BE the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT by Martha Heller; Book Review

Blog Posting

As a CIO/vCIO, sometimes I feel like I am on an island.  Responsible for much but no authority or power to make it happen.  I often wonder what happened from the “yes we need a CIO/vCIO” and when I start being one, for the organization there is so much pushback. As I have matured in this role both as CIO/vCIO for many companies over the years, this angst has continued and until recently, it felt as Heller explains, “…that CIOs should be responsible for the driving adoption in areas where they cannot possibly have as much influence as the executives who are actually managing those businesses.” 

Further, as a CIO/vCIO I have quickly discovered that after the ‘dating relationship’ newness wears off, I am treated much like Dalton (Roadhouse reference).  Seriously, there are a lot of similarities between being a CIO/vCIO and Dalton. In attempting to ‘clean things up’ for instance, you are put into conflicts against those who have established silos, ingrained politics, turf wars, and on top of all that, you are the voice for all things technology for the organization.  I must remind that it does NOT include the throat punches, and martial arts, although I am convinced that there is nothing a sidekick does not cure being a Bruce Lee fan!. 

Recently, during one of these trying times, I came across this book.  This book refreshed me with my love for all things CIO/vCIO, and I was highlighting quote after quote and wishing the current organizations I am working with would read/hear the same things found in this great work. This book made me realize that I am not on an island and many other CIO/CTO/vCIO all are feeling/dealing with the same struggles. I needed this book to remind me I was not alone and that I am doing the right thing. It is my hope that you too, will consider adding this excellent book to your library for many of the same reasons. There are interviews with over 60 CIO’s of many recognizable brands who provide insight, advice, and reflect what it means to be the business as a CIO.

Heller describes a CIO being the business as, “moving from enabling the business to being the business is the challenging work. It means changing governance models, organizational structures, delivery methodologies, and hiring practices. It means transforming IT people from technologists to strategists, from constructing hard lines around IT to creating an environment devoid of organization boundaries and clamping down on employees’ attempts to develop their own technology to embracing end-user information. It also means a driving change in the most difficult of all areas: the mindset, the psyche, the most deeply held ways that we understand our jobs, our success, and our professional identity.

For the rest of the review until the conclusion, I would like to share a few (okay – a LOT) quotes that reflect the value, the innovation, the forward-thinking, the new digital service economy, the other CIO/CTO’s who are overcoming and making things happen by being the Dalton’s and being the business.

Someone once told me that, when your operations are not good, you should not talk strategy. Fair enough, but the opposite is also true. If your operations are good, then you must talk strategy.”

“In my previous book, The CIO Paradox, I called this phenomenon the ‘accountability vs. ownership’ paradox, where CIOs are responsible for outcomes of technology implementations but do not have the power to change the business process.”

“Lately, however, I have changed my thinking on this. I have a new Greek mythological figure in mind for the CIO: Cassandra. Cassandra made the critical relationship-building error spitting on Apollo. As retaliation, Apollo gave Cassandra the power of prophecy, but also the curse of never being believed. (Cassandra eventually goes insane, by the way, so you all have that to look forward to.)”

“…it takes a big ego to have a small ego, and humility (along with chutzpah, of course) is a critical attribute for CIO.”

The CIO is the one leader who can see everything that is happing within the organization. The CIO looks at every transaction and every customer service experience that takes place on the digital platform. With that unique perspective, the CIO understands where efficiency is happening and where it is not. The position, at its most basic level, has moved from someone who just accepted the way things were, to someone who uses that visibility to create aha moments for all leaders across the organization.”

“When you have a bunch of disparate systems, you typically have different vintages of technologies and fragmented processes. If one technology is five years old, and other is twenty-five years old, your users have to open multiple screens; they do not have a seamless process. The challenge of disparate systems extends past technology and process. Disparate systems have a direct impact on the way employees think about their jobs. If your legacy systems require users to break down processes into little pieces, you wind up with people who cannot think holistically about problems.”

“Your first step in running IT like a business is to stop thinking of IT investments as OPM [other people’s money] and treat it as if it were your own.”

“Because IT people can see so much, it is their responsibility to influence investment priorities, not just execute on priorities set by internal business partners.”

“CIOs, more than any other executive, have an end-to-end view of how the business works and the tools to turn that view into insights. CIOs can see endless opportunities for improvement and change.”

