It’s an execution problem

“Seeing Customers as Partners in Invention” By Mary Tripas (New York Times, 26 December 2009).

“Being customer-driven doesn’t mean asking customers what they want and then giving it to them,” says Ranjay Gulati, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “It’s about building a deep awareness of how the customer uses your product [or service].”

It’s not just about interaction and listening. It’s deeper than that. It’s about awareness and understanding. Taken a step further, it’s not about wants. It’s about meeting needs. Wants are easy. We’re all quick to recite our wants. Needs however are much more profound.

Later Ranjay is said to say:

“It’s an execution problem.” Companies, he says, “aren’t generally structured to access, absorb or utilize customer insights since they are organized by product, not by customer.”

Interesting enough, does this not sound quite similar to the ideals mentioned on our Success Realized page (as well as elsewhere within the AU framework)?

Think big but communicate small

“O’Reilly Insights: The Importance Of What You Say” by Scott Berkun (Forbes.com, 15 December 2009). A friendly but necessary reminder in the vein of Chip Heath & Dan Heath’s “Made To Stick” (Random House). Of course the idea is important, but if it can’t be communicated such that others can understand it then it’s no idea at all. The biggest take away I got from “Made To Stick” was to take care to describe your new idea (that you want to be understood) by referencing something that is already understood. I believe the example in the book was that the movie ” Snakes On A Plane” was described as Diehard With Snakes.  Got it!

A more current example is Google describing Wave as, “If email were invented today”. If you’ve used Wave you’ve probably realized that tag line is an over simplification. On the other hand, it is a bite small enough to consume without fear or confusion. Doubt, confusion, lack of comfort, etc. will kill a sale every time.

The key is to not be self-absorbed (as so many entrepreneurs are) and not to assume that everyone “gets” your product/service like you do. You have to step back and have some empathy. Success without empathy is rare. Think big but make sure when you have to communicate your ideas to others your genius is small enough for them to grasp. You don’t have to dummy it down, just keep the bites chewable.

Common sense-anomics

“On My Mind: Measuring Good-Cause Effects” by Raymond Fisman (Forbes, 10 December 2009). As the holidays get closer and resolutions are being made for 2010, doing well by doing good is probably on quite a few to-do lists. If that sounds like you, then give Mr. Fisman a few minutes of your time, please.

Now before you jump to conclusions, there is one bit (in the third from last paragraph) that is not fully explored but seems rather intriguing:

Interestingly, in the months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, there was a big boost in sales probability and price from Giving Works for all Ebay sellers, young and old. So, when a national spotlight shines on particular causes, it may be possible to do well by doing good.

Possible conclusion? Be specific, and possibly current, about the cause you’re supporting. Just saying, “we do good” and “a percentage of sales goes to charity” might not be enough. Makes sense since most people would want to know exactly where their money is going. Don’t you prefer clarity and transparency over vague and mysterious?

Mashable does it again

“Mashable’s Social Media Guide for Small Businesses” by Matt Silverman (Mashable.com, 4 December 2009). Brilliant! So jam packed with goodies that the best thing to do is get out of the way and let you jump right in. Enjoy!

They can hear you anywhere

Another buzz service that maybe you’re familiar with is Google Voice. In short, it’s a free phone number with it’s own outgoing message. No more using your personal number for business. Or maybe you just need a special (temporary) number for a special project. Skye, Yahoo! and others do provide free numbers but more often than not they don’t allow for your own personalize outgoing message.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.


Intriguing, eh? From here be sure to consume “How To: Totally Overhaul Your Phones With Google Voice” by John Herrman (Gizmodo.com, 12 December 2009). That should get you started. Much like Google Wave, Voice is in limited beta. It’s invite only for the moment. But the turn around is approximately two weeks — http://www.google.com/voice.

What’s hard to say, but certain to be interesting, is how Google eventually integrates Wave with Voice. For those who have thus far underestimated Wave, the ball is still bouncing so keep your eye on it.

