Sunday, December 20, 2015

IoT, Cloud, Industry 4.0 – Technology Trap 2.0?

Little more than a decade ago Office Automation, Electronic Document Filing, Email, rise of Cell Phones, Automated Workflow and Integration of Office Systems with Administrative Automation became the hot topics of the day – and the sacred words for a new era of Efficiency.
While in the 1980-90s businesses and administrations had become paper-heavy, emergence of then new Organization Structures such as Matrix and Four-Eye Principle lead to requirements of multiple signatures of approval under such simple transactions as Expenses Reimbursements and Travel Applications, IT promised to do away with paper, and enable staff to focus more on the real work issues.
What is the reality like?
Some studies suggest that businesses nowadays purchase and deploy more printers than ever. When printers were expensive capital investments, there was one on each office floor – if at all. Now every department has one, if not more. Application forms are now electronic, and so can be approval notes and signatures, but there is a tendency to have it printed… after all, it’s better to have it “black-on-white”. Right?
Email, while seemingly more efficient than snail-mail, has become one of the major Productivity Detractors of the 21st century. What a perfect way to focus on the “Not Important/Not Urgent” items on one’s task list and look busy all the way. Problem solving is now only a button-click away.
Multiple Automation systems with “in-principle” data integration through interfaces have let to sky-rocketing data storage (storage is cheap, remember…) and out-of-this-world data fragmentation.
And while meetings are still mostly manual, there is still no robust system to ensure meeting effectiveness, consistent documentation and follow-through of agreed action items.
Recently at a client I have learned what the drive to automation and digitization has led to. The company had not long ago implemented a world-leading ERP system to automate workflow and reporting across departments. The warehouse manager had developed a habit of keeping inventory records in hand-written notes, which were then converted into an Excel form by Finance. With the new ERP system, the process has evolved insofar that the warehouse manager now maintains hand-written reports, which are converted into Excel by Finance, past back to warehouse manager for verification, past back to Finance with changes, which is now posting the final result into the ERP system, as a basis for next month’s Excel-based verification of the warehouse manager’s hand-written notes.
Welcome to Technology Trap 2.0.
Time and time again organizations tend to throw three things at their inefficiencies: People, Technology and Money. While the implementations of automated systems appear to have reached their objective in giving the upper echelons a peace of mind – having done the ‘right thing’ and producing easier to read reports for them – complexity and inefficiency just increases on the shop-floor and in the business administration departments.
Instead of doing the obvious, organizations – before they commit People, Technology and Money to tackle complexities and improve efficiency – should:
Define the problem – what issue are they actually trying to solve, what is the objective;
Develop a strategy – how can this issue be solved in the most effective way, is technology (and money) really needed, or are their better non-obvious improvement opportunities; resist the urge to use technology to solve non-technical problems;

Plan the change with a focus on the people in the process – how are they doing their work now, what will improve for them, what will change for them;
Execute the change based on objectives, not based on previously committed investments – implement with a focus on whether or not the objectives are met, disrupt if not.
IoT, Cloud and Industry 4.0 bear new promises for an even more integrated work-flow allowing team to work anytime, any-where, creating new ways to solve problems, and enabling individual teams and large organizations to share ideas and collaborate seamlessly. Best practice examples have shown that work-flow automation with cloud integration can result in up to 50% overall cycle-time reduction, 25% operations headcount efficiency, 86% business process flow reduction and can lead to 18% net margin increase.
In order to reap these benefits however, organizations must not skip critical steps to effective change, otherwise we may be reading about the Technology Trap 3.0, fairly soon.
We at Articulate are experienced in helping companies in China and across Asia Pacific to navigate through profound business transformations, organization changes, process improvements and system implementations. Please do contact us for any questions in regards to this article, or for any inquiries for support by Email to or by telephone on +86 (21) 6339 1312.
Michael Adick
Managing Director | Articulate

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Taking initiative to succeed (or survive) in a slowing economy with an insecure future

It has come to no surprise, but inevitably the Chinese economy has slowed down to a growth rate of 7.4% p.a. this year – its lowest in 24 years.

