The trap of settling for mediocrity

The trap of settling for mediocrity

Without boring you with a treatise on macro-economics, I can only get my point across by saying that, not only is every professional and tradesperson in our world challenged to know less and possess fewer skills, but most business we are employed by will have not a single individual who understands what the business does from end to end even at a fairly high level. I have met more than a few CEOs who didn’t consider it important to them to understand the business they were charged with, but focused on a small handful of KPIs to get him out of jail this year.
The guy who scans a label and uses another tool to locate the good, before handing it to someone else to pack and pass on to the loader . . .  is no less dumbed down than the Financial controller who receives the chart identifies the KPI and barks out an instruction via email.
Mediocrity is everywhere and it is tempting to succumb to it but if you are not seduced by warnings of the long term damage to our world then pay some heed to this:

Skill and competency is 98.5% self-esteem and 1 % knowhow, the other stuff isn’t even worth talking about. Although I have never met you, I know without any fear of contradiction which of these you most fall short on. The reason I know is that a confident person can be taught almost anything while others can make almost anything go wrong.   Have you ever noticed how football players go on runs of scoring and always return from a lean patch to push the boundaries even further.  The tool they are using is deep seated self-belief.  Sure, some aspects of this are probably learned from Mom and Dad or even inherited in their genetic make-up, but don’t start making excuses again. The world is full of superstars who had no running start and plenty who got their inner strength from facing adversity.

Average is a dangerous illusion

All my life I have sought relaxation, release and inspiration from games of chance. I know the numbers and I totally understand what you have to do over the long haul to come out ahead. I am happy to say that I have been coming out on top since my early twenties and if there is one thing you must learn if you are to stand a chance against bookmakers, poker players, or any other adversary it is this.  The averages are the things that make you profits, but to achieve an average that keeps you ahead you have to perform above average by a good margin at all times. You don’t just need a margin to win by, you also need a margin for error.  Then it all works out like the good book says. Sadly it is true that the level we aim at is always a shade higher than the one we actually achieve

Average, for all it’s flaws, is above and beyond the capabilities of so many and only because of their mind set. The Peter Principle : Why Things Always Go Wrong Paperback – August 19, 1998 was and still is  a master class in systems thinking.
Peter observes a phenomenon we are all familiar with, i.e. that once people begin on the promotion ladder, they will then, as members of the hierarchy, be promoted until they reach a level where they are totally incompetent.    Naturally this comes as no surprise to the reader, what still seems to surprise many is that the outcome of this apparently innocuous behaviour dictates that everybody in charge in too many businesses, then and indeed today is incompetent to some degree. Had I made this statement before presenting the evidence, you would have dismissed me as a crank and convinced yourself not to listen, or found another escape, but now that you have read this far, surely the conclusion is inescapably true even if the reasons for such behaviour are overly forgiving in many texts.

The average, therefore, is not only something that describes systemic incompetency, but over the long haul, it is indeed the result of settings ones sights somewhat above that level. Are you still content to get up tomorrow and set out to be average?
At the end of every good lesson is a stiff test and here is yours: What did you take from this little blog?

  1. The world of business is messed up and there is no point in even trying, what can I do?.
  2. The world of business is full of incompetent people, the opportunity for competent positive people has never been greater.

You can mark yourself on this one

Specialist in Smarties, Chocolate Beer consultant, or Expert in customer complaints from Obese women on Tuesday afternoons.

Are you a specialist?
By the way these specialisms do exist and I have no doubt you could add to my collection. If you want a light hearted look visit this article.

As an interim connected to the technology world, I get a lot of calls and emails from recruiters and over the years the, the most notable change is the degree to which these people expect me to be specialised. Why, I wonder, did I spend five years studying the subject to get a broad and deep understanding and then spend the next ten deliberately learning the different aspects of the industry on the ground. This is what we did, what every professional did.  Do you know a lawyer who can only handle attempted fraud by Orientals on diabetic white Americans living in London on Fridays?  I doubt it somehow.

The need for specialisation is the back-bone of economic theory
If you are drawn into a discussion about why some African states have failed to develop a modern economy despite being richer in resources than we are, you will generally find yourself in two separate discussions: One about availability of capital ( An Adam smith fan) and the other about specialisation, or lack thereof.  Given that many of these economies have weak currencies, micro-loans can now finance substantial start-ups and there has ever been more lost money ( for want of a better description) looking for a legitimate looking home, so arguments about lack of capital no longer work. The problem is inability or unwillingness to specialise. The scenario: I grow vegetables, hunt for meat, make my furniture from bamboo, make beer from fruit and find herbal medicines when I am sick.  I am always poor and I lack equipment and skills to do all of this stuff well.
Far better, if I could just grow vegetables and swap some with the hunter for meat and with the carpenter for furniture.  Each could enjoy a margin because of their specialist skills, tools and experience. That is the fundamental theory that still underpins economics. For some reason, in some places it is slow to happen.


It gets boring just placing the full stops at the end of sentences, can I have a real job?

The problems rarely lies with the client who needs help, but with the  recruiter who calls himself a “Consultant” but is in fact a commission only salesman who last year was an Estate agent or rather a  “Property consultant”  and knows as much about what I do and what my potential client needs as I do about life on Mars.    For an insight from a legitimate HR person have a read of this

The problem begins sometimes because the client who either doesn’t really know what precise skillset would be best for his needs and either by habit or misconception expects a recruiter to help with this problem. What a very large error that is.
A rough guide goes off to the recruiter who then places adverts via an “autoposter”. This tool is preconfigured and whacks his advert out onto numerous job boards where his agency has accounts.
He then instructs a resourcer to do some searching on the main databases, e.g. Jobserve and Jobsite for IT and these are imported directly into the system and emailed with a standard mailing.

Now the fun begins. The resourcer has not yet been promoted to recruiter and is supposedly learning the business by pouring through millions of CVs starting with keywords searches Now we have identified the first problem.  Just like Google SEO, if you want to appear in the SERPs you must include the keywords.

I sometimes help businesses to profile skills and to shortlist  CVs, so I know just how tricky this can be even for a seasoned professional. A resourcer, or a recruiter with no grasp of the IT profession or the task at hand stands no chance at all. It is simply a random matter of chance whether or not they find a remotely applicable CV and it is no more or less efficient than asking Siri or saying “OK Google” to your phone.
If you’ve ever engaged an agency, you’ll be familiar with the bombardment of pointless CVs and then the ever more pestering phone calls for feedback and pressure to hire.  There is a reason why it feels so pointless, it mostly is exactly that and there is a reason why it is so expensive, all that pointless effort has to be paid for. Don’t be deluded by commission only, that is always the most expensive purchase. If you have two agencies at work and one has submitted what they think are strong candidates, they well be calling every other candidate in the market pretending they are submitting them in order to rule them out for the competition.  Don’t kid yourself that there is efficiency in this.
Why am I telling you all this?

The reason we are being driven to specialise is to a large degree so that recruitment agencies can understand a tiny bit more about what we do.
Let’s face it the way to make it big in recruitment is to specialise in Saturday morning perfume demonstrators and get them all in your database. Easy to understand, no search issues, you can truly be a specialist and maybe even a consultant and all is well with the world.
The problem is that IT doesn’t work this way.  Every system that is implemented impacts and is impacted by many others, all different and employing different infrastructure, protocols, languages, data structures, security arrangements and so on.  You can’t simplify IT to suit your needs and every attempt to do so has ended in tears. Understanding the IT impacts is only the final mile, before that you have to understand the process impacts and manage the stakeholder culture and much more. All of this is heavily entwined and all absolutely unavoidable and critical. When you need a specialist to solve critical problems in your business, ask a specialist for advice not a recruiter.

