Categories
Creativity Ideas Improvement Marketing Positioning quality Small Business Software Software business Strategy Technology

Why people don’t use the “Tip of the day”

Seemed like such a good idea at the time…that “Tip of the Day” thing that you see in your favorite software.

Like Microsoft’s Clippy, everyone seems to either ignore or despise this function.

I think folks genuinely liked the idea at first. Yet…when it comes down to actually using a program’s tip of the day feature, I usually see people turning it off or just ignoring it. I’m the same way. The info is usually not so helpful.

The reason is pretty obvious once you think about it.

What normally happens

As you know, tip of the day content is (always?) displayed when a program is opened.

As a result, it’s very rarely in context with what you’re doing. When you open a program, it’s usually because you need to perform a specific task. You’re focused on that task – only to be sidetracked by this tip that has nothing to do with the task at hand.

Think about this – have you *ever* read a tip of the day and ran down the hall to another user of the same program and said “Holy moly, have you tried THIS????”

I’ll bet you haven’t.

What would make tip-of-the-day worth doing

Imagine being in the middle of a complex (or new to you) process on the computer and pausing to think for a minute because – as always – this function is complex or confusing or makes you think or whatever.

15 or 30 or however many seconds later, an in-context perfect-timing-kinda-tip appears in the corner of the screen (totally out of your way – but visible).

If that tip was like a bright light in a dark forest…you’d tell someone. And they’d appreciate it.

Where they come from matters

Imagine if tips were actually info that you’d want to use. Say…tidbits from your internal end-users of the product – perhaps even **oh my goodness** tips from actual customers who use your program. They’re the ones who actually use this thing day in and day out to make a living, they might actually have a piece of useful advice, ya think?

That would be far more preferable to the current source of tips : they tend to come from some poor schlep who pounded them into the program just so they could say that they had entered them. We’ve all seen ’em. Yawn.

Social proof for tips

If software authors wanted to add a social proof aspect to their tips, provide a voting capability (useful for experts, useful for new users, not useful at all, incorrect).

The program could sense your level of expertise by how long tasks take, the amount of time you’ve spent using the program, or the number of times you’ve used this particular part of the program.

Suddenly, I’d see the best tips for me, from other users, based on my level of expertise for this part of the program.

All kinds of opportunity to teach and learn could come from this. Your programming team could learn a lot from this as well.

Are your tips of the day being ignored?

All post long, I’ve been talking about how a tip of the day feature gets ignored because the software delivers the wrong message at the wrong time, and how it could be improved by delivering in-context tips that *actually help*.

Interestingly, the same concept works with your marketing (and elsewhere)… Speak in context or you’re likely to be ignored.

Maybe that was a little sneaky – but do you want people treating your marketing messages like you treat the tip-of-the-day?

Categories
Automation Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Internet marketing Marketing Small Business Software business The Slight Edge

Wake up those sleeping dogs

Contentment
Creative Commons License photo credit: flattop341

Every day, I get automated emails. Just like you do.

Most of them are so boring that we never read them, even though they might contain information we need to see.

For example, I recently received an email from Mozy, the online backup service:

Thank you for using MozyHome!

Your credit card ending in xxxx was billed $4.95 today for a monthly subscription to .

We appreciate your business.

– The MozyHome Team

Now contrast it to this hypothetical one:

Dear Mark,

Hard to believe that we’ve been protecting your data for xx months (or since mm/dd/yyyy).

A few stats for you:

  • Your first complete backup was on 09/16/2009.
  • You have 31,266 files on our system, which take up 118 gigabytes of space.
  • Your last successful backup was 12 days ago.

12 days ago seems like a really long time to go without backing up your stuff. Think “I have to redo the last 12 days worth of work”. Ouch. Avoiding that pain is why you signed up for Mozy in the first place, right?

The last thing we want is for you to lose your important data.

You might want to reboot your computer to force Mozy to start again. If that doesn’t get backups rolling again, please contact our support center (it’s open 24 x 7) and we’ll help you fix it.

Yes, this is an automatically generated email, but someone had to write it. That someone was me, and I appreciate what your business does for my company. Thanks for using MozyHome!

Joe Smith
A MozyHome Team Member

PS: Our billing system is obligated to tell you that your credit card ending in xxxx was billed $4.95 today for your monthly MozyHome subscription. $4.95. Not bad for backing up 118 gig of your stuff, eh?

PPS: Even though he works here and wrote this email template, Joe can’t see any of that billing or usage information. Naturally, neither he nor anyone else here can see your files.

The point: Don’t waste opportunities to communicate with your customers. Use them strategically.

Rotate between a small set of templates, perhaps seasonal ones, so that the messages don’t become 100% repetitive and again – go without being read.

Illustrate the value you provide in a way that the client actually cares about and show them that you’re taking care of them even when they aren’t thinking about you.

Categories
attitude Business culture Entrepreneurs Positioning Sales Small Business Software business Strategy

Setting Expectations

Publishing an about page as a guest post does not mean I’m desperately short of guest posts (nowhere near, actually).

I’d like you to read a most un-software-company-like about page from a software company.

Any guess what their USP is?

Any guess what expectations you should have about their software and doing business with them?

Finally, think about how it positions them in your mind (and in their market).

Check it out at: http://humanized.com/about

Outstanding.

Categories
Business culture Competition Consumer Advocacy Creativity Customer relationships customer retention Direct Marketing Entrepreneurs Guarantees Leadership Marketing Positioning Restaurants Retail Sales service Small Business Software business Strategy The Slight Edge Word of mouth marketing

Do you offer a recession anxiety warranty?

Fed Up
Creative Commons License photo credit: Furryscaly

Remember the outrageous 7/70 bumper-to-bumper warranty Chrysler introduced back in the early 1980s when they introduced K-cars?

At the time, Chrysler’s quality problems were front and center reasons to avoid buying their cars. Likewise, major car manufacturers limited long-term warranty coverage to the engine and powertrain (ie: transmission, axles and such).

Iacocca came up with the “outrageous” warranty to get people past the quality question so they would  give Chrysler’s cars a chance. He knew the warranty was only good to get them INTO the cars – they’d have to meet their quality goals or that warranty would bankrupt them.

High Anxiety

While the warranty was a big change for car owners, the main purpose was to provide a little anxiety release. To get you to realize that Chrysler’s quality had changed, so much so that they were willing to cover *everything*, and thus, you could trust them to buy their vehicles.

Obviously, it worked. The K-cars saved Chrysler (for the time being, at least) and they paid back the then-controversial billion dollar loan (guaranteed by Congress) in 3 years, rather than the required 10.

It should be noted that Iacocca says much of the reason to pay the loan off quickly was to get the Feds out of his business. No question there is lots of controversy about the 1979 bailout / loan guarantee and the terms that went with it, but that isn’t the topic of the day.

Fast forward to today – when you wouldn’t dream of buying a car without a very-long-term bumper-to-bumper warranty.

So what does your business do in an environment of high buyer anxiety?

Remove the anxiety

Hopefully the obvious answer is to remove it.

Back in the Granite Bear days, we found some buyer anxiety issues cropping up. The few people who would ask for a refund would do so right at the deadline date. In almost every case, we found that those were also the folks who hadn’t started using the software yet. They were worried they’d be stuck with it and having not tried it, the obvious thing to do was ask for a refund.

One of our solutions was to extend our 30 day money-back guarantee to 60 day and then to a whole year. As I’ve noted before, some people thought we were nuts and would give back tons of refunds on day 364, but that ignores the reason people bought business management software in the first place – to manage their business and save them time. Who in their right mind would invest a year into integrating software into their business (and vice versa) and then toss it out the door on a specific day? That’s nuts.

In our case, we knew that if they really *used* it for a year, they’d never ask for their money back. We were right and it made a huge difference in sales, despite seeming like an insane thing to do. Our upfront costs of sales and implementation were mostly buried by day 30 (and definitely by day 60), so it made no difference whether we gave back the software on day 60 or day 364.

We also implemented other things that got them moving right away – another guarantee. Do you have specific guarantees for different parts of your business?

Recessionary buybacks

Recently, you’ve seen a number of major car companies offer to buy your car back if you lose your job – and that’s after they make several months of payments for you.

Hyundai started it and several other manufacturers felt the pressure to follow suit.

As I hear it, one very dark economic area’s local Hyundai dealer had their best weekend *ever* after corporate started offering these deals.

Something else that tells you about people in a recession: They aren’t all broke. If the buyback changed car buying behavior of a large group of people – did it also put a bunch of money in their pocket?

Of course not. Clearly they had the ability (and desire) to buy, but their anxiety about the future kept them from buying.

Your turn

In my case, I guarantee my marketing / strategic planning work.

Some people suggest that I’m nuts to do that. I might be nuts, but that has little to do with the fact that I’ve never been asked for a refund.

Meanwhile, it’s a huge differentiating factor because almost no other consultant guarantees their work. They either don’t have the confidence in their work, or the gumption to hang that guarantee out there – likely for fear that someone will use it. Maybe that even tells you something about the work product they provide from a strategic perspective.

Someday, someone might ask for a refund. Even if they do, it’s a great anxiety reliever for every other client – regardless of the economy.

What are you doing to take your clients’ anxiety off the table (or reduce it substantially) and get them from thinking to taking action/buying?

Categories
attitude Business culture Competition Customer relationships customer retention Employees Leadership podcast Positioning Small Business Social Media Software business Web 2.0

Are you building bridges or moats?

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BridgesAndMoats.mp3]
Leeds Castle
Creative Commons License photo credit: raindog

Look closely at your business and think of each thing you do that interacts with other vendors, competitors, customers, prospects and your community.

For each interaction, consider whether it builds a bridge or a moat:

  • A bridge allows someone on one side of a chasm or river to get to the other side. Bridges are welcoming (toll gates notwithstanding) and encourage interaction and cooperation.
  • A moat keeps others out.

A moat says “I’m scared of what’s out there, it might get me.”  Moats are often built by companies that fear the future, if not the present.

Moat builders often think in terms that are the antidote to improvement – and that “C word”, change. Their moat makes it appear that they fear change and the future because the future often brings changes to “the rules” (you know – “the rules that got us here”).

Working together

Many companies design interoperability features into their product.

In other words, they make their product easy to integrate with other products or standard services. In the software world, interaction with systems like Growl (a universal notification system) or SOAP (a web-based way to send data in the context of a description of that data) are a good example.

They make their product “talk to” and/or “listen” to other products.

Interoperability (making stuff work together – even with *competitor’s stuff*) is a bridge.

Others are in their own little world and refuse to interoperate, or do so far less than most. They sometimes ignore standards or recreate their own because they think they know better (and sometimes, just sometimes, they *do* know better – but do they share that knowledge?).

In most cases, refusing to make your product interoperable is a moat.

Communities have bridges and moats too

When the investment in participating in user communities becomes so frustrating that it isn’t worth it anymore, who suffers?

The company. Long time community members. New members of the community. Everyone, really.

Without a community tie-in, there’s less inertia to keep you from trying other products, much less switching to them. Kennedy talks about “putting an iron fence around your herd” – meaning keep your customers close by doing things that prevent them from even *considering* using another vendor.

Community is a big part of that.

Different companies handle this in different ways.

These days there are web forums, community-building environments like Ning.com, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, old-school newsgroups, Google groups and many other options that allow you to build a place for your customers to meet and talk shop.

Once you get them there, then the challenge really begins. Do you encourage it to take on a life of its own, or do you spin it, control it and stunt its growth? Are the members of the community like a herd of cows, moving where you drive them, or are they gazelles?

Enable and Empower

Back in my software biz days, there was no social media other than BBS systems or email lists. Most customers were non-technical and spending more time on the computer didn’t interest them (there were exceptions, of course).

We saw a substantial uptick in sales, referrals and hard-to-measure/value “customer goodwill” when we started having day-long training sessions at trade shows. We’d just stick everyone in a room and go over what was new, what the group wanted training on and more often than not, the day also turning into a rich interactive resource for everyone in attendance.

There were benefits for us as well, but that’s not our topic for today.

How you manage – no, no – how you *enable and empower* your user community to become an asset to themselves, your services, your products and your business is critical. How you view that asset (the group/community) and how you nurture it says a lot about your company.

It’s not just a community for now, it’s a sales tool, a testimonial and many other positive things…if you allow it and encourage it to be.

What’s yours?

In your world, is that asset being used as a bridge or a moat?

The mindset of digging a moat around your business infects your staff, your services and your products with thoughts like “We know better”, “We don’t need you (or them)” and “We can do it all ourselves.”

Even if true, the deeper and wider the moat between you and your customers become, the easier it’ll be for someone else to convince those customers to head for a bridge.

The problem with moats is not just that they keep others out, but that they keep you trapped inside.

Categories
Automation Business Resources Competition Creativity Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Entrepreneurs Positioning Productivity service Small Business Social Media Software business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

A pigeon with a great value proposition

There is fire on the mountain
Creative Commons License photo credit: carolune

Those of you who know my backstory may remember that I was trained as a programmer and that I worked in the software industry for 17 years before coming to my senses. IE: before owning my own software company. A real one, not those other ones.

So much for that coming to my senses thing.

This whole small business marketing, blogging, writing columns, books, speaking thing came to me by brute force â?? perhaps like your business came to you.

Like you, I owned a small business, so I had to get myself educated, fall down a time or two, look up from the seat of my pants in the dirt, pick myself up and get something positive accomplished because Kevin Costner’s character in  the only one who can build something and magically expect someone to show up. (To my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Terry – I will *not* diagram that sentence, sorry).

It’s a small world, after all

The programming world is a small one and one of the benefits of it is that you meet people from all over the world and find bugs in their programs (and they return the favor).

Programmers were social (even the kinda geeky ones) well before anyone thought of Facebook and Twitter. We had Compuserve and Usenet and BBS systems and all that fun stuff.

Nowadays, it’s even easier to meet folks from other places thanks to cheaper (really) air travel, conferences and of course, the internet.

Often you’ll know them for years before you get to meet them face to face. For example, I know several programmers from South Africa.

Despite having some rather brilliant programmers, South Africa has what you and I would likely consider rather horrible internet service. It isn’t necessarily their fault, it’s simply because there’s not enough bandwidth to go around.

Because the demand outweighs the currently available supply, bandwidth gets rationed because there is only so much to go around. Mmm, baby what a great time in our lives to mention rationing. No, we will not discuss health care. You’re welcome.

The Great Race

Recently, one of South Africa’s technology companies apparently got more than a little fed up with their internet service (from South Africa’s largest internet provider) and decided to have a little contest.

Enter the pigeon.

This geeky firm decided to have a little fun with a little race. The goal? To see what was faster: their high-speed internet connection that costs their company R45000 ($6000 = 45000 South African Rand) a month… or a pigeon.

You might call it sort of a Pinewood Derby of the internet.

Contestant number one would copy 4GB of data to a digital storage card (a micro SD if you are taking notes), then attach it to a homing pigeon’s leg and free the pigeon to fly 80 kilometers to one of their locations, then copy the 4gb file from the digital card.

Contestant number two (a computer) would try to transfer that same 4GB file to the same office location 80 km away.

If you’re thinking “This will not turn out well” for the telecom company, you are correct.

An excerpt from tech company’s blog: “Basically we will be flying a pigeon with a 4GB micro SD card from Howick to our central site in Hillcrest. We did a dry run yesterday. Here are the stats: Pigeon took 48 minutes to deliver the data. ADSL is still downloading. Telkom got hold of this via the media and is currently in a flat spin. We got a call from Telkom asking us for our circuit numbers so they can make sure we have good service. Here is the best part. We spend +/- R 45000 a month just on rental for these lines. If we moved to the Avian Carrier Network we will be saving a whopping R 35 000 a month.”

R35000 is $4640.57. That’s savings per month by using the pigeon, while getting vastly better performance. Not a good day to be their telecom provider, especially on the word of mouth marketing scorecard.

If you are in the internet business, you know that even with my whoppin’ 15mb down / 1mb up connection here at the Columbia Falls Data Center (otherwise known as my home office), moving that 4gb file would take the better part of a day â?? and that’s if I’m downloading it. Uploading would take even longer.

Yes, the internet will be slower than the pigeon over short hops with big files. New York to Los Angeles would be a different story.

I got your value right here.

The point of all this? To provoke you to ask yourself some hard questions.

Are you providing value?

Would you pay your hard-earned money for the products and/or services you’re offering to your market?  Not grudgingly, but gladly â?? because the value and quality is outstanding.

About the pigeon: Think I’m making it up? Check these out: http://www.reuters.com/article/internetNews/idUSTRE5885PM20090909, http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/vlad/2009/09/09/telkom-vs-a-pigeon-who-will-win/ and finally, http://pigeonrace2009.co.za/ which provides great comic relief by resulting in “Bandwidth exceeded” messages.

Categories
attitude Business culture Business Resources Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Feedback Management Productivity service Small Business Software business Technology

Adobe misses the outsourcing boat

2 of 3 Coast Guard 47' Motor Lifeboat performs storm exercises in wild surf at Morro Bay
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

Would you find it odd if McDonald’s outsourced their burger cooking to Joe’s Diner or Burger King? What about Global Burger Associates?

If they did so, would they know if the quality of their food dropped?

What’s my point? My point is that you don’t farm out core competencies.

While I hadn’t noticed it because I haven’t asked them for customer service help in years, Adobe recently posted an open letter to their customers about the quality of their customer service in recent times.

The letter discusses the fact that they have a new global services vendor and how they are quickly working to get this vendor up to speed.

Sad, really.

Not that outsourcing thing, though that is unfortunate – regardless of who is doing the work.

What’s sad is that this work isn’t viewed as important enough to handle it themselves, ie: with Adobe employees.

I’ve heard all the arguments. IMO, they’re all wrong.

As wrong as liver-flavored ice cream

Farming out your customer service and support to some other company is just plain stupid. Not only that, it ignores the asset that customer service and support are.

You just don’t farm out an asset like customer service to another company.

What data are they missing by outsourcing support/service duties to another company?

It’s possible that they have access to the database, but is it integrated with their own customer/order database?

Can their developers access this remote system when they need to find out what is causing their customers’ pain?

Can their developers meet face to face with the support staff when dealing with an issue of substantial magnitude?

I don’t know. Maybe. My guess is “sorta” rather than “No”.

But those answers would be “Yes” if they felt it was important enough to do it themselves.

Assets, not liabilities

If you have 5,000 customer service employees who can provide great care for your customers and your competition has 5,000 outsourced customer service contractors who can provide great care for their customers – who has the assets?

Who can leverage the skills they have in-house? Who is building a base of employees with in-depth product and customer knowledge? Aren’t those the people you want to promote in order to strengthen your company?

Not the outsourced one.

Customer service and support are not an expense to be outsourced to the low bidder, nor to that “premium global services” vendor down the street or across the globe.

They’re an asset to care for, leverage and tend to with the utmost respect, just like your customers.

No, it isn’t easy. If it was easy…anyone could do it.

Categories
Competition Creativity customer retention Improvement Management Manufacturing Productivity quality Sales Small Business Software Software business Strategy Technology The Slight Edge

Measurement and the fine art of bidding

Toon Studio â?? Disney Studios, Paris
Creative Commons License photo credit: eyeSPIVE

Ever messed up a bid?

Even after 25 years in the IT business (much less other stuff), I find that one of the hardest things to do accurately is bid a sizable time and materials-based project.

If you’re in IT, you know all the reasons.

Stuff changes. Requirements aren’t necessarily what they really are. Features get added, removed, changed and re-added.

It can be troubling if you live by (or try to live by) a schedule.

As long as the communication channels are open, it works out. It works out because over the years, you’re zig zagging across the good bid/ouch line with smaller and smaller zigs and zags each time (mostly).

But I deal in atoms not pixels!

Yeah, that’s another reference to Free. I’ll stop with that eventually.

I wonder how big construction, architecture or engineering firms can afford to do that zig/zag thing.

Pixels are cheap. Atoms are not, especially when you’re talking about a project like a mall, a bridge or 23.3 miles of Interstate highway. Which brings us to yesterday’s measurement discussion.

I was talking to a guy in the construction biz a while ago and asked him about this. Based on all the bidding processes for huge municipal (etc) construction projects, are any of them right? It seems like they all go over budget and over time.

Can you imagine what the expense of being wrong is if you’re the construction, engineering or architecture firm?

Parts is parts

And then I was thinking… buildings, roads and bridges break down into finite tasks just like programs do.

In the programming world – or at least in the academic one – there’s something called function point analysis.

The theory is that you can assess the time/complexity/cost of a project simply by counting the function points it contains. Rumor has it that it works if used properly. Guess how many businesses I’ve encountered using it over the last 25 years.

Doughnut. Zippo. None.

Why? Because it’s hard work. For small clients, it may not be worth the effort. Add to that, it means you have to properly plan and spec the work in pretty good detail. Not a lot of people want to put that effort in before handing a job to a programming staff to complete it.

On the other hand, not even Electronic Data Systems used it when I was there back in the Ross Perot days and we checked, rechecked and re-tested *everything*. Twice. Three times after 5pm.

I beam with joy

Let’s get back to the architects and such.

As I noted, buildings, bridges etc break down into components like beams, walls, pillars, etc. (Now you see why I just had to talk about function points, sorta.)

Like programmers (perhaps more so), these folks deal with complex bids with lots of variables.

They bid a bridge job because they have the best bridge designer in the state. Or condo. Or stadium. Whatever.

3 days before the bids are opened and awarded, she gets hit by a bus. Or gets a 3x salary offer from some Middle East engineering firm. Or disappears to find herself by walking the Great Wall.

Regardless of the reason, she’s gone.

It isn’t unusual, but it sure will throw your design time estimate a wicked curve ball and any technically-oriented business might see this.

What if?

What if your design software had the ability to measure how long it took to design an I-beam that will hold a dynamic load (ie: a load that changes/moves). Or how long it takes to design a retention pond at a factory.

So what, right?

OK…Imagine that your design software has the ability to do that for each staffer, broken down for each possible component of a building, screened-in patio, bridge, truss, lake, or other feature.

Like function points in software, the design software might keep track of all this based on complexity – such as by the number of load points and force vectors, or maybe square footage and materials have an impact.

Maybe experience and type of training comes into play. Maybe you learn that the designer’s college choice impacts these numbers.

Speed, Quality, Complexity

Now, imagine that this software can aggregate all this data by employee, by component.

With a little extra effort, you eventually figure out which designers are the best at designing each type of component.

A combination of speed, quality and work complexity ends up telling you exactly who to allocate to a particular piece of design and most likely that comes along with a very accurate estimate of the time needed to do the job.

If you break down the design of the most complex project you ever had, you know how many I-beams, trusses, concrete walls, pillars and so forth there are, as well as what kind of loads they have.

And now – because you have measurements of what the real work takes – you can make a bid that is far more accurate than the guesses those other folks are making.

Now imagine that you make the software that allows for this kind of measurement.

Your customers are the ones who bid more accurately. They win more bids. They become more successful. Your software becomes their secret weapon. You know what that means.

Imagine soft puffy clouds

Now… consider this discussion in the context of the service you provide, from programming to sports writing to graphic arts to small engine repair to architecture to plumbing or whatever.

You may already do some of this assessment by the seat of your pants / gut feel. Is it accurate? Be honest with yourself, it doesn’t matter what you tell me.

But would it be as accurate as an ongoing set of measurement data that is based on your current staff mix? I doubt it.

Would it help? Let’s see.

  • Imagine how much easier it would be to manage a project if you knew exactly what each component required time-wise.
  • Imagine how much easier it would be to manage a project if you knew exactly how to allocate your people to different details of the project.
  • Imagine what your sales staff would face out in the field when they realize they can confidently bid a job and know it’ll come in on time and on budget and they can whip out performance reports to prove it.
  • Imagine how your testimonials would change and the impact that would have on prospects.
  • Imagine how your customer retention numbers would improve.
  • Imagine what something like this could do for your staff’s morale. Never a late project, ever again. Well, maybe almost never.

Measurement. Might be a good idea, ya think?

Categories
Business Resources Competition customer retention Direct Marketing Feedback Guarantees Marketing Positioning Pricing Productivity Retail Sales service Small Business Software business Strategy Web 2.0

The power of measurement

Despite Chris’ assertion that information wants to be free, some of it just isn’t. Sorry.