Everybody in the pool

Depending on where you fall on the Geek IQ scale, you may or may not have heard about Google Wave (http://Wave.Google.com). The buzz around this beta release has been building over the last few weeks. Some love it. Some don’t. And most seem to be somewhere in between. While it’s too early to pass judgment my prediction is that trend will build towards love it.

Google’s pitch line is that Wave is what email would be if it were invented today. In a Made to Stick sense, that’s probably an accurate and easy to consume marketing pitch. But as user friendly as the email reference might be, Wave is not email. The analogy to the postman/woman doesn’t hold water very long. Wave is a multi-vectored communications and collaboration platform that excels in real time, and is still better than email even when it’s not. It’s a bit clunky right now in implementation but the theory behind it, simple as it might be, is stunning.

Ultimately, Wave is a collaboration tool, and collaboration depends on bodies. Where as email’s effectivenss degrades as more people get added to the To: list (i.e., the famous Reply Alls from hell), Wave increase in value as your network of collaborators grows. Unfortunately, currently Wave is a limited, invite only, beta. So unless your fellow collaborators also have Wave accounts then Wave, as it stands today, is obviously not going to be very effective.

However, as Google lets more people use Wave the more Wave’s value will increase. And thus the trend towards more people loving it. What do you think?



Be careful what you wish to measure for

“Mistaken Metrics” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine, October 2009). Please pardon the delay in getting to this one but it has finally bubbled to the top of the to-do pile (on a Saturday morning no less). It is also not exactly lite reading for a weekend but it’s certainly not rocket science either. Grab a coffee and let’s go!

In short, the twin sibling of, “Be careful what you wish for” is, “Be careful what you measure (and what decisions you make based on that data/information.” As we all know, numbers and statistics can be misleading especially when data is coming from multiple sources. Or worse yet, is the wrong measurement to begin with. The majority of the time there are caveats, or should be, because no info/date source is perfectly clean. Of course, there is also always the human element (read: bias) when collecting data and using it.  And finally, just because you can collect it faster doesn’t mean it’s right.

Yes, there has to be measurements but don’t be afraid to question their validity and value when applied to decision making. As Ms. McKay concludes:

No matter what you do or what you measure, you’re destined to pick the wrong yardstick at least once. The trick, experts say, is not to force yourself to live with the wrong measurement — the trick is recognizing when the measurement you’ve chosen is the wrong one and having the fortitude to step away from it.

In the same issue, as a side bar was also, “Your Metrics Are Outdated” by Lauren McKay. If you have to pick one, pick this one. The first article gives “Outdated” context but none the less is fairly freestanding if you are at least somewhat familiar with measurements and their impact on management decisions.

You have all weekend so try to consume both. It’s time to start lining up the ducks for 2010.

Just press the Go Viral button?

“A Web Presence Needs Sizzle, For Shizzle” by Fritz Nelson (Information Week, 18 November 2009). Good golly Rudolph, give this guy a candy cane and double him up on the eggnog. Santa should no doubt move Mr. Nelson to the top of the nice list.

Aside from sharing some damn good examples of inspiration, he hovers under the mistletoe and plants this golden gem of a KISS on us all. (Note: The bolding was added for effect.)

On the Web, entire economies and cultures emerge with surprise. The less creative or visionary watch and try to follow, as if there’s a secret formula to be revealed to the most astute observer. People look at the NetFlix corporate culture Google (NSDQ: GOOG) free lunch program, and Obama open government mantra and say: It worked for them, it will work for us. There’s some truth in that, but the success variables are never the same. Ultimately, each business must create its own wave.

Success on the Web, like The White Rabbit, is alluring in its urgency and its insistence on its path. Words like “crowdsourced,” “social,” and “sticky” are simple labels for complicated ingenuity. Anyone who sets out to create The Next Big Thing invariably fails compared with those who create something out of real social need, or passion. There’s no hidden button for “Go Viral” on the Web, and there’s no magic formula to replicate what happens when something does. Take new social media buzz factories, FarmVille and FourSquare.

