Could you name that one all-important thing that makes your relationship with your customers successful? Rahul Maniktala, Microsoft’s Strategic Account Director of Semi/Hi-Tech Manufacturing, can: As he tells our Market Dominance Guys, Chris Beall and Corey Frank, that all-important thing is “doing the day-to-day right.” Why? Because it daily reinforces the trust your customers feel for you and your company, which incrementally builds the credibility of your services and products. And with that credibility in place, you have a decent shot at an agreement with your customer when you propose bigger, more important initiatives. Take a listen to more insights shared by Rahul, who has been a Microsoft employee for eight years, as he explains the culture of collaboration at his company, whether he stands with human intelligence predictions or artificial intelligence predictions, and what job he wanted to do when he was a 10-year-old, on today’s Market Dominance Guys’ episode, “Doing the Day-to-Day Right.”
Listen to the first half of this two-part interview:
Rahul Maniktala is a technology executive, a sales engineer, and currently Microsoft’s Strategic Account Director of Semi/Hi-Tech Manufacturing.
Here is the full transcript from this episode:
Christopher Beall (01:31):
So there's a big difference in the world of just regular old sales market dominance kind of stuff. People care a lot about forecasts. I don't care that much about forecasts because I think you handle those with a portfolio and you just don't worry about it. Have a bigger portfolio, the individual deal is not that big of a deal. It happens or it doesn't. Who knows? The world's full of all sorts of crazy stuff, right?
But it sounds like forecasting of a kind - prediction is a real key for you. And so when people talk about like, you've got to know what's going to happen next. You have to have that conviction, right? That I know what's going to happen next. I don't have to keep second-guessing myself and acting crazy about it. Maybe every once in a while, there's this surprise, but pretty much if I've done my job right, it kind of plays out.
So here we live in a world where everything that has the word "prediction" associated with it is now associated with AI, right? So if there's a prediction, somebody is going to tell you there's some ML that can do the prediction better than us human beings. So here you are, somebody who handles relationships, there's a political element to it, there are the rules of engagement, and then there are these predictions. Do you think an AI is ever going to come in and help with those predictions, replace your right arm or a lobe of your brain or something like that? You guys at Microsoft got no shortage of AI, right? You got AI everywhere. Do you actually use AI kind of predictive capabilities in the job itself, or is that more in the bucket of things that you offer to your customer that they can use in their business, and Microsoft can use it elsewhere in the business, but they're not using it as a prosthesis or anything else for Rahul?
Rahul Maniktala (03:20):
We do both.
Christopher Beall (03:21):
Oh, now he's talking.
Rahul Maniktala (03:24):
The technology, and we rely on every human being for their own AI. So the technology AI gives a certain thing with some amount of predictability, but then our own AI, which is bent on those connections and rules of engagement helps us with how we engage. And some people do it more. Some people do less. I have a little line there.
Sometimes folks on the team would say that you come up with all these conspiracy theories and generally I would say, generally, those conspiracy theories are true. They come true with that element of AI. What we do, we do internally. There is a lot of in the last three, four years, we have seen those items helping us with the business as such.
Christopher Beall (04:10):
I can tell Corey has a thought, Corey is thinking. This Rahul, is he a bot? Maybe he's actually a bot.
Corey Frank (04:18):
He is right because I'm going to say that I'm a part AI. Then I've never considered myself. Certain my wife doesn't think I'm part AI. Something else starts with an eight 50. If we take Rahul out of Microsoft you become the fourth market dominance guy, right? It's like the Musketeers we have Henry, he's obligated for the third spot.
And then Rahul, let's say you become an investor, private equity investor, or venture investor. And you were to give advice to organizations that are in that 10 to $50 million range about market dominance, knowing what you've learned and gleaned certainly from the Cisco days and the latter Microsoft years of working with, as you said, the 65 clients now to just one, I imagined the speed that you see in a large organization like that, managing one client, everything slows down like the matrix to you, probably to a smaller organization that you see things that maybe I wouldn't see for quite a few cycles.
When you do that, when you have other buddies or colleagues say, "Hey, Rahul, would you take a look at my business and see where maybe it's wrong or a little off", what are some of the common speed bumps that you see to dominate a market that you know so well right now? It is like plain vanilla, straight down the middle; it's like stomping beer cans. It is so written to you in so many ways, but yet I miss.
