For those of you that are visually oriented, here's a link to my photo album for 2016. Ahem... here.
Marketing and Sales
I spent the better part of a week recently at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference; "WPC" in Microsoft-speak. I thought I'd try summarizing the week by collecting up my tweets here. Why? First, because I'm lazy. Second, because, you know... social media and all that. Plus, I feel a little sorry that Twitter is getting dumped on. But mostly, I'm being lazy. Or as they call it, "repurposing content."
This year's conference was held in Toronto, a city I visited many times during my days at BNR/Nortel, and during my time at SOMA Networks. It's been about ten years since I was last in Toronto (ask me about the rooftop lounge at Hooters) so I was interested to see what was old and new.
This probably happened the last time I flew to Toronto out of SFO: I'm on a United Airlines flight, but it's operated by Air Canada. Which means I've gone to the wrong terminal. Grrr.
Next stop: the gate. Since my days of holding duper premium elite gold extra-special status are long over, I'm waiting for my "zone" to board when I see a couple of passengers push forward to test whether the gate agents are checking which zone you're in. Turns out, they are.
On the plane now, ready to enter my usual sleep state that's brought on by flight attendant announcements.
It turns out that this year's conference is sold out, for the first time ever. That means I'm in Toronto with 15,999 of my closest friends. And they all made hotel reservations before I did. So I'm staying nowhere near downtown and all the events. But, Toronto now has very nice subway service from the airport to downtown, so that will work. And on my arrival at conference registration, there was this moose...
Free, working, Wi-Fi on comfortable and quiet subway trains. Take notice, CalTrain!
I once had a goal, while working at Nortel, to stay in every Canadian Pacific hotel in the chain; they're all magnificent. I stayed at the Royal York once, when Nortel had their big user association meeting in Toronto and when there was a big Marketing and Product Management pow-wow on what we needed to do next with Nortel's phone system. It was also at this time that Nortel announced quality problems in one part of the manufacturing business (the biggest part), which caused the stock to plummet in value. I thought some of my colleagues, who had left most of their retirement savings in Nortel stock, were going to die right there outside the hotel.
I remember riding in a taxi down to the Billy Bishop City of Toronto airport, on a flight to Ottawa (so much nicer than schlepping out to Pearson). Once you got past the Skydome and the CN Tower, there wasn't much going on. Now, that's completely different. There's the Air Canada Center, the Rogers Convention Center and a ton of condo developments.
On to the conference. Microsoft and GE announce a partnership focused on "Internet of Things." I just liked this quote.
The moose I expected. A Blue Jay wouldn't have surprised me. But... woodpeckers?
How times change. Three years ago, Dropbox was seen as "consumer" and Box was for the enterprise. Now...
CGNET was nominated for a Microsoft partner award. We didn't win, but we're already doing work with the guys that did win. And they have a Tesla as a company car. That's pretty cool.
I was looking for a place to grab a bite when I ended up meeting some new Microsoft partners at another event.
More "keynote" tweets, including an announcement that Facebook has adopted Office 365. I was just around the corner, you guys could have called me!
Back to the convention hall. On the way they're handing out...
"Digital Transformation" was one of the buzzwords of the conference, but there's some truth behind it. Businesses are moving to digital infrastructures, and those that can't support that movement are dying off.
Time now for a happy hour out on Lake Ontario.
Here's a nice picture of the Toronto skyline.
I've already told the story of how I didn't realize the celebrity athletes were real. Until I saw Bill Walton. Trust me, I'm standing next to him.
The next day I had to stay in my hotel room to finish a report. I had TV on for the background noise. Listening to the Canadian version of Guy Fieri and his shtick was...
See, Microsoft's cloud platform is called Azure, so naturally...
A nice quote from the Women in Technology session.
Last party, lots of food options. I chose...
I couldn't leave until I'd listened to Gwen Stefani.
And I leave you with some Canadian humor.
2015 was a year of yin and yang; probably every year is like that. Mostly, this was a year that went by very quickly (where did the time go?) but also very slowly (during rush hour).
I'm sure you've seen--or rather, skimmed past--the Terms of Service that govern services like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. Similar to End User License Agreements, these are the things you skim over so you can quickly click Accept and move on.
