Two elections that few expected and a majority didn’t want- the information perspective.

Two groups of people mastered the truth about data, its interpretation and it’s presentation and two groups didn’t. The former of course are Republicans in US and Brexit’s in UK.

The theories are not new, nor are they difficult to understand but executing on them might only seem an option to somebody with no other options (Trump, Farage). Most people would never dream of applying for a multi-million pound loan and filling the entire application with fiction. It’ not because they believe it couldn’t be done, we’ve all seen it done, but because they were not brought up like that. They still believe they have other options and they won’t make that move to the dark side.  People who did it and often did it successfully were generally people who had no other option and didn’t see the downside. In banking there have always been checks and balances, but in media there has always been a weakness and right now there is a total void where the media used to sit. Enter two people who had no right to talk to us and simply couldn’t win. Donald Trump and Nigel Farage and look what happened.

Why did they win?

Nobody buys newspapers much less reads them any more and old fashioned journalists have hanged themselves by their braces long ago. There’s no revenue stream any more to sustain them, for what little use they might have been once and now we have instead, social media, polls (much the same thing) and personal content filters all very much for sale to the highest bidder and very controllable.

As IT professionals, we have always had to operate in a tricky area between less than perfect hard data collected from disparate systems or countries and the jazzy punchy little reports and dashboards that our paymasters dine on to excess.
Let’s be realistic, hard data is of little use to anyone, it’s only when the great unappreciated droves have cleaned it , sense checked it and translated it to comparable terms and then turned it into consumable visual bites that decision makers can grab it and do something useful with it, like selling a lie often as not.
When I see an email proposing a radical new strategy on the grounds of the figures in my reports I can sometimes pull somebody aside and caution them on the potential for error in the data or point to a conflicting KPI and suggest further checks. This type of scenario is part and parcel of business life in the world of IT.

Lets’ now take  a look at the world of rigged polls, injected social media, wholesale unapologetic lying and presentation that appeals to the baser emotions of fear and mob action.

  1. Destabilise the enemy by kidding them that they are doing better than they really are and encourage them to focus their attempts in the wrong places. Easy and very effective.
    I’m not sure that Farage had the budget or reach for this one, but it was certainly a central part of the Trump strategy and clearly explains why the bookies did so well. Read about Colonol John Boyd’s OODA loop to learn the basis for this strategy. Ask any social media consultant how to do it.
  2. Fill the media with mountains of lies about the enemy, begin by raking up a few real stories to set the scene, wait a few days for people to stop questioning that and then pile it on thick.
    For some good examples of this in action check out Niemanlab.org
    In the UK voters were incensed about legislation preventing the sale of bent bananas, (it never happened)
    They were told it would mean hundreds of millions per week spent on the health service, all immediately denied after election day. The list goes on and on.
    Why is it easy to find and cultivate these knuckleheads? Because Facebook, snapchat and others have detailed profiles of their entire lives and everything they discuss, read, think, say do, even the therapists they visit. Finding a numpty on Facebook and sending him to kill the president should be a doddle ( I didn’t give you the idea by the way)
  3. At the last minute create a powerful picture to capture the emotions of the more  ignorant layers of the electorate and plant a semi-subliminal message that appeals to the baser emotions i.e. massage the “lizard brain”.
    Nigel Farage’s posters were so blatantly aimed to incite civil unrest that there were well supported calls for him to be charged with this offence. On the day after the election, people of foreign birth were accosted on the streets around Britain and told to “go home”.
    In Florida, Trump’s “swing state”, Trump supports were seen on election night chanting “Lock her up”. The Canadian embassy crashed under the load of applications to immigrate and the flood of Mexicans going home in disgust continues.

In both cases, before the vote had been fully counted, the claims were being refuted and the lies were being reneged on.   No “Lock her up”, but tributes to her commitment. No “Go home”, or even close the borders in UK.  How far the reversals and denials will go on both fronts is yet an unknown, but nothing would surprise me mainly because the stretch room is usually very small once they find themselves in the reality of office.

So what is the lesson?

  1. Don’t rely on traditional media to be guardians of truth, what’s left of these are either state owned or in the pockets of the multinationals that own the politicians.
  2. Do I need to say it? Don’t expect politicians to tell the truth and don’t assume they have the same values or standards you do.
  3. Opposition parties ( that means both sides) have to guarantee the truth by monitoring and refuting media and actively and aggressively bringing liars to justice before and after the event. We all want the truth to be spoken, especially on important subjects and that is one of the things we will all agree to pay for and support politicians to achieve for us, so join the winning side for once and promote truth and honesty in media by attacking lies and dishonesty and supporting those who stand for truth and honesty.
  4. For god’s sake, or whatever you believe in don’t believe everything you read in social media, especially if it’s controversial and even more-so if it agrees with your predispositions.
  5. Make sure you defeat the personal filters to get alternative views of the world, use proxies or VPNs to hide your location and see a different view of the same thing. Ask a teenager if you don’t know how.
  6. Take responsibility for your own mind and for your decisions and actions.
  7. Don’t stay silent and let the liars prevail, it’s now a community affair, so speak out and have an impact on the balance of opinion. This way we can all help to keep society safe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specialist in Smarties, Chocolate Beer consultant, or Expert in customer complaints from Obese women on Tuesday afternoons.

