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Archive for April 2009

Staying nimble in a bleak economy

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Well, this blog entry is late because I’ve been doing what most people are doing now. Trying to keep my head above water in lean times. That being said, I figured that would be good blog item to talk about what we are trying to do and what we’ve done in the past to stay in business. Which, by the way, is now 11 years and counting.

Our first requirement to become more nimble was after 9/11. Most of our business was focused around Corporate America. Well, they shut their doors on spending and we ended up looking for business elsewhere quickly. I had spent 9 months managing a team rolling out ACT while still employed in Corporate America. I swore I’d never touch it again. Well, one of my favorite expressions is “never say never.” I took a chance, spent quite a bit of money and went and got certified in ACT. Part of the process of becoming certified meant I was put on their partner website. A client called exactly one month after we were put on the list and that turned into a contract that paid for the certification process three times over. Ok. Good idea. Successful conclusion.

In fact, we haven’t looked back since. ACT has become an integral part of our business. So much so that it has caused my other favorite expression (or better said – Alarm) to go off – “never put all your eggs in one basket.”

We do a lot of things besides ACT but since we train, customize, resell, and develop Addons for the product, it has become our cash cow. Now, though, people are watching their dollars. People are spending but much more reluctantly. This has sent me once again into nimble mode to see what we can do to keep the coffers full.

Ok, so here’s what we’re doing. I took a look at which industries were still calling and looking for ACT. I decided those groups would become the focus of a couple of marketing campaigns. I took some time to research what were the buzzwords and issues for those groups and made sure our campaigns addressed those issues.

As for my ACT clients, I figured they too were all in the same boat as we were. They were doing whatever they could to keep money rolling into their businesses. One thing in their favor was they all had ACT. ACT is sitting there with “gold in them thar hills” – meaning data saying who hadn’t been contacted, who wanted certain products, who preferred what, etc. It was time for my clients to drill down into their ACT data and mine the gold. That became the next focus of our group. We started looking for ways to make it easier to see the data.

I attended a session on a cruise that talked about custom reports ( Steve Stroz, a reporting guru, had a great idea about showing people reports and pointing them at the source. He also had done a few dashboards using a custom tool developed by Sage. I had already had Don working on the dashboard DLL and had dashboards of my own. I saw what Steve had done, and created some similar dashboards kicked up a notch based around things my clients wanted, packaged them up into an easy to install package (complete with our logos) and sent out a email blast about them. The email basically showed people how the dashboards looked and how easy it made it to spot problem areas or potential goldmines. I have since fallen in love with the dashboards because it is immediately apparant that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Case in point. I was at a client site doing ACT training. The group in the audience was less than receptive to the idea of needing to input data. They figured management would never look at it, so why bother. Well, then I showed them a dashboard. This particular dashboard showed activities. One person had been doing a super job of keeping their activities in ACT. Their bar line was 4 times larger than everyone else. Did I mention this group was very competitive. That chart was exactly what was needed to motivate that crew. And it made it clear to me that text is fine, but graphs are powerful. Oh, and management liked viewing them as well. Hm, there went that idea that management wouldn’t be looking at the data.

Which leads me to the next thing we’ve been doing to keep money flowing into the business. Again, I started looking at what people can do to get a better idea of what is going on with their business. Most everyone has Excel in house. Not everyone, though, is well versed in Pivot Tables and charts. I had two customers call for Excel training and that is what we focused on. One of my recent posts talked about showing Pivot tables to a client and it made their trip to our office worth the price of admission. And they were there for ACT training. However, it was the Pivot tables that made their day. Well, ok, Mr. Customer, you want to focus on Excel Pivot tables – we can do that.

That’s where being nimble comes into play. When the economy changes or events arise that drive business away from your door, you need to be nimble enough to change directions or tactics. You need to be aware of what is going on with your customers so you can point them towards things that will help not only them but you as well. It’s not quite the same as “you want me to jump how high.” It’s more of a “well, it was purple last week, it’s green this week.” I guess it’s like being a chameleon. You have to be able to change your colors when necessary. The trick is knowing which color and how fast.

