Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Transform Education into Life-long Learning

This work by Marcelo Bernardes was originally posted on LinkedIn.

As an undergrad student, I had to complete courses that did not seem to have value for real life. The arguments used at the time to justify this approach were:

  • We have to prepare you to be a professional, regardless of the actual field/industry you might end up working on, so we should cover all bases
  • This way you know in which book/body of knowledge to find the information, in case you ever need it during your career
  • We are teaching you to “learn how to learn”

While “learning how to learn” continues to be a critical skill today, the knowledge currently available over the internet has made the ability to cover all bases a questionable goal. And the speed of change, makes knowing the “right” book a daunting task.

On the other hand, being able to quickly derive value from the (learning and financial) investment is increasingly desirable. And soft skills like the ability to work in groups (in an increasingly diverse global and multi-generational workforce), and the ability to reach beyond your area of expertise (as part of cross-functional teams) are increasingly required for one’s professional success.

As we realize and internalize these and other changes happening around us, here is how we can led the way and retool our education system to address the needs of businesses and society.

Transforming education into a life-long learning experience

In our society, knowledge is needed in a snap, and only knowledge applicable to the task at hand is sought. Therefore, it is necessary to re-think our start-end bound “education” concept, one where we must cover a preselected number of topics, and transform it into a life-long learning experience.

This means going from a fixed curriculum to a flexible repository of knowledge available on-demand. And focusing on individual learning needs throughout each ones’ live, rather than looking to cover a specific set of topics during a class or degree.

Purposeful networking - the path to effective teamwork

As we are young, we tend to approach teamwork as an activity where we select our team based on common interests and personal traits. The growing workforce diversity makes it important for us to be able to deliver results regardless of our personal affinities with others. Students must have the opportunity to learn how to purposefully network with those around them.

Purposeful networking is the ability to identify one’s own strengths, communicate these strengths, and dynamically connect with others in a complementary-skill team to address a common goal.

And a life-long learning model is a great way for people to identify each other and connect with a purpose.

Becoming learners for life

So, if students do not “finish” a class, how can we be sure individual have the necessary skills to perform a task or a job? We move from grading to regularly assessing competencies. And there is a much better way than completing online tests for life. Let us "gamify" (Wikipedia) learning, individual, and professional development!

Rather than having school transcripts which show how well one did in each class, how about having a trophy case, assessing one’s soft and hard skills? A simple way for us to understand our strengths and areas where we might wish to develop ourselves, either to pursue a specific career path or achieve a specific personal growth.

Through knowledge gamification, individuals are empowered to improve themselves and pursue their aspirations, which is the first step to become a learner for life.

What is your take? Is your professional growth dependent on a degree? Would purposeful networking help you achieve your goals? Can gamification help you become a learner for life? Feel free to use the comment box below to share your experience and point of view. And please follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles -; Post updated May/21/2014)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pro Services Best Practice - Partner with Sales

This work by Marcelo Bernardes was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Having had the chance to lead Professional Services teams around the globe, let me tell you the "secret" to make a successful career out of it: partner with all the sales teams your work with!

Far too often, I partnered with or coached Professional Services associates who would not find this approach easy or even natural. If you find it hard to partner with your sales team, please give me five minutes of your time, so I can elaborate why it makes sense. If partnering with sales does not sound natural to you after reading this article, please share your point of view and let me know where the rationale failed!

Understanding the sales mindset

Let me share what I learned from the sales people I worked with.

  1. Sales salaries (base+compensation) may be structured so the base salaries alone are not enough to keep people around (PayScale). So, the sales team is very motivated to meet and exceed their quota, which means most sales people (the best ones for sure) look for enough opportunities to exceed their quota.
  2. The vast majority of customers will not buy from a vendor if the customer is experiencing problems with that vendor (Zendesk). Sometimes this is even a pressure practice to have the problem fixed quickly. For the sales person, a customer with a problem is one less customer we can sell to. As a result, the vast majority of sales associates (at any level) avoid selling items which could lead to customer problems.

Professional Services: from risk to value-added

How does your sales team feel about selling Professional Services today? If they see it a risk, they will not sell, unless they are forced to do so! It is just logical, based on the sales mindset, right?

So, whose job is it to remove this risk out of the equation? Well, it is ours, on the Professional Services side! And until we make the sales team comfortable enough and able to explain the value of Professional Services, the job is not done.

