Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Running a virtual professional- services company"

Oct. 9, 2017 "Lessons in running a virtual professional -services company": Today I found this article by Susan Hyatt in the Globe and Mail:

Five years ago I put my retirement plans on hold to start a third career building a professional-services business that delivers crisis and planning services to the elderly and their families.

We now have a virtual company headquartered in Oakville that serves clients across southern Ontario and the GTA. Their family members can be anywhere in Canada or across the world and connect with us by conference call and e-mail.

It's unusual to see this type of virtual model for delivering professional services. Law firms and accounting firms typically have the client come to them, but we believe it's important to see the elderly person in their own home so we can best understand their needs.

Our virtual work force is anchored at our Oakville office where we contract with Intelligent Office to provide executive assistants who answer calls and help us prequalify clients. This means flex meeting rooms and board rooms are booked as needed, and our overhead costs are lower.

All our sales, business development and client-delivery staff spend most of their day either on the road or working from home offices. The team includes six full-time staff, a roster of client-delivery people who are part-time, a senior management team, some of whom are outsourced, and suppliers who provide expertise in areas such as IT infrastructure and marketing.

The business model we use is based on a village model with a cluster of client-delivery people. Wrapped around them is a trusted professional network of experts such as lawyers, health and personal care providers, and financial advisers. Together they serve elderly clients who typically don't want to move more than 10 kilometres from their neighbourhood, assuming these people can no longer cope at home.

Working remotely is not new. But working remotely and actually running a virtual company are two different things.

Running a virtual company means that everyone has to be connected and aligned with the company's goals. Three things are key. You must have crystal-clear goals and objectives, on-demand synchronization and encryption technology, and effective processes.

Indeed, clear goals and objectives matter even more in a virtual environment because teams collaborate across geographical areas and various skill sets. In our case, we have two teams – one devoted to sales, business development and marketing, and the other to client delivery. Members of both teams attend weekly conference calls to discuss key performance indicators.

Technology for on-demand synchronization and encryption is critical to this operation since users have their own computers or tablets, often with different operating systems. But client files and meeting notes must be done in real time, files must be synched in real time, and all client data and files must be encrypted due to the sensitivity of the information within.

We have found that very few software companies can provide real-time synchronization and encryption in a single application. Still, these files must be readily available to the mobile delivery team when needed for client work.

Our client-delivery team also uses time-tracking software to record the time spent on clients, travel and reporting. Such tracking delivers many advantages such as determining the actual effort needed for client work and planning for how much time is needed for specific tasks.

Along the way, we have learned a few lessons in how to build a virtual company. For example, processes are critical in keeping virtual teams functioning smoothly. For us, this means standardizing processes such as the prequalification interview for a prospect, how we assess an elderly client in their home, or how we run an internal meeting using agendas, conference calls and online conferencing.

If there is one consistent message we hear from our people, it is the need for more face time with their colleagues. They may be part of a virtual company, but they also believe in making a difference with elderly clients every single day.

This is why we hold company meetings every four to six weeks to celebrate achievements and focus on lessons learned. And every quarter, we set aside a full day for a joint company and advisory board meeting.

This is an opportunity for all business advisers to meet with the whole group to share new ideas and discuss how performance measures against goals. We also have some fun with team building and usually schedule a reception or meal later.

We are passionate about serving our clients and their families in the best possible way. Being a virtual company allows us to be nimble enough to do that. But doing so means we must never forget to engage with advisers, health care professionals, family members, neighbours, and others in order to solve real-life problems for the elderly. And that's true whether they are in crisis mode or just planning ahead. A virtual company can work and be successful, but it takes discipline.

Nov. 15, 2017 "Work is changing: what that means for sales professionals": Today I found this article by Jonathan Lister in the Globe and Mail:

The rise of powerful new tools and technologies has dramatically changed the sales function, widening the breadth of the role and the diversity of skills required to be successful.

