Why innovation in renewable energy is important – Part 1

When the power goes out, tube light is all we have (and at least we have that!)

When the power went out, tube light was all we had – and at least we had that!

I’ve been in Delhi, India for the past week, shivering with the locals due to the recent historic cold spell that has overtaken northern India.  While the memories of shoeless, malnourished children begging for money in the cold still haunt me, this photo is a reminder of why innovation in renewable energy, supported by great execution strategy (forgive the shameless plug) is so important.

It was taken during one of the 4-times-per-day brownouts endured here this week, as the local utility companies rationed power throughout the city and region. Brownouts were their way to compensate for their lack of supply to meet the demand from all the electric heaters being used during the cold spell – they can’t buy the electricity they’re being asked to deliver at anywhere near the low prices they’re allowed to charge; they can’t raise prices…so, they deliver brownouts that (right now) freeze people. My family here has a backup generator for the refrigerator and emergency lights – this ‘tube light’ (florescent) was one of the few on that backup generator’s circuit – and this photo is from 8:00pm, about 45 minutes into the brownout that lasted 2 hours – long enough to get really, really cold in my family’s home.

So, why is innovation in renewable energy, plus great execution strategyso important?

  • If it were easy, it would already be done: If you’re part of the 1/6 of the earth’s population who has lived or traveled in India, you know that the power grid here is fragile (some would call it a joke). The politics run deep with religious, class, and caste undertones going back 5 millennia. If a conventional energy solution was simple – some smart Indian would have figured it out already.
  • Renewable energy has already seen great innovation & execution strategy: We’ve done this before – we brought the cost of solar PV down by more than half in the US in the past few years – through new products (innovation) and execution strategy (great projects like ones I was involved in with Macy’s, Kaiser, and other clients who implemented groundbreaking solutions).
  • Necessity is the mother of invention: Not just to alleviate suffering, but to unleash vast amounts of potential and profit. India’s fragile power situation could have a profitable solution in a variety of renewable energy sources – everything from solar PV to thermal, wind, biofuels (wood chips, anyone?), drought-tolerant fuel plants…the next flux capacitor that really works…the list is endless.

Most importantly, it’s still very, very cold here.


Want to negotiate better? Fight the Power

public-enemy-logoWhat we got to say
Power to the people no delay
To make everybody see
In order to fight the powers that be
– Public Enemy, “Fight the Power

Wondering how to be a better negotiator? Fight the power! (If you’re still not catching on – I mean: get angry!)

Negotiations are, for most people, anxiety-inducing – and in this fascinating recent article, researchers proved what most salespeople have known instinctively for some time: Anxiety makes you a worse negotiator (and salesman). So here are 2 tips for improving how you negotiate, from two sources at opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • Worried thought – brave thought. Leave it to a mother to come up with a good way to manage anxiety. This time, it’s Nancy Rappaport, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of school-based programs for the Cambridge Health Alliance, who brought up a strategy that’s commonly used for anxiety in children and was recently quoted in the New York Times: “worried thought, brave thought.”

“We teach kids to counter a worried thought with a brave thought,” she said, and to “know that although the worried thought may come back, the brave thoughts are always there as well.”

Bravery is usually associated with conflict, and negotiations are the opposite – trying to get to an agreement. But a little dose of bravery can turn anxious, worried feelings into brave ones…changing the dynamics when you negotiate.

  • Fight the Power. – the story of how the influential rap/hip-hop group Public Enemy got their name goes something like this: Singer/group leader Chuck D felt threatened – that he was being persecuted by another MC in the local scene. He turned those anxious feelings into creative energy by making a tape, and labeling it as “Public Enemy #1.”  By using his anxiety in a creative-anger release…the rest is rap history.

So next time you’re entering a big chance to negotiate – consider how to channel your inner mother AND your inner Chuck-D – Fight the power!

Oh, dear. Now what? Selling when there’s bad news

OhDear_HeadinhandsAnyone who even remotely follows cleantech has heard the recent news (here, here, and here if you’ve been under a rock) that SolarCity has put off and reduced the price on its long-anticipated IPO.  While I’m sure my friends in sales at the firm are disappointed, here’s what I’d tell them:

  1. Heads-down on what you’re doing. Sure, the IPO will bring some bubbly to San Mateo whenever it happens, and you should join the party. But in sales – remember what I said in an earlier postYou’re only as good as your next deal, and don’t ever, ever forget that.  So enjoy the camaraderie over champagne, then back to the laptop to close out your year on a bang (or if this year stank, get back to that proposal, customer follow-up, or account plan you’re writing).
  2. Bad news is a good time to call.  Know your message about this mess, and what you can still do for your customers.  Hopefully they don’t care much if at all about the IPO; or if they do – your colleagues in marketing & PR have given you some nice phrases to use (don’t even go near numbers on your own, or risk the wrath of the SEC – yes, even you, you cute little ol’ salesman). Use this turn of events to keep your relationship with your revenue-generators – and your own spirits – high, even while the tweeters twitter.
  3. See #1-2 above. Your “IPO” will come more from your own efforts than the public markets. In sales, we don’t earn massive sums as equity owners in the firm but we do have the chance to earn some great variable compensation as a result of our own efforts. If you haven’t done well this year, think about what you can change in 2013 (less than 3 weeks away!), do a little bit of prep and planning, then…

Heads down.  Got it?


