28 April 2006

How do you get to pitch?

The other day I made a post about a pitch that I had made jointly with one of our clients. It's probably worth spending a little time thinking about how you can get in the room to pitch. In B2B sales there is little rocket science. Let's assume that you have a product without a strong market profile. In that case there are still a range of things that may introduce you to prospective customers:
  • create an issues-driven White Paper for download in exchange for contact details
  • hold an issues-driven seminar or event which you promote using a mailing list through multiple mailings and telephone follow-up. Follow-up attendees and non-attendees after the event using regular newsletters
  • support a seminar run by someone else and provide issues-driven content
  • make appointments through outbound telephone calls
  • network and use other meetings to get referrals
  • provide response mechanisms on your website to capture data and send out regular newsletters which maintain contact with the newly created database and allow them to develop their understanding of the offering over time
  • advertise using ads with a clear call to action
  • provide PR articles, case studies and white papers for technical journalists
These activities can be made more complex and multi-levelled but the core activities are as listed here.

While it's vital not to invest all your time on activities which create awareness, it's also important not to rely on a single channel. We are back in advertising territory again - OTS (opportunities to see). You must work on the assumption that very few of your targets will see any of your activity in any of your channels. Increasing the number of channels that you use increases your coverage in the target market. Some businesses use a single approach because it works, but times move on and if you are not using a variety of different channels then it is difficult to spot the changes in real time.

As you identify people who have expressed interest in the issue, focus on them and develop the relationship to the point that they are happy to see a pitch.

Champagne 4

Phil has done a great job - the champagne site has gone live. So far, all our sales have been by word of mouth but using the site to sell is quite different. We don't know who we are talking to, so the copy has to make a case, overcome objections and close when we aren't there.

In that sense, it is a great test-bed for many of the things we talk about with our e.commerce clients. Find a product with a story or the story within the product and tell it as compellingly as you can.

We'll be creating a number of these test-beds over the next few months - our target is to bring on 2 per month. Let's see how we perform against that target.

27 April 2006

Andy Bounds again

I keep mentioning him, because his approach can feed into a lot of areas and it has forced me to think about presentations in more depth.

Yesterday a client and I made a preliminary pitch to someone in the business services space. We're still learning so we haven't got a series of vertically configured frozen demos which we unpack and deliver, although we had configured the software so that it would report the kind of things which would be of interest to the person we were pitching. It was good - he actually said "Wow" at the right points without being prompted and promised to introduce us to the CEO of a quoted business.

Reviewing the meeting subsequently, I realised that the logical flow of the demo was wrong. We had led the person we were pitching through the way the data was fed into the system and then shown the reports and functionality. The problem with that approach is that the "Wow" comes very late in the demo. We need to start with the "Wow" screen and then explain what has to be done to deliver it. That way, we hook people early and get them really focused on the "Afters" (a proper Andy Bounds word). For a small pitch like this, attention wasn't a significant problem - but for a larger audience there is no question in my mind that re-ordering the material would achieve better results.

Where's Willy?

It's now almost 8 weeks since this blog started so it is time to describe all the readers in detail so that I can recognise you if I see you in the street.

English 88.8%
32 bit colour 87.8%
Java 1.5 50%
Internet Explorer 49%
Java 1.3 48%
Firefox 47%
1280 x 1024 43.8%
1024 x 768 33.7%
Europe 75%
North America 17%

OK, there are more of you now so it should be no surprise that the technology is starting to look a little more mixed, but I'm amazed that the site hits are so evenly balanced between Firefox and IE. Predominantly, you use English as the primary language in your system and 65% of you are in my time zone. You're still quite like me but the similarities are starting to fade a bit.

Sales - the end result

The key function of the business is to sell something to someone in order to make a living. The old saying used to be “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” It doesn’t matter if that was ever an accurate description of the way markets behave – it isn’t an accurate picture now.

Whether you choose to use direct or indirect resources will depend to a degree on the maturity of the market. Direct resources tend to be effective in building market awareness for a new product or service, developing initial interest with customers and developing long-term relationships with key accounts. Distributors and other indirect channels are less effective at building market awareness, but they can represent a low cost resource which quickly increases the reach of the business. Indirect channels tend to work best with products where the product is well understood and the primary issues are availability and price.

I have made a number of posts about the Value Proposition. The Value Proposition is the amount of money which buyers could potentially save by using the new product or service. The Value Proposition needs to be backed up by a detailed assessment of market positioning so that the salespeople (and it doesn’t matter if they are direct or indirect salespeople) know where they should be targeting and where they are preferentially attractive to buyers.

That said, an excellent Value Proposition and well-thought through positioning still don't guarantee success. It doesn’t matter if you rely on your own team of direct salespeople, commission agents or distributors. You need to back up your sales efforts with a solid sales management process which delivers:
  • tracking and measurement of opportunities
  • mobilisation of support teams, particularly in relation to teamwork and communications
  • evaluation of win/loss rates
  • performance management

26 April 2006

Pants on fire

Someone told me a lie during the last few days. I'm sure that it happens all the time. What made this different was that in this case, I knew it was a lie. It was a truly giant porker - on the same kind of scale as saying that grass is blue and the sky is green. It was a straightforward denial of the truth - as indicated by evidence from several other sources.

What struck me was how guilelessly it was done. Without the evidence that I was sitting on, I'm sure I would have been completely convinced by the explanation. In amassing the evidence, I now know that I've been told similarly bold-faced lies by this person in the past. Mentally I've drawn a line under this. I no longer value contributions from this person and I will avoid them in the future if at all possible.

Psychologists tell us that 'white' lies are an important lubricant in social interaction - "No, of course I don't mind". Those seem to fall into a quite different category from the big lie - the one that rewrites history. It's just a shame that we aren't equipped with better detection equipment.

Reading the runes

If you look at my subscription stats - and I do - you need to gain a sense of perspective by applying a range of different time bases. What do I mean:
  • 7 days
  • a month
  • a quarter
  • all time
Analysis of a single time base in isolation risks problems in interpretation through lack of context.

At one time I worked in a physical trading environment - metals and chemicals - backwardation, contango, butterfly spreads - a language of its own. There were analysts there called chartists who would plot the random walk and attempt to see 'fundamentals' in the shapes on the chart.

So how are my subscription stats today? Well, I would tell you, except it would take a while - the good news is that viewed over the 1 month and the all-time series they look pretty good with steady growth. The last 7 days looks relatively flat, but over a longer time base, that looks more like a random walk. That said, today's figure is:
  • 28% higher than the 7 day average
  • 50% higher than the 30 day average
  • 80% higher than the all-time average

Champagne 3

The text for the site is coming together nicely and we should be able to go live very soon. Yesterday was an opportunity to do some last-minute photography and confirm our commercial offers. We have also re-thought an offer related to data capture.

Too many businesses worry about getting everything perfect on a site before it is launched - in practice, a site should be regarded as a work in progress. Everything: headlines, layout, copy, photography and offers can be changed at short notice so why worry about creating a masterpiece on day 1. That's not to say that there shouldn't be any effort to making it as compelling as possible - but if it is a commercial site which is attempting to sell to an audience then the only way you will really test its effectiveness is to make it live and let the punters tell you.

Once it is live, the process of experimentation begins. Measure, experiment and measure again. Providing that the changes are relatively limited in scope, you can get highly specific market feedback on whether your ideas have value and whether your copy is compelling.

25 April 2006

How to say goodbye

A small business I'm aware of has a senior manager who has resigned but who is not leaving for a few months. In the interregnum, this has created a problem for the staff who have been promoted as a result of the departure. Existing customers aren't sure who they should be talking to on a particular issue and there is a lack of clarity over who is responsible for medium-term strategy.

In some ways, it would be easiest to release the senior manager to take gardening leave, but that would leave the team depleted. It is also possible that it would create disquiet amongst the customers. The situation is giving rise to a significant level of navel gazing within the team - how best to make use of the last few months of this manager's involvement in the business in a way which allows those newly appointed to positions of responsibility to take on their full role and accountabilities as soon as possible.

I don't have a solution for this - like many human systems, the problem is made more difficult because of the personalities involved.

24 April 2006

Fulfilment from France

Before we decided to import, we carried out an exercise to make sure that we understood the costs and cashflow implications of what we proposed to do. If you can't make a Business Case then why bother taking it any further? What was interesting is how few transport and delivery organisations proved to be any help. Most of them didn't return calls, and most of those that did weren't in a position to move the product in the way that we wanted.

When we eventually found an organisation that was willing to work with us, it proved to be very slow at handling the conceptual issues although its logistics service levels seem to be no worse than anyone else. They have also added a tracking service within the cost that we hadn't considered. It wasn't our original intent to bring an inventory into the UK, but it currently seems to be the only practical solution, given the difficulty of running a fulfilment service from France. Maybe there is a business idea there for someone.

23 April 2006

The pipeline

A pipeline or sales funnel is simply an assessment of the number of open deals that the sales team is involved with at a point in time. Sales pipelines are often used ... badly. Sales managers simply aren't given much guidance in how to use them effectively. One of the key problems is that managers and their bosses frequently mistake quantity for quality. The most important deals in the pipeline aren't the biggest, they are the ones that the sales team can close.

The pipeline is just a tool to report what is going on. In an ideal world, a pipeline report provides the team leader - the manager - with the type of information that will help him construct specific interventions and support for the individual team members so that they can close business and bring in their targets. In the real world, the pipeline very often becomes an end in itself.

Sales managers need to ask themselves, "What kind of systems would help our sales teams to succeed?" The answers might be very different from the systems currently in place.


22 April 2006

Champagne 2

The champagne house where we bought the Premier Cru is a typical small business. The owners employ themselves and have 6 other full-time staff. They are a boutique-type of operation with 9 hectares cultivated, producing about 80,000 bottles per year. It sounds romantic , but like many agricultural businesses, much of the year is taken up with back-breaking repetitive labour.

You can see an example in the picture here (click to enlarge), the vine is pruned and then tied by hand to a series of wires. This activity alone takes about 4 months of the year since each of the growing buds has to be tied down as they develop. If the shoots aren't tied down properly then the vine may be damaged by the machinery which is used later in the year.

Total champagne output is over 250 million bottles per year, so you can tell just how small this house actually is. The hillside is just covered in famous names. I was standing in a field of vines owned by our seller and across a path no more than 1½ metres wide, the vines were owned by Bollinger.


In an earlier post, I described how we had prepaid the import duty on a delivery of champagne. Yesterday we were in France, buying a Premier Cru. We were not far from Avize, south of Epernay. It was a long trek, but it was important because it helped to cement the relationship with the sellers.

The cementing process worked so well that we were asked to help them develop their business in France, so the day had an unexpected upside that we hadn't expected.

So, relatively suddenly, we are now importers. I'll keep you in touch with how it goes. I suspect that the major problem will be friends and acquaintances asking for samples - just to check whether or not they like the flavour.

20 April 2006

Blog visits

OK, I admit it, I'm at a loss. I don't understand it. I've got 3 blogs. This, I formally promote using vehicles like Pingshot through Feedburner. That pays back consistently - visits are growing steadily and so are subscriptions. The other 2 I don't promote at all, although I mention them as links within the body of the blog.

My confusion arises because although neither of the unpromoted blogs has what could be termed a consistent visitor volume, their visit record is completely different. One is almost four times as popular as the other. If a blog is unpromoted one might assume that the chances of visitor might be similar - assuming that visits are prompted by blogsurfing rather than searches - which is the case. Few of the visits to either of the unpromoted blogs arises from a search, unlike this blog where searches account for about 20% of visits.

So why the difference? I'm still struggling but if you've any thoughts then please feel free to share...

Why my opinion doesn't matter ...

In an earlier post I said that my opinion doesn't matter. The philosophy comes from Coopers & Lybrand's Process Consulting course - one of the best consultancy training courses I have ever experienced. The course itself was drawn from a number of sources including Edgar Schein's 'Process Consultation'.

There is always a tension for a consultant - whether to intervene directly with an answer or get the client or the client's team to develop a solution on their own, facilitated and supported by the consultant, very often through a formal problem solving process. At root this resolves to the age old question: which is better, give a man a fish or teach him how to fish? Process Consulting fell down squarely on the side of teaching him how to fish. I wasn't alone in my admiration for this course, it consistently got excellent feedback scores and the waiting list to go on it was impressive.

The key difference between process consulting and other interventions is in the mindset of the consultant rather than in the behaviour of the client. In process consulting, the consultant believes that that the client owns the problem throughout the consulting process. In an expert model, the consultant takes the problem away and delivers a solution back to the client - that expert model of behaviour is drummed into us from an early age - we want to help. When a client asks for help it is natural to say, "I'll take care of the problem for you". In process consulting the response is more akin to "It's your problem, but I'll work on it with you to help you solve it".

There is no doubt in my mind that process consulting provides enormous value to clients, at the expense of a delay as they assemble their team, collect data, analyse what they have discovered and consider their options. If the client wants a speedy response then an expert intervention will almost certainly be quicker, but does the client need the response as quickly as they say they do - is the rest of the organisation positioned to take advantage of the expert opinion if it is delivered today? Process consulting can help to ensure that everything is in place for a successful implementation of the solution and that is ultimately what encouraged clients to keep on coming back again and again.

Process consulting is powerful, but it requires good discipline to use it consistently.

Busy Day

There is plenty to do today. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that we had held a highly successful presentation for a powerful application for forecasting, budgeting and performance management. That was to try and find a small number of technical support people who could support an active solution sales process. We have now held a similar meeting with a group of salespeople who could lead that process and we now have quite a lot to do before bringing them together next week.

As well as making sure that the day itself is covered, we need to develop collateral and presentation materials for the salespeople - fortunately, much of the thinking has already been done so the next step shouldn't be too onerous. Today is the day when we have to do a lot of this.

19 April 2006

Don't reject products without doing some research first

In an earlier post, I said that fortunes had been built on direct mail. The same is true for product selection.

I can get elitist when making judgements about new products - fortunately, Chris and Phil are good at keeping my feet on the ground. A case in point took place today. We were talking about a series of products which could be sold straight from a website. I was initially cautious because I wasn't sure that the products were very interesting (I wouldn't buy them myself). Chris and Phil pointed out that I was just making a snap judgement and we need to do some real research before making a decision.

We have set up a simple model with criteria for success. Providing we manage costs carefully this could work. If the first stage experiment delivers a positive result then it could be expanded. Better, we are sharing the risks and some of the labour with a colleague - Paul, so this could be the beginning an interesting experiment.

Today's workshop

One thing that I have learnt as consultant is that my opinion doesn't count. I could be the world's greatest expert on a particular topic and it still wouldn't matter. It took me a long time to realise this. As a new consultant I wanted to be an expert - to be admired for my knowledge. That kind of expertise is rarely helpful to clients for longer than a few hours. What matters is what my clients think and how they think. Their decisions and behaviours will be made on the basis of models that they have constructed when I'm not around.

So, if you need to challenge a view of the world, a strategy or the way a team works together, you need ... a workshop. A workshop is a room with some chairs and flip charts and a facilitator. A facilitator can have a point of view but the outputs from the workshop can't be his or hers - the outputs have to be owned by the participants. One of the first partners I worked with at Coopers & Lybrand believed fervently that "You should never have a workshop unless you know the answer first". There is some truth in that, but often the world is not so black and white. If our side of the table has the "answer" then the workshop can be a slow reveal of the "truth", but it may have failed to challenge the thinking process hard enough.

For me, going into the workshop with the "answer" is part of developing my worldview - I'm just a single datapoint - if I allow that "answer" to get in the way of challenging the client and getting them to an answer that they really believe in, then I haven't done my facilitation properly.

18 April 2006

Not taking orders today

When I began my sales career I didn't know much about sales - I didn't need to, the job was more about accurate quotations and order taking than actual selling. There is a chasm which divides the activities of accepting an order and making a sale from scratch! For most companies, the days of order-taking are some time in the past. Today, sales have become significantly more competitive - and sometimes, the competition turns out to be the client! The client may move the budget, do it themselves or worse still, do nothing. Any of these results in a flatline in short term revenue growth so how you sell becomes even more critical.

Sales isn't just a series of single wins. Successful and consistent selling requires thorough preparation and joined-up thinking. There are 5 critical challenges that make the difference between consistent revenue growth and failure. They include:
  • the offering
  • your market positioning
  • Sales Management
  • New Business Development
  • Account Management (and Development)


17 April 2006

AdWords for conversion not clicks

I noticed this post on Shoemoney and it put practical experience against some thoughts I had posted here. I have cleaned this up a bit, but the core is unchanged ...

... some people have asked how I get such high conversions. Basically, I try to write ads for conversions and not clicks.

I see so many ads on all programs that try to con people into their site. They say things like Free Ringtones Here! Or “Get Free Ringtones”. Yes, this can get you some clicks but will it get you conversions? Remember, we are paying PER CLICK so we want to make those clicks count.
Azoogleads does a good job to give you examples for each offer on the positives for text creative.

So lets look at what we are selling:
  • People put in their phone number and get Ringtones
  • People get 10 free Ringtones to sign up.
  • People get charged a monthly fee after they get their free Ringtones

Use these to write an ad that converts at a higher percentage.

An example bad ad would be – Get Free Ringtones Click Here For Free Ringtones

A good ad would be – 10 Free Ringtones – Just enter your phone number and receive your Ringtones.

Another good ad would be – Free Trial Ringtones – Get 10 Free Ringtones with each new subscription.

… do not try to fool your consumer. They will click your ad and then quickly abandon ship when they feel they have been duped. Try to give them as much information about what they are getting into BEFORE YOU HAVE TO PAY [for their click-through].


Phrases to forget

Here are 3 phrases which Jill Konrath thinks should be excised from the sales lexicon:

1. Leading-Edge (state-of-the-art, industry-leading)
The moment you start using words like this, you've turned into a self-serving salesperson. You may not think so and it most likely isn't your intent, but that's how your prospect sees you. Why? Because you're trying to impress her with how wonderful your offering is. Everyone knows that that's how salespeople talk. The more you brag about your offering, the less believable you are. Even if your product or service is the most advanced in the entire world, your prospect knows that it's only a matter of months before some other firm has a competitive offering that probably costs less.

Don't talk about your offering. Leave out all the descriptors that supposedly make it so incredible. Focus on your customer's objectives, challenges and issues instead. You need to get them to move off the status quo and those "bragging" words just don't do it.

2. Partner (partnership)
Many well-intentioned sellers insert this word in their initial contacts with prospective clients. They graciously say, "We're looking to partner with ..." Do you know how that's heard by your prospects? It's totally self-serving again. You might as well say, "We're looking to sell lots and lots of our stuff to you, but we don't want to use that awful word because it sounds so crass." Corporate decision makers don't need another partner. Believe me, they have enough already. Besides, partnerships have to be earned over time. Or they're highly strategic and negotiated at the top levels of the organization. Don't call up and propose a partnership. Instead talk about the significant results you can deliver on a high priority business objective.

3. One-Stop Shopping
Of all the phrases used by sellers today, this one might be the worst. Perhaps your marketing department told you to use it. Or, if you're a small firm, maybe you think it makes you sound like one of the "big boys." But most often I see sellers use it because they're scared of losing a potential opportunity. They want to make sure their entire laundry list of offerings is on the table in hopes that prospects find something that they need in it.

One-stop shopping is the most trite & overused sales buzz word today. Everyone says it, so it doesn't differentiate you in the least. In fact, it makes you sound like a "Jack of all trades, but a master of none." When prospects hear it, their automatic response is, "We're already working with XYZ firm" or "Generic Services takes care of that for us." Done! You're out. You've created your own obstacle and it's just about impossible to get around it. Don't talk one-stop shopping. Instead hone in on one aspect of your product/service offering. Choose one that may:
  • Be important based on what you know is happening in their firm.
  • Address an area where your competitors may be weak.
  • Solve a problem they didn't even know they had.
Don't say the same thing everyone else does. It makes you so easily dismissable. Sure you can learn objection-handling techniqes and maybe even recover if you get really good at them. But a better solution is to not use words that create those kind of problems for you in the first place. Eliminate these three deadly words from your account-entry campaigns and you'll be much further ahead.

Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies, helps sellers crack into corporate accounts, shorten sales cycles and win big contracts. Visit http://www.SellingtoBigCompanies.com for more info. Get a free Sales Call Planning Guide ($19.95 value) when you sign up for the Selling to Big Companies e-newsletter. Just send an email with "subscribe" in the subject line to jill@sellingtobigcompanies.com and it will be sent right to you.


16 April 2006

The Sandhurst Donkey Derby

The Donkey Derby is a small business with a highly seasonal revenue profile. As organisers we let out field pitches, sell advertisements, sell donkey and race sponsorships, sell field sponsorship and take the gate money. Much of that generates income before the day itself while costs are incurred in a wide variety of areas including the publication of a programme and the provision of marqees and toilets.

Some of these expenses are incurred well in advance of the event itself, but by and large the derby runs cash positive with a little care. Many small business would be pleased if they could operate on the same basis.

Like many businesses, the key is to understand the revenue and cost levers and make sure that the event produces as much as possible for its charities by growing revenues and keeping a watchful eye on costs. Pricing can have some impact on revenue, but there are limits - we need people in the community to enjoy the event without incurring the feeling that they have been fleeced. Last year was a record in terms of results and we will have to work hard to do better this year.

What's more important than the copy?

The headline!

You obviously need:
  • simple navigation
  • a guarantee to remove the risk
  • good graphics
But without a powerful and compelling headline that explains exactly what benefits your visitor / potential customer is going to get by reading your web site, the chances are they will move on elsewhere.

The most compelling sales letter, the best price, a great layout, but if your headline does not capture your visitors' attention and compel them to read further then they never even see the rest of your web site to make a buying decision. It is a simple strategy and it's one of the most overlooked.

Does your headline tell your visitors exactly what you do and exactly what tangible benefits they are going to get if they stick around and read what you have to say? If not, then you have some work to do!

15 April 2006

The long letter

Long sales letters can have variety of different structures but many of them have have features in common. They:

  • talk about a problem: people are looking for solutions
  • establish credibility: they explain to the reader why a solution from them is going to work -- and they include compelling testimonials
  • tell a story: building interest, adding a human touch and helping readers get involved
  • talk about the benefits: letting readers see what they are buying and its value
  • handle objections: anticipating where readers will have questions ... and addressing them
  • ask for the sale: again and again

14 April 2006

Handling conflicts and bad news

A small business I'm aware of is on the point of changing its MD. The MD is joining another business in a slightly different role a little later in the year. People have different skills and this MD has been good at promoting the business, but has been very poor at managing issues and conflicts within the organisation.

These problems don't go away and the board, led by the non-Execs has had to handle the issues directly. It's been a good learning opportunity for the MD to witness the activity required to mitigate the impacts caused by their delay, first hand. The MD is clearly not enjoying the experience. That's a good thing - not for the business, since the problems should have been solved sooner. The MD will no doubt do better if a similar situation occurs in the future.

Selling against the status quo

For many businesses, the client value proposition is difficult to build because the client doesn't understand the costs of the status quo. That can make it difficult to build a strong Business Case for the alternative.

This week we had classic example. A potential client came to us and asked for help. They recognised that what they had done so far had not achieved their objectives. We talked about what we would do differently and set out the costs - we included examples of what we had done for others. Amazingly, having gone through the intellectual acceptance that the status quo was unacceptable they have decided not to change.

It might be possible to go back and reopen the debate about the costs and risks of both approaches but it could drag on. We have decided to draw a line under it and move on to other opportunities. We review our win/loss ratio periodically and assess what the learning points are so that we can continue to improve our success rate, but it is always important to do that with clear, cool thinking - not the day after the client has said no.

13 April 2006

The attitude and skills test

Here it is, posted only a few days ago - a post by Neil Flanagan and Jarvis Finger which will help you to answer the question "Have I got what it takes to be a freelancer?"

In an earlier post I described why I believe that lone freelancers are strategically weak and why it is important to find someone to start working with as soon as possible. This relatively comprehensive article simply reinforces that the people they buddy up with need to have a pretty strong skill-set, too.

The Additionality test

There are a class of consultants who stand next to a pot of gold and then help clients get access to the money by employing them. Very often the pot of gold is some form of grant. I have a conceptual difficulty with grants. Granting bodies develop a number of criteria which need to be applied before a project can be considered as suitable - they then apply the additionality test.

This test is the granting bodies' equivalent of Catch 22. It asks whether the project would take place if the grant was not made. The additionality test will support grants to projects where the Business Case is not strong enough to force the project owner to find another source of funding if the grant is not made. On the other hand, if the project is sufficiently strong to encourage the project owner to continue to fight for its implementation, even in the absence of a grant, then the grant wouldn't be made.

Support weak Business Cases, deny strong Business Cases - no, I still haven't got it ...

Using a consultant

One of the hardest decisions as a consultant is whether or not to bring another consultant into an existing relationship with a client. Quality control is potentially one issue and trying to impose an Agenda on a 3rd party isn't always straightforward ...

Despite those potential problems, I believe that it is normally better to buy in someone else's expertise. The way I rationalise it is this: my client deserves the best quality service I can offer. I haven't asked the question directly of anyone, but I expect that most clients would rather work with me on the limited range of things I'm good at rather than the rather larger list of things where my competence is more limited.

On that basis, it is in my interest to secure the long-term relationship by introducing a new specialist even if that may reduce my earnings in the short-term.

12 April 2006

Blogging biz

Unlike the UPS report that I mentioned recently, a post by Robert Plummer at the BBC suggests that European business is taking blogging seriously.

His position is that good content improves website ranking by direct linking from blogs and that, in some cases, direct promotions to bloggers can generate those inbound links. It's difficult to believe that all the cynical bloggers out there would be taken in by such an obvious ploy - I must try it with some of our clients ...

SOE out, content in ...

I've paraphrased the core of a post by Jack Humphrey.

Smart niche site network publishers have been gearing up for 2006 with solid, well-thought-out site designs, content strategies, and niche research to place content rich sites up with no other goal than to let them grow and season into very valuable properties in 6-8 months time.

Having a site entrenched in the search engines means you have been around for at least 3 months - and that is stretching it. Rewards are coming to those who wait patiently. And only to those content site publishers who build real sites, not the spammy sites we were all waiting anxiously to disappear from the engines last year.

Finally, content, which has been referred to as "King" for years, (but treated in reality like a cheap whore until recently) is truly the focus of smart investors looking to build a network of sites on special niches to attract lucrative advertising and product sales revenue.

With a good marketing plan for each site which includes no SEO tricks and nothing even "grey hat" in the mix, she should have the ability to isolate 10 sites in her network worth spending more time on than the others. This is given that the revenue model for each of the 10 sites is producing at least $10 per day.

Turning those 10 sites into $30 a day earners can pluck up over $100,000.00 in revenue in a year's time! With good research on profitable niches to provide with good content, and a simple but solid marketing plan for each site, anyone with the proper training and patience can get into the game.

10 April 2006

Selling consultancy

I have been fortunate to work with a number of first class:
  • consultants
  • salespeople
  • salespeople of consultancy
Many first class consultants have difficulty selling, and they engage in all kinds of deflectionary activity to avoid it. Many first class salespeople can't sell consultancy since they have difficulty in selling a service which is so ill-defined and amorphous. First class salespeople of consultancy have more in common with first class consultants than they do with first class salespeople.

The old adage is that people buy from people. In business services including consultancy this is particularly valid. By and large, clients buy from the team that they believe will be responsible for the delivery of the service or the direction and quality control of the work. Successful selling consultants have the ability to inject a delay into the sales process so that they don't talk too early about the solution. That delay allows them to explore in more detail:
  • what the issues are
  • what the benefits might be if they were solved
  • obstacles to change
Only when the client is beginning to champ at the bit do selling consultants become specific about the nature of the solution. Much of the sales process is about building a relationship built on mutual respect. The deliberate delay allows the consultant to think through the risks and paybacks associated with all the issues that have been explored and to develop a solution which allows the client to enjoy some quick wins. The extended sales process helps to de-risk the purchase for the client since they will have experienced the way the consultant has responded to points as they were raised as well as their ability to take a helicopter view at appropriate points in order to provide a context for the detail.

09 April 2006

Kandy Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby

I found a post on Bill Hibbler's site which reminded me about George Barris. George was one of a number of car nuts who were profiled in Tom Wolfe's book (Kandy Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby).

What George and Sam Barris and their friends had in buckets was enthusiasm and that passion fed into every element of their lives. They became a phenomenon and were the leading team in the nascent custom car industry in the US after WWII, acting as the leading designers, constructors and industry commentators. George designed the cars, Sam had the vision and the skill to create Kustom shapes out of metalwork then George handled the paintwork and the detailing. I don't know how many mistakes they made as they progressed, but they did a lot of things very well - highly impressive. If you want to know more about the story, then here is the link to the Barris website.

Bill's post is actually about a car show in Houston, rather than Barris, and there is a nice shot of a 1960 Corvette which is worth a detour all by itself without reading the rest of the post.

06 April 2006

Monetizing a database

I got an offer yesterday which I didn´t take up. It was nearly a good offer. The copy wasn´t completely compelling and the offer wasn´t quite right for me. Whoever had put it together had copied many of the key rules of constructing a sales letter but missed out one element which would have produced my credit card number. I imagine that some will have bought from this mailing, but my behaviour indicates that they didn´t test this letter properly before they sent it out. That means that they left money on the table and the mailing was less successful for them than it could have been.

It doesn´t matter if you think you have got all the elements of the offer letter covered, the only way you will really find out is by testing it on real punters. Split test it and find out which elements work best together. Do it properly and you will improve your results substantially. Substantially here can often mean an order of magnitude.

05 April 2006

Our Business Development

Chris saw someone yesterday who runs what Charlie Kline would have called a specialty chemicals business. It would be difficult to categorise it by product on the basis of what I currently know. The business is doing some things well, but the great news is that it could be doing a lot better and Chris has had a first stab at laying out what the future might look like.

That visioning can be really helpful in deciding whether or not to go ahead. Businesses like this tend to focus on getting the technical elements right and their market positioning can let them down. If this goes well, we finish with a happy client and a good story to tell.

04 April 2006

UK reads a few, but doesn't write many

I'm talking about blogs. UPS has produced a new edition of its business survey and the results are that businesses don't blog much in Europe and they don't read them much either - but then, are these figures accurate? I suspect that real readership is probably substantially lower than this survey suggests - depending on how you define readership.

In the UK the figures are:
  • heard of blogs but don't read or contribute to them - 45%
  • not something I'm aware of - 31%
  • I read blogs - 11%
  • we monitor blogs about our company - 9%
  • useful source of information for our business - 10%
  • I write blogs - 1%
The European results are:
  • heard of blogs but don't read or contribute to them - 42%
  • not something I'm aware of - 37%
  • I read blogs - 11%
  • we monitor blogs about our company - 7%
  • useful source of information for our business - 7%
  • I write blogs - 2%

Photo sources

Take a look at this beta. The site is called Every Stock Photo. So far they have over 220,000 free photos available.

Sites like this and the morguefile can be very valuable resources for all kinds of artwork. It can take time to find the perfect picture, but there is real sense of achievement when you do.

03 April 2006

Identikit 2

Now up to 1 month, and the visitors have more than doubled, so it is time to do a quick update on identifying them:
  • 97% are using 32 bit colour
  • 95% are using Windows XP
  • 90.9% are using English as the primary language on their system
  • 70% are from Europe
  • 65% are using Java 1.5
  • 64% are using Firefox and Mozilla as their entry browser
  • 63% are within 1000 miles of where I am based
  • 61% are from the UK
  • 53.5% are using 1280 x 1024 resolution
Most of you still sound like me!

Direct mail - test, test and test again

In an earlier post I suggested that you should be prepared to test every aspect of your mailshot before you send it out to your entire distribution list.

So what kind of samples should you test?
• existing customers
• ex customers
• lists of potential customers from different suppliers
• different list stratifications

When you are satisfied that you have an attractive offer, presented by appealing copy which produces an economic response rate – do your mailing. And when it comes to developing another mailing, go through the process again.

Each aspect of your marketing should be dealt with on the same basis. As a high level guide, if you find yourself doing things which can’t be measured then you are probably doing them for non-marketing reasons. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be done, just that if you decide to retain them, then don’t charge them to the marketing budget.

Direct mail - testing a campaign

Direct Mail can be profitable – personal fortunes have been built on that simple truth - and the very best direct mail is a work of art which professional Marketers can admire. The key to understanding whether direct mail can work in your environment is to work out what success would look like. Given the costs of the proposed mailing, the brochure, the list, the time, what level of sales response would be required to make this mailshot profitable? If the answer isn’t unrealistically high, then you are in with a solid chance that you can make it work. I have deliberately avoided talking about specific response rates because truthfully, response rates differ depending on the product or service, the price and the attractiveness of the offer. However, if it looks as though you need a very high response rate then you should ask yourself the question about whether you will be able to achieve that or whether there is anything you can do to the cost base to drive the required response rate down. The next stage is to test the mailshot live on part of your data.

The importance of testing is that whatever your response rate – 0.1% or 5%, scaling up to larger numbers of targets probably won’t impact it significantly. So, if you can demonstrate to your satisfaction that a test sample delivers a satisfactory response in economic terms then go ahead and run the campaign. If the trial mailing fails that primary hurdle, then be prepared to extend the experiment, by changing the offer, the stratification of the targets or the copy itself – but be careful not to change too many variables simultaneously and keep the trial sample small. These days, digital printing has made this kind of low volume experimentation relatively low cost.

02 April 2006

Probably the best strapline in the world ...

Last year we came up with a perfect strapline for a business. It could be interpreted in a number of different ways, all of which were positive for the client. We coupled it with a couple of dummy advertisements and showed it to the client.

The client didn't go ahead - the campaign would have put too much pressure on his cashflow and there were cheaper ways of targeting customers which didn't require a fully fledged press campaign. The strapline remains there in the background, unused, idle ...

That is part of the fun of the business we do, and it's one of the things that makes it enjoyable. One of these days, we may dust off that strapline and use it for ourselves.

This week-end's homework

Last Thursday I spoke to a potential client - she had been in hospital for a couple of weeks and it was the first time I had spoken to her since she was discharged. She was bouncing. She sounded full of life and ready to move ahead - fast.

She is a couple of timezones away but we think that we can develop the project in a way that will allow her to review everything we do as it happens so that she feels fully in control of the project at all times. Up to now, all her advisors have been very close to her and this will be the first project that she is considering dealing with someone so distant from her.

The proposal goes in tomorrow.

Public speaking and the independent consultant

Business Development 101 for the independent consultant almost always includes seminars and public meetings as a way to meet potential clients. It's normally good advice ...

Last year I saw a presentation in a public meeting which had apparently been given 5 or 6 times already so the speaker should have mastered the material completely. It was a disaster, a poor concept coupled with excruciating execution from the technology to judging his impact on the audience - it was a masterclass in how not to deliver material. It was actually worse than the first few seconds of Andy Bounds' standard presentation which is itself intended to be a an exaggerated interpretation of how to deliver material badly.

A few weeks later I was sent an email about some training. The content looked interesting, the cost was acceptable and I thought seriously about going ... but then I looked at who was delivering it. It was the speaker who had performed so badly at the public meeting. Now, it may be unfair, but after that experience I wouldn't walk across the road to see that guy deliver material again if it was free of charge, so the email got deleted and I got on with my life.

AdWords and websites again

I was talking to an AdWords user the other day and he had no idea that the click-through rate was sensitive to the copy used. I imagine that he isn't alone. If most businesses aren't overly disciplined about measuring the impact of quite large marketing expenditures, it is easy to see why spend on AdWords wouldn't generate much interest. That means that those campaigns are almost certainly under-performing, which makes life simpler for the rest of us.

The fact is, AdWords are a huge opportunity. Not only in terms of their ability to direct traffic to a landing page but also in terms of their ability to feedback very quickly how punters react to your copywriting efforts. Like most other areas of marketing spend, developing an effective AdWords campaign requires a steady investment in testing at least until you are confident that you have an ad which is effective. Effective in this context means economic - the investment in the AdWords campaign can be justified within the overall cost to sell by delivering targeted traffic to the selling site.

In an earlier post I described how one of our clients had spent significant sums on driving traffic to their site using AdWords. That is a traditionally good thing to do - driving traffic means that more prospects see the offer. In terms of e.commerce though, the behaviour of that traffic has to be monitored, too. How does the traffic react to the offer and how can the landing page be optimised to produce the right outcome for you? Any analytical brain can tell whether the behaviour is producing the right kind of results for you, but do you understand the buyer psychology well enough to change the site in a way which will make it perform better?

The experiment should be going live soon and I'll keep posting the results here.

01 April 2006

Things I don't talk about ...

When I was a trainee consultant with Coopers & Lybrand back in the 1980s, I was told that there were two things that you never talked about with clients:
  • hunting
  • religion
These days I would probably add marriage and breakdown of relationships - since very few relationships seem to last and marriage itself isn't as popular. A few months ago I met a client who hadn't been trained by those trainers at Coopers & Lybrand and he was very keen to talk about marriage - his. He didn't ask me if was ever married, still married, happily married or for how long - the answers are yes, yes, yes and 30 years - but he was keen to tell me that his marriage was a model to emulate.

This is a personal shortfall for me - I don't want to know much about my client's personal lives - irrespective of how fascinating I find their businesses. I'm not curious and I feel as if I'm intruding, even if the knowledge is shared freely. It isn't just marriages, I feel the same way about relationships. I realise that this lack of curiosity about personal relationships is unusual. Newspapers would look completely different if everyone thought the way I do.

I can't claim that it results from upbringing since there is nothing obviously different in my background and it isn't age since I know many people my age who find these things endlessly fascinating. Let's just put it down to the fact that in any distribution curve there are outliers and I'm one of them.

A great idea ...

Last year we met the MD of a small services company with a B2C offering. The business was relatively successful but had a limited customer base, so wanted to develop the number of its active customers. What the business had was buckets of confidence and a matchless offer which I'm not aware is offered by any of its competitors. The company was cheeky, irreverent and keen to be different from other businesses operating in the same sector.

This is the type of business that deserves to succeed, providing that it can continue to back-up its offer to customers with real performance. The personalities required to make the business function are very different. It needs strong salespeople at the front end, backed up by thoughtful and creative researchers to deliver the value. Like many service businesses, the quality of service is the key to success and is one of the most difficult elements to maintain control over as the business grows.

Let's hope for the best.