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December 2007
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February 2008

Don't Ever Give a Presentation

Pop quiz. Check all that apply.
A presentation:Slide

  • _ Is a great time to catch up on emails
  • _ Looks like a ransom note with mismatched fonts and busy content
  • _ Makes you realize you just lost an hour of your life - you'll never get it back

Business Week has a great article: "Deliver a Presentation like Steve Jobs" which gives 10 tips.  My favorites:

Try for an unforgettable moment
Give 'em a show
Sell the benefit

Sound advice.



Customer Focused or Not?

Are companies focused on their customers?  A basic tenet of business is to address the needs of your target market, and one way to ensure that it happens is to spend an inordinate amount of time watching and listening to your customers.  The real key, to guarantee business success, is how this feedback is translated into actions, ones that make products and services better in the eyes of the target market.

I found executives to effuse profoundly on a number of corporate topics:  revenue, profitability, and market share growth.  However, conspicuous by its absence from this list is anything related to customer focus.  It is generally relegated to a second tier, despite the fact that it is included in business plans, annual reports and PowerPoint presentations.  Under further inspection, it looks like many companies provide mere lip service to the concept of customer centricity.  I learned that generally these focused activities are lacking in most firms, but previously I didn’t possess the support for my assertion.

Recently, however, the CMO Council released the results of their landmark study, Profitability from Customer Affinity, which vindicated me.  Although corporations continue to believe that they are extremely customer focused, the report’s results provide a different perspective.  Some of the revelations from the report are:

  • 56% of vendors viewed themselves as extremely customer centric, yet only 12% of customers agreed;
  • 85% of vendors believe they are getting better at meeting their customers’ requirements, while 45% of customers don’t agree;
  • Almost 60% of customers felt that co-innovation was extremely or very important and another 30% believed that was at least somewhat important.

This report is available for purchase from the CMO Council, and reading it would be a good first step.  However, for those organizations that aim to sustain and grow their businesses, it will be the actions taken that result in better products or services, ones that increases the customer’s experience with them, which will be the true litmus test of customer focus.

Ryck Marciniak

(Guest Blogger)


Micro Applications

One trend I have been paying attention to is the proliferation of widgets.  You may have seen them as Facebook applications like movie trivia for instance.   The way they have been monetized is by advertising.   Which personally I find very annoying, but hey, Google has made it a lifestyle.

But now we have seen micro payments being deployed. Widgets For instance I get a 2 cent a month bill from Amazon Web Services.   So pretty soon I suspect we'll see a blending of widgets and micro payments.  Perhaps with some controlling budget application which means you don't get the equivalent of cell phone minutes shock.    Google ad words let's you set a maximum budget for ad words you bid upon.  Don't be surprised if you see something similar develop in the widget arena.

I suspect this will evolve into a plug and play widget environment, where each individual user can customize specific applications to fit whatever purpose they need.   We're already seeing hints of this with Amazon's paid AMI's.  So developer's get micro payments for each use.  But now the long tail can be profitable.   It will be curious to see if this widget economy starts to displace the very consolidated large software vendors.


Sensitivity Analysis: A Lost Art

I like numbers and statistics.  But as a tool, not the end all and be all.   Which is a good reason why my Masters was in Decision Support Systems.   So when looking at a new system or a new product I would do a sensitivity analysis for the financial outcomes which gave probability results.  Imagine my surprise when no one understood it at all!   I had greatly over-estimated the intelligence of management ( Scott Adams makes a living by going in the opposite direction). 

I've seen two types of behavior in this arena.   The first I call "Does it Stick?".  Darts These managers hear something cool, throw it against the wall, if it doesn't stick, they keep doing it over and over again just knowing that one day they will get it right.   The second are the financially challenged.   They think by knowing some Excel spreadsheet functions:  sum, add, subtract, multiple, then Viola they have the insight into the future.   Everything is linear.   When asked about their assumptions there answer: "It's an assumption and I know it's wrong" and that's all the farther they get.  So they save the spreadsheet and use a fraction of a penny's worth of disk space and that's about what that model is worth.

What to do?

Compromise of course.   When you build out your model make sure you have three values for each assumption: Best Case, Worse Case, Most Likely Case.   Both on the revenue side and on the cost side.  Now you can have some fun.    First off run a table with everything turned Best Case, Worse Case, Most Likely Case.  You can see the spread of possibilities (put it into a graph).   Now just start flipping assumptions one at a time.    By looking at the resulting graph you'll get a really good idea what are your critical areas of influence.

Next iteration.   Turn everything to Most Likely Case and just run the three cases on your critical areas.    Chances are you will see your future.   Make sure you can survive on the downside, but never, ever manage to that downside because it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

And this will prevent you from making a typical rookie mistake.   You think that 20 good qualified customers will generate 3 orders.  Chances are the number is 200.   And this approach will keep you from going down that rat hole, because you will have a strategy to shift priorities if this becomes reality.


