31 October 2006

Choose your client carefully

We have the chance to work for a high prestige client. One which has real PR potential for us. We maintain a news area on our site where we give an indication of who we are working for at any one time without giving a full list of clients. There is no question in my mind - this is a client which we will be delighted to mention.

The concept of 'winning better business' is selecting preferred target business on the basis of key criteria incuding:
  • is this a client who you would be proud to have?
  • can you delight the client?
  • does the work meet your threshhold transaction value?
  • can the work be leveraged elsewhere?
This client meets those criteria and it looks as though they are keen to work with us, too.

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Looking back at the User Group

The User Group meeting went well and the next stage is for the Users to decide how they want to organise themselves going forward. We don't see our role in providing much more than input when requested, but obviously we will do more in the next few months until our client is confident that the way ahead is understood.

I'm not sure we even see ourselves as part of the User Group unless we are called on to provide a paper or some form of facilitation. With luck, the Users will take to all their responsibilities with enthusiasm and we won't have to offer much in the way of support.

What worked well was the buzz. People liked meeting one another and sharing experiences about what had worked well and what had worked less well. Buzz perfectly describes the sound they made at every opportunity. That buzz was supplemented by presentations delivered by some of the larger users that gave their succinct views of how they had used the toolset in their organisations.

All in all, a very useful meeting.

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30 October 2006

The User Group

Our Knowledge Management client uses a toolset which is particularly powerful and helps knowledge architects to access and store 'tacit knowledge' (the bit that is normally tough to get at - the judgement and experience that experts may not even know consciously that they apply). Over time the toolset has been used by a number of first class names and today and tomorrow is their first opportunity for those companies to get together as a group of users and share their experiences.

Since this is the first User Group meeting, our client is sharing the set-up and organisation with the supplier of the toolset which means that Phil has been heavily involved. The Agenda now looks pretty good and with luck the participants will get enough out of it to want to organise one for themselves next time.

For us, there's a careful balance to be struck - we have been promoting the event and we now have 20% more people to attend than we initially planned. It's still a user group meeting though, and they have to own every aspect of the meeting. That means that we can't oversell either what our client is capable of or the tools that he uses - even when it's a tool that they use themselves. We're feeling our way a little and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

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Our site and sitemeter

Chris has been doing some work on redrafting the language that we use on our primary B2B site. We have a 3 element strapline and that scores a top 5 for each of the elements either on their own or in combination on Google. Our problem is that most people come to the site after some form of Business Development related search - that's a highly competitive search term with plenty of sites viying for attention. The 2 word search Business Development returns approximately 273 million pages. Interestingly, Chris discovered that we had left an error in the current site text so either our readers are just as poor at copy editing as we obviously are, or maybe they were so alienated by the mistake that we never heard from them again.

After having had to spoof my address to get into Sitemeter last week, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find that things are now back to normal.



27 October 2006

Sometimes things work out well

Yesterday evening I was able to show a target client a piece of information that delighted him so much that he said he wanted to use the graphic in a presentation of his own. That presentation went well, and I'm hopeful that we will be able to develop a relationship there over the next few months that develops into a something substantial for his business and which pays back for him. The best news was that we were able to show him that his existing pay per click campaign wasn't accessing the majority of the searches being made for some of his keywords. He took the news with a smile because it means that there is a great opportunity there for him to exploit.

Today I was on the phone. Phoning isn't everyone's idea of a way to spend the morning, particularly since so much of the dialogue could be written down before it is spoken. But my run of luck continued, I managed to speak to two of the people that I wanted to contact and they have both agreed to meetings which was the whole purpose of making the calls.

Business Development requires persistence and there is no way round it. Sometimes it just seems easier than others.

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26 October 2006

Trade show follow-up

Following the trade show, the phone has already begun to ring.

Our client is delighted, it is the first time that a target client has picked up the phone to arrange a meeting about Knowledge Management without prompting. I would like to boast that the change in fortunes is all down to us, but that wouldn't be true - our client has done his bit too. The key point is that very basic activities can provide excellent results providing you have sufficient confidence to execute them effectively.

