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Dude, I caught your wife cheating last night at…

Are You There?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Renneville

Imagine you’re talking with a prospect or client on the phone and right before the critical word or phrase that almost always closes the deal, you suddenly hang up.

You’d never do that, right? Would make it kinda hard to close the sale, don’t you think?

Thing is, your email, social media and website might be hanging up on prospects, albeit in a slightly different way.

Let’s talk about paying attention to some details you might not be watching. They’re details that might completely change the message you’re trying to get across to a client or prospect.

I’m talking about the repercussions of being just a tad too wordy.

Isn’t that funny? Yeah, I know I have zero room to talk on that. It’s an effort I have to stay focused on, so today I’ll show you why it’s important.

Twitter Cutoff

In Twitter,  your message can be 140 characters long.

BUT…if the message is more than 120 characters long and someone retweets it (sends it to their followers, which is very desirable for you), the characters past 120 are cut off as shown below.

See the … after “Jonathan Bu”? You’ve been snipped. Cut off.

Twitter text clipped off

If there’s part of a URL or some other important info at the end of your message, bummer.

If there’s anything there that’s critical to your message, you’re not a happy camper.

Outlook Cutoff

Outlook’s notification window shows approximately 30 characters of the title of your email. The number varies slightly because a proportional font is used in that window, meaning that some letters and numbers are wider than others.

I had my friend, mountain photographer and graphic artist Leroy Schulz send me 2 emails with totally different subjects. As you can see below, they look the same in the notification box.

Outlook subject cutoff

Identical notifications, yet their messages are totally different: One says “Mark, Are you voting for Obama? You’d be crazy not to”, while the other says “Mark, Are you voting for Obama? I wouldn’t dream of it”.

How’d you like to make that mistake?

Sure, some people do it on purpose to provoke you to open the email, but are those the folks who gain your trust? I doubt it.

Likewise, at the default width, Outlook’s inbox shows you only a part of the email’s subject (see below).

Outlook cutoff

As you can see above, having the subject cut off might cause a big problem, especially if someone doesn’t bother to read the email (like that ever happened).

The actual subject of the email above is “Dude, I caught your wife cheating last night at our weekly poker game.”

In fact, the cut off subject might just keep your email from getting read – and that’s what this is really about.

If your prospects and clients use some other email program, it’s bound to have similar limitations.

Google Cutoff

In Google results, page titles longer than 70 characters get cut off with a “…”.

This is the place where I get bit, because my blog post titles are occasionally too long.

Here’s an example:
Google Search result

In the example above, the title tag is too long (thus the … after “smart business moves”).

If the word after “moves” is important to finding your site, your prospect will never see it. For example, it might say “moves wisely to accept competitors’ cards” (which is what they did).

Sure, if the word is important, it should occur before that point if at all possible, but sometimes it isn’t.

Eliminating the … is the goal because you want the words in your title to be optimized for a) Google and b) those humans you want to see the title and be motivated to click on the link.

In each of these 3 cases, you typically want the truncated info to help answer the question that’s on their mind at that moment or provoke them to take an action.

Needless to say, “…” doesn’t even begin to do that.

Where are you getting cut off?

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When their eyes roll back in their head…

eye roll
Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

It’s a hint that they’re no longer listening. Really.

Even Robert Scoble (aka Scobleizer) appears to be getting a little frustrated by the apparent inability of tech people to talk to Jane and Jerry Small Business Owner, despite demonstrated expertise in providing tech news.

Bottom line, until you figure out a way to save the geekspeak for Dungeons and Dragons night at Starbucks and talk to your prospects in terms of business results, product benefits, time savings and return on investment, you’ll *never* consistently sell your solution to small business owners.

Yeah, maybe that D and D crack was a bit over the top, but I had to make a point:)

I know you’re really excited about the gigaflops, XML-RPC, LINQ, megabits, megapixels, bailing wire, duct tape and what not…but dude, it like so totally isn’t about that stuff to a small business owner.

Of course, if you’re one of the groups who has mastered this act, keep working on it. Someday, others in your market might catch on, so you need to keep your lead.

