Thursday, 1 December 2011

Don't be frightened to say you will drop your price - even if you won't!

Too often as sales people we believe what we are told by prospects and
clients, particularly when it comes to the price of our products and
services. We start to shiver and shake as the client starts to talk about
price and tells us that our figures are simply way out compared to what they
had envisaged. "We simply do not have that sort of budget" is the cry we
hear from clients on so many occasions.

Perhaps sometimes rather than just taking the statement at face value, we
should push back? How about a response on the lines of "If somehow I could
get authorisation to lower our price, will you get the order placed
immediately so we are able to deliver against your original schedule?" I bet
very often, probably following a long pause from the client, you will get a
different reason (other than price) as to why they can't place the order.
More often than not, actually the real reason they are not currently willing
to buy - price was just the easy excuse. And by the way, should the client
actually say they will place an order if you drop the price, you have the
choice to do so, or not. Remembering you didn't say that you would drop the
price, you said "If somehow I could get authorisation to lower our price".

So where does such an approach get us? Well in the short term it may not win
you the business - but you were not going to win it anyway! What it does
give you is the real issue/s that you need to address and hopefully without
price now being the primary (false) objection.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Salesman

It does worry me that some times salespeople act like spies!

They come up with every possible job title and job description under the sun to avoid calling themselves a salesperson - like it is something to be embarrassed about. I do understand that job titles are important, but whatever yours is, if you are in Sales, then at the foundation of your role, you are a salesperson. So be proud of it - don't shy away from admitting that is what you do. If you can't be proud of what you do and what you sell, then stop doing it - find something else to do! This may seem harsh, but like so much else in life, if you don't believe in what you are doing, you are going to keep coming up short.

You don't for one minute actually think your customers and prospects think you are a spy do you?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Want to sell to a new prospect? Ask for a job!

In any high value sales environment we know the importance of research - really understand our clients' business environment, needs and objectives. So what better way to achieve this than by going to work for them?

Sounds crazy? Well not really, if your client or prospect is serious about wanting to make sure they have the very best solution for their requirements. By letting you work for a couple of days (even if it is just a watching brief) in the area of the business that relates to their intended purchase, it should greatly enhance the chances of your proposal being directly aligned with their goals. Most large organisations are running internships all the time now, so why wouldn't they be able to accommodate your request?

OK, I accept that most of the time (but not all) you are going to get push back from your client, who will tell you that it is not feasible, can't be arrange, their HR Dept will not allow it, etc. But when you are trying to differentiate yourself against the competition think about the impact you can have by at least asking. They will certainly recognise that you are totally focused on understanding what they are about - to such an extent that you offered to work for them!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Not sure? Ask someone!

Why is it that sometimes we get to a stage in a sales campaign when we feel that we are not in control of the process? Or at least don't really know what is happening, what to do or what stages we are at?

Don't beat yourself up. And don't let your sales manager/director beat you up either - it happened to them as much as it happens to you, they just somehow conveniently forget. It happens to all of us. No one can ever be fully in control of a large value competitive sales process. Everyone has moments when they question what they should do. Having those questions is not the issues. Its not asking for the answers that is often the problem.

If you are unsure about what is happening or what to do - ask the prospect. There are different ways that this can be done, but most simple is to be as open as possible, explain what you don't fully understand and/or have visibility to and see what the prospect tells you. What harm can it do, other than increasing your chances of having a better understanding and thereby winning the business?

Friday, 2 September 2011

High value sales do not have to be complex

Sometimes it is us as salespeople who make the product or service that were are selling and/or the sales process itself overly complex. Because we think we have to!

If someone is potentially spending a large amount of money with us, then surely we need to cover every single aspect of what our product does, going into great detail about every aspect, feature and benefit? And yes sometimes the prospect will want and expect this. But how often do we over do it because we have convinced ourselves it is necessary? We think we need to prove just how much we know. I repeat again that with some prospects and clients we will be expected to be very granular about our offering, but make sure this level of granularity is dictated by the prospect, not by you.

