Change and Change Agents

Be the Change Agent.

As a small business owner you hear about it over and over again. You know the litany of promises: change is easy if you buy this snake oil, you better change or you’ll become extinct, hire this company or that – they are change experts.

You’ve learned over and over again from snake-oil sellers, there’s no magic wand that can make things happen. You know, that things happen through effort, focus, flexibility, and more effort. You live it every day.

Regardless of what you’re told, change is hard. Technological change can be even harder.

Change – what is it?

“Change” in this post means information technology change and business process changes needed for your business. Some of your competitors may have already made significant changes as they adopt new technologies and processes.

One thing is for sure, your customers, especially the younger ones, are already used to change and changing. They anticipate features, services, and data to be available online. Regardless of your business – change is coming. Regardless of what your business — is information technology will bring change to your business.

These changes will often bring new tools. New applications. New solutions. New laws and regulations often require broad changes in your business process. All of these new tools/methods need to be brought into your organization, incorporated into your approach to business, and integrated into your business work-flows.

Change comes in many forms.

Change can take many forms such as: touchless cash payments via phone, cloud based applications, marketing and response inputs from many sources, compliance data protection and privacy requirements, increasing requests for data insights from suppliers and providers, shortened order/fulfillment cycles and expectations, increasing customer expectations for customization and personalization, etc.

Prepare for it. Just because you know change is coming – doesn’t mean you can just wave your hand and adapt to it.

You are the Change Agent

But how can you prepare to change? You need Change Agents. You need to be the main Change Agent.

A Change Agent is a catalyst that ignites change in organizations. As a leader of your organization you and your leadership team need to lead change. It takes energy, focus, persuasion, and patience to bring about change. Sometimes you need to overcome obstacles.

Resistance to Change is Real

Resistance to Change is the ability of your organization to accept and integrate change. It’s a fancy term for the “adaptability” of your organization. In some organizations resistance to change is low. These organizations are able to adapt quickly to new conditions, they are able to adopt new processes and technologies quickly. Other organizations have a high resistance to change they don’t adapt well to new conditions, they don’t adopt new technologies quickly, they tend to fear change. .

Often, resistance to change is born out of bad experiences with technology and technical changes. This is likely due to “snake oil” promises about one tool or solution. Or it is due to the wishful thinking of leaders that a tool or solution would be a “silver bullet” to solve all an organization’s needs.

You can’t wish it away. You can’t order it away. You have to face resistance to change and deal with it.

As a small business owner – you have an advantage over larger organizations.  Though your budgets are smaller, your business’s ability to adapt and change is greater. But only if you choose to use that advantage.   YOU – as the key Change Agent are the key.

Lead By Example

Don’t rely on diktat to force change from the top down – that won’t get you there. You need to rely on leadership by example.  Your job is to be sure you show them how to use the new tools or process, that you’re open to feedback about them, and that changing the change is possible.

Short List

As a Change Agent you need to remember:

  • No one change will solve all issues facing your organization.
  • No one tool will fix all problems or issues.
  • Change is not snake oil, don’t sell it like it is.
  • Change is ongoing and a way of life.
  • Like doing toe touches, the more you pursue change, the easier change becomes. Your organization can adapt and learn flexibility.
  • Change is easier if everyone involved in the change, agree on the need to change. Be sure everyone understands the value and payoff from changing. Focus on the upside of change.
  • Change is less scary if everyone knows that during the course of implementation change can be changed.
  • Change will only take hold if Change Agents act with and on the change, champion the change. Lead by example.
  • Plan on and measure the success of change, then celebrate successes, learn from mistakes.

 

Photo by Yousef Al Nasser on Unsplash

Sales Rep Turnover Impacts Customers

Sales rep turnover impacts customers in ways that vendor organizations may not always consider.  When organizations change reps frequently it really chews into the business relationship between the organizations – precisely because these relationships are based on relationships between people.

In this post, I’d like to focus on inside sales reps – since most places don’t have field sales reps unless they are independent agents.

We all understand that reps move on from company to company to seek new opportunities.  We also all understand that small businesses or low volume businesses don’t get as much sales support as large “enterprise customers.”

