Sonoma County: News and Notes

I am proud to announce a Webinar for June 26th at 9AM. This webinar is titled “Marketing in the Digital Age” and is for those who want to have some practical understanding of how to use all the new tools that are available to us via the Internet. I saw an episode of Hotel Impossible recently that led me to offer this event. I saw a conversation with an Internet Marketing consultant spoke actual sentences that were complete and without error. These sentences were responses to simple questions and provided no actual information. So, I decided to build folks a “decoder ring” and answers in real English. Now this will be Marketing English so might still offend some, but English nonetheless.

I also want to let folks know about an upcoming Block Party in Skyhawk that is being sponsored by Skyhawk Living Magazine. This event will be held on Saturday June 7th from 2 – 6 pm at Skyhawk Playground Park at Mountain Hawk & San Ramon. If you are in the area, it will be worth checking out. There will be fun, games and a wonderful business coach providing food from Chef Chris. Stop by and say hi!

Last week was full of mixers and there was a big one at Sally Tomatoes in Rohnert Park. There were 8 Sonoma County Chambers in attendance and it looked to be well over 100 people. There were two announcements from Sally Tomatoes and Sonoma Mountain Village at the event. The first is that there will be a 3000 seat outdoor amphitheater put in for concerts, comedy and the like. There will be many opportunities to sponsor events, so keep that in mind as you think about marketing for the rest of the year. There is also a new venue for sales called “Sonoma Mountain Marketplace”. This will be located at Sonoma Mountain Village and starting in August will be having at least 150 booths to peddle wares. I will stop down after it opens and give folks feedback on the venue. If you are thinking about a booth, the venue claims that the first month will be free! The best part of all is that Sonoma Mountain Marketplace is partnering with Crossing the Jordan Foundation. That means you can help others while you shop and sell. A win-win all around.

We are heading into the doldrums of summer. As we do, things often get slow for Sale Folks as many of their customers are on vacation. This is a great time to talk about Sale Training. If you find a need for a 1/2 Day or Full Day workshop, then just contact me. If individual performance is the concern, then I have a great solution. This is a 4 week “Diagnostic and Mentoring” Program. We start with a Sales Skills Insight Assessment. Then I work with the Sales Person to review the Assessment and coach them on how to improve on their top 3 areas. This is a great package for anyone and now is a great time!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

Edgewave: Almost the End

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day Weekend.

In December 2011, I was recovering from my surgery. This was enough of a problem that I had to work mostly from home over the next month. The tools we had allowed me to do so and I was able to do a lot of things in some more relative peace than at other times.

The biggest thing I did with that extra alone time was to try to correlate the database performance issues we were having with something else going on. I looked at traffic by raw bytes. I looked at the number of messages. I looked at Outbound and Inbound traffic. I looked for Large Messages. My conclusion from all of it is that this issue was not directly traffic related. I began to look in other directions and wondered if there was some underlying bugs that were being triggered. I started searching error logs and found a number of small issues, but nothing that seemed to help. I started looking at the number of users and seeing if there was some magic spot that caused issues.

Let me back up one minute and provide a bit more information. This problem occurred regularly on a few systems. The rest seemed to have this happen once or twice over the couple of months that this issue reared its head. We had systems that never displayed any issues at all. It was quite baffling.

During my first full week back in the office, I got an email to meet the CEO for breakfast. This was a rather normal event as he was on the Board of Directors of another company in Petaluma. When he came up for a Board meeting we would have breakfast before hand to catch up. So, I got to the hotel at 7AM on Monday morning in February of 2012 and told that my services were no longer required. We stayed and had breakfast and talked over the transition. I asked a few questions about who would be taking over various portions of my job. I asked that they rework the proposed new organization chart for a few people and that was done. Other than that, I noted to the team that was taking over the roles that they missed a few things that I do. I was immediately offered a contract for 3 months to do those portions of the job and to train someone to take them over.

I spent time with the team to make sure we had a path forward on the problem. In the end it turned out to be two things that proceeded my time by over a year. The smaller (in my estimation) of the two problems was some basic problems in the way the database software was configured. Because we produced small units (remember the clarity issue here), the scale between the biggest and smallest databases meant we really needed two boot up configurations. The larger issue was a problem with the audit log. One of the biggest problems in mail service is that people call you up and ask, “What happened to my mail?” We needed to be able to show records around that. The founders never put a cap on the size of the audit log nor did we clean up old records. Some of the older systems had been in service for several years and this database was growing in an unbounded way. Eventually the scale of the data became a problem. This was especially true for that first ISP which wrote software to delete old SPAM messages daily.

