Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Pizza -- with a slice of Technology

Attie Vandermerwe, EVP - Customer Success Consulting Services

Our team just completed a really compelling customer success story about Domino’s Pizza – the world’s second biggest pizza chain and a pioneer in home delivery. A few years ago, in the face of aggressive competition, the company’s market share took a dip.

That’s when Dominos regrouped -- and reinvented its business model. It kicked off a massive strategic investment in technology to infuse each part of its operations with tech-enabled capabilities. The goal: to make Domino’s the “easiest company to order a pizza from.”

The investment paid off. Customers now do most of their pizza ordering online – and then track their orders from oven to doorstep. Point-of-sales analytics is helping Domino’s learn more about customer preferences. And a solid network backbone means that the website never goes down, especially on Super Bowl Sunday. Which is coming up soon!!!

Dominos realized that technology and data are just as critical -- and as core to the business -- as its store franchise operations and secret pizza recipes. So thorough has been Domino’s digital transformation that it has sometimes been called a “technology company that just happens to sell pizza.”

But justifying such a significant technology investment, and massively realigning a company’s business priorities in the process, is easier said than done. It’s an art as much as it’s a science. It requires companies to:

·        Identify the real value that the technology solutions will deliver
·        Quantify the impact of this business value on
o   The IT organization
o   The business
o   The end customers /consumers – the most important stakeholder of all
·        Communicate this technology impact, so the results speak for themselves

Furthermore, companies need to continue to find new ways to capture value from their initial investment.  For example, Domino’s is leveraging data to better segment its customer base and understand buying behavior -- not only to improve how it makes and delivers pizza, but how to design better pizza stores and make every customer engagement an interactive experience.

The question is: how are you telling your technology impact story? I’d love to hear from you. attie@mainstaycompany.com

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Value Messaging at Scale: How to Make it a Sticky Habit

L. Venkatraman, VP - Value Engineering and CIO Services, Mainstay

In my previous blog I outlined five habits of highly effective IT organizations. (Thanks for your insightful comments and suggestions, btw. Very helpful!)

But how can organizations manage to make these five habits stick? In other words, how do they make business value messaging a permanent practice? Not just for the CIO, but for all the VPs, directors and project managers across your organization.

In most organizations today, business value messaging is left to the discretion of each IT leader. It’s seen as a “style” or even an “artistic” skill that can vary wildly from one leader to the next. Some are naturally gifted in translating IT language into business language. Others feel uncomfortable outside the confines of their technical domain.

How about at your own organization: Is business value messaging a unique art -- or is it a consistent, repeatable practice? I would argue that if your IT organization wants to become a true strategic partner, you’ll need to practice business value messaging at scale. That means creating a formal business value realization program with full business alignment, rigor, repeatability and standardization. Here are five steps to get there.

1. Pick a Leader
First you need to Identify a leader to run your business value realization program. Your CIO’s chief of staff might be a good candidate for this role. Next, staff the team with someone with good business acumen and another with great communications skills. They’ll work with your IT leaders to develop standard processes and outputs across the organization.

2. Identify Sources of Business Value
Identify key projects that you know will add value to the business. These could be projects that:
·        Improve business processes (to boost efficiencies and productivity, or control costs)
·        Create new capabilities for the business (to improve competitive advantage, generate revenue or improve profitability)
·        Strengthen the foundation (to enable future growth and profitability)

Seeing each project through the lens of business value communication compels you to create business-friendly narratives, hard numbers, and visualizations that can appeal to a broad business audience across multiple channels. Consider creating a single-page “project inventory” focused on business value realization.

3. Define Use Cases and KPIs
Business leaders want to see business outcomes. So, for each project you identify, build 3-4 use cases that are expected to deliver 80% of the total benefits. Be specific. For example, explain your new customer application in terms of how its predictive analytic capabilities will boost retention and subscription renewal rates. Explain how other KPIs are impacted, such as retention costs, complaints per customer, customer satisfaction, etc.
Make sure your case studies are clearly articulated. You may have detailed spreadsheets and PowerPoints, but do you have a concise 30-word and 100-word summary of why you’re doing the project, and what benefits are expected?