Sales Rep Turnover Impact Customer Perceptions

Vendor companies should not underestimate the positive impact a dedicated inside sales rep can have on the quality of a business relationship.

From a customer’s standpoint, especially a customer that is regularly ordering items from a vendor, changing the inside sales rep can be tumultuous and chip away at an otherwise solid provider-customer relationship.

Why?  Simply, the longer one works with an inside sales rep, the more orders quoted and processed, the stronger the provider-customer relationship gets. Considering the learning about one another’s organizations that happens through the sales relationship and considering the understanding of each businesses’ processes that grows, changing sales reps usually tears away that understanding of one another’s business context.

Going out on a limb here, but most customers would rather work with a stable inside sales rep who understands their constraints, their purchase process, and has an idea of their business cycle, than work with an inside sales rep who gets changed out every couple of months, or where there’s no single sales rep assigned.

Value of Long Term Inside Sales Reps

Here’s an example: we have a vendor who we have been working with for about 10 years. We frequently order IT related items from them. They even manage some of our service licenses.  We aren’t a reseller of theirs – their inside sales rep always just made it easy to work with them, and grew to learn our business. This vendor is our first stop for all quotes – even those for our clients. 

About 4 months ago, the one rep we had for 9 years deservedly got a significant promotion.  Part of the promotion was that we fell out of the tier he was now working on and, despite his efforts, we got passed on to a new sales rep.

Okay – that’s great. We haven’t had a change in so long – we were asking for a change. So we invested time in working with this new rep. Reviewing our order processes, getting to know his strengths, allowing him to see ours. We thought great – we probably have a year with this new guy. Wrong – the new guy got a promotion and needs to turn over our account to someone else.  We’ll probably go even lower down the sales food chain.

That’s what is frustrating with rep turnover – having to start over and teach the new person all about our business, how we operate etc.  When reps change frequently and if you have many vendors – you’ll quickly be having a string of irritating, repetitive, “get to know your business” phone calls.

Plea to Vendors

So – vendors – please come up with a solid strategy for changing reps that focuses on the customer.  It’s not just about “get to know you” phone calls.  You should be using your CRM, you should, especially if there’s a promotion not a separation, ensure that the promoted rep has sufficient time to brief and “on-board” the new rep with the clients assigned to them.

Reading account and contact history is important before the FIRST call is placed to the customer.  So – I know how terrible it sounds, especially for sales people – be sure to collect and keep current notes on your customers. The more you know about your customers – the more you can call them with appropriate incentives, new products, and deals.  The more you know about your customers the better you’ll be able to work out issues and problems that arise… Things like delivery issues, inventory issues, quoting and or billing errors, etc.

From our perspective, when reps turn over frequently, it discourages us from having anything more than a transactional relationship with the vendor.  

What can vendors do?

How can vendors lessen the pain of rep turnover to their customers and still encourage a deeper than transactional relationship?  Here are just a few ideas:

  • New Rep Meeting – provide a discount on next order, send useful freebies like Chromebooks, etc. All as a gesture to make up for the time spent in another “get acquainted” video conference or telephone call. Show that you understand the pain of starting over – but that it’s important to YOU that we have more than a transactional business relationship.
  • Required Reading – Before the first call or email is sent by the new rep, be 100% positive that they have visited the company website, read through the last year or so of CRM notes about purchasers at the customer’s company, get familiar with pay cycles, payments, types and quantities of things ordered, get a sense of when in the course of the year items are ordered, read up on the customer’s budgeting process – at least what you know.  Then when the call happens – ask the customer incisive questions that show even though the rep is NEW, they are already familiar with important aspects of the relationship.

While everyone is interested in growth and raising expertise and levels, changing inside sales reps can damage existing long term business relationships based on the familiarity between inside rep and customer. Stability has a significant value, changing it can damage that same relationship.  

Think and Plan Transitions

Thinking about, planning and implementing a smooth transition of reps is the best way to alleviate customer fear and mitigate risk to existing business relationships.

