The Email Swirl & Face-to-face Meetings

Just write an email, right?  Document your meetings.  Follow-up with colleagues.  Disagree.  State your opinion.  Get corrected by your colleagues.  State your opinion again.  The cycle almost never ends well.  Have you found yourself in this situation?

This is common business email dialogue and I’ve seen it in every organization.  My question:  is it productive?

I’m writing this article because I observed this behavior within my department several days ago.  The two parties that were involved became so emotional in email that it almost ruined a working relationship.  My answer to this problem?  I asked both of them to meet with me together and in-person.  Stop the email.  Start the in person dialog and work through the issue professionally.

What happened?  Initially, both parties let off some proverbial steam.  In the first few seconds, it felt that tensions were high.  After I had each party discuss the business issue from their perspective, I restated their opinions from my perspective.  I felt that I had to moderate a bit.  Then, a funny thing happened.  Since they were now listening to me (a third party), they started to realize that they were in alignment on the issue, but had been miscommunicating via email.  Now, here’s the funny part.  These two individuals sit no more than 20 feet from each other in the office.

So what’s my point?  My point is that email is only one form of communication.  There are so many benefits to building relationships, holding in person meetings, and using the RIGHT type of communication at the right time.  Email definitely has its time and place.  I love a well written email as much as the rest of us do.  But, before you write that 3rd email response on the same topic, consider meeting the individual in person.  Picking up the phone can also be just as effective.

Before you write me off as old fashioned, here are some of the benefits that I observed from face-to-face meetings:

  1. Relationships, by nature, allow team members to hold each other accountable.  No one wants to disappoint a close colleague or friend.
  2. Read body language
  3. Learn more about each other and the business issue(s) that are at hand
  4. Collaborate and establish trust
  5. Involve other team members that may be able to add to the discussion or help to solve the problem

Here are some statistics from a 2009 survey that Forbes conducted.  It gives you a nice overview of the perceived in-person meeting benefits of others.

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Follow the Leader

My wife stumbled across these cute ducks today after a rain storm in D.C.  As I looked at this picture, I drew a parallel to business leadership.  Maybe I was thinking “follow the leader”?  Then, I found myself thinking about the leadership team within my organization.

In business, leadership can be much like these ducks.  Let’s take a look at the parallels that I drew:

  • Leadership:  Many of these ducks will become the leader one day.  It is important that they learn how to follow a good leader.  In some cases, you might learn what NOT to do from a bad leader.  Both can be effective.
  • Development:  Each of these ducks will require nurturing in order to see their full potential.  In this case, it is probably survival, but in business isn’t it also?  Employees require development, training opportunities, and assignments which will allow them to reach their full potential.  Professional development is also a key factor in retaining good employees.
  • Organization & Process:  These ducks travel in a line.  Perhaps this is for safety and security?  Good business leaders need to establish clear process to ensure clear responsibilities and deliver effectively.  If one duck goes rogue, it could endanger the entire group.  Think Snowden and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Take a look around at your leadership.  Are you leading, or are you being led?

Get Organized and See Results

I’m often criticized for being too organized.  I’ll blame it on my PMP!  Since I get so much grief about it in the office – I thought that I’d share why I feel that organization is important.  Most people get it.  And, most people appreciate having at least one team member that is organized.  Ok – wait a second!  My closet doesn’t look like this…so don’t run away yet!  Although, wouldn’t it be nice if my closet looked like this!

This post is not just about being Type A.  It’s about the productivity that can be gained by being organized – and maybe a few tools that will help you.  These tools can help if you are organized (like me) or trying to become more organized.

As a starting point, here are some quick thoughts about the benefits of organization in every day business:

  • Meeting time is well spent and productive
  • Timeline expectations can be realistically set and negotiated with C-Level executives
  • Team members are held accountable for their responsibilities
  • Communication is improved
  • Metrics can be defined to determine if a project is on track as compared to its original baseline
  • Scope creep can be identified, mitigated, and managed

In this brief post, I found myself wanting to add more to this list.  There are many more benefits to being organized, but the above list is a starting point.

