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Etsy’s Social Commerce: Smart at Christmas

Etsy’s new Facebook app, the Gift Recommender, is a smart move and a great example of ways to use your data to attract more business.

I’ve no doubt that some will see Etsy’s “social commerce” via Facebook as “creepy” or invasive, but I suggest you give it a try to get an idea how this new app might impact your business or generate some ideas.

If Facebook isn’t your thing, but any form of retail is, create a test Facebook account with a throwaway email address so you too can see what the fuss is about.

Etsy is widely known for their belief in automated software testing. You can read about their latest project in their developers’ blog at  http://codeascraft.etsy.com/2011/11/09/engineering-social-commerce/

Hat tip to Scobleizer for pointing it out.

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The Bulletproof Superhero

When it was just you and you were a bulletproof superhero, you could remember it all.

You could look at code you wrote six months earlier and you knew exactly what it did and why you wrote it that way.

A bit of time has passed since then. Youâ??ve hired new people. Because you didnâ??t write good technical documentation back then (or didnâ??t keep it up to date), there are many mysteries about your business buried deep inside the heads of your most senior, most expensive staff.

And now, they’re being interrupted repeatedly with every new hire because the new person needs the knowledge stored in the heads of the â??old onesâ? in order to do their job and learn your business.

You want a new programmer to hit the ground running. To become as productive as possible as quickly as possible.

Think back to the last new person you hired. Remember that ramp-up period?

Now imagine hiring three or five at once. Just try to get something productive done while they are getting up to speed. You (and whoever is managing them) probably have other tasks to do, perhaps very high ROI tasks. Without strong technical, application/market and process documentation, those tasks are going to get incessantly interrupted with things that should have been documented.

Sure, you’ll get brilliant questions that you might not have foreseen. The other 912 questions likely could be answered in your internal wiki or other documentation. Or you could enjoy their visits to your office, their emails, IMs, texts and phone calls, while pondering the time they’re wasting by getting you them both out of the zone every time they have questions.

Your choice.

PS: Just because you aren’t a programmer or don’t have programmers doesn’t mean you’re immune to this.

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Avoiding the hurt

Not long ago, we talked about reviewing the recent performance of your business and making adjustments based on what you find.

We ended that conversation like this…

Beyond the bumps, thereâ??s something missing here. Reacting after the fact.

Assessment and adjustment after the bleeding starts. Evaluating whatâ??s going on because the calendar says so.

Does that make sense in an ultra-competitive world? I think there has to be a better way.

One reason for this is human nature. If you feel you don’t have to stop and take the time to assess / measure what’s going on as often as I say or as often as the calendar says, you’re going to do it less often than you should.

Eventually, you can expect that to hurt.

By the dashboard light

This isn’t about killing pain or temporarily avoiding that hurt. I’d prefer to *prevent* the pain if possible. Wouldn’t you?

To set the context for one approach to preventing the pain, think about your car.

You don’t pull off of the highway to check your car’s speed, water and oil temperature. Your car’s dashboard provides information about its current condition while you’re moving, eliminating the need to pull over, stop, get out, change clothes, look under the hood and get your hands dirty. Not to mention how hard it is to judge your speed that way.

If your car requires immediate attention, something on your dashboard lights up so that you can’t help but notice it and (hopefully) attend to it.

Seems to me that you would benefit if your business could do that. Rather than waiting for you to sit down, crunch numbers and summarize things so you can make a decision – the equivalent of pulling off the highway and looking under the hood – why not setup your business to self-report just like your car?

Trends and Emergencies

In business situations requiring immediate attention, you want to know right then – much like the dashboard “idiot light” but smarter.

Rather than waiting to arrive at those “immediate attention” situations, it would be even better if your business notified you when conditions existed that could lead to a situation like that, giving you the time to take action or make a decision before things get ugly.

Sure, sometimes “immediate attention” situations happen instantly with no warning, but that really isn’t typical.

More often than not, there are leading indicators to the impending crisis. As your business operates, it creates feedback information about itself, about events that occur (such as customer interactions, so-many-days-since-they-paid) and so on. Yes, this is obvious. Each of those pieces of information trends in some direction, even if that direction is “same as last month”.

