July 29, 2008

Eventbrite: How To Organize Events Like Harvard University and IBM

And American Airlines, Best Buy, Dell, Facebook, IRS, NASA and Progressive Insurance, US Homeland Security and others.

Don't you love planning seminars?

I'm planning my biggest tour yet --- 8 cities in Ontario in September. Unfortunately, I'm organizing too. That's a new experience. I'm most concerned about sending out invitations, getting replies and following up. The process looks time-consuming, labour-intensive and error-prone. And hard to scale up for my world tour :)

Three Big Challenges
There are three challenges
  1. getting an updated email list
  2. send invitations to the right people
  3. automating registration
This looks like a job for re-engineering.

An Updated Email List
Sending individual emails can work if you have up-to-date email addresses. What if you want to invite people who aren't currently doing much business with you? That's tricky. Even if delivered, your email may get deleted without getting read. There's a way to solve both problems: get a trusted party to send the emails.

I support advisors who work for organizations. Here's the plan. Emails go to the organizations which then forward the invitations to their advisors. This means
  • fewer points of contact
  • up-to-date email lists
  • an endorsement of sorts
Sending Invitations To The Right People
How do you easily identify people to invite to the event in London, Ontario? You need a good database. What if someone who works in Mississauga would prefer to go to the London event because they'll be there that day anyway? You have no way of knowing. The solution is self-service: everyone gets the same invitation with all dates. They choose.

Automating Registration
The actual process of registering can be onerous for the organizers whether by fax, email or phone. Ideally, you want a form completed online. This eliminates incomplete fields, retyping and typos.

I searched online for a low cost solution. Within minutes, I found eventbrite.com which charges 2.5% of the ticket price (minimum $0.99 per ticket). Luckily, there is no charge for free events.

Within an hour, I created a basic invitation that includes nifty features like a map to the venue. The process is straightforward and well-designed. You can upload your logo and edit your invitation with an online editor that's more powerful than the one Google provides for this blog. The results look professional, which adds to your credibility.

Fingers Crossed
What if the online registration doesn't work? I won't be very popular. Since Eventbrite is used by many major companies, I'm betting they are reliable.

At this stage, I've drafted the invitation and tested the registration process. A few volunteers have too. Registrants get a confirmation email (you do too) and information is automatically recorded in the event database. The whole process is smooth and requires no manual effort. That lets you focus on other aspects of your event. And almost makes you feel like hosting more.


July 22, 2008

The Six Most Influential Word Groups

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter --- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
--- Mark Twain

Words affect results. So better words mean better results. The influencer's dozen has 18. That's enough to give variety without getting overwhelming. I don't know the source. Do you? If so, please add a comment so that credit can be given.

The influential words fit into six classes with different purposes:
  1. describe
  2. create awareness
  3. establish a sequence
  4. create connections
  5. show causality
  6. command
Ideally, we'd combine words from different groups.

These are adjectives and adverbs
  1. naturally
  2. easily
  3. unlimited
Create Awareness
These words start mental processes that you have initiated
  1. aware
  2. realize
  3. experience
Establish A Sequence
These words help create a sequence in time.
  1. before
  2. during
  3. after
Create Connections
These words create relationships among items
  1. among
  2. expand
  3. beyond
Show Causality
These words show cause and effect
  1. and
  2. as
  3. causes
  4. because
These verbs tell the person what you want them to do.
  1. now
  2. stop
That's the list. Since these words get used in everyday speech, you can easily include them. You probably already use some naturally without realizing. Now you can stop to choose because words matter.


July 15, 2008

Why You Need A Weak Link To Give Excellent Service

"Service excellence can be defined as what a business chooses not to do well."
--- Frances X Frei

Contrarian ideas intrigue. In the Harvard Business Review, Frances X Frei makes interesting observations. We know we can't be everything to everyone. So we specialize to succeed (see Thoughts on The Dip by Seth Godin). How much thought do we give to the side effects: things we've chosen to do poorly, perhaps unconsciously? Frei finds that most successful companies "perform badly at some things in order to excel at others". We'll look at lessons from three companies in the worlds of banking, car insurance and software.

Commerce Bank
"The world did not need another 'me-too' bank. I had no capital, no brand name, and I had to search for a way to differentiate from the other players."
--- Vernon Hill, founder of Commerce Bank
Since 1973, Commerce Bank has grown "its retail customer base dramatically even though its rates are among the worst". A portion of the market prefers convenience (longer opening hours) and personal attention in exchange for higher prices and fewer products
  • benefit: longer opening hours and personal attention
  • cost: higher prices and fewer products
The bank probably doesn't advertise that they are less competitive. Progressive Insurance does.

