Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Seats are in, plus first run

16/08/2019

The Techsafe rear seats are in, installed last July before I went on holiday. I can sit in them and not have my head hit the ceiling after all…

Adults probably wouldn’t want to do very long journeys sitting in them, but they will be fine for kids, which is the main reason for having them. They are very well made and the integrated seat belt makes things nice and neat. Arm rests are really a bit too small to make a big difference in terms of comfort, but they are nice to have. Of all the stuff ordered from overseas, Techsafe have been the best – speedy responses to Anees from ANR, they shipped the order correctly, the products sent don’t have any issues and they even followed up directly when they thought there may have been a recall affecting one of the seat mounts.

I was lucky enough to pick Geoff up from ANR and be able to do a nice afternoon run with David and JB before dropping Geoff back and going on holiday.

Geoff is a lot easier to drive with a bit more weight in him. The Legendex exhaust sounds great, performance feels better and the soundproofing has made a world of difference. He feels like a normal car, rather than a tractor. Cruise control also makes motorway driving a lot easier – as do the new stereo and speakers!

It was quite funny seeing Geoff on his OEM skinnies compared to the big tyres on the other Troopies. I’m sure I will change them in due course. It was only a short drive but we did do some rocky bits and I didn’t notice any tyre related issues. It will be fun to see what they are like in the sand.

Opening and closing the awning is super easy, the roof tent too – and when I stop slipping off the bumper and learn how to open the clips first time, opening will be even quicker as well…

Geoff has been back at ANR and I’ll see him during the coming week. In the meantime Rashid at ANR has connected me with a Dubai based Aussie gent who has started on the drawings for the rear storage area and has already had some good ideas to contribute. I need to get a move and and decide the water strategy – a decent, economical  and hot shower is important and if space and budget allow I’d like the same water heater set up used by Andre SP of 4xoverland.

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Troopy progress

25/07/2019

Dropped into ANR today to finalise the positioning of the rear seats.

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It looks as if the rear seats will fit an adult, even with the lower ceiling due to the AluCab Hercules roof – good news. This means my idea of having the two single rear seats will work – allowing a ‘corridor’ between the two to allow passengers to enter and exit via the back. They are well built and comfy, particularly good for kids as they give a good view out of the window. There is one strange thing – the mounting brackets on one chair seem to be about 1.5cm longer than on the other. I don’t think this will be a problem for me, but 1.5cm seems a large margin of error.

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The Front Runner drop down table is on. It looks good – quite tough to pull the drawer down, but I think it will loosen up over the time.

The slide out table is terrible – I’m really not sure what Front Runner are thinking here! It looks like something pulled out of a skip – rough edges, not sanded or varnished and, my guess, not really hygienic for food. It’s not just mine, either – another one in stock via the distributor is exactly the same. Astonishingly bad – I will have to get mine sanded and varnished.

Rashid has suggested using some of the space behind the rear door panel to store things or to run a water pipe through. We would cut a hole at the right points on the table. This is a great idea.

The AluCab Shadow Awning has been repositioned. The ANR guys really scratched their heads to get it right as the instructions don’t seem to be much help – the only way apparently being to drill new holes.

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I don’t have a picture, but AluCab have confirmed they no longer fit a cloth patch over the small arm that raises up to make the awning material taut. Fair enough – but the arm has a plastic covering that stains the awning black…

Various rivets and screws on the awning that stick out and can scratch things have no rubber caps supplied. ANR, off their own bat, went out and got colour matching rubber caps to avoid damage where metal  was previously meeting metal.

This bit on the awning looks bent.

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The awning seems to be great, otherwise – it really covers a great area, including nicely protecting the ‘kitchen’ area behind the rear doors. I love the idea of us doing a day trip with friends and being able to get some shade together and use the MaxTrax and Front Runner tables to make fresh sandwiches, a cup of tea and so on.

Screws that are part of the roof mounting just stick down dangerously and look unsightly – we will have to do something about this.

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The Drifta kitchen looks great when set up. As mentioned in an earlier post, they sent the wrong model, but that is being sorted out. The hinges seem a bit loose, but that may just be me being grumpy and critical as so many other things have had quality issues. We just have to make sure it can genuinely fit into the back and be put in and taken out easily. If it can’t I’ll think of something else, but something removable is definitely what I want.

They also forget to include the QuickPitch En Suite shower curtain ordered and paid for… That will be on its way soon.

 

Progress of a sort

16/07/2019

Dropped into ANR to view Geoff the Troopy.

Good stuff:

The guys seem to have done a great job all round with the AluCab Hercules roof.

The Legendex exhaust is in and sounds fantastic! Finally I have a car with some ‘grunt and rumble’, which is one of the most important things when offroading, as all the experts agree.

The sound proofing really seems to have done its job. It’s a lot quieter to drive now.

The stereo and map pockets with the speakers look and sound great.

The QuickPitch MaxTrax table is on – I can see it will be very useful.

Bad stuff:

I’m getting extremely tired with the quality of service and attention to detail from AluCab. The ordering process was farcical at times in terms of responding to emails and providing important info, such as additional height added. We had issues with the shipment as well – David’s roof was missing brackets, which they had to courier to him, for example.

My roof seems to have come with all its bits and pieces, but the main awning bracket was completely bent, there is no protective patch for the arm that props up the canvas and there is no bracket/connector/hole drilled to allow the final arm to latch onto the car and secure the awning.

I asked for AluCab’s branding stickers not to be put on when I ordered, but was told this wasn’t possible. The reason for not wanting them is that the RTA are quite strict about what you can have on a vehicle, so it makes sense just to remove them. As it happens, they are peeling off anyway as they’ve either not been stuck on properly or the glue is of poor quality… It seems odd that stickers are mandatory but other more important things get ignored or bungled.

As mentioned above, the MaxTrax table looks good and will be very handy. On the downside, it came missing rivets, with no instruction manual and doesn’t seem to ship with any rubber or soft plastic bits to sit between areas where metal would be against metal. (Apologies, I’m probably not using the correct terms here, but I hope you understand what I mean). ANR have done a good job ‘upgrading’ it to make it something acceptable.

