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Automation Business Resources Employees Ethics Legal Management Small Business Software Strategy Technology

Cybercriminals are smiling

Here’s an extra guest post for you this weekend.

It comes courtesy of Knowledge @ Wharton – and it’s extra because I think it important that anyone with a computer and a business have their act together when it comes to securing their business data.

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2317

It isn’t that long. Read it *now* before they steal your cookies.

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

Measurement and the fine art of bidding

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

Ever messed up a bid?

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

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

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

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

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

But I deal in atoms not pixels!

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

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

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

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

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

Parts is parts

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

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

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

Doughnut. Zippo. None.

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

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

I beam with joy

Let’s get back to the architects and such.

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

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

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

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

Regardless of the reason, she’s gone.

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

What if?

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

So what, right?

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

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

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

Speed, Quality, Complexity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine soft puffy clouds

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

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

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

Would it help? Let’s see.

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

Measurement. Might be a good idea, ya think?

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

Yeah. It’s software again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Automation Banking Business culture Business Resources Customer service Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Management Photography planning podcast Productivity Retail service Small Business Software Strategy systems Technology The Slight Edge

Boat anchors are bad business. Sharing is good business.

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BoatAnchorBadSharingGood.mp3]
time
Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb North

Over the last month or so, I’ve been playing phone tag with someone at the local bank’s office.

I use this national bank primarily because they offer some electronic banking services that local banks don’t bother to offer (such as a real-time, seamless interface with QuickBooks), despite my repeated “encouragement” to do so.

Some have noted that the cost to provide this QuickBooks interface is substantial – yet I get interesting wrinkled brow looks when I remind them that I pay $15 a month to use this nifty QB service because it saves us hours per month. Until the fee got to the point where the time was more valuable, I’d pay it. But I digress…

Anyhow, we’ve been talking with someone there about a refi and a combination of my schedule / travel and her schedule /travel have made it difficult to get into the same room at the same time. Not their fault, just one of those things about a busy summer.

This last time I called, the person I’m working with was out of town for several days. I asked the person on the phone if they could put me on their appointment calendar for the week after they return.

My calendar! Mine, mine, mine!

Astoundingly, the answer was no.

Yes, the folks at this large national bank, the same ones who are advanced enough to have their accounts seamlessly talk to my QuickBooks, do not allow or cannot manage to let their employees see their appointment book or schedule an appointment for someone else.

Insane.

I have a feeling it might be related to worries that someone might raid someone else’s appointment calendar for plum prospects, but there are ways of showing only open dates. Even so, that shouldn’t be necessary.

If you can’t trust a *bank* employee to access a co-worker’s appointment calendar, tell me why you trust them to work at the bank in the first place – cuz I don’t see it. But that trust thing is a topic for another day.

Unseen Value

Now we get to the point where you see where this affects you and your business: Are there resources (like an appointment calendar) that your staff should be able to share so they can help each other serve your clientele?

Back in the photography software days, it was a huge deal for new users of our product to finally get off that paper calendar at the front desk. It allowed anyone to see which photographers / camera rooms / salespeople / presentation spaces were booked and make an appointment no matter where an employee was when they answered the phone.

Sounds completely obvious, but many businesses simply couldn’t do it because they were still tied to that boat anchor – the paper appointment book.

Big, heavy and “somewhere in the warehouse”

Another market I worked with manufactured expensive custom items that were big and heavy. They stored them in the warehouse once they were finished.

The information about the build status and storage location of these custom-ordered items was kept on a set of clipboards on a line of nails in the manufacturing area.

Sometimes the info on those clipboards was out of date or missing because someone forgot to write the build status or location down. An order might get lost / forgotten until a customer called for it – and then you might find out that it hadn’t been built yet.

Now imagine that you are a receptionist in the front office and you’re all alone over lunch hour or during a big sales meeting. When that big customer calls to ask about their 27 piece, $57000 order, you have to put them on hold (or tell them you’ll call back), run back to the clipboards, flip through the orders manually, find the order and run back to the phone.

If the clipboard is missing because someone has it at a manufacturing station, or it is on the manager’s desk (or car seat), you know nothing.

If the data on the clipboard wasn’t filled out, you get to run back to the warehouse and look on dozens of shelves from floor to ceiling for an item that has a little paper tag on it showing the customer name.

That’s a boat anchor.

The alternative? A system that integrates customer information, orders, build status and delivery information together. When the phone rings, you can look up all of a customer’s orders, find the status of any of them and tell them right then. The items are barcoded as part of the manufacturing process so most status and location info is automatically updated. Depending on your situation, “most” could be “all”.

What’s your boat anchor? What can you share to get rid of it, enabling your staff to be more helpful and more productive?

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Apple Automation Business culture Business Resources Competition Consumer Advocacy Corporate America Creativity Customer relationships Customer service Entrepreneurs Ideas Leadership Management Marketing Motivation planning Positioning Productivity quality Small Business Software Strategy Technology

Are you really competing or just wasting my time?

Don't touch my TAG
Creative Commons License photo credit: foxtwo

Earlier this week, I was watching the Apple keynotes from Macworld 2009 and the iPhone 3.0 SDK announcement, mostly to prepare for the keynote from the Apple WWDC (their developer conference).

These keynotes are where Apple traditionally reveals their Next Big Thing as well as their accomplishments over the last year. It isn’t Wall Street conference call yawner sort of stuff. Instead, they do it at their customers’ level of interest.

A few things stuck out of these conversations:

In 2008, 3.4MM customers visited Apple stores every week (on average).

2008 was the biggest year in the history of Apple, as far as sales of Macintosh computers are concerned: they sold 9.7MM macs.

Apple currently dominates the smartphone app market.

For example, the number of applications available for the leading smartphones:

  • iPhone 50000+
  • Android 4900
  • Nokia 1088
  • BlackBerry 1030
  • Palm 18.

No, I’m not sure why Windows Mobile apps were not in that count, but I think it’s safe to say that the Windows Mobile platform can’t claim 1 billion app downloads between April 2008 and June 2009.

Apple sold 13.7 MM (million) iPhones in the first year.  When you include the iPod Touch in that number, it leaps to over 40MM.

62% of programmers in the iPhone application developer program are NEW to Apple platform. Having been in the technology biz for 25+ years, I can tell you that this is an insanely successful number.

By now, you might think that I’m an Apple fanboy. Nope. Maybe a fan, but I try to remain pragmatic. I don’t yet own a mac or an iPhone, but I find Apple’s ability to compete pretty impressive – particularly HOW they compete.

It’s 100% cultural.

We’ve talked previously before being able to do something right in your competition’s face, having them observe your success and then do nothing about it – particularly nothing similar.

The Apple way

Apple has long talked about making things easy (and yeah, I know that not everything is), but it really is the focus of everything they do.

Let’s compare how an iTouch deals with wireless connectivity vs that of a Windows laptop.

Windows will ask if you want to diagnose or repair and tell you about the DNS it can’t find and so on. Seems to me that if your wireless is on and there is a network in reach, it’s a little silly to ask if you want to try again to connect after the first failure. My laptop drives me bonkers with this sort of stuff as I travel and deal with disparate networks across the country.

Meanwhile, an iTouch either connects or it doesn’t. On the same network that will provoke a laptop to ask about repair and diagnosis, the iTouch just does whatever needs to be done to try and heal the connection.

But it’s far deeper than that.

When Apple Marketing Chief Phil Schiller introduced a new version of the Apple spreadsheet software, he simply said “It works the Apple way.”

Everyone with a mac knows what that means, especially if they have MS Office for the mac.

At the core of all of this is a clear desire to stand out by doing things for the customer that they shouldn’t have to do themselves. Former Clarion Software CEO Bruce Barrington is said to have uttered a similar comment. It goes something along the lines of: “Anything the user has to do every time shouldn’t have to be done at all.”

I try to do these things in the software I write. It’s a profound approach, despite being so common sense. It makes you rethink design, which (surprise) is what Apple is so identified with: great design.

Self-cleaning ovens

Now…think about your products, services and customer interactions.

What are your customers forced to do every time and how can you eliminate those tasks?

That’s the kind of competitive strategy that gets customers to gobble up your products, but there’s more to it than that. If your products do more, automatically, then your staff and your customers will spend less time on customer support – because they won’t need it.

Your products will stand out even more, and the competition will simply stand there and watch as you eat their lunch.

Here’s a simple example to close things out today: Most self-cleaning ovens aren’t self-cleaning.

They still have to be told to clean themselves.

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air travel airlines Small Business Software Technology

Ignore customers at your peril

Waiting
Creative Commons License photo credit: WTL photos

On a recent 737-based flight, I got to tinker with Delta Airlines’ updated seat back video system, which includes TV, movies, games, flight information and music.

I was impressed when the first prompt that came up was for a language.

Impressed because it showed that they were thinking about all of their customers, not just the North American-based ones. Think “sources of growth”

I chose English.

One of the things I like to watch during flight is the GPS-driven aerial map with rotating altitude / airspeed / head wind, temperature indicators. I guess it’s the geek in me:)

Having chose English, I assumed I would get an English map. After all, I am a programmer by training.

Silly me.

