Negotiating contracts, getting the deal.

This post is about THE basic stuff in business: how to get the contract, and how to make it be a good deal.

Talking about Money, by www.vco-global.com

Image from Talking about Money, www.vco-global.com

Lately, I’ve participated in 2 great talks for women entrepreneurs from PWI and PWN Munich. One was about about discussing money and remunerations and the other about sales.  The key basic principles both speakers mentioned are that you have to gain the trust of your customer before entering in the deal negotiation, and that you have to involve the customer in the construction of the deal.  Become his partner, not his servant.

Here are my gained insights on the process:

  • Open up the conversation simple but get to have your customer curious by what you can provide. This can be done with a case study, a blunt (but realistic 😉 statement like “my previous customer gained a 50%  ROI” or “solved his problem in x months”, something that will put him in an attentive mode.
    Once there, he will want to hear more.  So now, you have gained the right to ask questions.  He’ll accept to give information in order to go further and hear your solution.
  • That’s your opportunity to ask questions to learn about his problem and adapt the proposal to his needs. This part of asking questions is crucial, use it for contextual questionning: the more insight you have on the situation of the customer the better you’ll be to evaluate the work involved.In the first questions you will be learning about the customers’ situation, ask factual and context questions.  But remember that you are entitled to just a few questions before he gets bored: in this phase he’s not learning anything.  So at some point, you move to next phase, where you have to challenge his description of the situation using your previous experience, and give away some insight of the ‘solution’ you could provide, but don’t go into much detail.
  • It’s during this second ‘challenging’ questioning phase that you are gaining his trust.  Because you are proving that you understand his situation, that you had previous experiences with the same challenges.  You are rising questions that prove that you know what issues are in stake, making him think about them, giving him insight he may not have on the challenges ahead.Be ‘Columbus’ guiding the customer to see the solution. You are also gaining insight on the level of understanding of your customer on the problematic at hand.  And you’re setting the value you are bringing to the table with your proposal by the same way: the less he knows, the more you are bringing to the table.Here are some examples of great contextual questions:

    – about the stakeholders: “Who else is involved in the decision process? ”

    – about their previous experiences, good and bad: the work will be harder if there is a reluctant stakeholder in the game, or you may add value with your experience if they had a bad previous experience already.

    – about time constraints: “Why is it important to solve this issue NOW?” A question like “What would happen in a year if we don’t do this?” makes them realize the value of your proposal.

    – remind him of his PAIN: “What could happen if you don’t do ..? It’s better than you saying: “If you don’t do .. then …”

    By the end, you should have learned about the context of your work, the available or expected budget, you may have learned about your competitors (if any) and about the decision making process.
    Think of this process as Diagnose before you prescribe.

  • Co-create the solution with the customer. Don’t push the sale, make the customer wanting the purchase. Come up with him with different options, like 3 proposals with different levels of scope and price, so he can choose the budget (and content) he’s willing to sign.  The great advantage to co-create the proposal, is that you don’t have to convince him of the proposal, he did it with you.  You have his ‘buy in’ from the beginning.
    Let the customer be the HERO that comes to ask you for the solution. Better than saying “The benefits of my solution are…” is when the customer says “Your solution could help us with …”
  • Negotiate money issues at the end, when he’s convinced of the value added of the deal.
  • To end the conversation: “How would you like to proceed?”  opens the line to “I could send you a letter of understanding”: that’s the HAPPY ENDing you are looking for!
    Who will say that first sentence?  With a big SILENCE you could make him ask for it 😉

Great HAPPY ENDing to all your deals!!!

Many thanks to Jack Vincent and John Niland for their insights and entertaining presentations.

 

 

Good resolution for 2016: let’s improve our communications skills

Dr Travis Bradberry wrote this post in Linkedin some days ago about “Why We Struggle to Communicate”.

Communication is the real work of leadership; you simply can’t become a great leader until you are a great communicator.”

communication-importanceYes, communication is critical in leadership, inspiring people and taking into account every member of the team. For an entrepreneur, it allows you to transmit your thoughts and ideas better, improving the chance of convincing investors and make ‘it’ happen.  For intrapreneurs, it helps aligning people towards the same goal. But in the end, it is an essential skill for everyone because understanding each other is the basis for better collaboration with your professional and personal relations. 