4. Create an Editorial Calendar
It’s best to assume your business stakeholders have short memories. One-off communications are quickly forgotten, so reinforce your business value messaging with frequent communications that are both memorable and easily consumed. Of course, leverage all the channels and formats at your disposal:
·        Channels: Email communications, QBR meetings, intranet, internal social media, in-person meetings, cafeteria displays, etc.
·        Formats: Slide decks, blogs, dashboards, web pages, IT annual/quarterly reports, infographics, video-graphics, etc.

To orchestrate the communications, I recommend creating a basic “editorial calendar” that lists all the content assets to be published, the format and channel to be used, and when they’ll be published. Using a simple spreadsheet for the calendar is fine for most programs. Just make sure all your project teams have reviewed and bought into it.

5. Create a Content Library
Once your business value communication program is up and running, you’ll quickly accumulate a ton of content, most of which can be easily reused and repurposed across other channels and formats. To make the most of your assets, organize a “central repository” in which your published content can easily searched and retrieved for new communications.

Hopefully these five steps will help make your business value communications more consistent, repeatable, and scalable. In other words, making it a “stickier” habit. At a minimum, you’ll avoid the scramble of putting together communications on an ad-hoc basis. For example, preparing an IT annual report – a task can seem truly mountainous in the face of your other responsibilities – suddenly becomes an orderly, hassle-free exercise. Best of all, your credibility will rise in the eyes of business leaders who will increasingly view IT as a strategic business enabler.

6 Keys to Building a Great Lead-Generation Tool

Mark Tomlinson, Mainstay

What’s the secret to creating an online tool that looks fantastic and generates real leads? After years of helping clients build their sales pipelines, we’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to lead-generation tools. (Specifically, we’re talking about tools that can be freely accessed by the public – and your potential customers – on the internet.)
So here are a few tips on how to make your next lead-generation tool more successful.

1 – Keep It Simple
Too often we see clients trying to do too much with their lead-generation tool. They want it to gather too much data, or fill too many roles -- such as both lead-generation and sales. Unfortunately, that means the tool’s interface often ends up looking crowded and cluttered. This can irritate or bore prospects, causing them to drop-off early. Focus on gathering only high-level data to avoid being intrusive. Our rule of thumb for the tools we build is “slim, sleek and concise.” 
Remember that a lead-generation tool should only be your first touchpoint with the customer. The goal is simply to draw in prospects and set them up for follow-up interactions with sales teams, who may use a sales tool to orchestrate deep dives with the potential customer. This approach will allow for a well-defined sales cycle from start to finish. 
2 – Design an Effective Gate
The primary purpose of any lead-generation tool is to generate leads! So, every lead-generation tool needs a “gate” – that’s the point where you ask the user to pony up their contact information before continuing. We’ve found that it’s best not to put the gate at the front-end of the tool or you’ll risk drop-offs. Instead, pull prospects along with simple high-level questions and then entice them to register with the promise of additional, useful details. A good place to do this is just before the tool generates “results” from the user’s inputs. The results are the candy you can dangle in front of the prospect to capture the info you need to connect with them later.
3 – Streamline the Registration Form
Now that you’ve successfully coaxed prospects into sharing their information, don’t turn them off with a long, hard-to-fill-out registration form. The user will walk away if they are presented with too many questions. Keep it to the basics and keep it short. Your goal is just to be able to get back to them on a personal level. Lengthy registration forms invariably generate a plethora of junk data – not to mention drop offs.
4 – Deliver Sleek Results
Once the user has successfully registered, it’s time to deliver the goods. It’s worth making the extra effort to design a really sleek presentation of the results, complete with a high-level summary and clear, colorful charts. Not too busy, not too bland -- just right. Offer to email them an attractive report or presentation, or allow them to download it.
5 – Market It!
A great lead-generation tool should be marketed far and wide. To boost conversion rates, we encourage clients to post links to the tool across multiple outlets, including social media. Consider creating marketing campaigns to spread awareness of the tool, and pay attention to which outlets generate the most leads so you can fine-tune your next campaign. 
6 - Track Usage

One last piece of advice: Track how prospects consume your tool to identify touchpoints that trigger engagement as well as where they’re dropping off. Use this knowledge to modify your tool to generate more leads.

