Tell you what – I am going to build you a new house!

Now, we are all human, when I say that phrase I am confident that one of the following visions crossed your mind;

a) You saw your current place, the one you have,  it is already perfect – just the way it is now.

b) the dream house you would love to have, that perfect idea of the future

c) or possibly, that worst one you ever had – the place you don’t want to go back to.

With no further information than;  I am going to build you a new house! we fill in our own desires, we fill in our own perceptions and expectations.

Now the twist

I am not going to tell you where this house is, I am not going to tell you what it will look like, and I most definitely will not tell you what it will cost you!

(But I promise to let you see it when I finish!)

Does that sound just a little strange to you?

Unless this is a charity such as Habitat for Humanity, I don’t think most of us would be to keen on that idea.

Think about it!

No idea what the end result will be.

No idea what it will cost you.

And no idea if it even meets your needs!

Yet in business IT we do this all the time!

Michael Krigsman writing at ZDNet has this article titled; IT failure and collaboration: Ten big symptoms
Now look at this quote;

More simply, many projects fail because participants and stakeholders are not on the same page regarding shared goals and expectations.

Now Mr. Krigsman writes for the larger enterprise, but let me tell you bluntly, in the small to mid-market business we are often worse at building our IT houses than larger enterprises.

Most larger enterprises do have methodologies, processes and various governance procedures that try to remove this mismatch in communications and expectations.

And I fully grant that these methodologies may be broken, they may need improvements, and they may need better execution, but they exist.

In the SME, we often do not even have the basics. These methodologies and processes and governance structures don’t exist.In fact in many small to mid-market businesses, there is not even a formalized project management structure.

An Example

I spoke to the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of a SME who was implementing a particular enterprise software package (ERP)

That was it!

No questions or answers on whether this IT house was a 6 bedroom McMansion, when all they needed was a 3 bedroom bungalow

No questions or answers on whether this IT house was rural, urban or inner city.

You get the idea.

From this point forward, the IT leadership will be carrying the ball to implement something that I will bet you a paycheck that no one will be happy with.

I say no one, because each officer in that company is going to have an their own internal perception and expectations;

a) that this is going to work for them, their way, (their dream house) or

b) that it won’t work at all – my house is fine the way it is (yes expectations can be negative)

When there is no discussion on the requirements and expectations, the only data that we as humans can mentally process is what fits our experience and knowledge.

If you have not set the requirements and expectations, and set those expectations clearly – any technology investment is little better than a crap shoot.

Because with no further frame of reference, we all will fill in the blanks with our own perceptions, with our own expectations.

Just like my house example, if 100 people see this post, there will probably be close to 100 different internal perceptions and expectations on what that house would be.

So what do you think my odds of meeting those 100 different expectations?

Your IT won’t be any different.

Oh yes, here is your house – did it match your expectations?

Manage Expectations

Photo Credit Aaron Landry via flickr

In many businesses, the importance of IT, just like that of your plumbing, can only be truly appreciated when it stops working.

However, in most cases there were signs that failure is just around the corner.

You miss these warnings when you do not take a holistic view of your IT services.

All the time.

Not just when something has broken and people’s work grinds to a halt.

Broken Plumbing

Photo Credit TumbleCow_old via flickr

This article at CIOZone titled; The Enemy Is Complexity is geared at larger enterprises, but complexity is too frequent in the small to mid market as well.

The almost certain culprit is complexity,” says Sessions. “Complexity seems to track nicely to system failure. The more complex a system is, the harder and more costly it is to work on that system.

The SMB Takeaway

In the small to medium enterprise, IT assets such as servers and software seem to multiply like rabbits. They are often purchased for one particular job or solution, and no one checks to see if the new purchase is either necessary, or possibly even duplicating existing IT assets.

Either way – things cost more operationally, and are more likely to break.

Words Are Not Enough

This is the next post in my intermittent series on doing more with less; having existing staff (in my case an IT Manager) help out in improving marketing, specifically starting with Web Site optimization. It also has come faster than I intended (the previous one was just last week)

First post is here .

But first, I want to tell you a story….

Our Story

A number of years ago we contracted out a web site re-design, then there were some some meetings with a marketing pro who then took our ideas and put some words on all of our newly redesigned web pages.

But I didn’t like them; they were only words.

