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.

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

The 5 Ps of CX

“Customer Experience” (CX) is quite the buzzword, these days. In corporate meeting rooms, and on industry panels – every one seems to be talking about it. However, many of the folks I meet grapple with how to prioritize their efforts around improving customer engagement.

Over decades of helping clients and employers bridge the gap between Business and what their Customers really need, I have come to understand that there are 5 Ps that impact CX. These are the levers at your disposal. These are the elements you need to influence, so you can strike the right balance…

  1. Product (or Service)
  2. Platform (or System)
  3. Processes
  4. People
  5. Pricing

Product/Service – Define your Target Audience clearly. Don’t build your product or service around what you think they need. Find out what they seek from you, then build your offering around their real needs. No more, no less. Competition does not matter. Customers do.

Platform/System – We are surrounded by Technology, and it’s here to stay. Your customers are probably embracing it faster than you are able to keep up with it. Don’t resist: Embrace it without excuses. Invest in what matters to your customers, be it Mobile or AI. Invest in creating a friction-less User Experience (UX). Good Design matters.

Processes – Customer Experience is built on a foundation of consistent delivery (of promises made), not found in pockets of excellence. Processes, therefore, form the backbone of a good CX. Stay away from ad-hoc and discretionary management. Strive to build an organization that outlives you and your key managers. Process Excellence is the key.

People – In any enterprise, people are an essential factor of success. Research shows that happy employees drive a 2x improvement in CX. Employee engagement matters. Hire right, then provide them with a clear vision of your business goals. Once they have understood what is needed of them, empower them to take actions that help them meet customer needs.

Pricing – Customer expectations change as the price changes. We expect much more from products and services that are sold at a premium. So if you plan to charge a premium for your brand, make sure you justify the outcome. In every case, think hard about the relationship between Price (you charge) and Value (you provide). Every Moment of Truth matters.

These 5 Ps are how you can ultimately impact the outcomes your customers experience. Of course, you can ignore this list if all you want to do is pay lip-service to the cause.

P.S. If you look closely, you will find that this doesn’t just apply to CX – these are also the attributes that can help you build a robust enterprise – one that outlives you.

What Really Matters

Every business acknowledges that the reason for their existence is the Customer. Every business wants to design products and services that are meant to address their customers’ needs. Yet, almost every business struggles to understand what their customers really want from them.

Is it any wonder that billions are spent worldwide in trying to gauge the truth of the matter, via interactions driven by focused groups and metrics like C-SAT and NPS? To make matters worse, in this Age of Digital and A.I., the “Customer” is also ever evolving!

How do you make sense of it all? 

Yes, customers do exhibit different personalities and needs. But, there are a few insights and common traits that can help most businesses get going.

Here are some of my learnings…

In the India context, it helps to keep in mind that the first 100 Mn Digital Consumers were Younger, More Urban, More Men, More Desktop, while the last 100 Mn are relatively Older, More Rural, More Women, More Mobile.

That said, customers all over the world are figuring out how they can leverage the abundance of Technology that now comes embedded in most platforms, products and services.

They want more and more to happen via Digital channels, so they can access it On-The-Go.

They want lesser clicks, faster page loads, shorter queues, reduced turnaround times, smaller forms.

They want more self-service options (Starbucks?), and want less IVRS interactions (Your call is important to us…?).

In other words, they want their interactions with your brand to be relevant, useful and enjoyable.

Oh, and thanks to online forums, reviews, ratings, and social media exchanges, they probably know more about your product or service than your Sales agent does!

Keep these factors in mind when trying to improve relevance of your offerings, instead of simply believing “you know what’s best for them”. And, don’t leave any opportunity to talk to a real customer – to listen to what really matters to them.

After all, there is just no substitute for a real conversation.

Survival of the Fittest

This post was also featured on the CRMAsia blog.

The headlines keep spewing out paranoia:

AI is taking over hundreds of jobs!
Uber and Ola have all but replaced traditional cabs!!
The hospitality industry objects to predatory pricing by Oyo!!!

So, what does all this mean for corporates, marketers and industry professionals like you and me? Should we become paranoid too? Should we be doing something else instead? Is it already too late?

Here are some interesting statistics compiled by HostingFacts:

  • There are 4.1 billion Internet users in the world (Dec 2018)
  • China has the most Internet users for any country (~802 million or ~20 percent of total), trailed by India (~500 million)
  • Amazon is responsible for more than 49 percent of all online sales and about 5 percent of all retail sales in the U.S.
  • There are 3.7 billion global mobile Internet users (Jan 2018)
  • About 75 percent of ecommerce sales in China are done via mobile devices
  • Mobile traffic is responsible for 52.2 percent of Internet traffic in 2018

The combination of super-cheap data plans (as in Jio) and super-cheap smartphones (as in Android + China) is already making a dent in India. With a plethora of payment platforms (PayTM, RuPay, etc.) that enable everything from micro-payments and P2P money transfers to mutual funds and ticket booking, Indians are also embracing newer ways of dealing with money. And, we are only at the nascent stage of this ‘perfect storm’, as it were.

Whichever way you look at it, the Indian consumer is doing more on their mobile phones today than ever before. Even without the local language content that millions of them want and need. Even without high-speed internet access in their semi-urban and rural towns. Even if it means that their first exposure to the world wide web (remember WWW?!) is on a 2-inch device in their pocket.

So, if you think “going digital” means creating a website and posting some brochureware content on it that gets updated every quarter, you’ve got another thing coming. If you already have a web presence but it doesn’t render elegantly on a mobile screen, you have a lot of catching up to do. If you’re a marketer who thinks all this “AI” stuff is for the geeks in your IT department (or even for your ‘Digital’ team), you may need to learn some harsh truths real soon. And, if you think your business is all offline, so you can continue to manage it the way you have been doing for decades – may be you do need some paranoia in your life.

Voice, Video and Vernacular (content) are going to be the success drivers of tomorrow. Add Velocity to the mix, and you will have a potent combination of forces at play. The environment is certainly ripe for disruption. The only question is will you be making it happen, watching in wonder as it happens, or wonder what happened?!

This post was also featured on the CRMAsia blog.