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Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Business Communications

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Effective communication is essential to run any business. Any communication involves a sender and a receiver. Often times, the sender is not clear themselves about what they would like to communicate and therefore amplify confusion in the organization. Asking some basic questions should help to alleviate the pain.

  • What is the objective of your communication?
  • What is your bottom-line? What do you want your audience to take away?
  • Know your audience well to communicate effectively. How much do they know about your topic? What questions will the reader ask? Also keep in mind WIIFM.
  • Are you the right person to send out the communication?

Most business communications fall in some basic categories listed below. Each of these categories has templates that you can use or modify to suit your needs if you find yourselves in a writers block.

  • Inform the audience. Example: strategic direction, status, change
  • Influence the audience to move from point A to point B
  • Implementation plan
  • Meeting minutes, Action items
  • Process explanation
  • Results, Conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • Observations
  • Evaluation
  • Request for action

Use a positive tone and position your message according to the anticipated reaction (support or oppose) from the reader. It is common knowledge that a communication (IM, Voice Mail or Email) in the corporate world is not private. Yet many people are careless and then get frustrated when their content is made public. Communication is a great tool if used effectively. It can either make or break a deal.

Culture and Marketing

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Imagine watching an advertisement for launching a global product loaded with US baseball champs in Sri Lanka. Or how about watching a Bollywood actress promoting a drink in Mexico. What is lacking in these ads? A way to connect to the local people! The aim of an advertisement for products and services is to increase awareness and to influence people to buy your product. An ad that does not connect with people cannot achieve this effectively.

To be successful, an ad does not need celebrities. It should have the ability to touch people in someway. Knowing the local culture is a great boon to identifying how to design your ads. In a country like India with a billion+ population where the middle-class emphasizes kids development, most advertisements are designed around children. What does a cell phone company do with a child that is not even its target market? It uses the child to connect with people and leave a lasting impression about the ad. Then the product name spreads because people talk about the ad.

On the other hand, some companies fail utterly by just broadcasting their global ad. One size fits all works if the ad is designed appropriately. Some high-tech companies like IBM and Intel for instance have not managed to touch a wider audience through their ads in India just for this reason. They spend millions advertising every 10 mins or so on the most watched cricket matches without leaving any mark. Another important aspect is the acceptability of the ad. Will your ad turn off people? For instance, Round Table Pizza’s ad about the Knight becoming a stripper to afford such low prices was a bummer. Their next ad was about how family friendly they are. But the damage was done. Similarly, a mobile that supports two SIM cards is great. But that is spoiled by the ad that shows how the guy can have one SIM for each of his two wives.

An advertisement is not just about reach and awareness. Its about calling people for action. It should be concise and effective. And most importantly, it should gel with the local culture. Looking forward to your opinions / examples on effective and ineffective ads. Please leave your comments.

Second but Better

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 at 8:44 am

Do you ever find yourself thinking: “I wish I had come up with that idea first instead of the other person. It would have given me such an edge!” Inventions and brilliant ideas are rare. However, innovation can be incremental. If innovation is not your cup of tea yet, you may want to read my article on automation. But, to be successful, you do not have to be an inventor. Clean execution is also a very good skill.

Identify ways to apply others’ findings to your work to solve problems. For instance, you did not invent the TV. But you can use the TV to reach a broad audience for your marketing campaign. If you are targeting a niche ethnic segment, you can use the TV monitor in these ethnic stores and restaurants. This helps you to stand out.

Not all innovative companies succeed. Execution and ongoing improvements matter. Yahoo has been the first to market on several products. However, their points of differentiations have been reduced at a fast pace by competitors like AOL. Google on the other hand is not the first to come up with search engine or email or chat. However, Google has managed to execute well and continues to improve its quality by making the service relevant to the target audience. Being second can also be an effective strategy. In this web 2.0 era, a lot applications come and go. You might benefit from waiting to find out what really works and then investing your resources in that area. If you find yourself in a bind for ideas, focus on execution, identify bottlenecks and focus on enhancements. See where that leads you.

