Nov
24
2009
1

Business Lessons from SanFrancisco Part 2

Day 2 at the Westin in San Francisco, I attended the Business of Software Conference as both speaker and delegate.

Here are my notes from Day 2

Ryan Carson

Ryan is a genial American working in Bath England at Carsonified, a web applications and events company.

Ryan’s topic was  ”How to give your company soul!” Anyone who has the brass balls to ask 400 techies to shut their eyes and reflect on a piece of classical music for two minutes at the start of a presentation and then get them pumped with the King Leonidas speech from 300 deserves my attention.

Ryan’s presentation highlighted all the stuff they do to create a unique and productive review at Carsonified. They believe in Having fun, recognising effort and talent, creating short term projects and victories, celebrating success and creating an awesome working environment. In truth I have heard lots of people claim to do this but Ryan’s story was presented with great authenticity and his passion for the business was evident.

When the videos come out you should check this one out.

Chris Capossela

A senior  representative of the worlds biggest software company at a conference for rebels and renegades seemed like an interesting choice but Chris gave a frank and highly engaging presentation on the lessons learned from both the successes and the failures at Microsoft over the years.

Chris began with a great video clip from 1998 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrAD25V7ll8. Watch it and squirm!

Key lesson: that video was played on all major news channels and mentioned an national chat shows, however at the following years conference when everything went well it generated very little PR.

Chris made some comparisons between Microsoft success stories and flops( X Box vs Accounting)

Key questions for all software companies when developing new successful  products

  1. Are we in it for the long term?
  2. Is the product Game Changing?
  3. Are you delighting endusers and IT departments
  4. What is your Geo Strategy (ie MS Office Accounting launched first in US against a very well developed competitor. Perhaps they would have been better launching in Europe where the market was more fragmented.)
  5. Can you reach the Key Influencer Community
  6. What channels really matter and can you afford them.

Neil Davidson

Neil was super sub, stepping bravely into the slot created by swine flu and a cranky product manager.

Neil doesn’t like presenting, he would rather let others take the stage and play a supporting role. On the evidence of this presentation he should stand up more often.

Neil has just written and published Don’t just roll the dice A usefully short guide to software pricing  http://www.businessofsoftware.org/ebook.aspx and I would recommend that  anyone in the business should get a copy either hardcopy from Amazon or in pdf form from the link above.

In essence Neil’s presentation encouraged everyone to think more thoroughly about the value of stuff.

He challenged the audience to think how much they would pay for a signed first edition of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and  to establish where the value really lay, in the book, the story the signature the rarity or just the warm feeling that you can get when you spend a large amount of money on an indulgence.

He also challenged us to think beyond just monetary value but to consider value in terms of service delivered.

I still havn’t worked out  precisely how many kittens an ipod is worth though.

Having read the book I can recommend it as relevant to all entrepreneurs wrestling with the pricing .

Kathy Sierra

In my very rough research based on eavesdropping the conversations between sessions and the Twitter post conference I would suggest that Kathy was the speaker that rocked the conference. In my head it was 3am and I lost the power of note taking so will simply say this;

The essence of Kathy’s presentation was

Know your user, Love your user, Make your user look and feel like a hero.

My favourite quote was “it’s not was the product does its what the product allows the user to do..”

Kathy is obsessed with customer/user experience as so should we all be.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer is Professor of Marketing at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford and she came to talk to the conference about Happiness!

There was so much in this presentation I can’t begin to summarise adequately everything that she packed into an hour. But I’m going to try.

Chasing happiness is useless (happiness like crack cocaine has a short high and severe crash)

In American( western) culture the concept of a right to happiness is less than 100 years old.

The pursuit of happiness can make us miserable.

Our perception of happiness changes with age

11-14 our vocabulary is too simple to prperly articulate what happiness means

15-18  our Angst vocabulary increases but happiness is about feeling loved / known

20′s Feeling vindicated, powerful, wealthy

30′s Balance

40-50 Rested wonderful grateful

How long does happiness last?

A promotion at work ……….3 days

A significant lottery win……3 months

How long does unhappiness last?

research amongst paraplegics suggests that the unhappiness associated with a major life changing/limiting accident lasts……on average 6 months.