Progressive Casualty Insurance
"People are pathologically price sensitive about car insurance and almost never select anything but the rock-bottom quote."
Progressive includes competitors' prices in their car insurance quotes even though they get beaten half the time. Why? Their actuaries feel they have accurately estimated the probability of a claim. If another company gets the client, Progressive wins in two ways
  1. avoids an unprofitable client
  2. saddles the competitor with an unprofitable client
In essence, they fire expensive customers.

DIRST: Do It Right The Second Time
--- Scott Cook, founder of Intuit
Software companies rarely provide free customer support due to the cost. Why does Intuit? They see customer calls as an important input for product development --- an investment rather than an expense. Intuit wants to know "what users are trying to accomplish and how they are being frustrated". Paradoxically, producing better software reduces the calls. And makes calls more important.


July 8, 2008

Three Lessons From My Third Year In The Field

Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. --- Oscar Wilde

On June 30, 2008, I finished my third year in the field. My years as a head office marketing actuary seem so long ago.

The past year taught three valuable lessons
  1. Simpler in Alberta
  2. Office 2007 matters
  3. Make concepts legible
Simpler In Alberta
I spent weeks in Alberta over different trips. The visits started last August with a presentation in Banff just before the Advocis Banff School (which I attended for the first time and described here) and ended in Calgary in late May.

While feedback confirms that my presentations (verbal and written) are effective, I knew they could be improved dramatically. But how? I reached what strategic coach Dan Sullivan calls a Ceiling of Complexity. Alberta showed how to crash through. There I learned that despite ongoing tweaking, I still provided too much education. With guidance, I chopped a 48 minute presentation on "10-8" leveraging down to 29 minutes and then 16 minutes. The audiences? A mix of investment advisors, accountants, clients and prospects. The shorter the presentation, the more questions and the more engaged the audience. Sales improved and lead to repeat trips.

Cutting away gets to the white hot centre which is more compelling, easier to understand and easier to spread. I didn't have the nerve to try a new presentation style close to home. Luckily, I had the chance to experiment in Alberta with no colleagues around. I now use this style in Ontario, except with very technical audiences.
I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. --- Mark Twain
Paradoxically, simplifying takes more skill and more time. What can you leave out without misleading or distorting? A solution is to provide details separately via handouts (e.g., FAQ or Appendix) or links to online resources.

Even if you have a compelling message, you need tools to communicate it. That is where Office 2007 helps.

Office 2007 Matters
Office 2007 can be daunting the first time you use it. I spent 20 minutes just finding the Print button. Now I much appreciate the capabilities and ease of use that this major upgrade offers. In particular
  • eye-catching visuals (SmartArt, 3D effects, nicer shading)
  • harmonious colours and fonts (new, well-integrated Themes)
  • greater consistency between different applications
With PowerPoint 2007, you can create much more interesting presentations with professional-looking visuals (called SmartArt) and better animations. Excel 2007 is easier to use for features you don't know well and creates outputs that look look consistent with PowerPoint.

Make Concepts Legible
The relentless quest for simple and the power of Office 2007 has lead to new rules to refresh classic concepts
  • use legible fonts (large enough to see), which means less information on a page, which means more thought in deciding what to show, which means more white space, which means a more compelling messages
  • landscape layout for consistency among concepts and a "widescreen" look
  • reuse content in different applications (e.g., Excel and PowerPoint)
The Year Ahead
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. --- Albert Einstein
In the year ahead, my passion for simple will continue. As always, I welcome your suggestions. I will continue to share ideas with you. As always, you are free to use use whatever you wish --- my anniversary gift to you.


July 2, 2008

Get Foundin Linkedin To Keep Growin

Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it. --- Anais Nin

You'll get more business if people can find you and find out about you. When they want. That means online.

Can a search engine find you? Do you have a website? Even if you answered yes to both, there's no harm in becoming easier to find. If no, you can easily create a profile on a social networking site.

I joined FaceBook a few months back, but it lacks a professional business feel. This week, I came across, LinkedIn, which happens to be a well-established business-focused networking site with 23 million members. Chances are you will find people you know there.

Linking To Others
Once you setup your profile (e.g. like mine at www.linkedin.com/in/promod), you have an online biography/resume for others to find (clients, prospects, potential employers) and you to promote. That is just the start.

The real power comes when you connect to others. You can easily upload your contacts and see who is already there. You can then have an email sent to people you know well and ask them to connect to you. Once they accept, you have a network of contacts and you are connected to their contacts too. The numbers get crazy fast. Here is my situation after a few days
  • 10 connections (trusted friends and colleagues)
  • 180 friends of friends (each connected through a connection)
  • 18,200 users through both a connection and one of their friends
Be Selective
You are judged by the company you keep. For your network to have value, you need to be selective about your connections. Especially when you give or get recommendations. This endorsement process is how you gain and share your credibility.

If you know of other networks worth joining, please share them. In the meantime, why not get LinkedIn?