Archive for March, 2013

An Ecosystem Approach to Engaging the ‘Right’ Customer

March 28, 2013

Last month we talked about how you knew you had the wrong customer, and how de-focusing it is to your organization when you serve these customers. This month, we will continue the customer-conversation and talk about engaging the right customers.

The strategy, execution and ultimate success of any company, large or small is the engagement of the right customers for the right solutions at the right time and continuing to add value and develop deep relationships with customers, partners, vendors and other stakeholders. This month’s marketing blog focuses on how to engage those right customers, through the strategy, execution and expansion of an organization.

Strategy Phase: Understanding the Market Trends and Customer Needs Whether you’re just launching or dreaming about your new company, struggling to pivot it to a new direction, or riding that hockey stick, it’s essential to know what-you-do-for whom, how that fits into the evolution of the business market, and what that means to your customers now and in the future.

1. To understand how your product and service offerings fit into the market, it’s important to talk to your customers, partners, vendors, analysts and others about what their needs are and what the business model is around serving that need. No one person will have all the answers, but everyone will have a piece of the puzzle. The genius is someone who can weave the pieces together and transcend the data into an integrated solution which serve all stakeholders sustainably.

2. Often your stakeholders are working with partial solutions which address some of their needs, but not all of them, which may serve them well for now, but may not be enough in the long term. Hearing what your stakeholders are saying directly and between the lines will help you craft a strategy which engages the ecosystem of partners, leverages technology to sustainably and collaboratively serve the needs of customers and partners, and generates an integrated business model which benefit all.

Execution Phase: Collaborating Across the Ecosystem In this new economy, leadership will be more about seeing and managing a web of relationships than a pyramid, king-of-the-mountain structure. Today’s leader will have the vision to see how stakeholders work together, the integrity and ingenuity to see how collaboration is key, and success-for-one-is-success for all.

3. Mapping out the motivations, interests, resources and merits of each partner in the ecosystem will help leaders strategically understand how best to work with others, and the role of themselves and their organization in the market.

4. Forging partnerships and relationships across the ecosystem, and transparently communicating interests, motivations and collaborative ideas will become ever more important in the new economy.

5. Collaborative offerings between stakeholders will create more energy and momentum to each entity and the ecosystem as a whole.

Expansion Phase: Seeing Beyond Your Own Needs One of the benefits of this systemic, ecosystem, collaborative approach is that it makes an organization more nimble, and it helps leaders adopt a broader perspective about industry, customer and technology trends as well as global market trends.

6. When you see beyond your own needs, and map the trends beyond your offerings, you can respond more nimbly, quickly and collaboratively as technology and customer and global needs evolve.

7. Partnerships with specific organizations across the value chain can help individual entities more efficiently deliver customized services to customers, customers they may have common with others in the ecosystem.

Relationships Are Paramount

8. Not every stakeholder will buy into this new type of integrated partnership. Building relationships of trust and delivering results that benefit all are essential to ensure that the partners inclined to respond to this approach actually commit and deliver on their end.

9. The days of divide-and-conquer, one-king-of-the-mountain and independent monopolies will soon pass, and the days of the self-serving leader/company will be lessons in a history book about what-could-have-been. Those who see and lead past the fear and embrace relationships and collaboration will tell tales about how they led their organizations through the pivot, and how their leadership turned the company around.

10. Collaborative partnerships across the ecosystem will assist organizations to expand into new markets, services, technologies and offerings. The trick is to ensure that all entities across the ecosystem benefit from expansion opportunities and that relationships remain intact when there’s a lot of money at stake.

This new model of relationship-development and leadership is not business-as-usual. But it’s a model of doing business which fits well with the evolution of the market: from an age of information to an age of personalization.


