Technology – Focus on the end NOT the means

The Problem

Running your own business means you need to wear a lot of different hats. Some times you are CEO, sometimes you are the filing clerk!  This diversity can help to make life interesting but sometimes it can conspire against you.

Our client, Helen Burgess, runs On Point Coaching, a professional practice helping clients address both personal and business challenges. When working with individuals, making appointments for coaching sessions tends to be straightforward. Normally it was an integrated element of the coach/coachee relationship. A fairly ‘laissez-faire‘ approach worked well.

Helen secured a contract, working with senior members of staff in a large organisation. She quickly recognised that her normal approach to appointments was not appropriate. It blurred the boundary between professional coach and administrator. Equally important was the danger that setting (and changing) appointments would take up a lot of time for Helen and her clients.

Through her professional network, a contact introduced Helene to 10to8. This is a web-based appointment and diary management system. It looked like it might offer a solution. However, she needed to be sure that the system could address her needs. Furthermore, it had to be implemented in a way that was both timely and effective.

We were already hosting the On Point Coaching website and had done some marketing consultancy with Helen. She contacted us to see if we might be able to assist with her current needs.

Our Approach

Although the core objective was to implement a technology solution to deliver a more appropriate approach to appointment setting and management for her practice, we recognised that it wasn’t sufficient to only know how to install and configure the software. The software is the means, not the end. We needed to be confident that we could help Helen and deliver a better way of managing appointments. To this end, our first goal was to make sure we understood her business and objectives. Our existing relationship meant this was relatively straightforward. The work we had done with her previously meant we had a good understanding of her business methodology, while our supporting and hosting her website meant we also understood the technical structure of her website.

Using these 2 channels of knowledge, we were in a good position to investigate different options and advise, not only on the technical aspects of the appointment system but also to deliver the installation and use our understanding of her business to help ensure it was configured to meet her practical business needs.

The Solution

We agreed that the 10to8 service would deliver the functionality the Helen was looking for and we installed and set up the system. A key part of the set up was not just to ‘make sure that it worked’ but also to configure things so that Helen could maintain flexible availability. It wasn’t sufficient that clients were given the opportunity to book any slot that wasn’t already booked. Helen wanted to only have certain appointment slots available and to be able to easily change these from week to week.

The Benefit

Our approach to this project was to deliver a solution to a business need that happened to be technical, rather than to simply install technical functionality. The technology was the means, not the end.

Consequently, Helen has additional functionality available to her that allows her to run her business more effectively. Where appropriate, she can now differentiate between the professional and the administrative with clients experiencing a more defined service offering which enhances the proposition offered by On Point Coaching.

Key to this is that throughout the implementation, the focus has been on delivering an effective solution that isn’t just technically efficient, more important, it makes the business easier and better!

After all, isn’t that what it should be all about?

Let Helen have the last word…..

“I am delighted with the results achieved by adding the appointment booking function to my website.  It is professional looking and efficient, and has saved a huge amount of time both for me and my clients.  It stores client details, past and future appointments and automatically send reminders, this has resulted in a reduction in the number of late changes.

Overall, a great investment that ensures I can focus on coaching rather than the administration of appointments.”

Visit Helen’s website here

3 Tips to the keep case studies flowing

Case studies and testimonials are a staple of marketing communications, but they can be seen as being challenging and time-consuming to put together.

In my experience however they do not need to be. So I thought I would put together my top three tips for keeping those case studies flowing.

1. Remember they don’t need to be fully attributed

Whilst it is always best to be able to directly name the client you have helped in your case study, sometimes this can be a challenge. Especially working within the corporate world.

Rather than naming the client, you could use “A leading player in the …. industry” or simply a “client working in … ” to avoid directly naming them.

Remember though that whilst no-one else will know who they are, the client is likely to recognise themselves in the case study, and in rare cases, they may take issue.

For this reason, I would always recommend talking to clients about the fact that you would like to use them in a case study. Ultimately in these scenarios, it is your call as they are your client. But sometimes it is easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission! In all my career, I don’t think I have ever had a client take issue when referenced in this way.