How much damage can negative BIAS do to performance and quality of life?

Whether a manager, a sports person, an investor, or a dustman It is vital to understand our personal bias and manage it .

Every decision we make requires some level of objectivity to stand a good chance of serving us well.
“You’re faced with around 11 million pieces of information at any given moment, according to Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. The brain can only process about 40 of those bits of information and so it creates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions”
 A large part of each decision will utilise principals and strategies that we have developed over time. Without these assets we could not function, our thinking would be just too slow
It is nevertheless also the case that alongside of these positive assets we  develop bias that is not helpful or positive.
e.g. an Employer with race or age bias will miss recruitment opportunities resulting in lost production and opportunities. Its probably impossible to be human and not collect some of this negative bias, but it is possible and absolutely crucial to know what your bias is and be vigilant. Thats a different thing from beating yourself up over it. You’re human, you’re allowed to be imperfect, but if you deliberately fail to do what you know is the right thing, that is another situation altogether.
– A footballer who always gives up at the last millisecond against bigger players and limps off apparently injured with a “losers limp”.
– A poker player who gets over ambitious every time he wins and then loses big time.
– A recruiter who dumps CVs with 10pt or smaller type and misses some of the best talent.
– A golfer who panics at the top of the back swing grips and swings down with all his force running out of energy, line and balance long before it gets to the ball and will often continue to do this for his entire lifetime.
A belief that bigger people will be stronger, or more aggressive is a common misconception.
Believing in the god of luck instead of the mathematics affects all kinds of people, even statisticians can fall to it.
Being too lazy to adjust the type size before printing is unbelievably common, as is struggling with weak eyesight without seeking help.
Focusing on the map instead of the territory or vice versa is universal.
These are very easy problems to cure, but some can be a little tougher.
Here’s the simple map: 
1. Recognise and admit that you do it and the cost to you, or spot opportunities to leverage it in your favour.
2. Work out how to confront your negative bias head on.
3. Recognise any influences that work to maintain the bias.
4. Keep on until the habit is replaced with the right behaviour.
5, If you can’t get rid of it entirely then simply keep checking for it and adjusting.
6. Play to your strengths and expose yourself to the situations you are best at.
How to watch for and recognize personal bias.
Look at the things that went wrong recently, track down the bad decisions you made that lead to them. Be brutally honest and replay the decision process to see where it went wrong. There, lurking in the shadows, you will often find a negative bias driving the bad decisions.
Another useful tactic is to ask close friends or colleagues that you trust. Be prepared to be shocked.
Finally look for the classic forms of bias:
Confirmation bias: Only looking where you can be confident of finding the thing you want to find. Or seeing what you expect to see in spite of the evidence.
Anchoring: My only tool is a hammer therefore every problem looks like a nail.
Halo effect: This works in football so its bound to work in the kitchen, or I am good at A so I m bound to be good at B.
Overconfidence: I am so good, I cant be wrong, don’t question me, or advise me. If I accept help, I will look weak.
Groupthink:  It’s important to fit in with the others, especially the cool ones.
Outdated:    Clinging to principals that once were sound, but are now damaging. (That includes situations when you are right)
How to confront personal bias head on.
It may not be easy, because the driver behind a bias will often be an emotion such as  irrational fear, hatred, greed, etc. Fear is by far the most common of these emotions. The other very strong candidate is peer pressure i.e.  you have this bias because all the members of your peer group have it and it is part of the acceptance criteria. Sometimes it is conditioned from an early age.
How to identify the influences and counter them
The footballer in our example could join a boxing club and realise that he can easily hold his own against much bigger guys, but smaller ones can be very good. That would be a way to get rid of the irrational fear and open the door for a more confident player that went the last yard with full commitment.
A sound strategy that counters many forms of bias is this; when you have time to do it, seek a conflicting view to yours and study it. Either it will strengthen your conviction or it will open your eyes. In either case you will reap big benefits. An easy way to maximise this affect is working with your team to arrive at joint decisions and acting as chair. This externalsies the process for you and develops your team at the same team.
Ask yourself how friends and colleagues in your circles will react to your changed behaviour. Often you will recognise the source of your bias as a peer group who reinforce the bias. This can be a tough decision, but sometimes one of them has to go.
Often one of these bias’ will seem to be part of who you are and you are reluctant to change, but that is simply untrue. Bias changes over time all on its own without your intervention except not always in a positive and helpful way

How to keep at it until you win
Don’t expect miracles, you will slip a few times, but focus your thoughts on the positive outcomes you are expecting to achieve. The moment a negative thought about it begins in your mind, immediately replace it with something pleasant, or even downright naughty, but zap that negativity. When you make a mistake, pretend you have just had a triumph, celebrate and reward yourself so you stay positive. If you can find an admirable role model that will help an awful lot.
Once the benefits begin to accrue it will become a no-brainer.
How to be vigilant
Lets say I’m an investment manager and I handle billions in investors money. I have somebody data mining my trades to point out to me when a bias appears to be forming. He rushes to my desk and he says: “You have sold a day too soon on 70% of hour trades since last Monday, is there something you need to talk about?”
I think it over for a while, we look through the figures and I see that I had a heavy loss a week ago when I held on too long. I had been warned about the potential effects of a certain political situation and blamed the error on being too optimistic. I have been running scared  since and selling in panic.
Poker payers call this “On tilt”, For most of us, it is unfortunately part of our untutored makeup, but it is deadly in the world of a dealer and won’t do the rest of us any good either.
Once I know it exists and I can see the cause, fixing this is easy. I just watch the charts, follow the rules, feel the fear and deal with it.
The real damage that negative bias does is rarely mentioned
To fully understand how important this  subject is, you heed to delve a little into how the brain works.
Learning is a process of:
1. Observing our environment and absorbing communications and stimuli,
2. Making sense of the information we find is a process of comparing new information to stuff we already have stored away and passing it through filters to find out how we will classify it. These filters are made up of strategies and principals (positive bias) and negative bias. These are applied in the “fast thinking” subconscious part of the process. Consciously considering it all and applying logic.
3. Deciding how to classify the new information and whether we want to keep it?
4. Acting on your new knowledge means using it in the real world and this  is the final step in learning.  The problem here is that unless you are capable of honestly and objectively examining the feedback, your learning process is already broken and you are destined to swamp your brain with destructive conflicting rubbish.
How you classify information will govern whether or not you are able to reuse it. If you are carrying around filters that are wrong then you will spend your time rejecting valuable information and misclassifying critical knowledge. The damage continues and escalates.
Finally, when you act upon your new information and look for feedback, you will accept stuff according to your broken filters and the other broken bias such as conformation bias, group think and their mischevious friends.

Managing our personal bias is as important as brushing our teeth, but the rewards are much greater. It’s not about not making mistakes, it’s about watching out for them and taking action.
A video made by Google is revealing.
Word or concept associations in dictionary form is a key part of how humans store and retrieve information.
The speed at which we are able to memorise these associations  is far superior to any other form of information storage and retrieval.
Speak the name of a country and most of us can instantly reply with its capital city. It comes naturally.
When we make an association between grey hair and age or age and frailty, or obesity and laziness etc etc, we are then sowing the seeds of bias that is neither useful nor  helpful.
Take the controversial IAT test to help you discover your bias.

