Looking Beyond The Numbers

This post first appeared on the Relatas blog…

If you are in Sales, you probably identify with numbers more than most folks do. If you are any good at what you do, you would most likely know your monthly, quarterly and annual Sales targets. And have a plan in place for achieving those targets. You would know which of your customers are likely to contribute what amount of revenue towards your Sales goals. And, you would know what all this means, in terms of your year-end incentives and bonus payouts.

In fact, those who are not in Sales-based roles, and have faced the receiving end of a subjective appraisal by their managers, have probably envied the objective assessments that Sales folks experience at some point or the other: Do this much, get that much. It all sounds so simple and elegant!

Aiming for and achieving these daily, monthly, annual numbers is probably what keeps you sane. It is no wonder that most Sales people I know take great pride in their target achievements, and have a big part of their identity (dare I say, ‘self worth’?) tied up in the numbers they achieve.

But, is there a Life beyond these numbers?

I’d like to submit three areas for you to reflect on…

  1. Embrace Technology – Enough and more has been written on the plethora of AI- and Technology-based tools that the modern-day Sales agent has at his/her disposal. But most people I know are struggling to keep up, and resist change every chance they get. Keep in touch with new developments out there. Learn how they work to your advantage – don’t resist them. In fact, influence your employer/manager to adopt relevant tools, whenever possible. Technology is now table stakes, but can also provide the edge.
  2. Build a Personal Brand – Create a well-rounded LinkedIn profile that reflects your best attributes and accomplishments. Go through others’ profiles to seek inspiration, if needed. Include a professional photo and a concise summary of your work. Take the time to read relevant industry posts and articles (even if you’re not the ‘book reading’ type), then start sharing selectively. Once you get the hang of it, you can also include observations and commentary on your posts. Only after you have a profile and a news stream worth looking it, reach out to relevant connections and build your network – current clients as well as prospects.
  3. Broaden your Horizons – Don’t spend all your time confined to your product and industry. Find avenues of information that complement traditional sources, and soak it in as much as you can. Attend industry events and conferences (not to merely “sell”, but to learn more). Listen-in on panel discussions that are not directly related to your product. Expand to industry conferences that are peripheral to your industry. Use networking breaks to share your thoughts and discuss relevant problems with others in the industry. Diversity of knowledge broadens perspectives.

Remember that this is just the beginning of the journey, not the destination. While this post has been written for the Sales professional, these attributes are essential to any working professional in this day and age. Master these, and you will surely take your existing skillset to the next level.

May the force be with you.

What is Advertising?

What does Advertising mean to you as a customer? And, as a marketer?

  1. Advertising… is an interruption that just comes in the way
  2. Advertising… is how we stay informed about new promotions and offers
  3. Advertising… reinforces my beliefs about the brands I like
  4. Advertising… is a wasteful way to market
  5. Advertising… is all Technology-led and data-driven now
  6. Advertising… is crafting engaging creatives based on rich customer insights
  7. Advertising… is what my newspaper is filled with, instead of great content
  8. Advertising… wins awards, but does it actually work?
  9. Advertising… is what big brands do to make noise
  10. Advertising… is good, but PR is better!

Which of these statements resonates with you the most? And, what does that say about you?

What if you replaced the word ‘Advertising‘ with ‘Marketing‘ or ‘Digital Marketing‘ or ‘Search Engine Marketing‘? Would that change your answer?

If you’re right where you need to be, good for you!

If you’re not happy with the way things are, what are you doing to fix it?

#think #experiments #reflections

Understanding Cryptocurrencies

This post first appeared on MyStory

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, there has been a whole lot of talk around Libra – the new cryptocurrency announced by Facebook.

Libra is a permissioned blockchain digital currency proposed by Facebook. The project, currency and transactions are to be managed and entrusted to the Libra Association, a membership organization founded by Facebook’s subsidiary Calibra and 27 others.

Wikipedia

If you could not make much of the above paragraph, you are not alone. If you’re new to the world of digital (or crypto) currencies, this post will help you understand the basics.

What the heck does “cryptocurrency” mean?

