You Can’t Manage Revenue in CRM

According to Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana in Cracking The Sales Management Code, 83% of what is measured (typically in CRM systems) cannot be managed. Jason makes the valid point that you can’t manage results, only activities, and that we should focus on coaching and managing the right activities that feed into objectives (KPIs) that in turn create revenue and margin results. Most of the published research nominates the CRM failure rate at more than 30%... but it has nothing to do the CRM technology. Every organization needs a CRM; you have no chance of being truly customer-centric without one and it should be the platform on which process automation, research, planning and deal coaching occurs.

I’ve worked in large corporations where the almost insane focus of the senior executive team is on the forecast call… endlessly asking the same questions of the sales person, baiting them to go and blow the deal with inappropriate pressure or to train the customer about end-of-quarter discounts that will always be available (despite hollow threats to put the price back up). No wonder so many CRM implementations become manage-up tools with poor data and no real transparency.

Want accurate forecasting? Understand the customer’s process and timing for the necessary approvals and administrative tasks. Want more revenue? Coach and manage the smartest activities that create and progress opportunities. Here are the 8 things I recommend you manage in a CRM for complex B2B solution selling because there is an ‘activity lever’ you can pull.

1. Qualified pipeline as a percentage of target / quota. I recommend 3-5 times coverage and if it’s low, the sales person can execute activities to build the pipeline

2. Opportunity qualification score. A qualification snapshot should be done progressively as deal moves through stages. Poor scores should create actions to gather intelligence or execute tasks that improve the situation

3. Number of meetings that progress the sale (with call plans completed). Call plans should be forms within your CRM, not Word documents, and the meeting notes and actions from the call should also be logged in CRM.

4. Discovery completed. This is different to the qualification process. It’s all the information you need to be able to properly propose a solution. Again, this should reside within your CRM so that when you move from selling to implementing, and then to supporting; you have a single view of the client for all aspects of customer lifecycle.

5. Number of opportunities reviewed by sales manager. Again within the CRM with your sales methodology integrated (TAS Dealmaker and Pipeline Manager are excellent plugins for Salesforce CRM). This will be evidenced by a new qualification snapshot score and actions created.

6. Proposals submitted (accepted and validated by the customer) following documented discovery process.

7. Deal time in each stage (excessive time in a stage reduces likelihood of winning). This is the most difficult in the list to ‘pull an activity lever’, but we should nevertheless understand the customer’s process and timing.

8. Close plans validated by customer. Close plans are the secret to accurate forecasting. Best practice is to rename the document to ‘Project Alignment Plan’ and then sit with the customer to validate that we are all on the same page and can meet their expectations with resources and timing. (eg; have our legal people available for contract negotiations at the right time, have our project manager available for kick-off planning when needed, etc.)

Although you cannot manage what is not measured, Jason taught me that you can't manage everything you do measure. If you can't manage the metric, then is it just clutter? Decide what’s important and create focus and task clarity for your team. Measure and drive the activities that achieve sales objectives that then convert to revenue and margin.

Follow Jason Jordan online and also read Cracking The Sales Management Codewhich is without doubt the best book ever written on sales management.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Ken Teegardin

CRM Hijacks Customer Experience Strategy

Customer Relationship Management needs to be a strategy that’s focused on creating the best possible customer experience, supported by well defined processes that are enabled by technology and with everything being driven by managers and staff committed to a customer-centric culture.

In the last few days I have been facilitating focus groups for a research study in Australia being conducted by The Eventful Group who are running a big CRM conference in Melbourne in July 2015. So far we’ve done half-day workshops in three cities with approximately 80 people ranging from senior business leaders to IT system managers. We asked the participants what they believed the biggest challenges and burning issues are in Customer Experience, and we deliberately avoided steering the conversation toward CRM software.

But CRM software quickly emerged as a burning issue and I made the comment that some research states 70% of CRM software implementations fail. I asked for a show of hands: “Who here regards their CRM software implementation a success?” On average, less than 25% and in Brisbane it was approximately 15%. Understand that I am a strong advocate for CRM software and I believe it’s an essential technology for every organization. I was, after all, the Managing Director for a global CRM vendor in Australia before leaving the corporate world in September 2012 to start my RSVPselling consulting business and career as a keynote speaker.

But here is the epiphany I had in working with these focus groups and capturing their issues and insights: Customer Relationship Management has been hijacked by software technology.

A common theme with delegates in these research groups was that they never ask for funding for CRM because ‘CRM as a dirty word’. This is because of the reputation that software projects have for being difficult, expensive and failing to deliver the desired business outcomes. Instead they talk about ‘customer experience’ initiatives and CRM is merely one piece of the puzzle (marketing automation, portals, mobility, social, etc.). There will be a research paper released early next year by The Eventful Group and I’ll post details in advance but here are some of the strongest themes that emerged from delegates:

1. Ensure that your corporate mission and values are aligned with the philosophy of customer-centricity.

2. Create a ‘customer experience strategy’ before anything else and ensure all of the organization is committed to it. Change management and executive commitment are essential.

3. Design quality end-to-end customer experiences focused on processes incorporating the entire customer life-cycle as they engage with marketing, website, social, call center, inside sales and field sales, solution architects, services, implementation, on-boarding and training, support, renewals and upsell or upgrades.

4. Build tailored interfaces and processes for staff, partners and customers and provide relevant interfaces though any channel including web, mobile, call center, field sales or social.

5. Create the right KPIs and clarity in execution and management for every role in your team.

6. Technology should come last and must deliver tailored relevance to empower every interaction.

7. Automate everything possible to drive quality, consistency and efficiency.

Customer Relationship Management should be a strategy, and Customer Experience Management should be positioned above CRM as a technology.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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Quest for The Holy Grail of Sales Enablement

There I was, standing in a large corner office on the 42nd floor of a city high-rise waiting for my weekly Monday morning ‘proctology examination’… euphemistically described by the CEO as the forecast review. I had all my CRM reports, key opportunity summaries and various notes ready to discuss any number of issues within the sales organization. I was ready but as I looked out the window at the city below I reflected on what my flying instructor taught me concerning the word confidence: “The feeling you have just before you understand the situation.”

