By APNWLNS payday loans
April 30, 2013
“Maybe Microsoft suffers from too much leadership.”
That surprising statement came from an industry analyst with one of the major groups. We were recently splitting lunch and enjoying some obscenely great Silicon Valley weather, discussing the tech industry as a whole and wondering if Microsoft might soon be known only as “The Xbox Company.” We mutually marveled at how seemingly inept Microsoft has become, with one market disaster after another. Since we both had experience with start-ups and big vendors alike, the discussion focused keenly on leadership and ossification.
You never want to be the leader for the former.
Microsoft has two primary problems when it comes to innovation, the first of which is that they remain consumed by former glories and the old ways of thinking. This same analyst told me that – at least until recently – Microsoft sized their markets based on the number of PCs in an organization, not the number of information workers. Like the IBM of old where all activities revolved around the mainframe, Microsoft revolves too much of its thinking around desktops. Given mobility and Microsoft’s late/flawed strategy for making mobile work, it may be that their PC inertia is throttling their other ambitions.
This is sadly amusing given that mobile is a very personal computing experience and Microsoft started as a personal computer company. To flounder so badly at this fundamentally personal computing pivot point would be perplexing were it not for historical comparisons. The most vivid is IBM, who despite bringing Microsoft to fame via the original PC, was myopically focused on their mainframes. Indeed, much of IBM’s PC business was constrained by making the little machines part of the mainframe ecosystem, not letting it evolve and profiting from that evolution. One could argue (and I will) that Windows 8 was an attempt to bridge mobile to maintain desktop superiority, and failed both markets.
This may be why my analyst friend thinks Microsoft suffers from too much leadership, for they led the Microsoft troops into creating a digital Frankenstein monster that was universally repulsive.
The intersection of markets, trends, leadership and management is conceptually simple. An organization is either ahead or behind a trend (really great companies create trends out of stuff thinner than air). This is where leadership is essential, because leading requires creating and communicating a vision of something that doesn’t exist. Even Microsoft demonstrates this from time to time as they did with their Xbox project, which was so tangent to desktop computing that Microsoft had no choice but to let the Xbox team take their own path.
Management is the essential antithesis of leadership. It is a more mechanical process, one driven by numbers and bureaucracy. Leadership into new markets requires decentralization and flexibility, whereas maintaining a product line leans on management. The tangent problem herein is that management can be infected by inertia, such as Microsoft counting PCs and not people as their market. For Microsoft to have a chance requires delivering different products to different groups, and this requires different groups within Microsoft lead by different visionaries, bridging teams only when necessary. It is a really good to have a single underlying software architecture, but leave the user experience and marketing thereof to decentralized team leaders. After delivering a core OS, separate servers, desktops, mobile and games entirely. Leave the applications group to decide on which platforms they can make a buck.
Microsoft may not have too much leadership, but what they have is too highly concentrated in a single place.
April 9, 2013
You have to go through Step-B before reaching Step-C … or Step-Z.
Try telling that to a start-up CEO and you’ll earn some nasty looks.
One of the greatest errors of leaders, political or business, is to move too fast. Many militarists believe Hitler could have ruled Europe had he taken his time and not rushed to open fronts everywhere at once. Great products have vanished because CEOs aggressively tried to push it into every segment simultaneously. Make too many changes while delivering too little value and you’ll have too few customers.
This topic gurgled forth because J.C. Penny, a company born over 100 years ago and thus slightly older than my jokes, ditched their CEO. His overhaul spiraled the once legendary retailer nearly into ruin and its share price was cut in third. Nothing nice has been said about CEO Ron Johnson’s re-rigging, but a common complaint was that he attempted a blitzkrieg and changed everything overnight. One analyst opined “He tried to do too much too soon. He had a lot of very radical and bold ideas, and he tried to execute them all simultaneously.”
People (and hence markets) tend not to be revolutionary. Even new products and technologies with obvious benefits meet suspicion, investigation, trials, slow roll-outs and finally mass acceptance (virtual machines on commodity servers looked weird when first conceptualized, but now the world runs on them). Marketing must often lead buyers through multiple steps before making a sale, and lead markets through chained-discoveries before achieving wide-spread interest. Marketers must also lead product development in delivering solutions to satisfy one segment (one battle front) before opening the next.
