Customer Service / Online Marketing – One Rock at a Time

How to move mountains – eCommerce & eMarketing strategy for success!

Made famous by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I decided to take some poetic license and change it to “My, clients come and go so fast around here”, because it’s been kind of crazy over the last few weeks as I’m in job search mode and filling in with some consulting gigs – 4 in the past month.

What does this say to me?

1) The economy is good enough (not great) so that people feel they have a) the need to market b) the means to market c) the desire to start a new company
2) People want to grow their business
3) The economy is bad enough so that people feel they have a) to market b) to survive c) change their company

Notice how 1) & 3) are somewhat contrary? The bane of my existence!

The optimist in me is telling me that #1 is winning over, and my experience backs that up. Most people incorrectly don’t market their businesses when they’re not doing well, they tend to prioritize their resources into a survival mode as opposed to an intelligent survival strategy.

So how does this tie in to the Wizard of Oz? As well as Dorothy’s observation as witches and munchkins appear and disappear around her, the Wizard of Oz is a terrific study on business strategy. (“Businesses come and go so fast around here!”)

(i) The scarecrow strategy – If I only had a brain – trying to plan survival or growth requires a defined plan. Only a scarecrow would proceed without something in writing to guide and measure against. Or lose their head trying ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a plan.
(ii) The lion strategy – Bluffing one’s way to success rarely works, neither does pretending you have strengths, playing to those assumed strengths, and then failing because those strengths either don’t exist, or aren’t a differentiator – a lion is a lion is a lion or in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king! Have a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
(iii) The tin man strategy – Being ‘half-assed’, not having your heart in it. Without putting 100% into your business, you can’t expect to succeed. (Prove me wrong). 100% means sacrificing a little in the short term, for long-term results. I can’t tell you how many business owners I talk to who “umm” and “arr” over a marketing investment because in the short term it might hurt to commit those funds. You have to believe in your business and yourself. Be passionate.

Hopefully we all find our way home (riches and job satisfaction!) but we also have to walk a lot (follow the yellow brick road), fight a few enemies (flying monkeys!), and commit ourselves to a plan (the Wizard will help). Along the way, just as our quartet of storybook characters did, we may even find our strategic plan, strengths, passion and ultimately realize that “there’s no place like home”.

Enjoy the journey.

I was at a birthday party today (yes, Im on that circuit), and another dad and I were chatting about sailing (one of my passions) and boats. He was a ‘stink pot’ afficianado, and I prefer the thrill of the wind in my hair and the wind in the sails.

So after some friendly ribbing on the merits of wind vs power he asks me if I have a boat.
“Nope” says I. “Well if you were to buy one,” he asked, “what size would you get?”

My answer took him a moment to digest, as if I was talking a foreign language (apart from my Cockney accent). So what was my surprising (at least to him) answer?

“As big as I could afford!”

So what does that have to do with business and marketing? A lot.

Many business decisions are made on perceived impact and cost (think Super Bowl half time ads, or that guy in Marina del Rey with the 60ft yacht, rather than the actual value and Return on Investment.

In marketing and life, no outlay of money should be undertaken without the proper analysis and process. In business more is not always more (and less is not always less, but sometimes less is more!), one needs to consider a longer term strategy, like how are you going to pay for the next ad, Super Bowl or not.

In life, the 60ft yacht looks good, but the old adage that a sailboat is a “big black hole that you throw your money into” holds true… the bigger the boat, the bigger the hole.

In business, the wrong decision on the wrong marketing (in most cases big spread thin, isn’t as good as small and focused) with the big price tag does more than waste money, it could be the slippery slope from which your business never recovers.

So choose the boat you can afford, make sure it has sails ๐Ÿ™‚ and enjoy the fair ocean breezes.

Client of ours wanted to change his website because “It’s been a while”

Funny thing is, the website has great search engine placement, effectively drives customers and has delivered (and continues to deliver) a great return on investment.

Websites need updated content, but they do not need an updated look and feel every year – unless the marketplace demands it.

Refreshing content is a must. Refreshing layout can sometime be confusing for existing clients and a waste of money, unless change is specifically made to deliver better results (call, clicks, sales).

The dynamic nature of websites means it’s pretty easy to change (more-so than print material), but that shouldn’t be taken as a challenge to change for change’s sake. Keep what’s effective, concentrate on content updates with timely and valuable information.

Change isn’t evil, it’s just that wholesale change is not the necessity you may think.

As far as marketing, few companies do more and / or do it better than Apple.
I have an iPod. I have 3 iPods, but who’s counting ๐Ÿ™‚

When Apple launches products, they do it with flair and showmanship, they produce products that people desire not necessarily need.

So when an Apple Store opened nearby, I walked – actually ran – to it and was not disappointed by the wide open space filled with bright iMac, Mac Book and Mac Pro LCDs. Apple does it all right. Hands on. Spacious. Alluring. Simplicity. Focus on the products. Encouraged interactivity.

