Good Sales – No Surprises

clip_image002I’m so sick of the election coverage that I was actually happy the other day when the local NPR station switched to their fall fundraising during my morning commute. I also realized that it was time to change the audio source for my radio. The car is still sort of new, but I thought I was comfortable with the controls for the radio. I switched input devices a couple of times and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Halley Came to Jackson” started playing. I knew that the song was on the mix-CD my daughter had given me, and that that CD was in the slot, so life was good again. A few minutes later, “Crippled Inside” by John Lennon was playing and since I knew that song wasn’t on the CD, I started to wonder what was going on. To my surprise, the Bluetooth connection between my car and my iPhone also includes the ability for the car radio to fire up the music library on my phone – what a great idea! If you haven’t guessed, Mary Chapin Carpenter is a favorite and lives in all libraries.

Earlier this week, I was talking with one of our newer employees. He said that he was really becoming convinced that SharePoint was going to play a key role in his department’s effort to turn the pile of documents and their tacit knowledge into accessible information for future employees. However, he added that he wished it was easier to work with. His particular concern was the disparity between the ease of access to email while traveling and access to SharePoint. I asked him if he had the app on his iPad and when he said “no”, I knew that I had a surprise for him. I told him about the basic feature that caused us to buy, the ability to integrate SharePoint content with Outlook, and then I explained how works seamlessly when you move from your laptop/desktop to your iPad – what a great idea!

This isn’t the first vehicle I’ve had that has had Bluetooth, but it’s the first time I bothered to pair my iPhone to the car; I was always happy with a Bluetooth earbud. Similarly, has been available to our employees for over a year, but some have chosen to ignore the application. Behind both bad decisions is the fact that we often decide whether or not to use a particular technology based on what we think it will do for us. Part of the reason that we do that is the fact that there is a lot of technology, it changes fast and comprehensive solutions are no longer the norm.

Consider that most of the technology I have that deals with music is in the form of a single function iOS app. Before buying this car, the most complicated bit of music technology was the copy of iTunes on my Windows desktop (which Apple is gradually making irrelevant). By contrast, the radio in this car is so complex that its features require the bulk of the owner’s manual and a separate section of the car’s iOS app for description. I should mention that the car is a mid-range Jeep, and this is far from a tricked-out sound system. I am probably seeing an analogy with SharePoint here, because I see them everywhere, but I think it’s fair to say that very few people understand the full capabilities of SharePoint, especially where it has been tricked-out with a few add-ons. That’s where we (practitioners) have to get involved; we have to unveil the surprises.

The salesman who sold me this Jeep showed me the jack where I can connect an iPod. He should have said “I see that you have an iPhone, if you have music on it, you don’t even need a cable, and you will be able to control the music library using the radio’s features.” Similarly, when I’m selling SharePoint, I need to do a better job of pointing out its features, as well as those of and Longitude Search. Whether that requires me to create more articles for that online newsletter I created, or schedule more training, or just walk around and talk to people; I need to peel back the cover a bit on SharePoint so people who won’t otherwise look get a glimpse of what lies inside.

In case anyone reading this feels that the real take-away from my surprise was that we have to build solutions that exploit their connections, stay-tuned – I’m still thinking about that.

Road Trip

clip_image002Road trips come in three varieties: You need to get from point A to point B, you want to discover something or you want to show somebody something. I’ve been on way too many of the first type, including two where points A and B were 3,000 miles apart; those trips are not always fun. Trips of the second type are almost always interesting, but the third kind of trips are the ones that are fun. When it comes to SharePoint, it’s the same story.

We have been on the first type of road trip for the past few months. We have built out a complex document handling project, aided by content types, workflows and bits of metadata. In addition, we spent time wiring up a bunch of Data View Web Parts and detail views of this content to elicit some management information about the process and present it on a dashboard. Those were the major goals of the project, comprising points A, B and several others in the alphabet. We are just about to call the project done. Handing the management dashboard over to the department VP was a rewarding moment, but late last week we took this project on its own little trip.

