Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Peer Power Blog has Moved

Arlin Sorensen's Peer Power Blog can now be found on the HTG Peer Groups website. The new address is http://www.htgpeergroups.com/blog.html

All previous posts can be found there, and new posts will be published there as well.

Be sure to resubscribe! Click here to subscribe to the new RSS feed and stay up to date with Arlin.

You can also click here to sign up for email notifications whenever a new blog entry is posted.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

10 Key Area's of Attention For Your Business

This week I was blessed to be in Charlotte on a SWOT team with Jonathan Warrey and Tom Polk. We came to town at the request of The Network Essentials team – led by Kyle Elworthy and Nathan Sanders. We discovered a number of the normal issues – communication, service delivery consistency, sales and sales management, employee benefits and on the list goes. Here are some ideas that have come out of the last few SWOT’s that may fit your situation. Thanks to the SWOT teams for their insight (and particularly Jonathan Warrey for putting some of this on paper). We didn’t see all these this week – but over the past months I certainly have (some by looking at my own company) and these seem to be key areas that need owner attention.

1. Consistent company communication from owners to employees about what the vision of the company is and how it is doing financially. Employees are too often in the dark and wondering about the future. You have to be open book enough to help them be comfortable with your direction and the sustainability of their job.

2. Set and communicate goals—set a realistic goal, make it public, measure results against it, and communicate it consistently. Too often employees are unsure what the targets are and how they are doing at achieving them. People want to know they are doing a good job – that can’t happen if they are unsure of the goal and the status.

3. Explain why growth is important—often employees don’t see the need for it. Growth matters because fixed costs keep rising and growth creates further opportunities for good people in your company. If they don’t have opportunities for growth, many good people leave. Are you creating a culture where people feel like they have a career, or just a job.

4. Define and lead culture. This is definitely more caught than taught. Each company has its own culture – but far too often it isn’t really planned – it is just allowed to happen and then the owners look back and wonder what happened. Accidental culture never turns out the way you desire.

5. Create clear roles and expectations and confirm results—from service performance and efficiency results, to sales performance in various categories, to customer satisfaction metrics—how are you doing. Do each of your people know where to go when they don’t have an answer? Clarity in job definition is critical for satisfied team members.

6. Make sure everyone understands the mission of the company as well as the vision and company values. There should be no question about where you are heading and how people are expected to act along the journey. These things give us the boundaries that we will operate within. Without a clear definition – people will wander aimlessly unsure how to act. Throw in your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) as well – so they know you have a big picture around the future.

7. Create Raving Clients. Client satisfaction should be at 95% or higher so you can build referrals to grow your business and maintain a strong client set to continue to work with. Referrals are still an important way to grow our companies. Too often we don’t want to go the extra step to make our clients raving fans. We are content to be “good enough”. It is the little things that make the difference – and a sincere thank you goes a long way.

8. Deliver what you promise. If you say you are going to perform something (i.e. periodic business or account reviews, preventative maintenance checks, etc.) you better deliver on it. Too often you commit to monthly reports, quarterly visits, and annual planning meetings and delivered on about 10% of those commitments. You need to make sure that you are delivering on our commitments. You owe clients the value they are paying for. Period.

9. Remember that compensation modifies behavior, but not personalities. People work on things that maximize their compensation, but it won’t drive people to do things that requires a change in their personality. You spend hours working on compensation plans that target higher compensation for important company initiatives. You certainly don’t always get it right. It’s a reason compensation plans change every year with at least some tweaks. It’s because the market keeps shifting and so do costs to deliver your products and services. You need to spend time understanding personalities as well as managing behavior with compensation. It takes work to understand the different personalities and how they interact and are motivated. Getting those two right at the same time really makes things click!

10. Change is a constant. Some companies have cultivated a culture that is open to change – while some certainly have not. This week in Asheville I ran across these words:

  • Life is change
  • Growth is optional
  • Choose wisely

What is your tolerance toward change? Change is led, not taught. It is not preached into existence – it is caught. Are you a change leader in your company?

So there you have it – ten areas that each of us need to take a look at and consider. If you are normal – five of these are direct hits – a couple more are too close for comfort – and the other three are in need of some work. Unless you are a very unusual small business – these are key areas that need your attention. The upcoming HTG Summit will address many of these areas. There also will be other business owners among the attendees who have these things nailed. You don’t have to go it alone. Get with others – listen and learn – and then get after making some changes. Vision without execution is only hallucination!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Importance of Legacy

Warren Buffet is a very successful business person. While I can’t say I always agree with his politics or policy leanings – you can’t argue with his wisdom. This year in his letter to stockholders he makes some important comments that we all should take as a cue for what to do. Check out page 26 of the PDF and read his two-page Memo to all Berkshire Managers. In this biennial memo, he reemphasizes his number 1 priority and asks for letters outlining who each manager has chosen to replace themselves if something happens to them. Here is the excerpt:

“I need your help in respect to the question of succession. I’m not looking for any of you to retire and I hope you all live to 100. (In Charlie’s case, 110.) But just in case you don’t, please send me a letter (at home if you wish) giving your recommendation as who should take over tomorrow if you should become incapacitated overnight. These letters will be seen by no one but me unless I’m no longer CEO, in which case my successor will need the information. Please summarize the strengths and weaknesses of your primary candidate as well as any possible alternates you may wish to include. Most of you have participated in this exercise in the past and others have offered your ideas verbally. However, it’s important to me to get a periodic update, and now that we have added so many businesses, I need to have your thoughts in writing rather than trying to carry them around in my memory. Of course, there are a few operations that are run by two or more of you – such as the Blumkins, the Merschmans, the pair at Applied Underwriters, etc. – and in these cases, just forget about this item. Your note can be short, informal, handwritten, etc. Just mark it “Personal for Warren.””

So what is the lesson? If Warren Buffet is concerned about succession planning – my advice is that we sure better be too. It is a key part of legacy planning. It is a key part of business continuity planning. It is central to planning in general. So many of us believe we are invincible. It will never happen to us. But it does, and I guarantee it will, so now is the time to put plans in place – on paper just like Warren says – so there is clarity about how things should proceed without you. That is legacy – what happens after you are no longer in the picture. Have you made those decisions? If so, have you written it down and actually shared it with anyone, particularly the one who is listed? Amazingly people will put guardians in their will to take care of their kids if something happens without ever telling the people they are listed. Now that would be a very rude awakening. But the same would be true for your business. You need a plan – you need it now – it is time to take this step.

I can’t encourage you enough to create your legacy plan today. It is one thing you can’t do after the fact. If you don’t do it – someone will do it for you. My suggestion is that a decision this important is something that you want to handle. Don’t leave it to chance or be late to the party.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Power of the HTG SWOT

I was blessed last week to spend a few days with Michael Cocanower and the team at itSynergy. We were invited to come in as part of the HTG SWOT process and take a look under the covers and give some ideas to the team on ways to break through the barrier they are facing – revenue around the $1M level. I see this happening quite often as companies grow – it seems to be the step that happens when a company has leveraged all their personal relationships and client referrals and are up against the need to build a true sales organization. It is so frustrating and Michael was no different than many IT owners – he is ready to break through this challenge and move on to the next level. There are numerous ceilings that we need to break through along the path of growth – which is why being involved in a peer group with others who have been there before can be so helpful.

We met with the team as a group and individually. MSPtv was on hand to video our interaction, and will be creating the second TV show in our series of SWOT makeovers in the near future. You can catch it on MSPtv in the next month or so. We discovered exactly what Michael was experiencing – he had self-diagnosed a major part of the barrier. The team at itSynergy is technically talented, and while they have been working to build a sales organization – they haven’t cracked the code on that one quite yet. So HTG team members Steve Riat and Lyf Wildenberg (who accompanied me on this SWOT) were busy creating a plan to help drive sales to the next level.

Michael’s approach has been to focus one of his sales guys on the medical vertical, and have the second doing general SMB sales. But the culture at itSynergy was very much technically driven and controlled. It is the way many IT companies operate today – they come from a technical perspective and the sales culture is controlled by and actually stymied by that approach. You can’t build a culture of sales excellence if everything is created by and driven by technology. Sales is about people and finding pain and solving that. Technology is a tool for sales people to use – but it is not the first response – and it can’t control how clients are served. That is where many companies fail. They allow the technical side of their business to have a strangle hold on what happens in the sales process.

Where does that show up? Consider who determines what solutions you will take to market. My bet is that it is the engineering team – not the sales folks who actually are listening to customers. Why should a sales motion be controlled by what engineers want to sell or support? That is backward to the way a true sales culture operates. Sales determines the need and finds solutions to address those needs that can be sold to the customer. Of course the engineering team needs to evaluate things to be sure they actually work and will solve the issue. But most companies never consider how solutions get created, or supported, or tested, or priced, or marketed – from a sales perspective. It always has engineering overtones. That is how most companies think.

If you want to succeed in building a sales culture – you have to change the approach. You have to come at things from a sales perspective first – not as an afterthought. You should never be asking the question “can we sell this”. If you approach it with a sales mentality – you are creating an environment that allows your team to succeed. The transition is easier to talk about than to do. Habits are difficult to break – and engineering has been king a very long time in most organizations. But in the new world – that has to change and reverse completely. It isn’t going to be about what you can implement or fix – it will be about what you can sell.