At the same time has China’s public and private debt in percent of GDP grown ten-fold in just shy of 15 years, while the current stability of the political system appears placarded at best – clear control in Beijing has not been established yet.
The Chinese administration has recently announced measures to ease private investments and support of Kickstarter to fuel economic growth from the private sector rather than public. Yet no significant measures have been implemented so far to rid private companies from highly restrictive bureaucratic procedures. Meanwhile, most of the private sector is still barred from the bank financing system.
In this economic environment of slowing market growth, perhaps more restrictive rather than easing policies in the short-term and continued bureaucratic inefficiencies, Small and Medium-size, but also Large Enterprises must take their own initiative to succeed in China.
In China’s rampant growth period, we at Articulate Ltd. have observed many companies having grown rapidly, with little regard to efficiencies in people, processes and systems. Top-line results were the paramount objective. Large Multinationals with global controlling systems would still peek at bottom-line returns, but the majority of companies appeared to be at the state of “we need to grow now, profits will follow”.
Inefficiencies in people, processes and systems will now stifle or even endanger those businesses that were complacent at best before, as China’s economy continues to slow and economic and administrative reforms may not follow as fast.
Review how people, processes and systems support or hinder the realization of strategic objectives
Assuming a company’s strategy is right for the market – other than in the past – moving right into or continuing execution – may proof fatal. Now is the time for thorough review of people, processes and systems in regards to their efficiency, effectiveness and cost to the company – potentially uncovering significant opportunities in cost savings and revenue generation – and eliminating inefficiencies that hamper the company’s competitiveness in a much more fierce market environment.
With rapid growth rates in the past, organizations have grown out of shape significantly in the past two decades. It is not only about the right numbers in proportion of what company, customers and market require, but also
  • knowledge and technical fitness to the tasks required;
  • personal attributes and attitudes required;
  • soft-skills required for the organization, customers or suppliers;
  • business and process experience that may be of much more value to the company than in the past;
  • the right organization structure and fitting leadership style that is homogenous across the company.
We at Articulate Ltd. have observed out-of-sync, incomplete and defective processes even at the largest multinational corporations operating in China – and the respective companies trying to develop upon those broken processes without at first solving their problems at the roots.
With a market environment in which opportunities are no longer simply attainable by “being there, having a good product, and strong relationships” but increasingly by rather having sound processes that do not waste the time or money of customers, internal functions and suppliers, developing, standardizing and improving processes are activities that should rather be started today, than tomorrow.
In line with Business Process Maturity Model (BPMM) best practices, most organizations will need to move beyond having repeatable, but not clearly defined, or defined but not managed processes towards proactively managed processes that ensure continued effectiveness, efficiency and a low error rate. Key aspects of (well-)managed processes are,
  • clearly defined, accepted and pro-active Process Ownerships;
  • a well-documented, referenceable, trained/re-trained and “lived” Process Flow;
  • clearly defined, accepted and actively utilized Control Points and Controls;
  • open communication across and between all functions;
  • the right and the right number of Key Performance Indicators (KPI);
  • the right amount and the right levels of Reporting.
We have observed business information systems to have become that rare animal that is supposed to enable, support and increase the efficiency of people and processes – yet that more often than not fails utterly in this task. Either systems – out of concerns such as cost or effort – have been half-heartedly implemented, without active involvement by the eventual users (function staff using the system for their daily operation) or they have been implemented overly ambitiously at cost and effort that went well beyond the organization’s need or ability.
As we have been preached to and preaching for a long time – systems are just that: systems that enable and support people and processes at the level they are fulfilling this task effectively, without creating a new obstruction to the business. In the most cases, systems are not the solution to a (people or process) problem but merely an enabler, once such people or process problems have been solved first.
Sound systems are thus,
  • following well established organization structures and lived processes;
  • not the solution to organization and process problems;
  • supposed to produce a measurable Return on Investment (RoI) and not to burden a company’s finances;
  • supporting people to fulfill their tasks effectively and efficiently without adding another level of complexity.
Address efficiency and effectiveness improvement opportunities now
The slowing of the Chinese market growth is not a fluke. As with all maturing economies, it will continue to slow inevitably. As China’s growth is still significantly higher – compared to all industrialized economies, overall the current business environment is still strong and full of low(er) hanging opportunities.
This is the golden opportunity at which companies both begin to feel the urge of addressing inefficiencies by improving people, processes and systems and at which they may still have the luxury of time and money to do so.
We at Articulate Ltd. are experienced in helping companies in China and across Asia Pacific to navigate through profound business transformations, organization changes, process improvements and system implementations. Please do contact us for any questions in regards to this article, or for any inquiries for support by Email to or by telephone on +86 (21) 6339 1312.
Michael Adick, Managing Director | Articulate Ltd.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Segmenting, Differentiating, Positioning - Strategic Marketing in China

Undertaking the right efforts in segmenting the market, positioning and differentiating your company’s products and services undoubtedly is important in any global market. However, with its size, regional and even local diversities as well as industry complexities, doing so in China may be even more important to the success of your company in this country, than anywhere else.

