Thursday, 30 July 2009

Marketing To Independent Businesses

There is no difficulty pointing out who is lousy at marketing to small, growing businesses but who is really good at it? Which corporates understand how to talk to people who run their own businesses?

I'd love to know who you think is great at talking our language.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Recurring Themes: direction, decisions, action, results

I have been reflecting on some recent clients we've been working with and some basic themes keep recurring:
  1. What is your 'Vision' for the business? - Where the heck are we going? What will success look like?
  2. Make the Tough Decisions - What are we going to decide to do (and when)? What are the quick wins? What are the slow burns?
  3. Take Massive Action - Who is going to do what (and when)? Just do it!
  4. Monitor/Evaluate the Results - What will we achieve? How will we know we have got there?

That's it. All else is commentary.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Marketing to Independent/Growing/Privately-Owned Businesses - A Manifesto - Part Two

Here’s my list of thought bubbles I would like to send to the big corporate who claims to have had a Damascus moment and now wants to work with the small business community:-

  1. I am not an “SME”. I am a small, or owner-managed, or independent, or growing, or self-employed, or new, or young, or boutique business. But I am not an SME (pronounced S.M.E.)

    Only corporate people have the smug arrogance and ignorance to use such a phrase. When I go to a party I do not say "Hi, I am an S.M.E.” And as for the “Smeeee” word – what is that all about? I never ever call myself a “smeeee”. Excuse me!!

  2. I am not part of a homogenous mass of some four million similar sales prospects.

  3. I am not an immature/undeveloped/under-developed big business.

  4. I am not a second-class citizen who you see as a market opportunity only after you have exhausted the blue chip big ticket spenders, to maximise your investment.

  5. I want you to sell to me with an entirely fresh approach, not merely a scaled-down version of the methods used with big corporates.

  6. I do not want to be patronised.

  7. All marketers are liars; salesmen are worse. Your research is meaningless sophistry. You don’t need focus groups if you are close to your customer. Think about it!

  8. I know you don’t really care (in words or in actions). If people talked to you the way that corporates spoke to small business people you would punch them on the nose.

  9. I am not another target towards your year-end sales goals.

  10. I have a less formal, faster buying cycle than a corporate so create faster systems to match how I buy and not the other way around. I am not interested in your processes; they are for your benefit only.

  11. I want my supplier to understand me.

  12. I want my supplier to understand business.

  13. I want my supplier to understand my business.

  14. I want my supplier to understand me. (Yes, I have repeated myself)

  15. I want swift action.

  16. I want to know what I am paying for and how and when I am paying.

  17. I do not want to be bamboozled with science: keep it simple stupid.

  18. I am the customer; remember who I am… I am the customer.

  19. I don’t want my time wasted; be short and sweet.

  20. I want you to make it easy for me to order and to buy from you; win my trust ‘cos I don’t have to buy from you today or ever.

  21. I beg you to make sure your service delights me; show me how you can help, show me the benefits.

  22. I ask that you customise your products and service for me.

  23. I would be happiest if you could be more of a trusted adviser and not a numbers jockey.

  24. I am not a number.

The days of Interruption Marketing are over.

You just don’t get it.

You corporates can’t talk my language.

A quick summary:
  • Small businesses are a real business opportunity. They buy lotsa stuff
  • Small and big businesses are very different
  • Big businesses are (still?) in control so they think, and are totally, hopelessly, clueless about small businesses
  • Not enough ’stuff’ is designed for small businesses or communicated in a way that appeals to them
  • Most marketing to small businesses is, to be frank, pretty patronising.

This is not a small business/big business thing but a straight-down-the-line business/commercial argument. The small business market is not a niche, a speciality group or a minority – they have wallets, and for many corporates, small businesses with their specific needs hold the key to future success.

The field is wide open.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Marketing to Independent/Growing/Privately-Owned Businesses - A Minifesto - Part One

Big blue chip corporates think they're marketing to the small or owner-managed businesses but they're not. They're not talking to these business people.

