Improving Effectiveness of Sales Meetings – Part 4: Pitch

A follow-up of understanding the customer’s problems is the preparation of the sales pitch. In this, the focus needs to be on point solutions to the specific problems they are facing. Ideally, one should look for solutions created for other similar companies which could be presented as case studies. For each problem, a couple possible options could be presented.

As part of the process of preparing the pitch, it is helpful to understand the ground realities. This means, that if it is a retail customer, a visit to the shop floor can provide useful context. Similarly, for a bank, a visit to a branch can open up new perspectives which can bring an additional dimension to the solution.

In many meetings, I like to give personal examples. This helps make it more real. These stories are the ones that leave a lasting impression.

Improving Effectiveness of Sales Meetings – Part 3: Problems

A conversation with lower level managers prior to a meeting with the senior managers can help nail down key challenges that the company is facing, and therefore the opportunities. The focus should be on identifying three key problems that could be focused on in the meeting. Understanding the most important problems means listening to the customer, rather than going into ‘sales mode’ right away.

In a recent meeting, while we were pitching our SMS and email solutions, I realized that the opportunity lay in helping the company get mobile numbers of its 90% customer base that it did not have the contact info. That was the real problem that we had to focus on solving, and through which we could potentially get them to switch. Else, there was little reason for them to change providers.

At this stage, an understanding of the competition is crucial. The more the information gleaned, the sharper can be the solution proposed.

Improving Effectiveness of Sales Meetings – Part 2: Preparation

Proper homework needs to be done about the company being met prior to the meeting. Today, most companies will have a website. Public meetings will have their quarterly and annual reports, along with analyst presentations. These can give a lot of background details about a company. Checking out recent news items can also provide additional info on the priorities. It should also be possible to get some information from friends and ex-colleagues who may be working in the target organisation.

All of this helps create the necessary background, and can also provide some tidbits which could be used at appropriate times during the actual sales meeting.

Improving Effectiveness of Sales Meetings – Part 1: Introduction

The sales meeting is at the heart of a business – it is where the revenue-generating opportunities are created. For those organisations for whom sales is still done face-to-face, person-to-person (as opposed to online), the sales meetings with potential customers are the critical conversations that can make the difference between success and failure.

As I was sitting through a sales meeting recently, a few thoughts came on how to increase the effectiveness of such meetings. Some of these ideas are quite basic, but I realised that we were not following them correctly. Adhering to this set can help reduce the time taken to get to closure – the ultimate dream of a sales person.

They can be summarised as a set of 7 Ps: Preparation, Problems, Pitch, Presentation, Props, Post Meeting, Proposal. I will cover each of these.

Blog Past: The BJP’s Path to 2014

I wrote this a year ago:

Let us start with two facts. First, if one actually analyses the BJP’s Lok Sabha performance through the years (and a similar analysis can be done for the Congress), it will be seen that the party has won at least once in about 300 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Second, the BJP is in power directly or with an ally in 9 states which account for 170 seats. The party is competitive in states with 219 seats, and almost absent in states with 154 seats. Thus, for the BJP, the pool of seats where it can hope to win is about 389 (170+219), with about 55-60 seats going to its three current allies (JD-U in Bihar, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Akali Dal in Punjab). That leaves the BJP competing to win in about 330 seats.

States in which the BJP can get allies are states where the BJP has little or no presence. Thus, there is little benefit for a party to ally with the BJP prior to the election. In fact, the perception has been created that an alliance with the BJP may cost the ally votes from specific communities.

So, the BJP’s best bet is to focus on these 330 seats and aim to win 225-250 of them. With the three present allies, they must aim to reach the half-way mark of 272 on their own. Only then can they deliver the governance and development to the country that they have been doing at the states.

For this, the BJP does not need a leader who can win more allies. In fact, according to me, it needs no more allies because none will come. On the contrary, the BJP needs a national leader who can help the party win the maximum number of seats in the ones they contest.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • What China can teach Facebook: from WSJ. “Though Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of the mobile challenge, he might think about following in Tencent’s footsteps, and instead of working on a more streamlined Facebook app or some grander mobile operating system, make a new mobile product from scratch.”
  • The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs: by Fred Wilson. “If you study Silicon Valley, what you see is something that looks like a forest where trees grow tall, produce seeds that drop and start new trees, and eventually the older trees mature and stop growing or worse, die of disease and rot, but the new trees grow up even taller and stronger.”
  • Killed at socialism’s altar: India Inc: from India Today (via MSN). “Recent policy actions in telecom, coal, power, gas and taxation have badly hit businesses. The economy is taking a beating as its engine of growth, the private sector, suffers. The worst is yet to come if status quo is maintained.”
  • China’s economy: A survey by The Economist. “China’s economy is not as precarious as it looks. But it still needs to change.”
  • Engagement isn’t Enough: from strategy+business. A book excerpt. “A lesson in attaining the full potential of employees.”