I use a few tools which I thought may be helpful to highlight for others too.  If you haven’t run into Levenger already – I find them an incredibly helpful resource for these types of things.

  1. Levenger Circa Notebook – Neat notebook from Levenger that allows you to add, move, and subtract pages which utilize their circa system.  As your notebook grows, you can buy larger discs so that it holds additional pages.  They even have nifty dividers if you’d like to separate out different projects.
  2. Action Method Sheets – These sheets have changed the way that I take notes in meetings.  They are  great for capturing next steps.
  3. Project Planner Sheets – These sheets are great for when you are initiating a project and brainstorming about the potential project activities and next steps.  As you work with the team, you can jot down your prelim project plan in these sheets before you spend more time on transposing it electronically later.
  4. Microsoft OneNote – If you prefer to work on your computer, Microsoft OneNote is a great tool to capture meeting notes, organize your thoughts, and document action items.  You can setup different pages for different projects or different meetings.  It also integrates with Microsoft Office and has a built-in screen capture tool.  If you are an Outlook user, Microsoft OneNote integrates with Outlook meeting requests.  This can be handy if you want to quickly insert the name of the meeting and the meeting attendees into your notes.  If you are the meeting organizer, this can also help you to quickly take attendance as individuals come into the meeting room.

Of course, these are just a few of many tools that could jump-start your organizational efforts.  What do you use?  Please share!

Taboo? Microsoft in Higher Education

In a recent post, I discussed the changes in the business intelligence landscape as outlined by Gartner in their 2013 Magic Quadrant.  Today, I wanted to focus solely on Microsoft as a vendor in this space.  Yes, I mentioned Microsoft – and I work in Higher Education!

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence & Analytics - Comparison of 2012 to 2013

In working with a number of higher education institutions over the years, I often hear direct concerns about “Microsoft.”  In the academic world, we are concerned about the most open way of doing things.  We like to share – and you may have noticed by the adoption of Sakai and the Open Source Portfolio (OSP).

The emergence of open-source tools was prevalent over the last few decades.  You now see many organizations running miscellaneous versions of Linux, open source wiki tools, Drupal-type content management systems – and now many have implemented Google (Google Drive, Google Docs, GMail).  If you mention “Microsoft” – you’d better start running.  You’ll have someone from IT chasing after you pretty quickly – and not in a good way!

Ok – you’re not Jack Sparrow, so you can relax a bit!  But, you can imagine the feelings of many of these IT organizations when you start to implement enterprise-level software that holds a significant cost and the source is proprietary.  Think Sungard’s Banner (now Ellucian), or PeopleSoft, and maybe even Workday now in some cases.  Somehow, Oracle has slipped through the cracks as many of these large ERP vendors require Oracle’s database platform.  Oracle was also smart and acquired mySQL – so they have an almost natural support of the open source community.  Oracle is an investment, too.

You’re probably asking – what’s your point?  My point is that Microsoft isn’t bad.  It’s actually very, very GOOD!  Besides the educational licensing, and the obvious love for Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, et al) – let’s look at some of the benefits of Microsoft’s SQL Server platform.  Let’s start with a basic point that is often overlooked.  It is a suite of tools, not simply a database platform.   I have listed a basic table below, but you can read more on Microsoft’s website.

Server components Description
SQL Server Database Engine  SQL Server Database Engine includes the Database Engine, the core service for storing, processing, and securing data, replication, full-text search, tools for managing relational and XML data, and the Data Quality Services (DQS) server.
Analysis Services (SSAS) Analysis Services includes the tools for creating and managing online analytical processing (OLAP) and data mining applications.
Reporting Services (SSRS) Reporting Services includes server and client components for creating, managing, and deploying tabular, matrix, graphical, and free-form reports. Reporting Services is also an extensible platform that you can use to develop report applications.
Integration Services (SSIS) Integration Services is a set of graphical tools and programmable objects for moving, copying, and transforming data. It also includes the Data Quality Services (DQS) component for Integration Services.
Master Data Services Master Data Services (MDS) is the SQL Server solution for master data management. MDS can be configured to manage any domain (products, customers, accounts) and includes hierarchies, granular security, transactions, data versioning, and business rules, as well as an Add-in for Excel that can be used to manage data.

