Business mishaps. Know your proposition and know your audience!

Excellent Client Engagement

As a small business I was recently involuntarily contacted (cold called) by a local Hotel’s telemarketer who pleasantly introduced herself and the venue to see if I was aware that they had services that I could use. A very busy market space with many vendors, but I was in inquisitive mood so listened and joined in. As a central city location and I knew exactly the location, I posed a context and a question straightaway. “ I don’t have an immediate need, but if I wanted to have a room for half a day for 4 people, how much would it cost?” I explained that as an SME I have a need to use ‘space’ occasionally to meet Clients. “When do you want it?” I was asked. After reiterating a few times, that SME’s are increasingly using external space and I don’t have an immediate need an estimate would be fine. She took my details and went away. Fairly promptly, I was sent an email to say thanks for the conversation and explained “…follow up regarding your needs and requirements for meeting and event spaces within our properties…” and provided a host of general attachments about the hotel, but none answered my question.

A few weeks later a follow-up call to ask if I had dates and wanted to go ahead with a booking.

I then went into Marketing Consultant mode and suggested that I needed to know what the proposition and offer was to consider it and they were unable to do this. “But, I don’t know the prices for these, I am not authorised to talk about prices! I can pass you to my Sales Manager?” I politely ended the call.

So, what’s my point? In a crowded market you have to have a proposition. You need to understand the profile of your target audience and you also need to have a process to complete what you start. It is fine to ‘qualify out’ rather than ‘in’, but know your product. The world has become increasingly knowledgeable, so if you have a gap in the facts about a product, your product, especially in a competitive market, you will be ignored. It affects brand and reputation, so it is very important.

We all need to try harder at getting the basics right, but we may also sometimes need a little help to identify a weakness in the way we do business, because we become too familiar with it.

And the photo? The atrium of a Hotel in Singapore where I stayed which had excellent and memorable Client engagement.

Big Data, Small Attention

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The challenges of collecting and managing vast amounts of data have been discussed in great detail and everyone is in agreement that it will happen. We don’t know how companies and their partners will do it, but they will do it. However, are we overlooking a key facet of using data for marketing and governance purposes that is quite literally staring us in the face?

Let’s take a scenario of big data in a Corporate looking after business customers, B2B for simplicity sake. Now let’s consider that we know the human side of the equation really well. We have the customers profile, associations, historical patterns, opinions, shoe size, favourite colour and an array of metadata that says “we know you better than you know yourself”. So, we get to work on the Human to Human communication and are prepared for the psychographic discussion that allows us to provide the ‘answer’. Social Media will play its role in getting the message to the DNA, sorry the Client, and we are in married bliss in a Client Relationship, ding-dong, ding-dong!

Big Data will also bring even more communicators and innovation will bring us more applications, so the use of human-to-human (H2H) data will proliferate. This is where we get to the challenge…how will the Human absorb volumes of data? Email, Tweets, IM’s, App bulletins and every other ping-type announcement that will flash before the user with more data and more links than ever before. Will we have to take the retrospective step to simple browser search queries for the Human to be able to cope?

My thoughts are that we need to focus on the day in the life of a Human, a modern Human, to assess how they meet their social and work needs using data and how we make it easy for them. If the Human solution is too difficult, we will not have advanced Big Data other than proving that we can collect, store and correlate massive points or data. If we succeed the step forward could be as dramatic as the use of steam in industry.

Getting the most out of your Workforce

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So, you are in a meeting room and you are doing some foundation brainstorming on how you are going to grow the business and create the scale of profits that you enjoyed 5 years ago. Simple objective, the whiteboard is wiped clean, you have probably picked up a Black, Blue or Purple marker and have taken a sigh and said the single inspirational word “Right?”

The interesting ‘brown paper’ exercise is a common approach for getting ideas, but as you start to call out the boxes and herring-bone to ideas, are there any early boxes that include the word ‘Employee’? or a similar workforce word? If you think as employees as an overhead rather than an opportunity then you may be missing a vital thought in your storming process. Yes, people are solutions rather than ideas, but putting this resource on the board early is important.