As we were completing the management dashboard for this process, I asked the VP Engineering if he would mind if I showed it to others in the company as an example. He offered something better – an opportunity to present the dashboard to the entire company at a roundtable style meeting the engineering department holds. This was a fantastic opportunity to market SharePoint within our company for several reasons:

Real Solution – In the past, we have tried to get people excited about SharePoint by showing example solutions designed to highlight a specific feature. Unfortunately, in those cases, we are always asking the audience to work too hard. We are asking them to understand what we are doing, and imagine how they might map the demonstrated capability to their department. We, SharePoint practitioners, do this all the time, but that’s because this is our job, and we already understand SharePoint. It’s hard for people to juggle an unknown and an imaginary scenario at the same time.

Not an IT Solution – The next worst thing after a hypothetical solution is an IT solution. I have demonstrated libraries, processes, lists and workflows around IT Asset Control, communication with IT vendors and even the way I handle the AIIM New England Chapter minutes. These were all real working examples, but they were all in support of a world my audience still had to imagine. Everyone in our company knows what an engineering inspection is. Everyone has seen at least one inspection report and everyone knows how important the inspection activity is to our operation. When we demonstrated the SharePoint solution, they only had to understand the part that SharePoint was adding to the process.

In taking advantage of this opportunity, we were careful not to mess it up by making it an “IT Thing”. My coworker, the woman who built the solution, was careful to express everything from an engineering point of view. She talked about how the engineers work, and how the Vice President uses the dashboard. She pointed out the benefit they derive from the project. She didn’t use the words ‘workflow’, ‘metadata’ or ‘content type’. OK, she may have used ‘content type’ when answering a question, but the point is, she kept her demonstration in business terms. When we were describing the dashboard, we emphasized how the information being displayed was gleaned from the document library. I may have used the word ‘metadata’ at that point, but I tried to avoid saying it twice. We tried to put distance between SharePoint and the fat-client / database server applications our fellow employees are used to. Yes, I know SharePoint is or at least resides in a database, I even mentioned that to my coworker and we both agreed “let’s not go there.”

Even though the process is largely similar or at least analogous to a database system, there is a beneficial distinction between reporting from SharePoint metadata and reporting transactions. Reporting from SharePoint appears to be a bonus; we aren’t adding metadata as a transactional element so we can report on it. We add the metadata so we can find our reports, so we can organize our reports and so we can manage the process. By manipulating the metadata behind the scenes of a management dashboard, we get additional benefit. You can split hairs and point out that our dashboard is basically the same as a monthly premium report. You may even be right, but as I said at the outset, this was a marketing exercise.

What the NFL Knows about ECM

The title is a little misleading, but while I was reading an article in the NY Times about the $100 million worth of technology improvements that have been made at the New Meadowlands Stadium, I very quickly saw a link to SharePoint and ECM. You’re right, this is not a story I would share at the bar during a game. But If you read the article, and if you are as much of a geek as I am, you might also understand my next question – am I the NFL or am I the home entertainment industry?

The stadium and team owners are investing a ton of money to give the people in the stands an experience they cannot get at home. They are combating the appeal of high-definition television, instant replays and the comfort of home. They are also trying to minimize the drawbacks to being in the stadium by providing Smartphone apps to help you find the shortest concession line and your lost child. In my little battle, I am trying to convince people that electronic documents are better than paper documents. There is a quote in the article that caught my attention:

I just want the ambience, to watch the players and feel the crowd. I would much rather have the feel of the game brought into the home, not the other way round

I have had someone tell me that they just feel better holding a document, flipping through its pages and how they can’t get that feeling with the document displayed on a monitor. I’ve tried pointing out that they are flipping through the pages in search of something they can find in a heartbeat in the electronic version, but my logic falls on deaf ears. Again, I have to ask, do I try to bring the feel of the documents into the electronic versions or do I just up the ante so far that the high-def version of that document makes the real document look like just so much paper. Honestly, I have only ever tried the latter approach. The investment I have made has been aimed at making that document available when you aren’t proximate to the file cabinet, or when the person who understands the file system isn’t around. SharePoint allows me to quickly locate the document I want, regardless of where I happen to be. That was the mission, and it was pretty easy to accomplish. All I have to do; I thought, is to populate the libraries with more and more documents.