In other words, just because you use the channels doesn’t guarantee anything. That said said there is a “secret” for going viral and that is, introduce something to the conversation that’s worth talking about. The usual blah blah blah is not going to get anyone attention, nor is it going to differentiate you from the masses. And if you don’t have an authentic passion for it then certainly no one else will either. There are enough me-too and cookie-cutter type outfits out there. The time has come to suspend the belief that your brand is special just because you think so.

The web hasn’t changed the fact that you have to have passion. Someone has to have passion for your brand (for which you provided the reason(s)). And ultimately to cut through the clutter you have to differentiate both in medium and in message. Actually, if the web has changed anything it has made these must-dos even more essential. Can you afford to do X? Nope! The question is, can you afford not to? That is what your guest will be looking for- The Winner. The one who goes the distance with them and for them.

Thanks Fritz! And a ho ho ho to you too.

Price and cost are not the same thing

“Furnishing Higher Profits – Business Intelligence: How Analyzing ERP Data Helped a Retailer to Get More Value from Suppliers” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 28 October 2009). Today seems like a great day for KISS so let’s just get to the bottom line.

BI (business intelligence) is great but even the less enabled don’t need such a heavy duty investment to benefit from the takeaways of this article. Keep in mind:

— There is more to cost than the number on the price tag.
— You get what you pay for.
— When you’re the seller (and not the buyer) be sure to communicate the holistic value you provide for the fee you charge.

Done! Enjoy!! Pass it on…

NYC >> Web 2.0 >> 2009 >> Douglas Rushkoff

A colleague and I were fortunate to witness this first hand a couple weeks ago. Considering that this was part of the Web 2.0 Expo’s free seminars, is simply amazing. Rushkoff alone was worth the time and the cost of the train multiplied by a few thousand, at least. Cheers to O’Reilly for bringing that event together and having Rushkoff expand our minds. Challenging, brilliant and not to be missed.


Making over the Makeover

“Makeover: Scoot Richmond – No Free Rides” by Phaedra Hise (Fortune Small Business, November 2009). As you’ve followed this blog you’ve probably come to realize that FSB’s Makeover feature is very often an engaging read. The review of this Richmond, Virginia’s scooter business is worth a go.

For what it’s worth, here are the AU caveats as emailed to Ms. Chelsea Lahmers, Scoot Richmond’s owner.

Hello Chelsea,

I just finished reading/skimming the article in FSB on Scoot Richmond. Kudos to you for stepping forward and looking for new ideas. In my previous life, I too was the owner of a retail business. I certainly understand how difficult it can be to juggle the day to day details and try to be open minded and forward thinking at the same time.

I have some thoughts as based on that article. Unfortunately, I’m running late for a meeting with a client so please accept this “rapid fire” style. I’m not trying to be blunt. I’m not trying to be critic. I’m just once again a bit pressed for time. Please forgive me.

I will preface my input with one presumption – I realize the article is not everything that was discussed, etc. The article is however all I am able to go on. Please accept my thoughts knowing the limitation of my perspective.

— Rather than waste your time going to the police station, contact your bank or whoever does your credit card processing and ask them what they offer in terms of check protection. For example, as I understand it, Heartland Payment Systems offers a (hardware/software) solution that mitigates the risk of bad checks. It might even eliminate it.

— Maybe he was misquoted but Mr. Wilson’s suggestion to “interview each candidate several times…” was (for me) almost comical. Yes, I agree with “prevention” but will you be getting the best candidates, or just the ones willing to jump over your hurdles. Moi? I like the birds of a feather rule. That is, ask your current (or former) employees and then from there ask your customers. Also be attentive of when you shop elsewhere, maybe you can steal someone else’s good employee?