So join me on this New Year’s resolution for 2016:  let’s improve our communications skills following the strategies to take action that the author states in his article:

Speak to groups as individuals.[…] You want to be emotionally genuine and exude the same feelings, energy, and attention you would one-on-one.[…]
Talk so people will listen. […] means you adjust your message on the fly to stay with your audience […].
Listen so people will talk. […] you must give people ample opportunity to speak their minds.[…]
Connect emotionally.[…] Show them what drives you, what you care about […].
Read body language. Your authority makes it hard for people to say what’s really on their minds.[…] Pay as much attention to what isn’t said as what is said […].
Prepare your intent.  Don’t prepare a speech; develop an understanding of what the focus of a conversation needs to be […].
Skip the jargon. […]

And the last advice:

Practice active listening. Active listening is a simple technique that ensures people feel heard, an essential component of good communication. To practice active listening:

  • Spend more time listening than you do talking.
  • Do not answer questions with questions.
  • Avoid finishing other people’s sentences.
  • Focus more on the other person than you do on yourself.
  • Focus on what people are saying right now, not on what their interests are.
  • Reframe what the other person has said to make sure you understand him or her correctly (“So you’re telling me that this budget needs further consideration, right?”)
  • Think about what you’re going to say after someone has finished speaking, not while he or she is speaking.
  • Ask plenty of questions.
  • Never interrupt.
  • Don’t take notes.

Happy 2016!

The European Data Innovation Hub

What began as a community of like-minded people, with nice meetups around data science and get-together’s, is now taking the form of the European Data Innovation Hub.  Its mission is to be an active actor in the data innovation ecosystem and to support data professionals throughout Belgium and Europe with networking activities, events, training and meeting facilities, learning platforms, co-working space and mentorship. It will foster grassroots community initiatives and take the burden out of realising and organising them. The idea is to set the conditions where people with the right skills and organisations in the right positions can have the option to move forward.

Here are some of the activities of the Hub:

  • To organise data innovation events
  • To provide co-working space for data professionals
  • To support the education and training of the data workforce, from academic to data scientists to managers to data end-users

I’m very happy to be part of this eco-system, participating not only in the trainings in Big Data and Machine Learning, but hopefully opening as many opportunities as I can to women in this domain.

About Internet of Things and Privacy

InternetofThings

Innovation is creating new materials, new sensors each time smaller, cheaper, more flexible, more powerful and at the same time less power-consuming. It allows to put them everywhere: we are surrounded with devices crowded with those sensors as our phones with cameras, gyroscopes and gps. And all those measurements captured by the sensors are being used by applications, many of which are connected to the cloud and to Internet.

Internet of Things (as this technology is called) is becoming ubiquitous, leaving us each time more exposed on our daily life.  How many of us have our whereabouts known by the GPS company, the Phone provider and even the car manufacturer?  Also our personal biometrical information is being left all over our running paths not to mention the new gym-centers.

On the other hand, Nicole Dewandre reminds us on this recorded presentation of two basic human needs: our human need of privacy and the fact that we construct ourselves through the public eye.

We need privacy to express our internal thoughts without public judgement, we need to be in a safe place to test and confront to others our lines of reasoning.  On our hyper-connected world, the spaces where we can profit from this privacy are vanishing.

As for our second need, the image the others have of us is very important. The information we leave behind influences this public image and it has a great effect not only on what others think of us, but also on our own perception of ourselves, on our self-esteem and finally it ends reflecting on our happiness.

Living on this hyper-connected world in which we are immersed is a real challenge!

Design Thinking at PWN Global

Last month was the annual off-site meeting from PWN Global (Professional Women International where I’m a Board member is the Brussels chapter of this federation of networks).  Almost all the citi-networks were represented plus the Board of the federation and we had even the presence of corporate sponsors.
The main objective was to shape the lines for the future:  where do we want to go and what do we expect from the federation?

And in order to do that, Marijo Bos, our president, prepared us a session of ‘design thinking’, a game-based approach to brainstorming:

At the first step of the process we had to follow the rules to come up with as many ideas of our future as we could, to expand the universe of possibilities.  On the second step we exchange all our thoughts, and then the third step was to reduce that universe in order to keep only the shared vision, the most mentioned action proposals.

After 2 days of intensive work, we ended up with agreed objectives and a subset of well-defined actionable points.
PWN Global- Nice 20140619
We did a good job while enjoying the time together!

As New Services Track Habits, the E-Books Are Reading You

Scribd

In this article of The New York Times David Sreitfeld is discussing a new service ScribD is beginning to offer. Scribd is a subscription-based library, where you can read books through their interface.  They are now collecting information from their readers, like how long they stay on a page, the pace on specific chapters, do they reach the end of the book?.. The idea is to offer this insight to the authors, for them to improve their future deliveries.

Last week, Smashwords made a deal to put 225,000 books on Scribd, a digital library here that unveiled a reading subscription service in October. Many of Smashwords’ books are already on Oyster, a New York-based subscription start-up that also began in the fall.

The move to exploit reading data is one aspect of how consumer analytics is making its way into every corner of the culture. Amazon and Barnes & Noble already collect vast amounts of information from their e-readers but keep it proprietary. Now the start-ups — which also include Entitle, a North Carolina-based company — are hoping to profit by telling all.

