Monday, April 30, 2012

In search of the real secret to hiring sales people

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

I’m going to push the limits of my remit this week and discuss an issue that is close to the heart of anyone running a small to medium sized business.

From the lively discussions I’ve been having on Linked-In this week, I know that there are a great many of us who would give a great deal of money for the answer to one question: What’s really important when it comes to hiring successful sales people.

I’ve been hiring recently. Business has been good and we’ve been growing; as a result I need a new sales person to take our services to a wider market. All sounds great right? The sort of stunningly simple business positivity you only see in adverts for Fed-Ex. (But Mr Fed-Ex I’ve grown my business 2000% in the last three hours, where can I put all the money? Here you are son, have a box.) In the real world, the answer to ‘good problems’ is not that simple.

The trouble is that sales people are so notoriously difficult to hire. It’s not just the obvious things – yes, these people are very competent in persuasion and ingratiation, and yes, they are generally very confident alpha types, making the interview process deceiving. But the truth is that even if you were assured of a completely accurate impression of the candidate you are meeting, you still have to make some tough decisions about what it is that you’re really looking for.

Feeling like I wanted to bounce some ideas around, I went to one of my regular LinkedIn groups last week and laid my problem out. The response surprised me; not just the number of people who had an opinion, or how much though they had clearly given the issue over time, but more the varying nature of the things they each considered to be the most important in hiring good sales people. 

I proposed 5 cena list of my top five things I thought were important and asked people to rank them in order. Here they are for you in no particular order:

  •         Years of Experience
  •          Education
  •          Industry Knowledge
  •          Proven track record
  •          Cultural fit

There were many different views as to what the most important thing really was and I wanted to share some of that feedback here.

Some thought industry knowledge was everything. Bogdan highlighted “type of products/services, clients, competitors, macro-environment influence and changes in clients’ preferences due to recession [and the] type of selling”

Others thought it was almost irrelevant:

“Give me track record, adaptability, intelligence (determined in interview not by education), and if it is an added bonus about industry experience, I'll take it. While industries fluctuate, successful people do not. I could take a high tech sales person and plug them into medical devices, or healthcare, or financial services- it doesn't matter,” wrote Craig.

‘Affordability’ and ‘Hunter Mindset’ were immediate additions to my list made by readers. I like affordability, because aside from being a make or break factor, there’s also the link to a candidates own sense of self worth.

“I look for problem solvers,” wrote Bob. “The only reason a customer buys is to solve a problem important to him. He doesn't really care about the bits and bytes as much as how it will make his company more money, become more efficient and more competitive in their industry. Too many salespeople are wrapped up solely on the specifications. Look for problems to solve first.”

I also liked Pete’s input: “Hire a good sales athlete. Any decent sales person can learn any new product in about 45 days if they have something going on above the neck. You can't teach smarts and you can't teach work ethic. Everything else is coachable.”

In many ways, we’re just getting started, and you can read the full discussion on Linked-In. And please make a contribution if you have an opinion.

This grew out of a real exercise and there’s nothing academic about it; I’m still hiring, and I’m looking for real advice. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Another Dagger in the Heart of Job Boards?: BranchOut announces $25-million in additional backing for combat with LinkedIn

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

BranchOut's new round of funding could heat up competition with LinkedIn
For investors, it is a small price to pay: One US dollar for each of BranchOut’s current users. To CEO Rick Marini; it’s 25-million reasons to sleep better knowing his quest to take on LinkedIn just got easier.

BranchOut is a Facebook app that connects professionals through the social media platform and has grown to 25 million usersin only two years. To put this into perspective, BeKnown, Monster’s branded version of the same kind of Facebook app (minus the value to recruiters) was launched last June and has about 177,000 users. The new funding brings the company’s total backing to $49 million.

Marini’s explains his company’s success by first lauding LinkedIn as a great product but noting it’s not very personal. He describes LinkedIn as a great resource for finding 10-percent of the workforce and compares it to meeting someone at a professional event for five minutes. He goes on to suggest that Facebook users are engaged, care about one another on a more personal level and that users will go out of their way to help one another get a job.

At 150 million users, LinkedIn is atop the social recruiting and job search ladder. However, Facebook has an estimated 850 million users; another reason why investors are willing to fork over that kind of cash. Recent reports that LinkedIn’s valuation may be overstated by as much as 30-percent and a revised target of $77 per share is more realistic, may be a cause for a little concern for the juggernaut, but more likely a bump in the road.

