Using information to support the entire customer journey

Previously

The customer journey  begins when she becomes aware of your existence and never ends, though it is at its most fruitful when she places an order and subsequent orders.

Previously we discussed the folly of looking at “Last Click” as the beginning of this purchase journey, the reality is that it began some time in the past when she stumbled on your business either through a friends, in a blog, or via a search or advertisement. In reality every purchase is generally precluded to a greater or lesser degree by a process of discovery, comparison, discussions, eavesdropping, information gathering, price comparison and leading finally to an order being placed.

Whether and when that order is placed will be contingent and whether she found sufficient information to support a decision, what information she found, what advice she got, what her peer group are doing whether she is in front of her favoured device for ordering, whether she has the cash available yet  and a probably many more issues. For example it matters little that she made her mind up on day one, if she wont have the cash until her salary clears in three weeks. It wont matter how good a deal you offer her if all her friends are advising against your product and so forth.

It is never possible to know all of these inputs and be aware of the state of play, but at least being aware of what it takes to sell an item is very important in determining what steps you take to improve that user journey in a way that is profitable. Below are some examples of information you may collect and use to improve the user experience and deliver revenue upside. This will of course vary from one situation to another.

  1. It begins with being found. You must know where the hungry crowd are going and make sure your food stand is right in their path. Being there when they are hungry is just as important as part of serving your customer as it is to your revenue targets. How to do this is a little off topic for today.
  2. Making sure that the gossip they hear and the advice they receive is unlikely to be negative is critically important. The means of promoting positive vibes in social media are well documented and to a lesser degree we know of business that can help deal with negative comment when it occurs.
  3.  Making the right first impression is critical. The expectation you set is a key metric against which your performance  will be measured.
  4. Becoming memorable and easy to find again is now a key goal. Any way of beginning a relationship that allows you to communicate further is great, getting the customer to download something that will act as a reminder for them is also very valuable. E.G. a useful app for their phone.
  5. Storing a cookie that helps you track their consequent visits and actions will make it much easer to judge their likely needs at any time.
  6. Running multivariate tests allows you to not just find out which inputs drive the most orders, which combinations pf inputs are most successful. This drives very accurate views of customer behavior and allows you to optimise everything.
  7. Once you understand the average customer journey you can provide content and services that help the customer at key junctures while updating your understanding of where they are at with their buying process.
  8. Understanding a little more about the type of product they shortlisted and what they rejected may also help you to understand their needs and preferences.
  9. Knowing the times of week, day, month, or year when they are most likely to make a purchase may help you in selecting an irresistible offer.
  10. Knowing which devices they use for purchase may help you to time your offer better

Here is a simplified example.

Background

My company sells widgets to consumers and the customers come form all walks of life. They purchase from the ecommerce channel. There is a lot of competition online  and customers tend to switch suppliers regularly as offers change. Price is important, but its not the whole picture.
We use advertising via keywords to drive customers to landing pages where they find information on exactly what they searched for. They can also follow links to the main site where they can  learn more

Mrs Jones

Our best customer is Mrs Jones. She uses search engines a lot but not just for finding products but also searching the news and gossip sites. She talks to a lot of people on forums and uses them extensively for advice before purchasing. Mrs Jones enjoys the purchasing process so she does not mind seeing plenty of offers, but she is rarely swayed from her initial choice. Often she decides what she wants and then goes looking for proof that she is right.

After she first selects a product, we know she is giving it strong consideration because she then visits our comparison charts and follows links to some of our competitors.

Our strategy

We think she trusts us because we are not hiding from our competitors and we give her honest comparison. We also help her out with the evidence she is looking for.

We have her email in an opted-in list and we know when to send her a little extra information if she goes quiet. We have a clickstream that identifies a quest (product she searched for) and the different types of investigation she did so far, so we can guess where she is in the purchasing journey.

Sometimes, when she goes quiet, it means she has bought elsewhere, but often she is just waiting to get paid or some other reason, so we keep in touch, but we are careful not to upset her. We rely on her to visit again and to recommend us. On average she makes five visit before purchase.

She is very influenced by social media so we spend a lot of effort on maintaining a good reputation.

Our content is tagged to match the different stages in the quest such as price comparison, features comparison, evidence gathering etc. These tags help us to develop the clickstream that places her on a purchase journey. Because she has purchased before, she is able to purchase with a single click.

Pre-visit

She visits an exhibition  where she sees our stand and meets a polite person who gives her a free pen.

She searches google for comments and finds a positive attitude towards us and our products

First visit

She spends some time reading the general information, downloads a calculator tool and leaves via our comparator to go to a competitor site.

 

Still collecting information

The following week our advertising network presents her a little reminder advert while she is on a competitor site and she returns to ours. This tells us she is still actively and seriously searching and we are high on her list

Decided now

She returns at the weekend and spends some time on the cost of ownership calculator using her tablet.

We know that she likes to purchase using her PC and she might still feel like this. We also believe that price is the only thing now influencing her.
We email her a very hot offer that needs a response before Tuesday and we give her a special hotline for telephone advice promising no switchboard and 12 hours a day of service.

Finally an order

She immediately calls our sales staff explaining a slight issue she has yet not resolved. The sales staff are able to put her mind at rest and she places a n order there and then. It is completed in seconds and she has an email confirmation

Delivery and service continues

Delivery occurs on Wednesday and our service staff phone her unexpectedly to talk her through getting started seeing that she expressed concerns. She expresses her delight with the service.