Rahul Maniktala (05:46):
I think what I have come to realize going from a large customer base to a single customer, it's how well you can define the processes. How well you can measure the OKRs for example, right? And that's where the operational efficiencies are derived from. Now, there will be challenges obviously, large companies have their own challenges where the spark that you mentioned, 10 to 15 million, how much ever you can processize and get the execution out of those processes is the key to success. I've seen here in the Silicon Valley. I've seen a lot of companies do that, right? That they will, when they get on their growth trajectory, they're optimizing that piece of the business, highly optimizing that.
Christopher Beall (06:36):
And why is that? Is it that the processization frees up cycles to do things that are surprising value at the margin, or allow you to exercise insights you wouldn't have the time even to have? What is it that the processization does other than the obvious, which is keeps your overhead under control and allows you to go faster or more reliably with the same resource space?
Rahul Maniktala (06:56):
You're reducing the room for errors. That's it.
Corey Frank (06:59):
There was a video I shared with the team last week to this point, Rahul and Chris. It was with Elon Musk, and maybe you saw it. He was on the ground at the launch site with Space X. And he's asked a question about design versus manufacturing, or process versus the creative. And he had said the "simplified and multiply" is one of his axioms that he's always done. But he had said that most people think the creative, right? The frenetic flailing of arms. And let's just put a bunch of stuff on the wall and let's just see what works. That testing, that's the tough part. And the manufacturing is the easier part.
And he said it's actually just the opposite. And he said, it's so low. The creative side is so low on a mathematical stale, that really it's zero. In that it doesn't matter if you can come up with this incredible Saturn 5+ type engine, if you can't manufacture it at scale and build the machines, et cetera, to do it. And it sounds like that's what you're saying is that if I'm a 10 to $50 million organization, one of the things that I shouldn't neglect is the iron clad processes in order to build those, more so than anything else at that stage, otherwise it's not going to handle my scale.
Rahul Maniktala (08:22):
Introducing editing is one thing, but the operational efficiency is another. You want to get that and you want to get there quickly.
Corey Frank (08:29):
Christopher Beall (08:30):
Well, I got to stop doing these podcasts and go back and work on my operational efficiencies dammit, but not right now. Right now I'm going to be creative. I'm going to have to set it on my calendar.
Rahul Maniktala (08:43):
You've created a process out of this Chris. Isn't that true?
Christopher Beall (08:47):
It's true. It's true. Actually, we accidentally created a process out of this, and we've gotten to a hundred episodes without Corey and I doing anything but what you see. Everything else is processized to the max. And thank you so much for those of you who make that happen. I really appreciate it. That's actually true. I'm kind of a process freak myself. It's kind of funny though. Cause I found many times with startups that people from larger companies will come into startups and they have zero experience with creating traction. So I don't really look at it as creative versus process. I look at it as traction leading to scale, and they want to jump to scale before they have any traction. So they've been over and over in their lives in situations where somebody else got the traction, somebody else made that product stick in the marketplace. Somebody else took that idea and determined by making it and selling it enough and changing it.
You know that they had Excel instead of Clippy, right? I mean, without that distinction being made, you can't do it a great deal on the processizing the... My mother said it well, "if something's not worth doing, it's not worth doing well." Right? And so I always took that to heart. But telling if something is worth doing or not worth doing is in the eyes of a customer, and the customer is going to make demands on you early that are peculiar to the situation, not to their problem. That is, it's one of those you are the observer in the middle of the experiment, messing around with it, by making the offer and trying to turn it into value for the customer. And you don't really know how much is you and how much is the product, and you know, trying to figure this stuff out.
So I've found often that folks will go, "you know, we've got to design for scale," and I've always said to them, "look, first, we've got to get enough traction that we can learn from our mistakes" because early on the errors are worth a lot. And later the persistence of the errors is a huge problem. And the trick to the whole thing is knowing when to go from one to the other, because you got to love the errors early and have your ears open for them in your mind open for them always. But then you got to see if you can design them out and design them away and make them go away by design not by effort. I don't know if that - you know, that must apply though. Rahul when you came into this particular job with this big, big customer, you can't have done everything right.
You must've screwed up in some ways. And there has to be that occasional evening where you just, you said to Pooja "my God, I just did something so dumb today that I don't know if I'm going to recover from it. I at least feel pretty bad about it. And I'm going to have to do something tomorrow, figure out something in order to fix it up." I'm not going to ask what that dumb thing was, or even if it was there, but what is the dumbest thing you could do? What is the category of idiocy that you could really fill nicely early on in a job like this, where you have a big portfolio and no intimacy yet? You're building the intimacy. That's like the attraction is the intimacy or vice versa.