In the case at itSynergy, we recommended some pretty basic things:
1. Train the team in effective sales
2. Create an effective sales management program

Basically there is a need to create a sales organization driven by a sales culture. This is true for 80% plus percent of HTG member companies. It is our Achilles heel. It has been an aggravating problem to this point since most of us have been able to stay successful serving our current clients and growing slightly using relationship based selling. In the new world – the cloud world – that is not going to be enough. We are moving quickly to a much more transactional based sales motion – we have to be able to find and add new clients. We have to be able to grow our client base and sell new products to new people. It is a very different landscape than we are used to farming. Basically we need to learn to hunt. That is uncomfortable and challenging. But it is essential for our long term survival. Are you in process of transitioning your company? If not, now is the time to get started down that path.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Two Big Opportunities for Microsoft Partners

In the next few weeks there are two very important opportunities for Microsoft partners to participate with key executives in Redmond and get first hand information about the direction and strategy of the company. I encourage you to make this investment of time and join one or both of these events. It is not often that we can interact directly in this manner - so don't let it pass without your attention. Far too often partners complain they have no part in the discussion, or are not informed of what is happening. You can't use either excuse if you don't get involved and participate.

Microsoft Partner Network Interactive Leadership Forum

March 10, 2011 - 7:00-8:30 am Pacific Time

Presented By: Eric Ligman - Microsoft Director of Partner Experience

Jon Roskill - Corporate Vice-President, Worldwide Partner Group

Julie Bennani - General Manager, Microsoft Partner Network

Ross Brown - Vice-President, Worldwide Partner Sales

Karl Noakes - General Manager, Microsoft Partner Strategy & Programs

Join the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group leadership team for an interactive partner forum webcast on the Microsoft Partner Network. During this session, we will be discussing topics, questions, concerns, misconceptions and more that we have heard from partners around the world regarding the Microsoft Partner Network to help address and answer these for you, the Microsoft partners. This session will also include an open forum Q&A session where you will be able to ask questions of the leadership team regarding the Microsoft Partner Network.
This session will be moderated by Eric Ligman.

A sample of some topics included:
• Small business focused partners in Microsoft Partner Network
• Which is right for you: Action Pack, silver competency, or gold competency?
• Microsoft Partner Network and market awareness
• Revenue requirements in Microsoft Partner Network
• Partners, cloud, and Microsoft Partner Network
• And more…

Register for the event here.

Join the Conference at this attendee URL:
• Toll-Free (Within US & Canada): (877) 505-6621
• Audio Pin: 7912

Session #2 - Meet the US Partner Team for HTG members only

We heard your feedback and wanted to introduce you to a few people at Microsoft who live and think about Microsoft partners each and every day.

Why? Because our relationship with our partners matters. We know that we can’t meet all of you individually, so we’re going to put technology to work and invite you to join us on a Meet the US Partner team held via Live Meeting on Monday, 4/4 from 2:00 -3:00 pm cst. We want you to know that we value the relationship we have with our partners and want to make sure you know who to contact and when. Some of the team members who are eager to meet you include:

• To Partner Communications Lead – Diane Golshan
• Microsoft Partner Network Lead – Sharon Collins
• Compete Lead – Alistair Cloke
• Incentives and Solutions Incentive Program (SIP) Lead – Hany Adeeb
• Partner Capacity Lead – Michael Pearson

And a few more of our key partner leads who care about the success of our partners.

Check with your Microsoft HTG Champ or watch the newsletter or portal for the live meeting logon information. I would be glad to send you the invite as well if you drop me an email.

Two great opportunities to connect with the people who make things happen at the largest vendor for most of us. Don't let this slip between your fingers! See you on the calls!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Great Opportunity to Expand Your Options to SMB Customers

I don’t normally write about specific technology products, but last week Microsoft released to manufacturing a great new product called Windows MultiPoint Server 2011. This product has been revved from the previous version and I think has a great application for those of us serving small businesses. The previous version was only designed for education users – but this version – while still designed with education in mind – has a significant play for us in SMB.

With Windows MultiPoint Server 2011, the licensing and purchase model has been simplified. There are still two versions as before, with similar restrictions:

• Windows MultiPoint 2011 Standard – still cannot join a domain and still has a max of 10 work stations
• Windows MultiPoint 2011 Premium – CAN join a domain as before and can have up to 20 workstations

The most important piece of information to note in the SMB space, is that BOTH of these MultiPoint editions are offered in multiple Microsoft licensing channels. So now you don’t have to be a large school to actually purchase the more useful edition of MultiPoint. And that is where our opportunity comes in.

Imagine going to your small business customer with this solution. You walk in the door and are told they don’t have any money to upgrade their network. Their equipment is 5-7 years old and you have been holding things together with baling wire for the last couple years. They have a dozen XP workstations and a server that has run out of space so it is eating you alive on your managed service program as you have to clean files weekly just to keep it up and running.

The way that conversation normally goes is trying to coax enough funds out of them to replace the server and maybe a critical workstation or two. With Windows MultiPoint 2011 Premium – we now have some real options to help these businesses refresh in a less expensive but very impactful way. We still need to get a new server to do the work – but rather than also have the battle over replacing workstations – we can extend their life with MultiPoint. They become end terminals that don’t need to be upgraded from XP to Win 7. That happens as a MultiPoint client.

