Archive for the 'business' Category

What’s wrong with sales?

I was talking to one of my friends recently about career prospects. He’s not long out of uni, and like most recent graduates, is confused about his options. However one thing he is adamant about is that he doesn’t want to go into sales. It’s a strange attitude, but one that I encounter quite often. And the question needs to be asked, ‘What’s wrong with sales’?

His immediate reaction to this question was to say that he didn’t want to be a double glazing sales person. Slightly narrow minded immediately! However in my view, everyone needs to have a degree of sales knowledge about them, as at some stage in everyone’s lives, we will need to sell either ourselves, a brand or a product. Whether it be in an interview, selling your company to potential  investors or even selling yourself on a date. We need to be aware of how to persuade someone to trust us. And here is the problem, as one of my colleagues put it recently. Sales (and it’s respective attributes) is a skill that many feel uneasy around, as people don’t want to feel as if they’re being sold too, instead wanting to be left alone to make their own decisions. Using the example of guys trying to pick up girls, I can remember plenty of times when younger, when friends (and probably myself…) chased girls badgering them to go out with us! Cringing to think about, but inevitably it didn’t work, as it reeked of desperation. However it only reinforces the point that when actively selling, it comes across as needy and desperate. And when my friend thought about getting into sales, this  is the image that he had of sales people.

Is there a way to change this image? Probably, but it will need to start in the home or at school. However, is there a willingness to change this? Probably not unfortunately. In my opinion, the more young people we generate that have an understanding of sales, and how it can fit into an organisation, the more entrepreneurs this country will generate, which will help the private sector plug the gap of the public sector.

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The Ills of the public sector

My girlfriend works in the public sector, and for the last year and a half, I’ve had an interesting insight into the inner workings of a government-funded organisation. She works for a company that is tasked in giving direction and career guidance to students aged between 11 and 16 both in schools and in local communities. And she hates it.

One of the main issues with her job is the lack of work ethic her colleagues display. In the private sector, if you work hard and are successful, you get rewarded. If you don’t, are lazy or are permanently ill, you are disciplined or further still sacked. Fair enough you may say. However in the public sector this is not the case, as many a time she has complained about people displaying minimum effort but reaping the same rewards as someone who has worked much harder. Many times she has come back from work having to cover the shift of someone who is off ill. This does little for her morale. Furthermore she is then tasked with covering the target of this absentee, despite her exceeding her own target without praise or any incentive to perform. As a naturally hard-working person, this can be extremely demoralising. Until recently, I thought this was a local issue with her organisation. However it seems that this is symptomatic of the public sector.

Her argument was compounded by an article we read recently in the Sunday Times. Apparently Sir Stanley Kalms, upon becoming chairman of an NHS hospital, threw a tea party for members of staff who had served for more than 25 years, as a reward for loyal service. However what he encountered was a motley crew of people who neither he nor other members of staff even recognised, as the majority were either ill, grotesquely overweight  or “no longer fit and proper people to be in a hospital”, but crucially were still being paid. Also because their packages had been negotiated in more profitable times, they were generally on better pay than the majority of their colleagues. In the example, this had repercussions for the hospital, as wards were left short-staffed and hospitals were without funds to purchase vital equipment. Reading this made me realise that the local issue my girlfriend had mentioned time and time again was  actually a more generic issue afflicting the vast majority of the public sector.

But the question has to be asked, why can’t they just sack these individuals? In every company I’ve worked in in the private sector, if you had a long period of illness that was unexplainable you would at least be disciplined. However in the public sector, the trade unions have a much larger sphere of influence. Again according to the Harriet Sergeant’s article, 61% of state employees belong to a trade union, compared with only 20% in the private sector. Their influence is not waning either. In 2006, Labour received roughly 73% of their donations from unions. This figure is thought to have increased during the subsequent recession, as the labour government relied further on donations..

Unfortunately there is no real way to rectify this, as any real resolution will need to be dictated from the top, filtering down through the system. And as we know, this could take years to implement properly. However there are positive signs. There is pre-election talk of the Tories disbanding government-funded organisations such as Connexions, with a view to giving this responsibility to privately funded companies with a similar ethos. This is part of a more macro trend, as the government looks to increase the number of projects they relinquish. One way they are doing this is by outsourcing. Serco, one of their key benefactors of government outsourcing, recently posted a 34% rise in annual profit, and they expect this to grow further. By giving as much responsibility, jurisdiction and control where possible to companies who understand from the ground up their industry in the private sector will only help to weed out the inefficiencies of the public sector to bring it into line.

