Seth Godin is a genius

This year’s award (2011/2012) for Marketing Genius* goes to Seth Godin.

If you don’t yet know him or his work you should use the rest of your day to do just that. 

We’d all like to think we’re a bit “Seth” but frankly he’s got it nailed. Here is today’s post from his blog entitled Conflicted.

See, it’s genius.

My personal favourite this year is The Sad Irony of Selfishness. It’s pretty much been my credo for the last twenty years and it appears as a permanent  link in my signature.

He’s the author of some of the best and most insightful marketing texts of recent time. I suggest you check him and them out.

Bon weekend.

*Marketing Genius Awards – are mine to give and yours to enjoy.

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Consistently “out-smarting” the competition

You will no doubt have noticed that there are few prizes in the business world simply for trying hard. Organisations that are consistently out in front are those that plan to be, those that invest in being there and those who constantly re-evaluate what it takes to stay there.

Don’t think for one moment that getting ahead and staying there is the preserve of those with the deepest pockets and the greatest resources.

Very often vast organisations that invest $Ms in insight, knowledge and competitive data have absolutely no ability to capitalize on it. That doesn’t mean they’re stupid, it means they’re complex. It means that some one, somewhere in the company knows what the competition is up to (for example) or what the next emergent trend or driver is to impact the market, but that insight never reaches the places it needs to in order to deliver the killer blow. These organisations survive by critical mass.

Smaller organisations can and need to be smarter.

For smaller, more agile organisations who can act quickly on insight; real-time and rapid intelligence can be a huge competitive advantage and can be key to getting and staying ahead of the pack.

If you could have your own team of researchers working for you overnight – what competitive insight would you want them to deliver direct to your inbox by 7am the next day?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Competitor Wins and Activities
  • Customer Intelligence
  • Market directions and trends
  • Product/Service/Technology changes
  • Prices/Competitor Pricing strategies
  • Deep dive analysis on a competitor, a customer set or similar

Let me know, I’d appreciate it and you never know your wish may well come true!

 

 

 

 

How to write Case Studies that sell!

I’ve written for countless organisations over the years. In many instances the requirement is driven by a demand from the sales team for a “case study” they can use to help them sell.

Therein is the challenge. It’s one thing to have a copywriter or a PR agency churn out reams of case study documents, the key to making them useful for the sales team however, is understanding how to write and prepare the case studies in a way that meets the objective of “helping them sell”.

In my experience most case studies only serve to evidence a deeper underlying issue that many organisations are wrestling with and that is that they don’t really understand why their customers buy. Clearly if you don’t understand why customers buy (how they select and what makes them commit), then writing something that will compel others to do the same thing is nigh on impossible.

That’s why most of the case studies you read will give you great insight into the size and scale of the customer and the technical capability of the supplier (as well as their size and scale too of course!). In the main (but certainly not always), you will get an idea of the problem or challenge the client was facing but almost without exception this will be followed (if not led) by the tools, techniques or technologies the vendor used to solve it.

These sorts of studies have become a standard. Almost standard fodder, because that’s what they end up being; simply a list of customers who will admit to having spent money with you and a list of the tools and services and capabilities the vendor can provide. Just like everyone else.

So in the quest to deliver, “something that can help me sell”, are the sales teams getting what they need, or simply technically what they asked for?

Perhaps it’s worth taking some time to consider why customers buy?

Accepted wisdom of course, is that it’s a combination of the features of your product and service and the value and benefit that some or all of those can bring to a customer.

To a degree of course that still holds true, but in a marketplace with hyper-competition and little differentiation (when everyone is offering “cloud enablement” for example), how does a potential customer distinguish your offering from that of the rest of the market?Be careful that your answer to this doesn’t become “price” by the way.

Beyond price (or the commercial model at least) the most commonly assumed way of addressing this is “scale and volume”, so either, “we’re bigger” and therefore more able to support you or “we’re smaller” and therefore more willing to support you.

(It’s interesting/funny how huge brands have recently invested $bns in trying to look small and accessible).

Both of these statements stand up and will be further reinforced by how many “case studies” we have to support that fact. In this instance the case studies usually serve simply to confirm that a number of customers bought from the company.

What if you’re not the biggest or the smallest? What if actually the customer doesn’t want to buy from a behemoth or a minnow?

In my experience (and in fact evidenced again recently while  interviewing an IT Decision maker for a client case study), we tend to forget that customers are humans first, their role second and their company representative third.  This order is important and the emphasis is changing too. 

Here’s why:

Human First – Check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of need.
Read it from the bottom up. What is it that we humans are concerned with first?

