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Next Step invites you to follow along with our expert consultants as they discuss the ongoing market challenges that face us today.

Reaching the Goal for 2015 by Next Step |   posted: 01/14/2015

We all have great intentions at the beginning of the year. We at Next Step look forward to celebrating with you as you achieve your goals throughout the year! Over the next quarter, our blog will give you tips, insight and perspective which will support your success.

High-performing organizations understand the importance of setting clear targets for their employees and being sure all employees recognize the goal posts. That’s important.

In Alice in Wonderland, the children’s classic.

Alice reaches a fork in the road and is uncertain about which turn to take. The smiling Cheshire cat offers to help and asks: “Where are you going?” When Alice replies: “I don’t know,” the cat responds,“Without a destination, you can’t get far … it doesn’t matter which turn you take.”

Unlike Alice’s situation, when leaders establish a CLEAR VISION AND GOALS employees are able to see the signposts and milestones. Well-defined targets and values shape the leadership activities of a company or a team. A “compelling vision” provides a set of parameters and provides the employees with insight into:

  1. The corporation’s business purpose (Does this purpose map what I care about?)
  2. The company’s long-term vision (Does this vision map to what I think is important?)
  3. The organization’s guiding values (Can I relate to this organization?)

Clearly stated values are important to your company and your team and your customers. So situational leaders use a flexible approach which is custom-fit for each situation and individual employees.

Cloud Data Breach & What You Can Do by Next Step |   posted: 09/02/2014

A few days ago a group calling themselves hackappcom posted a proof of concept script on the popular code repository called Github that would allow for a user to attempt to breach iCloud and access a user account. This script would query iCloud services via the “Find My iPhone” API to guess username and password combinations. The problem here was that apparently Apple was not limiting the number of queries one could make, allowing attackers numerous chances to guess password combinations without the fear of being locked out. The result was some Hollywood actors had their personal photos leaked online.

This incident has unfortunate consequences for the victims. This has also been a great wake up call to clean up your password practices and improve your personal security. There are few basic things you can do to increase your personal security:

  1. Enable two factor authentication on your iCloud account.
  2. Once this is enabled a user would receive a four-digit SMS message with a code to input in addition to their password.
  3. Use a strong password. Many people use the same password for multiple logins or use one that is “easy to remember”. You’d be better served using a password such as “IZYcq7XO9agP4[PBj+a.” or  a pass phrase.


For companies
Rather then taking a “one-size- fits-all” approach to security, without actually considering how the technology will fit into the your operations, business need to make sure they’ve conducted thorough risk analyses. Following are some of the questions you should ask:

  1. What safeguards (physical, technical and administrative) are being used to secure your information?
  2. When was the last time a provider included an assessment of its cloud provider in its own risk analysis?
  3. What happens if the cloud vendor suffers a breach — who cleans up the problems?

You’ll also want to perform a risk analysis for your own facility, to make sure there aren’t any vulnerable areas on your end that could expose your organization to breaches.

You should also keep records of the weak areas you find and what steps you’ll take to prevent breaches.


A Fresh Take on Accountability by Next Step |   posted: 01/29/2014

How Leadership Style Can Build Capacity

In today’s world many leaders struggle to understand what accountability really means: is it simply holding people responsible for their defined obligations – or is it something more?

Accountability is undoubtedly one of the signs of a great leader. Harry Truman’s famous statement “The buck stops here,” epitomizes both the ultimate simplicity and the profound importance of accountability.

Your understanding of accountability determines your response to crisis.

What is your style when a crisis strikes and a project is at risk?

When disaster strikes, a project is at risk, and customer experience is on the line, leaders are highly motivated to do whatever is necessary to fix the problem. After all, you are personally accountable for everything that happens within your business, and you don’t want to give your team the impression that you are hiding out in your office until the storm passes.

But how do you respond to problems in a way that builds organizational capacity?

The answer can be found in your leadership style.

Many leaders are action-oriented and want to step in personally and immediately resolve the issue. While it is crucial to address problems quickly, it’s also important to include your team members in the solution.

Here are five ways your leadership style can help build more accountability and capacity in your organization:

  1. Share the big picture
  2. Focus on results and expectations
  3. Expect setbacks and learning curves
  4. Incorporate coaching and advising into your role
  5. Know the work and leadership styles of your team members

Visit our Publications page to download a complete Tip Sheet on Improving Your Company’s Accountability. Contact us to schedule your 30-minute complimentary consultation.

Increase Productivity through Contractors with Benefits by Next Step |   posted: 10/23/2013

Why hire a contractor?

