Big Data, say “Hello” to Human Nature

No business conversation is complete these days, without at least some mention of “Big Data.” And for good reason. Huge investments in the continuous collection, analysis, interpretation and application of the insights derived from massive data sets consistently generate better than expected quality improvements and ROIs.

WaitTimeTake Electronic Medical Record systems, for example. There is absolutely no doubt that the positive public health quality impact of EMRs, while already huge, has only scratched the surface of its possibilities. You’ve read about how the grand-kids of today’s newborns will routinely live 100 years and more… Thank Big Data for much of that massive advance in healthcare.

But beware the unintended consequences!

As with any new technology, we can’t always predict every ramification of terrific advances of things like EMRs. There’s always a down-side, indicated by things like the above notice posted in who-knows-how-many medical clinics. Like any of us needs yet more wait time to see the doctor!

But the good news continues… A few leading-edge thinkers and organizations are beginning to attack those downside consequences using the long-proven principles of Lean Management. One of the many beauties of “Lean” is its relentless focus on smoothly merging high-tech with high-touch; with our human nature.

Take “Visual Cues,” for example. To paraphrase the Lean Gurus, visual cues put a specific issue in plain sight. They give all team members the same vantage point and enable them to better coordinate their efforts to achieve an objective; like minimizing the total door-to-door time for a patient visit to a physician.

lightpanelA visual signalling system (like the one to the left) in a medical facility, for example, is uncannily effective for patient care team communications. Its hidden sophistication lies in its ability to instantly reach deep down into the depths of our human nature – our “lizard brains” – and enable extremely rapid communication and coordination of effort. Enough added efficiency so the same healthcare team can treat one, more likely two more patients per day! (Anybody out there concerned with the rapidly rising cost of healthcare??? Or the aggravation of the 10:00 doctor’s appointment that actually happens at 11:30???)

So back to the core point of this post… Big Data? Sophisticated high tech? YES!!! Forget about the low-cost integration of the human nature side? AGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Each alone is powerful. Both coordinated is magic!

Think about it..

Funny thing about applications of your products & services…

Of course you already know that your sales team needs to maintain a “solving-customer-problems” mindset. “Sell the application not the product” truly is the only way to fly. All high performing sales professionals live that philosophy and high performing product/service development and marketing folks live it as well.

There’s a funny thing about applications though.

Sometimes we’re trying to solve the wrong problem – even if we have a truly great product/service to sell.

Edison_and_phonographConsider Thomas Edison who invented (among many other things) the phonograph. This world class product developer had one of the biggest winners of all time, yet his early sales efforts were absolutely dismal. He knew that the best application of phonograph technology was to record a voice message and then stick it in the mail so the recipient could listen to it.

I can imagine his sales pitch.  “How cool is that! Your customers, friends and family can hear the inflections, tone and nuances of your voice. You can communicate far more information than you ever could with the written word.”

Nobody bought. Not until somebody else came up with the “record music” application. Then sales skyrocketed.

Not Bell, but an AT&T actor AFTER they got the application right!
Not Bell, but an AT&T actor AFTER they got the application right!

Or consider Alexander Graham Bell. You may not know that his sales pitch consisted of explaining how his telephone mic could be placed in front of an orchestra and that someone many miles away with one of his telephone receivers could hear a live performance.

Nobody bought. Not until somebody else came up with the “have a live business conversation” application. Then sales skyrocketed.

Two of the greatest product developers of all time were dead wrong and worked like crazy to solve the wrong problem with the wrong application.

So keep those minds open, sales leaders. Your product/service developers and marketing teams will have beautifully prepared application scenarios for you. And they will make loads of sense. They might also be missing the boat.

Think “Lean Sales Process”

No, the point of this first post of the new year is not about a resolution to lose weight. (Although, yes, I’m doing that again this year!) The point of this first post is to focus attention on what is arguably the sales manager’s most powerful habit; Process Thinking.

thinkRe-reviewing the fundamentals of lean management is most certainly in order for “new year action items,” and frankly is something sales leaders must do on a continuous basis. These fundamentals are simple. They make extraordinary sense. They are easy to understand. They are not so easy to implement. (Which is exactly why you as the leader need to be thinking lean, thinking process, on a continuous basis!)

