How To Diagnose Bottlenecks In A Sales Funnel

When sales aren't moving fast enough, the first thing a sales leader should do is look at the sales funnel to identify the bottleneck. Are we not filling the top of the funnel? Are we not converting meetings to proposals? Are we not getting the contract signed quickly enough?

I've written in the past about how to build and analyze a sales funnel

But in some cases the sales funnel might not be granular enough to tell you what's really going on. 

With that in mind, I've come up with a set of questions to ask to help you identify trends and areas where things aren't working. 

Look across the entire pipeline and ask the questions below about each individual deal. if the answer to any question is 'no' put a checkmark next to the question. If the answer is yes leave it blank. If the question isn't relevant because the deal isn't far enough along in the sales process also leave it blank. 

After going through each of these questions for each of your deals you should get a good sense of trends and what's slowing things down and you can now focus on fixing that problem area. Do it again in a month and focus on that newly identified problem area. Repeat.

This is a super simple and quick way to find out what's going on in the funnel. It can be used for an entire team or an individual rep.

  1. Is there adequate top of the funnel activity -- are we working hard?
  2. Are we getting meetings with people we want to meet with?
  3. Do the people we’re talking to have a problem that we’ve diagnosed?
  4. Do the people we're talking to believe that the problem they have is a large and important one?
  5. Do the people we're meeting with have decision making authority?
  6. Is our message (solution) resonating with the people that have the problem?
  7. Is there excitement around moving to a proposal?
  8. Do we have agreement on a proposal?
  9. Are we getting insight into the buying process and the actors that need to be involved in the buying process?
  10. Are we executing the closing process at a rapid pace?
  11. Are we having weekly check-ins with our project sponsor?
  12. Have we identified a contract signer?
  13. Is there urgency around the close date?
  14. Is there anything preventing our signer from signing?

Some Thoughts On Trump & The Election

I couldn’t stay up to watch the results come in. I went to sleep around 11pm. I woke up around 4am and checked my phone and saw a Business Insider alert that said:

“Trump strikes conciliatory tone in victory speech, praises Clinton."

A small bit of light in an enormous amount of dread.

I didn’t sleep much after that. I laid there and felt a weird combination of fear and sadness. But a couple hours later when I went to the gym I started to come around a bit. Here are some of the thoughts that have been rolling through my mind today.

  1. I used to kind of like Donald Trump. I remember listening to him when he would call in to the Don Imus show many years ago. I didn’t know much about him and he was pretty right-leaning on fiscal issues but on the social stuff he was definitely a New Yorker. He was a reasonable guy and made good some good points. And I loved how positive he was. We’ve all been annoyed by his constant use of adjectives like "terrific" and "tremendous" and "unbelievable" but back then I kind of liked it.
  2. Month after month throughout the primary and into the general election everyone laughed at the notion of Donald Trump becoming President. It was a joke. What he pulled off last night was amazing. He brilliantly tapped into a large amount of fear and anger and ignorance and was able to light a fire among a huge number of rural voters.
  3. To light this fire he talked about a ban on Muslims entering the country, reversing Roe v. Wade, repealing Obamacare and building a wall on the Mexican border. I’d be willing to bet that not one of those things will happen. And I’d be willing to bet that Trump doesn’t actually want any of those things to happen. Those issues generated talking points that won him the election. He won. He doesn’t owe anybody any favors and he doesn’t need to do any of that nonsense. If he wants any chance at reelection he’s going to have to come way, way back to the middle.
  4. We need to create a new word and stop using the word “racist”. It’s too strong and inflammatory and in most cases inaccurate. I don’t think Trump is racist and I don’t think most of his supporters are racist. I think they’re ignorant and uninformed and fearful of a changing world but I don’t think they’re racist. When we call them racist it makes thoughtful conversation almost impossible.
  5. Trump is a brilliant marketer and he knows that taglines work. "Make America Great Again" was the perfect tagline for him and it’s a crystal clear indicator of his strategy. When he says this to fearful voters in rural areas what he really means is let’s go back 50 years to a time when the world was less competitive. Where automation wasn’t destroying jobs and we didn’t have to compete globally and you could stay at a job for thirty years and you didn’t need two incomes. We live in a global economy now and those days are over but that vision is incredibly appealing to a lot of people.
  6. The most important political issue to me personally is healthcare. Throughout the campaign Trump has continuously threatened to “Repeal Obamacare!” and has received loud cheers for it. I’ll bet if you asked the people cheering what that actually means most of them would have no idea. Those that do have an idea would probably just assume he’s referring to the mandate. I really doubt that healthcare is going to be high on Trump’s list. The election is over and he doesn’t need the “Obamacare” talking point anymore. Further, there are now 22 million people that have insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act and that will be difficult for politicians to roll back. A lot of people were angry when Medicare launched but virtually nobody would advocate taking it away. And most of the payment reform has been rolled into a new law called MACRA that is separate from the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare is complicated and for the most part on a good path that should be supported by both parties (if you remove the politics). I don’t see things changing in a material way in the next four years.
  7. You can argue that Trump has no experience but the reality is that Obama didn’t have the greatest experience and that turned out ok. What Obama did in the last two elections was also amazing. I’m a big fan of Obama but he was not the most qualified candidate when we was first elected. The presidency is now a popularity contest. We just have to get used to that.
  8. Having said the above, I think we deserve a president that is prepared and dignified and isn’t reckless. I always thought George W. Bush was in over his head and wasn’t well prepared and was misguided but he didn’t embarrass our country and he wasn’t reckless. This is my main concern with this outcome. Being embarrassed by our President isn’t the end of the world but I do fear his recklessness. The generals should keep him in line when it comes to putting troops on the ground where they don’t belong but his rhetoric clearly can’t be contained. This isn’t about fearing that he has his finger on the button. This is about tiny groups of people all over the world looking for a reason to hate America. There is no worse time in American history in my view to be alienating our enemy. They are inside of our country and outside of our country and they have no home state and no borders and we can never find them all. Reckless, reactive, inflammatory speech from the American president is the most useful recruiting tool that Isis and other terror groups could ever imagine. I fear that he may not be able to rein this in. I truly hope I’m wrong.
  9. As of right now it's being reported that 118 million people voted. Trump got 59 million and Clinton got 59 million. The difference is 0.3 percent. That's just crazy.
  10. Finally, Trump is our President. Obama said this morning that we should all be rooting for Trump now and he’s absolutely right. We may hate everything he says and disagree with everything he says but like it or not he’s our President. As much we don't want to, we have to at least accept that.

Enterprise User Acquisition & Consumer User Retention

In thinking about a product's user acquisition, the nice thing about enterprise products is that when you get one customer you get a lot of users. You just need to sell one CIO on your product and you’ll quickly pick up thousands of users.

