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February 2008
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April 2008

Good Web Design: The Example of Splunk

Many people talk about good web design, but being a visual guy, I like to see examples.  Take Splunk for instance.  They just get it right.  Let's look above the fold.  First off, they tell you what they do: IT Search for management.  Sounds pretty basic, but so many times it's hard to figure that out.   Next they tell you why you should care and finally real world examples.   

All this is just a few seconds.

Again, above the fold, you can get it if you want it.  Right now.   And if you have a question, there is someone to answer it.

Now below the fold is their blog with lots of entries.  And pictures of real people.   This is a great technique to constantly refresh your web page.   And the search engines love it.  And finally at the very bottom is the complete site.   Because they don't want to waste your time.

And to make it sound like people, not a stiff company, they have their byline at the top: All batbelts, no tights.   

Does your website accomplish all this on the home page?   It should.

Questar: Another Tone Deaf Monopoly?

Questar supplies our gas here in Utah.  They are a regulated monopoly.   3-4 years ago they installed RF meters so they could get rid of a lot of meter readers and save a bunch of money. 

"We've saved our customers millions of dollars," Questar Gas spokesman Chad Jones said earlier this week. "And when we were [reading meters] manually, we had much higher incidents of misreads and disputed bills."

Turns out they didn't test 500 of the meters over the last several years and they under reported the usage.   So Questar decided to stick 500 customers with a $600,000 gas bill.  Because they legally can do so.  And what's silly is they could have caught this years ago by writing a simple computer program which compared past bills with new bills and flagged the difference if there was a wide variance.  But they didn't.  Instead they told their customers it was their fault because when their bills went out and were much lower, the customers should have called Questar and said there was a problem.

Yeah, right.

Aa Several years ago I was at a get together and had a chance to talk to Keith Rattie, the CEO of Questar.   Keith is a great supporter of the community and very involved with multiple charities.   Now Questar's latest profit was $1.6B.   And investors and the board have done quite well on their stock (thank you very much).   I think Keith should step in and have  Questar cut their marketing budget by say $300K and split the difference with their customers.   

First off, they would get a lot more bang for their marketing buck by doing so and secondly if they don't, our State legislators can be extremely punitive when they choose, which is the downside of any monopoly.

Are you focused on maximizing profits or maximizing your customer experience?

Steve Jobs and Apple losing my trust

Update iTunes, get the Safari browser by default.   I'm not amused.   You suckered me into installing it on one machine, but no more.   It's fine if you want to offer me the browser, but I'm trying to reign in the extra crap installed on my computer.    Until now I just went along with what Apple asked.  No more.

Aa This reminds of the time I heard from an old high school buddy who wanted to stop by and say hi.  I was pretty excited to talk to him, but all he wanted to do was sell me life insurance.

Steve, are you selling life insurance to me?   You killed the Newton, kill this behavior.  Please.

Staging Your Product: Best Buy Shows How Not To Do It

We all could take a lesson from the people who stage homes for sale.  This is the practice of setting up a house using furniture and accessories so potential buyers actually can see themselves living in the house.   How often do we try to sell our empty "houses" / products by talking about the square feet or the school district instead of helping a potential customer visualize themselves living with our products?

Apple has done a great job positioning all their products as part of a lifestyle for the customer.   You really have to go below the fold on the web page to get any speeds and feeds.   This even goes to the Apple stores.   As Computerworld says:

Baker attributed Apple's success to a number of factors, but he said that its retail stores -- and the way it crafts consumers' complete "buying experience" -- was the most important. "The market sometimes discounts this, but Apple's stores are key to what they do," he said. "[Hewlett-Packard Co.] is looking to replicate some of this, but even that shows how difficult it is to use third-party retail without managing the entire experience."

Aa_2 Having been to the Apple section at Best Buy and Comp USA (r.i.p.), I much prefer going to the Apple store.  Best Buy puts the Apple section next to the car stereo area where all you hear is "thump, thump, thump".  It's like starting a fine open air restaurant next to the expressway and wondering why no one shows up.

For those of you who like to measure things, Apple went from 9% market share to 14% market share in one year.   Are you showing empty houses or managing the entire experience?

The Eisenhower Effect

A friend and I were chatting today about how carriers still think of themselves are controlling pipes to deliver content.   It just struck me that the carriers are acting a lot like the railroads did when the Interstate System was being built.   They clamped down on their monopoly seeing the Interstate being a threat, instead of embracing the possibilities to expand on their base.

Aa What the Interstate System did was expand the range of the individual to give freedom to go places on a whim.   So does the Internet.    As the pipes become commodities and freely available it will be interesting to see how many carriers die.   It's already starting.  For $99 Sprint is offering unlimited data and voice no matter where you may be. 

