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Mar 02, 2016

Leadership in the RFID Era

中文版 Chinese version

So you want to be a successful leader in the RFID industry. Well, many leadership principles that are widely accepted in the high tech space will apply to RFID as well. But there are some concepts that are specific in the RFID industry. Here is a short glossary of buzz words for leadership in the RFID era.

1. Factory programming: The most important decisions that you will make are related to who you hire. A good rule of thumb is to hire people that are smarter than you. But I would put even more emphasis on how well the new team member fits the company culture. After all, new skills can be taught but changing someone’s factory programming is a lot harder. A good way to find out who to hire is to let the other team members interview the candidate before making the final decision.

2. Downlink: Ignorance is bliss? Maybe. But if you share information with your team on a need-to-know basis, how do you expect them to come up with new ideas? The better they understand the higher level goals of the company, the better they are able to help you reach them. I guarantee that the time spent explaining “why” will be returned ten-fold in commitment and creativity.

3. Listen before talk (LBT): What do you do when you are making a business decision that potentially has a big impact on the future of the company? Remember that you already have people smarter than you working for you. Why not listen what they have to say? Make them a part of the decision making process. Of course, the final decision is your responsibility but your team will be more committed to the decision if they have had their say. And I guarantee that the decision will be better.

4. Anti-collision: Every successful organization has people that don’t think alike, and that will cause some friction from time to time. But as long as all team members are acting in the best interest of the company, a healthy amount of conflict fosters growth. After all, if everyone is in complete harmony, some opportunities and ideas will be missed. So hold back with your anti-collision procedures, and resist your natural urges to act as a referee in every disagreement.

5. Error correction: The only way to avoid mistakes is not to do anything. And I believe in a corporate culture where people do not need to be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes may be visible to the customers as well: Maybe the new software release has a bug that was not caught in quality assurance, or maybe an item is accidentally left out of a delivery. The most important thing is to decisively make it right for the customer. The overall customer experience can still be positive if error correction is quick and professional.

This post was inspired by the AIM RFID Glossary.

Jun 12, 2015

Helping The Boss to Arrive at the Correct Decisions; In-house Selling of RAIN RFID Test Equipment

中文版 Chinese version

Selling is a noble form of art, which takes slightly different forms when selling to a customer (out-house) or a colleague (in-house). Luckily both the directions go by the same principles. The twist in general is whether that special someone is already looking for a solution and is therefore on the buying mode, or not looking and even in the I-have-other-priorities-such-as-protecting-the-cash mode.

As my company Voyantic operates in the relatively young technological field of RAIN RFID measurement and testing solutions, the latter mode is usually assumed, since the prospect companies are typically start-ups. Of course, we are not working on the sales case only from outside the prospect company, but together with an in-house sponsor that faces the same communications challenge: How to get the management to say yes to the investment proposal?

The Boss Takes the Most Heat in the Valley of Death

Our prospect start-ups are in the pre-launch phase, and cash flow vice is located firmly in the valley of death. I’ve been in that valley myself – it’s a horrid place, and only the brave go there.

Sales is all about getting to Yes. Let’s, therefore, focus on The Boss, because ultimately she/he says “Yes” or “No” to the investment proposal.

The Boss is a creature with three primary functions: stay as a boss, carry the grave responsibility, and make decisions when needed. One way to initiate a decision-making process is to spread a certain amount of fear powder over the responsibilities part. Some others prefer to play this card right the opposite direction: paint a fresco of stunning business performance and thus suggest the marvel of getting out of that valley sooner than later, and this way become a happier boss.

One Boss in the Valley of Death, under wildlife attack, not enjoying the moment very much, and thus motivated to make decisions

Facing RFID Sensor Tag Development Hurdles

To make a case of the latter, let me walk you through a hypothetical example of in-house sales: Assume you are an RF antenna engineer in Company Z that is developing a novel RAIN RFID tag with disruptive never-before-seen sensor features.