Planning for project managers.

How important is planning?

Planning is critical. Without planning there is little chance that you can every complete your project, let alone complete it on time.

The act of preparing a plan, if done correctly, will uncover the issues and risks, provide the bulk of key data for your estimation efforts, provide a clear view of what resource is needed when and lots more.

It will also help to discover the dependencies that may exist with other projects and activities.
Once prepared, the plan gives the team a better view of how their efforts will come together and points out the need for communication in critical areas.

How important is the plan?

Much less important than the act of planning, but still very important. The reason I say this, is because:

1)  It is rare to be able to complete a first draft plan and then not have to make any adjustments.
Most plans develop as they go along and reach a baseline when well into the project timeline.
The most obvious examples of this are projects that involve investigating a problem designing a solution and then finding suppliers to deliver it.
You can allow extra time at the start in the hope that it is definitely too much , but even then, the chances are that you will end up adjusting your plan.

2) Risks and opportunities are a part of every project plan. Sometimes risks come to fruition and they affect the plan profoundly, sometimes opportunities come along that are either too good to miss and causes change of requirements, or  reveal a cheaper, or faster way to get it completed.

In either case, the initial plan will have changed. To live in denial of this as many commentators on project management still do, is a huge mistake and will always be counterproductive.

E.G. If you become so obsessed with meeting a specific date that you are prepared to pare away key features, there is a strong likelihood that the project will fail entirely. The answer is to treat the plan as a guideline and treat planning as an ongoing task.

I recently had this same discussion with a group of seasoned Venture Capitalists and their view was this:
They would never dream of setting out without a plan, but once they had it in place, they may as well tear it up, because it had already delivered most of it’s value and from here on in, it was more about managing the risks and spotting the opportunities.
They were unanimous in the view that to slavishly stick to that plan would be suicide virtually every time.

Starting a new venture is much more volatile than starting a project, but it is also higher pressure with greater risks and a lot more to lose.  They don’t actually tear up the plan of course, they adjust it and maintain it, but the discussion served to get their point across that management is about managing and adapting on a daily basis, not stubbornly following a plan just to prove that you were right.  Read Maseena Zeigler on forbes about this subject
Managing a project should be driven by the business case in the same way that a new venture is driven by reaching a profitable trading position at some point.

Critical also is the acceptance that like a start-up, many good projects are based on a strong hunch and a bit of a gamble for a wothwhile prize. This is enterprise nd without there would be no paydays.  project managers haven’t earned indemnity from this either. 

Features – Deadlines -Budgets – ROI

Here’s where it all happens.  A project will have a goal and that goal will usually be a financial one though success is not always measured in financial terms.
For the sake of this example I will assume that the project is a cost cutting exercise with a specific financial aim. Right at the beginning, the same ground rules should have been laid down such as;

  • What saving are we aiming for?
  • What investment are we willing to make?
  • What is the maximum our budget can rise to, or the minimum our savings can drop to.?

This latter question is best answered in terms of ROI and in fact, in most commercial organisations the answer will be worked out on the basis of how much ROI exceeds  “Cost of Capital” in order to qualify the project as “best use of capital”. The critical thing is that it is agreed in advanced and set up as the target.

Once this understanding is in place and the variances have been explored and allowed for, the business case should clearly show the expected returns and the tolerances that are allowable.

The project now has an ambitious goal (maximum realistic returns) and realistic allowable variances. The importance of these variances is not to make the project management team relax, but to assure the sponsors that their investment is relatively safe. Projects set up this way rarely fail.

MSF, the Microsoft flavour of project management introduces a very useful concept known as the project triangle. It is a simple triangle with the three corners being occupied by Features – Resources – Time.project triangle

The significance of the triangle will be obvious to any mathematicians reading in that only one corner of a triangle can be fixed unless you want all three to be immovable.
This is why the prioritisation of concerns is a valuable part of stakeholder alignment. If stakeholders are allowed to follow their natural instincts and demand that all three corners are fixed (two fixed corners means the same thing) then there is no room for the project management team to steer the project out of trouble.

A realistically aligned project will choose one of  Time, Features or Resources to set in stone and the other two will remain free to move.  This way, if time is fixed, then a PM can choose between increasing resources, or decreasing features in order to hit the target (ROI). The decision making process can also be agreed in advance.

This example is one of the simpler ones, but it is indicative of the ills that beset many projects right at the beginning and rob them of any real chance of succeeding, or being seen to succeed.

Defining the scope/budget/resources

Once again, with the ROI in mind and the statement in the business case that based on initial studies, there is a strong likelihood of success, the task now arises to define in more detail the features required to deliver the expected benefits.

Having defined the features, accurate costing has to be worked out on the basis of supplier estimates, internal efforts and other costs, with adjustments for risk, all of which will rely on your emerging plan.
Another sanity check at the end of this planning phase should check whether  the cost and time estimates are still within the constraints initially set for the project and whether it has a healthy amount of slack remaining to see it through to a likely successful completion.

This exercise of working up plans from draft to more detail as the work progresses from an outline business case through to a detailed contract with suppliers and a detailed plan of implementation with all the appropriate slack allowances  and a rigorous risk assessment will often take up half of the lifecycle of the project, or even more and some projects will be abandoned when it becomes obvious that there is little likelihood of success.

The number of “stage gates” (sanity checks) should be agreed at the start on the basis of how well known the territory is and how volatile the estimation is likely to be.

The illusion that a project board can put some dates (when we’d like it done) and amounts (how much we’d like to spend) on an A4 sheet at the beginning of the exercise and that perhaps a year or more later, a project team will deliver exactly what was asked for on that sheet, within exactly that amount and on that date is really a surprising error of judgement, but it still happens and contributes strongly to the list of project failures that appear on the Standish report and other investigations.

How to go about project planning

Planning should always be done by starting at a very high and general level, involving experienced big picture thinkers and applying a sanity check before then drilling down not too far to the next level  detaiil to repeat the exercise.
Planning should always resist the temptation to go into great depth in one specific area while remaining at a high level on others with one exception.

If there are unknowns, e.g new concepts that might not work, then proof of concept should be carried out as soon as possible to avoid having to abandon the project or change tack after a great deal of money gas already been spent

Plans should not be in extreme detail a long way in advance, because the likelihood is that when that time draws closer you will find yourself redrawing them and the effort has been wasted.  As planning continues to drill down, a plan should be retained for each level of detail and when the detail highlights an error in the high level plan, as it frequently will, then the high level plan should be adjusted.

The commonest method of estimation to begin with is to break the project down into products.

These products can in turn be broken down further until they reach a level whereby they can be more easily estimated and planned and later assigned to teams.

Out of this comes a product flow diagram that describes the order , if any, in which these products must be completed in order to take account of interdependencies.

Calculating critical paths ( the longest path you can follow) through the products and then amongst the products, the project manager can get a much closer view of the true schedule of the project.

Using PERT to make a high level allowance for uncertainty adds a further level of sanity check to the emerging plan.

Some of the issues that commonly affect project plans drawn by the unwary include:

1. The calendar is not taken into account when calculating for tasks in the plan, e.g seasonal breaks, Summer holidays and other disruptions that happen every year.  Key personnel  disappear and dependencies become critical.
Make sure you discuss each team members responsibilities and schedule with them and get agreements.