When in Doubt, Ask

Used to be when you needed a domain name, Network Solutions was the only game in town.  Now there are many choices.   One of the services Network Solutions offers is domain name lookup, but with a wicked twist.   If you just look up a domain name, they grab the name for several days so you can only buy it from them.   Then you pay them $35 for the domain name and $9 for whois privacy.  And they don't tell you they are doing this.

Currently I use iPower Web to host my website.   And I get new domain namesTrench_coat for $6.50 with privacy for free.  That's $37.50 less for each domain name.   And all the other extras (domain pointing, etc.) are included for free while Network Solution charges.   

So this has been going on for the week, and I thought that Network Solution would have fixed it or at least put a disclaimer on their website.  No such luck.   I looked up "nsislammed.com" on iPower Web.  It was available.  Then I looked it up on Network Solutions.  It was available.  Then I went back to iPower Web and it was gone.  Network Solutions grabbed the name.   

So when you come up with a clever marketing ploy to get customers I strongly suggest before doing your customers a "favor" you clearly tell them what you are doing and ask them if it o.k.   Because people talk.  A lot.


Why I like Sears and HP - Compaq

While I'm enticed by pretty shiny gadgets, I like to think about the life of the product.   I tend to buy mechanical things from Sears.   Why?   Because they fix whatever they sell and they have parts.  So when the auger on the old snowblower went out, I stopped by the repair depot and they had the parts for it right there.  Try that at Home Depot.  And by just looking at the model number they immediately pulled up a exploded view of all the parts, clicked on the part and got the price and warehouse location.  Technology gone good.

I also buy all my desktops from HP.  And I get the HP: Compaq business lineCompaq Not only are they better built than the Best Buy variety, they all come with a 3 year on-site warranty.  That's right, someone comes to you and fixes it right on the spot.   And even after 5 years you can still get any part you need.

That's long term customer service.   Can your customers say the same thing about you?


Never Apologize

I'm getting real tired of listening to pitches where the product hawked does "everything".   Be a master of what you do, do it well and be proud of it.    You end up with customers as enthusiastic as you.   And if a potential customer doesn't like it, chances are they would not be a good customer.  It also plays well in politics.   

Lesson #2: If either of these candidates had blindly followed the advice of so-called "experts," they would seem more scripted and, consequently, less authentic.

Are you authentic?


Virtual Marketing Teams

The ClueTrain Manifesto was published almost 8 years ago.  There is now a nice slide show of it here.   If you are in marketing, you are living in a networked world.  Which means building a marketing team must be geographically agnostic.   Cluetrainmanifesto Think about it, if you are communicating with a networked market and can only work in a physical office with line of sight management, you're not going to be very successful are you?

Saw a great article about running a virtual company.   At my last company the entire sales and marketing team was virtual.  We stayed in touch constantly, got things done, but left the door open for disagreement.   But it was always around the best way to achieve the goals, not the goals themselves.  So having clear goals and consistent  discussion (via email or voice or IM)  is the key to creating a powerful team.   And we only met in person once a year.  And it worked. 

Some good tools:  A virtual office to answer the phone and provide physical space on demand when you need it.  Also a good real time collaboration tool for working on documents ad-hoc (I liked it because Windows and Macs both worked great on it).    And finally you need a virtual gathering space to keep all the project documents and notes.   This looks interesting and in the past I used Web Collab and installed it on a hosted web site for $10 / month (had to fiddle with the php).


Business Development: It's Not Sales

If you're good at marketing, you're a natural for business development.   And business development is all about developing relationships with people who are strategic in moving your business forward.   I categorize them into two groups:
-The Cool Kids -- those folks recognized as thought leaders
- New Markets -- those folks already playing in a market you wish to join
Like marketing, business development is all about engaging in conversations.   

But many people just don't get it.   They think "I'm important, so you should be talking to me".  The proper approach is "I am helpful and you want to talk to me".   This should be obvious, but usually isn't.   And you're not selling them anything.  What you gain by this approach is providing actual value from the beginning and by providing this service, eventually you will get attention.  And as you continue to work together it will be obvious to both sides if you have a parting of the ways or move forward.

A test I like to use to see what kind of person you are is eating out.   Wait_staff How do you treat the wait staff?  Do you look them in the eye, acknowledge them and pay attention to what they are saying?   Or do you treat them as staff, there at your beck and call?  Too many people fall in the latter category and  will fail horribly at business development.   I also pick up verbal cues on how other people are described.   If you say "She's just the marketing chick" you're not in business development and probably shouldn't be let out in public at all.