Before we get to problem solving and the acceptance of facts (all the things that appear in a case study or a typical sales pitch), you’ll see that we have some other, more fundamental priorities. Like Self esteem, confidence, respect by others etc. Safety etc.

While this is doubtless a great model and serves to explain the point, I think it’s really just common sense.

We’re selling to people. We tend to forget that when we put our “business dress” on (on both sides of the negotiating table actually). People have personal lives and ambitions (which is typically why they go to work).

Just because they’re sitting behind a big desk in an important building, the still have the very same fears and insecurities as everyone else (don’t let them fool you that they don’t).

So what does that mean for the Case Study writer?

It means that the technical elements of your case study, the tools and products etc are in the main of tertiary importance to the reader. Granted, once you get into the nitty-gritty of the proposed solution you’ll need to drill into these, but at this stage they are merely “table stakes”. On first sight of your case study, your reader is going to want to understand firstly how what you’re offering won’t “hurt them” then they’ll want to be reassured that what you’re offering won’t make them look foolish and then they’re more likely to want to know how it might make them gain the respect of their peers or colleagues, how it might enable them to reach some of their personal goals and ambitions (and professional ones too of course), then, if all that stacks up, they’ll be interested in the price and the technology.

So, when considering a case study that will sell, consider that you’re selling to other humans too. They will recognise and empathise with the subject in your study, so, look for those points you can draw out that reflect on these primary concerns. What gave your client confidence? How did the decision go down internally? What has he/she been able to achieve professionally as a result? What had been their concerns prior to making the decision and how now are they reassured?

Role Second: Eg. Marketing Director, IT Director, SVP, CTO etc. 

The fact that your subject “is one” is useful in that your prospects will identify with their peer. It’s more than that though. Ten or twenty years ago people were “company men/women”, the emphasis was on how long they’d been in the company and how they’d worked up from the post room etc. Today it’s about personal brand equity. In non- marketing jargon, that means it’s about them as a professional, not them as an employee of ABC inc. Nowadays people have to be constantly considering their next role and career move. People are much more savvy about how they present and portray their own professional image. A case study (for them) is a fantastic free bill-board. So while it’s great that the company was able to achieve XYZ as a result of your customer’s decision…you may find it’s increasingly important to the reader that the IT Director achieved XYZ or the Marketing Director was then able to…..etc..

These are people you’re talking to and about after all.

So in writing your case study consider that your reader will want to learn how working with you might help them in their own personal and professional ambitions…just as it did their peer in the study.

Company Representative: Which company did you do it for?

This is still important but perhaps not always in the way people think. So yes if you’re selling to organisations where “size matters” then clearly you need to evidence that you have experience of working with organisations of a similar stature. There is also logic in evidencing that you understand or are respected in a particular field or market. However, it’s important to think beyond these. Companies of the same size and in the same industry aren’t necessarily wrestling with the same challenges. Your “solution” may be just as important and relevant to an online retailer as it is to hedge fund. You may well find that the person reading your case study identifies more readily with their peers across the industry (so think horizontally) than they do with their peers vertically. So, “I trust the views of my peers who are wrestling with out of date environments, little departmental budget and an urgent need to change”. “I don’t really consider I have anything in common with my peers in other banks but who have lots of budget, up to date environments and are in a stable state”.

So what does all this mean if you want to write case studies that will actually help your sales teams to sell?

It means before you think of the technical elements of your product or service or the size and scale of your organisation or even which other brand names you’ve delivered it for, think about for whom you delivered it, what it did for them, why they personally were compelled to buy and why they stay loyal and committed.

People identify with people, use that if you want to arm your sales team with a killer case study!

Let me know if I can help you with yours!

Bonkers or Not?..You decide…

So you’ve done your research. You know it’s “IT Managers” who buy your sort of product. You’ve got their postal and email address and even their phone number. You’ve invested in some great witty graphics – and a great new strap line. Of course you’ve got your “call to action” all worked out too. The database you have has 10,000 names on it and with that many on there you can’t fail, so off you go then – target circa £30M Okay?

You may laugh.

It’s a true example, spelled out to me only six months ago by a Sales VP of an organisation of some considerable stature. He had his head in his hands. He’s not there now.

I asked if this was the usual approach taken by his marketing department.

He laughed.

He said, “no”. “It’s the approach taken by the CEO”.

We all laughed.

They send out the campaign to 10,000 names.

What happens next?

A: They get enough responses and expressions of interest from qualified prospects to keep the team of 20 sales people busy on good opportunities for the next 3/6 months. The sales people follow-up and close in excess of 30% of the leads and everyone’s happy.