The conundrum.
In my personal experience managing Strategic Marketing at one of the largest global electric and electronics engineering and manufacturing companies and doing the same at two services oriented companies, segmenting the Chinese market in a meaningful yet conclusive manner is always easier said than done.

No matter what products and services your company sells, nor whether they are primarily sold directly or indirectly to customers, the questions are always the same:
  • Is the Chinese market to be divided into cities, provinces or (arbitrarily defined) regions?
  • How to determine the ranking in importance of each geographic division of the country to the business?
  • How to effectively cover these geographies with the organization?
  • How to avoid cannibalization between the direct sales force and/or between the indirect sales channels in the geographies?
  • How to reach the customers and distribute products and services efficiently with supply chain and after-sales service, so that the company can uphold the value proposition it promises, to all customers?
  • What benefits can the company provide to its sales and distribution partners to entice them to sell the company’s products and services, rather than the competitors’?
  • How to measure the actual performance of the chosen geographic markets, direct sales force and indirect sales channels in comparison to the potential of these markets and channels?

Tackling the matter head-on.
Certainly the ability to cover the Chinese market holistically depends to a great extent on your current organizational size and your company’s ability to reach beyond its current locations. Nevertheless, with the recent developments of the Central and Western China economic hubs and advances of third party logistics providers and online channels, also small- and medium-size companies may nowadays have the possibility to reach potential markets that lie far beyond the coastal areas.

On the other hand, in my experience advising both small and large enterprises, even companies that already have a considerable reach in China and have been here for a decade or more, sometimes have surprisingly failed to develop their presence in – for their particular products and services – very highly positioned geographic markets in terms of revenue potential.

I therefore advise to most companies with products and services that are not necessarily confined to local distribution, to begin the task of segmenting China, by starting with the factor that usually matters most for all sales and profit oriented organizations: the customer; using the most natural geographic division: the provinces and municipalities on province level; and thereby asking these questions:
  • How many potential customers are there in each province?
  • What is their annual spend on the type, or similar types of products and services the company sells?
  • What is their annual purchase in units or frequency on our type, or similar types of products and services?
  • How widely spread apart are these potential customer?
  • What technology, level of service or brands are they purchasing at the moment, is a trend in shifts of preference of technology, level of service or brands observable?
  • How do they purchase the products or services? How are the products/services usually delivered to them?
  • Are there potential customers that do not yet purchase the type, or similar types of products and services the company sells, but who may, if they knew about the company’s offering?
The above analysis informs three important input factors for your market segmentation, which can be summarized in a table as shown in Figure 1:
  • A ranking of all Chinese provinces in terms of potential Total Market Volume (TM)
  • A determination of average price expectation of customers in each Chinese province, which can be used as one input to determine the Total Accessible Market (TAM)
  • An insight of the typical purchase behavior in each Chinese province
  • An insight of what could be the Total Target Market (TTM) for the company

Figure 1 – Market Size Analysis by Chinese provinces and municipalities on province level

As briefly mentioned above, this first analysis may already present some surprises to you, as it has done for other – seemingly well established – companies in China before, such as the previous neglect of provinces with unknown but abundant sales opportunities, or over-serving of provinces with a – relatively speaking – small actual market opportunity.

Matching opportunity with capability.
Seeing the opportunity is the one thing. Being able to benefit from it, is the other. At this point it is advisable to detail the analysis in two directions:
  • What is the attractiveness of each China provincial market?
  • What is the level of our organizational capability to serve each provincial market?
Figure 2 shows a diagram used by many global players to frequently analyze their geographic markets, customer industry segments and products/services in comparison to their organizational capability.