People can’t actually remember what makes them happy. (when we go to Disneyland we remember the pictures of the smiling children because we don’t take pictures of sulks and tantrums.

It takes about 24 minutes to get into a state of Flow (happiness) but the average worker gets interrupted every 3 minutes.

Conclusion. Instead of chasing happiness try for brief moments of fun, being effective, striving for overriding goals.

The pillars of happiness

  • Autonomy
  • Competency
  • Meaning
  • Self Esteem
  • Feeling linked to something bigger

Make time to protect different sources off happiness in your life. (Friends Partner Work Community Health Family) When we neglect any of these sources we become unhappy when our activities combine these we create more opportunities to feel happiness in our lives.

Work on Projects you love. These energise us . Do you know what projects give you energy and which deplete you?

Anticipating pleasure has a similar effect on the brain to anticipating pleasure. ( Aaker suggested, with a wry smile, the best way to enjoy a holiday was to book it look forward to it and at the last minute cancel it!)

Spend time with people you love and with people who energise you.

Beware people who deplete your energy,  their attitude spreads like a contagion.

Simple things make us happy People, Dancing, Giving, Sharing and all things that give us a sense of self esteem.

Things that you think should matter like religion and education only make us happy in as much as they provide the above.

In Summary: Be with the people you love, work on stuff that excites you, and dance like no one is watching!

Written by in: uncategorized |
Nov
13
2009
0

Business Lessons from San Francisco

Just got back from San Francisco, where I presented once again at the Business of Software Conference. I really love this event, pretty much everyone there is an entrepreneur and all delegates share a passion for creating and selling software solutions to business. Often when I speak at conferences I use the opportunity to have a look around the city, soak up the local sites and culture and I was looking forward to doing so in San Fran. My usual strategy is to watch the headline speaker (usually a “name”) and whoever is next up, just so I can get a feel for the mood of the group,the dynamics of the conference etc. After which I disappear until my allotted slot,  job done I am free to enjoy the city. This conference was different every speaker was excellent (I make no comment or judgement on my own contribution) and try as I might I could find no good time to leave. This has to be the sign of an excellent conference.

Here are the main things I got from each of the main speakers.

Geoffrey Moore is the author of Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado, The Gorilla Game and a new book Dealing with Darwin. A real heavyweight when it comes to all things Strategy. Geoffrey’s presentation began by covering some well trodden ground from the books mentioned, what grabbed me though was the idea of aligning vectors of innovation. Moore argued that innovation in many organisations was ill disciplined, innovation for innovations sake.  In his words bubble up innovation =0. For innovation to be effective you need a compass to direct your attention to the specific needs of the market and the type of innovation through which you are most likely to meet that need.

Key concepts

Differentiate between the core (the stuff that differentiates you from the competition) and the context (the stuff that you need to do just to stay in business)

Decide on your primary vector of innovation

Be aware of the fish to pond ratio. The pond needs to be big enough to matter small enough for you to lead.

Focus on your core, prioritise funding for the core over context

Drive hard, beyond reason, catching up is not really innovating.

Solutions innovation is a great market space for entrepreneurs, so Go Early Go Ugly.

Paul Graham is one of the founders of  Y Combinator and a successful software pioneer. Paul ran through 21 trends to back in the near future. Not sure if this was the best use of his time. I am convinced that any syndicate group at the conference could have generated a similar list. (innovation, The USA, Small companies open source to name just a few) Paul has a unique insight into what makes entrepreneurs successful I would loved to hear more on this.

Heidi Roizen has a unique perspective on Venture Capital given that she has been both the backer and the backed.

Heidis presentation (great as it was) can be summed up by saying, be careful who you partner with. It seems to me that VC’s are no different than anyone else with whom you have a strategic partnership. Pick people you can work with, don’t be overawed by the VC  just because they have the money. Remember they need you just as much as you need them. I really liked this presentation Heidi managed to demystify the process of seeking VC backing and provide useful insights for the entrepreneur on the look out for capital; including when and why you should look to other sources.

Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh provided what for me was the most useful presentation of the whole conference. He focussed entirely on what to do to bring sales leads to your company. What did I love about this presentation?  It was entirely practical and every bit of advice backed up with specific examples from his own experience. Furious key tapping and scribbling amongst the audience suggests that all the delegates will be trying some or all of his tactics in the coming weeks.

