31 March 2009

Think Inside Someone Else's Box


Think inside the box first

How many times have you been asked to think "outside the box" at work or on a training course?  Countless times, no doubt. It is a cliché now although it remains a good practice for problem solving. But when you are finding new clients the one thing you need to do is to find out about your prospects or customers and their challenges or opportunities. You have to get to know them, to 'think inside their box', so that you get to know what it feels like from their position.

An example of this from my military experience was learning about an Army officer serving in Northern Ireland who had become the most successful platoon commander to that point in finding caches of terrorist weapons. He and his platoon became experts in finding where the IRA hid their weapons. The officer thought like the enemy and began to understand their methods and soon cracked their modus operandi and forced them to rethink how they hid their weapons.

And today, in a regular business breakfast networking I attend, I heard one business who was thinking inside their customer's boxes. His business supplied telecom services to small businesses which is a fiercely competitive market. Many of his competitors had far greater resources to market themselves, with slick sales teams and slick marketing. But his competitors failed to live up to their promises of what they would provide and constantly called their customers and prospects to sell them more products even though they had failed them.

He understood this and some of his competitor's customers were at the networking meeting and told us how they had been treated. His business revolved around being straight and honest with his customers. He simplified and lowered their telecoms bills and regularly checked whether their solution was working. He found new customers by networking, relating to his customers and by doing what he said he would do.

And this is where larger business are going to face major problems from now on. Because marketing is no longer about slick brochures and coiffured salesmen. It's about being useful to your customers and prospects and providing them with an experience that will make them believe you and come back for more. Giving away some of your expertise for free through your blog, web site, through Twitter or at a networking event are just a few simple ways to win against fierce competitors with deeper pockets but less ability to understand the customers.

So, before you start thinking outside the box, do some thinking inside the box. It will give you a competitive edge without costing you an arm and a leg.

30 March 2009

You Can Learn a Lot from Terrorists


Setting patterns is dangerous



Within twelve hours of being on Londonderry, I was in one of the British Military bases in the city with my platoon. It was early 1991 and I had flown out to take over from a fellow officer who was needed for preparations the Army was making to commence the first Gulf War. I had been through training for an earlier tour to South Armagh but this tour was on the streets and not in the fields.

We sprinted through the gates of the base onto the streets and within a minute a bomb went off some 500 metres away. Our drills kicked in and we made our way towards the area to cordon it off. It turned out that it was a small bomb but we still had to do the drills and provide a safety zone to keep people out so the bomb disposal team could come in and make the location safe and clear any other potential bombs.

The next stage is the part of the ninety-nine percent of boredom that all troops experienced in Northern Ireland when you are out on the streets for twelve hours or more while the bomb disposal team do their jobs. Trying to keep alert is tough, so you move your teams around in the area to keep them sharp. You make sure that they are supplied with hot food and tea to keep them happy. And all the time you are there, you are not somewhere else. And that's what the terrorists know.

The next thing we saw, some eight hours after the bomb, were the phosphorescent tracers of rounds streaming through the air towards one of the watchtowers in another base in the city. The IRA were using an M60 machine gun and they had been very clever. They sucked us into setting up a cordon around the bomb while they set up their real target.

And that's why they say respect your enemy because they are not stupid. This is why you are trained not to set patterns in the Army so that you minimise the chance of walking into their traps. And this is a lesson for anyone in business too.

Last week I was with two people who run their own business making weights for balloons. Their manufacturing business is an industry where there is little marketing carried out by their competitors. Most web sites are dull and most of their business is carried out through orders sent by fax and there are no distinct brands.

But the business owners I met want to grow their business and they wanted to start doing it by developing their brand and using the Internet to reach new customers and sell more to their existing customers. Their competitors are setting patterns and doing business in the way that they have always done business. My clients have recognised that they need to use their competitors complacency to their advantage and out-market them.

So, respect your enemy or your competitors. Get to know the patterns they are setting and disrupt them. And be prepared to set off on a path of continuous change and innovation to stay ahead and keep them on their toes.

18 March 2009

New Marketing - Mob Rule


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.

16 March 2009

Being Creative Takes Practice


Being creative takes practice

"WE'RE GOING LEFT FLANKING!!" The enemy had opened up on my lead section and I had rushed up next the section commander to see what was going on. We were on a rise looking down into a wooded area where the enemy had opened up on my platoon. The lead section was returing fire rapidly to keep their heads down. The adrenaline was coursing through my body as I rapidly thought about how we were going to take out enemy.There was a lot of noise and smoke, people shouting at me for orders.