What do I mean by only words?

Sure, we use words to explain concepts, or to describe things. But words can also be powerful containers that express more than the sum of their letters.

Chip & Dan Heath in their seminal text; Made To Stick demonstrated the concept that single words, phrases, or sentences can be triggers that expand to full volumes of concepts, emotions and understanding.

As an example, there are probably millions of books, texts, articles, images and information about a large United States based organization. I could use words to describe (which would be a  lengthy process ) this organization to you.

Or I can just say; NASA

Depending on your region or age, the simple term NASA will paint a picture of Apollo, Armstrong, Challenger, Atlantis, Voyageur and more. Entire volumes of your awareness are linked to those four simple letters (and heck it is only an acronym!)

In Your Business?

You probably have the same.

Sure, your B2B widget has some great features and specifications, but perhaps your experience has shown you that have successfully sold your Widgets to engineering teams at companies because one simple thing about it that removes a major hot button for the engineers. (ie maybe the one part can replace two)

That hot button – that is Ah-Ha! moment, those words just told your prospects; hey – these folks understand my issues!

The SMB Takeaway

Keep your fingers on the pulse of your web site content

You may outsource some of the work, but keep looking for those words or phrases that resonate, that explode into understanding.

Because those words, are more than words.

Photo Credit Feuillu via flickr

I know! It has been a while since the last post in this IT in Marketing series. I promise, there is a reason!https://i0.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3591/3668669816_a515b4c153.jpg

To Recap

If you are new here, or the wonders of search brought you here, this series chronicles your friendly neighborhood technology manager helping on the marketing side. I introduced it in this post titled; IT, In Marketing? The primary objective being to demonstrate that smaller business can improve their marketing, specifically web marketing without spending billions.

The first few posts (through the above link) demonstrated that our web site scored ,,,,, well it sucked. 29th percentile. If memory serves me correctly that would be a failing grade on any examination that I know of.

The Next Step: Baseline

First question: Did anybody actually visit our web site? How did they find it? Which pages did they look at?

Yes, basic – but key questions. And? Well, I needed answers to them.

Analytics

Web analytics is simply tools that let you track, measure and monitor your web site to answer questions like that. The goal is to start to get an idea of how people actually access, find, and move around your web site, if they found you on a search, it will show what words they were searching for.

There are many tools that can do this, for my needs I used Google’s free Google Analytics tool.

To Start

First step: I signed us up for a Google Analytics account which took only minutes. Google then generates a couple of lines of Web Page code, this is important as you need to add it to your web pages.

I was able to do it myself, but you may require your web site contractor to do it. Note! don’t have your contractor create the account, that is your information, it will be your data, for your web site, you own it!

Once I had this little bit of web code added to the web site, The Google Analytics application can begin to give me data on who, when and how people were finding our web site.

Next? For about three months I made no changes to the web site. Nothing at all! All I did was check out the reports on a weekly basis.

It wasn’t very nice.

First, we were not getting very many visitors to our web site. The absolute number of people is not too important to me, we are a  niche market B2B company, we don’t need huge amounts of people visiting our web site, but we do need the right ones.

Second, I also found that the only time that people found our web site by a search engine, was, well,,, if they were searching for us using some variation of our company name!

In other words, the tools we supply for our market were not being found at all! Not good.

We Were Invisible!

We have a great solution for a niche market, why were we not being found? That was my next question.

I knew that we had not modified any content on the web site in several years, and I already knew that was bad. The search engines like fresh material once in a while, if nothing ever changes they start to consider your web site pretty much dead.

So  my next task was to start rewriting and improving the content on  some of our Web pages.

I planned to do this rewrite one page at a time. I had no intention of trying to write the whole site for a year leaving that old content there. The old some day is not in the calendar effect. I wanted some new content each week or so.

The New Beginning

Just because you know what you do, don’t assume that others use the same words, phrases, or terms to describe it! It sounds simple enough, but if you plaster Car Repairs all over your web site but people tend to search for Automotive Repair, you get the idea, you won’t be there when they come looking.

Again, there are many online tools to help with this concept, and again via their Adwords tools, Google has a free one called the Google keyword tool.

What does this mean?

Quite simply, using my example of car above, the tool tells you common search terms that reference cars. So you could see that automotive is another word that people use.