When designed and deployed correctly, online lead-generation tools can be one of the most powerful weapons you have in your sales and marketing program arsenal. To learn more about how Mainstay can help you cost-effectively build and market great lead-generation tools, contact sales@mainstaycompany.com or go to www.mainstaycompany.com.

Mark Tomlinson heads Mainstay’s Software Development team with over 10 years in the high-tech industry. He has designed award-winning sales and marketing tools for companies ranging from fast-growing startups to Fortune 500 companies. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How to Cost Justify Replacing a ‘Free’ Legacy Technology

Keith Unterschute, Mainstay

Anytime you have a seemingly “free” legacy technology environment where operating costs are low and few capital investments are planned, it can be extremely hard to cost justify moving to a new technology that at a minimum will require substantial capital costs.

The fact is, when you compare the cash flows of the old and new environments, the ROI for the new one rarely pencils out to satisfy your average fiscally focused CFO. Significant spending compared to little spending just doesn’t make sense to these check-writing executives.

However, I’ve found that by following a two-pronged strategy, you can often overcome this seemingly insurmountable barrier.

Prong #1: Leverage the Time Value of Money

The first strategy assumes that something has to change. The company simply can’t operate forever an unsupportable technology. Usually, IT approaches end-of-life (EOL) and end-of-service (EOS) technologies by chipping away at the problem through gradual replacement over time. This piecemeal approach eventually gets you there, but since the transition is drawn out, it often leaves a lot of savings and value on the table. Quantifying those gains can help accelerate a larger investment.

Take voice systems. Typically, even with EOL or EOS PBX systems, companies won’t want to invest in more PBX systems to replace them. Modern Unified Communications (UC) technologies are the best alternative, but fiscally conservative companies might prefer to replace its old systems in a gradual, ad hoc fashion.

In reality, though, a rapidly deployed UC platform can deliver operating benefits faster than stretching out investments over a longer period of time, and ultimately result in higher ROI. The reason is simple. Companies that invest in a comprehensive solution start to realize operating savings from the new technology almost immediately. The time value of money works in favor of the fast-deployment approach and yields more total value over the same time period.

All of this adds up to a compelling argument for a rapidly deployed replacement of the company’s entire legacy voice platform, versus a drawn-out ad hoc replacement strategy.

Prong #2: Build a Strategic Business Case

The second prong of this strategy is just as powerful: Build a convincing business case for the value of the new technology. It’s true that many CFOs will characterize these non-monetary value propositions as “soft benefits,” which means they’re difficult to measure and not assured. However, many CEOs will view them favorably, especially when they align with the company’s overarching business objectives.

When communicating the value of technology investments to business leaders, it’s important to stay clear of technical jargon. Be sure to tie your messages to the company’s strategic objectives, and use a business language that C-level execs understand.

Articulating use cases can be a big help. This is where you describe in detail how things are done today and how they would be done in the future. The best use cases examine areas of the business that are critical for generating revenue and describe a critical process that’s needed to enable a successful outcome.

This strategy directly addresses the concerns of the CFO – that is, it focuses on the real cash value of the new investment. And it also addresses the CEO’s top priority: achieving the company’s business objectives in the most efficient way possible.

Even if your business case only shows a break even -- or even less than break even – financial result, it can still be approved if your proposed investment effectively advances the company’s strategic business goals.

The Five Habits of Highly Effective IT Organizations

L. Venkatraman, VP - Value Engineering and CIO Services, Mainstay

If you work in an IT organization, here's a real-world story you will be all too familiar with. A large hi-tech consumer goods company with over 40,000 employees and 100 global locations rolled out an enterprise-wide upgrade to Windows 10. Despite facing a super-tight budget and an impossible deadline, the IT team came through. The rollout achieved almost 100% user adoption, with IT going above and beyond to maintain great service levels.