Are you a specialist?
By the way these specialisms do exist and I have no doubt you could add to my collection. If you want a light hearted look visit this article.

As an interim connected to the technology world, I get a lot of calls and emails from recruiters and over the years the, the most notable change is the degree to which these people expect me to be specialised. Why, I wonder, did I spend five years studying the subject to get a broad and deep understanding and then spend the next ten deliberately learning the different aspects of the industry on the ground. This is what we did, what every professional did.  Do you know a lawyer who can only handle attempted fraud by Orientals on diabetic white Americans living in London on Fridays?  I doubt it somehow.

The need for specialisation is the back-bone of economic theory
If you are drawn into a discussion about why some African states have failed to develop a modern economy despite being richer in resources than we are, you will generally find yourself in two separate discussions: One about availability of capital ( An Adam smith fan) and the other about specialisation, or lack thereof.  Given that many of these economies have weak currencies, micro-loans can now finance substantial start-ups and there has ever been more lost money ( for want of a better description) looking for a legitimate looking home, so arguments about lack of capital no longer work. The problem is inability or unwillingness to specialise. The scenario: I grow vegetables, hunt for meat, make my furniture from bamboo, make beer from fruit and find herbal medicines when I am sick.  I am always poor and I lack equipment and skills to do all of this stuff well.
Far better, if I could just grow vegetables and swap some with the hunter for meat and with the carpenter for furniture.  Each could enjoy a margin because of their specialist skills, tools and experience. That is the fundamental theory that still underpins economics. For some reason, in some places it is slow to happen.

 

It gets boring just placing the full stops at the end of sentences, can I have a real job?

The problems rarely lies with the client who needs help, but with the  recruiter who calls himself a “Consultant” but is in fact a commission only salesman who last year was an Estate agent or rather a  “Property consultant”  and knows as much about what I do and what my potential client needs as I do about life on Mars.    For an insight from a legitimate HR person have a read of this

The problem begins sometimes because the client who either doesn’t really know what precise skillset would be best for his needs and either by habit or misconception expects a recruiter to help with this problem. What a very large error that is.
A rough guide goes off to the recruiter who then places adverts via an “autoposter”. This tool is preconfigured and whacks his advert out onto numerous job boards where his agency has accounts.
He then instructs a resourcer to do some searching on the main databases, e.g. Jobserve and Jobsite for IT and these are imported directly into the system and emailed with a standard mailing.

Now the fun begins. The resourcer has not yet been promoted to recruiter and is supposedly learning the business by pouring through millions of CVs starting with keywords searches Now we have identified the first problem.  Just like Google SEO, if you want to appear in the SERPs you must include the keywords.

I sometimes help businesses to profile skills and to shortlist  CVs, so I know just how tricky this can be even for a seasoned professional. A resourcer, or a recruiter with no grasp of the IT profession or the task at hand stands no chance at all. It is simply a random matter of chance whether or not they find a remotely applicable CV and it is no more or less efficient than asking Siri or saying “OK Google” to your phone.
If you’ve ever engaged an agency, you’ll be familiar with the bombardment of pointless CVs and then the ever more pestering phone calls for feedback and pressure to hire.  There is a reason why it feels so pointless, it mostly is exactly that and there is a reason why it is so expensive, all that pointless effort has to be paid for. Don’t be deluded by commission only, that is always the most expensive purchase. If you have two agencies at work and one has submitted what they think are strong candidates, they well be calling every other candidate in the market pretending they are submitting them in order to rule them out for the competition.  Don’t kid yourself that there is efficiency in this.
Why am I telling you all this?

The reason we are being driven to specialise is to a large degree so that recruitment agencies can understand a tiny bit more about what we do.
Let’s face it the way to make it big in recruitment is to specialise in Saturday morning perfume demonstrators and get them all in your database. Easy to understand, no search issues, you can truly be a specialist and maybe even a consultant and all is well with the world.
The problem is that IT doesn’t work this way.  Every system that is implemented impacts and is impacted by many others, all different and employing different infrastructure, protocols, languages, data structures, security arrangements and so on.  You can’t simplify IT to suit your needs and every attempt to do so has ended in tears. Understanding the IT impacts is only the final mile, before that you have to understand the process impacts and manage the stakeholder culture and much more. All of this is heavily entwined and all absolutely unavoidable and critical. When you need a specialist to solve critical problems in your business, ask a specialist for advice not a recruiter.

