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Fear: The Constant You Can Count On

April 16th, 2010

John DeVito

The downfall of many sales managers occurs because they do not understand the underlying reasons behind poor performance.

Fear and anxiety is the one constant that you can count on with sales people. It finds it’s way into everyday activities and at times paralyzes the whole sales team. It honestly  is not something that is readily dealt with because most sales managers do not recognize it,  and the rest do not know how to deal with it. It is the natural fallout of being in a job where your every move is measured by everyone daily, your success or lack of success is known to everyone in the company. This alone creates enough stress to bring on the fear and anxiety. I found the only way  you can deal with it as a sales manager is first to recognize it is happening and then making joint calls to build the confidence of the salesperson. I found it is not so much a training issue but more of a confidence building and empowering my people and letting them know I was in support of their efforts.

The question is, how to use the concept to develop training and then selling it to a world that is measured daily with hard facts.

Adding Value is the Key: The salesperson’s day is filled with Fear and Anxiety. Every time he or she meets someone for the first time there is an element of fear. The only way he can overcome that is to be clear, confident and very prepared to demonstrate he can bring value to that person they are meeting for the first time.

Fear and Productivity Among Salespeople

April 15th, 2010

A New Research Study of Fear and Productivity Among Salespeople

Herb Kessner, Ph.D.

Those of us who are engaged in selling services and products, or are attempting to attract grant-funds, loans or equity capital in this economy know how challenging it is. We have our work cut out for us.

Our financial markets are stabilizing and business in general is staging a comeback from the recent sharp downturn. But this is not happening uniformly. While some organizations are well underway with new strategies and competencies, some are still catching up.

Whether we are “officially” salespeople, entrepreneurs, non-profit directors or work for a firm engaged in any form of customer contact, when we are communicating the advantages and benefits of our services; we are selling.

A New White Paper with Implications

Individual salespeople react to fear and anxiety differently. The research study upon which this white paper is based shows some surprising conclusions, with implications for both individuals and sales and marketing leadership.

The goal was to find out, scientifically, how anxiety and fear affected the day-to-day sales calls, contacts and success of the professional salesperson.

The Sales Leader’s Dilemma

It is a given that a sales team’s productivity metrics fit a bell-shaped curve. Some are outstanding, some not so successful, and many falling into the middle. The job of the sales leader (or for ourselves) is to somehow skew the curve to the right. The sales training dollars spent on resulting revolving-door policies extend into the $Billions in the US alone.

It is our hope that this study will help save money and increase the level of success and self-esteem among salespeople and all of us that connect with the client.

Take a look at the Paper on the Value Staging Website, let us know what you think, and most importantly, tell us your own experiences.

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Protecting Intellectual Property

February 7th, 2009

J. Jordan Scott

J Scott Law Firm, Boston

Intellectual Property is often one of the most important assets that a business possesses.  Particularly in startups or early post-revenue stage firms, the “special sauce” tangible or intangible product developed by the entrepreneur can be synonymous with the net worth of the company.

In scenarios wherein the owner wishes to sell all or part, merge or acquire funding, it is critical to have the intellectual property assets identified, valued and protected. For the buyer or investor, this becomes a key part of the due diligence & risk assessment process.

The term “intellectual property” is broad, covering patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and other forms of creative expression.  The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of intellectual property, along with a brief discussion of ways to protect such property.


Of all intellectual property, patents are the most complex, and arguably the most important.  Any reader who believes they have a patentable invention should consult with a qualified patent attorney at their earliest convenience, as being “first” matters.  In order to secure a patent, an invention must be useful, new and non-obvious to an average person.

Specifically, there are three categories of patents: utility, design and plant.  Utility patents cover new and useful processes, machines, or improvements.  Design patents cover new, original ornamental designs.  Plant patents cover new and distinct varieties of plants.  While any individual is permitted to file a patent application, the law is complicated enough that a professional should be consulted.  It is important to note that nearly all patent lawyers practice solely patent law; due to the highly technical nature of patents there are few general practitioners that handle patents, and any attorney claiming to be such should be viewed cautiously.

Copyright Law provides legal protection to the creator of a work of creative expression created in a tangible medium (books, magazines, websites, etc.).  However, copyright protection is not available for ideas, concepts and algorithms (although a patent may be available).  Technically, copyright protection attaches when the work is created.  However, in our modern, litigious society, it is advisable to seek formal copyright protection within a few months for first publication, and before any infringement.  An important caveat is the concept of “fair use.”  Copyrighted material can be legally used by other parties in certain circumstances, such as for criticism, parody, in a news report, or incidentally.  A qualified copyright attorney will be able to advise when and how fair use should be interpreted.