Via ANR I had ordered a single drawer Drifta kitchen. They sent me the double drawer version, all the way from Australia… (That said, it does look to be a great product, just what I wanted. How it will fit in the back will have to be worked on).

These things will all get rectified – I’m just glad that I don’t have a strict deadline. If I were actually building a vehicle with a date in mind to begin a trip, I would be furious.

Next steps are for the rear seats to be installed. Once they are in we can take accurate measurements and start to design the rear storage area. We had some fun manoeuvring the SnoMaster fridge and the Drifta kitchen around to get an idea of how it might all work.

 

 

Why buy a Troopy?

03/07/2019

The long answer is below. For the short, answer scroll to the last sentence* at the end!

Me, wondering if I actually shouldn’t have bought something else – what’s that I see over there? Should I have bought the car driving past? Or should I just have done something with the Patrol?IMG_0015

I love being outdoors and camping. I love driving in the dunes and mountains. I love 4x4s and utilitarian vehicles and I’m lucky enough to live in Dubai. I just don’t out there as often as I would like.

Having lived in the UAE since 2002 and and done lots of desert driving and wadi trips in my 2001 Wrangler and later in my 2011 Nissan Patrol, along with my wife, I’d always wanted to do a bit more than just an overnight stay or a day out in the dunes.

When my daughter was nearly five, we finally started camping again, along with friends and their kids. This past year we’ve done several trips, always staying for one night in a wadi in Sharjah, RAK or Fujeirah.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, the kids loved it, Mrs Saul enjoyed herself and it was a great way to spend time with friends.

Packing up the car and unpacking it, as well as setting up and striking camp, became a bit easier as I got used to it. The Patrol has lots of room and can go anywhere, but as we live in an apartment, packing the car wasn’t simply a matter of reversing the it into the garage and easily swapping boxes and out of the boot and onto shelves or taking a cooler box from the kitchen a few steps to the garage and into the car. Each trip involved a bit of schlepping up and down from our ground floor apartment to the car in the basement.

Not a huge amount of effort, but a bit of a hassle nonetheless.

Equally, we were only ever spending one night at the campsite. Putting up the camp and taking it down wasn’t a huge amount of effort, but was still that bit of a hassle.

Whilst I don’t do a lot of driving for work, the Patrol is still my daily driver, but it didn’t really matter having lots of camping kit still in there during the week.

Around about the time we started camping more often, I began watching great YouTube videos Andrew St Pierre White, Ronny Dahl and, for some great local inspiration,  Shaun Meyer. The desire to be able to do longer trips began to grow – why not spend eid holidays on a beach in Oman with friends? These sorts of expeditions are things you’d never forget.

The idea that a Troopy might be the ideal thing for us began to grow. I found out that it was possible to buy and register one locally. A Dutch expat had done it and had a roof and other stuff added by Vladco, a local company. This showed me first hand what could be done. It also seemed possible to do the roof conversion and still have the car registered by the RTA (the government body that regulates roads and vehicles in Dubai).

Here’s a pic of what must be the first Troopy with a pop top roof in Dubai, made by Vladco. Sadly the owner had to sell it soon after it was finished, as he moved to Qatar and wasn’t able to bring it with him.

 

I then met Anees from ANR Performance, who gave me great advice, as well as David. I also had a nose around the workshop of RAD Expeditions.

All of this research and inspiration from other people lead me to buy my Troopy, named Geoff, in November 2018. (I’ll detail how I bought and registered a Troopy locally in another post. Also, I don’t usually name my cars, but this one really needed a name).

I didn’t just jump into the decision blind. I thought things through – my requirements were pretty simple.

I wanted a reliable vehicle that could go off road capably, in the sand, on tracks, over rocky bits, through water, etc.

I needed comfortable seating for at least four people (our daughter is an only child, so I wanted space for a friend of hers to be able to join us, or for a guest of ours to come along.

I wanted to be able to set up a comfortable sleeping area for four quickly and easily, (which really meant a rooftop tent of some sort).

I wanted to be able to pack and store all our stuff easily and in a tidy way, especially because I’m quite untidy by nature. I also wanted to have everything needed on board so that friends could come camping with us and only need their 4×4, tent, sleeping bags and food. If they enjoyed the experience they could obviously buy their own kit, but I didn’t want people not to come and have fun because they just didn’t want to buy various bits and pieces they thought they might not use again.

I wanted to be able to do longer trips, which would mean a fridge, some power points, probably a second battery, etc.

I wanted to have water for longer trips, for drinking and for washing.

I wanted to have a set up that I knew would allow me to travel the world, even if we would just be spending a few days here and there in the UAE and Oman. For example, if we left the UAE for some reason, perhaps the vehicle could take us home to the UK, having some adventure along the way. It’s nice to dream.

I wanted something with decent resale value if the whole experiment turned out to be a pipe dream.

I also wanted to do something *now*. The region’s population is expanding and the quieter places will get busier over time, tracks will be tarmacked over and camping spots busier and possibly more regulated. There’s also no guarantee that many of the 4x4s we are lucky enough to get here will still be sold over the coming years.

I didn’t want to waste money, but I was lucky enough to be in a position to have the budget to do things properly, whichever route I went down.

I didn’t want something enormous. A friend has a fantastic set up on his F150 for him, his wife and three kids, but it’s just too big for me.

I needed something with a reasonable amount of range, which likely meant a diesel engine. Petrol is probably absolutely fine for the UAE and Oman, but I was at least willing to consider a diesel option.

I needed a solution that would fit in my car park, whose official height restriction is 2.2m, but which can squeeze something in that’s 2.23m high.

I didn’t need to live and cook in the car itself, or have camp right to wherever it was parked, but I was keen to be able to sleep in or on it.

I wanted to be able to get going as quickly as possible, with zero fuss and as little packing as possible.

So, here’s how my thinking evolved and lead me to the decicion to buy what I did.

The Trailer Option

There are two companies that manufacture trailers locally, Orbit and Rove. There’s also a company that started recently to import trailers from SA.

