Saturday, September 05, 2009


Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Sales Job

During a meeting I was asked an interesting question - 'What will you do if you are immediately posted in a completely new geography, in a domain that you did not understand and given a stiff target to achieve in a limited time period?'. The first thought that came to me mind was 'Why will you do that to me?'. Somehow, I blurted out an answer about reading industry magazines, becoming a part of an industry association, calling personal friends in the indutry and using sites like Linked In to make some initial contacts and taking it forward from there. I was not totally convinced; neither was the guy who asked me. He asked me to ponder a little more on the question and also asked me to talk to the Sales pros within the organisation.

Although I did followup on his advice, I was more intrigued with my question. I have afterall been working in a particular domain for some time now and have a fair understanding of the internal capabilities as well as the market. Why will they want to put me elsewhere when there were opportunities in my domain?

At about the same time I got a call from a close friend who has recently joined a financial products company in a sales capacity. He wanted to discuss his current challenges on prospecting and creating a mind share for his company and products in the market. As we discussed, it became clear that although both of us were working in entirely different businesses, the sales thought process was quite uniform. We had to perform a similar set of actions to achive our end goal of winning more customers and keeping them.

We spoke about how to go about the different Sales phases like Generating Interest, Creating and developing Relationships, Showcasing the solution or product, Obtaining a commitment, Delivering well and Creating repeat business. As we kept discussing and exchanging ideas, it became clear that the sales process was universal.

Although the MBA taught us this, most of us internally believed that domain knowledge preceded the Sales acumen or to put it another way, Sales acumen was necessary but not sufficient. Now I am all but convinced that a good sales guy with the right attitude and process can succeed whereever he is put, in whatever industry or geography. Do you think other wise?

Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Square Root of Three"

The following poem is a good example of creativity out of something as mundane as an irrational number. I am still not sure about the author, but based on the internet, he's an MIT math grad and currently a computer science teacher.

I fear that I will always be
A lonely number like root three

The three is all that’s good and right,
Why must my three keep out of sight
Beneath a vicious square root sign,
I wish instead I were a nine

For nine could thwart this evil trick,
with just some quick arithmetic

I know I’ll never see the sun,
As 1.7321

Such is my reality, a sad irrationality
When hark! For what is this I see,
Another square root of a three

As quietly come waltzing by,
Together now we multiply

To form a number we prefer,
Rejoicing as an integer

We break free from our mortal bonds
And with a wave of magic wands
Our square root signs become unglued
Your love for me has been renewed

- by David Feinberg

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Learnings from the PMO (Part II of II)

80/20 Rules! (Pun intended)

80/20 is the single most important rule of the business world. Period. Here are some 80/20 rules that have worked for me –
1. To structure and solve most business problems, 80/20 works best when used in tandem with Mckinsey’s MECE approach
2. Don’t let your boss know this, but at any managerial level, 80% of your work can be delegated. Doing this helps you elevate yourself to take up 80% of your boss’s activities. He will be wondering where you get all the time from and done correctly, your reportee will also be thankful for the opportunity. Underline ‘Done Correctly’.
3. One of the most famous 80/20 rules is that 20% of your clients contribute to 80% of your revenues. Unfortunately due to the way businesses are structured, less than 20% of top management time goes into nurturing these businesses. They tend to spend maximum time on developing new clients. Although this is necessary for sustained growth, this will eventually backfire unless actively planned for.

There are a hundred other examples out there; just put on your 80/20 hats and hunt for 80/20 opportunities in every business situation and you will come up with interesting insights. In the business world, surely 80/20 rulez!

Third Time Lucky

Developing and implementing new work processes and improving existing ones is an important PMO activity. What I did learn is that while implementing change, the first time you communicate the process, there is luke warm response probably because people feel it is not serious. The second time you communicate, there are usually more questions and concerns raised about the new process and people let you know what all can go wrong. But, usually the third time around there is more compliance and from the fourth iteration the process becomes the norm. So if you are establishing processes, be patient.