2. Suppliers work to their own schedules and regardless of what they agree,  they will place commercial concerns first and may not follow your plan.
Ask them for their plan and question to satisfy yourself that it is thought through. If you  lead, or take part in the contract negotiations, try to place some extra responsibility on them to deliver on time, or warn you in advance.

3. Estimates from technical people are accepted at face value and in reality they are vastly underestimated 80% of the time.
Get second and third opinions, look at records of old projects and as a minimum double the estimates from the best people and use factors as high as five for others.

4.  There’s gaps between what the supplier delivers and what the internal team have allowed for.
e.g. Inexperienced people might assume that a system can arrive, be plugged in and start testing.
Clear acceptance criteria may not exist and there may be problems agreeing acceptance.
Cut over from an old system to a new one may not be catered for.
This list can grow quickly. If you are not an experienced systems person make sure that there is one in charge of this part of the plan.

5. There may be several suppliers and communication between them may be less than ideal. Often this situation leads to gaps where nobody is responsible and the work grinds to a halt, or even enters dispute , or litigation.

Make sure you hold joint planning meetings and get sign-off to theses joint plans

6. Beware Johari’s window. What you don’t know you know is a terrible waste, so consult and consult again. What you don’t know you don’t know will come back to haunt you, so involve everybody in risk management sessions and try to be ahead of the game, have sufficient slack and keep stakeholders informed of the true position.

7. Over ambitious, or over confident plans create a sense of expectation amongst stakeholders that changes to discontent when the plan slips. Perfectly good projects are often deemed poor projects as a result of this very mistake.

Take the time to estimate risk realistically and maintain realistic slack for the high risk areas of the project.

So in summary:

1. Planning is critical and underpins everything, but it is an ongoing everyday task, not a game of snakes and ladders.

2. Managing projects is primarily about handling and working with uncertainty to remain within agreed, acceptable boundaries, not shooting a silver bullet at a precise point.

3. Planning for well known items is easy, beware what you don’t know, this is where you will get caught out.

4. Risk and opportunity go hand in hand, avoiding risk is no more important than spotting opportunity , but it requires an open mind and a fluid approach to planning.

5. Start with an achievable goal, make sure it is well understood and shared  and keep it in front of mind at all times.

The agile organisation – a risky proposition

When somebody tells you that they want their organisation to be agile, what do you read from that? I’ll bet you feel a bit sheepish because you feel that yours is not, but it should be. I suspect that you remember this becoming a fashionable goal and thinking you would find out at some point what it all means.

If you answered yes, then you just joined a huge club closely affiliated to the new man”, “cosmopolitan woman” and all the others.

Maybe you have already announced to your boss that you are “going agile” and you still haven’t quite got round to working out what precisely it is, but you instinctively know that it is right for you. This is also a very large club growing daily. You won’t be lonely in there either.

The most likely thing is that you came across it via a systems project and all the new converts raved about their new found, almost religious belief in this cure-for-all-corporate-ills. You loved the stories about no decisions, no commitment, no planning, and no documents. ”This is damned interesting, I want to hear more”, you said

What did Bill Gates mean and what did it mean to Microsoft to be agile. Well Bill made the mother of all misjudgements when he said that the internet was of no interest to Microsoft and dismissed its potential. Within one and a half years, Microsoft had changed its mind, won the browser war with Netscape and delivered ASP, the first and still dominant commercial application server for the internet. That was agile, but it had not a thing to do with stand up meetings around whiteboards and walls covered in scribbles.

Horses for courses

Adapting a largely web development methodology and attempting to use it as a corporate philosophy is bonkers. Anybody who tells you otherwise is out of her tree and I’m not given to sweeping statements, so I’ll need to back that up with some arguments, here goes:

  1. Large organisations need process, it is their blood supply

Have you ever experienced an agile development team in the software world? The entire fabric of specialisation, process, controls and method are abandoned completely. Everyone claims to be multi-skilled, they are a team of peers, and they operate outside of the business rules and the corporate structures.
They romanticise it as though they were a hit squad, “licensed to kill”.

All this was put in place for a reason. A highly skilled multi-talented team empowered to JFDI is a great solution to political stalemate and analysis paralysis in specific situations, but would we want the CIA or Mi6 running the country?

Even in a highly mature market, our only corporate goal is to maintain our competitive position or improve it and in many cases this is driven by economies of scale and brand strength. This is why we have oligopoly and cartels everywhere manipulating key domestic markets such as supermarkets, fuel, banking, etc. A typical sluggish, but safe operation is exactly right for the job, low risk, stable and relatively low cost. It can function with the average half to three quarter wit at the wheel and needs no dynamism. It’s all about horses for courses. You can’t take away their crutches and expect them to perform. History shows that it fails miserably.

2. The vital relationship between good strategy, intelligent planning and sane execution. Anybody who has working experience of trading the stock market knows the persona of the Bull and Bear. These fabled characters are, of course, not different individuals, but different phases in each trader’s performance. Adrenaline, or cortisol take over quickly when the action begins and knee jerk reactions produce cowardly hibernating bears, or arrogant testosterone fuelled bulls

I witnessed this just recently when my irrational fear of snakes was suddenly reawakened by almost stepping on one and watching him thankfully slither away. I was physically unable to walk any further and had to resist the urge to run back to the safety of the car. It took a few days before I could walk in the woods again without watching every blade of grass.
I went to Vegas once and discovered that one friend had a deeply rooted gambling issue such that he could only see the chance of winning the next hand and had no inclination of the odds. The higher the likely return the more attracted he was, never weighing it against the likelihood of winning. Both of these situations are unnatural and unrealistic reactions to risk and opportunity and both are potentially destructive.
Let neither fear, nor greed be your master
Human reaction to risk and opportunity both tend to bring out the very ugliest sides of human nature, greed and fear. Neither of these emotions is rational and neither can be trusted for any length of time. They stem from another era when we needed to run very fast into a cave without asking questions, or gorge ourselves before we were driven away from the feast by a more aggressive animal.

It is because of these irrational behaviours that every aspect of business behaviour must be driven by a well formed strategy that includes:

  • A well understood risk attitude
  • A carefully devised approach to managing day to say risk that keeps the bear and bull within us well out of the picture and supports rational management behaviour.
    A risk strategy is not a simple thing to plan out. The fact of the matter is that the more attractive the reward is, the higher the risk will generally be. You have to make your choices

Some examples from the finance and gambling industries
E.G. A bank with its risks spread over the right industries and economies can expect that when one is doing poorly another is doing well and thus balance risk.A bookie can balance his books by taking a precise level of exposure on every horse in a race so that regardless of the outcome he wins a little over the day’s activity. Taking a big picture viewpoint as above, and developing from this a strategy that can be applied at a more granular level allows me to look at the snake philosophically and continue my journey, it allows my gambling friend to view his account on a quarterly basis and aim for a profit without making rash decisions on the spot. It doesn’t stop me from pausing till the snake has disappeared, or taking simple precautions in future.

  • A banker without a strategy would panic when three customers in a row defaulted on their payments. A bookmaker would run for the car park when two favourites in a row won forcing him to pay out. Only reliable insight, a solid strategy and a sound plan allows ordinary individuals to successfully run apparently high risk industries.
    Knee jerk “agile” management is the stuff of the hard luck stories.