“We’re going to be pretty open about sharing this data so people can use it to publish better books,” said Trip Adler, Scribd’s chief executive.

Quinn Loftis, a writer of young adult paranormal romances who lives in western Arkansas, interacts extensively with her fans on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, Flickr and her own website. These efforts at community, most of which did not exist a decade ago, have already given the 33-year-old a six-figure annual income. But having actual data about how her books are being read would take her market research to the ultimate level.

Here are some results they could extract from their data:

Scribd is just beginning to analyze the data from its subscribers. Some general insights: The longer a mystery novel is, the more likely readers are to jump to the end to see who done it. People are more likely to finish biographies than business titles, but a chapter of a yoga book is all they need. They speed through romances faster than religious titles, and erotica fastest of all.

They are “reading us” while we read 🙂 but let’s not be paranoid, we will be getting more attractive books… Let’s hope it doesn’t limit our choices in the future.

Global Brain and Crowdsourcing

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Are you familiar with the concept of the Global Brain ?

The concept is that we humans (and also computers) can be considered as neurons, connecting to each other through Internet, creating a super entity that acts as a global brain.

I discovered this idea, some years ago on the First Global Brain Workshop here in Belgium.  Since then this group has been following the technological and societal evolutions, analyzing this complex system, observing how it self-organizes and trying to identify the emergence of a ‘global brain’, maybe also a collective consciousness.

At the beginning of 2012, under the direction of Francis Heylighen,  The Global Brain Institute, has emerged ( :- ). Institution to which I am affiliated.  Every year the institute organizes a new season of seminars and workshops, and lately we have been listening to amazing presenters from different disciplines, most of them following the same line of reasoning even if from another angle.  That shows us that this subject is becoming mainstream in many fields.

Scientific, thinkers, philosophers are observing the appearance of new patterns of specific behaviors that arise from our interactions through Internet, and slowly they are beginning to see  the structures they form.  We are witnessing the emergence of another level of complexity, another ‘entity’.

In this entity, I think we could make the analogy of crowdsourcing sites as specific ‘organs’.  Crowdsourcing sites are sub-networks of people interconnected for a specific purpose, which can be providing a design, solving a complex problem, micro-funding a project and many other goals.

sna

They participate in this new entity by providing a new type of connectivity between cells, an intermediate level of abstraction, like our organs.

Last Friday, Wolfgang Hofkirchner has presented his view of the Future to which we must evolve that he called the Global Sustainable Information Society (GSIS).  In his presentation he talked about the actual situation, and what he sees is still missing to get to that future society, the GSIS.
One of the problems he has identified of the actual social media networks is that there is no ‘bonding’, people can quickly be grouped, but can ‘opt-out’ at any time.  If we want to move altogether for the common-good and be able to solve the global challenges of our world, we must have a common view of our future, we must at least agree on some common objectives, like lowering the greenhouse effect to stop the temperature rise.  He is right, being able not to put your shoulder on some crucial global challenges is not a good thing.  We must move all towards those agreed common goals, and not be able to ‘opt-out’ of a challenge that will affect our sustainability, our survival.  The way to go is making it crystal clear the cost of opting-out: the end of humanity as we know it.

Critical Thinking: the importance of questionning

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Critical thinking is the ability to gather and assess evidence and information, and use clear reasoning methods to reach justified conclusions. It  also implies to evaluate our thoughts, and learn to refine our thinking process.  It is a key skill in the information age, valuable in all disciplines, professions and domains.  Now that accessibility to information is not an issue, it becomes easier to apply a critical thinking process in order to reach the best solution to a problem or to take an informed decision.  Moreover, even if accessing information is not an issue, data overflow is, so the steps of evaluating informatio, for instance based on its credibility and relevance, are crucial.

Despite its advantages, the explicit teaching of critical thinking is not widespread.   The pace of change in our world is accelerating, things are becoming increasingly interdependents and complex. Learning to think critically is each time more a survival need if we want to be able to take informed decisions and steer the changes that will shape our future. We should rise awareness about it to make it popular and embrace it as a core social value.
Critical Thinking can be applied in any learning situation. At school, at work in front of any business decision, and also in the context of our democratic societies, in order to select the right political candidate.

I have to admit, after each election, I sometimes (usually) complain: ‘why people don’t think?’ (let’s read: why don’t they see the world as I do?). Obviously I know that  critically thinkers may vote different from me :- ) but even knowing that, I would be happy if I knew they did think of all the issues before voting. So I decided to prepare a seminar on critical thinking, and I will try to deliver it to as many people as I can : – ) This is my ‘holiday resolution’.