Open the conversation

Things to ask yourself before opening the conversation: What’s in it for them, in their terms?

This means a little work on your part:

  • You need to know your customers’ business.
  • You need to know their lingo.
  • You need to know what keeps them up at night (other than the neighbor’s dog).

Yeah, it isn’t always easy – but it is worth the effort to put you well ahead of all those who insist on talking about the technology.

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How to provoke a sea change

Seldom do I ask you to read extensive articles about large corporations. Usually, those corporations are the ones giving me blog post seedlings through their often inane behavior. 

Today is no different, but the behavior is.

Our guest post today comes from Wired Magazine, which talks about the impact of Ray Ozzie and his vision on processes and the future of Microsoft.

I’ll warn you right now. It’s a long article, but worth the time. 

There are a ton of takeaways from it, many of which are also advice or suggestions you’ve heard from me or read elsewhere. What’s important is that when influential parts of large companies like Microsoft start to realize the truth in these things, it’s hard not to ask who will be next. 

Perhaps your competition. 

On another level, it’s more provocational. 

Are you asking yourself and your staff tough, might-makeover-the-business questions?

Even if you’re afraid of the answers, you’d better be asking the questions every now and then.

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What do a turkey and an iPhone have in common?

Old istanbul
Creative Commons License photo credit: Atilla1000

Plenty, if you’re thinking and paying attention to what other businesses are up to. 

We had a Hutterite turkey last week, but in the process of digging around, I came across some innovative things that Butterball is doing to make life easier for their customers. 

Things like text messages to remind you to start thawing the turkey. Simple, helpful, smart. 

Who HASN’T forgotten to start thawing the turkey on time at least once in their life? We sure have. 

Learn more about Butterball’s mobile tools. 

Now…salt to taste for your business. What are your takeaways from what they’ve done?

PS: You can learn about Montana’s Hutterites here and get some additional info here.

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Make your automation personal, not just automatic

Automatic Caution Door
Creative Commons License photo credit: Zesmerelda

After requesting a beta invitation to a web-based service, I received the activation email.

*ONE* minute later, I got an email from the CEO asking how I liked the service. 

Careful there, Sparky. 

While I’d be the first to encourage such emails, you have to think about how – and particularly, when – you send them. 

It doesn’t make sense to send them 1 minute after sending an activation email unless you want to send the wrong signals.

IE: “I’m sending everyone the same email even though my email is worded otherwise” and “I don’t really want your feedback since you couldn’t possibly have any yet”. 

Neither one is really what the sender wants. 

It doesn’t make sense to send the emails until some period of time after the activation email has been clicked on, since they couldn’t have any feedback for you until they’ve activated the service and had at least a little bit of time to use it and see what it’s really like. 

You see the same thing in blogs where you can generate emails automatically the first time someone comments. Sounds great in theory, but if the email comes 20 seconds after you post the comment, it isn’t personal.

Instead of doing that – what if the automated email was sent to the blog owner, giving them time to check the commenter’s website, find out a little about them, much less actually read their comment – then a personal touch can be applied to the partly pre-written email thanking someone for their comment. 

That’s the kind of personal follow up that is appreciated – and it’s still mostly automatic.

There are some hacks to existing tools that auto-email first time commenters. If you use those tools, I suggest using the hacks. Keep it personal.

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Building a Better Mousetrap

Younger readers of Business is Personal might not remember this old Tareyton cigarette ad, but it reminds me of one of the hardest sales jobs around: Selling a “Me Too” product.

A “Me Too product” is a replacement product for one already on the market and (presumably) successful.

I say “presumably” because you really don’t even know for a fact that it is successful unless you do serious market research. Yet the research to make a wise decision about a “Me Too” rarely gets done.

Let’s assume that you’re an accounting expert and a programmer and you just can’t stand Intuit QuickBooks and it just makes you nuts thinking about having to use it even one more day. The natural thing for a programmer to do in this situation to (not so) simply: create their own “perfect” product from scratch and wave goodbye to the old product forever.

But that emotional response ignores a critical thing required to make a business success out of that project…

Do you offer a compelling reason to switch?

