Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A disturbance in the force; reconciling our philosophical and business agendas during these difficult times.

Like all companies our leadership has business objectives that we are held accountable to. We are graded at every interval imaginable; daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Over our career we are graded on how well we over achieve the objectives that are handed to us. No one cares about the economic climate, the stability of the environment how strong the credit market is or how much or little corporate leadership is going to invest into their infrastructure over a given time period. Really all they care about is did you meet your objectives and overachieve! Life is about revolving and ever growing budgets and making and meeting commitments.

At the end of the day I personally do not believe that anyone really cares if the “Solution” you provided company XYZ really worked or benefited them if all of the corporate objectives have been met appropriately. Now I may be wrong and I’m sure somewhere somebody will write to me and correct me. “Pirate, we are going to give you amnesty for your budget because you create the most successful business strategies and help so many people.” Well your right I probably won’t ever hear that from anyone above me. What I probably will hear is something like this, “Michael, the company is suffering along with everyone else in this tremulous time and we would like you to accept our offer of a 15% salary decrease and a 25% budget increase. You know that we are all being asked to do more with less.” This is probably a lot closer to the truth then the other.

So within the same organization we have different business groups or units and with them come different and varied objectives. One group may be focused on maximizing our return on Service and Maintenance. Another group may be focused on generating revenue in a particular area of competency like facilities management, production equipment, office equipment, printer fleet management, software solutions etc. So the question then becomes how do we “all just get along.” Well that is the question, how do managed services coexist with equipment sales division? Does the equipment sales division exist to provide hardware based solutions to the “solution wizards” in managed services? Surely the people in equipment sales are incapable of seeing the bigger picture and what is important in the overall solution. Or is it? If you are owned by a manufacturer what is more important, to keep assembly lines moving, keep their cost of manufacturing as low as possible by placing as much gear as possible or do they go with a more altruistic approach and maximize their profitability by increasing the wallet share of a particular client regardless of how little equipment is placed?

So what came first the Printer or Managed Print Services Rep?

And in every opportunity who should sacrifice their business objectives? What are the organizational goals as they are related to individual objectives? Is it greedy to want to stay off of the unemployment line? Is it rude to want to meet our individual budgets? Should we always sacrifice for the greater good of someone else’s success? When does a “good solution” become a “great solution” and when does a tomāto turn into a tomäto? And who is to say that there is not more than one path to the Promised Land? Retooling the departments in an organization and centralizing certain functions can be just as effective as outsourcing a handful of key functions to a third party!

The problem exists as we do not work independently. Managed business services many times may not have the technical background to truly create complex hardware based solutions. In fact it is not ever in my experience even desirable to have a business services rep know all of the bits and bytes of the hardware. They are the “big thinkers.” They leave that to us lowly hardware reps to push the buttons that make “their” brilliant solution work. As we see companies migrate to greater levels of automation their need for highly sophisticated solutions goes beyond what a typical manufacturer’s business services salesperson wants to memorize. As applications drive these complex solutions because of a companies need to “do more with less” we find that hardware reps are being positioned as “technicians or analysts with personalities.” I constantly am faced with the perception that I know nothing but facts. I have to convince my area leadership on a regular basis that I can create a compelling argument and win others over to that argument on a mutually acceptable time frame.

Every day I go to work and curse the day that I picked up the manual and learned how to network a copier or setup scan to email instead of just leave it for the technician that surely was going to show up when my client needed him to. Now I am the great “nerd with a smile.” I am used as an encyclopedia of all things printing. If I really wanted to live on 80 to 120 grand a year I would have graduated college and became an engineer. Instead I moved myself toward strategic sales only to find out that eventually I would be pigeon holed to be the guy to someone else’s “bad solution work.” In my humble experience “managed services” comes from the perspective that with their own “trained operators” they can do more with less so they are notoriously under equipped with the technology piece of their mantra “people, processes and technology.” “Big Thinkers” are also paid on the services that they sell not the hardware and software that go along with the overall solution. Because at the end of the day the technology piece is what costs the most and ruins the gross margin component of the puzzle it is also the first to be compromised. It is also the part that decision makers can quantify and everyone wants to see you “do more with less.” And because more and more companies are asking their vendors to take the hardware risk; manufacturers do not want to invest in placing new gear when it is not really sales treatable. No one wants to create “used gear” when they know they are going to have to carry it on the books and sell it later when all the useable life has been squeezed out of it.

