Leadership and the Battles of Saratoga

It is coming up on the 4th of July and that always makes me think about the founding of the United States of America. I grew up in Upstate New York near where the Battles of Saratoga took place. My hometown still has a parade every year for surrender day, though they have moved it in more recent years to maximize the tourism. We played Little League Baseball on the grounds where the British surrendered to the Americans in late 1777. So you can imagine that the whole story of the battles and what happened was a big part of the history that we were taught when I was a kid.

As you may know, the Battles of Saratoga was one of the more important events of the American Revolution. It was these battles that allowed Benjamin Franklin to convince the French to join the cause on the American side. This was also the first time that the Americans defeated a large British force in the field. This led the French to believe that the Americans could win and thus hurt their enemy the British.

These battles were the result of a British Plan in 1777 to crush the revolution by splitting the colonies along the line of the Hudson River. New York had fallen to the British in 1776 and the thought was to separate the most rebellious colonies in New England from the rest. That way the British could divide and conquer. This was similar to the Union Strategy in the Civil War around the Mississippi. The plan however was very complicated requiring 3 lines of advance: North From New York under General Howe, South from Montreal under General Burgoyne, and East from Niagara Falls under General St. Leger.

The complexity of the plan created a significant number of issues for the British. The area that was going to be attacked was primarily Wilderness. This meant communications between the various British forces was going to be next to impossible. This complexity led to the defeat and is where I will focus my attention since we are going to talk about leadership.

The army that surrendered at Saratoga was the force from Montreal under Burgoyne. They had come South and had made reasonably good progress as the Militia tried to impede their advance. However what happened to the other forces doomed them. General St Leger was defeated at Ft. Stanwix. This ended off the Western Part of the Attack but was not fatal.

However, the problem was that General Howe did not support General Burgoyne. Instead, he decided to take Philadelphia. This meant there would be no Southern Army coming North to meet Burgoyne. This decision coupled with the decision by Burgoyne to continue south was fatal. All the Americans had to do to win was not to lose. If they could delay the British and keep them in the Wilderness until Winter, they would have defeated the British. So, there was a campaign to slow Burgoyne. This was somewhat effective and it took him most of the summer to get from Fort Ticonderoga to Saratoga. There he tried to break the American lines and failed.

The problem was at this point that Burgoyne knew he was on his own. He rejected retreat and that pride led him cause the defeat of his men. He knew he could not stay out in the open. Given that he could not go back he went forward. The next attack led to a vicious counterattack and the eventual surrender of his army.

As a leader Burgoyne did not adapt and do the thing that was best for his army. He could not win, but he could have not lost. Instead he risked his men, gambled and failed. The Americans did a much better job strategically. They knew they did not have to win to prevent the British plan from working. But they did have a huge tactical problem in command at the site.

General Gates led the American forces and Washington dispatched Benedict Arnold to help him. Unfortunately, the two could not get along. This meant that they worked contrary to one another on a regular basis. It was Arnold that led the counterattack. Arnold was gravely wounded in the battle and that eventually led to his betrayal of the patriot cause.

The lessons that one should take here that complexity and ego are big problems in leadership. The British Plan was complex and that led to many of the issues that were exacerbated by ego. And ego was the big problem. Howe not wanting Burgoyne to get credit. Burgoyne not wanting to retreat. Arnold and Gates fighting over who was in charge of what. All of that caused more problems than almost anything else in the campaign.

So when you are making decisions don’t let your ego stand in the way. Passion is important but you can not allow it to overcome your good judgement.
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

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Net Neutrality Friday

This week we had our first Complaint under the Net Neutrality Rules that went into effect recently. So, who is it that is blocking traffic? Well it is Time-Warner Cable (TWC)!

Commercial Network Services (CNS) filed the complaint this week via the FCC. CNS is a relatively small web hoster, application provider and streaming company. They have asked TWC to peer with them at one of three specific locations and to do so for free. TWC has declined to do so, but has offered either a transit deal or to peer at a fourth location. CNS thinks this 4th location is too congested and is concerned about the quality of their traffic after going through that peering point. So, CNS is throttling their bandwidth and asking for paid prioritization. These are both violations of the new Net Neutrality rules.

So, what happens next should be an investigation. However, I am not sure as it will get that far as the FCC explicitly excluded rules around peering as part of the current order. The FCC said that it did not have enough information about the practices and issues to be able to create good rules for peering. Given this complaint’s nature, it may be dismissed out of hand. You may have a valid complaint, but if the rules specifically don’t cover what you are complaining about then they don’t cover them.