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Maybe it's me

Having complained earlier today that I couldn't access Sitemeter I was pleased to find that when I went around to see Chris that he could get it with no problem. When I got back home I was still locked out so I have tried using Tor to act as a spoof and that seems to work perfectly, if a little slowly.

Question: why do I need to use a spoof to get into a perfectly normal site? Answers on a postcard please.

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The follow-up

During some quiet moments at the trade show, Phil and I transcribed the visitor details into a database and put together the core of a follow-up note to thank people for dropping by the stand and providing links to some additional sources of information.

The service that we are using for this is Constant Contact. One of the many useful features is the ability to see who has clicked through any of the links. The mailing itself can be as complex as a newsletter or as simple as a conventional straight text email. There is plenty of control. We began by using the free trial and are now fully committed to the service - we use it for a variety of different mailshots and newsletters.

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Where's it gone

We use Sitemeter on a number of sites - and we have been pretty pleased by its performance. We're not alone, I see that a number of people use the same service including some pretty high profile blogs and sites. Today though, I can't get a response out of the site. I hope that it's nothing fatal.



25 October 2006

Trade Show 2

The internal trade show with Major Aerospace Ltd is coming to an end. Phil and I were supporting one of our clients who has live projects at two of the operating subsidiaries. We have been consistently impressed by the type of people and the quality of the conversations. The fact that there are successful live projects going on in the group seems to have carried real weight with the people who we have met.

If there were a chance to do a similar meeting I would be all for it - the volume of visitors hasn't been enormous but we now feel that we have a good basis for strengthening our client's reach and penetration within the group.

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We're just looking for a sponsor, honest

One of the problems of having a champagne site is that people running prestigious events assume that you have a significant promotional budget from which you can sponsor their champage requirements. Sponsor in this context does not mean subsidise, it means a donation.

I know that I'm a tired old hack, and my IQ isn't what it was, but I can't see where the upside is for us. If you are a brand manager, promoting a famous marque then that is one thing - and exposure is generally good for the brand. In contrast, our products are niche, sourced from a boutique producer - we don't want major exposure, we want happy customers who keep coming back. It's an entirely different sales model and no, we probably won't be acting as sponsors for your champagne reception this year.

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24 October 2006

Making progress against an account plan (repost)

Today I’m at an internal trade show put on by a major aerospace company. Phil and I are are there for 2 days and our objective is to meet people from a high proportion of the subsidiaries attending so that we can make some progress against our account plan. Plans never survive their first brush with the enemy, but account management is an area where it is important to set some objectives. Without those plans then it is impossible to claim that you are managing the account properly and achieving the appropriate level of reach and penetration.

Let’s be honest, working with Major Aerospace Ltd can be daunting – it’s a big organisation and it would be naïve in the extreme to try and treat it as a single entity. That’s the reason for trying to meet engineers from as many of the subsidiaries as possible. We are currently working with 2 subsidiaries and we want to use their enthusiasm to help convert any interest which may exist elsewhere in the organisation.

This is a trade show, and the key to a trade show is creating a little bit of interest to encourage browsers to come within range. Trainer tip: don't give away an iPod at this show - too many people have thought of the idea. We decided to do something a little different. We knew that most of the attendees would have a strong technical focus so the prize on our stand is a radio controlled model plane. Good news, after half a day, the early view is that it is so different that getting people on our stand doesn't look like being a problem.

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23 October 2006

The Organic movement

One week on and here are the positions for the champagne site in Yahoo, MSN and Google. It's generally a steady improvement although we still aren't indexed in Google for one of the two word search terms.

Here are today's results with last week's figures in round brackets:

3 word search term
Yahoo 5 (6)
MSN 4 (6)
Google - 160 (213)

2 word search term
Yahoo - 21 (22)
MSN - 10 (10)
Google - not indexed

2 word search term
Yahoo - 1 (1)
MSN - 1 (1)
Google - 1 (1)

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22 October 2006

What, me sell?

When I was employed by the consultancy practice of a Big 5 accountancy firm, it was an education. The accountants were intelligent, largely urbane and many were reluctant to do any business development at all.