I was Sales Director for a public corporation and the CEO was typical of others in his role – frustrated with his ‘black box’ sales division. In his opinion, no-one really knew how it worked but he poured huge sums of money into the sales machine only to have it deliver unpredictable results. Forecast dates were a crap-shoot with large deals often slipping. By contrast, the finance department ran with predictability and so did support, service, marketing and operations. Manufacturing could deliver predictably even with the complex inter-dependencies of the supply chain – but why was this not the case with many sales operations?

We sold high-end complex software solutions to large enterprise and government markets. Long sales cycles, marginal business cases built on compliance and productivity, many stakeholders to cover and in a market sector that was rapidly commoditizing. It was in this environment that he hired me to 'sort out the sales operation' with the right strategies focused on differentiated value while driving disciplined execution. He imparted great wisdom in our first meeting: “Instead of employing sales magicians, build a great machine – good execution is usually the best strategy.” He was right.

This situation was very real and in my 30 years of selling and leading sales teams, and then companies, I’ve come to understand what it takes to be successful in complex business-to-business (B2B) selling. Even though professional selling is evolving faster than ever before, there are universal and timeless truths that can guide us through turbulent and changing times.

Buyers today are better equipped than ever to drive suppliers toward commoditization. Information is no longer power – it’s freely available. Insight is the new currency of differentiation and sellers need to elevate their conversations and their level of business acumen and professionalism. Instead of being clichés, 'strategy' and 'value' need to become the obsessive focus of the sales and marketing teams, recognizing that relationships alone are no longer enough.

The cost of making the sale is rising, margins are shrinking, and value is being defined differently. The era of the ‘professional visitor’ is passing and more than one-third of B2B field sales people won’t have jobs five years from now… relationship sales people need to evolve or they will become extinct. Relationships PLUS insight, value and partnership are what's needed today in complex enterprise selling.

In 1955 the average lifespan of Fortune 500 corporations was 80 years, nearly 60 years later the average life is just 18 years! Professor Richard Foster from Yale University estimates that by 2020 more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies that we haven’t heard of yet.

The barrier to entry for new competitors has never been lower; and the process of switching suppliers for customers has never been easier. What’s the secret to prosperity in rapidly changing markets and a globally competitive economy? It’s the same as it always been – innovation and great customer service combined with flawless execution of well-conceived strategy, driven by leaders with good values.

Most businesses do a good job in segmenting their markets, customers and products but what is often missed is the insidious impact of commoditization. Every product or service becomes a commodity over time as features that once differentiated drift back to parity as competitors catch up. According to Corporate Executive Board research, 86% of the time that sellers pitch their ‘compelling value,’ buyers perceive it as neither unique or compelling but merely features also offered by other suppliers. Every business needs to look at itself from the outside – how do customers really view us comparatively? If you sell a commodity, then face the awful truth rather than cling to expensive sales models where customers are unwilling to pay for the low value and high costs associated with a field sales force.

Sales people need to fund themselves from the value they create rather than from the margins that the product or service delivers. There is no such thing as a high margin commodity and the value they offer must stem from insight and wisdom rather than mere information and service. The first law of selling is that people buy from those they like and trust. They then seek best value and lowest risk. The key for every seller is to understand that‘value’ and ‘risk’ are all defined by the customer. In selling, we are delegated down to people we sound like and this means that salespeople need to learn the language of leadership if they want to engage at senior levels. They need to be equipped to discuss the business case, delivering outcomes and managing risk.

If a product or service is a commodity then the sales model should be engineered accordingly; make it easy for the customer to obtain information, become convinced and then transact in a way that’s easiest for them including web, phone or channels. For products and services that actually are high value solutions then force the field sales team toward value through insight. Support them in developing domain expertise, genuine insights and business acumen to enable them to operate at a higher level. Product marketing needs to focus on differentiating what is being sold; and sales people need to differentiate by how they sell.

With all this in mind, what are the critical elements of sales enablement? How do you create a framework for effective sales execution? There are three essential ingredients plus the catalyst of sales management leadership. The three ingredients are sales methodology, sales process and technology platform.

Few people can articulate the difference between methodologies and process yet these elements are distinctly different in complex B2B selling.

Methodology is the framework for formulating strategy and tactics to win; it’s also how you create your competitive deal strategy, identify risks, cover the political power base within the relationship map, and identify the best way to create compelling value for the buyer. But which methodology should you use? There are a number of well-proven methodologies including TAS, Miller Heiman, RSVPselling, and others. Success with methodology does not depend on which one you select but simply on how well you use it for opportunity coaching with the team.

Process is how you build a sales funnel and execute the sale; it’s how you qualify opportunities and progress through the deal stages with discovery, proposal, demonstration, closing, contracting, on-boarding and then doing win/loss reviews and case studies. Process steps need to be supported by the right tools such as a call planner, qualification tool, discovery questionnaire, proposal templates, win/loss review forms, and territory and account plan templates.

Platform is the technology you use to enable and automate your sales methodology and sales process. It is where you have a single source of truth about customers and opportunities. It must also be your coaching platform where there is transparency concerning pipeline depth and opportunity quality. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is the ideal platform but CRM needs to be a strategy, not just a technology and reporting tool. To be implemented successfully, it must go beyond the mere functions of accounts, opportunities, pipeline and forecasting; it must instead enable the mapping of relationships and force discipline in deal stage progression with qualification scoring and action tracking. It must also include close plans with customer validation of critical dates. Finally, CRM needs to incorporate tight integration with both marketing, social (such as LinkedIn) and after sales support to provide a single view of the entire customer lifecycle from targeting, marketing, lead nurturing and selling through to account management, support, service, satisfaction and upselling.

This approach uses CRM to place customers at the heart of everything you do and provides the platform for being truly customer-centric. It also delivers transparency with deal quality and revenue predictability. It’s where sales people manage their opportunities and the tool that sales managers use to coach their people. This approach is designed to serve the sales people in improving their efficiency and effectiveness. Because it provides them with value and enables their manager to coach for improved win rates, they actually populate the systems with accurate and useful information.