In fact, some information is worth far more than the paper it is printed on (or the pixels it lights up).

For example, imagine that your company publishes technical articles. Short, sweet, fine-tuned to a specific purpose for a very specific audience.

The trick is making money from them, so maybe you’ve found that the best way to do that for your company (vs all other models) is to charge for access to your publication.

The Wall Street Journal does this. So does Investor’s Business Daily, as do a number of publications (online or print) in technical fields like auto mechanics, programming and FOREX trading.

Prove it

One of the biggest challenges these firms have is proving their publication’s worth at renewal time.

When renewal time comes up, or the charge appears on the credit card bill, the customer thought process goes something like this:

Come on, why should I pay $300 a year for a technical investing article resource when I can find everything Google has indexed for free?

The answer these businesses might commonly respond with include some of these:

  • Because it’s well-indexed so you can quickly find the exact trading info you need.
  • Because it has a search engine that understands investing terminology so you can quickly find exactly what you need
  • Because our publication is fine-tuned to the audience’s investing style (or whatever). It’s as if it was written solely for day traders with between $4200 and $6500 to trade per day.
  • Because it includes proven step-by-step guides for trading without losing my shorts (pun intended).

All of that is warm, fuzzy but not so exciting.

#3 and #4 aren’t bad but #1 and #2 are Google’s domain. They get better at it every day and paying you for it is going to get less and less likely unless you are much, much better at it in your specialty area.

I got your proof right here

Bottom line, almost all of that is pretty subjective. Bean counters (and spouses?) want hard numbers: “Why do you need this?”

Why not let them tell you?

If your article instructs them and provides them with a skill or offers a way to discover a new technique, make sure your feedback mechanisms (on the site or whatever) allow a way to say “Dude, this article saved me 2 or 3 days of struggling with this task”.

And yeah, it’s a lot like a Digg or a reTweet, but it’s more accurate than that.

The mechanism that works for you might need to be a number they can type in, or it might be a radio button with selections like “Waste of my time”, “Saved me maybe an hour”, “HUGE, DUDE. This got me back on track after a week”.

Whatever it is, it provides them with a way to tell you how much time, money, etc your information, your service, your product, your help saved them.

Think about where you could go with that info, even if it is largely anecdotal and not scientifically defensible.

If you have 100 clients and they (on average) provide feedback via a mechanism like this that says you save them 112 hours per year, seems to me that your prospects might want to know that information.

It also seems like it would be a great way to totally defuse the “your price is too high” argument (and maybe a number of others).

It might tell you how outrageous you can make your money-back guarantee. If it’s 30 days but it should be a year or 5 years, these numbers will give you some insight into it.

Who knows, you might even find out that your pricing and your value proposition are in vastly different places.

Categories
Business Resources Direct Marketing Entrepreneurs Mark Riffey Marketing Small Business Software Software business Technology

Yeah. It’s software again.

Once again, I’ve somehow managed to find myself lured back into the software business.

More on that in the future, as I’ll likely use what happens there as fodder for “This is how/why I always advised that this should be done” (and perhaps, “should not be done”) posts.

As such, here’s a little treat for any of you who are in startup mode in the software biz: http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark

In addition to tech support and marketing resources (some of which are actually pretty good), BizSpark gives your geeks access to MSDN, which the pocket protector crowd is aware of as the place where you can get development copies of pretty much any software Microsoft makes – including operating systems and programming tools.

Unlike the Empower program, which has varied from $250-350 a year (or free, if you join at the right time in the right way), the BizSpark program is free (hmm, where did you hear that word before?) for 3 years, then has a $100 one time charge after 3 years is up.

$100? Heck, it probably costs Microsoft more than $100 to process a check.

The program is intended for startups with less than $1MM (as Austin Powers would say, “One Meeeylon dolllarrrrrrs“) in revenue who are creating internet-enabled Microsoft-based software.

Approval typically takes no more than 72 hours and is often faster. Access to MSDN typically takes another couple of days after that.

Bring your 2 paragraph elevator pitch and a new URL. Enjoy.