Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Using Humor and Humility in Every Conversation

When is the last time you had what felt like an honest conversation with a salesperson? Most people feel immediately like running away as soon as they hear that you are a “Sales professional”. No one likes to be sold -the assumption is that anyone in sales is going to do whatever it takes to make a sale. No chance for honesty as it flies out the window! 

We have all had experiences where some well-intentioned sales person pulls us into a conversation trying to convince us just why their product or services are something we cannot live without. I have spent my twenty year career trying to be the opposite of this type, and I have used two vital tools- humor and humility. 

Humor is a staple of life for many people. Often difficult to define, there are many strains of humor, the goal being amusement resulting in laughter. The ridiculous, the unexpected, or the juxtaposed can elicit such a feeling. Let's face it, a conversation that involves information technology is not usually a hotbed for humor. I have found that the more I offer my humor in a way that is designed to relieve my client of the pressure of their pain points, the better the results. I ask the tough questions in a humorous way to set the conversation on comfortable ground. 

The truth is that the pressure of being responsible for million dollar purchases and the exposure that comes with that is not for the faint of heart. What is so funny about assessing whether or not the technology choices one has made for their business (or is planning to make)? Potential dangerous or risky paths and alternatives to consider are serious considerations. 

Example: Joe is trying to make a decision about what parts of his current IT road map to move to the cloud. "Tell me Joe, which of these areas are the ones that can get you a midnight call from the CEO saying Fix this or you're fired!" 

Once the obvious is stated, we can move onto the "What else?" and ideas that flow. Humor can get the biggest issues out in the open and comfortably talked about.

Humility is also an essential component in becoming a trusted partner for clients. While feigned humility is the height of insincerity, authentic humility is the most sincere form of confidence. Not trying to be perfect or acting like a know-it-all has to be at the forefront, but in such a way as to not diminish the strength of experience. I try to start responses to questions with a preface of  “In my experience… “ or   “ I’m familiar with this because… “ so it can set up an experience that shows  a sincere effort to relate to the solution first hand.

Passing knowledge from one person to another takes a bumpy road often when a salesperson dives right into a monologue. Prospective clients start to move around uncomfortably giving the non verbal signs of information overload. Eager to share the amount of knowledge they have in their products, sales people typically forge ahead because “they are certain they know exactly what you need”. Many leave their prospects feeling like they are caught with a fire hose of information being shot at them.  

The best exchanges happen when you can help somebody connect what you hear is their issue with what is your experience. Structuring the conversation with their needs as the end in mind will gain the most trust in the long run. I have yet to hear a client I have worked with that said, “ She just talked and talked and I agreed to the purchase.” It cannot and should not happen that way.

It was C.S. Lewis who said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking about yourself less.” A humble salesperson must recognize and value the contributions of others in lieu of self-promotion.

When these two work together, humor and humility, they are like the eggs and butter in a recipe. They work as the foundation, and the better you learn to combine them in your conversations, the more you will find your associations growing deeper and with more long term potential.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Who Needs Fiber?

Who Needs Fiber?

As rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth strains the Internet's capacity, the question still remains why the need for so much speed?

Described in the June 28 issue of the journal Science, a team of engineers has devised a new fiber optic technology that promises to increase bandwidth dramatically. The new technology could enable Internet providers to offer much greater connectivity -- from decreased network congestion to on-demand video streaming.The technology centers on donut-shaped laser light beams called optical vortices, in which the light twists like a tornado as it moves along the beam path, rather than in a straight line. The result? A transmission capacity of 1.6 terabits per second, the equivalent of transmitting eight Blu-RayTM DVDs every second.

Business owners today are turning to their "computer guy", IT staff,outside consultants and IP vendors to tell them how much speed is needed. In my experience, more of these businesses today are depending on shared services like cable for the promise of high speeds. This is a good and affordable option, until it isn't anymore. And when you don't have the internet speed you need, it feels like you are gasping for air! With cable, the speeds are determined by the amount of users accessing the service at any given time. Speeds can slow down dramatically with no warning and great consequence. The other options seems to be a mixed bag of DSL, which is now considered too slow or a t-1 that promises a dedicated up and down speed the same 1.5 Mbps.