When CRM is implemented with customers and sales people as the priority, and when it’s the platform for deal coaching and the enabler for sales process; then system success is assured. The synergistic outcome for management is accurate reporting and revenue predictability. The corollary of this is that CRM failurecomes from implementing it as a reporting tool with poor alignment to sales methodology and sales processes. Many CRM implementation fail and it has nothing to do with the technology provider; here are the critical success factors for successful CRM:

  • Obsessively focus on the system serving sales and customer support staff
  • Integrate with social platforms such as LinkedIn and InsideView (for easy sales research and insight into Trigger Events)
  • Integrate with marketing for lead nurturing (to build sales pipeline)
  • Create a single view of customers and prospects (to be informed)
  • Embed methodology and process coaching (qualify, call plan, close plan, etc.)
  • Simplify reports and KPIs which can actually be managed (activities)
  • Support customer lifecycle post sale (cases, complaints, renewals, etc.)

With accurate data in a CRM the next issue to decide is what metrics provide meaningful reporting. A common mistake made by management at all levels is to seek to manage by results. Jason Jordan writes insightfully on this topic in his book, Cracking The Sales Management Code, highlighting that only 17% of the 300+ possible sales metrics measured are actually manageable. As an example,you cannot manage revenue, but you can manage the activities that create it. Rather than command sales people to bring in more revenue, they need to be guided in which activities are most likely to create the type of revenue you are seeking. Managing activities is the key to delivering the right results and this leads us to the catalyst that brings methodology, process and platform technology together for successful sales enablement – the sales manager.

Sales management is without doubt the most important link in the revenue chain for any organization. The right sales manager creates emotional commitment and belief within their team, they coach and mentor for sales success, they develop the right strategies to focus effort where the team can competitively win and they drive the right conversations with the right roles within the right targeted prospects. They also create organizational alignment with upstream marketing and downstream delivery, support and service to build a business with quality customers.

Sales management leadership is the catalyst that brings it all together: people, process and technology within the right strategy and a culture of excellence in execution. The type of person capable of delivering all this is an engineer rather than a warrior, they have empathy yet hold people to account. But the best sales manager in the world cannot be successful if their boss has them endlessly in internal meetings and reporting up. The sales manager needs to be a coach rather than an administrator. She needs to spend more time in the field than in the office, and more time strategizing and reviewing opportunities with sales people than managing reports. A great coach does not jump in and take over, nor do they do the sales person’s job for them. They don’t feel the need to rescue people and instead understand that people are best motivated by reasons they themselves discover. They focus on planning and debriefing to create constant improvement.

Here are the seven sins of sales management to be avoided:
1. Hiring or retaining the wrong people
2. Managing by results rather than activities
3. Failing to utilize the right methodology and driving sales process
4. CRM implemented as a reporting tool to manage up
5. Lack of strategy and a disconnect from marketing
6. Allowing field sales people to transact commodities rather than sell value
7. Failing to invest the majority of their time in the field with their sales team, coaching and mentoring

The Holy Grail of sales enablement is the seamless integration of the right methodology, efficient sales process, all enabled by Social Selling 3.0 and CRM technology used to coach sales people by an effective sales leader focused on strategy, execution and building a positive team culture.

The very best sales operations bring people, process and technology together to be obsessively customer-centric. The truth about CRM is that you cannot be efficient or customer-centric without one, yet implementing CRM is one of the most difficult projects an organization can undertake.

Choose the right partner, appoint the right leader internally, and consider the whole picture – technology is the easy stuff! CRM is a business application rather than IT infrastructure and therefore needs to be owned and controlled by the sales leadership in partnership with marketing and customer service to support the entire customer life-cycle and drive all aspects of the sales machine.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: CucombreLibre

CRM Failure – The Dirty Secret That’s Holding You Back

In my last corporate role, I ran the Australian region for one of world’s biggest CRM software companies. It was my final role in a twenty-five year career working in the technology sector. Everywhere I worked I was always a ‘true believer’ in what I was selling – you have to be, to be successful. But now, with two years under my belt on the outside of the corporate world as a management consultant, I’ve got a different perspective.

I’m seeing a common theme working with clients … CRM is a dirty word. That’s because CRM failure rates are high – as bad, if not worse, than that of ERP back in the Y2K stampede. It’s also because sales people tend not to embrace the technology (regarding it as an overhead that doesn’t directly help them sell) and management doesn’t trust the reports it generates. I remember when Siebel was all the rage… the next big thing after ERP in 2000. Tom Siebel ran his company very much with a command and control philosophy; and that was how the software worked. The results were less than ideal – massive enterprise software license deals that were implemented as ‘manage-up’ reporting tools and the majority of licenses languishing as unused shelf-ware.

CRM software has evolved since the client/server era where Siebel exploded onto the scene. Oracle acquired Siebel and have done a great job in modernizing and moving CRM into the cloud along with other leading providers including Salesforce, Microsoft, SugarCRM and many others. Cloud computing means that the vendor shares in the risk of successful deployment. This shared-risk / shared-reward business model has transformed many software segments. If you want a CRM initiative to be successful, I’ve got some important rules to follow, but first, why does CRM fail and where are the risks in implementation? How do you overcome the negativity and also secure the right level of funding from the CEO?

I’m not a CRM basher. I passionately believe that you have absolutely no chance of being customer-centric and creating a single source of the truth about prospects and customers without one. CRM software is the best platform to manage customer life-cycle and automate customer processes – every business should have one, but no more than one.

But here is the first big problem. The term, Customer Relationship Management has been hijacked by CRM software technology and success or failure has little to do with the tech and everything to do with how it’s implemented. Customer Relationship Management should be a strategy, then a process, then a suite of enabling technologies that place customers at the heart of everything you do.