Honor and Culture Code

Everyone pointing in the same direction!

Last Wednesday – I ran into a progressive company in the least likely of businesses: metal stamping.

I attended a FaceBook live at the  the Roost, a local coworking center.  Two guests visited and shared information about their businesses and endeavors. (more below)

PTM Corporation’s Code of Honor

One of the guests was Donna Russell-Kuhr, CEO of PTM Corporation in Fair Haven, Michigan.  Donna shared how her organization hired a facilitator 4 years ago to help them develop and focus on a 5 year plan.  The truly intriguing part of this process was when Donna shared how the entire company came together to develop a “Mission Statement” and “Code of Honor”.

I know, I hear you yawning already. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you start getting a bit jaded about the “Mission / Vision” thing.  Not so fast! This is different. The process wasn’t top down, but bottom up.

Donna spoke with conviction, pride and clarity about the results of the process.  As she explained the inclusive, transparent and focused way they created these – one thing came through to me:  the process may have been more powerful than the results. Like an Alloyed Team, the process of self-evaluation and organizational introspection seems to have been a crucible experience of a kind.

I was struck by how proud of her entire team she seemed.  The PTM team actively contributed over many months to the process of defining what culture they want to build, develop, maintain and thrive within.

It was an “operating system” of core principles for their organization.  Not just another list of aspirations tacked to a wall somewhere. 

While you can watch it on the Facebook live recording, her in-person explanation carried real power. I felt the passion, pride and affection she has for her team and the hard-work they went through to come up with this.

Operating Guide and Decision Algorithm

Like a decision algorithm, I understood that the entire company uses this Code to make decisions and self-regulate how they operate each day.

This is the kind of spirit around culture that teams and organizations should work to create. If you take a look at their Code you’ll see how clear and easy it is to understand.

We should all strive to have a handful of clear, easy to understand, non-business jargon laden, core principles around which we can empower our teams.  Decisions suddenly stop becoming about ego and power, but about doing the right thing according to the vision and the operating principles. The decision algorithm.

Core principles defining “who we are” and that are created by all team members, can be a hugely powerful ethos around which to empower employees, focus activities, and encourage engagement.

Our Culture Code?

So where are Campbell Tech Solutions’ core principles?  Hm, we have them. Or at least I like to think that we do. But we haven’t documented them. We should.

We have our tagline that serves as an initial core principle – “services, not stuff”.  It conveys a focus on getting stuff done for clients, not selling systems, online services, etc.  But – we certainly should do more in this area. A tech company should develop a Culture Code so that new employees, clients, and all team members understand our guiding principles.  

A short, clear, and meaningful set of guiding principles or Culture Code becomes an algorithm. Each team member uses it to make decisions, keeps their daily operations within these principles, and  encourages one another to do so.

Sources

Donna Russell-Kuhr, CEO, PTM Corporation – http://www.crainsdetroit.com/awards/notable-women-manufacturing/3489567/Donna-Russell-Kuhr

PTMs Mission and Code of Honor – http://www.ptmcorporation.com/about-us/mission-statement/

4 Impediments to Nurturing A Feedback-Rich Culture –  Joanna Vahlsinghttps://www.techwell.com/techwell-insights/2018/05/4-impediments-nurturing-feedback-rich-culture

4 Inflection Points of Company Culture – Brian Halliganhttps://thinkgrowth.org/the-4-inflection-points-of-company-culture-bc801aa57cbb

The HubSpot Culture Code – https://www.slideshare.net/HubSpot/the-hubspot-culture-code-creating-a-company-we-love

Hubspot – 7 Operating Principles Slide – https://www.slideshare.net/HubSpot/the-hubspot-culture-code-creating-a-company-we-love/17-THE_CULTURE_CODE1_We_commit – The explanations are worth a read as well.

Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on Unsplash

 

 

Office Space: lessons and observations from coworking

All I've learned about space, I've learned from coworking.

What I’ve learned about office layout and space, I learned from Coworking.

I’ve been working remote part of the week for more than 10 years now. During that time I’ve worked in many different places – home, cafes, rented office space, and coworking centers. 

