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I used to think that I had a pretty good idea of what people liked and disliked, what a trainer recently referred to as  a ‘flair’ for understanding market tastes. When I got directly involved in retail I came to the realization that I really had no idea at all what people in general liked. My ‘understanding’ of the market and market preferences really came from my viewpoint and my perspective and interests only. In reality I understood little or nothing more than my own tastes and preferences.

Your opinion, while perhaps interesting, does not matter

This same trainer went on to emphasize that in the end, personal opinion is irrelevant and doesn’t matter and that what really matters is the sentiments  and views of a collective, essentially empirical data, numbers based on feedback from many. In retail, your ability to stock your shelves with things that people want to buy and to price them appropriately to what people are prepared to pay is critical if you plan to grow and keep your business afloat. If you find through customer question and answer that your current approach doesn’t address the demand of the market then you change tactics and you either reinvent your business or adjust your stocking/pricing/positioning strategy.  In retail you can largely achieve this by emulation of some targeted competitors or by reviewing your numbers in an analytical way. If you have been around for a few years your empirical data in your ERP, data mart or business warehouse can be significant and trending can be easily achieved. When you’re selling a niche product or solution like those of Winshuttle, you often need to take a difference approach; for one thing, you poll your customers.

A more intriguing opportunity is that of tackling non-customers, people who don’t use your product or solution and in particular those that don’t even know that your product exists or what it does. In the SAP eco-system there are many solutions for many different kinds of problems and while many competency centers may have many of the tools, none of them are likely to have all the tools. Certainly if they did, every SAP customer would be a Winshuttle customer too! For people to find out about the latest technology, fad or offerings, people have to be open with the knowledge that they have and this applies to not just the sellers but those even loosely connected to the market segment or industry. Elsewhere on SDN there have been comments made about the fact that some consultants and professionals in the SAP space are unwilling sharers; that they are not forthcoming with their knowledge and understanding of the SAP environment or in their particular domain because by sharing their knowledge and information they somehow risk diluting their employability or exclusive cachet in the market.  Those of us who are perhaps a little less paranoid and less job-insecure also know that a good consultant or analyst resource adds more value to themselves by being more generous with knowledge and information, credibility comes from expressing useful and well thought out opinions; making good decisions and judgment and if the sharing process costs little more than a few lines in an email, on a  forum or in a blog then the coverage is even greater.

people who respond to questionnaires tend to be – favourably disposed towards the aims of the survey 

The same is surely also true when it comes to sharing your opinion on something in response to a questionnaire. Phone pollsters are annoying and are possibly only trumped by spam polls, however polls are one of the few mechanisms by which producers of goods and services can get a feeling for market sentiments especially from non-customers. Those who respond versus those who don’t of course skew the data; there is something about the personality of someone who is prepared to answer questions, especially if there is no direct reward other than the ability to express an opinion. This phenomenon is not unlike those people who are prepared to appear on television during a news report in response to being accosted by a roving reporter. Some of these personalities are glamorous attention seekers – moths if you will, others are gray mice, nondescripts sucked in, sometimes unwillingly, into the media vortex. All these types have a contribution to make and the submissions of all of them, including the outliers, are of immense value when you are trying to get an understanding of how or why things are the way they are and where they can be improved.

You can understand my frustration then, when trying to elicit the thoughts and opinions of key decision makers in the SAP market, some loftily dismiss my request for an interview without so much as a courteous excuse. To me it is astonishing, but then, as I already said, I have discovered that I am not very representative of anything except myself so I shouldn’t really be surprised.  Perhaps my ego gets the better of me and it is really all about not wanting to be refused but to my mind there is a message here that we should all take to heart.  

In the world of business analysis and business process optimization, getting opinion and thoughts about work practices, policies and processes is key to success.  If the workforce respectfully or disrespectfully declines to accept an interview by an analyst then they can hardly be surprised if they suddenly discover that the world has passed them by and they are now rendered redundant by something that has supplanted them and their work – how big is the demand for fletchers in the armaments industry. Of course I am talking about an extreme case here, but the reality is that every party to the workplace, has an opinion and has a cognitive contribution to make to improving operations but this relies on feedback and when you are challenged with giving it up, you should think carefully about what you want to say or suggest before simply dismissing the opportunity.

Empathic or telepathic ?

Telepathy has never been a strong point of mine so like most, I rely on dialog, this could be by email/written text  but verbal dialog presents  many more opportunities for open question and answer. For the most part it seems most people like to talk, talk about themselves, give their opinions and express their thoughts and a good analyst tries to facilitate this, distill the essence of the communication and then translate that into some sort of requirements set.  It is interesting that in the SAP space there continues to be somewhat of a mindset that we have to simply accept the status quo with respect to work practices. Most can attest to the fact that the SAP landscape is constantly changing. Some fundamentals seem to be stationary however there are new advances in the technology and solutions that are arising out of not only reflective navel gazing of SAP and its partners but also in response to the thoughts and ideas of the user community.  A case in point, is that about a year ago I was engaged in a dialog on enterprise services with SAP development for some interesting needs devised by a new SAP customer. The jumping off point for that dialog  leveraged the SDN Collaboration Workspace;  for those of you who are not familiar with this area In SDN it is a great opportunity to discuss your business problems and challenges in an open forum and describe how you are trying to resolve your problems with SAP and SAP Ecohub solutions. One of the things I found most fascinating to read about, was the SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment 7.1. As the lead page says; “scale and accelerate co-innovation” – you can only reasonably achieve this by being forthcoming with information. If you feel you have a representative voice then this is another one of the forums where you can speak, and even if your thoughts or requests are not immediately translated into solutions, you should still make your voice heard. Great products only arise out of a clear understanding of what people want.

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