Rahul Maniktala (12:09):
So there were many such evenings, Chris. Let me tell you that. But I think there were a few times where not having the intimacy and making certain moves and we hadn't made a lot of progress, right? So there were some internal things and there were external things, but at times I had some things more detrimental. When we could, given the complexity and given the engagement from a functional standpoint and the relationship from a B2B standpoint were all at stake.
So yeah, I do some things like emailing one of the executives really, really high up in the organization, which I shouldn't have done. And it cost me be quite a bit; but those first 18, 19 months were fun because you've got nothing to lose. We literally did not have anything to lose, but I would go back to the point you made earlier about production without traction and scale. I think the point about, when you get to that 10 million mark or 20 million mark, you have established enough traction in the marketplace. And that's when you started thinking about, "Hey, how do I scale this out? How do I processize this so I can get the efficiencies that I want." So you are absolutely right, that initial traction, trust, is very much needed before you can really talk about process or scaling.
Corey Frank (13:44):
Well I would imagine that's where your personality with sincerity, as we started this conversation out with. If you lack a semblance of EQ, emotional intelligence here, when you hit that turbulence, you can depend on the math to kind of guide you in an engineering process and a project management process. But when you're dealing with the people behind the processes, that's quite challenging. Then Chris, you certainly have some experience with that, with the flight school and dealing with turbulence. And how do you take something like that? And I think certainly that last element of the flight school certainly applies in Rahul's world, too.
Christopher Beall (14:59):
Yeah, that is interesting. I hadn't really thought of that, but it's funny. Cause we've processized something nobody had ever processized before, which is turning a regular person into a master cold caller and doing it while they make money instead of having to spend money doing it. And that the key, by the way, we made an adjustment, we moved the turbulence segment of flight school, which used to be the last two hours. We moved it into the third slot. So there's four, two hour slots: live calling, live talking to people, getting coached on the first seven seconds of the conversation for two hours, very precise. It's schematized, which I think is a key to design is you have to have a schema, and you have to have a private language of what goes in different places. All good designs talk about things that nothing else talks about in a way that nobody else could understand.
And that turbulence part was the most interesting part because we realized we had it too late. That is, the student was already experiencing the need to respond to objections. And by putting that off one more lesson, they didn't do very well in what would have been the third lesson, because they're so freaked out by the turbulence. So we had to actually process that took into account how human beings develop emotionally as they learn to do difficult things; that became part of it. This stuff is everywhere in my opinion. There's always design. That one, by the way, what happened is Donnie Crawford called me up, our flight school instructor has been a guest on our show, and he said, "Chris, I'm thinking of changing something." I said, "what's that?" And he explained why he wanted to move lesson four into lesson three, session four into session three, and kind of hesitant because I had designed it.
And that's actually, to me, the most interesting thing: when process and politics get close to each other, they tend to repel each other instead of accepting each other. Now I'll give an example, or a kind of example, right? I think everybody on the show by now believes that the theory of constraints make some sense. There is only one bottleneck: go find it, characterize it, understand its investability, know its throughput, know its cycle time, and know its quality. And then do the investment in a limited way to see whether the throughput actually increases while keeping quality constant or making it better. That's kind of like how you manage according to the theory of constraints. Nobody does it because the politics, and the politics is it says that only one part of the company is worth optimizing right now. So everybody else feels bad.
It's like, "I'm not important. Why aren't we optimizing my part?" Right? So there's a political pressure to optimize what is counterproductive to optimize. And I'm sure you must run into this all the time. Or a hole where there's folks who want attention. So you're looking at it. You look at through your client's eyes and go, "If there was just one thing, they could do it." So that's it, and we can help them do that and make all the difference. And over here is Mr. Squawky or Ms. Squawky going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But what about me? What about me?" And you've got to figure out how to handle that, so that the big thing happens, and "what about me?" doesn't turn into a roadblock. I can tell you're smiling. You must run into this on occasion.
Rahul Maniktala (18:15):
That's the story of my life. It's the reality, and it's the perceived reality, right? That's where I lived. The examples that I did not get into that much detail. There have been few successes on the big items when we have been able to align on those kinds of initiatives where you can really come in and make an impact, but then there is always this day-to-day. And we have to make it off the day-to-day. There's no way we can back out of that. And I'll also add this: that doing the day-to-day right, or going back to my rules of engagement, is what helps us build that incremental credibility and furthers the trust with the customer. So when it's all done and we ask for bigger initiatives or engagement on bigger, important priorities, we have a decent shot in that.
Christopher Beall (19:16):
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So I'm going to jump to a completely different timeframe. So you're 10 years old. You're looking at your life, you're looking at the future. By the time you're 10, you got a pretty good idea of your skills, right? I think we all do. We're not mystified by who we are. At the age of 12 we certainly are starting to lose track of a little bit of that because we have other ambitions that might show up. At the age of 10, we're pretty good on the skills, and we often have an ambition, like I want to be at whatever, right? What did you want to be when you were 10? And how does that map onto ... cause you have fun doing what you're doing today and you're very successful.
My guess is that Rahul could buy that boat if he wanted to, but he doesn't really need a boat that big, so he buys smaller boats, or non-boats that may as well be boats. You're very successful and having fun, a rare combination, a wonderful thing. But how different or the same is this? Or what could you see in your ten-year-old mind and ambition that's playing out today, and what is it that if you told your ten-year-old self, this is what I'm doing at the age of whatever you are now, 23 or whatever. I don't know how old you are. How does that go together?
Rahul Maniktala (20:28):
What if I said to you that this is exactly what I wanted to do when I was 10 years old?
Christopher Beall (20:34):
Rahul Maniktala (20:36):
I figured it out right when I was ten!
Christopher Beall (20:42):
All right. Well, I was told you were a freak of nature. First time we had a virtual drink together, I figured that that was probably true, but now it has been nailed down. So the lesson for everybody here is go back to your ten-year-old self, find out what that person wanted you to be. Just go be that. And you'll be as happy and successful as Rahul, unless your skills are so limited that you're going to be in a cave, eating bugs with me.
Rahul Maniktala (21:11):
When you were 10, you probably figured out the skills. See, I'm still figuring out with skills. So, that is the problem. That's what the problem is. That's why I kind of knew this is what I would be doing four decades later. So we here we are, I'm still building the skills.
Christopher Beall (21:28):
I see. I see. So the journey is forever for you? So what you are is on the journey and at ten, you knew you'd be on the journey forever pretty much. That's amazing. That's amazing. Corey, we don't run into this kind of person very often. I'm not sure we should very often. Rarity is a wonderful thing.
Corey Frank (21:47):
It is. It's like your 18-year-old Macallan there. Right? You just don't, you don't have that too often. And when you do, you just want to savor it. So with that point, let's go back to maybe not you're ten, but to Chris's point, the influences, right? A little bit more on the personal side, Rahul. What do you do to stay sharp? Are you a Ram Charan guy? Execution guy? Are you a creative guy? You fill us up. What are some of those books or those podcasts that move you to continue to explore on the journey?
Rahul Maniktala (22:22):
I am not a podcast guy. I like to talk to people. I like to watch movies, and I've always been like that. I've always been big on movies, especially Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and then there are Indian film stars. It's always that for some reason I'm not able to disconnect from things, and movies are one thing that will make me disconnect and kind of recalibrate, rethink the things that I'm doing. And then I start connecting the dots.
Corey Frank (22:54):
Are you, can I ask, are you a middle child? Are you right in the middle as far as the birth order?
Rahul Maniktala (22:58):
I am the oldest.
Corey Frank (23:00):
You're an oldest. Okay. Very, very empathetic and creative for traditional oldest there.
Rahul Maniktala (23:08):
But to your question about Ram Charan, I'm a fan and also Jeffrey Bedford. But then I'm all about execution, do the best I can with the big picture, but I will be laser-focused on execution.
Corey Frank (23:24):
Yeah, I would imagine. Cause you probably have forecast calls like every three hours, right? So constantly calibrating, adjusting all the communications that come in cause certainly a position of big trust. When they talk about the stakes being large, the decisions you make, the emails you send or don't send to those who you should send to or not send to can have a ripple effect on not just one company's quarter, but multiple companies quarters. So when the folks get together for the class action, right, I'm sure you want to be as far away from that as possible. Shareholders are apt to try to find a villain somewhere. A lot of high stakes going on I would imagine.
Christopher Beall (24:02):
Microsoft shareholders are not looking to find any villains inside of Microsoft I can assure you. They're finding a lot of heroes, right?
Corey Frank (24:10):
Absolutely. Yes. A little different landscape [crosstalk 00:24:12].
Christopher Beall (24:12):
That is a good thing to be is a Microsoft shareholder. I know one very well, and I think it looks like a grand thing to be. I'll tell you what, I do have the luxury of walking by sometimes when Rahul and Helen are talking to each other about business. And if somebody asked me, "what are those two doing over there?" I don't listen in, I don't come and listen for the words, but you can get the tone from a distance as you're going by. I'm doing my micro prancing or whatever. And I'd say, they're seriously having fun.
They're very relaxed. It's really interesting in a game that's being played for those kinds of dollars and those kinds of stakes, how surefooted they sound. How it's serious about solving problems, but relaxed in the situation and going, "this is where we're going to do what we can." And it is very, very execution focused. And it's fascinating to me to be able to just watch and learn from the tone. So I'm impressed by it. I'm impressed by, you talk about a culture of collaboration. I didn't know very much about Microsoft from the inside, so to speak, at all. And I got to say that straight up, that culture of collaboration is real. And that's what I think might be the thing that's an absolute requirement to work successfully with these really, really big customers.
Rahul Maniktala (25:39):
I call her shared accountability with discrete ownership.
Christopher Beall (25:45):
You write that down, Corey, it goes in the book.
Corey Frank (25:48):
That's the title of the new chapter. Yeah. Is it like in essence, you just have this epiphany or that it's really like a consultancy, it's like a burying point, or a McKinsey in a lot of ways of what you're doing. You're trying to find those efficiencies. You're trying to romance the new features or ideas and a little bit of inception trying to make them the prospect's idea, even though it's maybe your idea. And that does sound very much like the machinations of the very employer McKinsey type of organization.
Rahul Maniktala (26:18):
There's a lot of internal selling that goes in what you just described. Getting what I was saying earlier, getting that alignment, it's more internal. So you can go have that kind of a conversation with the customer, not so much try, but then get that alignment on a regular basis. But it's more internal than it is with the customer.
Christopher Beall (26:45):
Well, for all of us who are looking to grow to be Microsoft size and then mature to being able to have the biggest companies in the world as our customers. And that would be far out for many folks, but I think it's great. It's great to know that there is a way of doing it, that there are things to focus on. There is a way of looking at things and executing on them that don't have to just do what I would have done, which is walk in and then walk out. You could actually proceed in that direction and know that it's okay. There's a step by step that you got a shot of getting there You've got a real shot of getting there if you can hire Rahul to be your guy at one of those.
Whoever you are on this podcast, you don't have a shot. So don't even bother to give him a call about that. Just ask him about a good whiskey and stuff like that. But I think it's fascinating. I hope our listeners have gotten a flavor of what that world is like, because it's pretty different. It's not quite Elon Musk on Mars, so to speak, but it's different enough that most of us, we could watch it. We wouldn't even know what we were watching and those rules of engagement, we'd probably miss them.
So I thank you for sharing all that with our listeners and with us. Corey and I will go off and feel dominant and significant for a while, which we're quite capable of doing. I think we have some skills there. And so just wanted to express my appreciation. Corey, what are your last thoughts?
Corey Frank (28:09):
Yeah, Rahul it's just wonderful. You're enjoying to talk to. I can imagine what you would be like with two and a half McCollins in you and maybe a bourbon and a half of the war stories. I think I'm just kind of a voyeur of these situations that happen in business and the different opportunities and the "choose your own adventure." What if I chose right here? What if I chose left? What if I went to the door? What if I jumped on the schooner, and what happens? And to have someone like you, has the best of an engineering mind and instills so in touch with the emotional mindset of your prospect, it's a very deft hand that clearly that you in a deft talent that you possess. So I really, really appreciate this. And especially for those folks who are that 10 to $50 million range.
It's a whole new skillset that is probably underutilized, under-thought of on that processing side. Great valuable stuff. For the Market Dominance Guys, we certainly appreciate it and our audience here.
Like many of our guests, Rahul, you may be asked to come back at another time, because we get a lot of requests for these episodes for folks to come back and explore different scenarios. And maybe we have a little speed round one of these days, Chris, where we get our expert panel, people like Henry or Cheryl or Mark or Rahul. And we take some questions that we've had and amassed over these almost two years of doing this thing and getting the different perceptions from someone like Rahul and his business or Henry and his business, or Cheryl, or Mark, or any of the multiple guests that we've had and put them to play. But so thank you Rahul for carving out the time. I'm sure it was a very, very busy day for you guys at Microsoft. And this is the Market Dominance Guys as we inch towards episode 100. Good to have you back, Chris, and thank you again, Rahul for the insight. Until next time, this is Corey Frank and Chris Beall.
Rahul Maniktala (29:58):
Thank you guys.
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