Instead I got a map that rotated between English (with miles/mph etc) , English with meters/metres, Spanish with miles/mph and Spanish with meters/metres.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t care, but the insertion of 3 additional translations (regardless of which one I wanted) delayed the delivery of information since it had to be presented in 4 different formats.

Why again did they ask me which language to use?

Little things mean a lot

The flight arrived on time (though a later one did not, prompting re-enactments of OJ Simpson running through airports as a spokesman for Hertz). The landing in Atlanta was perfect.

Yet several days later that map application still sticks in my mind.

Just as a test, I switched the panel’s language to Dutch. Some words in the menu were translated, some were not.

The “moving map” with altitude, air temperature etc? It didn’t change at all, still rotating through 2 sets of English and 2 sets of Spanish info.

The same nugget of paying attention easily translates into other businesses.

Little details sometimes make the biggest difference, especially when you set the expectation (which you should) with things like a language prompt.

Congruency. Setting an expectation by doing one thing creates the expectation in other areas.

More airline related posts coming, as is always the case after I travel…just setting the expectation, you know.

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Amazon Apple Automation google Management Productivity Small Business Software Technology

MobileMe becomes ImmobileMe

Call me old fashioned, but when someone says they’re gonna host all of my email somewhere else and Im just supposed to trust them and not keep a copy here where I can protect it, I think I’ll pass.

Doesn’t matter to me if it’s Google, Apple’s MobileMe, Amazon S3 or whoever. All of them have had email downtimes or lost data.

As have I. At least if I lose it under those circumstances, it’s my fault and I have control over the backup processes.

Are you trusting your critical business email to (immobile) MobileMe?

Think hard about what happens to your business if you lose access to MobileMe, Gmail or Amazon S3 data for an hour.

Or…

  • A day.
  • A week.
  • A month.
  • Permanently (as occurred last week for some MobileMe users).

Does your stomach hurt yet? It should.

And if you’re using MobileMe or any of these services without a local backup of your critical business data, it’s no one’s fault but your own when you have to shut the doors.

Outlook (or your email program of choice) may be annoying as crud compared to that cool web interface, but I control how many backups I have and where they are, and I can get to them ASAP without having to drive to Cupertino (or wherever) to beg for a restore disk cuz I once golfed with Kevin Bacon and he knows someone who is only 7 levels of separation from Steve Jobs.

Heck, I could probably find Kevin on LinkedIn 🙂

Seriously though, where is your critical path data?

Think about what happens to your data, and thus, your business, if the internet goes down for a few days – or at least, your access to the net.

Think about what happens to your data, and thus, your business, if you can’t access invoices, contact info, and so on.

Think about covering your backside a little better.

And make sure you have a few candles in the closet.

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Competition Corporate America Leadership Management Marketing Microsoft Small Business Software Technology

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.”

Exactly.

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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Competition Customer service ECommerce Employees Management Retail Sales Small Business Software Strategy systems Technology

Don’t make it hard for people to give you money

Emergencies of all forms seem to come at the worst possible times.

How your business manages day to day transactions quite often makes the emergency worse for your clients.

Bear with me, this story – and the lesson that goes with it – requires a bit of background discussion.

Last week was crazy for me. On Friday night, I drove my son to Plains for a swim meet. The next day, we had a baby shower to attend before taking off for a week of Scout camp early on Sunday morning.

The camp is located a few miles from Harvard Idaho, which isn’t what anyone would call a metropolis, and that’s a good thing. See, the more remote a Scout camp is, the better. If the internet doesnt work and cell phones get no signal, it makes for a better week of camp for everyone. And that’s one more reason why Inland Northwest Council’s Camp Grizzly shines.

However, this post isn’t about camp, it’s about an experience I had with Hy-Tek, Ltd., a (if not the) leading swim meet management software vendor, while I was at camp.

When I arrived in Plains for the swim meet, the guy in charge of the touchpad timing system for that team asked me to take a look at the system for them. Each of the teams in our league use a setup owned by the league, and each town has someone who gets to set it up and run it that weekend.

Out of 23 towns, there are 2 geeky people like me who are involved. Me and a guy about 400 miles east of here. Everyone else in the other 21 towns drew the short straw.

Here’s what happened: Recently, Hy-Tek required that we upgrade the meet management software due to a licensing conflict (another story for another time).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in that transaction, which might possibly have avoided this. Turns out that the sales-prevention-department at Hy-Tek didn’t do their research when selling $7000+ worth of meet software to the 23 teams (who buy as a group).

They neglected to look at prior purchases by the same organization and observe that the league purchased a version of the meet software that supported the scoring console that drives the digital scoreboard and collects athlete swim times from the touchpads at the end of the lane.