I have lived through many reduction processes, where resource has to be taken out of the business as it is no longer giving the level of contribution that the company wants, but try to look through this financial aspect of the workforce and ask yourself a question, “If our employees could find a solution to some of the problems we have, would you think of them as an Asset or a Cost?”  This is the reason why I always think that despite being competitive and getting to transformation cost improvement, you need to maximise the return from your people. Are your Talent in the right jobs? do your employees understand what you are trying to do? are you empowering them? are you using them in the ideation process?

Now, go back to the whiteboard, pick up the Red Pen and add a new box!

PS. If you need some help with this, drop me a line, in black, blue, purple, green or red!

Time to re-think your professional workforce strategy?

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Workforce strategies have changed with economic cycles for the last 3 decades and each time we have settled in to a ‘norm’ that lasts until the next iteration or trend. We have seen the movement to offshore, a balancing of contractor resources and the challenge of the full time employee, especially in Corporates and Government organisations where pension funding has reached critical concern levels.

In addition, the National Press has given a significant airing to the ‘Zero Hours’ contracts and the fact that they may be unfair to the employee. However, we need to take a high level view on recovery and the role of resources and the prudence of managers.

Resourcing strategies are very intimate things. They should be designed to your company needs, for the company that you are, in the market that you operate, with the risks that are inherent in your business model.

With professional skills, is it time to re-think your workforce strategy and business model?

I’ve lived through multiple cycles of down turn and prosperity and the panic of reducing cost at short notice is often a symptom of poor foresight somewhere else in the business. The panic of having to look for cost savings points immediately point to labour reductions as it’s a fixed cost on your books and the easiest (although sometimes the most expensive) and quickest to implement.

A savvy CEO wants to have a predictable business; forecasted growth, resources on demand and needs a focus on core skills that the company sees as part of its competitive advantage. Everything should be manageable.

The resultant HR Directors response is one of balancing the retention of talent, churning staff to keep the company fresh and hiring a fine balance between contracted labour and full time employees. However, are we reaching a position where business growth and decline could act so swiftly that our traditional resourcing models are unable to keep pace with the business? Can they afford to hire full-time professionals if they are not part of a core competency or they cannot gain a return on investment for a significant proportion of the year?

This is where you need to think to the role of the Consultant, who comes in to deliver expertise, not staff management (an important distinction), and for shorter periods of time, rather than fixed terms that you would see with Contractors, Sub-Contractors and Interim Managers.

It may be a subtle difference, but the maturity of the company and senior sponsorship is essential for such a change. Traditionally, Consultants are associated with senior managers and hired directly by them. The Consultants role doesn’t change, but to procure multiple short-term skills requires changes in practice lower down in the organisation.

‘Zero Hour’ contracts were mentioned above and you probably associate this (and accept it’s benefits) with lower level skills and competencies. The Consultant would in effect be zero hour, as they will be bought in for specific competence and professional insight. When they are not needed, they are released.

For some professionals this model is already accepted i.e. The Legal Profession, where you have an enquiry or an assignment and the professional charges you by the clock. The bigger you are, the more opportunity to hire full time to provide basic services. The difficulty is in affording 100% internal professional skills during times of austerity.

For small to medium sized companies in recovery mode, looking for growth and requiring professional skills, Consulting is a serious alternative to hiring, an injection of value add and ideal for short-term impact. For Corporate Mid Market and above, it will be a balance. Larger companies may still want the injection of skills, but after meeting a self-build threshold or in traditional consulting areas where skills do not exist in the company.

So to summarise, the value of maintaining a full complement of professional skills in your organisation is a risk to sustained recovery, which CEOs and HRDs may look to mitigate with consulting models. It is essential to understand your business model and to assess which skills are core to your business for 365 days of the year and those that you should bring in on demand.