Sales was seen as unprofessional and there was an enormous range of deflectionary activities which were engaged in, to avoid actually speaking to a real person employed by a target company. I'm exaggerating obviously to make a point, and many of the accountancy partners were very gifted natural salespeople who could identify a buying signal without difficulty. The bulk of the more junior accountants in an accountancy firm will never make partner, and one of the things holding them back is their inability to sell.

This collective unwillingness to become involved in the sales process meant that there were frequent requests for sales training as if they somehow believed that attending a training session could take away the fear associated with picking up a telephone or speaking to a prospect. On balance, I'm still a little surprised that anyone in an accountancy firm sells at all, since so many of the recruitment processes seem to identify and employ people who find the whole sales activity an anathema.

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21 October 2006

Finding what you want to find

Technorati is now indexing 57.4 million blogs. Technically that's an enormous task, but imagine the problem for the reader or the researcher. With all that content, how do you know that when you do a search that you are getting to see a post that might be highly relevant to you. This is a problem for any content manager.

Technorati ranks on the basis of inbound links from different URLs (authority), and the searcher can choose to list results either by the timing of the posting (freshness) or by authority. With 57.4 million blogs, it is inevitable that some search returns will be well down the list whether you rank by freshness or authority. They could be highly relevant, simply invisible to the search community. Is that a problem?

It's possible to argue that it is up to bloggers to publicise their blogs and make sure that they achieve sufficient authority to get listed on searches, but that puts all the responsibility on the author. Besides, if all blog authors were equally adept at developing inbound links then that would simply create another problem for Technorati to solve and until they did, search results would be even more chaotic than they are already.

The key question shouldn't be authority or freshness, it should be relevance, but automated analysis of relevance is a bit of a mixed bag - some [very expensive] systems which are famous for their ability to sort wheat from chaff appear to have real difficulty in demonstrating that functionality consistently day in, day out.



The Physical bit

Someone has just emailed me to point out that I didn't mention body language in the last post on presentation. That's true, but I don't think that you will learn much from a written description by me. If you want to learn how you look when you present, get someone to video all or part of one of your presentations and it doesn't matter at all whether it's a practice or the real thing, the learning points will be very similar.

My natural presentational style is physical - I like to move around, so I like a physical space where I can use my arms for emphasis. That's fine when I'm in a situation where the constraints of room and sound system allow that, but for a large audience and a lecturn then I clearly have to tone down the urge to move my body and more importantly, my head, so that I stay within a fairly well-defined range of the microphone to avoid significant sound glitches. There is nothing more irritating to the audience than the speaker moving their head away from the microphone so that the delivery becomes indistinct or inaudible.

For me voice is more important than body language - flat, monotonic and consistently paced delivery sounds over prepared. That's why I favour less reliance on the formal speech or script - the fewer back-ups the more normal the delivery and the greater chance of changes in pace, intonation and stress. That's what I look for in someone else's presentation and that's what I hope to achieve when I deliver material myself.


Getting the presentation right

At some point Business Development requires a formal presentation. It could be to an individual, a small group or a large audience. The issue here is context - formal presentations aren't the kind of situation where you can just bound up to the white board and start doodling. A formal presentation requires planning. It requires involvement - very few people in the world can deliver a good presentation cold if it has been prepared by someone else.

Let's give a nod towards Andy Bounds again because he is so good at the content and ordering of material which is particularly geared to making sure the objectives for the presenter and audience provide the context for what is actually in the presentation.

Beyond the content, the ordering and the material itself (is the exploding dinosaur really such a good idea?) there is the style you use for the presentation. Whatever you feel inside (and some people become very nervous before presenting), it's important that you look relaxed and in control so I'm a great believer in getting rid of the prepared speech and the formal script to accompany the slides. I don't want to provide a presentation where all the content is on the slides - the slides make sense and can be read by anyone, but the real purpose of a slide is to trigger my memory - provide me with the prompts about what it is I want to say, and very often what I want to say is why I think this bullet should be on the slide, providing an unstated "because" and answering the unspoken question "why?" from the bulk of the audience. That tells the audience that you know a lot more than appears on the slides and makes it a more interesting and involving presentation.