The great part of purchasing Microsoft SQL Server is that these tools come out of the box – and are included with the license for the database platform.  There are several different editions which provide more or less horsepower as your project requires, but this is an added bonus that Microsoft bundles these tools.

Here are a few thoughts from my experience and why I enjoy working with Microsoft BI tools:

Technical Benefits:

  • Relatively easy to deploy and installation is wizard-based
  • Learning curve to adopt SSRS and SSIS is reasonable in comparison with other tools
  • Direct integration with Windows operating system and Active Directory (this is great if you have a nice active directory structure already in place; not so helpful if you do not).
  • Direct integration with Team Foundation Server (TFS) for version control
  • Platform is sophisticated enough to handle complex tasks (i.e. stored procedures, SSRS data driven subscriptions)

Functional Benefits:

  • All-in-one solution (combine with SharePoint for full functionality)
  • End-user tools are intuitive and within a familiar Microsoft interface
  • SharePoint can be used to pull information together in a one-stop-shop
  • Office integration (i.e. Excel, PowerPivot)

Cost Benefits:

  • Educational and non-profit discounts are a nice way for Microsoft to give back.
  • License costs, on average, are lower than combining multiple tools from multiple vendors (this always depends on your situation and the license agreements that you have in place).
  • Total cost of ownership (TCO) tends to be lower.  This is due to the license fees and also the availability of technical resources that are familiar with the Microsoft platform.  Again, this is completely dependent on your situation, but this is what I have seen with other clients.  It may also be indirect, but by having all of these tools with one vendor, you spend less time managing 4 or 5 invoices for maintenance and renewals as well.  And, if you need to renegotiate anything – it is again done with a single vendor not 4 or 5.

My Favorite Features:

  1. SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) – it seems silly, but this a great tool and I enjoy testing my queries within SSMS prior to loading them into SSRS.  It has some really nice features built-in for ETL developers as well (i.e. the ability to script the creation/deletion of a table with a mouse click)
  2. SSIS Package Variables – I use them frequently to make dynamic filenames in my SSIS routines.  They are flexible and allow SSIS routines to handle a number of complexities that would otherwise be very difficult to address.
  3. Data-driven subscriptions – this is a great way to deliver tailored content to your user base.  Same report…different content.  In a previous consulting organization, I used data-driven subscriptions to improve internal processes and implementation times for external projects.
  4. PowerPivot – Let’s be honest.  It’s just cool!  In-memory BI is a hot topic.  We also like tools like Tableau and Qlikview.

Benefits of Social Collaboration = Productivity

How do you build a sense of “team” within an organization?  It seems like such a simple concept, but politically and organizationally it can be a very difficult thing to accomplish.  Many start-ups have an immediate sense of team.   Employees are engaged and always extremely busy.  Over time, workers start to work remotely and the culture lessens.  Then, many get acquired.  The acquiring companies often “forget” about the old company culture and suddenly begin transformation efforts to bring the start-up into the corporate fold.  The irony in many of these situations is that the corporate culture is less than that of the start-up.  But, they just wanted the customers anyway, right?

Even if you are not a start-up, how does your organization build, and more importantly, maintain a sense of team?  Does social media play a part?

How can you get your team that looks like this:

Credit: InformationWeek

Image via InformationWeek

To look more like this?

I have worked for several organizations and I have seen corporate social media tools work fantastically.  I have a preference toward a tool called Yammer (which is now owned by Microsoft).  However, there is a proliferation of good social media tools that may be able to perform a similar function.  A relatively new Charleston, SC-based company, Sparc, has a product called Sparcet.  Unlike Yammer, they focus almost solely on recognition and employee engagement.  Intuit, a company known for Quickbooks, has a neat product, Quickbase,  to spawn DIY custom apps which promote productivity as well.