Well I've decided to change my terms of service, at least when it comes to LinkedIn networking. More accurately, I've decided to revert to something closer to my original terms.
When I started on LinkedIn, I took seriously their advice to "only connect with people you know." I even remember an email exchange with a (somewhat distant) co-worker who wanted to make sure he really new me before he accepted my connection request.
This advice from LinkedIn was in contrast to the "LION" (LinkedIn Open Networker) approach, which was much more promiscuous about connecting. Their argument was that you never know who you're going to want to know or be able to help. OK, that's a valid point.
Maybe a year ago, things at LinkedIn seemed to change, in two important ways
- LinkedIn made it much easier (a one-click experience) to request a connection. Click the button and someone receives your connection request, with a stock "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" message.
- LinkedIn seems to have changed its stance on curating connection requests. It seemed (and seems now) that anyone who's a member of a group with me can send me a connection request. There doesn't seem to be any more of the LinkedIn "show me you know this person" hurdles to jump over.
In a fit of pique, I decided to go ahead and accept these connection requests. Hey, if LinkedIn was going to make it that easy, then I was going to oblige them. Often I would notice that the requester would show up on my "who's viewed your profile" list, making me realize they were mass-mailing these connection requests and really weren't even aware that they'd sent me a request. So for a while I would write to them, explain that I wasn't sure if they intended to connect but I was happy to accept. Sometimes people would write back and say that, indeed, they wanted to connect. And I've built some good relationships out of these kinds of blind-date connections.
More and more, however, things have been getting a bit spammy.
- Susan sends me a connection request
- I accept
- Susan sends me a message, pitching me on her/her company's services (lead generation and outsourced software development being the leading examples)
- I explain that I'm not in the market for these services (something they could have surmised had they bothered to check), but hey, good luck with it
- Susan never contacts me again
After a while, people like Susan (and their associates) show up in my news feed, and I have to work to remember: is this someone I have a professional relationship with? As with other social forces, the noise starts to overcome the signal (what?)
So as of today, I've started purging my connection lists of people that seemed to want to treat networking like a one-night-stand. And I'm turning back people that have no connection to me, and haven't included a personal note with their connection request.
I've had some great conversations with people I didn't previously know, so I'm certainly still open to requests from out of the blue. But if it looks like you're just following the LinkedIn Path of Least Resistance, and it looks like you want to sell first and help later, then I can say "it's not you--it's me."
As in, "I have this strange desire to know first and sell later. So find a way to connect with me, show me that your interest is more than transactional, and we'll talk."
I took a day trip to Southern California this week, to meet with a potential customer. We were selected as one of the finalists to conduct an IT assessment, and we headed down to meet with the President and a few other executives.
Normally, my posts like this are more in the style of "and then I did this" but that seemed boring, so (for no reason) I decided to catalog the day's events in haiku format. Hope you like it!
Which route to San Jose?
85 often beats 101
But Google map's red
I will use CLEAR card
Even though the lines are short
Keep your shoes on, sir
Soon call with Ghana
Hope I'm through security
The travel sales life
Three excited girls
Disney taping in LA
What to ask the star?
Bob Hope or Burbank?
Small airport by any name
Like SJC's past
Lunch with customer
Head says salad heart says beef
But no micro-brew
Please increase your quote
Surely a buying signal
Too early to cheer
Back to Burbank end of day
Porque no freeway?
But metal in my shoes-dang!
Barefoot after all
Computer pass fail
Board only with paper
Now low tech is best
Scotch on the rocks-nice
Peanuts make me think of Sean
Always brought him nuts
Town car takes me home
Another successful trip
Now rinse and repeat
Worldwide Partner Congress—WPC in Microsoft-speak—is a gigantic beginning-of-Microsoft-fiscal-year sales get-together held in early July each year. Just me and 15,000 friends I haven't met yet.
I hadn't planned to attend, but my Microsoft representatives really, really wanted me to go. So they got me into the "Partner Executive Summit" the weekend prior to the Conference, and paid for my conference registration. Since the answer to all of my "how do I find the right partner?" questions in the weeks leading up to the conference was always, "go to WPC!" I figured I should go ahead… even though Houston doesn't immediately jump to mind for pleasant summer destinations.
