Mobile Deposit Capture Seems Like a Half Solution…

I read yesterday that mobile users deposit more than $40B in checks via smartphones, tablets. Well that is great news, isn’t it?

While I am a fan of remote deposit capture and now will never travel to the ATM to deposit my checks, I feel it is only a half solution…Let me explain

Earlier this month, I was getting some work done at my rental property in VA and needed to pay my contractor. The contractor, not wanting to pay interchange, accepts only cash or checks. So I did what most people do in that situation. I logged into my Chase account and scheduled a bill payment through Chase. Chase sent a manual check to the contractor and took 5 business days for the contractor to receive the check (essentially causing a 5 day delay in getting the work started on my rental property).

Suddenly a light bulb went on. While remote deposit capture will help my contractor deposit that check quickly into his bank account, it doesn’t simplify the process of sending the check to my contractor. So why is it that we have to send a manual check that then gets digitized and submitted into my contractor’s bank account? The only 2 people who are benefiting from the current process are 1) my bank who earns a float on the 5 day period since the money gets debited from my account the minute I hit “send” and 2) the postal service.  Why can’t I just text my contractor an image of that check?

Here is what the process should look like (in my ideal world)

  • I log into my bank and write a check on my tablet or mobile device (or worst case click a picture of a manual check)
  • I sign the check electronically
  • My contractor receives an email and text copy of the check
  • My contractor does an electronic endorsement
  • The check gets deposited into his bank account (RDC takes over from here)

With the new approach, my contractor gets immediate access to the funds.

Manual checks are still big in the B2B world. Last time I checked, 70% of monthly B2B payments are still made via check.

Thoughts? Comments? Please write in and tell me what you think

Getting in Touch

Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays

Be the first to like.

Changes Ahead for the future of Loyalty & Rewards

NYPAY hosted a panel of senior rewards and loyalty experts to discuss “The Future of Loyalty and Rewards” at a gathering of senior payment industry executives on June 13 at the offices of AllianceBernstein.  The insights provided by the gathering of senior industry leaders proved to be as interesting as those of the rewards and loyalty leaders sitting on the panel.

The capacity crowd of payments industry professionals that filled the meeting space represented firms coming from all aspects of the industry, including loyalty companies, startups, advisory firms, issuers, program managers, networks, and merchants.  Among the senior executives attending and providing perspectives on the changing business of the loyalty industry were Charlie Kim, CEO of NextJump, Joe Salesky, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer for FreeMonee and Schwark Satyavolu, CEO of BillShrink. The high turnout and broad array of attendees reflected the rapid and dramatic changes sweeping the payments industry.

Panelists included a banker, a merchant, a reward and loyalty vendor and a leading industry analyst:

The panel provided their own perspectives of the trends and future of the rewards and loyalty business, and a healthy back and forth exchange ensued between the panel and attendees, resulting in a lively discussion.  With long-held assumptions being challenged, expert opinions vary widely; given the quality of both panel and attendees, a wide variety of insightful views were aired.

The major observations highlighted during the session included:

  1. The speed at which the loyalty space is evolving is breathtaking.  Merchants have seen their choice of merchant-funded rewards options grow from the classic loyalty programs (buy 10 coffees, get one free) to incentive programs (such as 50% discounts from Groupon). For merchants, the cost of loyalty programs used to be 1%; as a result of new reward models from companies like Groupon/LivingSocial, consumers are now expecting 30-50% off purchases.
  2. How shoppers see and value rewards programs are beginning to negatively impact their view of the brand. Loyalty programs grew in importance during the economic downturn as brands used loyalty to gain much needed increases in sales.  But “flash deals” have begun to erode brand value as consumers have start valuing brands at 50% less. Is a better strategy to offer point-based rewards that doesn’t reduce the value of the product or brand?
  3. It has become increasingly difficult to differentiate one reward program from another. The average consumer now subscribes to 11 reward programs compared to 3 just a handful of years ago. One senior executive referred to recent studies showing that points have become currency and many consumers build rewards into their own personal financial management.
  4. Panelists agreed that consumers have increasingly shown less tolerance in lag time and demand more choices and interactivity with merchant discounts.  Consumers are interested in merchant incentives that have moved from being cumulative, redemption-oriented to real time interactive.
  5. Loyalty programs have evolved from being transaction and payment focused, to being behavior and activity (merchant) focused.  Sending a non-targeted offer to all prospects leads to costly behaviors or negative goodwill (sending a vegetarian a free ticket to the local meat market).  However, providing targeted, local rewards that deliver a high level of value to consumers benefits all parties to the program.