The health warning attached to agile is nothing more, it’s not a reason to ignore agile thinking as a powerful tool.

As a manager who entered software engineering as the agile movement was gathering pace and returned to management in the systems world, I find it amusing when other disciplines jump on the bandwagon as it were. I also find it encouraging, but I would have serious concern if it were my business and here is why:

  1. Agile is not what journalists say it is

In much the same way that we probably misinterpret and ingratiate many movements,  Agile is credited with a lot of stuff that was never  though t of,  never intended and for the most part never happens.
A bunch of software engineers (several in several places) to decide how they could “take back control” of the software process in business.  They knew the power thy held in their hands, but could see more and more of it ebbing into middle and senior management determined to make them “blue collar”.  At the same time service businesses like IBM and Microsoft were looking for ways to reduce the paperwork and improve communication in the software transaction. The two things were married and produced a clever, but unruly child that requires careful monitoring and constant praise.  Agile was never a strategy, but a bun fight and it is far from over.

2.Fiiddling with KPIs is not changing anything.
 In my early days as a marketer I was taught that if you are not meeting KPIs, it is easier to fiddle with the KPI than change your behaviour. This is a fairly universal principal of business and nowhere is it more fitting that the world of software.” I want it and I want it now, but I am not sure what it is and couldn’t communicate it to you even if I did . In any case, what if it doesn’t work?”  I’ll claim you didn’t deliver and /or you didn’t do it right. That is the scenario driving software engineers to do away with specifications and contracts and make the product owner responsible. Unfortunately, what they didn’t spot until too late was that in doing this, they sold their souls and became blue collar again, but that’s another story.  Now they estimate in Tee-shirt-sizes and look upwards and to the left as they declare how many tee shirts they completed this month. If they don’t like the design they simply say it can’t be done or will cost too much. That is roughly where the tyre meets the road toady

3. A racehorse designed by a vet and an art student will make a very ugly camel at best

I was a product Manager for a few years, it is a natural progression for a marketer cum software engineer and I know some of the best around the globe. Some are redundant and others struggling. Why? Who needs professional when you have the seat of your pants? I am not suggesting that Agile teams with a nominated Product Owner can’t or don’t produce good stuff, simply that; successful products need a market sized opportunity, or it matters not how good they are, products need to meet an unmet need and to do it so that they are a more attractive proposition that their competitors and so forth.
What I am getting at is this; iPhones are successful because they were driven forward by a brilliant visionary who had the courage to show us what we are missing and make us love iPhones. Bill Gates did this for the PC. In an agile world neither of these products would have happened.
The iPhone would have been an ugly mishmash of half-finished features rushed out to an imaginary deadline and reflecting the current tastes of the Lead developer and the Product Owner, usually in that order.  I suspect the PC would have been a typewriter with a glass screen and a coffee holder.

  1. Lying in the water and thrashing your arms about is not swimming.
    Anybody who seriously wants to make a change for the better needs to start not with the technology, but with goals, develop strategies and work their way down to the details of how.  If that happens to be agile, wonderful, there is then a powerful chance that you will make it work.
  2. Beware the evangelists, many are trainee terrorists

Understanding the shortfalls of anything is the first sign of expertise and even love. Don’t fall for the preachers they have alternative motives. Somethings and some teams lend themselves well to agile, but not everything and worst of all, when a good agile team has been doing the same thing for a year or so, they are no longer agile, they are simply where they were before with slightly different rules and rituals.

  1. Agile is a state of mind not a book or a methodology and must be championed and driven form the top down by people who know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Communication skills for project managers – Presentation skills

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 Read Part one    Read Part two

Presentation skills – Part three

 

As part of a series on soft skills for project managers, last week I wrote a section on communication skills. It may seem that it is a little odd not to include presentation skills as a communication skill and I will certainly not argue with this. I have also delivered a section on persuasion skills separately for the simple reason that these are key skills that require individual treatment as opposed to a short paragraph in a single blog about communications, also because it would be impossible to give communication a reasonable coverage in a single instalment  and because in the world of Project management,  lot of people will associate communications with the communication plan as opposed to recognizing it’s importance in an every day sense.

Critical for project managers

Charts used in project management

In my early days as a project manager I survived some very gruelling relationships with programme managers and sponsors as a result issues around presentation and reporting and since then I have seen other project managers and  Business Analysts driven to distraction by bosses demands for reports that they could understand.
Not only do the normal rules of presentation apply, but the project manager also needs to be able pinpoint the concerns that stakeholders need updates on and exactly how they can be reported to in order that they feel satisfied and comfortable. Above and beyond all other aspects of project management, this one is critical to survival of the project manager.