“But here’s the rub: looking across silos for opportunities to improve capabilities is one thing; creating a vision for how to seize those opportunities is another. Communicating that vision effectively is harder still. But the real work, the deepest work, is the deciding to stick your neck out in the first place.”

If you want to have an impact in your company, have a point of view that sometimes challenges the status quo but do the work required to make the point of view an informed one.”

“…most CEO would rather not hear your brilliant strategies if e-mail is down.”

“The challenge is to take that perspective and turn it into knowledge your company can act upon.”

“In every IT transformation, you make major tradeoffs between current and future functionality, and you need to let the company’s needs drive your decision around strategy, investment, and the sequencing of change. It’s company first, your organization second, and you as a leader third.”

“Identifying patterns is where we create competitive advantage.”

“As CIO, you are the first to step into traffic, to stand alone during a period of change before people come on board. That takes personal courage.”

Traditionally, in IT, we like to please. But IT is not a popularity contest; it’s a reality show where we often have to deliver tough information…Being a CIO means having the courage not to cut corners to please a stakeholder and delivering the hard message that this is not a risk we’re willing to take.”

“There is an essential contradiction between telling senior IT leadership teams that they always need a business sponsor and raising a generation of IT leaders who have the courage of their convictions. I see this paradox as the most potentially debilitating force in IT’s ability to be the business.”

To my mind, storytelling is one of the most important skills a CIO can process. In the boardroom, the story is one of finance; in your IT leadership meetings, the story is one of vision, teamwork, andimage value; and with your customers, you tell a story of comfort, convenience, revenue, or happiness.”

“As CIO, I know that part of IT’s job is to fulfill requests, but our real job is to understand the business and come up with innovative ideas.”

We don’t subscribe to one standard overall; we use best of the breed. But when you are having fact-based conversations and then you tie your delivery practices to industry standards, you are reinforcing the fact-based approach. This is not just ‘Jay’s way’; this is the industry’s way.”

IT CODE, an acronym for integrity, teamwork, communication, ownership, dedication, and excellence.”

“To change this, he pushed decision rights and budget authority down into the organization as far as he could. “We were very open about our budget, and we delegated approval authority incrementally. Now a much larger percentage of IT people can make decisions about training and purchasing; we eliminated a lot of the red tape and bureaucracy.”

If you are going to take advantage of partnerships, you have to lose the mentality that you have to develop your solution yourself. By relying on the work of others, you’ll move faster.”

“I value the skill of being able to make a decision and move forward…We need our people to fall in love with making a difference to the business.”

“They can write and I can read; we know that. Rather than focus on skills and experiences, Olley interviews for two raw capabilities: ‘Clear thinkers—people who can cut through the day-to-day ambiguity to create clarity on how to move forward; and strategic pragmatists—people who are strategic enough to make a plan but pragmatic enough to know that they might not implement all of it.”

“This program will help participants understand how to meet new expectations for their role. These new expectations start with accountability: IT employees need to do more than implementing what is requested. They need to ensure the right choices are made and the expected business value is achieved. To do so, IT employees need to build strategic relationships with their business partners. This requires good subject-matter expertise and the courage to initiate or engage in discussions about relevant business problems.”

“My rock star tag (which I will apply very selectively) is reserved for that beautiful unicorn, the executive who has it all: relationship building, delivery, excellence, deep technology roots, strategic thinking and depth in whatever industry my client represents.”

When you let go of the notion that IT must control all technology development, you have the potential to open the floodgates on innovation. The traditional CIO mindset has always been ‘It’s my silo and you can’t come in’. But IT is no longer a skillet, it’s a toolkit and my job as CIO is to give everyone access to the toolkit. When you build a platform that allows you to crowd source innovation, then anybody can be a developer.”

“For Bill Gates, it was not about being perfect and having every feature in the product in every release. If you have bugs, communicate them, but ship software, because if you are not getting software into your user’s hands, your failing.”

“If a business leader is confronted with an urgent situation, and the IT leader says, ‘I have to check with someone, because that’s not my responsibility,’ it’s like seeing some drowning in a swimming pool, and saying, ‘I could save you, but I’m not the lifeguard. As CIO, you need to give your people the authority to make a broad set of decisions in real time.”

“Security will always be the top priority for CIOs, whether they know it or not.”

“It’s pointless to have metrics without consequences.”

“Its hard to start in the data center and find your way to the user.”

“It takes two to be transparent. One who is willing to show and another who is willing to see.”

Having good relationships is the difference between getting support in front of the board or hearing crickets.”