Corporates don't know how to talk to small businesses... They don't even realise that small businesses have a separate language and a separate way of being from the world that the corporates live in.

It would be a mistake to smugly picture all those small businesses as proverbial low-hanging fruit, ripe for the plucking by even the laziest corporate sales team (after they've exhausted making the big sales to the big blue chips).

All my qualitative research shows that owners of small and medium-sized businesses feel ignored and sold to in an insulting manner.

Small businesses are not the same as big businesses and they do not make purchasing decisions in the same way (frogs are not the same as small crocodiles).
Yet most corporates assume that a small business is just a little, big business. Wrong.

They do not have the same mindset.
Small businesses are small by choice because they hate everything that goes with the big business (energy-sapping politics, systems, processes, controls, hypocrisy, shallowness...).

Most advertisements focusing on the small business market (banks, IT, software, HR services) are not really trying to communicate with small businesses – they are not creating (or even attempting to create) a relationship, or demonstrating values important to their target customers.

Most ads aimed at the small business are relatively ineffective because the ad agency fails to understand the needs and wants of their target.

Slick, glossy ads are being produced because that’s how it has always been done in the industry. And do these adverts work? I don’t think so.
76% of people think that big businesses lie in their adverts; 78% are more likely to buy on the recommendations of others; and still the corporates think that the route to market is about advertising spend.

Marketers who want to sell to small businesses need to recognise that:

  • Small businesses need to be treated differently at different stages of their life cycle
  • One of the best times to communicate may be in a life-stage transition (start-up, growing, consolidating, merging, selling)
  • Being patronising, smug or insincere will not get you sales
  • Trying to get people to aspire to unrealistic role models is futile
  • Small businesses will pay more and spend more with a brand that acknowledges their lifestyle and treats them well
To be continued...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Naming and Shaming: Royal Mail

Post has gone missing here so my wife tried to complain to Royal Mail (we were referred on by our postman). We were told to register the complaint by email (ironic that!).

Have a look at the really useful (not) pdf they sent her to look at:

The basics of customer care have been missed at every level (starting with the sexy URL!).

They offer no attempt to listen, understand, empathise or say those magic words “We are sorry”. Typical behaviour from a company that still has the nationalised industry mentality.

Clearly they think they are above doing any of the basics of common courtesy.

We, the complainers, are just the inevitable consequence of not meeting their delivery targets. So it is not their fault. After all they have put a process in place!

The odd thing is that they have a representative that visits our address every day – they call them postmen/women – and in the old days they could have got him/her to sort it out.

And what about your business?

If you EVER make people who complain feel inconsequential or irrelevant then you deserve them to leave you and spend their money with someone else. (Unless of course you run what is in effect a monopoly.)

BA vs Ryanair - posting
Making Things Worse - Customer Service in Cornwall - posting

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

BA vs RyanAir - cheap vs pricey

Richard King on the Tom Peters blog comments:

"European low fares/no frills airline Ryanair flew 5.8 million passengers in June, up a cool 13% on their June 2008 figures.

Meanwhile "the world's favourite airline" British Airways has struggled to attract 2.9 million passengers in June, down 5% over the same period.

Ryanair gets regularly pilloried for its relentless efforts to cut its operating costs, simplify its processes, and find novel ways to charge passengers for "extras"—like using the toilet in flight! BA, on the other hand, continues to get a largely sympathetic press as it tries to persuade its staff to take less pay, in one form or another, to offset their declining numbers and mounting losses."

Everyone complains bitterly about Ryanair but they love their low low prices too much to use a different carrier. 'We' continue to use Ryanair despite what experience tells us.

BA is like a national institution that doesn't always get it right (remember Virgin vs BA) and yet, for many, it gets forgiven because it harks back to some dim, distant idea of being British and being 'the world's favourite airline'. Despite what experience tells us.