First of all you need to try and reach an agreement on your KPIs at the outset, or as soon as possible. KPIs can vary quite substantially for example, you may be in a situation where budget is critical and the critical factor is that you don’t go over budget. In this case the stakeholder will need very reliable KPIs to warn you as soon as you begin to slip. In this instance EVA might be a useful approach.

It allows you to plan a cost schedule for delivery of the product over time and plot against that costs accrued and value created so that you can easily see when the budget exceeds target or the value creation misses it’s target. Creating a simple graph and explaining it carefully to your stakeholder may be the perfect way to give her a warm and comfortable feeling about the project.

On the other hand you may find that this idea is a good one, but your stakeholder just doesn’t understand graphical reports and you have to grind it out with columns of data and a slow painstaking presentation. See paragraph on styles. The safest way is to prepare your props to be ready for all types of communication and be aware of the reactions of your audience so that you can switch modes if needed and place the emphasis on a different method of delivery when it is required.

One rule is universally applicable to project management. Responsibility for the audience understanding the message correctly lies with the project manager.
Ed Taaffe

If you ever find yourself tempted to blame it on the denseness of your audience, you are very close to the time when you should consider an alternative career path. The buck stops with you.

Progress against schedule.

Gantt chart

The great universal way to represent this key KPI is the ubiquitous Gantt chart. They are the most used tool by project managers and mostly because they are the one thing that allow you to combine data with a graphical view in one place.
The Gantt however, has many weaknesses. Not the least of it’s weaknesses is it’s ability to cram too much information into a small report. Unless you audience have the ability to drill down then most of the information it shows can be as good as useless.  The fact is that very few people have access to a tool that will open and manipulate these files.
The commonest mistake made by PMs is to assume that their audience also have spent years working with Gantt charts and understand them well. In reality very few people are entirely confident with them and some of those have oversized opinions of themselves, the remainder are generally embarrassed to admit it i public and sit quietly nodding. These people will come back to haunt you.

The next common mistake is to assume that your audience are interested in performance over time, they may be worried about risk of slippage against budget, or looking for indicators of inaccuracy in your forecast.

Slack, and accuracy of prediction

A great way to analyse and communicate the accuracy of your predictions and show your progress against these is the PERT chart.

Pert chart

The pert is fundamentally a network diagram that shows your key products being deliver, or milestones being met in the order that is necessary. It demonstrates the difference between products that depend on others and products that can be delivered independently, thus creating a critical path.
The critical path is the longest route you can take from start to finish of the project. This is extremely important to be aware of, because the tasks that make up this critical path can not be delayed without delaying the project. Provided the time needed for each task in the critical path has been sufficiently estimated for in terms of time then the project will hit it’s target.

Estimation of the critical path is done by entering three settings for each task or product. The settings are Optimistic time (OT), Pessimistic time (PT) and most likely time (MT).  By manipulating this chart a little you can very easily display the best and worst case scenarios and keep a close eye on the most likely completion dates.  The commonest calculation used to start out with is:

ETA =(OT +4* MT + PT)/6

It should be clear by now that the message delivered by the PERT chart is very different form the one delivered  by an EVA graph or a Gantt.

Progress against budget

To present a report on your project’s progress against budget, one of the easiest graphical tools is an EVM chart.

EVM chart
EVM or Earned Value Method  is a fairly simple way to compare the  projected use of time and budget with the actual use of time and budget for the work completed. It is very easy to see a project delivering on time and not notice that it has used too much budget in doing so, or to see a project that is within it’s budget profile, but has not delivered sufficient value with the budget already spent. In both of these circumstances, the project will eventually run into trouble.  Without EVM or another tool to keep track, it is almost impossible to reassure stakeholders that ll is well.

EVM start out by defining milestones in terms of work done y date within cost and then records actual time, cost and work completed  to determine whether the project is on target. The tricky bit with this method is estimating the value of work in progress for incomplete products. Even a poor estimate at EVM will still provide a clearer view into the project’s true state than relying on Gantts and guesswork and should help to reassure your stakeholders.

Traffic lights

Traffic light report

RAG for red, amber, green is a very simple yet powerful way to report on a programme or portfolio so that people can quickly get a feel for the state of play. A simple dashboard can contain one clock for each project with just the three settings. A quick glance will then tell the stakeholder whether there are issues and how big they are likely to be.
Red reports will need detailed reporting, while Amber reports require a paragraph of explanation.
RAG reports overlaid on a programme PERT can be a very powerful tool for seeing instantly the likely consequences of a localised issue on the overall programme.

Innovation and customisation.

