Friday 30 April 2010

Running a marketing campaign

Yesterday I admitted that I’d joined a running club. I’ve kept my baby running steps a secret for a couple of months because I wanted to see just how awful I would be at this whole running lark. Well, it turns out I’m seriously dreadful. For dreadful read slow, overweight and rather stiff. I’m out of practice, out of shape and a bit of an embarrassment out on the track.

But I’ve got a secret weapon. (You knew I would, didn’t you?) I’ve set myself a target. Anyone who lived through the caffeine saga knows I’m not easily put off once I’ve got a target in mind. Before anyone thinks I’d be mad enough to run a marathon, let me quickly dissuade you from that notion. But I am going to have a go at a half marathon next year, which from where I’m sitting looks quite big, hairy and audacious enough.

I think there are parallels with marketing and business - what we aim for affects what we ultimately achieve. It may not necessarily be what we set out to achieve, because there are just so many variables that could get in the way. But the higher we aim, the more we are likely to achieve.

I’ve no idea whether I will succeed in running the Reading half marathon next year or not. I could get injured, I might not be physically up to it, or the running club might actually stop me from entering. Who knows? What I do know is that by setting my goal at 21k, I am already pushing myself much harder than I would if I had, for example, decided to enter a 5k race.

I’ve already run further than I’d ever imagined I could, even though it was slower than most people ever imagined a human being could run. But it’s a good first step. As is the redesign of a web site, or a telemarketing campaign, or attending a networking event in achieving a marketing objective. Step by step, once we know where we are going and why, we can move towards our goals.

Needless to say marketing and business seem a great deal easier compared to running, which is seriously difficult. And, well, just so much effort! But I’ve started, so one way or another I’m going to finish.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Why marketing and running need good data

I joined a running club last night. Don’t laugh. I mean, it is funny because I’m not what you might call a runner. I was so useless that I got pulled off the track half way through the 4-lap exercise. Needless to say, I’m in the “slow group.”

Our coach is a wise and wiry 70+ running veteran called Tom. He ran the London Marathon last weekend and was still a little stiff from the exertion. I would have been in a wheelchair! But he was kind and quietly pointed out that he didn’t start out running marathons: he worked up to it over a period of time and I should expect to do the same.

He took his induction group through the basics: track safety, warming up and stretching afterwards - all carefully explained with good reasons for each task. Despite feeling like I didn’t belong amongst such talented runners, I was made welcome and reminded that perseverance pays.

Marketing is no different. Early attempts look clumsy compared to the professionals, but everyone has to start somewhere and the more we work at it, the easier it gets. In marketing, as in running, strength comes over a period of time and we learn from each mistake. At least it does with marketing, for now I'll have to take Tom's word for the running.

Building a solid business through marketing has another similarity to running – both need good data to keep motivated and moving forward. In marketing it is number of enquiries, new customers and profitability. In running it is distance, pace and time. Take away the data and both disciplines would struggle.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you why I’ve joined a running club, and what I think is most important with both marketing and running. Right now, I'm going to sit down because my feet are a little sore!

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Digital marketing: revolutionary or evolutionary?

DM used to stand for Direct Marketing – the antiquated art of using computers to communicate with large numbers of people. Now DM stands for Digital Marketing – the new way of using computers to communicate with large numbers of people. In the “old days” of course there was no internet, no mobile phones, no Twitter or Facebook. Much has changed, but equally much has stayed the same. When Direct Marketing was popular, mail that wasn’t of interest to the recipient was called “junk mail” - now it's called Spam - but it’s pretty much the same thing.

Despite the rapid changes in technology, people are still people and they still like to receive things that interest them, and they don’t like to receive things that aren’t relevant.

So wandering round Internet World yesterday I was struck by how much of the old world has followed the new world. Direct Marketers have morphed into Digital Marketers, and their message is still as relevant - all that has changed is the way they choose to communicate with their customers.