I’d like to hear your ideas on how you applied other concepts to improve your work. Please leave comments.

Automation

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Do you get bored with doing the same thing over and over again? There are several jobs that require you to be repetitive. For instance, a post man goes door to door everyday to deliver mails. You have to do dishes at your home every time you cook. But, you can still look for ways to reduce your involvement in these repetitive tasks.

If you are a developer, what aspects of development can you automate? Can you write scripts or develop applications to help you with setting up the test structure? If you are a business analyst, how can you focus on information instead of data? Can you automate the data generation? If you are a marketeer, can you automate the setup to gather information internally & broadcast externally?

Once you have done some level of automation / standardization, you can look for opportunities to improve the process. Is there one step that is slowing you down causing a bottleneck? Can you break it down into multiple small steps and process them in parallel? Once you have addressed this step, you can identify the next bottle neck and fix it. Overtime, your process improves and you can focus on more value added tasks. For instance, a marketeer can focus on face time with customer instead of the back office work. A little thought and planning can go a long way in improving your productivity and reducing boredom from repetitiveness.

I’d like to hear your examples on how you improved your work. Please leave your comments.

How to blog

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2009 at 3:44 am

There are tons of blogs on how to blog. Its quite intriguing to see how the same information is rehashed in multiple ways. So what works & what doesn’t? How much time should you spend on blogs?

Do you have an agenda, a plan, a goal for your blog? What are you trying to achieve? Have an online diary or provide information on a particular subject? Before you start, you might find the following information useful:

  1. Identify the content you want to post
  2. Decide the frequency of posting
  3. Who is your target market

Today’s reader community mostly scans the content. Target your content to be just few paragraphs and focus on headlines:

  1. You can find info about catchy headlines here. Have true but attractive headline that urges the reader to open the link.
  2. Use twitter to publish links to your blog. You can find tips on good twitter headlines here. Keep tweets to 7-8 words max.
  3. Engage the audience. Don’t beat around the bush.

Blogging is just one of the many items on your marketing plan. Its is not an end in itself, just a means to get the news out. So, have a structure on your efforts & time for blogging.

Social networks come and go. MySpace is no longer hot, but facebook is. It might be some other site tomorrow. WAYN did not pick up as much as Twitter did. Have a plan on how to migrate your clientele when some of these sites are no longer hot.

I’d like to hear from you on how much time you spend on blogging and where it fits in your marketing portfolio. Please leave your comments.

Visual Presentation

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2009 at 9:29 pm

The adage that a picture speaks thousand words rings a bell quite often. Staring at a 2-page long email or sitting through a 30 minute long presentation where you think you almost got it only to realize that the speaker confused you yet again can be frustrating. Most concepts can be conveyed simply and clearly using pictures. If you are stuck and don’t know where to start, here are two tips:

  1. Is your goal to move audience from point A to point B? Draw the as-is state & the to-be state? Can you map them?
  2. Is your goal to inform the audience? Draw the benefits.

With cheap storage and the advent of bountiful applications, data is everywhere. If you want to standout from the crowd, garner information instead of presenting data. You can use a variety of applications to do that. Excel helps to convert data to charts & helps to identify trends and patterns. Business Intelligence is another way to gather data and provide meaningful information. These can provide insights into what needs to be improved or addressed.

When I am stuck, I just start with the age-old cliched technique of using a paper and pen instead of a computer. First, unlike a computer, it doesn’t limit me to what I can draw. Next I can draw free flow in no time compared to getting those shapes correct and arrows aligned in a computer. This freedom enables me to express freely and capture the thoughts into pictures. Its much easier to transfer this to a computer later. As a manager / leader, it is important to be productive. Instead of spending cycles on data, use information to move the organization to the next step. When you combine yours with information from other organizations, silos can be broken. A leader is one who can look both within and outside the team to do the right thing for the organization. Use visual presentation to your advantage.