B: They get very few responses and certainly none of any quality. The sales people wonder what all the fuss was about and were getting on with making their number under their own steam/or not…as they had been for the last x years , marketing is busy planning the follow-up. The agency is fired because it was probably their fault and also it’s worth giving the database company a quick kick as well because they’re just rubbish anyway. We’re now a quarter behind, the market is none the wiser about the company, the company is still none the wiser about the market.

Answer: B.

What can the next step possibly be?

1. Do it again, only this time to more people, send it more than once (obviously), oh and get telemarketing on it this time – stupid. That will do it. With 20,000 names you can’t lose.

2. You decide…..

 

 

What on earth is a “vertical” anyway?

For those who have never really known (or perhaps even cared!), here are some “formal” definitions: Vertical Market  and Horizontal Market 

So what?

Well let’s start by saying that in the main, marketing is largely common sense. Clearly it makes sense to offer your product or service to people who have a need or an interest in it as opposed to asking everyone just in case (although this approach is still widely championed by the few).

It makes it a lot easier for your sales people too if the group they’re selling to have similar problems – ideally solved by your product or service. Of course as a business if you can sell to a niche you can dominate , you can name your price and maintain your  margin…at least that’s the plan.

The converse is trying to sell to everyone, not controlling the price in the market, having to discount, eroding your margin…going bust slowly. It’s happening more and more in B2B and organisations are starting to realise that a “volume” sales and marketing strategy  is simply not going to cut it as this hyper-competitive marketplace evolves.

So in an attempt to address the challenge organisations often elect to “go vertical”. I.e. to pick a smaller group or an industry and focus on that instead. That works (if you do it well) a bit.

The problem is that too often organisations think that “going vertical” means simply re-organising the account teams and creating P&L responsibility for the person running each one. I.e. You now run “Automotive” and you have a target of £5OM – good luck.

Of course addressing a specific market requires a good deal more than a re-org of the sales team and targets. If you want what you’re doing to work, you may need to do a little more than add “Automotive” to the top of all your standard brochures or product literature. To be successful in a vertical market to you need first to understand it well enough to know if you have a proposition that actually makes any kind of sense in the space. You need also to understand if that proposition is in any way unique, or interesting, or valid or competitive…and if you can really deliver it. So it’s not a case of simply taking your existing proposition, sticking a new label on it, hiring a salesman from that “vertical” and off you go. That way lies doom…usually about 9-12 months later when you realise it’s never going to work out.

Of course you may also have to accept that life is just not that straightforward.

More often than not, the world will not organise itself in an orderly fashion around the neat names you had in mind for the new teams.

You may find, if you do just a little research, that what you have actually doesn’t fit “a vertical” but more likely a small group of companies with similar issues…

So for example, an innovative hedge fund may have more in common with an online gambling company than a retail bank (thank you Paul Bevan). Sounds obvious? Yep, but a hedge fund would sit in the traditional “Financial Services” vertical and you’d be unlikely to find  an online gaming site in the same place (!).

The other common error is making your vertical so large it may as well be horizontal. So Financial Services covers…Retail Banking, Investment Banking, Hedge Funds, Funds (generally), how many types of insurance are there? Pensions, investments etc.

Do you think that the conversation you have and the proposition you make to a Retail Bank is the same as you’d make to and Insurance broker? Do you think they think they consider themselves to be part of a huge and undefined market with the same issues and challenges?

That doesn’t mean that getting your proposition nailed and in front of people who instantly understand its value is hard, or complex or costly. In fact it’s the complete reverse (remember marketing is really just organised common sense!) . The key is not to be fooled into thinking that the job’s done, once the teams all sit under a nice neat heading.  That way lies doom, all your competitors and another year of fighting your way to your number.

 

 

 

Lipstick on your pig sir?

Be careful. There are no end of “Porcine beauticians” out there who will happily take your money and your hope and expectations and in return, provide you with a stunning looking, responsive website, an elegant “brand execution” and product and service literature which will doubtless position you as the “global leader” in your chosen field.

These organisations have no real interest in whether you can actually do what you say you can do. They’re not stupid though, far from it. They simply know that if it looks great, you’ll love it.

You know what they call this in the design and creative world?  Rolling a Poo in Glitter. 

So what’s wrong with that?   What if it’s all cobblers?

There’s a vast difference between “entrepreneurial flare” and outright BS.

The former will get you noticed. The latter will put you out of business.

Caveat Emptor and all that!

Bon weekend!

For the love of God it’s AITCH!

Please tell me I am not the only person left on the planet who knows that the letter H is pronounced, “Aitch” and not Haitch.