3. Responsibility to our shareholders demands responsible decisions, audit trails and experiential learning.
Never before have we been so aware of the responsibility to our way of life that is borne by officers of private businesses everywhere. Every quoted company is taking the savings of pensioners and promising to give them a return annually so they can finish their lives in dignity. Every business has a responsibility to employees and investors of all sorts whose lives depend o their performance. Our world is continually burdened with more audit requirements as more frauds are discovered. We need robust and recorded decision making and we need accountability.
Informal decisions around the water cooler open the door wide for the irresponsible amongst us. I’m not espousing process laden organisations with forms to fill in for everything, but if you leave the cookie jar without a lid, you just know what is going to happen

4. The team is everything
Teams are made of people, not numbers, roles or little boxes connected by lines.
People must have their needs met if they are to perform and if individuals don’t perform the team fails. The things that motivate people to perform are all based around security. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs and later Herzberg’s hygienes and motivators all demonstrate that people need to know where they stand in their group and that their standing must fit their contribution. An agile team in the software world can, if correctly balanced to begin with perform very well, but usually it is utterly dominated by one person and becomes a benign dictatorship. Any attempt to get things right first time are usually dropped in favour of constant revision mode and quickly they realise that constant activity disguises the lack of any meaningful outputs.
The peak of the productivity curve is reached very quickly and after that it is all down hill.
In a non software world, there is little difference other than the fact that sometimes the potential downside can be catastrophic and constant revision is usually less of an option. Single agile teams tackling key business change issues can, if correctly and responsibly set up and under constant enlightened management, both during the forming, norming . . phase and into maturity, produce exceptional results for exceptional managers, but as a broad approach and using a large team of teams, the roll call of spectacular failures speak for themselves.

5. The map is not the territory
Most management philosophies are corrupted shamelessly and misused without any insight into what makes them work. Agile works, but only in it’s own unique environment and only when the core competencies exist and the critical factors have all been properly taken care of.
The risk is seeing only the landmarks, e.g. that you see agile as: describing things in user stories, or having stand up meetings, or small empowered teams, or Just In Time decisions making, or incremental delivery of product. You can adapt any of these that catch your eye and maybe they well deliver what you expect, but that won’t make it agile.
See beyond the ceremony, stare straight through the dogma, but when the time is right, do it right and the rewards can be very encouraging, but don’t close your eyes and try to drive by the SatNav.

Scope a real ball breaker, do we really have to master it?

I remember many shopping trips with partners when she has described in great detail exactly what she needs to set off the rest of the outfit for an upcoming event.

I have managed to get enthusiastic enough to scan the windows and shelves with her and then there it is. I can’t believe my eyes it is such a perfect match. The price tag is a bit saucy, but worth my putting in the extra so we can relax and enjoy the rest of the day.

No, it is not what she wants. Yes it does match all the needs, but no it is not right. On we go and hours later exhausted we end up with what she is willing to accept. I am now spending heavily to get out of the dog house and I have finally managed to empty my brain and reach a state of alcohol encouraged xen. I have given up.

That is how people really are as opposed to how people pretend they are.

Ask any recruiter about the clients who continuously reject perfect candidates. It costs on average £15,000 to recruit an executive as a direct result of this indecision and inability to truly define scope up front and stick to it.

Can a business really afford to operate like a shopping trip?

Well the average MBA is going to say no to this one, but I am not totally in agreement. Businesses are far from perfect, in fact they are dismally bad even at their best and to be the best you only have to be marginally better than the worst. I’m not suggesting that this is easily achieved, just painting the map for now.

I worked around the advertising industry quite a bit and it operates exactly like the shopping trip. Decisions happen, usually when there is a gun to someone’s head (metaphorically of course) and those who are “gifted” seem to get it right more often than wrong.  The accountants take the paperwork out of the dustbin and announce the results,  to their surprise; “We made a profit, we are clever aren’t we?”  Are they? They’re having more fun than anyone I worked with in any other industry.

Business is a very simple concept

Business is simply a matter of investing capital to make a return greater than you might have done had you invested in a risk free environment like Gilts (when such a concept existed) otherwise why bother. The bit that is usually unwritten but implied is that the return should compensate for the extra risk as well as giving a better return. (That assumes you can beat markets? Another great blog opportunity)

So when I take capital from a Capex budget and invest it in the “red coat to match the shoes”, this is money that belongs to the retired lady in Dagenham who relies on her dividends to keep her little car running, or Larry form Luton who is saving for his retirement in five years time and worried abut being in poverty.  By law we should have retuned it to him, but we offered to reinvest it and make him even more money and he trusted us with his savings.

Clearly we need to be responsible about the way we make the decisions and we need to be accountable if questioned, but at the same time, we can’t; let fear, or external constraints blind our intuition or cloud our judgement.

Choose your weapons in advance

The answer in my view is to approach the decision about methodology up front.
The next advertising campaign for a big brand needs to be right and rightness is a subjective decision that is best made intuitively by people who have a record of getting this right. Waiting days, weeks, or months longer for this magic to work is a rock solid investment and rushing it with any form of  coercive or brainstorming techniques threatens to kill the golden goose. Deadlines have been proven to weaken creativity contrary to most misconceptions among journalists.

Is time the key factor?

Sometimes you only need the best possible output in a timeframe, or for a budget. E.G.  the front page leading article by 9 p.m. sharp, but other times you need the bee’s knees and it is worth waiting for.

Is the decision subjective, or objective?

If it is objective, then the key requirements can be clearly articulated and a process followed that will take you to the best decision. The answer is then very mathematical and logical, it may be a TCO, or ROI figure or simply the highest score.

If it is subjective, then you need to identify the people who will make this decision, you have to tell them whether you need best possible answer by Friday, or the bee’s knees and give them all the support you can.

If this is a visual thing, or a kinaesthetic thing, then you may be able create prototypes and let your experts see, feel or even experience some element of the design recording as you go along the things that go down well and narrowing the scope, or if nobody looks happy you may think laterally and try to find something that stimulates them.
The fastest cheapest way from A to B

It has been well established and indeed I have blogged about this in more detail previously, that without question the fastest cheapest and most certain way form A to B is to establish where B is and how to recognise it when you arrive, break the journey into easily managed stages and then follow your plan.

If however; as is sometimes the case, B is can not be defined objectively and/or there are no maps available for the territory in between, then you need to take a more agile approach and allow for the extra time and cost, but balance it against the reward.

Changing your mind along the way

This is a sure sign of immaturity, but occasionally it is necessary and justified.
She has just got home, tried the shoes again and then the party is cancelled.(bad example, she wants to keep them anyhow) You can still return them. It’s been changed to smart casual, you can exchange them. It’s troublesome but better than having no options.

What if we have one who just is a ditherer and wants to go to a different city to try there and returns them four times . .  I sense we have been there.

In business you can most definitely put a stop t this and you have a duty to do so.
Once tht decision is made, it stays made unless a very powerful new piece of information justifies revisiting it.