Success story? No doubt about it -- if you talked to the IT folks.

But then the IT team sat down with the COO. As the VP of IT went through slide after slide of impressive metrics on budget, timelines, and adoption, the COO stopped him in his tracks with a single question:

"Why the hell does this matter to our company?"

Talk about a rude awakening. But the question was spot on: IT was not adequately communicating the "so-what" of IT initiatives in a language that business people could understand. Not only on this project, but across the board.

This is a real missed opportunity for IT. Why? Because in the age of IoT, where new technologies like telematic and sensor data, AI, big data, and robotic automation are transforming businesses, IT has never been in a better position to add tremendous new value to the enterprise. For the first time, IT organizations can become true strategic enablers for their company -- if only they can effectively quantify and communicate the business value they can generate for the rest of the organization.

A survey in the latest Gartner CIO Agenda report1 shows that IT-business alignment and budgeting issues are the top barriers to IT becoming a “resilient” organization. The Pulse of the Profession report2 by the Project Management Institute backed up these findings: 37% of the respondents said they lacked clearly defined objectives to measure progress; another 37% suffered from poor communication; and 9% had insufficient funding. The report suggested that because of these shortcomings, 28% of strategic IT initiatives were deemed outright failures.

Why can’t IT overcome these barriers?

In our experience working with CIOs, IT organizations that learn to become strategic enablers practice the following five habits:

1.      Prepare a formal business case before launching your IT initiative. This means clearly forecasting business outcomes, such as increasing revenue, decreasing cost, improving productivity, creating competitive differentiation, and enhancing customer satisfaction
2.      Communicate how those outcomes will be delivered, and what features will drive them. Developing realistic use cases, highlighting specific business processes, and clearly describing how features will improve them – all these things will lend credibility to your claim of adding business value.
3.      After the project, measure and report the actual value delivered. In our experience, we find that while a majority of IT organizations prepare formal business cases for their IT investments, very few of them track and report the value from those investments in a quantifiable manner that highlights the business impact of the project.
4.      Communicate, communicate, communicate. Use all the modern methods of communication (and some traditional ones) to get your message across, including in-person meetings, emails, posters, intranet sites, social media, QBRs, and more.
5.      Keep it brief and use a lot of visuals. Research by HubSpot3 indicates that when people only listen to information, they retain only 10% of it three days later. But when that same information is presented visually, retention jumps to 65%. Remember to keep your visuals simple. Too much information can become a distraction.

Sure, there are some IT organizations out there that leverage a few of these techniques. But it’s hard for most organizations to make a habit out of doing all of them well. They need to learn to turn all five habits into a repeatable practice backed by set processes, frameworks, templates, tools and guidelines.

So how do you make these five habits stick? How can you create a program for business value communication that consistently makes your business leaders go “Ah-ha!”?

Put another way, how should the VP of IT have responded to the skeptical COO’s pointed question about the Windows 10 upgrade?

If you work for an IT organization, I’m sure you have some great ideas, and I’d like to hear from you.

In my next blog, I'll outline some of the things leading CIOs are doing to instill these habits across their teams.

Stay tuned.

1 http://www.gartner.com/imagesrv/cio/pdf/Gartner_CIO_Agenda_2017.pdf
2 https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2017.pdf

3 https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/power-of-visual-communication-infographic

Friday, August 18, 2017

Show Me How

Dan Corcoran, Chief Technology Officer & VP Sales Enablement, Mainstay

“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Popular reckoning credits this quote by Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver with coining Missouri’s unofficial motto as the “Show Me State.” The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, is famous for insisting that he’ll only invest in what he can understand. Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing, but as a former Ohioan, I find the most important part of deciding Why? is understand the implied HOW?

Process improvement ABC saves 77% in labor costs over five years!

Solution XYZ reduces infrastructure spending by 48%!

Save $500,000 a year in power with smart building solution N!

These are the kinds of statements that companies write entire value messaging campaigns around. At first glance they appear quantitative because, you know, numbers=smart. But try to unpack them and the logic unravels fast. Why 77% and not 42%? What factors led to this savings or improvement? What factors enable or endanger similar results in my business?