Here is a quick look at these tools:

Image representing Yammer as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Regardless of the tool that you use, evaluate to see if this makes sense for your organization.  It may even lead to the formation of a Social Media Team.

Recently, Georgetown University’s CIO, Lisa Davis, announced a key development from University Information Services on our Facebook page.  Socially, we visited students waiting in line for the Georgetown shuttle across D.C.  The development that was announced was the ability to check the next GUTS (Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle) via our mobile application.  Interactively, our mobile app will show the shuttle en route so that you are aware of the location and how long to wait for the next one.  This was a big success and helped to celebrate our accomplishment internally.  In addition to the fun photos, it engaged the community and brought more attention to the hard work of our department.  More attention = more adoption.  More adoption = better success.

So, don’t take my word for it.  Here are a few benefits that others have stated about the use of social media as a team collaboration tool.

Many of these are taken from Yammer’s website under “Customer Success”:

  • Strengthened employee collaboration. From executives in headquarters to stylists on the floor, personnel use Yammer to share experiences, questions, and answers.
  • Nearly real-time process improvements. Westfield has used insight gleaned from Yammer feed to improve everything from computer training to gift-card programs.
  • Savvy leveraging of mobile devices. Employees can access the network when they’re away from their desks, posting real-time updates on happenings at shopping centers.
  • More satisfied customers. As more employees and retailers tap into Westfield’s network, they’re influencing events and policies to improve the shopping experience.
  • Better information sharing. Staff use Yammer as their forum for sharing business content, including articles from publications such as The Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
  • Comprehensive collaboration. The network unites response agents in the field with claims processors at headquarters, who can tap in on any device.
  • A more effective social intranet. Yammer integrates with Nationwide’s key applications, including SharePoint.
  • Improved productivity. Better information sharing and the crowdsourcing of ideas means faster responses to business and customer demands.
  • A stronger corporate culture. The network helped transform a widespread employee base into a more tightly knit workforce focused on customer satisfaction.

References

Technology Crowdsourcing: What do you think?

I’ve recently found a few good product comparison sites and have written a few posts/reviews for them.  This type of crowdsourcing  will become the future of the initial phases of procurement, but it will not replace the expertise of organizations like Gartner and Forrester.  Not only are these sites a brilliant idea, but it keeps the vendors honest.  Think of your personal life.  Do you use YelpAngies ListTripAdvisor?  I do – and I can only imagine that technology crowdsourcing sites will continue to grow.  What do you think?

Here are a few that I’ve recently discovered.  I hope that you find them as helpful as I did!

 

URLs:

The History of Programming Languages

I just saw this infographic on visual.ly by Neostrategos.

It immediately caught my attention with Ada Lovelace.  My first programming language was Ada 83, then Ada 95.  This graphic does a nice job providing a outlay of some of the key programming language in use today – and the companies that have adopted them.

Also, if you are a programmer, you’re probably already familiar with the OWASP Top 10.  Great resource!  Thanks, Neostrategos – great post!

The History of Programming Languages

 

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Warning Signs That You Need Better Business Intelligence

Many people ignore the warning signs.  My memory immediately flashes to warning labels on cigarette packaging or the famous 80’s commercial by Partnership for a Drug-free America (This is your brain…this is your brain on drugs).

Unfortunately, warning signs for outdated business intelligence systems may not be that clear…and are much more easily ignored.  Let’s start with a few basic questions:

  1. Do you often go to the ‘data guy’ to get reports or data from your ERP systems?
  2. Do you have to contact multiple people to get the data that you require to run a report?
  3. Is there a central portal where you visit for reporting needs?
  4. Are you able to answer the majority of your business questions without involving the IT department?
  5. Are you stuck with canned reports, or do you have the flexibility to run in-memory BI with tools such as Microsoft PowerPivot, Qlikview, or Tableau?
  6. Are you able to write your own reports, and more importantly, understand the data that is available?
  7. Do you have dashboards setup to govern key business areas?
  8. Are you able to share those dashboards in real-time to further collaborate?
  9. Does your business intelligence system allow you to look across functional areas to compare and contrast?
  10. Is there a process in place to request that additional data be added to the system?