As the economy improves, managers are challenged with matching the right skills to fluctuating market needs. Since the use of contractors allows companies to engage talent quickly and flexibly, the “contingent workforce” is growing exponentially. For many Next Step clients, having a pool of qualified contractors address requirements “just in time” provides a strategic advantage.

Attracting and retaining contingent workers 

According to the Freelancer’s Guild, one-third of the national workforce is comprised of contingent workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are 10.1 million self-employed workers nationally.  These “freelancers” may contract directly with a company or work through one or more consulting firms or agencies.

Increasing demand for quality workers raises the question

How can a manager attract the best contractors, maximize their productivity and develop long-standing relationships with them?

Historically for many contractors, the challenge with contingent work has been the lack of “benefits” such as health insurance.

Through research conducted with our client, Teaching Artist Guild Next Step identified several benefit options that allow contractors to receive benefits – while working for various organizations.

Contractors with benefits 

One of the five options identified for US companies was leverage of the Affordable Care Act. Contractors (even those with previous health challenges) now have increased access to affordable health insurance that is not tied to an employer. Each state’s health insurance exchange website describes plan options and costs. For a small business (which might be comprised of multiple contractors with complementary skills) there are also new options available for coverage through the small business exchange (SHOP).

Other options available to the contingent worker either on his / her own or through an agency include:

  • dental and vision plan discounts through an affinity plan or third-party insurance company
  • clearing houses offering discounted health services
  • group insurance through membership in a guild
  • membership in a union or professional association
  • group plans for liability and other business insurance

Use of a contingent workforce can allow fast response to market changes, greater productivity and long-term company sustainability. Don’t let the question of benefits stand in your way of growth – contact us if you would like more information on options to leverage top contractor talent immediately.

Four Rules to Master the Art of the Solution by Next Step |   posted: 08/31/2013

Technology sales success today requires a combination of business and technology expertise.  For many companies this means a team approach to the sale – with a business-focused account manager partnering with a more technical ‘solution focused’ sales counterpart who can best relay the product / technology features to the customer. solution architect

Skillful team selling and especially the role of the solution architect can be considered both a science and an art.

While there are numerous sales methodologies to select from to form the ‘science’ of sales, mastering the art of the team selling can be more challenging.  As a solution architect, you need to invest in developing your knowledge of the technology, business and most importantly your personal style.

Four Rules to Master the Art of the Solution:

▪      You are a member of the sales team – not the Account Manager or owner of the sale

▪      You must be Business Relevant

▪      You must be Technically Knowledgeable

▪      Know your audience

Remembering these rules of thumb will help you demonstrate your artistry and style.

Rule #1:  You are a member of the sales team:

There is not always love, drum circles, group hugs and special brownies between sales team members – especially customer focused Account Managers and pre-sales engineers or Solution Architects – in fact some SAs and pre-sales engineers tend to resent sales people for various reasons (and vice versa.)  In reality, it’s natural for a Solution Architect to be proud of their technical skill set.

However, it’s your job to perform as a member of the sales team assisting account managers in the sale of the products and services your company provides.  Without you to define, communicate and address questions about the technology solution to the customers’ needs the Account Manager can’t be successful.  Similarly without the Account Manager to identify opportunities for the products / solutions you provide and bring you into the sale, you can’t achieve your targets and goals.


Now that you’ve swallowed the fact that you’re a member of the sales team it’s time to enforce the fact that you are not the leader of the sales process with the customer.

Your job is to make sure that the product, service or solution the AM sells is relevant, effective, right-fit, and complete for the particular customer.

Often today, the channel organization / company is referred to as a ‘Trusted Advisor’ to the customer but that ‘Trusted Advisor’ is typically a two-person team. Both the AM and the Solution Architect know the customer well, understand their environment, and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship – but from different perspectives.

As the technology / product side of the team, you are responsible for the IDEA. That is to:

▪      Identify

▪      Design

▪      Evangelize

▪      Adjust

As the Solution Architect, you need to identify customer requirements, design a product set or solution to meet those requirements, evangelize the proposed solution, and adjust the solution as necessary for the customer. 

Rule #2: You must be business relevant

This is typically another tough thing to do from a product or technical standpoint.

Understanding business requirements and applying the technology to those requirements does not come naturally for most technology experts but it is vital to success.  Great technology alone has no value; the data center landscape is littered with stories of great technology companies that failed because they couldn’t capitalize by making the technology business relevant.  The same lesson applies to the Solution Architect.

To be a great SA, you have to understand both business and technology enough to map the technical benefits to actual business requirements.  So what if your widget is faster than all other widgets before it, what does that mean to my business, and my job?  A great way to begin to understand the high level business requirements and what the executives of the companies you sell into are thinking is to incorporate business books and magazines in to your reading.  Next time you’re at the airport magazine rack or your iPad looking at the latest trade magazine, grab a copy of ‘The Harvard Business Review’ or Fortune magazine instead to gain a broader perspective of your customers’ issues and questions today.