So, if you are going to get rid of the speech or the script and just use the bullets to prompt your own recall, how are you going to manage? Here it is a matter of what you think you need - some people will want to run through the material a few times in order to check that they have the timings and content roughly right. Whether or not you feel the need to do that, it is important to do some higher level preparation. It is worth printing off a black and white copy of the slide set and laying it out on a desktop and looking critically at it to decide how much meta navigation you need to apply to help the audience digest the message. What I mean by meta navigation are those points where you navigate forward (I'll be talking about that a little later) or linking back (you'll remember that I said) which can be enormously important in involving and engaging your listeners.

So how do you use the slide set to remind you to provide the meta navigation without putting in a lot of clumsy stuff on the slide? One way is simply to provide a visual marker on the slide which is obvious only to you. It doesn't matter what it is - a coloured full-stop or underlining of a keyword, the content will trigger your memory about the content of what you want to say and the visual marker will remind you to put in the meta navigation. Simple, eh?


16 October 2006

It isn't just a clever theory then ...

We tell some of our clients how we would do things if we were them - we don't make it up, we don't have enough imagination to lie convincingly. I'm not always sure that they believe us. Based on the behaviour of some of our ex-clients, it's a supposition that has a fair degree of evidence to support it.

The point of the story is that we have approaches that we are confident will work. The approaches change from project to project- businesses and markets are different so it wouldn't be appropriate to try and treat all client problems as the same. Sometimes the three of us need to have a detailed discussion to agree a way forward but there is never a doubt when it comes to talking to the client - "if it was us, we would do it like this ...".

I've complained in the past about getting access to accountants (they don't read their journals so they aren't always easy to access). Phil came up with a plan for developing a dialogue with accountants and we have been following it. It works. The overnight success story hasn't exactly been overnight, but things are happening - people seem to want to talk to us. It relies heavily on well structured copy, developing a story over a series of mailshots, telling the story in different ways. We work hard at that copy - it has to be compelling, but it has to be truthful, too.

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Organic search, it's a moving target

One of the fascinating things about organic search is how dynamic the results are. Having posted just before the week-end where the champagne site was in relation to the major keywords I decided to rerun the analysis this morning.

Here are the results with the previous figures in round brackets.:

3 word search term
Yahoo 6 (3) [Google top 100 overlap 20 (22)]
MSN 6 (7)
Google - 213 (na)

2 word search term
Yahoo - 22 (7) [Google top 100 overlap 10 (10)]
MSN - 10 (13)
Google - not indexed

2 word search term
Yahoo - 1 (1) [Google top 100 overlap 21 (23)]
MSN - 1 (1)
Google - 1 (1)

So, up a little on MSN, down a little on Yahoo and now that I've got the program to work, a baseline figure for Google that I can use for comparison. Interesting that the divergence between Yahoo and Google continues to increase so that a list of the top 100 for Yahoo and Google for the 3 word search term would produce a list of 180 sites with only 20 sites common to both lists. I'll keep you posted, but not at this frequency.



15 October 2006

The cost of sale

We have a site which has been running since the middle of August. We have been driving traffic towards it using AdWords and the cost of the qualified clicks has dropped by about 12% over that time. I think that we'll be able to drive it down further by refining how the AdWords are used and having parallel campaigns which focus on particular keywords.

That's all good, but the cost of sales is still too high. I have been doing some research to find out some independent opinions of the site to discover why the site isn't converting a high enough proportion of its visitors. There are a number of areas that the participants think that we need to change and I will be sharing the outputs of that survey with Chris and Phil. We won't necessarily implement it all blindly, but we will try to think through what we might reasonably do to react to some of their comments. The point here is that the sample that we have used for the research isn't statistically significant, but there is still some commercial truth in what has emerged from the research.

Experimentation is key to any eCommerce site. There is absolutely no point in increasing the resources devoted to promotion or search engine optimisation unless you are confident that the traffic has a reasonable chance of converting. Higher AdWords traffic to a site that isn't selling is simply a strategy designed by a liquidation specialist looking to make money from another bankruptcy.