Let’s take a step further and say there was some sort of rules covering peering. Is the refusal of the CNS request by TWC likely to be a violation? It is a fascinating question because I can argue both sides. So, let’s start with the side that says there is a violation. The question will be what constitutes congestion and how will it be dealt with. Part of the problem here is that the Internet is oversubscribed. If all the endpoints went active at the same time and tried to use their maximum bandwidth there would not be enough bandwidth to satisfy the request. How can you determine if a peering point is being oversubscribed on purpose to set rules in place? There will need to be a lot of information collected to be sure. I want you to look back at my columns that talk about SDN. This technology could make a real problem here. Some points might only be congested because some customer requested temporary bandwidth. How is that going to be handled under Net Neutrality rules? I hope I never have to figure that out!

On the no violation side, it does seem like a small vendor is trying to dictate the terms by which a large vendor deploys its capital. In particular, the small vendor is trying to set up the business conditions that the larger company has to operate. CNS is trying to tell TWC where to build its network and how much it can charge to do so. That seems wrong to me at some level. The question would be how does this get resolved if they don’t share an uncongested peering point? Who has to spend the money? Would it be easier to upgrade one of the existing points? What is the schedule/plan/cost to do so? Who pays for what? Again, I am glad I don’t have to make the rules here.

In my opinion, CNS is trying to stretch the rules to make its point and get a little notoriety. I am fine with that, but if lots of companies make the large ISPs jump through hoops like this it is only going to create cost passed along to the consumer. I don’t have all the answers on this, but if nothing new happens until the next post I will talk about this next time.

Next week is a National Holiday (sort of) so there will be no post on Net Neutrality until 7/10/15. Have a great weekend and a great 4th of July!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

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Alignment and Customers

Last week I posted about Communications and Alignment. I think that internal communications is very important. This week I want to provide a thought about external communications. In particular, Communications with your Customers.

Now most folks want to talk about Communications with new prospects and customers. I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum. Do you have an effective plan to communicate with your existing customers? Any Marketing or Sales person worth their salt will tell you that it is easier to keep an existing customer than it is to land a new one.

I had a client that I was discussing their Unique Value Proposition (UVP) with a few weeks back and I posed the following question, “Have you asked your best customers why they hire you?” The intent of that question has a multitude of things that can be derived from it. In this case, the client was unclear on his UVP and I need to explore that with him. Since he has an ongoing and growing business, he is doing many things correctly. So, there is an academic exercise around Messaging that can be done. But to help push things along, why not find out what you are doing right already. Once he has talked to customers, he and I will sit down and see what he feels about the answers he has gotten.

This particular client works in a way that uses referral marketing with his client base. In fact, his business is built on that as a primary marketing channel. So, I asked him if he sends “Thank You” cards to his clients and includes a Business Card for them to hand out? Which he off implementing.

That is just one case and involves a particular client of mine. Everybody is different and needs to have a different communications plan with existing customers. The question that I have to ask you today is if you have looked at the alignment of these communications with your Brand and Messaging? It is just as important or perhaps more important than the messages that you send to your prospects. I saw a post that week that talked about Marketing Messaging on websites needed to be turned towards your existing customers. I disagree with that strongly. In many cases existing clients will not be visiting your website except to get phone numbers or location information. Specific customer offers they are likely on Landing Pages or Customer Portals that existing customers go to. Your main website is more a place for prospects than customers because of that.

So, in the end it is pretty simple. Have you looked at your UVP and seen if your customer communications is in line with it? I am sure you have with your prospect communications. This might be the easiest way to grow your business. If you had a higher rate of customer retention or greater spending by return customers, it might be the best way to grow!

Have a great day.
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

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Net Neutrality Friday

Friday of last week was the implementation of Title II per the FCC. And as far as I could tell, my service did not change. So I am not sure of where we end up long term, but in the short term I see no difference.

But there was a first this week, AT&T is being fined under the new rules for $100M. This is not a pure Net Neutrality violation but instead one of transparency. The FCC has found that AT&T Wireless did not tell its customers enough information about the limits that AT&T placed on their customer’s usage of data. Not exactly what one thinks of as a violation of Net Neutrality. I keep wondering why that kind of issue is handled by the FCC and not the FTC.

Also this week, New York City was angry (still) at Verizon about FiOS availability. I don’t know that all of us are aware of all the facts, but Verizon claims to have passed every home in NYC with Fiber and that many Multi-Dwelling Units (MDU) have not allowed Verizon to connect FiOS to people that live in them. I know that this is factual in some instances, but I am not clear on the percentages. NYC claims that 40K people have ordered FiOS and it has not been delivered. That seems possible through denied access but larger than might be possible. I think none of us are clear on the truth of Verizon’s claims here.

