The channel to global market leadership

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Apr 7, 2017

This is episode 4 – I am Hans Peter Bech, and the title of the post cast is Social Selling Is Like Partying With Robots. 

Since I published the whitepaper titled “Social Selling without Situational and Contextual Content is like Partying with Robots” I have received many questions from readers, and in this podcast, I will answer six of these questions including sharing my views on social selling, content marketing and the use of especially LinkedIn for revenue generation purposes.

Here comes the first question:  There are many social media and social selling experts who are discussing how social media is a volume game - so they're making it a numbers game. There are social media consultants who are even giving their followers templates to use. Do you agree that social media is a volume game?

This question reminds me of another question that sounds like this: “How many frogs must you kiss to find a prince.”

From a certain perspective, I do agree that social media is a numbers game. When you share a piece of information on social media only a very tiny fraction of your network will see it. I also only see a very tiny fraction of what the people in my network decide to share at any point in time. In this respect, social media is no different from any other media. If you want your message to reach a broader audience, you need many connections and you need to post very frequently.

Also, when we look at social media for sales purposes a certain volume of followers, connections or contacts is required. Not everyone we connect with today will buy tomorrow. We need to make a lot of contacts, build a lot of relationships before any of those will mature into business.

We must remember that any type of content that you share will only be seen by a very small fraction of your connections, will only be fully consumed by an even smaller fraction of your connections and will only be liked, shared and commented by an even smaller fraction of your connections.

So yes, I do agree that social media is a volume game.

And now to question number 2:  You mention that sales and marketing leaders need to socially sell with situational and contextual content - what do you mean? 

While I agreed that social media is a volume game I now must emphasize that what you communicate is crucial to the impact that your efforts will have.

I distinguish between three types of content that you can share on social media:

The type of content that most people share is what I call propaganda. Propaganda is information about your company and your products that you have created yourselves. Such information is generally of microscopic value to anybody. It’s noisy self-promotion that is irrelevant to 99% of even your target audience. So, stop sharing propaganda.

Contextual content is focused on the jobs, the pains and the gains that your target audience struggles with daily. While such content is relevant to a vast portion of your target audience, it also demonstrates that you have insight. And most people prefer to engage professionally with other people that work with the same challenges as they do.

The third type of content - situational content - is related to an individual situation. It is content addressing a very particular issue that a person or a company may have. Case stories is an example of situational content that is of interest to a broader audience.

My point is that broadcasting propaganda, which is the preferred approach by the clear majority of people in social media is directly contra-productive. It is noisy, with no value and you are pushing your target audience away from you. 

You must produce contextual and situational content if you want to engage and build lasting professional relationships on social media.

And now question number 3:. In your ebook, you write that if we don't socially sell with situational and contextual content, we are acting like robots. What do you mean by that?

There are several problems with how most people use social media for business or professional purposes.

The first problem is that they do not have a clear strategy for who they want on their network. They lack a clear definition of what I call the ideal connection or follower profile. 

The second problem is that they have no objective with their presence. They don’t know what they want to achieve.

And when you don’t know who to connect with and don’t know what you want to achieve then your communication becomes completely random.

I receive a fair number of messages through social media where people have had the opportunity to check who I am before they reach out, but they don’t. Instead, they send me propaganda that has no value to me at all. It is like being called by a robot that spews out the programmed message no matter who it calls.

I have more than 17.000 connections on LinkedIn, and the vast majority of their posts are professionally irrelevant. Not only to me but to anybody. I am not here to police LinkedIn, but I just don’t understand why people don’t use it to help themselves. It takes time posting and commenting, so why not follow a strategy that can benefit yourself rather that spewing out content that is of value to no one.

Here comes question number 4. Do you have any examples of organizations that are socially selling with situational and contextual content? 

Hubspot must be the number 1 company in this discipline. They do a fantastic job and I republish a lot of their content.

Microsoft is also doing a great job. Just take a look at the best business practice content for their channel partners. It’s very impressive. And that’s not only because I have produced some of it.

I also believe that my company TBK Consult does a fairly good job. We are very happy with the amount of business that we create through our social media activities.

Question number 5. How do we get started in creating situational and contextual content for sales and marketing to use on LinkedIn and other social media outlets?

That appears to be a huge challenge for most companies, but the recipe is quite simple. 

