate added dryly. "You know, lots of froth & promises... but nothing ever happens"

For me, I want every meeting to have a solid outcome with actions.

I guess that's an espresso meeting ;-)


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Saturday, March 18, 2006

The term used by venture capitalists to refer to a company's market potential is its "running room".

This is a crucial aspect to how investors will value your business. You may have a fantastic proposition, but if the total market potential is just a few million, your growth will be limited even if you capture 90% of the market.

From a sales outsourcing perspective, we're also interested in your running room. We know that, to deliver rapid results, we need to hit your target market and capture that "low hanging fruit". This uncovers qualified prospects who are ready to buy.

As a rule of thumb, there's always a percentage of companies who have the issue your business addresses on their radar. The percentage varies, but let's say it's about 25%. The rest of your market could be categorised as not being ready now, already found an alternative elsewhere, or just not interested - yes, they're out there.

The art of getting traction with new business acquisition is to quickly qualify and work with companies in that magic 25%.

If you've only got a very small potential market, then your "low hanging fruit" will also be low in numbers.

However, if your proposition is either extremely compelling or of significant sales value, then it can still be a great return.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

From Dilbert 02.09.04.

This is so close it's scary :-)


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Ronin is a great film. Ronin is the Japanese word used for Samurai without a master. In this case, the Ronin are specialists whose services are available to everyone - for money. The plot revolves around several Ronin hired to form a team in order to retrieve an important suitcase from a man who is about to sell it to the Russians.

The thing I like is that everyone has a specialist skill which, when blended together, creates the perfect team for the objective. To me, when running a new business campaign, you need that mix of people and skill-sets.

Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) represents the client, or sponsor for the project. She sets the objectives and has the initial strategy outline. Sam (Robert De Niro) is the leader of the team, refining the strategy, and Vincent (Jean Reno) is the local man with the contacts. The remaining team are all about execution; they are the foot soldiers needed to ensure the overall objective is met.

It's an excellent parallel to how we work with our clients. We generally start with a role similar to De Niro's, helping shape the strategy, proposition and plan. Then we take up the Vincent role, finding the contacts and getting the inside scoop to support our clients with execution.

The only problem is that, after a number of betrayals and double-crossings, most of the team end up dead and it finishes with the client being killed by the team leader.

OK, so maybe they'll not get the best testimonial ;-)

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Most of our clients have complex product sets, solution sales and consultancy offerings. You'd be forgiven for thinking that they need some young MBA Management Consultant type to help grow their businesses. But that couldn't be further from the truth.

The reason they work with us is that they want someone who knows how to sell - not because they want to hire another consultant!

Anyone who watched Episode 2 of The Apprentice UK will know exactly what I mean.

Commenting on Mani's performance in her column, Saira says "how could Mani go in and pitch for business if he didn't even know the price of his product?". If you didn't see the episode you missed a real gem. And guess what, Mani is one of the Management Consultants in the show :-)

It reminds me of a company which decided they would only recruit MBA's into their sales team. Despite the fact that most of their top salespeople didn't acheive high grade point averages in college, they decided to push ahead with the policy.

Three months into their tenure with the company, a third of the new MBA recruits had not even realised that they had been hired to sell. They were sat in their offices waiting for clients to call them!

I'm looking forward to more fun in tonight's episode ;-)


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Sunday, March 05, 2006

In this month's Salesforce Magazine there is an interesting article about Martin Hess.

Martin is Vice President, Technology Solutions Group, UK and Ireland. He leads the team that sells the entire HP portfolio of products and services to all commercial markets: enterprise, public sector and small and medium-size business.

What caught my eye were his comments about how difficult is was "finding people who combine top sales skills with the confidence to present and understand large solutions - those who are comfortable tend to be consultancy types who find it very difficult to close deals"

He went on to say that the next best thing was to have "Orchestra Conductors" in lead roles who know when and where to bring people in and out of the sales cycle.

I like the metaphor, as that's often the role we play with many of our clients.

The other day a friend in the business called it "Sales Facilitation" - we are facilitating the sales process for our clients, but it's usually the client who finally signs on the dotted line for the big deals.

I'll have to remember to take my baton ;-)

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Following on from my last post on "Live R&D", I was reading Alpha Leadership (Deering, Russell & Dilts), and found an analogy which pretty much captures the concept of "Live R&D".

In terms of modern warfare, there was a time when a marksman would ready himself, take aim, and then fire. If he missed, he would calibrate the result he got and then run the same procedure. The phrase "Ready, Aim, Fire" is so natural to us that you may still think it's the title of this blog - read it again ;-)

Whilst guns worked well with stationary targets, problems arise where the target is mobile, or an accurate position cannot be established before firing.

In the age of precision guided munitions, you fire first...then you take aim. This allows "smart" weapons to adapt themselves to changing circumstances and intelligence in-flight.

This strategy of "Ready-Aim-Fire" is the reality facing all entrepreneurs and organisations in fast changing markets. If you spend too much time on "Ready, Aim" (strategy and market calibration) before you try something you will waste valuable time and opportunities.

One of the values we provide our clients, large and small, is the necessary agility to rapidily take a proposition to the market, adjust "in-flight" based on live feedback and intelligence, and hit the target.

Once a process has been developed, our clients are able to scale-up with by sales outsourcing, building an internal resource, or a hybrid of both models.

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