Recommendations

On  Thursday our sales staff call to make sure she is OK and ask her if she would be happy to recommend us on a social network, she agrees readily and goes public with her satisfaction. This has three important implications:
1. We are committed to keeping Mrs Jones happy.
2. Mrs Jones has publicly praised us and it would be extra hard for her to ever contradict this.  She will make allowances if ever called on to do so.
3. Others who see her comments will be encouraged to do business with us

We have not just sold a product, we have bought a supporter and gained valuable advertising of the best kind. If we worked out the Cost of Goods Sold on customers like Mrs Jones, it would be in low or even negative figures.

 

 

How an uplift in CXi scores can deliver remarkable benefits for your business

A recent Forrester report looked at companies that had recently improved their Customer experience rating from negative to positive looking at whether their customers were likely to consider another purchase, to switch suppliers, or to recommend their current supplier to friends, The findings demonstrate in no uncertain terms that there is significant achievable upside to be had from improving the customer experience.

The trend of revenue uplift for any company that has improved its customer experience is not only strong, but still rising demonstrating that customers place a lot of value on this and are prepared to reward a supplier that makes an effort,
The reduction in customer churn continues to be significant, but this trend is falling slightly.  If this slight fall is statistically significant then it may well be that once an acceptable level of service is reached the value of further improvement is greatly reduced. After all, for many suppliers, all we want is that they actually supply and they remain invisible.

Chatter is rising rapidly. Both recommendations and the opposite are on the increase.

The impact on recommendations is very significant and growing when a supplier improves customer experience, but conversely the impact of falling service levels is equally damaging the supplier as a result of negative chatter

Increasing CXi scores from below average to above average had the following financial benefits. As you can see, the benefit is greater in some industries than others, but is very significant even at lower levels.

 

Industry Customers Reduced churn Further purchases Word
of mouth recommendations
Airlines 80m $807m $555m $56m
Credit card providers 61m $427m $368m $30m
Hotels 44m $380m $320m $29m
Retailers 67m $273m $237m $62m
Banks 15m $73m $81m $7m
TV companies 17m $92m $47m
Consumer electronics 10m $40m $43m $20m

Source: North American Technographics® Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2013 (US)

 

For many industries there is a ceiling whereby customer experience improvements will no longer result in revenue or profit upside. The obvious ones are products we buy very much on Price point.In these cases  we are happy enough with what we are getting and not willing to pay any extra under any circumstance. For example, to return to cheap flights. My favourite airline leaves on time and arrives on time at least as well as any other and charges me slightly less on average for an equivalent service. If this airline is able to reduce waste somewhere, then perhaps they can afford to improve service, that’s all well and good, but if they start spending on it, then sooner, or later prices will go up and I’ll go elsewhere.
The most thing these companies can improve at no cost is the attitudes of staff. A smile costs nothing it is a way of thinking and a culture, nothing more.

 

Imagine if you are running a business where you compete with a number of others in a controlled industry and you all buy the same thing in the same place at the same cost and sell it in the same market at more or less the same price. There is nothing to compete on. The only chance you would have to differentiate would be in how you treat your customers when they have a problem and how you manage customer acquisition and customer churn.

Imagine if you never spent another penny on advertising or sales commissions, kept your customers for their lifetime and had them all recommending you to friends. Now that would be a hell of a proposition.

 

 

Bridging between the web and the real world

Soviralnetbusworks and all that jaz

How do you find the longest way form a to b. Well here’s a good contender, call the guy in the next room on his mobile.  That message will go into space bounce off a satellite and return to your pal next door.

In a world of 7000,000,000, in a country of 60,000,000 in a town of 30,000 people, how do you find 100 clients for your new accountancy business?
Why you search the 7 billion of course via the internet until you find some who happen to be near you and need an accountant, or at least like you enough to pay you anyhow. OK got that thanks.

Here’s the official theory, in so far as there is one:

You build as big a network as you can and you keep sending emails and publishing tweets and blogs so they all wake every morning wondering what you have to say to them today.

You keep asking what you can do to help and trying to get them business, or worrying about their personal lifes, until eventually they give in and say I know you don’t really want to be my accountant, but if I begged you, would you do my accounts?

Sales and marketing theory

This is one of the times when I can speak as an authority and indeed the principals are so widely taught and so well understood that it takes little effort to make the points successfully. Here goes.

You start with a product for which there is a defined market, i.e. You know that  they have  a need and that they are accessible and that it is possible to service this need profitably Product, Place, Price Promotion etc.(Common sense stuff)

Next you design your messages to position your offering so that people can understand it and can hang it on their mental notice board as close to the top of the list as possible. E.G. “The guy to call when you want straight talking and common sense solutions”   “Mr No Bull …”

Now you need to target this market so you are delivering  the messages to the right people, not the whole 7 billion, or even the 65 million, but maybe a few  thousand. If you’re an accountant you might time this with a pressing annual need and you wouldn’t send it to too many Non-Doms. With me so far.

Now you give them an opportunity to put their hand up and say, I’m possibly in the market. E.G.  A free booklet on setting up offshore trusts might attract them.

Next you need permission to pitch a few of these and permission to stay in touch with the others in case they need your products at some future time. The relationship building begins now, but most business people are strapped for time, so references and case studies, professional memberships and guarantees are a very important part of the mix.   2, or 3 out of every four who meet you will be unsure about some aspect of you, or the product, or their need and not do business this time, but most can remain in contact and maybe do business in future.

