Sunday, November 25, 2007

You Have To Make It Easy

One of the most basic of rules in the world of sales and marketing is that you have to make it easy for customers to find you or they’ll readily go elsewhere. This is related to the maxim that says it’s easier and cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. I was reminded of these sales and marketing “truths” when I found myself reaching the end of what has become my favorite note-taking journal.

Over the past several decades, I have used a variety of different notebooks and journals to capture my daily business note and yet never have I found one I liked better than my current choice. It’s the right size with good quality paper, a durable cover, and it was easy to emboss with my company’s name. The only problem is that nowhere on this wonderful journal can I find any markings resembling a manufacturer’s name or model number, nor the name or phone number of the place I purchased it from. Unfortunately, no matter how much I like this journal and wish to buy more of them, it is simply impossible for me to do so.

What a waste of effort by the manufacturer and the reseller combined. They both paid good money to develop this product and market it to the world but they failed miserably to take the last few steps necessary to make it easy for a customer to remain a customer!

Imagine how much more profitable both the manufacturer’s and reseller’s business would be with one simple little change so as to readily enable repeat purchases.

What little changes should we all make in our own businesses so as to avoid a similar fate?

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Friday, August 03, 2007

TRY


We recently visited Dundas Castle just outside of Edinburgh Scotland. The Dundas Castle dates back to the mid-13th century and rests among 1500 acres of rolling woods and fields bordering the River Forth. In a word: beautiful.

The family that owns and operates the Castle nowadays books more than 100 weddings and events on the glorious Castle grounds.

Fittingly, the occasion of our visit was a dear friend’s wedding and true to form, the event was spectacular; thoroughly enjoyed by all. I even had the experience of wearing a Kilt for the first and very likely last time ever. Yes, this photo is me in the kilt standing next to my 16 year old son who is trying hard not to break out in laughter at dear old Dad in a skirt!

One interesting take away from a tour of the Castle grounds however, was the family motto displayed underneath their coat of arms emblazoned in stone on the front of the Castle. The Dundas Castle’s family motto was simply the word TRY.

Which turns out to be a good motto for the success of a wedding, an experience such as wearing a kilt, or even for building a castle that has stood for more than 700 years.

A good motto acted upon really does stand the test of time.


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Monday, July 30, 2007

Scot Free


Another little tidbit I learned while touring the Tower of London was the origin of the phrase “he got off Scot free.”

It seems that many hundreds of years ago, one of the prisoners sentenced to death at the Tower of London was a Scotsman. This wily character was deemed dangerous enough to only be brought into the Tower through the maximum-security, all waterway entrance known as the Traitor’s Gate.

No prisoner had ever previously escaped from that entry point and no one other than that lone Scotsman ever did again. That proud Scott did escape and lived the remainder of his days a free man back in Scotland.

Hence, the phrase “he got off Scot free” came into the language (or at least this is the story told by the Tower’s tour guide!).

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Progress?

An excellent guide gave us a tour of the Tower of London on our recent sightseeing expedition in that city. The guide shared many tales of old from the Tower’s 700 year history. Many of these tales had to do with the ritual beheadings of prisoners; a weekly event well into the 1600’s (not really all that long ago!).

The public popularity of the beheadings was so strong that the definition of “prisoner” became more and more flexible over time so that the public’s appetite for a good beheading could be readily assuaged. As he held our attention with the tales, I remember thinking “gee, I’m glad society has progressed beyond the Sunday-go-to-beheadings stage.”

Then, just two short days later in a local London newspaper, I read that in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there have been 109 deaths by beheading in just the first seven months of 2007. The Saudis use death by beheading as their preferred form of punishment for a wide variety of crimes; including the crime committed when a foreigner brings into their country any religious or pornographic materials; at least they warn you of this right on their VISA application.

Don’t know if the Saudis consider it effective or not as a crime deterrent but the use of human beheadings is still as gruesome a thought today as it was in the 13-17th centuries of the Tower of London’s history. Maybe society has not progressed as far as we like to think.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

2 Steps Back To Go Forward



While roaming the annual CompuTex show in Taipei, Taiwan this week, two things kept catching my eye at multiple booths amongst a sea of vendors. It wasn’t the fastest new computer processor, the ever flashier tricks of the booth builders to attract visitors, nor the often uniquely creative naming plays of both companies and products. Rather, this year, the two things I kept seeing both held themselves out as the new and upcoming must-have consumer electronics product while both remained firmly grounded in past product technologies. Hence the feeling of two steps back to backward to go forward.