When to Hold Up, When to Fold Up, When to Walk Away, When to Run

March 28, 2013


In thinking about this month’s FountainBlue leadership blog, Kenny Roger’s song The Gambler with lyrics by Don Schlitz comes to mind. If you work with the premise that every hand can be a winner, it’s a matter of knowing when to hold firm to your ideals, when to fold to the pressures and insights of others, when to walk away from a relationship or deal, discussion or direction, and when to run away from someone and why. Here are some guidelines on when to choose which option:

When to Hold Up

Leadership is not always about making the most popular decision, being the most likeable guy/gal in the room. Sometimes it’s about making those tough choices, weighing a variety of factors, looking out for the best interest of the people and organization who have entrusted you with their future. If your decision is well researched, impartial, not-personal, and in the best interest of all, to the best of your knowledge, hold firm to your decision, communicate clearly your position, and lobby for support. This is especially true if:

  1. There are individuals or teams who are reacting emotionally to a decision, and taking things personally. If you’re sure that the decision is not personal, help he/her/them see this, and help them get the support to navigate the emotions around it. Change happens. It’s generally tough, but always inevitable. People vary in their abilities to adjust. A compassionate leader understands both why difficult things have to happen and how to support people in making things happen.
  2. There are times when individuals or teams are working at cross purposes, and it’s hard for both sides to see the value of a new direction if their goals are not aligned. Understanding the motivations of all sides and getting all sides to agree on a win-for-all solution will help leaders to hold firm to a decision, and enlisting 360 degrees of support.

When to Fold Up and Adopt the Perspectives of Others Nobody can be right *all* the time, and sometimes it’s worth adopting the perspectives and ideas of others on your team, particularly if:

  1. Others have more experience, knowledge, information or connections which give them a bigger, broader, different perspective.
  2. Others have a new, more efficient, more collaborative, more inclusive way of doing something, especially if it has proven successful in the past.
  3. Others have had more success in a particular area, and are sharing new perspectives you or your team may not necessarily understand, but may prove revolutionary if done well.
  4. Others might have a better long-term solution and understand that there are down-sides to the proposed short-term solution.

When to Walk Away Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, and we have to walk away from individuals or teams as we can’t agree a consensus or agreement. Hopefully, if we build on transparent communications and a relationship of respect, we can go separate ways with a relationship intact. Regardless of what happens when you agree to disagree, you should walk away if:

  1. There’s a philosophical difference about a technology or business trend or direction. It’s hard for any company to take both sides on a strategic direction for an organization. You could have tangent or tiger teams do explorations on an alternative technology track or business model, but the company must quickly coalesce on one direction, and all march and converge in that direction. People and teams who can’t get on board should walk away.
  2. Often times in tech companies, there’s a chasm between those-in-tech and those who are not. My advice is for business and tech professionals to agree-to-disagree when it comes to how something should be implemented, provided that the deliverable meets the needs of the customer. Getting into a head-to-head about technology implementation, process definition, general communications, etc may not be a good use of energy, and it may be better to decide to walk away from an unnecessary conflict.

When to Run As a leader, there will be times when the people you’re working with don’t share the values and culture and standards you stand for. These people might go through the motions and follow the plan, but they are definitely people who can’t get from-here-to-there, and the only option is to run from them.

  1. If the values of someone are in alignment with the organization, yet she/he has violated the trust of others, it is time to run. Trust is something hard-earned, and easily lost, and if that trust is lost, it is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to regain. Someone who violates others’ trust may succeed in different future circumstances, if the lessons are learned, but it’s too expensive to repair that trust in the same team and organization once it has been compromised, and would reflect badly on the leadership team if violated trust goes un-penalized.
  2. If your fundamental values are different than the people you are working with, it would be very difficult to find a middle ground. The values, culture and moral compass of an organization should be clearly communicated, and violators must be carved off, to preserve the integrity of the organization for those who remain. Lastly, there will never be a role for anyone in your organization who does not share your fundamental values – not that theirs are wrong, just different. So the only advice is to interview for common morals and values, and act quickly if it turns out someone is out of alignment with your values.

As a leader, you can’t expect everyone to always appreciate the tough decisions you make, so knowing when to hold-up and why, when to fold up and revisit your decision, when to walk away, agreeing to disagree, and when to run will make you more effective, more contemplative, and more likely to be right . . . at least *this* time.

Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career

March 18, 2013

FountainBlue’s March 15 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a wide range of perspectives on our panel, and that our panelists shared their insights, suggestions and advice with poignant humor and candor. They speak from their deep experience immersed in high tech, challenged by the needs at both work and home, and making tough choices, for themselves and for their careers. There are vast differences in education, experience and perspectives, yet they had many things in common.