What they do instead is use “off lease” gear which has a zero cost on the books, and assign a cost to keep margins inline with paying managed services reps and as part of the justification to the business owners on why the cost of their solution is what it is. Can you really save someone so much money that you can use the greatest that technology has to offer and still save them 30% on their current spend? Sure if there processes are so broken that they need to trash them and start over. Now does this happen, yes unfortunately many companies grow so fast or stick to their competency so closely that they do not take time to look at their business processes and keep them streamlined. For example a research firm may invent great chemicals but have a poor process of piling their documents in a corner in boxes. But for the most part today’s companies are hiring professional buyers and using ISO standards for typical business processes.

So what suffers? From what I have seen when you bring the entire elephant into the room typically most companies can not afford to eat it all at once. The overall picture becomes menacing. Sure we can implement a complex solution in stages but it still becomes overwhelming even too many “C” level executives when they now are facing large layoffs, financial cutbacks, compensation freezes, import/export restrictions, legislation, environmental initiatives, hostile takeovers, and technological obsolescence. With so much “noise” in the air it is many times hard to hear the important conversations that are directed to us.

These obstacles along with huge egos that the “big thinkers” carry with them can make such undertakings miserable for a hardware specialist. We diligently work to please the “big thinkers” but in the end tight budgets and anorexic timelines along with the normal pushback and reservation of key information from a client will allow something to happen and surely something will not work due to lack of discovery and it will fall on our heads.

Plus they would love us to be their “eyes and ears” but what is good for the “big thinker” is not necessarily good for a hardware specialist. Especially when their ultimate solution doesn’t involve hardware! In hardware we talk about efficiency, automation and cip4/jdf compliancy; we do not talk about “adding headcount,” and creating more hand work. In the “Big Thinkers” mind putting someone in the place of equipment that can fail is a good solution, where we feel that hardware is more reliable and less prone to “human error.” In hardware we trust, for each machine we place we save companies from under performance, workman’s comp, and manpower gaps over vacations, and sick leave. 

We look at having your own hardware as a solution to sending the work out and buying it back at 30% uplift, we feel the same way about people. Why send them out when all you are going to do is pay someone else a 30% uplift to not have to deal with them. Strengthen your process, put the right people in place and rely on hardware automation and technology refreshes to empower your people with the tools to accomplish more with less for less! 

Now that is a bit of an exaggeration but it underlies the foundational problem that I see with “team selling,” when each member has different objectives or when the meeting of one members objectives becomes a liability for another’s on the team. I am constantly asked to work with people that have different motivations and when one wins the other loses. What kind of “team” is that? The only way a “Team Sell” can work is when the objectives of the team are common. You can not ask someone to work on a project that will eventually turn out to be a non commissionable event. Why would I waste my time doing a study to hand over my findings and relationships over to someone else just to be pushed out of the deal?

Everyone must profit from a group project! Solutions must be designed to achieve corporate objectives and satisfy the client’s short term and long term needs. Anytime key players are pitted against others in the team to compete for compensation the entire project is compromised and the client suffers as no one can give their best when they have lost the financial incentive to keep focused. Sure there are many reasons to outsource and I believe in keeping to your core competencies, but handing off a department or important key function is not something to take lightly. It is dangerous at best and even worse if the consultants brought aboard are not in sync.

A long time ago I was simply a street walker and answered to myself. A day’s work brought a days pay, and I didn’t have any competitive forces to worry about but the enemy outside the organization. Now all too often I overtake the enemy outside only to be beaten by someone on my own team. Now the dance is more delicate and dangerous. Not only am I competing for larger projects and bigger cash prizes but I am also striving to maintain my competitive advantage and edge both inside and outside the organization. What ever happen to the days of walking down the street asking people, “want to buy a copier?”

Pirate Mike…

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