Alignment as a $36M Running Value

The SaaS company WorkBoard announced it closed a Series B round for $23M to total out its fundraising to $36M to date. At this point with their revenues tripling year over year, they have market validation. With more complexity and faster growth, keeping the main thing the main thing is a core business challenge for many of today’s businesses. They are providing extreme value.

Even if you outline the steps and processes for your team, you don’t necessarily have alignment right away. That challenge of alignment is part of the continuous hard work of leadership. Having tools that align work with goals with strategic priorities is a giant help.

Business intelligence, Salesforce.com Dashboards, analytics and SOP’s are helpful tools to creating clarity on what needs to get done for team alignment. I think most managers have the responsibility to create clarity and then get alignment from their team members. It can be a grind. What’s in one person’s head as important may not necessarily be true for others on the team. That can create breakdowns or mediocre outputs.

Also, team members can be working on things that simply don’t matter or have much lower priorities.

Everyone I know that is growing their business has the problem of alignment and clarity. The problem is amplified by the speed of change and volume of information that clouds our thinking.

If you can be in the alignment business, which is largely the work today, it’s big money and opportunity. Knowing what to do, doing it well and doing it consistently with a team is often elusive.

We have plenty of knowledge, tools and connection. We need the leadership to make what we often know are important items work like a machine based on what we value as important.

Are you in the alignment business?

Reduce the Handoffs to Increase Efficiency

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Every handoff in your business is a failure point. When one person is handling information and moving execution to the next step, often you can get things done without many mistakes or delays.

When you have to hand off a lead, support call, requirements, or project task, it’s risk. What if the information is not correct? Is there nuance and clarity that have to be transferred?

Many projects need teams to deliver. But often, when we are growing businesses, we simply get fat and waste can build up. There are often unnecessary handoffs where it can be faster with less errors by cutting out steps, people or information.

With this season of downtime, what if you took inventory and got rid of handoffs that no longer make sense?

Look at when a customer starts their engagement with your company. How much work do they have to do before they get contacted? Can you automate the first touches?

Here are some other ideas to drive throughput by eliminating or reducing handoffs:

  1. Where does a request get bottlenecked? Consolidate the work with one person or automate the task using software.
  2. Set the expected response time for team tasks. Track this for 30 days. If you get a 3 day average response for something that should take 1 day, get the responsible parties involved and set up a new incentive to meet the customer expectation.
  3. Map out your steps. See if you can cut out steps that do not add value.
  4. For work that needs to be highly responsive, hire a support vendor or get a virtual assistant. It will force you to define what has to be done and you can manage accountability.
  5. Cut out any middlemen and replace it with direct service or engagement.

Handoffs usually develop because we hope to get some kind of efficiency, but we don’t revisit whether we have failure in speed or unnecessary mistakes. Take it back to simplicity, and care about your customer by removing the waste that simply happens because of unexamined workflow.

As the New Year is commencing, you can tighten your workflow up by looking at all those handoffs which create problems and bottlenecks.

Where are you finding handoff issues?

Don’t Get Fooled By Heroics

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Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

We humans tend to live by emotion more than logic. It’s why politicians, business leaders and religious authorities can sway the masses too often.

You may have heard that famous saying, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It’s an opportunity for heroics to come into play. And those affected by a crisis are vulnerable.

Never mind asking, “How did we get here in the first place?” or “Could we have avoided this crisis?”

It’s the blind spot we are prey to. We like heroics. Those that fix things can get praise without much scrutiny.

Maybe we accept that there are inefficiencies, waste and bubbles as part of the natural cycle of life. After all, we tend to accept mediocrity in people’s actions and work. It’s easier to overlook the fault of others because of compassion or to avoid the pain of dealing truthfully. We don’t want to appear as a bad person.

So, we get buildups of problems and crises and enjoy praising heroics. After all, who actually says, “Look what I prevented,” and gets praised for this? Better to say, “Look what I did.”

If you can see ahead, it can create internal conflicts. Do you take the job, money or relationship on because you have the opportunity to perform heroics when your incentive is to shine and be a savior after a crisis? Building robust and preventive strategies, processes and systems doesn’t pay off as well. It’s too abstract.

Security companies, IT managed services and insurance firms get paid for prevention and just-in-case. It’s an inverted emotional incentive because the threat is large and can be imagined readily.

It gets tricky trying to be preventive, wise and prudent in environments that reward heroics. You can show up envious coworkers or burn a lot of energy trying to get a decision maker to value what hasn’t impacted the immediate.

There are certainly no shortage of problems to solve and bring your value towards. How we package and ensure the value we bring is recognized is often determined by context, timing and mindsets.