I’m not making it up, for those of you who are too young to remember the days before Haitch D TV or Haitch R services or Haitch bloody P you will find it in black, white and surround-sound for the hard of hearing here in an old fashioned tome we used to call a dictionary.

I do a lot of work with IT companies and I swear that I can’t go through a single day with out an aspirated H and hearing Haitch P this and Haitch P that.

I also do some work in Haitch R and it drives me nuts there too.

When I was at school we used to think that people who say Haitch had a speech impediment (and for the avoidance of doubt this was the local comp’ not Eton).  Now what amazes me is that  all my children, 18 through to 3,  are being taught by teachers who say Haitch too.

If we don’t fix this what’ll be next? Perhaps we’ll all develop a fashionable lisp to sound a bit Thpanith!

God ‘elp us.

Getting Away with it – ness

There’s a lot of it about.

Look around you, in your industry, your competitors and perhaps in your company or even your office or department too.

There will be people who have largely “got away with it” for years. Decades even.

A few years ago no one noticed. That was because they could hide. Usually hiding meant doing the bit you were tasked with doing, only. So it didn’t matter if the marketing campaign didn’t actually make any money…they had “delivered it” and that bit was their job.

It didn’t matter if the customer service issue was actually and properly resolved, they’d passed on the message.

And from sales, it didn’t matter if in reaching their target they’d left a trail of carnage behind them, the cleaning up of which wiped out all margin and good will….because they’d hit their number.

Look out for these people. Point them out in public. It is your duty to do so. They are killing your business and jeopardizing your future.

If you are a sufferer. Wake up. The world can see you now….

Striving for SH**T!

You’ve really got to wonder what sort of company claims that it looks for the SHIT in people as a measure of their customer service!

I wonder if you happened to see Alex Polizzi’s The Fixer on BBC2 yesterday evening.

In brief, Polizzi the famous and successful hotelier visits small family run businesses in need of some “common sense” and home-truth style mentoring in a bid to turn them around.

It’s pretty entertaining and refreshingly short on the sort of schadenfreude which so often accompanies these kind of programmes.

Last night focused on a small family run garage in Manchester http://www.guidebridgemot.co.uk/. Much like many others in the same boat, Guide Bridge MOT were struggling to win and retain new customers. Their revenues came from part “Retail” and part “Fleet” contract work.  Clearly the Fleet element, being under contract, was the most readily addressable.

As luck would have it (!) Polizzi just happened to be there when the fleet contracting company’s inspector was doing his regular quality and standards check on the garage and the operation. Polizzi clearly spots the (only real) opportunity for a quick win solution to the garage’s woes (other than the more obvious one of laying off /reverting to zero hour contracts for the family workforce currently at less than 33% ulitilisation!) and asks what it would take for the garage to get more fleet work.

The inspector tells us it’s all about standards. Standards of quality, service, cleanliness etc. He then goes onto explain that in order to recognise and identify this in people he looks for the “Shit in them” (sic). Yes, really.

He does go on to qualify that by this he means: Sincerity, Honesty, Integrity and Trust.

I’m no psychologist or NLP expert , but I can’t imagine that at any point in his training the company he works for would be drilling into him that we “strive for SHIT”.

In my company I think I’d struggle to get across what I really wanted from people if I told them I wanted to see a lot more SHIT from them, that when it comes to customers they should first think “SHIT”.

And equally having achieved the requisite level of SHIT, I’m not sure how I would feel about it.

Polizzi went on to help them smarten up their act, get the laziest one working, get the finances in order and revitalize a previous idea and USP about focusing on women. Well done all (seriously – and good luck to you all).

The real cliff hanger was whether or not Guide Bridge MOT was to receive the seal of approval from the Fleet contractor which meant they qualified for more work.

They did and Polizzi revealed the certificate to prove it. Excellent.

We didn’t get to see what it said on the certificate but the standard they had reached was “Classic” . So pride of place on their wall now must be certification that they have demonstrated the right level of Classic SHIT. That must look great and they must be very proud.

Great News!

No Seriously…

Isn’t it about time we started to see some positives? I have to admit I’ve been a doom monger for at least the last 4 years. That’s because I’ve been trying to get people/organisations to see that the world is changing and they needed to change too.

So I won’t say I told you so. Instead, here’s an uplifting and erudite article from the FT – If they say it, it must be true.  A guide to shaking off the doom and gloom – FT.com – Management http://on.ft.com/vstVyh

Don’t say I never you give you anything!

Bon Chance Mes Amis!

