Archive for the ‘Business Tips’ Category

I already bought. I already bought.

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

A coworker sent me an article about collaboration between Google and SAP that allows SAP customers to overlay Google Earth and Google Maps information to manage “big data.” It’s a really interesting concept and if you are curious you can read about it on TechCrunch. It seems like every day we get a groovy new analytics tool or new social media platform to connect businesses with other businesses or businesses with consumers or Twitter with my cat, but a lot of organizations seem to be missing out on some of the basics when it comes to marketing. In other words, as people get new toys, organizations may appear to overlook the basic tools that helped make them successful in the first place. I have quite a number of examples, but the two below are a great illustration of how applying the most basic in-house information tools can help to reduce waste and better target your customer or donor base before using advanced analytics tools to improve your reach within a specific market.

It’s only taken us three years (a long time in married years) to finally consolidate my car insurance with my wife’s insurance. Yes, we should have done it a long time ago, but in our defense we were really busy with not doing it. Within two weeks of the new plan, I received a mailer offering to lower my rates by switching to the exact same insurance company. Although I brought it in and set it next to the refund check for my new insurance (an additional $20 discount!), it’ll be going straight into the recycling bin. I just got your insurance, I suppose I could up my coverage to protect my amazing sports-themed gnome collection, but I’ve got nothing to switch.

In the same vein, my wife and I have a credit card with an airline rewards program. We’ve had this card for quite a while now and use it fastidiously for frequent flier furlongs (1/8 of a mile if you are scoring at home). The rub however is at least twice a month I get fancy mail pieces offering a free checked bag if I get the credit card that I already have along with a couple of emails with the same offer. And the emails link to the website where I often purchase plane tickets with this same credit card in question. Actually, if I combined the mail pieces with printed copies of the emails I get with the same offer, I’d have enough paper to fill my free checked bag.

I’d assume that a large insurance company and a major credit card company and airline would leverage some of the most powerful tools in the technology world to ensure they wouldn’t make the mistake of sending me offers for products I already have. Turns out they don’t. Instead, they could save a few bucks by doing a duplicate elimination between their customer databases and the prospects they are trying to target. It would cost them a heck of a lot less money to clean their customers from a prospect list than it costs in printing and postage in an attempt to convert people already using their products and services.

It’s often the simple things to eliminate waste and create good interactions with clients and prospects that make the biggest impact. While it is super-cool and really useful to be able to drill down on your business data with Google Maps, it’s probably more valuable to be able to identify those who are already using your service—then ensure you are talking with them in a way they prefer and are more receptive. You need technology to accomplish those things, but it doesn’t have to be bleeding edge. Make sure you are getting the easy stuff right, and then move on to the cool toys.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my underground lair to invent a cat with laser beam whiskers.


Fixing the World, One Webinar at a Time

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Back in 1998, on my first day as a public speaking instructor at the University of Maine, I was asked the question all new communication teachers dread. “I’m never going to have to give presentations, so why am I required to take this class anyway?”

The reality is that most people engage in public verbal communication daily and the skills developed in a course like that can have a life-long impact, but if I could travel back in time (get on that scientists) I’d tell my past self to give the following answer: “Because by 2011 every adult on planet earth will have to give an average of 3.5 webinars a week, and I don’t want you ruining my lunch again.”

These days I spend so much time giving and watching webinars that my last words will not be, “I wish I’d spent more time learning Webex and GoToMeeting.”

Honestly, why do most webinars get scheduled as a “lunch and learn?” I’m especially looking at you Atlantic people who plan “important” presentations for 1 PM EST. I don’t learn anything over lunch other than how delicious my Trader Joe’s microwave burrito is. Or worse, find my mind wandering off to how sad I’d be if there was a world-wide Cheetos shortage.

In 2009, I wrote about some basic suggestions for giving better presentations, but I think it might be time to revisit this since nearly every presentation I’ve had the pleasure of suffering through recently has been just a hair lacking in quality content. So, instead of rehashing that article, I’ll just touch on a few key examples from recent presentations.

