Build Something: Integrate Technologies For Agility

IntegrateBuilding something from scratch used to be necessary.  When mass production and interchangeable parts took root and the industrial age was spawned, we integrated hardware.  This was an effective way to get to the goal instead of fretting about each nut, bolt and circuit.

We moved this thinking to the white collar office space and lined up paper and information to flow with efficiency.  Working in large teams with interchangeable data and information systems rewarded us with speedy production and greater levels of management and control.

The great thing about the collective work in the new economy is that fundamental technologies do not have to be built.  They merely need to be assembled.  The innovator’s job is less focused on tool making and can instead be channeled to creativity, strategy and getting things done.

Integration And Innovation

If you are seeking to bring a new product or service to market, here are some important strategies so you do not have to reinvent the proverbial wheel:

  • Make good deals.  You are wanting to bring other people’s technologies to contribute to an end goal of your design.  Be sure that the licensing, software, pricing and overall deal are not risk to what you build later. If HP has to worry about whether its print engines are going to be available for production in a year, it’s a risk.
  • Ensure continuity. Your enabling technologies should be viable ongoing without surprise.  The safe bet is to pick the winner in the category. Whether it is a chip maker, motor manufacturer or software developer, make sure there are contingencies and a plan for continuity to serve your system and customers.
  • Accommodate customization. If you can choose technologies which are open as a platform, it allows for customizations later. This can be an API or editing procedure. Getting a system to work for your goal may mean tweaking a small part. Be sure the small part is easy to access and works robustly.
  • Reinforce your brand. Your brand is what the customer experiences. Your enabling technologies should promote your brand, nothing less. Licensing, white labels and business agreements can all reinforce your brand.

Nothing will last as designed. Things change quickly and if you design your systems with change in mind, you can remain agile as new demands arise.

When I work with entrepreneurs or organizations on building systems, these are important strategies which create a robust market offering.  I hope they help you as well in building something great we can all benefit from.

What do you think?

Salesforce Success Is Continuous

Salesforce.com Success depends heavily on the approach, leadership and mindset of the team adopting the system.  Having helped organizations become successful with Salesforce.com over thousands of hours of up front and personal work, it is obvious that those who succeed have a different mindset from those who get stuck or never get started.  It starts with an understanding of the kinds of systems which exist today:

  1. Convenient Systems: These work as is out of the box.  The software vendor prescribes the workflow and features by assimilating the best practices and requirements of the masses.  The benefit is that this system is ready to go and can guide you to execute quickly.  The downside is that it is hard to change it for your specific workflow.
  2. Customized Systems: You can pay for custom development to execute your business processes specifically.  This was typical of older approaches to support businesses.  The benefit is that the system works exactly for your business.  The downside is that it is expensive and changes take longer from inherent development cycles applied.  It’s important that you can articulate your requirements precisely.
  3. Continuous Systems: This is what makes Salesforce.com the predominant choice of thousands of businesses.  The system can continually be modified and implemented.  It is inexpensive to drive change.  This is strategic in an economy where the only sure thing is change.  Your requirements can be less rigid and more iterative.

In a continuous system, it is important to implement, launch and drive feedback.  Success depends on use and iteration.  Focusing on system perfection is elusive and unrealistic.  Perfect execution, however, is achievable once a framework and rules for engagement are set up.

Your team’s success relies on a commitment to the journey of continual refinement.  Ensure there is a process for iterating and that change is not merely piecemeal.  It must be systemic in thought and design to avoid overengineering your Salesforce.com system or exasperating your team in their use of the system.

Adopt a continuous mindset and the long view. As your business is never done being refined, your mission critical software enabling your business remains art in motion.

Want to learn how to become successful realistically over time? Click here for Salesforce Consulting help.

Customization For Personalized Sales Connections

Salesforce.com has an interesting article on the impact of data and customization for the personalized marketing experience.  As buyers, we experience this from world-class online merchants and companies that work relentlessly to provide a personalized experience.  This happens when we peruse, get educated and buy.  Our online profiles are tracked and used for presenting relevant offers that are tailored to us personally.

For b2b sales which tracks engagement with your buyers in Salesforce.com, customizing your system to create a personalized experience helps your sales team be on message.  Your marketing team can use information to continually position the message and segment your database to drive in new leads or increase buyer readiness.