Dr Michael Hammer coined the term, ‘business process re-engineering’, and he says: “The technology stuff is the easy stuff.” He researched why ERP implementations failed but that’s a topic for another time. Selecting the wrong CRM technology guarantees failure but choosing the right products and solutions does not guarantee success – change management is key. Here are the main reasons CRM implementations fail:

  • Failure to define your customer experience strategy
  • Failure to design with sales, service and support staff being the primary internal ‘customers’ and users
  • Failure to integrate social selling and marketing automation
  • Failure to embed sales methodology and sales process.
  • Failure to configure to be a deal management and sales coaching platform.
  • Failure to integrate as the single source of truth for the entire customer lifecycle

The antithesis of this list obviously gets you on the path to CRM success but how do you secure the essential support of the CEO for the right level of funding and executive commitment? You must be able to answer his or her three big questions: 1) What is this about? 2) Why is it important? 3) What will this do for us? In talking with my clients, here are my recommendations for framing the conversation with the board, CEO, or executive leadership team.

Never use the term 'CRM'. Instead talk about ‘customer experience’, ‘customer lifecycle’, and ‘single source of the truth’. Executives understand these three terms and like them.

Focus on customer relationship management as a strategy and then a process. Define a sales methodology that drives your specific sales process so that reps can be coached to ensure that tactics and actions are linked to strategy. This approach delivers best practice and accountability in the sales team.

It’s important because it costs up to five times more to acquire a new customer than to upsell an existing one, and increasing customer value (upsell) is the best retention strategy. Yet placing customers at the heart of a business is just a cliche for most who allow finance systems to reign supreme. To be customer-centric you must have an effective CRM strategy supported by the right (Customer Relationship Management) system.

In response to the question of, what will it do for us? ‘It will help us to be customer-centric, grow revenues, reduce customer churn, improve renewals, enable better sales execution, create transparency in pipeline and deal coaching, and improve forecasting accuracy and revenue predictability; and it will provide us with a single source of the truth with a 360 degree view of the customer to support the entire customer lifecycle across all departments interacting with and supporting clients. Now what kind of ‘asleep at the wheel’ manager wouldn't want these things?

If you’re leading a CRM initiative, remember that it must be implemented to serve users rather than as a database for management. CRM should be a strategy and a process, rather than a product and reporting tool. The system should be designed to enable customer experience and support the entire customer lifecycle. The best CRM implementations therefore incorporate sales methodology integrated within an organization's specific sales process so that reps can be coached to ensure that tactics and actions are linked to strategy. This approach delivers best practice and accountability in the sales team. Importantly, ensure you measure the right things – you can't manage revenue in CRM.

Constantly ask the right questions. How can we make ourselves customer-centric and enable our sales and support people to be more efficient and effective? Does this place our customers at the heart of everything we do? When selecting CRM technology, here are some considerations for sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Select software technologies that are easy to use and also offer flexibility for cloud deployment, include strong process workflow, integrate easily and affordably with social media platforms (LinkedIn, etc.), marketing automation and finance systems; include mobility capabilities and integrate with collaboration, enabling you to maintain control of your data. Implementation services also need to be from an expert who understands how to link features and functions to business value to drive increased revenue and reduced costs.

Most importantly, the implemented CRM should serve the users and improve sales productivity by enabling sales processes and deal coaching. This instead of being an imposition on them or merely serving as a database reporting tool. Finally, it must be easy to use and provide a single 360 degree view of each customer (integrated with marketing, finance and other systems) to support the entire customer lifecycle.

So, don't let CRM failure be a dirty secret; make it a risk that needs to be managed. Ensure the proper level of investment and executive commitment rather than mere support.

Dave Stein from ES Research has great insights concerning CRM success and here is a two minute clip from an interview he did with me for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Jordi Sanchez Teruel

The Future of CRM Is Not CRM - It's A Mashup


Depending on which statistics you choose to believe, up to 70% of CRM implementations fail. I wrote a post titled 'Simplify sales before we reimagine it' and in it I discusses the need to simplify all we do including CRM. The days of monolithic legacy architectures for most software systems are coming to an end.

Yes, we need a single source of the truth about customers and a large enterprise has no chance of being trusted and customer centric without a well conceived CRM strategy underpinned with the right technology. But the term ‘Customer Relationship Management’ has been hijacked by software companies.

Without doubt we are entering the era of mash-ups as savvy leaders obsessively focus on creating compelling customer experience, both on-line, mobile and in the physical world with real human selling and service. I asked some people I respect about what’s wrong with CRM today and where the future is going. I received some interesting opinions. Buckle-up and then let me know what you think.

Grace Schroeder is CEO of idea2 and she’s an expert in working with Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to bring systems together for awesome user experience. Here are her thoughts on what’s broken with the way people decide and buy, as well with the current approach of CRM solutions.

Technology decision-making is broken. All over the world, IT executives are making poor decisions wrapped in comfortable RFP processes, consensus, and default thinking. Unknown to themselves and their CEO’s, they are signing away their companies' souls by locking them into legacy technologies that will not support the changing business dynamics already underway and locking them OUT of technology innovations that could accelerate and transform them.

Kill the Traditional Software Deployment Model. Technology innovation is creating a wake of capital destruction with the power to capsize entire markets. Established software companies, sense that something strange is happening, and too many of them are reacting instead of acting. They are playing it safe. They are forgetting how to take the risks that brought them their power in the first place, and their best hope is that they regain some courage before their revenues run straight over a cliff.

Naturally aggregating the cloud. Cloud services are like potato chips. No one eats just one. Since it became possible to log into a software solution, decision making has gradually transitioned from IT to (mostly departmental) users. A group of people decide amongst themselves that certain online subscription services make work lives easier and deliver better results to the company. This is great. However, in order to see the results of these efforts, people need a login. No login - no access to the brilliance that is enjoyed by the users. Someone is making reports, someone is asking for reports, things stop being real time. If people could only KNOW the glory of what is happening in these silos, sales would happen faster, better customer profiles would exist, decisions would be made around real time facts and customer interactions.