If they start trending toward that “Check engine” light, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest you’d want to know that well before the light comes on.

More than a handful

Keeping track of 100 of these by hand is almost impossible, or at least way more work than most people want to do or see ROI in. As a result, we might keep track of a small handful by hand. If we could monitor them in an automated fashion, we could monitor quite a few handfuls without extra effort. That would allow us to spend more time improving our business (much less doing business) and let our automated monitors tell us what we might otherwise not notice.

For example, when a trend direction starts to change over a predetermined period of time (or amount, or in too many areas at once), you want to know about it sooner rather than later. In your car, you want to find out about your coolant getting too warm *before* it overheats and strands you in the middle of nowhere at the worst possible time.

Dirty Hands

While an automated dashboard is great for keeping you out from under the hood on a daily basis, it’s still sometimes necessary to get your hands dirty. Don’t let your automated systems tempt you into avoiding this effort.

These systems allow you to keep substantially better track of more things on a day to day basis without spending all day “checking, checking, checking”. They educate you about problems far earlier than normal and let you focus on the real work – the stuff that creates revenue and profit.

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Do at least one thing today

If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you know that I close most of the emails with “Do at least one thing today to get, or keep, a client.”

It’s as simple as it sounds…but do you do it?

Even if you can only spare 15 minutes, spend it every day doing something that attracts new clients or helps you keep the ones you have.

Here are a few ideas that can be accomplished in only a few minutes.

You could…

  • Write a blog post
  • Add another 200 words to your upcoming book
  • Review recent contact logs for ideas, potential problems or training needs.
  • Record a podcast
  • Design a new loyalty program or fix something about the one you have.
  • Ask someone who has never seen your website to let you watch while they try to use your website.
  • Ask one of your customers what they most value about what your company does.
  • Call a prospect who didn’t buy and ask them what turned them off to your company. Write them a thank you note (NOT AN EMAIL) afterward.
  • Follow up the “what turned you off” call with a “here’s what we did to fix that” postcard (postcards get seen)
  • Take the answer from the prior question and compare it to yours. Take action on your conclusion.
  • Create a new product or service
  • Write a thank you note to a new (or existing) customer.
  • Tweet about your favorite new product, customer, employee, industry discovery
  • Modify an existing product or service to make it easier to use.
  • Pick one thing off your customers’ pet peeve list and fix it.
  • Call one customer and talk to them about their experiences with your products, company, staff.
  • Call one customer and ask them what your company could do that would most impact their use of your products/services.
  • Call one customer and ask them what keeps them up at night, future-wise.
  • Call one customer and ask them what keeps them up at night, problem-wise.
  • Call one customer and talk to them about their next-big-thing.
  • Spend 15 minutes thinking about your next-big-thing (and take notes). Do so in a way and place that there is no way you can be interrupted during this effort.
  • Ask one staff member what you could do to help them be more productive.
  • Ask one staff member what they would fix first.
  • Ask one staff member about their vision for the company and its customers.
  • Ask your staff which meeting or other regular activity they find a complete waste of time – and what they would do instead.
  • Review your contact logs (or ask the staffer who is the first point of contact) to find out what’s on the mind of your customers these days.
  • Make a video showing off one of your product features that more people should use.

Those are just a few ideas. What would you add?

Jump in!

UPDATE:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/JustinKownacki/statuses/106754362109460481″]

That’s Justin’s tongue-in-cheek comment on what he wanted to happen after unsubscribing from a vendor’s email list today – only to find out it would take 10 days for the unsubscribe to occur. Sarcasm aside, that’s a personal touch not unlike the list above refers to…

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Checkmate on the Fridge

My favorite story about setting expectations comes from a really smart real estate agent.

When you decide to buy or sell a house with her, she gives you a pre-printed list of all the things that can happen during the process of buying or selling.

A list of 20 or 30 things that could delay the sale or otherwise go wrong might seem like a bad thing to give to a customer, but it works for her.

