Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Weekly musings: Why I'm bored of industry awards

Judging what success looks like from within a given project is a difficult enough challenge for some online businesses, how you then determine success and achievement within the industry is an absolutely impossible task. And yet we have a multitude of awards to tell us different....there's Retail Week Awards, The BT Retail Week Technology Awards, the Internet Retailing Awards..........I have to admit they leave me a bit cold these days.

I once worked with an eCommerce Director (I shall keep them nameless in case they don't want to be attributed this story) whose site was nominated for a prominent industry award for Multichannel Retailer of the Year. As I sat in the office slaving away for our consultancy day rate (obviously!) the team changed into their party pants and dancing shoes and were about to leave, I said to the ecom director without even thinking about it 'good luck, I hope we win'. He turned around, paused, and said to me 'I hope we don't'. I looked understandably a bit confused, back in those days I was overwhelmed by the glamour of a black tie evening with some of my retail heroes, and the thought of having our work recognized was exciting. He followed it up by saying ' I hope we don't win Multichannel Retailer of the Year. Because we're not'

And you know what? I realised almost straight away he was absolutely bloody right. We really weren't. That business still had a way to go  -  being a late comer to a transactional website, with a variety of challenges that meant right then, at that moment, we had absolutely no right to consider ourselves even slightly Multichannel - let alone the best in the industry. (That's not the case now I might add, much good work has been done since and should the site be nominated again it would at least be reflective of the fact it can hold it's own the industry)

Now if we always judged ourselves on having a way to go we'd never celebrate anything, but that's missing the point. I'm presuming that the reason we were in that category as a nominee was because our PR team had written a submission, and potentially was likely to pay for a table for the business attendees. No one had actually considered if we were worthy of the prize,probably just whether we'd look good on the marketing material.

And you may say that it's the fault of a business for entering themselves into a category they don't really belong in. But put it this way - if your business has released an app this year, you're going to think it's great, and you're going to nominate yourself for it's greatness. You PR department are going to think 'what a great opportunity to get some credentials in the industry' and happily dash off a submission....the fact that your app is probably just about passable and the only person who thinks it's any good is your CEO who enjoys flashing it about at dinner parties becomes by the by....

It's tough because no one knows what happens within a business unless they work in it, the success or failure or challenges faced in a project can only be judged by what you as an entrant tell the judges/body sponsoring the awards. I could probably write myself a glowing report for any number of projects that I've worked on, and despite the fact that they were rubbish or brilliant I'd win or lose based on the profile of my company, how safe a bet we are for the next 12 months (no publication wants to bet on a losing horse-  though no doubt some great work has been done at many a failing retailer in the last year), whether the sponsors think we might want to buy from them in the future, whether our third party providers put up the money to sponsor and whether we're high profile enough to make a pretty picture on the front of the magazine/website/company brochure.

And that isn't to say that some of the winners of these awards aren't rightly proud of their achievement, and deserve wholeheartedly to celebrate what their work has brought to their business and the wider industry, but for me, these accolades are devalued by the process and politics that support them, for which we're all to blame.

Internet Retailing is at least trying to buck the trend a little by asking attendees and retailers to vote for their perceived value adding projects or initiatives, but this can only go so far as only the most popular, talked about, press -worthy or customer facing will get to be seen by those external to an industry and therefore voted for. It's a shame there isn't a better way forward.

Devalued industry awards that aren't really reflective of excellence, can often be political and are regularly predictable seems to be just accepted as a standard these days (and it's not just our industry - many have the same issues), and for the sake of basking in some glory, enjoying a night out and adding something to your CV maybe that's enough but what if there was something different?

What if award submissions were entered with some real detail, viewed by everyone who's interested and voted on by those in the industry? What if there were no sponsorships or votes from third parties. What if there were no weak, bland categories to squeeze your submission into? And what if for once you could celebrate being the best in your industry and really know it was worth something?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Suits, spam and stalkers: How not to sell

For anyone who follows my twitter feed this post has been coming for a while. Over the last two years or so of being on the client side of ecommerce (as opposed to consultancy) I've seen some frankly horrendous examples of selling in the industry; from being targeted at shows by people literally rugby tackling you into conversation, to receiving spam emails with the blanks NOT filled in, to being called EVERY day for six weeks (and hung up on when they got through) by a single company so much so that Customer Services called them my stalkers....I feel lately like I've seen it all. And it ain't pretty.

Coming from a store retail background people assume you know how to sell, yet I never consider this to be one of my core skills, though frankly I think I'd do a better job than some of the people I've been forced to be in contact with over the last couple of years. At least when working in stores I was honest, genuine, sensitive and knew when to get lost. 

