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Archive for 'Business Strategy'

Jul 21

For the past several years, area merchants have been beating the drum of “buy local.” Being someone who consults primarily in the Internet space (and prefers to run her life electronically), it has been a conscious choice to support local stores. Often that decision pays off with unique goods and services and the personal connection that comes from buying from a human.

Here’s a tale of two local purchases.

Home Depot & Ace Hardware
After speaking to five different reps at Home Depot who personally escorted me to where they thought the product might be, one finally sat at a monitor and said, “we carry it online, but not in the store.” Walking back to the car, I called my local Ace Hardware, who put me on hold for about 15 seconds and responded, “It’s in Aisle 3 on the left when you come in. We have it in two sizes.” I drove over and bought it.

Concord Pet Foods and Chewy.com
The second was to pick up some dog food purchased when the store was owned by a smaller regional chain. A larger chain had since purchased the local store. As part of the change in ownership I had checked to be sure the paid bags would be carried over. “No problem,” they said. This weekend I learned they had no record of my previous purchase. At the store, the food costs $48.99/bag. The same food can be bought at Chewy.com for $38.99/bag, and it’s delivered it to my door within 48 hours. Plus I can sign up for an autoship program which allows me to make changes in amount, delivery date and delivery frequency.

Using Technology to Improve Service
Ace Hardware leveraged technology (sales reps have ear buds) to find the product I wanted and save me from having to wander around the store. The price was a tiny bit higher than Home Depot, but I saved time traveling to/from the store and shopping in the store. While the Home Depot reps couldn’t have been more helpful, they didn’t solve my problem. Ace was the “helpful hardware place.”

In the local pet food store we have the worst of both worlds. The original store worked hard to earn and please customers. The new store acts like a chain (as in we don’t care who you are) but we have products at boutique pricing. They don’t “get” what it means to be a local store. There is no continuity of experience. Each time I go, I have to explain to the clerk who then has to call the manager. Contrast this to Chewy.com who knows who I am, what I want to buy, and how often I want to buy it.

So buy local, buy online. It’s all about service.

Mar 13

One of the keys to effective marketing is determining what segments will be most likely to purchase a company’s product or service. Clients often tell us their audience is made up of knowledge workers, sales people, engineers or some other general description. However this description is overly broad and doesn’t do much to support a data-based marketing plan.

The issue becomes particularly important when launching a new product where initial purchase rates can often spell the difference between retaining or losing corporate support. It’s also critical in the two-level sales typical of the B2B marketplace where a firm often understands its direct customers well; however, they typically know little about that customer’s customers or employees.

One of our clients has thousands of corporate clients, representing millions of employees. This firm, an insurance company, had already sold employers term life insurance as a company-paid employee benefit. Our client wanted to leverage its sizeable market share and customer relationships to sell those employers’ employees additional life insurance that would allow the employee to more fully protect their family.

For this client, the business question was where to start? Which employers to target first? Here’s how we tackled the project

1. We identified which industries’ employees were most likely to purchase the product and compared those results to government data to see where our client was “outperforming” industry averages.

2. Next we characterized the outperforming industries to gain insights as to the nature of their employees and developed a segmentation.

3. We then married the industry and employee segmentation results with salary data and insurance purchase rates.

4.  We created a tool called a “Heat Map” that showed our clients which employee segments were most likely to purchase.


The result? The client was able to significantly grow their voluntary life insurance busineses because they:

  • Understood which firms to target first
  • Were able to develop a compelling value proposition for both employers and employees
  • Were able to develop a comprehensive marketing program based on data

Are your marketing efforts paying off?  We can help you understand where those hot prospects are and how to appeal to them.

Mar 01

One of the smarter people we know is David Strom, a networking and communications consultant who is also a superb writer (he’s the Business Channels editor of ReadWriteWeb) and sharp observer of things technical. In the latest issue of his newsletter (Web Informant) he presents a business-cultural view of technology companies. We found his analysis striking, not only because to us it’s right on, but also because his analysis can be extended to just about every business where we’ve been invited to contribute our consulting skills.

Below is a quick synopsis of his analysis, with some of our additions. (You can find the full text here.)

While it’s tempting to think of the Internet Chameleon as the company you’d like to be, there are significant business opportunities associated with each of the three company types.

  • Big, conservative buyers are going to be more interested in purchasing from Mature Turtles: “like” purchases from “like.”
  • Smaller, less well-funded firms are more open to the risk-reward tradeoff associated with buying from Internet Chameleons. They will put up with some chaos in exchange for a less expensive, easier to use product or service.
  • The Middle Earth firms are of course, the ones that face the biggest challenges. How can they retain the most valuable components of their past success with what the market demands today?

It’s critical to know which type your company falls belongs to and what the implications are for how you can move your business ahead.

Feb 26


Last month Larry Downes, a contributor to Forbes, started a firestorm of sorts by writing an excellent article on Best Buy and how the company is s-l-o-w-l-y going out of business. The article generated a great deal of attention not the least from the company’s CEO as well as a public who was falling out of love with the big box electronics store that — at least in the past — had offered quality electronics and appliances for a reasonable cost, supported by knowledgeable salespeople.

To us, not only staying in business, but growing your business comes down to doing two difficult things, and doing them well.

The first, of course, is to listen, truly listen, to what your audience is saying. What problems are they trying to solve? How can your organization profitably help them? How will solving those problems improve their business? How can the difference your company offers be significant enough to get someone to change what they’re doing today?

You might believe that the second step is to envision a solution that is truly useful and reflects the core capabilities of your company. And it is. However, it’s more likely the real challenge will be coming up with ways to persuade your organization to set aside the barriers to delivering that ideal solution.

You’d expect that success here requires presenting a solid business case and good salesmanship.  But consider using well-executed research to augment that hard work by bringing the customer “into the room” or by introducing detailed examples of how your ideas have worked in other arenas. This type of “evidence” can help support what may be a new-to-your-company business model and help your colleagues let go of accepted wisdom and “the way we’ve always done things.”


Feb 22

If you haven’t already seen Corning’s “vision” of the future, it’s worth a look… The video is well done, although it’s a bit long (and an even longer version is available!).

We’ve helped several clients create “What’s Possible” presentations. The point is not so much to present a literal description of a future product or service as much as help a company’s constituents “see” how the firm’s products or services might be integrated into how a person lives or how a company does business.

“What’s Possible” pieces like this have countless uses: engaging employees, customers, investors. And the envisioning process itself is a terrific way to leverage employee knowledge of customers and products.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the thought of creating something as professionally produced as the video from Corning. Even if your end product is a Powerpoint presentation. Just be sure to include lots of visualizations like storyboards, diagrams or maps.

Something to consider the next time you are having trouble getting your team to think “outside the box.”