  1. The important thing coming out of this is that a decision must be made within some sort of constraints and the first order of business is to establish the constraints on this thinking.
  2. If the decision can be made objectively, it should be and a clear scope written down and followed
  3. If the decision is subjective, then all the inputs required to ease the journey must be in place, the owner of the intuition should be put in place and allowances made up front for delays and overruns
  4. Once a decision is made, move on and only ever return if there is a powerful argument backed by strong evidence

Change management is not monkey business

Let me ask you a simple question. Do you have a favourite tipple? Why is it your favourite? Was it always your favourite? What was your previous favourite? What made you change? If you tried your current favourite sooner, would you have had more enjoyment out of life? Do you think it is likely that one day you will try another drink and like it better? Maybe you could apply this argument to your job, hobby if this is more meaningful. The thing most of will get out of this little exercise is the realisation that we probably all miss out on a great deal by being adverse to trying new things until we find ourselves directly in their path and suddenly discover a new source of pleasure or value. The second point that generally emerges from this exercise is the realisation that we are all generally content with adequacy rather than in pursuit of excellence or optimisation of value or pleasure perceived. (I feel another blog coming on)

Now let’s play for bigger stakes. Does your family have a favourite restaurant? Was this always the case?. How did you arrive at the consensus that this was you favourite restaurant? Are there one or two who don’t agree, but go along to keep the peace?

What would have to happen in order for you to adapt a new restaurant? What would make you seek out a new one, who would instigate this and how would the decision get made?   I suspect that these simple questions woke a few skeletons in most household cupboards. Hopefully they also lead you to consider how your family deal with these issues. Does one person lay the law down and solve the issue? Do you talk it out until there is consensus? Do you give way to certain individuals who seem to have the knack of getting their own way? Or maybe there’s a close knit clique who stick together and dominate everything. How will you decide whether it was a good decision or whether to keep trying? What will make you settle for a new place? Fatigue? Lack of ideas? Adequacy? Excellence?  There are many potential ways forward, but that’s not as important as stopping to think about how a close knit organisation with trust and communication go about changing their behaviour in some small way.

Now let me give you a puzzle to solve. By the way there’s no right or wrong answer to this.

Five monkeys were thrown in a cage with a banana on a shelf in the centre. Each time a monkey approached the banana all the monkeys were sprayed with ice cold water from a hydrant so very soon they began to attack any monkey who approached the banana in order to avoid being sprayed. Then the hydrant was taken away and each monkey was replaced with a new one over a period of months. Each new monkey approached the banana and was immediately beaten up, therefore quickly learning the rules. Eventually there was not a single monkey left who had seen the fire hydrant yet the beatings continued. If you were the next monkey to be put in the cage, what would your strategy be?. If you were a monkey put in the cage to stop them beating each other, how would you approach it? If you were the scientist controlling the experiment, how would you stop the beatings.

So what have we learned today?
If you don’t accept change you will be the loser in the end. Most good things come about as a result of change. Most, if not all change is forced upon us including changes for the better. Change in a small group is complex, change in an organisation is as much art as science and the consequence of getting it wrong is to create a self-destructive culture.
If you are planning a new product think long and hard about asking customers to change their habits.

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 5

What’s the right strategy for me?

Bridging between the web and the real world
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 3
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 4


In defining a marketing strategy you will as a minimum need to:

  1. Define your USP and write it down.
  2. Define your target market
  3. Write down the benefits of your product/service to that market
  4. Position your product/service in comparison to it’s rivals so that it appeals to your market (2)
  5. Define the activities you will engage in to deliver your messages and monitor results e.g. networking, direct mail, telesales, events, etc
  6. Develop the messages that suit each method of delivery, drive home your USP, consolidate your positioning statement and motivate the required actions from your target market

Your USP, positioning statements, Elevator pitch and all that good stuff

Me (the business) has to be understood first and that is often where the exercise is rejected then the products come under the microscope.

Most networkers will tell you how important trust is in selling your products and services and this is the section that deals with that trust. Trust is not in a product, or service, but in a person or organisation delivering it and you simply can’t afford to ignore this aspect of your offering.

The simple and obvious questions 

What do I stand for? what do I want out? What am I prepared to give?  Where are my boundaries? Now you need to step it up a notch to look at yourself through your customer’s eyes.
What do they stand for? What does it mean to me? Is it an image that inspires me to deal with them? Are their changes that would improve this image and influence me to buy from them?

Now the money question
How good are my products? Who are they aimed at and why should they buy?
Now from a customer viewpoint

Do I use their products? Why? What would motivate me to start/stop, how do they compare to the opposition? And how does this influence me? Is there anything unique , or memorable about them?

It is rare that this exercise does not lead to a startling difference between the internal view and the customer viewpoint and there is always something to be learned, but be warned, the results must be consumed with a measure of common sense.
The idea of giving the customer what he wants is fallacy. The customer wants you broke and giving him products for free, even products he will never use. You have to talk to realistic customers of the kind you are able to sell to profitably. You have to ask the right questions carefully and explore the answers if in doubt.

Before you can establish a strategy for your marketing you need to be confident that you have  got your proposition right and you are projecting an appropriate image successfully. Without that you can spend a lot of cash and effort for very little return.

Unity of thought and action in all things is the key

Two messages that reinforce a strong influential theme is three times as powerful as one message. Two messages that contradict each other, even a little bit can be very damaging.

Messages in the marketing context mean every communication and action that says something to your customers.  If you deliver a day late without an apology, that sends a message even more effectively than an expensive TV advert only not the one you had intended. The lesson that needs to be learned here is Don’t over guild the lilly.

If you are not going to be able to deliver it consistently, drop it from all offers and don’t promise it. This is the commonest mistake in business and it is even more upsetting when you come to realise that the customer didn’t even rate it in his buying criteria, but now he’s upset because you promised and didn’t deliver.

E-commerce and the retail shop, email and the call-centre, networking and the marketing campaign

Have you ever dealt with an organisation, or a professional who managed to get these aspects of the business integrated even a little bit?  I certainly haven’t.

  • You buy something online, but you are not allowed to return it in the shopping mall.   
  • You see an advert 15 times in the course of an evening telling you how your bank value their customers, you call about your account and ten minutes later, with steam coming from your ears, you finally get through to a call centre person who is trained only in dealing with irate customers. Two minutes later you put the phone down in despair, no wiser.
  • You meet the boss at an event and tell him you need a big order and he is very pleased and very helpful. You call in a few days later to order and you are told, it will be two weeks now before we can deliver, if only you’d called in yesterday.
  • The call centre reminds you that your annual subscription is overdue, because they have never been told that you paid by direct debit last week

We both know that this list could go on for many pages and hopefully you are beginning to think of this in terms of conflicting messages and wasted effort. Fixing this type of thing should be at the top of every marketing strategy.

Don’t take a sledgehammer to crack a nut

The most difficult thing about developing a strategy for marketing can be to avoid starting at the beginning and making too big a job out of it.

If you are happy enough that you don’t have the problems highlighted above then in reading this you have done enough and you can get straight to the point.

 Billions are wasted every year developing strategies that are consigned to the bin by changes in events within the first year, so stick to the highest possible level and don’t get bogged down in detail.
If you want to spend a little more time at this stage then I would strongly advise a couple of workshops facilitated by an experienced external person. In particular PEST is a great way to avoid falling foul of Political, Environmental, Sociological and Technological drivers that render your plans useless.
SWOT is a powerful tool to help you define your Strengths and Weaknesses and to explore. Opportunities and Threats facing your business.   Done well with a good cross section of the team, these can be lively and informative short sessions that afford a chance to take stock and to improve management communication.

Defining your target market

Your target market is a segment or segments of the overall market that you believe is sufficiently large to deliver your targeted sales volume and offers you the best possible opportunity to make sales. Why waste time climbing for the high apples, get the easy ones.