Figure 2 - Market Attractiveness Analysis – Concept and Sample

The Market Attractiveness Analysis thereby forces you to look deeper into the actual market opportunity, beyond just the market size, asking questions about such factors, including: market growth, profitability, is moving into the market complementary to your portfolio, does it have implications on your brand image, does it follow your customer demand, etc. and Organizational Capability meanwhile makes you look into your relative market share compared to your competitors, your technological capability, your current sales and distribution capability, your current brand image, etc.

The answers to the Market Attractiveness Analysis are profoundly valuable for your company’s business strategy determination. They can range from choosing not to address/enter a certain market (not attractive, not capable), to absolutely address/enter a market segment (attractive and capable) to the definition of strategic actions, such as concentrating on certain niches or increasing a market’s attractiveness (not attractive but capable), or increasing your company’s organizational capability (attractive, not capable).
Short-, mid- and long-term orientation – (Re-)focus.

Aided by the visualization provided by the Market Attractiveness Analysis, your company can make quick decisions on which markets to focus in the short-term, which markets to develop in the mid-term and which markets to keep an eye on and prepare for in the long-term.
At this stage the company can begin to plan its market approach as well as sales channel determinations based on a very solid opportunity analysis. As a way to efficiently address the Chinese market, it may be advisable to group the selected provinces into geographic regions.

Figure 3 – Regional Clusters

Again the Market Attractiveness vs. Organizational Capability approach can be utilized by your organization to determine, which geographic regions are most attractive, and most attainable for your company in the short-, medium- and long-term, ensuring that you focus your forces to the most attractive and lowest hanging fruits, while staying abreast of your organizational development needs to be prepared for sustainable growth.
Plan your approach.

Having determined the geographies one wants to address, I have come to appreciate the model of “Five Major Elements of Strategy”, first introduced by Hambrick and Frederickson in 2001 as way to define your company’s particular strategy toward establishing and growing one’s position in any market.

The model, depicted in Figure 4, begins with the category Arenas, which you have been able to designate by way of the aforementioned geographic segmentation steps. Thereafter the framework considers the key factors for business development: Vehicles – how will you get there? Will you develop your own products and services? Will you form Joint-Ventures or partnerships? Will you license your products, services, IP? Will you undertake acquisitions? Differentiators – how will you win? Is it your brand image? Will you customize to meet the Chinese customers’ particular needs? Is it the price, or style of your product? Will you stand out by offering a particular quality or reliability aspect? Staging – what will your speed and sequence of events be? Do you focus on rapid market coverage, or another set of initiatives? Economic logic – how will you attain your returns? Are you building scale for market coverage and cost efficiency? Are you offering a premium product for a premium price? How do you justify your price position?

Figure 4 – Five Major Elements of Strategy

My advice to any business is to only begin making determinations about the appropriate sales and distribution channels for the geographic markets in China, industry and product segments, after the aforementioned steps have been completed – even if the global/corporate business strategy dictates the sales approach. Not seldom have I experienced the situation of lagging sales performance in China, as the company stuck to the “way we have always done it” – or the company’s inability to adapt to the customer purchase behavior, because “it is not the way we do it”.

The secret to selling effectively and successfully in China is to learn about its market make-up, industrial structures, common purchase behavior and underlying/consequential sales channels. There is nothing against introducing a new, proven or better way of doing business as perhaps developed in your home economy – yet, for short- and medium-term success – and thereby effective positioning for future, sustainable success, adaptation to the local reality is key.

The conundrum of cannibalization.
Once the Chinese market is divided in geographic segments the challenge of effectively covering the individual markets becomes a question faced by most companies. Perhaps the abundance of customers and sales opportunities in one region requires the establishment of a sizeable sales, technical support and service team, while other regions, equally enticing in terms of revenue potential, yet with vast distance to bridge, may require the establishment of strong sales partners – maybe in tie with a direct sales force.

While for understanding of the market and keeping control over it a somewhat arbitrarily defined regional segmentation is profoundly important, sales partners, and often also the direct sales force are not easily confined by such invisible boundaries, and so, your company may also face the potentially harmful issue of cannibalization between sales partners and direct sales force.
In my experience as strategic marketer I recommend three approaches to mitigate the risks of cannibalization:
  1. Assign clear customer targets to sales partner and direct sales force, be it (if possible), geographies, industries, specific customer groups, product or services types
  2. Closely control the sales performance of sales partners and direct sales force within the boundaries of the aforementioned targets – too often I have seen the effects of overeager revenue drive – fueled by the strong economic growth of China – allowing sales channels to step out of their boundaries to generate revenue wherever possible – to the detriment of the overall system
  3. Actually allow some level of cannibalization – competition fuels effectiveness, doesn’t it?
Support, support, support.
I have observed more often than not that industrial and services based companies are rather strongly setup in China in terms of their sales force, indirect sales partners, technical sales and service support, covering the regions they believe are key for their business, yet, surprisingly still trust on a relatively small, often centrally based marketing troupe.