Rule #3:  You must be technically knowledgeable:

Maintaining an appropriate level of technical knowledge becomes harder and harder as more products are thrown at you, but you must do it anyway.   If you can’t speak to the product or solutions features and benefits without using slides or data sheets as ‘cheat sheets’, you might want to rethink your presentation or product knowledge.

Staying up-to-date is a daunting task but there is a plethora of resources out there for it.  Blogs and twitter can be used as a constant stream of the latest and greatest technical

information.  Add to that formal training and vendor documentation and the tools to be technically relevant are there. Most importantly, the best way to stay technically knowledgeable is not being afraid to ask and or say you don’t know when asked a question. Then find someone who knows the answers or the latest information and talk to him or her.

In return, openly share your expertise with others as it creates a collaborative environment that benefits everyone.

Rule #4:  Know your audience:

This may be the most critical rule to differentiate yourself, your Account Manager and company. Mastering this requires doing your homework and ensuring that your conversations, questions and solutions are relevant to each of your audiences. Before you join a call or meet with a customer, be sure you have reviewed their company information and history with your organization and learned as much as possible about their requirements and environment.

Before the call, leverage your Account Manager so you know the customers’ interests and pain points.

Based on this knowledge, you can ask good thought-provoking questions.  As the customer provides more information it’s important to tailor the questions and information you provide to that customer’s interest.  Any technical conversation should be a fluid entity ebbing and flowing with the customer’s feedback. 

Practicing the art:

Like any other art, team sales with a Solution Architect and Account Manager must be practiced.  You must study the products and services your company sells, develop your skills and constantly work on your communication.

By starting with general conversation about the customer’s company and market, and asking open-ended questions, you can most effectively identify, then drill down to discuss the needs and areas of greatest interest to the customer.  Through continued use of discovery questions the Solution Architect can respond to the product/technology needs of the customer.


Solution Architect

In the diagram, you can see the way the conversation should go with a customer.  You begin at the top-level big picture and drill down into only the points that the customer shows an interest in or are applicable to their data center and job role.  Don’t ever feel the need to discuss every feature of a product or solution because they are not all relevant to every customer.  For instance a server admin probably doesn’t care how fast switching occurs but network and application teams probably do.  Maybe your product can help save a ton of cost, great but that’s probably not very relevant to the administrators who aren’t responsible for budget.  Always ensure you’re maintaining relevance to the audience and the business.


The role of the Solution Architect must be honed and practiced.  It doesn’t come overnight and as with anything else, you’re never as good as you can be.  Build a style and methodology that work for you and don’t be afraid to change or modify them as you find areas for improvement.  The better you get at the art of your role, the more value you’re giving your customer, team, and company.

Adapted by Next Step from article by Joe Onisick of Define the Cloud, LLC

Is your sales team provocative? by Next Step |   posted: 07/31/2013

Sales success, whether it is called “solution selling,” “challenger selling” or “provocative selling” is achieved through the sales

Selling to ITprofessional’s ability to understand and address customers’ most critical needs. In the article, The End of Solution Sales, published in the Harvard Business Review, the authors try to discredit the “solution selling” technique as outdated.

While many organizations profess to use “solution selling” when they are really pushing products disguised as solutions to their customers, true positioning of a genuine solution to customers business needs is an art that is still very successful today.

Irrespective of terminology, sales success is achieved through a clear understanding and discovery of customer needs, creation of a sense of urgency in addressing the needs and application of the right solution to the needs. Even greater success can be achieved through the sales person’s demonstration of a positive return on investment by the customer.

Next Step’s clients ranging from Adobe and Cisco to DeepRootGoodwill Industries and start-ups have experienced direct improvements in revenue through our customized, modular programs which blend concepts of customer-oriented, value, solution, insight and provocative selling.

Please call us at 650-361-1902 if you have any questions, need more information or would like to set up a training, workshop or book a speaking engagement with our CEO Jennifer Vessels.

How to build effective work teams? by Next Step |   posted: 06/20/2013

Challenges of Teamwork


Having successful teams in your organization is a valuable asset, but what are some challenges that you can run into?

Personal agendas being priority

For most of our life we are conditioned to do things by ourselves, such as passing exams, Depositphotos_3215772_lsmfinding a college, finding a job, and securing a promotion, to name just a few. We therefore get used to pursuing our personal agenda. To get results in a team you need to create conditions where success or failure depends on the team as a whole. If only one individual can achieve his or her outcome, the team will always come second.