The not so nice thing about enterprise is that you’re going to lose about 20% of those users every year due to employee turnover. Your entire user base is going to turn over every five years. Acquisition scales in enterprise. Retention does not.

The not so nice about consumer products is that, unlike enterprise, you have to acquire users one by one. You don’t have the scalable distribution channel that you have with enterprise. In consumer, user acquisition is expensive and really difficult.

But the nice about consumer products is that once you get users you can keep them forever (you don’t have the turnover problem).

It’s interesting to note that some companies have figured out how to take the good from enterprise and the good from consumer.

One example is eShares, an enterprise product that digitizes paper stock certificates and options and warrants and rolls them up into an easy to use cap table to help startups and startup employees manage their equity. Employees generally sign up for the service just before their start date when they receive an option grant from their new company (to sign the option grant employees need an eShares account). If the employee leaves the company they keep their account open to manage their equity and they can add subsequent option grants from subsequent companies to keep all their documents in one place.

eShares is brilliant in that they have morphed an enterprise product into a consumer product and have reaped the benefits of both models. This is a super powerful way to quickly build a huge set of engaged users and is a great way to get ahead and build a platform rather than just a useful app. I’m sure eShares investors are taking note.

Some Notes On MACRA For Digital Health Startups

Over the weekend I spent some time reviewing the 2015 Medicare Access & CHIP Reauthorization Act final rule (MACRA) that was released by HHS last week.

MACRA was a bi-partisan law focused on the Obama administration’s goal of moving 50% of Medicare payment away from fee-for-service and towards alternative payment models. The final rule lays out details on how the program will work and how clinicians can participate.

For those of you that are new to this stuff, the goal of all of this is to allow clinicians to focus on (and get paid for) the quality of care they provide as opposed to the quantity of care they provide; with a focus on disease prevention and improving coordination between clinicians. This is a major part of how we're going to reduce the $3 trillion cost of healthcare in the U.S.

The overarching set of policies that make up MACRA are referred to as the Quality Payment Program.

The document released by HHS last week that explains all of this is 2,398 pages long though the majority of it is made up of responses to public comments made regarding the proposed rule (you can find a 24 page summary of the document here). The rule will be implemented beginning in January of 2017 and will impact nearly all stakeholders across the healthcare system.

I thought I’d capture some of my notes on the rule here with a particular focus on those things that might matter to digital health companies. If your company is focused on improving outcomes, patient engagement, patient volume, interoperability or care coordination then you should take some time to understand MACRA. Key points from the rule below:

  • For context, Medicare covers 55 million people and accounts for more than 20% of all U.S. healthcare spend. Medicare’s approach to payment is generally followed by commercial payers — in fact, many of these payers are farther down the road in payment reform than Medicare is at this point.
  • MACRA is a statement by the government that they are dead serious about paying clinicians for value. If your business relies on a flat fee-for-service model it's time to start thinking hard about how you can get ahead of this change.
  • Medicare has setup a transition year for the Quality Payment Program (2017), but physicians must act in some form during 2017. If clinicians do nothing in 2017 with regard to the Quality Payment Program, they’ll receive a 4% penalty against their Medicare payments beginning in 2019.
  • With all of these acronyms the Quality Payment Program can seem confusing. It's really not. There are two simple payment programs that clinicians can participate in: 1. Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) or 2. Alternative Payment Model (APM) — NextGen ACO, Medicare Shared Savings ACO, etc.
  • If a clinician is already in an APM nothing will change for them and they'll receive a 5% lump sum incentive payment that will run through 2024 and they can avoid the reporting requirements that will come with MIPS.
  • Some of the APM options in 2017 will include Comprehensive ESRD (end-stage renal disease), Comprehensive Primary Care (CPC+), Next Generation ACO. Medicare Shared Savings Program - Tracks 2 and 3 (Track 2 allows clinicians to take up to 60% of shared savings; Track 3 - 75%).
  • If a clinician is not participating in an APM, they can participate in MIPS. MIPS will focus on 3 areas: quality measures, advancing care information and general improvement activities. Medicare has created a nice set of guidelines to help better under the measures associated withe each of these areas. Vendors should take a hard look at these measures as these are major business drivers that non-APM clinicians will be thinking about next year.
  • The MIPS program allows for more flexibility than previous programs in that clinicians can select their own pace and the amount of data they would like to collect and submit to Medicare. There are three options to participate in MIPS in 2017. 1. Test the program by submitting a minimum amount of quality data. 2. Submit 90 days of 2017 data. 3. Submit a full year of data.
  • The timeline for implementation looks like this. At some point in 2017, clinicians must collect some amount of performance data and collect data documenting their use of technology and submit that data to Medicare by March of 2018. Medicare will give feedback on that data during the remainder of 2018. If eligible, clinicians will then earn a positive MIPS payment adjustment or APM incentive beginning in January of 2019. The payment adjustment will start at 5% and increase to 9% in 2022.
  • MIPS will consolidate three existing programs: the Physician Quality Reporting System, the Physician Value-Based Payment Modifier and the Medicare EHR Incentive Program.
  • The program will impact 600,000 clinicians.
  • Clinicians must participate if they receive $30k+ in Medicare billings and care of more than 100 Medicare patients per year.
  • “Quality” will be measured using both evidence-based standards and practice-based improvement efforts.
  • The payment program applies to physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners,  clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse anesthetists.
  • Medicare is putting aside $100 million to be paid over 5 years to train small practices on the rule.
  • CMS will also allow “reporting as a group” for clinicians that put themselves under the same tax identification number.
  • MIPS replaces meaningful use with the "advancing care information" program which speaks to use of technology. This program is focused on only 5 key areas: 1. Security risk analysis, 2. e-prescribing, 3. patient access, 4. summary of care, 5. request/accept summary of care. Again this is a good area for digital health companies to dive in.
  • The rule is set to be finalized on October 19th.

For the most part, commentators are praising this effort by Medicare. The Quality Payment Program does a nice job of setting up clear objectives for clinicians, with flexible levels of participation and lots of concessions for smaller providers that don't have the infrastructure or resources to facilitate complicated reimbursement activities.

With a new administration coming next year and the inevitable confusion around what will come next, the Quality Payment Program does a nice job of making it much easier for clinicians to embrace those activities that will significantly lower cost and improve quality and ultimately patient health.

Exciting times in healthcare.

Sharing & The Next Generation of Enterprise Software

Salesforce.com runs the CRM system (Customer Relationship Management) for a huge number of companies — at last check more than 150,000. It’s interesting to think of the number of duplicate records that must exist in Salesforce. As an example, there are probably hundreds of vendors that, as we speak, are trying to sell their product into Microsoft. Each of these vendors has a record (or opportunity) titled, “Microsoft” in their instance of Salesforce. In many situations, such as sales to a large software company like Microsoft, this redundancy makes sense. Most of the vendors selling to Microsoft are selling very different products to very different stakeholders within the company. So it's logical to have a different record in Salesforce for each sales opportunity.

