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In this issue:
I confess. I'm a card-carrying trade show junkie.
Always for a purpose, though. And so it was on Sunday, January 11, the first day of the International Housewares Show at McCormick Place in Chicago.
We're doing a survey on purchasing practices over a broad range of industries, a form of strategic channel management study. Those of you who conduct this type of research know that PERSONAL contact is absolutely essential...secondary sources, including the Web, and impersonal mailed (e- or snail) surveys will get you only imperfect insight into make-or-break issues.
You also know how frustrating and time-consuming it is to set up interviews, either personal or phoned. And further, if most of your contacts don't know you, it's that much harder to build sufficient trust to elicit frank observations and opinions when you're a disembodied voice on the other side of the telephone.
What's a consultant to do?
Let me describe my Housewares Show experience.
Although it was scheduled to run Sunday through Wednesday, Jan. 11-14, an associate and I decided to head down there Sunday afternoon for three very important reasons: (1) registration and walking the show would be a snap, since not too many people (read "employees") would give up time on a weekend to (shudder) WORK unless they absolutely have to; (2) my schedule was booked with meetings during the week; and MOST IMPORTANTLY (3) top-level executives often show up the first day to scout the show and their competition, inspire the troops, rub shoulders with their fellows, and may even be found staffing the booth.
Perhaps you suspect I jest about item (3). Will you be convinced otherwise with two examples?
EXAMPLE 1: A manufacturer of small appliances (a well- respected household name you'd recognize) had a cooking demonstration going on. When I inquired about who might be able to answer questions about purchasing of engineered components, they pointed to a distinguished gentleman in a white coat who was tending to an electric vegetable steamer.
He was very friendly, helpful and exceptionally knowledgeable about the company's products and its vendor policies. Coincidently, he spoke fluently the language of the client that had contracted us and visits the country often. We then learned that he had been president of the company for 10 years before he retired several years ago and is now an industry consultant.
EXAMPLE 2: We approached a group of three similarly- distinguished looking gentlemen at the Sunbeam display. I introduced ourselves with a brief background on the nature of our inquiry. The executive to my left immediately launched into a very emphatic position on the company's purchasing requirements and policies, while the other two looked on in some amusement.
Several additional people, wondering what all the noise was about, gathered around. A little uncomfortable, I suggested that if he wanted to say things off the record, that was O.K. with me, and I'd be sure to keep his comments anonymous. "Absolutely not. You may quote me all you want. What I'm saying is no secret."
I had no idea who this person was, so I asked for his business card. It read: "A.J. Dunlap, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Sunbeam Corporation."
THIS was "Chainsaw Al" ... whom, I am embarrassed to say, I did not recognize, despite numerous articles appearing recently in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Business Week.
Thank you, Mr. Dunlap. Next time we meet, I SHALL recognize you!
LESSON 1: If there is a relevant trade show anywhere in the U.S. during the research phase, ATTEND THE SHOW. You can find listings of trade shows at:
Information on more than 50,000 Trade Shows, Conferences & Seminars, 5,000 service providers, and 7,000 venues and facilities around the world
You might also try searching by location. For example, you may find listings of Chicago's major trade fairs at McCormick Place and the suburban Rosemont Convention Center at:
"Ah, but there's airfare, accommodations, registration fees, etc. etc." you protest.
Yes, we're lucky in Chicago, with trade shows of every color, even in our "color me COLD" months of January and February. BUT, I once hopped on an afternoon flight to Houston, having just that morning found a show which was closing the next day! When I called my husband from Houston that afternoon to let him know I wouldn't be coming home for dinner, there was this silence and then..."Where ARE you?" (P.S. After almost 28 years, he's used to this. Kind of.)
Look at it this way. What is the cost of your time, if you're making the telephone calls yourself, what with voice mail, wrong numbers, trying to find the right person, and reluctant subjects once you do make contact (because they can't see you)? Then, add in the cost of the calls themselves. If you're contracting out the calls, especially to someone not as knowledgeable -- nor as costly -- as yourself, ask what is the additional cost of missing or incomplete information.
LESSON 2: Do as much secondary research as you can before a show or conference, so you have some background. Thus prepared you can quickly launch into the important issues of your study that only personal interaction can illuminate, while showing respect for the exhibitor's time. (Of course, ALWAYS move on when a prospective customer of theirs approaches).
LESSON 3: Prepare a "discussion guide" for yourself prior to the event, so you will not need to take notes while listening if at all possible (boring for both of you, and marks you as a rookie). Don't put off those notes until the end of the day, though. Jot down the essentials after each interview.
LESSON 4: Map out a strategy using the exhibitor directory BEFORE beginning to walk the show (your feet will thank you).
You'll find more information at "THE TRADE SHOW AS CAPITALIST RESEARCH TOOL" an article on trade shows I wrote that was published on December 15, 1997 at a conference in Israel on "Finding Business Information on US Corporations, reprinted in the articles section of our website at:
I neglected to finish my homework for the last issue, our December newsletter...an unlinked article referenced in "Reconciling Real Time with Long-Range Strategy." Briefly, Randy Rollinson firstname.lastname@example.org discusses his BEACON Strategic Management Process, represented as:
Ed Bobrow, CMC,EdBobrow@compuserve.com
and Randy Rollinson (see "Beacon" above) certainly agree on the value of strategy. The following two paragraphs are from Ed's article describing the results of a benchmarking study for one of their Fortune 100 clients. See our Web site for the full article, at:
1. The most successful companies are new product machines. Rubber Maid, 3-M, HP, and others are perceived, both internally and externally, as being new product machines. Their culture is attuned to new products and all their people think new products. Their customers expect and receive many new products from them each year. This strategy comes from the leaders of the organization who say that this is the way it will be, but, more important, they make it that way throughout their organizations by their actions.
2. They have clear strategic direction. They don't just leave it to the R & D department or the New Products Group to develop products. They make sure everyone in the company knows the strategic direction and that all functions within the company are working toward that same strategic direction.
You can also find it online at:
And now, a Web-focused perspective on strategic planning.
Does your organization's Web initiative team include a business strategist or executive officer? All too often, strategic planning professionals do not sit at the table and many firms are beginning to pay the price.
Upon close examination, successful Web sites have one common characteristic: the company is executing its Web activities based on an integrated plan and realizes that it is achieving significant return on its investment (ROI). Early on, needs were carefully researched and assessed, a plan was drawn up and a developer was tapped to build out the blueprint. Most importantly, the plan took business process integration into consideration and resulted in a finely tuned Internet, intranet or extranet presence. Further, strategies and tactics are constantly re-evaluated, the site updated and tweaked.
If all this sounds elementary, why aren't there more success stories? Simply, most organizations tend to skip the planning phase, build on-the-fly and hope for the best in terms of achieving ROI. Quite often, the first attempt at a Web presence serves as static "brochureware" and results in an anti-technology backlash of sorts (often emanating from executive management). This can stifle the organization's movement toward inter-enterprise connectivity and, at times, threaten the growth of its most vital business functions.
In this case, the problem is not so much one of planning as it is of delegation. Often, a CEO or COO will view the Web as a technical communications tool rather than a technology that may revolutionize some - or even all - of the company's business processes. Therefore, development is often assigned to IT or marketing staff and is not looked upon as a strategic, executive level business initiative. Technology decisions are made, development occurs and suddenly executive management realizes that the new solution doesn't support or parallel corporate strategy.
Here's the point: business leaders cannot simply delegate technology decisions that rely on corporate strategy. They must take the time to carefully formulate and then explain business strategies to their technical, marketing and strategic resources before the actual technology is evaluated or selected. This approach saves countless wasted dollars and hours in installing, debugging, training and other tasks involved in applying a new technology, only to discover that it doesn't quite "fit" in the end. In short, business-based strategic needs analysis and planning projects must be initiated, owned and controlled from the top. Once goals are in place, key opportunities are identified and a business-focused Web strategy exists, delegation of technology issues and systems-level analysis may safely occur. This practice ensures that everyone wins„achieving business goals and ROI.
So, you're probably wondering how to justify the assignment of significant internal or external resources to the needs analysis and planning processes. Perhaps you, your client or boss question the value of a strategic element to the Web development team. In newsletters to come, we will present two critical issues: the impact that Web technologies make on business processes and the serious danger involved when IT decisions are made without regard to clear corporate direction. Until then, I ask you to consider the words of Albert Einstein when he said, "the perfection of means and the confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age."
You may recall December's dilemma describing what appeared to be an escalating number of idle requests for credentials and proposals by visitors to one's Web site. These requests often come from people employed with large organizations, but who do not have the authority to buy. Once you've sent your credentials or proposal, your attempts at further communication with the inquirer is met with resounding silence.
I'm delighted to share with you an upbeat "opposing viewpoint" e-mail we received from M. Kay Aufrance
shortly after the December issue went out.
"I.. have something to relate re. Once Burned. It seems to depend on the market.
The real estate agents we have (over 50 of them locally and of course many sites worldwide give us input because they buy the Real Estate Internet TM database software) say the Conversion Rate is much better for those who ask for info. Of course, we don't suggest saying "Sign our Guest Book" we suggest that they offer free info about the area and put up a form that makes it obvious that they want to do business. See
The agents each have their own stats. but one says 3 out of 10 actually visit and start working with her on looking for properties. She says it works only if she answers via email and us mail and fast.
The other market in which the buyer is very motivated (more so) is vacation rentals. (Travel = perfect Internet application.) The leads all want a booking and now. See
for just a few of this type of site we did (the former is so jazzed they are building a complete on-line res. system thru us - we're integrating it into their own in-house res.system - which is kinda fun! They booked $360,000 gross off the Web site we built them in their first year - but that is ancient history now - 1995!)
Of course - All of the above is a grass roots small biz.
perspective, which is what most of our clients are and also
where the researchers are finally realizing It's Really
Happening in Internet Marketing."
Thanks, M. Kay. We KNEW there were success stories out there!
Technology Management Associates, Inc.
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