Have in your sales armoury a range of approaches, so that if the prospect only needs to focus on one specific area of your offering, than let them do just that. Clearly you should always check if there are other areas that need covering, but don't drown them in unnecessary detail.

Also don't always assume that high value sales means 'complex sale' from a process perspective - experience shows us that often there are a remarkable number of hoops to jump through, but just occasionally a prospect will simply want to get an order placed as quickly and as simply as possible. So be open minded at the beginning, if not it might be you who convinces the prospect they need to spend for ever making a decision.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Don't be frightened to take the lead

We all know that trust is the key word to building a successful and meaningful relationship with both clients and prospects. However, just because you want to build trust, does not mean you can't be forceful and proactive in defining the way forward.

Too often we let the sales process meander without any agreed direction or timeline. Suggest to your prospect that you should agree what the steps are that they need to go through in order to make a decision and then don't be shy in telling them what you need to do! People appreciate having the opportunity to clearly explain what it is that they have to do.

Maybe even think about agreeing a 'Milestone Letter' that defines what both sides need to get done against specific dates. It does not mean that things won't slip, but at least you have a shared document that both parties can use to measure progress and re-set actions and timelines as appropriate.


Monday, 1 August 2011

Don't do what your parents told you to do!

If your folks were anything like mine when you were growing up, then you were told never to talk about yourself. "It's for others to decide what they think of you, so don't talk about yourself - it will sound like boasting". Now I had a brilliant childhood, so on balance the "Don't talk about yourself" mantra probably had a positive contribution to my development.

But in sales it is a different matter. There are occasions when you should be willing to talk about yourself - but be humble.

The point is that any prospect or client will want to know that they are dealing with someone who has 'achieved'. They want to have a level of confidence that you can do what you say. Often we talk about a prospect's reluctance to be a guinea pig when it comes to buying a new product or service. The same is true when it comes to you. They want to understand that you have been successful in the past with other clients.

I am not suggesting the you boast (or lie). But practice introducing into your conversation some background about your previous achievements. Mention your involvement with other projects. Often it is best to talk about being part of a team that helped certain client/s achieve specific objectives (related to your prospect's goals). This approach helps to build your credibility, providing you do it subtly.

Try talking about yourself (a little) - you don't have to worry, your parents won't be listening.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

"Ask and you shall receive" but how often do we forget?

Never stop reminding yourself to ask the simple questions - and early during the sales engagement. Often the earlier the better for some questions. If you don't ask what a prospect or client really thinks about your offering, they are unlikely to tell you!

Ask questions early!

- Opinions and Impressions. "What are your thoughts so far?" "Does this look
like something that would work for you?"

- Ideas for Improvement. "What would you improve?" "If you could change one
characteristic of our product, what would it be?"

- Members of the Team. "Who else will be taking a look at this?" "Who else,
besides yourself will want to look at these ideas?"


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Don't spend a lot of time looking for new money!

Even when the economic climate is good, it can be a real sales challenge to
convince a client or prospect that they have to find money that they have
not budgeted to spend. No matter how compelling your proposition may be, the
bottom line 95% of the time is - if its not budgeted for, its not going to
happen!

So I hear you say, how does anything new ever get sold? The answer is to
always look to help your client or prospect to spend their money differently
and ideally to spend it more effectively. Try to identify where money is
currently been spent (i.e. from which budget) that you could deliver better
value against. Don't necessarily always think it has to be from an exactly
related budget. Of course if your selling IT then you would probably
compare yourself with current spends within the IT budget to start with, but
you never know. What you are selling could actually also be providing a
saving in an apparently unrelated budget area. Perhaps your IT package will
result in admin savings across a range of departmental budgets - you need to
help your client to 'think outside the box' when it comes to finding budget.

But nearly always you need to aim to deliver better value from existing
spend - otherwise you will hear a lot of "Can't justify buying now, maybe when
the economic climate improves". Or maybe never!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Don't forget it is also about saving money

One of my strongest memories as a Junior Sales Representative (a long time ago, in a galaxy far away) was a prospect's reaction to a sales proposal that I thought was absolutely compelling.