A trailer did seem to tick all the boxes – plenty of storage, which would mean there would be no reason to customise my Patrol or buy a new car – but I didn’t like the idea of towing a trailer over steep dunes or single tracks. Whilst I wasn’t expecting to be doing ‘recreational’ offroading or extreme desert driving with a trailer attached, I felt I’d want some flexibility over the terrain we’d be covering.

On one of our first camping trips in 2018 we were driving down a wadi with high walls either side, when we decided not to go any further and to turn around. In the Patrol this was a ten point turn, with someone helping to make sure I didn’t hit any rocks. With a trailer it would have been a lot more complicated, possibly even impossible.

For this reason I decided that a trailer would have been an excellent option for trips where I knew the territory, but that it wasn’t so good an option for when we would be exploring new areas, or had simply got lost. I know the Aussies in particular seem to take trailers anyway, but I decided it wasn’t right for me.

Use the Patrol

I have a 2011 Y61 Patrol that is completely stock apart from a bashplate, flag mount and new stereo. An easy option would have been to –

  • add a roof tent
  • add some more lights for better visibility
  • put in some shelves or basic storage in the back, plus a cargo barrier
  • upgrade suspension if needed

One of the best options I found for rear storage was this from Fourby Fit Outs in Oz. I think this meets the needs of so many people here in the UAE – it slots in to existing mount points, gives you water, some shelving, space for a fridge or cooler box and can be removed when you sell the car, if needed. It’s perfect even for a stock Patrol, Land Cruiser, Pajero, etc. For the shorter trips we were doing it really would have solved all of our needs. I think that if someone made something similar locally, or imported the Fourby version from Oz, they would have a lot of customers.

All that said, I was pretty keen on a roof tent as well. We have a great six man Coleman ground tent, which is probably as easy to put up as a ground tent can be, but it gets tedious having to put it up and down repeatedly, inflate mattresses and so on. A roof tent would make life so much easier. With a roof rack or load bars and a rooftop tent, I’d be nearing the maximum height of the car park. With my ideal rooftop tent, the iKamper, I wouldn’t be able to fit in at all, by my calculations.

I also realised, that with three or four people, food, water, tent, awning, etc, I’d quite quickly be nearing the Patrol’s GVM. That could easily be solved by upgrading the suspension, but I’d still be a bit limited with the height.

Even if I was still satisfied that I could fit the car into the car park with all the gear I wanted and be within its weight limits, I would still have been spending a lot of money customising my daily driver. I don’t drive too much for work, but I didn’t like the idea of driving around with a roof top tent all year. If I’d had my own garage I could probably have had a system that would have made it easy to take the roof tent off and store it for the months when we weren’t camping, but I don’t have my own garage. Also, although I don’t plan to sell the Patrol, making all these changes might reduce its resale value, although this wasn’t a major concern.

The Patrol drinks petrol and wouldn’t be made any more fuel efficient by having a roof top tent. Fuel costs and even fuel economy aren’t a huge issue here particularly, but petrol is getting more expensive, plus for longer trips to Oman I suspected I’d have to do more careful planning around when to fill up.

Also, I still wanted to be able to do some dune bashing every so often and didn’t fancy doing that in a Patrol with a tent on top and all sorts of other weight.

Overall, this option was probably the most sensible in terms of creating a family camping car – but I was worried that height, weight, storage space, etc, would all still be a bit limiting, I wouldn’t be able to go dune bashing, it would be inconvenient, etc. If it had just been me or if we lived in a villa with a decent garage space, I would probably have done down this route, but it wasn’t completely right for our situation.

Get another Patrol or a Land Cruiser 100 series

Another option was to keep my current Patrol stock and get another car to transform and have ready to use, all set up and ready to go at a moment’s notice – either one more Y61 or a 100 series Land Cruiser. A 200 series was a possibility, but I really don’t like the look of the first facelift of the 200 series and they were the only ones that would make sense buying secondhand. Buying one with the new facelift would mean a lot of money, plus the cost of customising it. The Y62 Patrol looks hideous.

This option would mean I could have my stock Patrol as a daily driver and desert car, whilst having a separate car as a family camper.

Fortunately for me, as an owner of a Y61, these old Japanese 4x4s keep their value very well. Unfortunately for me, as someone looking at buying one secondhand, it looked as if I’d be spending a lot of money for something relatively new, but which would have high miledage, no services history and which smelled of oud and Marlboro lights. The alternative was spending less money, but for something much older with very high mileage and doubtless a much stronger whiff of oud.

Even if I went down this route I’d still be restricted by height, GVM, storage space, etc – the same limits I’d face with my current Patrol.

Get a Hilux double cab or a 79 series double cab

Diesel is an option for the 79 series, I could get a canopy made for the back, it has lots of storage, etc. I would still have some limits with height if I wanted a decent roof top tent though, plus the roof top tent would still be less than aerodynamic.

I just don’t like the look of the 79 series. Looks aren’t everything though – personality is important. But I don’t think the 79 series has much personality either. Plus it would need lots of internal upgrades – sound proofing, probably more comfy seats, suspension, etc. The Troopy also needs these changes, but, seating issues aside, offers a large internal space to use without needing to bolt on a canopy.

The Hiluxes you can buy here don’t come in the more high spec options. I didn’t mind getting a basic model, but again, the concept just didn’t click.

The Troopy

Whilst going through this thought process, I concluded that the Troopy, with an AluCab Hercules roof, would be my best option. Very basic, but easily customisable, strong diesel engine, two fuel tanks, tonnes of accessories, etc. I could have room for two people to sleep up top, two below, I could have a shower, storage, still be within GVM, be in a reliable and tough vehicle with great local resale value and so on. With the floor of the Hercules roof raised, you can stand up when inside. And it looks great.

I was worried about height.

Toyota say that the Troopy is 2115mm high, but after carefully measuring the rare few I came across in Dubai, I realised that whatever version being sold here seemed to be 2008mm at its highest point.

The AluCab Hercules roof adds, according to AluCab, between 120mm and 140mm of height, with 135mm being the most likely. That would make the Troopy 2215mm high, possibly a bit lower when loaded.

I went through the basement car park, measured everything and realised that it would indeed fit in, even if it was a shade over the stated 2.2m limit. It would mean I wouldn’t be able to put a lift kit on, but I really don’t think I need one at this stage. The Troopy is high enough as it is.

