A variation on the changing-a-light-bulb joke goes like this:
Q - “How many [psychologists/psychiatrists] does it take to change a light bulb?”
A - “Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.”
Let’s just say we recently concluded a contract with a tiny company in a niche market that claimed it wanted us to help it take its business to the next level. “We’re tired of trading dollars, winning just enough new business every year to offset the accounts we lose. We want you put us on track to grow from $2 million a year to about $7 million.” Let’s just say the firm’s founder, CEO, grand poobah and big kahuna (all the same person) claimed to want to grow his “baby” from a minuscule unknown to a big or at least bigger hitter. Yet none of it is going to happen because he and the firm didn’t really want to change.
Let’s just say.
SWOT on demand: Company believes it is the “sole source supplier” to its niche. It’s not. It faces 15 competitors including publishing giant Thompson. It must overcome what is often the toughest competitor in software: “I’ll do it myself.” Another door-closer: “There is no way I am buying your big-ticket system while the public sees us laying off staff by the boatload.” Its website is a painting: Nothing changes. Web guru Vincent Flanders rages about “mystery meat navigation,” sites that make you chase moving targets or click identical, opaque objects trying to find what you seek. On this site, anything with news value lurks on a “news” page three clicks below the surface. Every product bug fix, legislative update or info-nugget the team cranks out is shoveled on top of the already New York City landfill-sized heap. The founder, CEO (etc.) was excited about “getting customer case studies on the site”…but they’re already there, buried with the rest of the “news.” It’s not a news page. It’s a basement.
Visistat web analytics confirm site traffic has been trending downward since mid-2008 (after its latest “site relaunch”). To adjust for any seasonality, we compared the same months in 2008 versus 2009. Month-over-month traffic is way off.
Solutions on demand: We proposed what to us are basic best practices to create less “push” and more “pull.” Page-top links to help site visitors find what they need. (Eureka!) A news board on the home page linking to product updates, e-newsletter, company positions on legislative updates that affect its customers—all hosted on the world’s best blogging platform, WordPress, all feeds Feedburnered and all URLs featuring one-click access to 20 popular RSS readers. Plus a Twitter persona. Our first move there: Follow the 400 major buyers for this company’s services who already have Twitter personas of their own. Many would recipro-follow us, dialogues would ensue…to dialogue, to meet, perchance to sell...
Customers access its products via site login. Its big concern is, “Our customers log into the private site and never see anything new.” (Thanks to the existing home page and site structure, neither does anyone else.) Our solution: Place login button right over news board on the home page, then replicate the news board on the page everyone sees after login. They can’t miss it.
All supported by email and on-site notices advising existing users about the changes, with brief tutorial videos backed by the firm’s existing Live Help for the most seriously site-challenged.
These are the kinds of things you do in 2009 if you recognize you are in a competitive marketplace. Remember, though, this firm is still drinking the “sole source” kool-aid. “You don’t know our customers; most are women in their 50s who barely know what the Internet is.” Really? First, that is insultingly sexist and age-ist. Second: Do you know the fastest-growing user segment on Facebook today? Women ages 55+. (Source: American Marketing Association/Inside Facebook Research.) Client: “[Deafening silence.]”
Suffice to say the company signed off on precious little of what we proposed. Yet we did rack up some successes. After we gained approval to increase web connectivity at a few industry sites, the company rang up its first-ever sale as the result of a web lead. A permission-based email blast generated the 2nd-highest web traffic day in the company’s history (and on an awful news day: Friday).
Sadly, though, to bring the analogy full circle, the light bulb never went on for this company. They continue toward mid-2009 on planet Earth, location: U.S., with a strategy that can be summed up as: “Email harder. Use ConstantContact to crank out email after email to the customer database. Sales must learn how to close to get our revenues up.” The company, like the light bulb in the joke that led off this entry, had to really want to change. It didn’t. It “really wants to grow.” Barring a miracle, it won’t. And somewhere in here is a sly comment about “dim bulbs,” but let it go.