Everything he covered is in his new book Inbound Marketing  Get found using Google Social Media and Blogs

Matt Clayton

Matt is a expert in Social Media and an entrepreneur. His company  Mixcloud aims to become the Youtube of radio. Mat shared with the audience some of the tricks of the trade that he has utilised on behalf of major entertainment brands to ensure coverage on Facebook, Twitter etc.   Matt’s focus has been B2C and the predominantly B2B audience shook their heads ruefully at some of the tactics he shared. (some of which were really exploiting loopholes that will no doubt be closed sooner rather than later). However I admired his honesty and in a world where the differences between B2B and B2C are no longer as distinct as they were  it is always better to understand how these new media can be manipulated even if you do not intend to use all the techniques.

Don Norman

Some years ago a friend of mine who works in the creative design industry in London lent me a book called the Design of Everyday Things. The fact that he emailed me every day for a fortnight to see how I was getting on with it (when to be honest it was sitting on my desk on a pile). Under pressure to read and return I picked it up as reading material for a long train journey.  I didn’t put it down, which is rare for me. I was really looking forward to Don’s presentation and he didn’t disappoint.

Don began by pressing the wrong button on the PowerPoint remote control and then went off on a short musing as to why the buttons were where they were.  Learning point number one Always have your Radar on!

The underlying theme for the presentation “Design the way your customer is not the way you want them to be”

Don’s  10 rules for successful products were;

  1. It’s all about the experience, how does using the product make people feel?
  2. It’s a system (iphone/ipod/kindles are selling more than a box, the system that supports the box is every bit as important)
  3. Everything is a service    } These two points seem to be at odds with each other but the point is they shouldn’t be.
  4. Everything is a product  }
  5. Don’t be too logical our emotions control our decisions
  6. Memory is an important part of the process (if people have a good memory of the outcome of using the product they often forget the less good stuff at Disney people remember the rides not the lines So long as the rides deliver!
  7. Complexity is good/ Complicated is bad (A 777 cockpit may look complex but it is very well ordered so not complicated)
  8. You can have fun with products austere does not always + good design
  9. Put the right operations in place to deliver on the promise
  10. It’s all about experience !!!!

Sorry the notes cannot do the presentation justice.

Don clearly looks at the world a little differently and anyone who is bringing a product to market should try and apply his observant and reflective take on life.

Written by in: uncategorized |
Mar
19
2009
0

Presentation skills; Some food for thought

I recently asked a group of  delegates to recommend some great presentations to educate and inspire us to deliver even better presentations. Here is a sample of the presentaions suggested.  There are some very different styles of presenter but all in my book are highly engaging  presenters who I believe have not only mastered the art of communicating to groups but who also demonstrate my number one rule of presenting.

You are the message!

Everyone of these guys has a great set of slides, but note that they have very little actual information on the slide, they use the slides to support their story.

Seth Godin presents to Google

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6909078385965257294

Steve Jobs introduces the iphone

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=PZoPdBh8KUs

Guy Kawasaki “The art of the start”

http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/the_art_of_the_.html

Malcolm Gladwell at the TED conference

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4651524651477591115&hl=en

Hans Rosling on the Myths of the Developing World

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4237353244338529080&hl=en

Al Gore on averting climate crisis

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/al_gore_on_averting_climate_crisis.html

Enjoy

Feb
27
2009
1

Why you absolutely must keep advertising and marketing throughout a recession

80 years of research tells us so……….

I have just spent a highly energetic day with the sales teams from three local radio stations here in Yorkshire.

Our topic of conversation was how to thrive in the challenging times ahead and the purpose of today’s blog is to summarise some of the research used in my presentation to the group. But before we get into that my first thoughts are to congratulate the management team of radioaire, vikingfm and hallamfm for holding such an event when many other companies are postponing or cancelling such training.

100_0526

radioaire sales team smiling through the storm

 

 In the words of Nicky Pattinson, a fantastic motivational speaker who kicked off  the day for us, “sales people are the only people who are going to get us out of this mess”.

My sentiments exactly Nicky!

