If Godzilla taught user interface lessons…

A few weeks ago, I helped my mom buy an iPad.

You would think that my mom, who is in her 70s, would be the one learning the most from this exercise, but you’d be wrong.

Going through this with her simply reminded me (again) to discard all assumptions when building a user interface, when training and most of all, when designing a process that brings new customers into the fold.

So why Godzilla?

Godzilla has very short arms, much like a T-Rex. Those of you who remember Bill Harley’s dinosaur story about the boy who wanted to be a T-Rex will be familiar with Godzilla’s challenge: Harley’s dinosaur ate the french fries off his plate like a dog because his arms wouldn’t reach the fork.

Godzilla would have an equally rough time using software that assumes the user can touch the iPad’s screen.

What I’m getting at here is that making assumptions about your clientele (or in this story’s case – end users) can threaten your ability to help them if it’s focused in the wrong place because you made too many assumptions.

My Assumptions

Before you think I’m accusing you of making assumptions about your clientele, keep in mind that I had done the same thing prior to going through this iPad install: I assumed that there was some familiarity with iPads/iPhones and touch devices in general – even though I knew better.

While mom has been a desktop computer user for quite a long time – she doesn’t have a smartphone or another touch device, so we were going into uncharted territory. This also meant that there was a pretty good chance that she’d have no familiarity with iOS basics, the iOS app store, iTunes, or anything else in that sphere of knowledge.

The adventure

Let’s go over what we did, what I learned and what you can take away from this little adventure.

The steps we performed: Initial power on, get wireless working so everything else would work, connect to iTunes store, create an iTunes account, timeout while fiddling with passwords and addresses, start over on the iTunes store setup and thus, account setup, then setup iTunes and download the Kindle reader app.

For someone in the geek business, this is a fairly simple exercise. Here’s the trick – if you’re an iPad owner for over a year – do you remember the steps and details of the signup and setup process? Do you think it has changed in the last year, much less two or three years? Of course.

So again, assumptions creep into the discussion. My probably-faulty memory was helping mom through this process without seeing her screen, so another layer of frivolity crept in.

After the create-an-account timeout, things went pretty smooth but the assumption monster was always peeking around from behind the iPad.

Your turn

Given my story about the iPad, think about the process you go through with a new client. Sometimes they seem so lost, so uninformed, so out of touch.

And here we are, looking at them like fools. They are the fools, so to speak, who just paid us to help them deal with the fact that they don’t know the things they paid us to help them with.

Perhaps a definition is in order.

Client (n) – “a person or organization in the case of a professional person or company.”

If your newest client told your best prospect that they are “In the care of…” your business, what would they say?

Is that different you would want them to say? You know the truth, be it good or not so good.

You may call them clients because you want to believe you treat them differently than ‘just a customer’, but if you don’t, they aren’t.

Back to those assumptions

Think about the last time you visited a doctor’s office. You come in, someone shoves a clipboard into your hands and you write the same information three times on different pieces of paper. Occasionally, someone asks a question about one of your answers.

Is this process guided? Non-repetitive? What about your questions? Do all the surprises and customer / client / patient assumptions go away?

On their next visit to your office, shop, warehouse or store… do they know exactly what to expect before they arrive? Do they leave without having experienced unexpected, unpleasant surprises? Do they know what they should expect the *next* time?

Assumptions work that way too.

Put your mask on first

Fire Smoke IndyW 1428

Professional development mentors remind us that we must take care of ourselves first.

They advise that we improve ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally – in other words, attend first to our overall health – so that we’re better prepared to perform well in our roles at work, at home and in our community.

Personal finance mentors do the same when they remind us to pay ourselves first. If we don’t, something will always come up that consumes those funds, leaving us ill-prepared for our future.

Airline flight attendants ask us to put on our oxygen mask first, then help others sitting near us, because we can’t help our kids or significant others if we’re unable to breathe.

Here’s the technology version of putting your mask on first:

  • Backup your business data.
  • Test your backups regularly to be sure you can restore them.
  • Rotate your backup media off-site so that a theft or on-site fire or water damage don’t render your backups useless at the time you’ll need them most.
  • Document your backup and restore process so that you can restore and get systems running again even though your technology wizard is on a 16 hour flight to Australia.
  • Investigate, plan and implement real-time disaster recovery for your business data, particularly if your business model has little downtime tolerance.

This may seem like a hassle. It may seem like unnecessary overhead. Don’t be tempted by those thoughts.

Fact is, if you put your mask on first, you’ll be in a better position to help your customers solve their problems, grow their business and keep paying you. Why? Because your business will be more resilient.

Look back at the business impacts from an event like Hurricanes Sandy or Katrina. If you were impacted by those storms, how would you service customers who weren’t in the storm track? If you can’t, you know they’re likely to find someone else who can.

Your “Someday” is coming

These kinds of things that happen when your business can’t take a power outage, a hard drive crash or similar disruptions. The question is… when?

No one can point to a date and declare (in their Darth Vader voice) that “Your systems are going to fail on this day.”

What I can guarantee, even without considering Katrina, Sandy, Boardwalk fires, blizzards and ice storms, is that it’ll happen…Someday. These things happen to electronic, mechanical devices. You can either be prepared for them or not.

At least once a week, I hear from someone whose “Someday” has arrived. Three times last month I saw it happen to businesses who didn’t have backups. Like a TV show involving the Kardashians, it’s drama you don’t need.

You might think that hardware failures happen more often to businesses that don’t have backups. The reality is that businesses with good backups simply restore them and keep working, so we don’t hear much about their hardware problems. One result of this is that making backups is ignored until it’s too late.

This puts the security of your clients, your employees, your clients’ employees and the families of all these people at risk.

If your most important database disappeared right now, how would that impact your business? How would you recover? How long would it take to get back to where you are right now, productivity-wise? When did you last test your ability to restore your data from a backup?

If you don’t know the answers, ask your technology people. Don’t do it in an accusing fashion, just explain that you’re concerned about the possibility of hardware failure and natural disasters, so you’d like to know what the backup and recovery plan is and how long the recovery period will take for your business. These are things management should know.

Remember, it’s an asset

While there is no good time for this to happen, history suggests that failures are likely during your busy season, or during financial month / quarter / year end.

The good news is that if you have your backup and restore act together, you might lose some time and productivity when your Someday comes, but you’re far less likely to lose your job or your business.

Backup your data. Test your backups to make sure the restores will work. Schedule these tasks.

Care for your data like an irreplaceable asset.

Would your meetings convince someone to work for you?

The Arctic Council observers meeting 02

What do you use as your secret weapon when you really want to hire someone?

 

Recently, I heard a CEO say that they routinely use their weekly Friday employee meeting to convince someone to come work for them.

Yes, a company meeting. Of 300+ employees.

Pressed further, the CEO said that meeting is their highest performing way to get someone they really want to accept a job offer.

Would ANY of your meetings have that kind of impact?

Things a software vendor should never say

Are you damaging the relationship with your customers when you respond to their requests for help?

If the staff receiving feedback reacts to bug reports and questions as if they’re a personal insult, you probably are.

Snarky remarks, veiled insults and/or disdain have no place in the feedback loop, yet they happen far too often.

Here are a few ways you might be sabotaging your business when handling customer feedback and how to improve each of them:

“You’re the first one to report this.”

Even if I’m a beta tester, it’s an irrelevant piece of information unless the word “Thanks” is at either end of the sentence.

The implication is that if you’re the first to report it, it must not be a legitimate problem.

Better: Investigate the why and the what, rather than prosecute the who. Even if you tell your customer they’re the first to report the problem, at least one thing is necessary: Thank them. A lot depends on your attitude when sharing that fact. Even more depends on what happens next.

The alternative is that they give up on reporting things because your company takes an attitude with them. If they don’t report things they’ve encountered, what opportunity cost does that have? What does it say about your relationship with them?

“It works fine on my machine.” aka “WOMM”

This one makes me think “Well, I’ll be right over, so be sure to have my favorite coffee ready. Oh, and make me a sandwich because I’ll likely be at your desk for a while.

Seriously, telling the customer it works on your machine is fine, but only it’s said without the “You’re an idiot user” attitude. It’s not a bad thing to let them know that the problem is not well-known. Treating as if they’re an idiot is.

Better: It’s OK to let the customer know it works for you, but do so in context – while letting them know that this probably means there’s a simple solution.

“You’re using it wrong.”

