Two Excellent Resources from Consulting Colleagues

I wanted to point you to two great resources from some consulting colleagues of mine.

First, Wes Trochlil is publishing a series of podcast interviews with the CEOs of association management system vendors.

Second, Jeff Cobb is publishing a series of reports on survey results for association elearning trends.

Wes and Jeff are offering original material you won’t find anywhere else, check them out.

Implications of Ecommerce Sales Slowing Down

The New York Times has had a couple of stories recently about ecommerce sales slowing down along with everything else. Here is a blog post from the Times on this. They are still growing but at a much slower pace.

There are some implications here for anyone who makes direct sales via their web site. The primary one is that the usability of your online store is more important now than ever. When times are good, it’s easy to ignore some loss of sales due to challenging interfaces. When numbers are no longer growing or even contracting, however, you can’t afford to lose anyone who wants to give you money.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Review your web traffic reports and conversion rates. Identify any steps in your processes that tend to lose people.
  • Personally observe several people completing transactions on your site and note any areas where they get confused or slow down.
  • Have an expert mystery shop your store and identify where you can improve. (I can help you with this, by the way!)
  • Talk to your call center staff and see what issues they hear about from customers who call them.

Once you have identified some improvements, drop everything until they are done. Otherwise they are less likely to be implemented. I’ve seen instances where a single small change had a 6-figure impact on revenue.

David Gammel's 2008 Summer Teleconference Series

I am conducting three teleconferences this summer on a variety of topics that have been in high demand with my consulting and speaking clients. I hope you’ll join us!

I will cover the following topics during the series:

  • Creating High-value Partnerships with Technology Providers
  • Using the Web for Customer-sourced Innovation
  • Global Web Site Strategy

The live calls are absolutely free to attend. You also have the option to purchase recordings of all the calls if you would prefer to listen to them at your own convenience. Anyone who purchases the recordings will also receive access to a bonus teleconference.

The first call is Friday June 20. Register today!

The Value of a Realistic Dry Run

Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opened last week in chaos:

It was 20 years in the planning, cost £4.3bn to build and its staff underwent six months’ training before it opened.

But none of that could prevent Heathrow Terminal 5 from descending into chaos on its opening day yesterday after the baggage system collapsed.

It’s always the baggage system, isn’t it? Denver’s new airport went through the same kind of issues when it opened over 10 years ago. Who could have predicted that Terminal 5 might have baggage handling problems? Apparently not the airport executives at Heathrow.

Look at what the article cited as the major issues:

  • Baggage handlers’ IDs were not recognised by computers and they were not able to log on to the handling system, resulting in the three flights taking off without bags
  • The handlers also could not get where they were supposed to go because they could not get into the car parks or get security clearance
  • Amid confusion over the layout of the new terminal, bag handling teams were unable to make good the delays, which left passengers in arrivals while their bags waited on planes
  • Problems were exacerbated by a lack of the baggage storage bins that are loaded on to planes. Carousels loading luggage also broke down
  • By the afternoon, the already crammed system became overloaded and a ban on checking-in luggage was issued
  • Delays in loading and unloading planes led to delays in departures and arrivals, forcing BA to cancel 34 flights to ensure that its jets start in the right positions to run a normal timetable today

The first four caused the effects described in the last two, none of which had anything to do with the baggage handling technology (that was Denver’s problem). A few dry runs of the facility under close to expected conditions would have easily revealed those issues. While individual staff were given significant training, according to the article, the results show that the system of the terminal as a transportation hub was not fully tested.

A full dry run would include all the staff, equipment, and passengers/baggage they anticipate handling. This is expensive but don’t you think the people in charge would happily pay for it now if they could back?

Here are a few things you can do to prevent this same kind of catastrophe striking your next major launch:

  • Map out the steps of your launch and identify spots where significant problems are most likely to occur. Look at factors both within and outside your own control.
  • Modify your plan to prevent those problems from occurring, if possible.
  • If they cannot be eliminated, identify how you will contingently resolve a problem if it does occur.
  • Test your plan via realistic dry runs to validate your assumptions and surface unanticipated issues.

No one’s perfect but we can all do a lot to eliminate potential risks with a little forethought and testing.

Quoted in Article on Effective Web Site Measurement

I was quoted in an article published by Microsoft Office Oline titled Deciphering your Web site traffic reports: 5 tips. I was interviewed by Christopher Elliott for the article, who does quite a bit of writing on travel and business issues.

Here is the section with my input, discussing how too much data can often be a bad thing:

Focus on the numbers that really matter. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with data, much of which doesn’t apply to your company. “Identify the top two or three statistics that actually allow you to make decisions about your site,” says C. David Gammel, an online media consultant and president of High Context Consulting in Salisbury, Md. “Ignore all the other data.”