Cutting edge stuff, and riding high on the hype curves, too! So it gradually reveals to you that the antenna design is heavily restricted by the selected production process, which further seems to limit the tags reading performance. Unfortunately, you don’t quite have all the facts on the table to back decision making, because there is only a DIY RFID reader based test setup in the basement lab, right next to the janitor’s room. Additional discomfort arises from the fact that the latest tag sensor circuitry samples seem to have a set of “undocumented” properties that don’t go so well either with the reader in the lab.

The sensor tag launch date is set only ten months away to a RAIN RFID show taking place in Orlando (sometimes in San Diego), and the marketing lady with the scarf is making preparations already. Even the product brand name is already registered.

It Doesn’t Hurt to Find Out How Others Have Managed to Get the Antenna Design Right

Let’s face it – those are hugely expensive ten months for several reasons.

First of Company Z has only the slideware to sell, which means there is practically no revenue.

Secondly, there are you and both your buddies in the lab ordering materials, scissoring inlays, 3D printing prototype enclosures, cursing the air conditioning, and wishing all is going to be ok.

Thirdly, some other companies in the market are already launching their first sensor tag products, which is irritating because you know they are bluntly eating off the yours-to-be market share.

So, being a bright and open-minded engineer, you take a few hours on Tuesday to browse through a pile of academic publications on UHF RFID tag design. While your coffee mug gradually sinks below the refill level, you suddenly realize all those papers refer to this one RFID performance test system.

Switching over to Dr. Pepper and taking a few additional hours to complete the desk study, you find out that this stunning equipment shows how a UHF tag is tuned in about 30 seconds and also how the IC responds to different commands. On top of that, it dawns on you the system is available with two weeks lead time, and the supplier even has a tag production quality test solution, too! Tuesday well spent!

How to Present the Gathered Information with Maximal Impact

So what is it that you do? Well, first, you go home and sleep off the first wave of excitement. On Wednesday morning, you make a few calculations together with a fresh blueberry muffin, then rush to the corner office at 9:15 AM, take a deep breath, and…?

At this point it is important to remind yourself that The Boss is in heat and busy looking for a way out of the valley of death.* You are almost there, next reel it in with a correctly tuned message*:

  • JUNIOR MISTAKE: just ask The Boss to buy this one great tester worth 50k
  • MILD, BUT MIGHT WORK: explain how you found a way to raise RnD efficiency by up to 22%
  • MUCH BETTER: tell you found a way to get the tag design finished in time, AND troubleshoot the damned sensor circuitry while at it
  • A NO-BRAINER DEAL: report to The Boss that you found a way to cut time-to-market by 50%.

The lower on this list you are able to go, the smoother response there will be on your closing line about the investment.

In a Competitive Environment Time-to-Market Makes a Grand Difference

Essentially you should show that you can make this massive difference on the top line if this enabling 50k investment is carried out now, and sales would start sooner than later. Bring in a few of those academic publications with you as evidence, and ask the measurement system vendor for payback estimates and additional collateral, such as a few reliable customer references.

The Boss knows the painful cost and agony of those ten months, and if you claim you can save 5 out of those, he figures out it’s going to be three months saving with a reference customer as a cherry on top, and he is going to sign you those 50k pretty darned fast. All top bosses know that you need to spend money to make money, and just kindly remind that waiting is the most expensive alternative of all.

Wrapping It Up: Investment on Test Equipment Often Turns Out to Be an Investment on Sales

The payback on measurement and testing equipment investments are exceptionally fast when the impact hits the frontlines of the sales battlefield. “The cutting costs” story may work reasonably well in large companies. Still, when it comes to shortening time to market, fixing diverse quality issues, and creating positive aura on the customer front, it all quickly translates into getting additional revenue for the company, sooner than later.

All top bosses love the additional revenue. Cards well played, and you just got your first Voyantic Tagformance.

That’s my story for you today. These principles have worked out well for me many times, and I would love to hear about it if they work out for you as well. Please drop me a line at juho.partanen@voyantic.com, and let’s talk more.