July 30th, 2007

Cold Calls … A Few Tips

Cold calls are just one of the tools of sales … and despite the importance of this task many salespeople really struggle with calling people that they don’t know. I recently read a good article with some tips that may be helpful. The article was written by Mark Fortune, a Professional Business Developer with the Wellesley Hills Group, a consulting and marketing services firm that helps service companies to grow. Mark can be reached at mfortune@whillsgroup.com.

Mark’s article is titled the Three Cornerstones to Delivering an Effective Telephone Pitch. These three areas of concentration are:

1. Brevity. This is an unsolicited call to someone that you think may be interested in what you have to offer. You need to get their attention quickly or risk losing them before they hear your message. Mark has a 5 sentence structure that he proposes:

Greeting: your name, your company name.
Definition: your company type, its nature of work.
Value proposition: your special offer to the prospect.
Reward: the value proposition’s benefit to the prospect.
Request: your meeting request with a time and date.

2. Wordsmithing. In such a short period of time it is important to use the right words. Mark gives some examples. One thought is to avoid buzzwords but to use words that are different enough to get you noticed.

3. Clarity. Mark’s third cornerstone is to make the message very clear, so that there can be no misunderstanding about what your are trying to convey.

All of the above are great things to consider for the sales person about to make some cold calls. Here are a few Kevin Dee thoughts to add:

1. Inject enthusiasm without being “over the top”. Nobody wants to deal with someone who is “flat”, nor do they want to deal with someone who is obnoxious.
2. Smile. It is “felt” at the other end of the phone line!
3. Make the message fit. Know who you are calling and be sure the message is appropriate.
4. Stand. If you sit while making a series of cold calls your enthusiasm will wane and the calls will become “stale”. If tyou stand, and better still walk around then your energy will be injected into the calls.
5. Don’t do too many cold calls in a row. Split them up with other activities, because it is difficult to keep the enthusiasm going. We are all different so you need to understand what works for you, 20 calls at a time or 50 calls at a time or somewhere in between.
6. Believe in your message! If you don’t believe in what you are selling then how will your prospect? If you have doubts, them work with your manager to sell yourself!
7. Practice. Practice saying it to yourself, call your own voicemail. Practice with colleagues, role playing is a great way to improve your messages.

Here are a few more thoughts on the subject from Colleen Francis, a sales trainer who continues to provide great help to Eagle’s sales team.

When you master the art of cold calling you will see an immediate impact on your sales results, but like anything worth doing it takes effort. Good luck!

July 25th, 2007

The Indian Offshore Phenomena

This week there was an announcement that Infosys has won a major outsourcing deal with Royal Philips Electronics, worth something like $250 million. As a part of the deal Infosys bought their existing infrastructure including 1,400 employees in India, Poland and Thailand. This positions Infosys as a global player in the BPO outsourcing market, gives them a base in Poland with which to target the European market and shows just how far the big Indian companies have come in the last decade or so.

It has been interesting to watch the progression of the large Indian IT companies. We first started to hear about India as a low cost offshore solution focused largely on help desk types of applications. Those companies were very successful in growing that business and positioning themselves for future opportunities. Following the success of the help desk they have moved “up market” and as we see from the above deal they now play with anyone.

Some interesting points about this transition:

The original value proposition of the Indian outsourcer was price. The cost of labour was so vastly different than Europe and North America that companies looked for significant savings from these companies. The intense competition in India has driven wage prices up significantly … annual inflation of 18% plus currency rate fluctuations have had a big impact on pricing.

The low priced labour in India attracted most of the large established outsourcers to develop capability in India. For example IBM now boasts something like 53,000 employees in India. This allows these companies to offer more price competitive solutions to their clients.

Attrition rates in the call center business are suggested to be in the 40% range. This was based on numbers from the India Leadership Forum in 2007.

The intense demand for Indian resources has led Indian companies to look at other sources of people! Hence the attraction to Infosys in establishing a foothold in Poland and Thailand. Wipro has established a presence in Romania, Portugal and Brazil!

One of the strategies adopted by the large Indian companies has been acquisitions outside of India. Wipro has been quite active in acquiring mostly European companies in the last couple of years. Again, the Infosys deal provides that same affect.