 

 

Market Less – Sell More

Most people will have heard of the “Sales Funnel”.  This is a simple concept. You put lots of Prospects in the top, move them through the sales process and over a period of time some of the Prospects come out as Customers at the bottom. If you keep doing that and refining the processes as you go, you should be able to make this a reasonably predictable model. I.e I get 100 people interested each month and I convert 60 of them each month to customers. The job then is to improve the conversion rate and reduce the cost of selling etc – but that’s a different blog.

What many will be involved in but probably not aware of is Marketing’s version of this.

It’s the same principle however. I market to lots of people, attract a proportion of them, engage some of them, get a few of them to leave details or download something or maybe even agree to a sales appointment.

In many instances, Marketing’s funnel actually feeds Sales’ funnel, so the ones that drop out Marketing’s funnel go into the top of the one marked “Sales” as a Prospect….see what I mean?

So what?

Well you see the Marketing funnel never really worked in the Business to Business (B2b) World.

Everyone sort of secretly knew it too.

It’s just that “doing lots of marketing” feels good. It makes agencies happy and keeps them in business, it helps keep marketing teams in a job and it allows everyone to point at the list of events they’ve done this year or the number of emails they’ve sent or the number of press cuttings and the amount they’ve spent on telemarketing etc.

It was a bit annoying however when the pesky sales team would tend to moan that none of this actually made much difference to the leads and opportunities they were keen to work on.  That would happen at least once a month.

It also got a bit more difficult each quarter when the Sales Director and Marketing Director would meet round a big table with other important looking people and would “agree to disagree”.

The worst time of all was when it came to the end of the Financial Year and the really annoying people who count the money would question whether having spent so much, there was any return in view.

It was usually OK because someone would shout, “Brand Awareness” and everyone would relax again.

And anyway that only really lasted until the Xmas party and then the budgets or “allocations” were set and we could do the whole thing again.

It’s a bit different now though.

Now there’s less time, less tolerance and a lot less money. There’s also a lot more competition and fewer customers too.

What’s happening now is that savvy marketers are realising what it was that sales were doing which made so much sense.

You see marketing had; agencies (of many and varied types), Marcomms managers, PR Managers, direct mail, CRM, Marketing Automation (ho ho!), Digital etc etc.

Sales people on the other had a car, a phone, 24hrs in a day, a fat carrot in front of them and a pointy stick behind them.

On the whole the sales people per capita and per £ invested, tended to find and deliver considerably more revenue and profit.

So argue, shout, defend and debate all you like….but I’ll let you in on a secret. The people round the big table and the ones with their hands on the bank account..know it’s true too.

So, the savvy marketers are giving up on their own idea of a funnel and are enjoying the simple benefits that thrift can bring. They are going back to their routes of research, proposition development, market testing, sales support and customer engagement.

They are in fact, spending a lot less and achieving a lot more.

Now there’s a thing.

eMarketing – Dead or Alive?

Alive.

 

I suspect you want a bit more than that.

So yes, email marketing does still work. At least it does if you do it well, just like it always did.

Here are some pointers:

  • People with decision making authority and budgets, rarely sit at laptops reading marketing mails. So how do you make sure they can read them on their mobile devices? : http://www.dma.org.uk/toolkit/how-optimise-emails-mobile thanks to www.extravision.com for the link.
  • If the first thing that pops up on your screen is a bunch of logos and advertising, smart people will know you’re selling something and switch off.
  • If people subscribe to hear more from you, that doesn’t mean every day or every five minutes. After the first three messages they will ignore you – beware eMail Marketing Company that emails me every day, I’m not listening and I stopped listening after your third promotion email in month… I now have a filter dedicated to you….
  • Treat people as humans not a data file. Write to them, don’t stick a poster in their face.
  • Email is only one tool. It’s great for lots of things but you need to speak to people and see them too. Too much email makes them go blind (!) to you and your message. Pick up the phone.
  • Want to get the attention of a really busy person? Send them a really short, really polite email. Then text them!
BTW: For my money the best B2B email marketing system on the market is still www.extravision.com check them out.

Bon Chance mes amis!

 

 

2012 New Year, Brave New World, New Thinking Part 1.

Part 1

For me January 2012 is much more than just the start of another new year. It’s the beginning of an entirely new world and a completely new business culture and a time (and licence) for everyone to think very differently indeed about what we do and how we do it.

It’s OK – this is good news…I just need to set the scene!

It’s been coming for some time. I saw things really starting to hit in 2008 with the impact of the credit crunch. It knocked the automotive industry for example, for six. The “cost of money” meant that the big buyers of fleets, like hire companies, simply didn’t renew their fleet. So what? Well manufacturers didn’t stop making cars. So that meant cars where being shipped across the globe to sit on huge airfields with no customer in sight and were depreciating daily. I remember sitting with the commercial Director of a big automotive operator. He showed me a spreadsheet of the assets (his cars) and their daily depreciation. He then directed my attention to the enormous “car park” that was the airfield behind his office.