The data which sales collects and marketing harnesses as well as vice-versa can serve as a powerful feedback loop to drive lead conversion.  Customizing Salesforce.com should be implemented with this feedback loop in mind.  Here are some best practices for your customization which can help drive this lead generation and lead conversion process:

  1. Categorize By Product Interest.  Within your sales qualification processes, your team can capture information on product or service interest.  These picklists along with related granular information can be used in reporting with marketing to create campaigns that are automated and triggered in real-time or on a periodic basis for events and buying cycles.
  2. Segment By Authority.  Each lead and contact in Salesforce.com has a relationship in the decision making process.  Those with decision making authority versus business influence or technical influence can be segmented and delivered different marketing materials based on their agendas and interest.  A stream of technical data might be more relevant for one audience whereas ROI information and change management practices might be appropriate for senior managers.
  3. Assign lead scoring.   Whether you use a marketing automation system or assess lead readiness with salespeople, create a customized way of scoring leads for their readiness to buy.  Their activities and engagement with your content would be a key metric.  Furthermore, their timing and urgency may be another.  As marketing drives in more data to Salesforce.com allow your sales team to act respectively with the most ready leads.
As your team is able to cull through the noise and nurture leads by collecting relevant data as part of your feedback loop, your company’s personal treatment of your leads creates sales conversations.  You will know what your buyer wants and when they are ready.  Your sales team can be engaged in continually refining their approach to the conversations and providing personalized service as they court your buyers.
How are you organizing your Salesforce.com data to make personal sales connections?
Need help customizing Salesforce? Connect with us for Salesforce consulting help.

Planning And Reality

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

I like to do business at the speed of thought.  It is not only more fun, but also reality.  As an entrepreneur my instincts are to go build something or sell something quickly and get feedback from the experience right away to refine the next try.  The fidelity of the experience far outweighs any theoretical planning sessions.  Reality provides empirical real-time information to react to.  It is the ultimate laboratory for testing ideas and making something of value work.

Your windows of opportunity in the marketplace are small.  What was once impressive is now boring.  Investments, software, restaurants and social media marketing all have a half-life.  They don’t last.  They catch fire and they flame out.  Innovation is happening so quickly that it is difficult to say something that matters now will be relevant in a few years.  It is life and it is happening to all of us.

Of course, short-term planning helps put some organization around us before we act.  However, if we are fiddling with planning and fearfully making this our emotional savior, we miss what reality smacks of.  Most of our plans are not relevant even after a short amount of time.  The key is to get to action quickly and allow iteration to do its magic of enlightening us.

How perfect are your plans?  Can you live with a bit of imperfect planning and more execution?  Ready, Fire, Aim.  It’s a brave new world.

Salesforce Process Mapping

Launching with Salesforce.com with a few people is much easier than launching with many.  You can have a flexibility to your deployment approach when starting out because the ability to iterate in Salesforce.com affords experimentation.  If you need new fields, then they can be added.  If certain reports are not relevant, then new ones can be added quickly.

Aligning a few people only requires a few assents.  When many people are involved, then changes will have a larger impact.  The management of this change needs to be handled accordingly.

A Central Process

Regardless of whether you are launching a new business or managing an older business, a Salesforce.com roadmap will help you understand an effective implementation as well as create a process for your organization to execute against.

Salesforce.com is fundamentally a customizable database to support your various business processes.  These can be not only in sales, but marketing, support, operations and project management.  Each process should be captured separately and visible for your respective teams to understand the various steps and how to use Salesforce.com to do their jobs.

For example, if a salesperson has a follow-up after a call with sending marketing materials, these should be in a sequential process that triggers the right tasks and communications in Salesforce.com.  A newcomer should be able to find out how to execute the step as well as someone that needs a refresher by simply accessing a process map.  The process map should articulate the mechanics and the essence of the step.

In our Salesforce.com consulting, we walk through process mapping and embed the results within the user interface.  Users have a way of matching their behaviors in Salesforce.com with what has been agreed upon as the central process.  This accountability can be tracked in Opportunity and Lead records as well as custom data objects.

If your business processes are being executed, then the business results should theoretically follow.  This allows management to keep accountability for how well the team is working the business system as well as see the data for where inefficiencies exist and improvements can be made.

Does your team know your business process in a concrete way?


Salesforce Automation Steps

Buying Salesforce.com is easy; automating your business processes using Salesforce.com has a natural progression.  In our Salesforce consulting, we like to help our customers to walk their process manually before automating.  This allows for control and mastery before coding, scripting or creating a routine process structure.  Approaching your own organization with the goal of automating your business processes should have steps accounting for the impact of change on your team.  Here’s how.

Map Out Your Process Roadmap

The steps for how a customer is won, a service is provided or a project is completed needs to have an accounting for the specific steps your users will take.  These should be captured in a list and the tasks need to be broken down into concrete and specific wording.  Your team has likely built up a culture.  Your culture has defined meaning for each of the steps.

Thus, your process map should not take for granted the implied meaning of steps.  Rather, imagine using your map to instruct a new person.  They should be able to take direction and execute within your Salesforce.com system from the steps in a sequential fashion.