Other than passing through its airport (the "Midnight Madness" connection to Boston remains surreal to this day), I can only remember one other visit to Houston. That was about fifteen years ago, on a road trip that included a stopover with my Aunt Bunny (the only name I ever knew her by). It was hot and humid that time, too; no surprise there. The highlight of that visit was my Aunt Bunny swatting and stunning a giant cockroach and then telling me, "Danny, you can go ahead and toss it out of the house now." Yeesh.
The conference starts on a Monday, but the Executive Summit kicks off the prior Saturday. We were in McCloud to celebrate Independence Day and Brian's birthday with the family, but I will have to cut my weekend celebration short.
McCloud. My day starts at 2:45 AM. I get up, finish packing for the conference, pack up all the stuff that's going back home with Crystal, and make a mental note to be sure to bring Bucky, my much-traveled neck pillow that allows me to sleep more comfortably in an airplane seat.
By 3:30AM Mary (my saintly sister, who's driving me to the airport) and I are out the door, right on time. We hop into the Mercedes we've borrowed for the weekend from Cheryl (saintly sister #2) for the ride to the Redding Airport. But first, we need to get some gas. We pull into the local gas station, I push on the filler cap cover to open it and… it won't open. I push again; no luck. This is a Mercedes—everything is activated by pushing. What else could be causing the problem? After 20 minutes of brain-fogged problem-solving, including several unsuccessful attempts to reach Brian or Cheryl by phone, Mary calls it and we head back to the rental house to get the Honda and head to the airport.
Now all the extra time I had built into the schedule is gone. We jump on Highway 89, heading west toward Highway 5. It's still dark out, a great time to find a deer in the road. And sure enough, we encounter a big buck crossing Highway 89, far enough to one side not to require me to take defensive driving action. But judging from the points on that buck, I can see why he thinks he's a badass.
We get to Redding airport on time, just a few minutes behind schedule. There are basically three flights a day, so I had missed this flight, it would be a while before I could take another flight to SFO. It's a small airport, but the security is big-time. It reminds me that the 9/11 bombers got into the air traffic system at a small regional airport in Maine. Lesson learned.
The group ahead of me is from Australia, and apparently they've showed up a day after their flight… makes me think they were operating on Australia time. Somehow things get sorted out for them. Brian had showed me how to use my United Airlines iPhone app the day before, so I'm all checked in except for paying to check my bag. I don't want to carry it anyway, but surely there's no way it's going to fit on this twin-prop commuter flight. Then again, I'm apparently traveling with a group of musicians, judging from the number of guitar cases waiting to be carried on to the plane.
On the plane, seat 2A. Dawn breaks, the thin sliver of a crescent moon fades, and we're headed to San Francisco. Once at SFO, it takes me a while to sift through all the Houston flights for mine, so I can get on the right shuttle bus from the commuter terminal to the main United terminal.
On my flight to Houston. I think CalTrain was in charge of the cabin temperature, because it's freezing. It's like they want to overcome the heat and humidity of Houston by making the temperature as low as possible on the flight. I have no jacket with me (who needs a jacket when the Houston forecast is for 90+ degree temps and 90+ percent humidity?) and good luck finding a blanket; maybe that was one of the options for purchase when I checked in.
Getting ready to land. The flight attendant, in that sweet Texas drawl, is shooing a passenger back to his seat. I can see his problem—he's located his luggage behind him on the plane, a cardinal sin. I kind of feel sorry for him, but not too much since he is sitting in first class after all.
We've landed at Bush airport in Houston. This airport is definitely Texas-sized. My United app has just told me that my flight has landed. Uh, thanks for that.
There's a message on my phone from Brian: call us right away when you land… what's that about? This is what it's about. Oh and welcome to today's reality—first news of it arrived via a fellow passenger's Facebook feed. I call Brian to let him and everyone know I'm fine, and not stuck at SFO.
At the hotel. There are an awful lot of "how to stay safe" commercials on the TV at this hotel. Makes me wonder about the neighborhood. I later learn that the area, Greenspoint, has a nickname of "Gunspoint." Ok, then! I hit the gym for a nice, long workout.
