12 key success factors for SME’s

Small businesses make up the vast majority of business numbers, make a huge contribution to economic activity and health, but most do not last 5 years.

Over  20 years of observing small businesses as a contractor and consultant, I have seen a modest number of factors that the successful businesses, those that last the distance and deliver good financial returns over an extended period,  set out to manage in a very deliberate way.

  1. Your time is the most valuable resource you have, and is non renewable, so outsource as much as you can to free up your time. It does not matter if you outsource to an employee, or to someone in the eastern bloc, it gives you back your time.  Always ensure you retain control of the things that are at the core of your value proposition to customers, that is where your valuable time should be spent.
  2. Make yourself redundant. When the business runs without you, it is successful, You can then do what you want, but have the income stream coming in to allow you do what your want. The old cliché of working on your business rather than in your business is a cliché for a reason.
  3. Deliver value to customers first. Most business owners earn the most from their business the day they sell it, so do not become too emotionally involved with the idea of owning the business, be in love with what it can do for you by delivering value to customers.
  4. Find a niche and own it.
  5. Leverage the talents of others, there is always someone who can do something better than you, find them, and leverage those talents. On the flip side, do not allow low performers to persist, as it not only enables under performance in their role, but it sets a low bar for the others who can see that non performance is acceptable.
  6. Automate the day to day stuff as much as possible, and it is possible to automate almost everything these days. This requires time and effort up front to ensure there are robust and repeatable processes, but pays off in  spades in very quick time.
  7. Always be curious, about what your customers are doing, and why, what your competitors are doing, why and how, and what is happening in domains outside yours that may  be applicable to your domain in some way.
  8. Be generous. It pays off. Generosity engenders a feeling of obligation, and in this day of commodities and transparency, having someone feel they owe you a favour is very valuable.
  9. Have a plan, so at the very least, you know  the point from which you have departed.
  10. Interrogate your business model routinely, as the pace of change is such that the optimum way of extracting value may not be the way your are doing it currently. The Business Model canvas is a great tool, and it is not so silly to keep drawn up on an A3 pinned to your wall to take post it notes with thought s as they occur to you, and others.
  11. Measure progress to wards objectives. Too many measures are as bad a too few, the challenge is to get the right measures, measuring the things that really measure progress, not just that something is done.
  12. Watch and manage the cash.

None of this is easy, or comfortable, but as I look around at successful SME’s, they are all employing at least 5 or 6 of these strategies.  I would recommend that you do a relatively simple assessment of each parameter, measure yourself, and use that measure to identify areas to target for improvement. Simple spider graphs are very useful as a visual tool for recording progress.

Happy to have a yarn with you about how an outside resource may be able to assist the process.

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Marketing recidivism

marketing recidivism

The word recidivism is usually heard in the context of those convicted and punished, going on to re-offend. The objective is to reduce the rate, ideally to zero.

Not in the context of marketing and sales, where the objective is to raise the rate.

Think about your own processes, and sales and marketing funnels.

Most are messy, illogical, emotional pathways with all sorts of traps along the way, very few are the orderly, and sequential progressions that are usually reflected in consultant drawn funnels.

During the process, the objective is to bring as many of the wanderers from the path back into the funnel as possible, and help them to the end point, a transaction, or at least keep them in the funnel until such time as they are ready to progress.

The “recidivism rate” is an enormously valuable measure of the effectiveness of your sales and marketing  processes, and can be applied at all points in the process, irrespective of the form of the process, from a simple spreadsheet to complicated CRM and lead generation software.

Would some help figuring this stuff out help?

If so, call me, now.

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9 tips to crafting effective headlines

daves pen

David Ogilvy said many things that have gone into the marketing lexicon, one that is particularly relevant to the ways we are communicating today:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar”. 

It is disturbing for me to sped several hours creating a blog post, and then to have just a few people read it, and I find that following the rules below, my readership increases markedly.


