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July 2011

The irony of it all

The struggle this morning to log in to our bank account:

Some good news first

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Trying to log in

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Eh... trying to log in, only hit the enter button

After the third attempt the bank finally let me see my account. Then when I tried to make a payment:

Time flies!

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But fortunately:

logging in to Online Banking is going to become easier!

It can't happen fast enough!


From lead-page to delivery (and Ecommerce in between) - combining expertise

Stacking solutions for an Ecommerce ventureIf you are a frequent visitor to this blog of mine, you know I love combining things. Over the years I've discovered that by "stacking" solutions the sum of the stack is 9 times out of 10 much larger than the individual items on their own ever can be.

Although everyone seems to be talking about Social Media and how businesses should embrace all the various "buzz" out there, a good old static website combined with conversational (medium to long) sequence of informative email messages to potential and existing clients is still hard to beat. Then, once your client has purchased your product (or service) the delivery should not just be an afterthought, but an integrated part of the "customer experience".

Like a good diner, slowly cooked and eaten to enhance the flavour/experience

Tweets and updates (with or without links, photo's or videos) on Facebook/Google+ are like quick bites, but will they ever satisfy your potential client/existing client with all the information they need before deciding to purchase from you?

No matter how many statistics are out there, sometimes forcefully forcing you to believe that ONLY Social Media involvement is going to safe your business, my own experience - by listening to our own clients/friends etc - is differently. More often than not, a well balanced diner will be enjoyed better and longer remembered. And this you can only establish by cooking slowly, taking your time with the preparations, the presentation and the "after-diner" treats and relaxation.

So, how do you translate a well-balanced diner (with all the trimmings) into a web marketing strategy? As with diner, you combine the expertise of others - often only featuring in the back ground of your clients experience - to create, present and deliver the goods. Would your diner guests be interested in the name of the farmer who grew the vegetables or reared the animal you serve? But still, your farmer's expertise does add the necessary "flavour" to the dish you make. But your diner guests only see you - the host - giving them a great and enjoyable time

Same applies for "cooking" your customers' experience online.

This week I found various experts that can help you "cook" your diner and give your guests a great experience. Combined, they become an army of little helpers in the background, where you can shine and take the "glory" (respect and long-time commitment from your clients).

Lead pages

Ed Rivis new program: leadsite Launcher

Having a website is not enough, you need to have that extra special you can offer your potential guests. As an invitation to come to diner.

Ed Rivis (author of Massive Traffic and Email marketing Dynamite) is on the verge of launching a new program: Lead Site Launcher.

It will be a great and simple software tool to create (almost instantly) those invites that'll wet the appetite of your future diner guests. Watch the video on his blog post to get a first taste yourself.

Tasteful invites

Is your web copy inviting enough

Lead pages on their own are not enough to entice your guest to accept your invite. It has to leave them with the impression they just can't miss out on what you are offering.

Carol Bentley is your "little helper" here, working in the background giving you the most simple but effective copy-writing tips to establish just that. Subscribe to her blog or purchase one of her books (my favourite is still "I want to buy your prioduct.... Have you sent me a letter yet?")

The menu card and table setting

Now your guests are jumping impatiently to come to diner, you have to make sure the menu card is easy to understand and the table setting is so obvious no one's going to feel left out or placed at the wrong end of things.

Your webshop and order processing should be the same. Do all the items have a detailed description and is the pricing clear, are the delivery costs easy to understand. What payment options do you offer etc.

My own E-guide "Selling Online Bascis" is just the ticket for this part of the diner experience.
You don't have to take my word for it, this week Carol very kindly wrote a review on this guide here. (Couldn't have wished for a better review to be honest, so thanks once again Carol)

The delivery

Don't spoil the last part of your customer's experience

Now your guests have arrived, you "only" have to deliver the goods. And this is often an afterthought. How often have you received an order late, damaged or incomplete? Or even not at all?

Sam(antha) Anderson of Post and Packing Warehouse (P&P for short) has just written a very helpful guide on the very subject: "How To Make Your E-commerc Business Work For You". It highlights the pitfalls of order picking, packaging and tips/advice when to consider outsourcing this part of the experience to a trusted third party - just the way you would employ a catering company when your diner plans are growing and growing and your own time is spread too thin to take care of everything yourself.

You don't want to disappoint your diner guests now, do you?

Make it one complete experience

All the above expertise can be combined by you to create one streamlined and uninterrupted experience for your potential and existing clients.
It's not the quick bite of a tweet, or of a nudge on Facebook. It's is a carefully build diner your guests will remember for a long time - in the best possible way.

And here's the clinger: they all want to come back for more.


Carved a niche? Be careful about moving your goalposts!

Especially during a recession.

Two niche suppliers

At the start of 2008 - when according to many the recession started to bite - we had two main suppliers, both having carved out a niche for themselves.
One renowned for its high quality products from its own FSC certified forests in South America, one renowned for its high quality and bespoke parquet products (all from sustainable sources). Both are highly respected companies.

Fast forward to middle 2011: one is laying off its European Sales department, one is working long hours to fulfill all orders before their standard 3 week Summer break.

Moving goalposts 1

In the wooden flooring trade, 2008 also saw an increase of joint-ventures between European manufacturers/wholesalers with manufacturers in China. Some products were not worth the money it costs to produce and ship, many others however were/are of high quality and worth promoting as acceptable "alternatives" to products produced in Europe. A fact appreciated by many independent retailers - like ourselves - to keep the promise to clients: we give you value for money (less money, good quality).

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However, it soon became rather clear that it is China who decides who will get a constant supply of good quality products. And some smaller European manufacturers/wholesalers, after heavy promoting their "alternatives" to their clients, started experiencing stock problems. Not something independent retailers can cope with when times are already tough. No stock or increased leadtimes up to 3 months is often a sale missed.
Then, when larger manufacturers/wholesales come knocking and are able to offer the "goods" and support, the decision for an independent retailer to switch is easy.

Problem was: while the highly respected company with its own unique products tried to jump on the China wagon, the promotion of and focus (quality control included) on their unique products seemed to fall to almost zero. All focus was on the cheaper alternatives. Which in the end resulted in aggravated clients when stock levels turned to zero or to too sporadic and complaints about the quality unique products turned from almost zero to frequent. Special offers on the unique products are not longer believed to have value for money due to doubts on the quality.
Trust becomes a rare item in these matters. And when trust fails, you are looking at a very long and hard battle to turn it around again.

The European Sales Department team members' tasks are added to the National Sales team members. In quick succession we received emails from the team members who had to find (have found) other employment.

Moving goalposts 2

Strange but true: unique products - of high quality - always seem to be in demand, be it in boom or bust times. The only change could be in the quantity, not the quality.

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So offering more varieties of quality unique products is one way to keep the quantities coming in, as long as you keep complete control on the whole production, quality control and shipping yourself. Keeping in constant contact with your clients keeps the quantity of clients on an even level and could (has) result(ed) in more clients. Improving your marketing and support to a high(er) quality allows your clients to "borrow" quality marketing materials to show their own clients.
And this was exactly what our other supplier has done, and then some. They moved the goalpost too, but to higher grounds, taking full advantage of the niche they had already carved out for themselves.

And then when other manufacturers/wholesalers come knocking and are able to offer the "goods" but not the support or commitment, the decision for an independent retailer not to switch is easy.

The production unit is now on a well deserved three week summer break, after having worked full tilt the last two week to fulfill all the orders for bespoke and standard wood floor products that came pouring in after the annual announcement of the summer break. Orders placed in these last two weeks could no longer be guaranteed to be made before the break. And we are one of the businesses who now have to wait until the production restarts to see our order made and shipped.

As our own client stated: "good things come to those who wait" (the company his insurer had hired to supply and install an exact copy of the damaged parquet floor had failed to come up with the bespoke "goods", therefore he had told his insurer he had had enough of standard suppliers and insisted on us supplying and installing the floor.)

Moral of the above...

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Being a great fan of Jim Collins and Co (Good to Great) and strong believer in the "hedge-hog concept" explained in his book, the message in the above experience to me is clear:

If you have carved out a niche for yourself, be very wary and careful when and to where you move your goalposts, they tend to fall down completely if you remove the foundation i.e: swapping your hedgehog concept (keep doing where you can be the best in, has the best long term commercial value for you and your clients, and has your passion) for short term profit.