I would rather avoid disasters than spend all my time and energy playing savior, regardless of the arguable misplaced perceptions others may have.

What do you do when you see something coming?

Making Ideas Work in Reality

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I have a lot of fun every day designing things to work in reality. Researching, pulling technology together and finding talent to execute is something I have done for many years, and it is still gratifying to watch a system, process and team work. I don’t know, perhaps it’s a form of art or some tangible way for me to see a return on my thinking. It’s total fun for me to make ideas work.

I’m grateful that I can live in the 21st century and the challenge is less about materials, tools and technology as it had been in times past. There’s not much of a barrier to entry to put an idea in play. Our fingertips and brains can find all kinds of web resources, mobile apps and specialized talent across the globe.

The hard part is getting clear on what the input and output needs to be. Some kind of problem exists to serve the customer. It’s why we do everything. Perhaps, their billing experience is lacking a certain touch. Or projects don’t have a precision in throughput, cost and delivery. Or team members seem to make choices and decisions apart from what’s truly important.

Getting to that crux of what the problem is and understanding what will drive an immense impact is a creative labor of love. Clear thinking is not common even though we are drowning in a sea of options and information. You still have to:

  1. Identify a root cause
  2. Think about solutions
  3. Leverage your efforts with the highest impact solutions
  4. Test your ideas quickly
  5. Pivot
  6. Nurture the solution

This is hard when there’s so much noise and emotion swirling everywhere. And not everyone’s been trained or thinks this way towards problem solving. Even more so, many think chaos is normal, or they might even profit from it.

When we have those opportunities to be problem solvers and make our ideas work, it takes a lot of effort to ensure it sticks. You may have to get embedded in a culture. Surely, you have to lead. That’s unavoidable.

You have to see the possibilities and the answers in your head clearly first. Then the work begins to make the physical world adapt to what you see.

Each and every time, you give yourself that gift of conviction. You force the change that needs to happen in the world.

The great thing is that there are so many problems out there. And with some initiative and forcefulness, you can germinate an idea and create art in problem solving.

Fooled by Heroics

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We do not tend to give compliments or recognition for, “Look what I prevented from happening.” It’s simply not how our brains work.

Yes, we have heard the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” However, who do you observe living this out consistently?

When crises happens, it’s an opportunity for heroes to shine. This is where heroes can extinguish the threat, problem or failure and get things on track again. It’s a time when such big spirits can shine.

But what if your business or life requires continuous heroics? Is that a good thing? Do you keep applauding when your problems finally get solved? Or do you have a downer?

I am not quite sure why people have neuroses. Some people really love drama. Others get off on the adrenaline of all hands on deck. Many in sales believe month’s end has to be extremely high energy.

Maybe life is too boring without drama. We like entertainment and movies because we can escape into some fantasy of plots, villains, world catastrophes, natural disasters and so many other problems that get solved in a couple hours. Maybe we all secretly want to be divas and actors saving the day.

We like the score to be close. It’s why we tune in at the last minute shot or crunch time in the bottom of the 9th. The pressure and the glory of winning is right there clear as can be.

Perhaps, our businesses become a platform to act out our repressed heroic desires. Who knows. I see it everyday, and I know people like heroics.

But, I’m not impressed. It’s easy to get fooled by heroics. And, don’t get me wrong, we can’t account for every scenario that can happen. However, if there’s a pattern happening, isn’t it worth subduing?

If you keep having missed deadlines for customers, do you simply ratchet up the effort? How is that building a business or culture?

Problem solving can be done far ahead of time, especially with repeatable events. You can ask simple questions:

How many times have I seen this issue play out?

What is the root cause of the problem?

Can I solve it? Do I know someone who can solve it?

Can I test my assumption in reality? What happens?

Heroics are simply not sustainable. It can do a lot for the ego and solicit attaboy’s, but it’s simply a cost at the expense of growth, scaling, and resource allocation. If you spend so much energy in crisis mode, how can you get to the good stuff such as imagining double the business or exploring exotic places or enjoying relationships fully?

Don’t get fooled by heroics. They feel great, but good businesses and people are on to better things.

Strategies to Hack Uncertainty

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Everything you know right now probably won’t be intact in a few years. There are too many changes and forces that are acting on your present version of reality. And the pace is only picking up.

Simply look at people’s LinkedIn and see how fast they are switching jobs. Or do your research on wages, productivity and market enterprise displacements. What was true a few years ago is changing so fast.

You may feel the effects, and the worst strategy is to simply sit and hope that it won’t affect you. It’s a losing strategy. Hope hardly works.