  1. Lists always work,” 6 ways to build a better backhand”
  2. “How to” headlines always work.  “How to build a better backhand” If you can actually find a way to combine a “How to” with a “list”, well, off it goes. Like “How to leverage these 6 ways to build a better backhand”
  3. Highlight the benefit, a WIFM (what’s in it for me)  headline. “Having a great backhand increases your chances in doubles”. Sometimes a  bit of innuendo or double meaning goes a long way to making a headline better “linkbait” to the body of the article or email.
  4. “Free” is good, “Free e-book on how to build a forehand Federer would love”
  5. Evoke curiosity, then deliver in the body. “How many more sets would you win with a better backhand?’
  6. Draft several headlines, and give considerable thought to which is the best to use in  the context of the audience, and what it is you are trying to convey.
  7. Length, SEO experts tell me that about 60-70 characters is the limit, as the search engines cut off the subject lines at about 70.
  8. Learn from what others are doing. About the best source of effective headline writing lessons is in the local newsagent, spend a bit of time browsing the magazine section, there are SEO killer headlines effectively selling stuff that nobody in their right mind should buy
  9. The final consideration is that while it is the headline that gets people in, it is the value you deliver through the information in the body of the message that keeps them there. There is just so much content out there, so many opportunities to spend your time, that the real value is in delivering sufficiently good information and ideas to induce people to read the whole post, then  return, again and again.  The headline is just the icing, it is the cake that people consume.

There are many formulas, that claim to make writing good headlines easy, just like those above. However, like most things that can be broken down into a formula, you end up with some degree of repetition, a “sameness” with others,  it may work, and usually has to date,  it may deliver the outcome, but it is still the outcome of the same formula your competitors  are  using. So be different, add some humanity to the message, nothing is as good as a bit of humanity to connect to your audience.

That is really hard.




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6 Really simple steps to increase the effectiveness of your website.

don't shout

The blokes I saw as a youngster who had outrageous success with the girls were not always the best looking, or the most interesting, or had the best cars (although all these assets did seem to help) they were the ones who were genuinely interested in whoever it was they happened to be talking to at that particular moment in time. They directed all their attention and empathy at their companion of the moment, casual or otherwise.

Why do we think we can be successful digitally with strategies that are second rate in the real world?

Websites are communication tools, they are a digital metaphor for the conversations you have at a party, in a pub, at the office, in private. Nothing more.

So, go to the home page of your site, (or your competitors) and look at it through the eyes of the person you are attempting to communicate with, and:

  1. Count how often you talk about yourself, using pronouns like  “we”, “our”, “us”
  2. Count how often you talk about the problems your customer has, the ways that you are referencing their needs and challenges
  3. Compare the numbers, and in most cases  be amazed at how often you talk about yourself.
  4. Repeat for every page on your site,
  5. STOP talking about yourself!!
  6. Rewrite, and reap the benefits.

Pretty simple formula really, no different to those blokes I was envious of years ago.

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6 vital elements of a marketing story that sells.


trojan horse

As everyone will tell you, (including me here) marketing is about stories, stories that resonate, are remembered, that generate empathy, and lead to an action, and hopefully if your effort is to be rewarded, a transaction.

So what are the elements that make a good marketing story?

It is instructive to look to the stories we all read, from books we read to our kids, to the fiction we read as adults. All seem to share elements of 6 common traits:

  1. They are written for an audience. Kids love stories, and reading to my kids was one of the joys of being a parent. They would have loved last years best seller, Jeremy, the story of the kookaburra chick that fell out of the nest and as reared by a family until he could look after himself. Great book for my kids, as kids, but not my choice for my personal reading.
  2. They have a hero and a villain, and the hero always wins after a seemingly unwinnable struggle, usually at the last moment, and unexpectedly.
  3. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning sets the scene, the middle tells the story, and the end does a recap, and reinforces the message of the story.
  4. They all have a message, something worthwhile taking away, and that takeaway is the point of the story. Aesop, a Greek slave had this part nailed.
  5. They all have dramatic tension coming in waves through the story. The hero is confronted, and prevails,  then is confronted again and prevails again by being smarter, more helpful, inventive, and resilient than the villain. The rhythm of the story builds to the climax, with the hero again, prevailing in some way that demonstrates the traits of ingenuity, resilience, and “goodness”.
  6. The story has a plot. Pretty obvious, but the plot is what ties it all in together, and provides the context  for the hero to beat the villain, to achieve the unachievable, and deliver the message.

A good story gets remembered, and can be retold. That is not just luck, it is the way we have evolved, storytelling is the way we related information vital for survival in the first couple of million years as we moved from caves to  the present, passing on the strategies for staying out of the way of all sorts of risks to life and limb along the way. Recently there has been a lot of sophisticated research searching for the mechanics, this post from Chris Penn includes links to several.

Point is, the sophisticated research is simply telling us the mechanics, Aesop just knew the formula, and it remains the formula today, from writing a blog post to making a presentation, you may as well use the formula to your benefit.