The effects are often incomprehensible lack of sales performance, but are frequently only realized by the management – too late – through sales representatives and sales partner satisfaction surveys or outright complaints by them, such as, lack of sufficient or outdated marketing materials and product documentation, lack of brand presence in the market, lack of sufficient technical and product features training and knowledge transfer to existing and potential customers, lack of frequent physical sales support to sales partners in remote regions.

Often it may be assumed that by entering into clearly defined sales partnerships with distributors and re-sellers, who may already have a sizable customer base, that this may – more or less automatically – result in actual revenue generation. The reality however is often the complete opposite. Without sufficient and complete marketing material, actual brand identity in the market and foremost without training of both the sales partners and existing/potential customers, the sales partner’s sales representatives may not feel well equipped enough to represent your product – the truth of the matter here is that sales representatives sustain their lives from selling, and so they will rather sell what is the easiest and present promises of the highest return to them, rather than selling your product, never mind whether your product or service is actually the better alternative for the customer.

Effective Performance Management in China – micro-management is necessary (unfortunately).
If you ask managers with more than a decade or two of hands-on China experience what the secret to success in China is, unanimously you will find that “micro-management” is within the top 3 answers.

While mature industry purchasing processes, clearly defined supply and value chains, equally mature sales channels, etc. may allow a company in Western developed markets to establish its revenue to generate within these clear structures and may thus be able to trust in a positive outcome, doing so in China may lead to surprisingly discouraging results.

After revamping a sales force from a previously loose setup consisting of a vast number of vaguely assigned sales agents with only quarterly performance reviews, to one that is closely managed with clearly assigned customer development targets – both for sales partners and direct sales force, with monthly reviews of the corresponding customer development results, I have experienced first-hand the benefits of such tedious, but highly effective performance management approach.

Micro-management results certainly in some short-term resistance, but just within a few months of non-relenting, monthly reviews – and armed with the positive revenue development impact it generates – every element of the sales force will gladly stay within this high performance management structure.

Just don’t give up, or it will all fall apart again, quickly.

Both for sales partners and direct sales force I recommend a set of targets that are complementary to each other and ensuring that those targets are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound. Examples of such targets are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5 – Sample Sales Targets

It is thereby advisable that in regards to specific customers, customer clusters and the like, these are clearly named and listed in mutually confirmed target agreements with sales partners and direct sales representatives and singularly (meaning: one by one) addressed during the monthly performance reviews.

Conclusion – perform the steps for sustainable results.
China remains an economy with strong economic growth and abundant sales opportunities. The development of the Central/Western economic hubs, increasing consciousness of Chinese buyers in regards to quality and total lifetime value of purchased products and services – or total cost of ownership of the same – and increasing modernization in most if not all industries continue to fuel these opportunities.

Yet the regional and local diversities are not diminishing and the complexities of doing business in China remain – complex.

Therefore, your company will only succeed if it understands the market well, divides your customers in segments that are meaningful for your products, services and organizational capability and consequentially, if it develops strong sales channels that are clearly targeted and aligned toward these segments.

Support and (micro-) manage your direct sales force and indirect sales partners and control their actual performance tightly and your company with its supreme products and services will surely capture and grow a significant market share in China, too.

Michael Adick | MBA
Managing Director | Articulate Ltd.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Is your organization set up to capture your true potential in China? - 7 Steps to true China market focus

One country, one political system, one market, uniform tariffs and transportation system. Addressing the market with a unified product or services portfolio, value proposition, marketing messaging and single sales approach should be a no-brainer - and it reduces internal complexity.