Now that you’ve had a chance to think about the questions above, let’s look at what I would consider a positive and negative response to each question.

No. Question Response
1 Do you often go to the ‘data guy’ to get reports or data from your ERP systems? Yes No
2 Do you have to contact multiple people to get the data that you require to run a report? Yes No
3 Is there a central portal where you visit for reporting needs? Yes No
4 Are you able to answer the majority of your business questions without involving the IT department? Yes No
5 Are you stuck with canned reports, or do you have the flexibility to run in-memory BI with tools such as Microsoft PowerPivot, Qlikview, or Tableau? Yes No
6 Are you able to write your own reports, and more importantly, understand the data that is available? Yes No
7 Do you have dashboards setup to govern key business areas? Yes No
8 Are you able to share those dashboards in real-time to further collaborate? Yes No
9 Does your business intelligence system allow you to look across functional areas to compare and contrast? Yes No
10 Is there a process in place to request that additional data be added to the system? Yes No
Legend
 Green text Positive response
 Red text Negative response

Use these questions as a quick litmus test.  If you answered negatively to 4 or more of the questions above, you should revisit your business intelligence strategy.  If you answered positively to 6 or more of the questions above, you are likely headed in the right direction.  That being said, it is never a bad idea to reassess and evaluate strategies to improve your business intelligence environment.  Considering the constant change and fantastic software tools that are out there – you can always find something that will add to the value of your BI strategy.  Caution:  many of these tools are expensive, so evaluate carefully and find the right fit for your budget and your organization.

If you would like more explanation as to the responses to my questions above, I have provided them below:

Do you often go to the ‘data guy’ to get reports or data from your ERP systems?

I have worked in many organizations to find that only one specific person, or a small group of people, have access to organization-wide data.  If you find yourself constantly going to one person to get the data that you require…or to get ‘that report’ written, then the business intelligence system is failing.  A proper business intelligence system should allow you to get the types of data that you require as an end user.  It may impose appropriate security on the data, but it should allow you to get access to the data that is required to do your job.

Do you have to contact multiple people to get the data that you require to run a report?

If you find yourself contacting one person in Finance to get the finance data – and one person in Human Resources to get the HR data – and one person in Sales to get the sales data, then the business intelligence system is failing.  An appropriate BI solution should bring this data together and make it accessible cross-functionally.

Is there a central portal where you visit for reporting needs?

Provided the cross-functional nature of any business intelligence solution, it is important to have a BI portal in place.  This portal may address key information such as:

  • Report glossary
  • Data definitions
  • Training
  • Change requests
  • Project activity
  • Maintenance schedules

Without such a portal, this information is difficult to cobble together and it leads to confusion as end-users are visiting multiple locations to find this information.  This portal serves as a one-stop shop for business intelligence, reporting, and analytics needs.

Are you able to answer the majority of your business questions without involving the IT department?

This question is two-fold.  The first part is to ensure that the business intelligence system has the data that is required to fulfill your request.  The second part is to ensure that if the business intelligence system does have all of the data that is required for your request, that it is accessible to you.  Security is important, but it can also be over engineered.  In a recent project, I stepped into a BI project where each report was executing a security table with over 3.5 M rows of data.  This killed performance and made the experience so frustrating for end-users that they started to spawn their own shadow systems.  Not good.  Make sure that you have the appropriate security in place for your data, but remember that security for BI projects will likely not be the same as the transactional security that you have setup in your ERP systems.

Are you stuck with canned reports, or do you have the flexibility to run in-memory BI with tools such as Microsoft PowerPivot, Qlikview, or Tableau?