The key to good communication is to get to know the requirements of your audience and customise the delivery to suit them.  If there is no well trodden method out there then don’t be afraid to ‘innovate. Analogy is the key so create pictures and sounds that help them compare the subject to some concept they are more familiar with. Traffic lights, measuring jugs, barometers and all types of household concepts are regularly called on for help.

Critical to all presenters

There some rules that apply to everybody called on to make a presentation and here are a few of the key issues. The most important bit starts before the presentation. Prepare, Prepare, prepare. It’s that simple. Do your preparation well in advance so you can put it out of your head for a few days and then look at it again with a fresh viewpoint. Never deliver an important presentation for the first time to important people. Get some opinions first from knowledgeable people or a small subsection of your audience.

PowerPoint

PowerPoint and it’s equivalent have become an institution in the business world.  It has it’s fans and it’s haters, but it is still indispensable in many situations.  The key to using PowerPoint well is to use it only as a central roadmap for your argument and only for the visual aspects of your presentation.

NEVER write out your speech and read it out form PowerPoint, especially not with clever little animations on every line.

NEVER substitute PowerPoint for a paper or brochure or for speaking t your audience. Each communication tool has its own job to do.

DO stick to one idea per screen and one image per idea and limit text to one line per screen.

DO use your slides as a roadmap for your presentation

DO write out your presentation and practice it using the slides as your cue cards. Write extra notes in for your own purposes if you wish.

DO provide separate handouts that include your slides AFTER you presented NOT before.

DO use your slides as a backdrop and engage the audience directly, not via reference to the slides. YOU are the presenter  not PowerPoint.

DO agree in advance whether you are inviting questions as you go or you are providing for fixed periods when questions can be floored.

Presentation Structure

There is a very simple set of rules for presentations that work well and are easy to follow, here it is:

Start middle end presentation technique

It’s very simple and proven.  Introduce yourself and the presentation by telling them what your goal is and how you are going to do it then sum up what you have told them.

E.G.  My name is Ed Taaffe, I am an expert in presentation techniques and I intend to make you more confident in presenting to your stakeholders by walking you through some very simple but effective tools for making your presentations more successful.

Then show them the examples and finally close the presentation by saying something like.

So today we have seen three key techniques used by pros all over the world ton make their presentations more effective.

  • 1. Understand your audience and their needs and use analogies that will appeal to them to explain the concepts that concern them.
  • 2. Use a good mix of visual and oral delivery and encourage questions in a controlled way
  • 3. Use reports for written presentation, use PowerPoint for visual delivery and use your own presentation skills for oral delivery. The right tool at the right time in the right way.
  • 4. Prepare well in advance and seek and pay attention to feedback at every opportunity.
  • 5. Project management throws up it’s own unique communication challenges, be aware of these challenges and don’t be afraid to innovate to get your point across.

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Technology for people- why a Bridger?

Technology for people- why a Bridger?

 

The problem

Technologists, vendors and technical architects alike invent clever technology, but they build it to their view of the world and expect people to adapt to processes and methods that are often unruly and throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Project managers will deliver a pizza, or new gold mine to the same rules and Quality people will ask you what you want, get a signature and give you exactly that for better, or for worse.


The result

This failing causes products to stay on the shelf and systems to fail altogether, or deliver dismal benefits. Using the same approach and people to tackle the problem usually exacerbates it.

 

The solution

A Bridger approaches the people dimension along with the benefits and works back to the solution so that it is designed, or configured to deliver a specific outcome and bearing in mind the critical human elements for success.

 

The outcomes:

n     Systems that meet the need exactly

n     Products that are cherished

n     Customers that become your unpaid sales force

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 5

What’s the right strategy for me?

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

 

In defining a marketing strategy you will as a minimum need to:

  1. Define your USP and write it down.
  2. Define your target market
  3. Write down the benefits of your product/service to that market
  4. Position your product/service in comparison to it’s rivals so that it appeals to your market (2)
  5. Define the activities you will engage in to deliver your messages and monitor results e.g. networking, direct mail, telesales, events, etc
  6. Develop the messages that suit each method of delivery, drive home your USP, consolidate your positioning statement and motivate the required actions from your target market

Your USP, positioning statements, Elevator pitch and all that good stuff

Me (the business) has to be understood first and that is often where the exercise is rejected then the products come under the microscope.

Most networkers will tell you how important trust is in selling your products and services and this is the section that deals with that trust. Trust is not in a product, or service, but in a person or organisation delivering it and you simply can’t afford to ignore this aspect of your offering.

The simple and obvious questions 

What do I stand for? what do I want out? What am I prepared to give?  Where are my boundaries? Now you need to step it up a notch to look at yourself through your customer’s eyes.
What do they stand for? What does it mean to me? Is it an image that inspires me to deal with them? Are their changes that would improve this image and influence me to buy from them?