People vs Resources (Employee view vs Management view)

Many people argue that organizations should not view employees as mere resources; they must view them as individuals and manage them accordingly. I was one of the proponents of this theory; that is until I took up my current job. I understood that the resource view or the helicopter view is very good for analysis, work distribution, resource management and in general running the business. But equally important is the people (individual) view when it comes to talent recognition, reward mechanisms, appraisal etc. The idea and challenge for the management is to understand and maintain the People view at the employee level, make them feel valued and personal while at the same time maintain a resource view for business needs. This dichotomy is because in the 21st Century company, people are the resources albeit special resources. They have the physical attributes of any other type of economic resource but also an emotional aspect of being human. So go ahead ye managers, take those economic/ business decisions, be objective but also develop empathy, respect for people and connect.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Well, the title says it all. These days we have so many tools for communication at our disposal - the email, the SMS, the cell-phone and what not, yet there is so little of communication.
Yes, we do talk a lot, email and message a lot but are we able to pass on an idea in our head with the same intensity and precision to another head? Lack of proper communication according to me is the root cause of all problems political and other wise in today’s organizations. So do I have the answer, well for starters -
Speak it out - Bring your thoughts in the open and do not be afraid of being ridiculed. But, try to remain neutral and objective. Use the logic of
elevator pitches during all business conversations.
Write better – Pithy emails are good as long as they communicate properly. Many a time most of the information we want to communicate is left in our head.

Communication – This is the cardinal word for success in the corporate world!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Learnings from the PMO (Part I of II)

It’s been one year after the MBA and one year of managing a PMO. For the uninitiated, the PMO or the Program Management Office is the nodal agency in a business unit that enables the unit to function as a single business with a common vision and direction. Ok, I came up with that on the fly and much better definitions are available on the web. But as you read more about PMO implementations it becomes clear that every single PMO implementation is different and adjusted to suit the need of that business.

The aim of this post is albeit not to discuss about PMO implementations but to give a glimpse of what I have learned in this business function in the last one year. So here are my Top 5 business lessons learnt -

1. Out of sight, Out of mind
2. Know where vs Nowhere
3. 80/20 Rules! (Pun intended)
4. Third time lucky
5. People vs Resources (Employee view vs Management view)
0. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Out of sight, Out of mind

Work that gets done by managers can be usually classified into three buckets; transactional, tactical and strategic based on the impact of these actions. The transactional are the daily activities, the hygiene factors. It is quite noticeable if you are not acting on them. Tactical or actions with medium term impact take up the remaining time. Strategic issues take up the least share of their time. Unfortunately these activities are the ones that will bring in maximum impact in the longer term. This again is one of the top reasons for organizations to act late or worse not act on disruptive ideas. Thus there is a compelling reason for organizations to keep regular track items of strategic importance and actively manage their future at every level. Because out of sight is out of mind!

Know where vs Nowhere

Achievement is a comparison of where you are to where you wanted to be. So in order to say that you have achieved something, usually you measure against preset goals. In business as in life having preset goals helps especially if they look seemingly impossible today. Goals give motivation and a sense of purpose. Setting goals right though is an art as it has to seem difficult to reach but also seem to be in the realm of the possible. This is where the rules of the experienced thumbs play their part. The best managers/ leaders are those who have mastered this art and are able to carry their flock towards their audacious looking goals. So set your goals right and set sail and you may well reach the moon and beyond! Bon voyage.

To be continued...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I'm gonna light up the brightest light!

Its been more than a year since I last blogged. But you know what I'm back! Let me start with a song that has intiated my personal reform -

I know it's easier to give up your dreams
And to be yourself is harder than it seems
How can I change the world if I can't change myself?
I guess the only thing I can do is take the first step
Out of the dark, I'll find my way
I'm gonna light up the brightest light
Out of the dark, I'll find my way
I'm gonna light up the brightest light
I know the world is cruel to the dreamer's heart
And to find yourself alone is the hardest part
How can I save the world if I can't save myself?
I guess my own two hands
Are the only thing I can count on now
Out of the dark, I'll find my way
I'm gonna light up the brightest light
Out of the dark, I'll find my way
I'm gonna light up the brightest light
Out of the dark, I'll find my way
I'm gonna light up the brightest light

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What Drives Business?