So … will we see one of these companies make a big acquisition in North America or Europe? It is entirely possible and rumours have swirled at different times. Whatever happens you can bet on these giant IT companies remaining a global force for many years to come! You can also bet that the traditional players will continue to expand their off shore capabilities in order to be able to compete. Longer term the offshore solution will not provide a huge price differential, however it might just provide the labour that will be needed as the Western world experiences labour shortages!

July 24th, 2007

Is Grammar Important?

Most CEOs that I talk with these days will complain about the decline in writing skills in the working population. There seems to be a number of factors involved but generally it is pretty hard to find people, particularly in the technology world, who are capable technically but also have good writing skills. There have been many articles quoting career counsellors, that technology people need to have good soft skills in order to advance.

I think there could actually be a good debate here! If you agree that the advent of instant messaging and perhaps the proliferation of email, together with the decline in “snail mail” has led to a decline in “writing skills” then has that been offset by better productivity?

If I can communicate with someone effectively using a shorthand approach, like in text messaging then is that effective? If I can manage multiple such conversations at the same time is that not a productivity gain? If the people that I am communicating with are from the same generation and appreciate that mode of communication then what is the problem?

I think the issues comes more from “boomers” like me, who associate good grammar with professionalism and expect that kind of communication rather than today’s IM shorthand.

So … if I send long emails to people and they choose not to read it because they are used to “sound bites” am I really communicating well? Doh!

Life is full of shades of grey and I think we all have trouble adapting to change. The world of communication has changed, and the short form means of communication has reached a high degree of acceptability in the workplace. I also think that not being able to communicate effectively with senior decision makers, using more traditional writing skills will hurt your career.

Perhaps today’s professional needs to be bilingual … short hand and long hand!!!

July 23rd, 2007

Superior Execution … a Great Strategy?

When you run a business you are always looking for ways to differentiate from your competition. It can be in small ways or with “Big Ideas”, it can be based on product, service, price or any combination thereof. I recently read an article from Harvard Business review that actually articulated very well the issue of differentiation in a “commoditised” market.

The article was called Hustle as a Strategy and the author was Amar Bhide. It can be purchased from the Harvard Business Review, or you could subscribe for regular copies of their articles.

The article focused in on the Financial Services industry and there a number of remarkable similarities to the staffing industry. Conventional wisdom suggests that industries where there are low barriers to entry, and where competitive advantage can be quickly copied, the returns will be low. Yet, the financial services industry fits these criteria and continually we read about record profits in this industry … go figure! Warren Buffet even agrees with Bhide in describing the sector …”Major sustainable competitive advantages are almost non-existent in the field of financial services”.

Bhide proffers his “hustle as a strategy” theory as a reason why those companies do well, suggesting that companies with superior execution can differentiate and achieve success. Thus the successful “hustler” companies will articulate a clear vision, hire great people, engage their staff in that vision, train them well, establish great process and deliver for their clients.

All of this holds true for the staffing industry too … I have not yet seen superior execution garner better margins in this industry, but if those financial services companies can do it why shouldn’t the staffing industry? The reality is that there is no more important industry today, without the right people no company could be successful … and our core business is finding the right people for our clients.

Got to run … need to go and figure how to raise margins!

Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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July 20th, 2007

Skills Shortages and the Education System

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses in the coming years is going to be finding enough qualified people to meet their needs. In Canada the province that is at the forefront of this wave is Alberta, where their major cities have experienced boom times from the oil and gas industry. The Alberta provincial government have a number of initiatives underway to address both labor and skills shortages. Their strategies fall under the primary categories of Inform, Attract, Develop and Retain … which all seems so logical.

For me it begs the question, does the whole of Canada need to reach the same critical point as Alberta before we see some real action here? When are governments and educational establishments going to stop talking and implement some real solutions? Having said that are companies going to wait until the crisis is upon them before they get involved and become a part of the solution?

For the past several years Eagle has contributed scholarships at three different colleges in Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. Every year we give 14 scholarships of $500 each in the hope that it will be used to encourage kids into the technology field.