But wait, there’s more. The 2011 version of Windows MultiPoint Server has support for thin clients. Here is where I think the big win for Small Business can occur. If you have 12 XP workstations, you can simply obtain 1 copy of MultiPoint Premium and now each of those XP workstations have another 5 years of life but yet, they get a full Windows 7 experience when used as a MultiPoint workstation over the network. And when they finally begin to die – you can replace them with thin client devices rather than buying a new PC. It all runs over the current Ethernet network you have in place. And the real deal – it runs in a virtual session on a Windows server too.

We have been testing Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 in one of our education clients for the past few months. Our engineer has four virtual servers running WMS 2011 and serving thin clients and older desktops and notebooks alike. It has great management features for the teacher or business owner – the ability to shadow users – block activity – really keep track of productivity on the network.

It is essentially a turnkey TS server on steroids. Just show the business owner the console where you can get a thumbnail of each individual workstation. Business owners will love that they can now watch their employees desktops for use of Facebook or selling something on EBay, or other non-productive time wasting tasks on work time.

You owe it to your customers to take a serious look at Windows MultiPoint Server 2011. Combined with the new SBS product line – this will be a killer opportunity for us in the SMB space to refresh our clients to a level of productivity where they can use all the current technology without having to battle with them to buy all new hardware. It is a win for all of us in the mix. Check it out, and let me know what creative ways you come up with to deliver this technology to the marketplace!

Here are some resources for those of you interested in more:

1. The main website just went live today with WMS 2011 content. http://www.microsoft.com/multipoint
2. WMS 2011 Premium Eval is on the download center. This is a 180 day eval. It can convert to full product by entering a key. http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?FamilyID=3188a587-3542-4dda-99b3-551cdabe581f
3. WMS 2011 Premium full product is also on technet for technet subscribers. https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/securedownloads/default.aspx?PV=42%3a433%3a---%3aen%3ax64
4. And it’s also on MSDN for MSDN subscribers. https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/securedownloads/default.aspx?PV=42:433:---:en:x64

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Bit More On Sales

One of the benefits of being part of HTG is the unbelievable resources that exist in our membership. I certainly don't claim to be an expert on every aspect of running an IT company today. There have been plenty of learnings over the years which I try and share continually, but when it comes to expertise - there are some folks in almost every area that are way ahead of me.

I got an expanded view of sales from one of the guys I respect immensely as a sales expert - Jonathan Warrey who is Regional Sales Director at HTG member Marco and runs a large sales team and drives millions of dollars of business each year. Jonathan is always ready to help out with sales information - many of you were part of his session at our last HTG Summit along with Steve Riat on sales management.

He shared these words in response to my last blog post on sales. Rather than interpret them for you - I am just going to share what he wrote as it nails the whole sales culture far better than I can describe it. He responded to my paragraph that said:

“Once the owner gets his attitude right there is at least a fighting chance to begin doing some of the right things that will lead to sales success. It is not just hiring a sales person. That will not do it. You don't have to look far to see the past performance of most VAR's littered with sales people they hired and fired because they didn't meet expectations. That is the place to start - realistic expectations. Since you have no clue what to expect - you obviously should not be setting them. Find someone who has a clue to help you create a sales plan and methodology so the sales person has some hope of success. Most VAR's hire and set them up to fail - no support - no direction - no tools - no nothing - just a wish of good luck and a threat that "I'll be watching the KPI's". Here is a news flash. Most sales people can't spell KPI and could care less. They have only one that matters - that is the number of dollars in their paycheck.”

Here comes Jonathan's brilliance - read it and ponder it carefully:
"The one difference I see in your last statement and what we experience at Marco is that there is something that transcends the pursuit of a paycheck. And that’s the pursuit of sales achievement and sales excellence. I truly believe that creating and fostering an environment of sales achievement is even more important that creating an environment that celebrates a sales rep earning a lot of money. Then when you wrap it around client satisfaction and retention results to show how our best reps also have happy customers, it becomes really powerful. Yes, those reps earn the most money as well, but it’s the pursuit of sales excellence that drives them the most. We continue to change what has the most sales impact within our company. You’ve probably seen that managed services has become a bigger deal within our company. In fact, our reps don’t get 15% of their paycheck (through a commission hold back) if they don’t achieve their managed services annual revenue goal. The pay is a big deal, but the fact that they would miss the sales incentive trip if they don’t hit their managed services target is a bigger deal to most of our reps."

Did you catch that? Not only do we need to build a sales organization - we need to build a sales culture that applauds achievement and excellence. That is the foundation of a really great sales organization. When you have a sales team that is focused on excelling, serving their clients and retaining them - you have a winning combination. The Marco folks have proven that over the years as the largest member in HTG several times over. They understand that the culture of their organization is critical to building long term success. Having had the priviledge of spending time in their office - they do things right all day every day. Have you built a sales culture that drives excellence and achievement? The rest takes care of itself if we get that culture part right!

PS - if you try and get hold of Jonathan this week - he is off to sunny Mexico with his bride and 30 other Marco couples to enjoy the sales team incentive trip. While it’s not as encompassing as a whole company retreat, it builds incredible camaraderie amongst the troops. It can be done my friends. I won't say it is easy - but it is possible!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Disconnect With Sales

As I participated in the HTG vendor peer group this week - a lightbulb went on as to a major reason there is such a disconnect between VAR's and Solution Providers and their vendors. It has to do with a four letter word - SALES. The agenda for this quarter's meeting focused heavily on sales and marketing efforts that key HTG vendors are making significant investments into - and trying to figure out ways to get a better ROI on those efforts.