How did I do?

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Intersection of sales, marketing  and technology


18 years ago running an ingredient supplier to the food industry as a contractor, I sponsored a project of quantifying a range of ingredient specifications against a matrix of  organoleptic, and cost outcomes given a range of processing parameters.

Our objective was to be able to demonstrate on the spot to a customer the impact of apparently minor specification changes of the ingredient and/or processing conditions on the operational, taste and viscosity outcomes, and costs of the product. We did many hundreds of bench trials in the lab, carefully documenting progressive changes of all the parameters, their impact on the product outcomes, and recording them in a database that enabled us to call up the information at any time. This turned an ad hoc, iterative, time consuming, and inexact process requiring expensive lab time that had often taken months to complete, into one that could be done in front of the customer with a few mouse-clicks. Real time outcomes that we were confident could be replicated in a factory trial.

The impact on customers the first time they saw this capability was profound.

I was reminded of this project again recently talking to the manufacturer of extruded plastic components. His sales process involves extensive iteration on a 3-D cad/cam package following usually extensive design and problem definition discussions, and then still pretty expensive models that need to be validated before “cutting steel” for extrusion dies.

It seems to me that in the next very short time, all these processes would be able to be done in real time, in front of the customer with 3-D printed prototypes.

The intersection of sales and technology is ignored by many, for a host of reasons, but pretty clear when you think about it for just a moment. The scary part is that you no longer have to have the resources of a multinational at your fingertips, this stuff is available off the shelf at your local tech vendor, and if you are not doing it, the competitors you may not even know about probably can.

Writing this post, I also realised that we missed a really important parameter in the exercise 18 years ago, one that is the focus of my esteemed “e-mate” Howard Moscowitz‘s work. That missed parameter is what the consumer really thinks, rather than what the marketer with whom we were working thought they were thinking. This discrepancy has been made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s celebrated TED presentation reflecting on Howards work in the development of Spaghetti sauce.

This is a whole other area where sales, marketing and technology are increasingly intersecting

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7 tips to improve your marketing.


Marketing has changed very rapidly from the mass outbound marketing upon which all the marketing theory and practice until about 2000, to what is often called “inbound” marketing, or in other words, finding ways to attract customers to you.

There is now a fundamentally changed  capability set required to be a successful marketing executive, and to manage a successful marketing function.

  1. Customers are the new focus, not because of any epiphany, but because we can now see them clearly. We need to be able create situations and experiences for them to be able to engage with the proposition we are delivering them.
  2. Marketing is leading the digital revolution, now. Marketing was late to the table abut the pace of development of marketing automation over the last 5 or 6 years has been astonishing, and marketers need to be data analysts and automation savvy.
  3. Outbound marketing required content, but no longer can you just  hire an ad agency to churn out a few ads. Now the whole marketing function, and ideally other functions in a business need to become producers of content, so that consumers have something to relate to, that tells a story. These materials become the backbone of our branding activity,
  4. Marketers need to become remarkably ambidextrous when thinking about channels of communication. Not only do we now have a few paid outbound channels, we have a huge array of owned and paid and earned media options and platforms, all have to be managed, in concert with each other, so you get a cumulative and synergistic effect.
  5. Marketing needs to engage consumes in their social spaces, and on their social platforms. No longer can we just bash messages through via paid media, the challenge of engaging has become far more difficult and the location has moved from the lounge room to wherever they are.
  6. Branding success has always had customer loyalty and retention as an end result of any activity. Now that has changed, and we are actively developing marketing techniques and tactics to target the loyalty and retention of consumers, and the huge difference  is we can now see the impact of our activities.
  7. Marketing agility based on A/B testing has become a core competence. This combines the data capability wit the imagination of the marketing  to dream up ideas, then test and constantly refine.

Marketing is becoming the core function of every enterprise. From a bit of an extra, sometimes even seen as an indulgence 20 years ago, it is rapidly becoming evident that marketing is the most important function of every business.

Competitive success now depends as much  on the quality of the marketing effort to deliver customers as it does the product and service offering. However, it is still true that no matter how great the marketing, without the product, you will not get a second chance.

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5 ways small retailers avoid failure

Things to avoid

Things to avoid

Small retailers see themselves as under siege, and many just hunker down and work harder to survive, for many, it is too hard.