How businesses evolve

It’s useful to understand how over the recent years, big businesses have reinvented themselves. I was reading an article recently on the departing Ericsson CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg, which gave an insightful account of the issues facing Ericsson after the dot-com bubble had burst. His model solely focused around consolidation, whilst others in their market either spread themselves extremely thin in looking for new markets to expand into (see Marconi) or acquired rivals to try and quickly expand (see Alcatel-Lucent). What Carl-Henric Svanberg did with Ericsson was to really consolidate, concentrate on their core business of building networks and inevitably cut costs. This worked, and he now leaves Ericsson today in the healthy position of having 40% of all mobile calls made on their network. I think a lot of companies get excited by the profits and market share available to them when they look outside of their domain. 2 large enterprises who are having mixed results are Google and Cisco. Although Google is still king of search, it’s increasingly more lucrative and more prestigious projects such as Google Books are starting to sap resources from it’s search empire. This has had the effect on competitors like Bing taking more market share.

It was also interesting to see how emerging technologies helped to spur growth in the ailing company. Although a large proportion of their spending is still attributed to legacy networks, opportunities increasingly present themselves to expand into so-called next generation networks. 3G networks are fast becoming their bread and butter, with customers such as Three (3) and T-Mobile in the UK having Ericsson infrastructure to power their data networks. Moving forward, with the advance of M2M, Carl-Henric Svanberg thinks that there is the potential for roughly   sim cards to be embedded into devices as seemingly mundane as fridges, microwaves and washing machines. This is where he envisages Ericsson’s next market shift. There’s no doubting the strength of the mobile data market. Whether it hits a natural saturation period or whether advance such as LTE will help it break through it’s glass ceiling are anyone’s guess. However one thing is certain. Due to the requirement for people to be connected on the move, this is definitely a market that will be key for a long time.

Adding value with broadband

Thought I’d include an article that I’ve recently written for the channel. It’s quite easy to read, but any feedback would be appreciated.

Thanks

Broadband has come a long way since it’s inception. For businesses back in the day, it was seen as a key marketing and communication tool as companies paid through the roof to have a static website with 5 pages. Email was revolutionary, and was quickly seen as the main way to communicate with clients, with their permission or without.

Now with the advent of converged or unified systems, it’s not surprising to have a company use their broadband for phone calls, data, video and even an alarm system. The advance of broadband has been the key driver in so many industries, each with their own confusing terms and acronyms. FMC, UC, SIP, Telepresence, VOIP, IPCCTV. The list goes on, but the common factor is IP – Internet Protocol. All the aforementioned use the internet.

On it’s own, its a cost effective method to transfer data, and because of it’s universal acceptance, is widespread across a number of mechanisms. Packaged with an IP application, broadband becomes fundamental for the efficient use of the respective device. For the channel, it provides a number of opportunities for vendors, distributors and system integrators alike to provide a necessary value add to their portfolio, and this is further pushed by the rise of alternative networks to use. This in itself has promoted competition and innovation in product development, and the channel has inevitably benefited from the options available. Now technologies such as Annex-M can help a reseller by going to market with an ISDN alternative, whilst also aggregating two or more to attack the leased line market.

At the top end of the channel, mobile operators have got into bed with Telco’s to have a network of their own. Large system integrators are courting network operators for a primary service. And at enterprise level, the wrath of mergers and acquisitions have left some in the enviable position of being a one stop shop for your every need, budget permitting. At the lower end, traditional resellers and SI’s have forged relationships with mobile and network operators to get the best out of both worlds. This is where the value has been added, as now an integrator has a platform to showcase their primary offering.

Lets look at one industry where this is rife, voice. Hosted voice providers who have been brave in embracing SIP have realised from a very early age that the quality of broadband is key to their offering. Therefore they have been vocal in their search for network operators who have an offering that can allow for a high quality and a high volume of calls.

Enter DSL. In it’s various guises, it’s been able to offer a low cost platform to end users wanting access to the benefits of a hosted voice offering, as now the high upfront costs of an ISDN 30 can be waived for a similar DSL service. In this instance integrators have been quick to partner with network operators to offer their services as part of a package, adding to their bottom line by boosting their margins and increasing that customer ‘stickiness’ we all strive for.

The same is now happening in a number of industries. Integrators in the fast developing video sphere are reaching out to networks with a reputation for performance. Digital signage architects are holding hands with networks with good national coverage. And for the end user, this is compelling as they have one port of call for the majority of their IP requirements.

It’s an easy story to tell. To borrow a much used analogy, selling a road is pointless without drooling over the performance of the vehicle that’s on it. And to translate this to the internet, it’s hard to get excited about fibre to the home for example, without thinking about all it’s possible uses.

All these present the opportunity for more convergence, more applications, but over one central pipe, which is where the value is provided, as if you provide the central pipe, there is always the possibility to provide other services based on that. An old director of mine used to term this “The Whirlwind model”, where you provide something small, but essential, and then provide additional services required by that initial item. However you define it, the benefits of this are unparalled for all parts of the channel, as with the technological advances being made in the numerous access methods used to provide broadband, the channel now has a chance to offer a key value add to their IP applications.