I think the idea was reasonable. I think that the execution leaves a little to be desired. Here is how it appears to work …

Each year we get invited to the award ceremonies for those who have won the scholarships. I have yet to me a winner who came into the technology field because of the scholarship. I have met winners who on completion of their training are now working in other fields. I have met winners who knew nothing about the scholarship until months after they graduated! How is that going to help?

I accept blame here, (a) I threw money at a problem and assumed that those receiving the money would know how to use it; (b) I have known about this problem for a few years and have not devoted the time and energy from my company to educate the educators about how to best use the money; (c) I have not looked for other solutions.

Having said that … is it unreasonable to expect large educational establishments to have programs that will use these kind of incentives to attract students who might otherwise have been unable or unwilling to enter a technology program? I saw an article today about the University if Maryland and how their outreach program has increased enrollment in the information systems programs by 40%!

Education is just one of the ways to tackle the skills shortage but it is an important part, and generally in Canada we are just not doing a good job! So … I have many times suggested that companies need to get involved with programs like Eagle’s scholarship program. I have not changed my mind on that, I just now believe that we need to educate the educators about how to use those programs effectively!

July 19th, 2007

Independent Contractors and The Non-Compete Clause

First I must state the obvious disclaimer … I am NOT a lawyer and therefore not qualified to give legal advice. These opinions are those of a Staffing Industry professional, an owner of a staffing company and a former President of Canada’s staffing industry association (ACSESS).

At various time through this blog I attempt to explain different aspects of the staffing industry, how it works and why it is that way. Today I thought I would talk about the non-compete clause, specific to the independent contractor world … since it was the subject of a recent situation at Eagle.

In Canada an independent contractor is a business entity. As an agency I enter into a business to business relationship with the independent contractor and similarly I enter into a business to business relationship with my client. Thus a three way relationship is formed, which is just one of the ways to ensure that the employer/employee issues surrounding independent contractors is kept clean.

It is a standard in our industry for contracts to include non-compete clauses in contracts. This provides some level of protection to the agency and to the agency’s client. The following are just some of the scenarios it is designed to prevent:

1. A competitor agency (with a distinct lack of ethical standards … editorial!) proposes to a client that they will take on all of their existing contracts for less money than the client is now paying its current agencies.
2. A contractor decides to cut their own deal, either with the end client or another supplier and ends up back in the same job through someone else (or not) and the original agency gets cut out of the equation.
3. In the case where the client is another supplier, such as system integrator or software development company, the non-compete will protect them from someone else winning their business using the same contractor, or even the contractor competing themselves.

Generally speaking this approach works well, it is the one piece of security that an agency has and most people will respect the clause and its intent.

The value that the staffing industry provides to Canadian industry is significant and growing. Staffing companies incur significant costs in establishing and maintaining the infrastructure that allows them to access “just-in-time resources” for their clients, and the only time they make money is when they actually have people on contract. If those contracts are shortened or margins significantly reduced artificially then the viability of the economic model is challenged.

At the end of the day the agency does their job and wants to be paid fairly for that work, the non-compete will provide some protection for that revenue stream.

July 18th, 2007

Coaching Article

I came across this article on coaching which is worth a read …

Coaching That Countsby Estienne de Beer

Coaching is a profound leadership mindset, but you have to believe in it first. Andrew Wood explains the big picture as follows: “Leadership is not a right of passage, or at least it shouldn’t be. Leadership is a state of mind. A philosophy. An attitude. Understanding this, you can recognize and develop the key traits that will enhance and improve your personal capacity for leadership.” Great leaders touch the lives of their followers through coaching. The key to consistent business success is to understand that people come before spreadsheets. The personal growth and coaching of their employees is put on top of the priority list and soon the results on the spreadsheets will follow.

When you hear the word “coach”, what comes first into your mind? Do you picture a sports team with someone shouting out directions? Or perhaps a frowning manager pacing to and fro and calling out the names of the players? Coaching is no longer reserved for sports teams; it is now one of the key concepts in leadership and management. So why has coaching become so popular in the business world?

Coaching levels the playing field.