But for narrow industries like real estate, this redundancy makes no sense at all. As we speak, there are at least ten brokers trying to rent space on the 11th floor of 600 Park Avenue in New York. If all of these brokers use Salesforce.com as their CRM that means there are ten records for only one sales opportunity. Ten brokers would be entering information on the same opportunity in ten different places. This is silly. But this is the way traditional, silo'ed CRM works.

Real estate brokers would benefit immensely from shared records in Salesforce where they all could view the same profile for the same sales opportunity. The opportunity would include the most up to date information on availability, square footage, price per square foot, etc. This would bring 10x more value to Salesforce's customers.

Now consider what's happening in healthcare. The average Medicare patient sees seven providers per year; if the patient has a chronic condition it can be many more than that. These seven providers don’t work together. They’re employed by different organizations, work in different locations and likely use different medical record software. This means that there are seven separate records in seven different places containing seven separate sets of information for only one patient. This isn't just wasteful, it makes it impossible for providers to work together to optimize patient care.

Real estate, healthcare and many other industries need software that doesn't simply get the same job done seven or ten times across disparate organizations but instead brings all of the stakeholders together to use a single, shared record.

Of course there are a number of challenges associated with building this type of networked software -- not the least of which is getting disparate stakeholders to agree to share important information with one another. But I'd guess that a big segment of the next generation of multi-billion enterprise startups will build software around sharing and networks as opposed to silos and features.

How To Sell An Innovative Product To A Large Enterprise

Selling an innovative product into a large organization is extremely difficult. The average enterprise sale requires sign off from 5.4 individuals. And when selling something that is novel that the buyer hasn't bought before it can be two or three times that number. In addition, there's no set budget or buying process in place for a buyer to buy. As a result, it falls on the seller to create a process for the buyer to purchase the innovation.  I designed the process below to help address this challenge. The idea is to take the buyer through a set of meetings that generates support for the idea and get an gets them comfortable that they're checking all the boxes they need to check to get a contract signed. Enterprise Sales Process

The process requires three meetings (though the second and third meetings could be grouped together for smaller, less complex deals).

  1. The Concept Meeting. This meeting is where the seller introduces the concept, gets support from the buyer that the product solves an important problem and that the seller's product might be a good solution to that problem. The goal for this meeting is to ask for the buyer's permission to start a process around examining the potential ROI of a partnership. If the buyer isn't supportive of the concept, both parties shake hands and part ways.
  2. The Financial Meeting. If the concept meeting is successful, prior to the financial meeting, the seller should ask the buyer to provide them with some financial inputs that will help determine the return on investment that would come from a partnership. The purpose of the financial meeting is to walk through the financial inputs and an ROI model and allow the buyer to poke holes in the model and to get to agreement on what a realistic ROI might be. If the ROI is compelling and the project is worth prioritizing, move to the next meeting. If it's not, shake hands and part ways. The ROI is going to be the thing that drives the rest of the process so it's crucial to have agreement in this area. It's also crucial that, when possible, the seller is using the buyer's own numbers in the model, rather than industry averages. 
  3. The Implementation Meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to determine whether or not it makes sense for the buyer to buy the product now. With a compelling ROI, it will most likely make sense, but there are lots other considerations. Technology resources, leadership changes, budget cycles, competing priorities, etc. The idea is to get the prospect so excited about the importance of the problem and the concept and the ROI that all of these concerns will be overcome. But this meeting should be used to put everything on the table. The meeting should include the appropriate stakeholders from both sides to determine if the project can be implemented and, if it can, what kind of work will need to be done and which resources will be required. A timeline with tasks and assigned owners should also be discussed and (ideally) agreed upon. If successful, the next step is to move to contract and setup a weekly meeting between both organizations to track the deal to contract close and product delivery. If that can't be done, both parties should shake hands and part ways. In this meeting the seller should inventory all of the elements of the customer's procurement process and get all of them down on paper. Those elements should be incorporated into a project management document that will be tracked in the weekly meeting.

One other note: when moving the deal to contract, the seller should setup a short meeting with the attorney on the buyer side. Because the product is innovative, the contract terms may be confusing and non-standard. Walking the attorney through the product and the purpose of the partnership should dramatically reduce back and forth on the contract.

Being disciplined about taking the buyer through these three meetings and understanding exactly what they'll need to do be able to write a check will help sellers accelerate sales cycles and avoid many of the pitfalls that come when selling into a large organization.

So often "selling" innovation is the easy part. The bigger challenge, in many cases, is helping the buyer "buy."

Enterprise Network Effects & User Retention

LinkedIn-Chart A16z had a good podcast the other day talking about startups with network effects and it got me thinking about network effects in enterprise businesses. A product has network effects when the product becomes more valuable as more people use it. Your fax machine was more valuable when more people bought fax machines — you could fax more people. Facebook is more valuable when more of your friends use it -- you can view more photos of your friends.

Businesses with network effects scale exponentially. The reason is that their users effectively become extensions of their sales and marketing team. A Facebook user has an inherent incentive to get other people to use the product. This is a beautiful way to grow and scale a business.

In order to maintain growth, though, these businesses need to ensure that they're retaining the users they acquire -- which is an entirely different challenge. This is relatively easy in B2C because, in theory, the user can be part of the network forever. This is much harder in B2B because users — employees — turnover at the rate of ~20% per year (people get terminated and quit). So in theory, the entire network turns over every five years. And while it's true that often an employee that leaves is replaced by another this kind of churn is not a great way to scale.

That said, some B2B network effect businesses have found ways to retain some users after they change jobs. LinkedIn, Evernote, Wunderlist, Dropbox are a few that come to mind. Not only do these businesses retain their users as they move from job to job, these users also drive new customer acquisition by promoting the product within their new companies (what I refer to as B2E2B). These businesses are seeing network effects drive new users, retention of those users when they move to a new job, and new sales driven by those employees that evangelize the product in their new companies. This how an enterprise business can grow like WhatsApp.

But this isn't easy. Enterprises are concerned about their employees using the same software as they move from company to company -- e.g. they don't want an employee taking their Evernote notes on to their next company. And the product customizations and switching costs may be so high in some cases that the value of the product doesn't translate from one company to another.

The challenges are significant; but the businesses that build an enterprise product with 1.) inherent network effects to drive new users and 2.) the ability for those users to stay engaged with the product as they move from job to job will be the networks that win. 

The Attributes Of A Great Strategic Salesperson

Strategy Defining the attributes to look for in any new hire is really challenging.

