Archives for category: Communication

I was waiting for a colleague of mine a few Saturdays ago, in the lobby of the local credit union – which is a bit like a local community bank. When I got there there was no-one in the queue, and I had been in earlier, when business was very slow. Five minutes later there were 6 in the queue. Just my luck I thought, and it reminded me of the old adage about waiting for a bus and then three come at once – although I suspect that has more to do with bus drivers moving in packs because they can complete their route more quickly by alternating which bus picks up the poor punters at which stop.

Queuing theory is fascinating. The whole science of it fascinates me both as an observer and a not very patient queuer. Back in the day we would all queue for a specific teller, and it was always a trick as to which line to pick. These days you see banks employing one queue which then distributes to the next available teller, and you see it also in some parts of supermarkets, airport passport controls and retail outlets. But, then again, you still see situations where you queue for your teller of choice, like in, well, other parts of supermarkets, airport passport controls and retail outlets.

I remember doing a bit of queuing theory at college when I was doing my MBA. It involves quite a bit of calculus – a subject which always sends me thinking about the unbelievably clever soul centuries ago who invented those formulas in the first place.

I mentioned this to my colleague when he turned up. As it turned out, he had an even more nerdy interest in queueing theory than I did, and we then proceeded to debate the strategies of some retailers to offer fewer servers so that the longer queues deter people from revisiting, pushing them online, though it’s highly risky.

But, the fact that you can use mathematics to account for and plan around the sheer randomness of something like people turning up somewhere and queuing is amazing to me.

I was watching a marketing training video the other day, produced by an American company highly respected in the area of what’s called ‘inbound marketing’ and the speaker used the word ‘ongoingly’.

Ongoingly, meaning – one would assume – in an ongoing fashion – is another great example of human languages adapting and changing all the time.

I was talking to my good lady about this recently, and about how language change spreads, and she wasn’t convinced.

‘So,’ she said, as we were walking through an agricultural show to buy an ice cream, ‘I’m going to call that bunch of stones on the path down here a ‘bubblybeg’. You can’t tell me I’ve created a new word..’ Of course it is, I replied, you just coined a new word. Now I’m going to use it, and we’ll both know what it signifies when we use it again. If we don’t use it anymore, it dies with us.

But, I continued, if you continue using it, and others adopt it, your new word is taking hold one person at a time. Throw in a couple of influencers or broadcasters with access to many more people, and then thousands of people are making that individual decision whether or not to adopt and use it too. All of a sudden the word gains critical mass and eventually becomes accepted. It starts as a verbal thing, then over time becomes enshrined in the written word, and away you go.

The same thing will have happened with ongoingly, like it did with three-peat. Language change is a constant, living thing, and that for me is the constant fascination.

Sometimes, in business and in life, you’re slightly ‘off your game’. You’re not quite there, you can’t put it together, the muscle and brain memory is not firing right for you. It’s a tough rut to get out of, without doing a reboot or calling it quits and sleeping on it.

In sport it’s easier to see when you’re slightly off your game, because it’s pretty binary. It’s either in or out, a hit or a miss. You either win the point or you lose it, win the match or lose it, pretty much.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was playing table tennis. I used to play competitively for many years and am currently getting back into it more regularly after a decade and a half on the side lines. The other day was one of those days when I was slightly off my game, and at a certain level of ability the margins are so small. The ball was clipping the edge of my bat a lot, rather than hitting the sweet spot, because my timing was slightly off and I couldn’t get either my conscious or subconscious mind co-ordinate the hundred or so muscles in quite the right way.

The ball was also missing the table by small margins, and hitting the top of the net a lot. With table tennis, the ball is maybe a quarter of the height of the net, so you get a lot of shots hitting the net cord, compared with tennis or badminton. When you’re sightly off your game, you hit the top of the net a lot, and the ball either comes back on your side, or dribbles over the other side, or else sits up for the other player to crush past you. Either way, it’s really hard for both players to establish any kind of rhythm.

A couple per cent degradation in your execution and the result is maybe 20% worse, easily the difference between winning comfortably and losing comfortably. Frustrating.