Taxi ride into downtown Houston, for the cocktail reception in advance of the Partner Executive Summit. Just like the airplane, the hotel temperature is turned way down to overcome the effects from the outside temperature. I try to be discreet as I wolf down the little spoons of Asian-flavored tuna tartare.
Today is a full day of Partner Executive Summit sessions. I go outside my hotel to catch a cab, and my glasses immediately fog up.
It's weird working on a Sunday. It takes me a while to figure out why no one is returning my emails.
After a full day of presentations, it's time for cocktails. Actually, there are two cocktail receptions in a row… this could be trouble. I skip one reception and go to the Partner Summit dinner at III (as in 3) Forks restaurant. Time for a Shiner Bock beer; hello Texas! It may have been a mistake asking for the medium-well filet, as I get the "hey bub, you asked for it" cut from the filet mignon. Hey, who's complaining?
I finish the evening with a glass of wine at the bar. I end up leaving my work bag in the bar and get a phone call in my room… doh!
Fogged glasses again.
My morning alarm goes off as planned. Unfortunately, I've left my phone on vibrate, which means I sleep through the alarm—so much for working out. And so much for making it to Steve Ballmer's keynote. Still, the follow-on sessions are interesting. There's one on Business Intelligence that uses bubble charts to show the top musician each year. Turns out Mariah Carey has more staying power than you would think. The presenter showcasing all the cool things about Windows 8 looks remarkably like Rick Harrison from Pawn Stars.
Q&A session with Steve Ballmer. The staging of it (don't be late, he waits for everyone to be there before he comes out) reminds me of Paul Stern and his "tour" of Nortel back when. Those were not happy times.
The session format is standard talk show, two living room chairs with a little table in between. Except that Steve Ballmer doesn't want to sit back in the comfy chair and talk. He keep scooting up to the edge of the seat. After a while I realize his speaking style is like Father Dan from our church—he has that Midwest twang and he kind of shouts when he gets excited or wants to make a point. But he's well prepared and gives on-point answers, no real platitudes. Substance! But you also see some of that competitive "I want to crush the competition" drive. It's interesting that Microsoft was once viewed as the Evil Empire and now that title has passed to others like Google and Facebook.
Partner dinner at the Petroleum Club, 43rd floor of the ExxonMobil building. Yes there is a dress code (M-F: business casual, jackets suggested). I walk over from the convention center. Since it rained earlier, the skies are clearing and it's merely incredibly humid. I make my way past the homeless people and the guys playing basketball in the city park nearby. After a half-dozen blocks, I'm at the ExxonMobil building (I'm still wondering where the Enron building was located). I look like I've walked through a waterfall to get here.
Up to the top. Nice view of the Salvation Army below, home of some of the other 99%. Where is JR? I know he's dead, I know that was Dallas. But if oil defines any place in Texas, Houston has to be high up on that list. There's a nice combo playing; they could be called, "Three Old White Guys." The music is fine, until they perform a rendition of Yes' All Good People. I'm starting to feel a little ill.
On the shuttle bus ride back to my hotel after the day is over. I count roughly two tattoo parlors, six adult video stores, five strip clubs (including Fantasy Plaza, because sometimes one building is not enough to contain one's fantasies), a couple of pawn shops and payday loan businesses, and more than a dozen boarded up buildings. Also a "Mas Club;" think Sam's Club for the Spanish-speaking population. And a furniture store called The Dump, with its tagline, "get dumped!"
My ritual morning fogging of the glasses.
Temps are in the 90s—cooler, but the heat index is above 100. I wanted to get up and work out, but I've got a stiff back. Or, I'm just feeling a bit lazy.
My first day of regular conference sessions. In the first session, I see one of the worst charts I've seen in a while. From my Nortel experience, I can tell it's one of those internal business plan charts that puts everything you might want to know on one slide. We could spend the whole hour just "unpacking" that one slide. Mercifully, the speakers move on.
On a side note: I think the infographic craze has gotten to Microsoft. That, and the "doors" metaphor as a replacement for "windows." The PowerPoint slides don't have titles. And there are no bullet icons. Each main idea is in its own little box. And if you want to "drill down" on something, you click on it… Open the door, get it?
Next comes the march of the acronyms. EPG, CA, MEC… "Rhythm of Business." There's no end to it; more on this later. And please, presenters, don't ask for a "show of hands." No one wants to raise their hand!
