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December 2007

The Best and Worst of 2007

I'm getting a (relatively) early start on this... since I tend to keep working on these things long after they were topical.  And rather than list the ten best and ten worst, I got thinking about things that were in turn good and bad... So I'll leave it to you to decide if you agree that there was good in the bad, and vice versa.

My list:

  • Cal football
  • Stanford football
  • Barry Bonds
  • Sub-prime mortgages
  • iPass
  • Reality television
  • FAFSA and educational loans
  • Work-related travel
  • Moving
  • Turning 50
  • Gas prices
  • Lists like this

One is the Loneliest Number

...with apologies to Three Dog Night (http://www.threedognight.com/l_one.html)

I had a friend in high school, Paul Turk, who would tell me about his latest get-rich-quick scheme.  Invariably, it would involve selling something for $10,000 (which seemed like a princely sum to a high school student in the 70’s).  “All I have to do is sell one,” Paul would say.

I remember that story every time I talk with a company that wants to sign up a carrier (mobile or fixed-line, you pick) as a channel of distribution.  The thinking is that these large companies are money machines, and can instantly ramp a small company’s sales by virtue of the carrier’s army of salespeople.  Visions of battle scenes from Star Wars come to mind. 

Too often the reality is far different from these visions.   The small company runs out of funding before the carrier has rolled out their product.  Or the carrier insists on a series of product changes that further drains the small company of resources and further delays launch into the market.  Somewhere in the process the small company’s main supporter at the carrier is reassigned, and momentum comes to a halt.

So I thought I would share some of the lessons I’ve learned in working with carriers.  I’ve competed against them, cooperated with them, sold products to them, and (most recently) reconfigured our main services at iPass so that carriers could sell them as their own.  I’ve worked with carriers I can name, such as Telstra , Telecom NZ, Chunghwa Telecom, NTT Com and Orange Business Services.  I’ve worked with others that prefer to remain nameless—all I can say is that they deliver your world, sometimes in magenta (and that’s with a hard “g”). 

Here are the main steps you’ll go through in setting up a partnership with a carrier.

·         The obvious first step is getting to a contract.  I could write a whole book on that.  Bear in mind that you’re in for a long process of selling up, down, and laterally.  It’s tempting to think you’re done once the partnership agreement is signed.  As hard as it was to get to this point, realize that your work is just beginning.  All you have is an agreement to continue working together.  And while there may be some cash associated with that agreement, it doesn’t amount to much.  And it certainly doesn’t match what you hope to make working with this partner.

·         What typically comes next is what is loosely called “deployment”.  You can think of it as starting over.  At this point, the people who have bought into your sales pitch are turning the project over to a new group of people, those responsible for implementing (i.e., living with) the solution.  And these folks, in their nicest moments, are skeptics.  So all the selling you’ve done up to now has to be repeated, and to a broader audience.  Because if these folks don’t believe in your solution, your company, yourself, they will do everything in their power to block the solution from being deployed.

·         Besides the continued selling, deployment is when every loose end has to be tied up before the product is deemed ready for release.  If all your experience is in a small-company environment, prepare to rip your hair out at this point.  There is seemingly no end to the number of people that want changes, and can block the project unless they’re accommodated.  This is also the point where you begin to realize how little the carrier partner understands about your solution.  More on that point later.

·         Queue the A/R department, right?  Not so fast.  You’re solution’s been blessed and is ready to sell.  Now all you have to do is convince that army of salespeople you’ve dreamed about that they should care about your solution at all.  They need to know what it is, what it does for the customer, what’s in it for them… all the same questions you’d have to answer if these salespeople were on your company’s payroll.  Only they’re not, so it’s more challenging to get your message through to them.

·         Once the sales teams have been trained and are ready to go, you’ll help yourself immensely if you can help deliver a few of the first customers—even if they’re already your own.  The best endorsement for your solution comes from someone who was able to sell it, so the faster you help land a big account, the more momentum you can build.

·         OK, now you can queue the A/R department and wait for the cash to roll in… except that the contract is coming up for renewal shortly.  Time to roll up your sleeves again!