Anyway here is a summary of some of the key research into advertising effectiveness undertaken since the 1920’s. The quality of research methodology varies across the decades but the message is pretty consistent.

 

 

Research

Date

Key Findings

 

Roland Vail report on the performance of 200 companies during downturns.

Published in the Harvard Business Review

 

1923

 

Companies that advertise the most during a downturn make the greatest gains in sales.

 

Buchen Advertising inc

 

1947-61

 

Sales and profits dropped off at companies that cut back on their advertising. Also after recession those companies continued to fall behind the ones that had maintained their advertising spend

 

 

Meldrum &Frewsmith

 

1974-75

 

Same research same results

 

McGraw Hill.

Laboratory of Advertising Performance Report

 

1986

The results showed that business-to-business firms that maintained or increased their advertising expenditures during the 1981-1982 recession averaged significantly higher sales growth, both during the recession and for the following three years, than those that eliminated or decreased advertising. By 1985, sales of companies that were Aggressive Recession Advertisers had Risen 256% over those that didn’t keep up their advertising.

 

 

The Billet/AGB report

 

1993

 

During a study of 127 Brands during the 1991-92 recession brands that increased advertising expenditure by 7%  gained on average a 1.1% market share while those that decreased advertising by 8 % lost an average of 1.6%market share

 

Bain and Company

 

2002

 

In a study of over 700 companies the 1991 recession The Bain Study showed that more than a fifth of companies in the bottom quartile in their industries jumped to the top quartile during the last recession. Meanwhile, more than a fifth of all “leadership companies” (those in the top quartile of financial performance in their industry) fell to the bottom quartile. Only half as many companies made such dramatic gains or losses before or after the recession.

 

 

Frankenberger & Graham

 

2003

 

Their results indicate that advertising creates a firm asset by contributing to financial performance for up to three years in the future. Further, increasing spending on advertising during a recession leads to benefits that exceed the benefits of increasing advertising during non recessionary times.

 

 

 

There are endless stories of the companies that have heeded this advice and those who have not.

 

We looked at examples of advertisers who made most of the recession including Kelloggs, Habitat, Black Magic and Virgin. Every company has their own examples and stories of clients who have taken the longer term view and succeeded. The research is interesting and useful but it is the stories that you tell that are most persuasive.

 

Those of us who sell products that are easy to cut, advertising and training being two key examples, must make sure that the clients really understand the true implications of making the cut as well as the advantages to be gained in terms of sales and market share in the short term and in the long term.

 

 

Feb
11
2009
1

What to do when it all goes quiet

I have just spent a hectic hour contributing to a web chat with around 30 software entrepreneurs on the Business of Software social networking site. Our  topic was sales and selling and for about an hour I tried my very best to keep up with a constant flow of questions and  comments on how to attract and convert prospects into customers. I feel somewhat guilty that my lack of touch typing skills meant that my answers lacked some of the detail that they might. By way of recompense I will pick out a few of the key questions and try and answer them here a little more fully.

 O542-CO-049-W6166ne of the group asked what do you do when the client goes quiet, that is you have made an initial contact generated some interest and the client has gone away to think about it. If you call too soon you are being pushy, if you leave it you run the risk of losing the business.

So some rules to help with this

Always suggest a time when you will call the client. (preferably before they say I’ll get back to you..). This leaves you in control and feeling confident about calling. (you are after all just keeping a promise).

If the client says “I’ll think about it” ask “when should I schedule our next call?”

Give the client a reason for calling them back at your suggested time for example “we have some new user feedback being published on Friday I will give you a call then.

If a client insists that they will call you and that you shouldn’t call them take this as a signal that they are either not convinced or they do not have enough purchasing power to buy. Try and push your questioning a little further “at this stage what issues are concerning you” or “may I ask for your initial impressions.” You may be able to tease out any concerns and send them away in a more positive frame of mind. However still leave the call saying that you will keep them posted of any developments in the mean time.

If the client fails to take your call and then goes quiet you have a few options.

The upfront approach, “When we last spoke you asked me to keep in touch, but I haven’t heard back from you I am just a little concerned that I may be emailing you unnecessarily. Can you suggest a time to speak.”

The indirect approach, call their PA or assistant (assuming they have one ) and explain the situation and because you don’t want to leave things unresolved could they suggest an appropriate time for you to call.