The new normal: people taking photos of the presenter's slides. A new opportunity for Evernote!
One thing I've learned about WPC is that you can't go hungry here. There's a buffet breakfast. There are refreshments all the time, and a buffet lunch—free to all attendees. Then there are the dinners and parties… Had a great BBQ brisket for lunch today, though it featured a North Carolina-style mustard and vinegar sauce. I'm surprised that made it past the Texas Board of Health.
Evening events include a "reunion" of the folks that attended the similarly named Partner Executive Summit back in March, followed by the West Region Partner Awards dinner. More booze and appetizers.
Slightly less fog on my glasses this morning; the weather's improving.
One of the big activities at the Conference is meetings with other partners. Microsoft even has it all wired, where you can arrange to reserve one of the tables they have set aside for this purpose; no need to meet in the coffee shop down the street (unless you aren't an attendee). A number of companies have set up meetings with me, mostly Independent Software Vendors. I don't see any immediate opportunity there (and tell them before we set the meetings) but hey, I'll meet with anyone for fifteen minutes.
Unfortunately, the execution lags. I've been on the go since early AM, and don't get lunch until 1:30 PM. Most of the events I set up using the WPC app on my phone also synch to my Calendar; but not all of them do. So I end up inadvertently blowing off two partner meetings, and get blown off by a third. I do manage to meet with an Israeli security company (with a US headquarters; this is a recurring theme…) that has an interesting encryption device. I tell them flat out not to suggest that their device would have prevented the NSA from reading people's mail.
It turns out to be a very good meeting, and kind of reminds me why I like working with startups. I had shown up early to the meeting, when the CEO was pitching to the "Google compete" people from Microsoft, and I could see them thinking, "what is your 'ask'?" One of them was kind of understanding that there was a "kill" message against Google, but she clearly knew nothing about cryptography. Her colleague had that "we're Microsoft, we're badass!" look on his face and seemed more focused on where the drinks were going to be happening that evening.
I finish up with calls to my customer in San Francisco, to get up to date on this month's planned project activities, and with a call to the boss, who is arranging my travel to DC later in the month. Things are all wrapped up by 6:45 PM.
On to Minute Maid Park, home of the Astro's. Or, as my late Uncle John loved to call them back in the day, the "Disastro's." There's this U-shaped redevelopment that comprises Minute Maid Park and the Hilton Americas hotel on opposite sides, and the Walter G. Brown Convention Center in the middle. It's a great start at some urban redevelopment. It's also clearly still a work in progress. There is a dirt lot across the street from the entrance to the park, and what are these historic-looking buildings doing here?
This evening is the big "partner celebration," featuring Fitz and the Tantrums along with Lenny Kravitz. The whole thing reminds me of the big Nortel bash held at the end of every International SL-1 (later Meridian 1) User Association meeting.
At any rate, I'm having a good time walking around the park. It's kind of like AT&T Park except it's indoors, which makes the field look smaller than it is. And they have that funny uphill section of the outfield in straightaway center field, which always looked like an accident waiting to happen for center fielders. They're serving beer and wine, no hard liquor; probably a good call. Some of the attendees have taken the time to change into their party outfits. I cruise around looking for something that will stand for dinner. Eventually, I settle on an Italian sausage with peppers. I'm hearing the pre-band music and realize many of the songs are from my morning BodyPump workouts. I think God is trying to tell me something.
Pop quiz: which of these items can be found in Minute Maid Park?
- Mechanical bull
- Giant cowboy cutout picture
- Giant cowboy boots
- Bar tables made from wagon wheels
- Halliburton sponsor sign
Answer: all of the above of course!
I stay for Fitz et al, but decide I've had enough before Lenny Kravitz starts to play. As I leave the park, I pass by a Catholic church. The plaque on the church says that, "In keeping with the penitential rites, there was no heating until 1914, and no air conditioning until the 1930s." My kind of Catholics!
Almost done. I'm going to miss you, foggy glasses.
The big news at the conference actually comes from afar: Microsoft just announced a reorganization. And so starts the speculation about who won, who lost, was it the right thing to do, can it be accomplished and so on. More navel-gazing.