So, what went wrong for me? Well, essentially I did a bad job of managing upward. The product was “late” because of the dates we talked about at that first call set a date. I had not even heard about the product and it had a date. I then slipped that date that I had not created. Then there was the apparent product quality issue that was created by the new software. On top of the ongoing issue there was the upset customer (even though they were upset at something that someone else did). It clearly looked like terrible performance at a glance. Clearly, I should have been explaining myself better and spending more time on it. Lesson to you all. One of my old colleagues (Rich Waldschmidt) would remind us all that our job is to make our boss successful. I definitely failed at that.

From here, I am going to get to some lessons in place from this story arc. After that, I will exit story arc mode for awhile and get back to some basics and more general articles.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

Edgewave: E-mail Encryption and Product Problems

Apologies for not posting over the last couple of days. I ended up giving myself a mild case of food poisoning Monday Night. I am fully recovered now and in fine shape. To link this back to our story, I ended up in the hospital shortly after the release of the first portion of the Encryption Product. I had to have surgery on my left foot. It was a major bummer for me, as I had planned to go visit my parents and my in-laws over that Christmas Holiday. I am in California and they are in New York and Connecticut respectively. So, this is a trip that I do less often than I would like.

To explain this portion of the story, I will need to talk through a couple of details about the product and process. These are going to be put in a way that requires no technical training so bear with me. The first of these is that the Spam Filter was a SaaS (Sotfware as a Service) product at heart. The product was software that ran on off the shelf computers (in our case these we used primarily Dell Computers). Most of us are familiar was SaaS service now – Gmail and Facebook are such products. Another thing you need to know (and I am sure you know) SaaS providers upgrade their service as they see fit.

So, we got this part of the product out the door. From a customer standpoint, this was a product upgrade to the existing Spam Filter that they already bought from us. It allowed them to do some things with their outgoing mail that they could not do previously, but that was a minor change from a customer standpoint. The reason we needed it was so that we could route outbound mail to this new Encryption Service that we had created.

Now many people would not want to release a product over the Christmas Holiday. I considered it low risk. First, there is a significant drop in good mail volume over the holiday. So many folks are on vacation, that it seemed like we could think of this as a large Beta Test and we could find any small issues over the break. We could then quickly fix and release an update early in January. The other reason that we considered this a low risk was that the change itself was very small. We added to existing capabilities that were in the product. We then re-organized the interface that customers configured them with to make them more visible. Given the minor nature of this change we were pretty sure nobody would use the new code over the Holidays.

Well, I was in the hospital for 7 days and by the time day 4 arrived I was feeling pretty well. I had my son bring my laptop to the hospital and I worked on the network over the hospital WiFi. Nothing major but looking for small problems so that I could record them and get them fixed. Well, we had a customer have a significant issue over the break. The worst part of the problem was that they called our San Diego HQ and got a message that the office was closed. Now, this was true but the messaging bit was 24/7/365 and there were people in the Rohnert Park office at the time. I know because we run a Skype chat channel to talk about issues and discuss solutions. The customer got through on the old Red Condor number and got to us. They were quite upset over us being closed and we talked about it in Skype. We fixed there issue but is kept reoccurring.

As you can imagine, we thought this had to do with the new software. The reality is that it didn’t and was related directly to the way we stored certain types of data in the system. What it meant for us was that we had to be more vigilent than normal looking for the problem to crop up in other places and then knock it down. Which happened and we did. The biggest fallout of this whole thing was a perception issue in San Diego that we had “pushed out junk”. It will eventually turn out that this software had absolutely nothing to do with the problem, but perception is 100% of reality. The worst part from my standpoint was that the customer was most upset because of the reachability issue when the problem first came up. The Rohnert Park team was viewed dubiously over that, although we had nothing to do with the connectivity issue. It surprised me most that the San Diego team had routed the voice badly. They did have call coverage over the holidays and that “office is closed” message was only on the main number not the service number.

Well, the fallout continues next week over this event.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

Edgewave: Developing E-Mail Encryption

Returning to the Story Arc, we were going to introduce the E-Mail Encryption to the Sales Force. We are also going to talk about all the other products that were being developed. On top of that, there was a new pricing model and a new bundling model as part of that.

I went down to this meeting and sat in the audience. Things went pretty well until we got to the Encryption product. Essentially we couldn’t answer any questions about the product. The Sales Force asked for dates and details about features. I hadn’t started the whole process yet of defining product requirements so things were very difficult to talk about. This was the 2nd week of August and I had been asked to deliver the product in October. I had given back the possibility of something in Q4.