I have never really thought about improving the viewing experience of electronic documents. I wonder what would happen if I placed a Kindle next to the filing cabinets that hold our policies. Instead of rifling through drawer after drawer, or finding the person who knows how to find the policies, you could browse a PDF. I would want to use a Kindle since I can get one now for $139 and I wouldn’t have to chain it to the cabinet but maybe that is not a good idea. Amazon’s website still labels the ability to view PDF as “experimental” and points out that some PDF documents may not format correctly. Plus, I think I would have to load the documents on the Kindle – ugh, another copy… Maybe, this is a chance for me to get that iPad, you know, for developing and testing this concept.

If you are a geek like me, you might be picturing Wesley Crusher reading his homework assignment on the way to the Enterprise Briefing Room. I wonder if that scenario would ever play out at work? We already have at least one person showing up at meetings with an iPad. What if that person could easily find any document we had, on that iPad, during that meeting? By storing our documents into electronic form and putting them in SharePoint, we have made it possible to access documents anytime from any place. Maybe the real key to success is making that access enjoyable.

Vendors – Your Bad

The problem that we are having with about a dozen desktop scanners has caused me to think about those scanners, and the things I could have done better when I bought them, when they failed and as I try to replace them. This experience has also caused me to think about the vendors I deal with. I have written in the past about a small handful of great vendors that we rely on and trust. Today, I need to talk about the larger group of vendors, the ones I really have to wonder about.

I will start with the ones involved in this current problem from which I derive two important messages. One, when you (vendor) have a problem with your product, admit it, fix it and do something to repair the relationship with the customers who bought it. Two, stop advertising capabilities as if they are features. If I own your product and it has a problem, I expect you to fix it. If you do fix the problem, my opinion of you improves. If you fail to fix the problem, or if you make me fight with you, my opinion of you suffers. However, if I buy your product and discover that I now have to buy some other product to get yours to work, your product is going back and you are off the list. Simply put, “I expect problems, I won’t tolerate lies“.

My next message is to the vendors I work with, and it is a simple message: “use the information you collect“. Given the amount of information I provide when I purchase and register a product, I should never receive a blind call from an existing vendor again. If you want to sell me more stuff, that’s fine, but at least recognize me as a previous customer. If you want me to enter my customer number into your voice mail system, that’s fine, but then don’t ask me to provide all my customer information when I do reach a human being. While I am talking (in theory) to our existing vendors, please align your compensation practices with your marketing message. There are companies out there that advertise how important their customers are, but give lower or no commission for renewals and follow-on sales. I once had a cell phone saleswoman tell me she would process the one new phone I was ordering but asked me to process 10 renewals at the local store. The “problem” from her perspective was that since we already had high minutes and a data plan, there was nothing left to “sell” me! One more thing, drop those stupid sales programs. I also had a salesman ask me to wait a week to buy a product because he wanted the sale to “work down his funnel“. It seems the “funnel” sales process is one that rewards the salesman for “working the customer”; if the customer buys too soon, the salesman, apparently wasn’t necessary.

I also have some advice for the true cold-callers out there; oh wait, it’s the same advice, “don’t lie to me!” Don’t tell me you read our web site and then ask me questions that are blatantly answered on the home page. Yes, we are a type of “association”; yes we have “members” – no, we don’t want to buy software to help us collect dues and schedule pool parties. I told a vendor at the AIIM show that I liked his product but didn’t think I could afford it. He said: “you can install this for less than $100 per user“. OK, $99 per user is less than $100, but he neglected to mention the $5,000 per-server component until we asked for a quote. Finally, for the marketing managers out there, when did “15 minutes” become the defacto insignificant amount of time? The number of phone calls, emails and voice mails I receive asking me for “just 15 minutes” has increased at an alarming rate in 2010. Trust me, in far less than 15 minutes, I will know whether or not I am interested in your product.

I don’t respond to spam, but I am a pretty nice customer. I try to not be rude, I respond to legitimate email inquires and I will explain why we don’t need, or can’t afford a product / service; occasionally, I even buy something. Like every person in the work-force, my time is valuable (I am getting paid while I talk to you); I work hard to not waste my company’s money. That includes not going to the store to buy something you can sell me over the phone, not reminding you of the information you have collected in the past and not giving you 15 minutes of my time so you can ratchet me to the next step in your sales program.

