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.

Leader or Manager

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Making the distinction between management and leadership is essential to success in any project or business endeavors. You lead people, but manage tools, budgets, machines, time and other related resources. Leadership comes from a sense of security and management from a place of insecurity. If you have the right persons for the positions, they can be led to stretch to unimaginable heights and accomplishments. People follow once the leader gives a clear vision and an understanding of how they fit into this vision.

Managing people implies goals, deadlines, reports and constant monitoring – a fine-tuning and maintenance fit only for machines. All these are time-consuming. You are creating the “I am paid to do what I am asked to do. I am a limited being,” persona.

Specific class exercises and team games can illustrate this distinction, and help make the transition, among training participants, from a people manager to a people leader.

You are Not Unemployed. You are a Consultant.

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Keep your business cards. Don’t discard them when you get a job!

I got a big blow for the first time from Mr. Layoff. I was given a glossy exit package from my management job and escorted to the doors of an Outplacement Specialist. These professionals help ease the pain of job loss and push you rapidly into your job search. My specialist gave me the best piece of advice, after glancing at my then sketchy resume:

  • Welcome to the world of consultants, Mala. You are not unemployed. You are a consultant in Strategies, Planning and Research. My first company was named SPR Associates!
  • Make your business cards and keep them forever – don’t dump them when you get your next job.

I see people scrambling to become a consultant after losing their jobs. They print business cards, get a website going and desperately search for clients for their consulting, while job-hunting – losing six months of valuable time. I am never in-between jobs, since I have a permanent business card as consultant, trainer and coach. When I was restructured out again in 2005, this strategy gave me the courage to ‘go for good’ in the direction of consulting/ training without much time wasted in learning to do it.

Here are 3 Tips to all those employed in corporate America:

TIP 1: Keep your consulting hat on and build network of positive relationships

This helps you look at work projects from a strategic angle and builds your confidence as an expert. You are what you project – it will make a difference with your peers and superiors at work, if you have to call on them in the future for consulting assignments.

TIP 2: Help people informally and gain references. Here are some stories to back up my advice:

People see me as a Presentation Expert

I help many technical friends to communicate their message without drowning audience in data. A friend from business school was at her wits end because she had been given a challenging assignment by a tough boss, who knew she did not have the qualifications.  Her job was at risk. She reached out to me and I put on my strategic thinking hat, sat with her for a few hours, looked at her project and helped her develop it into a dynamic presentation piece – convincing her to self-promote through this piece. I gained her trust in me as an adviser.

I am a Multicultural Communications Expert

My former colleague called me to ask, Hey, Mala, I am calling on physicians to market a service. Some are Indians. What gifts do I give them for Christmas? My advice: You don’t give them gifts for Christmas. You wait for their big holiday and surprise them with confection from an Indian store. It was a hit!

TIP 3: Follow up with the friends who benefited from your advice.

I am now teaching technical professionals how to deliver data without tranquilizing them with details, and educating outsourcing professionals and their clients to see business interactions through a cultural lens.

 

Why You?

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The First Steps in Marketing Yourself to a prospective employer or a client are: Knowing your Skills and Knowing your Market. Any Marketing expert will tell you these are the critical questions:

  1. Define your product – i.e. who are you, what do you offer, what have you accomplished?
  2. Who will buy your product – what prospective employer or client needs you?
  3. Why do they need you – what need do you fill?
  4. What’s the catch – what is your value proposition?
  5. How will you find them?
  6. How will you approach them?

Finding answers for the first 4 questions is half the battle. It is like the dreaded job interview question: Tell Me about Yourself. Tell the employer or client who you are with confidence and be taken seriously. If you don’t know who you are, how can you expect others to know and hire you?

How I Defined Myself: I had to define myself when my last employer sent me home with a glossy exit package. I did not go looking for another corporate job. I wanted to share my knowledge with others – but who, what, where?

I considered myself a Marketing Guru – now I had to practice what I preached. Jumping into job search without the 6 Steps is like driving in a new country without a map. I am reminded of a meeting I scheduled with Kim, a former colleague, in the city.

Kim and I made an appointment for lunch on a Friday in the city. She emailed me her address and contact information. I entered it all in my cell phone. On Friday, I parked the car in the station, ran like an Olympic runner [untrained and panting, though] to catch the train and reached Penn Station at 11am. I reached into my pocket book for my cell phone. It was not there! I panicked.  I remembered her street address, but not Kim’s floor or telephone number. I am ashamed to say I did not know her employer’s name or her most recent last name. The doorman of this multi-story building restrained himself from dialing Security.

So, don’t go looking without knowing what you are looking for!

Some research and introspection led me to define myself. Here’s looking at ME:

  1. Who am I? – I am a trainer, an instructor, and a coach.
  2. What can I offer? – leadership, marketing, communications expertise
  3. Who will benefit?– anyone who needs skills to succeed in a business environment, particularly in the IT outsourcing market, where interactions between Americans and Asian Indians need help
  4. Why ME? Am I different?

Why Me? YES, I definitely can claim:

  • Experience in diverse industries, including IT – So can a Million others
  • Expertise in highly-specialized areas as research – So can a Million
  • Skills in writing, platform, research etc… So do a Ton of other MBAs
  • Training certification – Market is flooded
  • Passion for Teaching – Just look at Academia

BUT, where will you find an Asian Indian corporate executive, with all of the above, and the ability to establish a rapport with both Asian Indians and Americans?  I GOT IT!