For those that survive, some are doing really well, and there seems to be a few common themes. Few are doing them all, but all seems to be picking one or two and really delivering:

  1. They treat the shopping experience as an occasion, they set out to deliver to their customers fun, social acceptance, an opportunity to express themselves, deliver serendipity, information, and  advice to their customers. In short they are not there to flog product, they are there to provide a service, which happens to involve customers buying stuff.
  2. They carve out a niche, something distinctive, and set out to “own” it, at least in the local area. A friend of mine runs a small retail business, “Affordable Decor” in suburban Croydon on Sydney. It is a small store, set away from the main roads and shopping centres, but it is unique, a reflection of Maureen’s great eye and her connection to her customer base that comes from across Sydney.
  3.  Digital capability is almost table stakes, if in no function beyond inventory management, retailers need to be digital capable. My mate Maureen down the road in Affordable Decor does not have anything digital in her store, everything is still pen and paper, there is no website, (despite my pleading) but there is a really focused program of text messaging to her cohort of loyal customers.
  4. Mobile friendly is evolving as a real differentiator. A huge proportion of customers and potential customers connect using mobile, so being there is fundamental.
  5. Big data gets all the publicity, but what about Small data? Successful small retailers are in  a position to know  the details, small data, of their customers likes and dislikes, successes and failures on a personal level. It is this intimacy with customers that big data cannot hope to match, for all its great value.

For those small retailers reading this post, how are you doing?

Need someone to talk to who undestands the challenges?


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2 tools SME’s have to have




Most SME’s I see are run by a single person, without the benefit of any sort of advisory board beyond those with whom he/she has dinner sometimes, when they get the time.

The hats they wear  make Josephs coat look bland.

CEO, CMO, CTO, COO, CFO, CSO,…. The list goes on, up to and including CCO (chief cleaning officer), CBW, (chief bottle washer) and CSK (chief shit kicker)

These multiple roles have always challenged small business leaders, their primary resource beyond domain capability has always been time, and that is non renewable. Recently the explosion of the time and expertise necessary to have a chance at competing effectively in the face of commoditising and transparent markets, aggressive  competitive activity, increasing customer scale in B2B, and marketing automation,  has multiplied the size of the marketing hat enormously.

Where does the time come from?

Two places:

Focus and discipline.

  1. Focus on customers, and a niche where you can be significant. The old adage of big fish in little pools rather than the opposite hold truer than ever.
  2. Discipline to build a plan, assemble the resources to execute, then to execute with the agility necessary to respond instantly to new information, changes in the market, customer preferences, or whatever it may be, but not to be distracted from the broad objectives of  the plan. The second part of discipline is to measure progress, not just against the plan, but more importantly, towards the objectives of the plan, the better to understand the next step.

Most SME’s I see have bits of both, not enough of either, so they  are like empty drink cans bobbing around in a rough see, unless they can keep upright, and plug the hole, eventually they sink.

Need some thoughts on how to identify and plug the holes?

Call me.



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How can you do it to yourself???


Shoot foot

I just had another of those really, really annoying phone calls from a call centre, and being a marketer, I cringed with shame and frustration.

After I answered, it took probably 5 seconds for the person on the other end to answer me (memo call centre managers: this is just crapppola!!)

He was probably a nice young man, just trying to make a living in difficult circumstances in, well, it was not Australia, so his first language was not English, it may not have been his second either, so it was challenging understanding him.

He had a script, yes, scripts are a necessary tool, but do not easily allow the flexibility to cope with anything other than an utterly “vanilla” conversation, and those would be as rare as a cat in a doghouse. He clearly was under instructions not to vary from the script, but to respond to anything other than my script predicted comments with “yes, thank you Mr Roberts” and then, back to the script without a pause.

At least he got the name right.

I could go on, but the point is, why would somebody trying to sell me something waste their money so comprehensively?

The possibility that this young man was going to actually engage me in any way with his product let alone extract any money from me, are about as good as my chances of playing Roger Federer in next years Wimbledon final.

Why would any marketer actually pay for this desecration of their brand?

Are they really that stupid?

Unfortunately, the answer must be yes, at least in some cases.

By the way, the product was Funeral insurance, a hard sell in the best circumstances, impossible if you treat the potential customer with contempt.


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7 parameters of a C21 marketing scorecard

Developing metrics to measure the impact and ROI of marketing is becoming a game of choice around competent boardroom tables. Given the level of marketing engagement around many of those tables, it seems sensible for marketers to take the initiative.

Following are seven headline parameters that make some sense and can be further broken up to match the enterprise specific strategies that should be in place. Measure yourself on a five point scale.

  1.  Do you have a clear, 360 degree understanding of the behaviors, mindset, product category usage and limitations of your primary customers?
  2. Do you create, launch and measure  the effectiveness of marketing campaigns with the deep involvement of data intelligence tools
  3. Do you” listen” for customers behavior and respond in real time?
  4. Are you engaged in all stages of the customers product usage life-cycle, from first consideration of the potential benefits to the assessment of operational performance?
  5. Can you optimise marketing investment across all channels and activity types?
  6. Are all the KPI’s across the business aligned to the desired market outcomes?
  7. Is the boardroom “on board” with all the above. (bad pun, sorry)

If you score less than 30, you need to do some work. One of the easiest ways to keep track of progress is a  simple spider graph. Making the assessments a normal part of your marketing audit processes, recording progress in a simple way, then evaluating the performance and capability gaps that emerge will make you a more competitively effective enterprise.

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“Design” is a verb

Design is often used as a noun, “I will do a design for you” is common. However, when you think about it, design is not just a thing, an end product, it is a process of moving from an idea, through iterations, to a final form.

It is a verb.

“To design” should be a verb to be valued. Steve Jobs knew that, and executed on it, and as a result Apple became for a while, the most valuable corporation in the world, starting from the position of basket case.

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works” Steve Jobs.

The “how it works” phrase implies not just that the product itself works in ways that deliver great value, but that the way it works is in sync with the mind of the customer.

Need to better define how your customers mind works?

Chances are the experience of the StrategyAudit team can help.




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Design doing

Steve Blank is one of the real thinkers in the innovation space who gets out there into the weeds and gets stuff done.

The illustration at the top of this post is one from a recent post on his blog that makes the very real point that everything should start with the customer, not the product, inventors vision, financial potential, or any of the other usual drivers of activity.

So often we forget this simple truth.

The Lean startup and business model canvas methodology are fantastic ways to articulate your business,  but without a customer you do not have one.

Design thinking is all about starting with the customer in mind, using the tools that are there to discover ways to add value to them in some way, and as a result, make a return on the way through.

It matters little if you are a micro business on the corner or a massive multinational, the principals are the same:

Be agile

Focus on the customer

Solve problems


Encourage the dissenters

Leverage the wisdom of the crowd

Encourage chaos, and build the processes to distil and manage it


Design thinking is really hard, challenging work, but nowhere near as hard as design doing.


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Flying pigs and the carbon tax.

Last night (July 29) I watched Rod Simms (ACCC chairman) interviewed on the ABC about the price reductions consumers can expect from the removal of the carbon tax. He was assuring us that consumers will receive these benefits because in effect the ACCC had the interview transcripts and documents that confirmed prices went up as a result of the tax, therefore they will go down similarly. If not, he would use the competition powers of the ACCC to ensure businesses, particularly those on whom he “had the goods” complied.

Mr Sims has generally been a pretty good advocate for the ACCC, taking on some challenging projects, but I wonder if he really believes himself when he says this stuff.

The carbon tax has just been a corrosive component of a superficial, emotional and nasty period in our political lives, devoid of facts and intelligent debate  almost anywhere. However, to say prices will just drop as a result of the removal is, even by our political masters twisted standards, like asking us to believe in Santa Claus.

Politicians have systematically and capriciously distorted the truth about the state of the economy, over the last 20 years. The source of budget problem we have is on the revenue side, stemming from income tax cuts delivered by the Howard government, rather than being all on the spending side, as eloquently outlined by Dr. John Edwards in his terrific essay published by the Lowy institute, “Beyond the boom” Not addressed by Dr Edwards is the institutional waste I see in Federal expenditures stemming from the cultural imperative never to be wrong, which ensures no risks are taken, and every tiny detail is quadruple checked and backstopped before it is passed up the line, at great cost to us all.

Australian politics is stuffed.

Very low public engagement by any measure, seemingly universal cynicism about the motives and actions of politicians and their cronies, absolute lack of intelligent debate in the House of Representatives, and mayhem in the senate. Little has changed since this December 2009 rant, but I remain an optimist.

Australians have shown a remarkable ability to absorb change, and to enable the evolution of a society unimaginable to those who authored the constitution 114 years ago, so perhaps this is all just a component of the recipe for more change.