I was asked to write an article for our college magazine on the topic - 'What drives business?' and here's what I came up with.

This is a draft version. The complete version is in the magazine which comes out next month.

(The following is a small fictional story that takes place in a company called Widgets India Pvt. Ltd. This story tries to look at what drives a business through the eyes of practitioners.)

The Introduction

Guru V Gurumoorthy
CMD and Director – R&D

‘Baloney’ was the word that came to my mind as I was discussing with Siva yesterday about the possibility of right sizing the company. Both of us knew that the decisions we took would affect the lives of so many families who have given so much for the success of this company.

I still distinctly remember the day I stepped back on Indian soil fifteen years ago after completing my PhD from the USA. Starting a company in India back then seemed a crazy idea. “Wishful thinking”, said everyone around me. But to me it was all very clear. I would have the power to give jobs to so many people if I came back, the same jobs I am supposed to take away now!

G. Sivaramakrishnan
Director – HR

I have not seen Guru in such a mood ever before. I have known him from the time we were kids, after all our dads worked together and we went to the same school. He has always been fresh and full of energy. To me he is still the kid I knew. Yesterday was different; he looked tired and sapped.

Guru started this company from scratch. With his patent for a new process of making widgets, he could have done this right in the US but he chose to come back. Money was never a problem for us from the start, getting people was. We had to make people leave their secure government jobs and join a young startup. Looking back, I would say they had made the right decision. But I guess the good times don’t last forever. Guru has not told me his decision yet, but I expect some big announcements today at the meeting.

Gaurav Shah
Vice-President – Marketing and Sales

I don’t know why we have this sudden meeting today. This better be good ‘coz I had to cancel a customer meeting for this. Gurubhai has been acting funny this week. I love this company and though we are going through tough times, I strongly believe that we will turn it around.

I still remember the speech Gurubhai gave at our college ten years ago. ‘The true leader is not the one who gets more accolades, but the one who wins more hearts’, he said. This simple truth has helped me close many a deal in my career. As a fresh MBA then, I clearly knew joining this company was my destiny. The more experienced among us told me that I would be spoiling my career and that a company making widgets would never succeed in India. They advised me to take up a job in FMCG or one in a big government company. I decided otherwise. I have never regretted my decision.

T. Shyamsunder
Vice-President – Accounting and Strategic Finance

‘Tough decisions have to be made in successful companies’, I tell Mr. Gurumurthy every time I meet him. He is a good man, but then we are running a business here.

I joined this company six months ago. I am supposed to be their turnaround man. I have studied the entire cost structure and pricing ability of the company’s products and submitted a report to Mr. Guru a week back. We desperately need to drastically cut costs if we ever hope to be competitive. I hope some useful decisions are made in today’s meeting.

Ragahvendhar Rao
President – Operations

I am hearing a lot about job cuts and this is really demoralizing the workforce. I hope we don’t take such drastic measures. Guru and his R&D team are almost ready with widgetX. Guru tells me how we will take off once the product hits the market. It’s just a matter of time, a year or two utmost.

I have been with Guru from the start. Siva, for lack of a better word, had poached me from a big government organization with a promise of more challenging work. And boy has he kept up with his promise! We have seen trailblazing growth in the past and I hope today’s meeting will set the direction to get us back on that track.

The Meeting

Gurumoorthy: “Good Morning Gentlemen. For the past few weeks, I have been having frequent discussions with most of you regarding the current situation of the company. Most of you have been, in this time, compiling data and taking an objective look at our sales, operations and financial performance. When I take a combined look at all the data I don’t see a pretty picture.

We started the manufacture of widgets in India and we are probably the most innovative company here currently, but as you see we are neither the top company financially or in the marketplace. I know that some of the major reasons for this have been the entry of multinationals and big Indian conglomerates into this business. This meeting though is not to discuss about them. Neither is this meeting for discussing the causes of our plight.

I have called you gentlemen, to discuss something more fundamental. I want you to do some soul searching and tell me what according to you really drives our business and taking it forward, will drive our business in the future?”