 

How I approached this confuddle

I have been planning this series for a while and always reluctant to make a start because there just seemed to be more to learn and new angles to consider.

I was faced with an agonising choice between methods of presenting the information. E.G. taking all the new information and then comparing it to what I already knew, superimposing it on this framework and presenting the differences.  This is a great way to assimilate new knowledge and skills, but sometimes it blinds you to the whole concept so that you just miss the point.
 Imagine introducing wine for the first time to a 10 pints a day man and having him approach the subject in this way?

As a natural born cynic  (survivor) I am not good at the other method, E.G. suspending disbelief while you listen intently and even in the cinema, it had better be good or I’ll probably leave early, so I was not about to immerse myself in the” religion” of the thing in the hope that at some point I’d have a divine revelation.

What I have done is adapted a sort of midway approach that considers all viewpoints without extending the blog to book length.  I hope you find it as useful, as I did.

 Coming next week …

Making sense of Soviralnetbusworks

Why is it there? Is anybody really making any money form it? Why would it work as a way of winning customers? Why would anybody give up so much time for this when they could do it much more effectively by other means?

Mobile comes of age

 “You may already be too late to be early”

An avalanche of demand is building up

It’s been coming for a long time.  When Bill Gates saw the light and started making the PC usable by ordinary mortals it was inevitable that sooner or later the computer would not only leave the cold room, but would eventually free us from the tyranny of keyboards, desks, mice and other unintuitive interfaces.

Great as the big PC screen is, if only to hide behind on one of those Mondays, most of us will already have experienced the freedom of being able to respond to an email from our PDA just before a meeting begins, or to check stock availability from a corner of the web page while cowering in a shady doorway with our trusty mobile phone and thought well it wasn’t fun, but it got me the order, now I can play golf.

Those of us with the time or inclination to think beyond the box on those matters can only express dismay at how long it has taken and despair at how long more it will take before we have real purchase, but make no mistake the age of the mobile device is here and it’s uptake amongst early adapters is tumultuous.

The difference between uptake of the mobile device and say the PC is very notable in one particular way; the users are demanding it, workers are taking these initiatives forward and asking for funding.  I even know of a multinational where a secret wireless network exists along with growing number of android apps that are accessing very sensitive data all unofficially.

Such is the draw of these ubiquitous little devices that people will go to amazing lengths to get hold of them, acquire apps, or even write them in their spare time and get connected to business data and systems.

 “Apple has recently taken steps to make it easier to create iPhone and iPad apps for employees. Its iOS enterprise developer program gives programmers access to resources for $299 a year that will help them develop proprietary, in-house applications.” Business week

IBM recently launched it’s internal apps market called “Whirlwind” where employees can download apps for Blackberry and they are busy writing Android and Apple apps as we speak.

These businesses are reaching out to serve the demand and grab the added productivity on offer.

   

What can these devices actually do for your business?

The attraction for employers is obvious. Representatives regularly turn up for meetings now with their decision maker available on text,  decisions get made right there and then with no set aside and no waiting till the “CXO has a window in his diary “. 

Field service people have instant access to detailed site information and statutory safety information, service history, single customer view, product catalogue, supplier materials or parts catalogue and are able to instantly prepare quotes, complete work and get paid.

Wasted trips, double handling, lost orders, wasted journeys to the supplier, waiting in supplier trade areas are all wiped out, or greatly reduced.

A week’s service calls organised into five days of highly optimised routes with the shortest cheapest distance calculated and bearing in mind the estimated time for each call, the traffic situation ahead and any emergency calls that might suddenly arrive.

Field service businesses are saving between 18% and 45% on their operation costs. In my first mobile routing project, I achieved 25% workforce reduction in a Public sector organisation.

Phones are just the beginning

If you are having difficulty with the idea that just as the PC became de rigueur we are probably abandoning it for a little phone the size of your palm, then I’m not sure whether this is good news or bad news for you, but there is no question that the mobile phone is to smart phones what the car phone was to mobiles, just a staring point.

Sitting at your desk is not healthy and it is not conducive to imagination, enthusiasm, creativity, or any of the qualities we would like to develop.  Already there are some fantastic motion  and pressure sensing devices that allow a user to;

  • Paint with the fingers just like Van Gough, or play golf like Tiger Woods (and maybe some of his other pastimes too).
  • Talk to our devices and listen to our emails and documents.
  • Reach out virtual hands  to move stuff around giant projected screens
  • Walk around our living room to guide our Avtar around a meeting room and talk to people who see us in 3d as if we were there and indeed forget that we are not actually there

 

The longer term change of business culture

The PC wiped out typing pools and made executives self sufficient, it also made data more reliable and more complete as it was captured faithfully at the time of the transaction, but it did tie those executives more than ever before to their desks and above all it alienated the customer, demoting her to waiting in phone queues for the recorded message, or looking up the FAQ.
Face to face interaction, exchange of ideas and general motivation that exists in a healthy team environment has given way to a culture of saving emails as evidence and even recording telephone conversations.

The mobile device promises to free the executive up again to move around, to be where the customer is, or where the work is getting done. The mobile device is improving communication by keeping people in touch so they get to know each others styles and become a team.

