One size fits One

bootsOne of the most exciting opportunities that technology brings to the table for businesses of every size is the utilisation of data to tailor their offering to each individual customer.

Although we are told that 95% of business data in the UK still remains untapped (Forrster Research), the opportunity to serve each individual’s needs and offer a truly bespoke service is mouth-watering at the prospect. This isn’t Harvey Specter and made-to-measure suits (for fans of the brilliant legal drama Suits), but more about understanding preferences, buying-patterns and data in the aggregate to shape future sales.

I have talked before about the correlation that WalMart made in the US between thunderstorms with sales of torches and pop-tarts! No in-store manager could ever have worked out the link, but the data made it sound obvious.

For those of us in a B2B environment, the dynamic is somewhat different, but we have an additional layer to use to our advantage. We don’t need to make over-the-top sales presentations to our prospects; customers tend to know who we are, they do their own research and they can find pretty much anything they want online. Plus in many cases today they reject sales people outright.

You can tell your story online – your website, blog, videos and customer case studies all wrapped up in your social presence will do as much talking as any salesperson. But augment this by building relationships at a human level, person to person, team to team over time, patiently and with integrity, and you have a formula that is very hard to beat.

One size fits one: the one thing technology can support every business with.

My quote of the week

The rate of adoption of some technologies and the pace of disruption is such that it is almost out of control. How can we keep up?

Three things are clearly leading the way in technology-led change: cloud computing and related services, mobile solutions and internet of things, and this is one of my favourite quotes, from Clayton Christensen, Professor at Harvard Business School, to support what is happening and to underline that we cannot ignore it:

You may hate gravity, but gravity doesn’t care. Substitute gravity with cloud computing, big data, mobility, or social.”


Dispel the Myth

75 per cent of next gen

Within 10 years, 75% of the global workforce will be from the ‘next generation’, so are we prepared for a different style of management, perhaps a different type of human?

A number of studies have looked into the workplace needs of the next gen and it is reassuring to learn that they are not that much different to previous generations preparing for work. Yes, they have grown up in the digital era, and yes, they live and breathe social media, plus there is a new emphasis on corporate social responsibility magnified by social spaces and platforms (not such a bad thing) but are they allergic to being managed the traditional way?

In reality, the race for talent is no different than it always was, except that there will be fewer skilled people to take the ever increasing number of jobs, and the millennials’ attitudes to work are as conventional as they ever were.

They want to be given a chance and they want to be rewarded for their contributions. So what is the formula for the future? Combine the classic reward system with openness and transparency, help them attain skills that are relevant and give them the opportunity to flourish. And because they are so good with technology, allow them to be creative with it for the betterment of the business. And as my friend Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor and President of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, always told me – companies that ask, “What if I train and certify my people and they leave,” you have to reply, “What if you don’t train and certify your staff, and they stay!”

How can you benefit from reducing your market share?

marketshareSo, how can you reduce the share of your core market and come out trumps? I have just returned from an excellent leadership meeting in Minneapolis where the Pearson VUE team talked strategy, explored ideas and visioned the future. The level of engagement was as good as I have seen for some time and when I volunteered this one thought to the group, I was met with silence…but only for seconds.

This was my thinking, via an analogy: if your company is in the business of making and selling office chairs, how feasible would it be for you to get into the business of making not just chairs but all office furniture? Can you expand the size of your overall marketplace (and thus reduce your share) and as a result give you more opportunity, more products and more customers to pursue?

What complementary products can you make, are there new or additional services you can offer and equally importantly, how can you utilise technology to get into these spaces? Are you maximising social media and the potential of ecommerce.

How to begin? Just listening to what the market is saying will stand you in good stead – remember only 1% of social is about posting information and 99% is about listening to what the market/your customers/the competition is saying.

Listening on its own should keep you busy enough.

A picture tells a thousand words

nikonThey say a picture tells a thousand words. Today, we know that to capture the attention of a customer, a learner or a manager, we need to be quick and to the point, and make impact.

I talk about how presentations have evolved, using slides with less (or no) text and images to tell your story. To engage today’s audiences, we need pictures and headlines. People respond to images, they like short videos, their brains filter and block out the majority of information thrown at them, so why when we send them pages of text and long documents do we expect them to respond immediately? We need to think like the customer.

Here are three stand-out stats that are worth noting:

  • Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.
  • The average online UK consumer watches 300 videos on YouTube month.
  • 40 million photos are uploaded to Instagram each day.

It is time to be creative. We don’t have a choice.

Real Networking


I am technology’s biggest fan, but this weekend was a reminder about perspective. I went to Lords to watch the one-day international between England and Sri Lanka and met some great new people from Blenheim Chalcot, Hewlett Packard, Aetna, IAB and Disney to name a few. Such varied conversations, different walks of life but all good people.