When defining your market segments the best strategy will often be to understand;

 1. The jobs they want done as opposed to features they might want

2. How easily accessed they are
3. How profitable they are to your business.

e.g.  If you are a Lawyer who used to work in the city and now you are in practice, you have a Unique proposition in terms of your financial knowhow, you may be able to highlight a large group of potential clients who engage in financial dealings but are not big enough to retain a lawyer and you may find that there is an easy route to access them all through a particular association.  Provided this is sufficiently profitable for you, you have clearly defined your target market using my criteria.

Defining the benefits to your target market


If you remember, we focused on ” job done” as opposed to features when defining the target market, very simply this is because the benefit is that it allows your customer to get a job done.
This way there is less confusion over language and better defined offering in terms of language.


e.g. The tiler isn’t looking for a “better cutter”, but a “smoother cut”, or a “faster cut”

Don’t forget emotional drivers

Emotions play a large part in all purchases, even the very logical ones, but many purchases are dominated by emotion.  Cars are bought for the feeling they give the driver when he sits into it.
Homes are bought for what they say about the owner as much as anything else. The list goes on.

People are very swarm conscious and like to be hiding comfortably in a crowd doing what the crowd are doing. The underlying driver is fear of being singled out for r ridicule if they get it wrong, so people need a way out and they need social approval for their decisions.

You must identify these social drivers and write them down

Remember to record the constraints

It may be that only at certain times of year, or when certain conditions occur, will your customers make a buying decision, or that certain seasons are better.  Remember the low hanging fruit theory and record all of these constraints so you can use them to your benefit.

Define your positioning statements

Positioning statements are statements that help the customer understand your proposition by comparing it to the competition and by comparing it to other known things.
“The Venice of the North”.   “Accounting’s answer to Coca Cola”.  These are positioning statements.
They very simply and subtly say a great deal about what you think of your product, they are very easy to remember, because they follow the basic principal of how we remember things and if you can get the customer to accept this comparison, you will very powerfully and memorably define your product’s position in your customer’s mind.
Nothing in my view is more powerful in the marketing strategy than getting the positioning right and then driving it home consistently.

Plan the activity at a high level.

At a strategic level you don’t want times and dates etc, but you do want these key elements:

  1. Clarity about how and where you will deliver your messages for what outcome and how you will measure success.
  2. You should have a regular review strategy to make sure your strategy is working and to make adjustments when appropriate
  3. You should have clear targets in terms of sales, enquiries, list growth, share of voice, share of mind etc
  4. You should have a budget defined
  5. Divide your activities into Hunting and Farming (Hunting being the search for new contacts)

To help you decide on tactics, the best approach is to go back to your notes on target market and n particular the bit about accessibility. At that point you decided that this segment was accessible, how?
Who and what are their strongest influencers?
Where do they go? What do they read? Do they network? Can you get them to join a newsletter? are they in your database and reachable with certain types of media?


A simple chart like this one can help

  Offline Networking Online Networking PR Email Events Telesales SEM Website
London engineers £1 to £10m Meet senior  management at key engineering focused gatherings:
Institute of ..
Directors will stay in touch with opposite numbers and forge new relationships Monthly announcements on the following themes:
Quarterly newsletter with valuable key trends analysis Invite up to 50 key people for working lunches Add 200 names to the database of potential customers every month Target buyers of widget who is searching for “custom”
max budget


Provide all the information buyers need

Track visitors from all electronic messaging.

Integrate this information with offline communications records

Target 10 Potentials 50 new relationships 20% improvement in share of mind. 15 enquiries monthly 40 new potentials 2400 new contacts 10 orders per month Traffic growth 10%


London legal  practices £1m+ Meet senior  management at industry gatherings Minimal as they don’t do it much Occasional announcements  timed with ..   Working breakfasts  with short informative  training sessions   Target  all widget searches Use ecommerce to capture small orders.


Email key bridging pages to the mailing list monthly

Target 30 potentials              
Total sales forecast                



Develop the messages


1. Write out your USP

2. Write an elevator pitch that you can give to anyone in any circumstance and they will immediately “get it”.  Imagine being forced to still use it word for word in ten years.

Define the segments by name
Define the jobs they want done
Define the emotional drivers involved
Define their key influencers

Define each of the delivery methods you have proposed for this segment

For each of these individual segment/method instances, write out what action you want them to take and what would make them take it.

For each of the above, write out the message to be delivered
Write out an example of body copy.

The actual body copy can be created close to the event so that the language and mood of the time can be built into it.


Segment1 Type Influencers Job done Emotional Action Message
email Peer group afraid of being left behind.
Competition  . sales people telling them we are no good.
Trade body wanting their business instead
Enter new markets.

Find new products

Mustn’t be seen to fail even a little.


Must feel comfortable with these new ideas.


We are afraid of not being up to the job

www Message1.doc
Networking enquire Message.doc
website enquire Message.doc
telephone Agree to a visit  

Message 2.doc

events Invite us to tender Message 3.doc


Direct mail Make an enquiry Message4.doc
Newsletter Visit the www


I expect it is much more evident what your message should be saying when you work form this chart and a good copywriter should be able to produce powerful collateral very quickly.
 What is especially good is that all your activity is now delivering consistent focused messages direct to receptive audiences and they can continue the conversation across the website, networking, events etc without any confusion. If you work a little on timing and language you can achieve a great deal from your new marketing strategy.

If you invest in some tools to help you coordinate all these communications it will make your job a great deal easier

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 3

Bridging between the web and the real world
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2

Are there really clear parallels between Soviralnetbusworks and Sales and Marketing theory?

This is bound to be  an area of some contention, for the reasons mentioned previously. Most networkers, especially online, are motivated by a need to be out and about finding customers combined paradoxically with their powerful fear of and resistance to actually selling their services.

If you draw parallels then you have to face the big purple elephant again I.E.  Why are you in a business that you are afraid to sell to customers? If you don’t believe in it, who will?

There is a fairly popular and utterly flawed theory that underlies most networking activity, which supports the latter folly and it goes something like this:
 If you meet the same 60 people every month for a year and you tell them what you do and then you are nice to them every time you meet and if you pass a few scraps of leads to a few of them, eventually one of them will order from you.
The reasons it’s flawed are simply these:

1.   I won’t, and neither will you, wait for the next meeting to place an order with somebody who said hello to me. When I need a widget today, I’ll either call someone I used before, or turn to Google.

2.   If I need something very complex and very reliant on the person supplying it, e.g.  Interior design, or a management consultant, then I will turn to people I trust, who can make recommendations, but the recommendation will only be as strong as the trust attached to it. Again the chances are not good , though admittedly better, that I will turn to my networking for a supplier.

3.  The 60 or so people I know though networking are only likely to contain one or two potential clients, unless I’m an accountant, marketer, or lawyer  etc and plain mathematics would tell any sensible person that it is never gong to produce much of value for me. Above all, it is never going to produce anything proportionate to the time put in.

What do Soviralnetbusworks offer that might be different

The bits we have discussed so far are networking, but of course there is more to soviralnetbusworks than networking.   When Trout and Reis announced “marketing “ to us, they made a few hints at an aspect of human behaviour which back then, they had very little influence over.  The need to “be part of a gang”, to “ conform”, to “be accepted”.  Good marketers have always known how to give the impression that “all the in crowd are wearing this fragrance” or “ hanging around on social networks”, but in the past the ability to influence this stopped at traditional advertising.

