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Where are all the programmers?

Programmer's aid
Creative Commons License photo credit: dunkv

Yesterday evening I posted a small C# project on Odesk.

By noon today, I had 19 responses.

Most of them were qualified (a few were VERY qualified) and had passed enough of ODesk’s tests for me to know that they could do the job. In the various .Net test topics, several had numerous scores over 95%, with one showing a dozen or more top 10% scores.

Of those, several had 500+ hours of ODesk work, great recommendations from prior jobs and fairly well written replies.

East 19, West 0

Yet none of those replies from countries that you would consider English-speaking, nor were they from Western Europe.

ODesk also has language skills tests to make sure the contractor can speak the language of the person who hires them. In my case, English is required because my language skills are limited to programming languages, English and the occasional ability to read French. In written English, several of the applicants were at 95% or higher, test-wise.

I talked about this with a couple of U.S. based programmers today and wondered aloud if this was a function of Western programmers who have “better” things to do, or that they don’t do piece work. Maybe Western programmers feel that freelance sites are for “commodity programmers“. I’m just not sure.

Many of the previous ODesk jobs listed for applicants as successfully completed (by the happy buyer) were 500 to 2000 hours in length. Full-blown internal development projects, software products and so on. I suspect some of the work is commodity programming, but I seriously doubt all of it is.

The commoditization of programming is not a new situation. Friedman’s been talking about the flat world for as long as anyone would listen, almost…

Where’s the West?

The skills that make a Western programmer valuable these days is business knowledge, vertical market expertise, project management abilities, responsibility-taking initiative, vision AND tech skills, to name a few. Being “just a programmer” is how you end up competing with someone who bills at 30% of your rate.

Perhaps being a Western programmer by the definition above means you’re automatically busy working. I could make assumptions, but I’m curious what your thoughts are – where are all the Western programmers? For my part, I guess they’re busy. The .Net guys I know locally all have jobs or long-term consulting gigs.

PS: Late in the day, I heard from an Ohio-based guy via Twitter who offered to take a look if I sent him a link to the project. I had already assigned the task, but will keep him in mind next time.  In overtime, it’s East 19, West 1.

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Have you perfected the art of flawless first time deployment?


Curiosity’s shadow through the lens’ dust cover. Credit: NASA

Anyone who has built something for public sale has felt both the pain and joy of deployment.

Last night’s Mars Curiosity landing was a deployment that every software team or product developer should be in awe of.

That highly complex, if not seemingly crazy Mars Curiosity landing plan went without a hitch.

The first Curiosity photo returned from Mars showed the rover’s shadow, taken through the dust cover of the lens.

Millions of lines of code. A multi-step time-sensitive deployment where the smallest mistake likely means that we leave a very expensive pile of broken, tangled metal on the surface of Mars.

And yet, it went perfectly.

Thanks to the University of Arizona’s HiRise project, we even have a picture of Curiosity’s chute deployment, despite landing on the side of Mars we couldn’t see from Earth at landing time last night. Simply amazing.

Curiosity hangs below her chute above Mars.
Photo credit: Univ of Arizona HiRise project

Perfect first-time deployment?

Deployment in the field almost always comes with challenges and adjustments.

How can you possibly deploy something perfectly in the field the very first time?

“Simple.” – By not doing it for the very first time in the field.

These things happened perfectly the first time, in part because of redundant systems, but primarily because of testing of all kinds done well before anyone built the device, much less fired it into the sky toward Mars.

NASA does the same kind of testing that we talked about last week re: Intuit’s 10 million lines of code.

Unit testing. Integration testing. System testing. Testing redundant systems. Simulations. Much of it automated so that nothing gets missed and everything possible is tested every single time it or a related component changes.

It’s not “simple”, but it’s what professionals do. Test. Everything. Not just manually, not just once the thing is done and ready to roll out the door. After every build. Automatically. Long before liftoff.

Congrats NASA.

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Stop waiting until you’re big enough.

Say AHHHH :-O
Creative Commons License photo credit: aussiegall

This morning a friend pointed out this story about how QuickBooks maker Intuit manages 10 million lines of code.

The punch line is that they manage 10 million lines of code just like you should be managing your code.

Professionally.

Is your business using professional-grade methods and tools? Are you sure?

Intuit manages their massive code base using the same professional-grade methods that almost every software business should be using. Perhaps you’d choose different tools, but the process is the key.

What does Intuit process include?

Intuit uses continuous integration.

So can you.

Intuit’s continuous integration (CI) tool is Jenkins, an open-source product not unlike CruiseControl and CruiseControl.Net and numerous others. I use CruiseControl.Net. Use what fits you until it doesn’t.

But my programmers will never agree to that”, you say. Aside from wondering who runs the place, I suggest you review this discussion on getting developers bought in to continuous integration. You shouldn’t have to work very hard at it, if you’re working with professionals.

Intuit uses source control.

So can you.

Intuit’s source control tool is Perforce, which offers a free version. If you want something simpler or less expensive, there are plenty of options – including some very dependable free source management systems. Examples include Git, Mercurial, Kiln (a hosted version of Mercurial), Vault, Subversion and several others. I use Kiln and Vault.

Intuit manages multiple builds.

So can you.

You can do that with a source control tool in conjunction with your CI tool of choice. You could make this more complex, but really, it’s about builds and source management. And you *can* do that.

Why do you need multiple builds? For one, when your tools change. You have production code deployed. It breaks. You need to fix it, and you sure can’t wait until all of your testing is done on the new tool set. Check out the code with the old tool set, fix it, check it in, build it.

You won’t believe how simple this is, especially if you manage multiple toolset releases with source control. Your hair might even grow back.

Intuit automates code analysis and testing.

So can you.

They use Coverity in conjunction with their own in-house tools, but you can start today with FxCop, NDepend, Simian, Gendarme, nAnt, various CI tools, Test Complete and a host of other CI-enabled code analysis and test tools. You can use VMWare‘s Workstation for Windows or Fusion for Mac (or both, as I do) to manage the OS snapshots and provide the same consistent testbench for each set of tests without manually having to build a test system, run tests, restore and so on.

Avoid the drudgery just like Intuit does, without losing the benefits of greater and more consistent quality.

Stop waiting until you’re “big enough”

If you’re waiting until you’re “big enough”, you’re not only wasting time, but you’re slowing down your ability to get big in the first place. You can’t wait until you have 10 million lines of code to manage to decide to go pro. By that time, you’re either drowning in code and tests and builds or you’re history. Or maybe you’re surviving as a slave to your software.

For every hour that you spend manually building binaries, building installs, testing installs, testing your app and doing other grunt work that your competition uses CI and source control systems to manage, guess what your competition is doing? They’re spending their time coding, marketing, working with customers, planning strategy, sleeping and enjoying their families.

The earlier you incorporate professional methods and professional tools in your software business, the earlier you get out of “dig a hole and fill it up” mode.

One of the reasons you might not be doing as well as you’d like is that you’re still using the methods and tools that a little software business uses.

Go pro. Start today.

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How the Yahoo password breach could affect you, even if you don’t use Yahoo

Power Of One
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian Sane

On July 12th 2012, Yahoo confirmed that a large number of passwords originating at its Associated Content site were leaked.

If you ever used Yahoo Voices (formerly known as Associated Content), you should check to see if you were affected, particularly if you have a habit of using the same username/email and password combination on multiple sites.

Even if you never used Yahoo or Associated Content, your customers might have. If you have online systems that your customer access, this might affect your customers and your internal systems, so please read on.

Were you or your customers affected?

To see if your username or email is on the leaked list, visit http://dazzlepod.com/yahoo/ and enter the login you used at Yahoo or Associated Content.

If your login name is on the list of leaked logins, it will be shown at the bottom of the page – without showing your password, of course. If it’s there, you need to change your password and more importantly, you need to change your password on every site that uses that combination of username and password.

Need new passwords?

When I need high-complexity passwords, I use the GRC Password Generator, which randomly generates complex passwords with each visit.

To test the strength of each password you chose to replace the leaked one, you can use GRC’s Password Haystack, which analyzes the complexity of your password vs. the brute force computing time estimated to try enough combinations to find a match.

An interesting sidebar to the Haystacks password complexity analysis is this XKCD passwords cartoon. The XKDC password fares quite well on the haystack test, while remaining easy to memorize.

What about my customers?

If your customers have online accounts that match a login on the leaked Yahoo login list, you should disable them and contact your customers with instructions explaining how to update their passwords.

Feel free to point them at this piece to explain the situation. Doing this before a problem develops is good, proactive customer service to help them protect their accounts (and possibly your business) from fraud.

Lessons your small business can learn from this breach

These lessons apply both to the login/password pairs you use and those your systems might store for your clients.

Strategies that will help keep your small business safer:

  • Don’t use the same password on multiple sites, otherwise one successful effort to get your password means the criminal could gain access to more than one of your online services/accounts.
  • Don’t store passwords in plain text. Hash them. Hashing is, in simple terms, a one-way form of encryption. A password string can be converted to a hash string for storage, but hashing techniques create a hash that cannot be converted back to the password. A staffer with access to the hash can’t use it to access a client’s account. Question is…how’d they get the hash and what else can they get to?
  • Have your IT staff salt your passwords (ie: add a random character to them) before hashing them for storage.
  • Change your passwords frequently. Many of the login/password pairs in this breach were quite old and from inactive Associated Content accounts, yet they still worked on numerous sites, judging from the number of accounts disabled by Google and other vendors.
  • Don’t write the passwords on Post-It Notes and stick them to your monitor in a public place (like your workplace).

Read this Information Week piece for additional discussion on lessons to learn from the Yahoo password breach.

How do I manage all these passwords?

By now, with advice like “change your passwords frequently” and “don’t use the same password for multiple sites” swimming in your head along with the thought of how many different accounts you have, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly manage to remember all those different login/password pairs.

Of course, I keep them all in my head.

Yes, I’m kidding.

I use a password management tool called RoboForm Everywhere (secure download here).

RoboForm integrates with my browser (and Windows/Mac) to remember passwords for me (in encrypted form) and will only fill them in for me after entering a master password – so I have one password to remember no matter what, rather than dozens. I’ve used it for some time and it’s a great time saver that helps me use good password management practices.

When you visit a site, RoboForm shows you a button (or drop down, if you have multiple accounts at that site) that will fill in the password for the site – after you enter your master RoboForm password.

You can disable the master password question for some or all logins if you wish so that you’re only asked for the master password on various intervals. Disabling the master password might be OK for your home computer, but I wouldn’t do it in your workplace.

Other password management solutions include 1Password, KeePass (free, open source) and LastPass. I’ve tried LastPass and didn’t mesh with it, but you might.

The important thing is not what password management tool you use – but that you protect your login/password pairs and use them wisely – and make sure your staff does the same.

 

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How to keep cloud service failures from affecting your business

You look at those prices for Amazon cloud services and think you’re getting a deal.

Fact is, you are. You’re hiring a professional staff to run your systems in a very-high-quality environment and paying little for it.

But are you using these cloud services in a way that protects your business?

Forbes analysis of the Northern Virginia Amazon cloud outage from Friday’s storm doesn’t clarify who does / doesn’t use the NoVa cloud site vs. who had a better redundancy setup.

Netflix and Instagram are likely re-examining their use of cloud services. I doubt they’ll eliminate Amazon as what happened in Northern Virginia can happen anywhere. They’ll likely discuss cost-effective means of increasing redundancy that leave them less sensitive to single location failures.

Questions to consider

Redundancy with transparent switchover to backup systems with no data loss is ideal. Do you need that? Can you afford it?

Ask the right questions when designing your use of cloud services:

  • How much downtime are your customers (internal or external) willing to tolerate?
  • Do you know what an hour of downtime costs internally (lost productivity, inability to serve customers) and externally (refunds, lost customers).
  • Given those costs, how much downtime can we afford?
  • What notification mechanisms do you need to have in place to switch? (or is the switch automatic?)
  • What do I want to happen when a failure occurs?
  • What am I willing to pay for my desired level of redundancy?
  • What will a failure that doesn’t use this level of redundancy cost my business?
  • How do you switch to the redundant system? Is it manual? Transparent?
  • Does your vendor offer redundancy? How does it work?
  • Are your vendor’s redundancy sites geographically dispersed?
  • How does my data get replicated?

This really isn’t about Amazon. It’s necessary to protect your business whether you use Rackspace, Amazon, Microsoft Azure or other cloud services. The key is knowing what you want to happen when a failure occurs and designing it into your processes.

Why not keep it all in-house?

It’s tempting to keep your data in-house. It somehow seems cheaper and there’s the impression that it’s more secure. Evidence indicates locally-hosted data has its own risks.

Locally-hosted systems have a single point of failure. I’ve had clients whose businesses have burned or flooded and others whose servers were stolen. Without a remote location to transition to, you’re down. Can your business handle that? If so, for how long?

Security

Security of internal business data is a concern with cloud vendors. High-quality cloud vendors obtain security certifications like SAS70 (financial industry), HIPAA (health care) and PA-DSS (credit cards), which require regular audits to ensure continued compliance. Companies who keep their data internal are subject to them as well – yet they still suffer data loss.

Local data storage doesn’t allow you to escape expensive HIPAA or PA-DSS compliance if those requirements apply to you. In the financial industry, systems are sometimes subject to examination by the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) and/or other agencies. But that doesn’t prevent data loss.

Regardless of system/data location, security should be designed into business processes rather than added as an afterthought.

Electrical power and internet

Cloud vendors use industrial-class electricity supplies with diesel backup generators. Their investment in these backup systems vary both in capacity and available time-on-generator, so ask for details. A site’s ability to run on diesel for two weeks isn’t nearly as important as your ability to switch to another facility in two hours…unless they don’t have two hours of generator time.

You can (and should) use an uninterruptible power source (UPS, aka battery backup) with automatic voltage regulation (AVR) to protect your local systems, but you’re still face internet-related downtime if remote staff/clients need to access locally-stored data.

Cloud vendors have multiple very-high-speed internet providers so that they are not subject to pressure from any single vendor and so that a single vendor’s downtime doesn’t bring the entire location down. You can do the same, but most small businesses don’t. If remote connectivity is critical to your business, it’s a smart strategy.

Whether your systems are local, cloud-based or both – plan for what happens when the lights go out. It just might save your business.

 

 

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Are You Sending Invisible Signals?

Sometimes a business does things that just don’t make sense, particularly when you consider the business they’re in.

Consider every hospital foundation director’s worst nightmare: Sending a donation request addressed to someone who recently died. What could be worse? Sending a donation request addressed to someone who died…. in their hospital. I haven’t personally seen this, but I had a conversation today with a hospital foundation director who knew of such things.

Paying attention

After my dad passed, I setup his email account to echo to mine just in case some last-minute personal business needed to be dealt with or a long-lost friend emailed him. Most of the email I get requires no action and off it goes into the circular file.

And then, there’s Ancestry.com.

I received this email on my parents’ wedding anniversary. Their first anniversary since my dad’s death.

Ordinarily, I would spend several paragraphs on the email itself.

I might mention things like the lack of the name of a real person as the sender. Or why they didn’t include a “PS: Happy Anniversary” (remember, they have data on marriages and divorces). Or the lack of questions why the renewal never happened after contacting me “several times”, much less the lack of a follow-up offer that repositions the pricing somehow. Or how calling me a “member” in a relatively impersonal email doesn’t make the email more personal. Or how the email is all about the payment and ultimately, all about THEM. Or by not knowing that the addressee has passed that anyone reading this might be considering whether or not to take over management of their genealogy data.

But that isn’t why I’m bothered by this email. It isn’t even about Dad.

It’s about demonstrating competence.

Competence

Ancestry.com sells data. Data about births, marriages and deaths.

Birth, marriage and death records are public information…and in Ancestry’s case, the delivery and organization of that data is their business.

Yet somehow, they don’t make the effort to figure out that their own customers are no longer alive. Receiving an email like this almost makes you wonder how close they pay attention to the quality of the data they sell.

When you aren’t paying enough attention to the invisible signals your business sends, you risk it all. In Ancestry’s case, they risk giving the impression that they aren’t paying attention to the quality of the product they’re trying to get me to renew.

Now turn this to your own business. Are you sending invisible signals about the quality of what you do?

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Rid-X figured out subscriptions. When will you?

Finally.

A mainstream, old school consumer product company figured out how to make it easy for customers to use their product at the recommended interval and do so with as little labor/friction as possible.

Rather than rolling their own, they used Amazon’s infrastructure to deal with payments, shipping and subscription management.

From Amazon.com:

Amazon Subscribe & Save allows you to subscribe for RID-X to be delivered straight to your door every month. When you sign up for RID-X through the Amazon Subscribe & Save service, you receive 15 percent off and free shipping every month. While you can subscribe to any RID-X product, it is recommended you choose either RID-X 1-Dose Powder or RID-X 1-Dose Liquid so you stay on top of your septic system maintenance. You can cancel your subscription through Amazon.com at any time.

RID-X has *television ads* that send people to that Amazon page. Serious money is being spent, this isn’t just a whim.

I’ve ridden you hard about this sort of thing in the past. If a septic tank additive manufacturer can do it, surely you can too.

Of course, you can buy other items of this nature at Amazon.com, Wal-Mart.com etc. Even toothpaste can be purchased by subscription.

What it isn’t and what it is

This isn’t about selling people stuff they don’t need or more than they need.

It’s about making it as easy as possible for the customer (with a by-product of making it easy for you) while putting a fence around your customers.

If your RID-X or your Crest 3D automatically shows up at home at just the right interval and ships free, why would you spend time and fuel making a special trip to pick up those things?

Yes, I realize you might pick them up when you’re already at the store for other things, but that isn’t the point.

When you force your customer to buy the old-fashioned way, you take the chance *every single time* that they will be lured by a coupon or some other bright shiny object (BSO). They might be disappointed in the product or service that coupon or BSO delivers. It might even hurt that consumer or business – something you could have prevented.

I don’t have enough time

Think about the complaint that so many people have these days. “I don’t have enough time .”

Yes, it’s often an excuse. Yes, they need to prioritize what’s important. Are you helping them do that?

Part of that prioritization is doing the important things rather than going to Wally World. When someone can deliver the product you need for the same or lower price than you’d pay by getting in the car, driving there, using fuel (more money), picking up another $57 worth of Richard Simmons videos that you won’t use and so on, why go there at all?

Would your customers rather have your product magically appear at their door? Or would they prefer to drive to your store? Some portion of them would rather take their kid to the park instead of sitting in traffic.

B2B

Even if you don’t sell consumer-class goods to businesses, there are services or products they need all the time. They are as time-pressured as consumers. They’d rather be on the phone with customers, working ON their business rather than running errands, or creating their next big thing. But instead, you’re making them drive across town. Or you’re making them remember to initiate those services.

This isn’t just about commodities like RID-X, toothpaste and softener salt. Customers of CPAs, attorneys and other professionals have *predictable* recurring needs that can be sold on a subscription basis.

Yes, I realize no one else in your market sells professional services that way. So?

That infrastructure thing

If you make things that have to be shipped, it might not be workable for you (for whatever reason) to ship pallets of your stuff to Amazon’s warehouses. Maybe you don’t meet their minimums. Or maybe you make things that aren’t shipped at all.

Even so, you might have a subscription-capable thing to sell. If you do, there are automated subscription-driven solutions out there that don’t require you to build it yourself. The right one will allow you to serve those customers in a way that fits you both.

 

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Starting A New Business: Part 5 – Infrastructure

Infrastructure is one of those things you don’t necessarily think about as a new business owner.

Thing is, strong infrastructure often turns out to be the competitive edge that no one (other than you) notices.

Your clientele notices “stuff”:

  • You’re always on top of things and that you rarely, if ever, have to say “oh, that fell in a crack.”
  • Your staff knows where orders, parts and service people are, when they’ll be show up and what, if anything, is holding them up.
  • Your staff is proactive more often than not.
  • You don’t lose checks, invoices, legal forms and other marginally important paperwork (yes, that was sarcasm).
  • Their priorities never seem to get lost in yours.
  • You rarely (if ever) miss a deadline – particularly one that would embarrass or damage their business.

In other words, they notice when you really have your act together. Not only do they notice, but they remember, tell others and keep coming back.

The price of worry

Infrastructure is what helps you keep from worrying about “stuff” every single day.

Every moment you spend fretting about “stuff”, chasing down minutiae, emailing to ask for status reports is time focused on things that you shouldn’t even have to think about.

When you have infrastructure in place that takes these things off your mind, your mind is free to do more important thinking. More valuable thinking about things (and on a level) that transforms what you do.

Something as simple as an automated website backup process that sends your content to an offsite backup location is one less menial task and one less brain-sucking thing to keep in the back of your mind.

Do-It-Yourself?

Entrepreneurs are often DIY kinds of folks because we want something slightly better than the norm. It’s why we build solutions.

It also means we spend time on things we have no business doing. Either we aren’t any good at it, or we don’t have time to get (much less stay) current in that activity. It might be computers, your network, plumbing, human resources, benefits or event management.

Frequently these things involve some combination of legal, insurance, finance and taxes. Not the kind of “stuff” you want to mess up.

Little things that can destroy a day…or a week

If I lose electricity, I lose water because our well requires a pump. Meanwhile, my computers will be up for another hour or so thanks to uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), giving me time to backup, shutdown my systems cleanly and leave if I need to keep working.

Few people backup enough, for example. If lightning from one of the thunderstorms that visit your coastline almost every day destroys your computer, you get to buy a new computer and waste a day setting it up. If your customer and order data isn’t backed up, you’ll spend even more time re-entering your customer/order data – if you have it on paper somewhere. So much for those orders you needed to ship tomorrow.

I do all my client work in VMs (VM = virtual machine). I backup the VMs I use to a portable external drive. I backup to it regularly and test it often to make sure it works. Regularly does not mean annually – it means weekly, worst case. The work I do for clients is backed up constantly.

This means I can run out the door with nothing but that external drive, go to a local store, buy a computer, download VMWare and be working again without losing a thing, inside an hour – anywhere. Allowing the failure of a $500 desktop computer to kill your business is just foolish.

Your business might not be as portable as mine, and that’s ok. The takeaway, no matter what you do, is “Protect your ability to continue to do business productively”.

The back of your mind is full

The back of your mind is full enough already. Let it focus on serious work that only you can do and let experts take care of the important stuff outside of your expertise. The same goes for your staff. That back of the mind stuff is what infrastructure does so well.

Think long-term and strategically about infrastructure investments – and then invest as soon as you can.

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Your customers are already trained to share. Help them.

Have you noticed what happens when you add an item to your Amazon wish list?

Three tabs appear on the right side of the “We just added this to your wish list page”.

This tab is ready-made for a Facebook post with just one click. There’s a link to the book, a brief summary of the book and a 1 click button to share your wish.

This tab is ready-made for a tweet with one click.

It even makes note that a link to your wish list item will be part of the tweet and because 140 characters is always on the mind of Twitter users, it notes that the link’s characters are part of the characters-remaining count shown at the right side of the tweet box.

This tab makes it as easy as possible to share about your wish list item via email.

Forget Amazon…what about you?

Your customers are already trained to share both the good and the bad.

Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and many others have made it fashionable, normal, if not part of our culture. Even if you don’t participate in the sharing, your customers do.

How are you giving your customer easy ways to share what they want, what they love, what they dislike, what they’d do different – with you and with those important to them?

 

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Habits and Heatmaps

Here’s your sign.

While it is a well-known “redneck” comedian punch line, it’s also something you should be looking for.

Some signs you must seek out, while others have been right in front of you all year long.

Many of those signs are buried in your existing business data.

Habits

Your business data illustrates your customers’ behavior, including buying and service calls. Some companies use it, some don’t.

For example, I realized today that I hadn’t sent out thank yous to a few clients. It’s been a very hectic, deadline-filled November and December and this is something I usually do right after Thanksgiving.

Not this year. And no, it wasn’t on my calendar because it’s just ingrained behavior. Bad Mark. Bad, Bad, Bad.

When I do remember this (and now, when it pops up on my calendar), I use high-end vendors to ship items like fresh or smoked salmon to a short list of folks that I do business with year-in and year-out.

One of the reasons I forgot? I didn’t get a catalog from either of the two vendors that I usually use. Well, sort of. I got a catalog two months ago, but that isn’t prime ordering season for “corporate gifts”.

The problem with this is that these businesses know when I order. If they look at the data from prior orders, they could *predict* when I place an order and what I might buy, much less where I’d send it.

Predictable Male Behavior

If I bought a two pound smoked salmon for the last five years, they know this because the ship to isn’t my name or address (not to mention the “It’s a gift” checkbox on the order form).

Given typical male shopping predictability (“get in, get out, move on”), they could have won the order by simply dropping a card in the mail or sending me an email saying “Hey Mark, we appreciate that you’ve ordered our delicious smoked salmon as a gift for the last five years, would you like us to send Joe another two pounds or would you prefer something different but in the same price range, such as our crab sampler?”

Or something like that. How tough would that be? No cold call. No catalog. Just an email from data that already tells them how I behave.

Do you want to do this for everyone? Probably not, but it would be of use in concept at the very least. Look at your order/sales data. Not just across the board, but for your best customers, however you define that. When do they buy? Might be a good time to place a reminder in front of them.

Look for the heat

Have you ever looked at a heat map?

On a heat map, the “hotter” looking places are either the locations where most people click or they indicate where eye-tracking tools determined that people are looking most of the time when they view a page.

Below, you can see an example website heat map illustrating click locations.

The red places indicate locations where the most people clicked.

The yellow and green areas are slightly less popular click locations and the blue are even less frequently clicked.

In other words, red is hot, yellow is warm, green is cool, blue is cold – just like on a graphical heat display – only this one shows the locations where people click on this web page.

 

Videos also do a nice job of illustrating data on a heat map, like this click location map.

This video shows a heat map eye movement on a video advertisement and the results aren’t what you might assume from seeing the still preview image.

Stir

Like any other measurement device, tools like the heat map help you understand if your site is well-designed for your user community (they are not alike from niche to niche) and can indicate usability issues, copywriting problems (and wins) and design strengths and weaknesses.

Your sales/order data is full of behavioral information.

People tend to be visual learners. What if we stirred these two together?

What would you learn if you looked at your calendar overlaid with a heat map based on your lead, sales, order and service data?