When I got back to Rohnert Park, I started writing product requirements and we held product architecture discussions. It turned out that there were at least 5 distinct elements of the design, not including a specific way of deploying a version of the product to provide the service. We could outsource one of the design elements and none of the rest were a miracle. But this did end up involving essentially everyone in the office. From the requirements, we came up with an availability date of February. We talked about this with our HQ friends and they told us that this would not work. We went back, reduced requirements and came up with a design that might get us a Beta in December for Encryption. The rest was all quite doable and so we proceeded on that path. Our software team worked very hard and we did end up with a product that could be released in stages at the end of the year. Part of the design was a change to the existing product. We pushed very hard and made that portion of the product available before the end of the year. It was concluded that we would not start the Beta on the new functionality until after the first of the year. There was rightful concern about supporting a Beta across the Christmas Holiday. Of course, I was unclear why folks wanted me to push out a product at the end of the Calendar year in any case at that point.

I think the big lesson from this part of the story is the questions that Sales had and our inability to answer the questions. Sales Teams need to believe in the product that they are pitching. I think if you are not in Sales, then you need to understand the following: “You can not overcome an objection that you agree with.” Can you imagine going to a Sales Meeting and being asked to sell a new product that nobody can describe in any detail? Would you spend time trying to pitch it? The issue is that Sales people are driven by meeting quota. They will not be able to close the business if presented with objections. From a Sales standpoint, wasting time pitching a product in that state makes no sense. People will not be effective in selling products in that state.

I had asked for the meeting to be delayed or at least to make the announcement of Encryption to be an early head’s up. The idea would be to get feedback from Sales on what they think they can sell so that when we had requirements we could have effective feedback on what we were making. Our requirements had two problems. As we were new to the market, our Product manager (me) needed time to do competitive analysis. Of course, given the breadth of what I was doing I did not have time to do so. What we were doing was a shot in the dark based on our own personal experience. On top of that, the first release was then subsequently modified based on a date. So we were really disconnected from what might be a minimum viable product.

Next up, what happened when we released the new product.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

Sales for the Non-Sales Person

 

If you have read my blog articles carefully, you will note that I am part of Focal Point Business Coaching. Focal Point was founded by and is based on the work of Brian Tracy. Brian is a well known author, lecturer, and consultant. He is an expert in Sales on top of everything else.

I bring this up as one of the things that I do is Sales Training. I had a palpable negative response to Sales and Sales Training from two people I talked to this week and I thought it would be good to clear up some things about Sales. I also want to set some groundwork for the Non-Sales Person who reacts this negatively to Sales. Sales is not about selling with hard closes and pressure tactics. Sales is about matching customer needs with your products and services. I know people who think of all Salespeople as the stereotypical Used Car Sales Person…”What’s it going to take for me to put you in this beauty today?” There are still places where these tactics are used. Buyers don’t like those tactics and avoid dealing with people that use them.

Now the reality is that nothing in a company happens until a Sale is made. Sales drives the processes within all companies. What that means is that Sales and Sales Processes are some of the most studied elements in business. One thing that comes through all the time is that it is much more expensive to convert a new prospect to a customer than it is to get repeat business from an existing customer. What does this mean? Those high pressure tactics might land one deal, but is very unlikely to create bad feelings and kill repeat business. If you are a business owner, is that kind of Sales Person worth it? Could a different type of approach worked just as well? In these days of Yelp and other on-line reviews, do you want prospects reading notes about those kind of Sales People?

If that is not a great Sales Process or good Sales, then what is? Again, it is back to matching customer needs to what you have as Products and Services. I spoke to one person this week who told me that she failed at Sales because she would not sell unwanted or unneeded goods. I told her that she was wrong! That her style was the definition of successful Sales. As a Sales Trainer, I ask people about Conversion Rate or the percentage of Prospects that become Customers. Nobody has a 100% Conversion Rate. There are both good reasons and bad reasons for that.

And all of this is the point of Sales Training. We build up people’s skills to improve their Conversion Rate at all points in the Sales Process. That all starts with the identification of an Ideal Prospect. An Ideal Prospect who is someone who is willing to buy, can afford to buy and has a need for your products and services. If this type of approach makes sense to you, then give me a call. I have programs to help people improve their Sales experience whether they are a veteran and need a tune up or are new to Sales and need help with the entire process.

Thanks and have a great weekend!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

Sonoma County: News and Notes

Yesterday I went to a breakfast sponsored by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. The President of my BNI Chapter Letitia Hanke-Ryzhkov (CEO of ARS Roofing) was a winner of one of the Spirit Awards presented! I would like to add my congratulation to her and ARS.