In light of all the discussion about office space and layout, I thought I’d toss in my 2 cents. In preparation for this post, I caught up with some more recent articles about office space layout.  Some of them are listed in the sources section below just in case you want to explore this topic further on your own. 

Thinking about what I’ve read and my first-hand experiences, I’d like to share some personal observations about what works and what doesn’t. 

Coworking centers that have regular clientele, quickly start to seem like a very informal, non-political, support oriented Alloyed Teams. I believe many times when companies reorganize space they are trying to achieve that same supportive, collaborative, dynamic environment. Office layout can help.

 

First the big questions:

  1. Why are you doing this?  Out of room? Want to get people to interact more naturally? Breaking down cube walls that define fiefdoms? Getting people out of offices? Want to set the stage to change culture?
  2. Who will this impact?  Who in the company will use the new office layout?
  3. Do you know what people do and how they do it?  What are their communication needs? What are their working needs?
  4. Be Honest:  what is your corporate culture – Is your culture ready or just about ready for a change like this? How will you encourage conversion to the new layout? Are you ready for an more modern office layout? Are you willing to change your behaviors and lead by example.  

Quick Disclaimer:

The coworking centers I’ve worked in have been startup focused. Often I am one or two of the only “corporate” remote workers in the place – all the others were building startups or were free-lancers.  The cultures  were high energy, positive, supportive, relaxed, and networking oriented.  The lessons I’ve learned in those situations might have limited value to “corporate” office design – but since many organizations seem to want to capture the startup culture there might be some value. 

Lessons Learned & Observations

Here are just a few things that I’ve learned:

  1. CASTERS – put everything on CASTERS so that your space and be quickly and easily moved around.
  2. Wiring – While wireless may work in many instances, I still prefer a wired location connected to a properly configured LAN. That way I get the best video/audio quality when using chat, video, etc.
  3. Avoid System Furniture – Avoid expensive system furniture. Look to furniture auctions, closing hotels, restaurants, businesses. One cool tactic I observed was getting a unique furniture or art piece and then building a room around it – e.g. a conference room built around a bargain find of a 70’s kitchen table.  Get eclectic. Conformity and sameness do little to stimulate creativity and thought.
  4. Personal Dedicated Space – we all like to have a little space to call our own. A space to personalize to some extent.  This helps us feel comfortable, connected, and somehow belonging . The primary location should be in an area that makes sense for the role/team. If you have people who are in the office more than one or two days a week think about allowing them to have a permanent camp somewhere in the office  — if that works for them. 
  5. Mixing Space(s) – Having a community space, a watering hole,  matters  — and is important.  Use a long table and diner booths so that when folks feel social they can work at a LONG table, if they want to work where there’s background noise or have a semi-private conversation they can use a diner booth. Ideally this would be somewhere by the main entrance to that people can SEE into the space and see who is arriving – all with the idea of engaging in conversation, greetings, and the “Hey, Fred, got a sec we need to ask you something….” moments.
  6. Private Communication Spaces – Setup a couple of places that are small like a phone booth where someone can go, setup a computer, or have a phone call in total privacy. This is an important feature –  a well designed space will also be like a studio and could be suitable for recording podcasts, having video conferences, or practicing presentations. One doesn’t need many of these,  but a couple makes sense.
  7. Conference Rooms / War Rooms – You need to have a few rooms that can support 4 or 5 people around a work table, with a white board, that folks can just POP into to have a conference, problem solve, or even make a quick phone call that won’t disturb others. No scheduling.  An over supply of these isn’t a bad thing since they’ll get used frequently, even if just for quiet work. 
  8. Formal Conference Rooms – You probably need one or more of these depending on the number of people and this type of activity you have. These get setup for the more formal meetings and client/prospect visits. These rooms should support 10+ and get equipped with all the fancy conference room stuff. Conference rooms can expensive – but spend a little more and THEME each room so that employees can evolve and develop their own names for the rooms.
  9. Quiet Zones –  setup zones or spaces that are designed and intended for quiet work and focus, talking, phone calls, video conferences  are prohibited in this area or on these workstations. You can use affordable cork-board, screens, some blinds, plants, or other little improvements to isolate the space(s). They should be setup so that someone who goes to the space to do focused work can rely on not being disturbed.
  10. Work Areas – This is where knowing what people do and what they really need matters.  The general or primary work area for people may be best organized by team or function. Try to avoid creation of fiefdoms marked by barriers. Keep it all function and mission oriented. 
  11. Paper Storage and Files – depending on the files these could be stored at someone’s main work area. How much file space people need can be high variable. Try to define it. AND don’t confuse SHARED team/function files with individual papers.
  12. TEAM / PROJECT Rooms – Rather than individual private offices, think about setting up rooms for Teams or Projects of a certain size or business volume. A project room would house the team’s files, offer a table for group work or meetings, and each team should be given latitude to decorate, configure and put a personality stamp on their project room. Generally these should have a white-board and space for at least 4.
  13. Culture – Build a very loose initial set of rules. The community should be encouraged to create and define it’s own culture. Minimize the formality, maximize evolution of culture through your leaders (formal and informal) who work within that space.

