I was just reading Michio Kaku’s 2008 bestseller, Physics of the Impossible. He’s an excellent writer, researcher and scientist. For those that don’t know him, even if you don’t have a scientific or astrophysicist bent, you’re sure to find his writings stimulating. He draws from some of the greatest scientists in the world, so it’s not just his thinking.
In this book, he talks about three levels of impossibilities. A Class I impossibility is something that we can’t do now, but probably will come about in few generations to a few hundred years, such as teleportation and anti-matter engines. A Class II impossibility is one that may take man a few millennia to achieve – such as hyper travel, and a third level is way, way out there in the future –if at all. They sound like forever, but in universe time, it’s not even a blink of an eye.
As I was reading his book, I kept analogizing on a few things. One of which is, what does business look like in five to ten generations from now and what does it look like in a few thousand years when some Class II impossibilities start kicking in?
It’s difficult at least for me to think that far in the future. But let’s look at some Class I impossibilities and see where that leads us.
Suppose we solve three of the ten Class I impossibilities that Kaku proposes.
- Teleportation of inanimate objects
- Advanced intelligent robotics and nanobots
- Antimatter power sources
All three have projects in the works and are rudimentarily being done.
Now let’s take a look at these three in combination. Teleportation would ease the distribution of small quantities of objects worldwide or speed the movement of small critical items in the event of an emergency. Advanced robotics could provide us with the ability to move large objects and quantities of materials safely and without intense human intervention. Finally harnessing anti-matter (or perhaps fission) as a usable and viable power further decreases our dependence on expensive and depleted fossil fuels. Businesses such as trucking and transportation could look quite different as well as construction if it employed nanobot technology.
I am also intrigued by how we will be marketing and selling products and services and how we communicate, distribute and record these events. Obviously computers will be a major element, but even computers may look or feel different when quantum computers take root. And what will be the effect of virtual businesses on our society and how we interact with another. It leaves me at least with a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of conjecture. But I’m not sure the Brave New World of Huxley in 2540 AD, some 500 years from now, withstands the acid test of future personal relationships anymore. I think there is more to hope for, a lot more!
A couple of weeks ago (Nov. 23, 2009) Newsweek had Sara Palin on the cover in gym shorts. I guess they figured that would get a wider audience. What was also quite interesting in that issue was an article on Business Innovation by Daniel McGinn. One of the lingering concerns and a serious issue for the last 2 decades (maybe 3) is how fast we might be losing ground in the battle for innovation, inventiveness, and the requisite skills that are likely to keep us there, especially math and science.
Newsweek and Intel collaborated on this Global Innovation Survey that polled 4800 adults in the U.S., China, Germany and the U.K.
Two of the more interesting survey findings included:
While most Americans (73%) believe the U.S. is technologically innovative, more Chinese do (82%) and a significant majority of Chinese believe we are staying ahead of China when it comes to innovation as opposed to less than a majority of Americans (41%).
In addition, many Americans (52%) blame poor math and science education as the reason for our falling behind, while more Chinese than Americans (45% to 18%) believe that creative problem solving is more important to innovation.
Perhaps a majority of Chinese value creative problem solving and Americans math and science since these are each areas of complimentary necessities to create, innovate and invent. And of course it’s something that each of these societies wants more of.
Originally being schooled as a mathematician and engineer, and having worked at one of the great think tanks – Bell Laboratories – it always seemed to me that balance would ultimately prevail over one or another extreme. However, over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that it is actually more important to be extremely great at both – not necessarily the same individual of course – and then build an organization through people that have a balance, using them to connect innovation to the real world, by continuously collecting business requirements, and creatively marketing products so that the economic engine behind the innovation remains continuously fueled.
One thing I’m sure of is that seed and venture capital are key to priming this engine and the world’s economy is quite dependent on our business risk takers.
I spent a couple of days at the big annual event for bankers last week in Boston hosted by BAI. They also had some high quality speakers, two of whom, Jack Welch and Al Gore, I’ve had the brief honor of meeting previously. The third was Ram Charan, noted author and educator, and as this is the first time I heard him in person, I must say that he was excellent. All of them are plugging their books and writings including AL Gore’s latest, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. But that is expected and I look forward to reading VP Gore’s latest.