Cryptocurrency is best thought of as digital currency (it only exists on computers, not physically) that uses cryptography (encryption) for security. Bitcoin is one of the most well-known examples of a cryptocurrency, though there are many others in circulation.

Cryptocurrencies represent an alternative form of payment (to cash, credit cards, etc.), and all transactions are recorded on a digital ledger (called a “blockchain”). Since both the Transaction data and the Ledger are encrypted using cryptography, it is called “crypto” currency.

A distinguishing feature of it is that its underlying technology allows you to send payments directly to others without going through a third-party (like a bank).

Is cryptocurrency the future?

There are many different views about cryptocurrency, ranging from ‘it will replace everything we do’ to ‘it’s nothing but a fad’.

Here are some problems associated with it…

  • The (semi-anonymous) nature of cryptocurrency transactions makes them well-suited for a host of illegal activities, like money laundering and tax evasion. This is one reason why several countries have made it illegal to own or trade in cryptocurrencies.
  • Since cryptocurrencies are virtual and do not have a central repository, a digital cryptocurrency balance can be wiped out by a computer crash, say if a backup copy of the holdings does not exist, or if somebody simply loses their private key information (used to access their account).
  • While blockchains themselves are highly secure, the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem is not as secure. Over a ten-year period, millions of dollars worth of ‘bitcoins’ have been stolen due to hacking and theft.
  • Since prices of cryptocurrencies are almost entirely based on supply and demand (and not rooted in any material goods), the rate at which a cryptocurrency can be exchanged for another currency can fluctuate quite wildly. Cryptocurrencies are therefore considered by many to be speculative at best.
  • Cryptocurrencies also involve significant energy use. Mining – which is its validation process – is an integral part of cryptocurrencies, but very energy intensive. According to some estimates, Bitcoin mining consumes as much energy as Switzerland, which is an environmental disaster.

Here are some unique benefits of cryptocurrency…

  • Its underlying ‘blockchain’ technology provides us with the means to remove the middleman in financial transactions, as well as strengthen security. Many major financial institutions see tremendous potential in its ability to lower transaction costs by making payment processing more efficient, thereby making such transactions significantly faster and cheaper for consumers.
  • In a world where the value of “fiat” money (government-issued currency) is directly dependent on actions of national governments, some economists argue that cryptocurrencies can serve as a “stable store of value”, offering an antidote to excessive inflation. This is because no single country or government has (undue) control over its price or supply.

Is India ready to embrace cryptocurrencies?

Not quite…

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, in his budget speech on 1 February 2018, stated that the government will do everything to discontinue the use of bitcoin and other virtual currencies in India for criminal uses. He reiterated that India does not recognise them as legal tender and will instead encourage blockchain technology in payment systems.

Wikipedia

Also, according to a recent story in Business Today:

The draft of Banning of Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill 2019 has reportedly proposed a 10-year-long prison term for people who “mine, generate, hold, sell, transfer, dispose, issue or deal in cryptocurrencies”.

Business Today

Finally, Mint reported in July 2019:

A high-level government panel on virtual cryptocurrencies has recommended a ban on all virtual cryptocurrencies in India. The ban on virtual currencies comes along with a fine of ₹25 crore and imprisonment up to 10 years for any activity related to virtual currencies.

LiveMint

For all practical purposes, it looks like India is not likely to embrace any form of cryptocurrency in the near future. That said, blockchain-based tools are only just beginning to establish themselves, and many more exciting use-cases are yet to emerge.

Here’s to living in interesting times!

Also Read: Libra, Explained, The Verge, June 2019

Building a CX Culture

As a consultant or employee, I’ve contributed to ‘Culture Building’ in dozens of organizations, spanning small startups to large enterprises with more than 10,000 employees. Building a culture is challenging in the best of circumstances. However, it doesn’t have to be harder than necessary.

Most organizations are “Sales” focused. That’s how they survive in the worst of times, and thrive in the best phases of growth. Therefore, when starting on the road to Customer Centricity, it is not a surprise to encounter the argument:

“We are a Sales organization, and have been for the past 10+ years”.