So where am I saying they’re not doing it best?

People. No amount of presentation or ‘cool factor’ is going to maximize sales without the personal touch. Customer service is key when getting a question answered correctly could mean the difference between a $100 sales and a $1000 sale. “Joe” who helped me, didn’t know what he was talking about. “Joe” didn’t know how the payment system worked (or their new-fangled handheld money grabbers that “Paul” demonstrated to me – “It’s pretty difficult to login”). “Joe” didn’t live up to the experience the environment demanded.

So how can this example help your marketing and ultimately your sales?

Remember that no matter how effective you are at capturing your customers’ attention, if the buying experience doesn’t measure up, you won’t make the sale. Making it easier for people to buy, both online and off, means informing, educating, hand holding and effortlessly guiding the customer, money in hand, to the place when you can process that payment. All the glitz in the world is useless if it doesn’t assist in that process. And people can make the difference, customer service and sales are the grease in the commerce wheel. Don’t let your sales grind to a halt by ignoring the most obvious.

Last year I went to pitch to a company valued in the hundreds of millions of dollar. We were pitching a relatively trivial project and yet I was almost stunned by the size of the rock it appeared needed to be moved to make the decision to move forward on the approval and contracting of the project.

Of course, the rock is a metaphor for corporate inertia and (somewhat) indifference, the protectionist attitude of “if I don’t make a decision, I can’t be blamed for screwing up!”

Time and time again, and in all sizes of companies, the ‘cover your butt’ attitude creates a barrier to solving an important problem. If this was just a matter of choosing the softest toilet paper for the company loo it wouldn’t be an issue, but this kind of indecision in marketing can make or break a company’s efforts in acquiring and maintaining a customer base.

So how does one beat the system?

In the bigger companies I’ve come to a realization that it just isn’t possible without either empowering and actually granting the autonomy of a particular division or department, or a CEO-down re engineering of the core (and often entrenched) corporate culture. Without that kind of ‘break the mould’ mandate folks are just too busy covering their butts to affect change.

With that in mind my premise to overcome any problem ‘one rock at a time’ comes into play. A well-defined, logical, phased and hand-holding approach can gain acceptance and approval from these types of clients, with the vendor taking on more of a consulting role (and sticking their neck out more) in the process.

This isn’t a perfect answer in all circumstances, and greater risk equates to more time = greater cost. A campaign for a ‘driven by committee’ organization should, and will, be estimated higher than a project with a ‘you have full-access to the CEO’ scenario.

Approaching the problem ‘one rock at a time’, moving the smaller stones that then open up the way for the larger rock to roll, works. Whether one can effectively and justifiably charge for the extra effort and time involved is this issue. Before you take the job, make sure you’re covered.

For those looking at this from the other end of the eyeglass, look at your organization and see if your employees are empowered to move at least their own ‘rock’. It make the organization more fluid, more effective and more profitable!

Never listen to Search Engine Optimization companies who promise “Top 10 position on the top search engines”

Client of mine spent > 50k and after 6 months and empty promises does still not have any positioning to speak of.

50k would buy an awful lot of pay per click advertising.

My “Quickie Tip” – don’t listen to smooth talking SEO shysters… instead spend $20 on Search Engine Optimization for Dummies [Amazon], read up and at least know when they’re bullshitting (that’s a technical term) you.

There is no way that I can’t mention perception in any online marketing blog. (There’s a double negative there, for those English majors out there). Bottom line is perception drives consumers. Marketing influences perception. Word of mouth influences perception. Advertising influences perception.

Perception, above anything else, drives people to buy one product or service over another.

Grasshopper at the back is jumping up and down and yelling something about price. He has so much to learn ๐Ÿ™‚

We last year I lost a bid with a big (entertainment) client for an online application, pretty robust and pretty high level. We bid the job around $40k, quite happy in the cost vs profit equation that would have us covered based on the Request for Proposal (which we happened to have written for the client!). A larger, more “experienced in the industry” competitor came along and bid the exact same project (actually they omitted a few items) at over $95k, and guess what… they got awarded the contract.

Was it the fact that their proposal was better than ours? Doubtful. Do they have more experience with web application development than us; actually no. BUT… What they did have was a perception that they have the experience to deliver the product based on their industry (the clients’ space) experience. The perception was certainly based on their portfolio (which wasn’t relevant to this project) and their relationships with client peers BUT in no way should they have won the project based on value and their ability to deliver. (Note the project was delivered, half-baked six months late).

Perception drove the decision, not price and certainly not value.

On the walls in my old office we had a few sage comments.. one of them was “We deliver value and results – results justify the value”. Nowhere do we mention price (we were never the cheapest), nowhere do we mention timelines or meetings, presentations or proposals… it’s all about value and delivering what the client wants, needs and can afford (in that order!)