“If the business has not tried to hire one of my business relationship managers, I am doing something wrong.”

IT transformation is more about relationships than technology.”

“We don’t need a digital strategy—we need a business strategy for a digital world.”

So with all of these quotes, you can see why I don’t feel like an island. There are others out there who are doing what I am doing, feeling what I am feeling, and surround by people who support them, thus they are making it happen. If you have not figured it out, relationships are the key. I would add the right kind of relationships are the key and I am not just referencing key positional ones, I am referencing authentic, transparent, and integrity in those relationships. I recently told someone, “I realize that the culture is about relationships, however, if I am not a professional and have integrity, there is no relationship. Personal relationships are a gift of the professional relationship.” Said another way, if my email is down, our relationship outside of business really does not matter.

Being a CIO/vCIO today is a great and fulfilling joy to me. I also relish the relationships, love being around the technology, and verticals. I would recommend this excellent work, as it will remind you of these things if you have forgotten. 

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. –Eric Liddell

THE IMPERFECT DISCIPLE: Grace For People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together–Audiobook Review

Are you tired of the “10-steps to being a better Christian” or perhaps the “Share if you like Jesus” social media posts that make you want to unfriend everyone?  Everyone is.  In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson, in a snarky yet sobering style reminds us of the liberating truths about the that we often exchange for a lies.  This book is for the legalist in all of us.  What is a legalist?  Cover ArtSomeone who is “seeking to achieve forgiveness from GOD and acceptance by GOD through my obedience to GOD.” {CJ Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life}.  This book covers issues with consumer Christianity, what it means to contextualize your faith from looking good but being broken, fear of man, to everyone’s struggle with their faith.  The summaries found around the web, describe it well, “The Imperfect Disciple is a discipleship book for people who are a little tired of discipleship books. This one is for the rest of us — people who screw up, people who are weary, people who are often wondering in church if it’s safe to say what they’re really thinking. For the believer who is tired of quasi-spiritual “lifehacks” and fuzzy “fortune cookie” spirituality, here is a discipleship book that isn’t afraid to be honest about the mess we call real life.

I listened to this audiobook two times and was amazed of the things I missed the first time around.  For instance, chapter two discussed the sermon on the mount, beatitudes, and psychobabble Christian leadership books!  As I spend some time in the car with my work, I enjoy having audiobooks that challenge me and remind of the gospel, and this did not disappoint.  The narrator of the audio although not the author, made the book interesting and engaging.  I found the book to be refreshing, interesting, challenging, inspiring, and enlightening. 

It reminded me of how hard I try to be in control, fear others, look elsewhere and try to prove myself.  It also felt like I was listening to a younger Steve Brown, in that he was also very pastoral and earthy real with the topics discussed.  Jared challenges the way we do discipleship and the way we do “Christianity” and then pokes us with the reminder that it is all about grace.  I appreciated his humor and vernacular when describing the Christian culture, and then grounding us in the scripture to remind us that not much is different from the first century church. I found the audio book to be presented in a cohesive, yet down to earth, messy manner.  Something that is rare today in the publishing world of ‘every author sounds the same.”  Jared successfully saturates this work in biblical truth and gives transparent illustrations from his own life to drive the points home.  I highly recommend this book to any other Imperfect Disciples – those of us who struggle to keep our act together. 

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Disclaimer

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the christianaudio.com review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Some gospel-fluency questions that I robbed and duplicated for myself…

  1. What am I not believing about the Gospel in this situation?
  2. What idol or god am I putting my trust in?
  3. How does the Gospel address this?
  4. Who is God? God HAS Saved us From the PENALTY of Sin For the Purpose of Being His BELOVED CHILDREN; God IS SAVING us from the POWER of Sin today…For the Purpose of Bringing Him Glory in All Things by the power of the Spirit. God WILL SAVE US from the Presence of Sin for eternal joy in the presence of our King Jesus.
  5. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the perfect man who lived a perfect life fully submitted to God the Father in all things. He is the God-Man who is God in the flesh so we could know what God is like and God would be near us. He is the Messiah sent by God to save us from our sin, death, and destruction.
  6. What did Jesus do? On the cross, He exchanged His perfect obedience (His righteousness) for our sin so those who have faith in Jesus get His righteousness credited to their account and their sin credited to His account. When He died on the cross, not only were my sins removed, but they were paid for (atoned for). He rose from the dead to show His power over sin and death. (The wages of sin is death, so Jesus’ resurrection shows the debt is paid in full.) He ascended to the right hand of God the Father from where He sent His Spirit to bring faith and new life to us, empowering us to live lives of obedience.
  7. What must we do (repent, faith, new obedience)?
  8. What happens as a result? (New identity, we are forgiven, given the Holy Spirit, included in eternity, commissioned to make disciples etc).
  9. How does this story of mine/theirs intersect with the Bible Story (Purpose of the Gospel): *CREATION – What is my identity? (Sense of Purpose, Significance, Security, Acceptance, Power) *FALL – What is my Problem? (Keeping me from being or doing what I should) *REDEMPTION – What is my Solution? (Who or what will save me from my problem?) *NEW CREATION – What’s my Hope? (What should my world look like if it was as it ought to be?).
  10. What is the power of the Gospel? God-Sin-Jesus-Faith