22 provinces, 4 municipalities, 5 autonomous regions, 2 Special Administrative Regions, 660 cities, of which 10 with populations of more than 4 million, 8 primary dialects – equally communalities and vast differences in requirements, needs and purchasing behaviors, concentrated/over-crowded markets in the coastal line, vast distances and incomplete transportation infrastructure between economic centers in Central/West China. Urbanization, burgeoning middle-class and the highest number of ultra-rich in the world. Modern financial instruments and transactions in economic hubs, still highly cash-based economies in less developed areas.

Is your organization set up to capture your true potential in China, or are you missing out by approaching the market merely as a singular form? Are you under-invested in potential markets, or actually over-invested in some areas, whereas missing potential in others?

Many companies - no matter whether they are large multinationals with close to 30 years history of doing business in China, medium-sized companies or small firms - have still not adopted an effective China market approach - offering too generic, unfitting products & services, organizing their sales according to overseas company standards rather than according to China’s reality, under-serving potential markets or cannibalizing internally, or utilizing standardized value propositions and marketing messaging – missing to make the mark with local buyers and decision-makers.

Few companies however have realized that the true potential of selling successfully in China lies in the adoption of products and services catering to real local requirements, flavors and designs, in the development of a product mix that Chinese customers really need - not what company’s headquarters wants to sell - and by effectively organizing their sales force according to the differences between regions, markets and personalities in the country.

Beginning the journey to customize product/services portfolio, value proposition and marketing & sales approach to China thereby is neither overly costly nor overly time-intensive, taking a targeted, structured approach:

  • Structure China according to prevalent regions that make sense according to your product & services portfolio – e.g. geographically, economically or according to industry concentrations,
  • Weigh these regions according to their potential customer concentration, products & services requirements, propensity to purchase your products or services, purchasing power, competitive landscape,
  • Overlay weighting of logistical reach and cost, eliminate markets that cannot be feasibly served
  • Identify focus markets and your optimal products & services offering for these markets,
  • Develop value propositions and marketing messaging according to the individual focus markets and your customized products & services offering in these markets,
  • Restructure and build up your sales force according to the individual focus markets, their potential customer concentration, propensity to buy and purchasing power,
  • Plan and implement marketing & sales channels accordingly.

Truly capturing the full potential of the Chinese market will require you, your organization and – not the least – your overseas Headquarters to think out of the box, but the success of some companies that have already begun to lead the way – such as Volkswagen, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and others – in customizing their product & services offerings as well as marketing & sales approaches based on the regional differences in China may be motivation enough to begin the journey at your organization, as well.

Michael Adick
Managing Director, Articulate Ltd.

March 2014

Can your managers solve problems and make (the right) decisions confidently for your organization?

It may be a lingering stigma that managers in China are either – depending on your viewpoint – unable to, unwilling to or not enabled to solve problems and make (the right) decisions independently at their organizations.

Certainly there may be cultural implications to the way managers from different origins approach problems, such as negativity around (and thus the barrier for) disclosing “the bad news”, propensity or lack thereof to speak out in meetings, making or defending ones’ point, or the inclination or lack thereof to embrace responsibility for something that may not 100% match with ones’ job description.

Yet there are many organizations operating in China where managers are operating effectively, perfectly well, having learned and adopted effective approaches to solve problems and making decisions day by day.

These managers have been enabled by their organizations to:

  • use methods and tools to solve problems quickly and effectively through proven problem-solving & decision making models,
  • understand, practice and utilize the personal skills and attributes to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness in problem-solving and decision-making,
  • master pro-active approaches to appraise and solve problems through using an array of innovative thinking, systems thinking, quantification and qualification,
  • employ the skills to enhance inter-disciplinary and cross-team communication and teamwork. 
  • develop confidence in making and defending their points in teamwork, meetings and presentations.

You can either keep using the costly route to identify “that perfect manager” on the labor market, using expensive head hunting services and paying premium salaries – with uncertain outcomes -, or tap on your existing labor force in-house and pro-actively enable them to develop towards efficient, effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Remember: good managers are not born, they are made.

Michael Adick
Managing Director, Articulate Ltd.