The consensus was that the industry will continue to see more loyalty and rewards models develop in the near-term before the “consumer speaks.”  We are still in the “wild west” days of rewards and loyalty where new, innovative models are being tested, and a few clear winners will emerge.  It is clear that targeted, immediate rewards that incent the desired purchase behavior will be highly valued by merchants and issuers.  The remaining question is which loyalty model will win the consumers’ hearts and minds long-term.

 

About NYPAY

NYPAY is a New York area industry group whose primary goal is to provide face-to-face networking and idea exchange for payments professionals.  NYPAY consists of hundreds of senior-level payment industry professionals. NYPAY continues to bring together some of payment’s leading forward thinking minds to advance the conversation and stimulate innovation within the payments industry. For information on future events and to join NYPAY, visit NYPAY on LinkedIn.

Be the first to like.

Banks looking for alternate sources of revenue; Customers willing to pay for Simplicity – $2.6B opportunity

Regulation is making banks react in different ways. One big bank is looking to trim costs by cutting jobs in the consumer and small business units. While others majors are looking to find alternate sources of revenue. Almost all national banks have started to take away free checking while a few others are starting to charge a $5 ATM fee for use by non consumers. Trouble is that consumers have gotten used to everything for free (online, mobile, bill pay, remote deposit capture) and it will take a while before they realize they have to pay for using the bank’s services.

At the same time, there is an opportunity to increase pricing/charge more by making things simpler and making it easier for consumers to manage their financial lives.

According to Siegel+Gale, which surveyed 6,000 consumers in seven countries to gauge perceptions of brand simplicity, U.S. consumers would be willing to pay 4% more for bank products and services if only they came with clearer rules, streamlined options and fewer hassles.

Not surprisingly, in the survey, the lower the income bracket of respondents, the less willing they would be to pay more for simpler products, services and communications from banks. Among respondents with household income of at least $150,000, 17% said they would pay a simplicity premium, versus 5.9% among respondents with household incomes under $20,000.

Below is the ranking from the American Banker article.

2 people like this post.

PayPal- give us even more reasons to love you…

I love PayPal- they are smart, they are innovative. PayPal has made it easy for the customer to pay merchants without sharing sensitive financial information. For online merchants, they have an easy to set up, all-in-one payment processing solution that is competitively priced. They have made it easy and safe to do cross-border transactions. They have made P2P payments a breeze- the Bump application is really cool. I thought opening up their platform to outside developers was a brilliant move. For a company that is a little more than a decade old, they have made great strides and are probably the only real competition to Visa/MC/Amex. And with more than 75 million accounts, they are by far the leader in the alternative payments space.  Oh wait, did I say “alternative“?

What makes a payment provider have to bear the stigma (or advantage) of being labeled as an alternative? Just 25 or so years ago, anything other than cash or check would have been considered an alternative payment, so things have really changed in a relatively short period of time.

When I shop online as a customer, I have the option of paying using my Visa/MC/Amex and in some cases PayPal. And if I am okay sharing my card info with the merchant, there is really not much incentive for me to use PayPal. I use my American Express Starwoods Credit Card wherever I can so I get reward points that can be converted into free hotel stays or flights. And that is where lies PayPal’s problem. I was told that the average PayPal customer transacts only once per year using the PayPal platform. PayPal needs to incent its customers to use PayPal more often.

For PayPal to truly become mainstream and not being labeled as an alternative payments provider, it needs to give me more reasons to use PayPal as the payment method.

Before we look into some of the possible solutions, let us look at how PayPal makes money.

PayPal charges $0.30 plus 1.9%-2.9% of the transaction fee to the merchant (the fee structure is very competitive with what Visa/MC/Amex charge as interchange)

However, PayPal is uniquely positioned in terms of methods it can use to fund its transactions.