Trademarks are distinctive words, phrases or logos that identify the source of a product or service.  Trademarks should be formally registered as soon as possible to ensure legal protection.  A qualified attorney will be familiar with trademark law and be able to advise a client through navigating the trademark registration process.

Trade Secrets

One of the most important aspects of intellectual property is that of trade secrets.  Trade secrets can also be difficult to protect, as there is no government agency to register the secrets with, as there are for patents, copyrights and trademarks.  A trade secret is information that has independent economic value derived in part from not being known to the general public, and is also subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.  A classic example is the Coca-Cola formula.  Many companies have trade secrets they wish to protect, but as stated above securing protection is not as straightforward as applying to a government office.

In order to fully protect trade secrets, companies must work to maintain this secret.  This can be done in a variety of ways.  All employees and independent contractors should sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that will prevent those individuals from sharing the proprietary information that they have learned.  Nondisclosure agreements are relatively standard and many are found in the public domain.  A company should also safeguard the information by limiting access to those that need it, and keeping any documents (paper or electronic) in a secure location (a physical safe for paper documents; encrypted files for electronic).

With any intellectual property, the important first step is to identify what branch of intellectual property law applies, and then immediately take initial steps to secure legal protection.

Remember: The client can take many of the initial steps, but a qualified attorney should be consulted early on, especially when dealing with a patent or any questions or issues regarding IP protection.

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Note: Value Staging LLC is not a law firm, does not practice law and any guest blog posts are solely the opinion of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

Innovation - The Key To Survival

February 5th, 2009

Joseph Blank

Principal, Value Staging LLC

So many companies are struggling for survival. Entire industries are suffering. Quick fixes abound. What is the solution when consumer confidence is low, credit markets are tight, revenue is down and investments are losing money?

Trying to fix an entire economy with so many forces at work and thousands of critical success factors to consider is nothing short of daunting. A few things are certain; there is no quick fix, there will be mistakes along the way, groups of people will suffer, some companies won’t survive.

When a company plans for disasters, it is called a business continuity plan. When a company is faced with an unplanned disaster, it is called triage.

When companies in trouble look to prioritize to determine who or what gets cut, what is that process? What are the criteria? Perhaps the discussions look something like:

  • We need to reduce operating expenses by 35% across the board
  • This division currently operates with 200 people, we need to get that down to 150
  • All future expenditures over $5,000 must be approved by the CEO
  • Reduce overall production by 25%
  • Suspend these specific projects
  • Cut these pending programs
  • Allocate available funds to these specific areas

There may or may not be a significant amount of analysis and due diligence involved in these decisions, but the end results will most likely have a negative impact on customers and employees.

Take this scenario and apply it to an entire economy. The ripple effect is enormous. Suppliers and customers, producers and consumers, support infrastructure and the non-related businesses that rely on the peripheral opportunities are all suffering at once.

If we look at some of the major causes of the great depression, they include:

  • The stock market crash
  • Bank failures and lack of credit availability
  • A sharp decrease in purchasing across the board
  • A breakdown in international trade

While the specific conditions that led to the Great Depression are much different than what we face today, these major causes are with us now.

So how do we not only survive, but take advantage of conditions and grow using Innovation?

If the stock market is a reflection of how the equity market views the future value of an industry and the publicly traded companies within it, then companies need to come up with ways to boost confidence in their future value.

If credit markets have tightened, creditors will be very diligent regarding to whom and for what credit is extended. If the purpose of a loan is to help a company “stay afloat” for a few more months, that is likely a bad choice.

However, if the purpose is to grow revenue and profitability by opening up new markets or taking advantage of a unique opportunity that has been overlooked, these are probably good reasons to extend financing.

While triage dictates that some emergency actions are taken, simultaneous to “stopping the bleeding” is a requirement to significantly improve the long term health and viability of the patient.

This is a very different, but just as important, type of discussion. This conversation looks at:

  • What core competencies and skills do we possess?
  • What new ideas and opportunities can we generate to leverage these competencies and skills beyond what we have done in the past?
  • What specific resources are required to develop and execute these new opportunities?