I hope so, but it does seem that this lot have polished the political game to within an inch of its life. In a debate, you can usually count on the truth being somewhere between the starting points of the adversaries, but in our current political climate, the truth, and any facts seem to be somewhere else entirely, utterly disassociated from the discourse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see politicians held to the same standards they impose on the rest of us in relating to misleading statements, fraudulent conduct, false advertising, and the rest?.

Whoops, stop, there is a pink, flying pig going past.

For those few who got this far, thanks, but you must have too much time on your hands if you are to indulge my rant, but thanks anyway.

Back to work, to seeking ways to assist SME’s navigate the shoals of reality, and I will not be advising them to just drop their prices by 10% of the cost of their energy, that would see most of them broke.


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7 essential sales tips for SME’s


Most of us recognise that the best sales lead you have is a satisfied existing customer, so why do SME’s so often fail to capitalise on them?.

It seems to me that there are a number of reasons, usually they boil down to not allocating the time, not thinking about it, or thinking they need some fancy CRM system beyond their means. All excuses that should not be allowed.

There are a few simple things every business should do, they should be baked into your sales and customer service processes, however simple or complicated they may be.

  1.  Make sure the sale you have just made at least meets the standards promised, much better when they exceed. Many SME’s seem to think the sales process stops at delivering the order, perhaps receiving payment, but that is just the start.
  2. Make sure you are visible, and available during the delivery/installation process. This ensures that molehills do not morph into mountains.
  3. Take ownership of any problems that occur, not only are the problems things that have to be solved, taking ownership of them is a powerful tool that communicates commitment to the customer, and they will not forget.
  4. Remember the two most powerful words in sales, “Thank you”. Just saying them makes you feel good, and certainly it makes the buyer happy to hear them, creates an empathy, and opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
  5. Be more than a salesman, be a resource for the problems and opportunities that your customer faces. Send them snippets of information that they may find interesting, opportunities and ideas they may value. Not only does that keep you top of mind, it builds on the relationship, you stop being a salesman and become a contributor to their success.
  6. A final suggestion. In this day of electronic communication, email, content marketing, and all the rest, one of the oldest forms of communication works better than it ever has, just because it is different, and demonstrates you care. A snail mail thank you, personally written, stuck in an envelope, and posted will be read every time, and is guaranteed to generate a warm feeling in the receiver out of all proportion to the effort that goes into it.

Doing these things builds  trust, and trust is the foundation of sales, we all know that, so why not just do it as a part of the process.

Oh, I nearly forgot the seventh!

When you have done all the above, and have a relationship with satisfied customers, ask them for leads, introductions and recommendations. Put yourself in this position. Someone you know, who knows a bit about you and your business rings and tells you of one of their trusted suppliers will make contact, and that they think you should talk to them.

Do you take the call when it comes? of course you do.

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6 challenges (and 3 rules) of content  creation


The single biggest stumbling block I see to successful digital marketing is not the technology, or the money, desire, or need, it is simply the unwillingness or inability to create relevant, engaging content of value that suits the context in which it is seen.

Usually it reflects a lack of a solid understanding of why they are in the business, other than to pay the bills. As Simon Sinek would say, the “Why” of the business.

Interestingly, the same stumbling block exists with bigger enterprises, they may have websites stuffed with words and pictures, but often that is all they are: words and pictures without value.

The same reasons exist for the failure in both categories.