Coaching is one of the six emotional leadership styles proposed by Daniel Goleman. Moreover, it is a behaviour or role that leaders enforce in the context of situational leadership. As a leadership style, coaching is used when the members of a group or team are competent and motivated, but do not have an idea of the long-term goals of an organization. This involves two levels of coaching: team and individual. Team coaching makes members work together. In a group of individuals, not everyone may have nor share the same level of competence and commitment to a goal. A group may be a mix of highly competent and moderately competent members with varying levels of commitment. These differences can cause friction among the members. The coaching leader helps the members level their expectations. Also, the coaching leader manages differing perspectives so that the common goal succeeds over personal goals and interests. In a big organization, leaders need to align the staffs’ personal interests and goals with that of the organization so that long-term direction and strategy can be pursued.

Coaching builds up confidence and competence.

To take any company or team to the top, you can’t treat employees as digits. That is why I dislike the term “human resources” … it is expendable. But not a “human asset” approach. This means that in both theory and practice, people come before projects. You will never reap the right kind of financial numbers until you truly invest in the coaching of your people. This is the ultimate competitive advantage in the business world. Individual coaching is an example of situational leadership at work. It aims to mentor one-on-one building up the confidence of team members by affirming excellent performance and behaviour during regular feedbacks; and increase competence by helping the individual assess his/her strengths and weaknesses towards career planning and professional development. Depending on the individual’s level of competence and commitment, a leader may exercise more coaching behaviour for the less-experienced members. Usually, this happens in the case of new employees. The manager gives more defined tasks and holds regular feedbacks for the new staff, and gradually lessens the amount of coaching, directing, and supporting roles to favour delegating as competence and confidence increase.

Coaching promotes individual and team excellence.

Excellence is a product of habitual good practice over a period of time. The regularity of meetings and constructive feedback is important in establishing these habits of excellence. Employees catch the habit of constantly assessing themselves for their strengths and areas for improvement that they themselves perceive what knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to acquire to attain team goals. In the process, they attain individual excellence as well. An example is in the case of a musical orchestra: each member plays a different instrument. In order to achieve harmony of music from the different instruments, members will polish their part in the musical piece, aside from practicing as an ensemble. Consequently, they improve individually as an instrument player.

Coaching develops high commitment to common goals.

A coaching leader balances the attainment of immediate targets with long-term goals towards the vision of an organization. As mentioned earlier, with the alignment of personal goals with organizational or team goals, personal interests are kept in harmony. By constantly communicating the vision through formal and informal conversations, the members are inspired and motivated. Setting short-term team goals aligned with organizational goals; and making an action plan to attain these goals can help sustain the increased motivation and commitment to common goals of the team.

Coaching produces valuable leaders.

Leadership by example is most crucial in coaching. Coaching leaders lose credibility when they cannot practice what they preach. This means that coaching leaders should be well organized, highly competent in their field, communicates openly and encourages feedback, and has a clear understanding of the organization’s vision-mission-goals. By vicarious and purposeful learning, team members catch the same good practices and attitudes from the coaching leader, turning them into coaching leaders themselves. If team members experience good coaching, they are most likely to do the same things when entrusted with formal management roles.
Some words of caution though: coaching is just one of the styles of leadership. It can be done in combination with the other five emotional leadership styles depending on the profile of the emerging team. Moreover, coaching as a leadership style requires that you are physically, emotionally, and mentally fit most of the time since it involves two levels of coaching: the individual and the team. Your team members expect you to be the last one to give up or bail out in any situation especially during times of crises. A leader must be conscious that coaching entails investing time on each individual, and on the whole team. Moreover, that the responsibilities are greater since while you are coaching members, you are also developing future leaders as well.

Estienne de Beer is a Professional Speaker and Leadership Coach. He is the author of the book “Boosting Your Career – Tips From Top Executives”. To receive his free personal development newsletter or to browse e-books for your success, visit his website at www.leader2leaders.com or e-mail him at estienne@lantic.net

July 17th, 2007

Does the Average Manager even think like a Business Person?

You only have to read the press to see the number of people that think corporations are bottomless money pits! The Conrad Black trial and those of the Enron, Tyco and Worldcom executives before him to name but a few high profile cases.