If this dialogue takes place post triage, the company may find that many of the skills, ideas and resources required to take advantage of these possibilities are now gone!

Harsh conditions don’t have to stifle creativity. In fact, creativity and innovative thinking are more important when threats to survival are looming.

Stated in a recent Industry Week Article entitled: “New Economic Thinking Required: Successful Companies Will be Proactive

  • “For starters, a CEO’s pet project should be placed on the back burner so that company resources can be relegated to those initiatives that positively affect the bottom line the fastest. .  “
  • “Secondly. . .During a period of downsizing, leadership needs to be more visible as well as effectively communicate what changes are taking place and why. This will cut down on rumor and speculation. . .”
  • “Thirdly, the negative impact of the downturn on the top line can be reduced by changing geographic coverage, streamlining supply chains, altering product designs, modifying pricing and introducing new services. Successful leaders and companies adapt to current economic conditions.”
  • “Finally, the downturn offers organizations a chance to implement changes that can improve long term profitability. Pushing ahead with a range of productivity improvements should be front and center, including internal Lean and Six Sigma programs. Many times, the positive effects of these internal programs alone are often short-lived high performance workforce improvements and a more flexible process.

In order to effectively make sustainable change, companies should seek out an operating consulting firm to maximize the results from an internal initiative, as well as ensure that these initiatives enjoy long term sustainability. The long term benefits drastically outweigh the costs.”

A proactive approach towards creative thinking and proper planning can help assure survival in this very serious economic downturn. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”

Visit our Team on the Value Staging Website

The Innovation Economy & You

February 3rd, 2009

Joseph Blank

Principal, Value Staging LLC

Innovation is what drives economic growth. Over time, as innovative products and services become commodities, the economic benefits shift to those sources of lower cost materials and labor.

This economic shift creates two distinct types of economies, those that predominately innovate, and those that predominately provide a lower cost of goods and services. The former economy gets the benefits associated with the innovation introduction such as higher price, rapid growth in initial demand, brand notoriety, etc. The latter economy receives the benefits associated with the long tail of the innovation, volume purchases, albeit at a lower price point, and a reputation as a low cost source.

If the innovating economy ceases to innovate, growth slows and eventually stops. There is no source of new revenue and, once the spending power of that economy is used up, there is eventual economic collapse.

Recently, our country’s economic woes have resulted in numerous lay-offs and companies going out of business. The stimulus package being proposed is only benefiting very large corporations, even though 50% of private labor force employment and over 60% of new jobs are within small and medium sized businesses.

Many of these lay-offs and closures are in the areas of engineering, technology and science, disciplines from which innovations emerge.  Therefore, I believe we now have an excess of capacity to innovate. While finding a job and earning a paycheck is likely a primary focus for these individuals, there is also more time to dedicate to thinking, dreaming, collaborating and creating.

I have started a group in the San Francisco Bay Area to attract such individuals and  provide a catalyst for sharing knowledge and dreams with others in the hopes of stimulating new innovation. Very few people are lucky enough to make a living by their passion. Once we have a steady job and routine, creative time is often stifled. Hopefully for many, these tough times will provide an opportunity to find a new purpose by waking up the innovator inside and collaborating with like minded people.

Visit the San Francisco Bay Area Innovation Group

Rollup Integration: A Behind The Scenes Case Study

January 24th, 2009

Herb Kessner, Ph.D.

Like most financial headlines, it looked straightforward, a done deal and great outcome. By then it was. Its what came before, not in the headlines that made it interesting, challenging and helped shape the outcome. It worked, and it was anything but straightforward.

The Headline

New York, NY – 9/18/06 - Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS), a private equity and mezzanine capital fund management company dedicated to investing in the media, communications, information and education industries in North America and Europe, today announced the signing of a definitive agreement to sell its stake in Solucient, an information products company serving the healthcare industry, to The Thomson Corporation (NYSE: TOC; TSX: TOC).

The Scenario

Let’s roll back the clock a bit. In 1999 a private equity fund managed by VSS acquired the predecessor to Solucient and merged that company with businesses owned by VNU Group B.V. and the VHA to form Solucient. The predecessor included a unit of GE Medical Systems IT that was spun off by Jack Welch and added to the PE group. Yours Truly had been part of the GE consulting team to the Med Systems group at the time, and was essentially “acquired” along with the GE unit as it became Solucient.

