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A lightly edited extract from an article by Geoffrey Keating (dated April 19th 2020).

**

These are uncertain times for any business. 

Maybe you’ve seen your top of the funnel demand decreasing. Or your sales cycles are getting longer. While each company feels the impact differently, one thing is certain – businesses are being forced to adapt to change at a pace we haven’t seen before.

One strategy we’ve found particularly useful in trying times is doubling down on customer retention.

This isn’t a new insight. In the last five years alone, the cost of customer acquisition has increased by over 50%. Businesses have gradually started to switch their focus from “How do we acquire more customers?” to “How do we retain the ones we already have?” 

Getting a handle on Customer Retention:

When getting started with retention, the obvious first step might be to look at exit surveys or recently churned customers. It might sound counter-intuitive, but this is actually the wrong place to start. 

Instead, look at your best customers. 

Why did these customers stay with your product? What actions did they take in your product? Why did they expand their usage of your product? If you can figure out what and why, you can start to reverse-engineer that path for other users.

You’ll often hear these referred to as “activation metrics” or “aha moments”, the high value engagement actions and events. An analysis of these events will help you understand the behaviors that, when performed, best correlate with users continuing to use your product for an extended period of time.

The canonical example is best illustrated by Chamath Palihapitiya and the early Facebook growth team. They understood what actions separate their best customers from those they lost – namely those that added 7 friends in 10 days.

And once you understand these behaviors, you can optimize your product or communication to help even more users take these actions, see value from your product and ultimately become a long-term, happy customer.

Now that you’ve got a handle on some of the data behind your retention, it’s time to come up with creative ideas for predicting churn and improving retention.

One good example: For early stage retention, encourage new signups to take high-value product actions without delay.

Most products see a precipitous drop in engagement in the first few days. Those that don’t – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest – do so by making sure users complete valuable product actions early on…

The other retention strategies, elaborated in the article, include looking for warning signals in terms of ongoing engagement intensity rather than mere clicking activity, communicating ROI whenever possible, avoiding single point failure by going beyond the champion in the company, optimizing the cancellation flow (seen to reduce the churn!)…

Of course the traditional wisdom of gleaning feedback from customers who left cannot be ignored. Churn is a natural byproduct of any business. Customers come and go, as does the demand for your product. Though it may be painful, make sure you have a well-considered exit ramp. Acknowledge the reasons they’re churning, address them, and make sure they leave endeared towards your company. You can use this data to either a) reclaim churned users or b) identify cohorts who are especially prone to churn, so you can get ahead of it. Best case scenario, you’ll open the lines of communication for a winback in the months ahead. But even if that’s off the table, you’ll get valuable insights you can use to help improve your product.

A quick win is tackling involuntary churn. Accidental cancellations or missed payments could account for a significant percentage of churn. The answer here is pretty simple: track the data and then create an automated email to remind users whose payments are overdue, or whose credit card is expiring…

**

The article and more may be read here.

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Pardon the frivolty.

The challenge was no less in this sales scenario:

The class-room lectures were over and now it was time for a project assignment.

The professor called for a bundle of combs to be brought in.

He called his students and gave them each a bunch of combs. They had to sell these combs to the monks belonging to a near-by monastery. They would take turns one after another, each given an hour to do selling.

 The first went in only to return crest-fallen after an hour.

‘What happened?’

‘Sir, the monks out there – every one of them – have their heads shaven to a shine. No surprise they had no use for a comb. Could not interest even one.’

The fellow going in second had different ideas.

He went up to the Administration and talked them into buying combs for the visitor’s rest-rooms. After all a visitor would almost always need to freshen up himself after the long travel from the city.

So he returned before his time managing to sell three combs, one each for a rest-room.

This fired up the third chap’s imagination.

Going in next, he too went up to the Administration. Made inquiries and found the monastery took in students for its residential training programs, providing them dormitory accommodation. From there it was a short piece of work to get them to provide each student a comb as part of minimal amenities.

He too returned before time grinning ear to ear – he had sold fifty combs, the intake capacity for next six months. After all a comb used by a student would not be used by another. Thus he had identified and addressed a recurring need.