Which brings Windows 8 into question. The newest Microsoft Windows OS tries to move an entire market (the installed PC base) too far, too fast, with too many changes and has met with derision more bitter than any lodged at J.C. Penny CEOs. In all too typical a style, Microsoft abandoned existing user interface elements (start buttons, hierarchical menus, etc.) and tossed a revolutionarily limited user experience in peoples’ laps. Microsoft did not ease folks through the changes nor offer them a way to maintain their old computing habits while exploring new possibilities (much like they did not do with Office and the hateful “ribbon” paradigm). Microsoft did too much too soon and lobbed at their customers a lot of very radical and bold ideas, trying to execute them all simultaneously.
The management lesson herein is to manage movement. Rushing anything produces poor results. Customers always have options, just as J.C. Penny’s had the option of canning their CEO. Take markets and customers step-wise through discovery, leading them to one level gratification after another. Hit them with too much and they will hit back.
March 19, 2013
Spending money to compete toe-to-toe is dumb.
But this hasn’t stopped start-ups from doing just that.
Most start-ups are about as broke as college kids (and from the looks of their management team photos, may well be staffed with the same). They do need to spend money on marketing, but competing is foolish. For every face-off, someone loses face. Slugging it out with gorillas is fast suicide and shin-kicking many small competitors is the slow form.
In every market, you can outmaneuver competitors, even gorillas. By understanding the position of each competitor or how they approach buyers, you can compete without competing, which is more cost effective and more effective in general. SuSE Linux remains my worn-out example because it worked against the sitting gorilla.
Back when Linux was only starting to be seriously considered for mission-critical IT infrastructure, the U.S. market was owned by Red Hat and littered with also-rans, which included SuSE. Becoming the undisputed contender was our objective, and many things went into the process. One aspect though was understanding Red Hat’s communication plan and knowing who made IT decisions. At that time, CxOs were willing to use Linux for non-critical file and print servers, but little else. Yet Oracle, IBM and others SuSE partners were ramping up for a market revolution.
At that time, Red Hat was committing the classic marketing mistake of relying on what had made them successful in the past, namely talking to techies who took Linux into IT. In the typical IT hierarchy, techies had functional veto power over some IT decisions, but not the strategic ones. We decided if Red Hat wanted to talk to techies, we would romance CxOs by understanding their long-range strategic plans and articulating how Linux (especially SuSE Linux) could make their strategies succeed. While marketing did this, out PR team convinced the media that discussing anyone else aside from Red Hat and SuSE was a mistake and substantiated that notion.
The point of this example was that SuSE could have gone toe-to-toe with Red Hat, attempting to win the minds and hearts of techies everywhere. Instead we nurtured them with technical fodder while telling their bosses how SuSE would make business imperative strategic decisions possible. This did not guarantee sales, but it did guarantee two important things: SuSE would be on the short list and techies would have to justify why Red Hat was better than SuSE (and since CxOs knew that core Linux was nearly identical regardless of distribution, techies could not justify Red Hat).
You can apply the same basic strategy to positioning within a market or even a segment. Odds are there exist a dozen different viable positions within your market, and that most of them are vacant. Competing for the hot spot means restricting your market share and dominance because your competitors will get some of that business. Finding a position that you can dominate with little or no competition, then growing tentacles into other vacant positions allow you to grow more quickly and dominate the market, eventually squeezing the life out of your competitors.
Exploit, dominate and expand.
To use a football analogy, if your team did nothing but run successful three-yard plays every time, they would win every game, gaining twelve yards per every four downs. Market dominance is the same game played on a non-linear field. Run a safe play, get market share every play, then do it again.
That strategy would make even Lombardi smile.
January 22, 2013
Happily, outsourcing marketing strategy works for everyone.
Last year I got a call from a global conglomerate that rakes in over $20 billion each year. They were launching a new product from within one of their divisions. Savvy as they were, they needed help in new product go-to-market messaging. In the division of that giant corporation, the native knowledge was unavailable.
Sadly, this doesn’t happen all the time.
Nobody is universally competent. In large companies, even specialists with necessary knowledge are not portable between organization boundaries. Smart marketing executives inventory their talent and outsource as needed to assure everything that needs to be done is done, and is done well. Companies that don’t fail.
Early in my consulting career I was hired to help with the pivot of all pivots, changing an entire post-IPO enterprise from a hardware company into a software vendor. The company was successful at what they did, but their market was dissolving from around them. They had no clear notion of their new market segmentation or core market messages, much less how to stitch it all together. But they didn’t have the internal strategic focus to realign themselves around an entirely new business.
Sadly, few companies can admit their lack of specific expertise.
When SuSE Linux brought me in, their North American marketing strategy wasn’t. They didn’t understand the problems they had internally, but were willing to learn. Between a revamped marketing strategy and a solid PR team, SuSE went from being an also-ran to the undisrupted #2 enterprise Linux distribution. Management understood that they didn’t understand marketing, and were flexible in acquiring expertise for their weak points.
Sadly, few founders are that flexible.
Every company, from the smallest boot-strap start-up to the largest conglomerate has holes in their marketing discipline. Every company needs to fill those holes, but cannot hire full time people for every possible marketing task. Outsourcing to marketing experts is as wise as outsourcing coders – hire the experts you need, when you need them, for only as long as you need them in order to acquire the skill sets you need. It is inexpensive, flexible, and completes your marketing savvy.
Sadly, someone reading this will ignore the advice.
November 13, 2012
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Businesses should not resemble circular firing squads.
While presenting to the Silicon Valley Forum’s Marketing SIG last night, one audience member noted her company’s marketing, product development and sales staffs were unaligned. Well, “unaligned” might be poor wording. They appear to be as completely disjointed as drawn and quartered traitors. This is not uncommon in tech companies where the three groups have come onboard at different phases of corporate growth, believe they own the customer and move ahead despite what other teams are doing.
Circular firing squads are more efficient and less violent.
In early phases, techies are product managers and interface with customers directly. They believe they listen to prospects though this is often self-delusion. Techies (and particularly techie founders) only listen to customer input that agrees with the original product vision. This form of founderitus is so prevalent in Silicon Valley that my audience was not surprised when I described it to them.
Cynicism thrives in the valley.
A little later in corporate aging, salespeople are hired and begin dictating product development agendas. Unhappily, professional product hawkers have a one sales quarter viewpoint and can launch development teams into spasmodic fits of coding to meet the Customer Objection of the Week. Product managers get sick of this after a while and stop listening to sales, leaving sales staffs to create their own stories about what the product does … even when it doesn’t.
Sadly the Internet has not yet obviated the need for salespeople.
Finally, marketing employees arrive. The first in the door are typically advanced copywriters and actors at trade shows who have only vague notions about measuring market needs. They proceed to irritate product managers with irrelevant and misguided suggestions. By the time experienced marketers with quantitative research skills arrive, their input is disregarded by product management and their go-to-market messages are revamped by sales.
Three groups with no agreement on mission, messaging or marketing.
Curing this malady is not for weaklings. It takes some bullheadedness on the part of marketing and enforcement by top management. Marketing has to quantify market needs and competitive realities. Since they are twisting techie arms in product development teams, marketing cannot use generalities. Demand and competitive threats have to be expressed down to one decimal place … at least. Any pushback from product development will then result in backlash from the CEO.
Marketing must also manage the message, and wherever possible bias buyers perception before salespeople are ever engaged, turning salesmen into order takers. Getting the message and brand right, then relentlessly pushing it to the market and all through internal teams forces salespeople to respond to customer inquiries based on the selected messages, value propositions and product positioning. Salespeople who don’t follow the script won’t sell much and will soon be finding new jobs.
However, these sales/marketing/proddev disconnects don’t need to exist. Start-up CEOs need to establish clear demarcations of responsibility and be ready to enforce them. They need to change these responsibilities as the organization grows. They have to be firm at the right times, mediate before and during organizational changes, and be ready to let non-compliant people walk. It is a tough job, but essential …
And a lot more pleasant than dodging interdepartmental fire.