Well that leads me back to my last discussion about investment. I had a nice discussion on the message boards at Light Reading about this topic. I find it fascinating that journalists that cover the industry can not discern the difference in value that a consumer might place on a purchase and the business might place. In this case we are talking about Wireline Residential Access. That is wired consumer access and in most places comes from either the telephone company (Telco) or the cable company (MSO). Now it turns out that this business requires a lot of capital investment and margins on the business are very low. That does mean that the price is not high, just not very profitable.

So, what do companies invest in when they add broadband service capacity? Well, we need to start with the physical plant. In this case, MSOs generally have an advantage over Telcos. The Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) plant that MSOs have has more bandwidth than the twisted pair copper traditionally used by Telcos. Additionally, there were few plant issues in upgrading Cable systems to support cable modems. This meant that MSOs could start deploying cable modems with few if any plant upgrades. The biggest change was a box at the Head End called a CMTS. With that addition alone, MSOs could start selling Broadband Internet. For Telcos, there were often more plant upgrades and equipment upgrades to put in DSL. All of this led to 2/3rds of US Broadband Service coming from Cable Companies.

It also took Telcos more plant construction to offer higher speed DSL. In my area here in Santa Rosa, I can get both AT&T at 25 Mb/s and Comcast at 150Mb/s. For AT&T to offer even higher rates will involve significant deployment of fiber, even if they don’t bring Fiber all the way to the home. The technology required is called G.fast and requires very short loops (500 feet or so) compared to U-verse (which operates at 2500 feet). That means more fiber has to get put in close to the homes and many small units have to be installed to reach homes.

The other alternative is Fiber to the Home, most notably done in the US by Verizon with FiOS. That technology is relatively expensive because of the amount of fiber that has to be deployed. However, Verizon has done very well in selling FiOS but has stopped expanding it a long time ago.

This stoppage of expansion and why Fiber to the Home is not the normal deployment are my concerns here. And that I think network investment is the number one issue!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

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Sonoma County: News and Notes

Well, we are headed directly to the 4th of July weekend soon and there are lots of people on vacation. This is a great time to call your prospects. They are likely to have a bit more free time and you can set yourself up for a great fall! If you want to make the fall even better, you should consider my 1 on 1 Sales Mentoring Program. This is a 4 week plan that will work on your top Sales issues to allow you to close more business. Imagine how much more you could do if you closed just one more deal per week! Contact me at jim@jimsackman.com to learn more about this program. Closing more business will cost you less than $1,000!

Today, Keysight announced its acquisition of Anrite for $611M in cash. In general, I think it is bad for Keysight to do acquisitions with its money. They have told us that they are in a slow growth market and that means that they should give the cash back to their shareholders. However, Keysight said part of the reason it is using cash is to use its overseas cash. If you have paid attention at all this has been a bit of political issue. Cash stored overseas by companies do not get taxed unless they bring it back into the US. Keysight found a way of using this cash at a discount. Seems to me that I might want to think about this strategy for the large cash holding businesses in the US (Microsoft and Apple for example). Other people may see this as another reason to close this tax loophole.

I want to spotlight the Patrick-Allen group in my interview with their Principal, Dale Correa.

Jim Sackman: Dale, what do you see as the hiring outlook for the next year or so?
Dale Correa: Well, we have seen a significant uptick in hiring and I expect the job market to get easier for candidates over the next year.
JS: What does this mean for employers?
DC: They need to do a better job in marketing their openings to candidates to get good matches. They also need to take a look at their current employees and look at their benefits packages for retention.
JS: Are there other ways to improve employee retention?
DC: Certainly. One of the easiest is employee training, which is something I know you offer. In general, employers need to look at compensation, job conditions and benefits as a whole. In the recent past, employers controlled the market. Employees will have more choice soon and employers should get ahead of the curve.
JS: You talked about marketing their positions. What do you mean by that?
DC: Employers need to advertise their openings where their target candidates look and provide a really effective job description to be sure to get good candidates. This whole process is not about just getting resumes but getting the right resumes. And that is what we here are all about.
JS: How so?
DC: Our primary expertise is in getting good resumes into the hands of the hiring manager using all the new digital recruiting channels. That allows us to do this at a lower price than most of our competition. Many smaller businesses do not have a full time recruiter. We can augment there capability by providing our skills in areas that they won’t have them. That is why we are unique and can help almost anyone hire just the right folks.
JS: Thanks Dale! Sounds interesting.