To get started, offer to help the sales person sell the value of your contribution as a Professional Services associate (Inc). This is much easier if you:

  • Engage early to partner with the sales team during the sales cycle,
  • Assist the sales associates in their solution selling effort, and
  • Help the customer mitigate project risks.

Once a sales associate experiences the shorter sales cycle, and the higher purchase order value as a result of your consultative sales support, he/she is hooked. Other sales associates will get wind of it, and you better let your manager know that it is time to hire someone to help you!

Help sales teams make their quotas

I was fortunate enough to have been taught this "secret" six months into my first Professional Services assignment. I still live by it and today, and many of my personal friends around the globe are sales associates.

Does it mean I was able to always do everything I was asked by each sales team I ever met? Not at all. But it does mean that I partnered with sales to explore every option for us to win a deal (HBR). And when I reached my limit, I was open and honest with them. I explained our options, shared escalation procedures, and I was there with them when issues were escalated.

All in all, I did my best to help each sales associate meet and exceed their quotas, while advancing my company goals.

I encourage you to give it a try. Feel free to use the comment box below to share your experience and point of view. And please feel free to follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.


(Image courtesy of franky242 -; Post updated May/8/2014)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Drive Corporate Innovation with Crowdfunding

This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

I have been tinkering with the concept of using crowdfunding to drive corporate innovation and I believe it can be done. While companies like IBM are experimenting with an internally focused corporate crowdfunding approach (HBR, Time), I believe a customer focused corporate crowdfunding approach can deliver far more value. So, let me share with you how you can unlock this value for your organization.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

In the article from Henry Chesbrough, he explains that: "You have to fight – and win – on two fronts (both outside and inside), in order to succeed in corporate venturing". This internal and external duality is a natural way to describe the corporate entrepreneurship challenge, and it is complementary to Peter F. Drucker's five simple questions (Amazon):
What is the mission?
What are our results?
What is our plan?
Who is the customer?
What does the customer value?
Please note that in the context of Henry Chesbrough's article, corporate venturing refers to: "new ventures inside a company", also known as intrapreneurship or corporate entrepreneurship (Wikipedia).

Borrowing a page from the startup play book

For a startup, crowdfunding (Wikipedia) can deliver the following advantages (Fundable, MDDIonline):
  • Funding: reduce the financial risk
  • Market validation: will people buy it?
  • Networking: identify potential investors
  • Free publicity: potential media coverage
  • Fail quickly: avoid "backing the wrong horse"
Now, let us explore how these points should translate to the corporate (or enterprise) crowdfunding world.

Winning the war in the external front

The war in the external front is won by addressing the following Peter F. Drucker's questions:
Who is the customer?
What does the customer value?
And so, corporate crowdfunding should:
  • Stack up projects against each other to gauge customer interests, needs, and desires of a much broader audience.
  • Validate the market for innovative projects, and identify potential customers, before any significant investment is made.
For more information about current market research practices and resources, check this Inc article.

Winning the war in the internal front

The war in the internal front is won by addressing the following Peter F. Drucker's questions:
What are our results?
What is our plan?
And so, corporate crowdfunding should:
  • Collect enough field data to prepare or fine-tune a business plan, setting more accurate expectations of project results.
  • Identify sufficiently motivated customers to "share" the project cost, thus reducing the project risk early on.
  • Gather data to prioritize projects, allowing the organization to focus on those projects more likely to appeal to the broader customer base.
  • Lead to a better understanding of the customer needs, helping identify critical cross-functional resources early on.
For more information about challenges associated with innovation within corporations, check this WSJ article or @InnovateWithin.

Success depends on flawless execution

Due to the very public nature of a crowdfunding effort, those looking to implement corporate crowdfunding should avoid:
  • Intellectual property exposure: consider engaging your legal team and filling the necessary patents up-front.
  • PR backlash: failure to deliver on such public commitments is likely to lead to a very negative press and social media repercussion (check this previous article for examples)
  • "Too much customer focus": what would have been the customer feedback if five years ago Amazon had asked their customers about possible interest to buy cloud based services? So, it is important to use the corporate crowdfunding data to complement your strategic planning, rather than replace it. Specially when pursuing disruptive innovation and opportunities to break into new customer segments.
While this approach can be used for both B2C and B2B scenarios, B2B corporate crowdfunding should address specific needs, which I will cover in a future article.

What is your take? Can corporate crowdfunding fuel corporate innovation? Are current market research processes able to address these new trends? Feel free to use the comment box below to share your experience and point of view. And please follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.