She explains that the list contains the most common roadblocks encountered during a transaction and assures the customer that she knows how to handle all of them.

If and when they occur, she’ll call and say “Number 16 on your list just happened, and I’ll take care of it.”

Works for me

How does this work for her?

First off – it shows the buyer/seller that she is experienced and is prepared for the little things that come along and try to derail a transaction. By discussing them in advance, she sets expectations, establishes her expertise (again, by warning you about these things in advance and telling you she has your back) and leaves you far more confident about things.

If trouble occurs, the sheet (which also acts as a timeline) shows that she predicted that it could occur and handled it for you vs. the appearance that this could be a surprise.

Once the transaction is done, the list serves as a reminder of all the things that *could* have gone wrong but didn’t. The list also reminds you of the value she delivered by taking care of all those things.

She could have simply provided a generic FAQ list and made the client sign it (likely without reading it) and handle it like other agents handle these things.

Instead, she leverages it into an advantage that – among other things – demonstrates why the client should value her services.

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Working in Disneyland. Not.

PING PONG
Creative Commons License photo credit: Max Braun

A few weeks ago, we talked about the importance of strategic delegation and how it might just enable you to enjoy a phone call free vacation, much less free up some hugely important strategic thinking time.

When I was in the photography software business, I quickly learned that photographers absolutely detest being pulled out of the camera room to answer the phone.

Likewise, if I emailed them about something urgent (usually because they said it was urgent), theyâ??d often respond hours later saying that they had been in the camera room and hadnâ??t seen my email.

It’s not as if they were hiding from us. Usually we were trying to contact them to help them resolve a problem, train them or answer a question.

But you don’t pull them out of the camera room.

It’s not Disneyland

The camera room isnâ??t a magical place, but it is where they make their money. Itâ??s where the backgrounds, props, lights and cameras are. Itâ??s where their clients are when they are creating their masterpiece, which results in revenue. They DO NOT like being interrupted while they are in there, just in case I wasn’t clear.

Technical jobs (programming, engineering, etc) work the same way. While performing detailed, highly-technical work; these workers despise being interrupted. We get into the zone, into a flow, we get clear, whatever you call it.

Interrupting us from this work after immersing ourselves in it is expensive and annoying. It takes a while (15-20 minutes or more) to get back to the zone where we can be productive with all the right stuff in our head.

And then the door to your office opens because someone wants to know where the toilet paper is or what place we have planned for lunch.

In an instant, youâ??re out of the zone. Even if you aren’t “technical”.

Produce a Procedures Manual

One thing that helps reduce these interruptions is having a procedures manual. Just because itâ??s called a manual doesnâ??t mean it has to be printed. It might be a wiki or a really long MS Word document. It doesnâ??t matter as long as it is documented and accessible by anyone who needs to perform a task at your business.

This manual might prevent you from getting a call on a Sunday afternoon at dinner time because someone went into the office to plan their week (or pick up something they forgot), and realized that they donâ??t know how to turn on the alarm.

Or the alarm is going off and the police are there and they want to know how to turn it off, so they call you while you’re in the doctor’s office, on the beach, etc. Worse yet is when they can’t reach you, so they leave without turning the alarm on, or similarly less-than-ideal situations.

Important Safety Tip

There is no process that must be done regularly in your business that is too trivial to leave out of this documentation.

Yes, I said no process too trivial.

One reason I suggest that is that someday you will have a new employee. They will start at the bottom. They won’t know anything.

And they’ll pull you out of the camera room (or your equivalent) every five minutes to ask you about this or that if you don’t have anything else (like a procedures manual) to provide this instruction.

Certainly there will be enough face to face contact as it is. In the old consultant’s home, you’ll hear us muttering something along the lines of “What’s worse than spending the time and effort to train an employee who stays for years? NOT training them and having them stay for years.”

I know you’ll train them. Really I do. Still, there are things that simply shouldn’t require hands-on training. They might be performed by a temporary employee.

These tasks will often be mundane, ranging from opening the store, to packaging to closing the store at the end of the day to turning off the alarm when set off by mistake.