The system I sold at the time was a direct replacement for an old piece of equipment that my prospect had been running for over 10 years. The job the kit did was critical to my prospect's manufacturing process and I knew that we had a higher specification and were 10% less expensive than any of the competition. The prospect actually confirmed to me that these two facts were absolutely correct - we were better and cheaper.

However, his next question did not seem to make any sense to me. "How much money will it save me?" In my naivety, I pointed out to him that he had to replace an existing piece of equipment and that we were "better and cheaper" than the competition. Where had the notion of saving money come from? Needless to say I lost the deal. At that early stage in my career, I had not yet realised that however much apparent "upside" there may be for a purchase from a need, demand or performance perspective, people also want to save money. Just because someone needs to buy something, does not remove the desire to also save money.

I subsequently learnt that the company who won the business showed how their system would allow two of my prospect's current workforce to be diverted onto other manufacturing tasks for 60% of their time (it was how they justified the purchase). This was exactly the same as we could have achieved, but I never told him! I believed that if he was buying a replacement the only consideration would be "better and cheaper".

These days I still come across salespeople who are in denial about the need to also save money and often try to avoid the subject. Think about how you can save your client money and get it into your sales 'mix'. As I learnt a long time ago, its often how they will justify the purchase.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Farming, Hunting or Fishing?

Before anyone mentions it, I absolutely accept that this is not my original idea. However, it so aligns with how I fundamentally feel about sales, that I have no qualms ‘passing it on’.

Most of the time sales structures are based on Hunters and Farmers. The accepted theory being that some sale people love to find and win the initial deal, but are poor at long term relationship building and account development – the Hunters. While their mirror images are uncomfortable dealing with new prospects that they don’t know or understand, but thrive on delivering long term sustainable value and growing the client from a one-off purchaser, to a major repeat customer over an extended period – the Farmers.

The problem is, particularly in a Consultancy Selling environment, you need to do both. The fisherman (and Fisherwoman) actually blends the Farmer and Hunter characteristics very well. Fishing requires significant planning about where to go to find the fish, research about what the fish like to eat, and the bait that might get them interested. It requires patience while the fish are nibbling and aggressiveness when its time to reel it in. It also takes the courage to throw some fish back in when it’s not right for either them or the fish. A good fisherman knows when the conditions are right to catch the ‘big one’, but knows that some times its better to concentrate on catching lots of small fish to make up the weight. And critically, a Fisherman gets a great deal of satisfaction out of the whole process of fishing, as well as the enjoyment of catching the fish.

Maybe the next time someone tries to put you in the Farmer or Hunter sales box, you can suggested your skills are right down the middle?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Maybe it's not what you are selling, but who you are selling it to!

Ever consider turning your sales world on it's head, when the product or service you are selling does not seem to have the compelling market need you had hoped it might? You probably have heard plenty of strange and funny uses of conventional products. One of my favourite is Canadian Dry Club Soda. Just a few examples of what it can be used for, other than drinking includes;

- Clean diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. Simply soak the gems in Canada Dry Club Soda.
- Make fluffy pancakes and waffles. Substitute Canada Dry Club Soda for the liquid used in the recipes.
- Make a poor man's lava lamp. Fill a glass with Canada Dry Club Soda and drop in two raisins. The carbonation will cause the raisins to repeatedly bob to the surface and they sink again.

And the list goes on.

But there is an element of reality in most humorous situations. To go to the other extreme just think about Apple in the 1980s. They thought they were selling personal computing to everyone. They believed that users would switch from IBM and DEC because of the gains in productivity and creativity. They were wrong, big corporations thought that Macintosh was a poor relative in terms of computing power and performance. But they didn't fundamentally change their product, they changed their target market. Macintosh recognised that the product was brilliant for Desk Top Publishing (plus a lot more since) and that's where they put their focus. And the rest as they say is history.

So whether you are a multinational, or more likely if you are reading this blog, a one-man-band, or SME, who might be a new target market for you? Maybe your market is different to what you think it is - you just haven't seen the wood for the trees yet.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Take your time - Its a stew not a steak

One of the great business challenges of our age is 'Time Management'. I am a big fan and have far too many books and read far too many blogs on the subject. Experts explain about how to schedule and plan your time in a plethora of different ways. One group will preach about how critical it is to operate a 'To-Do' list, while another will tell you that the last thing you want to use is a 'To-Do' list. You will be told to operate a strategy of 'Do It Now' by some and others, that you should 'Do It Tomorrow'.

In a selling environment my advise is be willing to take your time - don't try and do things too quickly, particularly with regard to building relationships and understanding clients' needs. In high value, long sales cycles, what is the point of trying to cram all the elements necessary to win the business into a short time frame? Half the time the environment into which you are trying to sell will be a 'movable feast' anyway, so work at a pace that allows you to build strong relationships and understanding of needs, while at the same time having the flexibility to adapt to unforeseen developments and changes.

Think about identifying all the parallel tracks that you need to manage in order to secure the business and allocate time and target dates for each. In Time Management 'speak' create a Timeline Plan for each element and then let the whole process percolate, under your watchful eye as the chef.

Your cooking a stew that needs plenty of time and lots of different ingredients added at the right moment and in the right proportions - not frying a minute steak!

Ingredients might include;
Access to Power
Timelines Established
Budget Requirements
Engagement
Buying Process
Prospect Profile
Position
Perception
Proof Points
Core Values
Adoption Probability
Solution Alignment
Competition
Contract Negotiations
Up selling

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

What are your specialist subjects?

If you have every thought about writing a book and sought advise from an established author, you are likely to have been told to "write what you know about". It makes perfect sense, why would you (at least for your first book) attempt a subject that you know nothing about? The same would seem to be true about your first online business venture.

Take some time out and make a list of the subject areas you know a lot about and/or where you have significant experience. Probably these 'areas' will include both business and social expertise. Your knowledge will not only underpin any online venture, but hopefully will also give you the initial idea. Your knowledge of the subject matter will help you have a far better chance of identifying a need. Now I can hear you saying, with all the millions of online businesses that exist, how am I going to spot a new or unique need?

Well there are two things to consider. Firstly refer back to my January 2011 post "Just because a town already has a coffee shop" - someone else is doing it, but that does not mean you can't do the same, if not better. Secondly, a 'need' does not have to be a huge requirement. Maybe other online businesses are already providing a very good product or service, but your knowledge and experience means that you can identify the 'slither' that is missing or the extra 5% that customers are really looking for.

Start with that list of what you are good at - you may be surprised by how it inspires you!

Monday, 11 April 2011

A Web site needs as much pie as you do

Probably to my own detriment, I spent all my working life ignoring what many believe is a critical element to one’s ability to climb the slippery corporate pole. The model, which is supposed to make a substantive difference to an individual’s career, is called PIE.

The three parts of the PIE are as follows;
- Performance: The work that you undertake and how you deliver
- Image: How others see you, what they think of you
- Exposure: Who (the people) that get to learn about your Performance and Image.

Like me, many of you may find such an approach pretty galling. Surely it should be your ‘work’ that counts, rather than how your are viewed and whether or not the bosses know about you. To ‘rub salt into the wounds’, it is suggested that Performance only carries an overall weighting of 10%, compared with 30% for Image and a massive 60% for Exposure! I am sure we could debate this premise for many hours, however what struck me was how well aligned PIE is to getting a new Web site established.

There is always a lot of debate about when a site should be launched. The whole question of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and the notion that it is often best to get the basics out there and then start to worry about refining the proposition. So if this element of any Web site is the ‘Performance’, does it follow that we need to put a huge amount of more effort into ‘Image’ and ‘Exposure’?

The answer would seem to be a resounding ‘yes’. Of course a site’s performance (user experience and stickiness) needs to be constantly improving, but without the Image and Exposure we are in the land of “Build it and they will come” ….and guess what – they don’t.

So how on earth do we get the necessary levels of Image and Exposure to take our new site to the desired levels, without spending all our money on marketing methods that can’t guarantee a return? That is just what I am trying to crack. If I work it out maybe it is another blog post – or perhaps not.

Off now to check that the boss knows who I am.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Is it as embarrassing as seeing your Dad dance at the Disco?

I started using the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and the best of the rest, primarily as I needed to learn as much as I could about all the variants of Social Networking. Clearly LinkedIn was a bit different, in that I had signed up quite some time ago and was already convinced of the benefits. The others I have continued to use and must say, to a greater or lesser extent, enjoy. Although I cannot deny that often my main interest is to try and identify a different angle that just might provide the inspiration for the next 'big online idea'.

However, none these sites come close the 600lbs 'gorilla in the corner' that is called Facebook. The issue for me using Facebook is simple - its the younger generation who know me and who also use what is the biggest social network in the world. That means my daughter, nephews, nieces and their friends, most of whom I have seen growing up over the last 20+ years. Now you might think my concern is about what they post, and I must be honest and admit that it does some times stop me in my tracks. But genuinely that is not the issue - the concern I have is about what I post!

I am aware of the comments (not from my daughter) about why would Phil want to do this at his age? It is almost as if I was trying to somehow make myself younger or force my way into hanging out with the kids. Well I am very pleased to say that I have found the solution - basically I ignore the younger generation and do my own thing - very much as I do on the dance floor! The truth is they don't mind me dancing, its the fear of dancing with them that is their major concern. So I only have a cursory glance at their posts and very rarely reply, comment or even 'like'. I just concentrate on the other 'fossils' who are dancing around me.


Monday, 21 March 2011

Talking from the grave using Facebook, Twitter and Blogs

For those of you who are not aware, much of the stuff you read on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and the such like, are posted well in advance. There are numerous free tools and services that allow you to schedule your Facebook status or a tweet or a blog entry. In fact, in many cases you can schedule tens if not hundreds of posts in advance.

Cleary this has a significant advantage for businesses and the types of communications where sequenced messaging is an important factor. Also the ability to schedule specific times helps when you want posts to have the most impact in other time zones.

However, what happens when someone becomes incapacitated, sick or 'God forbid' dies having scheduled a number of future messages? (And of course no one will have a user password to cancel anything!) So like a voice from the grave or any echo from the past the posts will continue. At best possibly a little disconcerting, but really quite upsetting for family, friends and colleagues.

If Agatha Christie was still around I am sure she would have already spotted a great mystery based on scheduled messaging!

Examples of services that allow you to complete such scheduling include
Twuffer www.twuffer.com
TwitterLive www.twitterlive.net
TwitterFeed www.twitterfeed.com
Hootsuite www.hootsuite.com
Social Tomorrow www.socialtomorrow.com

Friday, 11 March 2011

How many friends have you really got?

We are spending a lot of time looking at future developments in Social Networking. A very live and interesting topic continues to be "Numbers of friends". With regard to Facebook, there seems to be a wide range of statistics, but the most reliable we have found suggests that the average friend number is 150. That said there are an lot of Facebook accounts with zero or very few friends, while apparently the American comedian Steve Hofstetter has over 100,000! The phenomenon of 'collecting friends' seems to be receding and it appears to be that Social Networking users are becoming (at least a little) more selective about who they 'friend'.

There is a 5/15/50 theory about friendship. It says that we have 5 friends that we would trust with our lives, 15 that we would be willing to have dinner with once a week and 50 who we would be happy to see on a reasonably regular basis. The suggestion is that future social networks (www.path.com already being an example) will actually limit the number of friends you can have!

What will be really interesting is how having a greatly reduced number of friends will effect how we use social networking. There is an argument that says having such a small group of selected friends will lead to even more banal exchanges, as people avoid saying anything that might be seen to favour one friend over another?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Minimal Viable Product vs. User Experience

Or put another way - when to start?

The challenge is a big one, but relatively simple to understand. You have a great idea for a web site or application, but you don't have it fully developed. It has moved on from just being an idea, but it is not yet in the finished state you would ideally like. Not all the functionality is there or perhaps it just feels a bit clunky. Maybe you could produce a list as long as your arm of things you would like to see added or changed! But (in your mind's eye) will the site ever be perfect?

The other side of the coin is what if the site is so poor it puts users off? What if users hear about the site, try it once and then don't come back and of equal importance, don't tell their friends about it?

So here's the 'rub'. If you don't launch you won't know if the basic idea is appealing to your target audience and therefore if it warrants further investment of your time and money. But if you do launch and nobody likes the site, would they have liked it had it been further developed? Have you gone too early and created a lot of poor 'first impressions'?

You may have guessed, it is a problem I have wrestled with on a number of occasions and I am not saying I have the definitive answer. That said, what has worked for me is to ask other people what they think as soon as it is feasible to do so. Once a few people say to you that they like it (even if they do have some reservations) get the site launched, because your early adopters/users will tell you what needs to be changed and without their input you are unlikely to ever get it right!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Frightened of a good idea?

So you have what you believe is the next great idea for a web site (please feel free to substitute "web site" for any idea you may have). I have been faced with this situation on a number of occasion and to date, I am not at all sure that I have got it right.

Back in the mid-eighties I had the idea for a franchise business. I won't bother naming names as there is little point, other than to say it was a service targeted at any householder. The problem was that no one else within my immediate circle of friends, family and colleagues thought it was a good idea. So I didn't have the confidence to pursue it, despite going to talk to my bank and getting a loan agreed in principle. That business now has 100s of franchisees. The next opportunity was my first venture with regard to the Internet. This time, while by no means a unique idea, it was one that many people would subsequently develop into hugely successful ventures. I did not have the courage of my convictions. There was a chance that it might fail and I took the easier option of staying in fulltime employment. If I thought about it, I could probably come up with at least two or three other examples of good business opportunities that I did not see through to the end.

So what have I learnt from these experiences? Interestingly, lots of people will tell you the answer is "just do it", and they are correct - partially.

Yes - "just do it" in as much as commit to do it, tell people as soon as you can about your idea and throw yourself into it. My point is be brave, but don't be reckless. Be fully committed to your idea, while still having other parallel track activities taking place. Most businesses are built while their founders are also doing something else - and most of the time that "something else" is paying the mortgage.

So my advice (for what it is worth) - do a number of different business activities at the same time, until you find the winner. There is no rule against backing more than one horse in a race.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Remember when trying to find a new Domain Name was fun?

Anyone who has set-up a business will recall the exciting moment when they came up with a name. I often remind people that there are other things in setting-up a business that are a lot more important to get done before coming up with the perfect name, but I am a bit of a spoilsport! And I can't deny that sitting in the pub debating a list of different words (both actual and made up) holds some very fond memories.

With the arrival of the Internet, this 'fun' had a new level of complication, as we try to not only come up with a unique name that matches what our new business does, but then an equally relevant and if possible, matching domain name. I clearly remember our innocent belief that we would easily locate really good and relevant domain names back in the late 1990s. I mean who else would want web sites with names like yourfriends.com, websales.com and even greenfrog.com? How wrong we were! And that was over 10 years ago - so what are the chances of finding a good name these days?

Well it is not quite as bad as you might think. We recently registered names such as memoryshake.com, emotionaldays.com and salesmole.com for some of our new business ventures. Not bad names at all and ones that I think a lot of people might believe would not be available. So what's the trick?

1) Don't be off put by quite long names, its not like 10 years ago, people don't expect every business to have a five or six letter url.
2) Don't think your name must reflects what you do as a business (just think of Amazon)
3) Check out sites selling domain names - it used to be that prices were ridiculous, but for less obvious names the cost has really dropped.
4) If there is a name you really want, it’s worth regularly checking its availability - you never know.
5) Maybe you don't need a .com or. co.uk extension, perhaps another extension would work for you?
6) Be prepared to keep at it, you may spend hours trying hundreds of different names, but you may well be pleasantly surprised.


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

There is no substitute for being there

With the explosion of online communication and social networking, it almost seems that other ‘conventional’ ways of engaging with loved-ones, friends, colleagues and strangers are being forgotten. How often do we choose to send a text message, when it might be more thoughtful to pick up the phone? An e-card, when it would be much nicer to take the time to write a real card? Or the ultimate copout, when we compose a lengthy email instead of walking across the office to talk to a colleague or probably even worse, substitute a visit to friends and family with a ‘loving email’!

Social networking sites can also add to the problem by creating an impression of closeness to family and friends, because we appear to have an insight into what everyone is doing – but does that really substitute for quality time together?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of both social and professional networks, I send my share of texts and am often accused of being an email junky. But I am sure we have to get the balance right. And maybe it is incumbent on our networks to do more to remind us of the importance of face-to-face time with family and friends? Perhaps in the same way that FourSquare promotes and rewards users for visiting places, someone should be rewarding people for meeting?

These thoughts were prompted by a recent radio programme. A woman was discussing how important her online life was to her, but when her sister went into labour there was only one way to really support her – by being there.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Just because a town already has a coffee shop!

There is a theory that the best way to come up with a brilliant idea is to have lots and lots of ideas and one (or more of them) will prove to be a winner. When it comes to ideas for Web Sites and Online Applications this approach seems to come pretty naturally to me. Please don't get me wrong, this is not to say I have necessarily got that 'winning idea', what I mean is that I do have lots of ideas! However, many of them very quickly evaporate under closer scrutiny, normally because of a dawning realisation that in actuality, no one would really be that interested!

The ideas that get passed this initial stage are then often "brought down to earth with a bump" when investigation uncovers that someone else has already done the same thing! But here's the rub and the question that under such circumstances we should all perhaps be asking ourselves. "Just because it already exists somewhere else and in another form, does it follow that there still isn't a need and that you might not be able to do it better?" When I find myself in the "Oh hell someone else has already done it" situation, my colleague Tom often responds with "Just because a town already has a coffee shop, doesn't mean there isn't room for another one". And of course he is right.

I now refuse to be put off because my idea is not completely new. I can still make it different, because I will have my own unique ideas about how it can be done, Clearly you need to 'pick you opportunities' - but you may be surprised by how many businesses there still are out there waiting to be created. Still not convinced? A friend of mine (along with his sons) set up an online store selling iPhone and iPod accessories only a couple of years ago. I couldn't see it working, surely the market was already saturated? I heard yesterday that they are taking up to 1,000 orders per day! And Good Luck to them.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Five fundamentals for devising your own profit making Internet Application

In the same way that everyone supposedly has a book in them or is likely to achieve 15 minutes of fame, does everyone have a web application, or at least a good idea for a web site or online service in them? My definitive answer to that questions is "probably".

I have devised a range of Internet Applications, some of which are already up and running and a lot more which I hope to launch over the coming months and years. As part of the process I have tried to distil the absolute key elements that underpin someone's ability to devise their own Internet Application.

1) Be passionate about what the applications does! If you don't love what the site is about, how can you possibly expect other people to appreciate it.

2) Really understand the environment in which the application functions. Just because you have an interesting angle for a site about quantum physics (for example), if you are not immersed in the subject matter yourself, you are unlikely to be able to really deliver for those people who live and breath quantum physics.

3) Clearly define how the application is going to make money and then forget about it - at least in the short term. I have seen a significant number of businesses fail because the focus was on making money, rather than delivering value to the customer. Concentrate on providing an outstanding experience for your users - the commercials will then start to fall into place.

4) Keep it as simple as possible. There are so many applications out there, if your target audience can't start using the site immediately (and getting immediate benefit) they will move on to something else.

5) Find a way that the application makes the users feel good about themselves, possibly through acknowledgement, reward or achievement. You need your application to be talked about (viral) and users will do that mostly when it reflects well on themselves.