*For some great context for this:  http://www.gospelfluency.com

My Gospel Story

{I am being asked a lot lately to share my story and passion for Gospel Fluency… This might help…}

  1. Creation: Who or what most shaped my understanding of myself? What were the sources of my sense of personal value and identity?

I grew up in a dysfunctional family like many people, my mom was married 3x and in 1985 I was placed in a half-way house and for Christmas 1985 I was placed into long-term foster care. My two-year younger sister got to stay with Mom (that is another of His stories). Because of this rejection, I constantly struggled with becoming an over-achiever, angry and keeping people at an emotional distance. This manifested in obviously, many drama moments. I ran away from my foster home to California to ‘find myself’, selling drugs, getting stabbed. Later not completing high school, getting my GED and attending college, involved in a murder investigation, doing marital arts, making a mess of my life and the lives of those around me, until I was finally given a choice, join the military or go to jail.

  1. Fall: How was my relationship with God and others NOT the way God created it to be? Why?

When I joined the military, I still searched and was never satisfied. Always searching for ‘something’, I looked into many religions and faiths and even changed my dog-tags a few times with everything from new age to the occult. I was married for 11 months and went through a divorce for 4 years with a daughter Samantha (who is estranged to this day due to these evidence of the Fall). I further downward spiraled into drinking and partying that finally caught up with me in a car accident, totaled a brand new car and put me in the hospital, disabling me from any physical prowess I once had and goals that I was working on with martial arts and the military. As I continued to blame everyone else for my chaos, I found myself tearful many times when Chaplains would come around and would find myself with a Bible in hands, not knowing what to read or do with it. I was involved in homosexuality and continued to be a danger to myself and those around me. I battled with depression, insomnia, anxiety and other rationalizations and justifications for my circumstances – when I really did not have a clue.

  1. Redemption: How did I come to put my trust in Him to save me and restore me to the way God intended it to be? How has my life been rescued by Jesus’ sacrifice?

As I neared my end of military contract and divorce, I was writing, drowning my sorrows in gothic music, and partying. I knew I did not want to go back to MA which was filled with pain and hurt but also there was nothing for me in NC, so I worked on a plan to move to SC with this woman I met online who was a single mom. As I continued in my drama, I had lost hope and would regularly try to drink or drug away my depression and suicidal tendencies. One day at the climax of my self-absorption and victim mentality, I had planned to take myself to a quiet place and finally stop the hurting and loneliness. As I pulled off the side of the road, I threw up a final accusation of all my hurts, pains, and all crap. I was tired, lonely, desperate and without hope. I was resolved to end the ‘problem’ I had become to so many, doubting God in my heart. It was at that moment through tears and sobbing that I distinctly remember sensing the presence of God, and I felt these words wash over me, “Nothing you can ever do would ever make me love you any less. I forgive you and I have always forgiven you.” I was radically changed at that moment, no one had ever told me of loving me anyway, always with conditions and agendas, and to be loved and forgiven was a new chapter in my life. I became aware of the righteous and holy nature of God through being confronted with my helplessness, depravity, and emptiness of looking for satisfaction from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. I realized that none of these things would ever satisfy and while I exercised early faith, I realized that the only approval or right standing that would ever satisfy, would be God, the Father and being loved by Him. I asked 3 serious questions (and still do and need to be reminded of):

What Did Jesus Do?

• On the cross, He exchanged His perfect obedience (His righteousness) for my sin so those who have faith in Jesus get His righteousness credited to their account and their sin credited to His account.

• When He died on the cross, not only were my sins removed, but they were paid for (atoned for).