Farm Frenzy

A friend recently gave me a CD of the computer game, Farm Frenzy 2, for Abhishek to play. After a month of play, I have to say its an incredibly addictive game. Lots of products to be made, with each game having goals to be met. Abhishek and his cousins have been having a ‘field’ day playing the game. A perfect summer timepass.

From the game description: ” You have lots of mini-missions: feed chickens, collect eggs, stock up your warehouse and ship your goods off to markets. You need to produce 16 products on your own and purchase 5 products in the city. Deal with some 4 different domestic animals and make your business flourish! Earn enough money to be able to upgrade your multiple buildings (12 buildings all in all with 3 upgrades apiece!) and to buy new equipment to manufacture the goods and please your consumers. To provide better transportation of your goods to the markets at higher speeds, upgrade the plane and the truck you have at your disposal.”

Final Call Announcements at Airports

We have all heard the almost continuous “Final Call” boarding announcements for flights at airports. There is never a moment of silence. The cacophony goes on and on. What is even more irritating are the highly specific calls for certain individuals to board the aircraft. The last time I was in Delhi, I heard the same name being called out in 6 successive announcements in English and Hindi. At Bangkok airport, an Indigo representative was busy scouring the airport for a few passengers who were to be on the Delhi flight and were busy browsing the Internet on the free kiosks!

I thought about a possible alternative. Why not send SMS alerts to people? AFter all, pretty much everyone travels with a working mobile. Take the number at check-in time (or at booking time), and then send alerts or do outbound voice calls to those who have not boarded. (Of course, the responsibility is with the passengers and not as much with the airlines to get on the flight. If someone is dumb enough to hang around, they deserve to miss the flight. Once it happens, they will never do it again.) At least our airports will then be quieter.

On Writing

On the Indigo flights I took to and from Pattaya, the crew was the same on both legs. One of the air hostesses came up to me and said – You were the person who spent most of the time writing. What do you write?

I explained to her that I write what I think. It helps keep the mind free, and ensures I do not forget good ideas. Writing helps me think better. My spiral book is always with me. Life and business is all about ideas and doing things better. As and when they come, I put them down. Flights for me are an incredibly productive time, especially if they are day flights and I don’t need to worry about sleeping. The long stretches of time help the thoughts flow freely. And the writing happens in a flurry.

The response from the air hostess was that if she had written as much as I had done in her exam papers, she would probably have been doing something different! I countered that the joy of seeing new places around the world more than makes up for that!!

24 hours in Thailand

My company had organised a sales conference and meet in Pattaya. I went there for a day to meet the group. The travel was so easy, and the interaction something which probably would not have been office in regular meetings.

I took an Indigo 6:30 am flight on Fri morning, reached Bangkok at 12:30 pm, after a 4.5 hour flight. Driving to Pattaya takes about an hour and a half. The 6-8 lane highway makes the 120-kms distance a breeze. I returned the next day by the return Indigo flight which leaves Bangkok at 1:30 pm, and arrives in Mumbai at 4:50 (we landed 45 minutes ahead of schedule).

A change of setting can do wonders for the interactions, conversations and bonding. All in all, a great experience!

Summer Vacation Plans

We are planning to go to Sydney and Gold Coast for the summer vacation in late June / early July. Any suggestions for things to do? I will of course to the web scanning, checking TripAdvisor, reading LonelyPlanet, and so on. But it always helps to ask for unique individual experiences that people would have had in their travels.

I had been to Sydney many years ago to attend a conference on ICT for Development. But I didn’t do much of sightseeing.

Our total vacation time will be about 8-9 days, split between Sydney and Gold Coast.

Blog Past: Indian Elections Data

We have finally begun this project that I had written about a year ago:

I was looking for data on past Indian elections – Lok Sabha and Assembly elections over the past 10 years. One obvious source is of course the Election Commission site but what they have is mostly PDFs and some XLS files (could not find XLS files for 2009-2011 Assembly elections). I am looking for the following:

  • a website where I can do drill-down analysis , at the constituency level, see how the voting patterns have changed across Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in a particular constituency
  • Raw XLS files for all Lok Sabha and Assembly elections from 1998 onwards (including the most recent ones). Like I said, the EC website doesn’t seem to have the last three years assembly elections XLS
  • visualisation software recommendations that can help present the data in a way that can support decision-making

Any recommendations? Would any one of you be willing to work together with me to help create this by aggregating bits that are available?

My goal is to make a site that has all the info readily available for analysis and comparison. It will allow us to see how voting patterns have changed in India. Ideally, we should overlay this with socio-economic data at the constituency level.  If something exists, I’d like to see it. Else, let us work together to create it!