While this could be another parallel to WOMM and a statement that the product’s usability isn’t what it should be – it’s really focused on blaming the customer. Keep in mind that if your UI, UX, error management and such are bad enough that the user could do something that would provoke such a remark – you should be focused on something other than blaming them.

Better:  Try “You’re doing something we didn’t consider during our design and testing. Can you tell me more about what you want to happen?” If the customer is doing something the system isn’t designed to support – this isn’t the time for criminal prosecution. It’s time for advocacy for both your development team and the customer. They may be about to describe a new market for a slightly altered version of your software – if you’re willing to listen for it.

“Why would you want to do THAT?”

This response to a request for new or altered functionality is usually spoken in a tone that gives you the impression that the vendor thinks you’re an idiot. You’ve set the wrong tone for a conversation that could have revealed a new market, a new segment of your existing market or more.

Better: This response needs to parallel “You’re doing it wrong”, as it can indicate UI and UX issues. However, this reaction is most often connected with opportunity. Market opportunities are lost when the user is about to describe something that would benefit them, but before they can, they’re insulted with “…THAT?“.

Benefits sell products. More benefits sell more products and help retain customers. Listen…you might actually hear something.

“It works fine on Windows XP”

This one is a close parallel to “It works fine on my machine”, but it also tends to send the message that your vendor, their support people or their developers are worst case stuck in 2001 when XP was released and best case in 2008 when Windows XP SP3 was released.

Supporting XP is OK if your market demands it for whatever reason. Ignoring the fact that there have been three releases of Windows since that time – sorry, can’t apologize for you there. Is this the kind of message you want to send to new customers? To prospects (yes, your comments will get out).

Better: If you haven’t completed tested on the OS release that your customer is using, try “We’re still testing on that version. Can you describe how it acts for you? I’d like to report this to our (install / development / testing / QA / management) team(s), so it would help to have as much information as possible.” Of course, if you can come up with a workaround until your OS support is more complete, do so.

As OS vendor development cycles shrink and they move to smaller and more frequent iterations, these situations are going to increase…unless you dedicate yourself to being ready for them. It’s simply a part of leading your market. Last week’s Build conference made it clear that Microsoft is serious about decreasing the time lag between OS releases. You can treat this change in speed as the enemy or as a competitive advantage.

The bottom line

It only takes one snarky comment to become an adversary at a time when the customer is asking for help.

They didn’t contact you to have a more negative experience than they’re already having – they asked for help. Customers are hard enough to keep without your staff running them off with remarks that tend to come off mean or snarky.

React with courtesy, intelligence and understanding even when things aren’t going well. Customers notice and remember.

Startup DNA

For those in the software / SaaS business, an interesting slide deck from a guy involved in some fairly high end startups.

The last third of the deck is not as impactful as the first 2/3rds, where in addition to his comments, the author offers some pretty helpful resources.

It’s worth a look.

For those about to sell, we salute you!

You may not like to sell, particularly if you are a technical person.

It’s even more likely if you’re a technical person who has built a job rather than a business – meaning you might be chief cook and bottle washer as well.

It may be an overused stereotype that technical people don’t like sales and marketing people, but there’s plenty of evidence to back it up.

While there are a number of reasons for these feelings, I find most of them irrational and costly. Yes, costly. I’m sorry to tell you that this irrational phobia is costing you customers and revenue.

Get one, maybe more than one

The obvious solution: Get a salesperson. A good one. You need to find someone to handle that work – particularly if you refuse to do it.

Spend some time teaching them the most important things about the business of your clients/prospects. Show them how your product/service provides value to your clients. Discuss with them what keeps your clients up at night and why – and how your product/service alleviates those concerns.

Use your marketing to identify who has shown interest in what you have to offer. Help them with a win-win setup so you get more new customers and they get paid for bringing your worlds together.

But I shouldn’t have to sell!

You may feel that your product/service is so awesome that people should line up to buy it.

In some way, you might be right. It might be the best product in its market. It might be the best product ever for what it does. But if no one buys it, you won’t be making it for long.

You and Kevin Costner can go build a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield if you like, but Hollywood movies notwithstanding, a throng of people aren’t likely going to show up simply because you built it.

You may not be any good at sales. In general, I guess that’s OK. It might turn out that you bring a lot of value to the business in other ways – meaning that selling may not be the best use of your time.

That doesn’t mean your business shouldn’t take sales seriously.