Friday, 14 January 2011

If you don't start somewhere, it will never happen

This blog is a significant part of a wider online presence I am looking to build over the coming months and years. Other elements of this initiative include the likes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Formspring. For those of you who don't know, Formspring is a site that enables anyone to ask you a question.

The second question I received on Formspring really went to the heart of what I am trying to do. Put simply the question was "Why bother?"* A very good and perfectly reasonable question. I thought my response might be worth sharing;

"Basically I am not for one moment suggesting 'build it and they will come'. I know that simply is not true. There has to be some level of promotional activity. Probably quite substantial and sustained, starting virally through friends and family and then marketing to a wider audience. Again I recognise than any such activity has to be underpinned by quality content that delivers real value.

"However, all that said, I also believe that 'If you don't start somewhere, it will never happen'. At this stage it is equally important for me to get a feel of what having an online presence is like and what it takes to maintain. Perhaps until I start to get it right and deliver that 'value', it may be better not to have too many followers?

"One thing for sure is that I am not going to lose any sleep about whether anyone is listening to me, at least not in the short term".


* The actual question was "What is the point of putting such effort into creating an online presence if you don't have any followers?"

Monday, 10 January 2011

How did we get here?

Looking back is something I want to start avoiding as quickly as possible. However, in order to give future blogs more relevance it is probably important to offer some insight into the past.

My background, and that of my business partner Tom Cook, is Sales. We first met in 1994 when I recruited Tom into a business development role in the Document Image Processing market. A year later we set up Internet Intelligence Ltd which we hoped was going to becoming a leading force in Web development and design. For a range of reasons this did not happen and I went to work for a US based organisation selling Sales Force Effectiveness software in 1996. Tom continued with Internet Intelligence for over 10 years, providing a range of Internet services to a significant number of clients, without ever really achieving the necessary critical mass.

In 2003, Tom and I joined forces once again to form Loyaltynet Ltd (which eventually took over the Internet Intelligence business). A third member of the team was Simon Bazley, who as our Development Director did an exceptional job for the best part of six years. Loyaltynet initially focused on Web based sales incentive programmes, particularly helping our clients to achieve increased sales through their partner organisations. These customers included the likes of Virgin Atlantic, Fujitsu Siemens and Cables & Wireless.

During the late 1990s / early 2000s, I had ran my own Sales Effectiveness Consultancy called Streatley Consulting. These services were based on my experience gained in high value software sales in such areas as Workflow, Customer Relationship Management and Cash Payment Systems. In order to broaden the Loyaltynet offering, we added these 'Sales Effectiveness' services to the Loyaltynet portfolio, gaining clients including Sabre Travel Network, Intergraph and Bombardier.

As previously discussed, my great desire was always to return to creating and developing Internet businesses. To this end, Loyaltynet was reorganised in 2010, so that we had two core areas of focus - Sales Effectiveness Services and Internet Business Development. So I guess that's where the story begins.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Looking back (quickly).

During the mid 1990s I invited a number of friends to a 'Domain Name Buying' party. We each came up with a list of desirable domain names and agreed that if they were available, anyone who liked a name could buy a share. The process went on for over four hours and included a significant quantity of alcohol. There is no doubt that in part the process took so long because we were connected to the Internet via a conventional telephone line (many years before broadband), but the real time consuming element was simply that all the names we came up with were already taken. We thought it would be easy - but it wasn't!

That idea that it would be 'easy' was, at least in part, the reason that I never got any of my early Internet ideas "across the line". Why I thought that the basics of '10% Inspiration and 90% Perspiration' did not apply in the same way to Internet ventures, as it does any other type of work, I don't know. Other than perhaps that I saw what seemed to be 1,000s of people becoming overnight .com millionaires and I (mistakenly) assumed it had just fallen into their laps. So when I realised it was going to be tough I went back to my original career in sales. With a young family and large mortgage it was not an unreasonable decision. However, I never forgot the 'buzz' I felt when I was devising different Internet applications and businesses.

In 2010 I started again - this time a little wiser, a lot older and determined not to give up as easily second time around.