What I thought was to a degree absent was a session on how cloud computing can assist banks, especially those that fall in the below $10B in asset range. These could be represented by banks, Savings and Loan’s (S&L) or Credit Unions (CU).
Here is what I thought was there and what was missing:
Some banks are using cloud computing for the traditional Software as a Service (SaaS) capabilities including sales such as Salesforce.com.
Some are using it to augment some of their infrastructure needs including data storage.
A few are using it to augment website capabilities.
What I didn’t hear was a bank or other financial or lending institution that started its core operations around cloud computing. And I think there are still a lot of valid concerns why this is not happening as rapidly as in some other areas of business. Let are my thoughts:
First, banking is highly regulated and likely to get more so, not less. Consumer and depositor data is closely monitored as part of the Gramm Leach Bliley Act. Cloud computing opens some doors to loss of data security.
Second, the OCC and OTS have considerable oversight in regular audits of large and small banks. Getting caught in a bad audit is not something anyone wants.Cloud computing may not lend itself well to an intense audit.
On the other hand banks, new, upcoming and traditional all can benefit from this approach. Traditional banks get to employ new services faster and quicker, while new banks don’t have to invest in a lot of Information Technology (IT) assets to get moving.
I would hope that next year we’ll hear more concrete stories of how banks are employing and deploying greater and wider services through cloud computing providers such as Amazon, IBM, Google, Oracle and Microsoft, as well as some of the outsourcers, Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) and bank services providers including FIS, Metavante, Harland and Jack Henry.
If you would like further information on this topic, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
November 11th, 2009 in
, Capital Markets
, Cloud Computing
, Conferences and Events
, Financial Services
| tags: Cloud Computing
Lately I seem to be getting into some discussions with mid-sized and SMB type companies that want to use social media and conversational media in their day-to-day operations both internally and with their customers. I’ll define a mid-size company as anyone with over 50 employees.
A lot of the relevance of social media including blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook and even Twitter are not lost on these businesses at all. Many of these mostly privately run companies have been started by their senior executive or perhaps by one of the executive’s relatives (dad/grandfather usually) and current management keeps building on past success. Frequently they are middle-aged and they usually have children often in their teens or even college age. These millennial’s are tech savvy and they might hear about the latest Facebook app from them. Or they might hear how their competitor is using LinkedIn to connect with prospects, etc.
The question that I hear at least once in the conversation is “how do I control it once the genie is let out”? My response is you may not be able to control it 100 percent but you can certainly put some guidelines or policies around it for your employees.
Here are 5 simple and easy-to-implement social media and conversational media policies, guidelines and practices that you should consider for yourself, staff or business:
Respect yourself and others when writing blogs or posting comments or communicating by Facebook. Consider your language and state of mind when writing. If you disagree with someone’s point of view try being diplomatic rather than pugilistic.
Don’t curmudgeon your competition. It usually doesn’t result in anything positive for your business.
Stay away from commenting on legal or financial matters that may affect you, your company or your business partners.
Don’t try to mask or cover up who you are. It’s too easy to track where and to whom comments actually come from. Remember the comments posted by John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. He was eventually uncovered.
Employ basic common sense and good judgment. Don’t publish items that are not yours. Stick to what you know and ask questions about what you don’t.
Lastly, and this is not a policy exactly, keep everything simple – especially because you are a small or medium size business. Don’t try to tackle all the social networking and conversational media applications at one time. Build your expertise in pieces.
And the above certainly can apply to larger – publicly oriented enterprises as well – it just might be more formalized.
October 20th, 2009 in
, Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
, SEO & SEM
, Social Media
| tags: Branding
, content management
, Conversational Media
, Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
, Social Media
As I continue to talk to a number of technology companies about their winning strategies and best practices in building partnerships and alliances, I keep hearing about some of the critical tactics that will work in your behalf and hopefully keep you in your position.
Note that I said tactics – not strategies or best practices – that can keep you successful. I’ll leave strategy and best practices for another blog.
Here are 5 that I believe are important to help you keep your position.
- Target a 90 day win
- Target high and deliver in phases
- Target the largest customers in your market
- Target your sales force and your partner’s sales force
- Target maximum control
Now here is more of what I mean.
