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September 2006
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November 2006

We answer our phones

Marketing is a conversation, yet in the interest of saving a buck we put barriers between us and our market.   Auto attendants, recordings, directing people to a web site, it's all there.

Currently we're putting together our channel program.  One of our big concerns is good support.   We're going all out: support forums, search engines, tutorials, blogs and training programs. 

But sometimes that is not enough.  Or something is extremely time critical.   Phone

One option we have is 8x5 support with after hours voice mail.   I've tried that and am never quite sure if it got through.  So we're going 24x7 live operator phone answering.   

The first part of a conversation is acknowledging you've actually been heard, isn't it?


It was a great week!

Spent last week  on the road to Phoenix and San Jose.   First part of the week got to meet the entire production team for our new product.    A good part of the discussion revolved around product design, burn in testing and field support.   It was refreshing to talk to people who understood 6 sigma processes and ISO 9001.   Looks like we'll have a really high availability product.

The second part of the week I was at a conference with potential users of our product.   Great conversations about what they needed vs. what we were delivering.   And I had an old marketing lesson drilled home.

Tell them exactly what you can do and what you cannot do and why.   Your customers tend to be smart people too and the more precise you are in describing how you fit in to their processes, the better off you will be.   And when your goals and objectives line up with their goals and objectives, you have very powerful friends indeed.

It also helps when your new process is 98% more efficient than everyone else's.


What am I?

Or more importantly, what is my company?   In order to solve our customers problem we're cutting across a couple of well defined categories in high tech.

Which causes angst.What_to_do_1

On the one hand, it is extremely difficult to create a new market category.   You have to do an awful lot of hand waving and the highly paid analysts give you dagger looks (after all, that's their job you know).   But if you use an existing category, you get dragged down into a rathole and spend all your time explaining why you're so different.   

My answer.  Forget the category and focus on what you do to help your customers. 

Back in the early 90's we developed a network appliance.  Problem was there wasn't any such beast in the market and no one knew what we were talking about.   I didn't want to call it a server, because in those days, servers were expensive and required lots of technical people to get one running.   So I called it a "workgroup server, an appliance".  No one knew what that meant, but kind of understood the category.

So switch gears and use analogies to avoid the rat hole. 

As we explained to the UK journalists, this was an appliance.   When you're in your kitchen and all you want is toast, you don't turn on the cooker to make toast.  You plug in your toaster, an appliance, which does one thing very, very well.    They got it.  In fact we actually did a toaster ad compaign to get the idea across.

Just cut to the chase and explain how you get the job done.  Use terms and stories they can relate to and you will have happy customers.   Everyone else will come around on their own. 


Word of Mouth Marketing

This is a subject I touched on a while ago.  But I get a little queasy trying to directly influence this.  To me WOM happens because you are doing a good job for your customers.  Now a good metric of this is the answer to the following question: "Would you recommend __________ to a friend". 

What brought this to mind is an agency called Keller Fay.  Their claim is they can measure and directly impact word of mouth about your brand.   Since I'm in charge of marketing I get to hire the agencies to help us.    But, hold that thought for now.

I also love linked-in.  When we were looking for real estate in Redwood City I found Mike through linked-in.  He was great and got us exactly what we needed.  So when our son was moving to Denver and was interested in a company there, I fired up linked-in.  Turns out an old Novell buddy of mine knew someone in common with that company.   He forwarded my request, and they stopped it cold.  Why, because they didn't know me. (duh)  Pick up the phone and call me.  I love meeting new people.

So here's where the story comes together.  Turns out that person runs marketing for the WOM agency.   Do you think I'll be putting them on my short list?

Today's lesson.   Always give more than you expect to get back.  If someone asks for help, give it to them.  You never know who they know or in this case, may be in the position to directly help them.

Just for fun, let's see how good Keller Fay's tracking system is and if they pick up this blog.

It's been 48 hours.  Nothing yet.  Someone flunked WOM 101. 


More Rookie Mistakes

Some of you get to have the joy of setting prices on your products and services.   This is a very complicated subject.   If you're fighting the commodity game it's all about elasticity of demand.  Fall out side of the pricing band and you're toast.  Volume comes from the rest of your value proposition.

Then sometimes you have a brand new product.   Greed Rookies think "it's all about maximizing profit" so they set the price high, then drop like a rock when competitors start eating their lunch.   

Back in the days of corporate raiders and "Greed is Good" I attended grad school.  One of instructors pointed out the goal of a corporation is *not* to maximize investors return on investment but to provide a reasonable return on investment.  I guess reasonable depends upon your investors.  But this is one of the reasons I like Costco.  They provide a decent return on investment, but pay a lot more attention to taking care of their employees.  Sam's Club pays about 40% less than Costco.  Good business?  You bet.   Costco sells more per square foot and has happy employees. 

When pricing your product, think about all your objectives for your product, your company, your channel and your customers.   Perhaps your major objective is to build fierce loyalty to your product and company.   So your overhead increases (cutting into margin) and maybe your price is at the lower end.   So you operate at lower margins, but you increase your loyalty base, selling more product over time, and actually cut sale acquisition costs because your churn goes down.

Think carefully.  This is important.