At the end of the day, perception (or lack of a positive perception or less of a positive perception) lost us this particular project. How can we (how can you) make the clients’ perception at a level where a decision to ‘seal the deal’ is a no brainer? You can’t. Period.

All you can do is try. Perception is so personal (or institutional) that to overcome it’s power is difficult. You can dump a ‘boatload’ of cash on advertising, marketing, presentations and / or literature, you can spend half your budget on a cool website with testimonials from dozens of ‘satisfied customers’, but at the end of the day changing or influencing someone’s perception of your company, product or service is a function of all of the above and the ability to sell yourself as the company, product or service that

  1. your client wants

  2. your client needs

  3. offers a better perception than your competition

Last, and I want to add this last. If you have a ‘good’ perception in your clients or customers eyes, it is yours to lose. So hang on and reinforce that perception with your advertising, marketing, website, presentations and / or literature. Because perception isn’t really about you, it is you.

An owner of well-known franchise approached me late last week, and is seeking some assistance in creating a local and loyal customer-base.

Woo hoo! Another client, you say? Sure, if I want to bang my head against the wall. Working with most franchise operations is a no win proposition for a marketing guy like myself. No matter what you pitch, beyond bland, there’s often a disconnect between what is needed, and what is allowed by the franchiser. These ‘mother ships’ set standards and procedures (and rightly so, you can’t have a Mickey D’s with soggy fries!) that squeeze out and disallow new and different ideas that may help the franchise market themselves differently.

This kind of top-down marketing is like going into The Gap and being offered one-size-fits-all jeans, they may fit some customers, but very unlikely to fit all. So let’s talk jeans for a sec.

How do you set the specs for one-size-fits-all?

Do you break down demographics so that you know what the fat, thin and tweenies spend?

Conversation at The Gap HQ: The Gap merchandizer, “Mmm, I see average household income for the ‘weight-challenged’ is 25% higher than the ‘slim jims’. Lets make the one-size-fits-all jeans on the large size.”

One size fits all marketing is no less (or more) a fallacy than one-size-fits-all jeans. (With the exception that marketing won’t make you look fatter).

Just as everybody has a different body, every company has different appeal based on different customers’ needs.

Franchisers generally have smart marketing guys who set policy company-wide and wonder why certain customers aren’t buying into the message.

Just as you are more apt to sell smaller jeans in California and bigger jeans in the South (yes, I’m generalizing based on my travels – great fries and beignets in New Orleans) marketing is based on demographics; e.g. geographic, economic, schizophrenic – I added the last one, but it’s often true ๐Ÿ™‚

So, getting back to my potential new client, I’m going to review his franchise itself, view his franchise agreement, review the franchiser marketing guidelines and see if there’s enough wiggle room to make some effective change.

And talking about wiggle room, I might go buy a pair of jeans too.

For over 25 years I’ve been involved in project management. I’ve been a bar tender, sailing instructor, camp counselor, advertising sales person, event planner, hitch hiker, store manager, and now online (and offline) marketing / eCommerce consultant. What? I hear some lout at the back asking, “what the heck has any of that got to do with project management?”

Prepare, Grasshopper, to be enlightened.

noun |หˆpräjหŒekt; -ikt หˆmanijmษ™nt : Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of the particular project. A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to achieve a particular aim.

Whoa! So project management fits about everything we do, from serving a drink to executing a $200k marketing plan. < lout takes a seat > “Mmm, so how does this site help Joe Schmo and I to get what we want i.e. ‘achieving a particular aim?’”

Great question! Often in client ‘pitch’ meetings, when I’m after a new project a client will ask, “So why should I pick your company over the competition?”. My answer is pretty basic. “Our passionate application of knowledge, common sense; and expertise will ensure you achieve your business goals”.

Sounds like project management being done the right way! So what is the right way?

The approach in getting to my client’s goals is simple. “One Rock at a Time”!

Issues, problems, road blocks, whatever stops a project being executed well, are normally results of bad planning, bad strategy, and bad time management.

It’s like if someone asked you to move a mountain 10 feet to the left, and you then proceeded to spend 300 million bucks and 3 years planning how to jack the mountain up, roll a helluva big trailor under it and hire a fleet of trucks to pull it. Meanwhile, a thoughful chap has employed 100,000 folks to each grab a rock, walk 10 feet, and drop it!

Big projects don’t necessarily need big ideas, they just need vision, and an intelligent application of the right resources.

And so back to project management. It’s what I do, and it’s what I do well. No matter if it’s a Mai Tai, a round the harbor sailboat race or a Search Engine Marketing campaign with (or working for) a major US company, I’ll get the job done, on budget and on schedule.

How? I’m glad you asked… one rock at a time of course ๐Ÿ™‚