What’s wrong with that observation? Why is Sales focus perceived as being in the way of customer-centric behavior?

Here is what typically happens…

If you have any CX-related metrics in place, a few folks in the central/enterprise team looking at CX seriously will review the available (or newly created) reports that are coming in, seek more info from customer touch-points if needed, identify problems that emerge from the data, design solutions (in their head-office based ivory towers?) and roll them out as new policies/processes for all to follow.

In more evolved teams where the CEO or Business Head is directly engaging with the workforce, and is passionate about CX, a periodic email will often go out from his/her desk stressing upon the important of the “customer” and how this new ‘Customer Focus’ will shape our winning strategy in the months to come.

Even more evolved organizations may institute a “Customer Council” – the official custodian of all things customer. This will be the seat of all the action from where above-mentioned priorities, need-gap analyses and new projects & improved processes will roll out.

Is it any wonder that building a CX culture (or any culture) is an uphill task?!

Yes, having your CEO or Business Head define priorities is important for the team, but who stands guard against too many “top priorities” being rolled out too often?

Yes, customer-centricity is an important ingredient in staying competitive for any business, but why not co-opt the ground forces in building the vision for what it means to be customer-centric? Why not collaborate with them to help identify problems and their solutions? After all, aren’t they the ones that are closest to the customer?

If you are a Sales focused organization, why alienate the team with a new vocabulary? Why not call it “Sales Council” instead of “Customer Council”, and make a genuine attempt to have your Sales leaders understand why Sales and CX are on the same side?

Why should Sales be at loggerheads with CX when an improved customer experience and enhanced customer service leads to increased Sales? Why should any function, for that matter?

Senior folks often assume that functional skills and training programs are meant for the rank and file… that they have little need to learn themselves. But, senior leaders in every function can also learn – from their field force as well as from their customers. Personally, I have always gained significant insights from conversations with customers and those on the front-line that service their needs. They know what’s broken and what works. Really.

Awareness is a two-way street. It is only when we embrace that truth will we begin to understand what’s really needed – both, within and outside the organization. And, only then can we contribute towards shaping the culture of the world we inhabit.

Customer Retention is the new Acquisition

We have been hearing it for years… It takes significantly more effort to acquire a new customer than it does to retain one.

In fact, current estimates suggest that it can cost 5X to 25X more to acquire new customers, as compared to retaining them. Yet, a large majority of organizations are focused on “new business” (as in ‘customer acquisition’), constantly pouring resources into a leaking funnel. But, what they ought to focus on is retaining their customer base and engaging with them in a meaningful manner.

Here are some ways to do just that…

  1. Improve Relevance – Understand your unique “tribe” and get to know them better – their needs and wants, what they want from you. Establish mechanisms to listen to your customers – not just an annual C-SAT survey but on an ongoing basis. Then, work on providing relevant products and services that satisfy those needs and wants.
  2. Build Engagement – Is your customer buying a home loan or a home? Is he/she in the market for a medical insurance policy or for peace of mind? How can we make their journey easier? No, engagement does not equal spending big bucks on media buys, or counting likes on a social post. It takes effort to figure out what really matters to your target audience, and even more effort to give it to them. But the reward is worth it.
  3. Develop Partnerships – Build partnerships with distributors, channel partners and even other service providers. The world is one large ecosystem, if you’re willing to see it that way. If you are a ride-hailing app (Uber?) your scope of service doesn’t just include matching a driver with a passenger. Wouldn’t it be far more delightful if your regular customers popped inside the vehicle and had the option to play their favorite playlist (Spotify?). Partnerships are a great way to extend your base offering in ways that are meaningful to your audience. Again, relevance is key.
  4. Build Category before Brand – I can’t recall the number of times I have encountered organizations getting this wrong. Even in a category that is nascent, every brand rushes to build their own brand presence, instead of first building the category. Handhold your customers to help them understand what’s involved. Avoid jargon. Think from their point of view. Test your theories. Validate all assumptions. Simplify. Then, simplify some more. Now you’re on the right track.