This news brings me back once again to the subject of job board relevancy and their likely demise. And before you roll your eyes and fire off an email to ask me why I hate the job boards or tell me that the boards are relevant and robust, sit down and have a think on the following five items of interest:

1. People are talking about LinkedIn and BranchOut. Seriously, I have not seen or heard from CareerBuilder or Monster in weeks. In fact, the last mainstream media story I read that grabbed a headline was about how Monster was laying off hundreds at its Massachusetts headquarters, the story that sparked this whole debate.

2. Monster and Careerbuilder are talking about themselves. Ala Donald Trump, the companies are trying to create their own buzz. Today Monster announced an investor conference call to discuss first quarter results and a CareerBuilder press release says the company bought Brazil’s largest job board today. They also issued another press release of the results of a study they performed about how hiring managers are using social media.

3. CareerBuilder released a study about how hiring managers are using social media. Is there an echo in here? Why would a job board want to tell people that nearly two out of five hiring managers are using social media to search for information on job candidates? Although subtle, the story, the results and the survey seem steer the reader to think of the dangers of social media more than support social media use. In fairness, CareerBuilder does great research. Their informational products are robust and have very insightful, powerful data. Quite possibly, CareerBuilder’s future will be determined by how well they leverage and manage all of that data. Then again, if social and professional networks keep gobbling up their market share of resumes, where are they going to get their data?

4. Numbers don’t lie. The market cap for LinkedIn is $10.71 billion and Monster comes in at $999.83 million. CareerBuilder is harder to nail down because it is owned by several large media companies and their collective market caps are not 100-percent attributable to CareerBuilder. An industry analyst suggests a Monster-esque $1 billion for the company. While I am not a market analyst by profession (nor should my word be taken as advice), my best guess is that CB lies somewhere between $1.5 and $2 billion based on current market information. Maybe this isn’t a fair assessment given the point at which each company is in its individual life cycle, but I would say the numbers are hard to ignore and are evidence to support my point. That’s what we’re debating right: Company life cycles?
5. Social networks are mobile. Linkedin and BranchOut have engaging mobile apps with content that brings users to it for more than just social networking, more than just job search, and more than just information; they are true social platforms.  The job boards don’t have this kind of staying power and attention share in their mobile apps since they are currently single purpose.

Boards are losing market share while social platforms, like the early days of the boards, are growing exponentially. They too will have a lifecycle. The slightly concerning aspect of BranchOut is the fact that it runs as a Facebook app. There is growing industry sentiment that Facebook itself is becoming irrelevant and that its recent purchase of Instagram is an attempt to regain some relevancy with users.

Job boards do have a place. I use them, not mostly nor exclusively, to help find new talent and industry data. Boards are going to have to find a way to remain relevant with users and customers, and do so quickly, if they are to survive.

Is there an app for that?


Monday, April 16, 2012

The Internet Economy and the Human Experience: Time for a Plan

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
Exponential growth raises economic & social questions.
It’s been 27 years since Al Gore invented the internet.

OK, I thought that might get your attention. We’ll talk about politicians and blog factual integrity later.

It’s been 27 years since the internet was initiated, and in that time we’ve seen it go from a data sharing platform for scholars and scientists to a widely used communication platform in the mid-nineties to an economic engine that has grown into the world’s fifth most economically powerful entity, only after US, China, Japan, and India. (If you were to take a leap and make the Internet a country.)

The reality of all this is that ONLY 4.1-percent of the GDP across the G-20, or $2.3 trillion USD, is attributed to the internet. Most would agree that e-commerce accounted for much more of the world’s business.  Perhaps I’m ahead of the average person’s tech adoption curve, but even so I’m pretty certain that the internet touches every single person somehow at this point. I guess I am wrong.

According to a recent bgc.perspectives report the internet is still dwarfed by the big four economies of the world. 

 If the internet is as entwined in our lives as it is now, and it’s only 27 years since domain name 00000000000001, and it’s only 4.1-percent of the GDP, what happens in another 27 years?  Does the internet take on a life of its own? The report references Ray Kurzweil’s work The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, in which the author suggest that by 2099 mammalian carbon neuro-circuits will at the very least be combined with nano-circuitry in some sort of hybrid system or all but be replaced by non-organic circuits, which denotes some compelling issues. 

The profound impact the internet has on every aspect of our economy and society is staggering in itself already.

In our own industry, having your resume online, using social networking and job boards for both job-searching and recruiting has become the mandatory path. Similar changes have already or are already going the same way.

With 4.1- percent of the GDP affecting virtually every aspect of our lives, where does it go from here?