2. Create a template for writing the case study

Case studies usually follow a set format:

  • What’s the issue?
  • How did you help?
  • What were the outcomes and the benefits to the client?

Putting together a simple template for your case studies means you don’t have to start with a blank sheet of paper when writing them.

If you are able to attribute your client when writing the case study, ideally you should try to include a quote from them, as this will add authenticity. With this in mind, adding some stock question ideas to the template can be useful.

On the subject of authenticity, don’t be afraid to include issues that may have arisen during the project, maybe asking “Did the project go smoothly?” knowing full well that it didn’t. People recognise that things rarely go totally without a hitch and including this, and the way you dealt with unforeseen situations, can speak volumes about the value you add to a situation.

3. Develop a “Case Study Radar”

Tip number three is all about keeping those case studies coming. When you start the process, it is normally possible to come up with a few good case studies, but websites & social media are hungry beasts when it comes to content, so you will need to come up with a sustainable method for regularly generating news cases.

We have talked in the past about the concept of a “content radar” – So constantly having the question “Will this make good case study” in your head is a good start. For custom manufacturers, we have always recommended taking pictures of everything that leaves the workshop, one reason for this is because it makes you ask the question “Would this make a good case study”.

Service businesses can take a similar approach in that every conversation with a client can beg the same question. You will find it surprising how often the answer will be “Yes it would!”

BSA Marketing: What is it all about?

Since the start of the year, we have been exploring Simon Sinek’s ideas around how business (and consequently marketing) can be viewed as an ‘Infinite Game‘. His ideas came out of earlier work he did exploring the value of having a clear vision about WHY you are in business and how this knowledge can help drive your communication and engagement with your customers and target markets.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this line of thought has led me to reflect on BSA. Why are we in business? What is our vision?

I have said many times that despite running the business successfully for over 30 years, I have never felt I have a good ‘elevator pitch’ for those networking moments ‘So what do you do then?‘ This has been an abiding issue – not least as a marketer who is supposed to have this stuff off-pat!

Maybe considering ‘WHY ‘ I am in business, and how this defines my vision for BSA,  would help solve my conundrum?

The BSA Philosophy

I started by reflecting on our philosophy. I am comfortable with the ideas of Peter Drucker that marketing is one of the key elements representing the essence of a business. Furthermore, I recognise how many business owners can struggle with trying to integrate sustained marketing as part of their own business.

We believe marketing should be at the heart of every business and our role is to work with clients to help make this happen.  We also appreciate that technology is a key feature of SME marketing yet too often, this technology is seen as a solution, in itself, rather than simply a tool to help drive marketing. Consequently, a lack of understanding of the technology ends up as a barrier to – your marketing.

This barrier can be reinforced where a company’s marketing is managed or supported by people/suppliers who are technologists first and marketers second.

Our aim is to help address this lack of understanding, appreciate technology as simply a tool, a means to achieving a goal. Then refocus onto that core goal of effective marketing.

All businesses have a ‘sweet spot’ target audience and primary marketing focus should be to engage with this audience.

Getting practical

This philosophising is all very well but there is no question that practicality is at the heart of what we do. We acknowledge that trusting someone with your marketing is a journey and that every journey starts with the first step. We have found that the best approach is to start with something specific. What this might be will depend on where you are at with your business. Over the years, there have been three ‘projects’ that stand out at starting points:

  1. A ‘Direct Marketing Project’ – target your message to a key audience – back in the day, this was often by telephone. More recently, email has become the preferred medium. In either case, this recognises that, as it has always been, marketing is about talking to people.
  2. Website (Re)Development –  your website is probably your single most important marketing tool. It is where you can set out your business propositions for people to explore. Sure, skill in building websites is important (we have this) but actually, getting the marketing messages right is THE MOST IMPORTANT. It’s about marketing, NOT JUST technology!
  3. Website Hosting – if your website is your most important marketing tool, you should have control of it. At BSA, we don’t think of ourselves as a hosting company. We are marketers. Yet, we host the websites for most of our clients. Hosting a site makes it easy to access and use the site effectively – for MARKETING – with no technical barriers.