Thinking beyond 90 days in today’s economy is a recipe for disaster. Few companies can afford that luxury, not even the largest ones. While good alliance managers like to think strategically, this is not the time to put all your eggs in this long term basket.
Thinking big in terms of a win means delivering the highest value and hopefully highest revenue joint sale that is realistic and still fits in the 90 day-ish window. Thinking big also keeps you in front of all the right people – sales, management, marketing and customers. But think in chunks of deliverables that are realistic and that can show measurable and incremental success to everyone.
Thinking in terms of large customer deals means that you are targeting the highest end of your target market. If you need to target large companies and your partner is targeting companies in the mid bracket, you could have a disconnect. Make sure you’re both on the same track and can deliver with the same level of customer.
Thinking in terms of getting the buy-in and participation of both direct sales forces has always been important. This has not changed today and may be even more critical in making the right things happen. And if the right things don’t happen, having the sales buy-in may provide a little extra buffer for you in the event of problems.
Thinking in terms of maximum control means keeping control of as many of the elements of success as possible. If you expand your partnership beyond two partners, or if you require too many resources, or input from a third party, you will begin to lose control. That goes for complex projects or ventures that require too many pieces of your own organization to deliver on.
This is a tough market and alliance managers are under a lot of pressure. I’d like to hear what you believe are most critical to your immediate success.
Last week I wrote about what I learned from talking to 25 companies on how social media was being used by them individually, as well as how they used it to enhance their business alliances and partnerships. Mostly I discussed the partnering aspects.
I thought that this week I would back up a little and discuss 5 points to consider when building out a social media program for your business.
First, with any business initiative, start with a vision, plan, and mission. Sounds like a lot, but this could be a few paragraphs or one-pager. You already have a business plan (I assume), so this is just meant to complement it Not complicate it. Try to answer – “What is my prime purpose in using social media?” Influence customers to buy, provide better customer service and experience, build a new lead channel, etc. Then build your one-pager. Your prime purpose may change or expand in a year, so understand that this is dynamic.
Second, if you’re not top management, then the above will not be very credible until the owners or senior management buy into it. Social media has the ability to touch and influence almost every area of your business operation, as sales, marketing, HR will all be affected by your strategy. You will need multiple layers of support to get this started – but not necessarily everyone.
Third, think about how your vision will be turned into policy and action. You will need to establish some policies and guidelines about what’s inbounds and what’s out of bounds in your social media strategy. For instance, what guidelines do you need to establish around talking about new products or internal affairs or finances. These are important areas that can affect you legally, financially, and in your ability to compete.
Fourth, can you track who’s saying or writing what? And what help or guidance are you providing them? What tools, training and programs might help them help your customers or clients better, or do their job better? There’s a lot of territory to cover on this fourth bullet and my next blog will talk about how to help you get connected to the right resources.
Fifth, and this is the one I like least, but is necessary. What are the consequences for breaking policy? Even in LinkedIn, some groups have policies that do not allow links in their discussions. Most groups don’t, but those that do will or can expel you from the group. LinkedIn itself has certain policies that will be cause for your expulsion. If you plan to have consequences, then make sure they’re communicated well and backed up with adequate training. This topic alone is worthy of another blog and I would appreciate other thoughts on the subject.
As examples of how to get started or just start your thinking along these lines, take a look at IBM’s guidelines. Or check out Sun Microsystem’s guidelines – one of my former employers – where the CEO has (or had) a highly readable and followable blog. Since Sun is in the midst of being purchased by Oracle, I’m not sure where his future writings will go, but it might be worthy to check out his past material at http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/ as an example of an executive communication blog.
Look forward to your comments and thoughts.
September 30th, 2009 in
, Business Results
, SEO & SEM
, Social Media
| tags: Branding
, Social Media
Over the past 3 months I’ve talked to over 25 companies primarily in the Business-to-Business (B2B) space and mostly technology companies (software and hardware).
Specifically, I was asking questions including:
- What types of traditional marketing activities are you maintaining (webinars, website development, paper-based sales and marketing collateral, seminars, etc.)?