(The Hercules conversion is currently on the Troopy, and it seems the height now is actually only 2016mm, presumably as it’s weighed down a bit. This means I can do something, if needed, with the rear suspension to take it back to stock height and still fit in the car park.)

Although the cheapest option would have been a trailer or customising my Patrol, I realised I could get a Troopy, make my changes and end up paying not that much more than if I’d bought a new Land Cruiser 200 series or Y62. Having a Troopy would meet all my requirements and would be more comfy and practical than a double cab of some sort with a roof tent and canopy.

Plus…

*….I really wanted a Troopy, circumstances allowed me to get one, so I went for it!

Next post – buying a Land Cruiser 78 series in Dubai.

Day one of Troopy ownership:

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Eleven things Motörhead, AC/DC and Status Quo can teach business leaders

30/11/2016

Originally posted on my LinkedIn page

Small start ups, powered by big dreams, or established players trying to retain their market position and deliver the goods – what can the business world learn from these iconic rock groups?

One of the things I like about working for Red Hat is that the solutions we sell emerge from a creative process quite different to that followed by most of the other IT companies out there. Having cool software is one thing though, there’s still a business to be run if you’re going to keep going, make a living and still be able to keep the passion and enjoyment alive.

The same goes for any business out there and…

…it’s exactly the same position a rock band finds itself in.

Perhaps these three great titans of rock have something to teach us all?

All three b(r)ands have several unifying themes we can learn from, so let’s take a look at the lessons grizzled rockers can teach people in business.

Motörhead kick off with stand out examples to follow, covering customer focus, the engineering/creative process and general attitude.

Lemmy’s Rules – laser focus on your customers. No matter what, keep your customers and their experience at the forefront of your thinking.

In his autobiography, White Lines, Motörhead’s founder, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, frequently mentions the importance of delivering the goods, no matter what.

Hungover, wired on amphetamines, haven’t slept for three days, tour bus held up by customs officers? Regardless, you make it to the gig on time and rock your hardest for your fans.

Lemmy demonstrated this by continuing to perform, despite illness, right up to his sad demise at the end of 2016, just after his 70th birthday.

I summarise this approach as ‘Lemmy’s Rules’.

If you find yourself waking up in yet another hotel room facing yet another day of customer meetings, tired, dehydrated and frankly demotivated, try whispering ‘Lemmy’s Rules’ to yourself before springing out of bed and getting out there to do what you do. It’s also a good thing to shout at colleagues who can’t face another day at a sales kick off after the previous night’s party.

It’s important to note that Lemmy’s Rules differs from the well known phrase ‘the show must go on’. ‘The show must go on’ is a perfectly good maxim to live by, but implies, to my mind, continuing in the face of external adversity – someone else burnt down the theatre, so you host the production in the car park, for example.

Lemmy’s Rules speak directly to personal responsibility. The reason you may not want to go on is because you did something yourself that is stopping you. Drinking a litre of Jack Daniel’s on the way to a gig for example. Or sitting up late with colleagues the night before a customer presentation. Regardless of what you have done for fun or for other reasons, you do not let that affect the product or service you deliver to your customers. You get to the gig and you perform.

Motörhead’s drummer, Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor’s neck injury is an excellent example. Granted, someone else dropped him on his head, but I suspect Philthy encouraged the whole thing. From Wikipedia –

“Shortly after recording the classic Ace of Spades album in 1980, Taylor broke his neck after being lifted above the head of a friend in a test of strength, only to be dropped upon his head. Taylor continued to play in Motörhead with the aid of a neck brace, as is visible in the music video for “Ace of Spades”. As a result, Taylor had a prominent lump located on the back of his neck (affectionately referred to as his “knob”)”

Give space to your product teams to be creative and give them access to the right equipment. If they are not able to be creative, you won’t have anything to sell. Capitalise quickly on the initial results of experimentation.

In 1979, Philthy Animal was mucking about with some new drum kit he’d acquired. The double time kick-drum pattern he found himself playing by accident inspired his band-mates and Lemmy and ‘Fast Eddie’ Clark to write the song ‘Overkill’ on the spot.

Philthy Animal’s experimentation and access to quality tools, coupled with collaborative colleagues, meant he accidentally invented thrash metal. The resulting tune went on to inspire countless bands and change the face of popular music. Whilst those other bands adopted and adapted Philthy’s innovation, the resulting rising tide also continued to lift Motörhead’s boat.

Believe in what you do and don’t change for change’s sake or because others tell you to.

Says it all.

Innovate by all means, but don’t innovate away from the core product. Innovation is often incremental.

Innovation is the buzzword, bordering on cliche, of the moment. The way innovation is talked about often seems to focus on radical change, eye-popping new features and radical new business ideas.

The challenge, however, is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. How do you keep momentum and interest without alienating the people buying what you are producing?

When AC/DC’s lead guitarist Angus Young was asked in an interview about having made the same album 16 times, Young was quick to jump in and correct the journalist asking the question.

They had made the same album 17 times, he said.

AC/DC have focused, with great success, on consistently knocking out what their customers want. If they had changed their style excessively they would have lost their fan base. Whilst none of the members have had significant side projects, if, for example, Malcolm Young had wanted to follow his softer side and make an album with strings and jazz feel, a separate project would have been suitable. Such as this.

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There’s no shame in releasing the same album 17 times – AC/DC’s innovation has been to continue to be the best version of AC/DC they can possibly be, as opposed to innovating themselves into something mediocre.

Equally, when Philthy played with his new drum kit and invented thrash metal, as mentioned above, that was an incremental improvement. Yes, it was new, exciting and disruptive, but it didn’t deliver a brand new product. Instead, he made an existing product even better. He helped heavy metal turn into thrash, he didn’t turn Motörhead into a folk music collective.

Team, team, team

When AC/DC’s lead singer, Bon Scott, tragically died after choking on his own vomit after a night drinking with friends, the band could have called it a day. Scott had was electrifying presence on stage, at the top of his game.

In April, AC/DC hired Brian Johnson and the legend continued.