What more could be done?

Looked a little hard on the last fellow going in.

Like his colleagues, he too made a bee-line to Administration block.

No clue what was going on…until it was close to the hour. He came out looking very exhausted. And then it was noticed he was walking out unencumbered by the bag of combs! What had happened? He gave or threw away his goods in disgust? The Prof was not going to like it…

After the first few steps, he broke into a sprint…all the way to the base, hands pumping the air overhead.

‘The entire lot of two hundred combs sold and they want more!!!’ he cried excitedly.

Steadying his breath, finally he broke the story: ‘It was not easy…had to meet monks at three levels. Finally they agreed to giving away combs to all visitors who came to the monastery. That would be about a hundred every month!’

But why should they be giving combs to the visitors?

‘You see, I believe, there is a good reason to: Coming here and observing the monks with shaven heads live a life of austerity, dedication, reclusion and rectitude, one would love to carry a ‘piece’ of this monastery with them back to their world for continued inspiration. A comb with select sayings of Buddha etched on it could be just that ‘piece’ – small, inexpensive for a give-away, in frequent use and enduring. A constant reminder to its user of his continued attachment to and his responsibilities in the material world. Also, imagine this: when he sets the comb on his head, it would be like receiving blessings from a Hand, also etched on the comb.’

‘Of course it took some talking to make them see the point.’

So it was spiritual appeal riding on utility fitted the given scenario too well, winning the day for him.

End

Source: Based on a story from moralstories, image from indiamart.com and sierrapinesumc.org

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This is about the sage Viswamitra (V) requesting King Dasharatha (D) for his young son’s (aged 12 years or less), help to conduct a sacrifice successfully – he expects two demons to disrupt the ritual with their usual fiendish antics. The sage gives the reason for his request: on the eve of performing the sacrifice, he does not want to lose control of his mind and curse the demons all the way to their hell (through such outbursts, sages often lose their power gained after enduring practice of austere tapas).

It is described essentially in Sarga 19 of Bala Kanda in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

The source used for this analysis is here.

In the 21 verses contained in this Sarga, the sage makes 13 statements (five of them are compound with two parts) as under exactly in the same sequence, reproduced verbatim from the source:

  1. Born in an illustrious lineage and initiated by sage Vasishta, this way (of speaking) befits you.
  2. Take a decision and be truthful to your promise.
  3. Rama is valiant, young and true to his prowess.
  4. (a) Protected by me and (b) by his own divine power, Rama is capable of destroying even those demons causing impediments to the sacrifice.
  5. (a) I will confer upon him, without doubt, a lot of blessings for his well-being (b) by which he will attain fame in all the three worlds.
  6. Both of them (Maricha and Subahu) will not be able to withstand Rama in any way. Rama, and Rama alone, is capable of destroying them.
  7. Proud of their strength, the two wicked demons have been noosed by Yama, the god of death. O tiger among kings they are no match for the mahathmana Rama.
  8. (a) O king, it is not proper for you to hesitate because of your paternal affection. (b) You need to know that both the rakshasas will perish. This, I assure you.
  9. (a) I know Rama who is a great soul, true to his prowess and (b) also Vasishta of great luster and these other sages who have been steadfast in asceticism also know.
  10. O king of kings, if you are seeking the benefits of righteousness, great everlasting fame in this world, it is fit and proper to give Rama to me.
  11. Kakustha, if your counselors and all other sages headed by Vasishta give their consent, then only you may relieve Rama.
  12. (a) You should spare your dear son, the lotus-eyed Rama, (b) impartial and detached, (a) for ten nights.
  13. Dasharatha, descendant of Raghu, act in such a manner that the time for my sacrifice is not delayed. Do not indulge in grief. Prosperity to you”

After speaking these words charged with dharma and artha the great sage resplendent Viswamitra fell silent. 

