Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Palm power

Ever been out meeting with clients and felt the need to check your e-mail back at the office? Did you just put all your retirement money into an Internet IPO and want to know how it’s doing, but you’re stuck in a downtown traffic jam?

Ok, it’s true that not everyone needs access to the Internet when they’re out of the office for a few hours, but for those who do, there’s a solution: the Minstrel from Novatel Wireless.

If you’re the type who feels the need to have information at all times, it’s a given that you already have a Palm III, the personal digital assistant made by 3Com.

The Minstrel is a cradle that the Palm plugs into, giving you wireless access to the Internet. The modem is only 5.5 inches long, which adds about an inch to the length of the Palm, and weighs 5.4 ounces. The unit comes with an HTML Web browser that automatically eliminates graphics to make sites manageable for the Palm.

You can use any ISP and e-mail POP account, but you do have to use Novatel’s cellular network to communicate. The Minstrel transmits small packets of data, and users are billed for the amount of data sent, not the length of time connected to the Internet. The download speed is 19.2 kbps.

“We are going after the business customer and the mobile professional who needs to tie into the corporate intranet to stay in touch with e-mail,” says Mona Thomas, manager of marketing for Novatel.

The cellular network the Minstrel uses is available to about 70 percent of the business population, plus some Canadian provinces, parts of China and New Zealand. The Minstrel retails for $369, but is available through some cellular resellers for less when bundled with an airtime contract. Airtime starts at $15 per month.

How to reach: Novatel Wireless www.novatelwireless.com or (888) 888-9231

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.


Personal Digital Assistants, such as the 3Com Palm III, have become standard issue for the corporate executive. But are these important business tools, or just gadgets with a lot of “gee whiz” factored in? Consider the results from this recent CNN poll:

What do you think about PDAs? Are they:

  • Useful productivity enhancers — 44 percent.

  • Status symbols for the geek elite — 17 percent.

  • Overpriced gadget-of-the-moment — 21 percent.

  • The wave of the future — 18 percent.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Keep them coming back

Keeping customers is a key success factor for any business, because the actual value of a business is often determined by the future cash flow of existing customers. But that same cash flow provides the financing for the investment in finding new customers, and most other needs of the business.

To meet your business’s goals, you probably have a mental picture of what activities and processes will maximize customer retention and profits. And if you believe there is a “right way” for your business to retain customers, why not define your best practices just as you would for accounting or manufacturing?

Here are easy six steps to lead your customers through the retention sales funnel:

Define your new buyer’s bonding process

Determine how your new buyer will gain confidence, recognize value and build a continuing relationship with your business. That will help you clarify your understanding of your buyer’s behavior until you have it down cold. Then, by examining your previous successes with first time buyers who became great customers, a pattern will emerge.

Outline your company’s best way for keeping customers

From the moment you land a first time buyer, exactly what happens as you proceed to retain him or her?

When do you use customer service, sales, telemarketing and the Internet? Is there a best way for your business to do this or is it always a random act?

Try to identify the three most likely sequences that result in keeping customers.

Create definitions for your funnel

With this wealth of raw data, now it is time to bring some structure to the picture. Using the funnel in Figure 1, define each stage of the funnel for your business, from your one time to your closed customer.

Typically a one-time buyer is someone who is testing a larger relationship with your business. You have offered, or they have picked, a single product or service that allows them a low risk method to sample your firm and its capability to deliver on its promises.

A win back buyer is similar to a one-time buyer, although they have a previous, probably negative, experience with your firm. Often these “damaged” buyers, if “repaired,” are the best candidates for becoming stable customers.

A reorder buyer is someone who has made a passive decision to repeat his or her initial decision to work with you. They may not have had a great initial experience, but their expectations were met. While they are not yet loyal, they see potential for this.

Determine how many new buyers you need at each step of the funnel.

To start, divide your average sale from a stable customer into your sales goal from retained customers. This gives you the number of stable customers you must land. Then move up the funnel and decide how many buyers you must attract at each step. If you need to qualify two reordering customers for each kept customer you create, then plan to do so.

Understand what your customers are worth and what you can spend to get them.

