Why Are You Special?

And by you, I mean your customers.   How do they view you?   Why did they buy and will they buy Customeragain?  This is the first question I try to understand whenever I start a new project (or talk to a company about a position). 

Once we figure that out, then you only need to do two things:

  1. Do more of what is special.
  2. Eliminate or automate anything that does not contribute to number 1.

The problem I see in many companies is they follow the latest "process" without understanding what is different about them versus everyone else.   On the other side of the coin I also see companies who generate plenty of good ides, without having the means to test and execute on them.

In my last consulting engagement it turned out that what management thought was "special" was completely different than what their customers thought.  In three months after going through the two steps above, revenue increased by 80%. 

Think about your specialness from your customers' eyes.


Jump Starting to Double your Sales in a Tech Company

Twice this year I've talked to two companies who have the same challenge: After a decade of getting to $20-$50M in sales , senior management has been tasked by the board to "GET BIG NOW".

I have noticed the same strategy by both companies:

  1. Hire a lot of people
  2. Use the word "Cloud" or "Mobile" in their new strategy
  3. Move to a larger building

After a decade in business they both have a lot of creaky Microsoft based legacy software and a decent sized installed base.  In reality, they have two paths to growth:

  1. Suck up the existing market through acquisition and consolidation.
  2. Leverage their knowledge base to create new products / services to accelerate growth.

Acquisition may get you through the first couple of years, but you need to be planning for the long view after that. Once you own 60% of the market, then what?

Even if you do that you eventually end up at option 2: Leverage your knowledge and customer base.  Doc Searls called it "the because effect":

The because effect is a kind of jujitsu. While other people look to make money with something, you're finding ways of making money because of something.

Kathy Sierra has this great video: "Building the minimum Badass User".  While you may be a fan of techniques such as Pragmatic Marketing, that only improves what you are already doing.  By focusing on how to make users be really great at their jobs will give you new ways to refocus your products and services to new uses.


Embedding a PowerPoint or Keynote Slide Deck Presentation in a website

A pdf just doesn't cut it in today's websites.  Try looking at them on your smartphone.   But how do you handle those slide decks?  I've seen plugins etc. but that was just too much work.  Turns out Keynote on Mac has an export to HTML (and it does a good job of importing those PowerPoint slides).  After you export it, you get all the files and JavaScript all in tidy folders.  Just FTP them to a folder on your website and you are ready to go.

I especially like the part where it detects if you are running an iPad or iPhone.  It then enables finger swipes.  A side benefit is you are forced to simplify the content of your presentation so you can view it on a smart phone.


The four R's to new product success for a startup

While working with a new startup, it is easy to get lost in the weeds.  The first major milestone is cash flow break-even.  This is when income meets expenses.  It's math, when (number of customers x contribution margin) = expenses.

FocusI have figured out the four essential R's:

  1. Right Product:  Did you build something that people will actually buy?
  2. Right Pricing:  Is value in the customers eyes greater than their total costs?
  3. Right People:  Are there enough customers to buy your product and will they know about it?
  4. Right Margins: Can your business model support your expenses and be profitable?

Metrics are key.  You have assumptions, how do you test and monitor them?  And remember that whenever you think you have the right answers, be prepared to change because everything changes.


Target.com dumps Amazon, loses customer orders thanks to SapientNitro

I unfortunately bought something from Target.com earlier this week.  They switched over from Amazon to their own website.   I had a problem with the order, even have the packing slip (which I showed them), and no one at the store or in customer service can find the order number or my order.

Now that's customer service.  SapientNitro did a bang up job on this project.

Press Release Here.


The Tale of the Coffee Shop

A friend of mine has a coffee shop for many years.  Business had been good and she was making a good income from it.  But having other interests a few years ago she hired Frank to run the shop. 

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A year into running the shop Frank noticed his coffee prices kept climbing.  But since the suppliers has consolidated he only had two to choose from and since the pricier supplier had a good image (but not as good coffee) he picked the expensive blends.  But since more money was coming in than going out, Frank didn't worry too much about it.

Frank decided to get more customers, so he cut his prices by 20%.  But to no avail.  The same customers kept coming, but now he was just making money.   A new rail station opened up the road with a lot of new businesses popping up but Frank did not want to take a loan to set up a stand there.  Then the customers dropped off at the store.  Now Frank was losing money.

So Frank decided to cut the hours the store was open and fire employees.  Meanwhile coffee prices continued to climb, and sales started to drop and the store was losing a lot of money.   Frank's solution?   Cut the store hours again and fire more employees.

Is Frank doing the right thing to get back to profitability?  What would you do?


Just Pick up the Phone Already

We're gearing up for a couple of shows later this year.  So I asked one of my people to make up a list of clinics who might be interested in what we do.  After reviewing the list, I asked about how many clinics they have.  He thought we could look it up on Hoovers.  I suggested calling them.  "Just ask".

He did and during the discussion got connected to an EVP who is interested in what we do.  

I'm sorry but all business is personal.  So pick up that phone and get personal.  I'll talk to anyone.  If I'm not interested, I'll let you know right away so we don't waste time.  And I'm not the only out there that answers their phone.


How Do You Know Your Presentation is Going Well?

It is very challenging to present to a small group of people who see a lot of presentations.  Here's the first sign you are doing well:  No one checks their email on their phone.  Aa

I was once giving a presentation and half way through, one person got up, went into the corner and hopped onto a conference call.  Fortunately for him, there were no heavy objects nearby. 

It is up to you to engage your audience.  Here's what I've found to be effective:
- Never present in the front, always sit with your audience.  That way you can quickly pick up if they are getting bored or have a question.
- Never have more than 10 words on a slide.  This forces you to know your material very well and engage in a discussion with your audience.
- Always tell a story.  I think of them as the handles on the suitcase of your idea.  Stories have many more connection points than a slide full of text.
- Toss half of your slides.  Well, not really toss, but put them at the back of the presentation to answer questions. 

Good presentations revolve around conversations that are relevant and of interest to your audience.  And engaged people don't check their email.


When "Good Enough" isn't

I'm in a state of constant turmoil about our product.  I have this vision of where we want to be and I have the need to ship useful product now.   Some people would stamp a product "good enough" and ship.   Why?  Because I've been in startups that just keep developing product to an ever elusive and changing end goal.  But never shipped, never had a customer.

But I'm not happy with good enough.  What you ship needs to be much better than anything out there.  So I figured out a way to get both done.   The key is to focus on core functions we absolutely know will delight our customers today.  The rest is "good enough" for now.  Why?  Because every time you release, and customers use the product you gain more knowledge and clarity on the next set of functions and features.  

This constant iteration and innovation drives the product closer to the vision.  So "good enough" doesn't cut it for the core features, but is o.k. for the fringe where no one really knows the right answer until they see it, touch it and use it.


Are you a somebody?

How many times have you been in a meeting and you hear "Somebody should do this"?  Of course they aren't a somebody.   I am fortunate that everyone I work with is a somebody.  They get things done.  

I'm convinced that in any meeting there are participants and pontificators.  Aa Pontificators are easy to spot.  They "we we" all over themselves about how wonderful they are and toss out lots of suggestions.  When you nail them down to perform something, they fail and make excuses, usually about how it's someone else's fault (because important folks like them never fail).  Unfortunately I've run into this three times in the last year.  When I figure out they are a pontificator, I part company quickly.

Excuses are excuses, execution is the only thing that matters.  Be a somebody.