People are complex and every situation and every environment is different. So it's extremely difficult to apply a blanket set of attributes that will lead to success in any job.

I’ve found that this is particularly difficult with “strategic sales” roles in a startup. By strategic sales I mean a role where a salesperson is selling a highly innovative product into a large organization that requires a large investment of time and/or money from that organization.

It’s important to define strategic sales because the skill set required to be able to close strategic deals is very different from the skill set required to close smaller, more defined, "transactional" deals. Often, success in transactional selling comes down to simple hard work and effort. If you analyze a transactional sales funnel you'll see that there actually isn’t a huge difference between conversions for high performing salespeople and conversions for low performing salespeople (by conversions I mean things like 'phone call to meeting set' and 'meeting held to verbal commitment'). Success in that world often comes down to volume. More calls = more sales.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with good old-fashioned hard work -- in fact, it's a requirement -- strategic sales is almost exactly the opposite of transactional sales. Conversions really matter and lead qualification is even more crucial because strategic deals require a huge time commitment from the salesperson. And there are massive differences between the conversion rates of high-performing salespeople versus low-performing salespeople. A high-performing strategic salesperson can convert 100% of their meetings into an active sales cycle; a low performing strategic salesperson may convert none. Literally zero. Strategic sales is not a numbers game.

Ben Horowitz likes to say that closing a deal with a large organization is like passing a law in congress. And it’s even harder than that when selling innovation — there's no set process for the buyer to buy within their organization or budget to buy the product. And in a startup, you’re small and nobody knows you and you don’t have a clearly defined sales process and you don't have perfectly polished sales materials. It’s really difficult.

I've thought a lot about the attributes that are most closely correlated with success in strategic sales. I've seen a lot of successful strategic salespeople and a lot of unsuccessful strategic salespeople. It's a problem I've been trying to understand for years.

Recently I’ve spoken to a number of people I trust on this topic and here’s where I think I’ve landed. Here are the four key attributes of a successful strategic salesperson.

Insatiable curiosity

In order to solve a complex problem you need to fully understand it. How does the buyer buy? Who has influence in the organization? What value do customers see in the product? What does the customer do during the day? How is the buyer bonused or promoted? What other options does the buyer have?

I could literally write 100 more questions like this. A strategic salesperson must always be wondering about the answers to these questions. They should constantly be learning from their customers, their leadership, their colleagues, the media, their competitors and anyone else that will talk to them. They need to be obsessing about the problem and trying to build a story and a solution and constantly iterating their approach.

A person that doesn’t have this level of insatiable curiosity simply won’t figure it out. They'll get stuck.

Optimistic grit

I’m fusing two attributes together with this one but I think it’s necessary. Any type of sale will inevitably lead to lots of rejection of the salesperson, the product and the company. This sucks. It’s painful. It’s even worse when selling innovation because there will be prospects that think the idea is crazy and will never work and the buyer has no process or defined way to buy the product. In order to get through this the salesperson must be a winner and must have a winning attitude and know that they can overcome. And they must have the grit and determination to keep getting up after they get knocked down. It may sound cliché but it's true. I've never met a pessimist that was good at strategic sales. There will be an endless number of reasons why it won’t work and the only people I’ve seen that will push through have a high level of optimistic grit.

Extreme humility

I used to joke that there are two types of salespeople:

1.) The type of salesperson that flies home from a bad meeting with a prospect and sits on the plane mentally blaming the product, the marketing team, the legal team, their boss or the prospect that just doesn’t “get it."

2.) The salesperson that sits on the plane thinking: How could I have answered that one question better? What else should I add to the presentation? What should I take out? What’s the context of the person that didn’t like the product? Where are they coming from? Does the product I’m selling threaten some of the people in the room? What went well in that meeting and what didn’t go well in that meeting? Who can help me get better?

The second approach requires an immense, almost unnatural level of humility. It’s human nature to point fingers when things don’t go well. It’s also often perfectly reasonable -- because it might actually may be someone else’s fault! But placing energy into #1 is a losing approach. Obsessing about the things that we can control is the way to win. So much energy can be soaked up by complaining and blaming others. Great strategic salespeople transform the energy that most put into complaining and blaming and point it toward improvement.

Ability to educate and inspire

I’ve written before that people buy with their heart and justify it with their mind. This is why I advocate not showing a lot of numbers in an initial sales presentation — the prospect doesn’t know or trust the salesperson yet and they’re generally not buying for ROI anyway. They’re buying because of the way the product makes them feel.

As a result, when selling innovation it’s crucial that the buyer be on board with the salespersons's mission and buy in to their perspective on both the problem they have and the way that the salespersons's company is going about solving that problem. The sale has to be somewhat fun and interesting and educational and insightful. It can’t be boring. I don’t mean that the salesperson has to personally be super charismatic or an amazing  presenter (though that helps), I mean that they have to be intelligent and interesting and insightful. The buyer has to want to get behind the company and the product -- they have to become a true advocate.

It's a lot of work for a company to buy something. It requires security reviews, legal reviews, budget reviews, consensus building and many other activities. It also creates a lot of risk for the champion. If they're going to go on the line and buy an innovative product they have to be excited and inspired.

Great strategic salespeople continuously inspire, excite and educate their prospects.

Some Thoughts On Non-Competes

It was nice to see the news a few weeks ago that Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo vowed to put new limits on contracts that prevent employees from working for competitors. "Non-competes" that restrict the free movement of talent from one company to another can do real damage to an individual's livelihood and the economy at large. Many people believe that the reason that the explosion of successful tech companies happened in Silicon Valley is because of California's effective ban on employee non-competes. Allowing talent to flow to the best organizations without friction is good for a local economy.

Unfortunately, over the past several months I've seen lots of startups going in the opposite direction by including aggressive non-compete terms in employee agreements.

Many companies take it a step farther and require 'no-poaching' terms in their vendor contracts and even try to collude with other local startups and agree to not steal one another's employees.

I don't think companies fully understand the damage that's being done with these types of arrangements. Let me explain.

Imagine that you're working for a startup in Buffalo, New York (Buffalo actually has a pretty hot startup community by the way). And imagine that there are another 20 tech companies in Buffalo that, at some point, you could go work for -- you have the talent they need and you'd potentially like working for some of these companies. Then imagine that the startup you currently work for requires you to sign a non-compete as part of your employment contract. Then you learn that your company requires all of their vendors and customers and partners to sign an agreement that precludes them from poaching your company's employees.

As your company grows, the number of other companies that can demand your services around your home has dropped from 20 to, say, 12. Suddenly 40% of the companies that would potentially demand your services now can no longer demand your services. So the demand for your services has decreased 40%. You're now 40% less valuable than you used to be.

At a minimum, a company doing this to their employees is unethical. At its worst, it's illegal (Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe recently paid a $415 million fine for colluding on no-poaching efforts to suppress employee wages).