At first glance it seems so easy. Vendors build programs and resources. Partners should take those and use them to drive sales. Everyone wins. That is the end game for both groups - partners and vendors - we all want the same thing - to sell more stuff to end clients. But somehow there is a disconnect. For some reason the millions of dollars - and in reality it is billions of dollars - that are spent continues to provide lackluster results. Hundreds of millions of dollars go unused and unclaimed. It is actually pathetic.

Why does this happen? I am convinced there is a short circuit in the brains of many VAR's when it comes to sales. Most owners grew up on the technical side of the business. That word does not compute. Those who have a sales background did most of their selling through personal relationship and the reality of a sales organization still doesn't compute. In other words - we are very sales illiterate.

That doesn't mean it can't change. It has to. If it doesn't many of us will be looking for a new job. The market is changing as the wave moves us to cloud computing. That is a sales dominated transaction oriented marketplace. It doesn't matter that you can fix any technical issue under the sun - often before it is even invented. It doesn't matter how many letters there are after your name and what certifications you can post on your website. If you can't sell you will be toast. So it is time we figure this out my friends. And I am preaching to myself on this one too.

The major hurdle it seems to me is owner attitude. Many just don't want to deal with sales and particularly sales people. I hear words like 'they're wierd' or 'they think differently'. Duh! That is the whole point. The reason we as technical owners can't sell our way out of a paper bag is that we think like technicians and engineers. Sales oriented folks succeed BECAUSE they think different. That is not a curse - it is a blessing. It has to be and we need to get over the differences and embrace them. I struggled with this for many years but it can happen. Find a 12 step program to recover from hating sales and sales people - you have to do a 180 on that attitude.

Once the owner gets his attitude right there is at least a fighting chance to begin doing some of the right things that will lead to sales success. It is not just hiring a sales person. That will not do it. You don't have to look far to see the past performance of most VAR's littered with sales people they hired and fired because they didn't meet expectations. That is the place to start - realistic expectations. Since you have no clue what to expect - you obviously should not be setting them. Find someone who has a clue to help you create a sales plan and methodology so the sales person has some hope of success. Most VAR's hire and set them up to fail - no support - no direction - no tools - no nothing - just a wish of good luck and a threat that "I'll be watching the KPI's". Here is a news flash. Most sales people can't spell KPI and could care less. They have only one that matters - that is the number of dollars in their paycheck.

Yes that is very different than the way you think. But it is reality. Get over it. And get over the fact that a really good sales person will make more money than you. In fact, don't just get over it, root for it. When they do that you are making more money than ever before if you have your compensation plan right. If you don't - they could take you to the poor farm - so another reason to find someone who has been there and done it before to help you. There is help available. HTG has worked with TruMethods, Kendra Lee, Service Leadership, and a number of our own HTG members to bring you great content on how to really build a sales organization. If you were sleeping - time to wake up and reach out for help. It is available.

So back to my opening discussion. Our vendor partners are trying hard to help us learn to become sales organizations. They are investing tons of money and people resources to help us. But if we don't get our attitudes right - and embrace that transition - it is all for naught. If we don't join their efforts and leverage their work - we are screwed. I can't put it any more clearly. Get over the temptation to treat your vendor like the enemy. They absolutely are the best ally you have in your camp. And right now - we all need them more than ever. You see - they are not built as technical organizations that don't know how to sell. Those companies went out of business long ago. Our vendors are sales organizations who really know how to sell - and know that without sales they are simply not going to last long at all. We can learn an aweful lot from them if we just pay attention and work closely. They really do know what they are doing. That is how they become multi billion or multi million dollar orgs. It isn't because they can turn a screwdriver. It is because they understand how to sell and market and succeed. We have to get there if we want to remain relevant in the years ahead.

There are some great programs in the channel today that most of us fail to use. Free money and resources to help us grow our companies - but we are too busy doing things that don't matter to do those that do. Make time to sit down with your top five vendors and find out how you can leverage every program, resource, MDF dollar and plan they have to offer. If you do that - and pay attention - and make it a priority to leverage those things - you will be far ahead from where you are today. If you don't - might want to get your resume up to date - you'll probably need it sooner than later. Make it your goal to transition towards becoming a sales and marketing organization in 2011. Your future depends on it.

This Wednesday at 2 PM EST I will be joining Gary Pica, CEO of TruMethods, to discuss this topic and others that are critical to success in 2011 and beyond. If you aren't registered yet you can get the registration link on the HTG portal. It really matters that we tackle this head on. I hope you will join me for the discussion!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Value of a Company Retreat

This past weekend HTS celebrated our 2010 successes with our annual company retreat. We met in Lenexa Kansas, a suberb in the SW KC area, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel with our entire staff. That has been our habit since the mid 90's - to gather the troops and celebrate the past year and prepare for the next one. The venue was very good and excitement was high as we gathered to get acquainted with new team members and review things.