I'm in my first session of the day, one of the "how to work with Microsoft" sessions I had signed up for. I actually hear the presenter say the following with no trace of irony, and no objections from the crowd: "The PTU mission is to be ATU accountable and STU aligned"… huh?
I manage to catch up with one of the partners I missed earlier in the week. They're a software developer from Bulgaria. The CEO is focused in his discussion, his partner looks like she's done for the week. We conclude that there's no immediate chance to work together, but we'll stay in touch nonetheless.
One final session on go-to-market in Europe. I'm here as much as anything because I love to hear the European accents. After the session, and some catching up on work and personal mail, I retrieve my bag and go find an actual BBQ restaurant in Houston: Tony's BBQ and Steakhouse. It's a bit of a dive, the way I like. You order cafeteria style and there aren't a lot of healthy sides to choose from. I'd love to finish my lunch with a Shiner Bock, but apparently they can't serve beer at lunch time.
I walk back to the convention center and cool off while I wait for my bus and head to the airport. It's been a good week. But, as with all conventions, by the end of it I'm ready to get home. I've connected with a lot of good people, learned some new Microsoft acronyms, bought a Surface tablet on sale (without having to wait in line for hours), had some good BBQ and learned a little bit about Houston. Not bad for a week on the road.
One of our largest customers, a group of agricultural research centers, held the annual meeting of their IT Managers in early May, in Washington, DC. I was invited to attend so that I could provide an update on a pilot Active Directory project we were conducting, and to give a talk on Microsoft's direction with respect to cloud computing. Naturally, this meant an opportunity for another "Product Managers on the Road" edition!
Travel Day. Flight leaves at 6 AM... yeesh. At least I have a car taking me to the airport. Brian's with me, since he came out to make a surprise visit to Sean during Sean's chemotherapy treatment.
After saying goodbye to Brian (he's on a different flight back to DC) I head to the gate. Okay... it's a 737 with only paid amenities. Time to stock up on some nuts and dried fruit for the flight. I send a couple of text messages to Sean to see how he's feeling.
It's a full flight, and naturally everyone is attempting to carry their life's possessions onto the flight. They were taking volunteers to gate-check bags; a great way to check your bags for free.
On the plane. The passenger ahead of me is falling asleep, and keeps snapping her neck as her head drops forward. Reminds me of me at the opera.
Good news: there's a monitor in the seat back. Bad news: I can't turn it off. Welcome to six hours of the same Lincoln car commercial. Or I could pay to watch network TV shows, with commercials. Wait, what?
Dante, who's traveling with me, finds the oldest Peruvian restaurant in DC. I get to experience aji, a kind of all-purpose hot sauce. I stupidly ask Dante if he's ever had Peruvian food, forgetting that Dante is from Peru.
Meeting Day One. At the IT Managers meeting. I learn a new term when one of the IT Managers says he is going to “throw a spanner in the works.”
Many of the IT Managers here are European. Maybe that's why they commented that today's hot meal is "a real lunch" compared with yesterday's cold sandwiches. I also notice a reluctance to eat in the meeting room, even though there are more places to sit there. This is certainly different than a startup! There's also a bit of the "Microsoft as Evil Empire" feeling in the room. How long until Google attains that status?
Good news: the Golden State Warriors' playoff game is on TNT! Bad news: there's no sound. I get to watch the entire game, including two overtimes, on forced mute. Steph Curry's face at the end of the game says, "can we just get this over?"
Meeting Day Two. During one of the smoking breaks (!) I observe the commotion as a group of people are trying to feed/protect a duck they find nesting in the flowers. The contrast in attention paid to the duck vs. the homeless guy panhandlng nearby is perfect.
Dante and I get to leave the meeting early. So I take Dante to see the Capitol Building. We're walking, and when I feel the first couple of raindrops we head for shelter. Good thing--the skies open up for 10 minutes or more. We end up taking a taxi the rest of the way to the Capitol building. Of course, the rain stops as soon as we arrive.
Looking for a cab after out Capitol visit. Thanks to a kind taxi driver, I learn where to stand (and where not to stand) if you're looking for a cab, in the rain, at 5:00 PM.