• He rose from the dead to show His power over sin and death. (The wages of sin is death, so Jesus’ resurrection shows the debt is paid in full.)

• He ascended to the right hand of God the Father from where He sent His Spirit to bring faith and new life to us, empowering me to live a life of obedience.

What Must I Do?

• Repent: Have a change of mind about who is God around here.

• Believe: By faith put my trust in who Jesus is and what He has done, believing it was accomplished for me.

• Be Baptized: Publicly express my faith that my life is now united and identified with God in Christ.

What Happens to Me?

• I was forgiven and cleansed of my sins.

• I have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

• I am included in the forever-family of God.

• I am commissioned to make disciples of Jesus.

My zeal for truth also exploded at that time, and I grew in hunger for the Bible and understanding it, which would later turn into Him making a way for seminary and many other turning points along the way that continue to sand the rough edges off of my life that are obstacles for others seeing Him.

  1. Restoration: What has changed and what is changing in my life now? Who and what is the focus of my life today?

Since that time, I have been married for 22-years to Connie, who has been an evidence of God’s grace and kindness in my life. My life is filled with deep and meaningful relationships and I know that I am united with Christ because of His death, burial, and resurrection, and I catch brief glimpses from time to time, of this reality as a heartfelt contentment and confidence. It creates a longing in me to be with Him and worship Him forever. I realize that He is not finished with me and sometimes those times are trials, tribulations, and temptations. I have hope as I am reminded of the story of Christ Jesus, and what He accomplished for me on the Cross. I just know. Sometimes I don’t understand what it means to live a life of the Joy of Fearing God. I am thankful for restoration, the story of redemption and I am reconciled to Him, which reminds me of His Righteousness and Holiness. I continually come to a point of conviction over my sin and rebellion when I truly comprehend God’s holiness in light of my sinfulness and the Cross is big in my life. It varies based on those areas of which God is currently working. I am thankful for those who help me to turn from my sin and selfishness and embrace Jesus in repentance, faith, and new obedience daily. Currently, God is working on my impatience, fear of man, dying to myself daily and gospel fluency. He is showing that He is great – so I don’t have to be in control; that He is glorious – so I don’t have to fear others; that He is good – so I don’t have to look elsewhere; and that He is gracious – so I don’t have to prove myself. These are items that bring about frustration, brokenness, repentance, redemption, and reconciliation with the Father and those gifts of people He has brought into my life. I enjoy talking about my faith, sharing my faith, showing my faith and breaking down the compartments of my life. Because He knows me already, I like to be known for ‘what you see is what you get’, especially if by using my life and experiences someone else can see Him, the author and perfector of my faith. By the way, in case you were wondering…I still don’t have a clue… One of the ways, I am gratefully humbled and reminded of the power and purpose of the gospel is by regularly asking and being asked by others: How does the Gospel Address This? and, What about the Gospel am I Not Believing? What idol or god am I putting my trust in? Which is also an evidence of God’s grace with those in my life see where I fall short in these areas and still love me anyway.

Concluding; three of my favorite scriptures that outline this continuing story of God’s work of Creation-Fall-Redemption and Restoration of my life;

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psa 34:18 ESV)

…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:18-20 ESV)

But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Joh 6:64-69 ESV)


[1] Based upon (these link to the actual resources) Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-centered Ministry in Your City; The Gospel Primer; Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Every Day Stuff of Life; Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus in the Every Day Stuff of Life, which have been critical turning points and impacted all areas of my life and still do.

Why stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime is not a good idea for small businesses

It happened again.  A customer is in a recovery situation with their on-site business dependent physical server.  It has been down for 2+ days already and 15 staff members are unable to access network resources.  I am on the phone and remoted into a ‘recovered’ version of the server in which someone has rebuilt (reinstalled OS and is downloading files from cloud backup) and drive management, permissions, and configuration is all jacked up.  Oh did I mention, they also do not have AD (active directory).  My first question is, “Do you have image backup?”  “What is that?” the customer replies.

Scenario #2, It is obvious that folks have not dealt with a CIO type of consulting and not used to vCIO services, and after much discussion, because I want this customer, a friend of the owner, to subscribe to this service.  I complete an overhaul in regards to documentation and discover a bunch of things out of wack.  More importantly, their firewall is out warranty, end-of-life and double nat’d, their server is more than 3 years old, and they are “concerned” with security.   Instead, they elected to renew the last warranty on their end-of-life firewall ($49), turning down the quote that would remove all the devices (WAP, 2-FW) and streamline to one, and the server warranty extension!