What made direct marketing so powerful was its ability to get a response from customers and prospects. Unlike advertising which is one-way, direct marketers constantly worked to get feedback from customers (usually in the form of a cheque) as to what they wanted. Digital marketing may be more subtle, but it has the same benefits of getting a response.

Digital marketing is revolutionary, and the possibilities offered by technology are wonderful – both from the point of view of purchasers and sellers. But perhaps the biggest difference is that digital marketing is available to businesses large and small. All you need is a computer and a willingness to learn. And that's what events like Internet World offer - the chance to mix and mingle and learn.

Monday 26 April 2010

It's a Digital World!

Internet World is a major London exhibition for digital marketing. With Facebook now topping over 400m active users and Twitter with 75m users, it’s tempting to wonder what other sort of marketing there is. Certainly no business can afford to ignore online marketing.

Some companies excel at eMarketing. Dell Computers are a great example of a company that is embracing social media and one of the few companies who are successfully selling through Twitter. Although the blogosphere is divided as to how profitable those sales are currently, there is little doubt that getting in early and understanding how social media works is likely to pay dividends in the longer term.

So with an eye to checking out the latest trends, the newest software as well as meeting some customers and competitors, I’ll be at InternetWorld over the next couple of days. As web marketing is changing fast, I’ll be trying to sort the hype from the next big thing. It should be interesting!

Thursday 22 April 2010

Getting high priority tasks done

I know what my highest priority is, what I’m less clear about is why I’m not getting on and doing it. Well, I have some idea, none of them very worthy:
  • It’s difficult
  • I’m not guaranteed success
  • The things I am doing instead are easier
  • The things I am doing instead are more fun
  • I’m tired
It takes mental discipline to always do the most important thing at any moment in time. Some days are easier than others. Today I am tried and have been distracted by several meetings and other work not directly related to my Highest Priority. My attention has slipped, focus has wandered, and I’m writing a blog post instead of Getting On.

Identifying and the one thing that should be getting your full attention is a good start, but it’s not good enough on its own. Others have given helpful advice about exactly this sort of problem:
  • Chopping big tasks into smaller, achievable tasks
  • Time boxing the difficult activity so you get something done
  • Planning it
This is helpful and effective advice and now that I read that list I’m back onto the task in hand. My own personal favourite is to start my stop watch, which is exactly what I have done. So if you will excuse me, I have work to do … And don’t you have a high priority task you should be doing?

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes

There are two advantages to walking a mile in your customer’s shoes. Firstly, you will be a mile down the road before your customer realises you have his shoes. Secondly, you will know a lot more about your customer’s problems, opportunities and difficulties. The second reason is more important, although I don’t really recommend stealing customers’ shoes for either reason.

We spend a great deal of time thinking about our own problems, difficulties and the potential opportunities for our businesses. Then we go out into the world to sell what we have to offer. We just know that the world will beat a path to our door because we’ve spent so long working on it, thinking about it, and getting it right. Meanwhile, our customers have been having their own issues, their own problems and their own worries. When the world doesn’t stampede us in their eagerness to get hold of what we have to offer, we are left bemused.

So turning around and looking at the world from your customer’s viewpoint is tremendously valuable. Our products and services are designed to let someone else to make the best of an opportunity, to solve a problem or to improve their lives in some way. Of course we are in business to make a profit on what we sell, but unless we can really understand why customers need what we sell, we will not build the best possible business - for ourselves or for our customers.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Increase your chances of hitting targets

One of the central building blocks of Performance Management is target setting. The theory is that targets provide a focus and are therefore more motivating than working without a specific aim. But the reality is more complex. Sometimes, rightly or wrongly, we just don’t believe the target is achievable. Then all motivation vanishes.

So simply setting a target isn’t enough – we have to believe the target can be hit.