A sane approach to software decision making. There’s a better way, an adaptive team-based model that brings stakeholders together as partners. Together, we will study the problems you need to solve and work with you to form a technology vision to support the knowns, unknowns, and even the unknown unknowns of your business. The sane approach solves problems quickly, iteratively, with minimal disruption. It doesn’t just “control risks” - it turns problems into possibilities, in real time. Your product will be better. Your costs will be lower. Your grandchildren will admire you.

The sane approach involves deep, clear discussions about trade-offs to make sure that short term and long term objectives are prioritized against business impact. You’ll understand when and why requirements change. You’ll disentangle yourself. Decisions should be ongoing and ever-evolving discussions – not a list of assumptions made by someone who doesn’t know your users, long-term business goals, competitors, or technical competency.

Consider these executive personas and how they drive the dysfunction.

Chief Suspicion Officer. Despite respectable financial results, they feel the gap between their leadership using the right words and the existence of a rational technology strategy. They see the same processes, the same vendors, and the same contracts sprinkled with cloud words. They don’t have the words to challenge it. They keep hearing that their company needs an integration strategy, but they don’t know what that means.

Canary in the Coal Mine. You’re working in a company of great people. The business is growing. You have not been getting support from internal IT, because your projects aren’t deemed core to the business, and IT is too busy for you. Luckily, being a cloud guru, you have organized your department with some great technologies that your people have found. You are making it all work together. Problem is, you can’t get the data to others in the organization without adding a new role: Captain of the Swivel Chair Department. Now, you’re right popular – everyone wants to know what you know. So the company decides that it needs a comprehensive cloud strategy. They gave a guy in another department the title, and he’s going to figure it out for the entire company. He’s been going to conferences for a year, and submitting white papers till hell won’t have it any more. Meanwhile, you’re getting more and more steeped in the tools that you are using, and you’re afraid that you will be forced to rip them out and start over.

The Ostrich. ‘It will all go away – security is a problem and we have spreadsheets’. They ask lots of red herring questions to fend-off discussions about cloud:

  • ‘My mentor told me to always buy out of the box and that’s the rule I follow’.

  • ‘My guys tell me we have all that covered’.

  • ‘Do you know where we can get a Microsoft Access developer do you?’

  • ‘Have you heard of FoxPro?’

  • ‘Do you have something I can read?’

The Hero: He wants to save the day but he doesn’t know how. Who will listen anyway? Who should be the cloud decider? This is a major dilemma in many companies. There are people with titles to suggest that they are the deciders. However, the very nature of the word decision is challenged when it comes to working with differing technology solutions. Almost every business process in the company (including the RFP process) leads to poor decision-making.

The truth of the matter is the perfect human(s) to make these decisions do not exist in every company. The proliferation of solutions has done a great thing – there are point solutions for many more business functions, and they’re easier to use than ever. The nature of the solutions add transparency, visibility and accountability into results, and should guide people toward more effective work products.

That said, how do you take an organization that isn’t technologically savvy, and begin to introduce solutions in a way that can be easily consumed? If not easily, at least in a way that does not cause people to stick a fork in their leg when they log into their new platform.

Customers have needed trusted advisors more; to help them navigate the conflicting messages and complexity of technology. But customers must themselves also appoint leaders who can bring it all together internally when designing the customer experience they’re seeking to create. These people must care the most about success and possess technical curiosity and skills and to enable them to understand the world of the possible. Finally, they must help the best people in their teams be part of the decision process and implementation.

Certainly Grace sees CRM is part of the answer but not the panacea. She is very much all about integration and knows that the best customer experience is created by bringing data and systems together. This approach uses the right tool for the right job and is agile in its approach. Technology today offers low cost web services and modern Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to bring mash-ups to life in an affordable way.

Michael Bonner from Pipeline Manager is someone I respect enormously. He is one of the smartest people I’ve met and has many years of CRM experience in making systems both usable and valuable in enabling process efficiently and effectively.

First I asked Michael: “What’s wrong with CRM?” CRM was designed by IT people. Sales never took a leadership role in designing CRM. Then Marketing and Inside Selling got thrown into the mix – again by a department that was never trained in those professions and with no accountability for outcomes. We see years of research pointing to customers engaging with sales later and later in the cycle. And yet we see no improvements from CRM offering ways to understand that big-picture cycle, let alone view it or proactively control it or the customer’s journey. Instead, department silos are reinforced.

Next I asked: “Where do you see the future for CRM?” “First we have to ask: Why would this situation change any time soon? Improved sales has no effect on IT compensation or reviews. Whether a rep takes a minute or quarter of an hour filling out a CRM form, IT has no real reason to care. This problem plays out in countless minor inconveniences, overloaded forms and counterintuitive workflows. The problem compounds itself across inefficiencies throughout the lead-to-repeat-business sales cycle.”

The easy way to fix this: put IT/CRM admins as well as everyone involved in generating business on a strict, generous commission. That will keep all the silos laser-focused on coordinated activities that speed up a sale. The entire organization will get very smart about how a rep uses his/her 2000 hours per year. Long IT projects will become a lot shorter. Admins will be anxious to know every best practice out there and will then align CRM to support those practices. Marketing will add to the CRM only those things that are truly critical to driving revenue.

CRM of the future could look like a single source of information that tracks the entire lifecycle of the customer, with emphasis on the processes that make a sale, rather than petabytes of low-value forensic data. The hard truth is that technology can support almost anything that sales can imagine.

Looking at the future of CRM I see a big disconnect between all that CRM could be and the more likely outcome of people protecting turf, undermining change and training, passive resistance to anything that says that people could be doing better.

Despite the phenomenal payoff that any organization would have with a CRM that actually helped them make more money, there may be too many entrenched shibboleths to allow that change to happen. The bigger the organization the more entrenched the old silos and blame games seem to be.

So - CRM as an industry can keep growing at double-digit rates without having to fix any of its systemic nightmares. IT can stay in control of tools that they never have to use while ensuring that user confusion translates to greater job security. Until top management starts feeling some pain, there’s no reason to expect a shift that results in a change in the culture, the silos or the software that supports them.