Changing your office space and layout can help encourage cultural change, but should only be considered after you learn more about what people are looking for. Think through and talk through the personal interactions needed to accomplish certain tasks, take a sober look at the political mix of your environment and how it functions, and decide early on – is space and how it is allocated a status of office or needs based?

Personally, I think once you start changing your approach to space by focusing on functional needs rather than one focused on status, you will be well on your way to a space/culture overhaul.  Once you’ve turned that corner – go find out and collect information about what people do and need – in their own words.   If your culture is still “old school” corporate where the corner office is allocated based on rank – perhaps look to changing that first before investing in space changes.


Sources

How to Make Sure People Won’t Hate Your New Open Office Plan – 2018 – https://hbr.org/2018/01/sgc-research-when-moving-to-an-open-office-plan-pay-attention-to-how-your-employees-feel

7 Factors of Great Office Design – 2018 – https://hbr.org/2016/05/7-factors-of-great-office-design

Balancing “We” and “Me”: The Best Collaborative Spaces Also Support Solitude – 2014 – https://hbr.org/2014/10/balancing-we-and-me-the-best-collaborative-spaces-also-support-solitude

How To Leverage Activity-Based Workspaces In Your Office Design – 2017 – https://www.teem.com/blog/how-to-leverage-activity-based-workspaces-in-your-office-design/

15 Creative Office Layout Ideas to Match Your Company’s Culture – 2018 –  https://www.snacknation.com/blog/office-layout-ideas/

 

Photo by Klemen Vrankar on Unsplash

 

 

Alloyed Teams

many different colors and characteristics can bind to build a stronger whole
Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash

Alloyed Teams

The dictionary defines an alloy as a metal created from a mix of different metallic elements to become stronger, more flexible, or more resistant to corrosion. Alloyed teams have many of these same properties.

An alloy made from more than one type of material.  Together they combine, improving performance of the metal in one or more dimensions. Diverse teams too form the raw materials for making strong, alloyed teams.  Alloyed teams are critical to building strong, resilient organizations.

Alloy is made from multiple materials collected together in different proportions.  Adding energy or some other kind of catalyst, the materials interact, mix, and bind with one another in new ways, to form new connections and new capabilities. Teams can be like this.

Like a catalyst, a crucible event, as used by the USMC to cap basic training, can be the energy that helps forge new connections, new discoveries, and a sense that all team members are critical elements in the formula defining the Team.

In corporations we need to help teams of individuals find ways to: work better together as team,  think like a team, and work toward objectives as a team. These days, thanks to the speed of business and the varied business context we all work in, alloyed teams are more critical than ever. The problems and obstacles teams need to solve or overcome are increasingly complex. 

An alloyed team is characterized by internal trust, deference to internal experts, and high levels of meaningful communication. They are a force multiplier in an environment of business uncertainty and continuous change.

Alloyed teams allow an organization to meet new challenges by drawing on a large pool of diverse approaches and varied perspectives on solutions. In operation, these teams provide broad-based inputs to spark creativity, and situational talent to draw on for leadership in different circumstances.  