In addition to all of this it is relatively simple to patch your mobile network to your VoIP network and enjoy free mobile calls between staff globally and cheaper calls outside as well as fee text messaging. The savings can be very significant especially if you bridge long distant external calls from the mobile out to your sip trunks and find the cheapest route via the internet.

Working at home, or on the train is now much easier and the office, or the meeting really can be wherever you happen to be.

Software development for the mobile device is simpler too, because it is done in response to a user demand rather than an executive mandate and it is a small simple app that does a simple job very well.  There is little issue with scope creep, overruns or confusion about what it was meant to do.

 

 Where does this leave the faithful PC?

Well the only thing that can be said with absolute confidence is that the PC won’t be going anywhere really soon, but there is no question that it and all that lies behind it and in it will be changing dramatically and the speed of change is about to accelerate to the point where Moore looks understated and space holidays suddenly look possible.

The PC will remain the most productive way to create documents and carry out intensive tasks and PC based interfaces won’t go away, but what will change is that most of the processing and all of the data will migrate to a cloud either private or shared and both PC and eventually COTS systems and the myriad of devices will access this cloud securely and run the apps, systems, or screens that are provided for them. Already Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud system and Android the Open source mobile system are providing centralised stores accessible to all apps for common data like contacts and messages.  Who knows why it took so long, but now it is here and it will solve a mountain of enterprise data problems over the next decade

This combination of cloud data and processing with apps that access these services in appropriate ways to suit the device and the risk level will provide the flexibility that our workforces are crying out for and maybe even some maturity to the world of technology

What about security of data

Already we have servers that are capable of managing a mobile phone asset bank, updating their software, keeping them synchronised and wiping any data and locking the network to them when they are reported missing, or compromised.  Not only that, but we can now pinpoint their whereabouts on the map at any time within a few meters and compare it to where they should be.  We can even detect when a driver has been speeding. Controlling who they can call or test is simple if we feel the need.

Single Sign On makes it very easy to extend privileges to the mobile network and each type of device can have the appropriate level of access to the data it needs so that it risk is all but eliminated and no sensitive data  is carried around on the device.  There are very few arguments against mobile devices that could not be equally easily addressed at laptops and PCs and the only minor obstacle is the  time it will take IT decision makers to get caught up with the technology and make decisions about access to data and LOB systems

The EU has taken this so seriously that in addition to supporting development of Symbian with £22m of funding, it is funding project SEPIA  Secure Embedded Platform with Process Isolation and Anonymity) to develop security standards for Smart Devices in Europe. Read More

Web and ecommerce goes mobile

According to a recent Gartner report, by 2013 Mobile will be the most popular means of accessing the internet based on a projected 1.82 billion smart phones in use as opposed to 1.78 billon PCs.  This represents phenomenal growth that even surpasses initial internet uptake. In fact growth in web usage via mobile devices grew 43% from 2008 to 2009 and that would seem to be  gaining momentum if anything.

By 2014, over 3 billion of the world’s adult population will be able to transact electronically via mobile or Internet technology. That is a staggering opportunity and 2014 is only a poorly run software project away.
Already the mobile traffic to the web portals I have been involved with is growing daily and the demand to be able to place orders and download everything including high end video is growing exponentially.
There is no way to avoid this and “you may already be too late to be early”.
Understanding the difference between how and why people use Mobile as opposed to PC  is critical. Once you know who you are dealing with, providing the right user journey with shorter more succinct content is critical as well as filling in with the videos and podcasts that suit the mobile better and above all simplifying the shopping carts and enquiry forms.

There already is a raft of platforms that will help you target the main mobile devices easily and shorten the time to market, the main hurdle is to understand what it means to your business, agree the strategy and make a start.

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 4

How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle

Previously:
Bridging between the web and the real world
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 3

 

“The filofax of the twenty first century?”

One could easily assume from reading the previous sections that my opinions are anti- networking. I have been accused of this twice  by people who use networking successfully .

In fact nothing could be further than the truth.  I am especially against misleading people to expect the impossible from networking as many self professed gurus tend to do. It does not work for everyone and not in the same way.  I also resent being accosted at networking meetings, or spammed incessantly. I do recognise the power of networking to deliver spectacular results for some people when used intelligently.

Fundamentals of networking

Traditionally we all rely on support networks to advise us about what worked for others,  let us in on the next big thing and very occasionally to buy from us(invariably in expectation of substantial discount) and once in a while to recommend us.  Nothing about this is new and it is a critical activity for most of us.  It helps to know an expert on telephony and instead of three days of comparing deals you call your trusted old school pal and ask him to recommend a deal. You trust him and make the purchase.  Add on the saved time and effort and you have a bargain for sure.  This is not someone you casually met at breakfast, or online though, so be careful when drawing comparisons.

When I needed two telesales people, I ignored the agencies and told my eighteen year old daughter, who told her Facebook friends and within 45 minutes I had three interviews set up. That is powerful, but it is using technology to speed up what we always did. It is not some mystic new black art.

Mass “networking” is another thing altogether. It is “the filofax of the twenty first century”.  Many people approached via internet research and focus groups expressed the belief that they had to be seen as networkers and that if they didn’t use twitter they were yesterdays people. The hours wasted for little or mostly no financial gain is eating up their personal time as well as business time. Sometimes they just shouldn’t be doing it at all and other times they are approaching it all wrong lead astray by “Web2 gurus” who last year were “SEO experts” , before that “web design  gurus” and before that “filofax gurus” and studying to be “Twitter gurus”. God help us!.