Why disregard this wealth of information? Because poring over all the data will create what Gammel calls “analysis paralysis.” And that can detract you from your goal. His advice is to focus only on the metrics that are relevant to your business. For example, rather than obsessing over page views, look at the clicks to your online store and compare them with sales.

You are far more likely to make progress if you measure completion of specific, value producing goals, than simply trying to increase your overall page views and unique visitors.

Why you should hire Mickie Rops

Mickie is an excellent consultant because she says thing like this when asked if she is an advocate for certification programs:

If certification is really right for the field, then I’m an advocate. If it’s not, then I’m not.

Sounds obvious but she makes the point in her post that a lot of consultants are happy to help you build a certification program whether your field needs it or not! You need advisors who will question your basic assumptions before you make significant investments instead of cheering you on without analysis.

Shopping Online at Work

I am quoted rather extensively in a West HR Advisor feature article on whether and how to monitor employees shopping online at work.

This article won’t be available online for long, so check it out now if you are interested. Funny how the president of an internet usage monitoring system recommends tracking both time spent online and content viewed by your employees. Gee, why would he say that?

My rebuttal:

Given the pros and cons of time-based monitoring, employers should put more effort into performance management. “Employees should be evaluated on how well they are achieving the outcomes they are supposed to do for their employer, not how long they spend surfing the web. If someone is meeting or exceeding their goals, who cares how long they spend online at work?” Gammel asks.

I even get the bottom line quote at the end:

“Ultimately, those who want to goof off will find ways to do so even if the web isn’t viable. This is a management and motivation problem, not one of monitoring,” Gammel says.

You have more fundamental problems in your business than online shopping if you have to go Big Brother on a regular basis. Installing nanny software may seem easier in the short run but it is not going to help improve the value of your employees’ contributions to the organization.

Here is an idea: if you know your employees are going to be shopping online during the day anyway, why not make it a benefit?

Announce that each employee is encouraged to spend up to 2 hours shopping online for the holidays. Tell them they have to work out coverage and scheduling with their bosses but that you want to recognize all they do for you year round by making their shopping a bit easier. You gain good will and scheduling efficiency while losing nothing that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

What is Web Strategy?

A lot of work I do with clients involves developing a strategy for their web efforts. But what is web strategy?

I picked up one of the better definitions for overall strategy that I have seen from Alan Weiss, who got it from Benjamin Tregoe and John Zimmerman in Top Management Strategy:

“We define strategy as the framework which guides those choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization.” (Page 17.)

The rest of the book discusses the framework they recommend for guiding strategic decisions. They identify 9 strategic areas and suggest that a company has to identify one of them as their driving force, which then determines their markets and products more than any other factor. It is a refreshingly concise yet powerful framework.
So what does this imply for your web strategy?

Tweaking their definition a bit, your web strategy should be a framework for guiding the choices that determine the nature and direction of your web site. It should determine which audiences you are going to address. It should determine which content and service you chose to offer online. And as a framework, it should help you to rationally assess and deal with both opportunities and challenges as they arise.

Ultimately, your web strategy should driven by your overall strategy. If your overall strategy indicates that you will serve certain markets with specific products, your task as a web strategist is to develop supporting strategies to execute that vision online.

Quoted in Workplace Column on Saving a Failing Project

Mildred Culp interviewed me for her regular column that appears in numerous papers across the country. I appear in the most recent column in which she takes on how to rescue failing projects. Here is a link to a copy of the piece in The Hartford Courant: Recognize Signs That A Project Is Failing.

When you’re working on a team, even if you’re not the leader, you’re investing in the success of the project. You don’t want it to slide into a ditch. What are the warning signs? What can you do before it’s too late?

I have two or three quotes in the piece. Much of what I discussed with Mildred is covered in a blog post I made a four years* ago: On Killing Projects.

* Wow! Hard to believe I have been writing this blog since 2002. Time flies!

Pre-requisites for a Successful Small Business Web Site

There are 6 pre-requisites for a successful small business web site. The are:

  1. Have one!
  2. It lists location, hours and contact information prominently on the home page.
  3. Services and/or products are clearly identified in general on the home page and in detail on dedicated pages.
  4. They qualify that they are the best source for whatever the business provides.
  5. The design looks reputable.
  6. They have updated their listings in the local search engines for Google and Yahoo!.

Hitting each of the above won’t guarantee success but it will prevent fundamental flaws from preventing the best possible outcomes for a business with their web site.

The above is based on part of my presentation to the American Association of Endodontists a couple weeks ago.