When a company creates an agreement where another company cannot poach its employees, they are artificially reducing the value of those employees and their ability to make a living.

Again, the spirt of this is understandable. Hiring and training employees is expensive and companies want to fight to keep their best people. But addressing employee churn through contracts is a backwards way of handling the problem.

The better (and harder) way of dealing with the problem is to create an environment where good employees feel valued and are being challenged and are working on difficult problems and are developing professionally and personally and are being compensated fairly. Writing contracts to compensate for shortcomings in these areas is cruel and likely very ineffective in the long term. And it's nice to see that the state of Massachusetts is catching on and pushing for legislation that will protect employees and the local economy.

The best way to keep employees loyal is to act in a way that deserves loyalty.

Productivity Hacks

Productivity.png I've added some productivity hacks over the last several months. Here are 5 that have been working well for me lately:

  1. File, Do, Defer. I've started using the "file, do, defer" system. I look at a task (in Wunderlist, a great to-do list manager) or an email in my inbox and decide if it needs action or not.  If it doesn’t need action I either delegate it or file it. If it does need action and takes less than 3 minutes, I do it. If it will take more than 3 minutes I’ll defer to a time when I have more bandwidth and focus. To keep me focused on the 3 minute rule I’ve begun using the Pomodoro app for Mac that tracks the time I spend on a task.  This isn’t to make me rush through the task it’s to make sure I stay focused on it and get it done quickly and don’t get distracted.
  2. Working Offline. I’ve been doing this for years and can’t recommend it enough. I put my email in offline mode, close Slack and focus on initiating rather than responding.
  3. Virtual Assistant. I’ve hired a virtual assistant for personal tasks. There are lots of great services out there but I use FancyHands which has been great. My virtual assistant does everything for me that I don't want to do -- they have have coordinated my move, found me a couch, helped plan a vacation, changed my cable service, researched health insurance plans and booked a New Year's Eve dinner reservation. I’m constantly scanning my to do list and looking for low-value tasks that I can outsource. It's low cost and a massive time saver.
  4. Soylent. I’ve begun drinking Soylent, a meal replacement drink that supposedly contains every nutrient needed by the human body. It’s fantastic. It allows me to have breakfast on the go and sometimes lunch on the go so I can maintain energy with zero time commitment. It’s incredibly helpful on hectic days.
  5. Make projects seem small. We all have those projects or tasks that need to get done but seem hard and time consuming and stressful and keep getting put off. I read about a productivity trick in the book Getting Things Done to help deal with this problem. The trick is that you think about the thing you need to do that you keep putting off and on the bottom of a piece of paper you write down the outcome that you want with regard to the project  -- e.g. what is success? Then break it up until small tasks and write those as a list on the rest of the page. Going through the process of breaking the project into small tasks makes it seem so much easier and actually gets you somewhat excited to go do it.

Hope some of these are helpful.

5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Joining A Startup

Startup I had a good conversation the other day with a former colleague who’s considering making a move to very early-stage startup. I shared with him the list of questions I ask myself before I make a commitment to working with a startup and thought I’d share them here as well.

A quick disclaimer: startups are inherently risky and these five questions aren’t designed to help you avoid a high level of risk. That’s not the point. These questions are designed to help ensure that you understand the risk and make you a bit more comfortable that you’re making a good decision.

Here they are:

  1. Do you have confidence in the people, particularly the leadership team? There’s a great quote from Peter Drucker that I can’t seem to find where he points out that, when a company finally succeeds, more often than not, it will find that it will end up selling a different product at a different price to a totally different set of customers than it initially had planned. The point is that the startup doesn’t have to have the perfect idea or the perfect product to be successful. What they have now probably isn’t right. And that’s ok. What’s important is that you’re working with an ultra-talented team that can iterate and execute like crazy. I’ve written before that the most critical traits for people working in startups are grit, humility, curiosity and adaptability. If you find that the team you’re working with has these traits you’re off to a good start.
  2. Has the founder(s) earned the right to know a secret? If what this startup is doing is so valuable, why isn’t someone else doing it? More often than not the reason is that the founder knows something that other people don’t. Or at least knows how to execute in a way that others don’t. It’s important to be able to understand the secret that the startup knows and to understand why they know it and others don't.
  3. Can the investors/board articulate how the business could be massive and why it’s defensible? Prior to making a jump, when possible, it’s important to talk with some of the investors and board members. This is a good way to test their engagement and confidence in the company and alignment with leadership. Really push them on why they invested. Ask them what they think the core of the business will be and what they think will come after the core. If they can’t confidently articulate this in a way that makes sense it’s a clear red flag.
  4. Can you see yourself being truly passionate about the work you'll be doing? Startups are tough. You’re fighting an uphill battle most of the time and there are lots of highs and even more lows (at least at the beginning). If it's easy then it's not valuable. I’ve found that dealing with the pain of working at a startup is a lot easier when I truly believe and care about the mission of the company. If you don't care about the impact you'll have beyond your own personal benefit then you'll find that the tough days are a lot tougher.
  5. What are 3 reasons it could fail? Again, most startups are long shots. And it’s important to be humble enough to know that you can fail. If you can’t articulate 3 reasons that it could fail, then you either don’t understand the business well enough or you aren’t taking the risk very seriously. Do your diligence such that you understand as many risks as possible and the reasons it might not work out. If after truly understanding the risks and potential pitfalls ahead you really feel like you still want to make the move then you've probably found a good fit.

The Convergence Of Private & Public Valuations Is Good For Employees 

There’s been a lot of talk in the tech blogosphere over the last couple of weeks about the convergence of private and public valuations. One of the things that hasn’t been talked about all that much is how important this convergence is for employees at early-stage companies. I was talking to a founder recently and he was telling me that he really struggles with the tradeoff between the importance of showing the world that his company has a unicorn-like valuation versus the importance of keeping his valuation low so that new employees can see lots of value in a follow-on round or an IPO.

On one hand, being a unicorn gets you lots of good press and attention and is for good sales and good for recruiting. On the other hand, a huge valuation makes it hard to deliver value to employees in the form of stock options — if you’re already a unicorn, it’s likely that future employees have missed the big uptick and equity becomes a lot less valuable from a compensation perspective. When you have a potential bubble in the private market and normalcy in the public market, lots of employees are going to find their options are deep underwater. Castlight Health learned this the hard way following their IPO last year (see image below).

Castlight IPOBecause of the emergence of crowdfunding, angel syndicates, private exchanges, and a lower regulatory bar to invest in early-stage startups, it’s likely that we’ll start to see much more consistency between private valuations and subsequent public valuations. Also, don’t underestimate tools like eShares that help founders manage complex cap tables. I can vividly remember being at a startup where we didn’t want to give out stock options to consultants for no other reason than it would’ve added too much complexity to our cap table. It's a lot easier for a private company to manage thousands of investors than it used to be.

