Mala Subramaniam's Blog

Mala Subramaniam's Blog

My thoughts about leadership, communications and career development

Client-facing professionals need competitive Intelligence

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Competitive intelligence is an imperative for strategic thinking of client-facing professionals

Client-facing professionals [CFP’s] can bring in more business if they are perceived as trusted advisors by their clients. How can CFPs inspire trust if they know very little about their client’s market? A key piece of intelligence is client’s competition. They need to be trained to gain this knowledge before they interact with clients.

I often hear complaints from companies that the onsite outsourcing team [client-facing professionals] working on their projects are very transaction-driven. They do not share new thoughts, ideas or solutions. How can they be expected to provide solutions if they do not understand the client’s business? Yes, sometimes cultural barriers may keep the team from being solution-driven. However, the overriding factor is lack of market insights. They work in a vacuum.  They become transaction driven and not solution driven. Negotiations with clients become event based and not relationship driven. Arming them with intelligence and training them to use it is a win-win proposition to the client and service provider.

Do you agree? Please share your comments. If you wish to know more about how to engage CFPs in their business by arming them with intelligence, please send email to mala@mktinsite for full copy of article.

Trust Your Employees and treat them like Adults

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Many organizations claim they are flat. But very few truly are. When most describe flat organizations, they think of an open door policy, everyone sitting in cubicles, being easily approachable etc. However, this does not mean that they are a ‘flat’ organization. Even in such organizations, when employees are asked how often they interact with the top leaders of the organization, the results are surprisingly low. At best they may have a good connection with their second level manager (their manager’s manager). In such organizations, management still drives all decisions and employees are told what to do. They have little or no say in what goes on in the company.

When I talk about a flat organization, I generally refer to an organization where employees are treated like adults and they are trusted. The managers believe that employees’ actions are in alignment with the best interests of the organization. Their judgment is not questioned. Top organizations also encourage feedback from all employees. Everyone is encouraged to think about how to improve existing processes (to make their work easier and the customers experience better). Such expressions of ideas are generally manifested through specific days when employees’ ideas are celebrated.

The result of treating employees like adults is that they feel valued and they know that their opinion matters. They are also more autonomous and are more involved in their job. While some people may take advantage of this autonomy, the overall positives outweigh the negatives.

How does your organization treat you? Let me know in the comments below!

7 Critical Steps in Market Intelligence

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Let’s define Market intelligence first – it is the “aha” moment in the market research process, when you identify the patterns after you have scanned the results from primary research, secondary research, and competitive intelligence. The patterns lead you to some conclusions. Most often in companies, this is a fragmented effort. The primary researcher presents results and recommendations, the secondary researcher sends his report and CI comes in contradicting all of the above. The decision-maker gives up and goes by his guts. Naming the department as Market Intelligence or Insights and combining all three units under one head, or placing an analytical integrating group will solve this problem. Or else, you end up calling someone like me to make sense of it all!

There’s a sequence of logical thought that needs to happen in the intelligence process – I call it the 7-Step MI process. This process, taught in the Market Insights training, will also require you to explore existing research and different avenues for securing the research to get to the desired results.

 

Audience and Your Journey

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At the end of many business presentations, audience walk away with their own interpretations and messages. People in the audience take their own journeys, and not the journey of the presenter, since the destination is not apparent. Speakers miss the golden opportunity to accomplish the stated objective for each presentation. Why? Most fall into the unfortunate category of “data dump” and fail in clarity of the critical message – the end in sight.

Management Consulting – Reaching the solution by asking the right questions

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Three tips for getting to the optimal solution

  1. Focus on the objective, and not on the problem
  2. Ask the right questions
  3. Let the solution be a revelation, and not engineered by your own bias

A case in point: A company was concerned about increased customer complaints and loss of business. Ninety percent of the complaints were about how long it took customers to reach a live customer service representative. Based on customer feedback the hold time averaged 15 minutes. Of course, we have to realize that when we are on hold, seconds seems like hours!

  1. Here’s what happens when you focus on the problem?

The problem here was “hold time.” The objective a satisfied customer.

The company and consultants focused on hold time as the problem. Based on the recommendation of consultants, the company spent millions of dollars upgrading technology, training customer service representatives, and adding staff, all to no avail. Customer complaints continued although internal stats showed improved hold times. The managers lost faith in the satisfaction research and consultants.

  1. Ask the right questions with objective in mind – a satisfied customer.

Asking questions has three purposes:

  • Getting to the facts
  • Making you think differently about a situation
  • Letting the solution be discovered

I asked the managers: “How do you measure hold time and how is this different from how the customer measures it? Can we place a sample call to customer service? What number do I dial? I got several 1-800 numbers from the audience, one for every division and every product line.

  1. Let the solution be a revelation, and not engineered by your own bias

Revelation

  • Hold time measure needs to be customer-centric.
  • Current measure of hold time is internally focused.
  • Hold time has to start with customer dialing the number and end with the greeting of the right customer service rep.
  • Hold time has to take into account multiple transfers, dropped calls, and myriad detours that happen before a customer reaches his destination!
  • Customer has to be given a single 1-800 number. Streamline the process internally to make service seamless.

The operations managers had an “Aha” moment. They streamlined the numbers into a single call-in number, saving millions of dollars and, satisfying customer need.

Asking the right questions is a science and an art. It comes naturally for some people. For others, training helps. Culture plays a role – some cultures naturally are reticent about asking questions of superiors, clients and anyone in authority role. They tend to dive in to solve the problem. Culture-sensitive training helps.