Michael Bonner has delivered many CRM implementations in the real world to transform sales execution but now it's your turn: What’s the future of CRM in your eyes. Are mash-ups the future for user experience with CRM the underlying database?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Photo by Hosein Emrani on Unsplash.

CRM: Graveyards of Information or Powerhouses for Improvement?

George Brontén from Membrain has been following my posts and regularly provides insightful comments. LinkedIn is an amazing platform for building relevant connections with thought leaders around the world and we decided to catch-up on Skype.

Membrain is a specialist in B2B sales enablement and we ended-up discussing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology. I found George’s views provocatively interesting and very cogent. I eventually ask him this question: Is it possible that CRMs aren’t well suited to do everything that their makers claim they’re capable of doing? We recorded our chat and here is a paraphrase of George’s response.

CRM vendors would like sales leaders to believe their technology is a one-size-fits-all panacea but they have added so much functionality over the years that if you ask ten people what CRM is, you are likely to get ten different answers. In many companies, the CRM has become a graveyard of information, instead of a tool that helps improve sales performance.

More feature creep to come: Feature creep isn’t about to go away. The market pressures to grow top line revenue will continue to drive CRM vendors to constantly add new capabilities and acquire new technology. But when it comes to complex B2B sales and other specialized needs, a new wave of cloud-based applications are emerging. They add functionality not available in traditional CRM systems like Salesforce without a lot of hard work; i.e., custom programming and on-going maintenance. [I agree with George that the age of mash-ups is here to stay and that CRM must evolve]

One-size-fits-all or none? The concept of “one system to rule them all” is appealing but has turned sales professionals into data-entry clerks and sales managers into report-creators. Everyone spends too much time gathering information and not enough time on activities and skill enhancements that will help close more business. CRMs typically don’t help sales professionals improve, although that’s what was promised when the system was sold.

Different needs depending on the complexity of your sales efforts:Some may be surprised that CRMs are not well suited for complex B2B sales. Can’t CRMs do almost anything? With a lot of consulting and programming, this may be true. There are certainly many excellent add-ons available but how do you turn a transaction system like CRM into a visual guidance, learning and coaching platform needed in the complex sales environment?

CRM products are best for selling low-risk commodity products which can be transacted but high-risk solutions usually require the consensus of multiple stakeholders and take months, or even years, to come to fruition. The more complex your sale is, the more important each action of your sales people becomes. You need a system that supports complex process.

List, lists, lists or visual guidance and coaching? Sales improvement software should let you implement any sales process you want, and visually guide sales professionals, step-by-step through a sales process and preferably using a specific methodology and sales linguistic. In contrast, CRMs were designed to capture and display large amounts of information, and because most CRMs are developed to adapt to the needs of different user groups and business units within a company, the graphical interface often has a generic – and frankly, a quite ugly - design. The output is often lists of information that look very similar no matter where you are in the system. This type of user experience provides little contextual feedback and focus.

Studies by Sales Performance International, a leading sales development consulting firm, emphasize that a visual overview of the sales process produces significant improvements in sales performance. In general, people can digest visuals better than text, making the graphical design of sales improvement software much more than just points of vanity.

Manage information or drive the right behaviors? While CRMs were originally designed to manage customer relationships and interactions, sales improvement software is designed with one goal in mind – win more business. CRM promises the same focus but rarely delivers in implementation. Sales improvement or sales enablement software takes a different approach by focusing on the sales process itself so that sellers truly understand the prospect. The best systems become a real-time training and coaching platform to drive success throughout the sales process.

The premise behind this new breed of sales improvement software is that most sales professionals fail because they aren’t selling properly. Sales improvement software helps the sales professional know what to do with whom, when and how. This is where you need sales process, methodology, skills and professional coaching.

The future is in “meshing”: I believe that we’ll see more “meshing” in the future, where the concept of data sharing between modern best-of-breed systems removes much of the golden luster of using the same CRM vendor for everything. It will continue to be the system of record, but there will be a limit to how far CRMs can reach into new applications such as sales improvement. [I agree with George here also and I often write about the new world of mash-up methodologies and technology].

The race is on and it will be a fun one: CRM will not go away and we’ll see marketing technology merge with sales technology. It’s not so much about disrupting CRM as it is about evolving the sales profession by developing specific technologies to improve sales results by better supporting sales people, frontline sales managers and leaders. My bet is on technology that will encourage winning behaviors and win more complex B2B sales by growing people and making complex processes easy to navigate.

Wow… George is not alone in his views and I speak with many who are developing complementary and competitive technologies and cloud software offerings that can change the game for CRM adoption and success. I see an exciting future ahead for sales people who embrace technologies that improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

Now it's your turn. Do you agree with George? Where do you see the future of CRM?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Brian Smithson

Could you function without your CRM?

Garbage in, garbage out. GIGO. The modern Customer Relationship Management system or 'CRM' is all too often a repository for the inaccurate. There is little way to enforce a culture where sales people are reformed citizens and tidy record keepers. The customer data is always changing. Here are some bold ideas:

  • What if LinkedIn opened up its API to synchronize with all CRM systems so that the data is almost always accurate, up to the minute? Wouldn't this move alone revolutionize the space?
  • What if LinkedIn launched its own CRM product. How many more features does Sales Navigator actually need to be an effective catch-all solution in this way?
  • We're seeing more and more autofill via LinkedIn, so couldn't prospects just hit a single button from your front-of-site to download a white paper by filling in pre-populated, accurate LinkedIn credentials that transition seamlessly into your database of record?
  • Is all the clicking and syncing and searching in CRM shredding our collective productivity? How many hours are we actually wasting on manual processes inside antiquated UIs?
  • Could you theoretically function more effectively with just a white board, phone and email du jour? How about an airplane and a cup of coffee?
  • Is there sufficiently advanced technology being built that will disrupt CRMas we know it?
  • Could Social Selling, Web 3.0 – the web of Context, Big Data, Predictive Analytics and Automation play a far greater role out-of-the-box to help solve the above issues?
  • When are marketing automation, drip campaigns and B2B lead gen actually going to get smarter and more sophisticated with personalization beyond the first name andfirmographic telegraphing to present key insights to each type of executive stakeholder?
  • What if wearable technology could play a role? Google Glass could pull in real-time data to keep the CRM accurate. A snapshot with a smart contact lens of a business card could serve to update that file automatically after or even 'during' a meeting?
  • Will wearables and machine learning technology take voice recognition and Siri to a level of an always-on, executive assistant keeping all our data straight?
  • Is there a bright future for CRM or will the sector continue to decay behind the scenes while savvier marketing teams continue to put lipstick on a pig, shellacking an advanced-looking coating on a shell of an ancient engine?
  • What is the role of social proximity to serve up networked intelligence based on geolocation, network node overlays and prescience about who we 'should be talking to?' We have the data, now how do we get to it?

