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A Very Social Network

Posted by [email protected] on July 6, 2012 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Most people going into business for themselves expect to worry about the usual stuff: financing, marketing, sales, attracting new customers, doing their accounts and (if they’re lucky) employing staff. But one of the most surprising challenges for new start-ups can be loneliness. Especially if you’ve given up a career working for a corporate behemoth in order to go out and earn your own dime working from a spare bedroom or dining room table.


After the initial rush of excitement at escaping from office politics, it’s surprising how quickly you miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off like-minded colleagues on the way to the staff canteen. And whilst I’m eternally grateful that Skype, email and web conferencing allow me to do business with a range of clients as far afield as Russia, Minnesota, New York, Glasgow and Shoreditch (London’s so-called “Silicone Roundabout” ) without leaving my desk in Norwich, it can be isolating to spend all day on your own.


Homeworkers like myself rapidly begin to rely on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as sort of virtual-watercoolers, but sometimes you just want to have a face-to-face conversation. That’s why I was pretty happy to find myself at the inaugural SyncNorwich this week. Billed as a networking event for the local tech and start-up community, it brought together members of three different groups – Agile East Anglia, The Norwich Developer’s Community and Norwich Startups - with the aim of creating strength and diversity in greater numbers. And first impressions suggest that it’s working. The event was over-subscribed and the buzz of conversation was pretty deafening, although that may have had something to do with the free beer and pizza provided by the generous hosts, Blurtit!


Unlike other business networking events I’ve attended, there wasn’t a strong sense that everyone was just there to sell to each other, more that they were hungry to learn. In the half-hour before the speakers began, I’d already met a database analyst, a web designer, an SEO expert, a project manager and an IT recruitment specialist. I’m sure there were plenty of people in the eclectic, 70-strong group who were hoping to meet their future employer or angel investor, but there were plenty more who just wanted to share the ups and downs of trying to get their idea off the ground. 


Keynote speaker Colm McMullan gave a very honest account of the highs and lows of his progression from a nice safe (in the worst sense of the word) job with Microsoft to being the one-man startup behind the successful Total Football and Stats Zone apps for iPhone. There were plenty of would-be app-millionaires in the audience who were hanging on every word of Colm’s story of how he found himself featured in Apple’s “Rewind 2011″ rundown of the year’s best apps and The Sunday Times Top 500 Apps list.


Although there can’t be many audiences where Colm’s joke about XML would raise such a huge laugh, there was also plenty of interest to people like myself and the speaker from Blurtit, Kathryn Wright who can both TALK techie, but freely admit that we regard the actual process of coding as a bit like looking at The Matrix. For me, the key takeaways from the evening were Colm’s advice on sticking to what you know and having a strategy when going into business negotiations. His suggested “MILE” acronym (Must, Intend, Like, Extra) is one I know I’m going to use in the future.


Thanks to the SyncNorwich team (see them here!) for organising the event. It’s great to know that Norwich has such a thriving tech community, and to see evidence of the old adage that start-ups flourish when the economy is in the doldrums. Who knows, maybe in a few years time I'll be doing product demos or sales proposals for someone I met last night when their app is conquering the iTunes charts. Or maybe they'll just be people I can share my passion for technology with over a few pints. Either works well for me right now, and it's certainly interesting that a couple of hours of meeting new people has already given my entrepreneurial spirit a much-needed kick start and got me thinking about new opportunities.


For more on Sync Norwich and the next meeting on August 16th, visit the meetup group

5 Rules for RFP/Bid/Tender Success

Posted by [email protected] on June 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Ah, the corporate procurement process. Like pulling teeth, only less pleasant! The bigger the company you’re selling to, the more likely it is you’ll have to complete a never-ending set of increasingly complex procurement documents. They’re designed, in theory, to identify the best possible products/service providers at the best possible value but appear to have actually been created specially to drive sales, pre-sales and bid-management teams into an early grave!