First, consider the half a dozen or so offerings of vacuum tube audio amplifiers on display at the show. Vacuum tube technology was phased out of consumer electronics product, including almost all but the most esoteric, high-end stereo audio amplifiers, years ago in favor of the mighty transistor and its many advantages including cost, convenience, and reliability versus the tube. I mean when was the last time you thought about a tube having to be replaced inside your favorite TV or radio?

I well remember the vacuum tube from my teenage years spent in my grandfather and father’s TV and Appliance store but even then, the tubes we kept on hand were mostly for the repairing of products originally purchased when I was a mere child or even earlier. I confess there was something magical about the vacuum tube that held my wonder back then; the way it would glow and the ease with which they could be swapped out. I enjoyed opening a product brought to us for repair and pulling the tubes one by one to see if the replacements I would plug in could solve the problem. More often than not, that was all that was needed and I could say I “fixed” the problem. It was quite the fun accomplishment for a teenager to claim even though I knew little of the how and why of the vacuum tube technology.

Alas, when my Dad finally closed up the family shop, he sold our final inventory of vacuum tubes on eBay to the highest bidder. If I had any doubt as to the viability of the vacuum tube business, that sale on eBay said it all; the transistor had won and the tube had finally died. Ever since, the race to build ever more portable and rugged products in designs as slim as the newest Apple iPod has been the sole dominion of the power of the transistor. Even many of the high end audio amplifier purists who insisted that the tube was a more “pure” or “warm” sound steadily converted over to transistor based amplifiers. And so, my surprise was very real when in more than a few booths I spied vacuum tube amplifiers being showcased as brand new products.

These clunky and large, in comparison to today’s tiny transistor based products were somehow beautiful looking products. And irony of irony, many of these new tube products had iPod docks built into them proudly promising that the tube amplification would make your iPod sound better than ever when played through your speakers from these tube amps; pretty funny when you think about it. Will the vacuum tube make a sudden resurgence? Probably not, though the nostalgic feel of the product and the soft glow of the tubes in a darkened room mean it’ll probably be a reasonable selling hit. Guess my Dad should have hung onto that tube inventory after all. This old technology just might be new again.

The second product that caught my eye, in a similar yet different vein, was the advent of truly low cost (think sub $200) notebook computers. These machines are far less powerful than today’s standard notebook and are often capable of processing power abilities more in line with computers of many years ago. See the two steps back to go forward trend? And yet, the appeal of these machines was hard to deny based on the efforts of a few vendors to showcase their potential.

The magic of these machines is not in their old technology processing power levels ala the vacuum tube example above, but rather in the way their creators recognize that our external environment has changed radically enough that we can now forgo some level of device power because of the advances in broadband availability and the sheer power and robustness inherent in that availability. Along with the ever evolving web technologies that enable you to do nearly anything from e-mail to spreadsheets with just a browser based product and a good Internet connection, these new notebooks appeal in a very different way to both business and home users.

Given the sub $200 price points (these are Linux, not Windows machines!) these new low power, low cost, low power consumption, and very compact computers can log onto the Net and process away in a manner that most certainly guarantees they’ll be a hit seller. They are also low enough in price that consumers can use multiple units amongst family members or even simply in multiples hanging around the home serving various Net driven functions.
Maybe you could set one on a bookshelf constantly displaying your growing Flickr photo collection from the web or perhaps one will sit in the kitchen only to access your online recipe collection. These machines will spawn new and likely very creative applications and given their price points, consumers won’t be afraid to risk a hundred or so dollars on an application idea that might seem frivolous by todays thousand dollar plus standards. They also won’t worry quite as much about putting such a device in their teenagers’ hands as the investment will be so much smaller than today’s notebooks.