In each of the above, something happens. As a client, you see improvement. More contact with your market. A new website (built with marketing in mind). Access to your website easily and quickly to make it work for you as a marketing tool.

It’s about the marketing

In all cases, we apply our knowledge and understanding of the technology tools to drive a marketing objective.

Furthermore, the finite experience of an initial project gives us a defined platform to get to know one another. We can build a relationship – on your terms.

We have clients where all we do is host their website, but when they need us, we are there, responsive and ready to support. Alternatively, where appropriate, our relationship can develop into making marketing happen using our extensive marketing expertise and technical know-how. We help make business marketing work as a sustainable, controlled process.

Getting to why?

I started this article posing the question (to myself) of why I am in business. On reflection, I think the answer is simple. It might seem a bit cheesy, but I am confident it is true:

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Why? : To make your business better & easier

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Starting with Why – Beyond Features & Benefits

We have been talking a lot recently about the importance of vision in running a business, and today I wanted to take this thinking a step further, to look at the importance of this vision when considering the marketing message for you products and services.

The “So What” Test

The “So What” test is a tried and tested tool for making sure you focus on the benefits rather than features when developing a marketing message for your products or services.

Write a line describing your offering:

“We want to get to know your business before developing our marketing proposal”…

So What!

The line does not really describe the benefit to the client, meaning they could legitimately ask “So What!”

This leads to an iterative process that should lead to the real benefit. In this case, it may be something like:

“Our proposals are tailored  so they deliver real value to your business, helping you effectively meet your marketing goals and successfully develop your business”

A statement that is much more difficult to ask “So What..”

The Power of Why

The “So what” test is a great tool, but if you really want to engage with your potential customers and help them to buy into your vision, making it a reason for them to buy from your business, you need to link these benefits to your vision.

This is an idea put forward by our friend of the moment Simon Sinek in his breakthrough TED talk, “Start with why…”.

His suggestion is that communicating this way – Stating what you do and how this adds benefit, is not very engaging. To develop a truly inspiring marketing message you need to flip this on its head and “Start with Why..”.

  • Why do you do what you do – Your Vision
  • How does this vision drive how you run your business
  • What you do for your customers through your products and/or services

In fact, this means that your marketing message actually ends with the feature, the “What you do”. But because you have led with the more inspiring why and how, by the time you get to the feature (What you do) people are already getting interested.

In another post, we apply this to BSA Marketing, but here, to illustrate my point, I will use the same example used by Mr Sinek in his talk and that is Apple.

Apple make great computers, so traditionally their message would be:

We make great computers…. “So What?” – Feature!

“They are simple to use and beautifully designed” – “So what?” – Feature!

“They are a pleasure to own and take the frustration out of Computing” – The real benefit that Apple might present

But that is not why Apple are so successful, and is not in-fact how they communicate.

In reality, they flip the message on its head and start with why they do what they do.

  • “In everything we do we believe in doing things differently and challenging the Status quo”
  • “The way we do this in a world of clunky boring computers by making beautifully designed, easy to use computers”
  • “By the way, we make great computers …“.

Where are the Benefits?

But we must ask why this works? By traditional marketing thinking the communication ends with What we doWe make great computers – The features.  So where are the benefits?

The philosophy is that by the time the message gets to the feature “We make great computers”, people are already bought into the benefit of buying an Apple computer, phone, etc. The benefit is already clear in the buyer’s mind to the point that they do not need to explicitly state it. They are already asking where do I sign?

Your vision must add value

There is no doubt this works in the case of Apple, and there are many other examples where starting with Why is a great marketing strategy. But I think it is making one big assumption. That is that the vision delivers value in the eyes of the buyer. In many markets, especially the more cynical B2B arena where people may be less emotionally connected to their purchases, it is important that you communicate how your vision delivers value to the market, and in reality, this message should be central to your marketing communications.

Succeed in doing this and Staring with Why can be a powerful marketing tool.