  • PayPal balance – as these funds are flowing within the PayPal platform, there is not a cost of funds as there is with other methods of payment. This method of funding a transaction is the most desirable to PayPal, as it can charge its standard transaction fee, but incur almost no cost of funds.
  • ACH (Automated Clearing House) – these transactions are funded by a direct transfer from a bank account and generally carry a flat fee of about $0.25. So the same $100 transaction costs PayPal a quarter, but they’re able to pocket most of the $3.20 transaction fee. Absent a PayPal account with funds available, ACH is next on the list of preferred payment methods.
  • Debit card – debit cards utilize the payment networks of the leading card brands, and therefore carry higher fees. Fees for funding a debit card transaction are about $1.50 – $2.00 for a $100 transaction. PayPal still sees some revenue from this transaction, but the margins are rapidly evaporating. Because the transaction must utilize third-party debit networks (Visa or MasterCard), the cost to PayPal is greater and therefore the margins are lower.
  • Credit cards – credit cards are the most expensive funding option for PayPal (as they are for all merchants). Fees can range from 2.2% to 2.5% for card transactions, so PayPal benefits least from this method of payment.

By now, you would have already guessed what PayPal ought to do.

PayPal needs to incent the customers that fund through PayPal balance or ACH to use the platform by offering some kind of rewards/loyalty program. This way, it is rewarding its most profitable customers.

By offering rewards for ACH funded accounts only, PayPal is urging more customers to fund their transactions through their bank accounts, thus generating more profit for PayPal. Agreed, they will reduce their profit per transaction by about 1% (the cost of funding the rewards program). But they will increase their overall profitability by building loyalty and providing customers reasons to increase their transaction activity using the PayPal platform.

What else do you think PayPal can do to become a mainstream payments provider?

Getting in Touch
Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays

Be the first to like.

Mobile is Not a Step Child of Online Banking

Mobile Banking User Growth

Use of Mobile Banking is projected to grow three fold in the next three years (Source: TowerGroup). The data traffic at AT&T (courtesy the iPhone) has grown 50X in the last 3 years. Mobile will become a key channel for customers to transact with the bank.

windows-mobileThat said, most banks are still tip-toeing their way into mobile banking and many others view mobile banking as a subset of online banking (think about where mobile banking resides within your organizational structure. Often, I have seen this as a subset of the responsibilities of the person/team responsible for the online channel).

I have heard bankers complain that it is very difficult to get funding and prove ROI for the mobile channel. I have also heard the argument that customers don’t really want mobile banking. And finally, some say that they will evaluate the mobile channel once they are “done” with online.

Well, the truth is, that customers have been slow to adopt to mobile banking. Let us first look at some of the issues with the mobile banking adoption rate:

  • Service is not differentiated: most banks offer a subset or similar range of services on the mobile as they do on the online channel. Most mobile banking applications today offer transaction viewing, bill payment, funds transfer and ATM locater features.
  • Mobile browsing costs: customers had to watch out for how much data they downloaded on their mobile devices as telcos were charging for data usage by the drink. Flat fee unlimited data usage plans are becoming common now.
  • Platform Usability: Until the iPhone existed, accessing bank websites through the mobile web browser was a pain in the neck. The iPhone and now the Android powered phones have made the user experience more enjoyable. Add to that, the bank specific phone apps has made the experience faster, feature rich, secure and with a better UI.
  • Lack of awareness: many a times, customers are not aware that their bank offers mobile banking either through text, web or applications.

There is a strong case for Mobile Banking ROI. On the costs side, a call center transaction costs the bank $3.75, an IVR transaction costs $1.25. A transaction through the mobile channel costs the bank $0.08. So more frequent use of the mobile channel will reduce calls to the call center and IVR thereby reducing costs.

On the revenue side, mobile banking appears to cause an increase in profitability. Banking customers who use the mobile channel are more frequent users of the banking channels and are less likely to attrite. They have more Checking accounts and fewer Borrowing accounts. They are higher income levels and carry higher checking balances but lower savings balances.

And the good news is that things are changing FAST. I recently attended an ABA Mobile Banking Webcast and the ROI numbers are striking:

MOBILE BANKING ROI

Bank of America announced in Fall 2009 that it is planning to close 10% of its branches due to increased customer usage of online and mobile banking

  • BoA has about 3.5 million mobile banking customers, equating to about 12% of their online banking customer base
  • BoA added 150,000 new checking accounts due to mobile offering

Huntington Bank has seen

  • Text bankers are 13% more profitable than the average checking client
  • Mobile browser bankers are 38% more profitable than the average checking client
  • DDA related inquiries to the call center have dropped by 21%

USAA has over 1 million Mobile Banking users, representing about 14% of its total clients