Now the money question
How good are my products? Who are they aimed at and why should they buy?
Now from a customer viewpoint

Do I use their products? Why? What would motivate me to start/stop, how do they compare to the opposition? And how does this influence me? Is there anything unique , or memorable about them?

It is rare that this exercise does not lead to a startling difference between the internal view and the customer viewpoint and there is always something to be learned, but be warned, the results must be consumed with a measure of common sense.
The idea of giving the customer what he wants is fallacy. The customer wants you broke and giving him products for free, even products he will never use. You have to talk to realistic customers of the kind you are able to sell to profitably. You have to ask the right questions carefully and explore the answers if in doubt.

Before you can establish a strategy for your marketing you need to be confident that you have  got your proposition right and you are projecting an appropriate image successfully. Without that you can spend a lot of cash and effort for very little return.

Unity of thought and action in all things is the key

Two messages that reinforce a strong influential theme is three times as powerful as one message. Two messages that contradict each other, even a little bit can be very damaging.

Messages in the marketing context mean every communication and action that says something to your customers.  If you deliver a day late without an apology, that sends a message even more effectively than an expensive TV advert only not the one you had intended. The lesson that needs to be learned here is Don’t over guild the lilly.

If you are not going to be able to deliver it consistently, drop it from all offers and don’t promise it. This is the commonest mistake in business and it is even more upsetting when you come to realise that the customer didn’t even rate it in his buying criteria, but now he’s upset because you promised and didn’t deliver.

E-commerce and the retail shop, email and the call-centre, networking and the marketing campaign

Have you ever dealt with an organisation, or a professional who managed to get these aspects of the business integrated even a little bit?  I certainly haven’t.

  • You buy something online, but you are not allowed to return it in the shopping mall.   
  • You see an advert 15 times in the course of an evening telling you how your bank value their customers, you call about your account and ten minutes later, with steam coming from your ears, you finally get through to a call centre person who is trained only in dealing with irate customers. Two minutes later you put the phone down in despair, no wiser.
  • You meet the boss at an event and tell him you need a big order and he is very pleased and very helpful. You call in a few days later to order and you are told, it will be two weeks now before we can deliver, if only you’d called in yesterday.
  • The call centre reminds you that your annual subscription is overdue, because they have never been told that you paid by direct debit last week

We both know that this list could go on for many pages and hopefully you are beginning to think of this in terms of conflicting messages and wasted effort. Fixing this type of thing should be at the top of every marketing strategy.

Don’t take a sledgehammer to crack a nut

The most difficult thing about developing a strategy for marketing can be to avoid starting at the beginning and making too big a job out of it.

If you are happy enough that you don’t have the problems highlighted above then in reading this you have done enough and you can get straight to the point.

 Billions are wasted every year developing strategies that are consigned to the bin by changes in events within the first year, so stick to the highest possible level and don’t get bogged down in detail.
If you want to spend a little more time at this stage then I would strongly advise a couple of workshops facilitated by an experienced external person. In particular PEST is a great way to avoid falling foul of Political, Environmental, Sociological and Technological drivers that render your plans useless.
SWOT is a powerful tool to help you define your Strengths and Weaknesses and to explore. Opportunities and Threats facing your business.   Done well with a good cross section of the team, these can be lively and informative short sessions that afford a chance to take stock and to improve management communication.

Defining your target market

Your target market is a segment or segments of the overall market that you believe is sufficiently large to deliver your targeted sales volume and offers you the best possible opportunity to make sales. Why waste time climbing for the high apples, get the easy ones.

When defining your market segments the best strategy will often be to understand;

 1. The jobs they want done as opposed to features they might want

2. How easily accessed they are
3. How profitable they are to your business.

e.g.  If you are a Lawyer who used to work in the city and now you are in practice, you have a Unique proposition in terms of your financial knowhow, you may be able to highlight a large group of potential clients who engage in financial dealings but are not big enough to retain a lawyer and you may find that there is an easy route to access them all through a particular association.  Provided this is sufficiently profitable for you, you have clearly defined your target market using my criteria.

Defining the benefits to your target market

 

If you remember, we focused on ” job done” as opposed to features when defining the target market, very simply this is because the benefit is that it allows your customer to get a job done.
This way there is less confusion over language and better defined offering in terms of language.

 

e.g. The tiler isn’t looking for a “better cutter”, but a “smoother cut”, or a “faster cut”

Don’t forget emotional drivers

Emotions play a large part in all purchases, even the very logical ones, but many purchases are dominated by emotion.  Cars are bought for the feeling they give the driver when he sits into it.
Homes are bought for what they say about the owner as much as anything else. The list goes on.