March 2014

Are you getting the most out of your China Sales Force? - 8 steps to achieve improvement of your Sales Force effectiveness

Having personally lead sales teams in China since 2000, and having worked with companies across multiple B2B and B2C industries as sales & marketing consultant, trainer and coach, I know that we all share similar concerns about our Sales Force:
  • Are we getting the most out of our China Sales Force?
  • Are our Sales Processes guiding, supporting and not hampering our Sales Force in their efforts?
  • Do our Sales People really employ a structured, targeted and result oriented sales approach?
  • Do our Sales People know that customer objections often are opportunities to (up-/cross-)sell?
  • Is our Sales Organization structured according to our business divisions or according to the market?
  • How can we measure the effectiveness of our Sales Force without resorting to micro-management?
  • How can we stabilize a volatile Sales Force over the long-run?
The continuing issues with Sales in China are not isolated to any particular industry, company origin or organizational size. 

Surely, large multinational organizations may have more resilient, and often automated processes along which their Sales Force operate – yet, ultimately sales and the act of selling boils always down to the individual Sales Person and the individual customer, where the real impact of effective selling is experienced by the customer and where money is made (or not) by the company.

Stemming from my experience as sales & marketing consultant I suggest taking these 8 steps to achieve lasting improvement of your Sales Force effectiveness:
  1. Organize the Sales Force according to the market, not (only) according to – often historically grown, or Headquarters-dictated – business divisions,
  2. Establish a standardized Sales Process that guides and supports the Sales Force – eliminate unnecessary steps that slow down and lead to frustration of the Sales People,
  3. Provide – but don’t overburden – your Sales People with a simple set of easy-to-use tools along the Sales Process,
  4. Establish a steady mix of “oldies” and “newbies” – constantly refreshing the Sales Force, in a structured, sustainable manner,
  5. Provide regular education on sales approaches, tactics and soft-skills that match the outlined sales process,
  6. Educate and enable your Sales People to turn customer objections into additional sales,
  7. Only measure what the Sales Person really can influence – does performance rating based on margins really help achieve our goals, or are we missing out by diminishing motivation?
  8. Establish a process of regular measurement, progress check and feedback – without over-burdening the Sales Force with redundant reporting tasks.
Remember: to get the most out of your China Sales Force, your Sales People need to be motivated and eager, dedicated and target-oriented, confident and compelling, educated and supported, but also in particular: structured and organized.

Michael Adick
Managing Director, Articulate Ltd.

March 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Talent Attraction and Retention – Solving the Conundrum of Small- and Medium-Size Enterprises

In our conversations in China we often encounter the same question over and over again, and it is probably the single most issue covered in many Human Resources Professionals events:

“How do we attract high profile candidates and how do we effectively retain them?”

The prevalence of this question greatly increases within the circle of small- and medium-size enterprises, – seemingly naturally – lacking alluring brand names and large organizational structures, which high profile graduates – supposedly – assume as being guarantees for both their personal brand-building and career development.

Yet, herein already lies the answer, but let us move aside a general misconception first.

It is probably the common-most stated excuse made by small- and medium sized companies – apart from the lack of the organizational size and structures – that they cannot succeed in attracting high profile candidates competing with the large multinationals, because they can't pay the types of paychecks those multinationals can.

However, if we look at some of the leading global enterprises, we quickly realize that especially these enterprises do in fact not pay outrageously high packages. Indeed, they often pay below their industry average.

So, that leaves us only with brand-name and organizational size as key differentiators in the labor market?

In finding the conclusion to the conundrum, it helps to remember what perhaps we were looking for, when we entered the labor market as young talents: We certainly looked at the financial aspects – but as fresh starters, was that really the single-most important matter for us? – We looked at employers' brands that may help us develop our own personal name-card – yet, was that really on the top of our list?

Indeed, the probably single most important aspect for choosing the place to work at for high profile candidates is the opportunity to learn the skills of the trade, and develop their careers.

That means the key to successful attraction and retention of high profile candidates lies in organizations' willingness and ability to provide a steady path of learning and career development to their talents. And we quickly realize that this is, what large multinationals are actually doing all along, coupling this "employment value-add" – so-to-speak – with their undoubtedly stronger brand names.

Thus concluding, especially for small- and medium-size enterprises to turn the availability of steady and programmatic talent learning and career development at their organizations also into a successful talent acquisition strategy, they too will need to actively demonstrate and communicate this key differentiator to the high profile talent pool – thereby building a strong Employer Brand in the labor market on their own.

The Articulate Ltd. Team wishes you and your teams and families a Happy Chinese New Year!

Michael Adick | MBA
Managing Director, Articulate Ltd.

January 2014