  • 23 million logins in 2009
  • Over $300 million deposited via iPhone since launch (they have the remote deposit check capture feature through the iPhone)
  • Handling more contacts than IVR

What banks need to do while evaluating the mobile channel:

  • Don’t Jump Into It: Do not consider the mobile channel because of the hype and it is the “cool thing to do”. Think how the mobile can add value to the customer and to the other channels.
  • Think Multichannel: Some banks still consider mobile banking as being isolated from other channels or their overall multichannel strategy. The mobile can serve as an additional authentication/security channel when you login online or you get a code on your iPhone bank app that you need to enter as soon as you swipe your card and enter the PIN at the ATM.
  • Don’t Think Online Banking: My needs as a customer may be different when I login through the mobile device vis-a-vis my computer or the ATM channel. The mobile is the most personal channel available yet to marketers. The layout, design and features (example remote deposit check capture) available on the mobile must be different than what is available online.
  • Don’t Think Mobile Banking: Don’t think of mobile as mobile banking alone. Think of mobile as the platform for mobile financial services. The mobile will eventually evolve into a channel for funds transfers (P2P and other domestic transfers), NFC solutions like contactless payments; and eWallets that store all the cards/rewards info with integrated marketing/payment.
  • It Is Never About Technology: One thing I have learnt working during my career with technology consulting firms is that it is never really about the technology. Initiatives fail not because they did not have the latest and best technology, but because they were too technology focused and failed to get buy-in or sponsorship from a business side executive.
Is your bank looking to invest in the mobile channel? What are your struggles and challenges?
Getting in Touch
Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays

2 people like this post.

Social Media: Don’t let the Bubble Burst

Will Code HTML for Food

I am beginning to feel a little nervous about Social Media. I am beginning to get a little skeptical of all the Social Media initiatives around me.
But then I also read that a little anxiety and nervousness can be a good thing. A little increase in the heartbeat before you meet that someone special or before that important presentation is helpful. It just means that you care about what you are doing and want to be successful.

I read this on David Spinks‘ blog

There’s a problem, and deep down, we’re all aware of it…but to do something about it would make many feel hypocritical and so they push it aside whenever it’s brought up.

The Social Media Growth if allowed unchecked will be the next bubble to burst. There, I said it. The cat is out of the bag.

An important lesson from the dot-com bust (should be a lesson from common sense actually!!) was that companies that don’t make money cannot survive. Advertising, no matter how clever, cannot save you. Consider online pet-supply store Pets.com. Its talking sock puppet mascot became so popular that it appeared in a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl commercial and as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But Pets.com was never able to give pet owners a compelling reason to buy supplies online. After they ordered kitty litter, a customer had to wait a few days to actually get it. And let’s face it, when you need kitty litter, you need kitty litter. The company lost money on most of the items it sold. Amazon.com-backed Pets.com raised $82.5 million in an IPO in February 2000 before collapsing nine months later.

Companies chased eyeballs, saying “don’t worry, revenues will follow”. People had business plans that had no mention of revenue. Web agencies popped up all over the place: building websites without a goal. You only needed “Web Programmer” or “Java” written on your resume to charge $200/hr for your services.

Fast forward to 2007. Similar story but same result. They said,

Buy the biggest house you can. Don’t worry about the downpayment. Don’t worry about the principal. Flip the house. Cash out. Live the “American Dream”.

We are still feeling the effects of the last one.

Fast forward again to the “Now” Network and we again see signs of the Social Bubble

  • A search for “Social Media Consultant” on LinkedIn yields 46,069 results. “Social Media Expert” gives 12,426 results, “Social Media Evangelist” yields 1749 results and “Social Media Guru” gives 1477 results. For an industry that is 2-3 years old, that is a really large number. [Lesson: better to choose "guru" than "expert" :) ]
  • At most of the digital conferences, the theme is “social”.
  • VC money being poured into social networks, microblogs, real time search engines and other cool SM startups that have no clear revenue models. “We will eventually get there”. There is so much free in the industry that advertising alone couldn’t possibly sustain it.
  • Each company and their mother is jumping into Social Media, rushing to build a Facebook fan page or Twitter following. According to Bertrand Russell, “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity towards those that are not regarded as members of the herd.” It is the fear of being “left out” or not being part of the herd that is driving a lot of companies into Social Media. The prime ingredient for a bubble is the desire to do something because everyone else is doing it.