That means changing things and measuring people's reactions to those changes. What is the dwell time on the site - what is the average number of page reads - how many go through to the sign-up page - how many hand over their card details? Making changes slowly and then checking to see whether those changes have a beneficial impact on the figures takes time, but it is worthwhile when it pays back with a higher average sales value per visitor to the site. If you are lucky enough to have a high volume of visitors then it can be worthwhile using some form of Taguchi modelling, but if, like this site, the number of impressions is relatively low then you will have to make judgements based on simple individual research and focus groups to get an insight into whether the changes you are implementing on your site will be beneficial.

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The importance of what the target says

When the target company says, "When you do the first phase," you know that they have started to visualise how the project might run with you rather than another organisation actually delivering the work. That doesn't mean that it's time to relax, simply that you are being considered favourably.

Chris heard that phrase on Friday, and, all being well, we look forward to doing some brand building for a business which is primarily selling through distributors. It's a competitive area and there are plenty of different types of organisation and several different channel models. All that makes for an interesting opportunity since we can look at the variety of models which are currently in use and make some sensible judgements about the strengths and weaknesses of each of them. That should work to our potential client's advantage.

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14 October 2006

eCommerce is harder without a brand name

Yesterday I had a little dig at Tesco - but as the most successful retailer in the UK, I doubt that they will worry much about what I said. My point was that Tesco has a great brand name and that counts for a lot at the point that site visitors are making up their minds whether or not to make a purchase. That trust remains even when the site in question isn't very efficient, which happened to be the case on the sale of computer games to my son.

Today's morning news headlines were filled with a story about identity theft - one of a series of press and TV items which almost certainly discourage the less confident from handing over their card details to an eCommerce site. So what can the site developer do to get those card details if they lack the brand trust and integrity of Tesco? One of the problems is that many of the people who feel discouraged by this kind of media emphasis wouldn't recognise what a security padlock means at the bottom of the page or understand what the impact of encryption is on their transaction.

For me this means that the unbranded site has to focus on trust. That trust has to be based on human qualities, not technological features. Use testimonials from people which get over the message that the site operator supplies what he says, and does so promptly. If the site fails to establish sufficient trust then any content directed towards the products or services is unlikely to make sales. Of course the content on the products or services are absolutely essential to get indexed in the search engines, so there is a very careful balance to be struck here.



13 October 2006

eCommerce is easy if you have a brand name

My younger son has just bought a new computer game. He is familiar with it, but he hasn't played at home yet. If he goes to the site where he made the purchase it tells him that his order is due for despatch on 10 October. Since today is 13 October we can guess that this isn't a very efficient eCommerce site.

Who is the seller offering such poor eCommerce service? Some small micro business, struggling to balance cash flows with supply chain considerations? Err, no - it's Tesco, the giant of UK retailing with a surplus of every type of retail, computing and supply chain skill at its disposal. I imagine that Tesco normally performs better than this with its online sales of computer games. However, what Tesco has in bucketloads is a brand. Given two sites selling the same product for a very similar price I imagine that most British consumers would give their card details to the Tesco shopping cart because Tesco has already overcome the trust issue. For many online retailers, trust is a problem - the newspapers and magazines are full of dire warnings about identity theft and online fraud, all of which makes life more difficult for smaller players.



Get out that diary

If you want to boost your sales quickly, where should you look first? the most obvious people to contact are:
  • current clients / customers
  • ex clients / customers
  • almost clients / customers
Current clients - It's nearly always worthwhile asking existing clients or customers if they want to spend more with you - in a services type of environment they may have a new problem that they want to solve and aren't sure that you are the right team to solve it. If it is a product then send out reminders to people who have bought recently to remind them that you're there, they already understand your quality and how easy you are to buy from.

Ex customers - People can stop buying for a range of reasons, and very often it has nothing to do with the price and quality of what you are supplying. Very often it is simply not the right time. Your reminder that you are still around can bring you further forward in people's minds and encourage them to have a proper conversation about what they need. As a group though, they are still warm prospects because they have bought a product or a service from you. They should be much easier targets than a series of new names acquired through some form of list.