Who does it work for?

If you enjoy spending a small amount of time chatting to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, or writing a blog, or learning from forums, good for you, it is working for you and keep on going.

 If you are the local builder who completes two bungalows a year, local networking may be your sole marketing effort and it works very well.
If you are an insurance salesman you will have been indoctrinated in this from day one and you’ll be the guy at every dog fight collecting numbers and turning the conversation to pensions. A friend of mine did this all his life and made a tremendous income out of attending Indian weddings.

The formula is ultra simple.

Cast your mind back to the basic sales process we discussed in the last instalment; tyre kicking,  need, facts and figures ,trust building,  desire, urgency , etc.

However you organise your funnel, whether you base it on a buying, or a selling process, you will have steps like these that qualify your potential customer through stages to the point where you are presenting and negotiating for business with them. Most people call this a “potential” in CRM speak

Let’s compare two scenarios:

Widgets

1 person in every thousand buys my widgets.  My process is to:

  1. identify people who buy the product in sufficient quantity and  start the conversation
  2. ask permission to pitch for a small piece of business, or offer a trial
  3.  convince them of the benefits and our USP,
  4. establish trust
  5.  time a motivating offer with a current urgent need
  6.  win a customer
  7. develop the relationship.

At point A,  there are 65 million or so people to talk to until we have done our qualifying. For a reasonable chance of a sale we need to get 1000 people in the room. How much do you think it would cost to build relationships with all of them?  Let’s say five of them know someone who might be in the market, what do you think is the likelihood they will go to the trouble and take the personal risk, of recommending us, or anyone will respect their opinion?  Not great.

Accountancy

Every business with few exceptions uses an accountant and they tend to change every three years on average. In order to stand a reasonable chance of doing business we need only three or four in the room per accountant present.
In this case, as long as the ratio of accountants to SME in the room is better than 1:4 we can start on the relationship building phase with complete confidence. Everyone knows what the product is and only buy because they have to. The decision points are price and trust.

Three simple things to “DO”

  1. Divide your networking into two separate functions “Hunting” and “Farming”.
    Hunting is about meeting new potential contacts and finding out quickly whether they fit in your network as potential suppliers or customers.

    1.  Restrict your network to a size you are able to maintain contact with (Accepted scientific research put’s that at around 150 contacts maximum).
    2. Don’t try to be everyone’s pal, find people who share your views and attitudes and are likely to value your product, or service. (positioning)
    3. Spend your farming time with people who are likely to become a customer, or that are likely to be a useful supplier in the near and foreseeable future and those who have bought from you and are likely to buy again or to be recommenders and ambassadors.
  2. Be a listener and use your judgement to keep evolving your products and services according to the feedback from trusted and commercially viable customers
  3. Control your networking time and budget, it still deserves no more than a few percent of budget and a few hours a week. If you could be completing paid work, do it and spend the profits on traditional marketing, you will get better and faster returns every time.

 

Three  simple things to “NOT DO”

  1. Don’t expect people to buy your product because you are their pal
  2. Don’t forget to attend to all the aspects of the sales/buying process for every prospect regardless of how well you know them, they still need to have their questions answered and fears allayed and they need to justify their decision to others
  3. Don’t pounce on everyone who looks remotely interested and try to “sell to them” get an invitation to pitch first.
    1. Don’t fill their inbox with spam just because they gave you an email address.

 

A revolutionary new idea you are not going to take up because it makes sense and there’s no voodoo involved.

Make your customers your sales force.  Treat them so well that they are delighted to sing your praises.

Spend that marketing budget on discounts to people they recommend, so they get kudos and you get extra business recommended by your existing customers. 
Spend on taking them to the races, inviting them to parties and useful free conferences and encouraging them to invite a colleague or contact.
The budget you set aside for telling them how much you value your customer’s,  spend your budget on taking care of them.  Action speaks louder ..
Have a banker answer the phone about queries, not a call centre in Pakistan and have them develop a relationship (network) with the customer and the customer’s friends.

Spend your time networking within this great group of customers and hot prospects learning about their needs and improving your offering.

It will require great research, great positioning, crystal clear branding, and an enlightened staff open to new ways of working, but it could be transformational. There’s no Voodoo here, just common sense and delivering on the promise, but you won’t do it, so we won’t labour it.

Coming next:

 

What is the right stategy for me?

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 3

Previously:
Bridging between the web and the real world
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2

Are there really clear parallels between Soviralnetbusworks and Sales and Marketing theory?

This is bound to be  an area of some contention, for the reasons mentioned previously. Most networkers, especially online, are motivated by a need to be out and about finding customers combined paradoxically with their powerful fear of and resistance to actually selling their services.

If you draw parallels then you have to face the big purple elephant again I.E.  Why are you in a business that you are afraid to sell to customers? If you don’t believe in it, who will?

There is a fairly popular and utterly flawed theory that underlies most networking activity, which supports the latter folly and it goes something like this:
 If you meet the same 60 people every month for a year and you tell them what you do and then you are nice to them every time you meet and if you pass a few scraps of leads to a few of them, eventually one of them will order from you.
The reasons it’s flawed are simply these:

1.   I won’t, and neither will you, wait for the next meeting to place an order with somebody who said hello to me. When I need a widget today, I’ll either call someone I used before, or turn to Google.