A founder’s desire to push for a massive valuation is perfectly understandable. It creates a buzz that helps recruit employees and close big deals. But when founders push too hard for a private valuation that won't hold up when employees find liquidity, it's bad for the team that built the company in the early years. It's great to see private and public valuations beginning to converge.

Managing The Enterprise Deal (Panel Notes)

Enterpise Sales MeetupEarlier this year I participated in a panel for the NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup. The topic of the panel was Managing the Enterprise Deal. It was a great discussion and I thank Mike and Mark for inviting me to participate. Prior to the panel, the moderator provided us with a list of questions that we should be prepared for. In preparation for the discussion I wrote down some rough answers to each of the questions and I thought I'd post my notes here. It's great to see that Enterprise Sales Meetup has expanded to other cities over the last few months. I highly recommend attending one if they're in your area.

Questions:

How many deals do you think a high level business to business professional can manage?

This depends on the salesperson's goal and the average deal size. Generally, salespeople should have a pipeline that is 3x their goal. So if your goal is $1MM and your average deal size is $250k, then you need to be working 12 deals.

What are the best tactics you find to manage a pipeline effectively?

To me it comes down to good stages and good tipping points. I recommend using 4 or 5 stages of a deal, and then for each stage assign actions or things you need to get done before you can move them to the next stage (tipping points). This ensures that there's consistency across deals and ensures the salesperson isn't kidding themselves when they say they have 3 deals 'in contract'. The stages I use are generally something like, Lead, Decision Maker Engaged, Project Design, In Contract, Closed Won. The tipping points for each stage depend on what you're selling, but it could be things like contract sent, legal work completed, technical review completed, etc.

Do you believe in mapping out a process for your company to manage deals?

Absolutely. You need consistency across stages and tipping points. And you need a funnel so you can determine where you're getting stuck.

How do you qualify deals?

Typically I would come up with 3 or 4 elements that I'm looking for from a prospect. Size, revenue, technical setup, management structure, etc. Over time you can iterate on these as you discover what makes a good prospect that leads to good revenue.

How do you find your deal sponsor?

You have to nail down the one or two business metrics that your product impacts and then find the people who are responsible for those metrics.  If X metric goes up at the company you're selling to, who is going to get a bonus at that company? That's the person that should drive the deal for you.

Who else do you need besides a sponsor, what other personas do you see?

Project Managers. You want to push for a strong Project Manager that is totally sold on your product and can get it launched and can help you get the deal done. After the executives are sold, so much of enterprise sales is about simple project management and driving the deal through the prospect's buying process. It's really hard for big company's to buy things. You need a partner at the company that can help you get it done.

How do you build a relationship with your sponsor?

One thing is frequency of communication. I always try to set up a weekly check-in. Those consistent check-ins force you to get to know one another. The other thing is I try to make their job really easy. Keep communications really short and simple and show them how to buy your product. Map out their own buying process and track them on it.

How do you determine the buying cycle and process?

You try to identify trends across organizations on how they buy. Who needs to be involved? Who needs to approve? What kinds of meetings need to happen to get to that approval? And then you start to map out the ideal buying process that works for you. If you don't have one, make one up based on what you do know. And map to that.

How do you map out the decision-making team?

Again, another useful way of mapping out a decision-making team is to show one from another client and get them to react to it. Make sure you show legal, technical, compliance, procurement, business people, etc. so nothing gets missed.

How prevalent do you think consensus decision-making is?

It's huge. I've never seen a large company buy without consensus. You have to tell everyone that is involved in the decision-making process your story. Everyone has to support the concept.

How do you use or overcome the startup stigma?

Use it as an advantage. By definition you're disrupting the old way of doing things.. You're doing something much bigger. Inspire them. I find most people want to get better and recognize that the status quo isn't working. Tap into that. Challenge them. The way they are doing things now is not acceptable anymore. Get them to see that and get them on your side. The size and stage of your company is irrelevant compared to the problem you're solving.

How do you establish an ROI, is it even that important?

It's important, but it's often not as important as you think. I think most businesses buy primarily for emotional reasons, rather than rational reasons (prospects buy with their heart and justify it with their mind). So when you come up with your story, it's important that you focus on how your story makes people feel. Most buyers aren't going to believe your ROI anyway.  It's about emotion. And most big companies aren't as metrics driven as salespeople would like them to be. Your focus should be on getting the team you're selling to a bonus at the end of the year. And you need to understand what are the levers that will drive that bonus.

If you have a brand new offering how do you overcome the need for an ROI? 

The easy answer is a pilot. But the bigger answer is that you have to sell them on your vision and the thing you're trying to disrupt. They have to believe in you, in your company, in your priorities and in your team. That's the hard part. Then you can provide them with a rough ROI that gets them comfortable they're going to make their money back. Use the "what you would have to believe" approach where they only have to believe that you will move the numbers a small amount and they'll still make their money back. Be conservative.

How do you add value in your interactions dealing with other executives?

I like to use what I refer to as "insight selling". Be interesting. Your pitch should be exciting and provocative and short. Like Peter Thiel says, "say things that others aren't". Be exciting. But also use the approach of not "always be closing" but "always be leaving". Have one foot out the door. Look to disqualify opportunities. The prospect is looking to disqualify you and you should do the same thing. You're both trying to figure out if there's an opportunity to help one another. You're total equals in that sense. Act like it. Also, I try to drip prospects quarterly with tidbits of information that might be interesting to them with absolutely no ask.  You're not allowed to ask for something in these drips.  It could be an article, an insight you picked up from another prospect, etc. Stay on the radar but do not ask for anything. You need to preserve that level of trust and the power dynamic you've built.

A List Of Health Tech Startups

For a while now I've been keeping a running list of the health technology startups I come across sorted by the category they compete in. There are about 100 companies on the list.  I've moved the list over to an open Hackpad that you can find here. Hopefully this list will help people better understand what's happening in the industry, research competitors and even discover new investment and job opportunities.

I've left the Hackpad open so that anyone can add a company or category. Please add any that I've missed (I'm sure there are a lot).

As we move to the "Post-EHR" world where innovation is led by patient and provider needs as opposed to government mandates, I'm sure we'll see even more startups and categories emerge -- so I expect this list to get a lot longer.

Some Summer Reading - 2015

As this amazing summer comes to an end, I thought I'd capture some quick thoughts on some of the books I read over the past few months. I tried to read more history books than business books this year and I found a couple pretty good ones. The list is in no particular order and you can find last summer's post here.

wright kindle

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.