BT and O2 join up

Interesting news in the channel recently about how O2 have signed up with BT Wholesale to provide both fixed line data, broadband and consultancy services. On the surface this seems like a good opportunity for O2 to take a giant step into providing their client base with a converged solution based around their primary mobile offering. However one has to wonder why a comapny who has invested at the least £200 million on it’s own network would then make a further investment in providing a similar service based on another network.

The concept is sound. O2 have a massive mobile subscriber base, consisting of both consumers and businesses of all sizes. With their centre of excellences, they have one of the best support networks around for resellers of their products, to underpin their business offering. By offering their clients a unified solution consisting of business broadband seems like a sure fit. However, for one reason or another, this has never happened.

The acquisition of the Bethere network has enabled O2 to be a major player in the comms market. However so far, the market that has benefitted the most has been the residential market. This does not mean that the network cannot be used for businesses, just that so far, there have been few able to use it in this way. However with the advent of the wholesale channel, the network is now being used by business ISP’s as a primary offering to their client base, and is proving extremely successful in providing high bandwidth low latency services. As more exposure is given to this channel, it will be interesting to see how this is viewed by the powers that be in O2.

There’s nothing to say that a Be/O2 offering can’t co-exist with a BT service, as inevitably in the areas where Be don’t have an exchange unbundled, a rebadged BT service will be used. However, for my 2 pence, although BT Wholesale have persuaded O2 to sign a 5 year contract, I firmly believe that O2 will fully realise what an asset they have with the Be network, before we get anywhere near to the expiry date of their new contract with BT.

ADSL2+ Annex-M Comparison

We’ve been working on quite a lot of marketing info in recent weeks, to showcase the properties of Annex-M ADSL2+ compared to services available in the market currently. Seems that quite a lot of the channel either is not aware of either the efficiency, speed or cost to their client base of Annex-M, or is awaiting the arrival EFM. We’ve recently installed a demo suite in our offices to demonstrate our Annex-M in action against that of other carriers. We can also showcase our MLPPP platform in action, and the results we’ve obtained using this. The below graph helps to show not only the price point of AnnexM, but also how well it can perform in optimum conditions.

Annex-M ADSL2+ comparison graph

Annex-M ADSL2+ comparison graph

A large number of our client base who use our Annex-M services do so to underpin bandwidth intensive applications, where traditionally they would have deployed a costly leased line or legacy SDSL circuit. This helps them to decrease their overall cost of ownership, whilst improving on the performance of the applications they run within their network.

The big Twitter debate

Over the last two years, Twitter has taken the Internet by storm. Early adopters (myself included) saw it as just another method by which to communicate to your network, and dismissed it on this basis. However, as celebrities such as Britney Spears and Ashton Kutcher started to jump on board, Twitter slowly started to become more of a mainstream media tool. This was further enhanced by events such as the River Hudson plane crash and the terrorist events in Mumbai. Now Twitter is seen as a fundamental broadcasting medium by many to obtain relevant news.

However, the problem with Twitter is that there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to monetise their service. They have a massive subscriber base, all of which obtain a free service. Now they even have a large enterprise and corporate client base who use their service not only to promote their brand and products, but also to connect with their client base. Due to the size of Twitter’s user base, the temptation is always there to sell out to a larger player, and there has been a lot of speculation relating to an acquisition by Google. Real time search is the one area within their portfolio that they’ve had problems coming to terms with. However, with Twitter’s real time feed suddenly Google would have specific relevant information about up to date trending topics, of which to target their adverts too. The immediate benefits of this are there for all to see. Google can instantly monetise a service that currently does not have any obvious income stream. Whilst for Twitter, they have direct access to Google’s massive resource pool to be able to compete against the likes of Facebook, who with the acquisition of FriendFeed are slowly encroaching into the space of real time search. Also, Google’s track record of amalgamating newly acquired assets into it’s estate is strong, as is shown by the success of both YouTube and Blogger being able to keep their brand identity and prove successful in their respective markets.

However, Twitter does have an ace up it’s sleeve. With the use of hashtags, Twitter has a direct way of keeping a handle on the latest trends being discussed. They have large investors behind them providing them with the capital to increase their infrastructure. Also, despite the fact I mentioned earlier that their lack of an obvious business model was a problem, it definitely constitutes a nice problem . Currently their valuation is built solely on their subscriber base and their infrastructure. The minute they disclose their intentions, their value would rocket to potential investors, and may well even see them go down the IPO route. Remember that the guys behind Twitter are also the same guys that started Blogger, and sold it successfully to Google.

For my two pence, I think that Twitter would be silly to ignore the threat of Facebook, and sell in a hurry to the likes of Google and Apple. They have an extremely strong brand and an even stronger user base which they can use to their advantage. And just as Google did with the implementation of Adwords, if they can find a way to monetise the mammoth amount of hashtags flying around, I think they would stand a good chance of seeing off the combined Facebook/FriendFeed threat.


My tweet stream

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