In truth clients go quiet for all sorts of reasons, they get distracted, other priorities arise, or they simply need time to think. Gentle polite persistence is the right and the assertive thing to do. Clients who get angry when you call at an agreed time or keep them updated with new developments, are often just masquerading as decision makers don’t let their reaction colour your wider thinking.

So much business is won simply by being front of mind at the time the client decides to buy. If you fade into the background you run the risk of the client finding another solution while you wait for them to call.

So keep the initiative, dont worry about the really grumpy client , they are not typical of the wider population and always remember it is better to be seen to be too keen than not to give a damn.

Feb
11
2009
0

Lets talk about you (not me)

CBR003593I have just done a favour for a client they asked me to review a presentation that they are making as part of the tender process for a significant chunk of business.

The presentation arrived (all 18Mb) of it and within three pages could see a reason not to do business with this company.

Slide 1 Introduction A presentation for X by Y (Fair enough I suppose)

Slide 2 A fourteen point agenda slide , bullets 18pt no visual content at all ( I suppose they were working on that age old maxim tell em how you are going to bore them, bore them , tell em how you just bored them.)

Slide 3 A brief overview of their company history and operations.(all about us)

Sadly I see this all the time, a golden opportunity to impress and engage the group is wasted with a formulaic and self centered approach.

When I took this up with my client (who doesn’t mind me writing this so long as I protect their anonymity) They argued that they always started their presentations this way…! In fact they could point me to an internal document from their Marketing department that suggested this was the company standard.

Talking about your agenda and your company at the start of a presentation is almost always counter productive. In a competitive tender the client wants to find out why you are the right partner for them so talk about them first.

There are many ways to do this but as a default mechanism start your presentation with a review of the client’s objectives. What are their objectives? What do they want from the partnership? If you cant answer these two questions prior to the presentation then you shouldn’t really be there.

Do your prep, and remember that the presentation is all about the client, their objectives preferences and needs. If you start talking about you, people start to switch off, talk about them first and you make it easy for them to tune in to your presentation. When you have their full attention, when they are fully engaged then you can tell them why you are their best solution.

If you have an important pitch coming up and you want to talk it through drop me a line it is amazing how your chances of winning (or at least achieving your stated objective ) can be dramatically improved with just a few amendments.

Feb
10
2009
0

Why the customer isn’t always right

imagesI spent a very busy weekend out in the snow that has covered much of Britain over the past couple of weeks.

After some serious sledging (one of the benefits of living in the Pennine Hills ) and a great deal of shoveling snow so as to be able to get my car out for work on Monday morning (a downside of living in the Pennines) I slumped exhausted in front of the t.v.

Nothing much caught my attention so I settled into a re run of Casino Royale (the latest version). I am a Bond fan and I love this film. It is amusing to think how much of a success this new version of the the Bond franchise has been; the two Daniel Craig films have each out performed in relative terms all the films that have gone before them. We have all come to accept the new Bond and the new style of film making.

Yet lets not forget the resistance that was generated in the media and on the internet when Craig was announced as the new Bond . Websites such as Craignotbond.com and Noblondebond.com attracted much attention. Debates on the fan sites and in the media were intense. Putting Daniel Craig in the role made no sense. He was blonde and everyone knows that Bond has dark hair, he was not as well known as some other rivals for the role, and he did not seem particularly good looking. (certainly by comparison to his predecessor) How could he possibly play Bond.

What the customers/fans did not appreciate was the new direction that the franchise was taking. In the tech savvy and occasionally dangerous world that we live in we struggle to believe in master criminals intent on taking over the world or in invisible cars. We do however understand how brutal the world can be and  post 9/11 how brutal things can happen to ordinary people. Jason Bourne and Jack Baur had also changed our expectations of what secret agents do.

If the producers of Casino Royale had listened too closely to the fans they would have hired a Brosnan /Connery look a like.  They would have created an evil genius baddie, brought Q out of retirement and hey presto the faithful would be happy. However the “faithful” do not make a film profitable, its the rest of us those who enjoy a good thriller,but who don’t feel the need to spend our time on the fansites ,that really matter.