If you make a key decision in your life and business to tilt the odds in your favor, then there’s not necessarily any guarantees that uncertainty will harm you, but you do increase the probability that you can be positioned for opportunity and avoid downsides.

But you do have to make that decision to be strategic and intentional. Here are some strategies to hack your life and position yourself:

  • Minimize your downside. Take inventory of your overhead, costs and commitments. Examine what is essential and keep those in play. Eliminate everything else. Imagine the worst case scenarios playing out in your business and how you can maintain what is essential. We like to think about the upside so much that we forget that there is a downside. A little attention and care can get you prepared for uncertainty.
  • Open up boring, predictable cash flow. There are many avenues, likely within your own industries, where you can build cash flow models. Set it up, work hard to make the cash flow work and let it run. Passivity is a critical component to freeing up your attention. You may need insights and strategies to find what those flows may be, but it is well worth the work to open up cash flow. You want to get ahead of this before uncertainty overtakes you.
  • Make friends. This is a daily habit that needs to be part of your rituals far before any negative events enter your life. Making friends is about trading. You have to be a person of value that people enjoy engaging. Try to be helpful and always ask, “How can I help someone today?” That focuses your lens. Business is about relationships and trading. Also, don’t burn bridges. Life is short and also has a way of resurfacing old relationships.
  • Cannibalize your position. You may avoid trying something new because it affects your current position. However, you could be a sitting duck if you don’t continually innovate. That’s because someone out there is already competing with you. Better to compete with yourself. This may mean cannibalizing your current position, but you will be better set up to move to the next advancements by setting up a parallel path, a separate project that is designed to innovate. While one position may come down, you have another path that will rise up.
  • Choose the most options. The antidote to uncertainty is to make the choice with the most options. Exercising and retaining optionality allows you to go with what makes sense in the unfolding of uncertain events. Make the habit of always choosing optionality. It’s gold.

These are strategies that focus your efforts in anticipation of what is bound to come in this fast-changing world. Sit still and you become irrelevant in the midst of large market forces changing the game under your feet continually.

Assume What Worked Before is Not True Anymore

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It can be overwhelming and plain daunting when you look at the speed of how media, attention and content work. The same is true for sales, entrepreneurship and business building.

You have the problem of exponential change around you and our brains don’t lean this way naturally. We like to think progress is slow, not astronomical.

The change is happening so quickly because we have network effects at work. If you put a platform like Uber in play, you may have a few customers and a few drivers. But when the model gets popular and accelerates, you have millions of transactions because of habit, ease of access, increase in inventory/supply and growing demand.

Anyone and everyone can become an Uber customer.

The same goes for media. You can start posting Tweets and work hard it. You are just competing against many more people than in 2010. The rules change because there are simply way more people and not an increase in attention.

You can send more emails, however, you are one in about 200 per day in everyone’s inbox.

You can call more people, but everyone has caller ID and the ability to block you.

You can go to more trade shows, but its a worn-out channel with most people walking away with no deals – vendors and visitors both.

We have too much of everything. It’s easy for anyone to start a channel or be their own media company. People are too busy to give you attention.

Yet, you may keep looking for an old tactic to work because it worked a couple years ago. Can you step back and appreciate that everyone else caught on? It’s crowded and you enjoyed a window, not a permanence, of opportunity.

Your sales strategy is not a one and done. That’s because you are competing against the world. Everyone can connect for cheap or free. It’s not hard.

The hard part is becoming relevant. And that’s best done by becoming a signal within the noise.

You may have to analyze or continually reinvent. The market is churning constantly and there’s not much choice. The one thing that is for sure is that what you find working for now will likely dry up as every0ne else catches on.

Want a new strategy? What’s not working that used to?

Uncertainty

We are certainly in uncertain times. I enjoyed Mauldin’s recent essay, “Who Took My Easy Button?” He shares some insightful information on the difficult and unyielding choices we face as a nation that have already played out in other countries like Greece and likely Italy.

Another great capture can be found in Hugh MacLeod’s cartoon and post, The Era of Prosperity-on-Autopilot is over. The people that feel threatened are the ones on the middle. The rule followers, managers and good girls and boys are finding dry wells in their pursuits.

If you are talented and know what you are doing, these are exciting times. Uncertainty leads to remarkable opportunities. If you know how to do a good job someone else tells you, well, it’s going to be a hard time. You are looking for certainty and the world is not going to that place of predictability and comfort any time soon. Old paradigms and structures are changing continually. We don’t do things like we did five years ago, much less a year ago.