It wasn’t just the car industry of course, it meant that companies of all sizes simply couldn’t afford to borrow in the way they used to and a lack of liquidity in the market knocked all sorts of businesses out.

Since then it’s been a slow and painful death with 2010 seeing the first of the real impacts, 2o11 following suit and I’m sorry to say that post the Olympics I don’t hold out much hope for growth once the “Olympic economic bubble” has burst either in 2012.

Doom over onto the positive bit..

So that’s the economic reality and few of us have any option but to live and work with it and through it. What can and should we be doing differently then? Where are the benefits and what are the opportunities that this era of economic gloom provides?

Let’s be clear, I am very far from being an economist. I am however an optimist and I do spend each and every day talking with and working with businesses of all sizes in a wide range of industries.  So here are some of the things I see happening and changing and that might be useful for you:

1. Anything and Anyone is “possible” – In times of riches people follow form. When things are going well, it’s hard to get people to accept new ideas, new companies and new approaches. Right now, all bets are off. Companies know that what they did previously is either no longer effective or in some cases no longer affordable. And that means that it is perfectly reasonable to expect a very large organisation to be interested in working with a tiny start-up ( I know, I do it every day). That means you can be “daring” and audacious in your thinking and your ambitions. A tiny bit of research will confirm that some of the world’s leading brands were born out of recession, for this very reason. So whether you’re starting a new company, a new career, or pitching a new idea to a new audience, be bold and you will be surprised how “open” people are to change. (That doesn’t mean that can afford it so….)

2. “Budget” is not where the money is – If there are budgets in organisations they are considerably smaller and a good deal more “controlled” than they have been for decades. The level of sign-off and discretionary spend is tiny. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t money to spend it just means getting at it is harder. Of course there are other ways to get what you need. Even big businesses are willing to discuss trades, so spread invoices across 12 months rather than a lump sum (it comes out of different budgets!), for example. Sometimes by breaking your invoices into smaller amounts means you come in under discretionary spend and therefore 5 x £5K for example will get through more easily and a big bill for £25K. If you’re really smart, you’ll avoid “budgets” all together and look for those with P&L authority. Why? People with budgets are surrounded by people who want to get at them. People with budgets are also prone to having their budgets cut. So, if your competitors are running after the department or decision maker with a budget….let them get on with it…look instead for the people and departments that budget holder serves. They don’t have budget…but they do have money – if you can’t work it out call me/drop me a line and I’ll fill in the blanks!

In part 2 we’ll look at the “new economy” – getting what you want and need with little or no money. New ways of working (Neardesk) and why they’re going to change the world and some other ideas for thriving in this brave new world.

Bon weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

Fast Gun Slow Bullet?

Fast Gun Slow Bullet?
You know the reason why we say “Ready, Aim, Fire” rather than just BANG?
I suspect you do.

It’s funny then that when it comes to taking our products or services to new or existing markets we seem to think that the best possible approach is to just blast off as many “rounds” as we can in the hope that some of them might hit home.

That would be stupid wouldn’t it.

Wouldn’t it?

Well you’d probably spend a lot more money on ammo that you needed to (if one bullet could do the job of 200). It would probably make a bit of a mess too…maybe? It might even make you look like a bit of an out of control lunatic who people would want to avoid.

That would be bad for business and bad for your brand…right?

Stop doing it then.

Slow gun fast bullet.

Think, Plan, Do.

SureFire – Check out….don’t be a dumb, dumb.

Find it here or at: www.surefireexcellence.com

Start Up? Are you sure you know what you’re in for?

Did you know that in the UK we start-up more businesses a year than they do in the USA?

That might surprise the cynical among us.

What’s less surprising (perhaps this is the cynical in me) is that the failure rate of new businesses in the UK is considerably higher than it is in the USA.

Why do you think that might be?

Peter Cochrane OBE told me that one of main differences between UK and US start-ups is that in the UK we tend to start businesses with the ambition of paying off the mortgage. In the US they tend to start a business with full and certain knowledge they can go global!

It’s certainly true that in the UK and in between “booms”, being a start-up doesn’t have much cache, people don’t look at you like you could be the next Zuckerberg or Gates and saying that you aim to be is likely to get you laughed out of the boardroom.  Of course, retrospectively people always refer (somewhat jealously) to the” gutsy start-up” that ends up selling out for £ Billions but at the time, in the beginning, being at ground zero, with a good idea, lots of energy and not much cash can be a very tough, lonely and scary place to be.