Using conflict

Conflict in teams is inevitable and conflict is not a bad thing. What is important is that conflict is productive rather than destructive. Used well, conflict can be channeled to stretch the boundaries of what is possible, to encourage creativity and ultimately to achieve a better outcome.


Teams achieve more when all of the members are fully engaged and focused on the outcome. The challenge is to avoid situations where people on the team become disengaged. Look out for signs of those holding back or not offering their views and find ways of getting their views heard.

Silo thinking

This is a particular challenge where you have people in teams from different roles, functions or departments within the organization. It is all too easy for people to drift into analyzing what it will mean for their particular role or department and to start viewing things in win-lose terms. In these situations, it is key that the benefits from the team as a collective far outweigh any benefits that could be obtained on an individual basis.

Lack of clarity

Achieving anything starts with being clear on what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. As a leader of a team, it is important that the team as a collective has clarity on the outcomes and why they are so important.

Are You Rude in the Workplace? by Next Step |   posted: 04/10/2013

Did you know that as businesses are being forced to cut jobs and run a leaner than desired organization, people are becoming more rude?

Sarah Eckel from Forbes Magazine writes: “The accelerated pace of office life has made us lose touch with common courtesies once taken for granted, like saying, ”good morning.” In fact in the same article there is an example of a man who had bad habit: He was moving his wrist and hand as if to say “hurry up” as people were talking to him. He wasn’t even aware he was doing it.

It’s no wonder workers are losing their patience and manners in an accelerated workplace that creates more pressure and stress. Add to that the push of technology in the form of increased emails, text messages, IM’s, cell phone calls, and social media , and you can see how easy it can lead to a complete breakdown in business etiquette or a “snap attack” (yelling at your colleagues).

These bad habits and trends are not just little things to note and move on, they actually have impacted the bottom line revenues of some companies. When employees ignore others, talk over people in a meeting, show up late to a meeting or worse yet fail to make it at all, it is bad for business. This lack of business etiquette can permeate the organization culture and end up at a client/customer or prospect meeting and lose a deal or the customer.

Training for business etiquette is no different than training for sales, management or any other core competency within an organization. More companies are asking for this kind of training and we are happy to offer them our Business Etiquette Workshop.

“The kindest word in all the world is the unkind word, unsaid.” Author Unknown. This quote kind of reminds us that a simple word like “kindness” can help create a better meeting . . . and maybe even bring in a new customer or two.

Next Step has been helping companies avoid the “rude” factor and create efficiency and better business etiquette for years.

Check out our funny, but very relevant Meeting Faux Pas video.

Do you need a strategy for networking? by Next Step |   posted: 02/10/2013

Networking effectively for business growth and development is critical to your success during periods of both economic boom and uncertainty.  Having a strategy on building up your network is key.Depositphotos_3334484_l

Successful networking requires planning and perseverance. Statistics show that an opportunity resulting from a new business contact takes, on average, seven to twelve “touches”, with each touch adding to the value that you can offer a desired contact.  Since 1997, Next Step has helped hundreds of individuals, leaders, and companies develop and implement effective networking techniques—an important part of a successful business planning strategy .

Some keys to networking and successful lead generation include:

  • Define, in 60 seconds, the value that you bring to potential contacts. Deliver it in a clear, concise, and compelling manner, and always include:
    • The problem you solve or can solve for your listener
    • How you solve the problem — uniquely
    • Proof point, validation, and testimonial
    • A call to action
    • Continue to build the relationship by being an increasingly trustworthy resource to your contact
    • Define a networking plan with clear, targeted goals, and hand out business cards to those contacts that fit within your target.
    • Consider networking as an opportunity in research and marketing. Develop quality leads by spending the time listening to fellow networkers and the issues that come up naturally in conversation.

Add value to your networking plan with top line tips from Next Step.  Learn how our proven processes can help you and your organization network more effectively.   Contact us by email or call Next Step now at 650.361.1902.

Tips for Planning Sales Training by Next Step |   posted: 01/09/2013

Take Note of Changes that Occurred in 2012

Concern over the economy affected our daily business practices in 2012. When making your first quarter sales training plan you might want to take some time to review what we have heard from our clients as what has been effective in 2012.

Focusing on the Investment in Training
Some of the major trends in 2012 that were noticeable in the investment of sales training were:

  • Companies started to clearly define competencies within sales training.
  • Companies emphasized measurable results as a way to track sales training effectiveness.
  • A more hands-on approach occurred with management teams becoming more involved.

All three of these trends in sales training directly align with Next Step’s sales training methodology.

Contact Next Step at 650-361-1902 to learn how we can help your company achieve real and measurable results through your upcoming sales training.