Friday, April 29, 2011


Some things are bought because of what they are. Some things are bought because of what we think they will make us.

There's more margin in the latter.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Seeking vs. Finding

There is a difference between searching online booksellers for the best price on a particular book that was recommended to you, and walking into a bookstore not knowing what you will walk out with.

Most of our modern lives are built around the former, but many of the joys we experience come from allowing something interesting to find us.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Everyone has lulls in their workflows- periods where the volume slows down a bit. While its nice to stop and take a breath, its also a great opportunity to look at your back-burner projects.

Make some calls. Schedule some lunches. Take the online tutorials you've been meaning to learn.

The key is to always have things on the back-burner list, so when the opportunity presents itself you have lots of ideas other than "Cruise Facebook". You need a plan for the slow times, too.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Does your website have your email and phone number at the bottom of every single page?

Why not?

Yes, it will generate more calls and emails- from people who probably want to do business with you.

It may be worth your time.

To go even further- do you have an FAQ that's easy to find? Is your menu of services up to date? If visitors like your offerings, is it easy for them to download the paperwork they need or use your shopping cart mechanism?

It seems obvious, but almost daily I encounter someone who has made the buying process hard for no good reason.


Monday, April 25, 2011

The Soft Middle

Of the group who use your product or service, there is probably a sizable subgroup that doesn't choose you over the other guy as much as they allow others to choose you for them. It's why some marketers place such a heavy emphasis on "influencers". They drag many others along for the ride.

When you are on the good side of the influencers, things are dandy. Fail a few times with the influencers and you lose not only their business but those who pay close attention to the things they do. Much is at stake.

Do you know who the influencers are? Probably, but you can never know the full roster, especially those who are coming on the scene.

Its best to treat each customer as if they have a hundred future transactions in their pocket. You just never know.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Everything To Everyone

The Postal Service has painted itself into a corner by setting expectations too high.

For over a century they have delivered the mail to every home in America, six days a week, at extremely low cost.

But the drop in mail volume has resulted in deficits, so we, the taxpayers, have a choice to make.

- We can accept that daily mail delivery is something we believe adds value to the economy and our quality of life, and absorb the costs into the Federal Budget;

- We can insist that the USPS run itself like a business.

- A hybrid of the two.

Running the USPS like a business will mean some combination of the following:

- Mail delivery only a few days a week
- A surcharge, say $100/year, if you want home delivery. Picking up at a box would be free.
- Closing of thousands of post offices in Rural America
- The price of a stamp doubling or tripling
- An end of flat-rate postage. Every item will be priced by weight and distance.
- Extra fees if you want Saturday service of any kind.

I'm not advocating any of these ideas, and we will probably see some of the service cuts and surcharges rolled out, while deficits continue to be the norm. Deep down everyone likes the service USPS provides, but nobody really wants to pay for that level of service. But the USPS created this situation by being Everything to Everyone, and now none of their options are going to be popular.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Does the menu on your website match the menu in your store?

Think beyond food. Does your website say you do tax work, when you also do financial planning? Are the phone number and address current? Are they at the bottom of every single page?

Is it easy to find you, and know what you do and don't sell when i walk in the door? The customer who has researched you is probably in a buying mood when they walk in. Don't disappoint them by no longer selling something they saw on the website.

You do have a website, don't you?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two Sides Of Buying

Seth Godin suggests that big companies make the buying process "screamingly inefficient"- too many layers of approval, endless meetings, and so on. He believes that when you make a vendor an ally you both benefit.

Yet I've read multiple annual reports over the last five years where the purchasing department has been praised for beating up vendors and reducing overall costs. When everything you buy is viewed as a commodity, price is all that matters. But its not. Are you being sent the best quality product? Does it get shipped to you on time? Do you have to pay top price for service as a penalty for demanding a low unit price? Does the added time spent negotiating justify the discount?

It's easy to view negotiations as a zero-sum game, but not if you look past the deal you are negotiating today.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Short View

A friend was recently asked to sign a non-compete agreement by his employer. It insists he cannot do similar work for anyone else within a 50 mile radius.

This is short sighted on many levels.

First, my friend doesn't do work that would involve "trade secrets". He is unlikely to lure clients away if he moves to another local firm.

The real reason for the contract? The employer has a retention problem. Staff use his shop as a stepping stone to better opportunities. Hiring has become an expensive part of his business.

Its a problem a non-compete isn't going to solve, either. This retention problem is usually self-inflicted, yet there are no signs of a willingness to try and fix it. the shop will continue to struggle until it does decide to change.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Now Comes The Hard Part

Our digital age has unleashed boundless knowledge.

Virtually everything known to man can be found with a quick search for free or a nominal cost. It's all there for the taking.

Half the work- the gathering of knowledge- has been done for us. We no longer have the excuse of the Public Library being too far away or closed for the day.

But that leaves the hard part, the actual reading and digesting and applying of that knowledge, to us.

Fortunately most of the big excuses- distance, expense, and other barriers to entry- are gone. All you have left is "American Idol is on" or something equally lame.

Get busy. Your life will be richer on the other side.


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Tyranny Of Free

A friend recently complained that the online streaming music service was becoming unusable because of the ads they run to pay for it.

There is a simple solution to her "problem"- buy a subscription to the service. In her case it would cost $36. A year. Given the number of hours she uses the service, the per hour cost would be negligible. Yet she prefers to complain about the inconvenience of two minutes of ads per hour, which is about 10% of the ads on terrestrial radio.

With so much free content on the Internet, we have a hard time adjusting to the idea of paying for something we value, even if that cost is small. It's the great weakness of the freemium model- delivering enough value to open the checkbook in a world of free alternatives.

I've now subscribed to my friend's service because I think its a bargain.


Thursday, April 14, 2011


If you are a life-long GM buyer, its going to be really easy to sell you another GM, and really hard to sell you a Ford.

Its not just habit. Confirmation Bias selectively chooses the information that confirms what we already believe to be true, and ignores information to the contrary.

That doesn't mean you can't sell a Ford to the GM buyer, but its going to require an inordinate amount of resources to make the sale compared to a current Ford buyer.

Keeping your current fans happy should be your first priority.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Selling College

Colleges have to spend lots of money on amenities because they need something tangible to sell to students.

You can't really test drive a college or take home a sample. Comparing the quality of an education between two institutions is hard and highly subjective.

But if one school has shiny new dorms with fancy features, you draw some conclusions compared to the other school that hasn't modernized in thirty years. The comparisons may be unfair and incorrect, but you draw them anyway.

This explains why much of the spending on campus is going towards facilities not directly related to teaching. Its what sells the place.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Buffet

When you order an entree, the kitchen staff tries to put the best possible experience on that plate for the price you are paying. Your expectations are limited to what is on that plate.

At a buffet, the goal is to put out a lot of low to medium quality food, and your goal is to eat enough to feel you got your money's worth.

The value equation switches from quality to volume.

The same thing has happened in cell phones. Once, usage was billed by the minute, so competition was as much on quality and range as on price. Telcos has incentive to upgrade their networks to attract users.

Now with bulk pricing and essentially buffet data plans, we use as much bandwidth as we want, and the telcos give us the minimum level of service that will keep us renewing our contracts.

The buffet plan has won because we prefer to use our phones without having a meter running in our heads, but our level of service has probably dropped. That's exactly what we told the telcos we wanted, too.

Just good enough won.


Monday, April 11, 2011


I've been told I'm a good navigator for car trips because I give emphatic instructions at the right time.

But telling someone to turn the car is one thing. Its another to turn it yourself.


Friday, April 8, 2011


The biggest expectation signal in a restaurant comes from the menu. Is your entree going to cost you $10? $25? Is a price even listed? Your expectation will then rise or fall to meet the price given.

While an unmarked entree had better be amazing, deliver amazing and you can charge almost any price.


Thursday, April 7, 2011


I took one of those shuttle vans from La Guardia into Manhattan a few weeks ago, and noticed the oddest thing- the van didn't have an EZ Pass transmitter. It paid for its trip through the tunnel with cash.

I assume this van wasn't an occasional user of the tunnel, but rather that it went through a toll booth of one kind or another multiple times a day. Yet it wasn't using the tool to make the trip a tiny bit faster. Odd.

The message it sent to me was: We don't care about your experience with us. You chose the cheap route, we'll treat you like crap.

Sometimes the low end solution can get away with that.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


A friend once worked for a brilliant Big Picture Boss. BPB had a new genius idea every three days, and would excitedly explain it to the staff, expecting it to be implemented into the current product ASAP.

The result was near chaos. Initiatives were begun and quickly shelved to make room for The New Idea. Staff never knew which way they were headed, and never committed much effort to The New Idea, suspecting that it would be dropped before they got it up to speed.

Eventually BPB was managed out of the company because his product wasn't developing in the way management had expected. His lack of focus doomed his career.

Idea generation is great- but it must be contained. Limit the new projects to a Skunk Works within the group, and don't let the New Idea derail the products that pay the bills.

Most importantly, have a sense for which ideas will add value and which would just be nice to have.

Lack of focus can kill a vision.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dying Industries

This list of fading industries has been making the rounds, and the analysis has been interesting.

My take on three: Technology has effected them in ways you don't expect, as newspapers, video production and photo finishing have now become DIY jobs for all of us.

With newspapers, we have become our own editors, deciding what topics and what sources to gather from. We have one customer: ourselves.

With video and images, the tools have become so cheap as to be ubiquitous, and our expectations for DIY so low that most of what we do is "good enough". Some argue that a business owner doing his own video work is more "authentic" than having a team of professionals come in and make something that's broadcast quality.

I'm waiting for the chart of growth industries so I can look for corners that are in need of innovation.


Monday, April 4, 2011


Purchases are often succeed or fail for arbitrary reasons.

Perhaps the customer couldn't find a parking place they liked and moved on. Or they hated the clerk with the untucked shirt. Or they liked talking to the pretty girl at the counter. Or your store is next to their favorite lunch spot and they passed through on their way to their car. Or they expected a cheap commodity and found rare quality instead.

You can only worry about the factors you can control, and mitigate the risk of the things you can't. Focus your efforts.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Old School

Drew has a great post and slide share about the functionality of Yahoo Groups.

It has some advantages over the Google suite. I like the ability to create a mailing list for the group.

Sometimes the mature tool trumps the new tool.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Feedback Loop

The most important part of having feedback from a customer is the chance to learn if you are offering what they want. That's different from selling them what you have.

Almost every retail store asks at the checkout "Did you find what you were looking for today?" Sometimes they actually listen, sometimes they shrug. I suspect that stores that are successful over the long haul are the ones that listen and take notes.