Can it become 20-percent of the GDP or more? Will e-commerce dominate the world economy in Kurzweil’s vision of 3-D, holographic and sensory virtual reality?  Evidence of exponential growth both economically and with regard to technology certainly suggests that this is not only possible but probable. Are there that many replaceable non-internet based financial transactions available? Is there a theoretical cap to the financial growth of the internet?

I know these are all futurist type of questions. But with Intel’s first processor having only about 250,000 transistors and one 27 years later having 213 as many, and with the internet approaching the world’s largest nations in terms of economic clout, is there cause for concern? Perhaps (and perhaps not) we should step back and reexamine the future.

I also know I am not the first to raise such questions. Hollywood has been all over this one but, from a layman’s perspective, maybe they’ve touched on the subject with good reason. Sci-fi fantasies like A.I. , Bicentennial Man and countless others have explored political and social effects of technology growth . Are they wrong? Or are they just that: Fantasy? Or do we need to start taking a second look at the interconnected world and start planning?

I mean to say that only 30 years ago a wristwatch mobile communications device was a thing out of the comics. I know I am going way out on the ledge of Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci or Dick Tracy with this. It seems right on the edge of reason, but worth pointing out. (By the way, there are several versions of wristwatch mobile devices available, many with exponential computing power over the original Intel processor of 27 years ago.) 

In the end, I am not suggesting Skynet is going to swoop in to take us and Sarah Conner out. What I am suggesting is that we, as a community of experts, need to start working with characters like the former governor of California and his cohorts to start addressing not only the economic realities of exponential growth of e-commerce, but the social and political ramifications of instant global inter-connectivity as well.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is Twitter ‘Jumping the Shark’ with new marketing partnerships?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

Is Twitter advertising threatening its relevance?
The fifth season of the sitcom Happy Days began with Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (The Fonz) water skiing in his trademark leather jacket and jumping a tiger shark being held offshore in an attempt to prove his manhood to the world.  The entire series was launched by an episode in which the character made famous by Henry Winkler, attempts to prove his manhood by jumping 14 trash cans, a new record, on a motorcycle. While the series lasted 11 seasons, the aquatic themed episode marked the beginning of the show’s ratings decline from the number two spot then to 55th in 1984.

Webmaster and radio personality John Hein first used the term “jumping the shark” to describe the latter episode’s stunt as the moment a television show is grasping at straws and running out of ideas to remain relevant or of any quality to its audience. Since then, the phrase has become synonymous with the beginning of a downturn in popularity and relevance for anyone or anything, from a public perspective, that leads to its ultimate demise.

Recently at SXSW, Twitter and AmEx announced a partnership whereby Twitter users can synchronize their account to earn savings on their AmEx card by re-tweeting  #tag deals from both offline and online retailers. The early adopters of this new program include the likes of Best Buy, McDonald’s Whole Foods and Zappos to name a very few.

I am making another bold prediction, right here, right now. This may be Twitter’s jumping the shark moment. In other words, when businesses start to embrace Twitter as a coupon pushing medium, I predict it’s going to be flooded with people putting #bestbuy, #amazon, #wegmans, and #giveme1dollarandIllsellmysoul.  This will undoubtedly relegate Twitter to the ValuePak crowd.  It will be a slow trickle at first, but it won’t be long before corporate spam dominates Twitter.

In itself, Twitter is a self-promotion medium and a very powerful one at that. It’s a way to say to the world, “Hey look at me. Here is what I am doing. You might be interested in this. This is hilarious” and so on. I use it to promote this very blog.

There’s one very important distinction between the way I use it and Twitter advertising. The people who follow me on Twitter choose to follow me. What’s to prevent Twitter advertisements from showing up in my feed from some followers and blocking out the content they really want to read? What’s to prevent the ads from populating your feed or blocking out your tweeted messages so much that they’re lost in a sea of Twitter advertising? What’s to prevent you from seeking and alternative way to get your message out?

What can save Twitter from jumping the shark?

The medium must become a source of searchable instant information: Twitter search. Twitter could be a “real-life” or reality version of Google, with information and answers instantly available from experts. Make that into a searchable database, and you have something that won’t be destroyed by corporate promotion. What the heck, I wouldn’t be opposed to having small related banner ads that could accompany the interface at the bottom of the page.

At their onset and always in the back of their minds, dot-com and new media start ups have how it is that they are going to make money or go public. It goes into the business plan and they take it out to investors. They must remain agile in their thinking about selling ads or services to make it a viable business proposition for investors, and here’s the key, while remaining relevant to their audience. Currently Twitter advertisers use campaign boosters and engagement tools to promote their products and services, a system which allows users to choose what brands or services they want to follow.