    • Lack of marketing leadership. Where marketing is seen as an expense, and customers are all  those out there from whom we need to extract money. In these cases, creating content is always a barrier, and where it exists, it is usually a steaming pile of crap. Irrelevant, hard to navigate, bland, talking about themselves, yada, yada. Almost always the content improves when the customer is put as the focus of the content generation activity, answering the question “how can we better inform our market”  When everybody in a business recognises that they have a marketing responsibility, you get the environment where content can be improved, and this is a leadership function, to drive the culture.
    • Content is not recognised as an asset to be leveraged. Knowledge is the new currency of success, in almost every business. Those who know more, and can leverage that knowledge, find success.  Knowledge management  is therefore crucial and where does it reside? Between the ears of employees, stakeholders, suppliers, and often customers.  When that simple fact is recognised, steps can be taken to extract the knowledge, and organise it in some way to become information of value to customers. Intellectual Capital, is knowledge that can be used, and unlike physical capital, the more it is used, the better it gets.
    • No process to record and organise ideas. Content is everybody’s responsibility, but there needs to be processes in place that make it easy, and encourage the contribution of ideas and information that can be massaged into content of value. The best i have seen are a bit like the traditional sales funnel, everything that comes in , and coming in is everybody’s job, is recorded, then the ideas and information progressively filtered and organised  in a process that creates value for recipients  at the end. You really need an idea bank into which everyone makes deposits, and deposits are rewarded, and used to create valuable content.
    • No focus on content. The old adage, what gets measured gets done, is true, if it is important, and is treated as such, it will get done. One business I work with is led by a lady who sees content as important, so she devotes a part of her considerable energy to creating it, and by that simple example has tuned the place into a content generation machine over a relatively short period, and they are getting the sales to prove it works.
    • Content is marketing’s job. NO. It is everybody’s  job in an enterprise to assist the customer.
    • You think you know it all, and why would you tell your competitors?. When this syndrome becomes obvious it is time to leave. Most commonly I see it in other wise sophisticated technical businesses, where the history tells them that keeping information to themselves, and dolling it out to customers like a drunk offering a swig at his bottle when they ask  nicely is the way to gain and keep customers.  Rubbish!
    • Content for contents sake. Putting up any old stuff on digital platforms is counter productive. Our digital world has given all the power to the customer, if you post rubbish, it will be seen as a reflection of the business, and who would want to do business with you?

There has been a lot written by all sorts of people on the subject of “content” and there is a lot more coming. However, there are a few simple rules that should be followed:

  1. Make sure whatever content you put out there is a reflection of the business, its priorities, strategies, and value proposition.
  2. Know who your primary customer group is, and what they are looking for in a supplier in your space
  3. Always look at your content with the eyes of your customer, and in the context of the competitive landscape in which you are competing for your customers attention, engagement, and ultimately, money. If your digital face is not up to scratch, why should customers trust that your products and services are any better?

I would be very happy to talk more about all this over a coffee.



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Sales funnel revisited as a purchase funnel


The “sales funnel” is a pretty familiar diagram, it has been around for a long time, simply because it makes sense, at least it did to sales people. To their customer prospects, there is a level of antipathy to the notion of being just a part of some “funnel”

It is time for an alternative view, one taken from the perspective of the consumer who now has all the knowledge necessary to make their own informed decisions, and they are exercising that power aggressively.

The world has changed, so too should our representations of the manner in which our marketing activities are managed, and the nature of customers and potential customers reaction to our efforts to meet their needs.

Seems to me that we would be better off thinking about the process in two funnels, one that represents  our e-marketing activities,  the other the way in which those messages are received.

The first is the marketing funnel, which has replaced the sales funnel, an obsolete metaphor in a digital world.

Below is my way of illustrating the new Customer purchase process.

purchase decision

  1. Need awareness. This can be either explicit, one that emerges when the consumer recognises that a purchase is necessary, such as when your printer dies, you need a new one, today! The other type of need is implicit, which is generally uncovered by a sales process, rather than by the consumer in isolation.
  2. Information search. Google has revolutionised this part of the process, by taking the power of information from the seller where it has been for all of human history, and giving it to the buyer. It is this point at which the marketing process now kicks in.
  3. Value comparison. The value equation is different for every person, in every situation, but the components are unchanged. Features, availability, warranty, design, capacity, and many others all feature in varying degrees, the means by which we communicate the bundle that makes up the value, so is common to every situation, is price.
  4. Purchase decision. “Yes, I will buy” thinks the consumer
  5. Short list. Which options meet the need, operational requirement, and value outcome needed, from which a finance decision can be made
  6. Transaction. The transaction can take many forms, from a simple exchange of cash for product, to all sorts of arrangements and trade-offs made between sellers, buyers and various middlemen

Whilst the whole process is usually depicted as an ordered, sequential one, in which the various marketing automation software options can provide order and  flow, in reality is is usually a chaotic, messy, and iterative process.

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Heston Vs Jamie, a retail bunfight.


Heston Vs Jamie

It is fascinating to watch the evolution of the marketing of the two retail gorillas, Coles and Woolworths.

It is clear what they are doing, setting out to engage consumers with the freshness, range and provenance of their produce, and selling consumers  all the packaged goods they need on the way through the stores. Their strategies are working, but more importantly, they highlight the depth of the opportunity for those few independent retailers left alive, and points to the way the more fragmented food service, ingredient, and emerging home delivery and farmers markets should be marketing themselves.