Almost clients - In a way this is the most difficult group. They have got close to making a purchase but never actually committed themselves. They may not even return your phone calls when you leave a message for them. Well, we've got some businesses that fall in this category and I've been thinking harder about how you can open up a new dialogue with them. I'll leave you to think about the problem overnight and I'll post my thoughts on it some time over the week-end.

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Where are we now?

When you create a site that is intended to sell, you begin by working with AdWords because they offer a speed, flexibility and precision of targeting that is difficult to match using other approaches.

That said, organic search is the thing that everyone really wants. Eyeball tracking studies indicate that many searchers don't look at the right hand side of the page so many potential searchers may not find you, unless you can get yourself positioned on the left hand side of the page.

So here are some results for individualchampagne.com:

3 word search term
Yahoo 3 [Google top 100 overlap 22]
Google - not found in first 1000

2 word search term
Yahoo - 7 [Google top 100 overlap 10]
MSN - 13
Google - not found in first 1000

2 word search term
Yahoo - 1 [Google top 100 overlap 23]
MSN - 1
Google - 1

These aren't search terms without any competition - one of them returns 10.3 million pages in Google. Our problem is that we still have some work to do on Google, particularly since we are invisible for 2 of the 3 search terms that I have mentioned here.

What is interesting about these results is how little overlap there is between Yahoo and Google on some of these searches. For example, the search term champagne has only 19 sites which are shown in both the Yahoo and Google top 100. I'll need to repeat this analysis regularly to see what changes - fortunately I'll be able to do that without investing much time - I got these results in a few seconds using the Yahoo and Google scraper at Google Watch.

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12 October 2006

One of the outstanding tasks

When I changed my laptop earlier this year, I complained about the length of time it took to make the new laptop look and feel like the old machine. One of the things that I didn't do at that point was to update Firefox properly.

Blogger users can modify Firefox with a GreaseMonkey script which adds a Tag line in the compose page and tags to the end of their posts. All that of course is probably superceded by the new Blogger Beta, but I'm still working on the old technology. I had installed GreaseMonkey but I hadn't got around to installing the Tag script, so today I rectified that and I can now add tags from my laptop in the same way as I do from my desktop.

Last but not least was adding del.icio.us buttons to the toolbar so I can access Del.icio.us or submit material to it straight from the page. Neither of these things took very long and they will both make my life a little easier. The question is why it has taken me so long to get around to doing them.


My subscribers have moved

A little while ago I posted about the difficulty of analysing where my subscribers are based, given the data at my disposal. Well, today everyone seems to have moved to the US. I think it's unlikely that all my subscribers are visiting the US on business today while maintaining European-like visiting hours on my site, but that's what the figures say.

An indication that it might be inappropriate to place too much faith in the raw data just yet.

In a perfect world ...

Presentations would be interesting.
Products would work straight out of the box.
Customer Service Desks would be helpful.
Clients would pay by the due date.
TV would be entertaining.
Bloggers would produce their own content instead of copying posts from elsewhere.
My assumptions would always be valid.

11 October 2006

Website advertising

One of our target clients has a website and an AdWords programme. As he isn't a client yet, we don't have all the details of what he does but we have been doing some quick research about his marketplace.

His advertising is meant to appear in front of the eyeballs of people looking for a sophisticated medical service which isn't covered by health insurance. I imagine that there are two major types of searches: one driven by urgency ("I need it now and the question is who can do it") and one which is part of longer-term planning exercise. I started to look at the number of searches which were carried out and the number is BIG. Clearly, as the search terms move away from consumer language to the lexicon of the clinician the numbers fall sharply, but I was staggered at how many people in the UK are searching for this kind of intervention.

That provides our target client with a significant opportunity. He is already happy with the return he gets from his AdWords spend, but I'm confident that he can do better. If he can target his business, by becoming preferentially attractive to eyeballs who offer him a higher lifetime value then he will have made better use of his campaign. That will require him to use different ads, since as far as I can see from the examples I have seen so far, his ads fail to do significant qualifying based on one of his buyers' key buying points (see Andy Bounds). We will use our thoughts to develop a short presentation of how he might organise his business differently. It will be interesting to see what develops.