These questions are mere icing on the iceberg cake of perplexing issues, no doubt. It will take bold, antifragile, resilient and innovative entrepreneurs within the legacy systems to disrupt themselves in skunk works-like divisions that crop up.

Or, a new breed of CRM and CXM will appear that starts to erode their grip on market share. We've seen these tectonic shifts in so many industries as of late. It's never been easier to launch a startup company and challenge incumbents because of the cloud, CapEx can be virtually eliminated with a controlled OpEx burn.

Who will be the next disruptors in CRM? There's one thing we can never doubt. Ideas are powerful and one big bold idea has the power to change the world and uproot industries in inexplicable ways.

How can CRM be re-imagined from the ground up, with First Principles Elon Musk Physics Thinking. Which portion of the features does your organization actually use? What is the 20% generating 80% of the results? What is glaringly missing? How can we tie back all the ROI of our finest social selling efforts and reflect this within a holistic picture of multi-channel outreach in the modern Full Funnel Marketing approach?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Roland Tanglao


CRM, SFA, and Sales Enablement. Not The Same

Customer churn is a cancer eating away at most businesses. To combat this and be truly customer-centric, you must have an effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy supported by the right CRM technology. Yet placing customers at the heart of a business is all about people, culture and processes rather than technology. Beyond client retention, businesses also need to acquire new customers and this is best driven with Sales-Force Automation (SFA), usually also from within a CRM integrated with other best of breed marketing automation and social selling tools. SFA is about bringing sales and marketing together to align with the buyer’s journey and also support sales people’s early engagement for proactive demand generation.

But here is an important distinction: CRM and SFA are actually two different things. They may be enabled by similar technologies but real sales enablement is all about methodology, process, training, coaching, playbooks, planning, profiling, research tools, insight creation, and much more. CRM success or failure has little to do with the technology you use and everything to do with how it’s implemented. Although it's true that you cannot manage what you don't measure, CRM must be implemented to serve users and customers rather than as a database for management. CRM should be a strategy and a process, rather than a product and reporting tool. The best CRM implementations therefore incorporate sales methodology integrated within an organization's specific sales processes so that sales people can be coached to ensure that tactics and actions are linked to strategy. This approach delivers best practice and accountability in the sales team.

CRM software should be where sales methodology, process and coaching all come together. The system should obsessively put customers at the heart of the organization with account managers and sales people fully equipped through a single view of everything that can be managed. This means integration with social selling tools such as LinkedIn and marketing automation tools is essential. When implementing SFA or CRM, think about the buyer’s journey and customer lifecycle… how can you support your sales people to deliver an integrated, high value experience for prospects and customers?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo: Copyright Tony J Hughes 2014

CRM Must Evolve To 'Customer Experience' Or Become Mere Back-end Database

Last year I was engaged to lead some round table forums with over 100 organizations across multiple cities in Australia. In the sessions we actively discussed the role of CRM in creating Customer eXperience (CX) and the half-day workshops were created by The Eventful Group who hold an annual major CRM conference where I have been a keynote speaker each year.

One common theme in the workshops I led was that CRM is a dirty word. CRM failure rates are claimed to be anywhere from 33% to 70%. This infographic from Dun and Bradstreet says it all.

Almost unanimously, people said that they positioned a CRM initiative internally as a system for creating a 'single source of the truth' or a '360 degree view of the customer'. That's smart because CEOs don't want yet another software system in their business but they do want the outcome it can deliver.

Some people say that people don't want to buy a drill, they want a hole. I disagree; people actually want their picture hanging on the wall. CRM is no different. CXOs want what the system can do for them and that must be the focus. But the single biggest mistake that enterprises make in implementing CRM systems is that they neglect their internal and external customers.

Every CRM should be implemented to serve sales people and customers, whether they be channel partners or end-users and consumers. The big questions must be: How will the system serve the sales person – how will it help them sell more effectively? Strategy is important but designing Customer eXperience (CX) is where you create clarity in use-cases and functional requirements. The devil is very much in the detail. The goal of any CRM implementation must be to serve internal and external users, rather than be a uber big brother reporting tool.

The delegates at the round table forums provided lots of interesting feedback and here are the things they believe need to be addressed to ensure success and long-term ROI for CX initiatives:

  • Design and deliver a customer centric culture right across your business – produce a team culture that focuses on continuous learning and training, looking to continually evolve and improve
  • Provide a clear and articulated vision with attainable values for the future – “live by them and not just preach them”
  • Methods to change the engrained behaviors and habits of staff with years of experience who are “set in their ways” or who’ve said “we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work”
  • Making the appropriate decisions without adverse impact on the end customer experience
  • Remove the silos within your organization - organizations with siloed functions and departments work independently but have a significant impact on the overall customer experience
  • Overcoming fear and intimidation – what if my team don’t follow the process – it could be catastrophic!!
  • Committing everyone to customer centricity – how you get everyone moving in the same direction
  • Engaging different generations to embrace new processes and technology available to them
  • How providing clear up-stream - and down-stream communication of “why” the new processes are in place can influence usage and accuracy of data quality
  • Coping with evolving systems’ training needs – upgrades, new developments and design changes
  • Ensuring the customer focus from training and methodologies remain “top of mind” when staff are in their roles
  • “Everyone is a customer” – using personal experiences, positive or negative, to apply within your own work
  • Finding, attracting and retaining the right individuals for your business, when the skills aren’t always available

I certainly agree and here are my top 5 recommendations:

  1. CRM must be strategy, not a technology
  2. Design end-to-end customer [and channel partner] experience
  3. Embrace the concept of mash-ups for best of breed capabilities
  4. Design for sales process enablement and sales person efficiency
  5. Ensure you're measuring the right things (inputs)

CRM failure rates are high so don't allow technology to hijack your customer relationship management strategy! Technology is merely an enabler of processes and service levels.