Then Brian Johnson had to stop performing due to fears another concert would leave him permanently deaf, so Axl Rose stepped in.

Losing a CEO or charismatic leader of your engineering team should not mean the whole company ceases to exist.

At some point it is wise to call it a day – Motörhead would not be Motörhead without Lemmy, but don’t accept instant defeat when a trusted colleague leaves your company.

If you really want to boogie, then boogie, regardless of what your investors are telling you

Status Quo may have had their faults in the 80s and 90s, returning to old form and innovating in the 2000s (the Frantic Four reunion and Aquostic) but they’ve managed not to alienate their fan base and have continued to run a viable business. All this despite personnel changes and diverting cash flow towards alcohol and white powder-related self indulgence on a grandiose scale.

In their earliest incarnation, they were sent down to the Carnaby Street by their management, dressed up as a cut-price Sergeant Pepper and turned into a mediocre psychedelic band. Whilst they had moderate success in this form, it wasn’t what the band wanted, so they took a risk and followed their hearts.

Whilst ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men‘ had made money, psychedelia was in vogue and the 60s were still swinging, their hearts weren’t in what their management (investors) wanted them to do – they wanted to boogie. So they changed direction fairly quickly and, thanks to them following their hearts, we have Little Lady and Blue Eyed Lady and countless other very similar tunes.

Doesn’t this contradict the AC/DC rule above regarding deviating from your product? Not a bit of it. If Status Quo had continued in their psychedelic vein and been happy and could have made it better, that would have been fine – but they weren’t. Instead they swapped something mediocre they didn’t enjoy and couldn’t perfect and did something they did enjoy and were very good at.

AC/DC had a similar progression – we all have our early years finding our true following – but they quickly settled into their groove.

It can take time to find your groove, but you’ll know when you have. Don’t listen to the naysayers and follow your heart.

Your brand defines you, you are the brand

Each band’s brand has remained incredibly solid for several decades. The sound, look and attitude that delivered them success hasn’t wavered. Despite being millionaires, despite personal and personnel changes, fans always knew what they were getting.

Whilst Status Quo’s lighter years present a mild exception to the rule, they redeemed themselves with their series of ‘Frantic Four’ reunions in 2013, delighting fans and proving they could still be the b(r)and they were in their 70s heyday.

Be in front of your customers – get out on tour

It is possible to sell dodgy products or rip off gullible and vulnerable people over the telephone, but any real sales organisation has to connect in a meaningful way with customers.

All three bands have toured continuously, something that has kept them going through good and bad years. Touring (customer facing engagement) has guaranteed the upsell that generates real margins – sales of back catalogues, merchandise, raucous backstage parties and so on.

Think of one of your customers who has renewed a significant support contract with you for several years, but who you have never met. When budgets get tight and the economy is tough and spending choices have to be made, who will that person buy from? Not you, if all you’ve done is say hello once a year when an invoice had been sent out.

Get good management

It may be your baby, but you’ll need help in the early years. Don’t let someone cheat you out of your royalties – you’ll need the advice, but read the contract. All three bands have lessons to learn from here.

Build your channel

If concert halls don’t want you back, record shops don’t want to stock your records and studios don’t want you recording in them, you’re stuck, even with the best product. Your channel has to make money too and you have to build those relationships, even if you are a rockstar.

On a similar note, Lemmy once mentioned that the main reason he was always seen drinking Jack Daniel’s is not necessarily because it’s his favourite whiskey but because its excellent distribution network meant it was always available wherever he was on tour. There is no better endorsement of functioning logistics and distribution than that.

And finally… go out and rock

Get out and do everything you can with the passion you find in these three clips.

Who writes these sales pitches?

23/09/2016

From my LinkedIn page –

Telesales must be an incredibly hard thing to do, but I can’t help but think that the poor guys selling financial services to Dubai based ‘clients’ are hobbled from the start.

Spend any amount of time in Dubai and after a while your phone number will find its way into the hands of a company trying to sell financial services to expats. I’m sure other nationalities have similar approaches made to them, but I am only ever called up by Brits who sound as if they are in their late teens and have just left school (snob alert here – their way of speaking simply doesn’t fill me with confidence that they can handle my life savings. Perhaps this reflects badly on me, but I am the customer after all).

Given that these kids probably haven’t had much experience and are starting at the bottom, I don’t understand why their managers provide them with what must be the worse sales pitches in history.

Here’s the classic that was in vogue for a while.

“All right Chris, we met at the event the other week but I lost yer contact details, hence calling yourself now. Unfortunately me computer crashed and I lost me notes so I’m calling ya now. Do you have a pension plan ‘cos either way I’m sure I can help you optimise it.”

Let’s deconstruct that opening pitch, the aim of which is to persuade me to place my trust in the caller with my financial future.

It starts off being too familiar. You’re not selling me a pound of tomatoes and we aren’t friends either. Then we move onto a blatant lie, as we’ve never met. Then the sales person reveals they are so incompetent that they lost critical information and don’t know when to differentiate between ‘you and yourself’ (snob alert again). Finally, they reveal that their computer systems are utterly inadequate.

It’s not very convincing, mate.

The one doing the rounds at the moment consists of the same person calling, usually three times a day, with the following opening gambit –

Sales lady – “Hello Chris, I’ve just been on LinkedIn and I’ve noticed you’re a British expat living in Dubai, is that correct?”

Me – “I don’t need any financial services, thank you. I appreciate you are just doing your job, but please don’t call me again”.

Click, bzzzzz.

Three hours later, the same process is repeated. With the same person calling. Do customers have short memories or do they change their minds that quickly?

This is a lot better than the lie and the admission of incompetence and it naturally encourages you to engage in the conversation.

Both of the previous examples are still pretty poor. There’s an element of deceit or a feeling of manipulation – not the best way to start off a business relationship, especially for something this important.

These pitches still persist though – does this mean they are successful enough to keep using or that people cling to them in desperation? Even if I genuinely needed what they are selling, I’d be put off from the beginning. The statistics showing the success rates behind these calls would be fascinating to see.