You need to engage people that can write, produce videos, podcasts, infographics etc. These are your content producers. They will typically belong in your marketing team.

Then you need to put these people together with your most experienced sales and marketing people and you most likely also need to take them to your customers. The content creation people must get insight into the jobs, pains, and gains of the customers in your market. What are their challenges, what are their opportunities, what could they do to make their life easier? This is what they should produce content about.

You publish this content on you own web site and on social media. Your marketing, sales development, and sales people also post this material on their social media channels and send it directly to people to whom it may be relevant. When the content finds an audience, then you follow up on the discussions.

You should also identify and share other sources of intelligence and engage in the discussions on social media on the issues that your target audience is engaged in. Don’t just distribute your own content – join the conversations created by others in your market and industry also.

The next step is to share the successes that you achieve with your social media activates and help your staff understand the plumbing and poetry of using social media. In the beginning, there will be a few early adaptors and then over time the rest will follow. It will take time, but as the repository of content grows and people see the results then I am sure everyone will use the time required to show a professional behavior on social media.

Question number 6: How can marketing enable sales to use situational and contextual content in their social selling efforts?

First marketing must take they lead.

Marketing must help the organization from the top down accept that social media is serious stuff.

No one can hide their heads in the sand and hope for the best. Social media has an impact on your professional life whether you like it or not.

  • If you are not on social media it has an impact – the impact is that you are invisible.
  • If you are on social media but are passive it has an impact – the impact is that you are perceived as a person with nothing to say.
  • If you are on social media spreading junk, it has an impact – the impact is that you appear non-professional and confused.

Then marketing must help convey that this is a long-term project with little probability for quick wins. It may be easy to open a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest account – just to mention a few - but getting business value from having these accounts is a completely different story.

Don’t fall for the “15-minutes a day” snake oil. Getting value out of social media is a serious business that takes time and effort and only provides a return on investment if we keep going steady for a long time. 

I strongly recommend marketing to start with professionalizing their employees’ social media profiles and activities. I am not saying that companies should dictate how their employees’ use social media, but I believe that helping your people understand what social media is and how you can use it to your own and the company’s benefit is a leadership obligation.

I don’t teach people how to use social media, but when I introduce somebody to the main guiding principles of social media, then I can see they get an epiphany. So simply sitting down with your staff and take them through the good old marketing principles of target audience – messages – wanted r and the AIDA model, then you can come a long way.

The next step is to build the repository of quality contextual and situational content and start engaging with your target audience.

Jan 4, 2017

Hans Peter Bech:

I am Hans Peter Bech and today I am interviewing Ugné Kontaré. Ugne is responsible for global revenue generation with Soft4.

Ugne can you start by telling us: “who is Soft4”

Ugné Kontaré:

SOFT4 is a provider of industry-specific software solutions, namely:

  • Soft4RealEstate, a solution for commercial and mixed property management companies
  • Soft4Leasing, software for asset finance and leasing companies
  • And we have also built a unique solution for inventory management per the Theory of Constraints, called Soft4Inventory.

All these solutions are built on the Microsoft Dynamics NAV platform.

We are a part of Softera Baltic located in Lithuania, employ a little over 70 people and have been busy with software solutions for almost 15 years.

Hans Peter Bech:

Lithuania is a tiny country, way too small to support the growth rates needed for keeping a software company competitive. How do you manage this challenge? 

Ugné Kontaré:

Yes, Lithuania is a very small country, but we are very smart people.

The first 10 years we grew the business domestically working closely together with our customers. We are now the leading provider of Dynamics NAV based solutions in Lithuania.

However, we soon learned that businesses around the world face the same challenges and need the same solutions. Our big advantage is that we use Microsoft Dynamics NAV as our platform. Dynamics NAV is available in versions accommodating the differences in the legal requirements for business administration systems in most countries. We add the industry specific solutions on top.

The first international customers found us, and since 2013 we have systematically been exploring ways to reach customers all over the world. 

Hans Peter Bech:

What is your go-to-market approach?

Ugné Kontaré:

We work through so-called value-added resellers around the world, Microsoft Dynamics NAV partners who have a very good understanding of the software platform our solutions are built on. We started with a great partner in Canada, and today we have more than 50 partners worldwide, adding around five new partners each year. We help companies from North America to Europe to Asia and Australia deal more effectively with their business challenges.