People are very swarm conscious and like to be hiding comfortably in a crowd doing what the crowd are doing. The underlying driver is fear of being singled out for r ridicule if they get it wrong, so people need a way out and they need social approval for their decisions.

You must identify these social drivers and write them down

Remember to record the constraints

It may be that only at certain times of year, or when certain conditions occur, will your customers make a buying decision, or that certain seasons are better.  Remember the low hanging fruit theory and record all of these constraints so you can use them to your benefit.

Define your positioning statements

Positioning statements are statements that help the customer understand your proposition by comparing it to the competition and by comparing it to other known things.
“The Venice of the North”.   “Accounting’s answer to Coca Cola”.  These are positioning statements.
They very simply and subtly say a great deal about what you think of your product, they are very easy to remember, because they follow the basic principal of how we remember things and if you can get the customer to accept this comparison, you will very powerfully and memorably define your product’s position in your customer’s mind.
Nothing in my view is more powerful in the marketing strategy than getting the positioning right and then driving it home consistently.

Plan the activity at a high level.

At a strategic level you don’t want times and dates etc, but you do want these key elements:

  1. Clarity about how and where you will deliver your messages for what outcome and how you will measure success.
  2. You should have a regular review strategy to make sure your strategy is working and to make adjustments when appropriate
  3. You should have clear targets in terms of sales, enquiries, list growth, share of voice, share of mind etc
  4. You should have a budget defined
  5. Divide your activities into Hunting and Farming (Hunting being the search for new contacts)

To help you decide on tactics, the best approach is to go back to your notes on target market and n particular the bit about accessibility. At that point you decided that this segment was accessible, how?
Who and what are their strongest influencers?
Where do they go? What do they read? Do they network? Can you get them to join a newsletter? are they in your database and reachable with certain types of media?

 

A simple chart like this one can help

  Offline Networking Online Networking PR Email Events Telesales SEM Website
London engineers £1 to £10m Meet senior  management at key engineering focused gatherings:
Institute of ..
Directors will stay in touch with opposite numbers and forge new relationships Monthly announcements on the following themes:
1
2
Quarterly newsletter with valuable key trends analysis Invite up to 50 key people for working lunches Add 200 names to the database of potential customers every month Target buyers of widget who is searching for “custom”
max budget

£n

Provide all the information buyers need

Track visitors from all electronic messaging.

Integrate this information with offline communications records

Target 10 Potentials 50 new relationships 20% improvement in share of mind. 15 enquiries monthly 40 new potentials 2400 new contacts 10 orders per month Traffic growth 10%
Repeat/New

7:4

London legal  practices £1m+ Meet senior  management at industry gatherings Minimal as they don’t do it much Occasional announcements  timed with ..   Working breakfasts  with short informative  training sessions   Target  all widget searches Use ecommerce to capture small orders.

 

Email key bridging pages to the mailing list monthly

Target 30 potentials              
Total sales forecast                
Cost                
ROI                

 

 

Develop the messages

 

1. Write out your USP

2. Write an elevator pitch that you can give to anyone in any circumstance and they will immediately “get it”.  Imagine being forced to still use it word for word in ten years.

Define the segments by name
Define the jobs they want done
Define the emotional drivers involved
Define their key influencers

Define each of the delivery methods you have proposed for this segment

For each of these individual segment/method instances, write out what action you want them to take and what would make them take it.

For each of the above, write out the message to be delivered
Write out an example of body copy.

The actual body copy can be created close to the event so that the language and mood of the time can be built into it.

e.g.

Segment1 Type Influencers Job done Emotional Action Message
email Peer group afraid of being left behind.
Competition  . sales people telling them we are no good.
Trade body wanting their business instead
Enter new markets.

Find new products

Mustn’t be seen to fail even a little.

 

Must feel comfortable with these new ideas.

 

We are afraid of not being up to the job

www Message1.doc
Networking enquire Message.doc
website enquire Message.doc
telephone Agree to a visit  

Message 2.doc

events Invite us to tender Message 3.doc

 

Direct mail Make an enquiry Message4.doc
Newsletter Visit the www

 

I expect it is much more evident what your message should be saying when you work form this chart and a good copywriter should be able to produce powerful collateral very quickly.
 What is especially good is that all your activity is now delivering consistent focused messages direct to receptive audiences and they can continue the conversation across the website, networking, events etc without any confusion. If you work a little on timing and language you can achieve a great deal from your new marketing strategy.

If you invest in some tools to help you coordinate all these communications it will make your job a great deal easier

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?

Communication for project managers

Introduction to the series.comms encoding

This series was inspired by the growing concerns expressed by project managers about the demands being placed on them to be communicators, ambassadors, PR experts and even Marketers as they attempt to deliver complex change projects into organisations, especially in the IT field but not exclusively.
Whether you are moving 1000 people to a new location or asking them to stop doing things the way they do and trust you that a new system will work better, the challenge has been raised and if you are not equipped to meet it your project stands a poor chance of succeeding.