Business users will always find a report that isn’t written…or a permutation of an existing report that is required to fulfill a specific need.  For the canned or standard reports that you make available, try to make them as flexible as possible with report parameters.  These filters allow you to further refine the report for various users.  Once the user community becomes used to the environment, they will quickly outgrow canned reports.  This is where in-memory BI plays a big part.  Allow power-users the flexibility of further analyzing data using in-memory tools.  I’ve seen this done very well with Microsoft PowerPivot, Qlikview, and Tableau among others.  This collaborative analysis may lead to future canned reports or dashboards that will provide benefit to the larger community.  And, if not, it provides the flexibility to perform quick cross-functional analysis without the effort of creating a full report.  In the case of Qlikview, users can collaborate and share dashboard data in real-time.  This is very neat.

Are you able to write your own reports, and more importantly, understand the data that is available?

If your business intelligence environment is setup correctly, power-users should have the ability to write custom reports and save them either to a public or personal directory.  If the BI implementation has been done well, power-users will also understand the metadata which fuels the reports.  In a recent implementation, I’ve seen this done well with IBM Cognos and their Framework Manager.

Do you have dashboards setup to govern key business areas?

Dashboards are always the eye-candy of a BI implementation.  With the proliferation of good dashboard tools, this is an integral part of a modern BI solution and is a key aid in helping to drive key business decisions.

Are you able to share those dashboards in real-time to further collaborate?

Not only are dashboards great to help the c-level suite make key business decisions, but they are also becoming a fantastic way to collaborate and share information.  As mentioned above, some of the more advanced dashboard tools allow you to share dashboard information in real-time.  This could be as simple as selecting a view parameters and sending over a copy of a dashboard that you’ve modified.  In some of the nicer tools, it could mean sharing a session and collaborating on the dashboard in real-time.

Does your business intelligence system allow you to look across functional areas to compare and contrast?

This may seem like a silly question, but it is an important one.  Does your business intelligence system encompass all of your key ERP systems?  If not, you need to reevaluate and ensure that all key business systems are brought into the BI solution.  Once the data from the key business systems is standardized and brought into the BI solution, you can start to join these data together for insightful cross-functional analysis.

Is there a process in place to request that additional data be added to the system?

Through exploration, collaboration, and report writing, you may identify data that has not been loaded into the BI solution.  This could be as simple as a data field or as complex as another transactional system.  Either way, you should ensure that your BI team has a process in place to queue up work items.  The BI solution needs to evolve as business needs are identified.  Personally, I have gained a lot of benefit from using Intuit’s Quickbase software to manage this process through technology.  Quickbase has a nice blend of tools that facilitate collaboration and allow end-users to submit requests without a lot of effort.

As you evaluate your BI solution, also ensure that your ETLs are loading data at the appropriate interval.  I’ve also seen many implementation where the data is so dated that is becomes useless to the end-users and impacts adoption of the platform.  Try to run ETL processes as quickly as possible.  In many implementations that I’ve completed, we’ve set data up to run nightly.  This isn’t always possible given the volume, but fresh data always allows for better adoption of the platform.

Real-time Data Collaboration by Qlikview

Qlikview

Yesterday, I had a very nice meeting with the folks at Qlikview (thanks, @DHurd11 & Andy for making the trip).  They partnered with a local DC consulting firm by the name of Tandem Conglomerate.  I had the pleasure of working with Ben Nah from Tandem Conglomerate last year – and I can vouch that their talent is top-notch.  Qlikview is smart to find partners of this caliber – and utilize them to better serve their customers.

As a technologist, I always have my eyes open to exploring new technology.  This is always challenging with long term contracts, university politics, and an ever-changing IT landscape.  However, for me, vendors have to prove why they should remain at the top.  Competition is healthy for everyone as it makes us constantly improve.  I should also say that as long as we have a defined data model, the reporting tools that we use on top of that data model are fluid.  The point is not to constantly change and rip out what you’ve done just for the sake of redoing it, but it is important to keep an eye on the latest technology, experiment, and find what is best for your organization.  This can be done gradually with small pilot projects to prove value.  We’re actually in the process of doing one of these pilot projects with Hadoop.

