Archive for February, 2011

Exploring a business relationship shouldn’t be this hard!

Monday, February 21st, 2011

We recently decided to explore a reseller relationship with a specialty software company. As an OEM partner to SAP, we have some experience with this type arrangement. The sought after relationship in this case would have us purchasing a software product in some volume from the prospective ‘partner.’ Having narrowed the field to a couple of likely software companies, I set out to gather information to support a decision. Sounds easy enough, right?

I placed a phone call to the first software company on my list and was promptly greeted by a call routing feature that didn’t provide an option to address my need. In these instances I always choose sales (hoping for a motivated member of the company).

The friendly sales person said that she could not help me, that I would need to fill out a form, and that I would have to provide other documentation (tax certificates, advertising materials, etc.) via FAX to their channel management department. This was before any conversation about the potential business fit between our two companies, and apparently based on the fact that I was asking about a relationship versus how to directly purchase their product. I grudgingly complied (well, I bent the rules and sent scanned docs via email).

Two days later I received a phone call from a fellow in Channel Management. After my detailed description of our need (and our mutual opportunity) he told me that I would need to establish a relationship with one of their distributors. He was kind enough to provide contact information.

I sent the distributor an introductory email explaining our need, along with a link to our website for context, and asked him to call me when convenient. What I got back was an email telling me that he could not help me directly, but that a sales representative from their company would be able to talk with me after I submitted the following:
• A completed Customer Application
• Bank reference information
• Credit references
• Sales and Use Tax Certificates
• Our “latest two (2) fiscal yearend financial statements”

His email was specific about not being able to talk about pricing until this information was provided. Again, this is before any conversation about the potential relationship fit.

My next step – write this post to let off a little steam. I want to explore an opportunity, and I’m running into administrative obstacles very early in the process. It’s this type of resistance that causes me to move on to the next software company in hope of a better experience – a potential loss for the once first-place candidate.

Now I’m asking those around me what we do to make it difficult for potential customers and partners to connect with our organization. I want to believe that the answer to that is ‘nothing,’ and I bet that’s what leadership in these two organizations would say if asked. I hate to miss opportunities at my front door, especially given the investment made to develop sales leads.

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Patio Season

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

As the temperature hovers around 50 degrees on this mid-February day, my thoughts drift to the summer: sitting outside, swatting mosquitoes and swapping stories with friends over a cold frosty beverage. I’m not the only one; just yesterday local Minnesota Brewery @Summitbeer tweeted, “The urge to drink a beer on a patio today is very strong in this one.” It’s ingrained in the Upper Midwest attitude, and many histories of the region discuss the fancy beer gardens built by breweries before prohibition.

The Twin Cities based Surly Brewing Company wants to continue the tradition of Midwestern beer gardens as part of a plan to build a new $20 million brewery. According to a recent article on Minnesota Public Radio’s website the company proposes a “60,000 square-foot brewery and restaurant with a beer garden, roof deck and bar.” The facility expects to create 150 new permanent jobs.

A beer garden, roof deck and bar sound like an absolutely fantastic way to spend the six evenings in the Twin Cities where snow isn’t either falling or melting.

There is only one hitch in Surly’s master plan. It is currently against the law for a brewer who brews more than 3,500 barrels of beer to sell alcohol directly to the public. In other words, Surly can certainly open a restaurant, but they can’t serve any beer at the restaurant. I had my brilliant lawyer wife read through the legalese and essentially the law states that if you have a license to manufacture “intoxicating liquors” you can’t also have a retail license to sell the liquor.

In other words, Surly Brewing Company needs the law to be changed to move forward with their plans.

To do this, not only have they appeared in traditional media outlets like the local news papers and radio but they reached out to their dedicated following on Twitter, Facebook and their own corporate blog.

They’ve shared with over 19,000 Facebook friends articles on the issue at hand, and asked for feedback on what their State Representatives have said about emails to change the law. Surly has done the same with their 8000 followers on Twitter. Finally on their Brewer’s Blog two days ago, they posted extensive information on the question posed to the legislature and how people can help.

Surly is a small organization, and makes fantastic beer, but no one is going to call them a titan of the brewing industry. However, the company has been very active on various social media platforms and their calls to action seem to have been heard. In less than an hour on Facebook, 46 people had already replied about communicating with their legislators and are sharing their experiences about lobbying to get the law changed.

We don’t yet know if Surly will be able to successfully leverage social media to help get the laws changed, but I wouldn’t bet against them. They make an excellent product (which I’ve tested enough to appoint myself as unofficial quality control) and they have a very dedicated following. While I can’t speak for my organization, I don’t really see anything negative with this plan. New jobs, a beautiful proposed destination, and another exciting place for Minnesotans to go and enjoy delicious Surly beer.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head off to my secret basement laboratory to make my special DEET and sunscreen concoction for summer patio season.

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