Owners sell

In recent times, the best known CEO-who-could-sell was Steve Jobs. If nothing else, the contrast between Jobs and his replacement illustrates the serious value that a selling business owner (or CEO) brings to the market.

I don’t mean that you must be as great as Jobs was on stage in front of 5000 people – though that might prove useful.

What I’m saying is that when you run into a prospect somewhere, you’d better be highly capable of telling the story that makes it obvious why someone would want what you sell. If the CEO/owner can’t communicate that to a prospect, a salesperson or the media, something is wrong.

The best CEOs/owners sell. So can you.

It’s a skill, just like welding or programming

Just because you can’t sell today, doesn’t mean you’re stuck. Selling is not a natural born skill. No newborn ever closed a deal, whether breast fed or bottle fed. No one wakes up and decides “Today is the day I become a great salesperson.”

However, sales can be learned, even by technical people who hate doing it. Tip: You usually hate it because you’re doing it wrong.

No matter what, if you have something to sell, a well-prepared sales team (even a team of one) will usually do a better job of selling it to the right people than you and your pile of hastily-made tri-fold brochures could ever do – at least until you put in the effort to learn the craft.

Lifelong

Don’t stop blogging and the other marketing-related things I’ve suggested in the past. While these things produce leads and nurture relationships….they aren’t sales.

Sales produce customers. I’ll bet you’d like to have more lifelong customers.

A sales team can help with that. Understand that I’m not talking about the kind of folks who make the cold read-a-script calls that you still get or the kind of salesperson most people think of when they hear the word “salesperson”.

Those are the salespeople nobody wants to talk to, because they can’t (or don’t) really sell.

Be (or hire) the kind who can and does.

The kind of salesperson they LOVE to hear from

Dynamic Serenity
Creative Commons License photo credit: papalars

When you talk to your customers about their business, do they ever respond “Wow, I didn’t know that” or “Really?”

Does your sales and marketing process provoke your prospects with questions they have to think about?

Or does it simply say “Look at us! Look at us!”

Far fewer spend their energy and money educating their prospects / clients, much less showing that they did their homework about the prospect’s business.

Smart businesses do this to show their expertise in the clients’ market. They stand out because they care enough to do their homework.

Paying Attention

Years ago when business research usually required searching proprietary online systems, I flew off to a job interview. While preparing for the interview, I looked up this public company’s annual report. I found some troubling things that looked like they were bad but recoverable.

During the interview, I asked about their problems and their recovery strategy. The interviewer was the company’s finance VP. He was looking for a technology director to help turn their business around and was shocked that I knew of the problem, much less that I had marginally intelligent questions about it. More importantly, he was wowed because I had invested the time and effort to learn about their company before showing up for the interview.

Given the ease of information access these days, that sort of knowledge should be assumed of an interview candidate.

Do job candidates show this kind of interest and level of knowledge about your business when they join you for an interview? If they don’t, why would you hire them? If they don’t care enough to learn about your business before they get the job, will they care after they get the job?

Your prospects, much less your clients, might be asking that same question about your staff’s knowledge of their business, market and industry.

Why we “hate” salespeople

Even if you don’t have salespeople, whoever does “the sales job” has to have this homework done to have any credibility with customers and prospects.

Think about why you don’t want to deal with salespeople: “Can I help you?”

Of course, you have no idea if they’re capable of helping you. You usually don’t know if they’re the expert and you probably don’t recall being introduced to their expert the last time you had tough questions. Most salespeople are trained on their employer’s business processes, but not often about the customers who frequent that business, much less their needs. It’s usually not their fault. It’s a management/training choice.

That’s why your natural response to “Can I help you?” has become a reflex: “Just looking.”

It’s natural because we assume they won’t be of use to our evaluation/selection process and as a result, we figure they’re only asking because they’re on commission or are trained to engage every customer with the same robotic greeting (because someone thought it’d increase sales).

Commission or not, know your stuff

I really don’t care if they’re on commission or not if they’re knowledgeable. After all, I entered the business because I needed something. If they have someone who can actually help me by sharing their knowledge and asking smart questions, they’ll earn that commission.

The ones we don’t want to talk to act as order takers, work a self-service cash register can often perform. If the management of “order takers” hasn’t taught them the importance of this info, few of them will become effective salespeople.

If you’ve done your homework, you know things about your clients’ world that they simply don’t know. It isn’t because they’re dumber than you, it’s just that most of them are too embroiled in the day to day of their business to spend time on that stuff. The best ones spend time on it or have someone do it for them, but they’re rare – and they really appreciate expertise.

While they almost certainly know more about the day to day and technical aspects of their business than you do, prospects may not have done detailed research before a purchase, particularly if it isn’t specific to their expertise. They may not know new industry info that might generate interest in other things you offer.

The world needs better salespeople. If you employ them, educate them. If you’re in sales, do your homework.

Whats coming sooner than you think? The R word.

What’s coming sooner than you think?

Retirement.

Don’t run away, 20 and 30-somethings.

Even if you’re 22 and three years into your new business, these issues should be on your mind unless you want to do more or less exactly what you’re doing now for the next 30-40 years.

We’re talking about the difference between building a business and building a job.

No one will buy your job. Lots of people would be interested in buying your business – if you can show proof of the things people want to buy.

So what’s the difference between the two?

  • A job has no cash flows. It has a salary exchanged for day in, day out work. Vacation/sick time aside, a job doesn’t generate income when you don’t work.
  • A business has cash flow. It delivers revenue whether you work or not.

To quote Mary Meeker (Kleiner Perkins partner and investor): “The value of a business is the current value of future cash flows.”

Business buyers are always interested in buying an income stream. They’re never interested in buying a job.

Model the outcome you seek

Last week, I was having a conversation with someone about upgrade pricing for their core product.

It led to a conversation about pricing a new product and pursuing new customers, which lead to retirement-after-selling-out discussions.

Why did that happen? Because we had to settle on some parameters for the retirement/selling out discussion before we could have a coherent discussion about product pricing.

Pricing shouldn’t be random. Sure, it has to reflect the value you deliver, but it also has to reflect your business and personal goals. Much of the time, it seems to reflect little more than whatever your competition charges, plus or minus a little.

“What the market will bear” is what sets the price for commodities.

Arriving at your number

So how do you get to “your number”?

Let’s say you want $5 million when you sell. If you settle for three times annual cash flow (it could be one, it could be 10), that’s $5MM/3. At what annual revenue do x customers get you that number every year? What do you have to sell them to make that?

For the sake of discussion, we’ll assume it takes 500 customers. There’s your average. Where are you now? How many new customers do you need to get to the right number? How much more do you need to come up with in real value to get that from existing customers?

Finally, for those who have their sights set on making it big with an initial public offering (IPO)….don’t let the haters dissuade you, but do pay attention to history.

No one has ever IPO’d a job

IPOs aren’t a phenomena limited to Silicon Valley, though the resources there make it easier to put the right conditions together. Despite that, it can happen anywhere. In fact, it has happened right here in rural Montana.

From KPCB again:

Build something that will run on all cylinders even when you’re sick, on vacation, caring for a parent or simply want to take a random day off. Over the long term, perhaps your leadership will be needed, or perhaps you’ll hire someone who leads better than you do. Five years (or five days) from now, you might find something else that gets you up at 4 a.m. raring to go.

Rather than close that other business you built – find a great manager to run it. You can’t do that with a job.

You may love what you do and think you can do it forever. You may be right. Positioning your business so that you can change if you need or want to, will also position you more ideally for whatever your future holds.

Somewhere down the road, it’s likely that you’ll want to sell your business. If you can show recurring cash flow that doesn’t depend solely on your labor, it’ll be a lot easier.

Where you are today

If your business is “just you” and really does resemble a job, that’s OK. As you look forward, consider how you want things to look as time passes – particularly when selling the business crosses your mind.

One more time…. “The value of a business is the current value of future cash flows.”

Meeker 2012 – What should small software businesses do?

KPCB operating system trends
Credit: KPCB

Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends presentation is always an attention getter.

For some, a wake-up-call, for others… a reminder.

No matter what it is for you, there’s some valuable trend info there worth looking at in the context of your software business.

“Rapid mobile adoption still in early stages.”

Think about that for a moment. Apple has more than 100 million mobile devices sold (65 million iPads in 8 quarters) and dominates US smartphone sales. Android does the same for the rest of the world…and we’re still in the “early stages”.