The 'book' says leave leave one section of your platoon and take the other two sections to flank the enemy. But I decided that I had the advantage over them in a big way, both physically and mentally. I was going to smash them. To the enemy's rear and to our right I could see they had left their transport exposed. It was likely that they were going to withdraw to it and try to escape when I launched the main attack. But I was not going to let that happen.

"JONES! TAKE YOUR FIRE TEAM TO THE RIGHT. GET UP CLOSE TO THEIR WAGON USING THAT DITCH! WHEN I GIVE YOU THE SIGNAL, I WANT YOU TO DESTROY THEIR TRANSPORT WITH GRENADES. AND IF THEY TRY TO WITHDRAW YOU WILL ACT AS CUT OFF AND TAKE THEM OUT. WE'LL START THE MAIN ATTACK FROM YOUR LEFT SO KEEP YOUR HEADS DOWN WHEN YOU HAVE DESTROYED THEIR WAGON!"

And that was it. That was the first time that someone told me that they thought I was in any way creative after that action. I felt nervous because I had not carried out the platoon attack 'by the book.' Fortunately, this was not a real enemy and we were just using blank ammunition. I was twenty-two and I was in Wales on an exercise during the British Army's 'Platoon Commander's Battle Course.' My instructor wrote in his report that he thought that I had "tactical flair." My commanding officer was impressed.

But I hear the phrase "I'm not very creative" all the time from friends and colleagues, and it is an unfortunate belief which inhibits people from doing fabulous work. I admit that I used to say that about myself. The word 'creative' is often misinterpreted. I used to think it meant that I had to be a designer or an architect. But, of course, it does not mean that at all.

Being creative is something which has many levels of meaning. There are artists and musicians, designers, fashion designers and chefs who are creative, as well as sportsmen and women. But that does not mean that creativity is an exclusive club to them. It just means that they have practiced harder than most people and that they have found something they love doing and they become obsessive about it.

These days, I am often told that I have a lot of ideas, energy and enthusiasm for what I do. But there is no secret behind being creative. For me being creative begins with listening to a lot of radio, watching good TV programs on a variety of subjects, reading newspapers and blogs, learning about new trends and working out how they work, as well as trying out ideas, many of which have failed, and talking with lots of people to understand what they do.

Most people are not prepared to put in the time that it needs to do this kind of study and practice. Take blogging, for instance. Many people say they don't have anything interesting to say. That's simply not true. Most people have lots of interesting things to say and ideas to share. But they simply don't practice by trying.

Of course, you can feel a little exposed to criticsm when you first start writing a blog or articles. But, the more you write, the more you understand how to improve your articles and entries by listening to people's feedback and comments. "Where do you get your ideas?" I get them from everywhere.

For instance, I was standing at a pelican crossing in my local town at the weekend when I saw a sign outside one of the dwindling number of estate agencies which said "We have twelve computer linked offices in the county!" OK, I thought, that's a feature of your business. Who cares if your offices are computer linked. What does that mean? I felt an article about how local businesses could improve their marketing coming along!

So don't think that creativity is not for you. It is not an exclusive club. You are creative. If you don't think you are, then you have not practised enough.

13 March 2009

Advertising in the Recession


Corporate Hospitality is Accountable

I heard an interesting piece on a BBC Radio show this lunchtime where the presenter had two guests from the corporate hospitality business speaking about their industry in these tough times. I shared the presenter's reaction to the state that their businesses might be in because of the obligatory cuts that business and organisations are making to their marketing budgets which include corporate hospitality.

 Of course, I listened and could not help but think that they were going to be facing dire straits because corporate hospitality is just a 'big jolly' with no real benefits apart to the company apart from getting a better seat at Wimbledon or the Olympics if you are a client and a day off work if you are the hosting business. And the expense of inviting a client to an event, whether sporting or arts, is very costly. The speakers were talking about some of the top-end events costing several thousand pounds per seat.

But the guests talked about the fact that their clients were still bringing their customers to the same events, but instead of having champagne all night at the Royal Albert Hall, their clients had just offered wine and beer all night. Still, I thought, nobody is really  persuaded by these events to make them buy products or services, are they? The guests, obviously, said that this was not the case and that their clients still valued the benefits of corporate hospitality.

The one of the guests said something which I found remarkable becuase I had just not thought about it and I had let my own dogma get in the way of clear thinking. The guest said, "Well, of course, you can account for every penny you spend on a client at a corporate hospitality event which you cannot do with other advertising. You can track its effectiveness on whether they buy your product or service." 

What was I thinking? He is absolutely right about the accountability that a marketing manager benefits from bringing a client to an event. He was not entirely up to speed about digital marketing. Through the web, you can track people's behaviour, interests and habits which many forms of advertising fail to do. And now that we are in a recession, accountability in marketing and advertising is vital.

So, while marketing budgets are being slashed by the management, marketers will be able to fight well if they understnad which aspects of their planned marketing investments can be easily measured for their effectivness and return on invesment.

Before lunch today, I thought it was only digital advertising and marketing that could offer that level of detail. Now I am a little wiser.

Does anyone have tickets to Wimbledon?

11 March 2009

qrcode for digi-business.co.uk



Working in and around the technology, publishing and retail world for over 11 years has shown me that most principals that are applied within the individual sectors to grow their business remain the same, but then something always happens that changes the way they work dramatically, forever. This used to happen infrequently in each sector. But now the frequency is increasing. 

For instance, technology was quite happily bumbling along with its massive mainframe computers and along came desktop computing to change the way we thought about computers. Booksellers were happily selling books in their shops and along came Amazon selling books through the web to spoil the chain stores' party.

But publishing has not really had a major change for years (apart from the Net Book Agreement when price fixing was dropped in 1997). Publishers find, produce and market books. Books might have CD's attached to them or they might have a companion web site with extra benefits when the book was purchased.

eBooks have been around for ages but they have not been widely popular because they were not very easy to use. But now there is a rush to convert books into eBooks because sales of them have become noticeable  in the accounts. Many booksellers have now started selling direct to their customers rather than through booksellers and online retailers which is quite a change. 

But most publishers have their marketing budgets tied up with the retailers buying the 'end caps' of the shelves, placing branded point of sale items onto the floors, or buying space in the windows to promote and sell their titles. A publisher will pay many thousands of pounds on the prime retail space in stores or on an online retailers site for a branded store, for instance. 

And publishers are spending a lot of money and time on converting their books into eBooks in a rush to get them into the eBook stores of the retailers and onto the mobile phones, laptops or eReaders of their customers. For this, the publishers will, no doubt, have to pay for the virtual store space to get their eBooks noticed in the vast eBook libraries of the retailers. Amazon has some 250,000 eBooks already in its store which feels like a lot before the publishers have even got going on converting books into electronic versions. 

Now is the time for publishers to get techie and understand that their moment is here to understand digital technology which can help them identify their niche customers, in ways which an high street retailer can only dream about, to sell not only eBooks but printed books to them. But don't just advertise your books. Provide your customers with tools and applications which they will find useful to find, read, discuss and question your books.

But don't just make your books elecronic versions of printed books with no functions or features. And don't think that eBooks are all going to be read on mobiles or eReaders. Remember that nearly 70% of the population that is online in the UK accesses the internet through a laptop or PC at home or work. Provide them with a desktop tool which you can have built for a fraction of the cost of buying an 'end cap' in a store and which will help you connect with your customers not just for a couple of weeks, but for months. 

So, publishers, get techie and be imaginative to thrive because now is the moment when your industry is changing forever. If you don't have the skills, don't worry. But do get to know what the technology can do and think of doing things which would have been unthinkable five years ago. And hire some outside help to get it done.

10 March 2009

Being Sociable Loses Meaning Online


Relationships are made face to face

Is it just me? Social networking is all the rage but it is so shallow. Don't get me wrong. It's terrific for finding information and making connections with interesting people. But most relationships are transitory within these tools. I expect I have made more connections and had more chats people through Twitter since 1st January this year than my ancestors had in their lives.

I just get to the point when my head is frying with the amount of information (or tweets) that I have to sift through that I want to reach for the brilliantly titled book 'Taming the Information Tsunami' by Bill Bruck to cool it down. And I have learnt that I am not being rude when I 'unfollow' people so that I can get my life back under control and keep the guilt in check for not reading all those damn tweets.

I have noticed that whenever I join up to a social networking tool or site such as the business networking site, ecademy.com, I get a small wave of people sending a message saying something like "Hi, I'm Greg. Let me know how I can help you". What? Are you mad or just socially inept? I have seen this today on Twitter too. "Let me know what I can do to make your day!" You can get real for a start!