Hope Is Not a Method

Last Tuesday, our Chairman opened our Annual Meeting with a speech that, among other things, talked about the challenges ahead of our organization. Knowledge Transfer is one of those challenges. Then, he talked about the tools we are using to meet these challenges; Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is in that list. Those of you familiar with this blog know about my experience with our ECM effort. Those of you familiar with ECM know how important management support is to an ECM project, so you understand how happy I was to hear ECM being mentioned in the Chairman’s speech.

After the business meeting, Admiral James Ellis, CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), delivered an amazing keynote address. His presentation had been uploaded to our Internet-facing SharePoint site earlier and I noticed that the title began with “Hope is Not a Method” then trailed off after a few letters. I found the partial message intriguing and I asked him for permission to use it. He said he didn’t mind, because it wasn’t his message. Ironically, listening to his speech, I think it was part of his message. As Admiral Ellis described INPO, its history, operational characteristics, mission and its vision, it became clear that INPO’s success was not a series of random events. Their success is the result of skill, analysis, careful planning and systematic effort according to that plan – no hope involved. His was a speech that reinforces the notion that if you have the knowledge, are prepared to work and, if you work, you will succeed.
I love hearing stories like that. Success stories are the single best tool we have to muster support for SharePoint and ECM. I’ve written here before about how I publicize our success stories within our organization – nothing sells SharePoint like the successful use of SharePoint. Everything else we say is marketing hype; we might be slightly more credible than Microsoft, but it’s still “picture yourself doing this” and “wouldn’t you like to solve this problem?” – with all the credibility of EPA estimated gas mileage. If that’s your approach to marketing SharePoint or ECM within your organization, you are currently hoping for success.
I’m not sure who typed the message that accompanied Admiral Ellis’ presentation. I’m not even sure that the title string was the complete message. One thing I do know for sure, I like that message – hope is not a method of any process, if the goal is success.

Picture note: Our Annual Meeting was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. it was nice to be able to take a picture that didn’t include snow and ice so I just had to use it here.

Window Dressing

I remember when I was a child and my mother would take me to downtown Pittsburgh to see the store windows, decorated for Christmas. Once, when I was older, I got to see the men and women setting up those displays and I was amazed at how quickly they could transform each small space into a delightful holiday scene. Of course, I remained oblivious to the marketing aspect of the process, the room full of the season’s hottest inventory. I’ve recently realized that a SharePoint site’s main page is its “store window” and that like those department stores of old, we shouldn’t be afraid to change them to meet current customer demand.

We have an internet facing site with several portals for various business partners. These people visit the site infrequently, usually in conjunction with a meeting or event that they are attending or to access information from one of our many reference libraries. In some cases, these are also people who are not familiar with SharePoint. Our goal is to make their visit a success, and we have recently changed the way we prepare for these visits. We decorate the site for the occasion.

Just like the showroom window workers, I’ve just finished configuring one of our many external sites for an upcoming event; in this case, a meeting. Meetings are a common thing to support with SharePoint, and we have the requisite contact list of attendees, meeting agenda and a document library of supporting material. But, rather than create a sub-site for this content, we built the Custom Lists and Libraries off the main page and we placed Web-part representation of those resources right on the main page; one-stop shopping as it were.

There are two web-parts on the page that are interesting. The first is a contact list. We use Bamboo Solutions List Rollup part so that contacts can be maintained in a central list and displayed wherever they have a role. This gives us the comfort of knowing that a contact is up-to-date everywhere it appears. The second part on the page is a custom view of the meeting agenda. Rather than use one of SharePoint’s meeting templates, the agenda is a custom list. The full agenda list has the common elements you might find on any agenda but the main page view has the item and a reference to any supporting exhibits. That reference is in the form of a hyperlink so the site visitor can open the exhibits right from the agenda.

One other change we made was to the Document Library used for the exhibits. The library has folders for the various exhibits, as some have several documents. In case the visitor views the library listing instead of the agenda, we wanted the folders to contain descriptions of their contents. We created a custom Content Type to handle that requirement; we simply added an “explanation” column to a Folder type. The result is a kind of visual cross reference. The agenda (list) contains references (links) to the document library and the document library’s folder descriptions contain explanations that mirror the agenda. Regardless of how the visitor wants to explore the site, they understand what goes with what. Of course, the beauty of this approach is that everything is on the one page they know how to get to. . Today, the agenda has the prominent position; after the meeting is over, we’ll move the document library into the spotlight to lead visitors to the minutes.