Archive for the ‘sales’ Category

Four Keys to Customer Interaction

Four keys to attracting customers

Four keys to attracting customers

I wrote some time ago an article called ‘How to Win – Focus and Speed‘ which was about strategy in business. I use it all the time in my business life and it does work. I read an article today by John Sviolka which reminded of that approach in business planning which talks about an online voucher company in the USA which has differentiated itself very clearly from its competition by doing  just that.

It has been so successful that it has accumulated 675,000 subscribing customers to its service since November 2008 and it is growing them at a rate of 40% to 50% per month. It has a very clear proposition and it works. The lessons it teaches in this competitive market are clear and can be used by any consumer facing business.

Read the article here. You won’t regret it.


Dan Brown’s latest ebook outsells the print version

Here’s an interesting article. Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code, has released his latest book and it is selling ‘like hot cakes’. But, the interesting fact is that the ebook version designed to be read on Amazon’s Kindle device is outselling the printed version.

This might be just one of the moments in time when all of the hype about the book and the Amazon device turn into reality. The twist in the tale is that the book is also set to become the most discounted book in history too.

Kindle edition outselling print version on |

Categories: business, publishing, sales Tags: , ,

Keeping it simple is easy to say but difficult to do

Focus on the outcome

Focus on the outcome

Several years ago when working for one of the world’s largest software companies, I was having a conversation with a colleague whose background was software development but who was now in marketing. He was extolling the virtues of the latest version of the company’s software development tools.

It was interesting to a point, and I pointed out that I was probably not the best person to try and excite about the details because I was far more interested in what the tools did rather than how they did it. He was shocked at my attitude. I remember the look on his face. His expression looked as though I had just blasphemed. How could I work in that company and not be interested in the nuts and bolts of the ‘how’ of the software rather than the ‘what’ of the results of using the software?

The advertisements of the time for that product had a theme of moon landings and a line which went something like “Just imagine what could have been done in 1969 when getting those now famous Americans onto the moon if they had this product“.

The problem with that campaign was that most people who would be using the software were not trying to get astronauts to the moon. Most software developers wanted to do far more basic things in their daily work lives and do them slightly faster than previously possible. The launch of that version of the product was a flop and it took them another two to three years with the launch of a new version and more down to earth ambitions for the product to take off (if you’ll excuse the pun).

This story is commonplace in businesses which have technical products. Often, the technical people become wrapped up in splendid details and features but become detached from why their customers would benefit from them. That’s basic sales and marketing knowledge but it is surprising just how much it continues to happen.

Last night I ran a presentation at the Hull Digital networking event about 2-D codes which is a technology that enables people to scan a code on, say, a poster using their mobile phone which then might take them to a mobile web site, or which will dial a number for them, or send a text message.

This is all very well, but I focused on the opportunity that the technology represents rather than the technology itself in my presentation. 2-D codes happen to be good at connecting offline marketing (e.g. an ad in a magazine) to online resources (e.g. a mobile web site). But the opportunity which is more interesting is, for example, that of enabling two different companies with different specialisations in marketing to work together in partnership to offer clients new solutions.

This is approach is far easier for people to comprehend than an approach which talks about features. I know you need people who are good at understanding the features of a product or service. I couldn’t do my job without a team of expert web developers who know how it works. But clients don’t care too much about the ins and outs of a product. They just want to know if you can help, what the outcome will look like and when you can do it by.

It’s simple to understand, but often people forget to do it and end up losing opportunities to help their clients and to gain new ones.

Selling to your Boss

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

I realised that I first learned how to sell a few years after I first did it. I was a young British Army Officer and one of my jobs in the Mess was to have all of our dining room chairs restored. The chairs were getting battered by many functions and daily use by thirty blokes and their occasional guests. I took one chair as a sample to a local furniture restorer to be restored and took it back into the Mess to gain the approval of the senior officers before having all of them restored.

But I didn’t just show them the restored chair. Firstly, I showed them a chair which had not been restored and which was probably the worst one of our set. The unrestored chair was rickety and had had much of the varnish chipped off. I showed the group of senior officers how bad things were but how good that they could be by investing in having the chairs restored. Having the chairs restored was a whole lot cheaper than buying a complete new set. Approval was gained.

One of the biggest challenges that some employees or even business directors face is having to convince their boss or fellow directors that they need to invest money into their project. Most people fear the rejection or fail to persuade their boss or bosses on why the investment is an investment and not a gamble.

I met someone recently who is facing this challenge. Their business is a web based news site which focuses on a science and technology. It has grown its unique visitors to the site from 6,500 per month to nearly 15,000 in the last year. It has benefited in the economic downturn, it would seem, as people seek more knowledge and information.

On the outside, it appears that this is a good news story. But, the underlying trends on the site show that people are spending less time on the site. The site is very much a ‘broadcast’ site meaning that it does not have capabilities for viewers to interact with the site by way of leaving comments, sharing articles with friends or colleagues, or even posting other content onto the site such as photographs.

Its competitors are large. One of their competitors has fifty times the number of unique visitors per month to their site. The competitors’ site is more advanced by way of tools which allow visitors to subscribe to the web site through RSS feeds, to read blogs, or to download and listen to podcasts, for example. Not only are their competitors larger, they are competing more effectively for the visitors by providing reasons for them to keep them coming back.

Herein lies the problem with the smaller news site. They have an infrastructure to their site which is bespoke and they are finding it nearly impossible to change. Furthermore, the owners of the web site do not see the problem. They see rising visitor numbers and they have achieved their original aim of setting up a successful web site providing the specialist news. “Why should we change the infrastructure?”

The infrastructure they have is bespoke and there very few people who can develop their system to customise it and add new features. They are stuck with a single supplier who charges them a lot of money to maintain but not develop and expand the capabilities of the site.

The owners are not seeing that their web site will become soon see the number of visitors declining because they receive better services and news elsewhere. The people in charge of marketing and running the site don’t have the support of the owners to make changes because the owners don’t think there is a problem. So, the status quo prevails and when the number of visitors and subscribers decline, they won’t be able to react. This is a classic case of people not worrying about what a rising tide covers up until the tide turns.

How do you deal with this inertia? How do you show that something is wrong when all seems to be rosy when your boss doesn’t believe it? Think back to the chairs earlier. Everyone in the mess was uses to the chairs being a bit battered or wobbly. Nobody was really complaining about them. But, by showing them how good they could be and how much more presentable and professional our Mess would appear, the senior officers approved the investment. They did not care how the chairs were restored as long as they were done professionally.

This is similar to the situation with the contact I met who was struggling with their bosses to see that their web site was not competitive. You have to show them evidence and keep showing them and not just accept the status quo and the inevitable pain they would go through again if they did not change their infrastructure. You need to show them what their competitors are doing. You need to show them what real people want and then how that will help their business survive. It’s tough but evidence and outcomes are very persuasive. You need to be bold, strong and persistent.

Drop the Bullets and Start the Story

Tell the story and drop the bullet points Tell the story and drop the bullet points

Anyone can stand up in front of an audience and present. Presenting well so that people enjoy your presentation and feel moved in some way by it is a skill which takes practice. Many presenters have the attention of their audience for the length of time it takes to say “Hello” and quickly lose them before they even say “I’m…”.

This week I spent two days at a conference in London which had a good selection of people presenting topics covering digital publishing subjects. Overall, the presenters were good mostly, and some were excellent. The presenters that gripped me were not the ones I would have necessarily have thought would have a subject that interested me. No, the presenters that were  gripping, inspiring and interesting were good story tellers.

The poor presenters disconnected themselves with the audience in two ways:

  1. They expected us to read their slides.
  2. They did not build a relationship with us.

When you watch a film at the cinema, the most text you see in them are the credits. The main film stars, the director and the producers get their names displayed briefly at the start but rarely do you see two names on the screen at the same time. Everyone else gets their names displayed at the end as the audience is walking out. In scenes when a character is, say, reading a note, the director zooms in on the single line of text or they will highlight the important sentence. But the director does not expect you to read the whole letter or newspaper.

So, why then do so many presenters think that we can do the same when trying to follow their presentations? When was the last time you saw a film at the cinema which contained bullet points? I expect you cannot recall one film that used bullet points.

Relationships take time to build. You never start a good relationship by talking to someone you are trying to attract as if you were trying to speed talk. To build a relationship, you speak slowly so that your words are heard. You listen, you watch for body movements and you don’t ask questions which give the person you are opposite no time to think. You ask them questions which are easy to answer.

And yet, so may presenters fail to connect with the people they are trying to attract because they do not make their audiences feel as though they have any empathy with their situation. For instance, Barack Obama’s slogan for his presidential campaign in was “Change We Can Believe In“. It wasn’t “Change I Can Believe In“.

Nevertheless in the conference this week, the zeitgeist on Twitter from the audience in several presentations was along the lines of “This guy is trying to sell to me and I don’t like it“. The audience switched off from listening and moved in protesting. Business life has moved on and people are more sophisticated. You cannot sell to them. They have to buy from you and they only buy from you if pass through a process of building trust to form a good relationship.

As a result, the presenters who didn’t connect with the audience wasted a huge amount money and opportunity at the conference by distancing themselves and failing to entertain us.

Here are my recommendations for excellent presentation skills:

  1. Go and watch a film and note how much text you see in it.
  2. Judge the script and the acting and ask yourself how you would improve it.
  3. Buy the book Beyond Bullet Points‘ by Cliff Atkinson and practice what he preaches.
  4. Read this blog – Presentation Zen
  5. Spend some time studying relationships.
  6. Practice in front of a mirror until you find yourself entertaining.

Car Washing and Cash Flow

Car washing and cash flow are connected

Start at the bottom to see realities

Received wisdom says that you should hand wash your car from the top to bottom. You start by rinsing your car and loosening off the dirt. Then you get a sponge, dip it into a bucket of warm water containing that special car shampoo and start to wash the top of the car and work your way down. The problem with this method is that at the end of the whole process you can see where you missed with the sponge by the scattering of dirty patches around the car. It’s infuriating. 

Much the best way to hand wash your car is to start washing it from the bottom to the top of the car. You can see exactly where you have washed or not and you don’t get fooled by by your soap suds dripping over patches of dirty bodywork making them look as though you have cleaned them. It seems odd and I have had occasional mocking rebukes from friends saying I am talking rubbish. But it works.

So, what the heck has this got to do with cash flow? 

Anyone who has ever run a business will know that cash flow is one of the most important aspects of financial planning to get right to enable your business to survive. Get your cash flow wrong and your business dies. You might have orders in the pipeline, purchase orders and sales coming in. But, if the cash is not coming in and cash is going out faster than it comes in then a business that looks profitable on paper will go bust quickly. (If you want an example of a near miss for a business that could have gone bust then read my earlier article about a small business I know that could have easily gone bust).

When you put together a cash flow forecast on a spreadsheet, received wisdom will, generally, tell you to start at the top of the spreadsheet with your sales and other income each month for the first year. You might even forecast your sales or the first few months on week by week basis . Then you are told to write out your variable costs (those costs which increase depending on the number of sales of your product or service that you sell) into the cash  flow forecast for each month. And, then you add in your fixed costs for each month such as your rent, broadband costs, and salaries, for example.

At the bottom of the spreadsheet, using some simple formulas, you subtract your fixed and variable costs for each month from your monthly forecasted sales income. This then gives you a figure of how much cash will come in and out of your business bank account each month. It shows you how much money you need to fund your business at the start-up stage. It is likely that your cash flow will show that more money will go out in the first few months of your business than will come in. This is very important to understand.

But it is wrong. 

By starting at the top with your sales income, you start the whole process of building your cash flow forecast on a false premise. A fantasy. Forecasting your sales income is the most difficult thing to do and starting at the top of the spreadsheet is a massive mistake. You will fall into the trap of entering sales income figures which look right rather than those that are possible. And when you finish putting together your cash flow forecast, you sit back and feel good because your spreadsheet shows that you have a great business idea which is going to make you lots of profits. You start your business full of cheer and six months later you wonder what happened to your great business idea as it collapses around you.