Leadership is about taking note of what your most loyal customers say but not being in thrall to it. It is being able to see the wider forces shaping your landscape and having the courage to strike out in a different direction when the situation demands it. It is also about having the confidence to sell your vision of the world to others.

The new Bond team are to be commended for their insight and their courage and in time someone will have to reinvent he character once again. I predict that when that time comes the faithful will stand against any radical changes to the hero they have come to know, the websites will be launched to campaign for more of the same, but if the film makers do as good a job as they have with the latest Bond they will fade away and we will all settle in to the new era refreshed and excited by the prospect of something different.

Leadership is about making the right decision over the popular one.

Personally though I still miss Moneypenny!

Feb
09
2009
0

Facing up to phone fear

screamJust about every salesperson that I have ever asked has admitted to bouts of “phone fear”. Simply put this is a state of anxiety that grabs us as we reach for the phone, that makes us hesitate to pick up the phone and start dialing and starts a chain reaction in our minds that leads to procrastination and distraction. Phone fear makes any job (even rearranging your filing cabinet) more appealing than actually calling up prospects and generating some business. If professional sales people experience this, then one must feel for the entrepreneur who is in business because they had a great idea, a grand design and all they really want to do is develop a thriving business. Having to take on the sales role without an inclination for selling can be daunting and many entrepreneurs suffer bouts of phone fear. So here are a few tips that have helped me over the past twenty years or so and still do when my confidence dips and the fear takes hold.

#1 Make a game of it, imagine that you are on a reality t.v. show or in a team completing a business simulation, if you knew the whole thing was a game how differently would you react, how scared would you really be of making the call. As one of my former colleagues used to say “Fake it,til you make it”. I know it sounds a bit mad but I have used this technique over and over again. The fear just melts away in the process.

#2 Sell in half an hour chunks, and schedule the chunks early in the day. Make it your aim to just keep calling for half an hour, don’t worry about the results, they don’t matter what matters is that you don’t stop. Scribble notes as you go and do your admin once the selling is over. When you have done one half hour schedule the next one. Your only aim is to get through to clients and give it your best shot.

# 3 Challenge your negative beliefs with empirical evidence. Our negative beliefs are often played out in our minds as a critical voice, the voice that says “they wont be interested”, “your not good enough”, “everyone thinks that your being pushy”. Try my 20 Call Challenge Make twenty effective calls and keep a note of the clients reaction and see how accurate your beliefs are. During a recent sales campaign (I had a new product to take to market) I started to have doubts as to whether I was being a bit of a pain. I took the twenty call challenge and with every contact I spoke to I measured their response on a scale of 1-10, 1 being hostile 10 being welcoming with open arms. After twenty calls only one was hostile, there were no 10′s but the mode average score was 6.5. So its not true when my critical voice says no one wants to talk to me in fact only one in twenty people are hostile to the approach, the majority are reasonably approachable and willing to talk (this doesn’t mean they always want to buy your product by the way ). Negative beliefs have trouble surviving in the cold hard light of factual evidence.

# 4 Sell with some one else, time goes faster, the support is always welcome and peer pressure keeps you calling.

#5 Practice your openings and introductions. The hardest part of any cold calling is the first twenty or thirty seconds after which the nerves seem to fall away. Have a few different introductions rehearsed and ready to go so your first impression is always a good one. One of the best sales people I ever met had only three introductions which he actually kept on a piece of paper in front of him. Not once in three years did I hear him deviate from the introductions nor did he ever refer to the piece of paper. In his words the introductions were his way of easing himself into the call with confidence and the paper was merely a comfort blanket, an insurance if you will, just incase he felt nervous.

A little anxiety about sales calls is perfectly natural, in truth all the best sales people I deal with say that they feel it. I believe that some anxiety about the call shows that we care about the impact we may have on others. Sales people who have no fear generally don’t care about the clients, they care only about the sales they can make. Be aware that feeling some fear is natural, however you always have a choice about how you respond to that fear. Treat the fear as front page news and it grows, treat it as an interesting by product of how much you care about your product and your client and it becomes manageable. Your initial fears can either escalate or decline depending on how you choose to play the game.

If you have any questions about these strategies and others that can help overcome phone fear drop me aline or post them here.