Now that you know how many customers you need to meet your goal, decide what your one-time buyers are worth to you:

a) Divide the number of one-time buyers it takes to create a stable customer into the value of a stable customer. For example, if a stable customer sale is worth $4,000 and you need four first-time buyers to create a stable customer, then a first time buyer generates $1,000 of revenue.

b) If you must spend $100 to create those four one-time buyers, then each prospect costs $25.

c) By subtracting the cost of a first-time buyer, $25, from the revenue of a prospect, $1000, you have $975, the real value of a prospect.

This exercise is critical as it gives you a benchmark of what to invest in a first time buyer and what to expect in return. Don’t overdeliver on service, instead, set and agree on a level of service and provide what is expected. If you follow this rule of thumb, you will now have a budget and confidence to spend just enough to obtain your stable customers and maximize your profits.

Create stable customers effectively.

With financial guidelines for keeping customers in place, now choose your tactics. Pick your sales, marketing and customer service activities for each step of the retention funnel. For example, you may want to use seminars to create stable customers, but may choose to emphasize customer service over sales reps to create reordering customers. You can evaluate your activities, tools, and programs based on how cost-effectively they deliver the number of stable customers you need. Your choices will be easier and less risky than ever, because they will be based on meeting your goals you have set. Andy Birol is president of PACER Associates, which works with companies who need to focus on their best ways to find, keep and grow more customers. It helps businesses that sell their expertise or market a customized product to other businesses.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Global giving

American companies have a long history of commitment to nonprofit organizations. Businesses, both large and small, willingly donate time, money and energy to numerous causes. That hasn’t been the case in Japan.

“In this country (the U.S.), you have a long history of the nonprofit sector and a lot of resources,” says Hisae Tomita, executive director of the Hamamatsu NPO Network Center in Japan. “In Japan, we don’t have enough experience yet, and we don’t have the history. So we have a lot of things to learn from the United States. Philanthropic culture is very different in the United States than Japan. We have to modify some things to fit the Japanese market.”

Tomita spent 12 weeks in this country as a guest of National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Part of that time was spent in Cleveland with Community Shares, an organization that, according to its mission, promotes “social justice by funding organizations through workplace giving.”

It wasn’t until March of last year that the Japanese government passed a nonprofit law, which allowed grassroots organizations to gain corporate status beginning Dec. 1, 1998.

Hamamatsu NPO Network is a coalition of 13 grassroots organizations, Tomita says. By contrast, the U.S. has nearly 45,000 foundations, and 85 percent of all money given to charity comes from individuals — often through workplace donations. This is the type of system Japan is trying to develop, she says.

The United States has a great deal of experience for Japan to draw on, but there are benefits to starting fresh, explains Hugh Shannon, director of marketing and development for Community Shares. “In a way, it kind of sounds like they are 30 years behind, but they are also working with a clean slate.”

Community Shares is a relatively new organization, he says. And with an organization such as United Way so entrenched in the corporate thinking, it’s often difficult to get people to think about other agencies.

“It’s one of the things that we constantly have to battle. We’re only 15 years old, so people don’t know us very well. So why should they care? Why should they participate? Hopefully, somewhere done the road, what they accomplish in Japan, we’ll be able to draw some lessons from as well.”

When an obvious need arises, the Japanese are very generous, Tomita says. On Jan. 17, 1995, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale devastated Kobe, Japan. “People are more motivated for some special occasion like the Kobe earthquake,” Tomita says. But they don’t have opportunities to give on a more regular basis.

There are other impediments to giving as well.

In Japan, charitable donations are not tax deductible. Explains Tomita, “It’s difficult to motivate the people to give. We are working to a tax deduction system included in the law.”

And whatever they learn in Japan about the philanthropic spirit could come back to the United States.

“One our main missions is opening choice, so that people have as many opportunities as possible to give,” Shannon says. “What we do falls into what they are trying to establish. Hopefully, they can establish some precedents in Japan about gaining access to major corporations that we might be able to call upon later.” How to reach: Community Shares, (216) 371-0209

Daniel Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor at SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Digital death

The analog cell phone could be put on the endangered species list, and there’s little hope for any sort of recovery. In all likelihood, it will follow the same path as the 8-track tape and the 5 1/4 inch floppy — hot technology one day, forgotten gizmo the next.

When cellular phones first came out, the only choice was analog. The quality wasn’t always great, but they did the job without complaint. Then digital came along, greatly improving call quality and adding extra features such as voice mail. Analog has been in a tailspin ever since. As digital prices continue to drop, analog phones fade into yesterday’s news.

“In the business market, we are predicting analog phones will basically disappear,” says Kelly Quinn, senior industry analyst of mobile communications service for Strategy Analytics Inc. “By 2004 or 2005, analog phones will be completely phased out of business use. There are a lot more options with digital phones — voice mail, caller ID, they’re easier to use for three-party calling and they have messaging. They are simply a lot more versatile and have better call quality.”

Users can roam and not lose calls the way they did with analog phones. As prices decrease, the decision becomes easy.

“People go for what’s new,” says Quinn. “Analog phones are being given away with service plans. With many digital services, you don’t have to have a contract, and that’s a real advantage. Digital providers have really moved away from the analog business model — people don’t want a 12-month contract.”

There will be some analog phones left over, mainly the ones people buy to keep in their cars in case of emergencies, but the majority of users will be on digital phones.

In 1998, analog accounted for 74 percent of all wireless phones. That’s expected to fall to 52 percent in 1999, and 4 percent in 2002. “It’s a pretty dramatic rampdown,” notes Quinn.

Providers push the digital advantage because it uses much less bandwidth to place a call. They can use the same amount of bandwidth for multiple digital calls as it would take for a single analog call. This means more users on the same infrastructure and less cost.

“People are giving away analog phones,” says Quinn. “That’s a big indicator they’ve become a basic commodity. They were such a hot product when they first came out, people were paying an arm and a leg for them. Now they can be had for a penny.”

Basic digital phones may be seeing their own demise . The third generation of phones has Internet capabilities with a small display screen and gobs of features crammed into one device. Whether this will be enough to displace the standard digital phone remains to be seen.

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Checkups

One of the biggest problems with managed care is the constant changing of physicians because of plan changes.

Once your company switches plans to save money, you and your employees are often faced with the task of picking a new doctor from a thick book of area physicians. What was once considered the sacred doctor-patient relationship has been reduced to randomly picking names from a managed care phone book.

But before you pick a doctor to turn your family’s health over to, you might want to do a little research. Everyone would like to know more about their doctor, but until now, about the only way to do it was to ask friends and associates who they liked.

PatientWatch, a service created to fill this information void in choosing a physician, can provide a detailed report on a doctor, hospital or even a particular medication.

“It’s the only place where people can get a full background on a physician,” says PatientWatch founder and CEO Steve Finando. “The report will show any discipline and malpractice claims.”

An attorney reviews all malpractice claims and translates them into plain English to make sure the potential patient has a full understanding of what actually happened. The report also contains information about the physician’s education, his or her board certification, residency and state licenses.

The information comes from about 150 databases, some of which PatientWatch created. There is also research on disease conditions, procedures and medications. All information is updated weekly.

“It’s common for someone going in for surgery to order a report on the physician, the hospital and the procedure,” says Finando. “People want the information so they can be informed and ask the right kinds of questions and ask about alternatives. They want to have confidence in the physician that will be working on them. It makes the patients more comfortable and makes them a more empowered consumer.”

When a request is filed, a report generally takes about two to five days, because researchers compile them — they’re not just pulled off the database. PatientWatch is a national service, and covers every physician and hospital in the United States.

“We envision ourselves as looking to become part of the whole concept of the patient advocate,” says Finando. “The information services were started as a means of providing information to advocates. I see this as a larger movement of patients becoming more responsible for their own health care. This begins with information. It is the key to survival and getting good care. Managed care can’t just put you in the hands of a physician and expect you to be passive.

“Physicians are looking for more informed patients, but they just can’t take the time to inform them.”

Report fees start at $35 and can be obtained either through the Web site www.patientwatch.com or by calling (800) 877-449-2824.

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Working the road

If you’re an employer looking for a way to get your recruitment effort going, you might want to give it wheels.

Good Partners, an employment recruiting firm, operates the JobMobile, a 25-foot recreational vehicle that functions as a mobile recruiting office for employers. It also serves as an outreach for job seekers, visiting shopping malls and community events in search of job candidates. The JobMobile’s first excursion was to Star Lake Amphitheater in August, during Lilith Fair.

The JobMobile is a complementary service offered by the JobHouse, the downtown office of Good Partners, which launched operations in August.