Hans Peter Bech:

Why did you choose this approach?

Ugné Kontaré:

First, we’d been thinking about SOFT4 potential customers: Customers need someone who can help specify and implement the solution. Customers prefer someone speaking their language, within the same time zone and reacting fast to their inquiries; customers want to use software that is adjusted to local legal and accounting requirements. Who else rather than a local reseller can best meet these requirements?

Another thing, we felt that the resellers could also win from the Soft4 solutions: instead of reinventing the wheel, they could offer their customers a software solution fitting their business well, fast to implement and easy to upgrade. I must mention that distribution and manufacturing are the main industries software providers compete in. With SOFT4 solutions for property management or asset financing, our partners can differentiate themselves, shorten the sales cycle, enjoy better competitiveness, and win loyal customers. In addition, the resellers can benefit from repeatability, as they can complete more projects in the same time compared to typical software implementation projects. This becomes very important when talking about new cloud business trends.

Of course, there was a value for us in this business model, too – we did not need to build an entire infrastructure to gain and serve SOFT4 customers outside Lithuania. We decided to give away some margins in exchange for sales volume and gaining market share faster.

So, we all have a win-win situation: the customers get a well-tested industry-specific solution that meets their needs, the reseller can upsell and complete projects faster, and we at Soft4 get another opportunity to develop and adjust our solutions to new markets and customers and secure a much larger volume of customers.

Hans Peter Bech:

What are the challenges with the indirect approach?

Ugné Kontaré:

In the beginning, it took the partners some time to get to know us and give us their trust. In most of the new countries where we came with Soft4 solutions, we did not have any customers and references.

So, the first challenge was to encourage local customers to believe that Soft4 solutions are capable of solving their business issues, and can solve them better than other alternatives; also that we had to demonstrate that we are a reliable software provider that are in the business for the long term. 

The second challenge was to convince the resellers that there is a market for Soft4 solutions and it is worth investing their time in learning a new add-on and a new industry; in these specific industries, understanding the business process is way more important than technology knowledge.

The success came once we started intensive marketing actions in some countries of interest and introduced the first potential customers to the local partners. Our task today is to be visible, promote the SOFT4 brand and keep passing inquiries to our partners.

The Company culture and way of doing business is another important thing to mention. When building the partner network, we must always think about how the new partner will represent our brand, how well and fast they can handle customers’ requests, how well they learned the solution and industry-specific processes to implement Soft4 solutions themselves. And then we must make sure that serving our customers with SOFT4 solutions are an attractive business for the partners. When customers and partners are happy, then we are happy.

Hans Peter Bech:

What are your ambitions and plans?

Ugné Kontaré:

Today we are a fast-growing company with our focus on the customer – so that they can do their business without having the headache of IT and the software they use. We’d like to keep that customer-centric approach and develop software that is fun to use, fast to implement, easy to develop and support, because that’s what all our customers are looking for. Today, we have two targets: firstly, for SOFT4 solutions to become the number one choice for property management, asset finance and leasing customers, and secondly, to encourage new Dynamics NAV partners to join the SOFT4 Partner Network to grow their business and face market challenges.

Hans Peter Bech:

Thank you very much Ugne for this interesting summary of the Soft4 business. If you are interested in knowing more, you will find Ugne’s contact details by the end of this post.

Our you can use the Twitter handle @soft_4

Thank you for listening and have a great day.

Jan 3, 2017

Just do it!

That is the catchy payoff used by Nike.

For most people venturing into sports that may not be the best advice to follow. Yes, you should indeed start today, but do it according to a plan, or you may end up with severe injuries that will only delay the whole effort and postpone the results you wanted in the first place.

In business, we also often find the "Just do it!" mentality. As no plan of activities will survive the meeting with reality then why bother planning. Let's just do something and see what happens. We can adjust the course as we learn what works.

Don't just do it!

When I click the seatbelt on my morning flight to see a client, then I am convinced that the airline does not have the "Just do it!" mentality. I am sure they have plans and contingency plans for what should and could happen until I am safely on the ground again. I am confident that they have the "Think!" mentality introduced by IBM in 1911 (a couple of times IBM became convinced that they could predict or control the world and paid dearly for such hubris).