Adapting mindsets, leadership styles, reorienting management processes, and evolving company cultures is a daunting task. It starts with setting a stage for alloying teams, allowing for dynamism, leading by example, and supporting performance crucibles to encourage the alloying process.

People are the start. Leaders must lead by example to sustain spirit and provide steady focus. And, organizations must create and sustain an environment that supports communication, free thought, and dedicated action.

Why Hiring Veterans can be a Smart Idea

Hiring military vets usually has benefits above and beyond merely supporting those who served, gave and sacrificed. 

I was recently reminded of this by our team’s performance on a recent client project.

A recently signed client wanted to migrate their email services and their email from one provider to another.

I asked, Jeff Warsinski, one of our newer team members to take the lead on this project.  Jeff had served in the US Air Force for a number of years and had been on a number of deployments.  He took the lead and made hay.

The migration went off without a hitch. All the various moving parts worked together. The timing of the team’s actions all happened at the right time. The email moved to the new accounts quickly and accurately. Email delivery didn’t miss a beat and the follow on support to ensure all devices, phones, tablets, etc. were properly configured and working correctly.

How did his military experience play into this success?  Let’s put it this way: he and I established and agreed on the objective,  I made him the project lead, empowered him to make it happen, and gave him access to all the resources he might need to achieve the objectives.  Then — I got out of the way. I flew cover for him – if he needed it, he’d call me in. I stood back and let his objective oriented military training take over.  He coordinated and worked with the team in a collaborative way and orchestrated a successful migration.

This vet was a trained and schooled non-commissioned officer (NCO). Do you know how much money the military invests in helping qualified soldiers become mission oriented leaders?  I don’t know the exact number – but it’s a fortune compared to what civilian companies spend on leadership training.

With vets you generally don’t have to worry about their sense of responsibility, accountability, and willingness to execute objective oriented directions.    Veterans too know all about the need to document, record, share information, and be concerned for team objectives.

I’ve hired a number of vets over the years. They’ve all been outstanding performers, focused, collaborative and mission oriented. 

If you stack up all the things that vets learn while they serve, when you add up all of the team training and field experience that vets accumulate, and when you take a second look at hiring vets – you may find that hiring vets, especially NCOs, is a bargain.  You will usually get a self-motivated, disciplined, mission oriented, team player right away. Just because a vet may or may not have experience with the exact technology or system you need to hire for, you may find that the “soft” benefits of hiring a veteran, outweigh any technical training or spin up time you need to provide them.

Hiring new employees is often a crap shoot.  Improve your probabilities, take a second look at vets who apply.

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

Our Little Guide To Software as a Service Shopping

Regardless of your need: Contact Management, Email, CRM, Project Management, Collaboration — There are considerations to include and use as guard rails to help guide you through what can be a harrowing process.  Here are things we consider and work hard to keep in mind – despite the enticing marketing of some services.

Escape Hatch

Online services are notorious for not having easy EXIT strategies. They’ll make migration into their service easy. They might even offer data import and data migration tools to move your data from one service to another.  When you start looking — ask about exits from the service. If you have a chance, TEST any data export, migration tools.  In the past I’ve often asked vendors about exit tools and have gotten responses that basically say – Oh, don’t worry, you’ll never want to leave us once you start using our tools. What?

When I look at a service, even if they have an flexible, web oriented API, if they also offer tools and data export processes, and if they have discussed it or even have a white paper – their profile goes up from my perspective.  That’s probably a vendor who really cares about the customer. They are more likely to be focused on developing and enhancing their product rather than one that is interested only in acquiring more customers.  The willingness to talk about exits from a relationship before it starts are a good sign that the provider understands the issues you as a business owner or IT manager face.

RESTFul API / Web Service

An API that is web addressable using GET/POST and other methods is going to offer you the most flexibility to integrate your data between different services. If two services support RESTful API,  you do have the chance to either create your own integration or use other broker services to integrate the data between your systems. Suddenly your CRM  can talk to your ORDER fulfillment service.

