Friday, March 21st, 2014 .

“The jungle is dark, but it is full of diamonds, Willy.”

-from ‘The Death of a Salesman’ by Arthur Miller

And that is the problem salespeople have had for years and years and years: the jungle is dark but it is full of diamonds.  There are sales out there to be made.  People, businesses, organizations, families — they need the things salesmen sell.  The problem is the jungle was dark, and finding the customers who need or want to buy what you are selling is time-consuming, wasteful and exasperating.

My first job straight out of college I was in sales. I sold dictation equipment for Lanier.  It was a grind.  I’d walk the streets of San Francisco — my territory was from the point where Market Street and California Street meet and extended as a triangle all the way to Van Ness.  This was old-fashioned knocking on doors selling.  I had virtually no information about any prospect and would try to find a picture on a desk or trophy on the wall to find something we had in common.  It rarely worked.  How great would it have been to have the LinkedIn profile of the guy I was pitching?  Where he went to school, where he used to work, etc?  Or what connections we had in common!

When I’d stay in the office to cold call, that was it…COLD.  Blindly dialing businesses.  Ouch.

Everyone who has ever worked in sales immediately recognizes this scene from “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

That was sales preparation in those days: here are the leads, now go out there and make some calls and close some sales.

It was a remarkably frustrating and inefficient system.  All I knew about these “leads” was a name, a business and a phone number.

This has begun to change dramatically in recent years.  A number of cloud-based software packages have emerged that significantly increase the amount of data a salesperson can access from almost anywhere about customers and potentials customers.

Knowing more about my leads, as I do today…boom!  Success.  And I don’t need to be in the office tied to some proprietary database to do this…it’s all in the cloud.  I’d rather do it from home in my pajamas anyway, and now I can.

Salesmen are now armed with enormous amounts of information.  They have access to prior purchases with the company (great for upsells, renewals, etc), complaints from the customers (Zendesk), and basically every interaction anybody in the company has ever had with a prospect or existing customer (Salesforce).

They also have the ability to work from anywhere, 24/7, and appear as professional as if they were sitting in their office, thanks to all the cloud-based information and tools.

My frustrating experiences in sales informed a lot of the product decisions we made early on in designing our company’s teleconferencing product: UberConference. UberConference makes great sales calls possible in four ways:

1. We make it easy for a potential customer to get on a call (no PINs).  The easiest way to lose a potential customer is to provide them with even the smallest barrier to communicating with me.  PINs are a potential barrier.  That’s why I insisted we not require them in UberConference.
2. You won’t waste everybody’s first 15 minutes figuring out who just joined the call (visual).  We provide on-screen updates so you know who is there as soon as they sign on.  No need to reintroduce yourself each time a new caller signs on.
3. You know who’s talking at any point: is it the IT guy or the finance guy? That may not only be helpful to know, it could be critical in closing a sale.
4. You get a rich UberProfile on each caller.  You can see their LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ accounts and get an idea of who the person is to whom you are speaking.  This could prove to be crucial in the trust-building phase of a sales relationship.  The more you know and understand about your customer, the better you can serve them… and sell to them.

I lasted only one year in sales.  I realized it was too hard for me so I went back to school to get my MBA and then to law school to hide for a longer time.   Had I had these tools I may have stayed in sales.  Thank God they didn’t have them back then!

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 .

UberConference is proud to deliver a brand new way to connect. Everything you love about UberConference 2.0 is now available on your iPhone®. The app for iPhone features all of the great new tools available on desktop and Android in a complete toolkit.

Enjoy no PINs if you’re hosting the call and, in Pro, eliminate them altogether for every caller. The Apple interface has a brand new design that makes it easier than ever to organize your calls on the go. New security features allow you to also lock calls from your phone (once all your participants are in) by pressing ## on your phone. Our trial-mode has no sign-up and basic service is always free. Simplify your mobile experience.

Apple fans REJOICE!

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Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 .

 

Meet Felix Wood. A relentlessly active 5th grader, he leaps, backflips and sprints through life. The iron chef of his family, he makes breakfast and dinner most days, delighting his three sisters and blowing up the kitchen. His favorites right now include marathon monopoly games, “all-the-sports” and his chameleon.

Felix visited his mom, Chelsea Wood, who works as a fabulous business development manager out of our North Carolina office and created this video for a project he’s working on. As a member of Duke’s TIP program for gifted students and Cub Scout he frequently works on enrichment projects.

Felix is a a Junior Olympian who has competed on several a competitive jump rope teams, he is currently working to become a ‘Skip-its Legend.’ Among a long list of requirements, he has to interview community leaders, demonstrate rigorous jump rope tricks and lead three community service projects. He chose to make lunches for Raleigh’s homeless, mentor inner-city children, and conduct a food drive for unemployed local families.

Watch this fantastic tour of our Raleigh office concluding with an interview with CEO Craig Walker. From Felix’s perspective, any company that can have “so much coolness” must have a team of geniuses at its helm. He asked Craig ‘what it feels like to have achieved telephony world domination’.

Great job highlighting what a fun place UberConference is, Felix! You are well on your way to legend status!

Friday, March 14th, 2014 .

UberConference is a super proud sponsor of the SXSW VentureBeat and Buzzstarter Win30s contest, where startups compete for a chance to win investments, prizes, press and more by submitting their company video pitch and promoting it across all social media channels. Videos with the most votes and shares win.