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • What motivates successful entrepreneurs? From Forbes. “Solving a problem you are so passionate about that even if the solution doesn’t result in wealth, you are still thrilled you “solved” it.”
  • What is a school far? by Seth Godin. “School was invented to create a constant stream of compliant factory workers to the growing businesses of the 1900s. It continues to do an excellent job at achieving this goal, but it’s not a goal we need to achieve any longer.” Also see Thomas Friedman’s column in NYT.
  • Browsers and Apps in 2012: by Tim Bray. “It seems very likely to me that there’s something simple and beautiful lurking inside the browser platform that will hit the greatest 80/20 point in software history. But I’ve been thinking that for a decade or more, now.”
  • Yahoo and Flickr: A sobering story from Gizmodo. “This is the story of a wonderful idea. Something that had never been done before, a moment of change that shaped the Internet we know today. This is the story of Flickr. And how Yahoo bought it and murdered it and screwed itself out of relevance along the way.”
  • India’s Economic Predicament: Bibek Debroy writes that “2004-14 will be as damaging as mid 60s, 70.”

Talk on Higher Education

I recently gave a talk at a meeting on higher education. I began by giving some advice on how conferences can be made much more interesting, and then spoke on three themes: the type of education that is needed for tomorrow’s world, the role of technology in education, and the role of government in education. Here is the 20-minute audio of the talk.

Advice to Staff

I was meeting a friend, and he invited me to given an impromptu talk to his staff. I said what I have often said in my company.

First, get rid of the fear of failure in all that you do. More often than not, it is not failure that holds us back, but the fear of failure. That takes away our risk-taking capabilities and makes us ultra-cautious. And that is not good for the company, in general. Failure can be the biggest teacher. And if we don’t have the gumption to fail, we will never succeed.

Second, make decisions as if it is your own company. Not every decision can be referred to a manager for permission. People have to make decisions regularly. And the principle to be followed is – what would you do if this was your own company. If that thinking can be pervasive, one can be quite certain people will do what is right more often than not.

Talk and Action Difference

When I read interviews or hear with some of the government officials, it sounds really good. All of them seem to know exactly what the problem is, and are very good at putting forth solutions. Just like editorial writers.

The problem, of course, is that these same officials are the ones in charge and running the government! Their advice is what they should actually be implementing. And that is what makes one angry. There is a complete disconnect between the talk of such people and the action. Their actions are either not there, or they are the opposite of what they talk.

This is the problem today. Those in power are not acting based on what they know and what they know they should be doing. Clinging on to power has become the paramount focus. I just hope we are able to see through these empty and hollow words.

Industries Hurt by Regulation

I was talking with a friend the other day of how the government is starting to hurt industries through arbitrary regulation and policies.

I was myself witness to what happened to the SMS business with the TRAI regulations that came in last year. Other than that, the telecom industry is hurting. So is the microfinance industry. The gold finance companies too have been severely impacted by the spate of regulations brought forth by RBI. And there are perhaps some others.

On top of this, the Finance Minister is still intent on bringing forth those retrospective taxation laws.That has the potential to hurt many companies.

I don’t remember the period just before 1991 much since I was in the US then, but I can only imagine how it must have felt. Unfortunately, we don’t have elections for another couple years.

A Good Book and a Book Club

A good book can open up the mind in a way nothing else can. A book transports us into the mind of the author, and makes us see the world through the author’s eyes.

I thought of this in a recent Book Club meeting. I had missed the past few meetings, so it was good to be back. I realised how much I had missed as I listened to the various books being discussed.

I really think everyone should not just read good books, but also discuss them with a small group of people on a regular basis. Create a Book Club of your own. Pick people who are very different from you, so you will get exposure to a world of books that is very different from the kind you read.

In my case, it has now been more than 12 years since we have been meeting. I hope you too can foster such ties with both books and a small set of book lovers.

Blog Past: Urban Infra in Mumbai

From a post a year ago:

Indian cities need some serious urban planning. What we have right now is a mix of sub-standard ideas, ad hoc decisions and delayed implementation. That is no way to treat cities like Mumbai.

Let us look at Mumbai. Yes, we got one Sea Link. Plenty of flyovers. An above ground metro and monorail are coming up. Some other random bridges are being talked about. But surely, we can do better than that. For one, the metro should have been underground for the most part and covered a lot more of the city. We need sea transport like how Hong Kong has. We need more bridges on the western and eastern sides of the city.

Who is thinking? Where is the vision for Mumbai? Are is our destiny narrow raids, traffic jams and crowded public transport?Who is responsible for making Mumbai’s urban infrastructure 10X better than what it is?

Weekend Reading

This week’s links: