Using Collaboration to gain new audiences and increase sales

Traditionally all industries have relied upon skilled salespeople to bring in business.  These sales have then been supported by either paper brochures or enhanced brochure-wear on websites.  You will know however if you have ever completed any personality tests that different people respond better to different approaches.  Some people are graphical and like to see figures, some people are audible and like to hear things, some people are visual and like to read things etc.  So why then do we still only address a few of these when trying to increase our customer base?  With the continual adoption of Web 2.0 products everyone should consider all types of people to gain extra market share and in addition to brochure-wear consider podcasts, online presentations, blogs, wikis etc.    

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Product Management or lack of Customer Understanding

With the turmoil which is currently being experienced in the financial services industry I spent some time this week seeing what Innovations the competition were offering in order to retain their current customers and attract more.  Surprisingly it seems some of the major players have a product set which actually discourages potential customers.  Here are two of the more memorable cases I found: 

  1. One Institution was offering an internet savings account with a favourable rate of interest however surprisingly this cannot be operated stand alone and you must open a Cheque Account (In Branch of course) to fund the account, plus have a cashcard.  When asked whether the card could be deselected the answer was no, just leave it in a drawer at home….  
  2. Another Institution who was also offering a very competitive savings rate which surprisingly is only being offered in branch, informed me that to discuss it further I needed to make and appointment and they would offer me one in 10 DAYS…  

As consumers realise they are part of a Global Market and have the option to shop around via the Internet and engage with any organisation around the world the short-sightedness of some companies is unacceptable and with the proliferation of new technologies and the rise of Generation C will see their market share slowly diminish.   

Financial institutions can no longer assume it is their way or the highway and Product Management will become a key factor in attracting and retaining your customer base.

Boutique

I am currently attending a conference in Chester (UK) this week and was lucky enough to stay at the Oddfellows Hotel the night before transferring to the conference venue.  This started me thinking about Premiumisation in the Innovation Space.   Usually when travelling I stay in the standard Business Hotel with all of the standard features which we all now expect, however as competition increases how long will it be before we all demand Premiumisation or Boutique Services.  The Oddfellows Hotel although being of standard price it was in no way standard and far exceeded my expectations.  The restaurant was 5 star, there were only four rooms in the rafters of the building which all had a different theme, and the rest of the Building was impeccably designed.  Should I ever return to Chester this will be my first choice.

 

Therefore maybe in addition to considering whether we implement Innovations based on whether they are Incremental, Market Defining or Breakthrough, we should also look to at our Customer Base and projected demand and consider Premiumisation to ensure that we remain competitive.

Collaboration Spammers

As we all embrace Web 2.0 and find more and more ways to collaborate both personally as well as professionally, there seems to have also been an evolution in the spamming community and they now feel they have an open invitation to progress from email spamming to cold calling. 

 

A day does not pass for me or my team where we are cold called from vendors using the data on various open collaboration sites to try and hawk various Services under the pretence that they have been recommended by a colleague which they surprisingly cannot remember the name.

 

Luckily these spammers have not grasped the concept that if you call individuals with the same job title in the same organisation there is a high probably that they will be sitting near each other and be aware of the call their colleague took minutes previously.  They also seem surprised when they ask if you have heard of their company and you say yes and are not interested, bizarre….

 

Let’s hope that this current trend of collaboration spammers does not increase, and they actually research their market properly and target individuals rather than believing that collaboration sites are a replacement for a phone book cold calling list.

 

Collaboration is becoming an important part of everyone’s life and it would be a shame if openness is constrained for the fear of misuse.    

The future of the internet

I was involved in a discussion recently which was questioning whether the internet was promoting an insular rather than social culture.  Does the internet encourage us all to rush home and log onto our computers to engage with our friends through mediums like Facebook, Friends Reunited and Webmail rather than picking up the phone or actually meeting people?  Also is this exacerbated further as more and more companies block social media sites at their firewalls?

The answer is probably yes, especially as the cost of internet access is becoming virtually free and in some cases Laptops are being given away as part of the deal.   In addition to this with the rise of smart devices like the i-phone more and more people are engaged in their own world whilst travelling to work rather than socialising.

In the future however the internet will probably evolve into a medium where you create a roaming avatar based profile (a graphical representation of yourself) rather than a word formatted one, which will allow your presence to be seen by your entire network as you surf the web (A bit like a travelling Instant Messenger).  This will allow a more seamless collaboration as you will no longer need to be on specific sites to collaborate with your contacts as whatever site you a viewing if a friend views the same site you will be able to converse.  You may even be able to leave messages for each other on sites you know that you friends will visit.  In addition to this you could even interact with the roaming avatars offering help and assistance on the websites you are visiting.

Collaborate or a Return to the Dark Ages

Even though technology is evolving at a rapid pace I am still surprised at the lack of collaboration tools which are being adopted by the financial services industry.  It is interesting that as an internet user I have a plethora of tools available to me when surfing the net and speaking to friends however when I am looking to purchase services I am still limited to either locating my chosen products on a usually badly constructed website or to fall upon the sword and actually attempt to go into an outlet who naturally are unable to comment on the products available online.  Of course I do also have the option to ring a call centre and hang on for ages, spend endless minutes choosing different ACD options or even speaking to an advisor who really doesn’t understand me.

 

Last week I participated in an online discussion on “Web2.0” tools usage within the Industry and I was surprised the hear all of the blockers being sited as reasons not to use them (fear of Brand damage, security Issues, can we trust our staff) I did raise the point that staff are able to blog etc in the consumer space and we could not stop them there so why try internally.  My organisation allows blogging and this encourages Innovation, lets not stifle it.

 

I was however pleasantly surprised this week when I was listening to an interview with Jean Holme the Chief Knowledge Architect at NASA whose chief responsibility is to organize their knowledge management activities ranging from the internal / external content of their websites, public communications and their engineers collaboration.  She explained that their goal is to contribute to peoples day to day lives.  They achieve this by addressing their community through, online discussion forums; advanced search tools and an internal version of Facebook for collaboration.  In addition to these internal tools they also have an external presence on Facebook and use Second Life for interviews with astronauts and following landings etc.

 

Therefore isn’t it time that all mediums of customer communication are considered by the financial services industry rather than assuming that the customer is happy with the motto “My way or the highway” as I certainly would then revert back to my favorite brands rather than ones which actually can service my needs on the web.

Innovate or Stagnate

Unless you have been living on the moon all our daily news has consisted of over the last few months is the credit crunch, credit crunch and more credit crunch. Although the financial services crisis is deep routed in the sub prime markets fiasco, the share prices are rocked mostly by perception (and of course a vast amount of short selling).  And this is not helped by the constant battering the press is sending everyone’s way.  However a single day does not go past when I hear people saying from various mediums that it is time to batten down the hatches to wait out this financial storm.

 

As an innovator this is like putting you head in the sand, naturally if you work for an organisation who is on the brink naturally innovation will be the last of your worries however for the rest of the industry this is a time of rest bite which can be used to either take stock or accelerate ones programs to ensure that when some of the big players get back up off their knees that you can slingshot to the forefront rather than being a fast follower.

 

Invest in innovation now, tomorrows prosperity will rely on it