Brexit, I’d rather not if it’s all the same with you

Doogheno isn’t a massive company, in fact we are the S in SME like millions of other businesses.

It’s not just big business that will be impacted by Brexit. We would be hit, we work with European businesses. But if we had different laws we’d need to bring in solicitors to draft new contracts, the customer wouldn’t want to pick up that cost so we’d have to carry it and that would make some customers unprofitable for us.

We already carry the cost of translation for these clients.

I like working with European companies, I have done it for years. Much of my business has come from Ireland, I haven’t had to translate that but I have had to learn their ways of business.

Friends of mine with small businesses also work with European companies. Any additional red tape will impact their business even more than mine.

And yes we could work with other countries but right now we have a unified legal structure that makes it easy to work with Europe.

Losing that is going to hurt my business, and in a small business that means it will impact my family and the families of our little team.

I make no bones about my views on Brexit. If we had 10 years to negotiate and transition I think it could be a good thing. But we don’t and it won’t.

My simple productivity hack

My simple productivity hack

My simple productivity hack is only plan the first 6 hours of a working day.

My day is broken down into 45 minute blocks, with built in slack time and this is only scheduled to 3pm.

On a typical day I review emails and create a day plan before I have breakfast with my family. I then get straight into my activities when I hit my desk.

I get all my chase ups done first thing. And then address anything that is awkward, weighty or unpleasant, such as dealing with the taxman so that it leaves my mind unburdened by the dread of a crappy thing I have to do.

I then work through my list.

I only plan to 3pm. I tend to work till 5:30, take a break for tea with my family, bath and bed time with my 2 year old, before returning back for an hour and a half work starting around 7.

The unscheduled time from 3-5:30 is usually taken up with creative activities. These expand into whatever time there is available and don’t fit into the 45 minute sections. So if I am writing an article for a customer I will do it in this time. Importantly actions such as research for the article, creating it’s structure or layout is done during scheduled blocks leaving free time to just create.

The time after 7 is used for company related actions such as updating the crm, planning or catching up on articles and stories I have spotted during the day.

Pipeline Vanity

What is the purpose of the pipeline?

The sales pipeline is the business end of the sales funnel. When you can start to actually put some hard figures against prospects they can move into the pipeline. It is the job of the marketing team and the sales team to move these prospects through the funnel to a point where a monetary value, time frame and probability can be called an opportunity.

While sales are in the funnel they can be moved backwards and forwards but the aim is to get them all through to the pipeline stage. Having 1,000 early stage leads in the funnel should equate to a healthy pipeline but the pipeline may not always be as healthy as it seems at first glance.

Most pipelines suffer from pipeline vanity. The pipeline doesn’t reflect reality. It is inflated. People want their contribution to the pipeline to reflect well on them, and at every stage, a shine is put on the pipeline that amplifies the small over optimistic rounding up of the last stage.

To understand why this happens we need to look at who is involved with compiling the pipeline.

When a salesperson takes over the lead to the pipeline from the marketing funnel they have to qualify the lead. If the marketing team are using the growth marketing approach they will have been building the lead to an opportunity and it should be handed over as largely qualified. But salespeople are hungry for leads so often they run with them while they really should be still in the marketing funnel. This causes a problem as the sales people have now a number of unqualified leads. The sales person is often under pressure to show a healthy pipeline, and this can be at the expense of an accurate pipeline. Deals which are unqualified appear in the pipeline.

We have seen an example of this where a telecoms company require their salespeople to forecast 75% of their quarterly in advance. They are asked to commit to these deals. We have spoken to the sales people and they all said that their forecasted pipeline was over 50% made up of deals that they at best hoped would come in during that quarter. Often their target was achieved largely of deals that did not appear on their quarterly forecast.

Salespeople are lazy, they go for the easiest deals, they don’t prospect for new business if they can get away with not having to, and I say this having been a sales person and having managed sales people. All sales people enjoy the win, few enjoy the work. So when their sales manager asks to see their pipeline the sales person is inclined to over inflate some deals. They increase the monetary value, they bring forward close dates, they increase their probability to close and they include deals which they really don’t know enough about to include in any pipeline or even worse deals which they know to be dead but removing them will leave a big hole.

The sales manager should be on top of this and work through the sales persons pipeline with them ensuring each deal is correctly qualified, too often this does not happen. The sales manager may feel the need to add their own gloss onto the pipeline. They will have to present the pipeline to their management and that needs to reflect well on them and their ability to run a sales team.

By the time the management team get to see the pipeline and forecast the collective total of rounding up, phantom deals and a little bit of polish can give the impression that the sales team are flying and the marketing team are feeding them high-quality deals.

However, the tweaking and polishing may not be over at that point. The management team have to answer to investors and shareholders. The temptation can be to pull deals forward, over estimate deal values and deal probability to look good and maybe even to hide any short comings. You may tweak the pipeline to make you feel better about things, to bury your head rather than address an oncoming problem but the problem is still there. Get it out into the open and get real visibility of where you are as a business.

It should be obvious how damaging pipeline vanity can be to a business. Not knowing what deals are coming in and when removes the ability to accurately forecast income and cash flow. Businesses can fail because of pipeline vanity. But it goes no. I have been called into businesses to address the overlong sales cycle, only to find that the majority of the deals in the pipeline were not real. They would never close as the customers never had any intention of buying the services.

If you do not have a clear and accurate picture of your true pipeline you cannot manage your business. You cannot identify potential short falls or major problems within the marketing and sales teams.

One London based SaaS company reported that they had a pipeline of over £5 million, at the time double its turnover. They believed that their pipeline was strong enough to negate the need for ongoing marketing. They did not separate the marketing funnel from the sales pipeline, they had not qualified the leads and were including completely unqualified leads in their sales pipeline. This pipeline was presented to investors. They also believed that they had enough in the pipeline to cut back completely on marketing.

They only converted 4% of this reported pipeline in 12 months and an additional 6% of this pipeline in the following 12 months. The result of the misunderstanding and misreporting of the pipeline included having to take dramatic actions including redundancies.

Another company held two pipelines, one that they used internally and one they presented to investors. The outcome of this was that the company fell short of expectations and was unable to raise funds again from their initial investors.

Pipeline vanity can be eradicated easily but if you are looking at your pipeline now be prepared for a shock, when you apply some basic principles you may not like what you see.

The first simple action is to define company-wide qualification criteria. The sales person should be using the same qualification criteria as the board are presenting to the investors. If you are doing your own sales and don’t have a sales team you still need to define your qualification criteria. If you have been in business for a while you will have the luxury to be able to look at historic deals and then build qualification criteria that match what happened in those deals. If you don’t have that level of data you have to make a judgement call to what you call qualified and what information that you want to know before it can enter the sales pipeline.

The basic criteria may be if the customer has an assigned budget, you know when they will be looking to buy the service and who ultimately signs off the order. Without this most basic information, you do not have a forecastable opportunity to add to the pipeline. You should weigh your opportunities based on their likelihood to close. While it might be tempting to feel that because the customer said they were going to buy it that you should put this at 100% likely hood to come in. But verbal confirmation should really sit no higher than 60% unless you have an existing billing relationship with that customer.

I have painted the picture that pipeline vanity is the result of willful misreporting and while we feel that is the largest factor and another big contributor is simply different people reading the situation with the customer in a different way. One persons “the customer is ready to sign” is another persons, ” I think we need to address that technical question to win their confidence”.

Whatever your agreed criteria it is important that everyone who has an interest in the pipeline understands what the criteria are and applies it to any input they provide. When you now apply this to the pipeline you will see a lot of deals drop out of the pipeline. That will be scary. But now you have a true view. It’s better to see 10 real deals than 100 where 90 of them are phoney. It just may not feel like it right now.

