Your Foundation – What It Takes to Win

Trond Frantzen, Managing Partner | The PowerStart Group

Consulting picture“The good life is expensive. There is another way to live that does not cost as much, but it isn’t any good.”

– Spanish Distiller

We all sell something: A product, a service, an idea, or ourselves. And whether you are a management consultant, a musician, a political candidate, an independent real estate agent, a software engineer, a photographer – or anyone else who is self-employed – these words by the Spanish Distiller are words that everyone should etch indelibly on the screen of their mind.

The fact is, we deserve a good life. No one said we should work ourselves into exhaustion, make just enough money to get along, and be thankful for what we have. And if anyone did say it, they were profoundly mistaken.

You’re a professional Consultant. Regardless of what you sell; whether it’s a product, a service, yourself, or an idea, you’re a professional Consultant. With a capital C.

You’re well educated. You’ve studied, learned, practiced, made mistakes, worked weird hours for clients, eaten too much fast food, and paid your dues. Many times over. You deserve the rewards.

The challenge, of course, is that rewards don’t show up just because we’ve paid the dues. Life doesn’t work that way. Rewards come from continual diligent work. We’ve got to put the nose to the grindstone and take the action necessary to cause the rewards to come our way.

And what kinds of rewards are we talking about?

Let’s face it; it’s all about selling our services and the rewards that results from it, whether psychic or financial. But, without the financial rewards, we can’t possibly benefit from the house, the car, the vacations, the travels, the better restaurants, the schools for our kids … or anything else that costs money. Nor can we build a vibrant business. It takes money.

So, how do we reap these rewards?

As a starting point, by selling more of our services. At a good rate.

The independent consultant’s classic dilemma is – when we’re working with a client, there’s no time to call new clients to offer our services. And when we’re calling clients to sell our services, we’re not producing billable time.

Therefore, unless we manage to secure interminably long contracts (and that’s not really consulting; that’s usually just being an available body to fill some missing project boots), our personal billable time could easily be as little as 50 percent of our actual potential.

That’s not good.

So, how do we fix this? How do we (a) find the time to find new clients; (b) find new clients; and, (c) convince them to buy from us instead of someone else; and (d) get a reasonable rate that’s complementary to our skills and experience?

To answer these questions, we have to go back to basics. Right back to the beginning. While we may know quite a bit about the technical side of providing our services, as professional consultants we probably don’t have a lot of knowledge about how to sell our services effectively. And why would we? We’ve never had that training. And, be assured, selling our professional services is as much a skill as is required by the services we deliver. Which didn’t come overnight.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Over the next several weeks I will introduce ways of improving sales, but without repeating the “sales techniques” everyone has known about for decades. I hope you’ll join me.

Trond Frantzen is Managing Partner with the PowerStart Group. He specializes in business development marketing and sales strategies. His newest book, “A Playbook for Success: A Guide to Sales Success for Consultants and the Rest of Us” can be found on Amazon.

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Customer Failure 101 – Or, How to Kill Your Business without Even Knowing It

Trond Frantzen, Managing Partner | The PowerStart Group

A fine lunch indeedA few days ago I made reservations for four of us to have a working lunch. It was a nice restaurant in a beautiful brand new building. I had been there before with Linda, and had liked it quite a bit.

When I arrived, I was seated immediately and a server (who was there faster than you could say “nice day”) immediately had a menu, asked if I would like a drink to start (all the while knowing there would be 3 others arriving) and, when I said “no, thank you” she asked the obligatory up-sell question of whether I’d like some “still water”. Since I had been there before (and enjoyed it) I knew where this would go. If you say “yes”, a lovely large bottle of water imported from Italy arrives, and an additional unannounced $5 shows up on your bill. Since I knew this, I declined this fine offer.

I fully expected to enjoy a wonderful, tasty lunch with my colleagues once they arrived. My anticipation heightened as I patiently waited.

A server came to my table and asked if there was anything she could get for me. I said, “no thanks, my colleagues should be here any minute”. I then told her that we would like to have separate bills.

She looked at me awkwardly, apparently not certain what to say, then finally announced, “We can’t do that. It makes our computer crash.”

For a moment I didn’t quite know what to think or say. Mmm … “We can’t do that. It makes our computer crash.” Finally, I said, “I think you’ve misunderstood your billing capabilities. Certainly you can do that.” She insisted it was impossible, and said she would find the manager.