When you put the advertising in the hands of the users and it goes viral enough times, you’re not only relegated to the ValuePak crowd, you’re right up there with the “The first 1,500 people to click on this link will get a free iPad – I am not kidding” spammers.

In all reality, one could tell you to simply block all of your worst offending followers.

But then again, should you choose to do so, didn’t you just lose part of your audience?

With this new form of Twitter advertising and promotion, I can almost picture the fin rising from the water, dimmed slightly by a ramp-cast shadow, and hear a familiar diatonic cello chorus building into crescendo in the back of my mind.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Evolution of the Contingent Worker

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

During my regularly scheduled industry analysis a couple weeks ago I happened upon a blog by Subadhra Sriram of Staffing Industry Analysts regarding the evolution of the contingent worker over the past five years. Five years ago, people wondered exactly what a contingent worker was. At that time, a supplemental workforce was composed of mostly temporary workers.  The problem being temporary workers didn’t like being called temps and rules and regulations regarding their implementation on projects have changed. A contingent workforce no longer has that stigma.

The line between contingent and full-time workers is blurring
This got me thinking that in today’s company, workforce or lifestyle is there any real difference between regular full-time workers and contingent workers?  From an accounting standpoint there most certainly is a difference. When one takes a step back to look at the broader picture, there are a few right answers to this question.

From a company perspective, there’s no question about the difference. Companies can pay for the services of a contingent worker while avoiding the associated overhead of taxes, benefits, and long term responsibility for their development. Pay a firm for their workers until the project is complete or the planned ramp up in production has ended. Another benefit to companies is something I like to call “at-will times two.”

If you don’t like the way your project is headed, you can get a whole new team to work on it without all of paperwork and negotiation that comes with letting full-time company workers go. If you’re a company looking for just-in-time delivery on a project, what could be better?

From the worker perspective, the answer to the any difference question would likely be “no.” Workers see and read about companies where shareholders all too often only care about the bottom line and how letting go of 700 employees here and 1,500 there makes the company much more attractive to investors.

Our at-will employment society has non-competes as the norm and the concept of job security means that there are physical guards in the building to prevent a worker from harming others when terminated.  It doesn’t matter if you are 1099, temporary, contingent or full time; you have right around the same chance of getting fired.

Is this an extreme example?

Sure it is. 

Are all companies like this now?

The simple answer is again to the contrary. There are companies who value engaged contingent workers and full-time employees alike. They work side-by-side with one another and do their jobs with enthusiasm. Employers often treat them as equals unlike the temporary workers of years past.
The more complex answer is, “Not yet.” Just as with most things with financial benefit to companies (pensions anyone), the cutting and attitude changes start on the fringes and work their way to the norm.  It won’t be long before there is no difference, other than how you file your taxes, in the different kinds of workers companies employ.

That’s not to say there isn’t a need for a strong leadership core in your company or that one of your contingent workers might indeed be that next company all-star. It’s almost a try before you buy scenario; yet another benefit to the use of a contingent workforce.

Don’t get me wrong. I am in the very business of helping companies develop their contingent project teams.  The same could be said for contingent workers themselves. They get to test drive a company before committing to a full-time job if the possibility presents itself. They’re not locked into the expected loyalties associated with full-time work. They can leave at the project’s end without the job hopper stigma a full-time worker faces when the fit isn’t right.  For some workers, the contingent lifestyle and frequent projects changes put them in the catbird seat. 

In IT, a contingent workforce is commonplace. These professionals often complete a project and already have their next assignment waiting for them when they finish. Those working on the latest and greatest projects do very well. These professionals aren’t being paid the temporary wages of yesteryear either; they are in high demand because of their skill sets and flexibility. Projects can range from a few months to a few years, but hardly the 20 or 30 years of the traditional full-time worker. In fact, the recession and the marketplace seem to have eroded the very thought of getting your 25-year gold lapel pin and plaque at the annual company dinner.

Portable health insurance, long term unemployment payments, the ease that the internet provides in setting up a new business selling widgets or services, and the mindset of today’s worker where the days of being a company guy or gal are for the most part long gone; they all add up to contingent workers actually becoming the norm. Traditional full-time workers are seemingly being relegated to a distant memory.

Remember when a pilot would come out of the cockpit and give wings to the kids on the plane? Remember when a gas station attendant would actually check your oil and clean your windows AND smile (or when there was an attendant for that matter)? Remember when the worker cared about the company they worked for?

While there are pros and cons for both companies and contingent workers; it seems that worker empathy for the mission, value and culture of the company may be headed in the same direction the more the lines between full-time and contingent work are blurred.