Some thoughts:

- low low prices will always find a market - are you a Ryanair or a BA? an Aldi or a Waitrose?

- will BA survive with its old business model? - maybe, maybe not; you mistake me for someone who looks like they care

- will Ryanair survive with its 'newer' business model? - probably yes, and yes I will probably end up using them despite everything I hate about them - short memory, eh!

A quick look at how Ryanair makes its money on a flight helps understand its financial success. Chris Anderson points out that Ryanair makes a loss on most of the seats they sell on their planes, but by offering their customers a whole range of services and products (insurance, upgrades, hotel booking, car hire, etc) the company is very profitable.

The same thoughts apply to the music, book, news, and newspaper industries. And maybe your industry.

Some examples from our clients:

- pubs now make their money on the food and mixer drinks

- public toilet manufacturers now make their money on the maintenance contract

- keynote speaker makes his money from licensing content

- office designer makes her money on commission from product sales

- software manufacturer makes money from giving away the standard version but selling the premium model (see also Microsoft)

- Pilates trainer makes money on back of the room sales

- coffee shop makes money on selling CDs and coffee machines

- blog makes money from Ads.

It is all about giving with one hand and taking with another.

Most of this is not new but it (the trend towards free/cheaper stuff and adjusting your business model to accommodate) will be more pronounced as time goes on.

While it is not a fundamentally new model (I will use that word "paradigm" from one of our comment makers), it is a trend that we will see more and more amongst our competitors.


Where did people make the money in your industry, say 5 years ago?

Where will they make the money in 5 years?

Why $0.00 Is The Future of Business - Chris Anderson
Airline Food - blog entry
The Vulgar Mr O'Leary - blog entry

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Expensive is the New Free

We are in world where things have gone from 'cheap' to 'free'... to a logical step of us being paid (while a company pays for the adverts) to get you to try their stuff. All a bit upside down to me.

See Chris Anderson's book 'Free'

'Try Before You Buy' is one thing. But giving stuff away is not the raison d'etre of your business.

What’s the new 'free'?
This is possibly the wrong question. I do think we should be thinking about the opposite of free.
The complete opposite… is expensive...

Some clients are willing to pay ridiculously high prices for 'incredible quality' (please note the inverted commas!)…

Food For Thought
In a Gordon Ramsay restaurant you pay 'top dollar' because of WHO has (theoretically) cooked the steak - the same steak from the same butcher is charged out at a premium price because it has been through the Gordon Ramsay kitchen.

So, how much better would the steak be if 'he' cooked it rather than someone at the restaurant next door? Not a lot!!!

You are paying for WHO cooked it (and the whole wrapper, experience etc) and not for the thing on your plate. Could you do the same - make people pay a premium price for YOU (rather than the product/service)?

Do you offer a gold/premium product/price for exclusive service as opposed to a silver or bronze or paper quality?

A client who is a printer now offers three price points:
- standard (five days)
- fast (three days) and
- emergency 999 service (12 hours).

While the same personnel, machinery etc are used at all price points, the price ratio between standard and emergency is roughly fivefold. In this instance you pay for SPEED and GUARANTEED DELIVERY. We recently needed 150 workbooks (the stock had been flood damaged) printed and ready for use in Newcastle by 09:00 the next morning. We were happy to pay 'over the odds'.

Rather then figuring out how to do stuff cheaper, what happens when you move in the opposite direction? Can you offer the 'platinum' service or do you just assume that everyone is buying on price (because let me assure you, they are not).

When you buy a car, concert tickets, a safari holiday, a romantic meal, most forms of advice... then many people want to pay for the 'best' or the 'best experience' or 'best package' and not the best value.

Often we delude ourselves that it is all about the price. Wrong.

Why $0.00 Is The Future of Business - Chris Anderson

Monday, 13 July 2009

Thought Piece: Consultancy in a Recession

I am often asked how we have seen the consultancy market change in the last six months.

