Hablamos Español – Jeb Bush, Sonia Sotomayor, Tim Kaine, Rubio, Paltrow, Affleck…

We have been studying Spanish for the past few years and after trips to Costa Rica, Spain, Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico, and Chile, it has become clear how incredibly pervasive the Spanish speaking culture is in the United States as well. Despite the title, this is not a political post, but a nod to the diversity that is so thinly veiled behind the English dominated world. A favorite restaurant employee, a Supreme Court justice, construction workers, many politicians (whether you agree or disagree with their political positions), landscapers, “caucasian” celebrities, professional athletes, and many others all speak the second most popular language on the planet (behind Chinese!).

So here is a short list of my favorites, not in any order and certainly omitting many. I’ll start with Jeb Bush because he inspired me to write this post after seeing him on “El Punto,” the news show hosted by the popular Spanish television anchor Jorge Ramos. Please excuse the ads, Univision goes a bit overboard and I promise hearing Jeb Bush speaking fluent Spanish is worth it.

Next up is the Supreme Court Justice of the United States Sonia Sotomayor in an interview with Jorge Ramos from 2013.

If you don’t speak Spanish, jump to the last 30 seconds where you can see her dancing salsa with Mr. Ramos, muy divertida!

Also, the NY Times article “Habla Español? Tim Kaine Is Latest Candidate to Use Spanish” features several politicians including Tim Kaine, George W. Bush, Michael Bloomberg (or Miguel Bloombito as he is sometimes referred to for his poor Spanish skills), Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. Finally, the article, “Guess Who Else Speaks Spanish?” lists 10 more Spanish speaking celebrities with short videos of them speaking.

Yet despite the number of people who speak Spanish around the world, it is shockingly underrepresented in the high tech world. When I managed Mexico for a high technology company, every trip was a revelation. A small calibration lab in what looked like a rundown part of town housed state of the art equipment that was sometimes new, sometimes old, but always kept in impeccable condition. Thirty year old measurement microphones used regularly were still stored in their original mahogany boxes with the original manuals nearby. Engineers often times utilized older equipment to the fullest long after their North American counterparts had moved onto to the “latest and greatest” product offerings.

If your sales and marketing teams are not paying attention to Latin America, they should be. It is a massive market poised for growth. Unexpected highlights include Mexico’s emerging importance in high tech, Costa Rica’s focus on Corporate Services, and Columbia’s exploding IT sector (the third largest in Latin America). To be fair, these efforts will probably not create overnight record breaking growth in the bottom line, but a long-term strategic plan will certainly pay dividends over time especially since most companies are not focusing on Latin America at the moment. At the very least, you will find (like I did) a rich, open culture that greets the rest of the world with a hearty, “Tengo ganas de trabajar con usted pronto.”

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

Google has done a great job with storytelling in their video on Micro-Moments. As part of their Think with Google series, it is a two minute introduction to capturing a customer in their “moment of need.” It’s especially powerful on LinkedIn where it presents complex scenarios as images delivered regularly. Four can be found at the end of this post.

When marketing jargon like a “micro-moment” is stripped away, the underlying idea is that a company needs to be present when and where a customer needs to find them. Many high tech companies in niche markets that I have worked with still rely primarily on trade shows, industry magazines, and other traditional methods. They do not take advantage of even the most basic online tools. There are many reasons, but most center around lack of resources and the challenges of reaching customers in fragmented markets.

Potential solutions vary hugely by industry, but here are three that almost every niche, high tech company should be addressing:

LinkedIn – Despite being bought by Microsoft, it is still an excellent resource. At the very least, have marketing deliver regular updates to your company page at least once a month to boost customer awareness. Avoid having random employees provide status updates unless coordinated by marketing. This looks amateurish.

Google – A basic Google Adwords campaign is a good idea, but even better is “organic search results.” Many “SEO consultants” charge expensive fees for this, but it can easily be developed over time by publishing technical content on your website that customers can find via a Google search. Over time, your company’s website will rise to that coveted first page position… at zero cost!