Customize Your Database With Ease Of Use

Less is better.  This is what we preach with our Salesforce consulting clients. This is especially true for data.  Every field that you create unnecessarily or redundantly reduces your chances for adoption by your team.  Think like a user.  You would have to move fast in daily work.  Every form field or step within Salesforce.com becomes tedious at some point if there is a feeling the data is not used or getting work done can be more expediently accomplished without data capture.

Each step in your roadmap should produce a subset of data capture within your Salesforce.com records – Contacts, Accounts, Leads, Opportunities, Cases or any other custom creation.

Picklists should be used if your data is specific and needs to be measured.  Furthermore, it is easier for the user because less thinking is involved.  Conditional picklists are valuable to present dormant fields which may be used in specific cases rather than every time a record is edited.  Think streamlined and less.  Your team will be grateful for it.

Buttons For Communications And Tasks

Every step touches some part of the customer experience.  Often times, your value perception is based on your touch points.  Using Salesforce.com to ready personalized communications to the right people at the right time increases your branding and builds continual value with the stakeholders of your business processes.

Communications will come from documents, emails or calls.  Ensure that each is ready to go and captured within the context of the steps of your roadmap.

Your team is likely doing these things, albeit inconsistently, inefficiently and without account.  Salesforce.com creates the opportunity to create a predictable and rich experience from the inherent functionality of the system.  Use it and watch opportunities grow.

Watch, Refine And Automate

With an agile system in Salesforce.com, the most important thing is not perfection on all the details.  The important thing is launching and getting your users to adopt the system.  Their feedback will allow you to continue refining.  Salesforce.com is not like custom developed software.  It is more flexible and made to be used in real-time.  When changes occur, you can react and redesign.

Watch your users and work with them to drive towards perfection.  The process is collaborative and working closely with your team drives their buy-in because their feedback is seen in the context of real-time changes.

As you see your processes mature, there is great opportunity to drive further efficiency.  Automate the steps by coding, triggers, workflows and refinements.  Each step is an opportunity for creative ways to cut out cycle times in your team’s execution in Salesforce.com.

Automation comes from process maturity and user adoption.  Drive towards it with effective change management and administering Salesforce.com at the pace your culture fails forward with your processes in Salesforce.com.

Entrepreneurs Think Differently

Inc.com’s Article on How Great Entrepreneurs Think gives insight into the behaviors of successful business starters.  The findings of a researcher at the University of Virginia looks at the contrast between corporate managers and entrepreneurs.  They are different breeds of people.

I have seen the same pattern repeatedly.  People that require a map for every decision to move forward are not successful entrepreneurs.  Those that are not afraid of failure and are able to improvise continually are able to navigate the unsure terrain and ambiguity of the entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs Are Agile Not Reckless

There is a stereotype of recklessness which accompanies entrepreneurs.  This is more appearance than reality for successful entrepreneurs.  I would say that what a traditional businessperson might deem as conventional, prudent or superior is actually slow, expensive and imprecise.  There is an appearance of control with analysis in decision making, however, this assumes a world which is static and controllable.  In reality, we live in a world that moves fast and is complex.  This is more true today than in times past.  Thus, it is better to fail fast than to try and aim for perfection. The latter is an illusion.

If you are going to sell services, for example, you will learn much from getting your first customer.  Trying to win the customer and learning to position your offering will teach you much more than analyzing an entire market and looking at quantitative analysis of the data only to decide to move with a high risk investment or abandon it all together.

Your first customer will teach you much about how the market works or if there is a market.  It will also teach you about how to win your second customer and so forth.

If this sounds precarious or you might disagree, you may not be an entrepreneur.  My advice is to stay inside of an organization.  You won’t understand.  Or you will go through painful experiences.  The entrepreneur’s journey relies heavily on improvisation based on facts.  The goals and successes emerge iteratively through a process of failure and refinement.  It’s an exciting journey for sure.

What are your thoughts?  Feel free to comment below.

The Problem With Comfort

Comfort is a success killer.  If you observe people, their whole life is about pursuing comfort.  We like routines.  We like control.  It helps us in this chaotic world.  For many, it can be quite scary without anchors that buffer us from life’s harsh realities.

Comfort Zones Condition Us

The problem with comfort is that we are easily conditioned.  When crisis comes, our response should be one to step up and engage the challenges that confront us.  However, if we have been pampered and have not been growing, then any crisis, small or big, will leave us paralyzed.  Being out of the game means that a lot of conditioning has to happen to get back in the game.

A Poor Strategy

If the chief aim of your life is to hold on to comfort, then it’s a poor strategy.  Things are changing at an unprecedented pace.  It is easy to get left behind.  To keep pace and remain relevant and valuable, you must embrace change.  That is the comfort zone which is the best strategy.  Loving your job, organization, tools, relationships, writing, or everything else you cling to is temporal in nature.  Assume they will all change quickly.

The better strategy is to keep aware and make change for yourself the comfort zone.  As you see things changing, then you change.  That is the path to winning.  It also keeps you ready for the inevitable.