Just a reminder if you are interested in visiting a great BNI group come visit us at Legends at the Bennett Valley Golf Course on Fridays just before 7AM. The “Best Networkers In Town” would be happy to have you visit. Great way to meet around 40 Business People here in Sonoma County. If you want any other information about this let me know. We provide Breakfast and you get to meet 40+ Business Owners. Ask yourself: If I do business with just one of those people, how much revenue can I make. You can find the group HERE!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

Alignment and Communications

Last week I talked about Alignment and I want to expand upon that topic. It’s funny, I am listening to SportsCenter in the background as I type and they were talking about Alignment as it is applied to the Golden State Warriors. I think Alignment is the key to successful organizations and Sports Teams are the most visible way to see that.

But there is a part of Alignment that is paramount and that is Communications. The reason is that without Communications there can be no Alignment. You have to have a message that is both broad and narrow. The broad part of the message is that there needs to be a consistency for all your audiences. This can include employees, customers, partners, press, analysts and shareholders. They should all be aware of the overall portions of your message. However, there will need to be specifics that relate to each audience. That part of your message must be narrow. That way the receiver of your message can find their connection to the message.

The primary group that you need to align are your employees. Last week I talked about potential ways that people can not be aligned. Here is another part of the puzzle. How much direction do you give on alignment and how much freedom do you give people? A lot of the answer is simple. The more senior employees should have greater freedom. But it is a call that gets made with the individual and direct supervisor. Now that the path has been laid out, how do you want to contribute? There are clearly cases where this will need to be a directive effort, but by allowing the employee to participate they get to buy in. That buy in will create a path for the employee to hold themselves accountable to their plan. If you provide the plan, then it is your plan. If you collaborate with an employee on a plan then it is a joint plan that both of you are responsible for.

The best part of a joint plan is that accountability is much easier to handle. No plan is going to work out perfectly, but if you collaborated on the creation of a plan then the employee can not back out of their portion of the responsibility for the plan. Now that may seem like it is a trick, but in fact this is key. The reason that alignment is so important is that employees make thousands of decisions every day. They need a voice inside their head on how to weigh their choices with the goals that the company wants to meet. Without that voice, they may make a completely reasonable decision but one that heads in the wrong direction. If the plan that has been created is your plan, then the voice is your voice. A collaborative plan uses their voice as a guide. That makes the voice much more powerful.

You can use this collaborative process in any style of delegation. You would think that those that are being directed would not be a candidate for collaboration. In this case, the employee will have a set of choices outlined for them. The supervisor will have more regular checks on progress. But there is still a need for these low trust relationships to evolve and there is no better way than to do it than work on goals, plans and progress together.

Have a great week!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

Net Neutrality Friday

So last week I talked about some new technologies and the ramifications for the network. I concluded that this was not a big change that would create new carriers based solely around these technologies. The reason that this is important is that some change must happen if we are to have new carriers. If we don’t have new carriers then we won’t have increased competition. If we don’t have increased competition, then the prices that consumers pay for Internet Service and the Quality of that service will not change dramatically.

Well, there are some non-standard competitors. We have old fashioned ISPs like Earthlink and Sonic.net. We have CLECs like Integra. We have Mobile Virtual Network Operators like Tracfone. So, there are these companies that have models that use other people’s networks. Are they successful? Well, depends on how you look at it. None of these companies are large nor do they serve broad markets within the US. They don’t cause other companies to increase their investment in the network. So, from a consumer standpoint they do little to improve competitiveness. On the other hand, many of these companies have been doing business for a long time. Some of them like Sonic.net are trying to build small networks for themselves.

One of the challenges that this class of competitor will have is the current rules that they operate under are bad as networks change. They use a type of network that requires “Local Loop Unbundling”. This means that the telephone companies are required to rent their existing lines to these companies. The telephone companies are not required to rent out FTTH or FTTC networks. The cable companies are not required to rent out their networks at all. So as long as there is this limited requirement that can be satisfied with copper phone lines or T-1 lines, then these companies still have a business. The moment that bandwidth needs go beyond it they will struggle.

There is a fundamental competitive problem with this model however. If you are renting equipment from a telephone company, then there is little that you can do that the phone company can not do themselves. That means any actual technical advantage is mitigated. There are pricing and service capabilities that you can do, but as a bandwidth provider there is essentially nothing new for customers to buy.

There is another class of competitors called over-builders. Google Fiber and Wow! are examples of these. They build a 3rd network into places that already have telephone carriers and cable companies. These exist in some areas but they are few and far between. So far, like the other networks they have only a small impact on the competitive landscape. Google Fiber has the chance to be the largest impact, but it is not clear that Google is going to execute a national or even regional network. They have gone after what they have said are underserved cities. New cities have not been announced for some time and higher speeds from Cable and Fiber to the Home systems are being announced. Maybe that is enough for Google.

So, again what this leads me to is that we have to expect to regulate a duopoly. Perhaps municipal networks can put pressure on this, and I will post about that next week.

Have a great weekend!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!