Coles and Woolies remain mass retailers, vulnerable on the edges.

A few years ago Woolies were undisputed heavweight champ, Coles the belted contender with no hope, but how things can change with a new trainer. Coles has been rejuvenated, and whilst their financial results have been hugely improved, they have a way to go to catch Woolies, but in the marketing stakes, they have taken the lead.

The sponsorship of “Masterchef” was a masterstroke, and they have followed up and leveraged the success extraordinarily well, with Woolies just starting to respond by buying Jamie Oliver to shape up to Heston, Curtis, and Status Quo (I was young in the 70’s) and a massive and very well co-ordinated marketing budget. Bit of an uneven contest.

From a consumers perspective, increasingly their choices are limited to brands the retailers control. Wether they be Coles new “Heston Blumenthal” brand, Woolies “Jamie Oliver” brand, or one of the various other housebrand versions at differing price-points, and pack configurations, they are all housebrands.

Suppliers of packaged proprietary brands have been progressively squeezed out, and those left are mostly sourced via global supply chains rather than manufacturing domestically,  where almost nobody is left standing.

Change always starts at the fringes, as we have seen time and again over our history. Change is happening now in the food value chain, but at the fringes. Organics, local produce, micro suppliers of almost personalised products, restaurants differentiating on the basis of seasons and local supply, “pick your own” farmers markets, food tourism, various home delivery services, all happening outside the supermarket, some pretty basic  marketing communicating the differentiated offer.

Jamie and Heston can take their money to beat each other up in the ad breaks of the nightly news. The increasing number of us who really care about what we eat, will go to the local blokes who genuinely care about what they deliver to us, and buy from them.




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The value curve


As a young marketing graduate in the 70’s I was given a scholarship to attend  an intensive marketing management program in Boston, run by Harvard professor Jim Hagler.

He changed my life.

One of the many things he rumbled to me (he spoke, but it came out as a rumble) was:

“Son, find out how they intend to stay in front of the curve”

Sage advice.

Marketing is all about staying in front of the curve, the challenge most businesses have is defining the curve.

Most businesses have a choice of curves,  but you cannot be all things to all people, so choices are made.

The price curve

The cost curve

The innovation curve

The Value curve.

It is just this last one that really matters to customers worth keeping. They want value, however they choose to define it.

Whatever else you do, for your chosen group, niche, cohort, or however you choose to define your  ideal target customers, stay in front of the value curve.

Look around you, there is no successful enterprise that is behind the curve.

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Digital body language



Prospecting, lead qualification and nurturing, prospect management and the transaction itself have all changed forever.

The salesman with a bag has been relegated, at best,  to the transaction end of the prospect to transaction continuum. In the process, we have lost some of the humanity, some of the eyeball closeness that good sales people brought to the table, the insights and instinct gathered from the context and body language that underpinned all the conversations they had.

All gone, but most would agree that body language holds a significant place in the sales process, so how  have we replaced it?

Is there such a thing as “Digital body language”?

Can we score metaphors of the physical reaction from digital interactions?

Logically the answer has to be ‘Yes”, as we now have access to a huge body of data that reflects the sum of behaviour of all who come into contact with whatever platform or tool we have working for us. However, access to data is a very long way from leveraging the insights that are hidden within the data, a fairly advanced level of analytic capability along with a tool with some grunt is required, although simpler tools with manual intervention can be made to work.

Consider the process:

    •  Somebody reads a blog post and “likes” it, better yet, shares it,
    • They subscribe to the blog to make receiving it automatic,
    • They respond to an offer, webinar, e-book download, surveys, or combination of these, perhaps several times, and all the while your system is recording and responding to their actions, delivering the next step to them.
    • The system is constantly being improved as more data points are collected, and A/B testing provides finer grained insights

The data collected can be sliced and diced, weighted and resliced in all sorts of ways that can provide an almost visceral insight into the behaviour of groups and subgroups to various content stimuli at differing levels of engagement. The relative effectiveness of differing pieces of content at each point in the sales continuum can be calculated with good levels of accuracy.

Surely this is the equivalent of the sum of the body language cues of those in the database, if not necessarily that of any individual within it, and so is a very effective guide when well used. Data will never replace the one on one human responses, but the value of the digital picture built up is a source of enormous value, immeasurably widening the net of prospects beyond what can be achieved with boots on the ground.






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