Kevin Dee’s realities of running a business are pretty simple really. Unless you are a non-profit organization then you are in business to make money. In order to make money you need to make more than you spend. This requires focus in a couple of areas (1) growing your revenues and (2) controlling your costs. Pretty fundamental!

If you are in a management position in any company then it is your responsibility to support the goals of the organization … and protecting the ability to be profitable is one of the keys of any business. Conrad Black appears to have spent company money to suit his lifestyle and quite often the comment has been made that he was spending shareholder money, perhaps he thought he was running a private company. I can tell you that running a private company should be no different! If I treated Eagle’s finances as my personal cheque book that would not be fair to MY shareholders, and very likely it would be stretching the limits of our various taxation authorities!

So … I would contend that private corporations need to act with the same level of fiscal responsibility as any public company.

Secondly, I would say that managers of either public or private corporations should examine the “business” decisions they make when spending company money. Some very high profile executives have been in the press for their excesses … but surely the average manager makes the same kind of decisions on a smaller scale. Does it make sense to spend a ton of money on a dinner at a fancy restaurant if there is a more cost effective answer? Do you really need to golf, or would dinner be a better option? Would a breakfast or coffee meeting achieve the same end? Do you need to go on training in that sunny resort, or is it available locally? Do you need to stay at the expensive hotel or will a slightly lower cost solution be just fine?

There are a lot of decisions that managers make every day that approximate, except for scale, to the kind of decisions that Conrad Black made. Would you protect the interests of the company/shareholder or would you assume the company (read shareholders)can afford it?

July 16th, 2007

Sales Lessons from CPSA

I have mentioned previously some of the benefits of belonging to the Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA). There are hotel and rental car discounts that can very quickly pay for the very reasonable annual membership fee of a little over $100. There are other benefits including access to great sales resources, but one of my favorites is the emailed newsletter which almost always provides some great articles. These can be reminders of things you knew, data to support your sales strategies or even newer ideas to try out.

The latest newsletter included an article by Paul Cherry who is President of the Philadelphia-based sales and leadership firm Performance Based Results and the author of QUESTIONS THAT SELL, published by AMACOM Books. Paul can be reached at 302-478-4443 or e-mailed at cherry@pbresults.com.

Cherry’s article lists six common sales mistakes around situations where the process has gone off the rails. He talks about …

1. Sales people reacting badly, or not reacting (same thing), because they worry about the client’s reaction.
2. Sales people who take the situation personally.
3. Sales people who don’t listen.
4. Those sales situation where maybe you should just walk away.
5. Situations where the salesperson blames othersfor issues instead of accepting responsibility for the company they represent.
6. Sales people who treat all situations with the one size fits all answer. (Very often the … I’ll drop my price answer!)

CPSA provides great value and part of that value is access to articles from sales leaders like Paul Cherry.

July 13th, 2007

Canadian IT Job Market – July 2007

The following information is supplied by Eagle’s Regional General Managers across Canada on a monthly basis. Here is the latest on Canada’s IT job market …

Summer has finally arrived In Western Canada! With the warm temperature and school finishing for the year, many companies are running out of time to get their projects up and running before they lose project and business sponsors to vacations. Coming into the month of June, many projects had put PMs in place and BA roles were added to project teams to begin gathering requirements. Network Administrators and Application Support resources were growing in demand as part of regular summer maintenance projects and/or backfill to cover summer vacations.

Speaking of vacations, Western Canadian contractors have worked a very busy year and many have indicated that they are planning to take some time off this summer to “recharge their batteries”. This suggests that finding available resources over the summer months and having contractors sign extensions may be more difficult.

Alberta is quickly gaining the reputation as an expensive place to live. Living costs for transplanted IT professionals have increased to the point that IT resources looking for permanent employment are reluctant to move due to the housing market. Even for contract work, travel and living expenses are making it difficult for organizations to afford out-of-towners. All these factors are increasing the pressure on the already overheated IT labour market.