Think about it for a moment: What would it take to get you to stop using QuickBooks, or Microsoft Office, or some other software that is entrenched in your business. Think about the time and money you’ve invested in knowledge and training.

If you’re having difficulty with that thought process, think about what it would take to get you to stop eating meat, stop drinking, become celibate by choice, or switch from a Western religion to an Eastern one. Or vice versa in each case.

In each of those cases, the requirement is “a compelling reason”.

There has to be a seriously compelling reason to get people to change from “Tolerable Product A” to “Your New Baby – aka Totally Awesome Product B”, particularly when Product A is embedded in the business processes of the entire company and has been in use for years. Worse so when the quirks of Product A have actually infected the business processes of the company.

Elected officials aside, people have proven for centuries that they detest change. To management, change often means sunk costs, lowered productivity and bad morale.

If your compelling reason is so easy to understand and so obvious that everyone from the CEO to the mail room clerk gets it, change seems like a good idea and most everyone gets on board or is easy to convince. If the only people who get it are at the boardroom level, you might have a challenge on your hands.

Do yourself a favor: Before you write a line of code, before you design a screen or a database, answer a simple question: What is the compelling reason that will cause people to line up for a chance to switch to your software?

At that point in the process, you should already have a conceptual model of what your new product will do, so this shouldn’t be difficult or expensive. In fact, it should roll off your tongue in a heartbeat. It might even be your Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Sales Position (different folks call USP different things).

It isn’t just the programmers. You can find it everywhere, even in cafes and pizza shops.

Believe it or not, people drank coffee before Starbucks existed. When they opened, Starbucks wasn’t just another coffee shop like all the rest. They created a compelling reason to go there. In fact, they created several different compelling reasons, attracting different groups of people.

Today, smart coffee shops fighting for market share create compelling reasons to go to their place instead of boring old Starbucks. They offer gourmet beans, live roastings, live music, readings, art exhibits, networking events, free internet access, gourmet foods, online ordering, delivery, party catering, gift packaging and so on.

What’s the compelling reason you give people that’ll make them want to line up for a chance to switch?

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Why your staff wants more profitable work to do

Consider the profitability of the work being done by each member of your staff. Are they making your business more profitable? Or are they doing non-critical work that a computer or service could do?

Why not automate those often lame-but-necessary tasks?

Why? Because you arenâ??t getting it all done otherwise.

Want proof? Call a vendor who performs a service or sells an item that requires installation. More often than not, youâ??ll not find someone who can deliver today, or even this week.

Despite the state of the economy. Or perhaps, because of it.

Odd example: I was told late last week that Amtrak passenger trains are packed to the gills because they don’t have any more passenger cars to put in service. Now donâ??t get me wrong, thatâ??s good thing because it means theyâ??re busy. Busy is good. Means they are doing some things right (and of course that fuel prices are high).

But backlogged and having to force businesses and consumers to go to your competition isnâ??t good, and itâ??s a fine line between busy and too busy.

What’s bad for Amtrak in this case is also bad for you. And that’s where the profitability of the work your staff does will come into play.

On one side of the fine line: things that require your expertise.

On the other: stuff that a high school kid could do in their sleep (and they need more sleep anyhow, right?).

Those are the kinds of things to target for automation.

It isnâ??t about getting rid of people. Itâ??s about giving the people you have the kind of work that generates profit, rather than simply keeping them busy in low-value jobs that take them nowhere.

Why do they want that?

Because the kind of work that generates profit is the kind that makes a job – and thus an employee – more valuable.

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Find and fight the fire before the customer does

In a recent email to senior Microsoft staff, Bill Gates had rather unflattering comments about a pre-release download and install process for Windows Moviemaker.

Every one of us can relate, right?

As for the message, Gates smiled and said, “There’s not a day that I don’t send a piece of e-mail … like that piece of e-mail. That’s my job.”


No matter how high up you are, one of your jobs is to find the problems before the customer does.

And yes, I’m sure someone will wonder aloud where he was on Microsoft Bob, or on Access 1.0, or on <whatever>. Perhaps it’s best to wonder what it would have been like otherwise:)

In the software business, we have a term called “eating our own dogfood”, which means using the software you sell to clients. Whenever possible, it’s a valuable effort because you look at things differently as an end user than as a programmer.