This isn’t a surprise, but it’s a common mistake for entrepreneurs to feel like if they aren’t first, they’re worst – and for some, that they shouldn’t even try. Someone has to be first – and sometimes their most important achievement is to show everyone else that the market is viable.

It’s still very early for mobile, despite what you might gather from industry doomers, but there’s plenty of time to be the second mouse who gets the cheese.

Look around your clients’ offices. Are their salespeople 100% mobile? If they have any kind of fleet, are their drivers/pilots? What about their warehouse / lot / logistics people? Are their in-house pickers on mobile devices yet? What about their salespeople? Can they enter a lead, produce and email a quote and close a sale – including accepting a check, depositing a check, getting a contract signature, emailing the signed contract and/or taking a credit card – from their mobile phone?

All of those things can be done today with a phone. You can even deposit a check with your stodgy old bank’s mobile phone app.

What about your product line?

Can they use their mobile phone to perform core functionality like this in your software? My guess is… Probably not.

Some of your software might never be on a mobile device in its current form. Yet parts of it might make sense, particularly for outside sales and other mobile workers. One thing is almost certain: This kind of mobile flexibility will be difficult to avoid in the future because customers will demand it or move to someone else who delivers it.

One of the more challenging aspects of the move to mobile is the cross-architecture requirements. A few years back, you could dictate mobile hardware because phones couldn’t do the work. You’d have customers buy expensive ruggedized Symbol devices and that allowed you to control the scope of development.

Not anymore. Today, you need to be ready to consider adding iOS, Android, WinRT, Java, HTML5 and who knows what else to your development efforts. Now maybe you don’t start development on all of those at once but you’d better be considering how each of them apply in your market.

If you aren’t, are you ready to give up the testimonial-writing, market-leading customers in your client base? They’ll often be the ones who move first to new solutions that leverage advanced technology – even if it’s just to do a pilot and set their next long-term strategy.

Globally, only 18% of people have mobile access, but the growth rate was 37% over the last year. In the U.S., 29% have a tablet compared to 2% three years ago.

Rethink your apps.

“8% growth in internet users, driven by emerging markets”

79% of the U.S. population has internet access today, while only 10% of the population of India has it.

Of that 10%, 44 million use a smartphone. The rest use a mix of desktop/laptop and cell phone. For those who get to the net via mobile device, it doesn’t always happen on a smartphone. Meeker noted that 200 million farmers in India receive ag subsidies via their cell phone.

Intuit recognized this situation early on by having business development people in place in India. One of their success stories there is a service that delivers daily pricing information to farmers via text message. They’re adding 20,000 users a week to this text message based service, which helps farmers get more for their produce at market.

“Suddenly” the translation to Farsi and adaptation to “non-smart” cell phones seems more interesting…

For U.S. software companies, these are areas of concern. At 79%, our climb only has so much headroom left. International is a natural next step given the growth numbers.The U.S. is number eight in growth rate of new internet users, behind China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria, Mexico and Russia.

Why worry? Because small U.S. software companies tend to avoid internationalization. Grab 10 small software company product downloads off the net. How many of them support other languages? Other currencies? Other taxation systems?

If internationalization is a problem, how functional is business development outside the U.S. for American companies? How else will you get accurate business development knowledge in those countries? Add to that, many countries have barriers to outside companies building a presence inside their borders – just like the U.S. does.

This is an area of great potential, but it doesn’t come without serious work. It isn’t as simple as running your product’s text strings through Google Translate.

Don’t forget Android. In 13 quarters, Android has lined up 250MM mobile phone users, with the majority outside the U.S.  Combine that with a different platform with many different screen formats and this is where you mull over your answer to “How bad do you want it?” when looking at the potential return.

Smartphone upside

As the smartphone enters the developing world en mass, there’s still a big upside. In the U.S., we think we’ve seen it all. Globally, there are 953 million smartphone subscribers. Seems like a lot, after all that’s about 3 times the size of the U.S. population.

Yet for all mobile phones, the smartphone subscribers number jumps to 6.1 billion (see image below). Compare those two numbers carefully when considering your near term app strategy.

Many would suggest you build a smartphone app for these developing markets ASAP. I suggest you consider where you are now before taking that step. In particular, think about “the reason to get a sale“.

Show me

Many will read these numbers and think “Yeah, but…”  The “but” is about where the buyers are and where the traffic is.

Currently 10% of global internet traffic is mobile. It was 4% two years ago.