If you are managing the pipeline in Excel stop. That’s bad. Don’t do it. Get yourself a CRM system. Get your team all working on the same system, filling in the same field. Not only will you get better visibility you will also eliminate one of the big pipeline accuracy problems. Excel spreadsheets are hard to compare. You will not see trends, you will not see that deal hasn’t been in the pipeline for 6 months, but it’s 12. You will not see that some sales people will recycle deals back onto the pipeline when its a little light for them that month.

Pipeline vanity isn’t just something that is a problem in small business. We have seen it in large enterprises, where the phrase bullshit gets fed up the line is never truer. Some companies have even been known to book deals that are still in the pipeline to make their figures look better.

If you take one thing away from this post please make it about pipeline accuracy and remove pipeline vanity from your company, no matter how scary it makes your pipeline look.

Building a Twitter follower audience

We work in the B2B sector and while I am a fan of saying there is no B2B or B2C it’s all people to people there are obvious differences.

We have found this carrying out some side work for one of our friends, 6Somewhere.com who import premium Normandie Cidre. They have done a terrific job and have got their great cider onto the shelves of Tesco. Because they had this early success they haven’t gone through the long hard slog of building an audience online through social media. So we offered to help them build that audience. They have focused on Instagram and Facebook and we are starting to look at Twitter.

We have previously had great success in building a Twitter following for companies. This time though the audience is different and we are not controlling the content or frequency of posting.

So while we have increased their following by over 200% it’s not been plain sailing. If we benchmark it against a similar campaign we are picking up about 40% fewer followers for the same level of work. We are putting this down to two factors, the first, mentioned before is that we are not in control of posting so can not influence the type of post or the time. Followers want great content and we provide this for our clients but we know nothing about Cider so we can’t produce this for 6somewhere without using one of our external team, and as we are doing this for a favour we don’t want to pick up the additional costs. The second reason is that the follower profiles are different to our usual audience.

Thinking that Twitter users are al alike has resulted in unusual results. We know normally that we can get a company from 0 to 1000 high-quality relevant followers in about 6-8 weeks. With non-business Twitter accounts, we think this time scale will be 10-12 weeks.

 

Are you a Microsoft reseller clone?

Are you a Microsoft reseller clone?

There is no doubt that Microsoft has successfully managed the transition from shifting licences to selling services. Office 365 is a great product set and growing. Customers love it. People think Microsoft is good again and there is even talk about Microsoft being cool. Microsoft has been many things over the years but cool hasn’t been one of them.

Building a business selling Microsoft products has long been a solid approach for IT services companies. Yes, there has been a difficult transition from making a margin on selling products to having to make more out of providing services, such as migration, but most partners have grown in this market.

But there is one thing that Microsoft do struggle with and that is their marketing, and the marketing services they provide to their partners.

Personally, I don’t like the TV advert for Microsoft Surface, they are all American, actually, I actively hate them, I think they try to find the most annoying people in America and pump them into my living room. Do remember that click advert, painful. And the Microsoft Cloud adverts are big picture things that don’t really relate to the UK. The rare ads that are localised have the most annoying music, am I just being grumpy, I don’t think so. Microsoft is a beast and it fails on localising marketing.

Microsoft does provide marketing for its partners. But if every partner access the same marketing resource how do you differentiate yourselves from the competition. I have seen people simply rebrand the Microsoft marketing material. If a customer is speaking to a few companies, they may well see exactly the same material from multiple partners. Microsoft partners should work hard to differentiate themselves.

Around 10 years ago Microsoft was working with its early cloud service providers who were selling Hosted Exchange email. Microsoft ran workshops with the larger partners and these workshops talked about the research they had to why customers bought the product. After these sessions, most of the partners changed their marketing message to the one suggested by Microsoft. And the result was everyone had exactly the same message. They even provided a video that went up on the hosted exchange partners websites. That might have been what Microsoft wanted but in a competitive market looking identical to your competitor isn’t going help you win business.

I was working with one the UK’s largest hosted exchange companies at the time, we followed suit and relayed the Microsoft messaging at first but quickly realised that it was a mistake.

We worked on our own benefits lead messaging, it went on to be expanded on the new cloud services such as hosted desktop that we launched. we created what I called our 5 pillars of wisdom, which were the 5 key benefits customers would get from adopting cloud services. Ten years later these 5 messages are everywhere but at the time we had to research what our customers thought and look at their priorities. We got it right which is why the 5 pillars of wisdom would be very familiar to anyone selling cloud services as they are the sales message, in various forms that we all give now. I am not claiming that everyone copied what we wrote, they just came to the same conclusion (actually some did directly copy us, 2 word for word!).

But what we did do is move us away from the pack and make our messaging unique. We were selling the same as our competitors but we moved the conversation away from technical discussions to business discussions. We had successfully created a new approach that differentiated us.

Now, whenever I am working with a company who are selling highly competitive services I look at how we can differentiate them. If you are selling Office 365 you could talk about how great your support is but that’s exactly what other companies will be doing so you need to think a little harder and be smarter than your competition.

The value you offer your customers is the understanding of all the elements that combine to make up a solution, however, complex or simple. This needs to be conveyed to your customers. Most companies stop at case studies, case studies are a fantastic way of breathing life into they way you present your company. And many companies have realised the value of having video case studies, letting the end customer be the face of the company. But there is far more that can be done.

If you understand your customers buying journey you can start to produce relevant material for each stage.

If the prospect is very early in the process that will be just forming ideas, at this stage it’s up to you to get inside their minds and help them form these ideas. But they won’t have even contacted you. I doubt you can read minds but you can prepare for this by producing content that is relevant for this stage. And for different audiences. Create a technical piece of content, a piece about cost benefits etc but separate them and make them for the right audience at the rights stage of the buyer’s journey. If you are trying to sell me Office 365 (I already use it so I won’t be buying from you sorry) I’d want to know the benefits my business would get, but if m colleague was investigating he’d want to know about the integration with third party services and so on.

And if customers are a bit further down the line I am a big fan of telling end customers exactly how they can do what you offer for themselves. Does that sound crazy? I have a Haynes manual for my car, it tells me how to do all the maintenance on my car, and if I did I would not pay garages to keep my ageing Mercedes on the road. But I don’t I do little more than top up the fluids and keep they tyres pumped up. Anything else and it goes off to the garage. I don’t have the time, skills, experience and tools to do it myself. So even if you tell someone how to pull together a Microsoft based solution only a handful will do it for themselves, and those guys would have never paid you what you deserve anyway, and the other will think these guys know what they are talking about, let’s go with them.

I could go on and will do in other posts but you start to see that to win your customers in a competitive market you need to differentiate yourself and not just look like yet another Microsoft reseller.

10 Growth Hacks for Your Business

1. Drive engagement through content
You may have read about content marketing and thought it’s not for you but it is, it has to be, you need to be doing it and doing it now. You need to provide your potential audience with high-quality relevant information, it isn’t about product push, it’s about informing and educating. The way customers buy has changed, you need to change too.

2. Encourage Advocacy
In 2009 Uber had a great idea but it was just another taxi firm. They had a platform to take payment and scale up and down with demand, but no customers. Taking advantage of their San Francisco location and the tech community, they organised events and crucially gave free rides to the attendees. These attendees became their advocates and spread the word. They then replicated this in other cities. Find advocates who will champion your business, whether industry influencers, bloggers or journalists.

3. Capture the visitors to your website
Not everyone on your website will fill in an enquiry form. So you need to find other ways to know who they are. http://www.sumo.me/allows you to create an email collector. For example a pop-up box to enter your email for a free 50 growth hacks for your company. Tracking the silent visitors is easy to use a tool such as http://www.traffictruffle.com/ which will identify the visitors to your website from their IP address.

4. Put up your price
It might seem like an obvious thing but few of us are prepared to do it to new customers let alone existing ones. If your home broadband is from a company like Virgin or BT you will be familiar with fairly regular price increases. Over time, your operating cost increases so you are losing margin on your existing sales. European MSP Claranet introduced an inflation-based price increase across its customer base. No one likes paying more, but people around you are putting up their price and you should consider it too.

5. Contract length
Some services are sold on a monthly rolling contract; take a look at how many customers cancel during the first 12 months. Change your standard terms to 12 months (or longer). The number of people who are deterred from signing up will be outweighed by the extra guaranteed revenue. Mcloud, a London based software firm applied this simple hack and increased revenue by 8%.

6. Weight pricing towards longer contracts.
If you want to offer monthly rolling pricing, weight it so that if you are using the service for more than 4 months, it’s better to sign for a year. Biteable, an online animation firm, offers a model where the monthly option is $29, the annual, $99.

7. Keep marketing into your existing base
Don’t wait until it’s time for renewals to contact your existing customers. Keep them engaged with high-quality relevant content. You can upsell to this base at any time but they don’t want to get pushy sales messages. Nurture these customers, make them love you, make them advocates of your company. You could set up a quarterly webinar talking about relevant industry trends for their vertical and ask your customers in that space for their input. Everybody loves to be asked for their option.

8. Keep marketing into your old enquiries
Don’t forget all your old enquiries. You have built up a database over the years, use it. Market into this base but don’t send glossy special offers, send high quality engaging content and it should be relevant. As with any database, you should segment this list and send the right content to the right segments. If you aren’t using your existing database of prospects, do. Today.

9. Make it hard to cancel
Make it easy to buy your service but make it hard to cancel. You don’t need to go to the extremes of Sky or the companies who hide the ways to cancel the service but you don’t need to make it too easy. We all have stuck with services because we think changing is a hassle. Don’t allow people to cancel over email, it’s too easy. Try cancelling Spotify you’ll see how they have got multiple hurdles that you need to jump before you finally get to cancel. If you have an account management team then make the cancellation route through that team, they will have a chance to save the account.

10. Offer alternatives to cancelling
Cancelling should be a last resort. Offer a downgrade or a temporary suspension of a service as an alternative. Audible do an excellent job of this approach. You have the option to suspend the service for 3 months, you can keep subscribed at a lower cost, you can get an extra book for free if you stay. Think about what alternatives you can offer rather than a complete cancellation of a service.

10 Growth Hacks for Your Business

1. Drive engagement through content
You may have read about content marketing and thought it’s not for you but it is, it has to be, you need to be doing it and doing it now. You need to provide your potential audience with high-quality relevant information, it isn’t about product push, it’s about informing and educating. The way customers buy has changed, you need to change too.

2. Encourage Advocacy
In 2009 Uber had a great idea but it was just another taxi firm. They had a platform to take payment and scale up and down with demand, but no customers. Taking advantage of their San Francisco location and the tech community, they organised events and crucially gave free rides to the attendees. These attendees became their advocates and spread the word. They then replicated this in other cities. Find advocates who will champion your business, whether industry influencers, bloggers or journalists.

3. Capture the visitors to your website
Not everyone on your website will fill in an enquiry form. So you need to find other ways to know who they are. http://www.sumo.me/allows you to create an email collector. For example a pop-up box to enter your email for a free 50 growth hacks for your company. Tracking the silent visitors is easy to use a tool such as http://www.traffictruffle.com/ which will identify the visitors to your website from their IP address.

4. Put up your price
It might seem like an obvious thing but few of us are prepared to do it to new customers let alone existing ones. If your home broadband is from a company like Virgin or BT you will be familiar with fairly regular price increases. Over time, your operating cost increases so you are losing margin on your existing sales. European MSP Claranet introduced an inflation-based price increase across its customer base. No one likes paying more, but people around you are putting up their price and you should consider it too.

5. Contract length
Some services are sold on a monthly rolling contract; take a look at how many customers cancel during the first 12 months. Change your standard terms to 12 months (or longer). The number of people who are deterred from signing up will be outweighed by the extra guaranteed revenue. Mcloud, a London based software firm applied this simple hack and increased revenue by 8%.

6. Weight pricing towards longer contracts.
If you want to offer monthly rolling pricing, weight it so that if you are using the service for more than 4 months, it’s better to sign for a year. Biteable, an online animation firm, offers a model where the monthly option is $29, the annual, $99.

7. Keep marketing into your existing base
Don’t wait until it’s time for renewals to contact your existing customers. Keep them engaged with high-quality relevant content. You can upsell to this base at any time but they don’t want to get pushy sales messages. Nurture these customers, make them love you, make them advocates of your company. You could set up a quarterly webinar talking about relevant industry trends for their vertical and ask your customers in that space for their input. Everybody loves to be asked for their option.

8. Keep marketing into your old enquiries
Don’t forget all your old enquiries. You have built up a database over the years, use it. Market into this base but don’t send glossy special offers, send high quality engaging content and it should be relevant. As with any database, you should segment this list and send the right content to the right segments. If you aren’t using your existing database of prospects, do. Today.

9. Make it hard to cancel
Make it easy to buy your service but make it hard to cancel. You don’t need to go to the extremes of Sky or the companies who hide the ways to cancel the service but you don’t need to make it too easy. We all have stuck with services because we think changing is a hassle. Don’t allow people to cancel over email, it’s too easy. Try cancelling Spotify you’ll see how they have got multiple hurdles that you need to jump before you finally get to cancel. If you have an account management team then make the cancellation route through that team, they will have a chance to save the account.

10. Offer alternatives to cancelling
Cancelling should be a last resort. Offer a downgrade or a temporary suspension of a service as an alternative. Audible do an excellent job of this approach. You have the option to suspend the service for 3 months, you can keep subscribed at a lower cost, you can get an extra book for free if you stay. Think about what alternatives you can offer rather than a complete cancellation of a service.

Generation X v Millennials

There is a lot of talk about Millennials and their attitude to work and the workplace. We have carried out some research to find out what is really going on. We have survey hundreds of people and carried out a series of video interviews to explore the differences.

We’ll tell you what we have found out in a month or two but what we will tell you now is that millennials now are in decision making positions in companies. If you are not marketing how millennials buy you are going to be losing market share. And the two groups isn’t very large, with most people in senior positions buying the way no matter what age.

Follow, follow, follow

We all make choices about brands every day.

Even if we consciously try to avoid falling into the trap we end up making choices subconsciously based on things we have identify with.

So I thought I would look at a brand that has my loyalty and think a little about why I chose it, consciously or subconsciously.

The first is brand choice that I made before all others and that is why it may have stood the test of time, even when it was not cool to like it. A brand that I have had to defend against criticism, a brand that I have spent thousands on, a brand that I have hated at times but a brand that has given me moments of joy and life long friendships.

I grew up in the Essex town, now city of Chelmsford. Chelmsford is unremarkable for many reasons, and one of those reasons is it underperforming football team. But at the age of 3 or 4 I had to chose to a team. We had a football pennant at home so I supported that team. And I have stood on terraces singing give me a C, give me and H, give me an E, give me and L, give me and S. Hang on S? Yes, the pennant was for Chelsea. I chose Chelsea, I thought I was choosing Chelmsford. But I started following the brand and some 45 years later I still do.

I would argue that Chelsea aren’t a brand if someone said they are in the pub but the reality is they are.

So when nearly 40 years ago I saw then lose 5-1 I don’t chose someone else to follow. I didn’t chose someone else when they spent years in the second division, I didn’t swap even when their captain John Terry was the most hated man in the country. (I didn’t defend him though).

I bought in to Chelsea and I guess over the years played a very small part in forming who they are now.

And there it is I felt I was a part of something and my actions went some way towards contributing to the success of the brand. Being one of a few thousand supporters on a Saturday afternoon in Bolton to watch them win the league for the first time in 50 years was special to me and I felt that I was a part of something.

If we can create brands that inspire that much loyalty and passion then we are excelling ourselves.

But can it be done outside of a sports team?

I’m writing this on a MacBook, I have a film on in the background on my iPad, my iPhone on my desk next to me.

Of course, this may just mean I am a sucker for a brand.