Let’s assume for a moment that all of those “quantitative” value statements are well researched, supported by large data sets and adjusted for you as the specific audience. It. Doesn’t. Matter. It doesn’t matter and they are no more true if the consumer of this information can’t understand the HOW that underlies these justifications. And that’s because they are not justifications, they are outcomes. And outcomes are meaningless unless you understand HOW to replicate them.

This is why quantitative modeling is at the heart of every Mainstay asset. Whether we’re writing a whitepaper, collecting data for case studies or infographics, or building justification tools for sellers, we always start with a model. Modeling is a great way to really explore your value proposition and its something anyone with the most basic Excel skills can do effectively. Basic arithmetic is usually all you need to calculate just about any kind of business benefit. Modeling can also be a great way to address the BS factor that can sometimes scuttle the best intentioned value messaging efforts. If it won’t float, you’d rather know now than have your customer challenge you on it later. 

Models don’t have to be fancy, they don’t have to look pretty. The point is to identify and demonstrate cause and effect. Start simple and add complexity as it becomes necessary (and if it doesn’t, don’t). No matter what you’re selling, using quantitative modeling as a starting point for crafting your value proposition just makes sense. In fact, this model often becomes the genesis for multiple important assets, because no matter what result you get, it’s important to understand how got there. And remember, show your work! Because if you can’t explain it, Warren ain’t buyin’. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Consulting As A Sales Strategy

By Keith Unterschute, Director of Consulting Services, Mainstay

I have worked in both sales and consulting during my decades in the technology industry. In both positions the goal was to understand what problems the customer is trying to fix. For sales, the path of least resistance was to focus on selling products that the customer is actually interested in buying. Even when management wants you to focus on relationship selling, they still want you to sell something. As a consultant, you need to gather similar information but often for very different reasons. However, both consultants and salespeople are seeking the same thing: to provide value to the customer.

But in spite of having similar objectives, sales reps and consultants interact quite differently with the customer. If you’re a sales rep, your prospective customers are often a little skeptical of your motives. Although your pitch may be that you want to help them solve their problems, that lofty goal is tarnished by the fact that, at the end of the day, you want to sell them products. If you’re a consultant, you also want to solve the customers’ business problems, but you’re not getting paid to sell them something. Instead, you’re paid to give them unbiased recommendations and tools to help solve problems. For this reason, consultants are typically viewed as more trustworthy.

How the customer perceives you often determines the nature of your interactions. On the sales side, the customer tends to be cautious when divulging their realities and needs. The thought is that even if your product isn’t the best fit to resolve the problem, the sales rep will try to sell it to you nonetheless. By contrast, in most consulting engagements, customers know that the more information they’re willing to divulge, the more value they’re likely to receive at the end of the engagement.
During the times I worked as a sales rep, I often wished for a customer who completely trusted me. But no matter how trustworthy I may have been, to the customer I was always viewed as just a sales rep, so they always nurtured a seed of suspicion. Later, when I took job as a consultant, I was amazed at how much more open and trusting customers became when they knew their openness would positively impact the value I could deliver.

At Mainstay, we have been bringing the power of consulting to add value -- not only for customers, but also for technology vendors. In fact, many of our clients are technology providers that, as part of their sales strategy, sponsor business case studies for their prospective customers. Thanks to our objective, fact-based consulting approach, customers feel confident these studies are truly unbiased, and they genuinely appreciate the tangible value the vendor is giving them through the engagement.

Our business-case engagements allow us the opportunity to interview people outside of the IT organization, including business executives who the sales teams may never have access to. Our goal is to uncover specific technologies that could help the business achieve its strategic objectives.

Armed with this more strategic, business-focused analysis, IT organizations are able to present their case for funding new technology projects in a far more effective way – one that is likely to get the attention of business leaders and key decision-makers. Bottom line: the vendor’s sales team gets greater insight into the non-IT stakeholder, the IT department gets a better way to communicate to get the budget they need to solve real problems, and the business gets a solution that supports its high-level business objectives. Everyone wins.