“The JobMobile takes the atmosphere of the JobHouse on the road,” says Leslie Bonner, co-founder of the agency and a former vice president and manager of employment at PNC Bank. “It will also be used as an adjunct recruiting office at customer work sites. It’s another way of making the task of finding a job less work.”

Even though it’s been in operation only a few months, the fledgling agency has managed to land clients like UPMC Health System, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and Servicemaster.

How to reach: Good Partners, (412) 281-9141

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Taming the talker

I’ve told my sales rep that she talks too much on sales calls. But she responds with: “How will our prospects know what we can do for them if I don’t tell them?” Am I right or wrong?

You are right. A prospect who is listening isn’t a prospect. Most sales reps talk far too much on a sales call. My rule of thumb is that the prospect should be talking 70 percent of the time, and the sales rep should be talking 30 percent of the time.

Most of his or her talking should be in the form of questions. The biggest compliment your rep can pay to prospects is to really listen to what they have to say. Moreover, it helps the rep to understand true buying motives and shape the product or service to meet the prospects’ needs.

Your sales reps’ worth is determined by the information they uncover in a sales call, not the information they give. Their credibility is determined more by the questions they ask than by their answers. You can’t tell prospects anything without getting them defensive.

The sales rep’s job is to ask questions that will help prospects discover for themselves why they need what your company has to offer. I have trained hundreds of sales people over the years and, without a doubt, the number one thing most sales people can do to improve is to talk less and listen more.

As a new sales manager, what should I be doing when I go on joint sales calls with my reps?

The mistake most sales managers make when they accompany their sales reps is they take over the call. Too often, they rationalize this by telling themselves that the sales rep will learn from watching them handle the call. In reality, sales reps don’t usually learn this way.

I liken it to driving someplace you’ve never been before. The only person who remembers how to get there next time is the person who was driving. The person in the passenger seat simply goes to sleep.

When it comes to sales calls, the rep needs to be the driver; the manager should simply be an observant partner. The learning takes place in the pre-call and post-call meetings.

When it comes to making joint sales calls, the amount of time spent planning them is directly proportionate to their successful outcome. The pre-call meeting should be held in a coffee shop (not in the car and certainly not in the elevator on the way to the call) at least an hour before the call. At this meeting, you should review the following items:

History up until now;

Personal information that has been uncovered about the prospect;

The elements of what the prospect has agreed to do at this meeting;

The pain and pain indicators uncovered thus far;

What information is missing;

What needs to be accomplished at this meeting.

The manager and rep must define their roles. You must determine who will ask what questions or what each person will do on the call. In particular, choose who will be the team captain or quarterback. Here are the basic rules:

The team captain calls all the plays.

Only one person can speak at a time.

No rescuing. Both parties must keep their egos in check and resist the temptation to jump in when the other party is struggling.

Agree on how you will pass the ball — your silent communication strategy.

The next step is to rehearse. The team captain should rehearse the introduction, and the partner should rehearse the first three questions he or she will be asking the prospect.

Next in the learning process is the post-call debriefing. Do it immediately after the call. We typically tend to forget about 50 percent of what is said within 48 hours. Review your notes and look for holes. Determine your next step and identify who is responsible for whatever follow-up is necessary.

Be willing to let the sales rep fail. Sales people learn more from failure than they do from their successes. If you always rescue them, you will prolong the learning curve.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Go West(moreland)

If you’re looking for a new site for your business, there’s $2.5 million going to Westmoreland County that might help you find it there.

The funding comes through various state programs and will be administered by the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation to develop three economic development projects throughout the county.

1) An estimated $1.25 million in funding from the state’s Infrastructure Development Program has been earmarked for the expansion of the Monessen Riverfront Industrial Park redevelopment project. The first phase, 250,000 square feet of renovated building space, was completed in 1996, and boasts an 82 percent occupancy rate.

The second phase involves the extension of an access road to connect the first two phases, which will provide access to U.S. Route 906. As part of Phase II, there will be immediate access to six parcels of property, totaling approximately 18 acres, along with the development of infrastructure to an additional 29 acres.