A manager arrived promptly. She reiterated that multiple bills would be impossible. Once again, she told the tale of “it will crash our computers”. She insisted they’ve had their tech support team look at it many times, and a new system would cost $20,000 so it wasn’t in the works. I felt she was making their problem (which I really didn’t believe) into my problem. As a customer, I really didn’t want their problem, whatever it was.

This isn’t 1966. It’s 2016. We put humans on the moon decades ago. We put rovers on Mars. We’ve had a successful human genome project. There are 1.5 million apps available for smartphones. We’ve invented 3D printers; including those that have been used on the International Space Station to “print out” new tools emailed from Earth. And the “crash our computers” thing is simply nonsense. Do they really think most people today know so little about systems that they would buy that story? Really?

Obviously, this is just an old-school, antiquated system, or they bought one with functionality that was based on faulty requirements analysis. So, let’s look at this logically.

Many old-school POS systems are based on a “Table”, regardless of how many people sit at it. Most newer systems understand that you could have several (separate) orders at a table. They isolate bills by food/drink order, and attach that to a location (i.e., a “table”). Most pubs do this. That pretty well solves everything.

When you look around a restaurant, they have no trouble with separate bills for small or single parties. But that’s only true, for those technology laggards, for individual “Tables”. The problem here is how the payment question has been addressed (I’ll get to that in a moment); and the unusual finger-pointing exercise that goes on when something is missed while testing a system. In this case, I have to put the blame on the analysts and designers of the system. They dramatically failed in two areas.

The question, at business requirements analysis time, has to be: “For a single, specific TABLE [this is an Object], how many PAYMENTs might we receive?” This question is followed by “Might we receive no PAYMENT; a single PAYMENT; or many PAYMENTs?”  Each part of this question must be answered by the client in response to the business analyst. Each answer creates a scenario (“Under what circumstances would this be true?” is the follow-on question after each answer.) Any client who stipulates that only one payment is acceptable (such as the restaurant I visited), has signed off on their own business failure.

For the POS software this restaurant purchased, that question was certainly not asked properly; therefore, it limits the restaurant and probably costs them customers.

The other side of this coin arose when the POS software was first tested. The multiple-payments scenarios wasn’t found, so that tells me the functionality found during business requirements analysis was faulty at best. When the flaw is discovered (possible after several tech support visits), this can only lead to a client-IT faceoff where the software design team says, “You didn’t tell me you needed that …” and the client says, “You didn’t ask me.”

In other words, this restaurant got some crappy old-school software (which miraculously might still be selling well) that was based on the debilitating old concept of TABLEs rather than ORDERs with LOCATIONs.

Will I go back there? When I’m dealing with just one bill, I certainly will. The food is good. The restaurant is nice. But, for those business meetings when we need separate bills … absolutely not.

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The Professional’s Success Code

Project Success word cloudTrond Frantzen, Managing Partner | The PowerStart Group

Every professional, no matter what their industry, must have a foundation that guides all business development and project work. That foundation is based on 9 tested principles.

Be on budget, on time, no problems.  

The team leader or manager must be committed to ensuring that the project is problem-free, on budget, and all deadlines are met. Since what is done up front – the planning we do based on the business requirements – determines all subsequent results, our clear understanding of the business objectives helps make this goal possible.

Foster teamwork and client participation. 

The best relationship you can have with your clients (internal and external) is one of partnership, teamwork and active participation. The best results come when you work directly and visibly with your clients. Never work in isolation from them. Transparency and visibility helps make this partnership possible.

Apply hands-on modern management methods.

Encourage on-project coaching and mentoring.

Get management commitment to the project.

Management commitment and sponsorship is also critically necessary to a project’s success, as is a well-defined and developed professional development program for team members.

Every project should be guided directly by a practicing expert in the tools, techniques and methodologies to be used on the project. It’s a lot easier to advance when everyone is on board and understands how the work is actually done, rather than relying on theory passed on from an absentee practitioner or methodologist. Or after a 2-day “let’s all become experts” seminar.

Be highly visible. Transparency is king.  

An informed and involved client will usually make the best decisions. High visibility – contrary to popular myth – eliminates fear, uncertainty and doubt by the business community. Visibility and transparency in the work always results in interaction and ownership. Don’t hide from sight or work in isolation from the client. Have pride in your work. Success is the only option. Dedicated support and ownership comes from visibility and the client’s ability to contribute.

Use best practices.

Always use the best and most modern methods. This always brings faster results, less money being spent, and the highest quality. “Best practices” are not always best, and they may be decades old, without modern revisions. Always look for better ways. Avoid the Not Invented Here (NIH) syndrome. Look outside your organization. Be devoted to finding the best methods available. And then measure satisfaction by your client community.