Scenario #3, One of my techs ask after the new ‘rolling stock/inventory’ standards are put in place:  “are we doing Meraki hardware even for 1-5 employee operations?”  He is asking because I turned down his request to add consumer/Office Depot based routers and firewalls to the list.  I respond,  “This was also thoroughly discussed with XXX and the actual ticket/sales figures reflect otherwise (how often a consumer router was purchased and put into a small business environment recently).   We are going to be sticking with Meraki unless it is an emergency and even then, it is temporary, while they wait for their business class FW/router.   I have sold Meraki’s to 5 and under shops when I was at XXX.  My wife’s office of 3 people has a Meraki MX60W with a 3-year license.  Stewardship for any business customers at any size is not stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.  Business can write off technology expenses.  Buying the cheapest and easiest consumer level router at OfficeMax is not what is best for the long term for a customer.  Kind of like not having image backup or AD when you have a server.  It may save you a couple $ now, but later it is going to cost you.  If customers cannot afford business class equipment, then maybe they are not a good fit.  We want to work with people who trust their consultants.  Let me know if you have any questions.”Image result for penny pincher

So, today’s article is about determining what type of customers you want.  I am suggesting that a customer who ‘steps over a dollar to save a dime” is NOT the customer you want.  Let me clarify what I mean.

  1. I am not selling people things they do not need.
  2. I do not have product hills to die on, so-to-speak, other than a) do the provide top-notch customer service, b) what is the business continuity history of said product or service in the SMB/Enterprise environment?
  3. I don’t get a commission on my recommendations.
  4. Business is about profit, but let’s face it, there is no money in hardware these days.  Everyone can surf the web and comparison shop.  It is probably why you are in this predicament in the first place.
  5. I am not going to debate or beg you about products and services I recommend.
  6. If the customer does have sticker shock, and because of your product/offering conviction know this is the right thing for them, then spread it out across a few months in a payment plan!  It is amazing to me how many customers will take a recommendation, once I offer it to them with a payment plan.  (i.e., if your setup fee is $1500, then spread it across 3 months)

Another thing I have noticed with some customer is how much time is invested in the going back-and-forth with quotes.

First, it is sticker shock, then they want me to explain why they need it, then they try to remove things from the quote, and finally crickets…   What happened?  Did I mark it up too much – no, our standard markup is the SBA.gov recommended 30%, nothing more.  When I explain why they need it, I gently remind them that this is what they asked me for and that I invested time in reviewing their site, documentation, and ticket history before I put the quote together.  Removing things, I get, as some things can be optional.  But requesting to remove the hardware warranty on your server, the BACKBONE of your business is stupid.

Here is what has happened I am convinced.

a.  The customer has been allowed to think of their technology as liabilities versus assets.  Meaning, they want to suck the life out of their investment, convinced that it should operate, function, and perform for the next 10+ years without maintenance, upgrades, or coverage.  Technology investments are assets.  They need to be maintained, upgraded, and service agreements attached to them, especially if your business is dependent upon them.

I like to share with these folks a funny analogy of what they are doing with my recommendation/quote and compare it to their/my car.  I will say something like, “Okay a Toyota Camry is 20K+, it is the consumer reports for many years running best investment, mileage, keeping it markets value etc.  It is not the most expensive car on the market, and there are better ones, but for heavy duty driving, minimal maintenance, and some budgeting, this car can go 250K+ miles.  Now, if I did what you are doing to my quote, to my Camry, this is what it looks like.  If I remove the insurance because it is optional, there are Image result for stepping over a dollar to pick up a dimeconsequences to that even though I am the ‘best driver in the world’ (I am not really but they get the point).  Or when Jeffy the 16-yr old backs out of Walmart, straight into my car while I am in it, if I don’t have insurance, the following will happen.  1) I will be fined for not insuring my car  2) because I don’t have insurance, my car is now going to need repairs to include cosmetic.  If you have never paid for cosmetic repairs — trust me, you are glad you have insurance.  3) If the damage is so bad, I might not even be able to drive it and it may be totaled.  I am now losing time trying to find new transportation etc.  Or maybe we cut the 4th tire, hey we don’t need that right?  I mean the car can drive okay with only 3 tires right.  {They usually laugh at this point}.  Or how about I remove the front windshield mirror, I mean, I already have two other mirrors on the sides and I can always turn around and look.  After cutting all the optional items and extended service agreements off the price, I tell the sales guy, to resend me a quote with the updates.  He takes it to his supervisor and because he is new, is reprimanded that the quote he is providing is 1) not legal or safe, 2) cars cannot be purchased/driven off lots without insurance, 3) allowing the customer to dictate what is best defeats the purpose of having a professionally trained representative who is up on all the laws, requirements, and is authorized to give discounts where applicable, but not compromise on non-negotiables.  Everyone usually agrees with me then but…