I know you either win a deal or lose it, and a lead either becomes an opportunity or it doesn’t, but business, projects and sales cycles feel a lot less binary to me. If you’re slightly off your game, you don’t necessarily get direct feedback from a prospect or customer. You don’t necessarily know that a specific campaign hasn’t converted a specific individual, or that your answer to a sales objection has been answered satisfactorily.

All you can do then is go back to the data and study the statistics over a larger number of similar circumstances rather than an isolated, specific interaction. And work hard all the time to reduce the occasions when you’re slightly off your game.

I was at a second hand book fair the other day, one of those affairs where the books are strewn everywhere, unsorted and in boxes on trestle tables and in boxes on the floor under tables.

Crouched down under the tables with books in one hand and sifting with the other, scrabbling around for the authors I was interested in, I thought about how different it is being almost at floor level, like a dog, a small pet or a small child.

It’s a dog’s life down there. You can’t see anything, except the floor, people’s feet and legs, and other small people. Adults trip over you. Everything is geared to heights comfortable to the average adult. It’s almost like being a second class citizen.

I think also that’s it’s a useful exercise in humility, since it puts you in the shoes of other beings who spend their lives at ground level: small children, small animals, small people and also, to an extent, people in wheelchairs. It’s not that fun, once you’ve experienced life at a ‘normal’ altitude.

I use Google Chrome for my web access. I use it on my Mac laptop.

Sometimes I’m just browsing. Most of the time I’m working. Sometimes I’m doing highly repetitive things like making small changes to web site text pages, via a content management system (CMS).

It’s the small things that make the difference when it comes to usability. I really like the circular timer thingy on a chrome browser tab. It’s so simple, and yet so communicative, instructive. When you do a ‘send’ like clicking a link or submitting something the circular thingy goes one way, and then when you start to ‘receive’ like getting a new page back or updating the page, the circular thingy goes the other way. When the browser fully delivers the page, the thingy disappears and the tab favicon comes back. I see the process every time I compose and update this post.

It’s not in the middle of the screen, obscuring your view and your productivity, like the pinwheel of death. It’s up in the browser tab.

This is great when you’re doing lots of updates, because as soon as you see the circular thingy reverse its direction you know you can switch to another tab, saving lots and lots of milliseconds, which add up over time and really help you out.

Well thought out, simple and illuminating. Marvellous, magical usability.

I saw a consumer ad on the television the other day. Nothing particularly unusual in that, clearly. It was for a shampoo with caffeine in it. It got me thinking.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This is something I’ve touched on before, when retailers come very close to copying faithfully the famous brand names and piggyback on all that goodwill that took years and millions to create. Irish folk will also note the familiarity in name and offering between a native fast food provider ending in Mac’s and the US company beginning in Mc that has been setting the standard since the 1950’s. The Founder of the Irish company does have a surname beginning with Mc, so that’s his defence perhaps. They’ll also remember a national retailer whose St Bernard brand bore a striking resemblance in logo colours and typography to the St Michael brand of Marks and Spencer.

That, for me, is about imitation, flattery and profit. Or imitation for profit to give it a shorter and more accurate phrase. Anyway, back to the shampoo ad, which borrows heavily from an engine oil ad from 30 years ago. It’s probably easier if you watch this 1-minute video, which puts the two ads back to back.

Of course you can argue it’s an ‘homage’ – best if you pronounce that in the French style, otherwise the ‘an’ before it looks cumbersome – to the original ad, and clearly the two companies are competing in different industries, unlike the examples I cite above. But what is inescapable is that it is leveraging the brand equity of another entity for profit. A clever, deft use of other people’s money, yes, but does it cross the commercial line? For me, yes.

In the B2B sales and marketing conversation it’s hard to imagine anything more important than content. It’s important to have lots of content, because then you can design more workflows to build the engagement and you’ve a larger base of material to recycle from. But the quality is more important than the quantity.

In the good old days, by which I mean the noughties, it was about attracting people and then working the leads.