It’s easy to see these 13 statements fitting into a well-structured script planned by the sage V as under, set roughly in the same sequence:

  • Starts with two praises of D, (1 and 2) for him to live up?
  • Next, first mention (3) is made, rather simply, of Rama’s prowess and, not so startlingly in passing, about his divine power in 4(b) (also the word ‘mahathmana’ in 7?).
  • Follows up talking about his personal support to stand by Rama in 4(a) and 5(a).
  • Names and belittles the enemies for reassurance vis-a-vis Rama’s ability in 6, 7, 8(b) and 9(a).
  • Time to bring more pressure and ‘carrots’ for D to oblige in 5(b), 8(a), 10, 12(b) and 13.
  • Rounds up defining the duration of his demand for Rama’s assistance in 12(a) and also
  • Drawing support from other unassailable sources including his ‘arch rival’ sage Vasishta to buttress his assessment of Rama in 9(b) and 11.

Could it be better, you think?

Now for another interesting perspective: Going by the count (not by relative strengths) of the statements, it adds up to (each statement in full counts for one and part of a compound statement, half):  

  • So for D to be persuaded, there are 2 praises and 3.5 of pressures and
    ‘carrots’ for a total of 5.5 out of 13.
  • V’s personal support (‘his skin in the game’) assured for Rama makes up for 1 out of 13.
  • On Rama’s prowess, said matter-of-factly, it is 4.5 directly coming from him and another 1.5 of vouchsafing support from others for a total of 6 out of 13 on assessment of Rama’s abilities to meet the challenge.
  • Specifying duration of V’s demand is 0.5 out of 13.

Is that a good balance?

Some observations:

The sage’s assessment of Rama’s prowess is based more on his
insight than any precedent display. Nothing is said by the sage about Rama’s
equipment, no mention is made of specific astra-shastra’s
(weapons w/wo mantra’s) in Rama’s quiver – perhaps unnecessary, premature or
even inappropriate?

Rising above the family-pulls, Valmiki ends the Sarga with

‘Having listened to those auspicious words of Viswamitra, the king among kings, (Dasaratha) experienced intense grief out of fear. He became despondent.’

How could the words inducing fear and despondency in the virtuous other be considered as auspicious? Simply because the killing of those two demons – the sage had enough insight Rama would accomplish it despite being too young – was necessary (directly or otherwise) for the good of the kingdom at large, besides V himself gaining from it. Here’s a cardinal principle of well-being of a society, said not in so many words: the call of dharma is more powerful and must be heeded to than the tug of one’s heart-strings should there ever be a conflict. The same is asserted without ambiguity in different ways in statements: 8(a), 10, 12(b) and 13. This comes to us in age when the principle is made to stand on its head, when parents amass wealth brazenly thru misdeeds for themselves and, more so, their children. Or, clouded by affection, they’re guilty failing to check adharmic acts of omission and commission of their near and dear.

Interestingly the phrase ‘lotus-eyed Rama’ in statement 12(a) is unimaginably double-edged!! How? The ready explanation is: Poets often compare beautiful eyes like those of Rama to lotus flowers in bloom. No surprises there. Now to the not-so-ready: Just as a lotus folds itself up in the night and come night, the young Rama goes off to sleep peacefully. And that is exactly when the demons become hyperactive. Is it fair to the sleepy young boy to be thrown against demons when they are in their elements?

End

PS: The source is responsible for the translation of the
original verses, included here verbatim and not for the rest of the content in
the post. The interpretation of ‘lotus-eyed Rama’ comes from here.
Image from flipkart.

So you know to hurl the brickbats at whom:-}  

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You cant go too far without hitting an expert sounding off on content and content marketing. Everyone and his uncle…

But not much said on what goes into content. Of course there is stuff to be found on story telling, but not tied tightly with content creation.

To clarify the point, many of travel and touristy content is at best a package of excitement experienced personally by the traveler like the cliche kid-in-a-candy-shop, but not necessarily worrying about taking the audience along vicariously. This is where story-telling gets in. But to tell a story, one must discover them first during travel, bringing altogether another dimension of excitement to travel!

A case in point is this short photo-post: Animation In Stone!

Posted just after returning from a sight-seeing trip to Egypt and Jordan, its impact could be to make one dig up a little more of history or may be to look henceforth at stonework wherever a little differently or even lure one to consider a trip to the place.

A small side story: The local tour operator, owned by some globally well-known names, did not take it up along with a few other posts for promoting his tours, when offered free for his use. Not even an acknowledgement! Of course the content may need to be improved upon with more drama and history injected and made a part of a larger canvas.

In conclusion, need to create content is widely accepted, but making it readable and actionable is something else.

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Went to a well-known shop in Chennai this morning to buy sweets for Mumbai friends.

On the glass-door at the entrance was this message greeting customers:

Am given to twisting and turning in my mind messages leaping at me. Nice amusing game while it lasts. So it was this time too. Went up to the manager and suggested a word, just a word, may be added to the message to make it…

He thought for a moment and broke into a smile when it hit him. He said he’ll get it done which I doubt very much.

Anyway, here’s the suggestion made:

While welcoming all customers, new and old, light is now specially shone on the repeat customer – the most sought-after in any commerce. Hinting at habit forming?

Adds an engaging dash of intrigue: Why do they come again? Unique fare, good prices, courteous staff, nice ambiance…some tribal knowledge to flaunt when in company?

To think a mere adverb, usually trite and superfluous, could work a magic on the message!

The nice little game left me feeling good for a short while.

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This is an edited extract from an interesting post on a topic much written about. from James Altucher, one of the few offering down-to-earth counsel that I like reading.

Cognitive biases are used in almost every sales campaign, business, marketing campaign, movie, news, relationship, negotiations, everything. Almost all of your interactions are dominated by biases and understanding them is helpful in standing up and seeing things for what they really are.

James takes up a rap song of all things and analyzes it for ideas how to be get better at persuasion!!

The song “Lose Yourself” is from the movie 8 Mile. Although I recommend it, you don’t have to see it to understand what I am about to write. I’ll give you everything you need to know.

Eminem is a genius at sales and competition and he shows it in one scene in the movie. A scene I will break down for you line by line so you will know everything there is to know about sales, cognitive bias, and defeating your competition.

First, here’s all you need to know about the movie:

Eminem is a poor, no-collar, white-trash guy living in a trailer park. He’s beaten on, works crappy jobs, gets betrayed, etc. But he lives to rap and break out somehow.

In the first scene he is having a “battle” against another rapper and he chokes. He gives up without saying a word. He’s known throughout the movie as someone who chokes under pressure and he seems doomed for failure.

Until he chooses himself.

The scene I will show you and then break down is the final battle in the movie. He’s the only white guy and the entire audience is black. He’s up against the reigning champion that the audience loves.

He wins the battle and I will show you how. With his techniques you can go up against any competition.

After he wins it, he can go on to do anything he wants. To win any battles. To even run the battles each week. But he walks off because he’s going to do his own thing. He chooses himself. The movie is autobiographical. 300 million records later he is the most successful rapper in history.

Here is the scene (8.55 mins) with explanatory subtitles:

 

In case of a problem playing it here, it may also be viewed on YouTube.

James also generously provides for supplementary reading here.

Also helps to know if you wish to do all you can in a competitive situation. For instance, you could show your competition as not in the prestigious ‘313’ group (quite the opposite of its negative connotation in the clip!)…

All in all a great effort, so effective in laying it bare for us in the shortest possible way. Thanks, James.

Of course, there are tomes on the subject to read if you so wish.

 

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…where to spend the bucks!

A lightly edited excerpt from an article by Josh Elman appearing here. Though dated, the anecdote and the concept are still relevant, I thought. And for companies not merely in the product space. Here we go:

twitter-bird-white-on-blue

Pretty much every new app has the following problem: lots of people sign up but don’t stick around.

I frequently get asked what are benchmarks for retention after one day or one week. My answer tends to be the same for products in the early days:

Ignore the benchmarks. Find the patterns in the stories of people who do get your product. Figure out what converted them and got them so excited to keep using your product every day or every week. In the early days, your main focus should be to attract and create more and more of those “core users” who deeply use your product. Over time you can try to increase averages, but first, you just need a core and strong base.

Most people look too much at the “big data” and try to draw conclusions. In the early days of a product you have to talk to people. You need anecdotes much more than data. You could say The plural of anecdote is data.

To collect anecdotes, you have to talk to actual users. The best users to call are ones who can help you understand why they tried your product and what hooked them. I like to look for bouncebacks. Bouncebacks are users that have tried your product, bailed immediately and didn’t find it useful, came back to try again for some reason (at least 1 week later, or even better, 1 month later), and then got hooked.

The first step is to identify some bounceback users to call…

From these patterns, you can invest in revising your marketing and improving your product and onboarding. Revamp your messaging to focus more on the messages that brought people back and got them engaged. Update your product and onboarding to simplify whatever the users did the second time to get fully engaged…

We learned from early users that many of them signed up for Twitter and thought it was just a megaphone. When they had nothing to say, and didn’t otherwise understand the product they bailed. When they later heard about how valuable Twitter could be if they followed their reverend or the food truck that broadcasts its location every day, they came back and tried again. But this second time they specifically sought out people to follow and had a good experience. We rapidly rebuilt our onboarding to focus much more on following and finding the right people which caused significant increases in how many users were activated after signing up. We revised our messaging to talk much more about finding and following the right people on Twitter instead of talking about tweeting and broadcasting.

I recommend doing this exercise of interviewing new bounceback users every 6 months. You’ll learn a lot about how to keep improving your adoption and activation.

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Source: Image from publiclibrariesonline.org

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Suveer Madapravan is feeling happy.

April 25 at 7:35pm ·

Today at Hyderabad airport…..

I was at the internet center using the (free) net service,

Spotted this lady with a kid in panic.

You guessed it right: she had missed a connecting flight, coming from Delhi to Hyderabad, proceeding onwards to Cochin. Wife of a navy officer based in Cochin, she used my phone and spoke to her husband as she didn’t have a mobile phone. I tried booking tickets and the price was Rs. 14,700 per ticket just then I saw Mr. Gavin, customer service officer from indigo and elaborated her story; in fact, he too was searching for her. I asked him if he could accommodate her in the next flight for which he said he would try and took her out of the boarding area to the Indigo ticket counter. I asked her if she required some money – she declined.

Then, I got back to the internet center, her husband calling me almost continuously and asking me to buy a ticket with the assurance he would transfer the amount to me without delay. But, I couldn’t connect with her as she had gone outside the boarding area. Was just upset I couldn’t do much and mentally stressed thinking what would have happened And started using the internet.

Just then I saw this lady coming back and thanking me…she gave me desi ghee laddoo and mixture.

indigo 1

I was so happy to see them settled and asked her how much did she pay for the tickets.

She said, ‘NOTHING.’

I was pleasantly surprised and happy that INDIGO recognized her as a navy officer’s wife and did the realignment free of cost.

I have heard people share a lot of bad experiences with Indigo executives…but, here is a HERO…Mr. Gavin, customer service officer who took all the responsibility and ensured a smooth arrangement.

Kudos to Indigo and Mr. Gavin. As I see it, Suveer too has been no less a hero either.

indigo 2

This incident brings up a key question not confined to Indigo:  Why can’t all – may be not all, but most – customer-facing employees be like Mr. Gavin?

I see a few factors responsible for this magic to (not) happen: a) Firstly s strong conviction from the top to do the right thing by the customer and not hesitate to walk an extra mile if situation demands b) strong communication, stretched to the point of indoctrination, of what the org stands for with frequent reinforcement, preferably practiced very visibly in live action,  and c) empowerment at the service end-points for showing sensitivity backed up by quick action

While on the subject of indoctrination, so well managed by the MNC’s, I’m reminded of a specific instance that serves to exemplify the point being made. Years ago, I think late seventies or early eighties, Hewlett-Packard was lagging behind everyone else in the field in announcing a 32-bit computer, something the Indian market clamored for. We faced stiff resistance wherever we went to talk about HP’s computers, the ones with 16-bit word-length. We had folks coming in from Palo Alto (International Sales), Hong Kong (Fare East HQ) to tell us and our prospects, thumping the table, how word-length did not matter at all in commercial data processing where data is basically 8 bits. In fact, shorter word-lengths yielded better results at times! Neither did we buy the argument, our customers, even less. Since there was no 32-bit product in HP’s stable, we were forced to push ahead in the field whatever we had, on the back of those arguments we didn’t believe in. Needless to add we were completely disheartened with so few wins.

Some months passed. A team, no strangers, came down from Palo Alto grinning ear-to-ear to break it to us.  This time it was a you-asked-for-it-and-here-it-is 32-bit computer, made available for sale in the Indian market! Along with it came a new set of arguments – all of it old hat to us – how a 32-bit machine out-zips machines with shorter word-lengths (never mind there was hardly any of its kind in the market), all from the same executives spoken with the same conviction! I didn’t think for a moment they were being dishonest. It was more like ‘my company says now this is an innovative product that outperforms 16-bits and it must be so.’ Some innovation, indeed!

That’s indoctrination for you. Am sure if one asked any HP employee in any of its factories or from any of its far-flung field-offices across continents, they would speak the same words! Contrast it with an Indian organization, where every employee proudly has his own views on his company, its values and its products and speaks about it freely. And that’s why not all of them can never ever be Mr. Gavin.

Indigo, not all is lost yet…indoctrinate…indoctrinate…indoctrinate thought, speech and action…the way to go.

 

End

 

 

PS: HP reckoned its new product a success over its lifetime – I’m sure they had the numbers to back up. Though it did not exactly set any river on fire, no books were written about it, as far as I know. An epic  let-down for die-hard’s like me. However, it was a certainly bold step for HP, perhaps the first among its peers,  to embrace Unix over proprietary software for its mid-range and mini-computers. Staying with proprietary software was cited by many industry pundits as a reason for the downfall of the legendary Vax machines and the eventual demise of DEC.

Source: vide Gopalakrishna Sunderrajan in fb.

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The simple answer is you don’t.

Imagine the following retail scenario. You discover beautiful piece of furniture only to find that it is a “one of a kind”. You discover where you can order one only to find out that it could take 4 to 6 months to receive your order. So, how does this retailer manage to survive in the age of free two day shipping? Salt Creek Farmhouse is an example of a vertical furniture retail shop that has found ways to develop customer relationships to thrive in an omnichannel world. Retail survival requires transformation to new paradigms. Lesson 1 starts with focusing on doing what the giants are not doing.

” 

And what are they doing right?

An extract (lightly edited for brevity) from Chris Peterson’s take on SCF’s success story interspersed with an occasional comment from me within <..>:

 Five lessons from Salt Creek Farmhouse

  1. Telling your story is as important as the products you sell

In the age of mass merchants, much of retail lost its “soul”. Stores merely became places to sell products. SCF is a small business and retail shop with a great story that creates a unique brand identity and differentiation for their products <though “Our Story” could do with more romance in there, I thought>

  1. Engage your customers to help tell your story

Far too many retailers use social media as another way to advertise products and promote sales. One of the most powerful aspects of visual social media like Instagram the new word-of-mouth   is having customers posting photos of how they are using products in their homes…To quote SCF’s Instagram page: “Lovely pieces should come with a lovely story.

  1. When you can’t compete on price, compete on value and personalization

…SCF competes on quality art and workmanship that people still value. They also create personal relevance by designing things for customers, and pieces that you cannot purchase everywhere…<Just imagine what a draw these pieces would be in your rooms>

  1. Know your customers and go where they are shopping

For SCF’s products that would get lost and never be found in the millions of SKUs of an retail giant, Etsy was a perfect digital place in the company of other similar artisan style stores therein…core customers could organically search for products like theirs on Etsy. It is more important to be where your customers are, than to be on sites or in stores with the most traffic.

       5. Lack of inventory can be managed as an asset

…SCF literally carries almost no inventory. In order to sell pieces as they build them, they focus on other value propositions of customization and exclusivity as opposed to the old paradigm of “mass merchandising”. It also requires developing an intimate relationship with customers who appreciate quality and service beyond the expected and are quite willing to wait for months to get what they want!…

End

 

 

Source: Chris’s article appears here.

 

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