Sunday, February 5, 2012

The ‘Big Brother’ Perception: Experience at an Industry Conference

If you associated ‘Big Brother’ with the popular reality televisions show, sorry to disappoint you. This context is rather different, and refers to an interesting perception of GE that I experienced at an industry conference where I recently had an opportunity to present. This Conference on ‘Digital Manufacturing’ was organized by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the leading industry forum in India. It focused on the application of digital technologies in manufacturing organizations. I was very excited to represent GE Intelligent Platforms (GE IP), and present our story on ‘Operational Excellence – The Digital Way’.

GE IP offers a variety of automation and control solutions and software that enable operational excellence in manufacturing. This conference draws a senior level audience from a variety of manufacturing industries, and its relevant theme make an ideal platform to establish GE thought leadership in this domain. GE IP recommends ‘Operational Excellence’ as a journey that manufacturing organizations should adopt towards improved productivity, optimized costs, integrated production and enterprise visibility.

My presentation focused primarily on the different milestones in this journey, pitfalls to watch out for, associated short and long-term benefits, and of course how GE could help manufacturing companies! Incidentally the presenter immediately before me also presented about one major milestone on this journey. He represented a start-up, and focused on solving an immediate, smaller problem that resonated well with some mid-sized organizations. The striking similarity of the solution (or at least a part of it) was well contrasted by the huge difference in the size of the organizations presenting it, and the different approaches to solving the same challenge. That led the Session Chairman to comment about our presentations as ‘big brother and small brother recommending essentially the same solution’.

The presentation similarity aside, it does compel one to think hard about competing with smaller organizations operating in niche categories with extremely low price points – a critical vendor selection criterion in markets such as India. During the course of my first ECLP assignment on commercial activation for our software business, I often meet prospects who are apprehensive of dealing with multinational companies such as GE, because their perception of GE is that of a high-end player with naturally high pricing. Although they do appreciate our solutions, quite often they do not need the entire suite. Thankfully GE IP’s solutions are sufficiently modular and scalable to suit their expectations, but the perception lingers.

The conference also surprised me with the progressive attitude of its delegates to consider new technologies. In an industry that has still not fully embraced automation, the audience was all ears when a presenter from their own (end-user) industry spoke about cloud computing and managed services as viable models to address capital investments in automation. And they were even more excited at the prospect of ‘visualizing’ their factories from remote locations on tablets and smart phones. In true ‘Big Brother’ style, they would like complete visibility over their operations in any area, anytime, from any location.

While that wish might take some time to materialize (although the applications are already available, including those from GE IP), I was happy that I could find some good leads that I could follow up with after the conference. And the experience of presenting at an industry conference is definitely memorable – I have it etched below ‘digitally’!

I am sure you too have held some perceptions of a company as large, as diversified, and as complex as GE. Please feel free to share your perceptions in the comments section.

PS: If you are interested in a copy of the presentation, it is available here.
This blog first appeared on GE ECLP's Official Blog at

Monday, November 7, 2011

Windfall holiday

Bakrie Eid is a public holiday! Damn it, I didn’t know it was. Rather, for someone used to the concept of restricted and mandatory holidays, I didn’t know this was a mandatory one. This is as public an acknowledgement as it gets. I made a complete fool of myself by walking into office this morning, only to realize it was a holiday on account of Bakrie Eid! I should have realized it when I hardly met any traffic on the way, or found the office parking vacant. But it wasn’t until I walked through the gates to an empty, dark office when the Security showed me the tiny holiday list on the board, clearly announcing this day off across all offices in the country.

Now I am confused what am I more upset at. The fact that I missed out on a long 3-day weekend; or that I got ready and drove 15 kms to work on a Monday morning; or that I had already got in the work mood. I guess it is more of the last one. I tend to get fidgety Sunday evenings itself, mostly staring at the long week ahead, and generally planning my next day. No prizes for guessing, the plans have all gone awry now.