So Fiber now appears to be the bright and shining house on the hill. Beckoning business owners to the promised land of internet bandwidth nirvana. Right now, the most affordable Fiber within reach to most businesses is upwards of $500 monthly expense, as compared to cable at a low $50 a month. This is a big commitment, and one not made without some planning and preparation.

As a consultant, I take a look at what the business is doing right now with their internet, and what they hope to be able to do in the future. I ask what would it be like to have more bandwidth and connectivity options now to help you reach your goals? Putting a price on the ability to grow is a question asked by salespeople all the time. Getting that new copier, the new computers, servers, software programs, new office space, new phone system, and many more decisions are measured by the fear of loss and hope of gain.

Before anyone ever thought they needed terabits of bandwidth, before there were videos to stream or radios to enjoy on the internet, business owners had to look at making the right investments for the future of their company. Fiber is that right next investment, and timing the purchase is critical to keeping on the path towards a managed office communications system. Often Fiber can take more than 90 days to install at a given location, and if you wait too long to start the process of choosing it, there can be pitfalls. Ask for a speed/need assessment from your IT provider or a qualified consultant. Know what you have now in place and what you have to grow with.

When you get ready to move to Fiber, make sure you are working with a company that can also provide some of the hosted services your business may need in the future. That type of "one company managing the internet and layered services" is ideal. Often times,a t-1 or cable internet provider drops the customer service the moment you add a hosted service, stating that the internet they provide is fine and the service provider is the problem. The same thing can happen with a provider for Fiber- if that is all they deliver. We call this finger pointing, and the best way to eliminate it is have the internet provider also be your managed service provider. Having a team of engineers with a powerful data center in place will make your move to Fiber a streamlined experience worth every bit of the new investment.
Mary Slagle ---slagle.ms@gmail.com

Friday, January 3, 2014

A New Year Brings More Telephony Choices For Business Owners.

Using cloud-based solutions for telephony and unified communications (UC) is becoming more accepted in IT departments, according to a recent survey. The study from Mitel claimed 80% of the 650 IT managers it interviewed saw the benefits of moving business-essential functions into the cloud, with cost savings or predictable costs named as the biggest draw.Just 4% of respondents said they would not consider a cloud-based option for their UC and telephony.
IT managers are not always in place in smaller companies, and individual business owners often push these decisions onto office managers or the "computer tech" who works offsite.  These target decision makers also are clearly starting to see the flexibility and cost saving benefits that a cloud-based approach to communication can offer. "Access to integrated telephony or Unified Communications is a driving factor", stated Steve Carlson owner of GreenBridge Tech," but adopting the technology is driven by the budget.". GreenBridge is a great example of a small start up business that does not want to go out and spend a fortune on new capital equipment. They have to be conservative based on what their potential growth can be.
How much will it cost? Capital investments on new equipment can be upwards of 5K for a small office to 300K for an enterprise system.These require staff to manage it and implement the technology as well as keep staff comfortable with the changes. Scalability and flexibility are not always built into the initial purchase option.
Cloud based " hosted" systems offer a much better return on investment for the small to medium sized business. Hosted by companies with a large IT staff and plenty of bandwidth, they take over your communications needs, manage the equipment, are completely scalable and keep the system software up to date. Competing for as much market share as they can get it seems every big player has jumped into this market. Companies like AT&T have been making a go at this for years, and new competition has beaten a path to surpass them and gain access to viable opportunities.
2014 could very well be the largest single year to date for Cloud migration in this area of telephony, and I am pleased to be assisting businesses in making these complex decisions. Make sure you have a reliable inventory of your current phone system, what you use it for and how you like it's performance. Add to that the features and benefits of what the new Cloud  technology offers and let an expert help you design the business communication system that will serve you today, tomorrow and the flexibility to take you into the future.