The approach doesn’t take away the need to good forecasting as consultant availability will be subject to multi-client activity and agreeing timeslots/activities in advance makes for good management and outcomes.

Growing pains – when success meets complexity

There is an amazing feeling for the entrepreneur and the onlooker of a start-up business blossoming and growing. We all like to hear of them starting ‘off the back of a cart’ and how they progressed to an established player in their sector. Maybe smaller than the rest, but seen as an ‘industry shaker’. A broad portfolio, employees hired for specific professional roles and ready to take on the world.

Does this resonate with your company?

The Revenue line pointing skyward, healthy forecast and a profit profile matching the upward trend, then something unexpected happens; The growth engine starts to stall, cash flows less predictably and customers drift away. Nimbleness lost.

This is the phase that I term as the ‘complexity point’.

What started as a personal business with a proprietor with focus, common sense and ultimate control, finds itself with a wide product set, creaking processes and an organisation which although taken on as human capital is looking more like a liability.

I’ve tried to reason with when we can anticipate the complexity point starting to kick in, but I have arrived at a summary conclusion that it may be different for each business, but with common attributes to what leads to the hiatus.

It is not a privilege to SMEs, complexity will exist in most of the mid to large corporates too.  And, across the sectors, there are different angles to the complexity, from capital-intensive businesses where the focus may be on the ‘plant’ right through to Professional Services organisations, but common signals will be present for each one.

There are ways of tackling the complexity challenge that requires a retrospective step in order to move forward, but my guidance at this stage is that it is not a one-off event and it happens in cycles. The important role of the Executive is to keep pace with it, anticipate that it will happen and be proactive.

Marketing Communications and the Future (a view)

For readers, the following thought has been drafted to help with a discussion on the Marketing Communications of the future

I tried to break this down into the simple components of the Marketing Communications function. Essentially the Message encode-decode bit and then overlaid what has been happening in the enabler world and the customer world.

To set a scene let’s go to a future +25 years out from now and I will give my personal predictions of things that may come through as scenario’s. Who knows what technology will be available and prevalent, but we might be able to picture the day-in-the-life of the Marketer and the Consumer, as well as everyone else involved in the loop.

25 years ago, which was only 1989, I was using a portable Apricot computer on a dial up modem, with a corporate email service and limited applications such as Wordperfect and Lotus 123 spreadsheets. I had a Mobile Phone, but the engagement with Clients was minimal at a technology level. It was very much a ‘print and post’. The process of communication was well known and used and target marketing understood, even though it was heavily dependent upon Inbound and Outbound telephone marketing, all sorts of mail shots and the usual Customer events. B2B and B2C Marketing Comms was developing at that stage to understand what the Customer wanted and evolving the alternative routes for them to create the relationship that we wanted. Above-the-line advertising was in its prime but mainly for B2C and seldom B2B unless you were a very big player.

Today, we have more targeting around the profile of the Customer, with the complexity of re-distributable material that can enhance your access to the base, but with an added challenge that you need to control messages which can be virally uncontrollable. So, the ‘today’ take out for me is that we haven’t yet learned how to master the tools that we have in use and the Consumer is getting more savvy than they were. We are data rich on both sides of the Seller-Buyer equation. However, in relative terms we are still information poor…but aspiring.

So, 25 years on, which will feel like 50 years of advancement, we have an opportunity and a challenge. I am comfortable with technology and especially the impact it will make on consumers, but I am also a pragmatist. I think that advances in the coordinated application of technology features will allow Marketers to open up new forms of communication with the ‘market’ than ever before. Marketers should be prepared for change.

Social Media has to settle into a pattern with the Consumer but the options available for interfacing with them will multiply, merge, then multiply again. Hopefully, with more Open platforms, using multiple tools will allow you to see the Consumer and Market dynamics, but the Consumer will be able to see the options too. Open platforms will also calm the big player-one method approach and inspire innovation and collaboration. Technology will create the Marketing Communications toolkit.

