COLLOQUY – Customer Loyalty, Rewards, and Retention

Sometimes you are involved with a product so engaging to so many people that customers find you and become dedicated to you on their own. From my experience, this requires a magic mixture of product design brand identity that satisfies all aspects of the customers’ pleasure centers (solves a problem well, I identify with the product/company, this is part of who I am, etc).

For the rest of the time, it is important to develop and maintain some discipline around customer retention. Even if you deliver for a customer, you may never see them again unless you find a way to connect with their heart or wallet.
Colloquy is a media outlet devoted to the practices and services that help maintain customer loyalty. The business model behind such a publication is all about serving the top end of the market, but many of the ideas presented here can be applied on a smaller scale and with low cost.
For most products, from toothpaste to luxury hotels, need some help in differentiating or at making sure they are present in the customers’ minds when they are ready to make a purchase decision.

Disclosure: BizDevGuy, Jim Haviland has been a speaker at a number of Colloquy sponored events.
You can access great data and profiles on the Colloquy site, but, of couse, you need a free log-in to get to any of it. They are very good at the customer retention disciplines.

Direct Magazine

We spend a lot of time learning new technologies and then the application of those technologies followed by the business model and then the business process and then the Six Sigma best-practice high-performance kata of the whole thing. Too often in direct marketing you don’t have time to institutionalize a process before the context of technology or regulation eliminates it from the menu.
I appreciate any resource I can turn to and glean something new quickly. Direct Magazine, a Penton publication, does an excellent job of providing bite-sized insights either at the site or delivered to your in box.

Direct Magazine >>

Internet Retailer

Internet Retailer regularly finds stories and information that impact our clients in B2C retailing.
The site is a bit thin on free data, but they do offer a relatively inexpensive guide to technology providers ($49) and some interesting profiles of top on-line or multi-channel retailers.

More about Internet Retailer…

T-Shirt Maker’s Style, Drawn From Web Users

Crowdsourcing
My favorite business models right now are the ones that really focus on a limited set of operations, chosen for a unique aggregating of external resources. That may be hard to visualize, initially, but this article from the Washington Post describes the phenomenon very well, including how technology has made it all that much more effective and agile.

It is relatively well known that GE, under Jack Welch and otherwise, has institutionalized the practice of outsourcing those operations that are not core to their offering. This changes constantly, based partly on what services are available or the logistics of accessing them or many other factors.

With consumer products, the engaged opinion of consumers should always be part of the product life-cycle. The internet provides nearly infinite opportunity to facilitate opinions from as diverse a consumer base as you wish to contact. There is no longer an excuse not to test market a product, or atleast aspects of a prouct, before burning resources on manufacturing or procurement. I have yet to come upon an example where consumers were engaged for their opinions and it backfired entirely. You may not want to publicize all your internet opinions because, honestly, some people are just crazy. Some demographic groups have crazy opinions that only get more balkanized by the oppurtunity to bash something (mob mentality translates all too well to the internet).

Read the article…

New Products (Like the iPhone): Announce Early or Go for the Surprise Rollout?

I love when I find a resource that distills a common strategic question down to a few simple calculations. This article on doesn’t quite get to the paint-by-numbers status, but it does lay out a clear set of topics to consider when thinking about your product launch.

Vaporware or surprise attack?

So often your fortunes are dominated by thigs you cannot control, having a checklist of things that you can clearly make some predictions around should help minimize risks and allow you to make a decision with confidence.

Click here to see this article.

Hire people, not resumes

HR is nor my specialty, but it is a crucial part of any growing business. I don’t like talking about how to retain people because, in my crusty opinion, if you hire well and are mindful of the culture of the company, people will stay. Problem employees are usually either bad hires (not neccesarily bad people) or great hires in bad situations.

I think you can learn half of everything you need to know about who to hire by reading Jim Collin’s Good to Great. Resume’s, as far as I’ve have seen, can help you weed out people who are clearly inappropriate for a position but, even in this task, I suggest caution. 60% of all people hired find their position based on some personal connection. Part of this is nepotism, but just as often it is really based on persoanl endorsement. I have worked for clients in market segments where I had no previous knowledge, by their definition, and where my resume would have led them to believe I could not be helpful…BUT I was. I get excited about learning new markets and I’m very good a figuring out what I don’t know…and then learning it. Even if I have a strong background in a business model or market segment, I follow many of the same processes to achieve a victory. Ultimately, people hire me because they believe I can bring them a victory (what ever shape that may take). My resume shows that I have had victories (√) but referals are what brings in new clients.

The most common mistake I see is when people try to hire expertise. Expertise is fine and all but we tend to want to hire expertise in an area where we don’t have expertise…which makes it a bit challenging to recognize. There are a number of tests that can now be given to potential new employees to see if they are a good match for a position…but they tend to rely on you already having someone successful in the position to compare to….and the test look more for personality traits than anything you would put on a resume. Industrial Engineers who administer these tests tell me that the reason for this is that the context of a position tends to overshadow the task-oriented aspect of most positions. Being a successfull salesperson in one company doesn’t mean you’ll be a successful employee in another. The impact of the sales program and the nature of the leadership and the personalities that end up in sales support, etc. end up being the driving factors that determine how well the salesperson performs. I have seen this play out far too many times.

My favorite story around this topic comes from a Packy Highland, Jr. I saw him speak to a crowd of entrepreneurs in a town not known for entrepreneurship. The average age in the audience was mid 50s. Packy was in his mid 20s. Packy was already a very successful entrepreneur growing his OnBase product. During Packy’s presentation he mentioned some statistics about the technical certifications of his staff that were very impressive. He talked about how important this stat was to the company’s success. During Q&A someone asked where he found all those highly trained people. Packy said, “We hire people, not certifications. Most of these people didn’t have these credentials when they arrived.”

When asked if he was nervous about training people that leave once they are more valuable he said, “If people are leaving because they don’t feel properly valued and appreciated, then we have bigger problems than employee retention.”

Free Web Application Tools for Non-Techies

Most of our projects end up requiring us to manage a bunch of data. Usually that data includes the need for entry forms and reports. For our start-up clients, in particular, this is where the projects can get bogged down or the costs become troublesome. Luckily, it has never been easier to collect and manage data, even for the non-technical worker, even for little or no money.

This article from Network World offers an announcement that IBM has joined Oracle and others in offering free on-line app building tools that are aimed at enabling the non-technical user.

Customer lists, data that’s manipulated for an event, data that needs to be shared by a bunch of people…none of this belongs in a speadsheet on someone’s desktop. Wrong information is much worse than no information and sharing files always [ ALWAYS ] leads to version errors (Is this the latest version? Does this copy have those important changes in it?).

These tools make it easier and give your operation a professional boost. It’s worth spending a few minutes to learn the interface.

IBM alphaWorks tools site

Office Software – free without compromise…or stealing

No matter how much you don’t like monopolies, it is hard to question the wisdom of owning Microsoft Office…except that there are some prettty decent alternatives.
Internally, we have taken to using OpenOffice. With version 2.2 nearly all of the quirkiness that made it “not ready for your Mom” is gone and all of the functionality that we commonly rely on in that product from Redmond is there.
We test everything we can get our hands on, but the thing we are most excited about is Google Docs.

Not only can you build robust documents, but you can also collaborate on the documents with other users.

Documents are saved remotely and can be exported in a wide range of formats.

We are also very interested in the launch of Scrybe. Watch for details.

BizDevGuy's favorite hosting service

A basic website includes both Domain Registration and Hosting. Anymore, nearly everbody offers both in one form or another.

1&1: Very large, low-cost hosting, email and other services firm. Very scalable offerings and lots of extras to make it easy to get started. This is the host for this website. Click here for more information.

Disclosure: BizDevGuy is an affiliate of 1&1 so we make a few coins when we sign-up new clients. It isn’t enough, though, to make it worth sending our clients to the wrong place.

How to write an executive summary on the west coast

Guy Kawasaki is both an exceptional entrepreneur and an exceptional supporter of entrepreneurs. Rather than the hazing that much of the VC game feels like, Garage has put together some excellent resources for people looking to pitch them. This support includes both clear guidance on how to develop documents that they can easily parse and exacting detail on what sort of deals they are looking for.

I must say, however, that their approach is quintessentially West Coast. I have worked on both coasts (and some difficult years in the middle) and, for me, the differences in expectations and approaches are dramatically different.

http://garage.com/resources/writingexecsum.shtml

I will post an East Coast comp soon.