— Speaking of asking your customers, it always amazes me how many of these FSB Makeover articles never recommend speaking with the customer. Maybe that’s stating the obvious but maybe it’s not? When someone buys a new scooter, do they get a follow up phone call? What about a new service cusotmer? Do you have a suggestion box? Maybe “Suggestion of the Month” get a free oil change? This is the Web 2.0 age and whether online or off people have thoughts and they want to share them. Try to live up to that expectation/reality. Yes, I know it’s easier said than done but try we must.

— Speaking of web sites, IMHO, you might want to consider a make over. I would have never guessed you were doing $1.1m by the look of your site. I like the idea but it’s not “tight”. If you’re interested in discussing such a project just let us know. We’d like to submit a proposal.

— The best way for me to describe my reaction to Ms. Angstadt’s recommendation is, “Be careful what you wish for.” If the incentive is to do something quicker then trust me, it will get done quicker. But is that really what you want? More importantly. is that what the customer wants? Will quicker still mean 100% right? That said,  what is the cost of that (say) 5% error? If you’re going to offer incentives then be 250% positive they are (what we call) guest-centric. If they’re not, then expect the worse. Try the Harvard Business Review site web for insights on incentives. The ones recommended seem counter productive.

— Also, I would not recommend looking at your books in that way *too closely*. Do you need to watch the numbers? Of course you do. In the current climate we all do. But being the size that you are then I would favor a more holistic approach. For example, if using an oil change as a loss leader inspires more sales of scooters then is that a bad thing? Much like Mr. Wilson, Ms. Angstadt’s “the store should sell the oil to the repair shop…”, seems a bit out of touch. In theory, the idea is cute but it’s not going to happen – especially if a customer is waiting. Especially if the incenttive is to get it done faster. Such a transaction is just not practical on a day to day basis, is it? Maybe checking inventory and shifting whole cases might make sense but even that probably isn’t worth the time.

— If you going to watch the numbers then do some research and try to benchmark against your industry and/or your peers. If you’re strictly focused on your own numbers you might end up “grabbing the balloon”. That is, squeeze one end and it pops out elsewhere. In other words, drive up margins and profit can in fact drop. Small biz is about cash flow, service and long term repeat relationships. Margins will take care of themselves if you’re making people happy.

Not to worry, I’m almost done…

— I agree, VCU students sound like a great market for customers and possibly part-time employees. But did Ms. Cantrell really say “target them with a flyer”? Don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to say that print is not dead. But is that really the best medium for Gen ______ ? (Sorry, I don’t know the current buzz phrase of the current college generation.)

— Also,  “Buying ads in a newletters…” also sounds not very 2010. I have a couple of clients who spend quite a bit of money on print ads and unless you’re targeting the (age) 50 & up crowd, I strongly suggest you rethink that strategy. In fact, you might have the option to position the scooter as being “green” – and not being in print ads might be a statement in and of itself, eh? Hand out some t-shirts, etc. But unless more than a couple customers recommend a print publication thentry to avoid them. Naturally, as I’m sure you already know, avoid one-off ads at all costs. Lighting flashes very rarely produce cost justifiable results.

— The donate / non-profit idea is great! Never a bad thing!! Supporting them is also probably the one exception to the No One-offs rule.

— Finally, with regards to the guy you sent home late. (1) Unless he was specifically told that late = home with no pay then that was a pretty big no-no. (2) If that was his first time, then it was an even bigger no no. “Punishment” like that might come back to bite you in the butt. Do I think there needs to be expecations? Yes, I agree with you there. But much like incentives, be careful what you wish for. You’re Scoot Richmond, not Ford Motor Company. Think “team”. Not “I’m going to get you”.

Hope I helped. Please let me know if you have any questions, etc.

Good luck,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton, NJ

Alright then, anyone else have any thoughts on this article, Scoot Richmond or even the AU feedback? Please take a moment and share it.