I try to maximize everything at my disposal, but I hold on to none of it.  My assumption is that things will change and so should I.  Within every useful thing, there is a concept, an idea or a building block for what is to come.  In that, I take comfort and ride the wave of continual change.

What comfort zones do you find yourself in?

Good Times And New Times

new markets, innovation, change managementThe illusion that our own success is independent of market timing is dangerous.  Your success may largely be due to good times today which may not continue later.  Markets have always come and gone.  Today, we don’t have people selling us telegraph equipment or horse buggies.  Innovation has obsolesced these products and services.

The pace has quickened as we undergo a massive correction in many market sectors.  From my vantage point consulting and advising businesses, I can see markets that are in good times and others that are transforming or deteriorating.  It’s exciting if you are able to recognize the opportunities and avoid being married to the illusion of lasting products and services.

What The Internet Has Done To Markets

The internet continues to drive change.  With our collective conscience pushing innovation further year over year, change has accelerated.  Search, cloud computing, e-commerce and many other opportunities have driven out inefficiencies.  Many businesses profited from inefficiencies.  It was profitable to have to find the right deal for a travel customer or set up an investment in the past.  Today, the tools for execution are ready and simple for the consumer to bypass the agent, broker, realtor, financial advisor, and salesperson.  The tools for production are now in the hands of everyone.

Distribution has also increased.  Amazon allows us to buy what we want anytime and anywhere.  The information system Amazon has developed eradicates the physical limitations of shelf space in stores.  The same is true for video, music, software, books and anything that is packaged digital content.  Today’s systems can even produce just-in-time printing, production and manufacturing.  This further eliminates costs associated with inventory controls and ultimately, risk.

Timing Your Market

Your market will change at some point.  It is because buyers change.  The key is to not get married to your products and services, but focus on the demand.  You may be getting compensated because of inefficiencies that are being removed every day.  If it is easier to get what you offer at a cheaper price or a different way, it is a good sign your market is commoditizing or shifting.  Someone will figure out how to deliver lower cost all the time.  It’s a losing game.

The demand part is what allows you to open new opportunities.  Thus, if you are in advertising, for example, your product may be magazine print advertising.  Magazines are getting smaller and circulations are decreasing.  The iPad and online consumption is killing this paper business.  Yet the demand for awareness will always be there.  It’s not about a full page ad.  It is about awareness.  Your definition of what business you are in allows continuity of your value offering.  In this case, defining yourself in the awareness business versus the print ad business will help you develop a mindset for navigating through inevitable change.  How you deliver awareness can continually change.  Online content, mobile apps and an array of other methods might be the next vine you grab to take advantage of the new opportunities anchored by your value proposition, not your product.

The Business You Are In

It is easy to get caught up in today rather than thinking of continual strategy to remain relevant.  Relevance is dependent on your ability to remain agile.  The world around us is changing all the time.  When it affects your market, you have an opportunity to move into new opportunities.  Your old offerings will likely decline as part of the cash cow cycle of your market, however, your value can be repackaged.  Define the business you are in with broader terms and think about the difference between the ends and the means.  Defining your business as being in the business of clarity can mean business blogging, mindmapping, speaking, consulting and many other avenues.  They are means for delivering the value.  Some methods are more relevant and profitable than others.  Your job is to not get stuck in your definition and be able to broaden your opportunities.

Good times may last for a while or come to an end soon.  They are typically replaced by new times.  Make them a new good time with strategic thinking about your value proposition and keeping it packaged with relevance.

Agility As Strategy

There is a misnomer based on old ways of doing business.  Before we start, we had to have everything accounted for and figured out.  We spent much time in planning.  Of course the work was 2-dimensional at one time and we could move linearly and deliberately through planning before execution.

In a connected world, there are too many factors continually changing.  Having a perfect understanding of how your business processes should run is made by discovery and implementation.  Thus, it is a poor strategy to custom code a system to enable business processes unless you have perfect requirements.  For changes take time and are costly.  You can easily paint yourself into a corner based on suppositions which change from many factors in your business.

Salesforce.com allows for iteration.  You can implement and tweak as you learn more about factors such as:

  • How your team adopts your system
  • What fields are unnecessary or create more friction than benefit
  • What the customer experience requires for success
  • What metrics are important

In the new economy, customizing with an agile system is the best strategy for managing change and speed.  The ability to change quickly rather than define perfectly allows you to flex on what you think may work, but needs to be tested.  Of the three types of systems:

  • A system which works one way for everyone
  • A system that is custom developed for your way
  • A system that can be changed continuously

You tend to outgrow Number 1.  Number 2 restricts you and takes lots of time and money.  Number 3 affords you greater opportunity for success in your business as you grow.

Want to learn how these strategies can work? Connect with me for Salesforce consulting to understand how.