If I’m pitching something – and I am certainly not a telesales ice to eskimos sales genius – I tend to think a bit of honesty and context is important. There’s no point saying something that will instantly get you caught out, or pretending your product is the ‘best’ or flattering the customer, or lying outright from the very start. Someone at these companies thinks that is a good idea though. Why?

It’s not all doom and gloom – a recent pitch to me went down very well and I was almost drawn in, partly because I quite enjoy being sold to when it’s done well.

The caller spoke clearly in standard English and instantly made the point that he didn’t expect me to buy anything from him based on a phone call, he was simply setting up appointments for someone who was an expert in the field. There were no arbitrary time limits (don’t miss out!) or claims that we’d met before (I lost my notes!) or assertions that I’d be living in penury for the rest of my life if I didn’t listen to him (I know it all!).

He didn’t try to position himself as my saviour, acknowledged I probably already had arrangements made, admitted these calls can be annoying, etc.

It was just honest, reasonable and… I nearly made an appointment. A much better experience, but!

Please, telesales financial services sellers – much as I find the process interesting, please stop calling me.

The curse of the BDM

19/09/2016

Originally posted on my LinkedIn page…

I’ve seen the curse at work in the past…

To: all-regional-sales@it-corp.com

From: regional-sales-manager@it-corp.com

Dear all

I would like to welcome John Smith to the IT Corp team in his role as Business Development Manager for Widget Solutions.

As we all know, Widget Solutions are a key part of IT-Corp’s strategy. They form the cornerstone of our long term plan to move away from only selling Boxes upon which customers build the widgets that bring them tangible business value.

Whilst we at IT Corp have excelled at selling Boxes for many years, we see a major opportunity by branching into the widget business – we secure the entire solutions stack, become more relevant to our customers, have the opportunity to sell services and lock out our competition.

John has several years’ experience in the region selling Widgets, starting out with Widget Corp as a pre-sales engineer before moving into sales. Several of our larger customers use IT Corp Boxes to deploy Widget based solutions that John was directly involved in selling, so has actually indirectly been developing our business already. He brings a wealth of experience as well as customer contacts at far more senior levels with our key customers than our current sales team have.

Here’s how I see John’s next twelve months panning out.

First of all, I’m going to label John as being ‘overlay sales’, to give the impression that he is an extra burden on our field sales office, directly contributing to the higher sales targets we face and somehow holding us back from reaching them. That way, the reps at the coal face are bound to welcome him with open arms.

As we are all aware, Widget sales typically take nine to twelve months, involve several of our product lines and, to make things more difficult, the sales reps for these product lines aren’t incentivised to work together. Because of this situation, I haven’t based his commission for his first three quarters on pipeline growth and partner development, but on revenue. Equally, we will continue to goal our sales teams in a way that doesn’t actually fit with what we are trying to achieve with our Widget strategy. Naturally, after three months, I will be expressing disappointment with John for not having delivered any revenue.

I’ve asked the more co-operative account managers to hand John the accounts they don’t really have time to work on, so that they treat him as a junior sales rep expected to handle the entire sale for them, as opposed to the widget expert they can use to grow their own influence and revenues in the accounts where they currently do well.

Less co-operative account managers will be expected to fob John off for several weeks, cancelling meeting requests at the last minute, messing him around and generally keeping him out of ’their’ accounts They will see him, for some unknown reason, as a threat to their importance, rather than as a valued team member who can help them hit their number.

John will have no pre-sales technical help as he is supposed to know absolutely everything, from how to pitch Widgets to a CIO, down to installing and configuring obscure features for PoCs.

After six to nine months, despite the odds, John will have built up some pipeline and actually brought some deals to the point of closure. At this point, rather than expecting the account managers to deal with procurement and the other nuts and bolts of getting the PO placed, I will be questioning John as to why he isn’t doing this. In parallel, whilst he does focus on closing these smaller deals in time for the end of the quarter, I’ll be wondering why more strategic pipeline development isn’t taking place.

As none of our partners are currently particularly strong when it comes to Widget solutions and as Widget solutions are a key part of our strategy, our partner conference in a few months’ time will be the perfect opportunity for John to showcase his expertise and provide some critical guidance for the channel. For this reason his slot will be at the end of the day, just after a session on back-up software (which will overrun) and right before the free bar opens.

After three quarters of conflicting pressure, zero commission and lots of frustration, I’ll be expecting John to be wondering why on earth he joined us.

At the end of four quarters with us, I’ll express surprise when John hands in his resignation, but once he’s left, we’ll start to see some Widget orders close from the pipeline he’s built up, leaving us all to conclude that if deals close when he’s not there, there was probably not much point in having him in the first place. We will, however, hire a replacement BDM from within the team who will have a much easier time of things thanks to the results appearing from John’s apparently fruitless twelve months with us.

John is newly married to a wife he won’t see much in the near future due to work commitments and who, in nine months’ time, will give him the ultimatum that it’s either her or IT Corp. This will be the final straw that leads him to dust off that CV and move on to pastures new.

Please join me in welcoming John to the team.

Regards

Regional Sales Manager

Rings any bells?

Avoiding the ‘curse of the BDM’ is a tough one to avoid. The example above refers to all of the worst things that can happen, but sadly isn’t that much of an exaggeration based on what I’ve seen in the past.

In terms of fitting in quickly and hitting the ground running, the most successful BDMs I’ve seen were typically already part of the same sales organisation, often making their first moves from a pre-sales/systems engineer role into more of a sales role. This meant they were known and trusted by the existing sales reps, posed no apparent challenge to the Charlie Big Potatoes[1] of the team and were on top of their subject from the start.

Get the commission structure right or see everything fall apart. BDMs will usually be developing some kind of solution that involves multiple products across the organisation. Unless people are paid to collaborate, it all falls apart.

If you don’t have ‘double bubble’[2] commissions on a deal, you’ll likely get nowhere. I experienced the collapse of my business in a previous jobs when a compensation change was made. In the past, the account managers had been paid on my product (thin client devices) as well as the servers and storage that sat behind them, whilst I was goaled only on the devices themselves. We had all been doing well – typically the customers buying this solution were buying our datacenter hardware for the first time to power these devices. New customers, selling to new teams within existing customers, delivering a real solution, becoming more strategic, etc, etc. All the boxes were ticked and life was good. I look back on this period as being one of the most enjoyable of my working life so far.