  • They made tough, proactive choices all along their career path, some responding to the needs of others around them. They made the best of each of the choices they made, whether they proactively made them or not, and leveraged their successes to position themselves for the next move.
  • They are business and tech savvy, but more importantly people-focused and leverage each of these strengths to deliver value, no matter what their role or title was.
  • They are self-aware professionals who know and leverage their strengths and successes and consistently deliver value for their team and organization.
  • They are great relationship-builders and proactive networkers and strategically manage their careers leveraging relationships and connections (in a good, non-direct, non-manipulative way).
  • They are positive, energetic leaders and lifelong learners who embrace change and encourage and empower those around them to do the same.

To our panelists, career agility is just part of the new way we work: we don’t expect to have a full time job throughout our career. Changes in role, company, industry are a given for today’s worker; your career path would be more like a EuroPass – unlimited travel for a specified period of time, than a traditional train ticket where you go from Point A to Point B with perhaps a transfer or two along the way. As such, proactively managing your career with agility – strength, flexibility, persistence, resilience – will serve you well.

Our panelists advise that you first know what your strengths and passions and skills are, and then evaluate what the needs in the market are. If you start with your strengths and abilities and understand the opportunities, you can at times create your own role, particularly if you are energetic, intelligent and flexible enough to do so proactively.

Everyone who wants to proactively manage her/his career must be seen as someone competent, and easy-to-work with, with a track record for delivering results. Sometimes we get in our own way when we are *too* thorough about doing a job well, so follow the 80-20 rule if someone tells you things like ‘work smarter’, ‘be more strategic’.

Strategically managing your career means delivering results on each of your projects, understanding and anticipating market trends and their implications, and connecting with the right people for the right opportunity for you. Today’s successful professional plans for each transition, and positions him/herself for each new opportunity, embracing the change and learnings which come with the new territory. Their focus is not necessarily on increasingly higher job titles, but more on the larger impact of each new role and opportunity.

Consciously choosing which projects you work on and who you report to will also help you raise the bar for yourself, and support your career trajectory. Connecting with the right people and projects are especially important if you’re getting into a new area/role/company/industry, but note that the stakes are higher here, so it’s even more important that you perform well and build relationships well, if you elect that higher visibility.

Work hand-in-hand with and consciously choose your project/role/boss so you can proactively embrace work you can do and love well. Insist to yourself that you love what you do, and make changes in your role to make it a job you really want and love. Do the same for those who work with or for you. Not only is it more fun to work with passionate, effective people, but you would be more likely to get things done, and done well.

Regardless of what level you work at and whom you work for, have the confidence to take a seat at the table, and share your perspectives and insights. Sometimes it’s a gender thing – men might be more comfortable making it up or applying for jobs where they are not fully qualified. So if more women were to have the confidence to make it up as we go, especially in areas where nobody has the answers, there will be more success stories in many more areas, just because more women would be trying!

Our panelists recognize that life happens, and we make career choices to address the needs of our loved ones. But their philosophy is that this is a given, and they would encourage us to get back on track with your career once the home front is more stable. The work-choice is hard at times, especially when the children say or do something to unwittingly touch our guilt hot buttons. But the larger picture is that as career professionals, we are making a conscious, proactive choice, and second-guessing our own choices may undermine our drive and confidence. Our panelists didn’t say that career comes before children, but they did say don’t be hard on yourself for the choices you made, don’t judge others for the choices they made, and focus on instilling the love and values in your children and they will understand and support you.

One of the tips our panelists shared is to actively engage in community activities as a leader. Benefits of participation included making a difference, learning new skills, building connections, and serving a higher purpose.

The bottom line from this discussion is that you are in charge of your career, so empower yourself to manage it well, enlisting the help of others around you. And agility is a choice you can make at every crossroads in your career. It is your uncomfortable stretch goal, your other-than-what-you’ve-done-before option. It will be what will distinguish you from others around you, and increasingly more so in the new economy.



We would like to thank and acknowledge the speakers for FountainBlue’s March 15 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career:

Facilitator Christy Tonge, Executive Coach & Organizational Consultant, Leadership Expedition Partners

Panelist Diane Bisgeier, Program Manager, WebFWD Open Innovation Program, Mozilla Corporation

Panelist Roli Saxena, Global Director Product Consulting and Customer Success, LinkedIn

Panelist Barbara Williams, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Oracle

Panelist Kirsten Wolberg, VP, Technology, PayPal

Please join us also in thanking our gracious hosts at eBay.