Adam Sarner, an analyst with market research firm Gartner, projected that close to 40% of social networking initiatives at Fortune 1000 companies with Web sites will will be classified as failures.

I Love Social Media: Don’t get me wrong. I do believe Social Media has gone mainstream. I do believe that the SM tools when used in the right manner can increase both personal and business productivity, improve customer engagement levels, make innovation faster & cheaper and build new relationships.

2010 is supposedly the year when Social Media will be tested. Investors will start demanding some visibility into returns and cash flows.

To keep the Social Media Wave going, it is our responsibility as Social Media Leaders/Experts/Consultants/Evangelists/Gurus/Advocates (whatever fancy term you want to use) to ask the right questions:

  • QUESTION 1: HOW IS IT GOING TO BENEFIT THY COMPANY?
  • Engagement, loyalty, brand building are all good things. But they are all warm and fuzzy words that others in the firm may not understand. Start thinking and talking in a language that your CFO/CEO understands. Will customer engagement and brand loyalty result in increased sales or lower costs? List down all the potential benefits and see if/how they can translate into $$$. Any marketing initiative can only be sustained if it has the support of the folks who control the dollars.

    And PLEASE, stop chasing followers. Don’t fall into the trap of “How to build 10,000 followers in 10 days”. Success in Social Media is not measured by the number of followers you have. This is not a competition on “My brand has more followers than your brand”. Social Media is for the long haul. It takes time to build the relationships and start seeing ROI. If it hurts to hear that, don’t do it.

  • QUESTION 2: HOW IS IT GOING TO BENEFIT THY CUSTOMERS?
    Social Media is not a channel for self promotion. It is frustrating to see so many corporate Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter feeds ONLY talk about the firm. They are in a broadcast mode. They are not engaged with the customer. They are not listening to the customer. They are not solving customer problems. They are not building loyalty.
    You need to think how you can make the customer experience better or simplify their life or add more value.
So, I want all of us to be a little nervous, a little anxious, a little skeptical before jumping into Social Media. Do you agree?
Getting in Touch
Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NitinGuptasays
Further Reading
1 person likes this post.

Is Social Media killing the Element of Surprise in our lives?

Life on the beach

My wife and I went to Mexico last year for our vacation. Like most travelers these days, we read hundreds of reviews: about flights, where to go, where to stay, what to eat etc. After spending days reading the many reviews, we settled in a place in Tulum (near Cancun) called Azulik. Check out some of the Tripadvisor reviews of the place:

- We spent 2 nights in #4, a Sea View cabana and one night in #1, a Romance cabana. Sea View got more air and the crashing waves sound; Romance had slightly more privacy. We preferred Sea View. In both rooms we had to keep the doors open all night to get enough circulation.
- You can’t be squeamish about bugs, iguanas etc
- You may have to banish your partner to the deck in order to have enough privacy in the loo.
- Room service has decent food and is relatively inexpensive. The best meals we had while in Tulum were at El Tabano, a few kilometers South of Azulik. The breakfast included was insufficient for us; we always had to supplement it.
- I highly recommend you attempt to score the unbelievable last-minute deal– check the website for details.

Excerpts from another review

- The location: we stayed at another place after Azulik and took countless walks up & down the beaches of Tulum (which stretch for kilometers), I don’t think there is a better location. You are literally perched off the edge of a cliff, with the best winds and the most peaceful sound of the waves.
- The outdoor tub: What an amazing idea! We loved that tub, with a view of the beach from any location you turned.
- The incredible food in the surrounding restaurants: El Tabano (by far the best restaurant I may have ever eaten at). It’s a short bike ride or cab ride away and well worth the trip. We had excellent ceviche with mango, meatballs, crepes with jalapenos, stuffed peppers, tomato/papaya soup, excellent wine and service)
- Posada Margerita: Also a quick cab ride away. This is managed by Italians and you can quickly see the Italian touches in their food. The menu includes home made pasta, fresh fish and some other great specialties.
- Trece Lunas: Best breakfast in town! Carlo, the owner will take such special care of you and he is willing to answer any questions you have. He quickly became our friend and we found out so much great info about where to go and what to do in Tulum from him.

Now, if you have read this far, you must be wondering where the hell I am going with this. Don’t worry, I have not started writing a travel blog.