Which leaves me with a daunting task – what do I do now? This blog will be completed in the next few hours. What next? Wifey is at work (it’s her fault really; she didn’t have a holiday, which made me assume, I didn’t either), so can’t really plan an outing. Besides, a day is too short for any outing in Bangalore. No movie worth watching either. Falling short of books too. A rather sadistic plan would be to call all friends who are at work! In fact, while at the Security Gate, I actually wished the holiday was called off and everyone should be asked to report to work immediately. What if there was an emergency? Some competitor had sabotaged the office! Don’t they do so in the Army? Aah! Empty mind is indeed a devil’s workshop!

Anyways, like all windfalls (not that I have had many), I don’t know what to do with it! If only windfalls were announced in advance (I know that’s an oxymoron)! Reminds me of the movie, Do Dooni Chaar – how the Duggal family cannot decide on what to do with Mr. Duggal’s Provident Fund windfall gain. It is too less for doing anything substantial with it, and too much for trivialities.

And just like in the movie, I guess I won’t be doing much with this windfall either. Just laze around, do nothing. That sounds so much like my ideal holiday idea anyways!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

3 minute prophecy for customer meetings

Most sales people, over a period of time, tend to develop intuitions of how their customer meetings would unfold within the first few minutes itself. Having met a decent number of customers in my current stint, I can safely say that the first 3 minutes I spoke with the customer (in most cases) decided the fate of our meeting. So here are some typical 3 minute traits I came across, and the trends that eventually lead to the prophecies. (The context: pitching sophisticated software solutions to businesses.)

The Blissfully Ignorant
Hey, I don’t face the problem you claim I might.”
What a start! Time to provoke and probe (in that order). In a B2B sales scenario, rarely do customers acknowledge their problems. If it did not keep them awake at night, why would they accept the meeting request in the first place! Denial of the problem is the first sign that the discussion needs to start from first principles – how profitable is your company versus industry peers; are you satisfied with your operational efficiency; do you foresee this problem when your company grows?
Prophecy – This person might not really be the right one to talk to; nonetheless now that I drove an hour for the meeting, let me at least get some internal references.

The Ostrich
Aah!, I already solved that problem!”
Really? How did you do that? Did you deploy professional solutions or utilize internal resources to solve it? Is it working? I am sure it is to some extent, the more pertinent question though is to what extent. And would it continue to solve the problem when your business scales?
Prophecy – This one’s going to be a tough nut to crack. Competing with an existing solution is never easy; even tougher if it is an internally developed one, given the organizational emotions attached with it. Not a completely lost cause yet; let me find some competitive information and convince the customer of the merits of our solution.

The Eternal Shrugger
I do face these problems, but I do not have the budget to solve them.”
Hmmm! So the customer is interested in listening, and wants me to build his case to request his management for funding.
Prophecy – This one’s going to be a long discussion, interspersed with many seemingly devil’s advocate role-plays. I’d better know my value proposition perfectly. Time to pull out my ROI calculations and case studies.

The Astute Deflector
Your solution sounds good, but my industry is different.”
All right. So you need a case study specific to your industry.
Prophecy – This one knows the solution category, so it’s going to be an uphill task convincing why mine would work in his industry, even if we haven’t implemented it in the same. It will probably end up scheduling another meeting with our Application Expert.

The Perfect Target
Here are my challenges. How can you help?”
Utopia! Why didn’t I find this person earlier! More than glad to help.
Prophecy – Isn’t it obvious?
Reflection – Is there a brotherhood of such people? Maybe I should check LinkedIn.

And the next one takes the cake; trust me this one is as true as others:

The Veterans Club
“So which B-School did you graduate from?”
Probably applies only to me or similar body structured individuals (lean, short, <5 ft. 6 inches)!
Reading between the lines – This customer is not happy that I came alone, without any seniors accompanying me to such an “important” meeting.
Prophecy – This meeting might not go anywhere.

So, fellow and seasoned salespeople - Trust you have been in similar situations yourself. If you identify with any of these, please share your experience here. If you would like to share others, please feel free to add. I am sure many would love to hear your interesting experiences.