b.  Previous history has not been documented with this customer.  The actual kpi or ratio to time invested to the customer taking the recommendations are not solid numbers, other than bad memories that have been tainted by sleep since the last time.   Because your ticket history, documentation, and processes are not in place, you rely on your depraved memory against the PNL (profit and loss) statement for this month.  You react versus proact.

I’ve read it over and over in management books, relationship books, etc.  When you never document or measure processes, they never change.  If you don’t know how many of your customers are wasting your time with, not taking your advice, how many bills you must meticulous go through every billing period because they want to complain about these charges, how many hours you have actually refunded, in trying to keep this customer, then you are contributing to the definition of insanity.  We all know the definition, continuing to do what you have always done and expecting different results.  I keep meticulous records of my customer’s non-billable time against their billable time.  I do not trust the ‘month-to-month’ profitability that my system spits out because before me, all the variables above were not tracked and only the positive were.  The reality is looking at the negatives too.

c.  Because you reacted in the past by changing prices, adjusting quotes to accommodate the liability mentality, your quality of product and service offerings suffer.  When you do not insist upon business class devices, for instance, you wonder why your RMM (remote monitoring and management) tool never catches the alerts.  The reason is that the RMM companies do not invest time in accommodating the OfficeMax or Staples network infrastructure products because they know they are not truly a business class and were never designed to be long-term solutions.  Further, the time and effort to provide support for them before they become end-of-life in many cases are a loss for most of these vendors.  Here is a good plumb line with those products.  If the only thing being offered is a 30-day money back and no service agreement, it should tell you something.

Because you have been losing money (by not documenting your time invested in the quote they never took, adjusting your profit margin, allowing them to pick and choose optional items), there is no cash to reinvest back into your service offerings.  Therefore, over time you too, become like your customers and look for the cheapest, go against the recommendations of best practices, never educate your team with training or hold them accountable for the investment and never respond to reputable vendors who are trying to do business with you.

Also, as a result, you have techs then who think that the easiest way to handle things is to find the ‘cheapest’ one online, that does minimally what you need it to do, don’t quote warranties, and think everything is up for debate when a new authority comes on board who does NOT think like this.  Because they are not being trained with the business class products and solutions, they are not being educated on industry standards or best practices.  Your techs need to be trained and understand these big vendors.  These vendors are big not because they are profitable, but also because they;

  1. Invest in their products for the long haul.
  2. Invest in their team/vendors because an educated partner is a natural referral agent.
  3. When training is made available for free or minimal cost, the industry benefits.
  4. When someone does not take their advice or recommendation, they move on.  Maybe one or two more back and forths.  Maybe a comparison sheet, but they are not pushy, begging, or investing a lot of time in these types of people.  Why?
  5. They know they have a good product offering.  They know that some people can never be pleased and investing exuberant amounts of time in a $1000 quote is a waste of time.  They also know what works and what does not.  While they are debating with you, they are missing out on someone who trusts them and is going to take their advice.Image result for Great Customer Service Funny

So, maybe it’s time to rethink some of the long-standing screaming baby birds that you call customers.  You know the one that does not subscribe to managed services, take your quote on a business class firewall, or wants to get online and compare PC Magazine tips and tricks against your 20+ years of experience.

Go find some customers that understand that technology is an asset/investment.  Document every touch with your customers.  I read it a while back, each year you should be firing the bottom 10% of your customer base (these are the ones that are not profitable, eating up a lot of billable time, do not budget for your recommendations, scream when they go down and expect priority service).  If it is not being measured or tracked, it is not happening.  Keep your techs standardized with solid business-class tools, products, and services.  Give them time to take training, hold them accountable for it, and not everything is up for debate.  You are the business owner/executive/veteran IT consult who has years of wisdom from experiences just like these.  Don’t short change yourself or your customers and invest back in the IT industry with best practices and methods as you know you should.  I love small businesses but not small-minded mentalities.