The thing to remember is that not all service interfaces are created equal. Some are superficial, allowing limited read only access to your data, while others are more mature – providing the ability to read and write data into and out of your chosen services.   Program interfaces are complicated creatures – you likely won’t be able to judge it from a technical basis. BUT – you can judge it some other ways:

  • When did they first publish their API?
  • Is full documentation for the API available? (check it)
  • Do they have a number of built-in integrations already that you can use without programming?
  • Do they have integrations for services like Zapier already in place?
  • How many people in their organization maintain and manage the program interface?
  • When was the last release/update of their interface?

Pricing Availability

When shopping for services, one of the things I consistently look for is availability of pricing on vendor websites.  Are they upfront with pricing structures? Does the provider make these available? When pricing for a software as a service isn’t readily available on a website – I get suspicious. You should be too.  Can you afford it as a startup — if you need to call or email to get pricing information? When there is no pricing information I start jumping to conclusions – do they have two tiers of pricing – small business and enterprise?  Can I afford this service?

When a service provides pricing – I’m assured that I know what the likely cost for the service will be were I to adapt it.  So knowing the potential cost – I can spend some time checking it out. The the price doesn’t necessarily scare me away.  If the listed price is too dear compared to the problem I’m trying to fix – I can not waste time on the service. 

Drawing on the new car analogy, if you have only so many hours in the day to find a car, and you are on a limited budget, does it make sense to test drive a car you can’t possibly afford or want to pay for? No. Getting an idea of pricing is a key step to take on the road to selecting and checking out software services.

Discovery

This is an area that experts will tell you about again and again.  Know your requirements. I totally agree, EXCEPT…  Too many times I’ve seen organizations think they know what they need. They don’t. They are a shopping based on what they think they want disguised as what they need.  That “want” is usually driven not by experience but by some wish for a feature, search for a silver bullet, or aspiration to do things a certain way without taking into consideration the way things are now. 

Discovery is a process. It’s not a study or one time analysis. It’s an ongoing process. Needs are most often uncovered and validated through experience.  While you think you can predict what features you will need most from your service, you’ll likely find that these aren’t necessarily that vital once you start using the service.  As you use a tool you’ll continue to find new uses for it, better understand your needs, or find that the service is not what you really needed at all.

Don’t be hard on yourself. It happens all the time. It happens to all of us over and over again.

Once you’ve selected a service, don’t be surprised if what looked like a great fit, turns out not to be one in the end.  Using services is a learning process – that’s why “escape hatches” are vital.

Look at it this way – each time you use the service you learn more about what you need vs. what you don’t. That’s golden.

Core Requirements and Strategic Value

Understand the main reason you are looking for a service.  What problem are you trying to address? Pick a problem and figure out how to solve it. Don’t look for the “silver bullet” to address all your needs. It’ll cost you a fortune, be difficult to implement, and disappoint you in the end.

Keep your vision in mind, but select services one at time and chase services that add strategic value to the direction of the business.  

The first system most people will look to is some form of CRM.  Tracking, recording, and providing history for customers and prospects. But CRM is a very broad topic. You should spent some time thinking about what and why do you need a CRM? What is your primary customer contact mechanism? Can you find a CRM that integrates well with whatever system you are going to use for contacting customers – email, phone, in person, walk in?

Focus on your core CRM need and do that well – the rest will fall into place!

 

(Back to Topic Page)

 

 

Analysis Paralysis

 

You know it when you see it — usually in others. It is the opposite of unbridled enthusiasm.   Unbridled enthusiasm for an unproven service often leads to frustration, lost time, lost investment and mis-direction.  Analysis Paralysis,  caused by over analyzing and looking for the “perfect” fitting solution leads to inaction, lost time, inefficiency, and missed opportunities.

At some point, in your search for a solution, you need to pull the trigger.

You might think – if I trial just one more service. If I ask just one more question.  I’ll find the perfect solution. I’ll be 100% sure. No you won’t.

FACT: You won’t ever be completely sure of your choice until you start using it in a live production setting.  You can’t know 100% ahead of time.  Never.

