31 May 2006

Timing is everything ...

We have been trying to arrange a seminar for finance professionals to take a look at the budgeting, forecasting and performance management application. Without thinking too hard about it, we set a date which met our requirements and sent out invitations to several hundred organisations with a teaser follow-up and telephone calls. We had forgotten that financial people have to produce month-end figures at the beginning of the month, so many people who wanted to come to the seminar couldn't attend on the date we had selected. There was simply too much going on in the office for them to take the time.

The good news is that we used the telephone follow-up - without that, we wouldn't have understood the problem and simply thought that there was something in the copy that we had used. In fact, the copy seemed to go over well and I'm sure that we will get the numbers we want when we set a date which isn't quite so fraught.

30 May 2006

Pinging Technorati

I don't post evenly throughout the day - more often, I make a couple of posts quite close together and then ping after each post.

Without fail, Technorati sends an error message on the second ping because it hasn't been very long since my last ping and I can't possibly have updated my blog in the interim. I can't be the only person who posts like this. Will Technorati put me in some kind of blogging Bermuda triangle for making delinquent pings? Will I ever find out?

More seriously, is the etiquette on pinging to wait until I think I have finished posting for the day and then pinging just the once?

Dear Santa, could I have a copy of Pinging for Idiots, please?

Our terrier keeps on worrying at the problem

The terrier gave me a call this morning. He has arranged for us to make a pitch to a plc with a turnover of £150 million. The Chairman and the Finance Director together. When he gets a problem to get his teeth into, there's no stopping him.

Is it because of a massive bonus if it all goes right? No. He did take the time to establish that the rewards were fair and that he thought that he had a reasonable chance of being successful with us, but after those early conversations, he has never mentioned money again.

I think it's really because he enjoys the challenge of putting himself and a proposition on someone's agenda - thinking through how to position the proposition so that it is attractive to a business. All that takes a good deal of thought and, based on my current experience, he's very effective.


I just caught a quick look at the del.icio.us recent page and saw that someone had saved Craig's list and someone else had saved the BBC Weather page. Why? There is nothing wrong with either of these pages, but saving them in del.icio.us seems a bit redundant. Those pages are perfectly well catered for by Bookmarks and favourites.

Some of the items in my inbox have been pretty impressive and I have saved them because I want to come back to them at some time in the future, but I'm not sure that I want to put them into Bookmarks yet. Maybe it is simply that I don't understand the del.icio.us model properly. Maybe Craig's list and BBC Weather are the types of page you are supposed to save to show that you are part of a loosely drawn community. Perhaps someone who knows more will put me right.

29 May 2006

Bank holiday tasks

This morning I was planning to go down to the Donkey Derby field to turn away any stallholders that hadn't been contacted, but fortunately, the weather is foul so I think that many of them would get the hint even without my being there.

I'm not talking about the people that booked one or more stalls from me - I have spoken to all of them, first-hand. It is their helpers. Some of the stallholders have 10 or 12 helpers and it's quite possible that some of them haven't heard the news.

That process - waterfall communication - is used in large organisations to ensure that messages flow in a predictable manner through the structure. In practice, human systems get in the way and the results can often be as unpredictable as an announcement over a tannoy.

Now that we aren't raising money for charity today, we will have to start planning to make sure that we raise as much as possible on the revised date - 27th August - the Sunday of August bank holiday.

28 May 2006

... and a big warm hand for Max Blumberg ...

Max blogs on business strategy, psychology and market positioning. His daily musings were very popular until real life intruded and he had to drop the blog in order to keep up with his academic deadlines.

After a gap of 7-8 months, Max has begun to post again. Not in full voice yet, but nice to see again after such a long gap. I'm hoping that he will relaunch Max Blumberg's positioning game because (selfishly) I was able to tell my clients about it and some of them learned a lot from seeing a positioning statement being worked out in real-time.

27 May 2006

A way to find blogs ranked by email subscriptions ...

I see FeedAdvisor has started listing out blogs in order of Feedblitz subscriptions. That's a good measure of Feedblitz email subscriptions, but I'm not sure that it measures anything else. A more interesting figure would be the proportion of subscriptions which are accounted for by FeedBlitz emails. My own mix varies from about 20-33% depending on how many other subscribers poll during a time period.

26 May 2006

Remember Meredith Belbin?

OK, what's the headline about?

Meredith Belbin worked on data from the Henley Management College. The College runs a business game for each cadre of students who attend its management course. The game hasn't changed for a long period and there was a lot of data for Belbin to review including Myers Briggs type analysis. Fairly early in the research, Belbin, and his statistician who I think was Bill Harstone the chess player, were able to isolate the personality characteristics within a team which would guarantee failure in the game. Success was harder to predict.

That conclusion was based on analysis of the personality types of winning teams over losing teams and it lead Belbin to suggest that a successful team required several types of contribution to be successful. One of those types was the pure creative - the plant. Plants are highly creative, often sensitive to criticism and frequently poor at working in teams. A team of plants wouldn't talk to one another for fear that the other plants would steal and improve on their ideas.

We have found a plant. He invents on a regular basis. He has been successful at commercialising a number of his ideas and seems to be effective at getting entry to the most surprising companies. He has a gift, one that deserves to be nurtured. We can supplement his ideas with the diligence and persistence to make sure that his ideas get to a wider audience. I think we will enjoy working together.

25 May 2006

Blog stats

Subscriptions continue to rise gently.

The last 30 days is higher than the all time average by 17%
The last 7 days is higher than the 30 day average by 29%

Checking the statistics

I'm digging out some stats today for a meeting that Phil and Chris are going to tomorrow. We have been doing some AdWords for one of our clients and it hasn't made much impact on her total traffic.

The click-through rate is a healthy 5% but the impressions for UK searches against 15 keywords total less than 20 per day which means that our client gains probably an additional visitor a day. A well-qualified, eager visitor but nevertheless, just the one. We need to adopt a range of approaches to increase her traffic substantially. Thinking caps on boys!

24 May 2006

Pitching horseshoes

I pitched an application to a manufacturing business today. It wasn't a perfect fit, but we could cut down the product's functionality and deliver just the sub-set of functions that they think they need without too much difficulty.

It's really a Trojan Horse strategy. We believe that they need substantially more than they say they need, and we'll be able to unlock that additional power at some point in the future.

The outcome of the meeting? We are going to provide them with a configuration questionnaire so that we will be able to find out how much work will be required to implement the application and what level of granularity they want in the reports. That's a solid outcome because it takes them forward in the buying process and gets them thinking about how they will use the product.

23 May 2006

The seasonal business

Sometimes the weather conspires against you - it is only just over a week since the newspapers were going on at length about the drought that the UK was suffering from. Today, 8 days later, 8 days of rain later, the Sandhurst Donkey Derby is at risk of being cancelled.

The issue is that the rainwater is floating. It has become trapped in the first 30cm of the field and it isn't draining away. There will be a final decision tomorrow to establish whether the field will be dry enough to allow the event to take place.

If the event cannot take place then we have to find an alternative date that satisfies the least-worst optimisation. It is inevitable that some of the punters will be away, so will some of the stallholders and helpers.

This isn't a decision that will be taken lightly, the Donkey Derby should happen on the Bank Holiday Monday if at all possible.

Don't fall in love with the business

This is a great article by Michael Idov in Slate. I liked it because it throws a healthy dose of cold water on the charm of opening a business of one's own.

I'm including a paragraph, but the whole of the article is worth a read.

There was, of course, one way to make the cafe viable: It was written into the Golden Rule itself. My wife Lily and I could work there, full-time, save on the payroll, and gerrymander the rest of the budget to allow for lower sales. Guess what, dear dreamers? The psychological gap between working in a cafe because it's fun and romantic and doing the exact same thing because you have to is enormous. Within weeks, Lily and I—previously ensconced in an enviably stress-free marriage—were at each other's throats. I hesitate to say which was worse: working the same shift or alternating. Each option presented its own small tortures. Two highly educated professionals with artistic aspirations have just put themselves—or, as we saw it, each other—on $8-per-hour jobs slinging coffee. After four more months, we grew suspicious of each other's motives, obsessively kept track of each other's contributions to the cause ("You worked three days last week!"), and generally waltzed on the edge of divorce. The marriage appears to have been saved by a well-timed bankruptcy.

22 May 2006

Volvo doesn't just mean a car ...

Tonight I was in Portsmouth - with some of the Movistar crew from the Volvo race. Someone who is staying with me for a few days had met the crew in Baltimore. He wanted to go to Portsmouth tonight to console them and offer his support. At this level, the sport involves highly ordered teams where each role is clearly defined. The whole objective is to get to the end. The Movistar crew was bereft, they couldn't finish the race - the boat was lost and one of the crewmen from ABN Amro Two had lost his life.

This isn't about money although the boat cost a small fortune. It is about planning how you will complete the next stage. The plans don't have a contingency which considers how to deal with not completing the stage - why would they? The Movistar guys were physically present tonight, but mentally they were miles away. I can't imagine what was going through their heads.

I think that it will be some time before they pick themselves up again.

21 May 2006

... try it, let's see what happens!

On Friday, Phil and I sat down with a piece of application software and put together a sales demo script for it in about 4 hours without access to the manual and only 3 calls to the developer. We learned a lot about the software, too. It was the first time that we had seen the software without the developer being in the room.

As a technique, train the trainer is an invaluable learning mechanism. Putting together the material to train others really does drive the message home. When Chris arrived in the afternoon, we sat him down at the keyboard and read the script to him. We picked up a couple of minor glitches, but Chris was able to follow the instructions and get the outputs that we wanted him to get.

We now have to play with the script contents to make sure that it doesn't run too long.

20 May 2006

Not so average then ...

Yesterday I got a marketing newsletter which went on at some length about how poor response rates are on most websites - and this meant any action, including leaving personal details or making a purchase. The newsletter quoted an average response rate of less than 1%.

We think about that problem constantly - and we try hard to do better. I was pretty confident that our latest site was doing OK against the 1% average so I checked the stats this morning. That site is currently running a response rate - primarily people leaving their details against an offer - of 19% and it seems to have been fairly consistent over the last 2 weeks. We have some plans for split testing and improving that further, but the changes will be slow tinkering rather than radical revisions.

When would you like them delivered?

The headline is partly a joke. The language used is called the assumptive sell - you use it in sales copy or during a presentation to condition the buyer to think about owning the product.

The manufactured staple I was talking about a few days ago was cotton. The products are Egyptian cotton towels. I had seen samples, but yesterday I got the full customer experience - unwrapping a courier pack delivered to my home.

I had forgotten the quality. They have excellent weight, drape and softness and the embroidered version looks very luxurious. We now have to create a site which conveys that quality to visitors.

That means the photography will have to be very artful. Towelling is difficult to photograph well (and photos of towelling are often dross) - it's a deeply textured surface and it shows best in angled light which creates shadow. Trainer tip: if you intend to prepare a new towel for photography, wash it in a low temperature wash and then tumble dry it. After that you are on your own, but remember the amount of visual dross out there.

Now our wives have seen the towels they are keen to talk about the pricing and the various offers we had considered putting on the site. The great news is that they believe in the product. Last night my wife and I went out to a party and she excelled herself - identifying people there she thought might be interested in the towels and winning several requests to see samples.

18 May 2006

Feel the fear and do it anyway ...

We are working with a team to promote interest in the application for forecasting, budgeting and performance management. Some of the team dislike ambiguity and want every conceivable question answered before they speak to a potential client.

My view of the world is a bit different. I'm happy to be roughly right and it doesn't bother me in the least if there are things that I don't know. That's fine so long as I'm honest and admit that I've encountered a question that I can't answer.

That can create difficulties because I don't always anticipate how much support they need to help them in their early contacts. Fortunately, Chris and Phil are only too happy to tell me what's required.

Pingomatic revisited

Pingomatic not only seems to be working again but it is now on the publication screen of Blogger. Now, once a post is published, you have the option of notifying Pingomatic from the same screen.

Better and better - as someone who isn't that technical, this kind of support is very useful.

Sandhurst Donkey Derby

It's now in the second half of the month and I've got to balance my time very carefully between what I'm doing in the business and what I'm doing for Sandhurst Donkey Derby. The Derby takes place at the end of the month and is one of the largest community events in east Berkshire as well as raising good-sized sums for local charities.

We work to keep costs as low as possible for the Derby so that we can maximise funds for the charities - to do that, we operate it as if it were a business that was supposed to be making a profit. That sounds ridiculous, but as a mental approach it works fine. Everyone knows that they have to do what they can to guarantee the bonus - it's just that all the bonus (and all the surplus over costs) goes to the charities.

16 May 2006


Having commented for a few days about Pingomatic's absence, I'm pleased to report that it seems to be back up this afternoon and working quicker than it did before.

Let's hope that it continues to stay up.

Getting the message across clearly

I was talking to Phil earlier today about one of our clients. We had interpreted something that the client had told us in slightly different ways so we ran a test to check which one of us was right. That kind of testing costs time and, in some cases, cash.

In a perfect world there wouldn't be any confusion and all messages would be received as transmitted without distortion or misunderstanding. But as you know only too well, we don't live in a perfect world and we are stuck with imperfect human communication.

Trainers normally encourage receivers of communication to give feedback of their understanding and transmitters of communication to ask for feedback of understanding. Those techniques represent belt and braces, but the reality is that there is plenty of misunderstanding in the world - irrespective of how good and clear the original message was.

Stock photos

I was on the Stock.xchange site this morning. It shows how little I know. Stock.xchange has been around for about 5 years, but this was the first time I had come across it.

Not all low-cost or no-cost stock photo sites are as good as this. It has depth - the result of being around for 5 years, I expect. More impressive is the quality of the search and browse functions. It is quite quick to find a photo with the right kind of characteristics. Not all the photography is first rate, but that's typical for a site of this type.

The licences are not very restrictive although I noticed that one or two photographers required written permission before use of their material. Generally that's not the case and you can be downloading a suitable image within a few minutes of signing up.

It also provides access a premium site - Stockxpert - which provides access to Royalty free stock photos of good quality for relatively low cost.

An impressive site.

15 May 2006

Finding a new Sales Director ...

My client is very specific - he wants to find a Sales Director with a particular skill set and experiences and he won't be moved. He wants to find someone who looks a bit like him.

The good thing about this is that it saves time - he won't waste time on looking at large numbers of CVs - there aren't many candidates that fulfil his criteria.

The bad thing is that he is ignoring all kinds of candidates who might be able to do an excellent job for him and would be quite capable of picking up the technical issues very quickly. If he took the time to assess the qualities that he needs to take the business forward on the sales side, he might be willing to compromise on the industry experience, because he might recognise that the coaching and leadershp is so important.

I know in my heart that this isn't going to happen. He will waste a lot of time looking for a suitable candidate and he won't understand the real cost of finding a Sales Director because his management information system doesn't allow him to analyse that kind of data easily.

Working with a 3rd party

If you want the job doing as cost-effectively as possible, it's good practice to give a highly detailed specification for the 3rd party to follow.

Occasionally the 3rd party is given his head. Frank Lloyd Wright apparently showed his client no intermediate sketches for Falling Water before delivering the finished drawings. The story goes that in frustration his client telephoned him to ask when the drawings would be ready. Lloyd Wright said, "I have just finished them" and as soon as the phone was put down, drew all the elevations, floor plans and interiors and completed them in the 4 hours or so it took his client to arrive. He had finished them, but only in his head. The feat is claimed to be one of the miracles of 20th century architecture and it has been confirmed by several of the associates who were in the office that day.

Most people would feel uneasy giving that degree of control to a 3rd party - but Lloyd Wright was already famous at this point. For those without that degree of trust, it makes sense to make the specification highly detailed so that the iteration between the 3rd party and the client is minimised. Without that specification, the 3rd party is likely to come forward with an idea that the client feels is technically acceptable but which doesn't really meet his vision of how it would look. That generates costs as the 3rd party then has to revise the relevant part of the work until it meets his client's vision.

14 May 2006

Filing it away

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not hugely technical and I couldn't work out how to add tags to this blog. The Blogger help screens came to my aid and I have now added Greasemonkey and a neat script to Firefox and now I can tag straight from the compose screen.

Adding the tag line to the compose screen was only the first element of course. I have now gone back and started the exercise of tagging earlier posts. That isn't finished and won't be for some time. It is one of those jobs which are non-urgent which may never be completed.

13 May 2006

Where's Wally?

After 10 weeks the blog readership has spiked and has become very international:
  • 84% are using English on their system [me]
  • 83% are using Windows XP [me]
  • 81% are using 32 bit colour [me]
  • 65% are using Internet Explorer [I use Firefox, like 31%]
  • 63% are using Java 1.3 [I use Java 1.5, like 34%]
  • 61% are based more than 4000 miles from me
  • 54% are based in North America [I'm in Europe, like 31%]
  • 51% are using displays of 1024 x 768 [I use 1280 x 1024, like 17%]
  • 45% are based in the USA [I'm in the UK, like 23%]
Predominantly IE, older technology and further away. You are less and less like me as time goes on.

12 May 2006

The more things change the more they stay the same

When we set up the business we were confident about the core activity. We recognised that we would need to diversify the business over time but at that stage weren't sure that we would be able to generate the right kind of opportunities at a high enough rate.

As time has gone on, the opportunity stream has grown. We now have some high level criteria that we apply. If an opportunity meets those high level criteria then we take a more detailed look. That saves us time by allowing us to focus on the proposals where we can add value and the payback will be high. We don't need to continuously rewrite the strategy, because the criteria come directly from it.

At PwC we had a similar approach - we reviewed opportunities against WBB criteria (winning better business). Those asked whether an opportunity would deliver high value to the client, profits and PR potential to PwC and whether the scale of the opportunity was sufficiently large to justify the cost of sale. Those criteria were enormously valuable - they allowed operations managers in the firm to focus their attention on attractive opportunities which also delivered good value propositions to the client. The sole problem with the approach was that it meant that the pipeline used scale as a measure of attractiveness and as I've said before, the most important opportunities in the pipeline aren't the biggest - they are the ones that you can win.

A new story to tell

Phil and I were looking at a new opportunity yesterday. Not just looking at it but feeling the weight and quality of the product. It was a rather retail experience. We have promised to give a decision about our interest by the middle of next week.

The great thing is that the quality of the product sounds right. The product is a manufactured staple, but it comes from a country which is known world-wide as being the source of the finest product. Within the country, there are several areas which produce different quality products - but the examples we were looking at yesterday are recognised as being the best quality within the country. A 5 star product from a country which has a world-wide reputation in producing the product.

The team we were with have tried a number of avenues but still want to grow their business substantially. Now we need to see whether we can put a compelling story around this and test whether the numbers make sense.

11 May 2006

Not such a wired world

I noticed a statistic this week that 14% of the world's population between the ages of 15 and 65 have now used the internet. In Europe and the USA we tend to forget how limited technological access can be in economies where survival is often more important than IM. You may have a product which would add value in a survival economy, but then you have a significant problem of access.

Access is why we love the 14%. Even if they don't buy a product or a service online, then we can inform them about it so that they will seek it out, touch it, feel it and buy it in a conventional outlet. It's that simplicity of access which allows us to forget that there is a very different world out there, outside the cloistered environment of air conditioning, central heating, double glazing and pollen filtration. Whether we like it or not, the gap between the two worlds is still growing.

10 May 2006

What I need to do is protect the IP ...

Well ... yes, up to a point. But protecting a piece of IP which you don't know how to commercialise is a waste of your money. Having a patent is not going to make you rich - not unless you can sell licences to the IP or can sell the product or service delivered by the IP through your own organisation.

Sometimes defending the IP has direct commercial benefits. Let's imagine that our happy inventor has registered a patent to produce an improved widget. He sells manufacturing licences to 1 or 2 widget manufacturers and sits back to grow fat and happy on the licence income. If an unlicensed manufacturer copies the new design and sells in competition to the official licensees then the holder of the IP is obligated to defend it. If he doesn't then:
  • he sends a message to the existing licence holders that their licence is of little value since it offers no protection against unlicensed competitors
  • he sends a message to the unlicensed manufacturer that there is no economic penalty in copying protected IP
In the trade, actions against unlicensed manufacturers are known as "stick licensing". The objective is to encourage the unlicensed manufacturer to become officially licensed - increasing overall licence income and to discourage existing licence holders from failing to renew. Protection of IP wouldn't normally be thought of as business development but in this example it includes both business development and churn management.

Defending the contract

If you believe that a contract is no longer being honoured by the other party then it may be worth investing some time and cash in order to test whether they can be brought back to it. This is the equivalent of the churn management programmes that I'm sure that you will have been exposed to in cable TV or mobile telephones.

As the supplier, you know that the contract that was in place had a value to you and what it will probably cost you in time and money to find another customer with similar value - it is therefore worth a proportion of that cost to test whether the original customer can be retained. That testing is done automatically in some organisations. Where the cost of sales isn't huge and the lifetime value of a contract is low then there wouldn't be a major effort to retain any individual contract. On the other hand, if the cost of sales is high and the lifetime value of the contract is large then there will be a substantially larger effort to retain the customer.

Customer retention is a significant part of business development - as well as representing a group of advocates who can sell you to other targets, they represent your short-term cash stream - and where else are you going to fund your ongoing business development efforts?

09 May 2006

Pinging updates to the blog

Having mentioned Pingomatic a couple of times since last Friday (and it is still AWOL from where I'm sitting). I'm pleased to report that another site has come to my aid - welcome to iPings, an XML ping page which seems to work pretty effectively with an even larger group of services than Pingomatic.

One thing less to worry about, then.

What do the punters want?

I first became interested in research when I was working in Brussels back in the days when my hair had more brown than grey. At that time I was doing proprietary and multi-client studies in the chemicals business. It convinced me that there is nothing which has the power of a punter's opinion.

Of course a punter is just a data point and you need to handle some of the responses with care - that said, it is possible to get at real commercial truths at well below the level of a statistically valid survey. That has meant that I have retained an interest in the topic and I use it, and recommend that our clients use it whenever it looks as if there would be a benefit in asking what the market thinks.

Without research, Red Splash would be just 3 middle-aged blokes with a point of view. Our rich experience notwithstanding, we work better when we can supplement our opinions with information from the punters. With research, we are able to develop more powerful customer and market strategies which address or take advantage of what the market is telling us. Never be afraid to ask questions - it can be vital to the health of your business.

08 May 2006

It's OK, they've signed the contract ...

A couple of years ago, I helped one of my clients win a good-sized BPO job from a mobile telecommunications company. I got a call today from my client who was unhappy to find that his customer - famous name plc - wanted to renege on its contract which still has 3 years to run.

A contract is a major stepping stone in most relationships - we sign contracts when we are in the honeymoon period and confident that things will go well and we call on contracts when the relationship sours. He wants me to act as a 3rd party for him in the negotiation to bring them back to the agreement so that he can use plausible deniability if my 'misinterpretation of his position' threatens to get him into trouble.

This happens more often than you might expect in dealings between small companies and larger businesses. I met a very interesting owner of a courier business about four years ago and she had just lost a major piece of business which had been taken on at suspiciciously low rates by a large carrier. She managed to restructure her business virtually overnight and was able to continue trading profitably despite losing 55% of her top line.

Not all businesses are able to demonstrate that degree of flexibility in operations or indeed, that level of ruthlessness in carrying out pruning exercises. In this case, famous carrier plc assumed quite rightly that she didn't have the stomach to enforce her contract with her original customer and didn't have the resources to go to court. Although they didn't realise it, they would have been much better making her an offer of employment than stealing business from her - she was a phenomenal manager and the fact that she was able to take all the complexity out her operations at short notice and continue to trade profitably says heaps about her talent. She was worth much more to them as an employee then she ever was as a wounded competitor. By the way, she has tripled the size of her original business and continues to trade profitably. She might even be able to afford a court case, now.

07 May 2006

Taking criticism ...

Someone I met during the last couple of months asked me to critique his website. It can be difficult to develop a compelling site for a business services site. Truthfully, this one wasn't very good. It was pretty generic and if I had substituted the name of a competitor's business wherever his company name was used, it wouldn't have looked out of place.

He wasn't asking me to comment on the technical aspects of the site - just the management of the visitor to sale process. I gave it my best shot - I didn't have long to do it, so I sent a brief email setting out what I thought the major defects were. I didn't attempt to modify what I thought by careful phrasing. The next time I saw him, I asked him if he had gone through my notes. He was really pleased - "Honestly, that was just what I wanted."

I'm just not ready to try such a brutal approach with a client.

06 May 2006

[Customer] service ...

I posted a little earlier today about Pingomatic, a service which I normally access through Feedburner. Pingomatic seems to have gone AWOL.

Today's Saturday, and I don't pay anything for the Feedburner service but Rick Klau the VP of Business Development at Feedburner and Chris Frye in Feeburner Support both sent me emails today about the problem that I was experiencing. Normally I would describe this as a high level of customer support, but a customer (in my eyes at least) is normally defined by some kind of commercial relationship.

Rick and Chris obviously don't think the same way I do, so they don't seem to find it odd that they were doing this on a Saturday for someone who isn't a customer. So guys - the only way I can really pay you back is to go for the unsolicited testimonial, and here it is:

"Feedburner has saved me hours in helping me to manage my subscribers and publicise my blog. Not only that, their customer service has been amazing - I would recommend their service to any blogger".

We've got a terrier

He likes to think of himself as a solution sales guy, but there is no doubt - his DNA is all terrier. There is something about the way he asks questions and the way that he refuses to leave a subject alone that leaves you in absolutely no doubt that he is a great guy to have on the team.

Our problem is how to find more like him. We are pretty confident that we can help him to be highly successful and we would like to do the same for others, too. Where are they? Back in corporate land, salespeople are backed by brands which ease the sales process. Our clients very often don't have the luxury of a well-known brand and they have to fight for each sale. Salespeople who don't like the fight very often find something else to do with their time - this type of sales is hard.

Not a problem for our terrier - he seems to be enjoying himself enormously.

All is not well at Pingomatic

I use Feedburner for my RSS feeds and they have a very useful site which is loaded with utilities to make a bloggers life - if not a happy one - at least easier. One of those utilities is Pingomatic which delivers pings to a range of services. That's useful because it means that you can save buckets of time and not have to go through a repetitive series of actions. So far so good, but today Pingomatic is timing out on me.

I'll give it a bit longer before I decide to try something else - the service might well come back up - I'll send a quick note to Feedburner and see if they know something.

Have a little patience

One of my clients won a new piece of work a couple of weeks ago. It's a reasonable size job but it only took him a day to sell it. Better, it gives him access to a new market segment he thought would take him much longer to enter.

He met someone a couple of years ago and during the course of their conversation had mentioned what he did. Over the last 2 years my client saw that contact only once, earlier this year, and the content of the initial conversation wasn't brought up. Truthfully, the contact didn't do much with the information until March this year when he encountered a business acquiring a target with several locations - cue an introduction to my client.

The acquiring business was delighted to find out how quickly they would be able to get solid management information out of the business they were buying and signed up almost as quickly as my client could confirm the price.

If you are impatient, then the idea of waiting 2 years for an introduction is anathema. Sometimes you have to be more relaxed ... things can take time and it is important to recognise the difference between those situations where a sense of urgency would be helpful and those where it is better to leave things alone. It's a good philosophy if you can encourage people to buy from you rather than you actively selling them into submission.

Business Development is very often a series of activity investments all of which have different ROIs and all of which pay back on very different timescales. The important thing is to do a variety of things and let nature take its course.

05 May 2006

The round table discussions

One of the things we were talking about today was a site selling Egyptian cotton towels and towelling products.

Chris had an exceptional idea. It neatly overcame the data capture problem and provided reassurance to the visitors about the quality of the product. Doing without lunch obviously did something to his metabolism because then he then had a pretty good thought about gift packaging as well. Phil and I were able to coast through all this. Which is why I always recommend that there need to be more heads at the table than just the one - more heads means better outputs, more consistently. Another topic and it could have been Phil and indeed, on PR - later in the same meeting - Phil proved to be a dynamo and came up with a heap of good stuff.

They're just leading us on ...

For some reason we have a lot of live leads this week, from a range of different sources. I would like to think that they all represent the results of careful planning, but all we did really was to develop several channels and then service them as effectively as we could.

That is why we encourage clients to use several approaches to their markets. It isn't because we have no faith in a single approach, or even the approach that the client has selected. We simply believe that more = better when it comes to reach in a marketplace.

All that of course leads us with problem to solve - how do we convince these leads to convert into business. That's where we sit around the table (real or metaphorical) and discuss the problem. Discussing things as a team is unbelievably valuable. I posted a few weeks ago about the importance of single practitioners buddying up with someone as quickly as they could sensibly do so, but there is absolutely no substitute for having a team of people thinking about a problem to help drive the thinking a bit further.

04 May 2006

More WOM - selling the service

Same champagne reception - well, we've got to increase consumption somehow. Different conversation. This time with a service business which refurbishes offices on behalf of clients. He has been in the business for about 15 years but the client list was already well-established when he arrived because the organisation had gone through some form of phoenix restructuring.

The business doesn't actively promote itself, it follows its clients and it sells largely by word of mouth. This is the very best marketing strategy if you can pull it off. Costs of sale drop sharply, but the business may grow below its capability. Word of mouth is difficult to manage actively - you can't actually control when those great customers become great advocates in a target's ear.

Like any business development strategy, WOM needs to be combined with other techniques so that the business is in control of its destiny. I'm not decrying word of mouth - I honestly believe that it's the very best form of marketing. My point is that it isn't the only form of marketing and it would be delinquent to rely on it alone.

Pricing the service

Earlier today, Phil and I were at a champagne reception. We were pleased to be there. It would have been churlish to stay away. We had supplied the champagne. During the reception we chatted to someone who owns and operates a couple of serviced offices. He had some interesting stories to tell about the way the business had moved over the last few years. When he opened the facility that we were in today, he aimed his pricing to be roughly 25% below the market leader because it was his perception that the leader was offering a 5 star service which he couldn't easily compete against.

That was some time ago - almost exactly 5 years - and today he commands premium prices while the famous name supplier discounts its prices below his. He is confident that his service is better than the household name competitor. He is at 94% occupancy and has just closed a record number of deals in the past 2 weeks. Business is looking good.

His take on serviced offices is that while having high-tech offices may be good, and having well decorated space is a basic requirement, the key to success is having really customer focused staff who are prepared to go a little bit further in order to make things work perfectly.

His current sales pitch is that he may not offer the lowest prices, but he does offer the best value. That's a sales technique that many small businesses forget. They can get so anxious to close business and so obsessed with winning a deal that they can take on work at margins which are derisory. That's not to say that the last 5 years have been continuous success for this businessman - far from it. Despite those ups and downs he seems to have established a formula that works and is now running the business very profitably.