I'm afraid that's a big turn off for me when someone gushes how they want to make my life extra-super-special. It feels like the unwanted attentions of someone who fancied you at school but from whom you could not run away fast enough.

But, I am hooked by the usefulness of all the tools such as FaceBook and Twitter. FaceBook helps me keep up with my past and Twitter helps me keep up with my future. I have been in touch with some terrific old friends and workmates through FaceBook. And with Twitter, I have managed to learn vital lessons in connecting with people with shared interests, and even experience contributing to a radio programme.

For instance, the highly skilled radio presenter (William Wright at BBC Radio Lincolnshire) reminded me, unwittingly, of something very important last night on his show. Technology is poor at helping to make meaningful bonds with other people.

At the end of the section to which I had contributed, William took his headphones off, looked me in the eye and said thank you. He then asked me if I had done any radio work like this before , to which I said that I hadn't. He then suggested that if it was easier for me, we could speak over the phone or through the internet next time rather than come into the studio.

But, the reality is that I got to know about William through Twitter. And I got to know William by sitting in his studio with him. And that is human. Connections can be made now through the internet and relationships are made face to face.

09 March 2009

Support Local Business? Why Should I?

shopping



A village circular dropped through the door this morning saying 'Save Our Shop.' It is not news. The shop has been under pressure for some time to keep going. The owner recently lost his Post Office income when the Royal Mail, in a ludicrous manner, changed the service from one which was based in his shop to one which is an 'outreach service' based in his shop for which he just receives a commission on postal work. He has campaigned tirelessly to keep his Post Office income without success. 

Now, according to the circular from the 'Friends' of the Post Office, his income has halved over the last six months which has affected his ability to stock the shelves of the shop. Once this happens in a shop, it is a difficult spiral of descent to reverse. Customers enter the village shop to buy a 'basic' product but find that it is not there so they go somewhere else to buy it. If this happens on several occasions, then customers don't bother to come back because they assume their village shop does not stock it anymore.

I don't like to kick a man when he's down. Running a business is tough. You can see that he is not a happy man whenever you go into his shop. He looks drawn and tired. But, he does not help himself. When you enter the shop he is usually listening to his MP3 player. The children get short shrift when they buy sweets. It is not a nice atmosphere to be in when you enter the shop. As the circular said, the shop "is the centre of village life." But that's the problem. It is not the centre of village life at all and here lies the problem.

The cliche 'Retail is Detail' is true. If you run a pub or a shop, the landlord or landlady or shopkeeper are equally as important as the products and environment in the shop or pub. If the landlord lacks 'people skills' then people don't feel welcome. They can put up with the products being slightly more expensive or not quite the right brand if they enjoy the overall experience of going into the pub.

Several years ago in Oxfordshire, our village shop was going through exactly the same descent into closure as the village shop here. The shopkeeper tried to bring more business by offering a pizza service to the village but he shut his shop at 5-30 which was no good for people who wanted a pizza for supper who were just getting back from work. He complained every time you went in there about how bad business was so you felt as though your small purchase of bread, milk and a newspaper was unappreciated. 

However, a mile down the road was a village shop which was more expensive than our village shop and the supermarkets but the owner was so jolly and always asked how your family was that you did not mind paying a bit more for the goods.

But the worst thing about the desperate pleas for business in the parish newsletter and the circular are that people will only respond to them for a short time and only if they see a change for the better in the place. In the long run, the shop needs to market itself more effectively than just appealing for charity. If it is the 'centre of village' then it has to feel like a place in which you would like to spend a little time. The shop needs to use the parish newsletter to send out positive news such as special offers to attract customers to the shop and not as a 'begging bowl.' But above all, the owner needs to make you feel good about visiting the establishment. 

Nobody is owed a living. People will buy from people they want to buy from. And these days, shoppers are very sophisticated and they have choice. For a business which faces massive competition from national stores, whether it is a shop or a pub, then their main selling point is the people that own and run them. And if customers don't feel as though they are getting a good service from their local businesses then they will just buy the cheaper option from a faceless national business.

08 March 2009

Small Business Realities & the Credit Crunch


credit-crunch

Running your own business is a tough thing to do. Nevertheless, you can control most aspects of the business, although you may never seem to have enough time to do them thoroughly. 

You can control how much your product service or costs to make and market. You can control your cash-flow. You can control how much you pay yourself. But the credit crunch has highlighted aspects of a business which cannot be controlled.