Each is one less “really good reason” to pull you (or someone else) out of the zone.

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Being Prepared

One of the things Scoutmasters teach their Scouts is the Scout motto – “Be Prepared.”

We don’t stand around saying those words all that much (or ever, really).

When I ask a Scout what it means to them, I get a lot of different answers. I talk about it with the boys because I’m curious what it means to them – which tells me where they are preparedness-wise.

Depending on their age and their seriousness when I ask the question, I hear answers that include things like:

  • knowing how to select the right gear for a campout,
  • having the right fishing lures,
  • making sure that bacon is on the menu (not kidding),
  • being in good enough shape for the upcoming hike,
  • making sure the car is full of gas and has proper levels of other fluids/air and so on,
  • having charged batteries in the camera,
  • having a sharpened pocket knife,
  • knowing how to tie a rescue knot, or
  • having the proper gear to safely canoe or kayak a river/stream.

What it ultimately means to me is being prepared for what life/business serves up, whether it’s a class V rapid, an unexpected flat tire during a snowstorm in a remote area, that five figure invoice that your “customer” still hasn’t paid, the new box store down the street, mention of your business in the Wall Street Journal, by Scoble and on TechCrunch, or stumbling upon an idea that changes your life and/or business.

Embarrassment? No.

To someone who has a job, I ask them what they would do if they lost their job today? Are they honing a new or enhanced skill so that they can react quickly to a downturn in what they’ve done for the past 20 years? Do they have a network of people in their current (or desired) line of work that could help them identify opportunities?

To someone who has a business, I might ask them what would happen if the building housing their business burned down, or if their biggest customer stopped buying from them, or if they suddenly got 100 new customers tomorrow.

I don’t ask these questions to embarrass employees or business owners any more than I ask them to embarrass a Scout when asking them what would happen if their friend cut his hand or lost his water bottle on a week-long hike. I ask them so they’ll think about their level of preparedness.

Being prepared isn’t just about having a poncho in case it rains, having backups offsite, and having a marketing plan that never stops finding new customers for you. It’s also about being mentally prepared to deal with what happens next.

Be prepared, not only to take a punch, but to make big leaps when opportunities present themselves.

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A desk calendar, a yellow pad and a pen

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that there were some “numbers you might care about“.

Examples we talked about included figuring out the costs to obtain both a new prospect/lead and a new customer.

In prior discussions, I’ve also suggested that you need to be thanking your customers, following up with them, tracking referrals that customers (and others) make, checking to see that more time than usual hasn’t passed since their last purchase, and so on.

And then…I get emails.

Many of them tell me I’m nuts because no one has time to do all that and that I must be making it up. Others get it and they ask HOW to get all that stuff done.

GETTING STUFF DONE

Here’s part one of a primer on getting this stuff done.

What I mean by “primer” is that it’s simple and you don’t have to buy anything fancy or expensive, nor do you need to do anything geeky. You *can*, of course, but it’s not a requirement.

Start with these tools:

  • A free calendar (banks, insurance agents and others hand them out all the time). A large one-month-per-page desk calendar will help if you feel the need to splurge.
  • a free pen/pencil (ditto)
  • a $0.99 yellow pad

We’ll keep it simple for now and create a process for each of these events:

  • A new prospect contacts you
  • A new customer buys for the first time.
  • An existing customer buys again.
  • Someone calls to make an appointment.
  • You communicate with a prospect or customer.

DIRTY WORK

Now it’s time for the real work.

Use the yellow pad for these tasks:

  • When a prospect contacts you, write their name on one of the yellow pad sheets. Write the date they first contacted you at the top of the sheet. Below or next to that, write “Last contact date” and keep it updated (yes, it’ll get a little messy, but this is a paper system). Ask them who to thank for sending them to you. Write down the answer as “Source”. It might be a person, an ad or something else.
  • Keep a separate sheet for each prospect. Keep the sheets sorted by last name, unless you have a different way that works better for you.
  • When a prospect becomes a customer by buying something, write a C in one of the upper corners of the page so you know they’re a customer. In addition, write the first date of purchase at the top of the page. Write “Last purchase date” next to or below it. Keep it updated each time they purchase. Use a calendar on the internet to figure how out many days since they last bought. Write that down too.
  • When contacting (or contacted by) a customer or prospect, write a summary of each contact on their sheet. Indicate briefly their satisfaction level.