The actual procurement documents themselves come in all shapes and sizes and every company seems to call them something different – RFP (request for proposal), RFQ (request for quotation), ITT (invitation to tender) etc. If you’re dealing with a government contract, you’ll probably have to go through a separate hurdle like a PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire) just to win the right to be included in the invitation. Sometimes a bigger tender will be divided into “lots”. And if you’re REALLY lucky there’ll be a practically impenetrable procurement portal for you to use to upload your documents.


Yes, the RFP process can be frustrating and incredibly time-consuming. So here’s my five point plan for avoiding the most obvious pitfalls:


1.       Qualification, Qualification, Qualification

Before you spend a single moment completing an RFP response, you should ask yourself with brutal honesty, “Do we have a realistic chance of winning this pitch?” If the answer is no, then don’t waste your time. Far, far too many companies throw away their precious time jumping through the hoops of creating complex tenders/RFP responses even though their product is a bad fit, they are battling an incumbent who is never going to be unseated or they have no prior relationship with the company issuing the RFP.


The problem is often that the decision on whether to bid/no bid is taken by the sales team – who will bid on anything in the hope of hitting their number. But it’s far better to do a GOOD job of a FEW, winnable RFPs than to stretch yourselves thin doing too many no-hopers.


I would recommend that bid/no bid decisions should only be taken after the RFP has been reviewed by the following functions within your business:

  • Product Team – does your product DO (or could it realistically be enhanced in the right timeframe to do) what the customer wants, or are the sales team trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole?
  • Services Team – do you have (or could you hire) the relevant staff to deliver the kind of project the customer is asking for, or would a win on this project actually be a disaster that leads to you failing to service your existing customers?
  • Legal – does the RFP contain/flag up any legal conditions that would be a deal-breaker? There’s no point breaking your neck to win a pitch only to find your legal team will point-blank refuse to sign the proforma contract that was included in the RFP.

Graham Laing’s excellent blog post has more on this topic. 


2.       Read the Instructions

And then read them again. Yes, this sounds obvious. But it’s astonishing how many bid teams rush headlong into filling in the questionnaires and pricing spread sheets of an RFP without taking the time to read the instructions.


At a basic level, you need to watch out for the all-important deadline for submission and any interim deadlines for submitting questions. But there are often other requirements that can catch you out – many RFPs insist on the use of a certain form of words in EVERY section of the response - e.g. “comply”, “non-comply”, “partially-comply”. This is often used by the procurement team to filter responses in order to see which responses meet an arbitrary level of compliance at which a “first cut” is made. Imagine the frustration of completing a fantastic RFP response but losing out because you’d written “yes” in every box and not “comply”?


3.       Answer All The Questions

Faced with a 400-line requirements spread sheet and a seriesof questions that seem to need vaguely similar responses, it’s often tempting to assume that you don’t need to say the same thing twice. You’d be wrong. Chances are that the different sections of your response will be reviewed by different teams (procurement, technical, operations, finance etc.) and the reviewer of a particular section probably won’t have read your previous answer (no matter how eloquent!). Make sure you answer EVERY question, even if only with something that directs the reader to another response - eg “see our response to question 1.2.6 above” - or something vague that doesn’t close the door on a difficult topic  - “this is not currently supported by our product but we would be happy to discuss its inclusion as a roadmap item”.


4.       Don’t be afraid to say No

A wise and highly-successful sales guy once told me that a customer would never respect you until you’d told them no: "No, our product doesn’t do that, but it does all these other things…". "No, we don’t have the manpower to do that for you by tomorrow, but we’ll do it by next week…". The same rule goes for RFPs. When a company is putting together its list of requirements for an RFP you can be sure they’re throwing in the kitchen sink (even if they don’t need it and can’t afford it anyway) so if you don’t/can’t/won’t meet a particular requirement, don’t be afraid to say so. Hopefully, you’ll have followed step one above (qualification) and will have enough of a relationship with the customer to know which the deal-breaker requirements are.


If there’s something that you get asked for all the time in RFPs that you can’t provide, think hard about finding reliable partners who can meet that need so you can recommend them in future responss – perhaps a company whose complementary product can be integrated with yours, or a service provider who can customize your product to meet the client’s exact needs.  


5.       Provide a pricing breakdown

Complex projects usually require complex solutions and if it wasn’t a complex project you probably wouldn’t need a tender process. It can be tempting to leave the pricing to the last minute when you’re more clear of what products/service hours are involved. And we all know sales people who (if their company’s pricing policy allows it) will just bung in a figure at the last minute that looks about right and hope for the best. But you can be sure that the first thing a procurement team will do is flick straight to the pricing, so don't leave yourself open to a bad case of sticker-shock that sees your beautifully-crafted response rejected before it's even been read.


Start working on the pricing right at the beginning. Update it as you review the requirements and realise that additional products/modules/service hours are required. And give the customer a breakdown EVEN IF THE RFP DOESN’T INSIST ON IT. This will allow them to see where their money is going and help them to establish what elements of your product/service offering represent better value for money than those of your competitors.


Overall, when completing your bid/tender/proposal, ask yourself - what is the customer looking for? Then try to provide it!


If you'd like to talk about how RHJ Media can help you produce better proposals, bids and tenders, please contact us.

 

Do you know your audience?

Posted by [email protected] on June 8, 2012 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (0)

This week I’ve been working on some product documentation for a client. As usual, the first question I asked when the commission for the work came in was “who is the audience for this document?” As usual, there was a puzzled pause on the end of the line as the client pondered my question. What normally happens at this point is the client says “anyone who wants to know about the product”.

 

Whilst I understand the logic behind wanting one document to cover as many bases as possible, I believe many companies do themselves a huge dis-service by trying to make a single document appeal to too many different audiences. The danger is you end up appealing to none of them.

 

Think about it this way – if my best friend asked me to make a speech in her honour at her hen night (that’s a Bachelorette party to my American audience) you would expect a rather more raucous tone and risqué approach than if I was giving a speech in front of her grandparents at the wedding reception a few days later - even though the topic is essentially the same. Why should your business documentation be any different?

 

Whether you’re writing copy for a product brochure, a userguide, a website or a set of presentation slides you can’t do a really good job unless you focus on addressing the needs of the intended audience. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Top Tips for Doing Good Demonstrations At Trade Shows, you’re going to want to provide a different level of detail to a CTO than a CFO. And you’ll need a different level of detail again if you’re writing for (or presenting to) engineers, content managers, data-entry staff or whoever will be using your product on a day to day basis.

 

The same rule of thumb should be applied when putting together sales proposals and responses to a formal tender, RFP (Request forProposal), RFQ (request for a quotation) or RFI (request for information). If you’re submitting to a large corporation or a public body, you will probably be asked to respond to several different sets of questions – technical questions, process questions, financial questions. Chances are, these different sections will be reviewed by different teams. It’s possible no-one person will read all of them, so it’s essential to get all the relevant information (and your key marketing messages) into as many of the sections as possible, but to express it differently each time in order to meet the needs of the audience.

 

In short, good product documentation is essential, but a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t doing you any favours.

 

I’d love to hear your suggestions of companies who are doing a really good job of differentiating their product documentation to suit different audiences. If you’d like to talk about how RHJ Media can help you improve your product documentation, please contact us.

 

Is your website "stranger-friendly"?

Posted by [email protected] on May 29, 2012 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

It never ceases to amaze me how many companies splash out thousands of pounds on glossy corporate websites and forget to include a section that says what the company actually does. If you’re lucky, your company is already world famous as a brand (Microsoft, Starbucks etc) or its area of business is easy to define in one or two words (eg solicitors, accountants, chip manufacturer). Alternatively, you may have your area of business neatly described in your company name (eg Joe’s Office Supplies). But if, like me, you have to spend a good couple of minutes explaining to new acquaintances what your company actually does, then you need to make sure the copy on your company website is well-written enough to do that job adequately too.


Far too many company websites are full of meaningless phrases like “we’re a full-service provider of high-tech solutions to the broadcasting industry” or “the market-leader in innovative, design-led systems”. You may have a news section on your site that trumpets the awards you’ve won and your impressive client list, but the mistake that’s being made here is the assumption that people visiting your website ALREADY KNOW WHAT YOUR COMPANY DOES. And often they don’t.


I remember getting loads of confused emails a few years ago when I updated my LinkedIn profile after moving to a new job. My connections had clicked on the link to my new company’s website to see what sector I’d moved to. Without fail, every email asked “but what does the company actually DO?” The website didn’t tell them. Major fail!


You may think that your website is only designed to serve your customers and potential customers, and that anyone in your target sector will already have heard of your company and what it does. This is, to be blunt, a really short-sighted approach. It’s true that your target customers may well know what your company does, but they’re not the only people who will visit your site. Loads of other audiences are also likely to use your site and you want to make sure you are serving them too.


Some examples: if you put out a press release about the award you’ve just won, then you’re probably hoping journalists and bloggers will write about that story - that’s really the point of a press release. But those journalists and bloggers may need to explain to their (non-industry) readers exactly what it is you do. Give them a nice neat summary on your site and they won’t have to make one up (and risk getting it badly wrong). Equally, if you advertise for new staff, potential applicants are going to look at your website to see what your company does and decide whether they’re a good fit for the job. If they can’t work out what you do, they may struggle to articulate in their applications why they’re a good fit for your role and you might miss out on a really good candidate. And if you’re looking for funding for a new expansion, potential investors are going to start their due diligence somewhere – if they can’t work out what you do from a glance at your website, why the hell would they consider throwing some of their cash your way?


All it takes is a few simple paragraphs headed “What we do” or “About Us” that are clearly signposted from your homepage and easy to understand (even if you don’t work in the relevant industry). So ask yourself, is your website “stranger-friendly”? Does it have the written equivalent of the elevator pitch you use when you meet someone at a party and they say “what does your company do”? If not, you need to think about rewriting your website copy pretty quickly. Contact me to see how I can help with that. I’d also love to hear what you think are the top mistakes that companies make on their websites.

The Right Team for Trade Shows

Posted by [email protected] on May 21, 2012 at 6:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Following on from my last blog post (Top tips for a great trade show demo), it struck me that the real reason many people feel uncomfortable doing demonstrations at trade shows is because they’re not the right person to be doing the demo in the first place.

Too many companies make the mistake of assuming that the person with the most KNOWELDGE about a product should be the one who talks about it on the stand. The developer or engineer who created your widget or app might be the person with all the facts, but are they really the best person to explain the business benefits of your product or service?

Ask yourself, how many car dealerships trust their mechanic to sell their latest models? Of course, the answer is almost none – they get a sales professional to do it for them. The sales person might not have a full working knowledge of how the cogs and pistons fit together, but they can learn the most important figures (average miles to the gallon, efficiency levels, safetyratings etc) and they’ll probably do a much better job of explaining the practical benefits of these features to a customer (you’ll save fuel costs,your road tax will be reduced because your car has low-carbon emissions, your family will be better protected in the event of a crash etc).

Of course, if you’re a small-to-medium sized business you may not have enough sales professionals in your organisation to provide full cover on a trade show stand. But that’s where professional demonstrators/presenters (like me!) can be your saving grace. We are used to quickly grasping the key points about a product and finding simple, clear ways to explain the practical benefits. You may be concerned that a stranger doesn’t fully understand your business or your industry, but you’ll be surprised how quickly a professional presenter can pick up the salient facts. I’ve done demos for companies within (literally) minutes of meeting them for the first time and none of the audience was any the wiser.

The secret to this, naturally, is preparation and research.The more information you can give your demonstrator/presenter in advance about your product or service and your specific marketing goals for this particular show, the more facts they’ll have at their fingertips and the better the demos they’ll give. If they know their stuff, they’ll have done a whole pile of background research on you, your products and the hot topics in your industry. They'll also come armed with a list of questions for you before they start the demos: do you want me to talk about price? Are there any topics you specifically want me to steer clear of? Are there particular examples of your existing customers I should “casually” mention to make you sound good?

You might be thinking that hiring a professional demonstrator is just another cost that you can’t afford when you’ve got staff already on your payroll who could do a relatively decent job. And that’s true. But if you’re at a trade show you’ve already invested in the space and probably spent money on a good-looking display. You want to ensure you make the most of that investment by laying on top quality demonstrations. And don’t forget that if your developers, engineers and tech team are on the stand doing demos, they’re not back at the office developing your product or delivering service to your existing clients. Is that actually such a cost-effective use of their time?

If you’d like to find out more about how RHJ Media can provide high-quality demos of your products at your next trade show or consumer show, please get in touch. We can also provide training to your team to help them improve their demo skills.

 

Top Tips For Great Demonstrations at Trade Shows

Posted by [email protected] on May 16, 2012 at 4:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Most people think I’m a bit mad when I say this, but….I really LOVE doing trade shows and consumer shows. Yes, they’re exhausting and you end up with a croaky voice and feet that burn like they’ve been bathed in hot lava, but I also love the adrenalin rush of doing dozens of product demonstrations and presentations in one day.


You meet such a variety of people on a trade show stand and they’ll often ask really interesting questions about the product or service you are presenting that had never occurred to you before, even if you’ve been working with the product for years. There’s no better way to get real-time feedback about whether your product roadmap and marketing messages are hitting the spot with your target customers. And if you’ve been asked for the same feature 10 times in one day, you know it’s something your market cares about!


But not everyone is like me (this is not necessarily a bad thing for the world!). A lot of people dread the trade show experience and fear nothing more than doing a product demo. Here are my top tips on how to do a better trade show demonstration:


1.    Rehearse – it’s always a last-minute dash to get a trade show stand set up, but try to allow yourself 20 minutes to do a run-through of a demo with a friendly “guinea pig”. Ask them to play the role of the customer and to ask you difficult questions. If you get through this rehearsal without any problems, it’ll boost your confidence and make you more relaxed when the first “real” customer comes along. If the rehearsal shows up gaps in your knowledge you can quickly find someone to help you fill in the blanks before the real customers start calling.


2.    Smile and maintain eye contact – it doesn’t matter whether you’re demonstrating to one person or a group of 20, it’s really important to engage with them directly. If you seem relaxed, they’ll feel relaxed. You don’t want them to feel that you’re just reciting a script. Even if you’ve done the same demo 20 times since breakfast you want them to believe it’s still fresh. Smile and try to seem genuinely pleased to be talking to them (even if you’d really rather be lying down in a darkened room with a foot spa and some ibuprofen). Maintaining occasional moments of eye contact throughout the demo will make them feel you’re addressing them directly.


3.    Know your audience – before you start the demo, it’s always worth checking the person’s role in their company and how much they already know about YOUR company and its products/services. There’s nothing worse than wasting someone’s time telling them stuff they already know.


4.    Listen before you talk – it may sound crazy, but listening to the customer is just as important as telling them about the product. If you’re demonstrating a product or service, ask the audience if they’re currently using a similar solution. Do they like it? What are its shortcomings? What’s their biggest business challenge? Make them feel like you are interested in them.


5.    Tailor the demo – I cannot stress this one highly enough: people are more interested in a demo if you can make it relevant to the problems they face every day. If you’ve followed steps 3 and 4 above, you’ll already know a bit about the customer. Use this information to your advantage. You may want to provide less technical detail to a CEO than to a CTO, for example. It'll also help you avoid wasting time on an in-depth demo for someone who's just bought a rival solution at great expense and isn't likely to buy from you any time soon. When it comes to the content of your demo, even the smallest references can make the demo seem tailored. For example, if you are demonstrating a sports app, you’ll want to refer to the Bundesliga when meeting a German customer but switch to the NFL or NHL when talking to an American company. It seems pretty obvious, but it will help the customer feel you’re talking to THEM and not just to another face in a suit. If you can refer back to something they said earlier in the conversation about the business challenges they face, this will make the demo even more personalised - the trade show jackpot!


6.    Don’t skip the small talk – everyone has the same experience of trade shows: they’re exhausting, overwhelming and the food is usually lousy (and expensive)! A quick ice-breaker question: “how long have you been at the show so far?”, “how are your feet holding up?” or “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen at the show so far?” will make you appear warm and friendly. It can also help you identify the key trends that are creating buzz at the show even if you haven't got time to leave your own stand.


7.    Don’t talk too fast – this is a big challenge for me as I naturally talk quite quickly! After your 30th demo of the day, it’s easy to forget that the person listening to you is hearing this demo for the first time. It’s important to enunciate so they get the full message. And when you pause for breath it gives them permission to jump in and ask the question that’s they’re dying to ask.


8. Breathmints! All that talking dries out your mouth and leads to smelly breath. No-one will be listening to your demo if they're desperate to get away from your odour!


I’d love to know what other hints you have for creating sparkling demonstrations and presentations at trade shows and consumer shows alike. 


And if you’d like to find out more about how RHJ Media can provide high-quality demonstrations and presentations of your products at your next trade show or consumer show, please get in touch. We can also provide training to your team to help them improve their demo skills.

 

 

The case for case studies

Posted by [email protected] on May 14, 2012 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

My first task this week has been to work on a case study document for a client. The client is based in Moscow and the direct translation of the Russian phrase is “success stories” rather than case studies. What a great way to put it! It baffles me why more companies don’t include a raft of case studies in their marketing materials and on their websites. Who wouldn’t want to shout about the good stuff they’re doing for their clients?


So many companies just include a bland list of client names and logos on their websites. Okay, so that proves you’ve got real-life customers, but if you’re a technology company and your product or service is even vaguely flexible then it stands to reason that some of your clients will be using it in different ways – and getting different benefits from it. Surely this is something to celebrate? And if you’re selling more than one product or service, don’t you want to give some indication of the ways you’re bringing value to different clients and helping them do better business?


Whenever I’m doing training, product demonstrations or business presentations I find real-life examples have the biggest impact. You can talk about the features of your product for ages, but it’s only when you relate it to a scenario that the listener faces in day-to-day life that you’ll really get their attention. You can tell, because that’s when they start asking questions. There is no better way to do this in your marketing materials than to put together a case study document describing a real-life business challenge for one of your customers and the way your product or service is meeting that need.


Obviously, there’s a challenge to get the client to agree to make this kind of information public, but there’s always a way to spin a case study that makes the client look good too – they’re innovators, they are not afraid to embrace cutting-edge solutions to improve their business.


And it stands to reason that you’ll look more attractive to a wider group of potential customers if you can demonstrate lots of different ways in which your product or service is being used by real-life clients to add value, solve everyday business problems or (the holy grail in today’s economy) save money. The more case studies, the more likely you are to hit a nerve that’s been bothering your potential customer.


For today’s project, I’m describing how the client’s IT security solution has improved security and provided cost savings to a major international bank at the same time as solving their corporate compliance nightmares. That’s three different benefits from one solution. What a positive way to start the week!


If you’d like help putting together case studies thatdescribe how your product or service is making life better for your customers, get in touch!

 


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