2) In the I-70 Industrial Park, the WCIDC will proceed with the construction of an access road and entry road upgrades on behalf of Dick’s Clothing and Sporting Goods Inc., which is constructing a 383,000-square-foot distribution center on the site. The $372,000 grant came from the state’s Infrastructure Development Program.

3) In East Huntingdon Township, $875,000 in State Opportunity Grant Program Funds will be used to help develop the Westmoreland Distribution Park, a facility that will aid the trucking service required by the adjacent Sony Corp.’s operations ,as well as other new or expanding distribution companies.

Ray Marano

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Choosing a supplier

Although savings opportunities are limited, consultants say business owners should pay close attention when it comes to picking a power supplier. Business owners should:

Do competitive shopping. Talk to more than one company —t here are differences among suppliers’ rates. Compare them but make sure you look at other costs, such as penalties for switching to another supplier. Some contracts will vary according to your usage and rates may vary during the day. Look for a clearly stated cost per kilowatt hour.

Don’t enter a contract that will be costly or difficult to get out of. Tom Gibson of the Gibson Consulting Group says it’s worth taking the time to meet with the supplier. Go over the details of the agreement. Use a lawyer if it is a complex agreement.

Be aware of the consequences of not choosing. If you don’t choose, you will be assigned to a default supplier. You’ll still be able to change suppliers in the future, however, and you don’t have to worry that you’ll be stuck without power. If your supplier goes belly up, your local distribution company will have to supply you with electricity. Sources: Gibson Consulting Group; Energy Savers; SMC Business Councils

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Travelers snared in the Web

Lake Cable Travel’s business has more than tripled in the last five years, thanks in part to its emerging presence on the Web.

The 26-year-old business, among the oldest travel agencies in Canton, was doing about $500,000 a year in sales when Art and Jan Schneller bought it five years ago. About two years ago, the couple moved the agency online, and today, sales top $1.6 million a year.

“We saw then that the Internet was the way to go,” Jan Schneller says. “The travel industry is very competitive. We felt that getting on the Internet would help us alot, and it really has.”

The site features vacation packages, an online magazine with stories and photos on travel destinations worldwide and answers to frequently asked questions. Leading the site is the Cruise Search Network, which allows clients to describe the cruise they’re looking for and the price they’re willing to pay. The agency then searches its inventory for a match, and vacationers get better deals by booking online.

For Lake Cable Travel, being on the Internet didn’t have an immediate impact, Schneller says. But Web-related business began increasing as search engines included the site, and increased even more after it began advertising on Hometown Ohio, a Massillon Internet site.

Schneller estimates about 25 percent of Lake Cable’s customers come to it through the Web, but expects that to increase.

“It’s still a really young thing for the travel industry,” she says. “It’s a real growth area. You’ve got to be on the Internet to survive. You’ve got to be unique and your site has to be something really different.”

Many who come to the agency through the Internet are Canton area residents who find the company online, then stop in in person to follow through. And though much of the agency’s business remains local, the Web is increasing its reach. It recently sent a westside Cleveland man on vacation after he searched for Cancun on the Web and came across Lake Cable’s packages.

The Internet has benefited the agency in other ways as well.

“The Internet has changed the way people travel,” Schneller says. “With people going on the Net all the time, they’re getting more information and they’re a lot more savvy when they call us.”

That helps travelers give the agent a better idea of what they want.

“Before, people would call and say, “I want to go on vacation,” Schneller says. “We’d ask, ‘Where do you want to go?’ and they’d say, ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you recommend something.’ I can suggest a whole lot of places, but I don’t know you and I don’t know your interests.”

With the Internet at their fingertips, travelers are researching multiple locales to find their dream destination before getting the travel agent involved.

“They’ll check out some Cancun sites, and they’ll know a lot more about it before they call,” Schneller says. “They may not know a specific property” they want to stay at, but they do know they want to go Cancun.

That Internet savvy can work against independent agencies as computer users book vacations through sites such as Preview Travel.com and Travelocity.com. Schneller says the downside of booking that way is that the service often stops there, while a travel agency combines the best of the Internet and personal service.

“When you have a problem, who is going stand up for you?” Schneller says. “No one is going to help you. With our volume of business with tour operators and cruise lines, they do listen and we can address problems right away.”

How to reach: Lake Cable Travel, (800) 257-6622, (330) 494-8884, or lakecabletravel.com

Published in Akron/Canton