Use the calendar to remind you to perform these tasks:

  • Record appointments. Make note of them on the prospect/customer sheet so you can follow up as well as thank them.
  • Follow up with a note a few days (if that’s the right timing) after a new customer buys for the first time. Write the follow up on the appropriate date as soon as they buy.
  • Follow up with a customer after an on-site delivery or service to make sure all is well. If a staff member or contractor is doing the work, use the follow up to make sure that they were on-time, clean, courteous and took care of the customer’s needs.

Do these every day:

  • Check the calendar for follow ups, appointments, thank yous and such. Make them that day. Don’t get behind or you’ll never do them.
  • Check the contact sheets to make sure that customers are being properly taken care of. Your “satisfaction level” comments should feed this process.
  • Check the contact sheets for customers who haven’t bought in at least a month (or whatever time frame makes sense). Follow up to see why they haven’t been back  and include that on the sheet. If a particular competitor is involved, make note of that.

BOOOOOOORINNNNNNG!

Yes, this is mundane stuff.

It’s also exactly the same stuff that *so many businesses* fail at day-in and day-out. If you can’t get the basics right, you need to fix them.

Disclaimer: The computer guy half of my head insists that I remind you that manual processes and yellow pads don’t scale well (and eventually not at all), meaning that what works for 20 or 100 customers doesn’t work worth a darn for 500, 1000 or 10000.

Because paper doesn’t scale, I know what happens next. You get busy and eventually, you just won’t do the work. This happens despite the realization that doing all that stuff is at least part of the reason you got so busy.

If you do realize there’s a connection there, then you’ll either decide to introduce some technology or you’ll get some help. This kind of work is ideal for a stay-at-home parent, retiree or similar.

Crude? Perhaps. Understanding the value of these tasks – and of a tool that automates much this labor – is easier after doing it the hard way. This effort is just as valid for a four-star restaurant as for an oil change shop.

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Service before the no-sale

This is what can happen when a legitimate customer hits an artificial wall within your business.

It’s made worse when customer service is setup to fail. Clearly the service person has no power to do anything positive to seal the deal and help / retain this customer.

The guy is standing there with money in his hand and she is forced to tell him they can’t take it unless he’s willing to buy an old, backdated version of the product.

What’s worse is that the rep has been trained to say something like “I understand why you would be concerned.”, which is code speak for “Yeah, it stinks but I can’t do anything about it, sorry.”

Don’t put up artificial walls.

Don’t make customer service (much less your website) into a “sales prevention department”.

Make it easy to buy.

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Verizon’s pleasant surprise

Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

Thursday was the first day of retail, walk-in Verizon iPhone sales in the U.S.

Normally a visit to our VZW store is guaranteed to consume 60-90 min, even here in rural Montana. They’re usually busy, so you sign in on a screen and they call your name in the order you arrive.

If you set your expectations at that 60-90 min, you’re not so annoyed when you finally get to leave.

Fast forward to the end of Thursday. My wife comes home, saying she wants to go get her phone.

I’m thinking “Oh man, its the first day. Its gonna be nuts.” Based on past history, I expect at least 2 hours.

The Surprise

We walk in and they are hammered. Even so, they still have 3-4 people standing around freed up, waiting for wanna-be hipsters.

We get someone right away. We pay, the Verizon guy moves her contacts from her Blackberry to the iPhone 4. The phone activates in 27 seconds and we leave in a total of 10 minutes.

TEN MINUTES. Someone put some logistics work into this rollout.

I’m FLOORED that we got in and out of their store with a phone switch in 10 minutes on the first day of retail sales, especially given that a normal day takes an hour on most occasions.

I talk to someone later and find out that after several hours in line, a guy in Seattle called to say he was still 8 blocks from the store.

10 minutes = Montana fringe benefits.