Friday afternoon the teams were in training. Our engineering and sales teams learning about Mitel, SonicWALL and Microsoft. Our dispatchers spent time working on processes to improve service delivery. Our admin team was together working on things from their perspective. How much do you invest in training your people? Hosting a multiday retreat for a staff of 80 plus is not inexpensive - in fact it is really quite a cost - but you can't look at it as an expense but rather an investment. So often owners are short sighted in how they approach their people - the biggest cost on the P&L - but the biggest resource the company has to succeed too. And that is what we have to focus on - equipping our resources with more knowledge and skill so they are able to continue to grow and excel even more in the years ahead.

That is particularly true of leadership teams. Often companies will spend money for sales or technical certifications. After all, they are required to keep vendors happy and to remain authorized to sell their products or qualify for their programs. But how many companies are investing more in their leadership team? This group of people has the largest impact on the direction and success of a company and yet often has little or no investment in getting better. We don't spend money on the leadership - somehow they are supposed to figure it out by osmosis. It doesn't really work that way I am afraid. We need to continue to sharpen our skills as leaders and invest in ourselves as a leadership team. Without that we become stagnant and come to a point where we are no longer equipped to continue leading the charge.

Friday night we did two things - we had fun and mixed and mingled and enjoyed getting connected with each other. There were a number of our team that I had never met face to face before. Hard to imagine isn't it - but long gone are the days where I am involved in every interview and hiring decision. This is the one time we try and connect all the dots for everyone from our 7 locations. Unfortunately the ice in Oklahoma prevented that team from attending, but most all the others were with us. People are able to work more closely and effectively when they can put a face to a name. They can relate better and feel more confident when they have shaken the hand of their teammate. It just makes for better working conditions even with all the across the wire collaboration tools we have today. There is nothing quite like a face to face connection!

The other part of our Friday night event was our annual awards presentation. Each year we honor a number of our team for their exceptional work during the past twelve months. We realize that it is the team that makes a successful company - not just the leadership. We recognize the top sales and service producers and rookies of the year. We hand out go-giver awards to those who embody our company vision and mission and reach out to help others. We honor those who are leading the way in driving our business, and those who embrace the spirit of HTS. It is a fun time of recognizing those who go above and beyond to make it happen every day. Team is what makes HTS successful and we want to make sure those who really help us succeed are given their just rewards.

Saturday we did a review of the past year - not spending a lot of time dwelling on the past - but looking at areas we can improve in. While it is important to learn what we can from past performance - we can't drive effectively by looking in the rear view mirror. Far too many leaders spend all their time dissecting the past and far too little planning for and executing for the future. So we spent much more time looking at the plans for 2011 than our performance in 2010. We also broke the group into smaller groups to talk about our personality traits and how we can work better together with those who might think a bit differently or be wired in a different way.

We closed the day with some motivational comments from our President - Connie Arentson - and then I did a Q&A session for the team answering the proverbial question of when our next M&A will occur. I shared my perspective on the market, on China and other big picture items and focused the team on our big rock for 2011 - getting our processes and customer experience consistent for every interaction we have.

So was the investment worthwhile? I definitely think it was and the feedback from the team indicates they enjoyed it much as well. We have to take time to celebrate our successes and share our vision for the future if we want to succeed. Our teams don't read our minds. We have to be intentional about how we lead. And by the way - as I shook each employees hand on the way out we gave them their bonus for 2010 which always leaves a smile on their face as they head home. Sharing our success with them is our way of saying thanks for a job well done. We are blessed to have the team we do - and want them to know we really appreciate all the hard work. Have you been intentional in leading and investing in your team? If not, now is the time to start. They will take you to the next level!

Monday, January 31, 2011


This past week HTG hosted our CEO Forum III in sunny Tampa Florida. We had 20 company principals join us for a day and a half of lively discussion about what it means to become a CEO in an SMB IT company today. We are grateful to ConnectWise for hosting our first day, and enabling us to have a discussion around what the role is, and how to create a structure around the CEO in the form of a leadership team. We discussed selection, compensation, evaluation and all things leadership team.

One of our featured sessions involved Arnie Bellini, CEO at ConnectWise, sharing his vision around what role a CEO fulfills. You can catch the presentation on ConnectWise University, but he really simplified it into two key areas (which I believe are right on the money):
  • Strategy/Vision/Dreaming
  • People/Counseling/Leading
When we take a deeper look - one of these areas involves the future and setting direction. A CEO is responsible to provide the general movement a company will take. They are not focused on the details - the how - but they are to provide the where and the why. Strategy does not just happen. It is intentional and takes effort. Arnie challenged the group to make the time to dream and be very clear about where we will lead our company.