Someone I know well runs a retail lighting business in London and has done so successfully for many years. His family business has a warehouse in the midlands of the UK from where they run their international and mail order business. They have franchises in some stores in the USA too. Business is going well.

He had been considering investing in more property in London for some months before the credit crunch but he could not find anything suitable so he put off the purchase and kept the cash liquid until he found something suitable. However, this January the business had a disastrous run of sales and he had to dip into the cash he would have used to buy the property to maintain their cash-flow. The business also had to let some staff go to make efficiencies.

Had the business not had this cash, he would have had to go to the bank to borrow the money in the form of an extended overdraft perhaps. Things as they are now mean that, in fact, the bank would not have lent them the money despite the fact that the business has a healthy track record and that the business has good order books into the future.

Therefore, the business could have folded within a month had he not had the cash reserves to carry them over into a healthy month of sales in February. That is how the credit crunch is affecting small businesses up and down the country and across much of the world.

No wonder the Government is trying everything it can to encourage the banks to lend money including plans such as owning them, providing guarantee schemes and using "quantitative easing" to get cash where it is needed. No wonder too that there is such a backlash against the rewards for failure which many bankers are receiving.

Good businesses are folding due to circumstances experienced by my friend and his business because they have one bad month. There are no bale-outs for them.

Free accounting softwareKeeping track of your cash flow is made much easier these days by simple accounting products like 'Kashflow', an online service which I have used and recommend for any UK small business to use.

06 March 2009

Does Twitter Drive Sales?

       

 




Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...



 

Cutting through the hype and understanding the realities of trends or statistics is an action which happens instinctively. After setting up several of my own businesses, which were not always successful, I have learnt to scrutinise information more thoroughly through experience. It saves money and time in the long run.

Twitter is one such trend which I have been signed up to since its early days, although I confess I was unsure of how to use it, attract followers and find interesting people to follow.

I also saw that in December 2008 that Dell uses Twitter to advertise special offers for their products, which they now offer exclusively to their Twitter followers. They claim to have gained $1m in sales through this channel. This is good business although it might be easier if you already have a name and brand like Dell to gain followers. 

After a six week business trip to India in the autumn of 2008, where I spent much of my spare time keeping up with my family, friends and workmates through Blogger, Skype, Facebook and SMS, I decided to use my Twitter account in earnest to see if it was any good for business.

Like most new 'tweeters', I expect, I had to find my way around the 'system' and to work out a way to measure its effect. I decided my goal was to promote my blog.

The starting point was from having one or two visitors a week to my blog in November 2008. I now have between forty and sixty visitors to my blog per day at the time of writing.

Currently, I have 595 followers on Twitter to my alias (http://twitter.com/whawkins). I follow about 800 people, although I do cut down the number of people I follow each week. So, it would seem that about 10% of my followers visit my blog from my Twitter 'tweets.'

I then set up a Twitter alias for our business (http://twitter.com/mmt_digital) to see if I could attract visitors to our web site. In the first week, this increased web site visitors by 14.6% according to our Google Analytics account. Two of us sent out about four tweets per day on subjects relevant to our business.

Attracting followers is achieved by following others who are interested in the same things as you. They generally follow you back. This can be automated to save time. There are various tools to help you with this such as 'TwitterPerch'.

Being a bit fanatical about the 'numbers', we also used 'Hootsuite' to measure the amount of clicks on our tweets and to test out which subjects were more popular.

Have we gained any new business yet either from the business site or my blog? No, not yet. But this experiment has shown that it is a good way to get interest in your site or blog. I have been invited to talk about technology by a local BBC Radio station which originated from a Twitter conversation with the show host.

Has it cost anything yet?  No, apart from an hour a day for the last two weeks.

Will we carry on 'Twittering'? Of course. It is a good publicity tool and a good way to find information out which you are unlikely to have found through Google unless you knew what you were looking for. The more we work on writing interesting tweets, the more traffic we will gain, which is likely to raise our Google rankings when people are looking for digital communications agencies or bloggers like me.


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05 March 2009

The Business Case for Mobile Learning and Books?

Camel Mobile Phone Desert Africa   

Image by forcevive via Flickr



 

‘Mobile mania’ is abundant. Everyone is excited about it in the publishing world. Books on mobile phones, learning on mobiles (aka ‘m-learning’), broadband on mobiles. You name it, everyone wants everything on their mobile and wants their mobile to do everything, according to the mobile handset manufacturers and network providers.