Ok – so you’re probably wondering why I titled this post ‘real-time data collaboration’?  During the Qlikview presentation yesterday, I saw something that really resonated with me.  And, that was the ability to collaborate, in real-time, on the same Qlikview dashboard.

This capability is a market differentiator for Qlikview.  As many of you may have seen from Gartner and in my previous post regarding Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for BI, this is one of the reasons that Qlikview remains ahead of competitors such as Tableau.  Other dashboard vendors may provide the ability to ‘share’ with others, or embed the dashboard into a web page or part.  Don’t misunderstand.  This is NOT the same.

During their product demonstration, Qlikview demonstrated the ability in real-time to share dashboards.  This means that you can select the filters/parameters that you would like to analyze, hone in on the particular area of interest, and share it in real-time.  The recipient can then see that selection, modify it, and as they modify the shared dashboard, it will update your dashboard.  You can modify and send changes back to the recipient as well.  VERY COOL!  Kudos to Qlikview on this feature.  Below are a few screen shots to show how it works:

Click ‘Share Session’

Click ‘Start Sharing’

Choose if you want to cut/paste the link, email it, or even expire the shared session.  By the way, recipients don’t have to have any sort of Qlikview license to be able to provide feedback in real-time.

Try it out in the demo below:

 

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Improve your sales pitch with these 5 tips!

At Georgetown University, we are in the RFP stage for a number of key IT projects.  This week, I sat through about 6 different vendor presentations in response to our requirements for these projects.  It was amazing how much each presentation, and the people presenting them, differed.

This is brief, but here are my take-aways and recommendations:

  • Be human.  Mix in some humor and rotate presenters.  I’m not talking about cheesy jokes, but keep the conversation light by mixing in witty humor.  No one wants to listen to a presentation that drones in monotone.  Take every opportunity to connect with your audience personally.  Don’t be afraid to mix in a brief story from the day-of to show that this presentation is geared directly to the audience.  I observed that it is also nice to rotate presenters as this helps to naturally break up the presentation and make it more engaging.  Some groups had up to 4 presenters during an hour-long presentation.
  • Demonstrate with examples and make it real.  People like to understand that you’re an expert in the solution that you are providing.  Make your examples as real as possible.  If you don’t have a direct example, mock up an example from the requirements for the project.  Help the audience understand how you are going to help them and break the solution down.  Visuals are always a good idea.
  • Be transparent about some of the key challenges.  No one is perfect.  Seeing a number like 99 or 100% always raises my eyebrows.  We don’t live in a perfect world.  Be open and share challenges from past experiences.  Help the audience understand your experience and how you would work to mitigate these risks and challenges.  You rarely see a 99.99% up-time guarantee or success rate.  And, even when you do, it seems like more of a marketing plug.  Just ask Amazon about their failure on Christmas Eve that sent Netflix users in a fury.   The point here is not to slam Amazon.  Amazon is a great company with fantastic services.  The point is that no one is perfect.  I bet they learned from that Christmas Eve mistake and have measures in place to prevent it this year.  If you were a company similar to Netflix and seeking Amazon’s services, wouldn’t you want to know how they addressed that issue and the preventative measures that they have put in place moving forward?
  • If possible, show the solution.  We all love PowerPoint, right?  I like PPT visuals and pretty charts and graphs, but I also want to see where the rubber meets the road.  It is great to see something like workflow presented in PowerPoint, but it brings an entirely new dimension to the presentation when you can show how the system handles workflow in real time.  If you’ve done your homework, you can align these demo “bursts” with the requirements in the RFP.  I realize this isn’t always possible, but it is a very nice touch!  If you are scared of internet connectivity, pre-record the demo bursts and save them on the local laptop.
  • Be interactive.  We had one vendor actually video conference references during the presentation.  Not only was it great to connect with someone that is in our position, but it was helpful to hear them talk about the solution and how it has directly benefited their business.  In other sessions, we enjoyed engaging conversation and impromptu requests to provide a requirement and the vendor would demonstrate how that requirement would be met in the solution.  This goes so much further than talking about the “possibilities” in the solution.  Take action….show us!