The second area is all about the people. We will go nowhere that our people don't go. It is the role of the CEO to lead people down that path. We have to focus on helping them work at the level they are capable which is often more than they believe possible. At times we need to help them play nicely together in the sandbox. But always we have to remember that people are the main job of all we do - at every level. My experience is that every minute invested in meaningful relationships will always be a good investment.

Day two was focused on people and how we interact with each other. Dr Larry Little was with us - author of the book "Make a Difference" (which is available on LuLu.com) - and he led us through great learnings on how we are wired and more importantly how different personalities relate to each other. We learned that each of us are some combination of lion, monkey, camel or turtle - each with unique qualities and characteristics that make us who we are. The magic was not so much in the animal labels as in the communication it enabled. We were able to relate the different personality types to each other and talk freely about things that occur between them. It truly was an eye opening experience for the group.

This year HTG is focused on the fourth pillar in our trek toward excellence as IT companies. We are working on the top of the pyramid - the most challenging area - people. We identified this as a core area of competency we all need to achieve to be able to truly lead best in class organizations. We will be continuing our quest to learn more about leadership, management and people skills this year. Dr Little gave us a great starting point - it is essential we understand what makes people tick - and then learn to manage the interactions that will occur between folks who are not wired quite the same - or maybe are wired too much the same - or maybe are just plain wired. We have a ways to go - so let the journey begin.......

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tale of Two Customer Experiences

In January 2011 we experienced a very different set of experiences regarding our hotel stays in China. We arrived in Shanghai on January 6, 2011 and were taken by taxi to the Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel. We were greeted and checked in for a delightful two days in the city. We were located conveniently close to the Metro for the Science and Technology Museum and found the service and the staff to be very helpful. We stayed at this property using our Marriott Rewards Platinum Premier points.

After two days in Shanghai, we took the train to Hangzhou where we were scheduled to stay 10 days at a different hotel chain. This was a fairly new hotel and we were booked using points through our hotel membership program. Upon arrival at the Hangzhou train station, we secured a taxi to take us to the hotel for check-in. Upon arrival we discovered some major problems with the reservation that was offered under our Platinum membership. The website had indicated the room was capable of up to three people – so the assumption was a room with two queen beds would be available. However there was only an option of a king bed, or two single beds available. We were offered, after some strong displeasure with the finding, to put a rollaway bed into the room for 200 RNB per night. The room was barely large enough to put the bed into and left no room for moving around – it really was an unworkable solution. We also were told that there was no breakfast included with the room, nor access to the executive lounge. Having stayed in dozens of this chain's properties over the past years – this was quite a shock since the website only shows three available room types and all include items we were not offered nor being allowed access to. Our normal experience is to be upgraded to the next level as a club member – not downgraded because we were using points for our stay to a room offer that is not even listed on the hotel website. (Web shot below)

The description on the website for even the lowest end room indicated it would be more than adequate. Upon a return trip to the front desk to again express displeasure, the night clerk called a manager to see if we could be upgraded to a family suite so we could at least all sleep comfortably. After waiting in the lobby for 15 minutes or so, the message came back that no upgrades would be made available and if we wanted to stay in the property we would indeed have to pay the 200 RNB per night cost for the rollaway and no breakfast or lounge privilege would be provided. At that point I indicated we would be checking out in the morning and moving to a Marriott property. I will give credit to the manager that they did refund the unused points for the other 10 days of our stay, but to be honest, my faith in this chain and particularly the value of their club membership program have been badly damaged. The total unwillingness to seek a satisfactory resolution for a member of Platinum status was quite unbelievable.

We moved to the JW Marriott which was just opening a few miles away. At the time we booked our trip, there were no Marriott properties available to make reservations at. This property was in soft opening mode – so we expected some slight glitches as they were training and putting things into operations. I realize that the level of the JW Marriott is not exactly par with the hotel we had left – it is a couple levels higher in terms of the quality of the property – but the true differentiator has been in the customer service area. We arrived at the hotel at 8 AM – as we checked out of the very uncomfortable environment at the other hotel and moved to the JW Marriott first thing in the morning. We were greeted and immediately checked in – upgraded as well – which is the common Marriott practice for Platinum members. We had two guest service representatives who escorted us to our room and explained all the benefits we would receive while staying in our room – also paid for with points as we had planned to do at the other property. (Interestingly, the points needed at the other place were 15K per night while the JW Marriott was only 12K per night for a much nicer property). We had a slight elevator issue on the way up to our room but our guest service representatives resolved the issue and got us safely to our room. They then escorted us to the executive lounge for breakfast, even though we hadn’t spent the night before. That was service beyond our expectations. We had full executive lounge privileges for our entire stay which was a significant value for us.