Then the account managers stopped getting recognition for thin clients and were only be paid on the servers and storage. The average deal sized was half or three quarters what it was before and most of the guys just couldn’t afford to invest the time – the deals were still ticking all the strategic boxes, but for the individual reps at least, the returns weren’t worth the effort. This effectively turned me from being a BDM/product sales manager into an account manager myself as I had to drive the individual deals almost entirely on my own. This wasn’t logistically possible when being the only person covering the Middle East and Africa – the simple commission change was what ultimately killed the product line couple of years later, in my opinion. Years of real success and growth went out of the window.

Another personal experience at another vendor was being in the wrong division. Selling a desktop device that drove server and storage sales was fine, but those sales reps and their managers had little time or interest in what I was supposed to be doing. Being part of the division that made its money selling laptops and PCs meant it was impossible to do anything either. Expecting an account rep to suggest to their customers that they buy a $200 thin client instead of a $1,200 laptop was unrealistic form the outset. Sure, if the customers asked for a thin client, the reps were ready to oblige, but for obvious reasons this wasn’t a product they particularly cared about, regardless of its bigger implications for the company and customers as a whole.

I’ve also seen people struggle when joining a vendor from the customer side to be a BDM for a vertical – in telco or financial services for example. You may have someone who knows their industry inside out, but unless sales management pay a lot of attention at the beginning to get the BDM and the account reps together to work out who will do what, the new BDM is likely to flounder in their new world of IT sales. Perhaps heads will need to be bashed together or perhaps people will need to be mentored through proper account planning and role definition, but having a customer join the Dark Side of IT sales and expecting them to deliver miracles will typically be unrealistic.

If I were hiring I’d pick the characteristics of the people I’m lucky enough to be working with now (I don’t have to write that – but it is true). Excellent knowledge of that they are supposed to be BDMing in the first place, more than willing to travel to interesting places and strong minded enough to be able to push back or take ownership when needed, with management supporting the situation in terms of how people are incentivised financially. The Curse of the BDM does not stalk our corridors…

Any stories people would like to share? Success stories would obviously be heart-warming, but the horror stories are often more fun to hear!

[1] Charlie Big Potatoes – a hotshot salesman, or, more typically, someone who thinks he is a hotshot salesman.

[2] Double Bubble – when two people are paid commission on a deal. In this example, the account manager and the BDM supporting him. It’s a horrible phrase that annoys me for some reason, almost as much as ‘pension pot’. My irrational linguistic dislikes are a topic for a whole series of blog posts…

Drawing the lines – Pakistan and North Africa

18/09/2016

Originally posted on my LinkedIn page…

A cursory glance at what’s happened in the past when lines have been drawn on the map of the region without much care shows us the implications can be huge. Getting MENA and MEA right can have big repercussions for any IT company operating in the region. With a regional HQ in Dubai, it’s straightforward to map out most of the territory the office will cover, but in my experience there are always questions over North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia specifically) and Pakistan. Which territories should they fall under?

The Pakistan question is close to my heart. I was lucky enough to travel there many times during my time at Sun Microsystems, with good business results and enduring contacts. I enjoyed it. Sadly the security situation meant I had to stop visiting around 2008 (two hotels I stayed in were bombed shortly after I had been there) and then our being acquired meant Pakistan became a different piece in the the acquiring company’s regional jigsaw. Fortunately the re-org happened after I had managed to get a senior US manager out to Islamabad to visit a big customer. It was quite a trip and, aside from the work we did with the customer in question, it was good to have one of the US guys see the challenges we faced in the field in this part of the world…

Things are much better in Pakistan now, both in terms of security and the economy, with growth set to occur again for the IT industry, so perhaps it’s time to review how to capitalise on the opportunity if you feel the lines haven’t been drawn correctly.

IT companies typically either have Pakistan be part of the Dubai office’s remit, or have the team in Singapore take ownership. Before we discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of each approach, perhaps it’s best to consider the third – and worst – option.

When sitting in an office in Europe or the US, looking at a map of the globe, it’s not unreasonable that decision makers might decide to have Pakistan report to India.

With the best will in the world, however, this approach simply does not work.

Having Pakistan be part of the India sales territory, but then having Afghanistan’s revenues fold into the Dubai team’s results is also not the best. I have always welcomed the revenue from the people somehow managing to plug away in Kabul in the face of such immense challenges, but could probably make a lot more out of Afghanistan if I were incentivised to work with the large Pakistani based resellers who sell there.

If we take out the India option, what are the relative merits of the Singapore vs Dubai approach?

To nail my colours to the mast, unless there is a burning reason to do otherwise, I believe Pakistan should be managed out of Dubai and not out of Singapore. Many of Pakistan’s IT executives have various business and personal connections in Dubai and travel there regularly. Resellers will often have satellite offices or holding companies based in the UAE who may be able to place orders on local distributors in UAE dirhams (which are pegged to USD). Training will typically be done in the UAE. From a cultural point of view, vendors will typically have staff who are Pakistani themselves or who, having lived in the Gulf for a while, will have worked with plenty of Pakistani executives, which minimises the chance of cultural misunderstandings. I haven’t spent much time in Singapore or Asia-Pac but my guess is that whilst English is the business language in both regions, there is less of a linguistic challenge when dealing with Dubai.

Travel is also straightforward, with plenty of flights back and forth and visas both ways generally not presenting any major hurdles.

In my experience at least, this means that there has always been at least some focus on what is a smaller IT market than, say, the UAE or Saudi, but one which should not be ignored, especially with a population of 193 million and counting. When this has been the setup for firms I have worked for, things have worked relatively well.

When Pakistan has been managed out of Singapore, the complaint from the resellers and customers I have spoken to in the past (though not in my current role) is that there is little focus, something which can be particularly painful when the geographies change suddenly thanks to an acquisition or re-org. The cultural disconnect is far greater, travel is harder and there are fewer existing business connections to build on to encourage incremental growth. That’s not to say it can’t be made to work, but it may well not be worth the pain of trying.