Planning is cheap

The fact is that planning is much cheaper than execution. You can change a plan from one moment to the next. You can refine and adjust the plan with relatively little effort in a couple of days, weeks or months. You can define milestones, budgets and KPI's that you will expect the execution of the plan to meet and produce. You can communicate the plan and involve people in the planning process ensuring alignment behind and their support for executing the plan. As long as you are in planning mode, everything is possible.

The only thing a plan cannot do is predict or create the future, but if you are creative and committed one of your many plans may become successful and may even make a dent in the universe.

Plans come in various sizes

Let's say that your ambition is to become the global market leader in your particular business. Today you have 5% of your domestic market, and in 10 years you want to have 20% of the global market. Doing the math, you must over the next ten years enter the 15 strongest markets in the world (of which the US must be one), and you must grow your company from the current 100 people to probably 10.000 people with operations in at least the 15 key markets.

You are convinced that if you don't achieve this position, then someone else will and that someone else will then have the muscles to make your life miserable even in your domestic market. You also believe that your value proposition (based on the IP or unique capabilities that you have) has the potential to achieve global market leadership, so why shouldn't you go for it.

There is no way you can develop a plan that can lead you to such an ambitious objective. You will have to break down the goal in smaller steps and then plan each step ensuring that you are heading in the right direction.

You will most likely do a 3-year plan with a budget and activity plan for the first year, then do a review on a monthly basis during the first one or two years, and then every quarter when you have gained momentum with a modus operandi that scales well.

Execution is expensive

Now it is time to execute the plan, which means opening the CAPEX and OPEX budgets that you assigned and implement the activities that you assumed would deliver the revenue and gross margin at the top of your budget sheet and the profit at the bottom of the sheet. Money starts pouring out of your pockets, but the revenue doesn't trickle in as fast as your plan assumed. You are behind the budget, and the plan seems to fail. It happens for the vast majority of companies, and now you need to decide what to do.

Were you overly optimistic on the revenue side? Do you just have to wait and then the revenue will pick up? Are you investing too little? If you invest more will the revenue then come faster? Did you underestimate the competitors? Did you misjudge the market's need for your value proposition? Were the customers' switching costs higher than assumed? Did you fail to reduce the perceived risk of doing business with you? Did you assign the wrong people to do the implementation?

This exercise is called "making corrective actions" and is a standard procedure with any business plan. You will revisit all the assumptions in your plan and check which of them needs updating. You will also consider if there were assumptions that you overlooked.

You'll keep doing this until your plan works and will meet your objectives or you abandon the mission and reconsider your strategy. There is no guarantee that a plan will eventually work. My claim is that planning gives you three major advantages:

  1. You will increase the probability of success substantially.
  2. If you are way off target, then you can cancel the mission earlier and with less sunk cost.
  3. Even when you fail, you will have learned something that will improve the quality of your next plan.

Which format should you use?

A business plan for a project that is of vital importance to your company should always start with the business model canvas including the value proposition and the business model environment. Getting aligned on the big picture and the vocabulary is a huge step towards success and will help you tremendously when you dive into the details and face the brutal meeting with the real world.

The business model framework is easy to understand and well documented. There are workshops available teaching how to use it, and there are plenty of consultants available to facilitate your planning and implementation processes. If you use the Strategyzer app, then the exercise will make the business plan as a byproduct, but you can also choose to write down the current state of your business model in everyday prose and use that as the latest version of your business plan.

I recommend buying the business model starter kit and put that big poster on the wall of your "war room." Follow the guidelines and use a separate poster for each new product/service/market segment.

Executing without a plan

If you had no plan before starting the venture, then my guess is that you'll be inclined to jump to a quick conclusion and make some changes (when the results don't match your expectations). After using this approach for some time, your venture will be in a miserable shape, and you'll abandon the mission.

But not always! Even blind chickens will find corn, and we can all make a lucky punch now and again, but what did we learn?

I must admit that I am a planning freak and for good reasons. When I was a 3rd year university student, I was asked to make a presentation of some housekeeping stuff for the 1st year students. I thought about what to say well in advance, but as I entered the stage and faced the 250+ people in the auditorium somehow my memory of what I should say evaporated. I made a terrible and embarrassing performance. People were very friendly to me afterward, but I knew that I had failed and I promised myself that it should never happen again. I went to the library and borrowed a couple of books on public speaking, and I talked to some of my teachers (that were present in the auditorium that day). I learned how to prepare a public presentation. I learned to write it down. I learned to rehearse with someone. I learned to rehearse it front of the mirror. I learned to make and use cue cards.