I did not want them to start a blame game by asking them as to what went wrong. Instead I wanted them to ask themselves what it is that when done right can right the wrong.

Ragahvendhar Rao: “With all due respects sir, what makes an airplane work – the engine or the wings?”

Gurumoorthy: “Point well taken Mr.Rao, but all I wanted was for everyone in this forum to come to the same level of understanding regarding all the activities in this company before we decide on a course for the future. I wanted everyone to appreciate the purpose and direction of departments other than theirs”

Gaurav Shah: “I believe a strong marketing strategy built around the needs of our customers is what has driven our business till now. All our competitors though have really caught up with us on that. But where we really stand tall is the customer’s knowledge about us. They know our customers but our customers know us!

We are one of the most well known and trusted companies in the market and our competitors are constantly being benchmarked against us. All we now need to do is to build a strategy to leverage this mind share to get the market share. I suggest we do a comprehensive and integrated marketing campaign that tells the market why we are different. We can introduce a slew of schemes, promotions, warranties and tie-ups backed by targeted advertising. This strategy is what I believe will propel us forward till we take off with the introduction of widgetX.

Gentlemen, we do not have the lowest price in the market. So, let’s be different.”

T. Shyamsunder: “Using our brand image to increase sales is fine but our current cost structure does not allow us to compete in the market. A detailed costing analysis has revealed that our variable costs are more than the price we command leading to negative contributions. We are bleeding gentlemen. Gaurav spoke about growth. I am here to talk about survival. And sound and prudent financial management is what will help us survive and drive us through these tough times.

Our competitors are driving our pricing decisions, but what they cannot decide is our costs. That is the variable we have in our hand. I strongly suggest we start a program to drastically cut costs. Our current employee utilization rates are an abysmal sixty percent. We should immediately lay-off some employees to bring the numbers close to ninety-ninety five percent. This single move will reduce our costs by five percent.

I know this is a tough call, but right now we need to survive and our survival depends on cutting costs.

Ragahvendhar Rao: “Downsizing is always the trump card we management have, to pull ourselves out of tough spots. But, by doing so we are just pushing the real issues under the carpet. We also have to see the long term effects of such a decision and the morale of the surviving employees. Moreover these are real people that we are dealing with and not just numbers.

In the past our production has invariably been able to meet the demands of the market on time. Our quality and reliability have really been the driving force in establishing our brand in the market. If we are able to increase our sales by measures suggested by Gaurav, we will be able to match that demand by moving to three shifts from the current two shifts increasing machine and manpower utilization rates.

Moreover through a process improvement program, we can improve the flexibility of our production. With that we will be able to churn out smaller batches of customized widgets exactly matching customer requirements giving us a better pricing ability compared to our competitors. All these improvements will augur well for the eventual launch of widgetX as well.

Friends, we can improve on the cost front without going in for lay-offs.”

Gaurav Shah: “Good suggestion Mr.Rao. I can include a ‘Widgets to order’ program as part of my campaign.”

G. Sivaramakrishnan: “Three shifts is a very good idea. This gives a strong signal to the workforce that the management is not going for a lay-off strategy. This will improve our attrition numbers.

Moreover our employees are our wealth. The experience that our employees have in the widget industry is way ahead of other competitors. It’s our people who have driven our business to the success and stature we enjoy today. We simply cannot afford to lose them to our competition. We will then be handing over our competitive advantage to them in a platter.”

Gurumoorthy: “Well said Siva. It’s definitely our people who have taken us to success and it is by them we will stand in times of distress. I am sure together we will be able to turn around the company.

I thank you all for taking time to answer my question. You have all answered in earnest and I now clearly see what really drives our business. No, all businesses in general. It is passion gentlemen. Passionate people like you make business successful. With each one as passionate as you are about your domain, when put together form a force potent enough to take on any obstacle we might face. It is not the engine or the wings that make an airplane work, but man’s passion to fly!

It is this passion that made me start this company. It is this passion that will take this company to greater heights.

Gentlemen, I present to you widgetX.”