Of course, network operators want to grow their revenues from data charges because their revenue from voice is being eaten away by competition and regulations. Cynical? Me?

Some interesting meetings recently with publishers have also revealed much the same excitement from them about mobile learning and books on mobiles. I have previously written about eBooks on mobiles and my views on that are clear. Learning through a mobile phone is another topic of interest to debate.

The number of people who own a mobile in Africa and Asia is generally greater than the number who own a laptop or PC. That’s not a surprise and mobile networks are enabling commerce in developing countries in ways which have not been possible before their arrival. For example, a fisherman off the west coast of Africa can call several ports to check where there is a lack of fish so that he can get the best price for his catch.

In India, where I spent six weeks with 3 Mobile in October 2008, 3G networks will soon arrive enabling greater potential for commerce and information transfer to more people. In the ‘West’, eBooks is the fastest growing category on the iTunes App Store. Publishers are getting excited, understandably. 

I believe that these numbers hide some truths, however. In the training business where I have spent the last 12 years of my career selling and marketing elearning, books, classroom training and distance learning, one of the most tricky items to sell and to show value for the benefit is elearning. Publishers sew seeds by giving away some elearning courses for free to gain interest, usage and to help install any plug-ins needed to run the elearning on PC's and laptops. The publishers then get excited about how many people have downloaded the free elearning and cite it as evidence that people want to the stuff.

Of course, the question they rarely answer is how many people who downloaded the free course actually completed it? There was never an answer.  So, the implication is that people get the free course, look at it for a bit and then lose enthusiasm for completing the course. People are buying eBooks for their iPhones, for sure. They seem to be willing to pay more than for games and they are very keen to pay less than US$1 for them. But, what type of books are they buying in which subjects? 

Also, there is the challenge of infrastructure to support mobile learning. As web developers, we test sites we build for customers on several different operating systems and browsers. In the mobile world, there are something in the region of half a million combinations of operating systems and mobile web browsers. There are specialist content management systems (CMS) which are designed to handle this challenge, but you then have to start running two CMS's to reach your mobile and PC customers.

Furthermore, what are the data charges that customers in Africa who want learning materials are willing to pay? Also, many customers in Africa and Asia are likely to be on pre-pay plans which means their connection with the network is likely to be intermittent. 

I think publishers need to slow down before they start committing to mobile learning and concentrate their resources carefully on providing more robust learning options for their customers such as rich Internet applications first. Mobile learning will become more achievable as a business proposition, but I believe it is just a nice way to deliver small bites of learning, news and information to encourage customers to take advantage of resources which are near to them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

03 March 2009

The Future of Books

 

Hands on Nokia N96

There is something really interesting happening in the publishing world. There appears to be a groundswell of interest and action in bringing 'digital' to books.

Most of the talk is about getting books onto mobile devices as e-books and there are more companies setting up to resell e-books through the mobile web.

Take 'GoSpoken', for instance. I downloaded a free title from the site to try. It's pretty easy. I downloaded it onto my Nokia N96, which has the BBC iPlayer and can use either my wireless broadband or my 3G connection. The e-book is quite easy to read and I will probably read it all the way through at some stage. But it's still just a book on a phone. A bit dull, really.

I believe that the rush to get books onto mobile devices is a step too soon right now. The number of adults who have accessed the web from their mobile phone or PDA now in the UK is small.

According to 'emarketer.com' only 8% have accessed the web using a 3G mobile or PDA. It may sound a lot, but how many have downloaded an e-book and read it on their phone? Not many, I suspect.

I believe there is a stage to go through first before we see widespread use of mobile devices for reading books. Here's why.

I read military history books a lot. I like the books for many reasons so I won't wax lyrical about the smell and the feel of them. It's more to do with the fact that I want more details. I want to see a Google Map, for instance, showing phases of a battle and locators showing where individuals took buildings with their bare hands and a bayonet. I want to read more about the people in the books and what happened to them afterwards.

So, give me a web site to visit or a desktop application to download more details. While I'm there I am quite happy for the publisher to make some recommendations of other things I might like to read. Give me a coupon to redeem in a shop or online, if you like.

For children's books, I think the Harry Potter films had it about right. They had books which came alive with moving images embedded in the pages. That was a great idea.