Whenever we visit somewhere new, regardless of whether we expect greatness or squalor, we harbor an expectation of some sort. And we try and validate our expectations by reading about other people’s experiences. Before reaching the Azulik, I knew exactly what to expect: which room to choose, what the view would be, where to go for lunch, dinner and breakfast, what the bed would feel like etc.

Research has shown that past experience and expectations cloud our judgment of settings and stimuli. Vacations are meant to unwind, let go and experience new things. Are we closing ourselves to new stimuli and experiences because we are “expecting” our vacation to deliver a certain experience? Did we miss the roses that just blossomed because we were too preoccupied finding out the “best breakfast place in town”? Do we end up being disappointed because our experience doesn’t “live up” to its expectations?

Are we missing out on certain mysteries of life as a result of what we learn through social media? Is Social Media clouding our judgment? Is Social Media killing the element of surprise?

Getting in Touch
Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays

3 people like this post.

Leverage Social Media to turn your Thought Leaders into Sales people

thought-leadership

I heard this somewhere: “People like to interact with brands. But more importantly, they like to interact with the people behind those brands”.

Ford is a perfect example here. During 2008 and early 2009, the automobile industry faced unprecedented challenges: demand plummeted and credit became unavailable forcing GM and Chrysler to go on government life support and ultimately file for bankruptcy. During all of this, Ford not only survived without the taxpayer’s money but gained market share from its competitors. So while all companies were aggressively cutting down on costs and working with dealers to increase sales, Ford adopted a slightly different sales strategy. Ford Motors used Social Media to turn their thought leaders into sales people.

Ford’s Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager, Scott Monty, and CEO Alan Mulally leveraged Social Media to humanize the brand and increase sales.

And these are some reactions to the video

Scott, you are great. You are an inspiration for me as a marketer. I am even more proud to drive a Ford now! I am really happy that we share similar interests. I followed this conversation on Twitter and I really like the authenticity. Best!

Great post. It is awesome to see big companies like this actively listening to their customers. Very impressed! -Jordan

What a nice video. Alan came across as such a nice person. And…I drive a Ford too (here in the UK). It’s a Ford Focus, and I love it. It’s 8 years old and still going strong – and even manages to sparkle after it’s been cleaned.

From Facebook pages, to blogging, Twittering, YouTubing, Fiesta campaign and Flickring, Ford has been very active with Social Media. And it is showing some results too.

Ford

But wait. I didn’t see “sales” in Scott or Alan’s titles. Scott’s title reads the Global “Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager”. Scott’s thinking and approach has been innovative, helping turn critics into believers. In a world where products and services are becoming commodity, Social Media has allowed executives at different levels to interact directly with the customer, building a relationship of trust and drive sales.

Sun Microsystems’ Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz pioneered use of the corporate blog as a tool to reach customers, employees, and others. In Sun’s effort to recover some of the glory and profitability it had in the first Internet bubble, the company has embraced open-source software, adopted servers based on Intel and AMD’s x86 processors. But that posed some challenges. According to Jonathan,

Sun makes money by selling the innovations in data centers, but that’s a hard market to reach. Free software and free ideas are the best way to reach the marketplace. Blogs and open-source software are complementary.

Despite the success of companies like Ford Motor and Sun Microsystems, it is frustrating to see that most companies don’t get it. Firms need to complement the traditional channels (sales team, partners, affiliates, dealer networks etc) with their internal thought leaders to drive sales.

If you are a consulting, agency or professional services firm, your success is defined by the type of people you have. Before a sales meeting or agreeing to sign the contract, your customers are very likely to Google your top executives or practice leads. And what comes up can be the determining factor for your firm landing the million dollar contract.

Here is a 5 step guide to turn your knowledge horsepower into individual brands.