Today, sales professionals aren’t just sales professionals; they’re data scientists, strategic advisers and technologists. They’re harnessing powerful insights and tools to add value for their clients and strategically pipeline and nurture leads over the long term.

So what does it mean to be a sales professional in 2017? Automation will lead to significant work-force displacement within the next few years as artificial-intelligence (AI) tools dramatically reduce the cost and inefficiency of basic processes. Forty-two per cent of all Canadian jobs are at a high risk of being affected by automation.

The sales industry is especially vulnerable. According to the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, sales-rep roles in Canada have an 85-per-cent probability of becoming automated.

Despite this, innovation is your ally. AI can make sales pros more effective rather than threatening job security. As AI tools become more readily available, they can empower you to filter through previously unimaginable pools of data to prospect more effectively, analyze business outcomes and then make predictions and recommendations for customer engagement.

Automating templated tasks can also make your sales processes more efficient and free up valuable time and resources to focus on complex, value-added activities, such as nurturing customer relationships, identifying growth opportunities and refining your strategy.

Embracing new tools as a crucial part of your daily work and viewing machine-intelligence applications as a way to enhance rather than challenge human ability will breed a new generation of agile, insightful and effective sales professionals.

Zero in on the right decision makers from the start

Corporate spending has become committee-driven. The average business-to-business (B2B) purchasing team has 6.8 members, according to CEB. Larger buying committees with diverse stakeholders are both a challenge and opportunity for the modern sales professional.

While conventional sales wisdom tells professionals to focus on the chief executive officer, if you take that approach, you’re missing 5.8 members of the decision-making committee. In fact, our 2017 State of Sales survey found that more than half of these purchase-decision makers aren’t even in the C-Suite.

So how do you reach the right people? Sales filters and lead bots are two essentials for the modern sales professional. Sales filters allow you to pull information out of a social platform and designate specific qualifiers, such as the geographies that you want to zero in on, titles and companies.

One of the most important weapons in any sales rep’s arsenal, lead bots are an automated tool that monitor the types of accounts that you’d like to engage with and proactively recommend prospects. With today’s incredibly sophisticated algorithms, lead bots are also very accurate.

Lead bots are integrated into several social platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. There are 1.2 million B2B decision makers on LinkedIn across more than 300,000 organizations, and tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator can help you identify the right leads – based on their industry and unique needs – at the right time.

There’s no excuse for cold calling in the digital era, when professionals have a trove of information right at their fingertips to help them nurture a strong sales pipeline, based on data-driven insights.

A value-based sales approach will drive better results

Successful modern selling is value based and insights-driven, and those adopting sales-intelligence strategies to drive ROI are well positioned for long-term success in this new era.

The rise of automation and AI tools in sales means that professionals must transform their client relationships, evolving their role from a vendor to a strategic adviser and making sure to add value with each interaction.

In fact, 74 per cent of buyers will choose the sales rep that was first to add value and insight. Demonstrate a keen understanding of your customers’ business and bring forward insights that can help solve their most complex problems. In today’s shifting landscape, you’re not just selling a solution but your own expertise.

When prospects don’t engage with the content you provide, you need to adjust your strategy. This is another inflection point in the sales funnel, where arming yourself with insights is crucial for success. Tools such as LinkedIn’s PointDrive expose buying intent and automation software such as Marketo provides key information about prospects and the campaigns that they’re engaging with, enriching your perspective so that the next time you reach out, you have even more value to offer.

Technological innovation has evolved the modern sales role, upping the stakes for professionals and their organizations. Customers expect more: more support, more expertise and more insight. However, new tools and technologies also present a unique opportunity for sales professionals to increase the value they offer their clients as data scientists, strategic consultants and technical experts.

AI as an opportunity, not a threat

Embracing new tools as a crucial part of your daily work and viewing machine-intelligence applications as a way to enhance rather than challenge human ability will breed a new generation of agile, insightful and effective sales professionals.

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