A phenomenal book about two of America's most accomplished entrepreneurs. It was incredibly eye-opening to read how hard it was for them to build their product and, once they had a successful prototype, how hard it was to actually sell it. It's not clear which part was more difficult. Like most radical innovations, the masses thought their ideas were crazy. Their first planes were sold to clients in Europe because they couldn't find any buyers in the U.S. that were interested in the product. I'm a big fan of McCullough and this is one of his best.

four hour work work

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris.

I'm surprised it took me so long to get around to reading this one. This book is full of productivity tips and a really compelling perspective on how to get more from your energy. From only checking your email to once a day to outsourcing most of your personal life, a lot of the tactics he uses aren't for everyone. But his perspective is great and there are a few good tips in here that will work for everyone.

king of cap

King of Capital by John E. Morris.

This is the biography of Stephen Schwarzman, the founder of the Blackstone Group -- the massive private equity group. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The private equity business has always fascinated me and this is a deep dive into how it works and how the best of the best were able to sell it as an asset class. Buying a public company by borrowing money where the only collateral on the loan is the company that's being bought is mind-boggling to me. And this is great deep dive into the personalities of the founders and early employees that gives great insight on how they got these deals done. A great read for deal makers.

money

Money Master the Game by Tony Robbins.

A colleague recommended this book to me and, given all that has been written about personal finance, I was shocked that I found this book so informative. Lots of solid and practical advice. Robbins spends a ton of time on mutual fund management fees and makes the case that everyone needs to immediately check the management fees that they're paying on their retirement accounts. He points out that they're a total waste of money because less than 1% of managed mutual funds will beat the S&P over a 10 year period. You must move your retirement to an index fund with lower management fees. Over time, these fees will have a compounding negative impact on our portfolio and can cost you literally millions of dollars. Most of us know a lot of the stuff in here but definitely worth reading if you need to brush up on personal finance.

johnstown real

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough. This book details the tragedy that occurred after a dam that was holding water in a lake at the top of a small mountain broke and poured water into the small valley town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The water that poured into the small valley was the equivalent of the amount of water that flows down Niagra Falls for 36 minutes. An incredible tragedy. The writing is great but the story drags a bit and I wish he gave a bit more perspective on the larger impact of the flood.

dead wake

Dead Wake by Erik Larson.

Dead Wake is the story of the Lusitiania, the sister ship to the Titanic that was sunk by a torpedo fired by a German submarine as it traveled from New York to England. Many believe that this was the key event that brought the United States into World War I. This was hands down the best book I read this summer. It gives incredible detail on some of the individuals involved, including American, German and English political leadership and the captains of both the Lusitania and the submarine that fired the torpedo. It also gives great historical context on what was happening around the world at the time. Like most great non-fiction, this one feels like you're reading fiction for most of the time. Highly recommended.

ready aim kindle

Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson. This is a book written by a self-made billionaire that details some of the basic lessons needed to build or grow a business. His message is basically that sales and marketing are the only things that matter at the beginning and gives tips on how to get started. There isn't a ton in here that's terribly new but for entrepreneurs or business-people that aren't used to engaging in sales and marketing activities it might be worth skimming.

The Next Big Thing In Healthcare Technology Will Start Out Looking Really Small

Fred Wilson had a great post last week titled, Bootstrap Your Network With A High Value Use Case. He points out how Waze's initial value proposition was to help drivers that like to speed identify speed traps. But it of course quickly expanded way beyond that and now provides lots more value to lots more drivers. It has become mainstream. Same thing with Snapchat -- it started out as a "sexting" app and has now expanded to more applications and is used by the mainstream. This is sometimes called the "bowling ball strategy" in new product development where you focus on knocking down the first pin by being very focused on one segment and one application and then you gradually knock down more pins (segments & applications) over time until your product works for the mainstream. The idea is to find a narrow niche that loves what you're doing, refine the product and expand from there.

Related to healthcare, this blog has talked a lot about centralizing patient data with the patient, as opposed to multiple medical records across multiple healthcare providers. Most would agree we need to get to this place but the path to getting there isn't terribly clear. Patients aren't clamoring for it yet and there will likely be some resistance from software vendors and healthcare providers as it flies in the face of the strategy of owning the data and, by extension, the patient.

My guess is the way that we're going to get there is similar to the way that Waze built a massive maps business and Snapchat built a massive photo sharing business -- it's going to start with a small niche.

I can see an application that has built a network of highly engaged users with a very specific and highly sensitive medical condition that shares important clinical information back and forth between provider and patient becoming the starting point for consumer-driven patient data. Big software vendors will likely ignore this application because it impacts a small niche and the patients will be highly engaged because their affliction is such an important part of their lives. Once the product is refined it can be extended to other patient segments with other medical conditions and it'll grow from there.

As Chris Dixon likes to say, "the next big thing will start out looking like a toy".

In this case, the next big thing in healthcare technology will start out looking really small: a simple tool that serves a very small, but highly engaged set of patients.

How Much Should A Startup Charge Its Early Customers?

Last week I had a conversation with a founder about how much they should charge their first few customers. Cost plus a fee? Slightly below the incumbent? The same as the incumbent? Some fraction of the estimated ROI? My answer to this question is pretty simple: charge as much as you can get, charge whatever the market will bear.

At an early stage, a founder's time and focus is the firm's number one asset. Any compromises made in getting less than the absolute maximum amount that a client will pay creates an unrecoverable opportunity cost. Early-stage companies can't afford to not charge what the market will bear.

Pushing for the max more has other benefits. It helps to determine the product's real worth and the real challenges the client is having in buying the product. When pricing makes buying too easy you don't get a good sense of the challenges you'll encounter down the road, you don't get the real story. It also generates a level of respect from the client (we've all heard the stories of people appreciating things more because they cost more regardless of the true value).

Finally, often a startup's instinct will be to charge less because it'll move the deal along faster. This is a myth. The opposite is true. The larger the deal the more attention it will get, the more senior people will need to be involved and it'll move faster as a result.

This post isn't meant to say that you shouldn't negotiate, do a pilot and be flexible where and when it makes sense. You should do all of that. But in lieu of a defined market price, charge a simple one -- the absolute most that you can get.

The Interface Layer & The New Economy

I've been thinking a lot about this notion of the "interface layer" in web services and how it's changing the economy and the way money flows. The concept of the "interface layer" is pretty simple. It says that the old economy was about building tangible infrastructure -- cars, buildings, stores, etc. And the new economy is about building really slick and beautiful and easy to use web services (interfaces) on top of that infrastructure;AirBnB for lodging, Uber for ride sharing, OpenTable for restaurants, Expedia for planes, etc. These companies don't own buildings, cars, restaurants or planes, but they make a lot of money by allowing consumers to easily access these things. It's no longer about building infrastructure, it's now about building beautiful, slick, mobile, easy to use 'layers'.

