Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What The Customer Wants You To Know

Author:      Ram Charan
Published: 2007
Publisher:  Penguin Group
Hardcover: 192 pages
Buy from Flipkart
This book by Ram Charan, an internationally acclaimed management consultant, is primarily targeted at Sales function in organizations.
The book highlights what is wrong with conventional approach of selling in most of the organizations. Sales force interacts mainly with customer’s purchasing department and the entire sales discussion revolves around price.
As per Ram Charan this alone will not ensure a healthy top-line growth of an organization. He proposes an approach called Value Creation Selling (VCS) . VCS requires putting more effort in learning about the customer's business and even customer's customer's business in great detail. The more a company knows about its customers, better it will be at identifying their concerns and devising products and services that will help address them.
The best approach for getting to know more about your customer's business is to put in all efforts to become his trusted partner. In fact becoming a trusted partner to the customers was the vision of the company which I once worked for and my CEO made it a point to enthusiastically talk about it in almost every communication of his (Company: Digital GlobalSoft, CEO: Som Mittal, currently the President of NASSCOM)
In this book, Ram Charan tells how to become trusted partner of your customers by understanding - their  business opportunities and their competition; how decisions are made in their organization; their company culture, its dominant psychology and values ; their goals and priorities both short-term and long-term, clearly and specifically.
Having gained the customer trust, the next step is to prepare a Value  Account Plan (VAP) and present it to customers. VAP is an indispensable document that defines the value proposition and the business benefits the customer can expect to get from it. The author provides a template for VAP and explains how to go about creating it. He also provides guidance on how to prepare and make a pitch using VAP.
The book also discusses how to create and sustain a  sales force which implements VCS . The author recommends that recruiting and training for sales should focus on people who have a fundamental grasp of business acumen and are inclined to be team players and team leaders. He also stresses the role the Top Management needs to play in sustaining the VCS process by promoting a culture where all employees proactively think in terms of meeting the customer's need and work collaboratively with the sales force. In addition to this sustaining VCS will also involve establishing  multiple functional contact points between the company and its customer, incorporating post-sale servicing in the process and maintaining confidentiality of information shared by the customer.
Ram Charan firmly believes VCS is the way an organization should adopt to get ahead of its competition for it fosters stronger customer relationships and results in long-term rewards in terms of market share and revenue.

An excellent introduction to VCS  in a concise and easy to read format! Recommended for anyone who is in the selling business. This literally means everyone in an organization as per VCS !

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Indian Art in Detail

Author:        A.L. Dallapiccola
Published:    2007
Publisher:    Mapin Publishing
Hardcover: 144 pages
Readers in India
Having read quite a few good books which explain the art and paintings of the western world, I was on a lookout for such a book on Indian art. And I found this book in the British Library.
The author of the book an Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh, is an expert in Indian art and culture.
In the introductory chapter she attempts to define what is Indian  art and concludes that " Expressed through its multiplicity of forms and vibrant colours, Indian art is essentially a celebration of life in all aspects".
The contents are thematically organized in next four chapters viz; Gods, Heroes, Devotion , Courtly and village life . In these chapters the author  describes her selection of about 70 objects from the collection of British Museum. These objects beautifully illustrated in this book (both the complete artifact as well as enlarged details) cover some 2000 years of Indian art. They range from huge stone sculptures to minute ivory carvings, from paintings on paper and cloth to ritual objects. They all prove the mastery of the Indian artists and craftsmen, whether they served the royal court or worked in their native villages.
As I was going through this beautifully produced book, a couple of thoughts struck me about the Indian art in comparison to the Western art.
One, barring few exceptions, none of the Indian artists chose to identify themselves. They selflessly remained anonymous. Whereas we know the names of the artists/architects of almost any piece of Western art.
Secondly, while Indian sculptures are definitely more complex and intricate than their western counterparts, the paintings are rather two dimensional and primitive as compared to the paintings of the western world of the same period. Wonder what is the reason behind it.
There is one mistake in the book, which I hope will get corrected in the next edition. On page 17, it mentions that Sarasvati, goddess of learning, music and the arts as one of Vishnu's consorts as per eastern Indian tradition. This is not correct. As far as I know Sarasvati is reagarded as consort of Brahma not of Vishnu.
Another drawback of this book is that the art objects described are restricted to those which are in British Museum . Describing the objects of art from varied sources could perhaps give a more complete picture of Indian art.
But overall I found this book a very good though rather short introduction to Indian art and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in getting a exposure to it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Goal II - It's Not Luck

Author:       Eliyahu M. Goldratt 
Published:   2005
Publisher:    Productivity & Quality Publishing 
Paperback: 284 pages

This business novel is a sequel to the book The Goal which had introduced the concepts of Theory of Constraints (TOC) and shown its application in a manufacturing scenario.
UniCo, a diversified conglomerate has decided to sell three loss making companies which are under its fold. Alex Rego, the hero of this book's prequel, now the Executive Vice President of UniCO is an has been given the responsibility to turn around these companies to fetch an attractive returns when they are sold.
He applies TOC concepts and techniques to Sales, Marketing, Inventory Control and Business Strategy and comes out with flying colors in this challenging task.
Through this novel, the Goldratt teaches us Thinking Process techniques for solving problems using Current Reality Tree, which incorporates UnDesirable Effects (UDEs) and then a Future Reality Tree. He also teaches us how to make use of a Transition Tree to move from Current Reality to Future Reality.In addition technique of Vendor Managed Inventory is also presented.
Very well written and absorbing read. However more diagrams to illustrate step-by-step how the above Trees evolved would have enabled better understanding of the techniques.
A must read for all the  Sales, Marketing and Business Strategy professionals !

Key Takeaways:
1. The three entities for a company's existence 
a) Make money now as well as in the future. 
b) Provide a secure and satisfying environment for employees now as well as in the future.
c) Provide satisfaction to the market now as well as in the future. No business strategy should violate any of the above entities.
 2. You can choose one of the entities as a major goal, but make the other two entities as a necessary conditions to satisfy the goal. All three entities must be satisfied.
3. Never build a strategy based on market forecasts, since their accuracy is not guaranteed.
4. Start with developing a competitive edge through products and services which eliminates the pain-points of the market.
5. Having established the competetive edge move immediately to find ways to segment the market.Enter into segments for which probability of many of the companies dropping off during the same time period is very small.
6. Markets oscillate. During boom time build up cash reserves. During recession,the solution does not lie in lay-offs to cut costs to improve bottom line especially if you have cash reserves. Lay-off is a vicious cycle.
7. Create enough flexibility in your workforce to ensure that every employee is serving several segements of the market.
8. With flexible workforce when a segment is up, you can shift focus away from less lucrative segements. If it goes down, you can shift focus to other segments which you did not fully exploit before. Then there will be rarely a need to lay off people. And all the three entities will be simultaneously satisfied.  (Apparently hardly any company applied this strategy  during the recent recession ! They stuck to the conventional wisdom of laying-off in large numbers !)