What about buyers? Meeker said 8% of e-commerce is mobile-based and that the click through rate on mobile is still 1/5th of what desktop click through is.

8% globally is a big number and has little choice but to go up. Can your site handle it? Can your clients’ sites?

In India, there is now more mobile-based internet traffic than there is traffic from desktops/laptops. Breathe that in before your next long-term product strategy meeting.

Reimagination

These three graphics tell a lot of stories. There is one thing they don’t say.

One thing these graphics don’t say is “Who’s next?”

Spring Training

That’s how early things are. Meeker called it “Spring Training” because there are so many opportunities related to the net and mobile that the season really hasn’t started. Maybe in the U.S., we’re jaded to the opportunity that remains because we have this habit of assuming that everyone is like we are. 15 minutes on your tech support line will clear that up.

For those willing to think and work differently…different results are possible. Look back over these slides and my comments. How will they, how could they impact your business?

Thanks to KPCB, I’ve included the slide deck here…

The other shoe

Meeker’s talk wasn’t all good news. She referred to KPCB’s now-famous (and sobering) USA Inc. video/report that looks at the financial performance of the U.S. as if it was a business. Regardless of your politics, it’s worth a look. An October 2012 USA Inc slide deck is here and the 2011 video is here.

The single most painful lesson software companies learn

The most painful conversations I have with small software business owners are about marketing.

One of the more common ones relate how another company “stole” their business with “more aggressive” marketing.

The victim of this “theft” blames it on someone else’s marketing despite watching it happen right in front of them and doing nothing more than grumble about it.

Sometimes they’ll drag out the old programmers’ tale that “the best software never wins”.

It’s an attempt to imply that better marketed software must be a lesser product and those who effectively market their software are less professional by doing so. All they’re really doing is deflecting their inability to take responsibility to someone who is running the business better than they are.

It’s a bug in their mindset.

It’s your competitor’s fault?

Most software business owners who watched someone use a better tool to create software would take steps to evaluate that tool to see if it made sense for their business.

The exception? When that “better tool” is better marketing and sales.

In that case, they’ll usually just watch, grumble about that competitor’s so-called “unfair behavior” and do nothing about it. It’s as if someone has emasculated them.

If you sit and watch better marketing executed in your market and then you do nothing to improve your own marketing, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If you allow your relationship with an existing customer to degrade to the point where one of these “aggressive” marketers could gain your client’s attention and demo their software, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If your favorite team ignored the quality of one critical aspect of their game, you’d recognize their mistake. You might even yell at your TV over it. Would you blame the teams that win against them because of better skills in that one critical area?

I think not.

A lack of knowledge

Ignoring the quality of your marketing is no different than your favorite team ignoring recruiting or developing young players. You’d think they were inept, at best.

Yet you might still feel that marketing (“aggressive” or not) is unethical and/or unprofessional.

Ultimately, that shows a lack of business knowledge. You have a duty to have knowledge about your profession and to continue to develop that knowledge – and not just the technical part.

Done right – better marketing is typically nothing more than better executed, better targeted marketing used with a better knowledge of your market, your industry and what keeps your customers up at night.

Good marketing is one of the essential components of your business. Calling it “snake oil” doesn’t make you more professional and it doesn’t improve your position in your market. I’m not talking about companies marketing a solution that won’t work for a particular customer or group of customers. That’s the real “snake oil”.

When you don’t understand what good marketing is and the how/why of executing it, you’re simply not taking care of business.

That your software company would let someone else (particularly the snake oil types) wriggle in the front door and undermine your position with the customer is your responsibility. Why would you let your relationship with the client disintegrate to the point where they would even consider having a conversation with anyone else?

When you let someone else do this and do nothing about it, you are shirking your responsibility to your market, your staff, your family and your community.

Making a decision

The good news is that it isn’t a terminal condition. You can change your direction today.

If you’re willing to sit and watch it being done to you and then complain about it without doing anything to fulfill your responsibilities, that’s your choice.

If you’ve watched it being done and are smart enough to realize that you need to raise your game, then it’s time we had a conversation.

It’s time to decide that this is the last time another business will do this to you. It’s your responsibility to do something about it – and better code isn’t going to do the job all by itself.

The painful thing is that most companies will sit and repeatedly watch this happen to them – and then do nothing about it.