  1. LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the largest professional network today with close to 50M members. I view LinkedIn as a professional branding page. When you do a Google search on someone’s name, many a times the top result is their LinkedIn profile page. As an organization, you need to make sure that the top 100 executives have their LinkedIn profile updated with their professional experience.In the summary section, it is important to highlight the kind of challenges the particular executive has worked on and how she typically brings value to clients.
  2. Blogs: With blogs, one of the challenges to keep churning out fresh and relevant content to keep your audiences engaged.My suggestion is to organize and divide the workload. For each practice area within the organization, identify 5 people who are well versed with industry trends and can clearly articulate how those trends will affect your target market. Start with a weekly post with each person responsible for writing one blog post every month.The 5th person comes into use when one person cannot meet the deadlines due to pressing client issues. The post author has responsibility for responding to comments.With fresh content coming via the blogs, your rankings in organic search will improve as well, reducing the need for paid search.
  3. Twitter: Twitter is a great developing new relationships and keeping existing ones. Look for current and target customers on Twitter and follow them. Follow other thought leaders in your area of expertise to keep current with industry insights.Be Patient and Genuine. Authenticity and willingness to help others goes a long way in building relationships. Don’t just promote your own products and services.Use Angela Maiers’ 70-20-10 Twitter Engagement Formula. Be purposeful and intentional as you enter the Twittersphere. As you “Twiv to Twet” (give to get) and move away from self-promotional tweets, consider this tweeting engagement formula.a. 70% of your tweets should share resources- sharing others’ voices, opinions, quotes, blog posts, articles, content and resources. But that doesn’t mean you should rwtweet everything because you “need to communicate”. Be fresh, be thoughtful.
    b. 20% of your tweets should engage in conversations with others, responding, connecting, collaborating and connecting with others.
    c. 10% of your tweets can be chirping, chitchat as Angela calls it, on trivial details or self-promotion.

    You can use Twitter to keep your audience engaged and direct them (10% self promotion) to your website or blog.

    According to Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace:

    Twitter has been a fantastic vehicle for getting information about Communispace into the marketplace fast. Most recently, for instance, when Communispace launched its new blog, Verbatim, I sent a tweet out about it, and more than 1,000 people came to our blog as a result.

  4. Communities: Once you have a steady stream of followers on your blog and Twitter pages, it is useful to turn those interactions into an ongoing relationship. At this point, you should think about developing communities on different topics of interest. To maintain strong ties with the community members, it is a good idea to limit the size of the community.For some more reading on developing communities, please read
    a. Size does matter: the secret sauce to building online communities
    b. Online banking: communities help meet psychological needs (though this is for the banking industry, some of the insights are relevant)
  5. Develop a 3rd Party Sales Team: As you start connecting with other thought leaders within your subject area on Twitter/Your Blog/Your Community, start developing a relationship with them by subscribing/commenting on their blog.Give the relationship time to mature. When the time is right, in a subtle way, engage the influencers by offering them demos and opportunities to review products and services.

Last but not the least, there is no substitute to human interaction. Take some of these online relationships into the offline world. Whenever you are traveling, try and meet someone from your online world for a beer or lunch.

So go out, turn your thought leaders into sales people.

Getting in Touch
Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays

2 people like this post.

Real time search: is it for REAL?

Matrix Data Stream

Over the last month or so, there has been a lot of buzz about Real Time Search. Twitter is already doing it, Google wants to jump in, Bing introduced bingtweets.com and many startups like OneRiot, Wowd, Twingly and Collecta are mushrooming, some with VC money. So is Real Time Search for REAL?

Let’s start with a definition of Real Time Search? To quote Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land

“Real time search” means looking through material that literally is published in real time. In other words, material where there’s practically no delay between composition and publishing. You take a picture and seconds later, it’s posted to the world to see. You think of something, immediately tap it out on Twitter, and your tweet is shared almost as soon as you thought of it.

Twitter, the leader in real time conversations, has 1.9 million conversations everyday. Number of unique trending topics per day on Twitter is approx 8900 with an average “shelf life” of 11 minutes. There are more than 100 million videos on Youtube (with more than 65k added everyday). There are over 200 million blogs on the World Wide Web (with over 900k blog posts added in a 24 hour period).

With the tsunami of information streamed at me every second, do I really need to turn the firehose on? Do I really need to “listen” to each and every tweet about MJs death or the Iran elections?

Google’s Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience, offers some thoughts on the usefulness of Real Time Search

We think the real-time search is incredibly important, and the real-time data that’s coming online can be super-useful in terms of finding out whether – something like, is this conference today any good? Is it warmer in San Francisco than it is in Silicon Valley?

I have a lot of respect for Marissa and what she has achieved at Google. I agree with her that Real Time Search is potentially useful to find out if a conference was good or not. But why do I need real time search to find out whether it is warmer in San Francisco than in Silicon Valley? I have weather.com for that.