Here are some of the traits that I believe (just my thoughts!) you will see in the Consumer, Markets and Suppliers with which you will have to grapple.

  • Small Screen versus Big Screen versus Screen on demand (The latter being my bet for handling the new complex consumer). Mobility will still have its part, but don’t just think of Mobility being small device.
  • Pinpoint narrowcast profiling versus Viral broadcast
  • Knowledgeable Consumers
  • Immediacy of transactions and how the Profile wants to transact
  • Increased Collaboration to live your life and high levels of independence
  • Decentralisation of where people live and more reliance on Screen-based technologies.
  • Consumers creating their own marketing opportunities
  • Consumers as Advertisers of their own content
  • 3D printing conceptual information and holography
  • Consumers will want to ‘Find’ an answer on demand, not ‘Search’, but we should expect this to be automated
  • Consumers lives will be more chaotic, so will need convenience providers to help them trade ‘time’ for money or favours
  • Applications will be more Consumer-centric rather than Consumers being driven to SM alters. Consumer will want to have ‘My Life’ on a screen which will help them coordinate their lives.
  • Big Data will be transparent, but Big Information will be the focus for Consumers.
  • Be prepared to pay-per-view the Consumer directly to listen to your Marketing Communications as a shared model with the Tool provider. A new ecosystem will evolve.
  • Attention span will be less, but there will be a rapid Judge and Execution
  • Consumers own Video’s will be routes/channels for your Marketing Communications and tools will become available to make that happen
  • Consumer profiles will be Real-time, but only if they want you to see it (intense Privacy laws)
  • Consumers will use SaaS to build their life style tools.
  • Consumers will demand/expect very high Content quality and highly intuitive.

To sum up, as Marketing Principles go, it’s a Consumer or a Customer and you will have a Product and a Message. Your opportunities will increase to create and maintain a buying relationship, but be prepared to be part of the Customers life cycle, one by one.

A route out of recession and making it happen

Slide1It is really encouraging to see business contracts being awarded and the flow of wealth starting to happen. I always think that a visit to the local Shopping Mall is a great barometer of feeling and last weekend my local centre in Solihull was heaving. There are no major sales taking place and it wasn’t during the school holidays, just your average wet February Saturday afternoon. In fact, you could be forgiven as a Consumer if you were feeling miserable. It’s been raining for 2 months and the sky has been mostly grey, but despite that, the shoppers looked happy.

Optimism is great for the sole and a lubricator for the wallet!

When fortune returns after a recession, you have to be there to maximise your return from it. In the B2C markets, let’s say you are running a restaurant or a bar, you should be asking yourself, Are your staff ready to provide an even better level of service? Sometimes, a Customer needs to wait for a table, which isn’t a problem for a Consumer, for lots of people that is good as it means the restaurant is popular and probably has an atmosphere. However, when you wait you need to feel that there is a sense of ‘urgency’ going on around you, to look after you, drinks, seat, etc, before being taken to your table.

The above example is a simple one but can be transported to B2B markets and services as a simple model for maximising on Market confidence, through customer experience.

Now, my challenge to everyone; Are we doing enough to help Customers spend their hard earned/scarce money? My argument is, No, we are not.

Urgency doesn’t just happen, you have to make it happen!

During the recession employee training budgets were cut and the focus was on survival. Companies sought to maintain Profits but not staff levels and not staff competencies.

Survival and being Competitive are not always mutual friends, but if you want a slice of sustained growth, you need to go back to the drawing board and you need to take your staff with you. Unemployment levels are high but you will have to try hard to get the right skills to make your company work. You have to look at your business operating model and ask yourself why Customers want to do business with you. Nothing should be taken for granted, leave no stone unturned.

So as you look out at the growing opportunity from the door of your business, take a look over your shoulder at your operation and make a quick assessment whether you think you are ready to compete.

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