Evening off. Brian and I had planned to go see the Washington Nationals play, but I already have one experience getting rained on while watching them, so we change plans. We end up getting some great seafood, including, oysters we've never heard of before, at Hank's Oyster Bar in Georgetown. Then it's over to a 60s style bar for a drink. I feel like I'm in some sort of James Bond movie.
Day Three. Visiting another customer, have some time before my appointment. The weather's cleared up a bit, so I take a stroll near the White House and then back to where I had been staying. I decide I'd better eat now, since I may use up all my lunch time walking back to my hotel. I grab a hot dog and find a bench to sit and eat.
I can only imagine the advice McKinsey gave this vendor: "diversify!"
Now back to the hotel, to check out and go to my next appointment.
A great meeting with my customer, now on to the airport and back home... As Brian had told me, Thursday afternoon is the worst time to fly out of Dulles; all the Congress-people are headed back home for the weekend. So everything takes longer, and my plan to change into casual clothes before the flight is for naught. I have just enough time to get to the gate and hand them my ticket. And who do I run into (almost literally) at the gate? Jackie Speier. Brian interned for Jackie when he first went to Washington, so it was great to catch up with her and let her know what Brian is doing these days.
Late-night arrival in SFO. Fortunately, I have a car taking me home so I can doze off. Great trip, great fun with Brian and co, great customer interactions!
Did you see the recent news? Adobe has announced that the latest version of its hugely popular Creative Suite software will be the last one available as installed software. From now on, Creative Suite will only be available as a SaaS (Software as a Service) offering.
This is big news, really big news. I’ve been party to a number of discussions over the years that centered on how to move forward with the “next generation” product or service without killing the “current generation” service. There was always a lot of hand-wringing, a certain amount of denial, and a lack of certainty about how to achieve two goals at once: make the new service a big success while keeping the current service around. This is the essence of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, which I’ve written about in the past.
I recall in reading a history of Mexico that Cortes, upon landing with his troops, ordered his ships burned. (This was apparently not an unusual act for the time.) His reasoning was that if the troops knew there was no possibility of escape, no way to turn back when things got tough, that they would have more motivation to fight when needed. If you narrow the options down to “find a way to survive” and “die” it makes the decision easier.
That’s what I thought about when I read the news about Adobe. In essence they are saying, “We are going to make this work, or die trying.” You have to admire the commitment needed to make that statement. I hope they succeed. They’ve already taken the hardest step.
I read yesterday that Oracle blamed its latest quarterly earnings miss on a "lack of urgency" by the sales force.
Anytime you blame the sales force for missing revenue or earnings targets it's usually a bad sign. But in this case, Oracle's CFO may be right… although not in the way she meant.
Oracle's cloud-based revenues, which it had forecast to increase by three percent year on year, instead fell by two percent. Oops. To be fair, Oracle was affected more by its declining hardware sales, but it was the cloud-based revenue performance that caught my attention. I recently attended some Microsoft Office 365 partner events and I got to hear from partners struggling to adapt to a subscription revenue model. That experience made me think of one explanation for Oracle's situation.
What I heard from partners at these Office 365 events was that they were accustomed to making a good deal of the revenues in any deal from the sale of software licenses. Now, with the subscription model (and given the current structure where Microsoft has a direct billing relationship with the customer), these partners are seeing a big chunk of up-front revenue disappear, to be replaced by much smaller commission payments, spread out over time. It was clear to me that these partners recognized that their business model had to change to adapt to market acceptance of cloud-based services. But they were trying to understand how they would replace the revenue they were losing from up-front software license sales.
So how does this apply to Oracle?
First, understand that sales people are not stupid. And the best ones would never be characterized as having a "lack of urgency". So what gives? It may be a simple matter of economics.
You're an Oracle sales rep. Which would you rather sell to your customer?
- $50,000 worth of software, where the customer pays up front
- A three-year subscription for a service for 100 users, at $20 per user per month
In the first scenario, you make $50,000 towards your revenue goal for the quarter. And (depending on your commission rate) you make a nice sum over your base salary. In the second scenario, your up-front commission is much lower and (depending on how compensation is set up for selling cloud-based services) your contribution to quarterly revenue goals might be much lower. There's a saying that "salespeople are coin-operated," which I always took to mean that they well understand their marginal revenues and costs and act accordingly.