That doesn’t cut it these days. It’s no longer about aiming solely for a form submission with some precious contact details because someone wants to download an ebook or register for a webinar. If the content is poor quality, you lose them and they won’t come back. Today’s best companies nurture their prospects with good content and score their leads according to fit and the degree of interaction. Good companies only pass leads onto sales when those leads have passed a certain score and demonstrated they are interested to a certain degree.

The good marketing companies – with good content that they trust – are not passing over a lead as soon as someone submits their details for the first time. This is why the content has to be good. If it’s poor, it’s probably the end of the relationship before it’s begun.

‘Let’s maximise our webinar registrations and then call them all in case they don’t attend. Also, the ebook is not quite what it’s built up to be, so let’s make sure we follow up with everyone who’s downloaded; we don’t want to lose them.’ Nope, you already have.

This is the real importance of good content. It’s not a hook to get them in and lock the door behind them. It’s an invitation to build something, and throughout the ensuing relationship you’re only as good as the last piece of content they got.

One of the most vivid phrases you hear’ll – mostly in business – is to ‘crash and burn’. An example: let’s do loads of practice for this presentation to the company; we don’t want to crash and burn up there.’

It’s actually a horrifying phrase, especially if you’ve ever been – or known someone who has been – involved in a bad transportation accident. There must be a better phrase.

I have invented – and prefer, for the reason above – the phrase ‘physics and chemistry.’ It’s not as catchy, but it’s certainly less offensive.

When I was at school, we struggled with definitions of the differences between the two vast disciplines of physics and chemistry. Generalising grossly, physics is about movement, sound, weight, dimensions, and sometimes a little bit of heat. Chemistry, on the other hand, is concerned with much more heat, so that things combine, transfer and change into other things.

So a crash is a physical thing, burning is a chemical thing. When we experience physics and chemistry in business – or indeed in life – there is a sudden, shocking noisy event, followed by a major adverse change in our circumstances.

So there you go. Next time, if you’ve got something important going on, make sure you avoid the one-two punch of physics and chemistry.

Ah, the cold sales call. By cold sales call I mean the broad concept of any call to a person or company that may or may not remember you, or in fact know you.

I don’t know many people who enjoy picking up the phone and working through a list of cold names, trying to get through and then strike up a rapport with a near total or total stranger. Most sales people I’ve worked with, who are supposed to be good at developing a conversation, hate them and avoid them whenever possible.

They have good reason to, most of the time. A progressive, strategic and process-oriented business-to-business company shouldn’t have to make cold calls, but on occasion you can’t avoid them.

A couple of things I’ve learned about calling are these. First, you have to be in the right frame of mind. Positive, optimistic, keen to get things done. You have to want to embrace the call. An early and genuine ‘no’ frees you up to the next call where someone who’s not a time-waster might want to speak to you.

Second, it’s irrational to put them off because once we get started, we’re fine, we get through them. We just need to start.

Third, what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing much, except that the more we fail, the better we’ll get at them.

Many moons ago – probably about 280 moons in fact – I was responding to an invitation to tender for the design and production of an annual report.

It was for a national tourist body, and we’d been working for years to get on their roster of companies that they would invite to bid for their larger projects.

I was reading through the brief and there was one sentence I couldn’t understand at all. It was talking about the partners’ hip. Nope, me neither. I assumed it was the partners’ hip since the apostrophe was missing and I tut-tutted my way over and over the sentence trying to make sense of it.

What did they mean by hip? Was that some kind of cultural reference key to getting inside the essence of the brand, I wondered. I debated calling the customer, but was conscious of the fact that we hadn’t really clicked the first time.

I plucked up the courage to call and ask her what she meant by partners’ hip. If she didn’t actually snort down the phone she must have come very close, as her tone was dripping with derision. ‘No, it should say partnership.’

Bloody hell! Bloody typos! It wasn’t the typo I thought it was, it was another typo entirely, the addition of an unnecessary and misleading space turning one word into two, contorting the meaning completely out of my understanding. I had looked at the sentence so many times I overlooked the most obvious explanation staring me in the face.

Suffice it to say we didn’t win the bid, and I don’t remember ever winning any work from that customer. Their typo, my punishment, and an expensive one at that.