Portal Smortal – Sharepoint, Websphere, Oracle – what are we trying to achieve here?

When someone suggests they want a portal the very first question to ask is, “what does a portal mean to you”.

Portal, like CRM – and many other terms in IT – tend to be all encompassing words designed to solve a complex raft of problems.

“We can’t get to our information easily” “I spent ages trying to find a document that I know is here somewhere and gave up” “We have heaps of copies of the same document” “I want a dashboard or traffic light to let me know when problems have emerged so I can immediate action” “I am sick of signing in to lots of different systems”

There is actually a fair bit of complexity in this – but the answer seems to be Portal (or intranet / new enterprise content management system – take your pick).

Same with CRM:

“I can’t get a single view of our customers” “..no one understands who is doing what with whom” “I was trying to cross sell and they already told us they can’t buy it” “The client told me that they were already dealing with another of our divisions and our company should already have a heap of information on them already”

Again, complex issues – people, process and technology at play again.

So what do we do? Start with the business problems to be solved, then resolve the process issues – and then the technology solution becomes much more simple – and effective.

Service – I’m not getting any – the dangers of implementing CRM software without understanding the need first

I was speaking with a friend today who was feeling pretty frustrated. You see, he had purchased a CRM software product for his business, but it wasn’t doing what he wanted. The vendor had considered that he had done his part – sell the product, install it on site, provide the user documentation, all thumbs up….

What the client actually needed was:

1. Assistance to clearly understand how to implement CRM as a strategy

2. Get the people on the bus committed to the approach

3. Define the new processes, and define these into an agreed requirements document

4. The vendor to configure the application to meet the defined requirements

5. The vendor to train the users and the administrator in exactly how to make CRM technology deliver on the CRM strategy

6. The vendor to come back and check / realign things after staff have been using it for awhile

My recommendation to you – if you have a complex business environment, or quite a number of people using the platform, be very, very wary of buying any software that runs across your business without buying implementation services (not just technical ones, but solid business analysis). See my post on people, process and technology for more on getting software implementation right.

SAAS CRM software products have been changing the landscape. There are plenty to choose from and I’ve looked at quite a number of CRM Software options including Sugar CRM and Salesforce. For my business I use and recommend Capsule CRM and have implemented it for many of my clients. In some cases for smaller companies and consultants, they have used the product for 12 months or longer without hitting a purchase threshold. It is low cost, from $12 per user per month.

What I like about Capsule CRM is that it is lightweight – it has what you need and no more. Integration with Google Apps is a winner as well, allowing me to get more done and churn through email from Gmail.


Capsule CRM
Capsule CRM


Talk to me in numbers – applying metrics to business success

If you have ever found peformance issues and the reasons being given seemingly incredibly complicated, then perhaps distilling the essence back to the number only may be the answer you are looking for.

For example, let’s say sales performance is down. A person can provide any number of reasons, incredibly well argued, as to why their sales performance is off. Or why they missed their last deal. And if they are any sort of sales person, they should be able to be pretty persuasive in their argument as they probably have been constructing in their minds for some time!

So how do you reshape the nexus of this? Well, get back to the numbers and the causal factors of success.

Step 1: Fishbone the profit and loss statement to look at where the revenue comes from

Step 2: Drill into the customers spend to determine which customers, what product lines, and which sales when.

Step 3: Determine the causal steps ie activity, necessary to get the success you need. For example, to sell $10 million of a service, you may need to have generated a sales pipeline of $30 million if you close 1 in 3.

Step 4: Determine the metrics that make sense around the steps to get to the target. For example, to get to $30million pipeline, you may need to have qualified $60 million of opportunities. If each deal is $10 million, it is 6 deals. You then track activity to create deals – number of presentations, meetings, sales calls, product demonstrations, roadshows and events.

Step 5: Turn the above into simple numbers next to boxes and track that against performance. This will in turn drive activity that leads to success and also may provide some focus to improve success rates on each successive step.

Used correctly, the above approach can move to an empirical analysis of activity that reinforces the right behaviours, and also how you can help along the way, and quickly ends long and unfruitful discussions.

If you have had a good experience – or a not so good experience – in applying metrics to your business, please leave a comment, I’d appreciate your feedback.

And the implication of that is…?

One of the things that I found interesting in the way we conducted presentations to clients was Bill’s uncanny nack of teasing out and confronting the hidden issues that someone that he had never met before would open up to him. It really was a case of drawing on a lot of experience.

The essence for our approach was drawn from Spin Selling. The Spin Selling Fieldbook and Major Account Sales are required reading if you want to understand the process of creating opportunities and realising them in sales.