Email – Contrary to popular belief, email is not dead. You can even reuse the technical and marketing content you are already creating. Assuming this content is useful, your customers will be happy to signup for regular updates. One warning however, once you start, don’t stop, it could look like your company is having troubles.

As I quoted Elon Musk (Tesla / SpaceX) in a recent post, “When you have a product that really resonates with customers, the word of mouth grows like wildfire.”

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Changing the World – SONOS Lays Off and Apple Pays Off

I haven’t written a post in the “Changing World” category for a couple months, but it seemed appropriate given the shocking news that Sonos, one of my favorite companies, had layoffs this week that included acoustic engineers, marketing, and human resources personnel. The title of the Engadget post, “Sonos announces layoffs, refocuses on streaming and voice tech” says it all, but what happened? They make fantastic products that “just work,” last for years, and have incredible sound quality. They revolutionized the wireless home music system industry years ago with the first mesh Wi-Fi networking speaker systems. The article mentions that one reason for the layoffs is competition from Amazon’s Echo which is a hands-free speaker you can control with your voice. Maybe, but Echo is a completely different product so the problems seem to go much deeper. Two issues seem dominant: marketing and technical stagnation.

In marketing, Sonos seems to think they have the mass appeal of Apple, which of course, they don’t. Even Sonos’ most recent high profile ad during the Grammies, “Apple Music +Sonos” doesn’t showcase the advantages of a multi-thousand dollar mesh network music system over hundred dollar Bluetooth speakers. Apple on the other hand has focused on marketing the value of their products throughout the life of the company. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple one of his first projects was the highly successful Think Different campaign. I even wrote about it in the post, “Right Intent: Explaining the Unexplainable.” Recently I came across a video, “Apple Confidential,” in which Jobs is speaking at an internal Apple meeting right before the campaign’s launch. He explains that marketing is about values and that Apple has to be very clear about what it wants people to know and remember about them. Sonos has obviously had trouble with this. Later, at 6:34, Jobs goes on to say that Apple’s core value is that people with passion can change the world for the better. A lofty goal, especially for a meeting in 1997 when Apple was very close to going out of business.

Sonos has actually changed their industry dramatically, but has stagnated in recent years. Purists might care about a speaker that adapts its audio response to its vertical or horizontal orientation, but many more people care about Bluetooth connectivity, which Sonos does not support. Their app has no problem streaming from a wide variety of music services, but it was also clear they were stagnating when it took six month to integrate Apple Music. The result was their best year ever in 2015 followed by layoffs in March of 2016. This was clearly not a commitment to changing the world for the better, but more like giving up at the first sign of problems. It immediately changed my opinion of the company and now it looks like they are simply preparing themselves for sale. Even worse, the high end customers they appeal to will certainly be concerned now that Sonos’ long term viability is questionable. With proprietary hardware and software, their speakers simply will not work long without regular software updates.

Apple is not having an easy time these days either, but they are fighting for their values, releasing new products, and generally adapting in the face of competition. Sonos could have done so many things with their world class audio labs and acoustic engineers: headphones, Bluetooth, speech recognition, and simply reducing prices in some key areas. Instead, they just let employees go, dealing a blow to their wonderful reputation and a corporate culture they worked so hard to create. When Apple had trouble with their iAd business, they did “layoff” about 100 people, but committed to “compensate for iAd layoffs with new job openings.”

Companies sometimes fall onto hard times. The loss of a major account or the entry of a major competitor can seem like the beginning of the end. However, to healthy companies, it is an opportunity to refocus on strengths, create new sales and marketing strategies, and in general rise to the challenge. The next post in this series will provide details on how and where to implement this change and don’t worry, you won’t have to “meet your Waterloo” to do it.

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Secrets of the Superbosses

To continue the recent post, “The Power of Silence,” I wrote that some companies I have worked with have no idea what “the silence” is saying about their products and services. The post ended by suggesting that grooming talent that cares about customers’ issues and needs is critical to breaking negative aspects of the power of silence. As so often happens, another example recently surfaced during a conversation at Phoenix Startup Week.  A national sales manager was having ongoing problems with an underperforming sales engineer. The engineer was well educated, well trained, and seemed to be doing all the right things in his large territory, but sales were mediocre. The company’s products were excellent and rapidly gaining worldwide marketshare so that wasn’t the problem. After some analysis, the sales engineer seemed to be better at supporting customers than making sales so the national sales manager hired local sales reps and promoted the sales engineer to a regional manager position. The result, sales were still stagnant. What was the problem?