Bottom line, that means that when I got to Plains, they couldn’t get the meet software to talk to the timing console, the touchpads or the scoreboard. So I dig around a little and find that the licenses sold to each team did not include the ability to use the scoring console – something that should have been part of the sales script / checklist or whatever when any of this software is sold.

At 11pm on Friday night, this isn’t going to get fixed.

I call Hy-Tek on Saturday morning and get voice mail for someone’s cell phone.

Not long after leaving my message, a friendly guy named Bob calls back (Hy-Tek’s support Bob is universally appreciated from what I hear) and tells me that he cant fix it and I have to deal with sales because he isn’t allow to use the software that creates the license file that resolves the problem, much less take our money.

So we use manual timers for this meet, which isn’t the end of the world.

I tell my MotoQ to remind me on Monday morning (when I will be at camp, where there is no cell service) to call the swim league big cheese, explain the situation and then call Hy-Tek sales and get this resolved.

So Monday comes and I manage to drive 30 minutes to find about half a bar of cell service and reach the swim guy, who isn’t home and thus doesnt have the info for the sales call in front of him. We decide to talk on Tuesday so he can get the info from his home and then I can call Hy-Tek.

My call on Tuesday goes off as planned (after another 30 minute drive to get cell service) and shortly after gathering the necessary info, I reach someone in Hy-Tek sales.

I explain the situation and almost get the impression that I am interrupting someone’s day. But we move on, because I have to get this done and return to camp (thankfully, I have 2 other adults in camp to help the boys in my absence).

After explaining the situation to the salesperson, I am told that I should go online to order the upgrade. Isn’t that what a toll-free sales number is for?

Sales 101 – When a customer tries to hand you money for something they clearly want or need, do not tell them to go somewhere else.

I explain that I am in the middle of rural Idaho, have no internet access (not even with my phone, which is rapidly burning battery talk time due to the analog connection) and cannot do so. She tells me they are not setup to take phone orders.

Say what?

Anyhow, she says that she can take my order by entering it for me on their website (credit card merchants everywhere are cringing by now) as I read it over the phone. As I have no choice, we do that and the order is placed.

When delivery is discussed, I ask for email delivery of the license file (which is small enough to email) due to the urgency of getting this fix to the team hosting the meet next weekend, particularly given my limited ability to call/no ability to email this week.

I am told company policy forbids it because teams change computer people and coaches too often and they would have to re-email the software. Even downloading it from a secured area on the site is too much trouble, apparently.

Is it 1988 or 2008? Hmm.

IE: they wont allow email delivery of license files because they dont like issuing license files too often and more likely, because there is no process for doing so – since there are never emergencies in the swimming business, I suppose.

I begin to wonder to myself if they dont like taking money, but I know better than that:) I should note that I’ve been the swim team’s geek for 8 years and will be for at least 3 more. That is of no concern to the salesperson, because her hands are tied by company policy.

Clearly, there is no process in place to email this small file in an emergency.

If there isn’t a process, so be it, but blaming this on the *standard behavior of clients* is dumb.

Thankfully, the CD goes out as promised, gets picked up by the right person and installs without incident, all without me being around:) This is a good thing, since I arrived at the meet at 130am between days 1 and 2 of the meet.

So why this long, wordy bluster?

Simply to ask you to re-examine a few things:

  • Take a look at how you are setup to accelerate the delivery of your product in the event of a client emergency. Is your sales and support staff trained and enabled to make things work for the client, or simply hamstrung by policy and process issues, and thus forced to make your clients sit around and wait?
  • As you know, I’ll be the first to suggest automating what can be, but make sure that your processes allow for emergencies.
  • Take a look at how your sales and support team communicate company policies (smart ones and dumb ones) to your clients. It isn’t their fault your policies and processes are what they are, but they have to communicate and implement them, presumably without torquing your clients.
  • Check your sales process and make sure that your salespeople are not sending clients somewhere else to complete a sale. Obviously, creating work for clients when they are handing you money is not wise.
Categories
Competition Corporate America Microsoft Small Business Software Starbucks Technology

Are you paying attention to your competition?

Earlier this week, the long-awaited Firefox 3 web browser shipped.

Last Wednesday, a cake from their competitor – the Microsoft Internet Explorer team – arrived at the headquarters of the Firefox development team to congratulate them for releasing their new version.

Obviously, someone at Microsoft is paying attention to their competition.

Do you?

I don’t mean to suggest that you should mimic their every move, becoming the Burger King to their McDonald’s.

On the other hand, watching them and the rest of your market is a necessary effort. And, as noted above, it’s ok to have a little fun with them once in a while.

Not long ago, we talked about how independent coffee shops could keep an eye on MyStarbucksIdea.com so that they know how consumers feel about Starbucks AND their competition.

How do you keep an eye on your competition? I’d be interested to hear about it.