If you have not come across it before, SPIN covers 4 key parts to a sale:
Situation: what are the facts you need to know about a customer and their environment to determine if your product will be a fit for their business. In application development terms, this might be a question like, “are you a J2EE or .Net shop?”. Best to do your homework prior to seeing a customer if you can, so that you don’t spend the meeting like an interrogation.
Problem: Having established the environment, the trick is to explore problems that the customer might be experiencing. You must have thought about your product and service, and the types of problems it solves for customers. Again, such a question might be (again, in application development terms..), “Have you been having trouble implementing the latest flavour of .Net?”
Implication: Generally this is where the probing is really starting to add some value for the customer – as much as it may be causing a bit of discomfort. For example, the above question might have yielded a response such as, “yeah, a little but we will be ok and just grab a book or google it..”. You then need to be able to ask the question, “If you do that and it doesn’t work out, what is implication on service levels for your customers?” or other similar question that probes the next level of depth – the aftermath of the course of action going pear shaped.
Need – payoff: At this point, a great outcome is the client saying, “I hadn’t thought of that, I need to get that sorted out. At this point, the next question is, “well, if we able to eliminate that as a problem for you, what would that do for you?”

Notice that during this process you have not been selling or even talking about your product at all? This is the hard bit for most salespeople who get trained up in the product, grow to love it, and want to share their passion about their product to the customer. The customer, of course, is only interested in their own problem. If you focus on closing in a complex sale, chances are you will be nowhere near as successful as you could be. So, grab those Spin Selling books, I highly recommend them.

Some shortcut key points:
1. Business Development Processes if you can systematise you process, you have a more rapid way of fulfilling on customer enquiry. I have found that by responding with a solid proposal quickly, you stand a much better chance of success. Many companies do not really track the time from enquiry to delivery of proposal, conversion rates, or the time to develop a proposal and aim to shorten it.
2. Market Segmentation – you just simply can’t sell to everyone, but the question becomes who to really focus on, and in depth.
3. Analytics – Looking at what data you capture and making sense of it
4. Database clean up and management – and integration. In your business you probably have a bunch of people referred to in different parts of your business as customers, clients, debtors, creditors (if they both buy from you and sell to you) – and probably all in different databases, accounting systems, and email clients.
5. CRM – the big question here is “what does CRM mean to you?”. Technologies have been fantastic at undertaking demos on product that seem to solve all of the problems – it is the implementation of the technology AFTER people and process issues have been resolved that delivers success. Our experience is that this needs to be very much customised to the individual company rather than trying to the meld the company to the software. As I run a business specialising in application development, I do have a bias here – but in many cases is cheaper and more effective to build software for purpose as a core business system rather than buy something with features you will never use.

The World is a Wanker

I once had an interesting experience in a meeting with Bill and a top tier consulting firm, in a very impressive office. We called in to see a mid-level manager and explained what we were doing in the consulting arena around ebusiness – strategy, web enabled application development, portals – enhancing the online user experience. This guy’s response was, “we don’t need you. We have a partnership with Cisco.”
“What? The people that supply routers and switches?”

Interesting enough our very next meeting was with a Partner of one of their competitors, again a top tier firm. The response was entirely different – he was pragmatic, client centric and with an emphasis on solving problems and really interested in how we could help. He wasn’t interested in pushing his own ego and importance – he just had a job to get done well.

At the end of this second meeting Bill exclaimed, “The world is a wanker! People hide behind egos and the protective veil of large corporations, but put them out into their own business and they wouldn’t last 5 minutes. They are just not that bright, regardless of what they tell you. And the more letters after their name, the less they can do.”

“All you have to do is stay 20 minutes in front of the client. You have to have the courage to have a go, and punch above your weight.”

To test this theory, I tried a presentation to a major IT organisation about our capability. I was reciting a presentation fairly much rote, with almost no understanding of the technical terms I was using – but following instructions of speak confidently, roll your hands, lean forward….

And the response shocked me –

“you guys are way in front of the market, I think you will shake up this town…”.

I nearly died laughing…

Since then of course I made sure I did know what I was talking about….

The Technical Hiring Dilemma
In the UK, the Technical Director was a young super bright guy named Nikk who had more technical and business smarts than many people I’ve met with 10 years more experience. He was the one with the critical pressure to ensure projects were delivered and worked. And he also had to manage the resourcing pains of that as well. His common complaint was, “everyone says they can do it right up until the point they cant do it”.

I experienced this on a project. We had briefed a local WA business partner to undertake what looked relatively simple application development. We noticed that he seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time to do the work, reassuring us that all was on track and that he 90% there. After two weeks of this, he disappeered, taking the payment for the work done to date BUT without us having any code we could use. Of course, he could do it – right up to the point that he couldn’t do it.