Good.

It needs to be, it’s getting through the tough bits, the pits of despair and doom, the worry about mortgage payments and the constant challenge of selling the first few deals. It’s that  “thin-lipped” “positive” smile that all your friends and family give you that which says “you’re either a brave genius or a complete idiot and I’m pretty sure which!”  and the new levels of multi-tasking you can’t believe you can achieve and the hours in the day you didn’t know existed. It’s the sleepless nights (for good and bad reasons) the “if only I had ten grand” constant need for the next bit of IT or design or copy or expertise and the feeling that this stage will never, ever end that makes the start-ups that succeed, succeed.

There’s no pretending it’s a pretty, glamorous or always a terribly happy ride….but every obstacle you overcome, every knock-back you move on from and every new skill you struggle to learn feels like an Olympic achievement. And it is.

That’s why those of us who have done it (and continue to do it) get on such a high about it and end up loving and eventually even enjoying the roller coaster ride that it always is.

And so for those taking the first step or wondering if they could…here are a few things which might just take a few of hurdles out of your way…

1. It WILL take longer than you expect it to. Even if you see early success, once you’re past the first flush of “wins” you WILL move in to a phase of reality where you need more than luck and passion and your last employer to buy from you.  So plan for the first 12 months not the first 12 weeks.

2. You WILL find lots of “Jam tomorrow” deals. There will be plenty of people who will want you to work for nothing and will pay you later. Remember Jam tomorrow is fine…but you need “Bread/Dough” today.

* Possibly the most useful lesson to remember here is: Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but CASH is KING!

3. You WON’T believe how many “woodland folk” come out of the mists once they spot you’ve got a great idea. They will be all sorts of useless, dangerous, “predators”, who will offer their services for a share of your business or your IP. Don’t fall for it. If they look like they need a new suit it’s because they can’t afford one. Guard your business and your IP with your life. Better to pay for advice than to give away your family silver to an idiot who will bleed you dry and leave you high and dry too. If you get approached, ask around. You’ll soon hear the truth.

* As a successful entrepreneur and a good friend of mine once advised – “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt” – live by that.

4. You SHOULD spend more time on understanding your customers and the proposition you’re taking to them than anything else. If you can’t differentiate and stay differentiated it’s only a matter of time before you’re priced out of the market.

5. You CAN get good, free advice from professionals whiling to give the first meeting for free. I am one of them and I know of an accountant and least one designer who are others. Finding out your options in terms of LTD, LLP etc and the likely costs and timeframes is invaluable. Seek out good solid advice . Don’t be afraid to ask. For my first business, I traded a Pint of Guinness and a Fish Finger sandwich for an hour’s time with a chartered accountant. It was money well “invested”. He’s now FD on all my businesses.

6. You DON’T Need flash offices, you do need well written and well presented collateral, material or branded..things. You can find good designers who’ll do you a deal on spreading the costs and there a plenty of on-line packages. Don’t skimp here. In 2012, no one cares if you don’t have a posh office and 250 staff. They do care if you can’t spell, they can’t understand what you’re proposing or if it looks like you slung your website together with a book and a CD package you bought at car boot sale.

7. USE technology. Skype is great. It means free phone calls and conference calls. Use Twitter and WordPress and other online free and easy to use tools.

8. DON’T plan your business based on today. Plan for what you want it to be tomorrow. That means be careful. It’s very easy to end up with a mill-stone that sees you working harder than you ever have before, for less money than you could earn in a job and taking more risk that you ever planned for. I recommend E-Myth revisited “Why most small businesses don’t work” by Michael Gerber for making sure you avoid this pitfall on day one!

9. DON’T expect the bank to loan you any money unless you’re prepared to put your house up. It’s not that they don’t want to lend they just don’t have the processes to loan to anyone other than those who don’t need it.

10. DON’T aim low. There’s only one way to go from there. Take a leaf out of the book of the USA. Think bigger than you dare and go for it.

I’ll be writing a lot more about start-ups and my experiences both of owning them and working with them. If you’d like to hear more then please subscribe.

It won’t surprise you that I’m happy to discuss how I can help you with your idea too. So if you’re interested drop me a line.

All the best

Owen

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media is dead – Human Media anyone?

Look, let’s be clear, I’m not any more sure about all this than you are right now. I guess that’s why I’m writing or at least asking you about it anyway.

He’s the proposition (as it was put to me). Anyone who professes to know anything about Social Media will tell you that it works when it’s authentic. That means when it’s not contrived or PR led or structured….like propaganda. In my experience they’re right. Those for whom Social Media works best engage in two-way dialogues and discussions with groups of people with a common set of interests.