None of this is fancy theory, or tactics, it's just common sense, though apparently, when it comes to selling to ecommerce companies - that's in short supply.  Thefore I present to you:

The 2AQ Guide to Selling to eCommerce Companies

 -  Research, research, research
Don't assume every retailer/company is the same. Look at their website and work out what it is that they think makes them different. Trying to sell a value proposition to a company who works on quality rather than quantity for example if probably a non starter off the blocks. Ditto the type of company. I recently had a freight company repeatedly emailing me, since we're a marketplace and we hold no stock this not only fell on deaf ears but eventually resulted in a passive-aggressive email back from me when they just didn't give up. "We have no stock to move. Please go away. Kind regards. "

In the same vein - LinkedIn exists, use it. Check you're meeting the right person. Check what the person you're meeting did before they worked for the company you're meeting them in. I once had a sales person sell me a solution one of their existing clients uses, except I knew they didn't. Because their existing client was my former client and I understood that system like the back of my hand. I mean first and foremost don't lie, but if you're going to, at least pick one that can't be debunked by someone in the room.

 - Dress appropriately
Comes down to the first one again but the number of sales people who come into our offices in really formal business wear. Nothing wrong with a cool suit and tie combo if you're a cool suit and tie combo type of person, but no one is a sweaty shirt and cheap suit person, so don't do it. Use your head and think about where is is you're presenting, there's no need to show up in jeans and trainers but at least attempt to suggest you understand the online space by chilling out on the dress code a bit. If your company is dull and corporate then you're going to come across as dull and corporate, which is the exact opposite of what most online companies consider themselves to be.

 - Target the right person for the right thing. And be honest.
This happened to me recently and it was CRINGEWORTHY watching the person grasp at filling the time, when if they'd simply been upfront about what they wanted they would have got to see the right set of people instead of trying to sneak in via another means

 - Don't add pointless charges
Online companies know the value of 'setup' of a Saas product i.e zero. If it costs nothing to do then don't try to charge me. Don't add additional charges just so they can be negotiated and I feel I'm getting a bargain. I had a proposal recently that charged me for users. Seriously users. If I have to tell you what's wrong with this then there's no hope for you....

 - Know what you're talking about - don't go and get the 'tech guy' be the person who understands your product
Constantly back and forth between process, tech, business analysis and sales is the worst type of sales process. No one expects you to know the ins and outs of the code but whether you can store billing address and send it back to us might be a key requirement, and it's best if you know the answer. It's not techie to know your product and what it can do. It's good practice.

 - Know how you can help
This comes down a bit to number one - if you know what a company does, how they work, what their challenges might be, then you can begin to start to form a solution with them. Selling something which you have no idea how it will apply to the business you're targeting is like shooting in the dark. Don't just list your features and functionality -  give me something I need, sell it to me in a way that solves my problem without me having to think too much - now we're talking.

 - Be consistent, and work with us, but don't hack
Offering too many options for use of your product/system can seem like a good idea when you're trying to gain a client for the first time, but actually being too flexible can just make you seem like you don't have a clear idea of what the client needs, and make you seem untrustworthy  Changing your mind from white labeling  to working with a third party, and back to white labeling again doesn't really fill anyone with confidence that you know what you're talking about.

Sometimes a business just wants a third party who will say 'whatever you need, we'll help, we might not be able to get to a solution, but we'll help as much as we can'. It's so frustrating when you're trying to be shoehorned into the way a system or vendor does things. Sometimes you just want a collaborative approach, you never know, it might open doors for your business too.

That said no one wants to be a guinea pig; being the first person to test a new feature or functionality is risky and hard to justify a business case for. Provide solutions or workarounds but if you can't do it, be clear you can't - don't try to hack something which will cause the client more pain down the line.

 - Don't spam
Unsolicited email has to be the single most annoying thing in anyone's working day and the most unsuccessful method of sales. Unsolicited emails with the name as a blank or wrong (yes this happened too) and the bit about how we can help you not filled in because it's a template and I'm a get my point.

 - Attention to detail
Often decisions on providers or vendors can be made on the smallest of things, the ability to support some random quirk of a client's processes or system. If you haven't dug into the detail in any pre-sales format then you need to. Entire deals can fall apart, projects can take years longer than they should, and relationships can be soured based on the simplest of mismatches which could have been caught in a process workshop. Do it.

I should mention some companies do manage the sales process incredibly well, more often than not I've seen some great pitches, some bright sales people who know their product and understand when to call and when to leave you alone. However there are some seriously poor practices going on out there, and it's not helpful, it's not going to improve the reputation of your compnay and it's not going to get you a sale.

To finish here's a little cut-out-and-keep list of the basics, just in case anyone is reading this who is planning on phoning/emailing/annoying me anytime soon:

(I can't believe I'm having to re-iterate the following but seriously, people still do these things)

 - Be on time
 - Don't be a moron
 - Be prepared
 - Don't just read your slides
 - Adjust your approach