Remember that the majority of our consultancy clients are in the bracket between £500k and £25m turnover (or are blue chips trying to reach the small business market/audience).

So here goes.

- Potential clients who had difficulty knowing why they were buying or were unable to see the benefit of a specific project have put their projects 'on hold' - good news for everyone - no-one needs a client who isn't convinced of the value you are adding to their business!

- Clients have become more results-focused - hurray!

- Clients have recognised the need for real, tough decisions and to stop playing around the edges - hurray!

- Clients have become willing to pay more if they have the confidence that they will get the results they desire - a good thing!

- The demand for (strategy) awaydays or two-day workouts as well as for masterclasses has rocketed. We are doing more work that is sharply focused and with defined outcomes - a good thing!

Consultancy has never been and should never have been seen as a good thing like 'motherhood and apple pie'. This was often the case pre-recession. I think that some clients had taken that view and as a result they had lowered their expectations from an assignment. This was a disgraceful state of affairs for all concerned.

On balance, the recession has been a good thing for the industry:

- Poor consultants have been exposed for what they are - unable to deliver, although this has been at some cost to their clients

- New consultants enter the industry at a very high rate but their lack of track record or credibility is spotted by most - I hope

- The franchise-type businesses focusing on selling consultancy careers are doing well but I cannot (and would not comment) on the quality of their consultants' work

- Organisations focusing on delivering results are going from strength to strength.

In summary, the recession has allowed the trustworthy, serious consultancy players to separate themselves from the rest (through their action and results).

The industry needed this shake-out as its reputation (as totally unregulated.... or as 'someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time') has often been totally justified.

'Cheerful' Robert Craven on video back in Sept 08 on Recession Will Shake Out Bad Companies

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Twitter (again) Survey

After the last blog entry on Twitter I received a number of emails from people saying that they'd like to see Robert Craven on Twitter but only to receive occasional updates and links to keep them in touch without having to refer back to the website and/or blog.

In other words it would simply be another, convenient
communications channel for them. As I personally have no intention of tweeting 24/7 this would suit me fine.

The Twitter 'experts' will assure me that it should be a two-way medium. I am honest enough to admit that I do not have the time or patience to read and enter every single conversation that may be required of me. So, five minutes a week is all I will do. Blogs, articles, newsletters will continue as usual.

I could get someone else to do all my twittering on my behalf but that would be dishonest.

SO we are going to do a quick survey. If the survey votes for a Twittering Robert Craven then that is what you will get - a message (to those who want it) about once a week pointing you to what I am doing/writing/presenting. And that's it.

Please fill in the survey. It takes 10 seconds of your time (or more if you wish to leave a comment).

I will let you know the outcome.

A recent article worth a read: Why should people bother to buy from you? on the Customer Strategy website although it appears to have had some interesting editing (but that is my problem!).

Sunday, 5 July 2009


As I said to a potential consultancy client last week (she asked for honest feedback).

“Your business is like a rabbit frozen in the headlights, incapable of making a move or a decision, unable to move in one direction or another.

“You need to unfreeze, relax, take stock and weigh up the choices. With great speed you need to take the bold decision: left or right, up or down. Speed is of the essence. The consequences of making no decision are there for all to see. Do you want to be one more piece of roadkill for the statistics book?”

I apologised for my bluntness but the world seems to be dividing into the decisive and the indecisive, the bold and the meek. The brave and the stupid.

Yes, it is scary out there but we/I/you need to be clear about what we are doing and take clear decisive action.

First things first. Find out who your raving ambassadors are – the people who think your service is remarkable (and are not buying on price). Ask them what they can do to help you get more business. They will tell you. This is certainly a starting point.

What decisions have you been avoiding making? How will you benefit from putting them off?

Bunny Burgers

Another priceless piece of spoof video - this time from Fast Company: bunny burgers and how to brand them