- What types of digital marketing activities are you engaged in (blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn lead generation, Facebook, partner driven digital marketing, SEO/SEM, etc.)?
- Are you combining the two disciplines and in what ways?
The types of responses were a little surprising as I thought there would be more push toward exercising these emerging techniques around digital marketing.
What I found was the following in regards to digital marketing:
- Most companies were taking a wait-and-see strategy. That is they were waiting to see what their partners or competitors were doing before they invested a lot of time and effort.
- They were unclear about the ROI from digital marketing activities. Some said that they didn’t see any early returns from looking at how their market was engaged in these activities.
- They were indeed monitoring digital trends and activities – usually informally – until the time they thought would be appropriate for them to take the plunge.
- In general, they didn’t see the value in Twitter but did see some value in LinkedIn – as this was a professional community – one that they could have meaningful discussions through. However, even with LinkedIn, almost none of them had anything truly formal going on.
- There seemed to be an executive gap. Mid-level managers and rank and file employees were more apt to use informal social media communication than senior management. Security and trust were important issues at the senior level.
There were some clear trends that I plan on illustrating in some follow-up blogs and reports, but this is a quick readout of what I found. Keep in touch or sign up for my future reports.
And please add your comments as I’d appreciate what you’ve found.
Note to above: About 15 of these discussions were formal – that is they followed a prescribed set of questions that lasted approximately one hour. Discussions with the remaining 10 companies were more informal although in general the same types of questions were asked.
And there are always more than a few good articles at B2B Magazine for which I used their logo as an illustration above.
September 21st, 2009 in
, Market Segmentation
, SEO & SEM
, Social Media
| tags: alliances
, Market Segmentation
, Social Media
After taking the Labor Day week off, it’s back to writing my regular weekly blog and maybe even catching up sometime by doubling up on my blog one week soon.
In any case, this is a continuation of the theme of 5’s on alliance building and partnerships. This one focused on Alliance Warning Signs. So here are several of my favorite warning signs. I look forward to reading about yours.
I think there are quite a few warning signs that alliance managers have to be aware of. Part of the problem in any relationship, personal or business, is recognizing which ones are most telling and which ones appear to be important but can be dismissed. Some apparently troubling signs initially can actually be double entendres. Notice how each of these signs can be interpreted differently and produce equally positive or negative results.
Significant Financial Changes: this is easier to read when your alliance partner is a publicly traded company. Earnings reports, stock prices, etc are powerful barometers of business performance. A couple of quarters of negative earnings can spell cutbacks or imply customer defections. On the other hand, perhaps poor earnings were due to an inflated acquisition or writedown. So it’s important to look at the situation thoroughly. Even if it is negative, it might turn out that your partner will turn to their best partnerships and if you’re in that class then indeed this could easily turn out to be a clear win for you – especially if they make a comeback.
Senior Management Change: this is an obvious caution sign. New CEO’s often bring in teams that are more closely aligned to their past history and strategy. If your new partner CEO had a closer relationship with your competitor for instance, that could easily spell trouble, especially if your relationship is not well secured. On the other hand, change in upper management could just as well be a plus for you if the tenor of the new team has a positive past with you or your company.
Internal Turnover: always be on the look out for internal changes, especially when it comes to either the key people you deal with or other key influencers on your partner’s team. On the other hand again, if you’ve been stagnating lately with some of your partner’s counterparts – a change could be just what the doctor ordered.
Customer Complaints: perhaps the number one area of caution is when a joint customer is undergoing issues with your partner or their products or services, particularly if those problems also impact you and that same customer. Nothing seems to derail a partnership more than a customer with problems. On the other hand, solving customer issues with your partner quickly can be a powerful force for your future joint efforts and forge an enduring bond.
Significant Market Condition Changes or Major New Competitors: we’ve seen a lot of this occurring over the past 12- 18 months. Many companies quickly righted their ship while others slowly struggled and muddled through these business situations. Most importantly, negative economic and competitive situations will always arise. It’s how you work through them with your partner that ultimately matters most and getting through some tough and trying situations usually builds character and a lasting relationship in the long run.
Let me know what your favorites are.