Listening to Tobias Peggs of OneRiot at the OMMA Global Real Time Search Panel Discussion hosted by David Berkowitz,

60% of searches on the web are “Navigation” searches (20%), and specific “Informative” searches (40%). An example of a navigation search is when a user is trying to get to Sony.com, or Yahoo.com. They will enter a search query in an attempt to find a recognized home page. An example of an informative search is when a user is trying to find a specific recipe for Cabbage Soup that is definitely “out there somewhere.” They enter a query in attempt to find that specific information.

The remaining 40% of users are performing search queries which display an intent that is best satisfied by realtime search results. Irrespective of industry numbers, Iran – the country, the situation, and the search query – has proved beyond doubt that there is huge demand for search results from the realtime web.

Whether or not the market for Real Time Search is 40% or a lesser number, I don’t think people ONLY care about what is happening “right now”. They care way more about “relevant” and “intelligent” information than “real-time” information.

Gerry Campbell, CEO of Collecta: a real time search engine, says

Is real-time search overhyped? He says it absolutely is. Not because there’s not a ton of opportunity, but because no one’s certain of what the opportunity is yet.

I think most users will be okay with results that are a couple of minutes dated to allow for indexing & analysis of data and make it meaningful. OneRiot and Wowd seem to be on the right path.

OneRiot offers users to sort search results by Pulse (a weighted rank of freshness, domain authority, people authority and acceleration). Similarly, Wowd offers the user two options in doing true search and real ranking (analysis done on the basis of link analysis, popularity, a multitude of search signals like keywords in the title, as well as other signals like the number of retweets on any given tweet, and freshness).

As real time search evolves, we will need to add another “R” in there: RELEVANCY.

Getting in Touch
Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays

Some other interesting read on this subject

Sources of data

  • http://technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere//
  • http://thefuturebuzz.com/2009/01/12/social-media-web-20-internet-numbers-stats/
  • http://www.slideshare.net/mzkagan/what-the-fk-social-media
  • http://bit.ly/1G2D23
1 person likes this post.

The Unspoken Barrier to Social Media

My recent posts talked about Social Media reaching the tipping point and the factors leading to mass adoption of Social Media. But what is the one thing that will separate out the Social Media successes from the failures?

Barriers to Social Media

If you are thinking ROI and Metrics: yes, they are important and very good answers. The others listed in the Equation Research study are important as well. But I think the biggest contributing factor to the Social Media success story will be COMPANY CULTURE. Social Media is about building a culture of collaboration, authenticity, trust, openness and innovation. Companies that are able to build such a vibrant culture will grow and thrive and create value for their shareholders.

When you think of Social Media successes, the first company that comes to mind is Zappos. Customer Service is in Zappos’ culture, its DNA. Zappos built a real culture that puts the customer first, rather than lip service and mission statements. The story of the Zappos rep who sent flowers to the lady whose husband had died in a car accident is mind blowing. The first week of training at Zappos is not about Social Media tools and technology, but about Zappos’ culture and core values (Number 1 value is Deliver WoW through Service).

But culture is also the hardest to change. The following comment by Andy Sernowitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing, sums it well.

Don’t underestimate the amount of bravery it takes. You find yourself almost immediately in a two-front war, fighting both an entrenched bureaucracy and a skeptical audience.

It is about fear of letting go, fear of losing control.

It is also harder because social media touches almost all parts of your organization.

  1. With your employees available on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, customers don’t rely on the 800 or the PO BOX number to get in touch with you. They can get in touch with who they want and when they want. An awful amount of power in the hands of the customer, right?
  2. Point 1 combined with the increasing and changing customer demands puts a lot more pressure on your research, customer service, operations, technology, PR, distribution, marketing and legal departments to function more efficiently and respond to customer needs/problems more quickly.

Does this mean you should give up on Social Media? Hell, no. Social Media is here to stay. But that doesn’t mean that you should start sending gifts or flowers to all your customers. Not every company needs to or should become Zappos. Companies need to think hard about their overall organization structure and strategy before they say “yes” to Social Media.

And if you are looking to change your culture for better social media adoption, here are a few things you can do:

  • Hire the right people, empower them and encourage them to take risks
  • Create the policies and guidelines so that people don’t go overboard and overexpose the firm
  • Have a CEO and senior management who is open to new ideas and embracing change
  • And finally, reward the risk takers and celebrate their failures

Some other interesting read on this subject

Getting in Touch
Email: guptanitinonline@gmail.com
Twitter: NitinGuptasays

1 person likes this post.