The Popularity of Channel Sales

For reasons I don’t yet understand, the Channel Sales section of InsideSpin is the most often visited section. It is also the most incomplete section with many candidate topics but none of them fleshed out. Anyway, I finally wrote the first section — Deal Registration.

Channels/partners/resellers/ … the whole genre of indirect sales remains a confusing element of sales overall — so many companies struggle with how to implement an indirect model efficiently yet it often is the most obvious way to go about getting a product to market (aside from the global web itself).

The wonder of google analytics will hopefully help me determine why it is so popular and if actually adding content makes it more or less popular!

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Ads and Web sites

I took a flyer a few days ago and included a google ad box on www.insidespin.com. I have hesitated to do this since first creating the site, feeling it should be left pure. Whatever that means. Given my level of site traffic has been going up over the last many months, i figured I should jump on the bandwagon.

First of all, it was too easy to do. I spent about 3 minutes on the google site creating the Ad segment and added the code segment to my site. I initially put it at the bottom wanting to ‘hide’ it from view. But of course, that’s not going to get any clicks. I then re-arranged a few items and moved my Governance survey up and put the Ad beside it so both are more prominent.

I checked and now find myself $3 in the positive! One really pricey click from Friday. No new survey responses though.

I’ll monitor site traffic and see if it changes the level of activity — either way.

Google Ads — !

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Patience with CEO’s

I think I am generally a patient business professional, always looking for a way to work around a problem, willing to listen to a variety of inputs (with healthy debates), not in a rush to make decisions, but a times I have no patience when someone hears good advice but does not seem to integrate it into the way they think and act. Basically, they make the same mistakes again.

This is really important for a CEO as it relates to their Board of Directors. Regardless of the knowledge of the Board, the experience of the Board, the sophistication of the Board, the CEO always has to do what can be done to keep the focus on the relevant issues of the business. As soon as the CEO stops listening to what the Board needs, stops adhering to the requests the Board asks for, continues to produce poor materials with little depth, the more the Board will focus on the irrelevant and less on the real issues that impact the business — happens all the time I bet. Probably one of the top three reasons CEO’s start developing a distaste for Board meetings — they feel they get nothing productive out of it — but fail to realize they are the ones leading everything down the useless path.

I wish people would listen!

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Patience is Everything

I was reminded again this week how important it is to have patience when building a new business. Too often people abandon an initiative if they don’t see results quickly enough — or more harmful to themselves, they snub there nose at someone or something that does not respond they way they want to and walk away from what otherwise might have been a promising avenue of business to pursue.

My case in point relates to a school initiative I am involved with –  introducing the Everest Academy on-line learning program (www.everestelc.com) to one of the local top-level hockey leagues. We were fortunate enough last year to be able to meet with a group of the educators who work with the league’s teams. We talked about what we were building and committed to following up with them as we got closer to being ready for program delivery. That time period is now. We worked to reconnect with the co-ordinator for their program, but got no response. This went on for a few months. It became worrisome.

Human nature starts to drive a feeling of doubt that the prospective customer is a good avenue for this program. No response means no interest after all! Perhaps someone else got to them with an alternative program? Maybe they are working on their own program? It seemed odd, as their interest was high and we are pretty confident that no one else is approaching the league in the way we are.

Patience becomes an important part of how decisions are made. If we abandon the opportunity without confirming their intent, we might be walking away from an important partnership that can help us build long term credibility for our on-line learning program. How long do we wait? I’ve learned time and time again there is always a rational reason for why you don’t hear from someone – and it is rarely because they are avoiding you:

  • sorry but I was on vacation for a few weeks and did not respond to emails
  • i had an illness in the family and it took me away from work for a while
  • the season is really busy for us so I had to finish some other projects before looking at this new initiative
  • i lost your contact details so it is good you kept pursuing me
  • thanks for continuing to chase me, i’m not a very organized person

There are always reasons why delays occur — if you have the patience to keep the doors open with key initiatives, good things generally happen. If you do finally make contact, and find out that you are not on the path to a new customer, at least you can find out why and use that information to improve your business. This may be just as impactful to your business as anything. Patience is the key.

We did hear back from the hockey league this week after several months of nothing. We seem back on track with nothing to worry about. Phew – glad I waited and did not write them off as was so easy to do.

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The Wind is Blowing …

As I sit inside a nicely insulated house, windows shaking, leaves blowing around everywhere, dog squeezing its legs to avoid going outside, I am reminded of how little has changed at a macro level in the technology area.  I have to remind the kids to fully turn off and unplug their devices so they are not at risk from electrical fluctuations, the grid is clearly at risk for the next day or so. In fact, i’m not sure i’ll get through this post in time — typing as fast as I can.

Both Apple and Microsoft announced some new stuff — some old stuff refurbished largely. Microsoft’s new stuff interests me, partially because I remain a Microsoft fan, partially because their entry into bigger markets tends to bring in many more users which helps get the next wave of innovation going. I am waiting for the next real innovations — i’m tired of upgrading from what I have to what I already have with only new ways to do the same things as the biggest change. I’m thinking the Surface will be a big success in the business community — many people remain tied to a keyboard as a source of productivity — watching people with awkward typing styles use the iPad is painful – Microsoft largely owns the document creation market and many businesses still create lots of documents. Wrap up the traditional laptop or PC in a tablet packaging and voila, I can carry it around (even drop it a few times) and get my work done. It’s not embarrassing to take it out in an airport or coffee shop anymore as a laptop often is — we’re business geeks no more!

But alas, there still is the ‘little has changed’ problem. Will Microsoft take two years to get it right? Unlike Apple, the first devices largely did what they were supposed to — will I be rebooting my Surface daily in the first few months (as I found I had to do with the Playbook – BTW, i like its form factor better than the iPad). It is a new version of Windows — i sill have XP on many of the computers at Everest Academy — it all works, upgrading to Windows 7 would be nice, but I would need upgraded horsepower to support it — to get it to do what it already does — create Word, PPT and Excel files and browse the Internet.

The storm is supposed to last a day or two, havoc everywhere (I just saved my draft – just in case). I’d really like to try to the camera that does not need to focus when you take a picture — great for me given i wear contacts and can’t see the camera  when I have them in!  Focus afterwards, now that’s different. Maybe the wind will stop for this one.

Our street is a blanket of leaves now — probably not the ones from the trees on our street but the ones from a few streets over. We’ll probably find a few surprises in the morning — including where our dog decided to do his business because he does not want to go out any more than we do. How do we train a 75 lb dog to use the toilet? Hopefully no major damage, no injuries, nothing that prevents everyone from going about their business — especially those working on making new stuff that is not the same as the stuff we currently have.

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On Demand Publishing Really Works!

Early in my career I worked for a brilliant marketer named Peter Eddison. We had many great conversations and exchanged many great ideas — sometimes too many and over to short a time period to do anything with them.

One of Peter’s more memorable ideas was to create product documentation only on demand. He would often be observing how much effort we put into creating lengthy manuals for our complex product (Fulcrum) and wondered why we go through all that effort given how little people actually read documentation. He used to often say — “Wouldn’t it be good if we could publish each page as someone actually wants to read it?”.

This was obviously not practical in the 80’s and 90’s but certainly somewhat practical today — and I put that idea to the test in the way InsideSpin.com was created. For those who have looked at the site, you will have noticed that not all sections are fully fleshed out. In fact, only about 50% of them are — the rest have red colored ‘More’ buttons — when ‘More’ is pressed, it increments a counter in a database and provides the reader an option to send me an email to formally request that page.

Over time, I look at the database to see which topics are getting the most hits and direct my efforts to build new content based on that. My most recent one was the page on Board and CEO Authority (http://www.insidespin.com/governtopics.php#authority). I think I have proven to myself that Peter’s idea was, at least at the concept level, a good one — and even practical in some contexts in a real situation.

Thanks for the many times we talked about how to make the product world a better place — this one is for you!

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Google Search Finds InsideSpin

I should know a lot about how this works, so being surprised that it does find my content is a surprise — sometimes.

For those of you who have browsed content on www.insidespin.com, you may have noticed that not all the articles are fully fleshed out.  When a reader comes to an article where only the abstract is written, the site will record the attempt to open the detail page and ask the reader if they want to make a special request to prioritize that article over others. I often use the database stats to help me determine where the biggest unpublished holes are on the site — effectively causing me to publish on demand, an idea I picked up in the early 90’s from a work colleague of mine at Fulcrum.

If a reader does trigger the email, I often email the reader back to find out how they found insidespin.com and also what other articles are of interest. I received such a request today and much to my surprise, a fairly general type of query (“channel system integrators”) brought insidespin.com content to the 4th item on the first search result page for this reader — much to my surprise.

My neighbour reminded me that companies pay lots of money to get their content to the first page of a google search, not sure how I managed it without spending a penny. Perhaps good content? Maybe the density of content on the target page highly correlates with the query phrase — anyway, it was a surprise to find insidespin.com appearing so high on the result list.

Perhaps I should write more of the missing articles and site popularity will increase accordingly. I’m approaching 100,000 articles viewed over about a three year period. What a surprise.

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I’m a Sales Guy

As I find myself further along with my new role running Everest Academy (www.everestacademies.com), it’s no surprise to find myself in more and more of a sales role — in the Admissions department to be more precise. As we’re about to book $1M in annual sales for the first time (tuitions), I’m having to draw on the most amount of inter-personal skills I have ever had to.

My day is a mix of meeting parents (in person or on phone), tracking down early leads, spending time with a teacher or coach, helping out a student, mentoring my sales team (Director of Admissions)  — anything that will move the yard stick forward. Of course there is also the usual things someone in my role would do — wipe the tables after the school lunch, sort the unused uniforms in the office storage area, install Windows on a school PC, make sure a bill gets paid.

I have to regularly step back and remember the primary lessons of Sales — including staying focused on the goals, tracking the metrics, honing the message/elevator pitch, being creative to overcome obstacles. We must be doing something right — we’re getting lots of new family interest even late in June, while the other schools of our ilk seem to be very quiet from a recruiting point of view.

Now, had we started our campaigns in Sept/Oct instead of March I would probably feel better about where we are, but the desired growth curve is starting to emerge and the path to success is becoming more visible.

I also find myself, once again, surrounded by an excellent team — this would be the fifth company I have been involved in where team excellence will no doubt play a big role in long term success. Everest will join the list of Fulcrum, Flonetwork, PlateSpin and OfficeSmiths. It makes coming to work lots of fun — it makes it easier for me to do what I do best, whatever that is.

I’m a sales guy and enjoying what I do — i’m a sales guy charting new territory in the private school world, i’m a sales guy bringing a vastly different background to a business that is not often run like a business. I’m a sales guy who may end up helping make a difference in ways I did not in previous companies where I was a sales guy.

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Embotics

I joined the Board of Directors of Embotics this week — a company I have been involved with at various levels for about 6 years. Embotics just received some valuable financing which will go a long way to helping them (us) spread the word about a great product, team and market opportunity. I’m looking forward to seeing some fast growth occur and some deep market penetration in what is continuing to be a hot IT market segment.

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Sales Metrics …

In my newest venture, we’re at that point where we have to start paying attention to classic sales metrics to start heading towards certain growth targets. As I’ve been going through the exercise with the team, I find myself being overly enthusiastic about how valuable the exercise is and how telling the metrics can be as to the health of the whole sales and marketing activity. Our focus has been on the following (we’re using simple Waterfall displays to visualize the results):

  1. Raw lead generation — a month by month capture of raw lead generation. I find this is typically the starting point for the sales metric build-up. As we’re in the critical period of our sales season, we started tracking by week for a while so we have a finer handle on whether the top-down goals can be met.
  2. Lead2Prospect – in our scenario this is when we convert a lead to a qualified prospect. This means the prospect is interested in our offering, will return a phone call or email and has expressed interest in visiting or learning more. We’re not sure what the conversion rate is as yet, but tracking this metric will start to generate a pretty obvious trend after a few months. We’re also fine tuning the message we deliver, the supporting materials that go with it and the systematic way in which we are staging the sales process — all things that are key to developing efficient conversion results.
  3. Prospect2Trial — this is our key metric as historically the trial tends to lead to a commitment event.  The challenge here is a lot of time is spent during a trial and we’re not yet sure we have enough people and/or an efficient enough trial process to handle enough trials to reach our overall goal for the season. Nonetheless, if we can ascertain the conversion rate, it’s the kind of problem I don’t mind having. Our emphasis here is on proper follow up and providing as good a trial experience as we can. It involves many people on the team and is something we have to mature substantially for it to scale to the next level as we grow.
  4. Trial2Close — we expect to be better than 50% on this metric but don’t have enough accurate history to really know. We also can develop sales cycle lengths at this point which can factor back into the Plan line on the Waterfalls for next season. For now, we’re assuming high conversion rate.

In parallel, we’re starting to keep an activity table aligned with the structure of the Waterfall that tracks each marketing event we undertake and how many leads come out of it over time. This will give us a feeling for the impact length of each activity and whether or not a ‘termite mound’ is building (credit to Cadman for this term). As an example, we’ll have an ad in the Toronto Star next week — which is hard to track but reaches a very wide focused audience for us — and are also going to regional sports events where families hang out totally in our sweet spot — easier to track these as we get calls or we don’t, more or less right away.

So, sales metrics, waterfalls, conversion rates — all simple to put in place but extensively important to providing visibility as to whether the business is in a healthy state from a growth perspective.

Some challenges:

  • being honest about what we classify as a qualified prospect
  • owning up to losses and reasons for losses
  • timely follow up — if its our sales season it is for our competitors as well
  • being professional when we review the metrics so everyone is on-board with their value versus using as a reason to be critical

There is some more detailed material on http://www.insidespin.com/sales-topics.php#salesmetrics which goes into this in a more formal way. I’m enjoying this stage of our business development — let’s hope it allows us to get to the next stage efficiently.

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