Real leadership is needed and executive commitment to CX (Customer eXperience) is essential... message to CEO: You need to change your job descprition; obsessively focus on CX rather than CRM.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Dallas Krentzel

Sales Transformation – Don't Do Software Trials!


The most difficult part of an enterprise to transform is the sales organization. Many leaders see their revenue machine as a mystery black box filled with a little bit of science and a lot of art. On this, the allure of sales and marketing software tools (CRM, Methodology Playbooks, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, and social selling platforms) promise to bring increased reach, accelerated results, buyer alignment, consistency in sales execution, transparent pipeline creation, timely opportunity progression and predicable forecasting.

Yet the failure rate of software projects is alarming. ERP implementations fueled by Y2K fears back at the turn of the century had failure rates of 40% (source: Dr Michael Hammer). Hot on the heels of the ERP craze (Enterprise Resource Planning – eg; SAP and Oracle enterprise management systems) was CRM (Customer Relationship Management – eg; Salesforce, Siebel, Oracle, Sugar, Dynamics, etc.) and the statistics are sobering:

  • 73% of companies do not have high confidence in their CRM data. Source: Miller Heiman Research Institute, 2014 Sales Best Practices Study which is an ongoing program with >30,000 participants over 11 years.

  • Up to 70% of CRMs fail in the USA according to Gartner Research in 2012 and they stated that they did not anticipate any improvement through to 2015.

  • 70% of CRMs fail in Europe according to Butler Research and published by Dun and Bradstreet infographic 2013.

I think the failure rates of CRM today are approximately 30% - 40% today based on anecdotal and 'show of hands' surveys when I speak at conferences. But does this mean we should avoid implementing CRM and other sales transformation technologies? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

"You have no chance of being customer-centric and driving effecieint process to create best customer experience unless you have a brilliant CRM"

You also have no chance of improving sales success without embracing social selling, especially LinkedIn's platform.

Every leader knows that they must drive transformational change. I've been preaching for years that "the way we sell is more important than what we sell" and our ability to leverage technology and create superb customer experience is the biggest point of difference as we go to market.

Using technology and people to create sensational customer experience is the key to dealing with the forces of disruption and commoditization. The best leaders and sales people embrace technology and social platforms to remain relevant and prosper in competitive markets. But how do you manage the implementation risk of CRM, Sales Navigator, Playbook methodologies or social selling tools?

I've been the regional leader for a CRM technology provider and I've also been on the other side as sales Director for a public corporation implementing CRM and LinkedIn. I now work with clients helpingthem navigate the risks in achieving the outcomes they need from investing. Ironically, I see many increasing their risk by sending the message that they are uncommitted in driving the necessary change; and they do so with ill-conceived trials and pilots.

"Doing software trials with sales people is like hitting them on the head with a hammer and then asking them what they think"

The stakes are high in any change management program and that's exactly what's being done when implementing LinkedIn's Sales Navigator, CRM, Playbooks, qualification methodologies or opportunity management tools. Success is not an option when you consider the fact that B2B sellers have somewhere between 40% (Corporate Executive Board research) to almost 70% (TAS Group) of their sales people failing to achieve their revenue numbers!

Here is my candid advice for anyone considering the implementation of CRM or LinkedIn's Sales Navigator.

  • It must be a strategy and process before being about technology.Be crystal clear about what it is you're automating or seeking to enable. CRM, SFA (Sales Force Automation) and Social Selling must be designed for internal and external users including staff, partners and customers.

  • It's a change management program rather than a technology implementation. You're seeking to bring people, process and technology together for transparency and better execution. Bring people along with you on the journey and lead with why it's important before communicating the detail of what, when and how.
  • Don't send mixed messages to your sales people or the inmates will continue to run the asylum. Be committed and don't 'play' with software, process or methodology to see what people think. Do your homework, prepare, plan and fully resource for success. The power of Sales Navigator is in the network effects of having everyone using the platform. The power of CRM is having it used by everyone as the single source of truth about clients.
  • Forget having an 'executive sponsor', you need executive commitment. The leaders of the enterprise must fully understand and use the tools themselves. Everyone should transform their LinkedIn profile away from being an online CV to instead be a personal brand micro-site in harmony with the employer. If a sales person wants resources for opportunity pursuit... the deal must be up to date and well qualified for an approval to be granted. Any time a senior executive is asked to talk with or visit a client, the call plan must be there in CRM.
  • Measure the right things and carefully select the best KPIs.Interestingly, only 17% of metrics being reported in CRM systems can actually be managed.Source: Cracking The Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana.
"SSI is the new KPI for stategic selling"

Click here to get your LinkedIn SSI score now with links explaining how your score is calculated by LinkedIn


Independent researcher C9 Incsurveyed 36 companies and 9,000 sellers, finding that those who embraced LinkedIn's Sales Navigator tool created 7 times more pipeline and 11 times more revenue. LinkedIn themselves analyzed a cross section of new and existing sellers who increased pipeline by 45% and the probability of achieving their sales targets by 51% simply by improving their social selling index (SSI) scores.

For LinkedIn Sales Navigator or any other sales enablement technology; build your business case, understand user experience, be clear about the problem your solving and the results you expect. Carefully design and communicate KPIs and then drive change with committed leadership. If your considering LinkedIn's Sales Navigator, deploy to the entire organization just like many others have done to realize the network. See case studies here. Avoiddoing small pilots because they achieve nothing but damage momentum and the probability of success.

"The risk is not in the technology, it is in your ability to lead and manage change within your sales team"

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker

Main image photo from Flickr.