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Book review: Oversubscribed

April 6, 2020

The usual mode of doing sales is to focus on chasing leads and closing sales with anyone who is willing to do business with you. There’s another way where you select from the potential candidates the most suitable ones for your purposes.

This approach focuses on a small subset of potential customers who value what you are doing, appreciate your help and have the means to compensate you properly. You are not concerned about the total market in general or what is the consensus about the acceptable price level for your offerings.

The whole purpose is to focus on these customers and serve them better than anyone else: to delight those who value and want what you’re doing more than anything else. The process to become oversubscribed concentrates on understanding who are these people, how to find them and what is it exactly what they want.

The general principle is simple. You have a limited supply of something and more people demanding it than you are delivering. Turning away potential business plays into your advantage by signalling your high demand. This, in turn, makes your offerings even more desirable, attractive and viral.

You need to own your market to dictate the terms in your favour. Creating your niche separates you from the competition and makes it hard to compare you to other alternatives. It also means that you’re solving something better than anyone else, and this specialisation makes you successful.

People are interested in values and bigger reasons than just getting services rendered in business. This means building a loyal following and being clear about your integrity, values and philosophy are essential. It’s hard to like something or someone if you don’t understand what they stand for.

Gaining trust and closing sales does not happen overnight. It requires time, interactions and locations. More specifically the magic formula is 7 hours of quality time with 11 interactions in 4 different locations. The familiarity and acceptance require enough contact points to work, and this can be done with media and technology. Social media posts, articles, videos and other materials provide means to deliver your message and thinking to potential customers. Your tweets, meet-ups, guest appearances and podcasts are part of the process for people to become familiar with you, like you, and finally trust you.

Digitalisation is turning sales upside down. Buyers are doing most of the work via your marketing materials and information available to them, often in a digital format. They contact you only when they have already indicated interest towards your offerings.

Warming up the market is an important part of the sales process. Apple is very good at this when they are introducing new products to the market. They build up expectation and release out information gradually before telling exactly what they are selling and when it’s actually available. The same tension continues with the limited supply of products at first. This way they make sure there’s enough demand before starting to mass-sell the products.

Decision-making involves micro-steps that finally leads to sales. During these small steps, buyers are getting more comfortable with the purchase idea and your job is to guide them in this process by asking them small incremental commitments that serve as your sales signals.

In general, there are four market positions that enable you to become oversubscribed: innovation, relationships, convenience or price. Excelling in one of these categories is hard enough and usually, this is the choice you have to make: pick just one.

People are not buying what they need but rather they buy what they want. Emotions win the rational approach in many cases, and the purchase reasoning happens only after the fact. Your job is to create market conditions for buyers to take action and control the demand-and-supply tension to your benefit. Seeing other people wanting and appreciating what you’re doing for them brings social affirmation for the purchase decision.

All this is pretty simple in theory. You need to be brave enough to be different, find your way, stand by your values and philosophy, set your terms, delight your customers and embrace their successes. The harder part is to do this long enough without compromising your mission and stay the course despite the expected hardship and rough journey before the sunshine of being oversubscribed arrives.

Book review: The effective hiring manager

February 17, 2020

Hiring is one of the most crucial tasks in any organisation. It can have devastating results on the company if not carried out carefully. Bad hires cause havoc and can ruin a perfectly well functioning organisation and company culture in no time.

The first principal of hiring is don’t do it. If you can avoid adding more people and become more efficient instead that’s the best option. If your competitor does not need more staff that will show up in your performance at some point. They can do more with less. Usually higher productivity shows up in better profit margins.

The second principal is to set the hiring bar high. Quality attracts quality and it shows in your company culture, too. Setting standards and running a planned and measured process is something that you can get better at. Ad hoc routines stay as they are, ad hoc.

The biggest mistake in hiring is to look for reasons to say yes for candidates. Often there’s a rush to fill the position and FOMO of good candidates kicks in. This is the default behaviour but it does not make any actual sense. The worst outcome is to hire a wrong candidate for the position. You want to avoid this outcome at any cost.

This is the purpose of effective interviewing – saying no. The process is there to rule out people that are not a good fit for the position. It’s better to have a longer recruitment process than get it over with quickly and settle with a sub-bar quality candidate with all the unintended consequences down the road.

When you look for strengths you will find them. It’s easy to like some candidates more than others and subjective judgements bias the hiring process anyways. Saying no is the default answer, and the recruitment process takes care of the rest.

The old saying hire for attitude and train for skill is widely used as a thumb of the rule guide. Yet, the best way to screen people for the job is to figure out whether they have the behaviours required for the position. Behaviour is something that is known and it can be measured. If you have done it before you are likely to do it again.

The behaviours that matter in the recruitment context are the words we say, how we say them, facial expressions, body language and the work product (i.e. quality, quantity, accuracy, timeliness, documentation and safety). The screening and interview phases are planned in a way to reveal these.