Publisher have got to make e-books interesting. Not just available. Start by making printed books more detailed and compelling before rushing in to making them available just making an electronic version. Use your customers imaginations and ask them what they want. Provide them with the richness available through the Internet.

And make e-books a better experience by getting your customers used to reading them by taking them through an evolutionary experience rather than getting rushed into hyped-up mobile frenzy.

 

02 March 2009

BBC iPlayer

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 You have to admit, it's an exciting time right now. When the numbers that the business reporters talk about that have been lost in our banks (and I mean our banks) have so many zeros on the end of them that you don't know whether you are in Zimbabwe, in Sir Fred Goodwin's pension committee, or AIG's "How can we make this seem less than the world's biggest ever corporate loss Committee", then you know you are in trouble.

Funnily enough, I read an article yesterday saying that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway fund had fallen by 9.6% in the last year. That does not seem too bad at all in these times!

But what it highlights is one thing which we all need all of them time when in sales and marketing, and that is information. I learnt from an early age in business that if you don't 'know your numbers' about your sales pipeline, your forecast, your actual sales, or the effectiveness of a marketing campaign, then you are not doing your job correctly.

With information comes insight. With insight comes the ability to make judgements and plans. Without information, you are guessing at best, and speculating at worst.

Any digital marketer worth their salt will know about Google Analytics. It is a free tool which allows you to gather information about your who is using your web site, where they have come from and gone to after visiting your site.

With the increasing movement for creating desktop applications which connect with databases on the web, there comes new opportunities for understanding your customers and the effectiveness of your marketing. eBay Desktop and the BBC iPlayer are examples of these types of 'Rich Internet Applications (RIA's)' which are making web based tools available on your desktop.

Today, I saw that developers can now build these RIA's and incorporate Google Analytics tracking code into them so that  marketers can track not only what customers are doing on their web sites but also in their desktop applications. They build them using tools like Adobe AIR and Flex.

Marketers are able to be accountable for their campaigns to depths not possible five years ago. A marketer will be able to see what type of PC you are using, where you are using it, what you are reading, what interests and what encourages you to buy in detail from wherever you access their site.

You might think that you have stepped off the bus into '1984' with this type of talk.  Or you can think of this as a good thing because it will save you time in future because you will find what you are looking for more quickly.

Whatever your thoughts, if you are marketer, you can be more confident that you know exactly how well your products are faring in detail, unlike our investment bankers who seemed to have lost track of business basics in the last few years.

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How to Hire Great Salespeople

 

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Hiring good people is one of the toughest challenges for most organisations. Hiring effective sales people is particularly difficult.

Working in many organisations both large and small in sales, business development and marketing, you see good and bad salespeople.

I have been in sales and marketing since 1992 but I only understood how to hire successful salespeople after many years of being in sales and trying to get sales jobs myself.

Most people have the impression of sales people being wide-boys or the people in flashy cars who seem to swan around having a nice time and getting paid too much. 

But good salespeople come in all shapes and sizes and you need different types of salespeople for different types of products, sectors and regions. So, you need to look for certain common traits to know whether they are going to be any good or not.

Here are my recommendations for hiring great salespeople:

1. Motivation - Finding out whether a candidate for your sales role either wants the money or needs the money is the cornerstone of your hiring process. If they want the money they can earn from the role then put that down as 4 out of 10 mark for them. If they need the money then give them 10 out of 10. Without the need for the money, they won't be hungry enough.  How do you find out if they need the money? Ask them about their circumstances. If they live at home with their parents, then get worried. If they have responsibilities, then get interested.

2. Belief - How much do they know about what you do, what you sell, your customers, your market? It does not matter that they may be new to sales, straight out of college or working in a different industry. They need to demonstrate sincere belief in what you sell, make or market is the best and that it helps customers. For example, if you are asking them to sell insurance then they need to believe that insurance is a must-have product. Do they have insurance and why?

3. Determination - It's a tough job getting rejected all day trying to find new customers. Not for the faint-hearted. So, you need to see what they are made of. Ask them about adversity in their lives and how they overcame it. You need to see that people will get up and fight to win the business. Ask them for several situations in their lives which demonstrate grit and ask them for details.

These are the foundation for being successful in sales. Of course, being well presented and a good listener are important. But, there are plenty of good communicators out there and not many great salespeople. Be wary of cockiness and a propensity to be quick with excuses. Great salespeople take responsibility for their mistakes and they learn quickly to be better.

Be open to different types of people who want to get into sales because it takes all types to be a great salesperson.

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