The headlining speaker at the event was Lieutenant Governer Gavin Newsom. He spoke eloquently. I would say that allow I did not agree with every thing he said, I saw that he believed in his message. His concept was that we need to return California to the methods that worked during the post-WWII boom times. In particular, he was talking about long term investments in Education, Infrastructure and Green Technology. I want to comment on the first two of these – I will talk about the 3rd in conjunction with Enphase.

Infrastructure is a tough problem. We already built the road system. When Sacramento (or Washington) talks about Infrastructure improvements, what they are really talking about is incremental investment in repair and upgrade of existing facilities. That means we will not get the same Return on Investment as we have on the original projects. We do need to do this incremental work at some level, but the gains will be minor.

Education is a tough nut. We seem to want to fail. Let me use my favorite example. Much education is on-line now. Yet, we seem to still want to run massive lecture halls for English 1A. Why not do that class online with a “Lab” that is once a week to work with students on more interactive issues? It would seem to me that we could offer MORE classes with about 1/4th of the staff. Which is my challenge in Education. We seem to have no view to change of the system, instead we just want to push more of what we have. Just FYI, test scores in California have increased as we have cut funding over the last few years. Not a great indicator that I should want to pour more money into the system as its constructed.

Now onto Enphase. If I said Calix was neutral and Cyan was a disaster, then Enphase is a mild bright spot in the North Bay Tech economy. Revenue was down sequentially (from Q4 to Q1) as expected, but was up year over year. It seems that Enphase has had some modest success in expanding outside the US. Now the company is essentially break even at the moment, an investor should look to how the company is going to get more profit out of its business. There is ongoing cost reduction efforts that are spoke of. The main issue at question is: “Will scaling revenue be more profitable than the current business?” If you listen to what they talk about Australia on the conference call, you have to judge whether the incremental revenue will add profit to the bottom line. The cost to open and operate an office in country means that the cost to turn up a new territory is significant and ongoing. That implies that the primary leverage is in G&A spending and potentially re-use of some R&D. Tight but not undoable.

Now for my comments on Green Tech. Let’s be clear. The only reason the Solar Market is growing is government intervention. The ROI does not make sense economically. Someday it may get there, but today Solar and many alternative energy strategies are a LOT more expensive than Fossil Fuels. This is going to get worse in the near term as the US has become a Net Energy Exporter and cleaner (sometimes much cleaner) Fossil Fuel Technology comes online over the next 20 years. From a business standpoint, it means keep your eyes open. Don’t assume you know the technology answers, let the market have a say in your thoughts. One of the great classic examples is Vacuum Tubes versus Semiconductors. In the early 60s, there was a huge debate about which technology would win. The Soviet Union went all in on Vacuum Tubes. And that is why Russia produces the best Tubes available today. Outside of audiophiles, nobody cares. So, don’t assume Photovolatic Solar or any other technology is the exclusive answer. There will be many choices along the way.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

Edgewave: “Email Encryption”

Yesterday I ended with a fateful call about the new products that we were making. I want to explore the immediate aftermath of that call. To do so, I need to back up a second and make sure that the environment is understood.

Edgewave is headquartered in San Diego. The primary product line that is currently being sold out of that location is called iPrism. iPrism is a Web Filter and is deployed as an appliance solution to Small Businesses and Governmental Institutions. The primary overlap between what Red Condor had (named ePrism by Edgewave) is in the small business market.

Since there was essentially no overlap, there was actually a minimal amount of communications. The biggest part of information flow was in Customer Service and Security Operations. Edgewave combined the two organizations, and they are successfully combined today. Outside of that, I was in (mostly by video) an Executive Staff Meeting once a week. That was about it, beyond my sending in weekly status updates.

So, I can tell you that I was completely surprised by this call. I was told 3 things: Messaging was the future direction; We had new products that we were introducing on specific dates; and We were telling the Sales Force about them in 2 weeks. I can tell you my jaw basically dropped and it took me a moment to recover.

So from what I thought was a shutdown in February, we were the spotlight in July. The worst part was this new product called “Email Encryption”. This was one of the products we talked about in May, but we had no inkling that anybody wanted us to do such a thing. We had commitments to deliver products that we had already agreed to. On top of that, we had spent no time on either Product Requirements or Product Architecture outside that brainstorming session. I also was given an end date for the product. So, I had the triple bogey: A product that was unscheduled, that I didn’t know what it did, nor did I know how to make it. It was due according to this call in October 2011.

My reply was that given those facts on the ground I did not see how to get to October but it was not impossible to get something before the end of the year. The call ended and I got to work with the team in Rohnert Park talking about what we could make and how we could make it.

Well, this little tale continues later this week. Tomorrow, I talk about Enphases results and a bit about the Gavin Newsom visit to the Santa Rosa Chamber this morning.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis