29 June 2006

The Business Development Clinic

Yesterday I spent the day with a Patent Attorney. We were running a clinic for inventors. It wasn't exactly like Dragon's Den - there was no TV camera in the room. It was fun. We saw four very different ideas during the day and all of them had some commercial merit.

One idea was particularly strong. Two young mothers had experienced a problem with some existing products and had attempted to design an alternative. Neatly, they didn't try to create a gold-plated mousetrap - but it was a major improvement to the existing product, increasing the product's value for the buyer. They were asking good questions, too - I wish them every success.

The other ideas were in varying stages of readiness but all them had a passion that they wanted to take forward - they all believed that their product would be attractive to consumers. However, we all know that commercial success doesn't rely on a clever idea - it is often about your ability to get a package together which is fit for purpose and getting it out into the market place before anyone thinks of a similar solution.

The day was useful for me too, I learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of registered designs and patents. It also gave me an opportunity to set out my own position that legal rights don't have a commercial value unless you are prepared to prosecute them. In the IP sector that prosecution of rights is known as 'stick licensing'. If you are prepared to go to court then you impress on your existing licensees that you are willing to stand up for the value of your IP. You also encourage the organisation trying to evade the licence that becoming a licensee might be simpler and cheaper than going to court.

27 June 2006

Stats from NicheBot

I've been playing with my new toy - NicheBot - see this post. Since this blog is broadly about the themes of business development both on the web and face to face in the real world, I thought that I would share some stats from NicheBot with you for the keyword 'Business Development'.

Business Development 994.41
Small business development 130.55

NicheBot lists 10 keywords, but you get the general idea - each keyword is related to the phrase 'Business Development'. The number which follows the keyword phrase is the ratio between the number of sites which use exactly that phrase in their website (the competitors) and the number of times during the year that the keyword phrase was used in a search. The larger the number, the more competitors jostling for those search visitors. Business Development is a pretty competitive area to be. With 138 million pages defined by NicheBot as direct competitors for the phrase 'Business Development' we are in a shark pool rather than a goldfish bowl. Despite that, over 60% of our visitors arrive after making a business development related search.

Advertising the blog

I found a great advertising medium for the blog this morning - putting a comment on someone else's blog. Not just any old blog, mind you - one with a pretty wide readership. I do read other people's blogs and occasionally I post a comment, but it isn't habitual.

This morning I was reading a blog and I made a comment. I wasn't the first to comment on the blog - there were a number of others in moderation that I wasn't aware of. Fortunately, my post didn't cover any ground which had already been done to death by the first comments. Within 30 minutes of my post appearing on his blog, I had a raft of new visitors who had clicked through from the comment and 3 of them appear to have become subscribers. Most blogs I comment on don't have anywhere near that impact - most of them are very slow burn and I can find people clicking on comments that I made months ago. Clearly the difference between commenting on a relatively high profile blog and the blogs that I normally post on.

How much ankle to show?

No, it isn't a fashion question.

We have just done an email campaign about a Red Splash workshop which we run on website effectiveness. We are pretty confident that the material is robust, but it is very different from most eCommerce workshops. The 'ology' that interests us is psychology rather than technology. We obviously have to be aware of technology, but we are actually more interested in whether the primary and secondary sales processes work effectively and whether the site is designed in the most effective way to capture visitor information.

Following the emailings, we have had a number of people come back to us to ask us for the slides we use at the workshop - well, that idea's a non-starter. The reality is, if someone has the slide pack, they don't really need us to be around to amuse, cajole and interject. We can abbreviate some of the content of the slides and talk about the objectives of different phases of the workshop, but I'm not sure that makes much sense either. We need to think about it. Maybe one or two slides from the middle of the pack would give some of the flavour without giving too much away. It's important that we respond to the requests in a positive way but it's IP and we don't want to reveal too much, too early.

23 June 2006

Now here is a clever tool

I've been using a keyword generator which does search engine queries to find out how popular specific keywords are and generating similar figures for related searches. Quite a clever tool.

Today I discovered NicheBot. NicheBot goes one step further. In addition to providing details of search frequency it also provides details of the number of pages delivered against the search and the number of competitors (the pages which carry the exact keywords in their text) as well as providing a ratio of competitors divided by searches. The ratio is a proxy for how well a particular set of keywords is matched against suppliers - the higher the ratio, the more competitors selling directly against one another. If the number is small, then maybe this is a search term which is undersupplied which you could quickly dominate - it may also be a search term which is rare which is why it is undersupplied, but that is an entirely different problem.

... and the price? Priceless, yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, NicheBot is free.

A complaint about auto-reply

I occasionally send out an email to a group of people in a network. One or two of them have auto-replies on their email servers which tell me that they aren't around at the moment, but my message is important to them and they will be back to me as soon as possible ... yada, yada, yada.

The first time you see a response like that you may think, fine - here's someone with their life under control. After that, the ignorance of the content becomes annoying. If you aren't in the office then I'm not worried, if you read my message and think it is important enough to respond to then fine. I don't need to know that you aren't around (unless I'm planning on breaking into your office), and your auto-reply message is just something else for me to delete.

I imagine someone sending out an email to a large distribution list just before dashing out of their office and it generating some auto responses from some recipients which then create a series of loops by activating the auto response on the sender's email and so on. Let's get rid of them - they don't make anyone's life any better.

By the way, this isn't a criticism of auto-responders - carefully crafted, an auto responder can help a prospect turn into a buyer. Those auto responders carry messages with real content and an objective. It's the lifeless, content-free automatic replies I'm complaining about.

The bots, the bots ...

I don't pretend to understand the frequency of bot reindexing or what they measure. I post to the blog an average of once per day but I'm not always diligent enough to do it every day. The search engines interpret what I have done in very different ways.

This blog shows an increase of 129 pages during the last month on Google, an increase of 6 links on Yahoo and 1 page and 1 link on MSN. Who is right? They can't even agree on how many pages there are on the blog. Does this make sense? Well, up to a point. Metrics frequently have meaning only when you view trends within the metric itself - trying to compare one metric with another is often futile.

Relax, watch the trend and not the absolute numbers.

Which levers today?

Business Development is often a case of deciding which levers are available. It often depends on reach.

If the product or service already has high reach amongst potential buyers, then:
  • will the buyers accept price rises?
  • can they be encouraged to buy more often?
  • can they be encouraged to increase their average spend when they buy?
If the product or service doesn't have high reach, then:
  • what segments or geographies can be accessed at an acceptable cost?
  • what channels can be used to access the segments or geographies?
Mechanical engineering is about undoing bolts and then doing them up again in the right order. Business Development has more degrees of freedom and is always dynamic. Business Development Strategies would be simple if it weren't for buyer behaviour and competitive response. That is what make the problem so interesting - we are dealing with continually shifting environments and that is challenging.

The knowledge and the offer

We have just put together another simple site - this time for Egyptian Cotton towels. Like any other Sales activity, making a presentation through a site or face to face depends on product knowledge. I now know entirely too much about fibre length, mercerising, spinning and weaving.

That's the technical bit - the equivalent of knowing the size of your oven in litres. Actually, what buyers want to know is much more related to the way the towels behave - how they drape, how they feel, whether they are soft, whether they are fluffy. That's very straightforward in a face to face presentation, but online the patter can sound like hyperbole if you don't take care.

21 June 2006

Sending out newsletters is easy

At the week-end, when I wasn't working on the brakes of the XJ6, I put together the July newsletter for Red Splash. We use a site called Constant Contact and they allow you to upload addresses and develop formats which look consistent with your normal collateral. They also provide reports on what happens to a newsletter after it is sent out - the statistics aren't completely comprehensive since not all email clients allow reporting back, but it provides details of bounces, opt-outs, spam reports, opens, click-throughs and so on by individual campaign as well as providing an overall campaign summary.

The best bit though, is the ability to create a newsletter well ahead of time and simply assign a delivery day and time to it in the knowledge that it will go out when you expect. It's a very good service and we're very pleased with it.

18 June 2006

The internet can't do everything

Yesterday I did some car maintenance. I've got a Jag XJ6 and the front disks needed some work. Normally I don't work on the car because technology has moved on so much in the last few years, but brakes are an area where I feel relatively competent.

I started a quick internet search for front disks but the first couple of places I called weren't open and suggested that I call back, but the message wasn't specific as to when. That's when I decided to go and see the local car spares shop in the village. He didn't have the pads in stock but promised to get them in an hour and give me a call when they were in. The call duly arrived and I went down to the shop and this is where the customer service moved from good to exemplary.

Apparently there are 2 possible pad designs for my car depending on whether the caliper is single or twin piston - he had ordered both, and let me take them away so that I could fit the right set and bring the other box back to him. He didn't even bother to draw up an invoice since it was easier for him to put it through the till just once when he knew which set I had used. When I got home and started to take the brakes apart, I quickly found that I needed the single piston pads and the set he had supplied were the correct replacements.

He's won himself an advocate.

... and the internet? Not a good report, I'm afraid - the sites I had used all recommended the twin piston pads, so if I had ordered from them then I would have lost time finding out that they didn't fit my car.

16 June 2006

What makes a website effective?

I've been involved in an email correspondence with someone who approaches websites from a design perspective - things that don't naturally fit with their views of good design need to be 'revised'. I'm all for good design, but there are some hugely effective sites out there which break all kinds of design rules - mainly because they were built by people who weren't design-literate.

Design is simply one aspect of building a site that works - one of the sites that I have used as an example this week is confused, difficult to navigate but hugely effective in sales terms. Even the site's owner calls it 'ugly'. There is a phrase in sports about winning ugly. Some sites win ugly, too. If a site is selling well - with a high conversion of visitors to buyers and a good ratio between initial purchase and lifetime value - don't worry too much about the finer aspects of design.

Part of this is down to the punters themselves. They haven't necessarily been trained to appreciate 'good design', they know what they are looking for, and find it hugely reassuring when they find it. Very often they are more interested in the product or the service than they are in the design of the site that allows them to make the purchase.

13 June 2006

An eCommerce kind of week

One of the changes to our sites this week was to our premier cru champagne site - we have now got a source of small 2 and 4 bottle packs so we have been able to modify the offer on the site as well as send out a promotional email to everyone on the database. The key to this was finding packaging of the right quality - we have to be certain that the product arrives in good condition and we're confident that this will do the job.

The other major job this week is to complete the Egyptian cotton towels site and the AppointmentsManaged site. Phil will be kept very busy.

The copy or the keywords?

Today I did some searches on Opera to find out the frequency of keyword searches for some of our sites. It was interesting to see what the relevant volumes were and how they compared with the copy that we had developed for the sites before we had access to keyword frequency. People can adopt different approaches here, but for me, developing copy is best done in a vacuum. Ignore everything else and try to write the best copy that you can. Once you compare it with the keyword searches you can then make some judgements about whether you want to consider any changes. Starting with the keywords and then trying to write the copy might work for some people but not for us.

12 June 2006

Keep on selling

In a small organisation you know exactly who the buyer is. In a larger company, roles may change and although you may assume that a change in roles means that there is no change to your positioning in the sales process you can easily be wrong.

Although the needs of the organisation haven't changed, the prism through which you are accessing them may have changed substantially and you need to know very quickly what the impact is likely to be. A new incumbent may have a completely different perspective and may have an entirely different agenda from the person you were working with previously so you shouldn't assume that they will want to pick up the process from the same point. You need to spend some time with them to understand how their perspective differs and what that means for your solution and your positioning.

If you don't take the opportunity to take a cool look at the impact of the change in role then you may well be disappointed in the outcome. At the worst case your 'sure thing' has become a cold lead which you need to treat in the same way as any other opportunity.

08 June 2006

Keeping the sales momentum up

This excellent article comes from Marketing Profs - reminding us how important is to challenge every element of the copy.

Your "Add to Cart" button is the tail of your headline.

After taking a huge amount of trouble to optimize a sales page on our sites, all too often we finish the page with a button that says something like this: Add to Cart, Add to Basket or Add to Shopping Cart.

Is that really the best we can do?

Think for a moment of those direct mail pieces you receive from time to time. Does the prepaid response card simply say, "Add to Cart" or "Charge my Credit Card Now"?


If, for instance, you are being sold a magazine subscription, it might say something like, "Yes, please start my 30-day free trial of Online Copywriting Today."

Your page has to keep selling, from beginning to end.

Let's assume that you have started your sales page with a strong headline. You have a compelling value proposition and have left your readers with the belief that you can give them something they want. You then write some great body copy that builds on the promise in your headline, builds confidence, and dissolves any hesitation readers might feel. By the time they get to that "buy now" button, they are almost ready to commit to the purchase. But, as we all know—to our cost—there is a big difference between being almost ready, and being ready. Use that "buy now" text to tip them over. When you lead someone by the hand all the way down the page, you deliver them face to face with a barrier. And that barrier is the final call to action... the link or button that will take them to your shopping cart. It is not enough to simply take them as far as the barrier and then turn around and abandon them. To say "Buy now" or "Add to Cart" is like shrugging your shoulders and walking away. They are such generic phrases. Too passive. Devoid of promise or specificity.

Your call to action is the tail of the headline. You need to add a little flick to that final call to action. And it needs to underline and reaffirm the basic promise of your page. That's why it's the tail of the headline. It is connected to the headline, and gives that final flick to get people into the shopping cart.

The power of the flick depends on how well you can connect it back to the headline and the promise of the page. Of course, the challenge is to write a line that achieves this connection, but in very few words.

As an example, let's say you have a headline that says something like this:

Try our Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans, with a FREE 4 ounce sample.

At the end of the page, instead of the button saying "Add to cart," try this:

Get your FREE sample Now...

The line is a little longer, but it does tie back to the central promise of the headline.

Some concluding thoughts: As writers, we tend to develop some blind spots. We pay a lot of attention to some areas of copy, like the headline and body text, but then tend to just write the "usual" for functional elements of text, like on the "Buy Now" button. Try testing some different text on those buttons, then track click-through and conversion rates.

Where's Wally?

Now 3 months on, who reads this? You look like this:

  • IE 6 52%
  • Firefox 38% [me]
  • Safari 4%
  • Opera 2%
  • Netscape 2%
  • IE 7 2%
Java version:
  • Java 1.3 54%
  • 1.5 43% [me]
  • 1.4 2%
  • disabled 1%
Monitor resolution:
  • 1024 x 768 54%
  • 1280 x 1024 21% [me]
  • 800 x 600 21%
  • 1280 x 800 6%
  • 1400 x 1050 3%
  • 1280 x 768 3%
  • 1680 x 1050 2%
  • Others 4%
Colour depth
  • 32 bit colour 93%
  • 16 bit 6%
  • 8 bit 1%
System language:
  • English 94% [me]
  • Dutch 2%
  • Thai - Japanese - Hebrew - German 4%
Operating system:
  • Windows XP 88% [me]
  • Windows 2000 6%
  • Mac OS X 4%
  • Windows 98 2%
  • Europe 56% [me]
  • North America 33%
  • Asia 6%
  • Oceania / Australia 3%
  • South America 2%
  • UK 50% [me]
  • USA 27%
  • Canada 6%
  • Netherlands 3%
  • Australia 3%
  • Thailand 2%
  • Others 9%
As time goes on the image is blurring - you're less and less like me as time goes on.

07 June 2006

Want more sales? Understand your prospect.

Develop a strategic approach
Strategic salespeople and trusted advisors sometimes need to give advice on areas that the prospect needs help with, even if it makes them uncomfortable. It's more important that prospects respect you than that they like you. Management buys from salespeople who fix their business problems. Prospects can have a narrow vision. Strategic salespeople try to fix all business problems, even the ones the prospect cannot see.

Learn what you can about business drivers
The better you understand your prospect's business drivers - the greater your ability to sell the value of your offering. Selling value closes more deals. That's why prospect knowledge is vital if you are serious about closing business. Conversely, failing to sell the value properly to the prospect often means that you give away margin to close the sale or, worse, fail to close the business completely.

Sell the consequences of not buying
Prospects don't always know how to buy correctly. Professional salespeople have to be prepared to tell them what could happen if they don't buy. Consequence management is an important technique to close sales. The more you know of your prospect's business and the better you are at getting prospects to accept your vision of the consequences - the more you will sell.

06 June 2006

Due diligence

We encountered a company recently that claimed to be able to complement what we were doing and help us grow our sales substantially. If all had been well then we would have signed a contract with them and I would be starting to report the progress that we were making with them.

Before signing a contract though, it's always a good idea to do some due diligence. We had some questions after reading their site, particularly in relation to the way that they would be charging for their service. I sent emails to their Customer Service, tried to telephone them and even went on line with Messenger because they claimed that IM was a better way to contact them. The net result of all this is that we didn't sign a contract and we are still waiting for responses to our emails.

We may have lost an opportunity, but at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we made the decision for solid business reasons.

05 June 2006

Evaluating the short term

It is vital to frequently re-assess how you are spending your effort to make sure that you are balancing your effort across the matrix of short vs long term; investment vs cash producing activities. Although this is almost a classic time management exercise, it is surprising how many businesses fail to stand back from the day-to-day and challenge themselves in relation to how they could invest their time differently.

Today was our day. It was highly useful and good for re-prioritising ourselves. It can be easy to get lost in the specific issues of a project and lose sight of the larger picture. We know intellectually how important it is to get the balance right, but we also know that, left to chance, we would almost certainly get some of it wrong.

We also thought long and hard about some of the projects that we are currently working on - and, as we inevitably do, came up with some excellent ideas for how we could improve what we are doing. Standing back like this isn't a luxury - it's a strategic necessity.

04 June 2006

Website traffic

Too many people get excited about absolute traffic volumes. More is better. Well, up to a point. More can be better if more traffic means more actions from visitors. If a site isn't doing what it is supposed to, then adding more traffic won't change the situation.

What is the site supposed to do? The answer will depend on the site itself - there are essentially three good outcomes:
  • a buyer makes a purchase
  • a buyer likes the site, doesn't make a purchase but leaves their contact details
  • a visitor likes the site, doesn't make a purchase but leaves their contact details
Surely it's a good outcome if someone visits the site and puts it into their favourites or bookmarks? I'm afraid not. If someone puts the site into their favourites or bookmarks then you have no way to contact them - to let them know about your latest offers. You are relying on them to revisit the site regularly. You have no control over the communication flow.

If the traffic you are getting to the site isn't following your call to action then you need to understand why. Why aren't they signing up? Once you have solved that problem then you can start thinking about the traffic issue again.

03 June 2006

Taguchi again

The last post about multivariate analysis might have seemed a bit daunting - it's really just a way of looking at a variety of possible EITHER A OR B options in parallel. The point I should have made is that Taguchi analysis lends itself to relatively high volume sites where developing the data from the test groups doesn't take too long.

For sites with different visit characteristics then you have two options:
  • back the experience and judgement of the people who have built the site
  • do focus group testing with a couple of people who haven't been deeply involved in the design and execution of the site
I would always recommend testing, irrespective of how much you trust the judgement and skills of the team who designed and built the site. Remember, what you are interested in here is not statistical validity - merely a commercial truth. Does the headline work? Is the offer clear? Is the offer compelling?

01 June 2006

Marketing and mathematics or selling for engineers!

Debbie Jenkins has been promoting Lean Marketing for several years. That took the concepts of Lean Manufacturing and applied them in a Sales and Marketing environment. Multivariate testing takes the concept further. It has begun to show good results for simple campaign scenarios which would once have been slowly optimised by split testing. Most of these multivariate approaches seem to derive from Taguchi methods which have been used in manufacturing for many years - I first encountered them in the early 1970s but they have been in use since the second world war. It is only relatively recently that they have moved out of manufacturing and on to the marketeer's desk.

Taguchi methods, developed by Dr. Genichi Taguchi, refer to techniques of optimisation that embody both statistical process control (SPC) and experimental design. Most of the attention and discussion on Taguchi methods has been focused on the statistical aspects of the procedure, but it is actually a conceptual methodology for improving marketing processes.

The entire concept can be described in two basic ideas:

1. Performance should be measured by the deviation from a specified target value, rather than by conformance to specified norms
2. Performance must be built in through the appropriate design of the process and approach

Taguchi testing is more comprehensive than split testing, since it assesses the performance of a system while testing many variables simultaneously, and attempting to isolate the effect of changing any variable. In most split testing exercises it is the imagination of the team that is being tested - their ability to continue to improve the performance of a piece of copy or a site based on some gut instinct about what might be better than the status quo. In multivariate testing, all kinds of combinations can be tested within a relatively short period of time and it doesn't put a heavy load on the marketing team to come up with all those scenarios.

This kind of modelling can produce better and more comprehensive outputs than split testing, typically within half the time. The problem for the multivariate testing gurus is that I doubt that many people have the statistical capability to understand what is happening. Couple that with a lack of trust of black boxes, particularly when the approach comes up with a combination of variables which no-one in the organisation had thought of.

If there is a Business Case then people would be stupid to adopt it wouldn't they? Well, up to a point. Putting it back to a supply chain example, the mathematics of Economic Batch Quantities and Re-order points are well-known. It doesn't mean that they are rigidly applied in the majority of supply chains.

Taguchi is interesting - it deserves a wider audience in marketing.