So to survive we must embrace and adapt.   Look at the new opportunities and get into those.  Imagine the implications of Distributed Cloud Computing.  If the carriers move on, they will create whole new opportunities, if not, they'll become quaint artifacts like riding the Orient Express.

Chipping Away at Conventional Wisdom

Here's a list of no nos:

  1. Everyone knows that ______
  2. Well, (fill in industry pundit here) says that _______
  3. It would cost too much money to ____
  4. (your favorite goes here)

Aa That's not to say that there isn't some good stuff out there.  An electrical engineer in the 70's told me 90% of all problems are caused by poor connections.  Isn't that the truth (and it works on so many levels)?

Here's what brought this to mind.   We were eating at our favorite Mexican restaurant where you can get Coca Cola from the fountain or a glass bottle imported from Mexico (the local grocery store carries it too).   And they sell a lot of bottles.  Mexico Coke has cane sugar.  U.S. Coke has corn syrup and there is a *huge* difference in taste.  But no bottler uses that formula in the U.S.   Why?  Who knows, but they're missing a big opportunity.

Secondly I found an awesome Internet streaming oldies station from Chicago, BigOldiesChicago.  While everyone else has a safe play list of 500 songs, these guys have 5,000 and they use the old play lists from the greats like WLS and WKNR along with the same jingles (talk about serious flash backs).

And lastly Tom Peters goes on a rant about the Fortune 500 CEO's being "special":

Dodger, my 5-year-old Aussie, could have done a better job. (He could have bitten anybody who tried to make a $500K loan to someone who had never had a job or paid a bill and signed his name with an "X"; and peed on the pants of any 22-year-old University of Chicago PhD who said, "With my clever algorithm I've designed what's called a 'derivative'—it'll make risk a thing of the past." Yes, had Dodger bitten and peed on schedule, the likes of Citigroup would be ten or twenty billion ahead of their current position.)

Grant has an excellent post called on assumptions:

Watching for blind side hits is difficult because it means knowing our assumptions.  And this is hard because assumptions are not for knowing, they are for making.  For instance, in the late 1980s, I don't think anyone at Coke believed that a new brand could use the Mom and Pop corner store as a platform from which to stage an industry coup.  I mean, get real.  The Mom and Pop store was too small, too quirky, too amateur.  Right?  Wham!  By the time, Coca-Cola understand what had happened to it, Snapple had stolen a march on the market.

So if it's a sound idea, do it.  If it's an assumption, watch it.  I worked with a guy who couldn't go to the head unless he talked to at least three industry experts.   Never had an opinion of his own that wasn't a derivative of someone else.  Sad.

InsideCRM Is Spamming the Bloggers

I'm really getting tired of this.   I get an email from Amy S Quinn telling my about a real cool CRM article from InsideCRM (notice I did not link them, go Google them).    My first clue was Amy has a gmail address.  Oh no! Aa Then I searched that name and found she (if it is a she) is also promoting Walmart's in-store clinics and a piece from HRworld.

What's ironic is InsideCRM has a piece about "Flip the Script: 34 Scripts and Ideas for Getting Back at Telemarketers".    Now if only they would publish an article about getting back at web sites that spam bloggers to promote their websites.  Maybe I would subscribe.

When Is It Time To Change Jobs?

Recently someone asked me if I thought they should begin looking for a new job.  Although it is difficult to determine if anyone should change jobs, I asked them to consider six aspects to their current position that should help to guide them towards a decision:

  • Is your salary and bonus package sufficient?  Does it pay you fairly for what you do in relation to the market?  Do you earn enough to meet your financial needs?
  • Do you have a significant equity stake in the company, options or stock, which will realistically translate into a significant financial gain that you can’t walk away from?
  • Are there other financial aspects that tie you to the company?  For example, a great pension plan, or a benefits plan that you or your family need.
  • Are you developing new skills and learning new things that will increase your future employability?
  • Are you challenged by your work, such that you feel accomplishment in your day-to-day work?
  • Are there any intrinsic benefits to your current career position?  Working with the less fortunate, for example, provides rewards that go far beyond those of a financial nature.

The decision to make a change in career is never easy, but these guideposts should help.

Ryck Marciniak (Guest Blogger)

Mass Customization

Aa I am not a demographic.  I am a person.  And your customers really notice when you take time to notice them as an individual.   Yet as Mary points out, too often we go for the cookie cutter approach.

Remember back in school where everyone had the same notebook on Day 1?  But by day 3 all the notebooks were different.    So do the same for your marketing.   I was talking to a large print shop and they have the ability to print unique catalogs for each customer, even on runs of over 100,000.   Amazon customizes your page the same way.

So make sure your web site is unique, and make sure your collateral is customized just for the people you are talking too.

But, you say, we sell to everyone!   I hear that and I know your sales are flat because you are not relating to anyone in particular.   And that's an easy problem to correct.