  1. Value – Look at everything you and your team and your customers are doing.  If an action does not add value to your organization or your customer’s organization, stop doing it. Now!
  2. Value Stream – Look at the value-adding actions that are left.  Put them in the optimal sequence. You will be stunned to find obvious dumb sequences.  You will find, for example, proposals delivered before customer requirements are understood, elaborate sales strategies developed and executed before the prospect is qualified, huge relationship development efforts expended before the customer decision process is understood, and on and on and on…
  3. Flow – With the proper sequence of actions defined, do it faster! Think of your sales process as a river.  Straighten out the meandering curves. Remove the boulders. Get a bigger motor for the boat.
  4. Pull – Clue the customer in on what you’re doing. If it makes sense; if you have a compelling value proposition; the customer will pull you through your very straight, boulder-free sales process ASAP.  If you don’t have a compelling value statement and the customer is not pulling, rethink the priority of the opportunity and/or the customer and/or build a better value prop.
  5. Perfection – I can put it no better than the late great Vince Lombardi.  “We will pursue perfection, knowing full well that we will never attain it.  But we will pursue it.  And in doing so we will achieve excellence.

So constantly think “Lean Sales Process,” and go have a great 2015!

Milestones – so what?

Some things just plain make you think.  I was on my way to the Dreamland Radio Studio, stopped at a red light, glanced down at my dashboard and saw this:


My first reaction was, “How cool is that?”  Since my car is running great, I hadn’t really been paying much attention to the fact that it’s getting up there.  The fact that I happened to notice the odometer at such an opportune moment seemed to have significance, like some kind of omen.  “Grab the camera,” I thought, “this’ll make for a great blog post.”

Then I arrived.  Sat down to write “it” all out.  And nothing came to mind…  Nothing…  What the heck is the significance of 111,111 miles?  Most of them are business miles.  A good number of them took me to the beach, or to visit friends and family or to the Georgia Dome to watch the Falcons, or to other cool places.  But how does any of that relate to you, the readers of this blog looking for a sales tip or two?

Then it hit me.  It’s all about the miles.  It’s all about making the effort to get somewhere, to do something, to achieve some goal.  To make that truly awesome sales call.  Sometimes, getting there, wherever there may be, is a disappointment.  In fact it’s quite rare when getting there significantly exceeds expectations.

But the process of “getting there” is virtually always a positive experience.  It’s the anticipation of great things.

So here’s my conclusion.  111,111 IS a big deal.  It’s a milestone that proves I’m still trying.  Still expending effort.  Still thinking – knowing – I can make another big score.  That’s pretty cool.  That makes me feel good about myself.

And it shows that Robert Louis Stevenson was right when he said. “…to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”


(PS:  Please don’t squeal to the IRS on me.  I told them all the miles were business miles.)


The “Ideal Customer” Profile

Not having an Ideal Customer Profile is just plain nuts.  Can’t make my opinion any clearer than that.  So why oh why do sales teams and sales professionals still waste so much time chasing down leads and prospects that really don’t have much need of what’s being sold?  Maybe it’s as simple as not having a simple way to figure out just what an “ideal” customer looks like.

Not one who believes in re-inventing the wheel, I point you to the following list of questions, compiled by my friend Jonathan Farrington.  (I suggest you read his post on this subject.)

  • What size of organization would you prefer to deal with?
  • Typically, how many people will they employ?
  • What market sector(s) do these organizations operate within?
  • Who specifically will be buying your products/services and what are their job titles?
  • Where geographically would you like these organizations to be located?
  • What does your organization offer that is unique?
  • What types of organizations will be attracted by this uniqueness?
  • What do your best customers possess that you would like to replicate in others?
  • Which of your existing customers were the easiest and quickest to convert?
  • What similarities do these customers possess?
  • Are there any specific criteria that prospective organizations should have in place, so that your products/services can be optimized?

Your action items?

  • Pull up the list of your top 20 prospects
  • Ask and answer the above questions
  • Send me a note and let me know how many “prospects” you just eliminated