One way of doing that is to find out what results other people get in similar circumstances. For example, if you are sending out a direct marketing campaign, find out what typical response rates are for your industry. If you are starting an initiative to raise customer satisfaction levels in your company, find out what results your competitors get to such surveys. Sometimes the information is difficult to find, and sometimes it is surprisingly easy.

You can, for example, easily work out the sales turnover per head for other organisations. General knowledge, or information published by the company, might tell you how many salespeople they have. It’s not an exact science, but it gives a rule of thumb when figuring out realistic targets for salespeople.

So a target isn’t really a target unless it is grounded in evidence that it can be achieved. Once you know that someone else can hit or exceed a target, you then know that all you have to do it figure out how to do it for yourself. Because you, and your team, know it can be done. Then all that’s required is to unleash your creativity and energy to go and do it.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

What do your customers need & want?

Knowing your customers’ needs, wants and preferences is vitally important in today’s world. Of course, it has always been important, it’s just that software now enables us to do so much more. Which of course means that if we don’t understand our customers’ needs and wants, someone else will make the effort to understand them.

Which kinda puts the pressure on to start figuring it out.

We all like to think we know our customers well. But the truth is there are some things about them we know very well, and other things we are blissfully unaware of. Yet most customers are more than happy to provide all the clues you need to understand them. After all – they buy from you – that’s a pretty strong clue as to what they need and want.

When you start to have a look at the data you have about your customers there is a surprising amount of it:
  • Who they are and where they are located
  • Which promotion they responded to when they initially bought from you
  • Who in the company made the purchasing decision
  • Who influenced the purchasing decision
  • Who in your company dealt with the customer initially
  • Who in your company deals with the customer day by day
  • Who you normally deal with, day by day
  • Products or services they have bought from you
  • Time taken to make the purchasing decision
  • The cost of producing the products or services they buy
  • How long they take to pay
  • Goods or services they have returned or complained about
  • What they buy from others
  • What promotions they have responded to by buying or enquiring
  • What promotions they have not responded to
Of course every company is different, and that list will be much longer when you start thinking about the various systems you store customer information in.

So the key is to bring all this information together, so you can analyse it and start to better understand your customers’ needs and wants. Business intelligence software, such as Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services enables you to do just that. What once could only be looked at in its own separate system can now be brought together with data from other systems.

It’s powerful and enlightening - and you get increased loyalty from your customers because you can provide a better product or service. It's an exciting time to be in business!

Monday 12 April 2010

The sales and marketing conversation

The other day I had a very worrying phone call from someone selling electrical services. I have nothing against electrical services, what was worrying was the way the call progressed.

Almost as soon as I answered he launched into a monologue about his company’s services. Not a short monologue, but a long one. He was obviously reading from a script. Although I was sorely tempted to see how long he would continue without pausing for breath, I didn’t have a 30 minute gap in my day. Despite the obviously fascinating topic of electrical appliances (with plugs) and health and safety, I didn’t feel terribly involved in the call. (I think I could have disappeared to make a cup of tea and he wouldn’t have noticed.) So I terminated it as politely, but as quickly, as I could.

After I quickly checked to make sure this is 2010, and not 1970, I got back to what I was doing.

I suppose telemarketing has made a great deal of progress in that such a dreadfully executed call is now the exception. Most people are not so blatant with their total last of interest in me, my company, or my company’s needs. As far as I can remember, the telephone was invented in order for two people to have a conversation. Not for companies to broadcast information to others. Someone should have told him.

Many companies are good at telemarketing, and some are excellent. Some understand that sales and marketing is a conversation which aims to establish a match between what one company can provide, and what another wants. They know that the value in picking up the phone is that you can receive information as well as provide it. On the whole, people respond much better to people who are interested in them and their problems. It doesn’t mean to say the call will end in a sale, a meeting or even a commitment to the next stage, but it does increase the chances.

The best conversations leave both people feeling interested, fulfilled, and eager to continue at some time in the future. It will take me sometime before I can talk to anyone about electrical appliances (with plugs) without laughing. Now, that’s not right, is it?