I’m not 100% sure since I have never consulted for this company, but after this discussion I strongly suspect that the busy national sales manager was being manipulated by his regional sales manager through the power of silence. The employee was visiting customers and supporting the reps, so “no news is good news,” right? The company’s headquarters are in Europe so busy upper management was probably also being manipulated by US management in the same way. By silently avoiding the issue, nobody had to face the real problem of underperformance. What is the solution?

1901 US cartoon from Puck depicting John D. Rockefeller.
1901 US cartoon from Puck depicting John D. Rockefeller.

Like many dysfunctional management problems, immediate solutions can range from coaching and written recovery plans to personnel changes, but the problem never would have surfaced if the employees involved had been hired and groomed properly from the start. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Secrets of the Superbosses,” is a wonderful glimpse at how the best people make the best company, but only if “leaders follow specific practices in hiring and honing talent.” The article goes on to explain several of those practices such as using unconventional hiring that:

  • Focuses on intelligence, creativity, and flexibility
  • Finds unlikely winners
  • Adapts the job or organization to fit the talent
  • Accepts churn

Then following up that unconventional hiring with hands-on leadership that:

  • Sets high expectations
  • Trusts the team to execute
  • Encourages step-change growth
  • Stays connected

I know from observation (and feedback from their customers) that this European company is utilizing these practices in Europe which is why they are experiencing such rapid growth. Their challenge is to insure the entire worldwide organization is doing the same. If this seems like a daunting task for your organization, don’t despair. This is a long term shift of culture and thinking for most companies, but even the longest journey starts with a single step.

Rethinking Sales: Part 10 – Sales as a Profession

There is much more to be said about the topics in last month’s post “Rethinking Sales: Part 9 – Sales Without Commissions,” but the writing is on the wall. Sales must stop being a black box where commissions go in and orders come out. It is the last part of an organization where a lack of understanding (and management accountability) results in unnecessary commission expenses. Sales managers may be the only people who know if their salespeople are contributing to the organization at a professional level and they ain’t telling. Their compensation is based on sales performance too! I’ve seen mediocre sales people making $200K+ a year after receiving large, unexpected orders from major accounts. Management has no clue whether the salesperson was key to winning those orders or not.

Many people think salespeople work incredibly hard to win those opportunities and sometimes they do. Sales is typically filled with long days full of risk, rejection, and uncertainty. You won’t find Sales on Glassdoor’s “25 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance” list. Of course, you also won’t find any $200K+ / year jobs on that list. Even highly trained engineers and scientists are not making that much. Which brings me to the point of this post: for many companies and markets, sales needs to become a career like engineering, management, or marketing. Sales professionals need to be trained in a system of selling that is aligned with the company’s culture and goals. A sales degree program would be a good step in this direction. The Wall Street Journal touched on this when it published a recent article “Why It’s So Hard to Fill Sales Jobs” with the subheading “‘Salesman’ Baggage Means Well-Paying Tech-Industry Positions Go Begging.” Even Microsoft is writing interesting articles on the seismic changes occurring in sales as part of the Microsoft Dynamics Blog,  Sales in the Modern Era, and Social Selling eBooks. The Social Selling eBook is not for most high tech selling environments, but does give a good overview of how sales has changed in more traditional consumer selling environments.

If you want to have a moment of fun, try Googling “degree in sales” and just read the first page of results. First is DeVry and the rest are split between sales management and articles on whether a degree is even needed for sales. One link did catch my eye, the Sales Education Foundation has an annual magazine featuring the top sales degree programs so it is possible to get a degree in sales. I’ve never heard of this foundation, but the website was interesting enough to get me to sign up for their newsletter. In the meantime, it’s ten o’clock, do you know where your salespeople are?

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