In British Columbia and Manitoba, business continued to move along at a steady pace in June. Requirements for contract IT resources remained strong and these regions are beginning to feel the pinch when attempting to fill their permanent hire requirements. The full time employment rate is high, with most IT professionals either gainfully employed or evaluating whether the healthy contractor market might be right for them. This is making it increasingly difficult to attract full time resources. Victoria appears to be one of the lone cities across the West bucking this trend as they have begun to see IT people choosing to relocate there for “lifestyle” reasons. Slower pace, a stable economy and a reasonable cost of living have been cited as the drawing cards for people searching for “Island Living”… and the winters are not too bad, either!

Hot skills across the West include Unix, PMs, BAs and Help Desk resources in Vancouver/Victoria; Senior PMs, BAs and Oracle Developers in Edmonton; SAP technical and functional skill sets, Oracle Functional Consultants, .Net and Java Developers in Calgary; and PMs, BAs, Security Consultants and Developers in Winnipeg.

The month of June on the contract side in the GTA continued with high levels of activity with many Fortune 500 companies. The government sector released a number of high profile RFPs requiring the services of Project Managers, Architects and Analysts. Many System Integration companies also saw increased level of activity, winning opportunities dealing with Business Intelligence roles (COGNOS) as well as development roles specifically dealing with JAVA/J2EE and C/C++. In the financial sector, the banks continued to release more development opportunities dealing with JAVA, .NET and C.

We have seen an increase in full-time technology requirements from a number of industries. The financial services sector seems to have the largest demand, specifically for development opportunities. Canada’s Telecommunications sector has been very interesting to watch, as the leading telcos in Toronto compete for top talent, such as PMs, BAs, Development Managers and Architects. In addition, candidates with Telco experience continue to be in hot demand. The healthcare sector continues to source highly skilled Developers and Architects in addition to, Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing which are also in high demand.

As the summer moves into its hottest months, many organizations are expected to increase their demand, creating an increasing competitive atmosphere for the coming months.

The hot skills this month in the GTA on the contract side include: JAVA/J2EE, .NET (ASP.NET) and PACBASEoa. In the full-time market the top in demand technical skills include: Java/J2EE, .net, C++, C# and Security Specialists.

Heading into the summer in Eastern Canada, activity was strong prior to the summer vacation period as many organizations move planned projects into implementation phases. Requirements were up significantly in both Montreal and Ottawa but the double whammy of overall candidate availability coupled with an even longer time to hire (as vacations kick in) meant many organizations were left with open positions and project resourcing challenges as the month ended.

It is abundantly clear as we move into the second half of the year that for many hot skill sets and technologies, hiring processes that in the past may have included multiple interviews across a range of participants are now leaving hiring managers high and dry as candidates get scooped up and/or extended on current projects beyond their natural contract end. The Federal government plays a role in this, being a significant buyer in the market, as its use of contractors is considerable with a much longer average contract length than most other industries and organizations. The result is much less “churn” in the market and reduced overall candidate availability for other private sector technology companies. A number of departments, however, have indicated that going forward there will be much more emphasis on using contractors appropriately, as needed, to fill the skill gap or project requirement only, so that the length of contract is not extended beyond that unless the business need absolutely requires it.

The permanent placement market does not appear to be experiencing the usual slowdown associated with the onset of the summer season as requirements continue to emerge. It’s expected that the fall will be one of high demand as well.

The most significant development in the Ottawa/Federal government marketplace this month was the long awaited submission of the TBIPS, the government’s new method of procuring information technology services, designed to streamline and simplify what had become a very cumbersome process for both clients and vendors in acquiring such services. A product of PWGSC’s highly anticipated, The Way Forward initiative, it was late to hit the street and then once it did, bobbed and weaved its way through a series of vendor questions and crown answers and numerous extensions to the extent that many had dubbed it The Way Backward. Nonetheless, it is in and looks to be a vastly improved way to deliver services faster and more efficiently than ever. Both the vendor community and client departments should benefit from its simplicity and accessibility in the months and years to come.

Hot skills and technologies in Eastern Canada this month include: Project Managers (Telco), Business Analysts, SAP Consultants, Quality Assurance Consultants and Testers, as well as Data Warehouse Developers and .Net Developers.

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