Planning for a conference

One of our clients is delivering a keynote address at a conference in a couple of weeks' time. This morning I'm going to try and help him structure something which fits the existing synopsis. Although the speech isn't for a couple of weeks, the organisers want a copy of the slides as soon as possible so that they can include a presentation CD in the delegate pack that they are preparing.

Speaking to a large audience can be daunting but our client knows his material so I'm pretty sure that he'll be fine. We may disagree about the number of slides he wants to use (I'll almost certainly want fewer) but the key issue is to agree the basic structure and assemble a slide pack for the organisers today. We then have a couple of weeks to refine what we have sent to the organisers. The final presentation may not be the same as the one in the delegate pack, but I'm doubtful that anyone is going to open those files. No problem.

We'll be running a presentation stand at the same event in order to increase our reach within the organisation. Chris started to put together some material for the stand, but when Phil and I (independently) put together quick dummies of how that text might look on the display boards we both thought that there was too much. This afternoon's task is to make sure that we have a stand that we are happy with so that we have enough time to get the printing and finishing done.

06 October 2006

The win / loss ratio

Businesses can become so focused on the outer reaches of their sales pipeline that they can lose sight of their efficiency in closing sales at the last stage - the win/loss ratio. While every element of bringing people into contact with the company is important - unless you can convert people that get interested in the business into buyers then investing more in bringing more people into the funnel isn't going to improve the economics.

This problem is common to virtually every business I have encountered but it is easy to forget to focus on win/loss when other operational problems have to be solved day-to-day. Win/loss needs to be analysed and researched and the drivers of what makes it move in one direction or another need to be understood. You will never have perfect information, but then your client or customer rarely has it either.

When people talk about win/loss ratios they tend to believe that higher is always better, but that is true only up to a point. Once the basic economics in the business seem to be acceptable, then it is time to get really scientific and start to look at the quality of the business that is being won. Quality isn't talked about much, but there is no doubt in my mind that lifetime value of the client or the customer is a pretty effective measure.

Quality is always in fashion. Earlier this year I met the owner of medium-sized business who claimed that he closed 90% of the people who came to him. That's great, but not all those customers, or clients in his case, represent the same economic opportunity to him - it's probable that improved targeting would help to refine the type of people who come to the business and improve the overall quality of his revenues.

05 October 2006

AdWords isn't advertising

Recently I met someone who doesn't like advertising but loves AdWords. He had invested heavily in PR and conventional press advertising but was very unimpressed by the results. On AdWords, though, he was very clear - it pays back with new revenues of roughly £18 for each £1 invested. That's an excellent return.

The question to answer when you find yourself in this position is how much to invest, and are there any other keywords which you haven't yet thought of which might boost revenues still further? Nothing in life should be regarded as fixed, and AdWords is an area which is more dynamic than most.

Someone with a robust business model

A little earlier this year, Chris and I met a business owner of a relatively new business which had gone through break-even during its first year and was already producing a good return despite running at well below capacity.

That's so unusual that it's worth noting. Very few organisations are profitable at low utilisation, but this business, based on the conversation we had, seems to throw cash as soon as utilisation breaks through 20%. The owner appears to be ambitious for the business and has many ideas for development. Better, the cost base doesn't increase dramatically as utilisation increases so any idea which produces an incremental improvement in revenues pays back very quickly. When talking about capacity, I meant the capacity of the infrastructure - the people in the business are all busy providing service to the existing clients. While the organisation has good fundamentals, it lacks the capacity to execute its improvement ideas.

How can that be a problem? Well, some of the ideas need to be tested and that takes time and resource. Resource is often the problem for a business like this - staff are vital in terms of the client experience and recruiting can often be seen as a chore which gets in the way of the day job.

When we started to talk about increasing revenues, neither of us was confident that we could access the target market - a notoriously difficult group of people. However, as the meeting developed, plenty of B2B opportunities emerged which made us feel significantly more sanguine about how effective we could be.