Monday, November 17, 2008

Calling in the auditors??

Calm down, I may be married to an accountant but this is not a piece about anything accountancy related!

I have recently been involved in overseeing a couple of analyst perception audits and while in the past I have been happy to go with direct perceptions and details of analyst output. Things have changed.

One of the audits was based on classic parameters and confirmed our original hunches, it also served the purposes of what the client wanted perfectly well. The second was much broader and featured several 'AR 2.0' elements (twee phrase but for purpose of this post it works). The results were much richer than what I had found in the past.

Aside from the issue of infleuncer relations there are more tools that are being used today by analysts that make tracking perception more complex than before, rather than ignore the output, integrate it into the mix or you run the risk of of having an outdated AR strategy.
Playing the numbers game?

I was on a vendor briefing call last week, the aim of the call how to get the most out of the analyst firm as an AR professional. All good and interesting stuff.

When it came to the Q&A bit, I thought time to ask a question and kick things off. The question:

How many end users do your analysts talk to?

In an open forum you get an open response. We have xx thousand clients which mean yy thousand customers. Each analyst speaks to x hundred end users over the year.

A good stat when asked how influential are analysts.

Thinking through this and other conversations I have had with other AR professionals, THE key thing I have always based my AR work on is the extent of influence. The raison d'etre (apologies for poor spelling) for working with analysts is to develop relationships that benefit the business on multiple levels (no I won't expound on this at length - contact me off line and I will be happy to do so). In a non-tech non business environment I explain AR as influencing people that influence customer purchasing decisions.

There are times when having a quantitative approach really helps. (tangentially this in my view explains the power/allure of all things online - I can track it, I can measure it, I can build a business case for it, I can secure budget for it). This kind of data helps BUT it does not provide the full picture, because an analyst 'touches' xx thousand people does NOT mean all of those people will make a purchasing decision based solely on their advice/opinion.

So in short playing the numbers can work some of the time. But DON'T base your entire strategy on it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rl8shp sqz

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who I want to invite round for lunch. The gist:

My wife has tried calling your wife three times and no answer!

Ah you'd better text her, she sends around 4000 texts a month.

Within three minutes we had a date in the diary - excellent, but why blog about it??

My wife commented - I don't like texting if I had a call with her it would have been so much nicer.

This got me thinking we have voice, email, Twitter (and other tools) txting and face-to-face all of which support relationships. But each tool comes with parameters and uses, the trick is to use them all in the right way.

For marketing this could not be more prescient. I don't text an analyst a briefing request, but I would a stand location at show where we are meeting. I don't email sensitive comments I'd pass that on in person or over the phone.

Ultimately the need to nurture relationships to grow a business are the same as ever but the plethora of tools is greater than ever, the challenge is to match the right tools to the right people for the right uses.

Now how the hell do I use predictive txting!
Forget me not....

No this is not about Remembrance day or Armistice day at all, but something that I felt was worth posting.

I have organised a few analyst events recently with different clients, a webinar, a customer event and have been doing some business development (haven't we all).

I read about blogs, social networking, Web 2.0 etc... but one thing that always strikes me is that when all is said and done it's all about relationships. Be it AR or any form of marketing. While we may have the tools to broadcast our views to the masses etc. The power of the direct relationship should never be ignored. Chances are that given the current (economic) climate this has never been more relevant than ever.

Yup, this is obvious but sometimes the obvious needs to be restated.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Commercial musings

In mid briefing session and one analyst I spoke to mentioned after we had finished that my client is on her target list to secure as a client this year. This got me thinking about the whole pay for play situation.

Correct me if I am wrong but the conventional wisdom is that this much more of a feature of US AR than in EMEA, with the exception of the US firms - hence the vendor briefing process which is radically altered if you have a commercial relationship with the majors. In EMEA there is much more of a gentleman's code regarding briefings, being slightly more reserved (hope no offence caused here), briefings will be based primarily around information exchange and in some instances s commercial relationship might be in the equation. I recently organised a briefing with a printer vendor and a major analyst firms where we had the head of MI in the room with the analysts pitching their services, the objective was two fold:

1. To delve into more detail with the analysts about a topic covered in a group briefing a month back

2. To give the analyst firm a chance to showcase its wares

The vendor was well aware the pitch was coming and also knew there was no pressure to sign on the dotted line.

I have often seen analysts provide healthy tasters of insight and feedback in a briefing the reason being - here is a taster of what is on offer.

Ultimately as I see it there are two positions on the commerical imperative:

1. Major's - were a quality brand and our end user customers think as much and pay for the pleasure, so vendor the same rules apply.

2. The minors (in company size not acumen, influence and insight) - you can see the quality, to get the best value a commercial relationship is a really good idea.

I have been singing (at semi-professional level, I hasten to add) in a choir for years at and I remember someone saying at an open rehearsal :' I can't see why you guys are getting paid, you'd do it for free as you love the singing! The point is payment ensures commitment and quality.

With the Minors I feel that there comes a point that considering commercial relations is not merely gate entry issue but one of quality and commitment and getting the maximum value from analysts that have a great deal to offer.

The alternative, keep the briefings going - pick up some titbits of insight, but there may well be a whole lot you are missing out on.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Twitter yea not

My thanks to Dominic Pannel of Hill & Knowlton for introducing me to Twitter. Having been slow to the blogsphere, I guess I was somewhat slow to this fab Web 2.0 application. This tool and I am sure there are others, clearly provides a new dimension to AR, but one thing I am mindful of, is that nothing replaces investing in professional analyst relationships and getting a clear understanding of exactly what each analyst is after and more importantly what there are not. Might be an obvious point but I have always been a big believer that while technology is an enabler/enhancer of relationships it will never replace the human element which great AR professionals are valued most for.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Working from home - to do or not to do?

I have been quiet for a while but thought you might appreciate a recent article on remote working I wrote for Hertfordshire Matters News run by Flexible Skills Bank

Working from home - to do or not to do?

Remote control - is it viable for a small business to employ people that will work out of the office or is this the preserve of the large corporations?

The advent of the blackberry, broadband and mobile phones have made working remotely the reality that some talked up a decade or so ago. Additionally the stress and cost (both financial and psychological) of commuting to an office makes working remotely incredibly attractive. While we have probably all worked from home when waiting for the repairman or plumber is this a viable employment strategy for a small business?

As with all of these questions there is no hard and fast answer, it all depends on the type of business, degree to which an employee is customer facing and for that matter if that interaction is face-to-face, via the phone or web/e-mail. With email and web the key is speed of response not the location of the respondent and the advent of VoIP (digital telephony) means an office call can be routed to wherever your employees are.

Then there is also the question of data and systems, if all that is required is accessing email, doing so remotely is relatively straight forward but entering customer data into a Customer Relationship Management system may only be done in an office.

However the most important issues are not technology or process but people namely staff competency and management mindset.

Staff competency - the key here is can your employees deliver what is asked of them? By and large junior staff need guidance and support that make working remotely incompatible with carrying out their role effectively. Senior staff who know what is required of them are the more likely candidates to work from home. It's no coincidence that the example given for remote working are mobile salesforce who either generate business or don't and need to be in front of customers and not in an office.

Management mindset - some management have the view that if an employee is not sat at their desk then they are not being productive, such a mindset is limiting for two reasons firstly the manager is likely to spend time worrying who is doing what rather than on providing support to subordinates to deliver value to the business, while junior team members may well get resentful over time! Supporting staff working remotely requires managers to be very organised, communicate very effectively on what needs to be done by when and have sufficient intuition to spot problems before anything can be done.

From my experience it is best to take a mixed approach spending some time in the office and the remainder working remotely, this is especially useful if you need to brainstorm ideas or find solutions to problems facing your customers. But the trick for both office based staff and those working remotely is to communicate effectively about who is doing what and to flag up issues as quickly as possible.

Marc Duke is an independent marketing consultant, helping businesses grow through effective marketing advice. He can be reached on