You’ll need to do your best in looking and assessing your choices vs. your need. Eventually you’ll need to dive in, jump, make a decision.

If you’ve spent 2 months testing various packages you selected based on features, I’d say you are quickly running out of time. While you’ve stewed, analyzed, and tested – your organization and the software you’ve been looking at have continued to evolve.  Things never stall and wait for you to make up your mind.

Don’t sit and analyze so long that you don’t move.  Make a decision based on what you know and what you’ve experienced. It might be the wrong one – so what. You will have moved on ahead. (See the list of things to look for – if you make the jump and then find out it is the wrong choice – don’t be afraid to change. Stop pulling your hair out and just decide and act.

It’s the concept of Expected Value of Perfect Information. At some point the added benefit of better information to make your decision is exceeded by the cost (opportunity cost too) of getting that information.  For instance, if you are 80% sure about one service after two months, and you think that another month of testing would bring 90% certainty……

  • how much time would the check take?
  • how much would continuing to do stuff the old way cost you compared to the new way?
  • can you afford another month delay?

Only you can weigh those pros and cons.  Don’t incur lots of delay, extra effort, and lost opportunity for another little step in comfort on making your decision.

Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.  (Don’t rush in either – we know where that gets us.)

(Back to Topic Page)

 

 

Try Before You Buy

Trying software before you sign up is a time worn and effective way to test the features and the usability of software as a service.  Many services offer a limited FREE version of their software. Some offer limited time FULL versions. Either way you should check out what TRIALS of the service are available.  Sign up for them – only when you are READY to spent time checking the service out.

Personally, I tend to avoid limited time or short duration trials. Why? Because most of the time I just don’t have time to put into the product or service until I’m ready – which is usually AFTER the expiration of the trial.

I like trials that offer up a limited number of files, transactions, etc. because this gives me the ability to TEST the product in a full feature set and take as long as I’d like to.

When you think that you might be centering a major part of your business’ information processing around a service like this – you might want to choose a more in depth “try before you buy” approach.

For instance, if you are going to buy a new CRM, you probably want to do some solid, live fire testing with real data, with all the features. Why? It’ll show any issues and poor fit areas of the service. For this reason, when I’m ready, I’ll usually try to buy a MONTH or two of full service with a limited number of accounts.   For instance, we maintain and have a separate sub-domain that we use for TESTING services with 5 users before we buy and install anything in our larger accounts or before making a longer term commitment.

If you can afford it – LIVE Testing is best.

Be sure you insert a testing process, and TRIAL into your thinking when looking into buying large, wide scope, major services.  Knowing more about the strengths and weaknesses of software before you commit long term or very wide scope is worth quite a bit. Don’t be afraid to spend a little to get much more information.

 

(Back to Topic Page)

 

 

Avoid Vendor Lock-In

Vendor lock-in is one of the tensors between consumer choice, cost control, and vendor market-share aspirations.  Even locks made of gold soon impact your freedom.

By now most of us have experienced vendor lock-in with products. You know the feeling:

  • I can only use provider AC adapters
  • I have to buy all new connecting cords that happen to be made only by the provider.
  • I can’t export my data.
  • I can’t connect to other applications except those made by the publisher.
  • Steadily creeping prices and you find you can’t LEAVE the vendor easily.

That feeling when prices are now sky high, but you’re so locked into the vendor, they solution is everywhere in your company, you just can’t possibly change. It would be too expensive or too hard.

Don’t worry, be happy! You’re now experiencing vendor lock-in!

Sucks doesn’t it? To have your choices removed. To feel like you are handcuffed to just accept whatever changes your locked in vendor offers. You pay it and at any price since changing is just impossible.

The time to avoid vendor lock-in is to avoid the traps they offer. Free this, free that. Effortless this, effortless that. You’re distracted from the real questions about open APIs, data export, licensing for API use, etc.

Be sure you are aware of tricks leading to vendor lock-in before you take the plunge. Keep it in the front of your mind. Ask questions to help illuminate the degree to which vendor lock-in is boiled into products and services.

(Back to Topic Page)