As a business person, more and more, as long as I can get a Net connection, I don’t feel the need to carry my entire office with me in a state of the art notebook computer. However, Blackberry and smart cell phone devices just aren’t practical for the amount of typing I need to do in writing e-mails and reports. So, I’d happily consider trading the bulk and weight of the standard business notebook for the slim portability of these new sub $200 laptops. And given the nearly ubiquitous accessibility of broadband in the business traveler’s world, it seems like a strong enough opportunity that these products should do very well indeed. I know I ordered my first one on the spot at the show. Less processing power instead of more, and the growth of the Net and its related technologies, make this step backward a potentially big leap into the future.

Yes, there was plenty of “regular” business to do at this year’s CompuTex show though I couldn’t help but come away from the show thinking of the ramifications of these two “old” ideas and how they have birthed two new products.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Milestones Sometimes Take Time


Almost 30 years ago, I dreamt of learning to fly. I even took an initial step with a flight lesson at the local airport in New Knoxville, Ohio. However, before I could get good and started on the flying, life intervened and a more pressing need for potential flight training funds caught my attention. The dream didn’t go away but rather it went on hold.

About 7 years later, I re-took that initial step at an airport in the Kettering, Ohio area. However, once again life put flying on hold as at about the same time, we learned our first son was due in the coming months. This time the dream was parked but still not forgotten.

Fast forward 20 some years and here we are buying a house outside of Seattle, Washington that has a view of the Renton Municipal airport from afar. For several months, I’d sit on the deck and watch, through my binoculars, the small airplanes coming and going and practicing their touch and go’s. As a bonus, the end of Renton’s Runway 33 flows right into the waters of Lake Washington and so I could also watch Seaplanes departing with a roar and splashing down in that graceful combination of flying and boating with speed to boot.

So it was that exactly one year ago on Memorial Day weekend 2006, that I took advantage of the day off from work and headed to AcuWings at Renton Airport. In no time at all, that first lesson was under my belt for the third time. And this time it stuck!

While the business of life and hectic work travel schedules clawed at my time, over the course of this past year, I managed to build up enough flying time to solo on my own this Memorial Day 2007.

Perhaps it is as the old saying goes, “the third time is the charm” or maybe it’s just that persistence really does pay off, either way, I’m happy to say that achieving the milestone of solo flight is one big thrill on my way to learning to fly.

Check out photos of the Piper Tomahawk I flew in my first solo effort by CLICKING HERE. Special thanks to my Aircraft Owner’s & Pilot’s Association volunteer mentor Wade H. who just happened to be at the airport with camera in hand when I took to the air.

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Duchene Muscular Dystrophy Fund Raiser

Back at the start of 2006, I had the opportunity to be part of a book project that would feature two of my favorites in the world of self-development and motivation. Stephen Covey of the 7 Habits fame and Brian Tracy of the sales and marketing world were teaming to co-author a book about success. In joining the project, I took on the task of authoring a chapter as to my own thoughts on the secrets of success. And so, at the very end of 2006, a dream I held from the time I was a 4th grader finally came to life as I received the first, hot-off-the-press shipment of “Speaking of Success” with a picture of myself on the cover smiling back between photos of Stephen Covey and Brian Tracy.


However as one of my dreams neared fruition, a dream of a fellow Digeo teammate, Mindy Leffler, was radically altered. In the spring of 2006, Mindy and Mitch Leffler’s young son Aidan was diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy. DMD affects approximately 1 boy in every 3,000. DMD boys gradually lose the use of their muscles and eventually become paralyzed. Most do not live past their early 20's. As we all absorbed this harsh news, many of us looked for ways to help Mindy and her family in their time of need. The Digeo team responded warmly and generously. Thank you for that effort.


As I personally learned more about DMD from Mindy and began to research the topic on my own, I learned what a tough diagnosis DMD truly is for anyone facing it. What’s worse, funding for research specific to DMD is often over-shadowed by “bigger name” research and so while many promising treatments were in the wings for DMD, the market and research pressures made it difficult to keep pushing the DMD needs forward. My wife and I, as parents of two sons, wondered what more we could do to help in some small way with the situation, and so we decided to donate a number of my “Speaking of Success” books as a fundraising tool for an organization helping to drive forward the search for treatments for DMD.


The Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy organization is now selling “Speaking of Success” in their online store with 100% of the proceeds directly benefiting their ongoing research for DMD treatments. Please feel free to visit them at www.parentprojectmd.org to learn more of DMD. If you’re so inclined, you may also purchase a copy of “Speaking of Success” from the PPMD e-Commerce store (CLICK HERE) knowing that all revenues received by them will in at least a small way benefit a fellow Digeo team member.


Don’t forget that if you want to keep track of Aidan, visit www.aidanleffler.info where Mindy and Mitch keep postings of Aidan’s progress and the progress of various fundraising efforts on his behalf.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Changing Mantra

Soon after we made the decision to move to Seattle in the fall of 2005, a mantra began to form which I’ve since repeated to myself many times over. You see, the state of Washington collects no state income tax and that was certainly a plus in the decision making process as we pondered the move from our beloved San Diego to Seattle. In California, my wife and I were paying nearly 10% in state income tax and I would gladly not have to pay that to the state of Washington upon moving to Seattle.

Of course, the sales tax rate in Seattle is about 1% higher than in San Diego but that was seen as a small price to be paid in exchange for escaping the certainty of California’s tax slice and definitely a nice positive in moving to Seattle.

As my personality has a need to seize and focus on the positive, the mantra I struck up played out over and over as such;
  • It rains so much in Seattle – but there’s no state income tax

  • The real estate market in Seattle is a lot more expensive than we thought – but there’s no state income tax

  • The commute traffic on the 405 and 90 interstates is actually worse than San Diego’s traffic – but there’s no state income tax

  • Winter includes rain, ice, snow, wind and lots more cold than San Diego – but there’s no state income tax

  • The rain nearly set a consecutive days-of-falling record in January of 2006 – but there’s no state income tax

  • The rainfalls of November 2006 were truly all-time record setting – but there’s no state income tax

  • The winds of December 2006 caused the ridge line nails in our new roof to pop right up and with the help of a tree limb, managed to rip our attic fan right out of the attic - but there’s no state income tax

  • Those same winds also led to a loss of electricity at the house for 7 full days just before Christmas 2006 - but there’s no state income tax

  • The ice and snow of January 2007 meant we couldn’t even drive our cars down the road to our house as the hill was an impassable sheet of ice for nearly 5 days - but there’s no state income tax

  • And of course, there’s simply not much use in owning a pool in Seattle as we had in San Diego – but there’s no state income tax

Yes, the use of that mantra was one of the ways I attempted to stay focused on the positive during one of the rougher relocation transitions we’ve made in our nearly 30 years of marriage.

Now that we’ve lived in Seattle for a year and a half however, I realize that the tone of the mantra has slowly but surely changed:

  • The summer of 2006 was absolutely spectacular with long dry, warm days and there’s no state income tax

  • Watching the Blue Angels perform over Lake Washington from the shores of a small and fairly un-crowded beach right near the house was a thriller and there’s no state income tax

  • The majesty of Mt. Rainier in the early morning glow of rose and orange tinted sunrises is truly inspirational and there’s no state income tax

  • The view from atop Rattlesnake Ledge on a clear day is breathtaking and there’s no state income tax

  • The changing views of Lake Washington; from the commute bridges of the 90 or the 520 or even from our house, always makes for a pleasant moment of thought and there’s no state income tax

  • The high school our youngest son attends is a little less than half the size of his school in San Diego, the curriculum is markedly stronger and there’s no state income tax

  • The occasional glimpse of Bald Eagles around Lake Washington and many more spied spectacularly on the Skagit River in winter is amazing and there’s no state income tax

  • Skiing at Crystal Mountain on the slopes of Mt. Rainier is close enough for a nice day trip where for two winters in a row now we’ve seen great snow conditions and there’s no state income tax

  • Downtown Seattle, which is actually much more interesting and pleasant a downtown than San Diego’s, is usually just 20 minutes from the house with all of the shopping, music, restaurants, waterfront markets, and ball parks one could want and there’s no state income tax

I’m not sure where the future adventures of life will take us or how long we’ll remain in Seattle but what was and in some ways still is a difficult relocation transition from our beloved San Diego has turned out to have a few more positives than I ever imagined and no state income tax!


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