In keeping with my theme of 5, here are some thoughts on the top 5 traps to avoid (or potential problem areas to stay clear of) when it comes to partnerships and alliances.
- Not monitoring change signals from your partner
- Failing to negotiate when it’s necessary
- Trying to represent that you or your company can do more than you really can
- Waiting for your partner to dictate the direction that your partnership takes
- Focusing on individual success and not the partnership
Let’s explore each one a little further.
Trap No. 1: Not keeping a close eye and ear on what your trusted partner is doing in the marketplace is a recipe for getting blind-sided. I’ve been involved first hand with an important alliance that we expected to move into an acquisition deal. Our discussions turned south when our partner was acquired by a larger partner of theirs, all while they were in the midst of negotiation with us. And we were even partners with their acquirer. That was a costly lesson to learn.
Trap No. 2: Similar to trap #1, failing to recognize when to negotiate new terms and conditions, or direction, can result in unwanted results and outcomes, at least for one of the partners. When there are substantial changes in business conditions, such as when new competitors enter your field or there are a bevy of acquisitions, don’t wait to look at your partnership T’s and C’s until the contract is up for renewal. That’s usually too late.
Trap No. 3: Trying to represent that your company can take on more than it is capable of or that your every move is firmly backed by everyone in your company can easily set you up for a fall. It’s important to aspire to success but success is more frequently attained through continuous achievement and hitting milestones than with over zealousness or boasting. Don’t be enticed to offer your partner more than what you can realistically deliver, and target modestly at least initially. Under-promise and over-achieve as the expression goes.
Trap No. 4: The fourth trap is allowing the direction of the partnership to be dictated by your partner, especially if they are the larger-dominant one. While you may have to submit to some of their terms and conditions, or risk endless tie-ups and delays with their legal department that most smaller companies can ill afford, you must equally dictate the tempo, rhythm and culture of the partnership. If it sounds like a dance, it is.
Trap No. 5: While it’s obviously never wrong to focus on your success, if it’s always coming at the expense of your partners’, your partnership won’t keep its legs very long. It’s important to look at the partnership as a joint venture – each side having a stake and a gain. Look out for your partner when they sometimes can’t look at for themselves and you’ll both be successful in the long run.
As I’ve been learning the past few weeks, I’m sure there are many other traps to be aware of. I’d love to hear your favorite.
August 30th, 2009 in
, Business Results
, Mergers and Acquisitions
| tags: alliances
, Mergers and Acquisitions
In this continuing series focused around alliance building and partnering, I’d like to explore 5 topics, or should I say Partnering Myths, that I will discuss in this issue. These myths, as I term them, are nothing more than a set of expectations that are usually never realized.
Here are my 5 myths of partnering:
Myth No. 1 – Loyalty and success are dictated by the Agreement and Contract. My experience indicates that a written contract has very little to do with success. It’s not the numbers, terms or conditions that make alliances work, rather it’s much more dependent on people and mutual trust.
Myth No. 2 – My second myth, Exclusivity, frequently is associated with further increasing the mutual value of the partner agreement. Some believe that exclusivity enforces trust and loyalty and further creates a foundation for success. Perhaps that is true in some cases, but while exclusivity may benefit the smaller partner in the near term in a weak-strong partner relationship, it usually creates over-dependence on the larger partner in the long term and can result in non-competitive selling situations, reduced revenue and lower market capitalization for the smaller partner.
Myth No. 3 – Short Term Financial Results are indicative of a successful partnership. While short term results are always good, they can also cloud or mask problems with how the combined products and services are supported and what the longer term satisfaction requirements are for the customer.
Myth No. 4 – Money and Resources can solve partnership problems. Rarely does a set of joint marketing initiatives or investments solve an inherently poor business proposition. Rather, joint marketing spending needs to have clear objectives assigned in terms of what it will do to create demand and brand for the partnership.
Myth No. 5 – Industry Analysts buy into it. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of analysts who come out and endorse a certain alliance or particular partnership. While analysts usually have excellent insight into the market landscape, they can often be blind-sided when it comes to understanding how productive alliances net out in actual working relationships between two sales organizations and R&D groups.
No doubt that there are others that I haven’t highlighted.
What’s your favorite myth when it comes to partnering?