2.   If I need something very complex and very reliant on the person supplying it, e.g.  Interior design, or a management consultant, then I will turn to people I trust, who can make recommendations, but the recommendation will only be as strong as the trust attached to it. Again the chances are not good , though admittedly better, that I will turn to my networking for a supplier.

3.  The 60 or so people I know though networking are only likely to contain one or two potential clients, unless I’m an accountant, marketer, or lawyer  etc and plain mathematics would tell any sensible person that it is never gong to produce much of value for me. Above all, it is never going to produce anything proportionate to the time put in.

What do Soviralnetbusworks offer that might be different

The bits we have discussed so far are networking, but of course there is more to soviralnetbusworks than networking.   When Trout and Reis announced “marketing “ to us, they made a few hints at an aspect of human behaviour which back then, they had very little influence over.  The need to “be part of a gang”, to “ conform”, to “be accepted”.  Good marketers have always known how to give the impression that “all the in crowd are wearing this fragrance” or “ hanging around on social networks”, but in the past the ability to influence this stopped at traditional advertising.

Facebook, Linkedin and especially Twitter have begun to provide a new type of influencer. It shortens the message to almost subliminal levels and delivers it like hail stones. The result is that users are bombarded with a sense of what “the gang” is doing and thinking  and it provides powerful potential to really influence huge volumes of people to blindly go where you want to send them.

The best parallel in the natural world is a flock of starlings in Northern Europe doing acrobatics in the sky before settling in for the evening.  They gesture to each other and in an instance either conform or influence their surrounding group. Quickly the group automatically selects a few who seem to be more influential via the timing or style of their gestures, who knows and the whole flock attempts to ape them as they free fly around the evening sky creating incredible shapes and patterns. 

Learning how to influence the social scene in the same way will undoubtedly deliver massive dividends for savvy marketers going forward, but just like TV advertising quickly ran into traffic problems, so too will this format. What we should be doing is looking  for the next big thing.

What do they have in common? And what is different?

Marketing and selling is first of all a debate in itself that often gets heated.  My own favourite take having spent a lot of time close to direct marketing is that marketing is predominantly about generating enquiries and creating the right environment in which to generate enquiries. Where I disagree  with some traditionalists is that I don’t believe you should do it if you can’t measure it.

Marketing and sales is there to generate potential leads, generate leads from those, qualify the leads, build and maintain relationships and convert some leads into orders in sufficient numbers to run a profitable business. How well you do this affects the cost and value of your product as much as anything else does and has a direct impact on customer experience.

The order in which I described this is not all that important, because in truth things happen in all kinds of orders in the real world, but generally, all of the various switches have been pushed before you end up with a customer.

In a social networking environment, the trust building may start the ball rolling and the product enquiry come later, in the traditional environment the  product enquiry may come first, or in between.

People like CRM vendors often have a blind spot about process and struggle to see how things can wander safely and securely via their own paths and yet arrive in the same place. This is just a human failing and nothing more and they shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with how people work.

There have always been weak sales people often described as the “ personality salesman” who believes that his amazing charm is all that matters and pays no attention to the product, the customers need etc.  There is also the “technical salesman” who thinks that all that matters is features and benefits and mathematics and fails to consider the customer’s need to trust him and the supplier and the emotional drivers.
 Neither of these is typical, but both failings are very noticeable in the flawed theory often put forward by networking gurus and ecommerce gurus.

What the internet has changed forever about marketing and selling is that it allows the sales process to begin much earlier and it greatly extends the “Tyre Kicking” phase.

When a new customer enters your showroom now, he has kicked your tryes many times, talked to your friends and knows you intimately. He has downloaded all the datasheets and knows the products as well as you do. He may well have talked to previous users or even your previous customers.  This process goes on all the time and all happens earlier in the buying process than where we used to begin when Trout and Reis were teaching us their tricks.

The big mistakes you can make are:

  1. To assume every tyre kicker is a potential customer and pounce on him. Most will run away and never return.
  2. To ignore the need to support this tyre kicking process sufficiently to be on his list of maybes when he is ready to talk business.
  3. Hang around the car lot waiting for tyre kickers instead of focusing on the ones who are ready to buy, or the ones who did and need support

 

What can shrewd marketers learn from traditional marketing to make their networking more productive?

What is critical going forward is to understand the importance of the  website,  social networking and traditional marketing and how they interact, how they  satisfy tyre kicking, attract a halo of  interested parties, build a funnel of leads, qualify leads, build relationships, support the buying process and generate orders without making your product too expensive to be saleable.

It is vital to apportion the right amount of time and financial investment at each level so as not to put your self out of business.
 A typical example of getting this wrong is spending vast sums on website traffic only to find that they don’t buy anything. Why?  Because they are not at that stage yet.
Better to use different search terms and target people who have done their tyre kicking and want a better deal. Positioning is still everything. The rues have not changed, just the tools.

  1. The next time you are drawing your sales funnel, or configuring your CRM, add another slice 50 times wider than the biggest one. In here you will put all the” tyre kicking, just looking, maybe some day” people. The ones you’ve been networking with go in here too.
  2. Create a manageable strategy to understand the information and contact needs of this big slice and provide it with minimal effort and expense
  3. Test and establish a way to qualify your people from the tyre kicking slice into the lead slice and back out again without losing them altogether.  This upper slice becomes an ecosystem like the halo over a glass of water. And you need an inexpensive way to keep it in place and growing.