We’re still working on our own color changes. When the phone is not ringing as much, we are using the time to work on the new processes, ideas or campaigns. Use the time to put in place new tools or products to sell. Yes, it’s scary when there is less money coming in but you have to do it. Every time I freak out about the number of calls that day I go back and look at what I was able to accomplish because, indeed, the phones weren’t ringing as bad. Hm. Ok. And we are now starting to see the results. The phones are starting to ring again – in answer to those emails I sent out. Yep, I struck a nerve. People are looking for ways to mine their data. Cool. Guess I better get back to doing just that. Being nimble and working on a new idea.

See ya….

Written by pregen

April 29, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

I needed a day like today….

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Once in a while, a day comes along where you realize “this is why I do this.”

We are ACT consultants. That is a good thing and somedays a bad thing. ACT is sooo much better now with version 11. However, there have been days where it wasn’t so.

I had two people from a new client in my offices today doing an “Advanced/Power User” ACT 2009 Class. The class was customized for their requirements.

Or at least that is what was scheduled. What happened, as usual for me, is it turned into a “here’s how you can use ACT” to satisfy your requirements and let’s plan what you need to be doing. In other words, it turned into more of a consulting gig than a training gig. That’s what happens a lot. I get started, they jump off their seats, and we’re off to the races.

I had gotten an email from the client with their “vision.” I always ask for these when I do customized training so that I am totally prepared for what they are looking for. They came in expecting an ACT class – well, it turns out they weren’t sure what they were expecting.

This was an interesting client. They drove 5 hours to Chattanooga to meet yesterday with another client of mine. That client is an LTL trucking company meaning they sell “lanes” – Atlanta to New York for example. My client sells trucks. My client is their customer. the new client knew my client was a big ACT user – 65 users in fact, so they met with them to see how they use ACT.

At their recommendation, they then met with me for training. Today they showed up for the training and met with me to see how they could get to where they wanted to be with regards to selling better and using ACT.

That’s where the fun began. Do you know/remember how gratifying it is to show somebody something and they almost jump off their chairs. It was that kind of day. We have all dealt with the “holy s…., ACT is broke” days. So, I really needed a “wow, you mean ACT can do that….” day. When they saw what we could do with Dashboards, I thought they would explode. Those of you not taking Dashboards and making them shine are missing the boat.

When I showed them Pivot tables from the Opportunties to Excel extract, I thought the Sales Manager would faint dead away. He looked at me and said “What are Pivot Tables.” We spent the next hour showing him what he could with some data he had on his laptop. He said “Pat, I have spent 100’s, and I am not kidding, 100’s of hours putting together Excel spreadsheets for reports from our mainframe data and in one hour you just showed me the answer.” He was literally “overwhelmed.” Speechless – almost.

He was one of those guys you try to keep on a path – who will take you on a circle instead. He saw what he could do and was already at the pass waiting on us to catch up. How refreshing is that.

I can’t express enough words to say how much I needed a day like today. There is so much power in ACT. When you get someone in the room (ok, really now, I’m getting goosebumps) who sees what can happen and how it can revolutionize their business ( a business that is 45 years old) it, again, justifies why we do what we do. And again, it justifies to me why I love working with smaller organizations. They just appreciate you so much more.

So, for those of you out there looking for more revenue or more business, take a look at what you know. If you know ACT – you know sales guys. You know how to make it “attractive” to those sales guys. And, you have Excel in your back pocket. Excel is such a powerful tool that simply showing Pivot tables to a client can be business “altering.” And it makes you a vital piece of their business future.

This was the first time they had met me. They drove 5 hours to get here. They said, about two hours into the session, it was worth the trip. They also said “we will want you to come to our offices in 6 months.”

By the end of the day and after the Pivot “epiphany”, it was “can you be at our offices within the next three weeks.”

How such a simple little thing as an export to Excel can totally change the entire session around. Yes, ACT is cool and they are going to do this. But the Excel reporting on their AS400 data – now that’s so much farther down the path than they were thinking that they were out of their seats and almost out of their skins.

Like I said – I sooooo needed a day like today. It was reaffirming – it made me realize I have value to add – always knew that but sometimes when you are trying to fix what’s broke in ACT, you question yourself. Wow, such a good day.

So, here’s hoping you all get one of these days soon. It makes it all worth it…

Written by pregen

April 2, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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