Friday, May 24, 2013

You're My Density

When George McFly uttered the words, "you're my density" in Back to the Future, it wasn't what he meant to say, in fact it had nothing to do with the conversation.  When it comes to broadband access and pricing, however, it should be a big part of the conversation because density IS destiny when it comes to access and pricing.  Population density is a crucial fact that is sidestepped by the would-be muckrakers who are concerned about monopolies and "lack of investment" in the broadband space.  


David Carr of the New York Times is the latest offender in his article titled Telecom's Big Players Hold Back the Future.  In the article, Mr. Carr sites Susan Crawford, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.  Ms. Crawford recently wrote a book titled, “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age”.  I'm not attempting to review her book, just the fact that she and Mr. Carr conveniently sidestep the issue of population density.  

Notice that anyone who argues the U.S. is falling behind in broadband access, speed and pricing likes to point to countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, and especially Korea.  What do these countries have in common?  Their populations are incredibly dense!  


Korea is the most often sited comparison to the U.S. because if it's ranking as #1 in broadband penetration. Population density (people per square mile) i1300 where in the US it's 89.  This means Korea is 15x more densely populated than the U.S.  What really drives the numbers is the city of Seoul which accounts for 20% of the country's population and a population density of...drumroll please.....44,000 per square mile.  In the U.S. we have cities like Dallas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles where we build out and cover large masses of land.  We don't build large residential towers the way they do in Seoul.  

Lack of density means our networks have to cover more distance, we have to dig up more streets and hang more fiber from poles.  When we terminate fiber to a home we may serve a single family whereas terminating fiber to a building in Korea using the same fiber strand and similar equipment and labor to the American home the result is several hundred potential customers.  Can anyone not see why it's more expensive to build and maintain network in the United States?  Ever traveled to the western US where there's even more distance between cities and homes?   

Pundit's are welcome to wag their finger at large telecom and cable companies but in finding support for their arguments they shouldn't site countries with population densities like Korea.  It makes them sound, well....dense.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Network Services Go Mainstream


Ingram Micro announced its entry into the network services space on Tuesday 4/9 by adding Time Warner Cable and Centurylink as suppliers.  While some master agents view this as a threat, I view this as exciting news for the following reasons. 

Validation of the Network Services Space
The entrance of Ingram into the network services space validates what we’re doing as an integral part of cloud solutions.  It’s hard to ignore the infrastructure on which cloud solutions are built.  Many VARs and Solution Providers have come to this realization.  Ingram’s launch further validates this fact.

Marketing to the IT Channel
There is no better evidence of the convergence of the IT and Telecom channels than this announcement from Ingram.   Ingram Micro is the world’s largest technology distributor at $37B in revenue.  The launch of network services signals to all VARs and Solution Providers that they need to provide this service to offer a complete solution.  This is has been our message for years and telling that story just got a whole lot easier!

Strengthened Channel Programs
With Ingram pushing network services, carriers and cables will be able to justify additional resources for their channels.  Many carriers have internal battles over what role the partner channel should play and as Ingram and other IT distributors join these network services channel programs we should see more attention and resources given to these channels.

I’m excited by Ingram’s announcement and expect to see more IT distributors follow suit.  One of the traits I've seen in VARs and solution providers is that they seek the best product or service for their customers and are agnostic to distributors unless they see additional value being given.  This is why I think it’ll take more than sheer size to have an overwhelming presence in this space.  It’ll take the right tools, the right support, and some additional value mixed in the equation to dominate in the network services space.   

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Create a Rockin' Supplier Advisory Board

I've had the opportunity to sit on multiple advisory boards for our suppliers. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to help in this capacity and I take my participation seriously. I've been asked recently for advice on the structure and operation of advisory boards so I'm writing it down here. Keep in mind, these are my opinions and not everybody agrees with me, but I hope this helps you in creating or modifying your plans.