Developing Credibility Is Important
Any public speaker will tell you that developing credibility (ethos for those scoring at home in Greek) is essential to convincing the audience your message is important. Providing context for your presentation is excellent, however unless your webinar is about, I don’t think I need to know what your grandmother had for lunch. I’d follow you on Twitter or Facebook for that information. Keep your credibility statements brief, and your audience will thank you for it. Speaking of brief…

Keep on Topic
If your presentation is about leveraging LinkedIn for sales within a business-to-business context, your audience probably doesn’t need thirty minutes of the presentation to be about the technical underpinnings of the connect button. The reality is that it’s hard enough to keep an audience focused for thirty minutes, so it’s unlikely they are going to pay attention for much longer. If you really want to give a sixty minute presentation, you are better suited to doing two webinars on different days. Respect your audience’s time and they are more likely to listen to you. Bore them to tears and you’ve lost them forever.

Your Presentation Isn’t Pretty
Despite what you think, the fancy canned PowerPoint background and clip art doesn’t enhance your presentation. If the background and font look like they came straight out of a Google image search for “ugliest baseball uniforms,” then most likely your audience is going to remember your presentation for being funny, and not for the reason you hope. Keep the screen uncluttered with a lot of text and images and focus on your words with the PowerPoint acting as a roadmap or tour guide. It isn’t the show, you are.

Don’t Send Me the Slide Deck
I don’t normally want to call out an organization in the blog, but after working with IBM for seven years I can confidently say they violate this concept on an international scale. Simply put, if I can get your entire presentation from reading the slides you used in your presentation, then you’ve failed as a public speaker. Conceptually, a PowerPoint shouldn’t stand on its own. It enhances what you have to say, and if I can read the whole thing, then that’s what I’ll be doing when you present. If your message is that important, then have a different set of slides to send out to truant audience members, but don’t use that one for your presentation. This will also help your presentation skills, because you’ll be less likely to read to us, and nothing is more boring than being on a conference call when someone is simply reading.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to figure out a way to email a brown bag lunch to myself for the next webinar.


Exploring a business relationship shouldn’t be this hard!

Monday, February 21st, 2011

We recently decided to explore a reseller relationship with a specialty software company. As an OEM partner to SAP, we have some experience with this type arrangement. The sought after relationship in this case would have us purchasing a software product in some volume from the prospective ‘partner.’ Having narrowed the field to a couple of likely software companies, I set out to gather information to support a decision. Sounds easy enough, right?

I placed a phone call to the first software company on my list and was promptly greeted by a call routing feature that didn’t provide an option to address my need. In these instances I always choose sales (hoping for a motivated member of the company).

The friendly sales person said that she could not help me, that I would need to fill out a form, and that I would have to provide other documentation (tax certificates, advertising materials, etc.) via FAX to their channel management department. This was before any conversation about the potential business fit between our two companies, and apparently based on the fact that I was asking about a relationship versus how to directly purchase their product. I grudgingly complied (well, I bent the rules and sent scanned docs via email).

Two days later I received a phone call from a fellow in Channel Management. After my detailed description of our need (and our mutual opportunity) he told me that I would need to establish a relationship with one of their distributors. He was kind enough to provide contact information.

I sent the distributor an introductory email explaining our need, along with a link to our website for context, and asked him to call me when convenient. What I got back was an email telling me that he could not help me directly, but that a sales representative from their company would be able to talk with me after I submitted the following:
• A completed Customer Application
• Bank reference information
• Credit references
• Sales and Use Tax Certificates
• Our “latest two (2) fiscal yearend financial statements”

His email was specific about not being able to talk about pricing until this information was provided. Again, this is before any conversation about the potential relationship fit.

My next step – write this post to let off a little steam. I want to explore an opportunity, and I’m running into administrative obstacles very early in the process. It’s this type of resistance that causes me to move on to the next software company in hope of a better experience – a potential loss for the once first-place candidate.

Now I’m asking those around me what we do to make it difficult for potential customers and partners to connect with our organization. I want to believe that the answer to that is ‘nothing,’ and I bet that’s what leadership in these two organizations would say if asked. I hate to miss opportunities at my front door, especially given the investment made to develop sales leads.