We stayed at this property for 10 nights and it is with joy that we highly commend the Marriott brand for customer service the way it should be expressed. From the moment we walked in to the property, we were treated exceptionally well. From Simon and the team in the executive lounge who greeted us daily and are sure we got a hearty breakfast and evening meal, to Tony and Andy who helped us as concierge’s extraordinaire and printed us maps, directions and helped us secure train tickets for our return trip to Shanghai, to the bellmen, desk staff and every other member of the Marriott team, we experienced superb customer service. The omelets which were prepared for us by the executive lounge chefs were perfect, our room was kept clean and tidy with care, taxis were secured as needed, and we were greeted by name and with a smile every time we walked back into the hotel. The differences between our experiences with the two hotel chains there were staggering. Marriott has trained their staff extremely well and taught me the importance of creating raving fans. They have done exactly that with us on this trip. As we return now to the US, and plan meetings and travel for the dozens of events and trips that will occur over the next 12 months, Marriott properties will be the clear choice when available. They have earned the right and mostly our hearts as fans of their customer service.

So what’s the lesson here? Quite honestly there are several that I want to be sure you understand clearly:
1. Always listen to the customer. It was obvious that we were not being listened to and understood. It is impossible to deal with problem resolution without a clear understanding of what the issues are.
2. Check out the facts. I requested multiple times that the clerk look at the website to see exactly what we saw as the facts in the matter. We were told that it didn’t really matter what the website said – this is the way it is. If there is misinformation, it is important to know that and correct it.
3. Understand what needs to be done to satisfy the customer. We were never asked what would be required to resolve the situation. There was no understanding nor apparent concerns with what our expectations were.
4. Know the impact. At HTG we book well over $750,000 worth of hotel meetings each year covering thousands of room nights all over the country. The impact of the treatment we received will result in a significant opportunity cost to the other hotel brand over the coming months and years. It is critical to understand the long term impact of customer service decisions.
5. Remember that the customer has to be treated as if they are always right – even when they are not. The end result of customer service has to be coming to a satisfactory resolution to the issue.

As is always the case, things happen for a reason. There is little doubt that our experience here in China was significantly enhanced because we stayed at the JW Marriott. The location was better, the service superior and we were pleased in every way. Had we actually received our expectations at the other hotel, it would not have measured up to what we were blessed to experience. So while the experience was definitely frustrating for 12 hours or so, the outcome was magnificent as we made the move and enjoyed a time beyond our dreams or expectations. Thanks to the JW Marriott staff in Hangzhou for creating a memory that will last a lifetime. We are grateful for your service and are raving fans!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Relationships Matter

This is the tenth and final blog post regarding the 10 Things I Accidentally Learned on the Path to Growth. I saved the biggest and best until last. There is no question that the single biggest thing I have learned in how to grow a business comes down to this: it is all about relationships. There is no other single factor that comes anywhere close to driving growth as this one - a firm understanding and competency in creating, maintaining and growing relationships. From these interactions all sorts of powerful things happen. There are relationships needed in many areas - with your team, your vendors, your distribution partners, your customers, your strategic partners, media and PR folks and on the list goes. If you want to truly grow your company, or you life for that matter, you have to get this part right!

Relationships for me all started with and continue heavily to focus around community. First Ingram's VTN, now HTG - but meeting with like minded folks is so very important. There is so much to learn from others in the industry, but in order to do that you have to spend time together. So being part of community is a critical component to the relationship area. What groups are you part of? For me:

•Community has provided perspective
Without it you don’t know what “good” is
•Community has provided relationships
With distribution, vendors, peers, subject matter experts and media
•Community has provided guidance
Without it the ability to stay relevant is more difficult
•Community has provided growth
6 M&A’s resulted from the relationships in communities
•Community has provided success
Without it we would still be a little technology company in the middle of a cornfield

Power of Peers
The bottom line is that there is extreme power when you become intimate with a set of peers. Here are some of the foundational things that define HTG:

•We engage other companies in the channel
•We share and give openly
•We ask for help when we need it
•We share our financials openly
•We plan together around business and life
•We execute together
•We are accountable

Not only do you learn from others, but as community goes deep, relationships become so much more. It quickly gets down to accountability and life and making sure we are doing what we intend. That is the power of true relationship - it causes us to be more than we were without it.

From where I sit

I have been blessed to be part of this industry for the last 25 years. Lots of things have happened during that time. The Internet has become main stream. Cell phones went from small suitcases to the palm of your hand. Portable pc's went from 40 pound luggables down to a few pounds. Change happens - it has been but even bigger change is coming….

The rate will accelerate as we move more and more to the cloud. And how IT impacts businesses will continue to morph and become more deeply integrated. However there remains one constant…and that is the fact that people are still at the end of the wire running things.

At the end of the day

We are in the people business. That is what we do. We sell technology and services but our job is really managing change and helping those we serve adapt to it. It won't be easy. All of us resist change at some level. But to truly have a handle on relationship we have to realize our opportunity to help people handle change. There are lots of places for us to do that:

•In our business
•For our customers
•With our employees

Our success will be directly tied to how well we help people adapt to change. It really is that simple. Relationship will always win over technology because it is about people, not the bits and bytes. We must never lose sight of that fact.

The final reality and lesson is this: PEOPLE ARE THE ONLY THING THAT TRULY MATTERS. If you get this one thing right - most everything else takes care of itself. That means knowing how to build and maintain relationships. It is THE most important thing!