Purpose

The purpose of the advisory board should be to seek the advise of partners.  If that is not your purpose,  save your money.  Advisory boards should NOT be used for recruiting efforts, to increase activity with a partner, or to advertise to them. Relationships can be enhanced by an in-person visit, but your primary goal should not be to enhance relationships.  Your primary goal should be to seek the advice of partners who represent the population of partners with whom you're trying to engage.


Members

Whom to Invite

Select members of your board who are capable of giving you the advise you seek. Don't choose names just because they're known in the industry. There are many capable people in our industry you haven't yet met and their advise is probably better and more insightful than the usual suspects. Consider the following when selecting your board membership:
  
  1. Business Model - Be sure your board members represent the model you seek.  A typical mistake is to overload the board with master agents.  While they may represent sales volume, they won't be able to give you the "feet on the street" insight you seek. Select a collection of direct selling partners, master agents, and solution providers if that mix represents the partner population you seek to engage in the market.  
  2. Role - Select representatives of the partner company who will be able to speak to the topics you wish to address. The president of the company may not be able to advise you on operational and product specific issues and likewise, the operations manager may not be able to advise you on market conditions and trends. The types of issues you plan to address on the board should dictate the role of the people you invite.  
  3. Commitment - Invite only those partners who can commit to active participation. I suggest not allowing individuals on your board who sit on two or more boards because you won't get the focus and input you seek. I also suggest a signed document at the beginning of their term asking them to commit to attendance and preparation for each meeting.  
I've recently seen suppliers form second advisory boards to allow focus on a different area. Some have been split by role (executive/operations) and some have been split by model (master agency/direct selling agency) This is a smart move because it allows focus though it may be cost prohibitive to some.  If you cannot form two boards but seek separate input set up subcommittees that meet periodically via conference call to address specific topics.  

Rotation of Members

Being asked to serve on a board should not be a lifelong calling. Establish a policy of having members on the board for a set amount of time. This keeps the ideas fresh and will also be enjoyed by the members of your advisory board as they'll be able to meet and network with new faces.  Invited members will also understand  their seat is occupied for a finite amount of time and they should maximize their input during that time.

If you don't set up an established policy of terms it'll be difficult to kick off that annoying board member who doesn't contribute without singling out him or her as the only loser who's been asked to leave the board.

Meeting Frequency

I suggest meeting quarterly and meeting in person every other time.  Your dates would vary but it would look something like this:

February - In Person
April       - Conference Call
July        - In Person
October  - Conference Call

Send out an inquiry a few months before the in-person meeting to gauge availability of your board.

Holding one of the in-person meetings at the company headquarters is advisable because it gives partners a view of the inside but perhaps more importantly, it makes it easy for company executives to visit with the advisory board which always helps the visibility of the channel organization and also gives partners a feeling of the executive commitment toward the channel..

It's tempting to have one of the in-person meetings at an industry trade show to save on travel expenses but I recommend against this. You will not have people's focus and quite possibly not have their attendance either.


Agenda

I recommend the following agenda:

Day 1
3pm Meeting
6pm Dinner

Day 2 
8am Meeting
2pm Conclusion

If partners are traveling from far distances you may not be able to hold the initial meeting on Day 1 due to late arrivals. In this case you can simply hold the dinner and have a slightly longer meeting on Day 2. The reason I like the above agenda is because it breaks the meeting into smaller pieces and only requires 1 overnight. If you want to have an optional event (golf, baseball game, etc.) you can hold it before or after the event and those who are interested can participate without impacting your meeting. I do suggest you make it optional and don't feel obligated to hold such an event.  Most people are happy to serve on your board because they find it valuable to invest in your future and have their voice heard. Extra incentives are nice, but not necessary. Again, this is my opinion and others may vary.

Topics

Split the meeting into categories you want to discuss. Include things like product road map, operations, etc.  Send out a list of questions to partners 1-2 weeks in advance so they can think about the topics you've selected, seek input from staff or partners, prepare their responses, and possibly suggest additional topics you may not have considered.  This will greatly help in the quality of the input you receive.