A Salesman’s Folly

Most salesmen pride themselves on their customer service skills – their ability to use solution selling, trust-building, and closing techniques to win business for their company, and increased remuneration for themselves.

But if you’re a salesman, it is foolish to ignore the most important client you have – your manager.  Here are three techniques to help you improve that relationship, regardless of your feelings of said manager, industry or geographic distance.

  1. Call your boss with good data while he’s driving to the office.  Especially if you’re in the office, or even more importantly if you’ve been out on the road for some time – check in with some juicy content about your latest win (ideally), or the competitive landscape, or the market as a whole. Doing this while he’s driving ensures more attention – it’s a time when he’s not otherwise worried about the team’s overall numbers, what salesman John is doing with his clients, and how to plan the sales territories for next year. The early morning call, while it can seem disruptive, counter-intuitively gets the boss thinking about you in a positive light.
  2. Ask how you can help with his latest management task. No, he won’t give you the fun of planning the sales territory map, but he may give you something better-than-menial – which will help you understand what he goes through. Ultimately this is good for you because your empathy increases with your understanding.
  3. Show genuine caring for his situation by asking to practice your pitch on him – maybe while he’s driving to the office – see #1. Assuming he complies, this not only provides you a good chance to practice (always good before you go in front of a real client, regardless of how polished and professional you are) – but also allows him to coach you; and to set his perceived strengths & weaknesses of yours in context of the group. Ideally, he thinks of future training exercises that will benefit you as a professional – helping you personally, your team, and your entire firm.

Part tongue-in-cheek, part reality – as the user and recipient of these techniques, I can tell you that they work.  Using them, individually or all together, can help you avoid a salesman’s folly.

How to get it wrong: Top 10 sales management mistakes

If I were David Letterman, here’s what I’d say.

Think of this like a David Letterman Top 10 List of sales management mistakes that I’ve made.  Try to avoid these yourself, by learning from my personal experience:

10. Focusing too much on one client. While it’s obvious from afar, it’s easy to get sucked into one client – especially a big one who will make your quarter/year.  I did this once, and

a. The salesman (we all) lost the quarter anyway, due to an accounting change that the client contact – a COO – didn’t even know about, and

b. We lost traction with (and almost lost completely) a few other important clients who my team ignored while focusing too hard on the #1 client.

9. Not managing up. In sales management this doesn’t mean complementing the boss on his/her insightful business acumen and great sense of style (though that never hurts) – but rather, not being prepared at a moment’s notice with the basics of the sales pipeline and forecast. When the CEO comes to your desk and asks “How’s it going?” – they don’t care about the headaches with your largest client or your kids – they care about the size and timing of your team’s forecast, and how that’s going to impact the engineering, operations, and cashflow of the company.

8. Not managing down. Similar to #9, but more immediate – and by “managing” I don’t mean “telling them how to do what they do.” Yep, I’ve been guilty of telling a staff member precisely how to write an email response. She was not only furious & didn’t tell me, but also made it her mission to have me out. Sigh.

7. Getting drunk at an industry event.  Funny at the time, not so funny later. Need I say more?

6. Talking too much. Here’s a tip: watch the clock. I learned that if I was talking past 2 minute changes on a digital clock, or one minute on a traditional watch face, it was time to just shut up!  When I started doing this, it was amazing how much more successful I was – with my team, my management, and my clients.

5. Not following your own process. Allowing process laziness to creep in – forgetting that suspects aren’t the same as prospects, allowing salespeople to use resources without putting it in writing (remember – writing helps thinking!), trying to skip steps – all are the kiss of death, as they lead your team to waste time with unprofitable/unwilling/uninterested buyers.

4. Not training for tomorrow. This recent New York Times blog had an interesting take on employee training (that it’s expensive – which it is; but so is the opportunity cost of not having qualified/trained employees). Author Paul Downs makes my point eloquently when he says:

I benefit from having settled workers. People who show up reliably, work hard and realize that they benefit when the company prospers. When I take the time and go to the expense of training people like this, I can have a reasonable expectation that the investment will pay off for all involved.

3. Showing off. Sales managers are just like salesmen – it’s not “what have you done for me lately” that counts – but “what will you do for me next.”  You’re only as good as your next deal, and don’t ever, ever forget that.

2. Not making the number! While we can all have a bad quarter – we can’t do this forever; and maybe I’m repeating #3, but the old adage still applies: In sales, you’re only as good as your next deal.

And the number one sales management mistake (Drumroll please…)

1. Not reminding yourself regularly of the following:  We have two things as salesmen & leaders – our time, and our honor. Use both wisely.

Now go get ’em – and good luck out there!

Welcome to our new website!

Welcome to the new website of Execution Strategy – a management consulting firm assisting cleantech and renewable energy clients to improve their people, process, and product-market fit.

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