So it wouldn't be a surprise to find that Oracle reps are favoring on-premise vs. cloud-based applications in their selling efforts. This just illustrates Clayton Christensen's thesis in The Innovator's Dilemma, that it can be very hard to make the shift from one disruptive technology to the next one. Oracle no doubt understands that it has to change its business model. Understanding what's needed and executing, however, are two different things.
So maybe Oracle's sales reps don't lack a sense of urgency. Maybe they just understand math.
Have you heard of Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey? You should check him out.
I "met" Cory online after the last Stanford bowl game. The Stanford kicker shanked a couple of field goal attempts that would have otherwise won the game for Stanford, and what followed was an outpouring of "hang in there, kid" responses via various social media. Cory, a former Stanford football player, was one of the respondents. We traded a few comments after that, and at one point I said something like, "It's not about what you did at Stanford, it's about what you've done since Stanford." Ever since, we've been connected at the Twitter hip.
So Cory's something of a Twitter personality (what's the Twitterverse word for that?). He's also received some press as a kind of up-and-coming Obama protégé. Maybe; I don't really know about that stuff. What fascinates me, though, is the way that Cory uses Twitter to connect with his constituents and maintain a human "face" for Newark government. With the unfortunate devastation of New Jersey by Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Superstorm/it-was-big-as-hell/ Sandy, Cory's been amazing to observe. Here's a clip from a recent Twitter stream.
What do you see here?
- Cory is repeatedly delivering the message, "we're doing all we can for you." I've often had to explain to support engineers that it's not enough to work on the problem, you have to let people know that you're working on it. And so all these municipal departments, which are working their butts off to restore power and the like, could be excused if they said, "we don't have time to acknowledge you, we're trying to fix things!" But Cory takes the time. He doesn't over-promise or blame others. He just repeats his message: "we're working on it."
- Cory's telling you what he (and the rest of the city's employees) is/are doing. He's not bragging. He's not creating the Twitter equivalent of a photo-opp. He's just stating the facts: we have to get power to these seniors or we'll have to move them.
- Cory answers every tweet, and treats every tweeter with respect. Someone says he's favoring one part of the city over another? He respectfully disagrees. Someone mockingly says he needs food because he's running out of hot pockets to eat? Cory suggests he's big enough to solve that problem himself. Someone needs encouragement? Cory offers it. Someone asks why Cory's house has power when theirs (down the street) doesn't? Cory offers his home. And he seems to mean it.
- Cory seems to create his own tweets. Follow a few CEO's or other people in positions of authority, and you can quickly figure out who has handed the Twitter account over to some communications director. Maybe Cory has as well, but it sure doesn't sound like it.
I'm not sure why Cory first decided to use Twitter, but whatever the reason I can tell you that it's done a lot to build his brand. What is your perception of Cory in reading through these tweets?
- He's someone who cares about me.
- He's responsive to my needs.
- He's working hard to marshal the resources needed to resolve this emergency.
Regardless of your politics, isn't that the kind of person you'd like to have representing you?
What This Means for Managers
One aspect of leadership is being—and being seen as—out in front; of the market, the technology, the problem, etc. And Twitter certainly helps communicate that position. Billy Crystal once said, "a writer writes, always." I've adapted that saying as "as a leader leads, always."
But there is a danger here, especially if you're a manager responsible for a large organization. The danger is that this kind of transparency and over-communication can make you look like a superhero, as though you're personally responsible for the actions of your entire organization.
Setting yourself up as the face of your organization is great. But you want to make sure you're not seen as being the entire organization. The people in your organization may feel that you're enhancing your brand at their expense. They may feel like they're redundant or disempowered to take action. At its extreme, being perceived as the one (and only) person in your organization that can get stuff done can cause the rest of your team to sink into a passive "I just do what I'm told" attitude—not what you want from them.
So the key is to find the right balance: get out front and lead when appropriate, and step back and let others take the lead when that feels like the right thing to do.
Cory's a bright guy, and I'm sure he understands this. We can learn a lot by observing the way he's embraced Twitter and social media. We can also learn by watching him walk that line between speaking for City of Newark employees and allowing them do get credit for the work they do. Have a look at what Cory is doing with Twitter and ask yourself: "how could I apply this to communicating with my employees? partners? customers?