About the author
Before you even consider communication with any audience from one person to 100 million people, you need to first gain their respect and trust. If you don’t, why should they listen to you.
Just like you they are bombarded with messages all day every day and they only have time to listen to a choice few that come from trusted sources , that gain their attention and arouse their interest.
Gain  their respect.
Don’t assume that these people know who you are and respect your knowhow, or your authority as the case may be. If you are sent by the CEO, then tell them up front and try to get some demonstration of this from the CEO. If you are offering them expertise, then tell them about your skills and background so that they can judge it for themselves.

Gain their trust

Trust is the most important part of communication by a long shot. Respect and trust are related, but not the same. You can win respect through winning trust, but not necessarily the other way around.
If I am to interrupt my busy day to listen to what you have to say, I need to feel I can trust it.
The best way to win trust is to genuinely be interested and concerned about the other person or the audience. You can’t fake this, unless you have shared experiences and shared fears, hopes, or aspirations, then you will struggle to be convincing. Unless you already have this shared experience, then the simple and the only way to achieve it is to clear your mind of all preconceptions and start listening, start asking questions, questioning the answers and listening with every fibre.
The more you listen, the more you will learn. The strange thing about listening is that not only do you learn a lot, but you start to make a lot of friends effortlessly.

What  you are listening for

First what you are not listening for, you are definitely not listening for hooks to  let you push your story down their necks. You should be listening to what they are saying at face value. You should also be listening for the unsaid things, the little gaps in the logic and the things left for you to imply. These latter are the things you need to question to make sure you get the truth. If you are a walkover and you get it wrong, you won’t win much respect.

Tip.
Be truthful. If you don’t agree say so. This way you will still find many that agree and others that make allowance, you might even learn something.  If you are false, you will be caught out and lose all credibility.

You are also listening for communication styles the way they express ideas, the vocabulary they use, any analogies they use when discussing the issues and the general attitudes that prevail in that audience to prepare you for how to word your communications. More about this later.

You are listening for differing groups in your audience, I.E different perspectives or different ways of framing the same thing. E.G. Board directors probably have a very different viewpoint on a shop floor issue than the blue collar workers do. Later you will need this knowledge when we come to segmentation.

You are also listening for their motivations, you want to know what would be the thing that would make them most enthusiastic and what would be least motivating to be able to offer to them.

You are also listening for indicators of who their influencers are, who else do they listen to and trust and why. It may be Unions, it may be certain newspapers or magazines, or a TV show. Knowing this will help you to communicate effectively with them.

Listening is a learned skill and only practice will perfect it, it ,may also be a bit of a change for som people, I promise you that if you will try it out for a week, with no motive other than to see what happens, you will never regret it.
 

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Communication for project managers-teaching skills

Communication major dimensions scheme

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

Part two -Get your point accross

Read Part one

Basic teaching skills

I use the word teaching because there is really no difference between teaching/learning and communication of any other sort.  Your role is to help people understand the concepts you are communicating and to see the world in the same way that you want them to and to learn to see it the way they do in order to improve your ability to communicate with them.
Filters

People develop immunity to certain words and phrases and styles of communication.  E.G. ” Closing down sale” is unlikely to conjure up images of a shop about to close and selling premium stock very cheap.  If you are hoping to convince wealthy shoppers to read your message, this is probably not the way to go.
Much like a spammer who avoids certain words that get picked up by spam filters, you need to carefully craft your messages so that they are not rejected instantly as a result of being associated with boring messages that never are interesting or official stuff that nobody ever reads.

Communication styles

 Try to aim your communication style so that it appeals to everyone. Your readers or listeners will use different styles to deal with your messages. Some imagine pictures, other listen to the message and yet others concentrate on the feelings it engenders. You need to try and ensure that it meets the needs of each type of recipient.

Use analogy to simplify complex messages

Finally you must make maximum use of analogy as a way of explaining complexity to a lay audience.
Compare your ideas to parallel ideas that people will already understand. E.G.  “A DNS server is just like a dictionary where you can put in a name and get back the correct number. We do this because remembering the names is easier for people, but the numbers are easier for machines.” An example added to this makes it easy to understand and memorable. The more colourful  the example the more memorable.

Use comparison to establish a position

A position means a way you relate me, or my project  to others. I would like you to see me as the Bentley of Project managers. That way I am assuming that you rate the Bentley very highly as a Moto car and by association you would then rate me very highly.

 By taking some time to understand your audience and to plan your communication style and content, you can achieve a great deal more with your communications and make life easier for yourself on all fronts.

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