One of the big complaints about these layers (or interfaces) is that many believe that they commodotize the underlying asset. Uber users don't really care which cab company the driver is a part of, they just want the cheapest ride that gets them from point A to point B. This detachment from the brand drives down the cost of the ride and drives down the income that goes to the driver. Uber is commodotizing drivers. And drivers need to think really hard about how they're going to separate themselves from the pack if they want to continue to charge a premium.

Uber's layer is winning the taxi space.

But with the increasing use of mobile and the decreasing use of the desktop web, mobile is quickly becoming a platform on its own. And soon, instead of Uber being the 'commoditizer', Apple's iPhone or Google's Android could easily commodotize Uber.

Let me explain. Today, if I want a ride somewhere I go to Uber or Lyft or Sidecar or some other app to book a ride. This is a bit clunky in that it's hard to know which of the services has the best option for me based on the time of day and where I want to go.  I have to download all of the ride sharing apps and scroll through them to find the best deal.

Of course I'm not the only one that's annoyed by this. Very soon (if not already) we can expect that there will be services that will aggregate all of the top ride sharing apps into one so I can pick the best option for me (just like Kayak does for plane tickets).

This would be really bad for Uber. Now they're the one getting commoditized. 

But when mobile is a platform, it gets much worse.

Apple and Google could easily add their own layer on top of these aggregation layers. At some point soon, instead of going to the Uber or Lyft app, I could just open up Siri and say, "give me a ride to SoHo". And Apple will scan all of the ride sharing apps or ride sharing aggregators (even if I haven't downloaded them from the App Store) and deliver the best result. This is absolutely what Siri wants to become -- the entry point to the web.

In an extreme example, I could tell Siri, "take me to my friend's apartment and let's stop somewhere to pick up a bottle of wine that pairs well with Italian food." Siri then decides which ride sharing app, which business directory app, and which wine app to use to bring me the best experience.

Apple could easily cut a deal with a ride sharing aggregator, Yelp and HelloVino (a wine discovery app) and take a fee from each of them. In this case, not only is the Uber driver getting commodotized, so is Uber and so is the ride sharing aggregator.

This is an important issue for any web based service to think about. The new economy might be less about the battle for the most beautiful interface and more about the service that can get closest to the user. And it's beginning to look like platforms rather than interfaces might win the war.

How Mobile Is Impacting Facebook & Healthcare Strategy

Many people used to believe that Facebook was an extremely defensible business and that it would be almost impossible for another social network to compete. It has grown to an enormous scale with massive troves of data and more than 1.5 billion monthly users. The thinking around their defensibility was that because all of your friends and photos and updates are already stored on Facebook, it would be tedious and unnecessary to switch to another social network. Everything you need is there. Why go somewhere else?

Facebook did have quite a bit of defensibility back when the predominant access point to the service was the desktop web. Moving your data to a new social network was painful and impractical. But now that the main access point to social is our mobile phone (more than half of Facebook’s traffic comes through mobile) things have changed dramatically.

We now carry around all of the key elements of a social network on our cell phones. Our phones carry our location, our photos and our address book and allow us to message anyone at no cost from anywhere in the world. With the click of the touchscreen we can view and connect with all of our friends on a new social network and instantly recreate our social graph. We can take a photo and instantly send it to a multiple social networks. We can easily join different social networks with different groups of friends focused around different needs. The friction of leaving Facebook and joining a new network has disappeared. This wasn’t possible with the desktop web, or it was at least much more difficult.

As a result of the increasing use of mobile, we’ve seen lots of new social networks emerge (there are now dozens of social networking apps with 1 million+ downloads in Apple’s app store, including Kik, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat and many others).

This increased use of mobile has reduced the friction of launching a new social network to near zero and as a result has shifted ownership of data away from the network and back to the individual. Trying to own the data and lock-in the consumer is no longer a viable strategy.

Facebook is well aware of this and has adjusted by rapidly buying up many of these new networks. We’ll likely see more acquisitions like these in the months to come.

_____________________________

Over the last several years, large healthcare provider organizations and healthcare software vendors have been employing a similar strategy to that of Facebook. Health systems have been growing by buying up ambulatory, community-based sites and employing doctors to build out giant systems that can offer clinical services across the entire continuum of care giving the patient no reason to go anywhere else. In parallel, providers and software vendors have been creating a single patient record (including blood tests, physician notes, imaging and other data) that flows across the entire provider organization and can be easily shared with providers across the system. This avoids all of the classic frustration associated with having to fax your x-rays from one provider to another. Everything exists on the web in one single record. Providers then roll out a patient-facing portal that lays across the patient record where the patient can access all of their data (mostly through the desktop web).

The strategy is simple. Providers are telling the patient to 1.) stay with us because we do everything and you don’t need to go anywhere else and 2.) you can’t go anywhere else because we have all of your data.

But as we saw with Facebook, now that a consumer’s primary entry point to the web is their mobile phone, this strategy has some flaws.

Not only do our phones enable messaging and carry our location and address book and photos, they can also carry data on our movement, our sleep, our heart-rate, the prescriptions we’re taking, our body temperature and, with the use of implanted devices, much, much more. This real-time data that we carry on our phones is arguably more valuable than the data stored in our clinician’s patient record that only gets refreshed while we’re sitting in the examination room.

Increasingly, providers will own some patient data but the patient will own more data and better data.

Like Facebook, healthcare providers are trying lock in their customer by owning the data. But the increasing use of mobile has changed the game. Just like social network users can effortlessly syndicate their own data out to multiple social networks, a patient will be able to syndicate their real-time clinically relevant data out to multiple providers, regardless of which system they’re associated with.

Mobile has put patients in the driver’s seat.

Meanwhile, with the emergence of home care and tele-health and urgent care clinics and apps and implants that manage more serious and chronic conditions, in many ways healthcare has actually become more fragmented. The traditional providers may be consolidating, but new players are creating new channels for care and causing more fragmentation across the industry. Where and when and how care is delivered is being completely reshaped.

But unlike Facebook, large healthcare providers can’t buy their way out of this conundrum. First, because they don’t have enough cash (most are non-profits with microscopic profit margins) and second because healthcare is local. Health systems are no longer just competing with the hospital across the street, they’re competing with web services that are available to the global market.

As a result, large provider organizations are going to have to consider new ways of providing value and will have to select which segments of patients they want to serve.

In short, they can’t own the patient because they can’t own the data.

The idea of locking the patient into one network of providers was always a bit flimsy. But the strategy was somewhat understandable. A lot of this was driven by the trend towards value-based payments and the convenience of 'owning' a patient under that model.

But the lessons of Facebook are clear. Locking up the data is not a path to success.

Social networks and healthcare providers must focus on what they do best and focus on serving the consumer they want to serve and abandon their attempts to win by owning data that isn't theirs to own.