Product Introduction & Constraints triangle

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

For any work you do, there are always constraints. In an ideal world, free of constraints, you can create anything you want because you have all it takes to get the job done. However, we do not live in an ideal world. There is always budget limitations, priorities, time to market, minimum features needed for a product to be introduced to the market, nice to have features, qualified resources, etc.

Constraints can be broadly categorized into: Scope, Time, and Budget. If one of these change, one or both of the remaining constraints must change. Think of the constraints as the three vertices of a triangle. When you move one vertex, the shape of the triangle changes. To balance the triangle, the other vertices must be adjusted.

For instance, if there is a threat of the competition entering the market first and if time to market is key, then your triangle has shifted. There is always a minimum set of features (scope) needed for a product to be successful. You cannot sell a pen that wont write. However, you can introduce the pen in one color for starters and add other colors later, assuming you are not selling a multicolored ink pen. Another approach is to add more resources and money into the project to speed-up the time-line. You can do one or both in this situation to be the first to market. A little bit of creative thinking can also help you to get the job done. For instance, if you have a resource constraint, see if there is someone who wants to volunteer on the project to gain these skills within your company. You have a free part-time resource for your product now!

Phone Meeting Etiquette

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm

It is annoying to be in a meeting with poor logistics. In a meeting with a large audience, the phone beeps every time someone joins or leaves the meeting. Then you have people planning their lunches & manicures in the background without hitting the mute button. This background conversation becomes more interesting than that of the actual presenter’s. Been there? Experienced that? I was in a meeting once where 200+ people knew where one guy was going to meet his date for dinner 🙂 Follow some basic steps to keep your focus:

For the host: While it is very important to have a proper objective & agenda for a meeting, it is equally important that the logistics be addressed carefully. Most conferencing services allow you to select various options while you set up the meeting. This should address most of the issues discussed above. While there are plenty of conferencing applications out there, choose one that works best for your audience size. [Leave me your email if you’d like to know my favorite software.]

As an attendee, you can also follow a few simple guidelines so that you are not bothering others. If you are not talking, mute the phone. If you’d like to make a point, raise your hand in the conference software instead of speaking over someone. You can also use the chat option and send your question to the host / presenter directly instead of the entire audience.

How to be SMART

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 at 8:25 pm

One of the common issues managers encounter is getting people to do something. Not everyone shares the same passion as you or has the same priorities as you do for a given task. Yet, you are dependent on them to get the job done. So, how do you go about generating results? Be SMART.

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound.

  • Specificity allows you to identify Who, What, When, Why, etc for your goal.
  • Measurable enables you to know what your starting point is and what your ending point is so that you can track progress.
  • Attainable enables you to identify the skill-set needed for the job.
  • Being Realistic ensures that the goal can be accomplished.
  • Time bound ensures that everyone knows when the work is due.

Once a coworker found himself in a situation where he did not deliver on time because he did not know that the work was due that day. The customer was unhappy and escalated the situation. This scenario can be avoided when someone gives you a task. Just ask them to be SMART. You will know exactly what is due & by when. Follow the same principles when you expect something from someone.

You may also be interested in the article about objectives.

Meeting Objective

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 at 8:02 pm

How often do you get frustrated because you do not know what the other person is expecting from you at work? You spend 30 mins in a meeting and at the end wonder what it was about. Following basic steps can result in better use of everyone’s time & yield better results.

First, have an objective for every meeting. Make it clear to the participants what you’d like to get accomplished here. Is the purpose of the meeting to Inform, Brainstorm, Analyze, Decide, Approve, etc. Next, evaluate if you need to send any information ahead of the time to the attendees so that they can be prepared.

At the beginning of the meeting, ensure that all parties are clear with the objective. This helps everyone to begin with the end in mind & pay attention accordingly. If the discussion takes a tangent, you can always guide the participants back to the objective. Many arguments & frustrations can be avoided with some thought and planning.

You may also be interested in the article about the importance of agenda. While objective helps with the goal, agenda gives a structure to the meeting.