What Really Goes On When You Roll Up Businesses

The five business units that now constituted Solucient had been, for the most part active competitors. They weren’t predisposed to like each other. The customer bases were pretty much the same except for one business that was an outlier that the others didn’t understand or think about much. The IT legacy systems were not easily or at all compatible across the businesses. The leadership of each business knew that not all of them would survive and believe me, none of them were pushovers. There was no single Brand and supporting material and MARCOM facing the customers. There was little or no cross-selling. The business processes were separate and unique to each unit and not all that efficient, and to add to the confusion, a new CEO was brought in to help. The brand-new CEO had been a programmer prior to the new role.

Now, imagine if you will, the off-site Change Acceleration Process workshop we all eagerly arrived for, a gentle early evening at the ritzy resort on the lake north of Chicago. My sponsor for the integration project, who I had been working with all along and understood the issues and nuances, I found out had been let go the day before the workshop along with his boss the head of operations. Gone. Instant sinking feeling, but we consultants pride ourselves on flexibility, after all, we do teach it.

Over the next four days of intensive CAP work we brainstormed, discussed, yelled, prioritized, action-planned, identified and mitigated risk, and dealt with stakeholder, Brand, personality, moods, interpersonal dynamics and communication issues. Each night I called my wife Sue back in San Francisco and had a combination detox and personal counseling session (good thing she’s a therapist).

It Worked Despite All That

We came out on the fourth evening with a set of agreed-on action plans that pretty much covered all of the above with resources and funding for every one. After all, the methodology we employ is sound and so far has worked every time. Looking back I think that 40% of the real sweat effort was structural and business process related, and 60% was squishy and interpersonal. Sitting down with various leaders at breaks and lunch and talking them through their fight or flight reactions, giving them reality checks. Solucient and its excellent staff did successfully implement the action plans and initiatives and as we have seen, was later bought out by a larger firm in the information space. Many of the attendees at the off-site are still with the firm and as of our recent conversations, are happy.

And they say consultants don’t earn their money.

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Too Many Vice Presidents

January 23rd, 2009

Herb Kessner, Ph.D.

I really liked this one, painful as it was to read…In an article in the NY Times this month headed “Seagate Slashes Salaries”, it was reported that Seagate Technology announced executive salary cuts of 10-25%, a layoff of 6% of its workforce and replaced its CEO. A spokesman said the company had fallen behind its competitors and had an “execution issue” and one possible cause of product delays and added costs was the fact that Seagate had a large number of execs with the title of vice president and above, and said Richard Kugele of Needham & Co., “You couldn’t get anything done without talking to 12 people and they were all VPs”

So what are we to learn from this? Seagate has good technology, every worker was undoubtedly doing a good job, and the brand was sound. To boil it down, their execution and financial results were bogged down because of their top heavy organizational structure and a business process that had too many handoffs and unnecessary sign-offs. I have worked with firms that had this problem before and the solution is a simple and quick process realignment. I have been involved in reductions of product cycles of 75% in just 6 months. Simple, yes. Easy, no. Org. structures just seem to “happen” to firms over time. It takes a top-down focused effort to realign the leadership and workforce to meet strategic and financial objectives.

The good news is that dramatic results can and have been achieved with very little investment. Just a will to do it, structurally and politically, and some good sound improvement tools.

The Failure of Due Diligence

January 22nd, 2009

The Failure of Due Diligence

Herb Kessner, Ph.D.

Although the statistics regarding successful acquisitions and roll-ups have been, shall we say, less than stellar and in some cases downright disastrous, we keep on doing the same due diligence process we have always done hoping for a Better Outcome (see: Definition of Insanity). Focus on financials alone does not tell us what it will take to operate, turn around and grow the newly acquired or merged company. It doesn’t tell us whether the target and its value chain are efficient. We look to the financials because we’re on comfortable ground there and it does provide a snapshot to date, but that has proven ultimately to be necessary and not sufficient. We’ve witnessed many a costly unravelling and they have provided consultants with great material for workshops and war stories.

Operational & Cultural Due Diligence

The missing pieces are operational due diligence and cultural due diligence. We need to know how, and how effectively the process flows through the value chain and how the parts and people work together, what the risk tolerance is and whether the strategy is understood and permeates the organization. How well leaders communicate and actively coordinate, both internally and with key stakeholders, and how well technology is really used to support the underlying business process, and how well the customer is really served.

We need to have this complete picture in order to make a sound buying decision and if we go ahead, what it will take to run the firm on Day One.

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