The book walks through the whole recruitment process and gives enough practical guidance to plan and execute hiring in detail. It takes the view of hiring manager who’s responsible of the new recruitment and provides tips how to involve and handle the HR department if the company has one.

Overall the recruitment process is about marketing and sales as much as making the organisation work and carry out the functions it is supposed to do. How you handle the candidate communication and overall process leaves a lasting impression of your professionalism and quality as an employer. Ad hoc recruitment process is easy to recognise when you’re involved with it. Companies that set high bar improve and get better in recruitment. Prepare yourself to say no.

Book review: Supertrends

January 29, 2020

It’s hard to imagine and take into account changes that happen slowly but surely. Their overall impact can be radical for our lifestyle yet we tend to either ignore or underestimate the signals along the way.

Supertrends reminds us to look into those lingering things that barely move when you focus on them but are huge when compared to the already happened historical changes.

The book covers large topics and introduces 50 rule of thumbs to crystallise their impact on us. Probably the biggest message is that the world is overall a way better place than general population and even experts believe. Hans Rosling used to quiz various audiences, and pure chance deals better odds (more optimistic) than his sample audience ever achieved with their knowledge of the facts.

One of the change factors is productivity that is moving from manual work to mechanical and finally to digital. The latter enables exponential growth compared to previous linear and static. When we include the fact that the still growing (but slowing) global population has more resources available to each person it is no wonder that there is no limit to the innovation potential we can achieve (provided that the laws of physics allow them).

Accenture has predicted that AI can double the economic growth rate in rich countries. This is huge, and it results large societal changes in all aspects of our life. The lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy will be occupied by automatised machines that carry out commodity production, administration and distribution tasks.

Experience economy and labour-of-love type of work will increase and shift the focus of people’s work and consumption preferences.

The nature of work will also transcend from permanent one employer type of relationship towards continuous learning and flexible work arrangements. Last decade was the rise of social media. Individual voices have become so strong that showing your full identity will become acceptable in comparison to the still prevalent work-life separation (see also Category creation where Anthony Kennada talks about human-centric approach to business).

Frederic Laloux divides organisations into five category types ranging from impulsive, conformist, achievement to pluralistic and evolutionary. Public services are mainly based on the conformist management style: hierarchical, fixed roles and processes, authoritarian and formality/status driven.

Many companies have moved towards the pluralistic management that is culture and value driven with inclusive, fair and broad impact focused. Yet, the future seems to move into direction where self-organisation, -management, -motivation and decentralised planning are the norm. This decentralisation provides greater flexibility but required more trust and individual responsibility.

The drift between last century top-down rigid structures and requirements for more dynamic and customised solutions become very apparent in the public sector. It continues to hoard more resources without increasing productivity and efficiency to justify the ever-larger societal tax burdens. This results that the future winners will be countries that adapt to the pluralistic and evolutionary managerial styles in their provision of public services for their residents. Government as a platform is something that some leading countries in this field are already experimenting with (e.g. Estonia). The main challenge is to institutionalise agility and innovation.

It’s humbling to consider that our scientific activity increases 100-fold in 100 years. How much has the world changed since the 1920’s? The challenges of the future are rarely solved with the technologies of today (rule #4). Our current non-sustainable practices will become non-issues and replaced with something new and different.

Future is non-linear, often exponential in change and based on continuous human innovation and productivity.

Practical business books

January 16, 2020

Much of business is about to-do items and practical steps to follow. The below books belong to this category of getting things done but no point re-inventing the wheel. They are more about doing and less about thinking. So get your hands dirty and make it happen.

Testing business ideas is a concise yet colourful way of shaping your business from an idea to revenue generating value proposition. The book flows from designing your team and idea towards testing and experimenting, and finally keeping the relevant pitfalls and other considerations in mind. If you like the Strategyzer series this goes nicely together with the other books.

Storytelling with data – Let’s Practice! builds upon the bestseller Storytelling with data that is widely used as a textbook in universities. The book is not your boring statistics treatise but easy to thumb thru guide for finding the best ways to get your message across based on your audience, context and the core message. There are practical examples and exercises that guide into deeper understanding of data visualisation for business purposes.

Dynamic Digital Marketing walks you through your first 90-days of creating and building your digital marketing plan. It all starts from research and basic decisions involving customer journey, value proposition, digital channels and key metrics among others. Altogether the book shows in concrete steps what is relevant, where to focus and how to do it in practise.

Vision to Value focuses on software companies from the perspective of a growth company COO. It introduces the vision to value framework that is gearing the organisational structures towards delivering quality products with feedback mechanisms to enhance the overall processes along the way. Growth companies are dynamic in nature and all the processes are more or less in constant need of change, improvement and adjustment. The framework aims to keep the end-user value in mind so that the processes are arranged towards delivering value to customers and not for the organisations own sake or just being efficient with all the processes and compliance.