We praise creativity here at UberConference, and can’t wait to see what each startup comes up with.

Fans can vote until Wednesday March 19th, and you can find the daily winners of Win30s at VentureBeat.com/tag/sxsw. Other category winners and the overall winner will be announced on Monday March 24th.

Best of luck to all those who enter!

Friday, March 14th, 2014 .

Have you ever been in an unproductive meeting?

Putting together a unproductive meeting is pretty simple.   The most basic rule is this: invite me, David Raether, to the meeting.  That will solve about 95% of your problems right there in making sure the meeting is unproductive, ineffective, and amusing.  Believe me, I’m a nightmare.

What happens if I — or someone very much like me — am in your next meeting and you want the meeting to be productive?  How do you handle this sort of situation?

You can overcome this by following these simple rules and your meetings will go great.   I am writing this as a guide to myself because I am certain virtually nobody else behaves like this in a meeting.  Any similarities between myself and anyone else in a meeting who exhibits these behaviors is impossible because I’m pretty unique in my ability to turn a meeting into an ADHD festival of fun that accomplishes nothing.  So this is a cautionary tale for those working with me.  Or someone like me.

1. Have an agenda or plan for the meeting. Figure out what topics will be discussed and who will lead those discussions.  One thing that’s really difficult for me to remember — and a reason why I often have been such a disaster in a meeting — is it’s okay for me to shut the hell up and just listen.  Let’s say Agenda Item 1 is “Product development feedback from customer survey”.  Remind me that what I might consider doing, since I had nothing to do with this whole area, is just quietly listen to the persons involved make their presentation.

But what if I have a pertinent question? Say the following to me: ‘No, David, the question you just asked that started with: ‘Before we go any further, is it supposed to rain tonight?’ is not a pertinent question.’  If I start to ask a question about what we’re doing for lunch, how to solve a problem I’m having with my health insurance, or if any of you saw ‘The Daily Show’ last night, cut me off and let me know that I, in fact, do not have a pertinent question.  Remember the basic rule: Any question that starts with ‘Before we go any further…’ Or: ‘Hey, did anyone see…’ is not pertinent.   And you can be rude to me about it.

You know what else? I don’t have an anecdote that’s relevant either.  Any sentence that starts with me saying, “You know, that reminds me..” is bad news.  I may think I have a great anecdote about my days as a newspaper editor that could really make this area seem more interesting.  If I start on one of those, stop me immediately with these words: “No, David, in fact you do not have an illuminating anecdote.  I’m certain it will be a funny and people will be laughing and amused, but it will have NOTHING TO DO with the topic under discussion.  So shut the hell up, David, and just listen.  Don’t chime in.  Thank you.”

You are fortunate indeed if you get to work for a company that doesn’t have me asking non-pertinent questions or regaling your group with irrelevant but amusing tales of my life as a comedy writer.  But on the off-chance you have someone who is like me, remember to keep the meeting strictly focused on the agenda you set.

2. Set a time limit to the meeting. A good time limit is 30 minutes.  It ensures that everyone knows the meeting has an ending in sight, and keeps everyone focused on the agenda.

If I’m there and start yammering away and get things distracted with amusing or heartbreaking tales from my life and then I start asking you about your health or your mother or how things are going with your partner or what do you think about Tom Cruise movies (and do not get me going on Tom Cruise movies), stop me or you’re doomed.  If you don’t, this meeting is going to go well into the afternoon and then adjourn to an adjacent saloon where there’ll be drinking and crying and singing along with Merle Haggard songs until suddenly the bartender is closing the place down and you’re all looking for cabs in the middle of the night.  And that’s not even counting the people in the group who are headed to the emergency room for possible hospitalization for severe situational depression.

Announce up front that the meeting is going to last 30 minutes, that we’re covering these topics, and that we need to get this accomplished in 30 minutes or less.  If you stick to that time limit, the meeting is going to be productive.  And if you hear me say anything about Tom Cruise or ask anyone about their mother, tell me to pack up my stuff and get out of the room right now.

Obviously, your company doesn’t have me or a person like me, so these problems won’t arise.  Everyone who works with you is keenly focussed and sensible. k But should your company, by some enormous mistake in judgement,  hire me, or a person like me, just remember: this phrase: “The clock is ticking.”  And then shoot me an angry glare.

3. Avoid counterproductive phrases that lead to unnecessary disputes or distractions. As with any group activity, certain phrases can be provocative and lead to almost immediate disputes or distractions.  As the meeting leader, your job is to caution the participants that while disagreements are a natural part of any meeting, you will not tolerate using the phrase “the company’s mission…” as an opportunity to go off on how the engagement party scene at the beginning of the first  “Mission Impossible” was an embarrassment and then getting everyone in the meeting to start arguing about whether Tom Cruise is an irritating, overacting weird guy with a complex about how short he is or not. Which he is.

So there you have it.  Three simples rules to keep your meetings productive:

  1. Set and agenda and keep to it.

  2. Limit the time for the meeting to 30 minutes.

  3. Avoid inflammatory phrases that naturally lead to distracting disputes.

Follow these simple rules, and your next meeting will be productive, focused and successful.  Oh, and keep me out.