Friday 9 April 2010

Measuring what matters

The Guardian ran a piece today about measuring theatre success. A group of theatre bodies have come up with questionnaire which asks whether the audience felt challenged, or how quickly time seemed to pass whilst they were watching. Their aim is to gauge the audience’s emotional reaction to whatever they were watching.

The Guardian points out that there already number of ways, subjective and objective, to measure theatre success:
  • Box office takings
  • Critical reviews
  • Awards
However, only box office takings, to some degree, measures what audiences think. And that’s an imperfect measure because you might book tickets to see something, but then find it thoroughly disagreeable to watch.

So this questionnaire is really a customer satisfaction questionnaire. What did you, the customer, think of what you saw? Did it move you? Were you absorbed in what was happening on stage? Was it a good evening out? Did it open your eyes to new ideas? All the sorts of questions that the writer or director might want to ask the audience if they had a chance.

This innovative questionnaire is, however, only addressing one aspect of what matters in the theatre – what the customers thought. It doesn’t address what the funders thought, or what tax payers think of arts subsidies. As always, different people will judge success differently.

It taps into the whole question of whether theatre should be subsidised. Whilst many are gripped by a wonderful production of Hamlet or Wagner’s Ring, many would never book tickets in the first place. Yet we believe it important that such works are shown.

It will be interesting to see how audiences react to the questionnaire. Will they complete it? I suspect many will, and will want to share their thoughts.

So is this the start of a wider movement? Will we be asked to complete a questionnaire when we read a book? Did you enjoy the book? Did it absorb you? Did you even get to the end and find the questionnaire ….?

Thursday 8 April 2010

What do customers really want?

Theodore Levitt famously said “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”.

Despite this being something of a shock to countless women who routinely accompany their men folk to the DIY store to buy yet more drill bits, it’s a stunningly good point. We like to think we are in the software business, HR services, coaching or bed and breakfast. But customers don’t want software, HR services, coaching or bed and breakfast. They want improved efficiency, the luxury of staying away from law courts, improved productivity or an enjoyable break away from it all. The products and services are a means to an end.

Focusing on what your customers actually want, rather than what you provide, makes a difference.

Does Amazon sell books? Or do they sell the ability to deliver knowledge to me exactly when I want it (faster than I ever believed possible)? Countless excellent bookstores have gone before, but only Amazon perfected the art of on-time delivery with such frightening efficiency. Or are they in the business of knowing what I want to read next (better than I do)? Whilst my favourite bookseller might give me a recommendation of a great novel they have enjoyed, only Amazon can produce such a worryingly on-message list of books I’m keen to get hold of right now.

Amazon have redefined bookselling as eBay have redefined bring and buy sales. Both have dominated niches we didn’t even know had gaps. All because they figured out what customers actually want.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Making space for good ideas to grow

Over the weekend I stopped to talk to two gardeners thinning out a row of broad beans. As they threw strong and healthy broad bean plants into the bucket I said: “That’s too bad – throwing away those healthy young plants!” They agreed, but they worked at speed pulling out young plants and moving others so they were all the correct distance apart. I silently wondered if I would have been so disciplined if it had been my own garden. Behind them was a perfectly straight line of perfectly spaced healthy broad bean plants, all with enough room to grow into healthy specimens.

The processes and methods at this particular garden were influenced by one of Kew’s ex-Directors and it showed. I could see the discipline and attention to detail with my own eyes.

The business of business has more than once been compared to gardening or sowing and reaping. As spring is beginning to show its sunny face between the rain drops, it seems a fitting reminder that we need to do what needs to be done. Weeding, filing, sorting, choosing, and getting rid of things that will slow down growth, even though we find some things difficult or unpleasant.

Tom Peters talks of leaders only scheduling 50% of their time so they have space to think, reflect and make sure the important things are being done, rather than just the busy work. It’s the space between the broad beans that makes sure the good ideas have enough space to grow.