 

Coming next:

 

How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle?

 

What is the right strategy for me?

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2

Part one: Bridging between the web and the real world

This one is a real enigma, no matter what angle you approach it form you get an entirely different viewpoint and just when you think you’ve nailed it along comes somebody to spoil your party with a new twist in the tail.

What is it?

This is the fun bit, it is not at all unusual to follow a conversation on this subject for some time and see everyone nodding sagely in agreement only to discover later that they were all talking about different things, sometimes very different things. Even when I pointed this out recently to a group, they seemed unperturbed and continually agreeing what a wonderful thing “it” was as though I had been merely a figment of their imagination.

I recently started a discussion on networking on one of the social networks.  I have done this every year since 2004 and previously it had always been obvious to the users of the “online network “what I was referring to.  This time, it was not the case.  This time person after person steamed in to tell me how well they are doing out of ”networking” and when questioned, “networking”  covered every flavour of human communication from trade shows, to conferences, breakfast meetings, Facebook and Twitter and meeting your pals in the pub.

The thing that stood out in fact was the deliberate omission of online networking in the majority of answers and those who did mention it were rarely very positive.

Also significant for me was the volume of private messages I received that were negative about all forms of networking online and offline, but especially online. The negative comments about offline activity mostly focused on bad manners at events.

My conclusion was that there is no definition at all out there for networking and it basically means communication.  If you want to narrow it down and have a useful discussion then you have to enforce some rules very aggressively on the conversation.

 Based on responses so far, I am defining networking as: ” making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones for the purpose of gaining business”

This is not necessarily my definition, but this is as close as I could get to a consensus of opinion.

Define boundaries by agreeing  what it is not.

Many people responded to this with remarks to the effect that it is “not selling”. When probed, they defined selling as approaching a stranger and trying to sell them your product or service. I tried probing to discover why it was OK for the other networker to assume they were looking for business, but not OK for them to be up front about it.  I.E. Everyone at a breakfast meeting  is there because they want business and therefore they know why you are there, so why carry on a pretence, or why be scared to ask for business?  I found almost everyone evasive and extremely reluctant to pursue this discussion.

For the purpose of this discussion I am defining networking as:” making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones in the hope of getting business from them”

 

What is the demographic of networkers? And what can we learn from it?

This bit was very easy, over a five year period there has been no change at all in this and it is driven home by the owners of all the major online and offline social networks, the users of business and social networks of all kinds are self-employed people who work either alone or in very small companies and partnerships and these are primarily knowledge workers as opposed to artisans, or sellers of goods.

 The only exception to this on a fairly large scale is recruiters who dominate LinkedIn in particular and they only differ in that they work for large organisations, but act independently for the most part. They also differ in that they are actively targeting and approaching customers with immediate propositions.

The key piece of information in this, I believe, is that we have a large group of self-employed people who need to find themselves new customers from time to time, but have no sales , or marketing training or ability and suffer from  a classic sales phobia (over active cringe gland). Interim and contract agencies capitalise heavily on this market need.

Is anyone making any money out of it?

Linkedin have built a huge job board for passive candidates and they are making a fortune. Others online networks are doing well too, The likes of BNI are doing well out of it. 

Stories of people actually building up sizeable small businesses, let alone large businesses are pretty thin o the ground and when you challenge the claims, it is even hard to find many self-employed consultants that have earned considerable fees via online networks.

In terms of offline networking, then it is somewhat different.  Financial advisers and management consultants have always used referral selling as the number one source of new business. They sold intangible products that were bough on trust and these huge financial and consulting firms recognised the need to invest in building this trust, so they focused on building strong relationships with good customers and then asking for referrals.  The new “prospects” were receptive because a large part of the critical trust building had already been taken care of via the recommendation.

Professional firms continued to curt their big influential clients by inviting them to events networking with them. This still continues and generates the billions turnover in consulting business.

I do believe that, in a ham fisted sort of way, modern networking follows this same principal . I certainly believe that modern networking offers professionals the chance to achieve the same ends on a smaller scale, though the skills are still required and the training and back-up is missing.

In conclusion

The key to understanding modern networking is to realise that no two people are talking about the same thing they are mostly just talking and indeed that, for them is the end goal.

Hardly anyone is gaining very much from online networking and in many ways it is probably because it needs to mix with offline interaction on order to let people build trust before making business arrangements, but the role of online is steadily growing and in my personal view it will steeple some time in the next  ten years as the Facebook  generation become influential in the marketplace.

Offline networking is producing gains, but in truth it is far inferior form the professional networking carried out for two centuries by the best financial and consulting firms, it is suffering bad press due to rude predatory members and just like so many bartering clubs in the past, it falls foul of “too many sellers and no buyers” syndrome

 

 Next:

Are there really clear parallels between Soviralnetbusworks and Sales and Marketing theory?

 

 

 

How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle?

 

What is the right strategy for me?

Why the SMB/SME holds all the aces when it comes to IT

I know you probably wanted me to tell you how unfair and inequitable the world is and how tough it is to be small. We’re in that sort of phase just now. Well you are going to be disappointed, but I challenge you to read on anyhow.
Not only is it easier, cheaper and less risky to implement state of the art IT, but rarely do your big brothers tap into the advantage effectively once they have implemented it. Now there is a new twist that puts the smaller business back at the cutting edge.