It reminded me that whilst racking-up contacts on social spaces can be important and networking online does work, nothing comes even close to shaking hands with real people and getting to know them. It is genuine and lays foundations for a stronger, long-term bond.

My take-away from the cricket is this – for every 3 connections you make online, pick up the phone and call an important contact or old acquaintance and ask how they are; and keep some loose change in your pocket and invite somebody different in your industry to a tea/coffee twice a month. It outsmarts technology all day long.

My Dad used to take me to the Oval to watch Surrey on Sunday afternoons and some things don’t change. The spectators had a reminder about good old-fashioned determination and resilience as Jos Buttler worked relentlessly to make up the runs. What a performance. That is one of life’s lessons that will never be affected by technology.

Think of the world like Twitter

I presented at the ‘Make it Happen 2013’ conference this week. I was in esteemed company – great speakers like Phil Jones, Steve Clarke, the irrepressible Steve Head, as well as our great host Kriss Akabusi. I enjoyed the day immensely, meeting people from HP, Yahoo and many others. My favourite story of the day was the moving account of the terrible accident and never-say-die attitude of 2012 gold medal paralympian Mark Colbourne – you could hear a pin drop as he was telling his story.

The event underlined another thing – if I created slides that were made up only of blocks of text, what would the audiences think? Would anybody concentrate for longer that a minute or two? How long would it be before people switched to reading messages on their phones, the web or social media platforms, and completely ignore my presentation no matter how compelling?

Text is yesterday’s business and droning on with repetitive messages is passé. To engage today’s audience, we need pictures and headlines. People respond to images, they like short videos, their brains are like filters and block out the majority of information thrown at them, so why do we send our customers pages of text, long documents and expect them to respond?

Reach people with messages they can absorb in seconds and stop putting out material that is off-putting before you start reading; engage using images, video, material that is interactive and engaging and quick and easy to absorb.

Think of the world like Twitter – you have 140 characters to get your message across. Technology allows us to try things and quickly change course along the way – find out what works and measure everything.

Shopping & Listening

I was following the news of people scrambling to shop for just about everything on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when America goes wild for bargains. Now I have witnessed this personally in Chicago a couple of years ago. It was crazy and I quite enjoyed it!

People choose not to buy an item because they don’t see value in it, then decide it is priceless once it has that little red and white discount label attached to it. 25%, 30% or 70%-off turns even the most sensible of shoppers into a possessed individual who has to have the item they turned their nose up at a week before.

I tracked back to the 1950s, when the US discovered the disposable society and set about telling consumers they had to replace and update almost everything they owned. Then it was all about dictating what people buy, the era of the advertising agencies – epitomised in the series ‘Mad Men.’

Today, it is all about asking customers what they want. The smartest companies are already engaged with their most influential networks (people we sometimes call ‘sneezers’ or ‘yawners’ who are very good at spreading news), already at the centre of all discussions around their sector and as a result the first name that comes up when searching for that product. You don’t have to be a technology company to make this work for you. Just look at how a crystal glass making company in Wales has become expert at making social media work for, and grow, the business. You can learn a lot by following them on Twitter @WelshRoyalCryst.

Forget the old, embrace the new.

99% is listening

I presented at the Kyocera event today at the stunning Coombe Abbey Hotel and Conference Centre today (see pic to the right). I always enjoy partnering with Kyocera because of their commitment to the next generation of learners and workers, and Pearson support the apprenticeship they are spearheading with other manufacturers of printers and multifunction devices in their sector.

I shared my thoughts on new marketing, especially around social media, and I emphasised that social is only 1% posting stuff. 99% is about listening to your customers and audience and responding with solutions that they are ready to buy into. If you look at what happened to Netflix when they tried to change their pricing structure, its customers revolted, posting 82,000 negative comments across its social platforms. Within months the company lost thousands of customers and two-thirds of its market value.

Interesting that back in the 1950s, we discovered the disposable society and went about convincing consumers to throw away and replace, rather than preserve and keep. Now the key theme is asking them what they think, so we can interpret that into what they want. That is what new marketing is about. We must never forget, social is 99% listening.

The Technology Risk

I have talked about ‘Learnability’ in the past – how fast we can forget the old and embrace the new, in order to keep our companies current and relevant.

I was asked recently if there was any risk associated, and there clearly is. We must think about this with the next generation in mind. For them, technology is a gateway to communication and collaboration. It is their oxygen and they expect technology and social spaces to be very much a part of any organisation they join. So the risk is, if you are not engaging on terms defined by our future workforce, you will earn a reputation for being out of date and an unattractive place to work, and the next generation of talent will choose not to work for you.

We are moving towards a new type of market – a stock market of human resources. Who best understands and engages will win.