I learned that planning is cheap and execution is expensive.

Jan 1, 2017

Happy New Year

This first day of the year may be a good time to consider the one thing that you should do differently in the future—one thing that will make a massive difference for yourself and your co-workers.

May I suggest that one thing is the systematic application of the Alexander Osterwalder business model framework?

Using the Alexander Osterwalder business model framework will give you the following advantages:

1. You can quickly kill ideas that at first glance sound great but cannot survive the test of the business model analysis (it is unlikely that ideas that don't work on paper will work in real life).
2. The ideas that pass the business model analysis are better documented and better understood by the people who are to implement them.
3. By having a common framework and language, you will save enormous amounts time. You can cut to the core of new ideas much faster and with less effort.
4. You will have a business development language that you can take with you and apply anywhere (the same way that the English language will enable you to communicate with people all over the world).
5. You can quickly analyze, ask relevant questions about and finally understand the business models of your customers, your channel partners, your co-workers, your suppliers, your strategic alliances and your investors.

So where does the term business model originatefrom?
The term "business model" became widely used by the end of the 90's in conjunction with the introduction of the "new economy." After the dot-com bubble, in 2001, we learned that the "new economy" had to follow the same laws as the old economy. However, especially in the information technology industry, there still was a need for explaining why it could make sense to invest millions in companies that hardly had any revenue and were unprofitable. The business model became the standard phrase used to explain how you could turn a brilliant idea that lost money into a booming business in the future. But, it wasn't until 2010 when Alexander Osterwalder et al. published the book Business Model Generation that we got a complete framework for what a business model is. Before Alexander Osterwalder, we still wasted tons of time discussing what the business model format was in addition to discussing the business itself. It was like building the Tower of Babylon, where differences in languages stood in the way of solving the actual challenges.

H1: When will the business model framework cross the chasm?
Alexander Osterwalder taught us that the business model framework was not for exotic startups only. All types of business issues in all kinds of organizations would benefit immensely by applying a common structure and a common language.

Alexander Osterwalder et al. published the Business Model Generation book in July 2010, promising vast improvements in the business development discipline. And, while the business model framework can be learned at a little cost, we are still at the start of the adoption curve (it has always puzzled me that people who are supposed to be innovators are slow to adopt and use new business development frameworks). I hope this post and my little present for you at the end can help you climb the adoption curve a bit faster.

H1: The business model framework at a glance
The business model framework has nine building blocks, and the explanation of your brilliant idea for starting or improving a business needs to include them all.

You mostly start by clarifying your value proposition and its attractiveness to particular kinds of customers (often called the product-market fit). Then, you explain the channels required to find, nurture, mature, activate, develop, and win new customers (often called your go-to-market approach) and the customer relationships required to make, keep, and grow happy customers. You complete the story by showing how the revenue flows through your channel and customer relationships. These five building blocks make up your business model front office.

The next step is to explain the business model back office required to drive the front office. You describe the activities required, the resources needed, and the strategic relationships that you must have in place to deliver your value proposition successfully. You end the story by estimating the cost required to run the back office.

When you have done your business model homework, you have a preliminary P&L Statement (Profit & Loss) that can be refined as you mature the project.

Most users of the business model framework stop here, but that's way too early. While most of the business model building blocks are within your full control (revenue is the exception), you have to operate in a world that is completely outside your control. You need to make it to page 200 in the Business Model Generation book before you are introduced to the business model environment, describing the external powers and trends that impact your venture. Alexander Osterwalder has developed a very useful kit for running a business model environment workshop, which I recommend that you get.

With the first version of your business model and the environment documented, you can start to refine and optimize. The last sixteen pages of the book spell out the format for running a business model design process within your company.

H1: My New Year present for you
If you haven't bought the Business Model Generation book yet, then I suggest you do so now. After reading the book and using the framework for the first time you will be left with a big question: How do I implement my business model?

I have written an e-book giving you the format for generating revenue. The e-book will be published by the end of January, but as my faithful reader, you can get it now.

Happy New Year and may your 2017 projects turn out successfully for your customers, your co-workers, and you.