Be sure presentations from members of your team are brief. If you are presenting for half of the meeting or more you are missing out on the value of your advisory board which is for advise and feedback from partners. Presentations from your staff should be used as launching points for discussion and feedback.

Be ready to discuss the classic advisory board topics of rules of engagement and commissions.  I'm working on another blog for these topics.

Miscellaneous

Here are a few miscellaneous thoughts that may be helpful:

Control the Meeting - It's your meeting. Control the conversation so excessive time is not spent talking about a specific customer problem from a partner. Likewise, cut off those staff presentations that go beyond the allotted time. Move the conversation so your entire agenda is covered.  

The Snowball Effect - People have a tendency to jump on the bandwagon and when one person makes a comment. Others will pile on and include affirmative anecdotes or statements until the topic snowballs into something much bigger than it is.  Just be aware of this and run comments through a filter by following up with individuals to gauge their thoughts on the topic after the meeting.

Make Travel Plans - Plan the travel for advisory board members. Do not ask them to plan their own travel and seek reimbursement. It's a hassle.

Follow Up

The value of any meeting is in the follow up. This is especially true in advisory boards because you must demonstrate to your board, all of whom are unpaid volunteers, that their voices were heard and their time invested in preparing for meetings is worthwhile. Send out an email after the meeting with committed action items and give a status report on the action items during the following meeting. This will be appreciated and sends a strong signal about the focus you have on the improvement of your channel program.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you.  Advisory boards are a big undertaking and if you choose to hold one, I hope it's extremely successful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Email Zen

I've been on a time management kick for the last 18 months.  When I hit bottom and began my search for a better way to manage my time I kept coming across "GTD" which I soon found was an acronym for Getting Things Done by David Allen.  I incorporated Mr. Allen's method into my time management so I can't take credit for the foundation of what I've put together.  We now use this in employee onboarding and I'm so excited about it I share it with anyone who will listen.

The most helpful application for me has been e-mail and getting my inbox to zero.  That's right....zero emails in my inbox.  It's pretty nice to not open up a list of 100 things that are incomplete.

The problem is, nobody ever taught us how to use email effectively.  If you're like most people (including me 18 months ago) you use your inbox as your "working area" and you have a collection of folders where you file things under people's names, customer names, project names, and you're really not sure why because you rarely, if ever, go back to look at them.  

Try the method below.  Set up the folders I've outlined and follow the flowchart.  I'll explain why this works so well at the end.  
  • Inbox – The inbox is simply that; a folder that contains all incoming messages.   The inbox should be “processed” regularly but only those emails that take less than 2 minutes should actually be completed from the inbox.    Processing consists of reviewing the email and following the flowchart below to determine how the email should be treated.  If it goes to a blue box, reassign it to that folder.  Otherwise, treat it as directed.  
  • Reference – emails that do not require action but may be needed in the future for reference (travel confirmation, etc.)
  • Waiting For –emails that have been delegated or are waiting for a response before action can be taken
  • Someday/Maybe – emails that require action but are of low priority
  • Pending - tasks that require action

When you are ready to process your Inbox, follow the processing flowchart below: 

The reason this works so well is because you use folders to define what action should take place.  You can therefore process your mail once while in your inbox and never again because the email is in it's proper action folder.  Mr. Allen states that the act of changing our focus from one task to another requires us to disengage, reorient ourselves, and being working again which introduces small amounts of stress.  By leaving email in your inbox you're reviewing it over and over in search of a task that may or may not be ready for action.  Once you place the email in the folder which defines the action you can focus only on that type of action.  As an example, I review my "waiting for" folder once a week and follow up on anyone who owes me a response.  I can then leave it alone for the rest of the week and not think about those items because I know where they are and know I will follow up on them again.  I process my emails a few times a day and don't have to live in my inbox.  I then have uninterrupted time to spend in my pending box on emails that require my focus.

Give it a shot and let me know what you find. I hope you like it as much as I do.