Creating Opportunity

If you want to become irrelevant, simply stay still. The world around you will help you quickly towards this end. If you want to find opportunity and grow in the midst of uncertainty, here a few ways to make it happen:

  • Dream. Now is the time to imagine how things could be better. Envision what is possible. Your dreams pull you.
  • Move. You cannot discover by standing still and overanalyzing. Try things. Fail forward. Be bold. Iteration is a great strategy for tuning into possibilities.
  • Aim. When you find things don’t work, repoint. Change where you are pointing. Keep aiming and re-aiming to find the target.
  • Embrace. When you find things that work, incorporate them into your life and work. Build around it. Create a foundation and build. This may mean letting go of something old.

The goal is not to create certainty. It is to be comfortable in the uncertainty of reality. The alternative is to live in denial and fear. That is not living. It’s hiding.

The world is looking for new answers. Perhaps your uncertainty will catalyze you to new opportunities.

What do you think?

Finding The Use Case

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Photo from P^2 - Paul's Flickr

The shear volume of options available to us today is daunting. It’s hard to imagine new products and services finding validity in many cases. On the other hand, inventors can get excited and focus too much on their breakthrough technology without figuring out how to monetize it.

Ultimately, great technologies, systems and innovations have to find a specific use case. They have to serve a specific purpose and find appeal with either a mass or niche audience. Many of the things we use have become valuable based on our use cases – how we use the technology to get things done or get pleasure. This goes for Twitter, iPhones and solar panels. They need to find a market which uses the technology in a specific, adapted way.

Finding the use case is the hard work entrepreneurs do. It legitimizes ideas and pushes them into reality.  It’s a process of iteration and paying attention. Here are some ways to helping what you perceive as wonderful become likewise for a broader audience:

  • Underdesign. Don’t overengineer or overdesign. Use prototypes to test an idea. The temptation to make something perfect before putting it in front of users, customers or beta groups can cost you in waste. If the idea doesn’t connect, then the work is lost. Furthermore, you want to see what the reaction is to the core, not the embroidery.
  • Take small risks. Pick audiences that can provide fair feedback and react without your guidance or input. It is more risk, but you get candor.
  • Observe, observe, observe. Watch what people do. If they tend to gravitate towards a feature of functionality in a way you did not envision, then see if it happens with others. It may show you that your form factor lends itself to a completely different use case or path than you envisioned. Note the observations. It can open up new opportunities.
  • Fail quickly. As you get feedback, then change quickly. Build, test, change, retest. Each iteration should help you get to the niche use case you are seeking. It’s hard to guess. It’s better to navigate the nuance and keep tweaking to reality.

There are your ideas. Then there is reality. The ability to iterate is easier today than ever with digital assets, access to audiences and the shear knowledge from others’ failures. Keep your mind open and watch how markets tell you what they want and will do with what you can offer.

Is there a use case you can imagine for what you do? What is it?

4 Salesforce Alignment Review Tips

As the year ends, it is a natural time to review how your mission-critical business systems are working to enable your processes.Salesforce.com typically runs crucial business processes for you and as your team is focused on end of year metrics such as closing business, driving leads or increasing customer loyalty, you can review your system and further refine it for management effectiveness. Here are a few things you might want to consider to help align your team for increased success:

  1. Dashboards and reports. Looking over the past year, eliminate reports and dashboards that are no longer relevant. Ask yourself what metrics have come to matter and customize your system to produce these metrics in real-time. Set your dashboards to capture what you have found to matter. What gets measured gets done, so measure correctly with your increased experience and knowledge.
  2. User performance. Recognize the users that have used your Salesforce.com system the way you envisioned. Completed tasks, closed Opportunities and Lead nurturing are examples of ideal behaviors in Salesforce.com. Present an award and communicate the reasons for your recognition. Your team will come to understand what you value and why. Get concrete to help reinforce what you have been looking for.
  3. Pipeline management. Review the current Opportunities in your pipeline as well as how the data and relationships are captured. Assign tasks to each Opportunity owner to clean up the records or leave comments in Salesforce Chatter to recognize great behavior. Get your pipeline in order to start the next sales cycle with accurate projections and create a review process to ensure your pipeline continues to be true.
  4. Marketing Automation. Focus on building a complete lead record with their digital activities captured in your Lead records in addition to your sales team’s tactical engagement. This will transition your organization to understand how buying is done via the buyer’s process in addition to your sales process. Marketing automation adds far more activity history and open tasks which drives automation in the selling process. It pushes your organization into a modern process for engaging buyers.

The beauty of Salesforce.com is that it is a continual journey of refinement. There is not perfect data. There is continual improvement upon process, culture and data capture. Use the natural business cycles available to you to ensure your system continues to get more robust, drive user adoption and is relevant for management of your business.

These are Salesforce strategies I work with organizations on.

How can these points help you increase Salesforce success?