Small is beautiful when it comes to costs

When I rolled out a nine million pound IT investment for a government department, I spent more than a million getting the messages through to the workforce that things would be changing and preparing them and yet another million fighting the bonfires to get it rolled out and accepted.
When I rescued a large project a few years ago, they had already spent close on a million on feasibility and had got nowhere with it.
Implementing a mission critical system for a huge nationwide organisation, I got to roll-out stage and not even the CEO could make IT go any faster, we waited three months while they  put us off with new problems each day and they negotiated for increased budgets for running the system that would have supported a medium sized island, despite having agreed all of this previously at planning stage. Each slight effort from IT requires forms, a process and a very long wait.(Partly justified, because bigger IT comes with bigger risks).

Small is beautiful when it comes to change

Bringing about even fairly small changes in a very big organisation is slow, very expensive and not at all guaranteed.  The employees have no sense of connection to anything , or anyone, it’s just a huge employer and change is inconvenient. Customers have a stronger relationship with the brand than employees with their management and shareholders. Established employees can easily resist change without suffering any consequences and often do so just to prove that they can.

When a big business is forced to compete with small business on a level playing field, it is like a train attempting to  catch a rabbit.  Trains are only good for long straight and fairly even roads. While the train is moving the tracks, the rabbit is enjoying the grass on a greener slope.

Business case

The average cost of a feasibility study and business case for a large business today is estimated at around £60,000. There are more stakeholders with more complex propositions and communication grinds to a slow shuffle. There is usually little or no true big picture and everything you produce then has to be reviewed on the basis of, “do I really look like that that?” .I recently completed a feasibility and prepared a business case for a large SME/SMB and it cost just  £7k.
Rapid painless implementation
When that business described above comes to implement their plans, the system will be hosted on the cloud without a single click of a mouse by their IT department and it will be running and operational in a one day.
It will have world class back-up, disaster recovery, failover and  all the things an SME/SMB struggles to afford and  it will be maintained 24/7.
They won’t buy any hardware or purchase anything up front and their modest budget will be spent on improving their business to take advantage of the new system’s capability, communicating their requirements accurately to the service provider, training people to make their lives easier and their jobs more secure with this new super tool and getting their data into good shape to take maximum advantage.
 Dynamics of IT investment for the SME/SMB
 Where has all the money gone?
 About the author

 

 

 

Tim Berners Lee is on the money yet again.

There’s been some hype going around that the internet volumes are beginning to clog it’s arteries and that there are issues ahead.

TBL reacted to this by saying something to the effect that; the internet is not at risk form volume of information but volume of misinformation.

Let’s just think about that. There was a time, long before Google, when a tool called webcrawler claimed to index every document on the internet and as I recall, it went damned close. Today nothing can do any better than scrape the surface and what is more, there is little appetite for doing it.

It was incredible what you could find with a bit of patience back then. For me the quality lay in the surprise. I was exploring as opposed to searching. In those days surfing was something a few cool people did instead of watching Corrie. Nobody has time for surfing now though.

The novelty became the business tool, became the competitive advantage became the essential productivity tool in less than a decade. Not only do we not have time to explore for nuggets of knowledge and correspond with interesting knowledgeable people around the globe, we need filters to delete 80 % plus of our mail, we are trying to develop trusted networks to find people it is safe to talk to and our problem in finding the information we once only dreamed of, but now rely on for survival, is one of wading through the rubbish to get to it. I suppose this effort counts in that equation, but if you can’t beat them, well!
My point is this, if you don’t know something, or worse still you don’t know that you don’t know, then more information, data, or even knowledge is probably not going to help you and in fact, it is inevitable that before long you will find several contradictory experts.

So where did it go wrong?

Man’s access to and use of knowledge has always involved trusted sources, be they books, or advisers and when things were really important, second opinions were critical.
It was never important to be right, just to be trusted. All sources were expected to be wrong sometimes, but far better than no knowledge at all

My favourite description of knowledge is the one that says it is “to know”. That implies it is known by a person. In scientific terms it is often broken down into explicit, implicit, and tacit.

Let’s explore this concept for a moment;

Very little knowledge is explicit and it generally refers to hard data in my view, though some will argue otherwise.

The fact that john selected b as his favourite response out of abcd is explicit. It’s not much use though.
Let’s jsut assume that we all now what the context of absd was, 100 replies like this would make up a useful block of explicit knowledge.(data in my book)
What that information tells us (implicit knowledge) , may be that the males prefer B and the females D. However, an experienced researcher might spot the fact that it had nothing to do with gender but, was a result of colour blindness, or another aspect lost on the rest of us. (tacit knowledge)
At this point you have the full package and you are reasonably safe to make a decision of some sort.
My view and most business people would go along with me, that any less than the full pcakkage would be dangerous indeed.

If we follow that hypothesis and set these standards for knowledge and if we measure the internet in this way, there is an enormous need for reliable knowledge that combines at least the first two elements if not all three, in order to be truly useful as a source of knowledge.

So far we have succeeded in creating a few working proptypes of semantic modelling and inference engines that are capable of implying a level of information int the raw data out there, if and when we ever find a way to implement it.

Here are my questions:
 Where does the internet serve this need for knowledge?

Is it ever likely to get be achieved?

Is this need actually worth serving?

What would success look like?

Would more information or even more knowledge lead to better decisions with any degree of consistency?

Ed Taaffe