As an example from our web site, the  keyword tool showed me that one common search term people were using was the name of our type of solution with the word ‘e-mail’ included .  Guess what – we don’t mention e-mail anywhere on our web site. So we won’t be found in that search.

So you know I have ideas on what I have to work on…….

Update! After I had written the draft of this, but before I published it, a great post on some of the power Google (and other analytics tools) can provide you with is here: Finding real answers with analytics (Part 1) on the Marketing What’s New Blog.

Photo Credit David Blackwell via flickr

OK, it does not need to be a bar, it could also be a grocer, hardware store or gasoline station.

But whatever the location, you hear somebody viciously complain about shitty service,  lousy support or useless sales reps in your business.

You are completely shocked.

What do you do?

One obvious option is to make sure your security badge is off, and to turn the marketing brochure you are carrying upside down so they can’t see that you work for that firm and then sneak out.

If that is your choice, thanks for visiting, I wish you all the best.

If your choice was to immediately state; I couldn’t help overhearing you, my sincerest apologies about your incident, can you tell me what happened so we can resolve your issue?

Then you can look at this next stage.

As an executive in a small to medium business, you may not have consciously thought about it, but what you are doing is a person to person, one to one conversation about something that happened with your business.

You also know that if you can rectify the situation, that disgruntled person will tell at least two  friends how great it was – a word of mouth recommendation has started.

So where am I going with this?

I challenge you to turn on the television, read a paper, or flip through a magazine; And then tell me that you did not hear or read the terms social media, or social marketing. You have heard about them; Twitter, Facebook, blogs, you name it.

It seems to be the biggest buzzwords of our business generation.

As an executive, you are rightly wondering what benefit can be had, or maybe wondering if you should you bother, or perhaps just what the hell all the hype is about.

There are many people smarter that me that can tell you about actively working with these new tools, since I am not an expert, I will leave that to  them.

But consider passively listening to them.

Why?

For the same reason you spoke up in that situation I mentioned above.

In my example, you heard that conversation because you happened to be standing there. But I guarantee that those types of conversations are happening in other places too, you just aren’t standing there to hear them.

Did you know that a popular figure in your region wrote your company sucks! on his blog, his face book page and twitter?

The effect could be like Consumer Reports trumpeting don’t buy this product, or the popular restaurant guide saying don’t eat here.

Before you think those are to unlikely to happen, lets look at this little blog of mine. I don’t get the millions of people visiting that some of the big name writers do. But I do write for one particular niche, as it says in the header, about tech for non-tech manager in the small to medium business.

Even though this is no A list blog, It still gets a little less than 2000 people per month visiting its virtual digital doorway.

So what if I bitch about your product?

And what if only one of those 2000 people per month were negatively influenced about your product or service?

The SMB Takeaway

There are a myriad of tools from freebies like Google alerts to monitoring services.

Before you write off these new social tools, consider at least listening to what people are saying about you

Think about it.

Monitor The Conversation

Photo Credit leafar via flickr

If the power goes out?UPS- Protect From Power Surges!

Computers, servers, even your phone system dies.

Most small business are aware that having those little backup batteries called a UPS can keep things running for at least a short while if you lose power.

However, in many cases, we underestimate the benefit that these little things provide. So a common argument? if the power goes out for a bit, it will come back anyway. And if it is out too long that UPS battery won’t help for more than a few minutes, so why bother?

That is a perfectly logical, and a perfectly correct argument.

But let me tell you why those Uninterruptible Power Supplies are absolutely mandatory in your business

A question; how much did you spend on your phone system PBX?

OK, how about the dollar value of the servers, and the data on all your servers?

Forget Power Failure – How About…..

A quick story, I briefly lost power in my office this week.  Sounds simple enough – But……

It was not that the power failed.

It was that an electrical surge hit the building that overloaded and blew breakers.

And guess what.

The surge was strong enough that it partially melted the battery in the UPS that protects our phone system.

Read that again. The battery was melted!

If that UPS had not been attached to my phone system, that power surge would have just melted the phone system.

Maybe a hundred dollars or so for the UPS, versus thousands for the PBX system.

Go ahead and flip a coin.

In this case you lose with heads or tails.

The SMB Takeaway

Add uninterruptible power supplies to your must do first thing Monday morning list.

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Photo Credit oskay via flickr