Feb
09
2009
0

Innovative Thinking

To be somewhat Polly-anna about our current economic situation, I have always believed that we tend to do our most interesting and exciting work when our backs are ,so to speak, to the wall. I set up my last company in the early 90′s during what was a puny little recession in comparison to our current (mighty and global)credit crunch.A friend of mine who was in banking at the time tried to persuade me to stay put in my job arguing that the first two things to disappear in a recession were advertising and training, and with a grave nod and a headmasterly stare he reminded me that we were about to start a business training people in advertising. In truth I think that business was all the better for being a “bootstraps” venture. We couldn’t buy any training content so we wrote our own, we couldn’t hire a sales team so we went out and pitched for every scrap of work. As we grew the knowledge that we could survive and thrive in a credit restricted world gave us huge confidence even when he banks were throwing money around.

Design guru and retailer Terence Conran in a recent Guardian Magazine talked about the Habitat experience in the UK in the 1970′s. Habitat an up market furniture and interiors store responded to the 3 Day week, the energy crisis and the collapse of the UK economy by launching an affordable range called Basics, this was subsequently franchised to a Japanese company called Seibu who subsequently opened stores called Basics which eventually changed it’s name to ………………………Muji.

Just think if you have an idea to save your customers money in the short term, you could end up with a brilliant product or service in a few short years.

Be brave, but don’t be stupid, real innovation comes from resourcefulness and playfulness, when you haven’t got enough to do what you’ve always done do something better.

Written by in: entrepreneur,innovation |
Jan
29
2009
0

Trainers it’s time to get creative

A couple of articles have got me thinking this week about the state of our profession. In his article For Trainingzone Donald Taylor paints a fairly bleak picture of the troubles that may lie ahead.

If you’re working for a classroom training provider, you probably already know the answer. In the smaller dip of 2002/2003, classroom training companies suffered as clients cut back on classroom delivery costs. It’s a simple calculation: no classroom training means no fees and no travel, a quick saving in tough times.

“Right now, the manager wielding the knife over the budget has no hesitation in cutting all external training beyond what is legally required.”
But don’t people still need training? Of course they do, but training is still seen as being rather like painting the woodwork on the outside of the house. Everyone knows you have to do it, but even if it looks really bad, you can let it slide for a season or two until structural damage sets in.

In 2002/2003 a number of classroom training companies went to the wall. We can expect worse in 2009, as demand plummets

The Education section of the Guardian today suggests that the Governments pleas to industry to maintain their training budgets are being ignored.

“a survey reported exclusively in Education Guardian today suggests that many employers are not taking any notice.

Half of the training managers questioned in more than 100 large companies say their budgets have been, or will be, cut. Barely a third of them expect their training budgets to come through 2009 unscathed, and just 16% expect their budgets to increase during the downturn.

More than two-thirds say they anticipate that they will need to “streamline their course portfolio” this year.

The managers surveyed work for organisations employing at least 1,000 people and include Xerox, Siemens, the NHS, Pitney Bowes, Deutsche Bank, WHSmith, GSK, JPD, AstraZeneca, Barclays and Oracle.

But there are opportunities; Taylor suggests that the type of training to survive the upcoming culls (and this applies equally to internal providers as well as those of us who sell training for a living) will be:

  • provided by niche players
  • closely integrated with the purpose /customers/culture
  • cheap quick fix off the shelf solutions

The Guardian suggests that it is general training programs that will be culled but that the demand for real leadership, business acumen delivered in a flexible , dare we say blended format.

Interestingly I don’t know a trainer (internal or external) who doesn’t consider themselves to be flexible, integrated, business savvy and fantastic value for money. The next few months will provide us all with an opportunity to work out whether we are as smart as we think we are and to sharpen up in all these areas. But here are the warning signals, that all is not well in your training business or training department.

  • If all your training solutions are organised into classroom courses and planned by the day.
  • If your training materials are broadly the same as they were in 2003 (new fonts and covers dont count!)
  • If you know more people who have left the company than those who remain
  • If you find yourself surprised and disappointed that this years Management Programme has been put on ice

Then now might be a great time for a serious step back.

The alarm bells are ringing and the coffee is pungent enough to stop a charging bull!

The only question is what will you do next?