The “problem” with that is that we make Social Media work for us by using technology and tools such as Facebook, Twitter etc. These tools, typically “monetize” (how I loathe that word) and are constructed by controlling the way in which we engage, meet, discuss etc. So what?

So  that rather negates the authenticity point doesn’t it? In that any engagement is only as authentic as the controlled means by which we “do it”.

So what?

So as marketeers if we are controlling the way we communicate with people, them with us and them with each other, how “authentic” is the engagement we get from that and therefore how valuable and accurate and valid are the responses and insights we claim to gain as a result.

People know how Facebook and Twitter (et al) work. So they respond and engage in a way that demonstrates they understand the tool and how and why we’re using it….not perhaps how they actually feel or with what they really believe or want.

OK so you get the point. Social Media is a step en-route to something else, something more “authentic” and that I am told is Human Media.

Human Media is true “one to one” engagement which  is lead and determined by the individual and may then be fulfilled by the “brand” in a way which may well still include the technology platforms but is not led by them.

Bold, ambitious and very much part of the Zeitgeist……but is it a reality and what does it or what could it mean for you as a person or as a company or brand looking to engage more deeply with your customer base?

Let me know what you think?

All the best. O

It’s just totally brilliant

I love Ted. www.ted.com It has the capacity to educate me, inspire me at the same time as making me realise how dumb I am and how much more there is to learn and indeed that I’d be interested in if I had more than 30 seconds free in any one day.

So I won’t waste your precious 30 seconds on my words, take a look at this chap and what he’s doing for kids, education and maths. Iwasn’t like that in my day, was it Mr Bashem!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM95HHI4gLk&feature=player_embedded

Charged for running in the park

You’ll have heard, I’m sure, about the latest initiative from various councils to charge those people who use local parks as part of their personal training, yoga or  running business.

The apparent logic is that others have complained they are being pushed out….the currnet plan is £350 for individual one on one training or an annual licence of £1,200 for groups.

One group supporting it claims it will “ensure some kind of regulation”. Really? Why can’t that regulation apply at any venue?

It seems to me to be ironic that in the depth of recession and with a crumbling health service we should be keen to tax the entrepeneur trying to build new, “green” business and trying to better the health of the general population. 

So what about professional dog walkers, child minders, schools, football teams? 

What a shame we don’t celebrate those trying to make their way in difficult times, finding new ways to earn a living or indeed reward those who invest in their own health rather than adding to the health service burden.

Good grief Charlie Brown!

I’m getting old. I’ll be writing to the papers next.

Time to talk customer

You can’t have missed the fact that all the retail banks are getting hot under the collar about “Customer Experience”.  In fact businesses everywhere are starting to wake up to the idea that without the customer there’s no reason for them to exist at all.

This is not news for retailers (or at least most of them) or indeed any consumer facing business that has had to wage war in recent times against the dreaded commoditization of their marketplace and the hyper competition and market and margin erosion that ensues. It is however quite a slap round the chops for those businesses who thought that the people in businesses they sold to, were just a job role or that the product they made or service they offered was “enough” to differentiate them and build sustainable competitive advantage.

Now we’re seeing organisations of all types and sizes, serving markets of every description slowly coming to the realisation that everything starts with the customer.

Does it, really though?

You know, I think it does at least it does for organisations looking to stay ahead of the competition. It does also for businesses looking to create, maintain or even grow profit margins.

The problem for most businesses that operate Business to Business (B2B) is that their strategy really starts in the boardroom or even with the shareholders. The objectives set here (which let’s face it will be pretty predictable) are likely to bear more relation to the commercial intent of the owners than the requirements of the market and in some cases (even very, very big company cases) they are likely to bear no relation to the reality of what can practically be achieved. 

Only last week I heard of a large US conglomerate that took regional sales predictions, added 50% and then trebled them.. then pushed them back down to the regions as a sales target.  Yes Really.

The tsunami of trouble and cycle of doom these approaches cause is self-evident but it happens year on year.

The more enlightened organisations start their strategy with real customer insight and intimacy. It goes from here into the boardroom to determine what’s needed and what’s achievable and then out to the troops to take it back to the customers who asked for it. 

Does that sound too simple to be true? It’s not you know. It’s how the companies you see growing exponentially are doing it. It’s how start-ups succeed (or indeed by not doing it, why they don’t).

It works like a symbiotic, virtuous circle.  Customer, informing strategy, informing employee, informing customer, informing strategy and so on.

It’s not rocket science and that’s why it’s working for the companies you see today taking the market by storm.