You can avoid this trap. You avoid it by putting together a cash flow forecast from the bottom up in the spreadsheet. Costs to your business are definite. Sales income is a ghost at this stage. You can find out exactly how much everything will cost you down to the last penny. Find a sense of interest and intrigue in discovering your costs to your business each month that others will find baffling. Because finding certainty in your costs is the only sure thing which you can do for your business finances at this stage. 

When you have done this and used your simple formulas to work out your fixed costs and the costs you will incur when you do sell a product, which will be your variable costs, you can begin to work out what you need to sell and when you need the cash to come in to cover your costs. When you know this, you can work out how you will get your sales. This is sales strategy. You can research your potential customers. You can ask them if they would buy your product. You can work out if your product or service is too expensive or too cheap. You can work out what else you will need to do to sell and market your product or service. 

When you know these highly important details, you will know whether your business idea is not just a good idea but something which you will be able to sell profitably. You will save yourself a lot of trouble and money too.  

And why should you believe me? Because I started a business with a cash flow forecast at the top of the spreadsheet and completely overestimated how much I could sell and underestimated when the cash would come in. The business went bust. It was painful but it taught me the right way to plan a business and its cash flow forecast.

So, when you are next planning  to start a business and you are planning your cash flow, take a few moments out and hand wash your car. But do it from the bottom to the top. You won’t miss anything then and you will see that the received wisdom of hand washing cars the other way round is wrong. And then go back inside and do the same with your cash flow forecast.

New Marketing – Mob Rule


The Mob Rules

The Mob Rules

In 1991, I found myself in a lonely part of the Central African Republic, cycling towards the capital, Bangui, with my brother, Dan. We had been cycling for over six months since leaving the UK. The route we were on took us along dusty roads and tracks, through rain forest and into the odd town. The particular town we were in was fairly typical of most small towns in the region, being made of buildings built from wattle, daub and wriggly tin on the roof. The difference with this town was that we met a guy who was working for the American ‘Peace Corps.’

He was welcoming and invited us to stay for a night or two. Over dinner that night, he talked about what he was doing there for the Peace Corps. His role was to help the local people generate cash from fish farming. He was showing them how to build fish ponds, nurture and tend the fish to the point where they could sell them to earn a decent living from it. He was very frank and said that it was a hopeless task.

Fish farming was not as easy it seemed. Digging fish ponds, filling them, feeding the fish and making sure they are healthywas not for the faint hearted. In reality, he said, the local people could earn money far more easily by planting a banana seed in the rich soil, and then walk away only to come back a few weeks later to harvest the bananas without having broken out in a sweat. 

He believed that his task was one which the Peace Corps believed was beneficial to the local people because of the greater amount of money they could earn through fish farming. But they had misunderstood that there were far easier ways to earn a living for the people and that earning money from harvesting bananas was good enough. The locals were not interested in the good intentions of the Peace Corps.

Years later, I was working as a commercial manager in a large training company. One particular sales team was struggling to meet its sales targets because their clients were asking for the courses to be customised to their requirements. A director of the business, in a frustrated yet revealing moment in a meeting, raised their voice saying “Why can’t they just sell what we have to their customers?” It was a classic moment of a company selling what they wanted to their customers rather than enabling their customers to buy what they needed. 

Both of these instances show how organisations and individuals became out of touch with their ‘audience’ and which used old ways of thinking about providing what they thought their audience needed. And this way of thinking for a business in the world we are in now will leave them obsolete very quickly if they do not adapt. 

Marketers in large corporations have until now launched a new product with a large ‘push’, spending huge sums of money telling their customers that they should buy their new product. This was the status quo. And it was risky, so the marketers spent a lot of time and money researching their customers seeking reassurance that their customers would buy the new product. They employed lots of consultants and experts to reassure them that this was the right thing to do. This all took months, even years, before the new product was launched. 

And then came along the internet and the customers started to say what they thought about the new product and the good marketers listened. The marketers started to provide tools so that instead of hiring a few highly paid experts to tell them if their product would sell, their customers had ideas about what they would like and other customers started to vote for the best idea. 

The marketer suddenly became the best listener in the world and put down their megaphone and old ways and realised that the mob now ruled and that employing ten thousand for free was infinitely more effective and quicker than paying a small number of experts to see if customers liked what they assumed they would like. 

Long live the mob.