To my mind, the Pakistan question is easy to answer. The North Africa question is a lot less clear cut and will need careful consideration based on each company’s situation.

The scenario we clearly want to avoid is a regional sales team making a grab for land that they then largely ignore due to other priorities, but which they benefit from thanks to the occasional deal that drops into their laps. Regardless of where the dividing line falls, this is something that can only be fixed with the right management attention.

What needs to be considered before the line is drawn?

Having North Africa ultimately be part of the French sales territory appears quite seductive. For historical reasons, many French business are deeply involved in North Africa, resellers and distributors are active across the territories, or are easily able to be when called upon. Whilst I have seen the levels of spoken English improve remarkably over the last decade, French is still a must when dealing with many customers and is essential for government projects. Many employees in the French HQ will have cultural connections to the Maghreb and are often keen to travel and work there.

That said, the anecdotal and personal experience I have is that when North Africa is managed out of France, it is in danger of being seen as something of a backwater – a lot of sales effort needed but for smaller returns than would be seen when deploying that manpower in France itself.

When the region reports to Dubai, it becomes an emerging market for a team that is used to dealing with emerging markets. Care is needed in your own sales teams and in the channel to avoid grey market or out of territory sales that undermine effort and investment, but there are plenty of Dubai based French speaking sales and pre-sales staff who can take the territory on. With their managers folding North Africa into plans to grow the overall business based on a solid Middle East North Africa sales plan, you should have a recipe for success.

Many North African resellers and integrators do business down into French-speaking and, increasingly, English-speaking Africa. Skilled partners that can make a difference into the territories for which many vendors are unlikely to have short or even long term plans for local presence. Tunisian companies have been particularly active in this respect whenever I’ve covered this turf and I’ve been grateful for it.

Travel does present a challenge, although direct flights from Dubai to Algeria and Tunisia have been available for a while now. That said, these things can work both ways. When working on a project in Tunisia many years ago, the customer was impressed with the commitment we showed – an English guy from Dubai making the trek over to torture the French language and run through our recommended solution showed them we really cared about their project. Our competitor’s Paris based sales rep flew in and out in a day and didn’t stay for dinner, which didn’t go down well. (We were selected in the end).

Later I found myself in a situation which worked very well for what I was trying to achieve at the time. The pre-sales engineer I worked with in Dubai was French but had lived in Morocco for many years. Whilst being technically very astute, he was also very sales focused. This meant I could rely on him to get a great deal done in Casablanca and Tunis whilst I spent more time in Beirut and Lagos. He seemed quite happy with this situation.

So, to nail my final set of colours to the mast, I believe that if you are looking to develop business in North Africa, particularly from a low base, the Dubai connection is a must. However, if it’s with France today and things are ticking along, there is reasonable run rate and and fulfilment is working well, there may be no compelling reason to change.

My past and my amusing travel anecdotes aren’t the sole basis on which to make major business decisions – these are just my opinions, based on the experience I have. I’m sure there are good examples of the opposite to my assertions above being true – and I would be keen to hear them.

In Defence of the Quarter

18/09/2016

Originally posted on my LinkedIn page…

I always start QBRs with our main regional distributor with the phrase, ‘the quarter is dead, long live the quarter’. As one passes away, we continue straight into the next – the King is dead, long live the King. It can be exhausting, but we all have the choice to give up our commission based pay structures and go into the operations side of things, should we wish to…

No one I’ve met in sales particularly enjoys the quarterly rhythm, but we all thrive on it and, working for the most part in regional sales offices in this part of the world, we have no choice but to knuckle down and get on with it. We can’t change Wall Street or the London Stock Exchange and, if we’re lucky enough to have share options, we might benefit from a jump after a good quarter’s results come in and are made public, even whilst we bemoan yet another forecasting and end of Q scramble.

In defence of the quarter, I’ve never seen an alternative that ensures the right sales pressure and rhythm is applied. Despite having been through plenty of them, I’m always pleasantly reminded each quarter what people can achieve when that pressure really is on. Seeing what happens when that pressure relents is always a disappointment.

It all comes down to management of course, getting that balance between long and short term-ism, as well as personal responsibility from individual sales reps.

The worst end of quarters I’ve experienced were when working for a company whose financial year matched the calendar year. Christmas would be ruined and I would be messaging our distributor about placing final orders whilst the fireworks would be going off around the Burj Khalifa. After apologising to Mrs Saul for ruining the Christmas and New Year period, I was then off to a sales kick off miles away, returning jet-lagged and grumpy, jumping straight back into a plane to make the best out of the most productive time of the year for customers and partners.

This accounting choice made no sense for customers, partners or the company itself. Christmas was the worst, chasing down people who were on holiday, with the same pattern repeating itself for Easter, then the beginning of the summer holidays. All we did was exhaust ourselves and irritate everyone else unnecessarily. I don’t think the situation helped our sales in the slightest.

End of quarter classics for me, regardless of when the deadline loomed, have been distributors suddenly deciding partners whose deals had been forecasted for months have no credit and a customer in West Africa who’d committed to a large purchase literally disappearing off the face of the earth. My perennial favourite is procurement managers deciding a week before the end of quarter that they know more about IT than the vendor, partner and their datacentre team combined – after all, if that person’s brother-in-law can get a 1TB USB drive for $99 in their local electronics store, why are the disks in the $250,000 cluster being purchased so expensive?

A dark moment was a forecast in the last week of a quarter where a colleague reported that the decision maker at a certain customer had sadly died of a heart attack the day before. After a few moments of hesitation, the sales manager running the call sighed and came straight out with it – ‘did he sign off the PO before this happened’. He had.

We have the usual pressures where I am now, but the timing of the financial year and the current atmosphere we are working in all contribute to making the best out of a system that may not be the best, but which is better than all the alternatives. The sales equivalent to Winston Churchill’s comment on democracy.

What are your end of quarter horror stories or suggestions for making the situation work better for everyone?

Blogging again…

18/09/2016

We recently had a company offsite meeting where we learnt all about using LinkedIn for ‘social selling’. It was a good course and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed spouting off on my blog. So I’ve decided to try and write some more work focused articles and publish them on LinkedIn. I’ll cross post them here as well.