Eating your own dogfood can and should extend far beyond the software business.

No matter what line of work you’re in, you can find a way to…

  • Secret shop your store(s).
  • See that your friends and family have to deal with your business and your products, anonymously if at all possible.
  • Watch someone try to use your website, or listen as they call your business for help, to make a purchase, obtain service and get advice.

Find the forest fire smoldering inside your business before the client does.

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Denying service to Tiger Woods

Denial of Service (DOS) attacks occur when slimy types hit a web server with thousands (millions, whatever) of requests for access all at the same time.

Their goal is to bring a website down under the unanticipated workload.

A common strategy is to focus these thousands/millions of requests on a website all at once during an important time – like when Tiger misses an eagle putt on 18.

It wasn’t hackers this time. Just a bunch of golf fans trying to watch Tiger and Rocco.

You see, the U.S. Open playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate was streamed live on the web last Tuesday, as well as followed in Twitter via, and elsewhere.

A network engineer at Arbor Networks, noticed an interesting pattern to the Flash video traffic on the internet during Tiger and Rocco’s playoff round.

The oddest things can make your life interesting in business.

Last Tuesday afternoon, a lot of network engineers were trying to keep the internet’s pipes flowing – and maybe weren’t sure why things were hopping all of a sudden.

Consider this encouragement to think about the events going on around your world, and across the globe.

Something like a missed putt just might impact your business more than you think.

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Is your business stuck in the Dark Ages?

There’s just nothing better than making some grumpy old business obsolete.

This week’s grumpy old business is the Associated Press (AP).

Why? Because they have decided to start charging $2.50 per word when you excerpt their story (even though such excerpts are permitted under Fair Use as long as the excerpt is of reasonable length).

Now, to be sure, if you use the entire story, you should pay for it. You’re being lazy, or you simply like their piece enough that you should license it.

On the other hand, we’re talking about brief excerpts of stories where the original is not only cited, but the reader is invited to go see it in its original location.

Yes, that’s right. They want to charge bloggers for sending viewers to their websites. Anyone with half a brain who is excerpting an article and commenting on it is going to link to the story as a form of proof, not to mention as a courtesy to the reader.

Big, old, crusty media simply doesn’t get it. They are so scared that we don’t need them anymore, when the truth is that the things they do make many people not WANT them anymore.

I can’t remember the last time I watched the national news at 5pm or 6pm or whatever.

Is your business stuck in that old world?

Has your business model changed in the last 5 years?

Has your business model been put out to pasture in the last 5 years?

Some examples to get your attention:

  • 5 years ago, iTunes was a joke in a RIAA board room, much less at Best Buy, Amazon and Wal-Mart. Today, it sells more retail music (In any format, on any medium) than any store of any kind.
  • 5 years ago, Skype was a joke in an AT&T board room. Today, it’s not unusual to see 11 to 12 million people using it simultaneously. It was valuable enough that eBay bought it for $2.6 Billion. Let me remind you that people who have a $3 billion in spare cash are not the types to just waste it on fast women, fast horses and fast cars.
  • 5 years ago, didn’t exist. In fact, it wouldn’t exist for 2 more years. Now, it’s in the top 10 most viewed sites on the Internet. In only 3 years.
  • 5 years ago, was about to report their second-ever profitable quarter, about $9MM, after 9 years in business. Last quarter (1Q2008), they made $143MM in profit.
  • 5 years ago, Wimbledon was something you watched pre-recorded and delayed. Usually you see pieces of all but one or two matches, and someone else chose those matches. Today, you can watch EVERY match on streaming video for $25.

So, with those things under your belt…

  • 5 years ago, did you get new clients the same way you do now?
  • 5 years ago, did you communicate with clients the same way you do now?
  • 5 years ago, what else was the same in your business as it is now?

You decide, item by item, if that’s a good thing. And then do something about it. Some things probably don’t need to change. But everything is worth a look.

If five business-savvy 27 year olds bought your business, what would they rip out and replace? Besides the coffee machine, that is.