Facebook, Linkedin and especially Twitter have begun to provide a new type of influencer. It shortens the message to almost subliminal levels and delivers it like hail stones. The result is that users are bombarded with a sense of what “the gang” is doing and thinking  and it provides powerful potential to really influence huge volumes of people to blindly go where you want to send them.

The best parallel in the natural world is a flock of starlings in Northern Europe doing acrobatics in the sky before settling in for the evening.  They gesture to each other and in an instance either conform or influence their surrounding group. Quickly the group automatically selects a few who seem to be more influential via the timing or style of their gestures, who knows and the whole flock attempts to ape them as they free fly around the evening sky creating incredible shapes and patterns. 

Learning how to influence the social scene in the same way will undoubtedly deliver massive dividends for savvy marketers going forward, but just like TV advertising quickly ran into traffic problems, so too will this format. What we should be doing is looking  for the next big thing.

What do they have in common? And what is different?

Marketing and selling is first of all a debate in itself that often gets heated.  My own favourite take having spent a lot of time close to direct marketing is that marketing is predominantly about generating enquiries and creating the right environment in which to generate enquiries. Where I disagree  with some traditionalists is that I don’t believe you should do it if you can’t measure it.

Marketing and sales is there to generate potential leads, generate leads from those, qualify the leads, build and maintain relationships and convert some leads into orders in sufficient numbers to run a profitable business. How well you do this affects the cost and value of your product as much as anything else does and has a direct impact on customer experience.

The order in which I described this is not all that important, because in truth things happen in all kinds of orders in the real world, but generally, all of the various switches have been pushed before you end up with a customer.

In a social networking environment, the trust building may start the ball rolling and the product enquiry come later, in the traditional environment the  product enquiry may come first, or in between.

People like CRM vendors often have a blind spot about process and struggle to see how things can wander safely and securely via their own paths and yet arrive in the same place. This is just a human failing and nothing more and they shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with how people work.

There have always been weak sales people often described as the “ personality salesman” who believes that his amazing charm is all that matters and pays no attention to the product, the customers need etc.  There is also the “technical salesman” who thinks that all that matters is features and benefits and mathematics and fails to consider the customer’s need to trust him and the supplier and the emotional drivers.
 Neither of these is typical, but both failings are very noticeable in the flawed theory often put forward by networking gurus and ecommerce gurus.

What the internet has changed forever about marketing and selling is that it allows the sales process to begin much earlier and it greatly extends the “Tyre Kicking” phase.

When a new customer enters your showroom now, he has kicked your tryes many times, talked to your friends and knows you intimately. He has downloaded all the datasheets and knows the products as well as you do. He may well have talked to previous users or even your previous customers.  This process goes on all the time and all happens earlier in the buying process than where we used to begin when Trout and Reis were teaching us their tricks.

The big mistakes you can make are:

  1. To assume every tyre kicker is a potential customer and pounce on him. Most will run away and never return.
  2. To ignore the need to support this tyre kicking process sufficiently to be on his list of maybes when he is ready to talk business.
  3. Hang around the car lot waiting for tyre kickers instead of focusing on the ones who are ready to buy, or the ones who did and need support


What can shrewd marketers learn from traditional marketing to make their networking more productive?

What is critical going forward is to understand the importance of the  website,  social networking and traditional marketing and how they interact, how they  satisfy tyre kicking, attract a halo of  interested parties, build a funnel of leads, qualify leads, build relationships, support the buying process and generate orders without making your product too expensive to be saleable.

It is vital to apportion the right amount of time and financial investment at each level so as not to put your self out of business.
 A typical example of getting this wrong is spending vast sums on website traffic only to find that they don’t buy anything. Why?  Because they are not at that stage yet.
Better to use different search terms and target people who have done their tyre kicking and want a better deal. Positioning is still everything. The rues have not changed, just the tools.

  1. The next time you are drawing your sales funnel, or configuring your CRM, add another slice 50 times wider than the biggest one. In here you will put all the” tyre kicking, just looking, maybe some day” people. The ones you’ve been networking with go in here too.
  2. Create a manageable strategy to understand the information and contact needs of this big slice and provide it with minimal effort and expense
  3. Test and establish a way to qualify your people from the tyre kicking slice into the lead slice and back out again without losing them altogether.  This upper slice becomes an ecosystem like the halo over a glass of water. And you need an inexpensive way to keep it in place and growing.


Coming next:


How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle?


What is the right strategy for me?

Communication for project managers

Introduction to the series.comms encoding

This series was inspired by the growing concerns expressed by project managers about the demands being placed on them to be communicators, ambassadors, PR experts and even Marketers as they attempt to deliver complex change projects into organisations, especially in the IT field but not exclusively.
Whether you are moving 1000 people to a new location or asking them to stop doing things the way they do and trust you that a new system will work better, the challenge has been raised and if you are not equipped to meet it your project stands a poor chance of succeeding.

About the author
Before you even consider communication with any audience from one person to 100 million people, you need to first gain their respect and trust. If you don’t, why should they listen to you.
Just like you they are bombarded with messages all day every day and they only have time to listen to a choice few that come from trusted sources , that gain their attention and arouse their interest.
Gain  their respect.
Don’t assume that these people know who you are and respect your knowhow, or your authority as the case may be. If you are sent by the CEO, then tell them up front and try to get some demonstration of this from the CEO. If you are offering them expertise, then tell them about your skills and background so that they can judge it for themselves.

Gain their trust

Trust is the most important part of communication by a long shot. Respect and trust are related, but not the same. You can win respect through winning trust, but not necessarily the other way around.
If I am to interrupt my busy day to listen to what you have to say, I need to feel I can trust it.
The best way to win trust is to genuinely be interested and concerned about the other person or the audience. You can’t fake this, unless you have shared experiences and shared fears, hopes, or aspirations, then you will struggle to be convincing. Unless you already have this shared experience, then the simple and the only way to achieve it is to clear your mind of all preconceptions and start listening, start asking questions, questioning the answers and listening with every fibre.
The more you listen, the more you will learn. The strange thing about listening is that not only do you learn a lot, but you start to make a lot of friends effortlessly.

What  you are listening for

First what you are not listening for, you are definitely not listening for hooks to  let you push your story down their necks. You should be listening to what they are saying at face value. You should also be listening for the unsaid things, the little gaps in the logic and the things left for you to imply. These latter are the things you need to question to make sure you get the truth. If you are a walkover and you get it wrong, you won’t win much respect.

Be truthful. If you don’t agree say so. This way you will still find many that agree and others that make allowance, you might even learn something.  If you are false, you will be caught out and lose all credibility.

You are also listening for communication styles the way they express ideas, the vocabulary they use, any analogies they use when discussing the issues and the general attitudes that prevail in that audience to prepare you for how to word your communications. More about this later.

You are listening for differing groups in your audience, I.E different perspectives or different ways of framing the same thing. E.G. Board directors probably have a very different viewpoint on a shop floor issue than the blue collar workers do. Later you will need this knowledge when we come to segmentation.

You are also listening for their motivations, you want to know what would be the thing that would make them most enthusiastic and what would be least motivating to be able to offer to them.

You are also listening for indicators of who their influencers are, who else do they listen to and trust and why. It may be Unions, it may be certain newspapers or magazines, or a TV show. Knowing this will help you to communicate effectively with them.

Listening is a learned skill and only practice will perfect it, it ,may also be a bit of a change for som people, I promise you that if you will try it out for a week, with no motive other than to see what happens, you will never regret it.

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