Apply the best methodologies.  

Use the most effective and pragmatic methodologies that you can find. Don’t use them because they are popular, or the solution du jour; use them because they have an excellent track-record according to your clients and subject-matter experts. Then, adapt as required to your organization, your industry, and your personal style of working. This will help you get the best results.

Use common sense – and a coach and mentor. 

A popular old saying is, “common sense just isn’t very common.” But I think it is. The first step is to get yourself a personal coach and mentor, and ask for some guidance whenever it’s needed. Take a practical, common-sense approach to all projects. Every situation is unique and each has different needs. Never get bogged down in yesteryear’s conventional approach. It probably wasn’t that good.

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What Does an “Agile” Business Really Mean?

Trond Frantzen, Managing Partner | The PowerStart Group

Business GrowthAn “agile” business environment is really a frame of mind, rather than a specific process applied to a project. It’s a paradigm or mental model of how we can approach our work in our business. It’s certainly not a methodology. An agile business environment simply means … allowing teams to adapt working practices according to the needs of their individual business areas. The emphasis must be on delivering business value early, and then to continually improve it. “Delivering business value early” does not just refer to getting a project done; it means to deliver value in how we interact with our business partners, clients and suppliers … and how we are seen to do so.

It also means not doing anything you don’t have to do, and trying to think outside the box to minimize doing things in a certain way just because they have always been done that way.

But, to accomplish this, we also have to recognize (a) that we are doing something that we may not need to do; and (b) what we’re doing is only being done that way because it has always been done that way. In other words, we have to be aware of the conflict, which is easier said than done. It’s an interesting conundrum. If we are not experts in the conventional approach, then how would we know if a different approach is better? What’s our benchmark? What do we compare to?

Agile’ doesn’t mean doing something differently just because we can do it differently. ‘Agile’ doesn’t mean doing less of the work, just to beat the clock. ‘Agile’ means knowing which best practices really are best rather than not. There are lots and lots of so-called best practices heralded by maintainers of the status quo. Bear in mind that “best practices” have usually been around a long time for them to be declared as best practices by the community.

Also, ‘agile’ does not mean chaos in the business. It means finding the straightest road to the planned destination, and then taking that road even when others think you should take the conventional and safe route … usually somewhat circuitous and full of old-school bureaucracy, which will always take a lot of time.

Agile’ also means learning new approaches and methods, not just blindly sticking with methods that haven’t changed in years, without any indication things are getting better. It also means to not avoid doing what’s required (some of the administrative things) just because it seems faster that way. Times change; methods change. And here are my three core values of an “agile” business:

♦ Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

♦ Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

♦ Being empowered to respond to change over following a (possibly outdated) plan.

Granted, some individuals and organizations take this too literally (which is always a danger when you say “being empowered to respond to change over following a plan”), which can lead to a challenged and chaotic environments because of lack of professional discipline. There’s more to a business than fast work; just like there’s more to a business than just revenue.

Above all, if we want to foster an agile business environment, we must involve our team, our clients, and our suppliers; and involve them a lot.

Always recognize, as the first principle, that we serve our clients – whether clients are part of an internal group or are customers outside our organization.

Recognize also that our business environment is rapidly changing around us, whether we like it or not. How we work with our business partners (our staff, clients and suppliers) will change as our business partners come to understand their own needs even better. The issue for us is how to deal with those changes, since history tells us that change is good. This is what improvement is all about; so when a client (or a team member, or a supplier) wants to change how they do interact with us or anyone else, it’s actually a move in the right direction.

In my opinion, “agile” means being fast and responsive, but without chaos and risk.

Thomas Kuhn, in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” used the term “paradigm shift”. He argued that rival paradigms are incommensurable; that is, it is not possible to understand one paradigm through the conceptual framework and terminology of another rival paradigm. I certainly agree with that. Therefore, any ‘agile’ approach to work cannot be measured using the metrics applied to conventional approaches.

At the end of the day, our ability to respond to the needs of our business and workplace is far more important than mindlessly following the rigors of a book of rules and regulations, printed neatly and all fixed in a point in time. I’m not at all suggesting that old-school methodologies and approaches to work are not important; they are. But flexibility, responsiveness, and direct interaction are the key to success.

The quality of the work we do is always directly related to our education, professional development, experience, and the quality of the methods we use and the thinking applied. And our willingness to go where others have not dared.

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